Film Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

Release Date: June 27th, 1973 (US release)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: George Martin, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Cast: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Clifton James, Geoffrey Holder, Madeline Smith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Tee-Hee, on the first wrong answer from Miss Solitaire, you will snip the little finger of Mr. Bond’s right hand. Starting with the second wrong answer, you will proceed to the more… vital… areas.” – Kananga

I’ve worked my way through most of the James Bond movies and only have a few left after this one. Granted, I’ve seen them all before but I didn’t review any of them until last year. And since I’ve been doing these out of order, I should note that this is not my first Roger Moore Bond film but it is his first outing as the iconic character.

I know that this one gets a pretty bad rap but it’s one of my favorites. But I’ll explain why.

To start, it came out at the height of the blaxploitation era in American filmmaking and it utilizes that to great advantage. The film has a lot of blaxploitation actors in this from Julius Harris to Gloria Hendry. And while it taps into that vibe well, this isn’t Bond trying to be blaxploitation, it just meshes well with that genre’s style where it needs to.

Additionally, I love the voodoo and magical elements to the film. They may feel out of place and hokey but by the 1970s, Bond movies had started to drive towards cheese. Honestly, this is the most ’70s-esque of all the Bond films and while it feels dated because of that, it still works really well for me. I love the voodoo stuff, especially Baron Samedi, who was brought to life by the always awesome Geoffrey Holder. No lie, Samedi is one of my all-time favorite Bond villains.

The setting of this film was also great. It went from New York City to New Orleans to the Caribbean and in doing that, married the urban blaxploitation vibe with the Caribbean beauty of Dr. No, the first Bond film. In a way this brings things full circle, as Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond had a strong geographic similarity to Sean Connery’s first outing as the character. And both filmed those sequences on location in Jamaica.

I also enjoyed Yaphet Koto in this as the evil Kananga. He was a new kind of Bond villain for a new era where the franchise couldn’t keep relying on SPECTRE as its premier threat. Koto’s work here, really set the stage for some of the other solid villains from the Moore era.

We also get the debut of Sheriff Pepper of Louisiana, who is probably more iconic than the size of his actual role in the series. He’s synonymous with the Moore era but he was actually only in two of Moore’s Bond pictures and fairly briefly. Still, he is a fan favorite and it’s been argued that he was a template for the cops in The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit.

Now there are some cringe moments in this like when Kananga blows up like a balloon, floats and explodes. However, those moments are balanced out by the hokey stuff that worked better like the scene where Samedi gets a chunk blown out of his head and he just looks up at it before he shatters like a broken pot.

I love this movie. I get that it is frowned upon by more serious Bond fans but they miss the point. This series should be about fun escapism. This is exactly that.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: The Running Man (1987)

Also known as: Battle Runner (Japanese English title)
Release Date: November 13th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Jim Brown, Kurt Fuller, Lin Shaye

Braveworld Productions, Taft Entertainment, HBO Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Killian, here’s your Subzero! Now… plain zero!” – Ben Richards

This is a Stephen King story, even if the author wrote this under a pseudonym. It was brought to life by the screenplay of Steven E. de Souza, who also penned the scripts for Die Hard 12Commando48 Hrs. 12 and a bunch of other cool shit.

Add in a cast that boasts manly badasses Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Yaphet Kotto and there are almost too many iron balls on the screen. This is a festival of testosterone and broken bodies.

You also have Richard Dawson, who was the perfect choice for the role of Killian, and María Conchita Alonso, who I’ve been crushing on since about fourth grade.

This story takes place in a dystopian corporate future where an innocent soldier is framed for a massacre that he actually tried to prevent. He escapes prison and goes on the run, using a very apprehensive TV executive to help him get to freedom. She freaks out in the airport though and the soldier is caught and forced to compete in a strange game show. The soldier and his allies have to fight their way through derelict city blocks, fighting off gimmicky warriors that the live studio audience chooses to apprehend and murder them in cold blood for their entertainment. As the soldier starts offing these warriors, public opinion changes and the people start cheering for this “criminal” against the corporate system that is trying to snuff him out.

The film’s themes are very similar to two films from 1975: Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. This certainly doesn’t make this story a rehash of those, however. This is unique and just a cool twist on the manhunt genre.

I always loved Schwarzenegger in sci-fi settings, especially ones dealing with a dark future. While this isn’t anywhere near as good as the first two Terminator movies, it is a lot of fun and still holds some social and political relevance today, over thirty years later.

The effects are good for the time, the characters are twisted but cool and this almost feels like a mashup of American Gladiators, old school WWF and Blade Runner.

I still love this movie and even if it hasn’t aged too well, it is a product of the awesome ’80s and still works within the context of its creation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s Schwarzenegger films. For style and themes, it works with the original Rollerball and Death Race 2000.

Film Review: Alien (1979)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 117 Minutes, 116 Minutes (2004 Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.” – Ash, “Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead.” – Ripley, “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.” – Ash

I saw Alien on the big screen once before. I think it was in 1999 when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary. Granted, I can’t miss the opportunity to see this or its first sequel when they come back to theaters. Both are perfection and both are very different. While people have debated for decades, which film is better, I still can’t decide. Why can’t they both be the best? I mean, they are perfect compliments to one another because of the different things that each brings to the table, setting them apart narrative wise and tonally.

Where Aliens is a badass action thriller, the original Alien is really a pure horror movie set in space. The Alien formula was actually so effective, that people are still ripping this film off today. Almost every year, there is at least one film dealing with an isolated crew battling a dangerous creature in tight confines, whether it be a spaceship, an underwater facility or some science research base in the middle of nowhere. Alien is still the best of these kind of films, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very, very close second.

What makes this film work is how dark and how cold it is. Everything just comes off as bleak and hopeless. The film has incredible cinematography and its really unlike anything that was made before it. A lot of the visual allure, as well as the film’s looming sense of doom, is due to the design work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His style is like German Expressionism from the future in that it is dark, disorienting but also very tech-like and beautiful. Giger’s art is very unique and very much his own. Without Giger, I feel like Alien would have been a very different film.

With as iconic as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become and as synonymous with the franchise as she is, it is weird seeing her not being the top billed star. That honor goes to Tom Skerritt but Ripley does become the focal point and Weaver gives a great performance, even if she isn’t as incredibly badass as she would become in the next film.

This film benefits from having a pretty amazing cast, though. In addition to Skerritt and Weaver, you’ve got Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Veronica Cartwright. All seven of these people have had pretty impressive careers with multiple notable roles.

The film is also directed by Ridley Scott, who has gone on to resurrect the franchise with new energy since he returned to the series with Prometheus in 2012 and then followed it up with the lackluster but still interesting Alien: Covenant in 2017.

Alien is still a very effective film and even if I have seen it dozens of times, there are certain parts in the movie where I still get chills. The effects hold up really well and still look damn good. And even if the sets and computers look really outdated for a movie set in the future, it still has a certain aesthetic that just works for me.

All things considered, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. It moves at a nice pace, builds suspense effectively, still feels chilling and has aged magnificently.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Alien films and Blade Runner.

 

Film Review: Truck Turner (1974)

Release Date: April 19th, 1974
Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Written by: Michael Allin, Jerry Wilkes, Oscar Williams
Music by: Issac Hayes
Cast: Issac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols

American international Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I heard the Truck Turner theme when I was a kid and thought it was bad ass. My cousin told me that I should see the movie. I didn’t actually see it until my teen years in the 90s, as I was working my way through all the blaxploitation films I could get my hands on from various mom and pop video stores throughout southern Florida. I actually haven’t seen it since that time and really needed a refresher on just how tough and cool Issac Hayes could be. Luckily, I was able to rent it on Amazon Video.

It was nice seeing this again. I actually forgot how much I loved it until the film started rolling and the memories poured back into my head. I mean, shit, not only do you have Issac Hayes but you have Yaphet Kotto playing the bad ass villain and Star Trek‘s Lt. Uhura a.k.a. Nichelle Nichols as a vengeance seeking lady pimp. Then this thing is backed up by Hayes’ music. How could this not be great?

Hayes plays Mack “Truck” Turner, a tough as nails bounty hunter. While trying to catch a dangerous pimp, Turner ends up killing the man. His girlfriend takes over his empire but she promises to give all her hoes to whoever can take out Turner. She is angry because her lover died and she will stop at nothing to see Turner pay for it. Yaphet Kotto ends up being the best man for the job, as other pimps and gangsters try to take out Turner and fail. Ultimately, we end up with a balls to the wall action thriller that is cooler than a refrigerator on a Colorado mountaintop.

The film is violent but not so much so that the average person will be offended. It is kind of light when comparing it to blaxploitation films like Dolemite. While it doesn’t have the hard and heavy edge, it still has gravitas. But it also has style… lots of style. It is also lighthearted and almost a comedy at times. Overall, the film is a good balance of bad ass and fun.

Truck Turner is well shot, well directed and it feels like it has a bigger budget than it does. It feels more like a major studio blaxploitation film, as opposed to something put out by American International Pictures. They did a pretty fine job in making this film come off as much better than their typical low budget flicks.

If you are a fan of Issac Hayes and you haven’t seen Truck Turner, what the hell is wrong with you? You owe it to yourself to experience this thing. If you aren’t an Issac Hayes fan, you should probably lean your head against a deli meat slicer.

Film Review: The ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Film Series, Part II (1988-1991)

 A Nightmare On Elm Street IV: The Dream Master (1988):

Release Date: August 19th, 1988
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Brian Helgeland, Scott Pierce, William Kotzwinkle
Based on: characters by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner
Music by: John Easdale, Craig Safan
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Tuesday Knight, Brooke Theiss, Andras Jones, Toy Newkirk, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Dream Master is the most successful film of the original series of six. I believe it is because it took the formula of Dream Warriors and then upped the ante and shot it more like a 1980s MTV music video in a time when MTV ruled the world and teenagers’ minds.

It is a colorful film with great editing and visuals. It opened the door for director Renny Harlin to go on and have a pretty big film career.

While Dream Warriors is my favorite film of the series, this one is right behind it. The dream sequences are very imaginative even the few that are a bit cheesy. But, at this point, the franchise was serving up more cheese and laughs than utter dread. Sure, Freddy was still sinister and evil but he had fully become the character everyone was cheering for.

Robert Englund was stellar as usual and he had great chemistry with his new foil, Alice (played by Lisa Wilcox).

This film sees Alice gain the powers of her friends as they die. Whatever their talents are, she has them all by the end of the movie, giving her more ammunition when taking on Freddy. She also knows how to control her dreams in a way that others before her weren’t able to do. She is Krueger’s perfect nemesis. Ultimately, where Nancy is the godmother of all the Elm Street children, Alice is their unrelenting protector.

I love this movie. It was also the last of the good films in the series.

A Nightmare On Elm Street V: The Dream Child (1989):

Release Date: August 11th, 1989
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Leslie Bohem, John Skipp, Craig Spector
Based on: characters by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, William Kotzwinkle, Brian Helgeland
Music by: Jay Ferguson
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Beatrice Boepple, Whit Hertford, Kelly Jo Minter, Erika Anderson, Nicholas Mele

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 96 Minutes

Review:

Alice is back. This time she’s pregnant. Freddy wants the baby in an effort to resurrect himself. Essentially, we have the A Nightmare On Elm Street version of Rosemary’s Baby.

I was glad to see Alice and her boyfriend Dan return but overall, this film sucked.

There were a few good dream sequences, mainly the one where the kid gets sucked into the comic book. Also, the force feeding death to Greta was pretty well done and stomach churning – literally.

While this film tries to give Freddy Krueger more backstory, it chips away at the mystery too much. They revisit the nun mother plot from the third film and expand on it. All this ties it to the baby plot thread.

This film was also toned down in its color palate and just feels and looks really bland after the MTV-esque Dream Master.

It is mostly a sterile film with little to add to the series. Considering they got Alice back, they wasted an opportunity. Additionally, the writers completely disregarded the fact that she had the ability to get her friends’ skill sets. She ran around like a bad ass, which was fine, but she didn’t have the magic about her character that was there in the previous installment.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991):

Release Date: September 13th, 1991
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: Michael DeLuca, Rachel Talalay
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Yaphet Kotto, Breckin Meyer, Ricky Dean Logan, Johnny Depp, Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr, Alice Cooper

New Line Cinema, 89 Minutes

Review:

This is, by far, the worst film in the series. While Freddy’s Revenge was a weird piece of work, it had so many redeeming factors. This film, truly has none.

The mythos is completely fucked up, similar to what happened to Jason Voorhees around the same time with Jason Goes to Hell. Freddy now has a daughter, he is now cemented as a child molester – which was just implied before, he had a normal family with a nice house but murdered his wife in front of his daughter and none of it made much sense or added anything interesting.

The film fast forwards to ten years into the future where all the Elm Street kids are dead and Freddy needs the last kid to go out and lead others to him. The fact that Freddy just assumes that kids will make it back there, doesn’t make any sense either.

Also, there are barely any kids in this film. Only three of them die. There are also too many survivors in the end.

Most of the dream sequences are completely retarded. For instance, the one where the kid is trapped in the video game is more of a cartoon and looks nothing like video game graphics. Also, the game play makes no sense. It was clearly devised by someone who never played a game before.

The drug use parts were also written by someone who clearly never smoked weed. Weed doesn’t make you hallucinate like LSD. But in this movie it did. Sure, you could write that off as Freddy making the kid trip when he got drowsy but it still doesn’t make much sense given the scenario.

The film is capped off by an atrocious 3D sequence through Freddy’s brain. It serves no purpose to the story and just makes the film look more ridiculous when played back over twenty years later on a 2D screen.

I hate this movie. Freddy wasn’t killed by the heroine of this film, he was killed by shitty execution, shitty writing and a shitty director.