Tuesday, April 22, 2014

1993: The Worst

Not too much I consider outwardly horrible (most of the bad ones from this year make me laugh enough to rate them as guilty pleasures), but there are a few.

I honestly don't know who the hell thought the world needed a sequel to Stakeout.  The first movie is a solid enough buddy cop film and this one is essentially the same damn film, minus the sexy turn by Madeline Stowe who appears briefly towards the end and a different setup.  In her place, we get Rosie O'Donnell as an annoyingly perky ADA who insists on joining cops Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez on their latest assignment.  Said assignment involves a witness in a mob trial and our heroes trying to keep professional killer Miguel Ferrer from rubbing out said witness.

The chemistry between Dreyfuss and Estevez is just as fun as it was in the first one and Ferrer makes for a fun bad guy (in a nice twist, Dennis Farina appears but as the husband of the witness instead of his typical role) and there are some legit funny moments but O'Donnell just drags the whole enterprise down with a truly irritating performance.  It's not that she's always bad, her standup act was pretty strong and she was fine in A League of Their Own but here she just seems to get in the way.  Add to that John Badham's auto-pilot directing and the predictable script and you get one hell of a pointless flick.

Never let it be said that I let a movie being a huge hit jeep me from not liking it.  Mrs. Doubtfire is essentially a one joke movie stretched over 125 minutes.  Robin Williams plays a soon-to-be divorced father who decides to pose as an old lady housekeeper in order to stay close to his kids.  Pretty much everything about this movie annoys me in some way.  Robin Williams and Sally Field are insufferable (Williams is in full-on annoying improv guy mode and Field is just too unlikable for anyone to believe she landed a guy period, let alone one she's had three kids with).  The plot itself is poorly thought out (voice-over work for a guy as clearly talented as the Williams character is is hard to come by?) and while there are a few funny bits, there is no excuse for a comedy like this to be over two hours.  Hell, having it run over ninety minutes is pushing things a little.  It's not the worst thing ever but good lord, when the makeup f/x is the best part of your family comedy something is wrong.

While the sequels are enjoyable cheese, the first in the Leprechaun series is just a paint-by-numbers horror movie with an admittedly energetic performance by Warwick Davis as the title ghoul.  Jennifer Aniston is the only notable human character and that;s just because she ended up being famous later on but the rest of the cast is so bland it boggles the mind.  The film really is a showcase for Davis who acquits himself admirably, the rest of the film is crap.  Stick to the sequels.

Last Action Hero is my pick for worst of the year, mainly because by all rights it should have been damn good and in my book a good idea ruined is worse than something that wasn't too hot an idea to begin with.  The premise is neat (action film fan gets sucked into an action movie), Arnold is fine and the humor is about what it should be but the way the story plays out just shoots the film right to hell.  The biggest problem is the kid.  Not Austin O'Brien's performance, though he is pretty annoying, but rather the writing of the role.  Just from a common sense standpoint, if you were a kid sucked into an action movie, would you really spend most of your time trying to convince your hero he's a work of fiction and not real?  I don't know how but that pisses me off even more now than it did when I was a teen watching the movie for the first time!  Add to that the rather obnoxious marketing campaign and the oddly depressing tone the film has during the "real world" scenes and you end up with a really huge disappointing misfire of a movie.

Coming soon: Guilty Pleasures

Saturday, April 19, 2014

1993: The Rest

And now, a plethora of adequacy.

Stuart Gordon directs Christopher Lambert in this okay sci-fi action film about a man in a dystopian future imprisoned and his fight to get free.  Pretty standard prison film with a sci-fi setting that is helped somewhat by Gordon's direction and some nice gory bits.

Tom Berenger is good in a fairly standard, meat and potatoes action movie about a sniper and his new spotter going after targets.  Billy Zane is decent as the partner and the action is decent enough.  It's not an essential film, but it's a pleasant enough diversion.

Pretty damn solid adaptation of the John Grisham novel that sports a great cast and solid direction from Sydney Pollack.  Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman are solid but the real fun for me comes from watching kindly old Wilford Brimley play a bad guy.  The rest of the cast, as I said is great with pretty much everybody getting at least one small moment or two to shine.  Gary Busey is fun as a private investigator, Hal Holbrook is fine as the head of the law firm and Holly Hunter is good as a secretary.  Overall, The Firm is an enjoyable bit of fluff.

John Badham directs Bridget Fonda in this remake of the 1990 French thriller Nikita.  It shares pretty much the same plot and characters.  Hell, even the directors, Luc Besson and John Badham have similar "style over substance" approaches to filmmaking.  Bridget Fonda and Gabriel Byrne are solid here and the action, when it comes, is done in Badham's usual professional, somewhat bloody style. Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel are also good in their smaller roles.  The film has pacing issues the original doesn't however.  Badham is generally a solid, efficient director in the Peter Hyams mold but unlike Hyams, his films sometimes get a little too pacy for their own good.  Still, it's worth seeing once, just skip over the romance subplot.  It doesn't really work.

The other action movie spoof of 1993, this one covers the Lethal Weapon films, subbing in Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson for Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  The comedic style is more or less what you would expect but the actors play it just right, making the affair an enjoyable one.  I especially enjoy Tim Curry and William Shatner as the bad guys.  Talk about a big serving of ham!

Coming soon: The Worst of 1993

1993: Honorable Mentions

1993 was a fairly average, sort of mundane in a way, year for film with a solid enough cross-section of genres.  Lots of guilty pleasures, some legit awesome movies and of course, some stuff that was good but not enough to make the top ten.

 Let's kick things off with this gem of a kid's film produced by Tim Burton.  Chock full of fun songs and great moments (the stop motion f/x are great too), this ends up being both a great Halloween film and a great Christmas movie.  Good stuff.

 Steven Spielberg really outdid himself in 1993 with two fantastic movies.  Jurassic Park made the cut for the top ten but Schindler's List didn't, alas.  What can I say?  There were ten other movies I liked more.  Still, a stunningly moving film with good work from Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes.  Spielberg certainly earned his Oscar this year, though like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, I can honestly say seeing it the one time was enough for me.

 Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau always made for a good cinematic duo and Grumpy Old Men is certainly one of their more enjoyable efforts.  Playing two old rivals whose kids end up falling for each other, they have plenty of hilarious moments as well as one or two bits of warm drama and the end result is a thoroughly agreeable comedy.

 I'm a Shakespeare fan and any time Kenneth Branagh takes on The Bard it's bound to yield positive results.  This adaptation of one of the better comedy plays the man wrote features funny turns from just about everybody from Branagh and Emma Thompson to Denzel Washington and Michael Keaton.  About the only real weak link is Keanu Reeves whose natural stiffness doesn't really lend itself too well to the material.  I also think the brief stretch in the middle of the play where it gets deadly serious sort of hurts the flow of the comedy but the film handles it pretty well.

 Not the best of Mel Brooks by a long shot but this is still an entertaining spoof of Robin Hood.  The snarky jabs at the 1991 movie are welcome and Cary Elwes makes for a fun Robin Hood.  You can sort of tell Brooks is running out of material but he manages to make some funny moments that make this one worth the time and effort.

 I've written about John Woo's American debut elsewhere and it certainly could have been better but this is still one of the better Jean-Claude van Damme films.  Great action, especially the extended finale and a fantastic Lance Henriksen performance make this one more than worth whatever flaws the film, may have.

 1993 wasn't just a great year for Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone also had a hell of a year, starting with this good old fashioned, smash mouth action movie that is quite simply "Die Hard on a mountain".  Great action and stunts, a nice villainous turn from John Lithgow and good work from Stallone and it's all held together by Renny Harlin's customary sense of over the top style.

 One of two action movie spoofs that came out in 1993 (the second one I'll get to in a future post), this sequel to the 1991 Top Gun spoof is a fun spoof of Stallone movies with Charlie Sheen funny as hell and remarkably enough, one or two actually good action beats.  I appreciate when a movie that is at its heart and soul a comedy still cares enough to make any action scenes that might pop up as good as they can while still keeping the jokes coming.  This one does it just fine.

If Tarantino had been given the chance to direct this one instead of Tony Scott, it may well have been one of his best.,  As it stands though, True Romance is still a fun, entertaining crime film with an awesome cast, the typical great dialogue you would expect from Tarantino and the stylistic violence you would expect from Scott.  It's actually a pretty damn good mix, honestly.  Gotta love a movie that has such a deep cast from top to bottom and all of the players handle the dialogue well.

Coming Soon: The Rest of 1993

Saturday, April 12, 2014

1988: The Best

And now, the cream of the crop.  Most of the best movies in 1988 were comedies which is impressive to me given how many average to terrible comedies tend to be released over the course of any given year.  Actually, if I wanted to I could have made this a top 25 list given how many great movies were released in 1988 but that would be overkill to an extreme.

10. Midnight Run


I already wrote about this one but it still stands as one of Robert DeNiro's most enjoyable performances.  A fun buddy film with a generous helping of comedy and a dash or two of action, this has DeNiro in a wonderfully funny performance with able support from Charles Grodin, Dennis Farina and Yaphet Kotto.


9. Coming to America


The last really great Eddie Murphy vehicle till Bowfinger in 1999.  Directed by John Landis, Murphy stars as Akeem, a wealthy African prince who goes to New York in search of a woman.  Murphy is funny as hell and the script is nicely done with a sweet sense of humor and a solid supporting cast.  It's a real winner.

8. A Fish Called Wanda


Equally winning is this entertaining comedy abut jewel thieves in England that stars John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis. Michael Palin and Kevin Kline who ended up getting an Oscar for his role.  All four principles are funny as hell with Cleese playing against type as an average nice guy representing the brains behind the heist while Curtis, Palin and Kline are thieves hoping to get away with the crime.  Curtis and Cleese end up falling for each other and the whole film is just one funny bit after another, wonderfully timed, written and acted.  It's one of those films that's so good that it's almost hard to talk about.



7. The Naked Gun


From the team behind Airplane! comes this equally hilarious comedy, based on a short-lived TV series that also starred Leslie Nielsen.  Chock full of every sort of gag you can imagine, this is one of the more consistent comedies of all time.  Hell, even the cringe-inducing appearance of O.J. Simpson can produces laughs in a new way (admit it, you laugh a lot harder now when he gets clobbered than before 1994).


6. Twins


The one time Arnold did an intentional comedy that worked just fine.  I love this entertaining, funny tale of twin brothers separated at birth... Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.  The two stars overcome the inherent silliness of the plot to make a surprisingly warm, funny duo that plays well off of each other.



5. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


This sports another great comedy duo.  I also wrote about this one earlier so I'll keep things brief.  The leads are funny as hell, the rest of the cast is solid and the laughs still hold up today.


4. Phantasm II


The rare sequel that is just as good as the original, if not better in some ways.  While the original was a nicely creepy, surrealistic nightmare of a horror movie, the sequel goes for more of a horror/action vibe with more shootouts, explosions and funny bits.  The cast is strong, the f/x are great and the pacing is razor sharp.


3. Die Hard


This would be number one on the list but for the sheer quality of the top two.  Bruce Willis proved himself a more than capable action star with this classic thriller that sports a great villain in Alan Rickman and some of the best action scenes of the decade.


2. Tequila Sunrise


This is an underrated gem if there ever was one with Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell starring as a drug dealer, a sexy young restaurant owner and a cop respectively.  Russell and Gibson are old friends, now on opposite sides of the law and Pfeiffer is stuck between them.  Raul Julia and J.T. Walsh round out the main cast and the overall film is a sleek, sexy noir thriller with good acting and some nice twists here and there.  It's just a classic sort of film.


1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The best movie of the year is also one of the most inventive.  A fun, fast-paced pseudo-noir detective story full of greed, sex (of a PG variety) and murder, all combined with some frankly amazing special effects.  A stunning blend of animation and animatronics mixed with live action makes this one of the most subtly impressive special effects films of the decade.  Robert Zemeckis does a fine job directing the thing and the level of detail is nothing short of incredible.  Add to that a top notch cast headed by Bob Hoskins doing a great American accent and Christopher Lloyd as one of the creepiest villains I have ever seen.

1988 was a hell of a good year.  Lots of classics, some oddities and a ton of style.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

1988: Guilty Pleasures

Now for the stuff I love in spite of myself.

This Roger Corman produced flick about an alien vampire looking for blood is a remake of the 50's version only this time Arthur Roberts from Revenge of the Ninja is the vampire and the nurse out to stop him is played by Traci Lords.  This might be one of Jim Wynorski's best movies, though that isn't saying a whole lot.  The film is campy, funny at times and sports some decent low budget f/x work, though the opening credits sequence which has clips from previous Corman productions is the highlight.

This one, I freely admit stinks like death but I do find it moderately entertaining.  Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are cops who find themselves investigating an outbreak of zombies with Williams becoming one a few minutes in.  It all turns out to be a plot by millionaire Vincent Price and the local coroner played by Darren McGavin and it all ends rather well, though sitting through 88 minutes of Piscopo mugging is more than any human being should have to endure.  Still, Williams is fine and the f/x from Steve Johnson are top notch.  Also nice to see Vincent Price.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi try to make this formulaic buddy cop film work (even a year removed from Lethal Weapon it was starting to get old) but having the big guy try to play a Russian isn't quite enough to get the job done.  Walter Hill directs everything well enough and there are some nice action beats but this is a case where at the end of the day it wasn't quite worth it.  Still, I do get a kick out of the unintentional humor that Arnold just naturally exudes and the supporting cast is quite eclectic as well with supporting parts for Gina Gershon and Laurence Fishburne.  Red Heat is not the best of Arnold's worst but it's still good for a chuckle or two.  Scarily enough, it might be the best thing Jim Belushi has ever done.

The seventh Friday the 13th series tries to mix things up a little by pitting Jason against a young girl with telekinetic powers.  For the most part it works pretty well, though the elaborate gore f/x from John Carl Buechler (who also directed) were mercilessly hacked down.  In spite of this, not to mention that this is so far the seventh frigging Friday the 13th film, it ends up being a solid enough affair with a nice finale and a great Jason in the form of veteran stuntman Kane Hodder.  Hodder really made the role into an actual part, which goes a long way in making the film work as well as it does.

The third and final Missing in Action movie is a bit of an odd duck.  For some strange reason the film ret-cons Braddock's (Chuck Norris) backstory so that he is present at the fall of Saigon in 1975 whereas in the first two movies, he was still in prison at that point.  The sole purpose for this is so we can get a story about him having to leave behind his Vietnamese wife only to find out thirteen years later that she is still alive and so is his son who he has never met.  This sends him back to Vietnam to rescue them and naturally, tons of soldiers get shot and lots of things get blown up real good.  The film is sappy as hell though with bad pacing, bad acting from pretty much all involved and honestly, by this point the whole jingoistic action movie trend was getting a little old.  Still, it's Chuck doing what he does best and there are some good action beats and fun bits of dialogue so it's worth your time.

To be honest, this might be too good to actually qualify as a "guilty pleasure" but come on, a slasher movie where the soul of a deranged serial killer is trapped in a doll?  It's actually fairly decent with the great Brad Dourif providing the voice for Chucky as well as playing the killer in his human guise.  Chris Sarandon is also good as the hero cop.  The Kevin Yagher f/x steal the show though and would only get better in the sequels.

God help me but I get a genuine kick of out of this one as well as the original.  Cheesy, stupid as hell, silly as all hell, all of these are true.  Nevertheless, along with all that you get a nice villainous turn from John Astin, an early part for George Clooney and some nice spoofing of product placement.  The film is more or less disposable but it's still fun to check out every once in a while.

We end things with the funniest entry in the Rambo series.  This time, Rambo is in Afghanistan to rescue his buddy played by Richard Crenna from a bunch of evil Russians.  Unfortunately for the film, by the time it came out Russia was already out of Afghanistan, dating the film horribly but also making it one of the most unintentionally hilarious films of the year.  The film takes a little while to get going but about fifty minutes in it turns into the non-stop slaughter fest that any cheesy action movie should be.  Stallone doesn't do much outside of grunting, tossing off the odd one-liner (the film was such a comic book that it actually worked for the character by this point) and being his usual competent self in the action scenes.  It's well worth checking out just for the last half.

And that does it for the guilt, stay tuned for the top ten!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

1988: The Worst

Not much I could really call awful but a handful of movies (all sequels, oddly enough) do stand out from the rest.
We're starting with my pick for worst of the year, simply because... Well, because it's my damn article mainly.  Motives aside, this turgid comedy manages to take everything about the first movie that worked and whiz it right down its own leg.  What ensues is a truly lame snobs versus slobs comedy with Jackie Mason (who is no Rodney Dangerfield, even on his best day) in the lead and a supporting role for Chevy Chase who makes little to no impression at all.  Dan Aykroyd has a brief role as a shell-shocked mercenary who main snob Robert Stack hires but he ends up doing Bill Murray's routine with the gopher.  The only mildly funny bit has Randy Quaid as Mason's lawyer and even then it's one funny two minute scene in a 98 minute long movie.  Just awful.

To be fair, this one isn't all that bad but it's still fairly needless as far as sequels go.  One had to wonder what would have happened if the third movie had done well as the series was supposed to become a sort of anthology series using the backdrop of Halloween as a premise.  Instead, killer Michael Myers somehow turns up alive after being shot in the face by Jamie Lee Curtis twice and blown up and incredibly enough, so does Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence with some burn makeup).  It's more of the usual slasher fare that was old hat by the time this one rolled around with Michael chasing after his young niece, played by Danielle Harris who would later do the two Rob Zombie Halloween films from a few years ago.  This gets on the list more for what could have been than anything else.  Still, it's better than the fifth one.

The sequel to the classic horror/comedy manages to miss on more or less every level save for the f/x which are pretty damn good.  More or less a rehash of the first (complete with Thom Mathews and James Karen playing variations on their roles from the first), it loses the great sense of humor the first film had in favor of a more juvenile, less funny sense of humor.  A horror comedy can work as long as the film is funny, which this one is only sporadically.  It's also missing the frenetic pace of the first one, though it does pick up speed in the second half.

The comedy franchise that just won't die now goes to Miami Beach for more slapstick, pranks and silliness.  By this point, the Police Academy series was well into banal sitcom territory as even Steve Guttenberg had decided enough was enough.  Okay, he was busy filming Three Men and a Baby but chances are he was tired of the series.  I actually sort of like the first two movies but even a fun performance from Rene Auberjonois as the bad guy can't save this one.

I think that's enough crap for one night, stay tuned for the guilty pleasures!

1988: The Rest

In several of these year retrospective articles, I will be covering an exorbitant amount of movies.  Not all of them warrant inclusion in the honorable mentions, worst of the year or guilty pleasure posts but I still want to talk a little (some a little more little than others), about some of them.  Think of this as the batch of films that I feel are sort of in the middle.

This is a clever, though somewhat disappointing riff on the Sherlock Holmes stories, positing that Dr. Watson was the real brains of the operation and Holmes was a none-too-bright actor paid to play the part.  Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley make this one worth watching as they have good chemistry.

Perfectly decent buddy cop sci-fi flick with James Caan as a tough cop and Mandy Patinkin as his alien partner.  Apart from the alien angle which is pretty interesting, it's a rather bog standard buddy film with the usual bickering, bonding and action.  Good performances from the leads, though.

I feel this Stan Winston directed/Lance Henriksen starring horror movie is a little overrated but it still sports a neat monster and a typically good Henriksen performance.

An agreeable yet somewhat underachieving comedy that has Richard Dreyfuss as an actor called upon to portray a South American dictator after the man dies.  Dreyfuss is a little too earnest but Raul Julia steals the show as the bombastically insane second in command.  The film could have used a little more bite in its humor as jut gets a little to whimsical for its own good at times.

Fun western with a solid cast and some pretty good action scenes.  I think the sequel is a little better, though.

This one is a bit of a childhood favorite of mine as I think I must have seen it at least four or five times when I was a kid.  Pretty okay fantasy flick with a nice role for Val Kilmer and solid work from Warwick Davis as the title character.  Typically good f/x too.

The final Dirty Harry movie is fairly run of the mill with Clint doing his usual routine.  The bad guy is more or less a cipher we barely see and the film is predictable as hell but there is a rather funny spoof of the car chase from Bullitt, this time with a remote controlled car and the full sized vehicle Clint is driving.  It's silly as hell but still entertaining, much like the rest of the film.

Coming soon: The Worst of 1988

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.