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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Esoterica VI

More random acts of randomness coming up!

 We start off with an ad for the home video release of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.  The ad, it must be said, is better than the film.  The group was about to come to an end and the material is not an example of them at their most inspired.
 
 I like this simply for the rather desperate ad copy more or less begging you to buy or rent the third Porky's movie by selling it as a tasty meal.  Even the pig on the photo looks like he has his doubts. 

 I discovered this gem a few months back while on a bit of a kung fu binge.  In Return of the Tiger, Bruce Lee imitator (though he was good enough to not really need that gimmick) Bruce Li is a government agent looking to take down the drug dealing empire of Paul Smith (Bluto from the Popeye movie though here he is billed as "The Torturer from Midnight Express").  The film probably runs a few minutes longer than it really needs to but Smith is a fun villain, Li is a solid action hero (billed as "The Tiger" as opposed to Bruce Lee being "The Dragon") and the action scenes are quite excellent.

 Great comedy special from 1982 that sees Robin Williams at the height of his comedic skill, though his more recent HBO stuff is more refined.  Here though, he's at his manic peak, improvising wildly, sweating heavily and going off on bizarre riffs like there's no tomorrow (I think he was still on cocaine at the time).  This one never fails to have me in hysterics.

 This might be one of my favorite Star Wars comics.  From the Marvel run of the early 80's, this tale sees Princess Leia looking to purchase some ships only for Darth Vader to turn up with some goons to try and kill one of her comrades (not Luke, Han or Chewbacca but some random guy who has never been seen before or since).  After some twists and turns, both Leia and Vader try and out-con each other with Leia getting her ships and Vader managing to con the princess out of some priceless jewels.  It's a sly, fun bit of storytelling that is quite entertaining.

Let's end with two re-releases of titles from New World Home Video.  Like Media Home Video and Video Treasures, New World had a budget label, in this case Starmaker who would later turn into Anchor Bay Entertainment, one of my favorite DVD distributors.  Starmaker put out a few tapes (partnering with another distributor) under a Collector's Edition Gold Series banner which contained not only the movie but also trailers, TV spots and the occasional batch of interviews.

 I don't have much to say about the movie (when I do the pieces on movies from 1987, it'll be a bit of a chore, this one) but I do find it amusing that even the makers of the tape just said "To hell with it, just put the stuff on the other tapes on this one, nobody will care."

 Hellraiser and its sequel got better treatment though.  Come to think of it, I nearly bought this tape one time.

 That's it for now.  Until next time...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

1988: Honorable Mentions

Let's kick off 1988 with the honorable mentions.  1988 was a fantastic year for film, so much so that it will be one of my longer retrospective pieces.  Actually, 1985 to 1990 will be extra king sized retrospectives, just because of the sheer volume.  We have a lot of ground to cover so let's not fart around...

Gotta have the Best Picture winner here since it didn't make the cut for my top ten.  What can I say?  It's a case where I enjoyed other films more.  Still, Rain Man is a very entertaining, moving drama with top notch work from Dustin Hoffman and for that matter, Tom Cruise. 

Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins star in this funny, entertaining baseball-centric romantic comedy about an older minor league player (played by Costner) and a young up-and-comer played by Robbins who both fall for groupie Sarandon.  Chock full of great moments and sporting a truly hilarious turn from Costner, this is one of the best baseball movies of all time.

Steven Seagal's debut film is a pretty damn good cop thriller directed by Andrew Davis.  Good action and a nice cast help offset the rather hit or miss storytelling.  Funnily enough, it ends up being one of Seagal's five best simply because he only really has about five or six genuinely good movies to his name to begin with.

Tom Hanks scored his first Oscar nomination for this charming comedy about a kid who makes a wish to be big and wakes up as Tom Hanks.  Hanks does good work in his role and Penny Marshall guides the film with a deft comedic touch.  Robert Loggia is also fun in a supporting role.

From the director of Maniac and writer (though not here) Larry Cohen comes this pretty good horror/action film about an unstoppable former cop who comes back from the dead to wreak a terrible revenge on the city officials who set him up and had him killed in prison.  Good cast of B-movie stalwarts such as Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell and Robert Z'Dar as the killer and some really good action make this an entertaining watch.  The first sequel is even better, though.

One of John Carpenter's better films, this is a sly science fiction flick that has pro wrestler Roddy Piper fighting aliens who have infiltrated society.  Piper is quite good, the action is solid and the film has a rather biting sense of humor it shows through social satire.  The fight scene with Piper and Keith David is also great.

Underrated Wes Craven movie about Bill Pullman looking for a zombie potion in Haiti.  Good acting from Pullman and the late Zakes Mokae as the bad guy make this a fun one to check out.  If you are in the mood for a different sort of zombie movie, this is your best bet.

Wild horror flick from Ken Russell that I reviewed last year for the series.  It's not the most coherent thing on the planet but it's visually imaginative, genuinely entertaining and it's the only movie you will ever see that has Hugh Grant fighting snake monsters with a sword while the new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi kicks ass in a kilt.  It's something you have to see for yourself.

Pretty solid modernization of A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray in the Scrooge part.  A decent blend of horror and sentiment, though the end where the lead finds redemption doesn't quite work as Bill Murray doesn't exactly come off as sincere.  Still, worth a look.

Pretty funny comedy from Keenen Ivory Wayans that spoofs 70's action movies.  Lots of funny gags, though Black Dynamite improved on it 21 years later by simply playing the material straight and getting its laughs that way.

Besides The Thing, this is one of the best remakes of a classic horror movie.  Fun updating of the 1958 story has great, gory f/x and a decent script, aided by a likable cast.  Good stuff.

Solid sequel to the original that has better f/x and a somewhat tighter script.  The thing I really like about it is that it maintains the sort of icky feel the first film had.

I dig this entertaining thriller that features the great Sidney Poitier as an FBI agent after a killer who may be one of several hikers being led by Kirstie Alley through the mountains.  He teams up with her boyfriend, played by Tom Berenger and the end result is a fun meat and potatoes action movie.  It's simple, but sometimes that's best.

Tim Burton;s best film is this wacky ghost comedy that has good work from Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Michael Keaton.  Loads of laughs and some nice f/x, aided by the usual great production design Burton films tend to have make this a winner.

I actually sort of love the wild fourth entry in the Freddy Krueger saga.  It's amazingly over the top, probably too silly for its own good and Freddy by this point isn't even close to being scary but it's still a fun ride with great f/x and a typically amusing turn from Robert Englund.  Renny Harlin does a good job directing as well.

This one sort of flew under the radar but it's actually a very enjoyable comedy that pairs up two comedy greats.  John Candy is taking his nice, normal family on vacation in the woods only to have yuppie brother in-law Aykroyd tag along with his brood.  Tons of great moments and some nice chemistry from the leads help the rather predictable story go down easier.  A forgotten gem from John?Hughes who wrote and executive produced the film.

I've written extensively about this one so let's just say that it is quite simply the best Shaft movie never made.

Gotta love this wacky semi-spoof of 50's horror movies that takes the not at all irrational fear of clowns (They're agents of the man-goat, I tell ya'!) and milks that cow for all it;s worth.  The Chiodo Brothers outdid themselves here with a funny comedy with great f/x and a fun script that never wears out its welcome.  John Vernon is especially funny as the obligatory hardheaded cop.

The tagline on the poster speaks for itself.  This is a fun, gory romp with lots of monsters, a fun sense of humor and some great 80's cheese.  Plus, how many films do you know of where Deborah Foreman goes Rambo on a bunch of monsters and tosses a 2'9 butler into the Little Shop of Horrors plant?  If there is more than one, I wanna see it!  Great fun all around.

To end things, we have the first starring role for Jean-Claude van Damme.  Great martial arts tournament film with some great fights, a terrific villainous turn from Bolo Yeung and a nice display of skill from van Damme.  One of the best from Cannon Films.

Coming Soon: 1988 Leftovers

About Me

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