Monday, May 26, 2014

1994: The Best

And the quality returns...

10. The Mask

Of the three films Jim Carrey made in 1994, this one is the best.  A lighter and softer version of the rather dark comic book character Dark Horse Comics put out, Carrey plays a lovable loser who finds a mysterious mask that turns him into a green-faced maniac who can do anything.  Carrey is funny as hell here and the special effects are quite good.

9. Clear and Present Danger

Harrison Ford during this period could generally be counted on to deliver an entertaining summer action movie and Clear and Present Danger, his second film as Jack Ryan after Patriot Games is just that.  Based on the Tom Clancy novel, this is a complex (maybe a little too much for its own good) political thriller with some good performances by Ford and Willem Dafoe as a CIA agent; one or two nice action beats and healthy sense of humor that makes the film flow quite nicely.  It's not a perfect movie by any means but it's certainly a good one.

8. Wes Craven's New Nightmare

The seventh Nightmare on Elm Street film is an interesting departure from the norm, positing that Freddy Krueger is actually an ancient evil spirit Wes Craven managed to trap with the making of the first film.  A good number of actors from the first film, both behind and in front of the camera personnel, play themselves which gives the film a nicely weird vibe.  This plays much like a trial run for 1996's Scream and on that level, it's a quite the effective little chiller.  Robert Englund is good as always as Freddy (he gets to play him really dark and evil here) but I get a kick out of him playing a fictionalized version of himself.  I may prefer the original and third and fourth films, but this one is a solid entry in the series.

7. Street Fighter

Ordinarily this would have been on either the guilty pleasure or worst list but thanks to Raul Julia and his awesome final performance, it gets a spot on the big list.  Yes, the movie is stupid as hell and the other performances are sort of just there but overall, it's just a damn fun ride to go on.  The action is pretty solid as well.

6. The Shawshank Redemption

Frank Darabont's adaptation of the Stephen King novella is quite simply one of the best films of all time.  Brilliantly written and directed, it tells the stirring tale of a wrongfully accused man somehow surviving a horrible stint in prison.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are superb in their roles as is the rest of the cast and the pacing is such that you don't even notice the film's running time of 142 minutes.  Just a wonderful piece of cinema.

5. Ed Wood

Tim Burton's biopic on director Ed Wood is one of the more enjoyable, affectionate films I've seen.  Sporting a great cast highlighted by a good Johnny Depp performance as Wood and a stellar job by Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, the film is funny, warm and touching in some parts.  It's a very good movie about a legendary (for most of the wrong reasons) director.

4. Speed

This is easily one of the better "Die Hard on a..." type films, right behind Under Siege.  Keanu Reeves is a solid action hero (as I said in my full review, it helps when you tell him to just be stoic); Dennis Hopper is a great villain and Sandra Bullock makes for a fun, adorable sidekick.  The stunts are fantastic (pre-cgi as well), the music is good and it just barely misses being the best action movie of the year.

3. Maverick

I get a real kick out of this frankly hilarious film based on the James Garner TV series.  Richard Donner directs with his usual competence and the cast, especially Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner (he plays a lawman) do quite well, delivering the laughs.  It's not anything deep, just a good time.

2. True Lies

James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger always make a good pairing and True Lies is yet another good collaboration between the two.  Maybe the best American remake of a French movie (you could write a pretty good book about that, actually), this is both a terrific action movie along the lines of a James Bond film and also an amusing domestic comedy as Arnold's super spy tries to juggle a terrorist threat along with his wife's possible infidelity.  The fact that it works so damn well is a testament to all involved.

1. Pulp Fiction

A little predictable as far as best lists go, but Quentin Tarantino's brilliant second film still stands as one of his best.  Great cast, great script, some clever storytelling and an overall aura of cool make this one simply the best of the year.

That's it for 1994.  A very good year.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

1994: The Worst

This will be brief.  Very painful, but brief.

Don't ask me why anyone thought a sequel was needed.  The first Major League is a good movie but goddamn, the sequel is just a dull and unfunny bore.  Did Charlie Sheen really need money for hookers that bad?  Was Heidi Fleiss charging extra that month?  What the hell?

Lame erotic thriller in an era chock full of them.  Bruce Willis is a psychiatrist with some serious guilt issues who gets called in to lead his friend's group therapy session.  Said friend ends up dead and it's up to Willis to determine which neurotic bag of crazy in the group did it.  Richard Rush, director of the underrated flick The Stunt Man, provides none of the stuff he brought to that movie.  Instead, we get a near complete lack of coherency or common sense, some dull sex scenes (really, anything after Basic Instinct is gonna feel lame) and a general air of stupidity surrounding it.
This is one that sort of annoys me in how bad it ended up.  Really, having guys from the original Star Trek and the Next Generation series in the same film should have been good but this ended up being just lame.  A vague science fiction plot device sucks Kirk up in the first fifteen minutes or so and he doesn't come back in until the last fifteen.  Between that we get a story that wouldn't have seemed out of place in the rather bland fifth season of the show.  Unfortunately, this is supposed to be a thrilling movie and the pacing is so lethargic that even the admittedly impressive ILM f/x can come off as sort of blah.  Add to that some bad comedy (shocking, given what comic geniuses tend to be found in this franchise) and one or two really bad bits of misplaced drama (I love Patrick Stewart to death but he should never be allowed to cry onscreen... ever) make this one of the lesser Trek films.

And this one is a film that legit pisses me off.  The first two Beverly Hills Cop films are great in their own unique ways.  The third one, however, is just unfunny, boring and you can tell that not a single solitary person involved with the film wanted to be doing it.  Axel Foley is back out west, now looking for the guy who killed his boss.  The usual crap ensues except with none of the enthusiasm or fun the first two films provided.  John Landis fails to get much out of anybody and the end result is the sort of movie that if you catch it at the wrong time will absolutely depress the hell out of you.

Coming Soon: The Best of 1994

Saturday, May 24, 2014

1994: Guilty Pleasures

Oh, there's some good crap here.

We begin with this amusingly bad action movie about a crook and a DEA agent who really can't stand each other but need each other in order to find a ton of money hidden by the criminal's dead brother.  Good cast (for both the right and wrong reasons) and some fun action highlight this cheesy flick.

A marked improvement over the first one, Leprechaun 2 sees Warwick Davis returning as the title fiend, now in search of a bride he was promised 1,000 years previous.  Tons of cheesy puns, some nice kills and a spirited performance from Davis make this an enjoyable way to kill 85 minutes.  Granted, as I noted in my 1993 stuff, I am a sucker for mid-90's horror franchises.

The pacing is off, the second half is cheesy and Mike Nichols doesn't really do horror well but I still find myself entertained by this one.  Jack Nicholson plays an employee of a publishing firm who is bitten by a wolf and finds himself gradually turning into one himself.  This take on the werewolf mythos is pretty neat in that it's seen as more of a positive thing to a certain degree.  Nicholson is great as usual and Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful as ever... Which should tell you exactly how much she has to work with in her role.  James Spader is also fun as the bad guy, a smarmy little weasel who eventually goes wolf as well.  It's not great cinema but it's worth seeing for Jack alone.

Man is the deadliest prey again in the second version of The Most Dangerous Game in as many years.  While Hard Target had Jean-Claude van Damme fending off Lance Henriksen and a bunch of goons in New Orleans, Surviving the Game has Ice-T in a forest running from Rutger Hauer and a bunch of characters actors including Gary Busey and F. Murray Abraham in full on "scream madly whenever I damn well feel its called for" mode.  Hauer is good, there are some fun action beats and Ice-T is a perfectly serviceable action hero.

Sylvester Stallone is a former bomb expert who now does freelance jobs on the side after being betrayed by Army buddy James Woods.  He hooks up with vengeance-seeking Sharon Stone to take on two Cuban gangsters played by Rod Steiger and Eric Roberts... Two of the whitest actors you are likely to find.  The acting is hilariously over the top, especially Roberts and Steiger; Stallone and Stone have some chemistry but not enough, the action is solid and James Woods single-handedly makes the movie worth seeing just by casually giving his usual performance.  It's cheesy as hell and quite enjoyable if you're in the right frame of mind.  If you're not, it's sort of a slog but really, that;s what 2 AM viewings when you;re tying to get to sleep are for.

Steven Seagal's lone directorial effort is quite a thing to behold.  Endlessly proud of how good it thinks it is; hopelessly pompous and sporting one of the most unlikable heroes since the 70's, On Deadly Ground is a miracle of ego on Seagal's part.  Seagal is Forrest Taft (always struck me as funny that two movies released in the same year had a lead character with that first name), a man who finds he actually does have a conscience when he turns on boss Michael Caine who took a break from acting after this one.  Can't say I blame him.  The unintentional humor in this film is just off the charts, especially the climax which has our eco-friendly hero blowing up an oil rig on the ocean.  It's a real hoot.

Coming Soon: The Worst of 1994

Friday, May 23, 2014

1994: Honorable Mentions/The Rest

1994 was a very good year, though to be honest there are more films from this year I just sort of like than love.  Let's begin...

Honorable Mentions:

Solid drama based on the 50's quiz show scandals that is nicely directed by Robert Redford with a good cast and script.  I'm a big history guy and this sort of movie is right up my alley.

Jim Carrey had a hell of a 1994 with three releases, all of which made money.  His first was this engagingly silly comedy that is utterly stupid but also utterly entertaining.  Seriously, was there a kid alive in 1994 who didn't love this one?  I sure as hell did!

Pretty damn good adaptation of a Robert Heinlein novel (though not exactly faithful) about an alien invasion by mind controlling slugs in a small Midwestern town.  Donald Sutherland is good in a rare heroic turn and the alien f/x are pretty neat.

With slightly better execution, this would have made the top ten easily.  I love this take on the 30's radio legend and Alec Baldwin is just great in his role.  Fun action, a fun cast, it's just entertaining as hell.

Pretty damn funny Jim Carrey movie from the Farrelly Brothers about two supernaturally dumb guys.  I kind of like Jeff Daniels' performance a little more, though.

Solid enough action thriller with Jeff Bridges as former IRA guy turned Boston bomb squad cop and Tommy Lee Jones as his deranged former friend who comes looking for him.  The lesser of the two mad bomber films from the summer (Speed is the other one), this is still a watchable enough flick with a fun climax and an enjoyably hammy turn from Jones.

Outside of Bloodsport, this may be Jean-Claude Van Damme's best movie.  Based on a Dark Horse comic, it's fun time traveling action flick with good action and some nice funny bits.  Ron Silver is also good as the bad guy.

The Rest:

Brandon Lee's final movie is an acceptable supernatural revenge flick, hampered only by the unfortunate death of its star which makes it a little hard to enjoy.  Still, Lee was a damn fine action hero and this would have been another step for him to greater things.

A great Quentin Tarantino script is more or less buried under Oliver Stone's rewrite and overbearing direction which is a visual assault on the senses that ends up making the film just about as senseless as it gets.  It might be the most visually annoying movie I have ever seen and the only reason it's not on my worst list is the skill it took to make it is quite visible.  Considered shocking in 1994, Natural Born Killers is a rather obvious satire of the media, hitting points that have been hit with more accuracy and originality before and since.  The cast is good, though.  Can't take that away from the film.

A solid cast and some good Stan Winston f/x make this adaptation of the Anne Rice novel worth a look, though I have to say I much prefer my vampires to be along the lines of the ghouls in From Dusk Till Dawn.

The story is predictable, the cast is solid but the real reason to seek this out is one simple reason: How many times can you say that you saw Meryl Streep in an action movie?  Seriously, that alone makes up for whatever shortcomings the movie has.  Hell, the poster is all the plot summary you really need and if you can't tell Kevin Bacon is the bad guy then you need to watch more movies.  This one is pretty damn enjoyable.

I am not the biggest fan of this one,.  Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise are good, there are scattered moments here and there that are quite effective but for the most part I think this is an overly long, somewhat annoying slog to get through.

Coming Soon: 1994 Guilty Pleasures

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

1978: The Best, Worst and Everything In Between

1978 was a rather eccentric year for film, so sit back, relax, and take in the sights.

The Best

10. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

I love this spoof of 50's monster movies more than I really should, to be honest.  It's dumb as hell, chock full of bad jokes but damn it if it doesn't work like clockwork!

9. Hooper

It's probably more of a condemnation of the overall output for the year than anything else, but I really do enjoy this character driven, stunt laden comedy.  Burt Reynolds' second film with Hal Needham at the helm is a fairly solid example of the sort of film the star used to do before getting bogged down in crappy car chase movies (ironically directed by Mr. Needham).  Reynolds is fun as a veteran stuntman, Sally Field, for the last time really, is cute and likable and the stunt work is outstanding.  It's not a classic by any means but it's still a fun film to revisit every now and then.

8. Piranha

I really dig this Joe Dante Jaws cash-in released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures.  Fun f/x and cast, an agreeably stupid story and a brisk pace make this quite enjoyable.

7. Superman: The Movie

While not perfect by any means, the first Superman movie is still the best of the franchise.  Well directed by Richard Donner and sporting fine work from Christopher Reeve as the man of steel, this is an endlessly entertaining superhero movie with a solid cast and a great John Williams score.

6. Up in Smoke

While the rest of their movies are strictly guilty pleasures for me, the first Cheech and Chong film entertains me enough to give it a spot here.  I honestly don't have a hell of a lot to say about it except that it made me laugh and sometimes that's all you need.

5. Every Which Way but Loose

This is probably the only top ten list for 1978 that has this one but I gotta say that it's not often you come away from a movie where the man character's sidekick is an ape saying "God am I glad I saw that!"  Clint Eastwood is funny as hell in this one, doing a Burt Reynolds style movie better than Burt ever could.  Most of the Eastwood 70's crew is here and in addition to the silly, lowbrow comedy there are actually some pretty solid character moments.  It's a real gem.

4. Drunken Master

Jackie Chan's breakout film is really something to behold.  While his earlier movies had tried to shoehorn him onto the being the next Bruce Lee, this one is closer to what you generally expect from the man with a blend of comedy and awesome kung-fu action.  Just fantastic all around.

3. Halloween

John Carpenter really came into his own with this seminal slasher movie.  Great prowling camera work, Jamie Lee Curtis, really not much more to say about this one that I haven't already outside of it's really good.

2. National Lampoon's Animal House

I love this fantastic slobs vs. snobs (literally) comedy that really made John Landis a popular director.  Tons of funny scenes but the real joy is in watching John Belushi go through the movie with no other purpose other than making you laugh yourself silly.  One of the best comedies of the decade with an awesome cast.

1. Dawn of the Dead

My favorite horror movie of all time is also the best movie of 1978.  George Romero crafted a brilliant piece of cinema here with a relatively subdued bit of commentary (for him at least), a solid quartet of actors for the leads and some fun Tom Savini gore.  Just pure, simple perfection.

Honorable Mentions:

Amusing follow-up to Neil Simon's previous comedy Murder by Death that spoofs Casablanca and Bogart movies in general.  Peter Falk is the best reason to watch the film as he gives a very funny performance and the humor is wonderfully un-PC at times.

Brian DePalma's adaptation of the John Farris novel is a gory, suspenseful bit of fluff revolving around psychic powers, Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes trying to kill each other and some of the most over the top gore scenes you are likely to find in a big studio film from the era.  Rick Baker is the real star of this one, delivering the goods including a spectacular end for villain Cassavettes.

Amiable enough comedy with Chevy Chase as a cop trying to protect Goldie Hawn from a mysterious killer.  Most of the charm comes from the two leads who exhibit solid chemistry with each other.

I rather enjoy this low budget haunted house movie.  It's got a decent Richard Crenna performance, some nice horror set pieces and a fun twist at the end.  Roger Corman's New World Pictures distributed this one, it's worth checking out.

The Worst:

Possibly the worst thing Chuck Norris ever did that wasn't either put out by Cannon or directed by his brother Aaron.  Insufferably dull and poorly acted, this spy thriller has pacing issues out the ass and only wakes up on the rare occasion Chuck breaks out the karate.

This early effort from Charles Band should be one of my guilty pleasures with a small town setting, some cheesy stop-motion aliens and a great cast but it just falls flat thanks to listless direction and bad pacing.  Not the worst thing MST3K ever tackled but it's still pretty damn bad.

Guilty Pleasures:

The 70's weren't an especially good time to be Richard Burton as his film choices became as poor as his health.  After Exorcist II (might have to do a special post just for that), he made this rather overwrought psychological horror film based no a 1973 novel.  Burton is John Morlar, a rather dour, misanthropic writer who has the ability to cause disaster and death by sheer force of will.  The film sports good production values, a solid cast and a complete lack of ability to really go for the throat, at least in the way they probably intended.  The pace is a little too stately and apart from a rather horrific plane crash sequence it doesn't generate much in the way of suspense and terror.

Much of the film deals with Morlar's amazingly crappy life which makes for some nice bits of dark comedy (the bit where he more or less compels his neighbors annoying wife to kill herself is quite funny and creepy, as is the way his parents die) and a race against time... actually more of a lazy stride than a race, before the comatose Morlar (he's bashed in the head in the first scene by his shrink as we later learn) can cause another disaster.  The only real reason to see this is Burton who carries the film.  He's not great as one would hope, but he certainly commands your attention.  It works pretty well as a dark comedy, actually.

I really have no excuse here for enjoying this one.  Basically a tired riff on the original, it nevertheless makes it here simply because they turn the shark into Jason frigging Voorhees two years before Friday the 13th.  Hell, they even scar it up a bit to make it more scary!  How am I not gonna laugh at that?

By all rights, this should be right on the worst of the year list but for some ungodly reason, I find this pseudo-sequel to Death Race 2000 to be hideously watchable.  Cursed by a bad production, this one has David Carradine and Claudia Jennings as post-apocalyptic Jedis more or less who are forced into a battle with a warlord and a renegade from their order played by Richard Lynch.  Full of blood, boobs and explosions, this is one of the most enjoyably bad films I've seen.

1978 was quite the year for film.  Maybe the last sort of up and down one for a while, in my opinion.

About Me

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