Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Release Date: May 24th, 1989
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, Menno Meykes
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Denholm Elliot, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Alexei Sayle, Alex Hyde-White

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” – Fedora

I remember the day that I saw this film in the theater upon its release. It kicked off the summer of ’89, which was a massive time for movies and still, hands down, one of the best summer blockbuster years of all-time between this, BatmanGhostbusters IILethal Weapon 2Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Licence to KillThe Karate Kid, Part IIIFriday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, The Abyss, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. That summer also gave us great non-blockbusters like Weekend at Bernie’sUncle BuckWhen Harry Met Sally…Sex, Lies & VideotapeDead Poets SocietyDo the Right ThingUHFTurner & Hooch and Parenthood. 1989 could actually be my favorite movie year ever but I’d say it’s tied with 1984.

With all that competition and with a lot to live up to following two previous Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade had a lot on its shoulders. Not to worry though, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were still on their A-game and this one had a real familiarity to it, after Temple of Doom was a stylistic and narrative change from the original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Not only does Indy return but we get to see some familiar faces from Raiders. Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody returns and actually goes on the adventure this time. We also get to see John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah again and he is also more directly involved than he was in Raiders. The big cherry on top is the inclusion of the original James Bond, Sean Connery, who played Indy’s father. It is also worth mentioning that this started with a great sequence featuring a teenage Indiana, played by River Phoenix. The sequence was so good that it inspired a long-running television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

The film’s cast is rounded out by Julian Glover, who played an Imperial general in Empire Strikes Back, as well as a Bond villain opposite of Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only. We also get a cameo by British comedian Alexei Sayle, who was one of the creative forces behind one of my favorite shows of the ’80s, The Young Ones. The female lead is played by Irish model Alison Doody, who probably had the least impact of any Indy girl but still held her own in a cast that boasted immense talent.

The other aspect of familiarity with this picture, other than the cast, is that Indy is pitted against the Nazis once again, in a race to find a Holy treasure that also features a big desert action sequence. However, the tank Indy faces off against, as well as the Nazi colonel, are much bigger threats than the Nazi convoy from that famous Raiders chase sequence.

With the first three Indiana Jones movies, it is hard to dislike anything. All three of them are perfection. While Temple of Doom is my favorite, The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both amazing.

In fact, this is the best cinematic trilogy ever made and yes, I still consider these three films a trilogy even though a fourth one, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released after a nineteen year hiatus. That one was a step down in quality but it certainly wasn’t as big of a step down as Star Wars when it came back with the prequel films.

Indiana Jones is an incredible franchise and really, I love Indy more than I love Star Wars because the series had three consecutive pictures that were as good as a movies could ever be. Sure, you might want to argue that Citizen Kane or The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption are better films. But were they this fun while being this damn good? Hell f’n no!

Film Review: Gleaming the Cube (1989)

Also known as: A Brother’s Justice, Skate or Die (alternate titles), Downtown Hero (Denmark), Skate Rider (France), California Skate (Italy)
Release Date: January 13th, 1989
Directed by: Graeme Clifford
Written by: Michael Tolkin
Music by: Jay Ferguson
Cast: Christian Slater, Steven Bauer, Richard Herd, Le Tuan, Min Luong, Ed Lauter, Tony Hawk

Gladden Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I guess we all do unexpected things sometimes, don’t we?” – Brian Kelly

This is one of those ’80s films I’m not totally nostalgic for. I did see it back then and liked it but I never really revisited it beyond the early ’90s. Truthfully, it didn’t have the lasting power, even though it had some dope skateboarding stunts.

Gleaming the Cube is very much an ’80s teen drama in the most derivative and cliche way possible. It stars Christian Slater but it doesn’t measure up to any of his better films from the era: HeathersPump Up the VolumeThe Legend of Billie Jean, etc.

The story sees a young skater trying to solve the mystery of his adopted Vietnamese brother’s death, which at first was made to look like a suicide. It’s a coming of age story where a slacker kid must grow up and face the cruelty of adulthood while working with the cops and his gang of skater friends, one of which is skating legend Tony Hawk.

It’s a decent movie but it is forgettable. It doesn’t have anything to really make it stand out. While the skateboarding element was cool, it wasn’t anything new in teen movies by the time 1989 rolled around. In fact, it kind of hurts the film, as it feels like it should be categorized with other teen extreme sports schlock like BMX BanditsRad or Brat Patrol. While those were movies about BMX bikes, the narrative and style is still pretty consistent.

Slater still displayed some good acting chops for his age and I’m sure this only helped him get to where he needed to be, as he entered the ’90s, where he rose to being a much bigger star for awhile.

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Film Review: Leviathan (1989)

Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: David Peoples, Jeb Stuart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Eilbacher, Meg Foster

Filmauro, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Talk about having a bad day.” – Justin Jones

Leviathan is hardly a unique movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that most movies are just rehashes of things we’ve seen before.

This film is a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. But there were a lot of films like this in the 80s; films that took a crew, isolated them and then had them face some sort of terrifying monster. In fact, there was a very similar film to this, which was also released in 1989, Deep Star Six. Out of the two, this is the superior picture.

This film benefits from having a really solid ensemble cast.

Peter Weller, Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai himself, is the crew leader. Then you have Richard Crenna a.k.a Col. Trautman from the Rambo movies, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, Amanda Pays from the original Flash TV series, Meg Foster from a ton of cool movies and Michael Carmine, who was charismatic and entertaining in Michael Mann’s Band of the Hand and Steven Spielberg’s Batteries Not Included.

The creature effects in this film were handled by Stan Winston’s people. While the creature and the effects are pretty good, they do get a bit cheesy when you see the man-eating fish-mouthed tentacle. Still, most of the film was comprised of solid work by Winston’s crew.

Peter Weller did a superb job pretty much playing a normal character and not a cyborg cop or an uber cool 80s superhero. He’s always been an accomplished actor and would do Naked Lunch a few years after this picture, which was some of his best work. Here, he shows signs of greatness but is bogged down by his surroundings, a better than decent but almost throwaway sci-fi horror spectacle. But this is a movie with a cast whose talent level probably deserved a better script that emphasized more suspense and less in your face scares.

Despite some of the film’s hokiness, the sets and effects feel pretty real and this is a good looking film for 1989 and for being limited by its budget, as it was produced by an Italian studio. It had the backing of the De Laurentiis family, who weren’t necessarily known for quality but were often times able to make chicken salad with chicken shit.

I have always liked Leviathan. The fact that it stars a lot of people I adore might have something to do with that but it still plays out well and is better than most of the Alien and Thing clones. There were a lot of these types of films back in the 1980s. Hell, they still knock those movies off today, almost forty years later. But Leviathan, is still, one of the better ones.

Film Review: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Release Date: October 13th, 1989
Directed by: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Written by: Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, Shem Bitterman
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Wendy Kaplan, Tamara Glynn

Magnum Pictures, Klasky Csupo, Trancas International, Galaxy Releasing, 97 Minutes

Review:

“No, of course you don’t forget. How could you? You never looked into his face, did you? You never saw his eyes. You never saw that- that nothing, no expression, blank. My memory goes back twelve years to the night I offered… I’m gonna show you- show you something. Look. [lifts up his burned hand] Look at this, look at that. I prayed that he would burn in Hell, but in my heart I knew that Hell would not have him.” – Dr. Loomis

After the success of Halloween 4, the fifth installment was quickly pushed out. It follows the events of the fourth film but picks up a year later.

While not quite as good as 4Halloween 5 still captures the same tone and utilizes the strengths of the returning cast members.

I always really liked the opening sequence of this one. It shows how Michael Myers survives the ending of the fourth film, after being blasted to bits and falling down a mine shaft. This film even puts an extra cherry on top by having the town mob throw some dynamite down the well, which wasn’t seen in the finale of the fourth film.

This is also the first film to show Michael maybe express some empathy when he is about to murder his young niece and she asks to see his face and a tear is revealed. It can possibly be assumed that he isn’t really in control of himself, which is something that will be answered in the next film. However, this also sort of cheapens the long held idea that Michael is nothing other than evil personified.

Danielle Harris really ups the ante in this one and cemented herself as a scream queen and not just some one-off screamy kid in a sole slasher film. Donald Pleasence also returns and is at his best. He even gets some good shots in on Michael, after he’s been beaten, battered and slashed by the monster.

Also, this film is the first to show Michael’s tattoo, which would be significant to the plot of the sixth film. It also introduces a mysterious character, at the end, that assists in Michael’s escape from the police station. This also sets up the sixth film. Really, this is the first film that felt like it was actually planning to move forward, even if the sixth installment didn’t come for another six years.

If you like Halloween 4, there really isn’t a reason to dislike Halloween 5. It’s more of the same and might not be as good but it makes up for its small drop in quality with some new and interesting plot developments.

Film Review: Kill Me Again (1989)

Release Date: October 27th, 1989
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Madsen, Jonathan Gries

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), PolyGram Movies, Propaganda Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

John Dahl started his career out on a pretty good foot with his directorial debut, Kill Me Again. It is a part of his first three motion pictures that I consider a trilogy. While they aren’t a linked story, all three of those films share a common thread, they are modern noir pictures – two of which take place in the American southwest with the other taking place in New York. The other two films are Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.

Kill Me Again is the weakest of the three but it is still a pretty solid crime thriller with a good cast.

Most of the acting duties fall on the then married Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. Their chemistry is pretty uncanny, just as it was when it was first seen in the George Lucas and Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow.

Michael Madsen plays a psychotic criminal similar to his role a few years later as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. In fact, after seeing this, I’m pretty sure that it was his work in this picture that got him that more iconic part. Also drawing comparisons to Mr. Blonde, Madsen violently tortures a man strapped to a chair in this film. That man is Jonathan Gries, by the way, an accomplished actor but still probably most famous as Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynamite.

The story of Kill Me Again isn’t anything a noir fan hasn’t seen before but it is a good homage to those great old classic tales that featured femme fatales, deception, conspiracy, greed and murder. In this picture, Faye (Whalley) and her abusive boyfriend Vince (Madsen) rob a mobster transporting a briefcase full of $850,000 in cash. Faye then turns on Vince, knocking him out in a gas station bathroom. She escapes with the money and seeks out a P.I. named Jack (Kilmer) to help her fake her death. Of course, Faye also double crosses Jack and we get a dysfunctional love triangle where the femme fatale is playing both sides against one another while trying to escape the mob, who are in pursuit of the stolen money.

The film isn’t long and it speeds along pretty quickly, as every scene is pretty pivotal to the plot and advances things forward at a swift pace while still developing the characters and exploring their relationships and inability to trust one another.

Although the ending wasn’t that satisfying and was sort of a quick and simple way to wrap things up, the film doesn’t suffer because of it. All the suspense and tension were really well managed. You never once think that anyone isn’t really out for themselves and they are all fairly deplorable characters but the actors played the roles quite well and kept you engaged in the story.

Dahl’s work would improve after this but for a debut film, he certainly created something better than most directors’ rookie pictures. Plus, he was able to assemble a good cast that made the material come alive.