Film Review: The ‘Young Guns’ Film Series (1988-1990)

Young Guns was kind of a big deal when it came out in 1988. It had hip young stars and it was a western in a decade where they weren’t too popular. It was like a gritty, Brat Packy action flick that saw our heroes face off against one of the greatest western villains of all-time, Jack Palance.

And then there was a sequel, which brought in some other young stars on the rise.

Since it has been awhile since I’ve seen these two movies, I felt like it was time to revisit them.

Young Guns (1988):

Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, Terence Stamp

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Peppin. I see you got Charley Crawford down there with you.” – Billy the Kid, “Yeah, that’s right, Bonney. We got a whole…” – Peppin, [Bonney goes to the window and shoots Charley Crawford] “Hey, Peppin. Charley Crawford’s not with you anymore.” – Billy the Kid

While I still enjoyed this movie, so many years after I had seen it last, it isn’t a film that has aged well. Still, it has a lot of high adrenaline moments and a great young cast of up and coming talented actors. It just feels very ’80s and kind of hokey, at points.

Emilio Estevez is the star of the picture but he is surrounded by Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, who would also join him in the sequel, as well as his brother Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko. There is also Jack Palance as the villain, Terence Stamp as the mentor and John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn, as an ally of sorts.

It is cool seeing these guys come together for a real balls to the wall adventure but the writing was pretty weak. This chapter in Billy the Kid’s life was interesting to see on screen but the movie does take some liberties, albeit not as many as its sequel.

Estevez is really enjoyable as William H. Bonney and he made the historical figure cool, even if he was a killer and not a very good person. He embraced the role, ran with it and gave it a lot of energy that someone else probably wouldn’t have been able to muster. At least not quite the same way Estevez did. Plus, I always like seeing him act with his brother. Sadly, Sheen doesn’t last too long and obviously didn’t return for the sequel after meeting his demise in this one.

Problems aside, Young Guns is still entertaining and a really fun movie. This one is considered the superior of the two but I actually like Young Guns II a hair bit more.

Young Guns II (1990):

Release Date: August 1st, 1990
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Alan Silvestri, Jon Bon Jovie
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Peterson, Alan Ruck, Balthazar Getty, James Coburn, Jenny Wright, Robert Knepper, Viggo Mortensen, Tracey Walter, Bradley Whitford,

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Yoohoo. I’ll make you famous!” – Billy the Kid

Young Guns II was a good sequel to the first. It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of issues but it feels consistent with its predecessor and I liked the additions to the cast in this one. And then there is the sexy bare ass scene with Jenny Wright that really got me excited when I was an 11 year-old in the movie theater seeing her majestic bum on a thirty foot screen. It was one of those special moments in life where you truly believe that God is real and he’s your best friend.

The soundtrack by Jon Bon Jovi makes the film feel dated but the instrumental versions of his pop rock song are still enjoyable and give the film an extra level of hipness that the previous picture didn’t have.

I really like the addition of Christian Slater here and he is my favorite character in this film series. I also liked seeing Alan Ruck and Balthazar Getty join the gang. Another plus for me was seeing Bradley Whitford get a small but important role, as I always liked him, even if I only knew him as being a dirtbag in several ’80s teen comedies. Whitford would go on to have a pretty nice career where he could show off his acting prowess much more effectively than his earlier roles.

While the big finale in the first film was bigger than anything that happens in this one, this film has a grittier feel to it, which I liked. I also liked that it told the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett story, even if it took some big liberties.

The film also entertains the Brushy Bill Roberts story, where an old man back in the ’40s claimed that he was Billy the Kid and that he actually wasn’t killed by Garrett in 1881. Emilio Estevez also plays the older Bill, where Whitford plays the guy interviewing him.

Both films have some scatterbrained writing but that doesn’t make them hard to follow and not enjoyable. This chapter is more disjointed than the first but its positives give it an edge, in my opinion. The returning cast seemed more in tune with their roles and Slater was fun to watch.

Film Review: Rocky V (1990)

Release Date: November 16th, 1990
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Richard Gant, Kevin Connolly, Tony Burton, Burgess Meredith (cameo), Carl Weathers (archive footage), Dolph Lundgren (archive footage),

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Now, like your Mark Twain once said, ‘Virtue has never been as respectable as money.'” – George Washington Duke

I have never gotten the level of hatred that people have for Rocky V. Is it the best in the series? No. But I also don’t think that from a quality standpoint, it is anywhere below the later sequels III and IV. It actually has a great and important story and examines some areas of a boxer’s life and boxing as a sport that were probably long overdue in being explored in this long running film series. There is one big negative but I’ll get to that.

First, the film deals with Rocky Balboa getting brain damage after his bout with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. It also deals with how athletes are often times taken advantage of by financial crooks, as we see Paulie give power of attorney to their accountant, who lost all their money in a failed scheme. Additionally, we get to see the crookedness of high profile boxing promoters with the character of George Washington Duke, who was an obvious caricature of Don King, who exploited several young boxers that he “owned” for his own personal monetary gain. Lastly, the film deals with a boxer and his relationship with his family and also with his personal struggles when his career is over. Rocky V is a film with a lot of layers, all of which I found to be interesting.

And that’s the thing. You could say that there is too much going on in Rocky V from a narrative aspect but I like that the film addresses these issues, shows them play out naturally and doesn’t have to spell everything out for the audience or beat them over the head with each issue. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the challenges as they appear and to understand that ultimately, Rocky has always had what he needs most and that the solution is simply embracing the love in your life.

Rocky V may be cheesy at points but aren’t most of the Rocky films to some degree? Balboa is a good hearted guy always ready to crack a bad joke and those characteristics have sort of become larger than Balboa in the films themselves. Plus, by the time you get into the later films, Paulie just adds in his own sense of humor that keeps the later sequels grounded in lightheartedness even with serious subject matter.

This film also brings the original creative team of the first Rocky back together. John G. Avildsen returns to direct, Bill Conti is back on the music and ultimately, it works well to recreate the poor area of Philadelphia that Rocky, Adrian and Paulie rose out of but now have to return to. The addition of Burgess Meredith, even as a ghostly cameo, is a nice nod to the first film and brings things full circle, which was good considering that this was the last film in the series for sixteen years.

The big negative I mentioned before is Tommy Morrision, who played the boxer Tommy Gunn. The character starts as Rocky’s protege but decays into a puppet for the sinister George Washington Duke and thus, becomes Rocky’s big opponent at the end. The problem with Morrison is that he is a real boxer and not an actor. Rocky films work better with actors as the rivals. Imagine if Apollo Creed was played by George Foreman or Larry Holmes, it just wouldn’t have worked as well. Also, I felt the same way about Antonio Tarver in the sixth film and Tony Bellew in Creed. None of these guys had the impact of Apollo, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago. Plus, Morrison’s line delivery was really painful at times.

While people knock the street fight at the end of the film, I’m fine with it. We’ve seen Rocky in the ring more than a half dozen times. Seeing him take it to the streets and embracing his roots against a jacked up farm boy was kind of cool.

I think that Rocky V came out in a time when the franchise sort of ran its course. It was the fifth film in 14 years. Plus, there was solid competition when it came out, so it didn’t perform well. Critics weren’t crazy about it but they aren’t crazy about most movies. I think people shit on Rocky V because it’s fun to shit on something that everyone hates. But I think it is more about following the crowd and not really about the movie. People just parrot each other’s sentiment and comments without much actual thought of their own but that’s why we always end up with shitty presidential candidates. But I’ll stop there and not go on some political rant.

Film Review: Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Also known as: Chucky 2: El Muñeco Diabólico (Mexico), Chucky 2 – Die Mörderpuppe ist zurück (Germany), Brinquedo Assassino 2 (Brazil)
Release Date: November 9th, 1990
Directed by: John Lafia
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Christine Elise, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Grace Zabriskie, Beth Grant, Catherine Hicks (archive footage)

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Surprise! Did you miss me, Andy? I sure missed you. I told you. We were gonna be friends to the end. And now, it’s time to play… I’ve got a new game, sport: It’s called “Hide the Soul”. And guess what? You’re it!” – Chucky

Child’s Play 2 is my favorite film in the Chucky franchise. While the first is probably considered the superior film in quality, this is the one that I think is the perfect Chucky movie and back in the day, this chapter resonated with me the most. So let me get into why.

To start, we know who and what Chucky is. In this film, he comes back to life and just goes for it. No waiting, no building of suspense for 45 minutes, just pure unadulterated Chucky, ready to kill anyone standing between him and his “best friend” Andy (Alex Vincent). And why? Because he needs young Andy’s body before his soul is permanently trapped in his doll form.

The true highlight of this film though, is the big grand finale in the Good Guy Doll toy factory. We get to see our surviving heroes run through mazes of dolls that look like Chucky. We get to see the heroes crawl through industrial machinery and try to outwit the pint-sized plastic killer. We also get to see Chucky get run through the ringer like never before and really, he’s never got his ass kicked quite like this again. Andy and his older foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise) make a formidable duo. I’m actually really glad that they are now both back in the franchise, two and a half decades later.

As a guy that has seen a shit ton of horror movies, the finale in Child’s Play 2 is one of the best final battles I’ve ever seen in the horror genre. Although, the county fair showdown in Child’s Play 3 is also pretty damn good.

I also like the casting in this film. The foster parents were Jenny Agutter, who I adored in An American Werewolf In London and Logan’s Run, and Gerrit Graham, who always makes me smile, even when he’s sort of just a snarky douche. I loved him in TerrorVision and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, as well as his multiple appearances in the Star Trek franchise. Then you have Beth Grant, who is always perfect, in a small role as an elementary school teacher that gets in Chucky’s way.

Child’s Play 2 is the peak of the original trilogy of films for me, back before the franchise got a lot more comedic with 1998’s Bride of Chucky. It’s a perfect Child’s Play film and has Chucky at his brutal best where he still gets in some funny one-liners without the film being overtly funny and still having a good amount of actual terror in it. And there is just something about that Chucky-Andy relationship that almost makes the Andy films feel like the only ones that actually matter.

Film Review: Marked For Death (1990)

Also known as: Screwface (working title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1990
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Steven Seagal, Joanna Pacula, Keith David, Danny Trejo, Danielle Harris, Kevin Dunn

Steamroller Productions, 20th Century Fox, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” – Screwface

I’ll be honest, I was never really a Steven Seagal fan. I didn’t dislike him, however. But when I was younger, I was more into Jean-Claude Van Damme because BloodsportKickboxer and Lionheart were just better pictures than anything Seagal put out. However, I did remember liking the one where he fought evil voodoo Jamaicans. So I figured that I would revisit it, all these years later.

Marked For Death isn’t a good movie but it is a passable 1990ish action film. It’s high octane, balls to the wall and well, it features awesome evil voodoo Jamiacans. It also features one of my favorite badasses, not Seagal but Keith David, who will always have a special place in my heart for They Live and The Thing.

The film also features a young Danielle Harris, a still unknown Danny Trejo and a small part by a guy who is in a ton of movies I love, Kevin Dunn.

The story sees a DEA agent come to the realization that he has become just as bad as the criminals he tries to bring down. He quits his job and returns home to decompress. However, his town is overrun by Jamaican drug dealers. Seagal then gets caught up in it and makes it his personal mission to act as a rogue agent and take these bad guys down.

The leader of the baddies is a scary looking voodoo practitioner named Screwface. The guy is legit scary and one of the coolest action movie villains of the era.

There’s guns, explosions, voodoo and all sorts of sinister voodoo trickery. The last act of the film sees Seagal and Keith David track Screwface back to Jamaica for a final showdown. But we get two final showdowns because of some of that sinister voodoo trickery.

Marked For Death is certainly watchable and I’ll be honest, it’s kind of fun. This is the best of the early Seagal movies, as far as I remember, but I’ll probably rework my way through them, as it’s been awhile since I’ve indulged in Mr. Seagal’s flicks.

Film Review: The Final Sanction (1990)

Also known as: The Final Battle (Brazil)
Release Date: November 30th, 1990
Directed by: David A. Prior
Written by: David A. Prior
Music by: Garm Beall, Tim James, Steve McClintock
Cast: Ted Prior, Robert Z’Dar, Renee Cline, William Smith

Action International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“C’mon, you big ugly fuck! I’m gonna kick your ass!” – Sgt. Tom Batanic

I love bad movies, that’s no secret at this point. David A. Prior used to crank out shitty action pictures faster than a rabbit dropping deuce pellets. His movies are horrible but they are the sort of horrible that I can get behind. I’m not sure how much or if any of it is intentional but he did have a style to his movies at the height of his run and it’s possible that he is actually an auteur. Assuming one can be an auteur of awful. Still, the man had his own style, that’s undeniable.

This film sees Ted Prior face-off against Robert Z’Dar. Both men were synonymous with bad action movies, so seeing the bulk of this film being their one-on-one war against each other was pretty entertaining.

Prior is an American while Z’Dar is a Soviet. The two are the best of the best and are pitted against each other in a “kill or be killed” survival game. The premise is hokey as all hell but these films don’t work because of realistic plots. The nonsensical nature of the narrative and the actions of the characters are why this turd is special.

I like Ted Prior because of his involvement in David Prior’s movies. Between this, Deadly Prey and the others, he has earned a place in my mental ’80s B-action hall of fame. Robert Z’Dar, on the other hand, is a superstar when it comes to these sort of films. The fact that he plays an insane Soviet hulk and throws little shovels like throwing knives is friggin’ incredible.

This isn’t a movie to sit down and watch with your girl. It is something to sit down and watch with your boys, considering you have boys that like living vicariously through cheesy ’80s badasses. Sure, this came out in 1990 but it has so much ’80s cheese, that it could fill the world’s largest quesadilla and then still have some left over for a giant plate of nachos.

The Final Sanction, despite my weird love for it, should be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Film Review: Lionheart (1990)

Also known as: León (alternate title), Wrong Bet (Australia), Lion – the Streetfighter (Denmark), Full Contact (France), A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave (UK)
Release Date: March 1st, 1990 (Argentina)
Directed by: Sheldon Lettich
Written by: S.N. Warren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sheldon Lettich
Music by: John Scott
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Brian Thompson

Imperial Entertainment Corporation, Guild, Sunil, Wong Bet Productions, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes life is… is… ugly. And stupid. And mean.” – Lyon

Something about this film just melts my heart. Yeah, I know it’s just some ass kicking Van Damme movie from early in his career but out of all those early pictures, this one really has a comforting charm and is a real feel good movie.

Maybe Bloodsport and Kickboxer win out in badass points but Lionheart isn’t far behind, as the action and the fights are aplenty and they’re all interesting and unique.

Where Bloodsport featured a variety of gimmicky fighters in one arena, Lionheart gives us a variety of gimmicky fighters in a variety of arenas: under a bridge, a parking garage, a swimming pool, surrounded by a ring of cars with headlights on, a rich dude’s tent, a racquetball court and maybe a few others that don’t immediately come to mind. Lionheart truly felt like a fighting video game come to life, which to my twelve year-old mind in 1991 was pretty friggin’ incredible. Oddly, Van Damme would go on to make a movie based on the Street Fighter video game and it wasn’t anywhere near as good as this.

One interesting thing about this picture is that Van Damme helped to write the story. He also teamed up with director Sheldon Lettich, who he would continue to work with over the years. In fact, Van Damme and Lettich are currently trying to get a sequel made to Double Impact.

Lionheart is an action film with a decent story where you actually care about the people in it. While that’s a rare thing, Van Damme pulls you in even if he wasn’t a master of acting in 1990. He’s proven that he actually has acting chops later in life with JCVD and his current project for Amazon. But really, no one watched these kind of movies for superb acting prowess. Needless to say, Van Damme is a tough but sweet character here and it is still one of my favorite performances that he ever gave.

The only real disappointment for me, was seeing Brian Thompson in this but not getting to see him actually square off with Van Damme. He was absolutely terrifying and intimidating in Cobra and in several episodes of The X-Files. He’s one of my favorite heavies from the era and he is pretty much just the sidekick to an evil rich bitch in this movie.

I like Lionheart, a whole friggin’ lot. If you are an old school JCVD fan, you probably do too.

Film Review: The Two Jakes (1990)

Release Date: August 10th, 1990
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Van Dyke Parks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Rubén Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, James Hong, Tracey Walter, Faye Dunaway (voice)

88 Productions, Paramount Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“I’m used to seein’ the intimate details of people’s lives, but lookin’ at a guy’s x-rays is as intimate as it gets. It’s the kind of thing most guys don’t even tell their wives about.” – Jake Gittes

I have never seen The Two Jakes until recently. I feel like I was psychologically deterred for decades because I remember people bashing it ever since it came out. It is this film’s existence that pointed me towards Chinatown, the film it is a sequel too. Sure, I would’ve eventually discovered Chinatown but I saw trailers for The Two Jakes on the big screen when I was just eleven years-old, so I wasn’t quite up on my knowledge of neo-noir or 1970s crime dramas. I was big on Jack Nicholson, however, as he wowed me a year earlier as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

The Two Jakes has been treated unfairly, though. Is it as stellar as Chinatown? Not really but those are massive shoes to fill. However, it is one of the best, if not… the best, neo-noir film of the 1990s. Jack Nicholson directed this sequel and while he isn’t Roman Polanski behind the camera, he still had a great eye and knew what the hell he was doing, putting this second chapter of Jake Gittes life to celluloid.

The cast in this film really makes this thing work. I loved seeing Nicholson play opposite of greats like Harvey Keitel and Eli Wallach. It was cool seeing James Hong come back too. While Faye Dunaway was obviously missing from the film, despite lending her voice to a scene, Madeleine Stowe and Meg Tilly were really good as the two top ladies in the picture. Stowe was a hot drunken maniac in the best way and Tilly was a soft yet strong women with a good presence. David Keith, a guy I have always liked, shows up a few times and gets a real moment to shine alongside Nicholson and Wallach. Rubén Blades steals the show in his scenes and after really loving that guy on Fear the Walking Dead, it was neat seeing him so young, full of vigor and not so dissimilar from his character on that AMC zombie show.

Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography. He was not the cinematographer on the original Chinatown but he had a lot of experience, his most notable credit at the time being Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His management of the film’s visual allure is worth some serious props, as he and Nicholson created a very authentic and lived in 1940s Los Angeles.

I feel that this film actually does rival its predecessor in its cinematography and overall ambiance. The tone isn’t as brooding and sinister as Chinatown but that’s film’s narrative went to some places that brought out that underlying darkness. The Two Jakes isn’t a cold and bleak tale wrapped in beauty and opulence like Chinatown was, but it is a perfect visual and narrative extension of what was established in the first film without copying it. I kind of respect The Two Jakes for being its own thing and not trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice… or at least, in the same way.

Robert Towne, who wrote both of these Jake Gittes pictures and won an Academy Award for Chinatown, had plans for a trilogy. Unfortunately, this film was not the success that Paramount Pictures had hoped for. The third film was cancelled, which is a shame. It was going to bring the story of Jake Gittes to a proper close, as it was to be focused on him later in life.

If you love Chinatown and have never seen The Two Jakes, you probably should. It isn’t as bad as some people have said and its lack of success upon its release was probably more of a reflection of the time and not the overall quality of the film itself.