Film Review: Class Act (1992)

Release Date: June 5th, 1992
Directed by: Randall Miller
Written by: Cynthia Friedlob, John Semper, Michael Swerdlick, Richard Brenne, Wayne Allan Rice
Music by: Vassal Benford, Kid ‘n Play
Cast: Kid ‘n Play, Karyn Parsons, Thomas Mikal Ford, Rick Ducommun, Doug E. Doug, Meshach Taylor, Pauly Shore, Rhea Perlman

de Passe Entertainment, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“See, the way I look at it is if you gonna be Blade Brown, you gotta know where Blade Brown comes from, you know what I’m sayin’?” – Blade

I’m a big fan of the first two House Party movies with Kid ‘n Play. In fact, I watch them every couple of years because they’re lighthearted and fun, coming of age stories with two guys that are a great duo and also have solid chemistry and a lot of charisma. Plus, I owned their three albums.

It’s been quite some time since I have revisited Class Act, though. I wanted to see it again to compare it with the first two House Party pictures. Honestly, it’s a much better follow up to those films than what House Party 3 would be a couple of years later.

Also, this one has Pauly Shore in it too. It’s like a time capsule of early ’90s teen culture.

This story puts 30 year-olds Kid ‘n Play back in high school. Kid plays a genius and Play plays a thuggish, smart ass who must maintain good grades or get sent to jail. Yeah, it’s not the best setup in the world but these films have always borderlined on absurdity and slapstick humor. I can accept it within the context of what the House Party movies were. Besides, these films are about fun and not taking things too seriously.

So Kid ‘n Play find that their identities have been switched in their school’s records. This was actually caused by them, unbeknownst to them at the time. Kid has to go to the shitty classes while Play gets access to the super gifted section of the school. Play then threatens Kid to make sure he gets good grades, so he can avoid jail. In trade, Play agrees to help Kid with his lackluster physical education grade, as it could prevent Kid from going to a great college. Ultimately, the two opposites become good friends and learn a lot by being in each other’s shoes.

The film actually has a message but it is sort of lost in the craziness of the things that happen on screen. There is a school thug that has to be constantly dealt with, a drug kingpin and then the romance side of the equation where both guys will eventually have to explain their deception to the girls they fall in love with.

Then there is a whole side plot about Kid’s parents thinking he’s gay with Play.

Kid ‘n Play movies aren’t ever well acted affairs but they don’t need to be. Just as they can get by without stellar cinematography or an auteur director behind the camera. This one feels like it belongs alongside their two previous movies and it lives up to the standard that they set. Sadly, things go off the rails with House Party 3, after this picture.

Kid ‘n Play pictures are fun and goofy and always have some sort of positive outcome and a lesson learned by its lead characters. This one is no different.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Kid ‘n Play’s House Party trilogy.

Film Review: Bird On a Wire (1990)

Release Date: May 18th, 1990
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Louis Venosta, David Seltzer
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky

Interscope Communications, The Badham/Cohen Group, Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That’s like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!” – Rick Jarmin

I hadn’t seen this in a decade or so but I forgot how enjoyable this was until I revisited it.

I mean, it has Mel Gibson during the height of his career, coming off of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the Mad Max trilogy. It also has Goldie Hawn who was the quintessential ’80s comedy damsel in distress archetype. You also have them being hunted by David Carradine and Bill Duke, alongside Stephen Tobolowsky, who I will always just see as Stu from Californication. I also can’t forget the small part Joan Severance has in this as a total badass.

Mel Gibson plays Rick but he has a bunch of different names because he has been bouncing around for fifteen years, as he’s under witness protection after sending David Carradine’s drug smuggling character to prison. Carradine gets out, re-teams with his old partner, played by Bill Duke, and they set out to finally take out Rick, the one man that can stop them from going back to their old ways. Rick runs into his ex-fiance Marianne, played by Hawn, and this exposes him to the bad guys. Rick and Marianne then spend the movie on the run from Carradine and Duke, as they are forced to revisit several people from Rick’s witness protection past.

The plot is pretty good, fairly believable and a nice unique narrative twist that calls back to classic noir. Although, this is not a film-noir in any way, really. It’s an ’80s style action movie with a lot of laughs.

The coolest thing about the entire film is the final showdown, which happens at an indoor zoo exhibit that features tigers, alligators, monkeys and other dangerous creatures ready to make lunch out of anyone that finds themselves in their path. I absolutely love the finale of this film and while it has a hokiness to it, it is just a badass and incredibly well shot spectacle. The sequence of Marianne running from the tigers is better choreographed than one would expect from a simple action comedy from 1990.

The other thing that makes this work so well is that Gibson and Hawn have incredible chemistry and are believable as ex-lovers that fell away from one another, only to reconnect and find the spark is still burning strong.

Bird On a Wire is a better movie than it deserves to be, honestly. That’s not a knock against the filmmakers or actors, it’s just that films like these aren’t typically this good.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Lethal Weapon 2Air America, See No Evil, Hear No EvilWildcats and Overboard

Film Review: Singles (1992)

Release Date: September 18th, 1992
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Music by: Paul Westerberg
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley, Jim True, Bill Pullman, Matt Dillon, Tom Skerritt, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, Tim Burton, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Peter Horton

Warner Bros., 99 Minutes

Review:

“Look, Debbie, I’m kind of having a bad sugar crash. Do you think you could just, you know, hold it down?” – Pam

Since I revisited Reality Bites a few weeks back, I figured that I would also look at the film it is most often compared to: Singles.

Reality Bites didn’t hold up well to the test of time but Singles does, as it works much better as a time capsule to a bygone era that features the Seattle grunge movement just before it became a huge thing that overtook American culture for a little while. Also, it just feels more authentic than Reality Bites and doesn’t rely too heavily on one-dimensional archetypes and Gen-Xers’ philosophical and hypocritical ramblings.

As a motion picture, this is a much better body of work than Reality Bites but it also features a veteran director in Cameron Crowe, where the other film was the directorial debut of a very young Ben Stiller off of the script of a teenage girl. Not to knock Reality Bites, but it does seem much more juvenile than Singles and is full of mostly unlikable characters. Singles, on the other hand, has mostly likable characters, even in the form of this film’s version of its rock star wannabe.

All that being said, I still think that Reality Bites has more value on repeated viewings. Yes, Singles is better but it is also a bit drab at times and even with a large ensemble of characters, the film plays things really safe and there isn’t enough tension to make you feel much of anything. You just see the characters as nice, mostly boring, young people confused about things like love and life because they still lack experience. With Reality Bites, even if the two main characters are selfish and pretty unlikable, there is enough tension and magnetism between them that you feel something.

Where Singles excels is in the fact that it is shot better, directed better and has actors that are able to feel like real, genuine characters. And this film just feels more mature, even if it is about young people finding their way into adulthood.

This also has a cool factor because of the real world legendary musicians who appear in this before they even reached greatness. You have Chris Cornell, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder before his band was even called Pearl Jam. You also have an acting cameo from the it director of the time, Tim Burton.

I still liked Singles. It isn’t a film I will want to go back to anytime soon but everyone was good in it and it felt more like a social semidocumentary than an actual fictional film, which Crowe was probably going for and succeeded at achieving. This felt like one of those earlier seasons of MTV’s The Real World, before producers realized that manufacturing fights created big ratings. You know, back when The Real World actually seemed real.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Reality BitesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: Predator 2 (1990)

Release Date: November 19th, 1990 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin, Kent McCord, Calvin Lockhart, Elpidia Carrillo (cameo), Kevin Peter Hall

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 108 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.” – King Willie

I know a lot of people that don’t like Predator 2. Those people are assholes and their opinion doesn’t matter.

Predator 2 isn’t as perfect as its predecessor, which was a true masterpiece of ’80s action filmmaking. It is impossible to follow up perfection with more perfection. Well, not impossible but incredibly hard, especially in Hollywood where chasing the money usually leads to shoddy results.

Still, Predator 2 is a damn fine picture that is true to the spirit of the original while being its own thing, in a different setting and expanding on the Predator mythos in new ways.

Most of what we know about these alien creatures came from this film. It’s the first to really sort of showcase the psychology of the alien. You understand why it is doing what it is doing a bit more, you come to see that it isn’t just a cold blooded killer. The alien has rules and just appreciates a good hunt and going toe to toe with good game. It also shows that they are a society of respect for those they hunt against, if they just so happen to be bested in battle. Plus, it throws in an Easter egg to the Alien franchise, letting us know that these different alien species exist in the same universe.

Like its predecessor, this film also boasts a large cast of really talented people: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin and Calvin Lockhart, as an evil voodoo drug kingpin that is maybe more chilling than the Predator itself.

I think that doing a sequel in a different environment was a good idea. I also feel as if the film took its cue from the success of Robocop and other ’80s films that took place in a near future urban environment with extreme crime and chaos. This is set in Los Angeles but it very much feels like the Detroit of Robocop 12. Frankly, I love the setting and I love seeing the Predator come between a massive gang war and drawing the attention of the LAPD, most notably the task force led by Danny Glover’s character.

We also get Gary Busey and Adam Baldwin as FBI agents that know about the alien and are trying to capture it alive in an effort to study it and steal its advanced technology. Busey’s group are a real thorn in Glover’s side but the two do get into a really cool sequence where they fight the Predator in a meat packing plant.

Alan Silvestri returned to score this picture, which was fantastic, as he did such an incredible job with the first movie. All of his iconic Predator themes are here but he adds in some new stuff and tweaks some of the other themes and presents them in new ways, which works really well.

I also want to point out that by Bill Paxton being in this, he is the only actor to be killed by both a Predator and a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. That’s a pretty significant honor.

This is just a cool movie. For people that grew up in the ’80s loving the action movies put out by Cannon, this is like a balls to the wall Cannon film but with a much larger budget.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predators.

Film Review: Reality Bites (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Helen Childress
Music by: Karl Wallinger
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, David Spade (uncredited), Anthony Robbins (uncredited), Jeanne Tripplehorn (uncredited)

Jersey Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.” – Troy Dyer

This was a coming of age movie that I loved when it came out back in 1994. Watching it nearly a quarter of a century later, I hate most of these characters and just see them as the typical “I’m such a cool counterculture ’90s slacker” type. But the reality is, I watched this film about struggling twentysomethings before I was even twenty. Now, being in my thirties and having survived my twenties, it has a very different effect on me now.

All the philosophical rantings are just nonsense. However, what I may have thought were good points when I was an angsty teenager (but I laugh at now) can’t simply be dismissed as shitty dialogue. If anything, this film is a product of ’90s Generation X culture. It certainly isn’t an inaccurate portrayal of it. These ideas, these philosophies and the living hypocrisy of those who espoused it was real. It’s what a big portion of that generation felt and how they saw the world, as they entered it as adults with a very different point-of-view than their Baby Boomer parents.

If anything, this film serves as a real time capsule to the ’90s. And really, are these young people different than those of other generations?

Everything I’m saying isn’t really criticism, it’s just my understanding of these things now. Sure, every young person thought Ethan Hawke was cool in this movie and Winona Ryder was sort of this elven looking ’90s girl next door that everyone was crushing on hard. However, seen outside of twentysomething eyes, they’re not likable characters. They’re selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and complete hypocrites. I couldn’t find myself cheering for them to make it as a couple. In my thirties, I found that I was more interested in Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn’s characters, as they actually had more interesting stories, seemed more grounded and were infinitely more likable. I knew that they would turn out okay.

Going back and seeing the things I wrote or put on social media when I was in my twenties is always a cringe worthy experience. So I can’t imagine what these characters would think now, looking back at the documentary Ryder’s Lelaina was creating out of their lives. I hope they all evolved well beyond where they were at this point in their lives.

Primarily, the point of this film is to show what it is like for Gen Xers to be leaving college and trying to make it in the real world. Yeah, it’s tough out there, we all get that if we’ve lived through it without uber rich parents. But that is where I can relate to the film. And also because these were people that weren’t too dissimilar from my friends at the same age. Those who I am still friends with evolved and grew into better people. Those I am no longer friends with stayed the same and still rant on about the same crap that neither makes them cool anymore and just makes them come off as poorly aged turds.

But I still like this movie. I like it because it actually is accurate… scarily accurate. Ben Stiller did a good job behind the camera, especially since he had to split his time with acting duties in this as well. But it is kind of sad to relive life through the experiences of these fictitious characters, now realizing that we were all full of shit.

We had high hopes, all this optimism, we thought we’d change the world and fix the wrongs of our parents generation. However, our parents thought the same thing and so did their parents. “Down with consumerism!” “Hey, let’s order Domino’s!” “Don’t be a fucking sellout, man!” “Hey, some major network wants to buy my show!” And in the end, the world is the same. Maybe a bit worse, actually.

This is definitely more of an analysis of this film’s philosophies and characters and less of an actual review but whatever. I can write what I want because I’m not selling my soul to some corporate sponsored publisher that murders whales and dumps crude oil on the heads of Third World infants, maaan!

Someone pointed out to me that the script was written by a 19 year-old girl. Of course it was. Granted, props to her 19 year-old self (who would be in her forties now) for accomplishing such a feat. Seriously. It’s a film that felt truly authentic. It sadly just shows you that young people mostly suck because life hasn’t made them better yet.

I kind of think Troy just stayed a total starving artist douchebag though. And despite the “happy” ending, he probably still sneaked out the next morning.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: SinglesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: The Demolitionist (1995)

Release Date: March 10th, 1995 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Kurtzman
Written by: Brian DiMuccio, Anne Kurtzman
Music by: Shawn Patterson
Cast: Nicole Eggert, Richard Grieco, Bruce Abbott, Heather Langenkamp, Susan Tyrrell, Peter Jason, Sarah Douglas, Tom Savini

A-Pix Entertainment, Two Moon Releasing, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Alyssa Lloyd.” – Alyssa Lloyd/The Demolitionist

If you were to take Robocop and take all the really good stuff out of it, replace the actors with mostly incapable ones, bastardize the plot and make the hero look like Jamie Powell from Charles In Charge, then you would have The Demolitionist. But hey, special effects maestro Tom Savini acts in this!

This movie is terrible with a capital TERRIBLE. It’s mid ’90s sci-fi/action schlock for the straight to VHS market. Granted, even though I lived in video stores throughout my youth, I never rented this. The first time I saw it was in the early ’00s when I was a third shift security guard at a high rise condominium on the beach and this popped up on TBS or TNT at three in the morning. I actually didn’t get to see it with full violence and boobies until I just watched it the other night.

Why did I decide to watch this again? Well, it’s been like fifteen years and even though I knew it was bad, I’m a sucker for terrible motion pictures. So, being a sucker for cinematic shit, reliving this experience was not a disappointment.

First, this film has Richard Grieco in it as the sadistic villain. Grieco was decent on the original 21 Jump Street and his own spinoff of that show, Booker. He also starred in a terrible but fun movie, If Looks Could Kill, which saw him play a high school student mistaken for a James Bond type of spy. Other than that, his acting work has been abysmal and this is no different. Well, it could actually be the big glorious cherry on top of his sundae of shitty performances.

Nicole Eggert of Charles In Charge and Baywatch fame stars as the hero. She’s basically Robocop but a hotter version with a normal head and a body that also doesn’t really look altered. Granted, she’s basically a zombie and needs some special injections to prevent her from rotting away. Sadly, we don’t actually get to see Robozombie eating douchebag brains.

Eggert and Grieco were just atrocious in this. It’s really bad, man. Their acting is actually worse than I remembered. I can’t say that it is wholly their fault though, as this entire production is horrendous. Weirdly, it is directed by Robert Kurtzman, who is actually really respected as a monster movie makeup artist. However, his work in the director’s chair leaves a lot to be desired.

Nothing about this movie is good, other than I have a soft spot for Eggert because I used to crush on her hard when I was a young lad in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

You may be wondering if this cyber turd should be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! The Shitometer can eat and analyze the toughest turds! Even cyber turds! The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: Robocop and other clones of its story but this is no friggin’ Robocop.

Film Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.