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: 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: Alien³ (1992)

Release Date: May 19th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Vincent Ward, David Giller, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes (Theatrical), 145 Minutes (Assembly Cut), 138 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[to the Alien] You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” – Ripley

Alien was such an incredible movie that it was damn near impossible to follow up while hitting that same level of grandeur and artistry. Aliens happened to achieve this, however. Many people even debate which of the two films is better. So when a third Alien film came along, it couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a third time could it?

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t good. It is still one hell of a ride and it certainly isn’t short on terror and dread.

Also, this was the directorial debut of David Fincher, a young man who got his start as an assistant cameraman and a matte photography assistant on films like Return of the JediIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The NeverEnding Story.

On paper, this probably looked like it was setup to fail. However, the young Fincher made it work and helped establish his own style enough to whittle out a pretty prolific Hollywood career for himself. He followed this movie up with Se7enThe GameFight Club and since the turn of the millennium he’s done Panic RoomZodiacThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Without Alien³, those other films either wouldn’t have existed or they would have been adapted by people with a very different visual style.

And that’s the thing, Fincher has a unique style. Some love it, some don’t. Regardless of how you feel about it, the Fincher visual style is on full display in Alien³. In a way, it’s kind of impressive because Fincher had his own stylistic stamp out the gate. One could argue that he is an auteur. I wouldn’t quite call him that but you could argue for it and maybe in another decade he will be able to achieve that status.

In this chapter in the franchise, we see Ripley’s escape ship crash land on a prison planet. It picks up from the ending of Aliens, as Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still floating in space, asleep. When Ripley comes to, she realizes that everyone else died and soon after that, she comes to discover that an alien xenomorph stowed away on the ship. The rest of the film is about Ripley and the male prisoners trying to kill the alien that wants everyone for lunch. There is one catch, however… Ripley’s body is playing host to an alien queen. It’s almost Shakespearean in how the aliens get the last laugh in regards to Ripley’s fate.

One really cool thing about this film that actually blew my 13 year-old mind was that I saw the xenomorph emerge from a dog as it’s incubator/host. The alien took on characteristics of that animal, making it different and unique. My mind started exploding with ideas as to what would happen if the alien egg was incubating in other creatures. I guess toy makers got a similar idea because in the ’90s, there were a slew of Alien toys featuring all sorts of weird hybrid xenomorphs. My cousin had a really cool xenomorph rhino action figure.

The special effects in this film looked really good for 1992. However, now that this thing has been remastered in modern HD, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the shots that once worked don’t look so hot now but they’re not terrible, they’re just really noticeable. But one of the things I really loved about this picture was the first-person POV used for the xenomorph when hunting prisoners. These sequences are still really cool and it almost feels like a nod to first-person shooter games, which were just becoming the rage in this era. It’s also very similar to playing as an alien in the Alien Vs. Predator games.

Alien³ is not the grand spectacle that Alien and Aliens were. It is still a solid followup and helps enrich the mythos instead of bastardizing it like the fourth Alien film did.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The first two Alien movies.

Film Review: The Lawnmower Man (1992)

Also known as: Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, Virtual Wars (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1992
Directed by: Brett Leonard
Written by: Brett Leonard, Gimel Everett
Based on: The Lawnmower Man by Stephen King
Music by: Dan Wyman
Cast: Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis, Jeremy Slate, Dean Norris, Austin O’Brien

Allied Vision, Fuji Eight Company Ltd., Lane Pringle Productions, New Line Cinema, 103 Minutes, 141 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“…my birth cry will be the sound of every phone on this planet ringing in unison.” – Jobe Smith

What a painfully dumb f’n movie this was! I have always liked Jeff Fahey and Pierce Brosnan but even they couldn’t keep this turd buoyant!

Some films age well, some films age poorly. The Lawnmower Man feels like it was a poorly aged film by 1992’s technology standards. I mean, were there any techie guys on set to help steer the ship towards any semblance of realism? Did the writers actually understand the emerging virtual reality technology that was at the forefront of this movie? Hell, have they even seen an actual video game ever being played?

The filmmakers’ idea of what virtual reality and video games were in 1992 is on par with my psycho religious aunt that once told me that Sonic the Hedgehog was cute because demons designed him to lure stupid, unsuspecting children into the clutches of Satan.

I never watched this movie until now. Why? Because when it was new and I was 13 years-old, the trailer looked like dog shit. The CGI effects were horrible and even if they were better than current video game graphics, they still looked hokey, cheesy and terribly uninviting. The virtual world in The Lawnmower Man wasn’t something I would want to visit as a 13 year-old that was addicted to Sega Genesis. It was ugly, bizarre and to be blunt, completely uninteresting.

This film bears no resemblance to Stephen King’s story of the same name, which is why King successfully sued the filmmakers for putting his name on the film. The only thing that is remotely similar is the scene where the lawnmower busts into a dude’s house and basically eats him.

This movie sucks, it is really hard to get through, yet it is beloved by some people. But some people eat Tide Pods and buy Taylor Swift records on vinyl.

There is a sequel to this because Hollywood has no shame.

So, yes… this is a film that absolutely must be pushed into the unforgiving maw of the Cinespiria Shitmoter! The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: The Ghost In the MachineLawnmower Man 2Brainscan.

Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Film Review: Juice (1992)

Also known as: Angel Town 2 (Europe video title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1992
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Ernest R. Dickerson, Gerard Brown
Music by: Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad
Cast: Omar Epps, Tupac Shakur, Jermaine Hopkins, Khalil Kain, Cindy Herron, Vincent Laresca, Samuel L. Jackson, George O. Gore II, Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dre, Ed Lover, Donald Faison, Oran “Juice” Jones, Special Ed, EPMD (Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith)

Island World, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You gotta snap some collars and let them motherfuckers know you here to take them out anytime you feel like it! You gotta get the ground beneath your feet, partner, get the wind behind your back and go out in a blaze if you got to! Otherwise you ain’t shit! You might as well be dead your damn self!” – Bishop

Any film that opens with a Rakim song is going to get me pumped up. Juice opens up with the best Rakim song, so I was hooked right away.

Truth be told, this was a favorite film of mine during my middle school years. It came out at the very beginning of the black film movement that happened in the ’90s. This, along with New Jack CityBoyz N The Hood and Menace II Society made a huge cultural impact and for good reason.

Watching it now, I do notice some of the weaknesses of the film, which weren’t as apparent in my younger days.

A big part of the narrative towards the end of the movie has to do with how the gun crazy Bishop (Shakur) is pinning his killings and crimes on his ex-best friend Q (Epps). While Bishop gets his just desserts and Q survives, it’s left unknown what the outcome really was. Was Q in trouble? Would he still be punished for these crimes? Or would his other friend Steel, who survived an attempt on his life, be able to save his friend. While Steel mentions that Bishop is setting up Q to a nurse that is their friend, you don’t know if he survives his trip to the ER. I guess it is to be assumed that it worked out okay but after Bishop’s death, the film ends abruptly.

Another issue I have with the narrative, is that it doesn’t really develop Bishop’s power trip enough. Sure, having a gun is power but it is pretty one-dimensional in how it is handled. Also, the group of friends, who skip school and steal records, still feel like decent kids. The plot shifting to them all of a sudden deciding to rob a corner store just happens out of nowhere.

Still, shaky narrative aside, the film is an adrenaline rush, especially over the course of the last act.

It is well acted by all important parties in the film. Epps and Shakur are pretty exceptional and both men were incredibly young in this. In fact, this was what brought Tupac into the mainstream for most people. He was given an opportunity, ran with it and did great.

The film is very stylistic and represents early ’90s east coast hip-hop well. There are also cameos from several known rappers and hip-hop personalities besides Tupac: Queen Latifah, Treach, Special Ed, EPMD and from Yo! MTV Raps, Ed Lover, Doctor Dre and Fab 5 Freddy. You also get to see Samuel Jackson in an early role, just before he broke out as a star in 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

I also love that they focused a lot on Q’s quest to make it as a respected DJ in the super competitive New York City landscape. The movie does a good job of showcasing what DJ battles were like at the time, when DJs still mixed manually and didn’t have computers and gadgets to make their lives infinitely easier.

Juice is gritty and has a strong feeling of realism to it. Plus, it has a lot of energy and a great soundtrack.

TV Review: Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995, 1997-1999)

Also known as: The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures (relaunched direct sequel series)
Original Run: September 5th, 1992 – September 15th, 1995 (original series run), September 13th, 1997 – January 16th, 1999 (sequel series run)
Created by: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Directed by: Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Eric Radomski, Dan Riba, Dick Sebast, Bruce Timm
Written by: Laren Bright, Alan Burnett, Sean Catherine Derek, Paul Dini, Steve Perry, Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, Brynne Stephens
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane
Music by: Danny Elfman (theme), various
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin

DC Comics, Warner Bros., Fox, 109 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014. Also covers the sequel series, which is more or less now considered the final season of the show.

I’ve been revisiting this series lately, as it has been a long time since I’ve watched it in its entirety. Also, I wanted to do a list for this site that counts down the top fifty episodes of the series. That post will come in the near future.

In my estimation, this is probably the greatest animated series of all-time. Many will argue against that but I can’t think of any other that was as entertaining, epic, stylish, consistent, engaging or that had the quality of this series. There were a few hiccups with episodes drawn by lesser quality animation studios but those houses were quickly let go, as the show’s producers felt a necessity to maintain the show’s otherwise impeccable quality.

Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski created a unique world for Batman to play in and Paul Dini (who later went on to write amazing Batman comics) created some amazing scripts. In fact, their legacy and the influence of this show will live on forever, as many of the characters and situations created for the show, went on to live in the comic books.

Without this show, we would not have Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya and the awesome origin of Mr. Freeze, which was so awesome that it propelled him to being the greatest villain in this series and lead to him being featured as the main protagonist in the second animated film based off of this series.

Batman: The Animated Series was also innovative in the way that they produced it visually. As opposed to the industry standard of designing large set pieces and landscapes by coloring in white paper, they instead used light colors painted over black backgrounds. It provided this show with a dark atmosphere but not in a dreary way; it was more of an inviting film-noir style with very complimentary and carefully chosen colors added in.

The voice actors in this series were top notch. Mark Hamill, who was typecast after playing the iconic Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, was given a second life when he was cast to voice the Joker. Kevin Conroy was equally as good as Batman. Both men actually continued to voice these characters for years after this show went off the air. In fact, both voiced these characters as recently as the Arkham video game series and some of the animated movies.

For an American produced animated series, this show is about as perfect as you can get. There are very few shows that can maintain a level of quality this high for over 100 episodes.