Film Review: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Also known as: Fair Is Fair (working title), Billie Jean (Greece video title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Helen Slater, Keith Gordon, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell, Barry Tubb

Delphi III Productions, The Guber-Peters Company, TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“$608 dollars for the scooter your son trashed. That’s what you owe and we’re not turnin’ ourselves in til we get it. Fair is fair! We didn’t start this, we didn’t mean it to happen but we’re not givin’ up til you pay. Fair is fair!” – Billie Jean

I remember discovering this in the late ’80s on the shelf at a mom and pop video store. I thought Helen Slater looked really hot on the VHS box and it also had Christian Slater in it, who I was growing to like a lot around that time. Somehow this came and went in the theaters and my 6 year-old self in 1985 never knew of its existence. Granted, I couldn’t even get my parents to take me to Weird Science back then.

In the ’90s, I feel like this was on TV all the time. I don’t think a week went by without this broadcasting on TBS or TNT, usually on late at night or in a weekend block of ’80s movies.

The main character is named Billie Jean, probably to capitalize off of the super popular Michael Jackson song of the same name. Billie Jean and her brother Binx often times get harassed by local douchebag Hubie, who has the douchebaggiest name ever. Hubie steals Binx’s scooter and ends up beating up Binx and trashing his flashy moped. Billie Jean confronts Mr. Pyatt, Hubie’s dad, and asks for money to fix the scooter. Pyatt brings her upstairs and tries to rape her and tells her she’ll basically have to put out and get the money a little bit at a time. Things escalate, Binx accidentally shoots Pyatt and the kids go on the run, as Pyatt accuses them of robbing him. As the film rolls on, we see how the media spins the story and how Pyatt takes advantage of the situation and tries to profit off of Billie Jean becoming a cult hero by selling merchandise with her likeness on it. Ultimately, this is a film about youth not trusting their elders and about the cult of personality in a time before social media and the Internet.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a cool film and pretty underappreciated in the grand scheme of ’80s teen movies. It certainly has much more to say than the slew of teen sex comedies that were the norm. However, it didn’t do well theatrically and sort of built up its own cult following as the years passed. Sadly and frustratingly, it took a really long time before this ever got any sort of DVD release.

Helen Slater was really good in this and she carries the film. She was able to handle the tough task of her character’s evolution from sweet Texas teen girl to the leader of a generation of kids who had no one to look up to: kids who felt exploited by the adults of the world.

Truthfully, this is a sort of superhero movie, which is funny as Slater played Supergirl the year before this. But for people that said there were no female superhero movies before Wonder Woman came out last year, Helen Slater had already made two, three decades earlier.

The other kids in this: Christian Slater, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman and Keith Gordon all did a fine job too. Peter Coyote played the cop trying to bring the kids in but was also trying to save them from themselves. Coyote was very likable and the contrast between him and Dean Stockwell’s district attorney character was great.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a wonderful coming of age drama that is superbly enhanced by its stellar soundtrack, especially in regards to Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”, which really fit the movie to a T.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Gleaming the CubePump Up the Volume and Hiding Out.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

Film Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Release Date: December 6th, 1991
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Iman, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, John Schuck, Rosanna DeSoto, Christian Slater, Michael Dorn, Todd Bryant, René Auberjonois

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Captain’s log, stardate 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?” – Captain James T. Kirk

Something has to be said for the quality that Nicholas Meyer brings to a Star Trek movie, whether as a director or a writer. He directed two of the very best films with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and this one. He also was involved in the writing of my personal favorite film in the franchise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

While most fans consider The Wrath of Khan to be the very best, this chapter in the franchise is equal to it. Again, I like The Voyage Home the best overall but Khan and this film are very, very close seconds.

Where Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost the death of the franchise on the big screen, this was a breath of fresh air and a proper swan song for the original Enterprise crew, as it was the last time they would all be together. It also sort of closes a major chapter in Trek lore, as the Federation and the Klingons, after decades of conflict, agree to try their hand at peace.

It is that attempt at making peace between the two governments that brings out the worst in some of the characters in this film. People on both sides of the coin don’t want to trust each other and some of them conspire to kill the opportunity for peace. In fact, this is more of a political thriller and a conspiracy movie than just some fantastical sci-fi adventure.

Following a diplomatic dinner between the Enterprise crew and the Klingon Chancellor, the Klingon ship is attacked and the Chancellor assassinated. Everything is set up to look like Captain Kirk orchestrated the attack. As he and McCoy are framed for the assassination, they are sentenced to hard labor on a Klingon prison planet. All the while, Spock heads up an investigation on the Enterprise itself, in an effort to solve this mystery, save his friends and to win the trust of the Klingon Empire and bring forth much needed peace.

The Undiscovered Country isn’t just a great Star Trek movie, it is a great political thriller. It feels real and gritty, even if it takes place in outer space of the future. The experience of the cast really shines through here. Spock takes charge of things on the Enterprise and its really the first and only time we see him truly step into the role of leader. Nimoy knocks it out of the park and his chemistry with the other Vulcan on board, played by Kim Cattrall, was incredible.

We also get to see Sulu as a star ship captain and not only that, he is the captain of the Excelsior, a ship he greatly admired in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Seeing Sulu get his moment to shine in the captain’s chair was fantastic for those of us who have been fans of this series for decades.

Another highlight was Christopher Plummer as the Klingon villain General Chang. Plummer is the greatest villain in the film series after Khan from Star Trek II. While I loved Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III, Chang is the best Klingon commander in the franchise. He’s a character I’d love to read more about, assuming he’s got a novel out there.

The Undiscovered Country is Star Trek at its best. It stands well above any of the modern films, as well as The Next Generation movies that would follow for a dozen years after it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek‘s IIIII and IV.

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.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns II.

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.
Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns.

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.

TV Review: Mr. Robot (2015- )

Original Run: June 24th, 2015 – current
Created by: Sam Esmail
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle
Cast: Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater, Michael Cristofer, Stephanie Corneliussen, Grace Gummer, BD Wong, Sunita Mani, Azhar Khan, Michael Drayer, Michel Gill, Ron Cephas Jones, Gloria Reuben, Joey Bada$$, Craig Robinson

Universal Cable Productions, Anonymous Content, Esmail Corp., NBC Universal, 22 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It is really hard talking about Mr. Robot without spoiling something. But that is what makes this show so exceptional. It has so many twists, turns and surprises that you’re never really sure where the show is going but two seasons in, I have yet to find myself disappointed. In fact, I’ve been nothing but captivated.

The story is about hackers, primarily the main character Elliot and those around him but Elliot is the true focus of the show. If I were to say anything more than that, it might be too much. I went into this blindly and I am glad that I did. It is best to go in without spoilers. It is also best to binge watch the hell out of it. It’s actually hard not to binge it, as you can’t stop watching it once you start. The wait between season two and season three, which is still two months away, has been a long and painful lapse of time.

There really isn’t anything I can say about this show that isn’t positive.

The writing is absolutely superb. The style, the visuals and the sounds of the show draw you in and don’t loosen their grip, holding you there and keeping you there – completely immersed in this world that Elliot lives in. And really, a lot of this also has to do with the stellar acting, mostly from Rami Malek and Christian Slater but also from the other players. There isn’t a weak link in this steel chain of talent.

Sam Esmail, the creator, as well as writer and director of the most pivotal episodes, has created something otherworldly. This is the best show I have seen since Breaking Bad, which is the show that I consider to be the greatest of all-time and the standard bearer for everything else. In fact, Mr. Robot is almost as good and as perfect as Breaking Bad but only time will tell if it continues to hit the high bar it has already set.

While this show does borrow concepts and ideas from various things, which I won’t mention in an effort not to spoil this, it is still fresh and original and actually improves on a lot of those ideas.

Season one works well as a single story. Season two, which many people have been more critical about, expands the mythos of this universe and really builds a great foundation for this show going forward. While season two doesn’t have a concrete conclusion to it, it doesn’t really need one, as it gives season three a great starting point.

Mr. Robot is the best television show that the USA Network has created in their long history. It is the best show to start its run in this decade. If it maintains its quality throughout its existence, I’ll have to raise the rating from a nine to a ten.