Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

Film Review: The Outsiders (1983)

Release Date: March 25th, 1983
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Kathleen Rowell
Based on: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett, Tom Waits

Zoetrope Studios, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes (original theatrical), 114 Minutes (2005 extended edition)

Review:

Francis Ford Coppola was once an amazing director. Some of his work, later in life, just doesn’t compare to his earlier films. At the height of his quality run, he directed The Outsiders.

This film is a classic but it seems to have faded away in recent years. When I was growing up, this movie was on television all the time and it was something that just about everyone had seen and loved. I’ve never met anyone who has seen the film and not had a favorable opinion about it.

Part of its greatness, is that it boasts some serious talent. The Outsiders is packed full of 1980s male icons and this was just before they all broke out and became huge stars. Coppola had a real eye for talent, as almost every single young man in this movie went on to have pretty big careers.

The movie is based off of a stellar novel. The story follows a few young men in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma. The main characters are from the wrong side of the tracks and are a part of a gang referred to as the Greasers. Their rivals are the rich kids who live across town. They are called the Socs (pronounced “so-shiz”, as it is short for “socials”). There is a violent confrontation and the youngest kid in the Greasers stabs and kills a Soc in an effort to prevent his best friend from being drowned in a park fountain. The kids go on the run and hide out but while away, they save a bunch of children from a burning schoolhouse and are branded heroes. All the while, Johnny, the youngest Greaser, is hospitalized due to burns and smoke inhalation. Everything leads to a big rumble, two huge tragedies for the group and the boys learning that they have to be each other’s family in a world that rejects them.

The Outsiders is a beautiful motion picture backed by a beautiful score. It also features a fantastic title track by Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately, the score is replaced by popular 1960s tunes in the 2005 extended edition of the film. Now the extended edition is great for all the deleted scenes that were put back into the movie, making it almost a half hour longer, but it loses the emotional weight of the original version due to trading out the perfect score for 60s rock and roll. While the music is fitting to the historical time of the movie, it is distracting if you’ve seen The Outsiders in its original form. I hope that there is eventually an extended edition with the original music restored.

The Outsiders is in the upper echelon of Francis Ford Coppola’s oeuvre. While it is not a pillar of perfection like The Godfather I and II, it is better than the best movies of many other accomplished directors.

Film Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Release Date: March 19th, 2016 (Auditorio Nacional premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Scoot McNairy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Patrick Wilson, Kevin Costner, Carla Gugino

DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I finally got around to seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I wasn’t in a rush to see it and I was debating if I was going to check it out in the theater at all. The trailers did nothing for me and Zack Snyder has a pretty lackluster track record. However, after seeing it today, in a nice quiet theater, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

It wasn’t as bad of an experience as I had anticipated. But then again, it is more of the same if you have already witnessed Zack Snyder’s mostly awful Man of Steel. Sure, it has new stuff added in and it is that new stuff that gives this mostly dull film some life but once the big battle with Doomsday starts, it becomes Snyder style destruction porn to the tune of mediocre special effects and overly stylized dirty shots. I don’t think Snyder will be satisfied until he destroys the universe ten times over.

Let me point out the positives before I turn into a total dick, however.

Ben Affleck IS Batman. Okay, maybe Michael Keaton still has the edge for me but Affleck represents the Caped Crusader in a way that the previous Batman, Christian Bale, just couldn’t. The growly voice is gone and replaced with a much more plausible voice changer. His facial expressions and demeanor are just on point and I feel like I am watching a angrier, more mature version of the Dark Knight from the perfect Batman: The Animated Series. There are weird and uncharacteristic things that Batman does, but I will get into that later and it still doesn’t diminish what Ben Affleck did with this character.

Gal Gadot is pretty good as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. She isn’t in the film enough to guarantee that she is made for the role but from what I saw, I think she’s a good choice. Although she was overly sexualized with armor that gave her bigger boobs and a few perfectly timed crotch and ass shots of glory. But Zack Snyder is kind of a “lowest common denominator” director, so tits and ass for the masses!

Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, even though he has to portray the role in these incredibly flawed films. His Clark Kent is passable but you never see very much of Clark and therefore aren’t able to get a sense of the character’s two sides. In fact, his two personas are mostly pointless in this film, other than having Clark meet Bruce at a Lex Luthor shindig and to have someone for Perry White to wonder where they ran off to again.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is okay. I feel like we got the most we were going to get out of her in Man of Steel and she doesn’t feel like a true Lois to me. I think the director just went for the biggest name he could get at the time and she does come with critical acclaim.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is kind of intriguing. I liked the chemistry between Alfred and Bruce and it will be interesting to see him have more time to play the character when a solo Batman film comes out.

The film’s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was pretty damned good. Wonder Woman’s theme was especially bad ass.

Another big positive for me, is that the film starts twenty years into Batman’s legacy. He is already well established and his rogue’s gallery is out there causing havoc in Gotham City. It’s refreshing to not have to sit through another two and a half hour origin story for the umpteenth time.

Now on to the bad.

Lex Luthor is fucking shit. This isn’t a knock against Jesse Eisenberg for what he did, it is a knock against the filmmakers for casting him in the first place. And shaving him bald in the end doesn’t make up for the unpainted Nolan Joker-esque look of the character. He is whimsical, crazy and too bizarre to ever become the future President of the United States. His plot was idiotic, his execution was terrible and there was nothing even interesting about him. In fact, he reminded me of Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew Lenny from the horrendous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. You know, the character played by Ducky from Pretty In Pink as an amped up more strange version of Ducky. I’m hoping, that in a future film, it is revealed that he was just Lenny Luthor playing with his uncle’s empire until his uncle gets back from where ever he is – maybe hanging out with Darkseid.

Speaking of Darkseid, it is obvious he is coming due to Batman having visions about it. But when the hell did Batman become a psychic with special visions? Is this Batman a metahuman with special powers? It’s weird and it doesn’t fit the character unless he’s been huffing gases from Scarecrow’s evil warehouse or spending too much time around Axis Chemicals.

Also, Batman murders the fuck out of people. Zack Snyder defended this in an interview by pointing out that Batman has killed before. Well, yes, he has. However, it’s never been his intention and he’s never been so reckless and careless about it. It is kind of Batman’s code not to kill. Zack Snyder, between this, Batman’s mystic eye, Batman branding criminals with his logo – giving them a death sentence – and the fact that he has to shoot a gun every time there is one on the set just proves that Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about source material and has probably never read a Batman comic other than the Frank Miller stuff he claims he based this off of. And even then, it still doesn’t fit the Frank Miller Batman mold.

The Batman versus Superman showdown is pretty awesome when it happens but it just doesn’t get to where you hope it would. Ultimately, Batman decides not to kill Superman at the last second, because his mom is also named Martha. “You’re mom’s name is Martha?” “Yep!” “Did we just become best friends?!” “Yep!”

Doomsday is a pile of shit whose sole purpose is to destroy the entire world, which he nearly accomplishes until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman beat him. Superman gets mortally wounded and dies. But it’s obviously an homage to his comic book encounter with Doomsday, who killed him. Superman will be back, just like in the comics and his death in the film is neither a shocking moment or anything that you feel will be permanent. It plays more like “Oh, they did that? Whatever. See you next movie, Supes.”

And why was everything so dark and depressing throughout this entire film? Where is the yin to the yang? This was just yang and yang. Superman and Batman are great in the comics together because there is a clear difference between them. There was no real difference in this film. Both are vigilantes, both take the law into their own hands and both are tortured depressing characters hellbent on destroying each other. Superman is the all-American good guy. Batman is the antihero. In this film, they’re both just angry, damaged forces of nature destined to collide and there is no real contrast between them.

I will say that the film is more refreshing than the cookie cutter Marvel-Disney shit lately. I wouldn’t call it a better film than the Marvel stuff but it is different and not trying to emulate it too much.

I don’t have much excitement for what’s next but I hope I am pleasantly surprised. There was more good than bad in this film. I just hope that Zack Snyder is never allowed to direct again but he’s attached to direct the follow-up to this picture. Ultimately, I’m more interested in the solo hero films than the big Justice League movies coming first.