My Experience Revisiting Die Hard on the Big Screen This Past Christmas

* I should probably start this off with a warning. I had intended to throw down a few paragraphs about my experience seeing this in a grande scale, but quickly realized I had so much more to say about this classic genre-defining film. So just a heads up, this got longer than I had expected and anticipated as I share my love for this film. 

When Die Hard first hit theaters in 1988, I was 12 years old. I remember my dad taking my brother and I to go see it, because he was a big action fan. I remember loving it, and I remember thinking how great Bruce Willis was because at the time, he was a big star on TV with Moonlighting. I watched a lot of television as a kid. Since that time I've grown quite obsessive with this film. I can truthfully say I've probably seen it hundreds of times since then. Sometimes I'll take a long break, maybe a few years, and then revisit it again and I'm still always surprised at just how great it is. Not just as an action film, but as a whole.

When I was visiting Austin, TX for a few days a month ago, I noticed that they had a planned screening of Die Hard at one of the local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's, specifically, the one known as The Ritz on 6th Street. The date was set for a Sunday night at 10 PM, 2 weeks from the day I was there. I knew that I just had to experience this classic on the big screen. Even though we were just there (we live 5 hours away), I begged my wife to let me go back in 2 weeks. I just had to fucking see this on the big screen. I mean, how many chances will I ever get again? Or would the opportunity ever pop up again in my lifetime? I wasn't ready to take that chance. Luckily, she was cool with it. I'm a lucky guy!

I live in a small town where we don't get any special screenings and we don't have any special theaters, so this was a big deal. I guess I've been lucky in that Cinemark does do the special screenings of classic films as part of their weekly "Classic Film Series". Though I kick myself for missing the screening of 2001, I am forever grateful that I was able to see other personal favorites like Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange recently. These experiences, especially Blade Runner, were simply amazing for a filmgeek like myself, and Die Hard was no exception.

One of the differences between these special screenings and seeing them when they're originally released theatrically is that most of the people attending these special screenings are huge fans of these particular films. They've already seen them countless times and they're going into these again as fans. It's almost a totally different experience. You already know what to expect, and that's part of the fun. With Die Hard, this fandom was on full display as the theater was packed with lifelong Die Hard fans. Every little quip, every little snarky remark, and every little smirk garnered a laugh from the crowd. The first moments that Hans Gruber uttered a word, the crowd was hanging onto every single syllable, laughing under their breath at how grande, cheesy, and completely memorable Alan Rickman was making the character. Still to this day, almost 30 years later, Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber remains one of the best villains to ever grace the screen. But that's the thing with Die Hard. It ultimately became the best of so many different things in so many different areas. But more on that later.

The crowd was on a natural high throughout the entire film. The presenter came out and spoke a few words beforehand on how special this film is, how it managed to get practically everything right, and why it's retained the title of best action film of all time, nearly 3 decades later. His words were spot-on and echoed the entire crowds sentiments. Shit, he even hit on the Johnson & Johnson FBI agents! He asked if there was anyone in the theater that had not seen the film before, and 2 women raised their hands. Nobody gave them a hard time though, just a slightly audible gasp was heard all around. But it was actually a good thing that there were a few who hadn't seen it before, because as the film played, you knew exactly who they were. They yelled, laughed, and had the most enthusiastic reactions to everything. It was awesome. A lot of us take for granted the fact that we've seen it countless times already, and we know what's coming next. We still react, but just not in the way we did that very first time. It's special that first time and the 2 women who were experiencing Die Hard for the very first time were so audibly enthralled that they just didn't care who could hear them. We all laughed, but with a genuine fondness for how endearing it was and remembering what it was like for us that first time all those years ago.
Image courtesy of Bluray.com
One of the things that makes Die Hard stand out and stand the test of time is how it throws in elements of other genre's effectively, and makes it work. While technically an action film, there are moments where it also works as a thriller. It's not primarily an action film. The action sequences are spaced out, giving the film time to breath. And then there are the moments where it's genuinely funny, either visually, or from Willis and Rickman's performances.

 It's all put together in such a clever way that nothing is dated, or feels forced. Even if you've seen it countless times like most of us have, you still laugh because it's still funny. So much of that falls squarely on Bruce Willis' shoulders. His timing is impeccable, and delivery even better. His snarky sarcastic sarcasm comes off as charming, when it would come off as being an asshole from anybody else. That was his superpower. He could make you like him, even when he was being a jerk because he was so fucking charming at it. At least for a time. I'll admit, I don't think much of the man he is today. He comes off as a moody old grump. Even in interviews today, he seems disconnected from everyone and acts as if he's too important to sit there and answer questions. Gone is the genuine enthusiasm and excitement. He used to be charming and funny. He just now comes off as arrogant and grumpy, which is pretty sad. I remember when he was trying to hit it big in the music industry while he was on his Die Hard high, though that passion began years earlier. Looking back on old footage of him performing at concerts, commercials and interviews trying to promote his alter ego Bruno, he just seemed like a lot of fun and a down to earth guy at the time.

One of the highlights of this recent experience at the Drafthouse was that the theater played a long list of video's, concert footage and commercials from the early days of Bruce Willis's career. It's pretty fucking hilarious and the perfect accompaniment to the presentation while we waited for the film to start.

It's Legacy

Die Hard was so special and so new that it created a whole new sub-genre of film; the "Die Hard on a..". Ever since this film came out, every terrorist action film is referred to as "Die Hard on a boat", or "Die Hard on a Plane". The list goes on and on because really, before Die Hard, while there were terrorist films before this, there weren't any terrorist action films that were as well done and memorable. Genre-Defining would be a more accurate term.

Director John McTiernan had just come off of directing Predator the year before. Before that, his only other film was a thriller he wrote and directed called Nomads, which was a straight-to-video release. It's crazy to think that this guy came out of nowhere to deliver 2 genre defining films in the span of just a year or two. You can say that with this one-two punch, McTiernan solidified his status as one of the best action directors on the planet for a short period of time. He wouldn't hold onto that mantle for very long though.

Script duties went to Jeb Stuart and 80's action legend Steven E. de Souza, who cowrote the razor sharp script together. Really, if you are a fan of 80's and 90's action, these two men need no introduction. Jeb Stuart began his career writing this film, and went onto to deliver other hard-hitting films like Leviathan, Lock-Up, Another 48 Hrs., and The Fugitive. de Souza however has been a powerhouse of talent going all the way back to the early 70's. His big peak was in the 80's and 90's writing certified genre classics such as Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard, Die Hard 2, 48 Hrs., Ricochet, Judge Dredd, Streetfighter, and a whole slew of others. The man's a legendary genius in the action genre.

Bruce Willis had already starred in 2 other films (comedies) before this career-defining role, and was nearing his end as the co-star of Moonlighting, which would end the following year in 1989. Willis could easily have stayed on this trek and continued to do nothing but action films, but for either good or bad (you decide), he took this opportunity to try different things, dipping his toes into nearly every genre out there, including family films almost immediately. It makes sense though as his big break came in comedy and it was a genre he was comfortable with. He used his star power to fund projects as well, most notoriously Hudson Hawk (1991), a huge misfire. It's one of those you either love it or hate it kind of films. I personally don't like it. I tried watching it once and just couldn't finish it. It was all too silly for me. Though he mingled with dramas, independent films, comedies and even guest stints on shows like Friends, he always came back for an action film. Sometimes you'd even forget he was still around as his stature began to decline a bit, only to see him strike gold again with something like Pulp Fiction (1994), a rare gig where he was part of an ensemble rather than the star. I wish I could say that he's still a big deal, but the sad truth is that he's not. I think some of that is of his own doing though. The guy is still crazy busy though, never taking any time off. It's just that now when you see him in something, it's more of a gimmick.

Alan Rickman was a television and stage actor. Die Hard marked his first film role, and what a performance it was. His delivery became one of the most likable villains in film history, and certainly one of the most memorable. Everybody knows who Hans Gruber is now. It doesn't even matter if you've seen the film. His portrayal cemented that character's status as one for the history books. Hell, if you type in "Hans" under the search bar in Google, "Hans Gruber" is the 3rd name to pop up, after Hans Zimmer and Han Solo. Just that right there shows you how big that character became, and it's all due to the legendary performance of Alan Rickman.

I think one of the craziest things you notice as an adult that you didn't when you were a kid is just how weird the group of terrorists are in terms of nationalities. Like, Hans Gruber is German, but his large entourage of bad guys are all over the place, coming from the U.S., Italy, Germany, Al Leong!!, and Austria. It's a small little tidbit you don't put too much thought into until you're an adult, and then you think "How and why are these guys working for Hans Gruber?".

When it comes to the inevitable sequels, I stick to the original trilogy strictly. I will admit that it took me a long, long time to fully appreciate Die Hard with a Vengeance. At first I didn't like it for a number of reasons, but when you compare it to any of the Die Hard's that came after it, well it's damn near a masterpiece compared to those. I've since learned to like and embrace the things I didn't like about it initially. With Die Hard 2 though, well that's always been my favorite personally. Sure it's pretty similar to the first one, but there's just something about it that I love so much. In fact, I revisit Die Hard 2: Die Harder more than I do this first film. It's not a better film, but for me, it's a more enjoyable one, and compared to the first one, DH2 looks and feels much more like a Christmas movie than this one does. I watched Live Free or Die Hard once, and will never watch it again. And I have no desire to see any that came after. What bothers me the most, aside from the look, feel, and bad direction, is that John McClane does not look or act like John McClane anymore. He's somehow turned into an invincible superhero, and with the whole shaved head look and leather jacket, well that's just not the John McClane I want to see in a Die Hard film, even if he is 30 years older.

Having seen this film more times than I can remember, getting to revisit it as an adult inside a packed theater with others who are just as passionate about it, if not more, as I am was a completely different experience altogether. My 12 year old self enjoyed what I saw that very first time in 1988 (as much as a 12 year old kid can), but my 40 year old self this past Christmas was captivated and I'll never forget it.


90's Action Attack!: The Taking of Beverly Hills

Here's a film that's really surprising to me for a number of reasons. The main reason being that nobody ever talks about it, which is such a crime, because the truth is TToBH is a hugely entertaining piece of Badass Cinema, and a much better film than you expect going in. Maybe not for all the right reasons, but it sure as hell falls under that category nonetheless.

When he's inadvertently stuck in the middle of crime disguised as a toxic spill, a football star (Ken Wuhl) partners with a cop with a heart (Matt Frewer) to stop a Beverly Hills heist worth billions. 

I love it when I revisit a film that I haven't seen since I was a teenager and not having any real expectations going in, other than I hope it's good, to just be blown away by how awesome it is. That's exactly what happened with this one. First off, this film is pure nonsense and completely absurd. You really have to check your brain at the door, yet it's done with so much heart and quality that you can't help but love it. And I did. I loved the shit out of this one.

One of it's most charming and endearing aspects is that the film just looks fantastic aesthetically. I mean, this has all the trimmings of a big budget Hollywood studio film, the kind of action film that ruled the theaters back in the early 90's, and if it wasn't for some of it's absurdity, it could easily rival the best of the Die Hard ripoffs that were so prominent during this time. But it's the absurdity of it that makes it so great! This is Trash Cinema at it's finest, and if you're looking for a serious action film, look elsewhere, because while I'm sure it wasn't intentional, so much of this film is dumb, cheesy, and unintentionally hilarious, but in a really fun way that I mean.....how can you not love it?!

Let's start with the mullets. Were they still a thing back in '91? They must have been because they're pretty prominent in here and they're glorious. Then there's the complete lack of realism to almost "everything". For example, everything explodes for no reason. If a car is about to crash, it explodes for no reason at all while midair before it hits it's target. If a car jumps a curb, it explodes. Basically everything explodes, even the mansions of Beverly Hills. And quite easily I might add. In fact, if this movie is trying to tell us anything, it's that mansions in Beverly Hills are made of cheap plywood. Who would've thought?!

Some other magnificent highlights include Robert Davi playing a villain who delivers totally random and unnecessary exposition to help drive the film forward enough so that things happen, really bad one-liners, a villain (with a mullet!) who uses a tank, and a truck with a flamethrower, to chase our 2 hero's through the city when he could easily just shoot them, completely random music (most likely the radio hits of that year) that literally come out of nowhere that make no sense to the sequence and disappear as quickly as they show up, and...........well I don't want to give it all away. You just need to see it for yourself to really get it.

While I've never seen anything with Ken Wuhl other than his show Wiseguy, I have to admit that I'm surprised he never really made it in films. TToBH may not be high art, but it does display his ability to be charismatic, and physical in an action film. Robert Davi is on fire as always. This was when he was really hitting it big with films that I adore like Peacemaker, Maniac Cop 2 and Predator 2 just the year before. The guy's just great in anything he's in, even if he is just playing the same charater over and over again. Surprisingly though, he's not a cop in this one. So I guess that would be a change of pace.

To date (12/3/2016), this has only ever gotten released several times on VHS and once on Laserdisc. The VHS only comes in full frame, while the Laserdisc is surprisingly in widescreen (YES!), yet it's not cheap. Much like other films I love to death, this has never gotten a DVD or Blu Ray release here in the U.S., which just really surprises me. It's a great film that deserves a much larger audience, and with companies like Shout! and Scream Factory, Mill Creek Ent., and Umbrella Entertainment knocking out long lost cult classics left and right, I hope it's only a matter of time before one of them wises up and releases this in widescreen in an HD format.

Quite possibly one of the best times I've had watching an action film recently, this is the definition of Badass Cinema. Check it out!

90's Action Attack!: Double Team

Directed by: Tsui Hark
Category: Action

Two words. Mind. Blown. Somehow, in some way, Jean-Claude Van Damme managed to make a shockingly entertaining film right smack in the middle of his downward spiral in his personal life and film output. We all know about his personal stuff; drug addiction, marital problems, and it was reflected in his film-work. Try not to watch Maximum Risk and Knock Off and not tell me he's tired, a little out of it, and not in a good place. Yet here, though he still doesn't resemble the same man from earlier films like Double Impact, he offers some of his best work on a physical level. I've never seen him kick ass more than he did here.

The Good:

No more slow-motion. Jean-Claude has never looked better when it comes to his onscreen martial arts. Ever since the very beginning, one of the signatures of a Van Damme flick is the slow-mo fights. And I'm talking slow-mo "eeeeverything". Punches, kicks, jumps, head-buts, flips, you name it. Well, if you want to get technical, I guess you can't say that about No Retreat, No Surrender. I don't recall any slow-mo in that one, but it's been forever since I've seen it. But a huge chunk of his stuff in the 80's and 90's was consistently slow-mo fights, which never really displayed his fighting abilities accurately. Yea it looked cool, but at the same time it always left me wondering if he could actually pull off a full-on hand to hand fight sequence without the use of slow-mo and quick editing. If there's one thing Double Team does, it's prove that yes, Van Damme can indeed hold his own in a kickass fight sequence without having slow-mo as a backup. I'm sure there are other films of his that display this, but I truthfully haven't seen any and I've pretty much skipped anything he's done after Knock Off in '98 because it was just so terrible and he looked like he'd pretty much already given up at that point. Refreshingly here, it's the fastest I've ever seen him and it looks legit.

Absurdity is the name of the game. Oh man, what a ridiculously dumb this film is. And I say that with nothing but positive sincerity. But....wow. I lost count how many times I rolled my eyes or audibly said "huh??", or "you've got to be kidding me". Seriously, what the fuck is going on in this thing? It was like the concept of any kind of realism or common sense was thrown out the window so that they could just throw more insanely over the top action at us. And gawd bless them for that. It's because of this that Double Team manages to keep you invested because you can't believe what you just saw and you wonder how they'll manage to top it in the next few minutes. And they do. Every time. The amount of nonsense in this is so insane, but that's why it's so great! It's done in such a fun/over-the-top/cheesy way that it makes the film so much better all around.

Super slick style from director Tsui Hark. By this time Van Damme had become known for bringing Hong Kong's biggest directing talent over to the U.S. for his films, starting with John Woo for Hard Target in '93, and then with Ringo Lam for Maximum Risk (which I have yet to see) in '96, followed by Tsui Hark for Double Team the following year. It was a spirited idea, and one that worked well for him for a while, but that charm had already worn off following this release, because when Van Damme re-teamed with Tsui Hark again for his next film, it was a disaster. He would continue a few more times with Ringo Lam, but the results were mediocre at best, going straight to video. But with this film however, Hark does an outstanding job behind the camera, giving the film a frenetic look and energy.

I've been somewhat of a Tsui Hark fan going back to the early 90's when I first discovered him after having seen a film called Dragon Inn (1992). While he wasn't credited as director on that officially, it was my first introduction to him and the films I followed that with were Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain (1983) and Once Upon a Time in China (1991). I've since seen a large chunk of his films and he's become a hit or miss director for me. Some of his films are great, but most of them are not. Kind of the same way I feel about Takashi Miike. While the guy can turn out a solid genre film, he can sure turn out some crap too. So it was with this line of thinking that I went into Double Team a little on the skeptical side, only to be pleasantly surprised, or shocked rather, that he did a bang-up job on this one. It's fast, slick, and fun.

Interesting casting. I guess I should start off with Dennis Rodman, since the guy is all over the cover and promotional material. He's not bad. While he had already been in several television shows playing himself, I think this was his first big acting gig playing another character. *Don't bite my head off if I'm wrong though. You can tell he's no actor, but there's still something there, an eagerness, or an earnest, to do a good job. You can see it and you can tell he really tries hard, which goes along way in a film like this. It doesn't hurt that as a human being, he's very imposing, especially when standing next to Van Damme, who's a little on the short side. Director Tsui Hark does an excellent job making  him larger than life and strong like a giant in the fight sequences, which were a lot of fun seeing him literally throw his opponents across a room. It was awesome.

Mickey Rourke is another standout. By this time, Rourke had been relegated to strictly DTV work. Once great and knocking out tour de force performances, his bad boy image and personal problems began to take center stage and he just wasn't being offered the roles that he deserved. It's a shame really, because he's brilliant. Seeing him play the villain in an action film was surprising at first, and amusing, but he pulls it off well. He's another physically imposing force here. I'd actually never seen him look so big and ripped before. Having just seen a few of his earlier films like Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart and Johnny Handsome, where he's somewhat scrawny. Seeing him so large was sort of a shock, but it makes him a great foe for Van Damme's character, even down to the hand to hand fight scenes.

The bad:

There is no bad. Double Team, while insanely ridiculous, absurd and dumb, easily makes up for that by being fast, loud and a helluva lot of fun. This was so much more entertaining than I was expecting it to be. You think of how all these one-time badasses like Seagal, Norris and even Stallone were really just left in the dust of the big budget action flicks, making tired and mediocre films in the Direct-to-Video market just to make a quick buck. It was refreshing to come across a good one for a change in the middle of all of these. In the end, Double Team is better than it has any right being. A last hurrah for Jean-Claude Van Damme if you will, before his 2008 comeback with JCVD.


80's Thriller Throwback: No Mans Land

Directed by: Peter Werner
Category: Thriller

Here's another one of those films I'd seen countless times in the video store, yet never really appealed to me for one reason or another. But as I dig into 80's stuff, this film, and the cover in particular, really drew me in. Finding it on VHS wasn't as cheap as I expected though. While it has indeed gotten a DVD release, it's not in widescreen, so I figured why bother with that format and go with the one I really enjoy. I found it difficult to track down for under $10. If I'm going to pay that much for a tape, I'd want it to be in great condition, which most were unfortunately not. 

The Good:

It's like an 80's time capsule. The clothes, the stores, the cars, the buildings, it's pretty slick in a Miami Vice sort of way and gives the film a little kick of amusement that had it been missing, would have made the film pretty forgettable. I've heard a lot of people refer to this as the first Fast and the Furious film because it's kinda sorta the same kind of story, only with Porsche's, and more specifically, Porsche's of the 80's. While the film itself isn't really all that engaging, playing out like a typical undercover detective story, just the fact that it's 1987 offers up some real nice visual eye candy. Television director Peter Werner does a decent job capturing it all with a steady even hand. Nothing flashy, but it's not lazy either, which was a relief. He does a pretty straightforward job, which is actually a pretty good fit for the material.

Courtesy of VHSCollector.com
Solid casting. In terms of story, a rookie cop (D.B. Sweeney) goes undercover to infiltrate a stolen car ring, befriending the head of that ring (Charlie Sheen), and getting sucked deep into the lifestyle, forming a tight bond with his target, but complicating matters by falling in love with his target's sister. It's pretty standard stuff, and though there are some great performances by a surprisingly solid cast that also includes Randy Quaid (playing an asshole cop, similar to his character in The Wraith, also with Sheen), Bill Duke and M. Emmett Walsh.

Sheen is the standout though. He's the guy that Sweeney's character is supposed to be investigating, yet falls for his charm and charisma, making it difficult to believe he's responsible for murder, like his boss keeps telling him. Charlie Sheen was having an incredibly busy year, starring in a total of 4 films  - Wisdom, Three for the Road, No Mans Land, and Wall Street. And this is of course coming off of his star making turn in Oliver Stone's Platoon just the year before. Seeing him in films like this reminds me of that special something he once had. It's easy to see why and how he became such a big star.

The Bad:

Don't expect a lot of car chases. For a film that so many others refer to as the first Fast and the Furious film, I was surprised to find only 1 single car chase in here. Sure there's a lot of driving and lots of flashy Porsche's, but sadly the film can only boast a single car chase to it's credit.

Less talking, more car chases. While the film was made and structured well, rounded out by a solid cast, it still doesn't really engage you very well. In fact, I couldn't help but shake that this easily could have been used for an episode of Miami Vice or a similar show.

All in all, a decent crime drama/thriller, offering little in the way of actual thrills, instead deciding to focus more as character study than a film full of car chases, crashes and stunts.


Blu-Ray Review: 2010: The Year We Make Contact

As much as I worship and love Stanley Kubricks original 2001, I don't know why it took me so long to get around to this one. What makes it even more bizarre (if you know me), is that I have an obsession with director Peter Hyams. He's hands-down one of my all-time favorite directors. He's incredibly talented and severely underrated as a genre director. He's given us some really, really great films, yet nobody ever bothers to remember who made them or what his name is. And really, that's a damn shame. But moving on.

The Film:

Not knowing exactly what to expect, I went in hopeful, knowing that Hyams has never really let me down before, though End of Days was pretty forgettable. But 2010 was made around the time where he was really on a creative high, knocking out solid work left and right. It also helps that slow science fiction is a personal favorite little sub-genre of mine.

2010 is a technical marvel. While the original film was groundbreaking for it's time, and still an incredible technical achievement today, 2010, while not breaking new ground with effects, does do a near flawless job in that department. The model work, matte painting, and practical effects are all integrated seamlessly into the live action shots, for a truly stunning piece of science fiction filmmaking. There were only really maybe a time or two where you can really notice that there was a blue screen involved for a particular shot. Considering this film was made in 1984, that's an achievement all on it's own. In terms of the film itself, it's incredible. Hyams story pulls you into the events that happened in the first film in a way that even if you haven't seen 2001, you will still be able to follow what's going on. Even when dealing with the events of the first film, writer/director Peter Hyams fleshes out those elements in a way that makes sense, which is really refreshing when you take into consideration that most people were endlessly confused or lost throughout most of Stanley Kubrick's original masterpiece.

The cast is nothing short of phenomenal. Roy Scheider is such a treasure and highly underrated as an actor. It's a shame he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Rounding out this stellar cast is John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Douglas Rain returning as the voice of HAL, and a few other notable recognizable faces.

The film does such a great job in trying to realistically explain HAL's behavior and actions in the first film, in effect allowing the story to move forward since HAL again is a big part of this new mission. It's plausible. But that doesn't keep the intensity from rearing it's ugly head, again. Hyams has a talent for building the tension up to a fever pitch, especially in the climax, that while he doesn't use the same technique's that Kubrick did, he does it in his own particular way that works just as effectively. I would definitely call this a sci-fi/thriller rather than a sci-fi/drama.

2010 is a worthy followup to a remarkable film. In it's own way, I found 2010 to be just as good. You can't judge any film by the standards that 2001: A Space Odyssey set, so in that regard, while some may agree and some may not, I think 2010: The Year We Make Contact is just as good as that film. You can't go in expecting the same kind of magic, because that's just not realistic. But Hyams being the amazing filmmaker he is, is able to make easily one of the best science fiction thrillers ever made, on a technical and cinematic level. It's a brilliant, beautiful, and highly enjoyable film that should get the same kind of respect that 2001 received.

The Blu Ray:

Before I purchased this Blu Ray, I did some digging into past reviews and comments on sites such as Amazon and was surprised to see that while many people hailed the film as a certified classic, a majority of them didn't think the Blu Ray was anything to get excited about. After purchasing it myself, I couldn't disagree more. While there are not many Special Features other than a short vintage featurette titled "2010: The Odyssey Continues" - while short, is a fascinating and informative look behind the scenes and the creative process - and a trailer, the transfer of the film itself is stunning. If you take into consideration that this was shot on film, some very slight graininess is expected. For me, this was only ever present and noticeable in the scenes inside the ship when the crew would be in the cockpit. But all of the space stuff and effects work were free of any of this. The darks were rich and black, and the colors were vivid. One of the things I was concerned with would be the composite shots in space utilizing the model work and other backdrops, matte paints and such to create a realistic sequence in space. Except for one minor scene where you can see the surrounding black that was overlaid onto an existing shot, it was flawless for the entirety of the film. So my fears were put to rest. The effects work, made even clearer in HD, were a gorgeous thing of wonder. I was simply in awe and enthralled at these amazing images. All the money that big studio's fork out for 100% CGI still, today, doesn't come close to the epic realism of model work, matte paintings and composite shots. I don't know when they'll get it in their heads that CGI is not always the best way to go. It may be easier, but it doesn't look better. If anything, 2010 is a testament to that; a film that was made in 1984.


It's an absolute must buy. You can find it very cheap, usually under $10 with shipping included on eBay and Amazon. I don't know why I waited to so long to pick this up. Though short on Special Features, the transfer is just simply amazing and the film has never looked better. It's a remarkably vast improvement over the previous DVD release.


Bond is Back!: The Living Daylights

Directed by: John Glen
Category: Action/Thriller

Having just finished A View To A Kill (1985), instead of going backwards, I decided to move forward with the 007 films of the 80's. So next in line was this one, where it was time for another shift in the James Bond universe. The Living Daylights was released 2 years after the previous installment, which saw Roger Moore retiring the character, with Timothy Dalton taking over the role for the first time with this film.

I don't know, I kind of feel like Dalton has gotten a bad rap for his turn as James Bond. In any conversation I've ever had with someone in talking about James Bond films, or even in reviews, articles and news, he's rarely ever brought up as one of the best or favorite Bond's. So with that, I went in with some trepidation. I was also aware that director John Glen was returning, and since I wasn't impressed at all with his work on A View To A Kill, I was a bit worried going in.

I'm happy to report that with Dalton on board, The Living Daylights not only exceeded my expectations, but it was flat out awesome. While it took a good 30 minutes to really pull me into the story, which always seems to be the case with most 007 films for me, it was a radically fleshed out and excellent espionage thriller. When you take into consideration that the previous Bond film was quite silly and very cheesy, this film takes a drastic 180 degree turn into serious, hard-edged thriller territory, which to my surprise, was a very welcome change indeed. There are no winks at the camera, and gone are the silliness to everything, replaced by a strict take on the character, one who isn't trying to bed every female, and one who doesn't reply with sarcasm, or even smiles. Which, truthfully, was quite refreshing. Sure that type of character worked well for Roger Moore, but it had grown tiresome by this point, and the franchise was ready for a change. And that change would come by way of Timothy Dalton. Who, as I would learn, had been approached multiple times to play Bond previously, but turned them down because he didn't think he was the right age at the time.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me out of all of this was director John Glen. Like I mentioned earlier, and also in my review for A View To A Kill, I just didn't like what he was doing aesthetically. It all came off as very tame and completely uninteresting. So when I learned he was returning again for this Bond film, I was reluctant to dive in wholeheartedly. But a funny thing happened. The guy surprised me in a very big way, and completely redeemed himself in my eyes. It seems the detour into more serious fare was a good match for him because he completely revitalizes the look he gave his previous Bond films with a much more polished and refined approach. It doesn't really add more style per say, but it does look cleaner and neater overall, which adds a lot to the legitimacy of the new direction they're intending to take the franchise. On a visual level, it adds so much more to the experience overall. John Glen won me over this time around and it's because of this that I am looking forward to, more than ever, License To Kill, his last directing job on a Bond film.

Timothy Dalton just owns the role. Though I never put much stock into Dalton in the role since I knew he only played him twice (the 2nd least amount of all the actors who have taken the role), and he's rarely ever mentioned as a favorite, I was kinda taken aback at how great he was as 007. While nostalgia will prevail and force me to pick Roger Moore as my favorite, after having seen this film, I'm more inclined to lean more towards Dalton because he's such a badass. I'm sure License to Kill will be the deciding factor for me once I see it.

Another highlight in the acting department was Maryam d'Abo as the love interest. She was so different than any I'd seen before. Instead of playing a tough secret agent, or a sexy killer, she played a cellist who is unwittingly used as a patsy in a murder plot, who is helped by 007 to catch her former boyfriend. It's all in the way she plays her, with so much charm and sensitive emotion. She was just perfect in the role and made a much more interesting and convincing love interest than we're used to seeing.

One of the things that made this so great for me was the fact that I've already been on somewhat of an 80's Thriller kick lately, if you haven't already noticed. This is a genre and an era I never really took the time to admire before, and as I make up for it now, I'm realizing I have really been missing out on some great films. What's even more surprising to me is that I was not expecting this film to fall into that category at all. Where I was expecting a big, loud and cheesy film, I was instead treated to a dark, violent, and serious James Bond film that grabbed me from the get-go and consistently left me impressed.

Great cast, great story, and great action sequences, all wrapped into a neatly packaged espionage thriller, making it the best Bond film I've seen so far.

Fox's The Exorcist Needs Your Help

So here we are again, another great show barely past it's first season and already in fear of being canceled due to lack of viewership. Much like the excellent and highly underrated Hannibal, Fox's Exorcist show seems to have flown under the radar of most mainstream television viewers. Maybe it's because they're not generally a fan of the films, or maybe they're too scared that it might actually be too scary for them. Whatever the case may be, Unless people actually watch it, it's highly unlikely Fox will greenlight a season 2, which would just be a huge travesty. 

I have to admit, I myself wasn't really too keen on the idea when I initially heard about it. I just kept wondering how they could expand on that storyline, or would they try to just totally redo the same story all over again? I didn't know, but since I rarely ever watch TV to begin with (We pretty much stick to streaming from Hulu, Amazon and Netflix for our TV shows), I didn't know what to expect - I was slightly skeptical. I also didn't hear too much in promotion for this show, but like I said, that's all on me since I don't watch TV. But one evening as I was browsing Hulu Plus for a new show to watch, I noticed they had a few episodes of The Exorcist already available to stream as we were towards the beginning of the season and Hulu was making them available the following day as each episode aired. So really, on a whim and also out of curiosity, we threw on the first episode. 

While I can't truthfully say we were 100% hooked after that premiere episode, it was good enough to keep us invested and see if it picked up some steam. So we trudged on and I'm so glad we did because with each new episode, the show became stronger, better, and more intense. While I will admit it took a good 2 or 3 episodes for it to really find it's footing, the payoff was worth the wait. Big time. 

As I mentioned earlier, each episode only grew stronger and more riveting, grabbing us to the point that we just couldn't wait for the next episode to air so we could stream it the following day. We were hooked in a very big way, the same way were were for Hannibal. This series has all the trappings of a great show, full of surprises, twists and turns, intensity, great performances, and a new take on the material I was not expecting. 

I don't want to spoil it for you by giving too much away, but let me just say that The Exorcist did not play out the way I was expecting it to, and that's a good thing. The Exorcist defied my expectations for the better, and when it was all said and done, it blew me away. Having just finished the last episode, which was awesome and a fitting finale to a great show, it left us sad because it was over and we just wanted more. I am hopeful though, as it ended with some open subplots and loose ends, I'm assuming in the hopes that the series gets renewed. 

One of the big surprises for me, next to the story and revelations, was it's excellent cast. Of course we all know who Geena Davis is, and I for one was surprised to see her in this. Only because I haven't seen her in anything for what seems like ages. Apparently she has been working steadily since the last time I'd seen her, but it was all for shows and films I don't care for personally like Grey's Anatomy. The other welcome surprise was Alan Ruck, playing the husband of Geena Davis' character. While I have seen him pop up from time to time in TV and film, most notably for me as a passenger on the bus in Speed, he will always and forever be known as Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The two standouts however are Ben Daniels as Father Marcus, and Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas Ortega. They are the driving force of the series, and if it were not for their strong performances as flawed, yet deeply dedicated priests, I doubt the show would have been as good. 

I urge you to please watch this show. It's better than you expect going in, and if you stay with it, you will be rewarded with one of the most intense, and best written shows on network television. It's currently available on Hulu Plus in it's entirety, but I don't know for how long. We need to help spread the word and get the network to see just how deserving this show is of a second season. 


80's Attack!: Solarbabies Film Review

Directed by: Alan Johnson
Category: Action

Here's a fun fact. The two brothers from The Lost Boys, Corey Haim and Jason Patric, both starred in Rollerskating movies within a 5 year span of one another. Patric did it first in 1986 with this film, a year before he broke out with The Lost Boys in '87, and then Haim gave it a stab 5 years later in 1990 with Prayer of the Rollerboys. Neither were hits, but have since lived in cult film status since their respective releases. Moving on...

I'd always been mildly curious about this one. Shockingly, I'd never seen it until now, which is kind of odd since you'd think I'd be all over this kind of thing. Recently though, it popped back onto my radar in the middle of my VHS kick, so I was lucky to grab the MGM Big Box recently fairly cheap, though it has received a legit DVD release in widescreen, but I'm all about the VCR tapes right now.

The good: 
The cast. There are some pretty cool things to admire about this oddball of a film. For starters, the cast is pretty impressive. Outside of Jason Patric and Jamie Gertz, there's a healthy dose of familiar faces that you'll surely recognize from something like an unrecognizable Bruce Payne, Adrian Pasdar, Lucas Haas, James Le Gros, Sarah Douglas, and Charles Durning (?). So right off the bat, the cast is pretty all over the place in a good way.

The future and rollerskating. The film delivers an interesting post apocalyptic future that mixes elements of a lot of other films, but does it really well. Oh, and they add rollerskating, which apparently is a huge deal in the future. I really think what makes it work is how well director Alan Johnson films it all. It actually has a slickness to it that you wouldn't normally find in a post apocalyptic film. His camera setups are impressive and the action sequences deliver. What's weird is that he never directed a film after this, and the only other directing credit to his name was the Mel Brooks comedy To Be or Not To Be from 3 years earlier.

Everything but the kitchen sink. Seriously, this film is ridiculously all over the place. Instead of sticking to one specific theme or idea, they literally pull everything out of their bag of tricks to keep things moving along and it's a little refreshing, kinda hilarious, and honestly, pretty ballsy. It can be pretty silly, yes, but it's absurdity does make it fun and if anything, interesting. We kind of found it enjoyable in an oddball way. We just went with it and enjoyed the ride.

The Bad:
As fun and ridiculous it was at times, it just never felt like it reached it's full potential. It looked great and all, and the cast was a hoot to watch all these years later, but as a whole, it lacked that extra punch to really sway it in any particular direction definitively. Like, it's not bad enough to call it a Bad Movie Night movie, and it doesn't have enough of the right ingredients to call it awesome. It's stuck somewhere right in the middle where you like it for what it is, but you don't love it for one reason or another.


90's Action Attack!: Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man Film Review

Directed by: Simon Wincer
Category: Action

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is an action film that came out in 1991 and starring Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson. I remember this one, but never really had the itch to actually see it. Mainly because the director, Simon Wincer, was someone I just didn't care for very much. He reminds me of another one of those everyman directors like John Badham, John Glen, Roger Donaldson and Roger Spottiswoode. The kind that can get the job done, but don't really add any kind of visual substance or style. I'm a very visual person. I'm also a visual learner. I really have to enjoy a film on a visual level to really get into it. If it looks lazy, I lose interest pretty easily.

Recently though, a friend of mine was surprised that I hadn't seen it yet, and told me that I absolutely needed to. I was intrigued. And hey, what a team up of Johnson and Rourke. Maybe there was something to this that I was missing. So on a Saturday night, I made this my Saturday Night Movie.

While HDatMM didn't blow me away or anything, it's still a very satisfying and fun early 90's action flick. It delivers the goods, the action, the laughs, and the fun in spades and won't let you down if this is the kind of thing you're looking for. As I feared, director Simon Wincer didn't really wow me with the look of the film, but it has several other strengths that make up for it. Number one being the cast. Johnson and Rourke are just fantastic in their roles and play off each other really, really well. So much in fact that I kind of wish they had made more of these. But it also boasts a rather impressive who's who in this large ensemble cast like Chelsea Fields, Giancarlo Esposito, Robert Ginty, Tia Carrere, Vanessa Williams, Daniel Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, and the list just goes on and on. It's kind of ridiculous how many familiar faces are in here, but all in a fun way.

One thing that took me by surprise was how bizarre this film was. It's hard to even explain just how, but it's kind of weird.......in a good way. Like you have to take anything that happens with a grain of salt, because much of it is absurd and unbelievable, with zero sense of logic. But that's the beauty of these types of films. They're not trying to be anything other than mindless fun, and that's exactly what they've set out to do and pulled off splendidly. Sure you'll probably why there's a gang of killers walking around in black leather trenchcoats zipped up to their chins without arousing any kind of suspicion, even considering it looks to be 110 degrees outside. Or the fact that there's never "ever" a cop around in all the endless gun battles, explosions, and car chases. But I think that's part of this films charm - the ridiculousness and unbelievability aspect, which this film proudly wears on it's sleeve. You just kind of have to check your brain at the door and just go along for the ride.

Mickey Rourke had just come off a string of strong, solid films like Johnny Handsome, Desperate Hours and Wild Orchid. For me though, it's the first time I sensed a change in his face. There's something.....different, mainly his teeth, which are obviously new and too perfect and white. And aside from his physical appearance, he comes across strangely subdued in this one, like he's not really even trying. I don't know, it could very well be the direction he was given, or the way the character was written, but I oftentimes found it hard to make out what he even said because he either mumbled or whispered his lines so frequently that I eventually had to switch over to subtitles. Yet, it's also a physically demanding role and when the shit hits the fan, he get's the job done.

Don Johnson was a revelation. Having just finished his Miami Vice series the year before, and still not really making it big on the big screen with films like Dead Bang (1989) or The Hot Spot (1990), seeing him play a rough and dirty cowboy was such a blast. He pulls it off flawlessly and yet, he comes off as the most charming and charismatic character in the entire film, which is a true testament to his abilities.

As fun and action packed and weird as this film was, I can't help but feel it could have been a much better, bigger, and louder film with someone else behind the camera, someone else with more experience and more of a visual punch than Australian director Simon Wincer. If you've never heard of the guy, there's a good reason. He's responsible for a handful of popular films, but not because he directed them. For example, he's directed The Phantom, Free Willy, Quigley Down Under, and even D.A.R.Y.L., yet you'd never say something like "Oohh Simon Wincer directed that!" the you would with someone like say Tony Scott, John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, or Craig R. Baxely. He doesn't put that kind of stamp on his films, and that's a shame, because of all the films in his filmography, this one really could have benefited from one. With that being said, HDatMM still kicks a lot of ass and ultimately ends up being a helluva lot of fun. You'll definitely have a good time with this one.


James Bond Crashes and Burns; A View To A Kill Film Review

Directed by: John Glen
Category: Action/Thriller

I should begin by saying I've never really been a Bond fan. Maybe just a casual fan if anything. And to be honest, if I ever make the effort to go see a new Bond film, it's usually because I'm more excited about who's directing it rather than the film itself. Skyfall would be a great example of that. That's the only Bond film I can recall actually going to see at the theater and that was only because Sam Mendes was directing and I was really excited to see what he did with it. But yea, even growing up as a film obsessed kid in the 80's and 90's, I never made any effort to see them. They just never appealed to me. But recently I started to wonder if I had been missing out on some great, or fun, films. I mean, there's got to be something to them, otherwise they wouldn't have made so many. Since Hulu Plus began carrying all of them (I think), I took this as a chance to finally start my immersion in the James Bond 007 films.

I decided to start off with this one because it appealed to me the most for a number of reasons. First, it's from 1985, with a title song by Duran Duran, and with a cast that includes Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, and Roger Moore in his final Bond film. So I mean shit, just with all this talent right here there has to be a good film in here somewhere. Sadly, there isn't.

While I guess I did go in with some high expectations (who wouldn't with a lineup like that?!), A View To A Kill is a surprisingly dull, slow, and boring affair. Hey, I was just as surprised as you. Knowing that this was Moore's final time playing Bond, I had hoped they would have sent him off on a high note. But we're instead treated to a sometimes cheesy, silly, and oftentimes tedious story about a megalomaniac (Walken) who has a plan to destroy Silicone Valley. The main problem is that for a 007 film, there's just so much talking, and not enough action, espionage, or even thrills. And while you would think the year (1985) would offer some prime 80's cheese, it didn't. Director John Glen, who by now had directed the 2 previous Bond films For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Octopussy (1983), just kind of seems to be going through the motions with this one. While the film both started and ended with a rather impressive action sequence, the majority of the films looooong running time is excruciatingly uneventful. The only thing that really kind of let's the time pass by just a bit easier is seeing the above mentioned trio doing their thing and chewing up the scenery. Walken is always a blast as a villain, and Grace Jones was fun to watch playing his bodyguard/love interest who can literally lift men above her head. That was pretty cool. But I think the most enjoyable was the silly and highly absurd relationship between Bond and Tanya Roberts character. I mean, it was ridiculous. She continuously rejects his advances, and doesn't really know if he is who he says he is, yet walks, sleeps, and struts in the skimpiest of outfits. I'm not complaining, but in the context of the story, it was dumb.
fact of the matter is that

There were other things too, like a horribly choreographed and executed fight scene inside a house, and some bad green screen work that really just kind of put a damper on the whole experience.

I could go on, but I'm just not up to it. Rather than letting Roger Moore go out with a bang, it's much more like a whimper, which is such a shame because to me, he was the best Bond. His take on the character was so different from anybody else, and maybe it was nostalgia because he was the Bond when I was growing up, but I think it's more than that for me. He exudes a cheesy charm, and his constant wink at the camera attitude was so refreshing. This film could really have been something special. It has all the right ingredients. They're all right here. It just wasn't cooked together very well at all.


80's Thriller Throwback: Blue Thunder

Directed by: John Badham
Category: Thriller

Here's another 80's thriller that I never got around to for some reason. When I recently discovered that Dan O'Bannon was responsible for the script, I jumped at the chance to finally give it a shot when I saw the blu ray cheap at my local Target. Plus, it stars Roy Scheider, who I just love to death in anything, especially his 80's output. What really sealed the deal for me though was also learning that Malcolm McDowell plays the villain. Sold!

The good:
The cast. Really, you can never go wrong with Roy Scheider in a starring role. For as many films as he's headlined in his long career, I'm still shocked that he isn't regarded more highly, or considered one of the best. It's almost criminal if you ask me. Tagging along with Scheider for the majority of the film is his partner, played by a super young Daniel Stern, who looks like he just graduated high school. Who knows? Maybe he had? And to round out the primary players, the one that really surprised me, Malcolm McDowell. I had no idea he was in this, but after learning he was and that he was the villain, well you can imagine my excitement. Blue Thunder just became a helluva lot more interesting.

The structure. I'll be honest and say that for the first half hour, nothing seemed to really "grab" me. In fact, I was almost ready to give up on it. Everything just kind of seemed a little too "ho hum" for my taste. But, I kept reminding myself of the pretty great names attached to this in front of and behind the camera, and so I stuck it out, and boy am I glad I did. Let me just say that Blue Thunder did not turn out the way I had expected it to, and for the better. I kind of half expected a pretty straight-forward story about a copter pilot fighting crime and whatnot, only to be thoroughly impressed by the film taking a "man on the run and needing to clear his name" approach. So what I thought would be a paint-by-numbers actioner instead turned out to be a cat-and-mouse thriller that had me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the films second and third acts.

Stuntwork done right. One of the best thing about films made in the 80's was that they had to do a lot of the stunts and effects work legitimately, without the use of CGI or green screens. Sure green screens were available then, but they hadn't yet reached the realistic level that would be required for a lot of the helicopter scenes. So instead most of the flying work you see is actually being done, complete with the actual actors in the cockpit, which is really kinda nuts when you see the film. I'm actually surprised they got away with a lot of what they did. And then there were a lot of scenes where models were used, which was also breathtakingly awesome. I wish films would go back to this method. Seriously. The model work was so incredible that the only reason I know they were models was simply that the sequences were just too epic in execution and there was just no way they were able to get a helicopter to do those things back in 1983. That right there is a testament to some great practical effects work. If you want to see a good example of how not to do the effects, watch the slightly similar Firefox, directed, produced and starring Clint Eastwood a year earlier.

The tension. As I stated before, the film played out much differently than I had anticipated, and in doing so, really kind of blindsided me. Instead of a cheesy action film about a revolutionary helicopter fighting crime in the city, we're treated to an expertly structured thriller about a man who uncovers an assassination plot, resulting in a target on his head, and will stop at nothing to clear his name and bring those down to stop the plot from unfolding. Blue Thunder easily could have fallen prey to the same issues that turned Clint Eastwood's Firefox (1982) into a complete bore. I appreciate his attention to detail, but my god that film was long, and dull, and while it was a thriller as well, there were very little thrills to be had. Thankfully writing partners Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Lifeforce, Total Recall, Return of the Living Dead) and Don Jakoby (Lifeforce, Death Wish 3) do a knockout job keeping the audience on their toes and on the edge of their seat.

The bad:
Directed by John Badham. Really, this is nitpicking, I know. But I have never liked John Badham much as a director. He's very bland and uninteresting. Yes, he's made some very memorable films, I'll admit that. Saturday Night Fever, Wargames, Short Circuit, Stakeout, all classic films. He gets the job done; no frills, no style, and that's kind of how I've always thought of him, much like Roger Spottiswoode (Shoot to Kill). It's as if the visual aspect of his films come as an afterthought, with zero effort put into how stylish the film will be. I remember being a teenager and seeing Point of No Return at the theater and just being so shocked at how bland his remake of a visually brilliant film was. I just couldn't get past that, and the same problem plagues this great film. I'd say 90% of this film was shot using handheld, which was annoying, and just felt very lazy. I saw so much potential to make such a visually arresting film, and had someone else directed it, like say.....Tony Scott, Blue Thunder would have been kicked up about another 10 notches of awesome. As it is, because of the combined strengths of O'Bannon, Jakoby, Scheider, and McDowell, the film is already awesome. It works, it delivers, and it packs a punch. But I can't help but think of how much better it would have been with a more interesting stylistic approach.

Despite my 1 single issue of it being visually uninteresting and lazy, the fact is that Blue Thunder was awesome. I loved it. This is the kind of film you watch as a reminder of how films used to be made, structured, and executed. With expert craftmanship to the story. You can currently pick up the Mill Creek Entertainment Blu ray rather cheaply, for about $7 at most department stores like Target and Walmart. But be warned, while the transfer is solid, there are zero special features and subtitles. So it's about as bare bones as you could possibly get.


80's Thriller Throwback: Shoot to Kill

Shoot to Kill:

Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

The good:
Great cast. Every single role in this is anchored by a notable actor's strength's, and the result is an exceptionally tight thriller made all the better with an outstanding cast. Tom Berenger is one of the most consistently reliable actors out there, and back around this time when he was considered  A-List , he gave us some very memorable performances in films like Platoon, Someone to Watch Over Me, and Major League. Sydney Poitier had taken a 10 year break from acting (though he still directed 3 films in this acting hiatus), and came out of his semi-retirement with this film. I don't know for a fact if he was retired, or just taking a break, or if something about this film in particular pulled him out of that. Maybe he was just ready to return to film work and found this film to be the right one. What I like about that idea is that he could easily have chosen a simple project, because one thing you will notice within the second act is that this is a seriously challenging role physically, and for someone his age, I was surprised he was able to do it. In fact, it's rather impressive. I don't know a lot of other actors the same age willing to pull all that physical stuff off convincingly. The guy seemed to go out of his way to do a lot of physical stunts himself, when he could easily have had a double do it.

Strong direction. Roger Spottiswoode has never been an interesting director for me on a visual level. Sure he get's the job done, but you can't really "identify" a Roger Spottiswoode film just by his visual aesthetic the way you can with a lot of other directors. Yet here he does an outstanding job behind the camera and it was a solid surprise for me. While everything is shot pretty straight-forward, it's this technique that really works to the films advantage, and most importantly, he keeps the camera still, which was another big surprise. Since a huge chunk of the film takes place in the wilderness, you'd think any director would take the easy route and use handheld on the uneven terrain, but surprisingly he doesn't, and nearly every single shot, no matter how difficult, is done without the use of steadicam or handheld, which was an achievement on it's own.

Great stuntwork. Another surprise for me here. There's just really something to seeing a guy actually hanging off the side of a cliff, and not done using a green screen or CGI. Even today, no matter how hard they try, they still can't make it look real, so to see stuntmen and the real actors falling off a cliff, hanging from a thin rope, or interacting with a real bear, well it's just really something to see. It adds so much more intensity to the scenes when it really looks like they're in real danger, as opposed to the other way when you can tell they're just hanging in front of a green screen.

Delivers the thrills. I didn't know what to expect going in, other than I knew some of it took place in the wilderness. I was surprised to see that while that is true, the film both starts and ends in the city, giving the film a more broad scope in terms of location and geography. When it comes right down to it, the film is tight, taught, and filled to the bring with suspense and thrills. The film does a great job in keeping you guessing as to who the killer is, but the biggest downside to seeing this so many years later is that you know who the killer is automatically once you see the credits and hear the voice of the killer on the phone in the early scenes. Still, it doesn't take away from the film at all. You still have a great time watching the filmmakers try to conceal the identity until much later in the film.

The bad:
There is no bad in this film. Honestly. I couldn't fine a single aspect to nitpick, which is a very rare thing. This film was just about as perfect an 80's thriller as could possibly be and from beginning to end, I loved every second of it.


Vintage Media VHS Christmas Ad

Here's a rad vintage ad I found that I thought would be fun to share because I love VHS, and also that it specifically points to Christmas, since it's coming up. I still haven't been able to grab a decent Media VHS release of Day of the Dead. 

The Vindicator Film Review; Revisiting a Cult Classic That Still Kicks Ass

The Vindicator VHS (1986)
Once upon a time I was a 10 year old kid who practically lived at the video store back in 1986. Luckily for me, I had parents who encouraged this type of behavior. But this was a film that I do in fact remember having my mom rent for me upon it's initial home video release, and I remember liking it very much. I have never forgotten about this one though. It's always been stuck in the back of my mind, because I just remember that even as a kid, I thought it was a solid little under-the-radar flick.

A scientist, who's part of a revolutionary team working on a new suit designed to sustain the harsh conditions of Mars, is killed in a laboratory accident. Or at least that's the official report. When he wakes up, he realizes his eyes and brain have been preserved inside this revolutionary and experimental suit. When he escapes, the leader of the team will stop at nothing to get it back.

The Vindicator is 80's B-Movie gold. It really is. I could not have had a better time watching this than I already did. It has everything you'd ever want in this type of feature, and despite it's modest budget and a few shortcomings, it delivers on the promise of that insanely rad cover.

On the production and technical side, it boasts an eclectic behind the scenes crew that is sort of all over the place, yet they all bring their unique strengths to the table. First and foremost, Stan Winston designed the suit, which is awesome. We all know a suit design can make or break the entire film. And when you consider the modesty of the entire budget, we should all be grateful that Winston and his team took the time to take on this little project while right smack in the middle of their winning streak while dealing with huge films like Aliens and Predator. It's directed by Jean-Claude Lord, who gave us the early 80's slasher Visiting Hours, as well as um, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! The writing team of Edith Rey and David Preston also gave us Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. So yea, a pretty eclectic bunch to say the least, yet somehow these combined talents do something incredible. They made a film combining elements of Frankenstein, sci-fi, horror, action and drama, and put it all together so well that there's never a dull moment.

It's hard to pinpoint really why it's so good. It just is. Every element brought to the table works, and there's never a dull moment. Hell, even the score is pretty amazing, with it's bits of computer synth! Sure, there are a things you can nitpick to death, like Pam Grier's bounty hunter character not really being all that badass when you get right down to it. In fact, quite the opposite, and a lot of what she does doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Her name is Hunter, but is that her real name or do they just call her that because that's what she does? And to be quite honest, it's actually a little annoying watching her trying to talk and act tough. It just doesn't come across as genuine. It feels forced and fake more than anything, even if it is nice seeing Pam Grier on the screen.

To date, going on a full 30 years now, The Vindicator has never gotten a DVD release, much less a Blu ray. And as far as I know, it never got a Laserdisc release either. VHS seems to be the only way to go if you want a physical copy of this badass flick, which, as you can see from the image above, looks sweet. The downside to that though is that it often goes for about $20. Well worth the purchase if you ask me, but for those that have a limit on how much they will spend on a tape, that can be a little high. If you're patient, they do pop up from time to time a bit cheaper, but not that often. There are also multiple copies available to watch on YouTube if you just want to do it that way, which I guess would be easier. I don't know what the holdup is on this release though. I don 't know if there are any legal issues tied up to it which prevents companies from touching it. I would love to see this in widescreen someday, so here's to hoping something like Shout! Factor or Umbrella Entertainment picks this up and gives it a proper and much deserved release.

*editors note:
It's funny how my tastes can change. I had actually done a review of this 5 years ago on this blog and my feelings at the time were pretty much that it was just alright, but better than you expect. Flash forward a full 5 years when I revisit it "again", and my enthusiasm is much higher for it. I loved it a helluva lot more this time around. 


My Custom VHS Cover for Roger Corman's Fantastic Four: The Movie (1994)

Here's a little project I'm very happy with. I have to admit that on a creative level, I've been on a lull for a very long time. But having taken myself out of the world of Facebook recently, I'm finding that I have a lot more time for more creative endeavors. I wanted to start with something small, so I came up with the idea of doing a custom VHS cover since I'd never actually done one before.

So I had this VHS bootleg of Roger Corman's Unreleased Fantastic Four movie from 1994. I purchased the bootleg from an online vendor years ago, but just judging from the quality of the actual tape, and the horrendous job on the cover art and label for the tape, I'd guess this particular tape has literally been around since the mid 90's. It's easily one of the worst dupes/boot's I've ever come across. On a scale of 1 - 10, I'd probably give this either a 1 or 2. Yes, it's that bad, practically unwatchable. But, when you consider the fact that there wasn't an internet when this bootleg surfaced, or at least the kind we have now, then this was really the only way to watch this remarkable little film. So we didn't complain. It was all we had and the only way we'd ever get to see it.

So I've had this really awful bootleg of a pretty incredible movie sitting on my shelf for a very long time. But I always HATED the cover art that came with it. I hated looking at it. Essentially it just looked like someone used the most primitive program they could find on their computer to put some words above a really terrible and blurry image from the film, then proceeded to make copy after copy of that same image. That's the type of quality we're talking about. I would guess it literally took this person about a whole 5 minutes to come up with it. My guess is that whoever made this was probably selling them at conventions back in the 90's and early 2000's.

Since the first bootleg's started circulating the internet and conventions, this film has become readily available on bootleg DVD's and on numerous streaming sites. So you can pretty much watch it with the snap of your fingers now. But the funny thing is that with all the different bootleg DVD and VHS versions out there, I still never found a cover I actually liked. I considered just downloading one of those cover images and using that, but really, none of them are appealing. They're as boring and uninspired as any of the covers for any new Marvel movie nowaday's. So I just figured making my own will be the only way to go. I had come across a random image similar in style and color online, but it was just the front image, made to look like the cover of a comic book, and wasn't going to work fully for what I needed. So I took a lot of inspiration from that one image and altered it to work for a wrap around VHS cover, taking out certain things I felt unnecessary, and added things I felt were important.

Playing around with different and new fonts was fun, finding the specific FF font wasn't hard at all, easily obtainable from a number of free font sites. I made sure to include Roger Corman's New Concorde logo on the spine considering it's his company that ultimately funded the film. And we all know the story behind that by now, even more so with the release of the documentary Doomed!The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four. I had actually hoped they would have also released it on VHS, but sadly that was not the case.

For the back I know I wanted to include in image of Dr. Doom because he's hands-down the best Doom interpretation out of any FF film, which is both sad and awesome. Sad in that none of the big budget FF films still couldn't get it right, and awesome in that this tiny little ultra-low-budget film did.

When I first put the image on the back, my intention was to make it smaller and throw in a bunch of other images from the movie; standard for any back cover. But when I saw how glorious he looked covering the entire area, I just left it. I think it works.

Since I have a bunch of old empty VHS clamshells laying around, I just used one of those, complete with sticker residue and, as you can see with this back image, still with the old Blockbuster purchase sticker.

Anyway, hope you dig it. It was a fun little experiment, and in any case, this looks a helluva lot better than it did sitting on my shelf before.