Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Genre(s): Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 164 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Set thirty years after the events of Blade Runner (1982), this sci-fi sequel was met with a very enthusiastic response upon its release. Here, a “blade runner” (a futuristic cop who specializes in tracking down rogue synthesized humans) simply known as “K” (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a conspiracy involving the potentiality of the “replicants” (synthetic humans) he hunts to reproduce, sending him off on a journey to locate Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the now-missing blade runner from the first film. It can’t reach the majestic heights of the original, but I think that this thriller can sit comfortably beside it.

The first thing you may notice about Blade Runner 2049 is how it is about forty-five minutes longer than the first one. It does have a tendency to be a bit more longwinded than the 1982 flick, but it’s not particularly noticeable. I do think that there is more physical action in the sequel, but not by much. Great cinematography can be found here (I love that shot with the fire’s embers flying into the air), yet the overall picture lacks the aching melancholy of the first installment. I just don’t feel the grit and grime as much here.

Ridley Scott, who directed Blade Runner, does not return, with the work being ably helmed by Denis Villeneuve. Harrison Ford, however, does make a comeback, even if it sometimes seems like he’s just doing a version of his grumpy self. Still, the film does light up with his incredible screen presence. He’s older and more grizzled, but he’s still Harrison Ford. The rest of the cast works well, although Jared Leto, as sinister CEO Niander Wallace, feels underutilized.

It’s hard to imagine Blade Runner 2049 being an unqualified success in a vacuum. It needs the 1982 original to lean on. I suppose that makes 2049 the lesser of the two productions. Still, this sequel has a twisty-turny plot that will keep you guessing to the very end and perhaps even make you question reality (just a little bit). If you loved the 1982 movie, I can’t see much harm in watching its sequel, as long as you keep in mind that it’s not going to be as mesmerizing as the first flick.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Top Gun (1986) Review

Director: Tony Scott

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

A military melodrama for men, Top Gun became emblematic of 1980s pop culture. Sure, just about everyone agrees that its sequel, Top Gun: Maverick (2022), is vastly superior, but the original is worth checking out for the Hell of it. The story here concerns Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, who, along with his backseat Radar Intercept Officer Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), is sent to hone his skills at the country’s “Top Gun” school.

Often ridiculed as military hardware porn or as a recruitment ad, Top Gun features a searing AOR/melodic rock-oriented soundtrack complete with two Kenny Loggins songs (“Danger Zone” and “Playing with the Boys”). Depending on who you ask, this could be one of the coolest flicks ever released or one of the lamest. I suppose some enjoy it as kitsch. One’s thoughts on the famous volleyball scene will probably determine how they feel about the picture as a whole.

If you’ve got the need for speed, this action-drama serves up several high-octane flying sequences. Most of these moments are training exercises, but we do get some combat with hostile aircraft at the end. To be honest, some of the flight scenes are dizzyingly edited, requiring concentration to follow the action onscreen. Still, you’d have to be dead for that final dogfight to not get your pulse quickening just a tiny bit.

This piece of Cold War-era macho posturing can be summed up as a male-oriented soap opera. This work is a “button-pusher,” meaning that it presses the viewers’ various emotional buttons in an obvious, yet effective, way. Some audiences won’t like being manipulated like that, especially by a film that glamorizes military service, but – hey – films were meant to be manipulative. As it stands now, it’s a good movie, but, in the future, it may be best remembered as the motion picture that predated Top Gun: Maverick.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Car (1977) Review

Director: Elliot Silverstein

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Smash together the two Steven Spielberg-directed classics Duel (1971) and Jaws (1975) and you end up with something resembling 1977’s The Car. This is one of those cozy, drive-in-movie-style horror pictures that’s become a bit of a cult classic over the years. The story’s about a mysterious car that keeps killing people in a remote Western American town. Pretty soon, residents are coming up with supernatural explanations for the series of murders.

The Car works, in my opinion, because of its mixture of kitschy silliness and earnest charm. It’s about a roaming, killer automobile, but – golly gee-whiz – the cast and crew put enough effort and sincerity into the production to make it fun. It can get pretty cheesy, but you root for the movie’s success nonetheless. It’s one of those horror flicks that you can watch with just about anybody who’s old enough to handle that genre.

This flick contains some satisfactory kills and scares. Some are better than others, but the body count is just the right size. It’s not so low that you feel cheated, but it’s not so high that the production becomes mean-spiritedly apocalyptic. The special effects are about what you’d expect from a work of this film’s stature, but there is a four-for-one killing that will bowl you over. I’m not sure if it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen or the dumbest. You get that vibe a lot during The Car.

Okay, this isn’t the film you’re looking for if you just want a cheap horror film to laugh at and mock (check out Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959] or Halloween: Resurrection [2002] if an itch of that nature needs to be scratched). It’s competent enough to not be a laugh riot, but it’s still too preposterous to take completely seriously. Many movies would wilt if they found themselves in such a predicament, yet The Car still manages to entertain an audience. Apparently, a sequel – The Car: Road to Revenge (2019) – was made a few decades after the original.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Hamburger Hill (1987) Review

Director: John Irvin

Genre(s): Action, Drama, War

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Released one year after Platoon (1986) and the same year as Full Metal Jacket (1987), this could be seen as the muddier, bloodier sibling to those Vietnam War films. Set in 1969, a squad of American soldiers fights to survive the torturous Battle of Hamburger Hill (an actual engagement in real life) during the Vietnam War, which involves them trying to take a communist-occupied hill in South Vietnam. It’s not as masterful as Full Metal Jacket, but I’d put this one on roughly equal footing with Platoon.

A significant chunk of this movie is a series of slices-of-life from U.S. troops serving in South Vietnam. They bond, train, occasionally find themselves in combat situations, interact with the locals, and brace themselves for the next big piece of action. The characterizations that the inhabitants of this movie’s universe receive are mixed. Some are well-fleshed-out, but others fall victim to who-is-this-guy-again? syndrome. We get to adequately know the characters before all Hell breaks loose.

The Battle of Hamburger Hill is when the flick really comes into its own. Watching the battlefield transform before our eyes from a dense jungle to a barren, smoky wasteland is the reason to view this picture. The fighting is grueling and gruesome, with one of the more notable assaults on the titular hill taking place in pouring rain, with American soldiers slipping and sliding down the heights as they struggle to climb up them. Not all of the characters are going to make it out of this one alive.

Hamburger Hill isn’t quite one of the very best war pictures of all time – its first half is a bit too typical for the genre for that – but it’s still solid. Its representation of the United States’ fighting men in the Vietnam War is respectful, perhaps even a tad reverent, while just about all American civilians are media vultures, dirty hippies, backstabbing politicians, or people who simply don’t understand the plight of the U.S. military. Being one of the better Vietnam War combat flicks, I recommend it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Ten Commandments (1956) Review

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama

Runtime: 220 minutes (standard cut), 231 minutes (roadshow cut)

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

All the way back in Biblical times, Moses (Charlton Heston), a Hebrew raised in the royal family of Egypt, sets out to free the Jewish people from their status as slaves in Egypt, putting him on a collision course with the dictatorial pharaoh, Rameses II (Yul Brynner). This is one of those spare-no-expenses epics from the Golden Age of Hollywood that throws everything imaginable at the audience in an effort to compete with the rising medium of television. It certainly is one of the biggest movies of all time, but is it one of the best?

Make no mistake, this is one very long picture, running nearly four hours in its roadshow form. However, it has a more purposeful gait than many of the other films in this style. It may have a leave-nothing-on-the-cutting-room-floor approach, but the story it tells largely justifies its marathonic runtime. Sure, some scenes probably could’ve been left out, but The Ten Commandments doesn’t exactly trudge along like a Biblical soap opera. It could easily be seen as a Cold War-era piece of propaganda…a sort of “take that!” to the godless commies.

Perhaps the best aspect of the work is Elmer Bernstein’s majestic musical score. It’s powerful and full of blood and thunder. The special effects and massive scope of the feature are hard to criticize. The heightened, theatrical performances border on high camp, but they work. Charlton Heston’s Moses, who balances stateliness with a Billy Badass attitude, holds the flick together. Some of the casting decisions are – er – interesting, such as Edward G. Robinson as Hebrew collaborator Dathan and Vincent Price as Egyptian slavedriver Baka.

The Ten Commandments, and that other ancient-era epic, Spartacus (1960), stand out from the rest of the sword-and-sandal crowd because of their compelling stories, and because their narratives don’t just sit around, letting spectacle do all of the talking. Pacing is slow, but generally steady. This movie, with its colossal runtime, may be intimidating, but I find it relatively easy to recommend. Whether you believe that the events in the film took place or not, this is a flick that deserves to be watched.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Platoon (1986) Review

Director: Oliver Stone

Genre(s): Action, Drama, War

Runtime: 120 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Before he became one of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s useful idiots, director Oliver Stone was a talented filmmaker, and the Vietnam War combat picture Platoon was often cited as his magnum opus. Stone was himself a veteran of the war in Southeast Asia, and he brought a sense of realism to the movie that had seldom been seen previously in the war genre. The feature is about fresh American soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) being assigned to a platoon in the Vietnam War that’s divided between followers of the benevolent Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) and disciples of the cruel Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).

The all-star cast went through a sort of Hell to make this picture, as they endured a boot-camp-style training course in the jungles of the Philippines (where the flick was filmed) to put them inside the heads of soldiers who might have served in that vicious war. The desperation, exhaustion, and fear on the actors’ faces is mostly real. Platoon may not make ideal viewing for, say, Veterans Day, because it does graphically deal with atrocities committed by U.S. troop in South Vietnam. Some Americans come off looking better than others, but innocence is undoubtedly shattered.

The intense battle sequences in Platoon are stirring and tend to avoid John Rambo-style heroics. The violence here is unforgiving, yet never gratuitous (this is no splatterfest, despite how grisly things get). The outdoor elements are just as brutal to deal with as bullets fired by the communists. Despite the hair-raising nature of the movie, I do feel like the storytelling lacks that extra “oomph” necessary to push it into masterpiece territory. It’s not that the film is episodic, it just needed to be a bit more propulsive at times.

While not one of the very best war pictures that I’ve seen, Platoon‘s lofty reputation still makes it a must-watch for fans of the genre. It played a role in upping the levels of realism in combat films, and it seems to be some sort of therapeutic exercise for director Oliver Stone, as he brings his traumatic experiences in Indochina to the big screen. While Full Metal Jacket (1987), released one year later, is currently my favorite Vietnam War flick, this one still gives the viewer plenty to think over.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Guns for San Sebastian (1968) Review

Director: Henri Verneuil

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Western

Runtime: 111 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Anthony Quinn goes full “spaghetti western” (Italian-made western movie) in this 1968 film. Hell, it even has a musical score from Ennio Morricone! Things don’t stop there, though, with Charles Bronson showing up as Teclo, a village Hellraiser. Set in the 1740s, this flick is about Mexican bandit Leon Alastray (Anthony Quinn) being mistaken for a priest by a remote town and helping them fight off a raid by the Yaqui Native Americans.

Yes, the plot of Guns for San Sebastian does sound vaguely similar to that found in The Magnificent Seven (1960), which Charles Bronson also starred in. Even the Mexican village set in this film looks very similar to the one from that 1960 release. Was it actually filmed at the same location? I don’t know for sure, but, despite being a European co-production, it was shot in Mexico, just like The Magnificent Seven. Anyway, the outsider(s)-defending-a-helpless-community formula makes this a watchable action-adventure flick.

While not overflowing with physical combat, Guns for San Sebastian does feature some bracing action scenes. Anthony Quinn gets a chance to pile the corpses high, and the overall body count is astronomical for a western movie. There is a great deal of explosions and people falling off of horses. Seeing Quinn and Charles Bronson in the same production is fun, even if the pacing lags a little. The narrative probably could’ve been tightened up a tiny bit.

To be honest, Guns for San Sebastian probably isn’t quite as badass as I’m hyping it up to be. The cast and action may be incredible, but the movie can be on the somewhat slow-moving side. That’s largely forgiven when the movie concludes, but it’s still a criticism that should be made. It’s worth recommending. A bit of trivia about the work is that it was originally conceived as a project for Quinn’s The Guns of Navarone (1961) co-star Gregory Peck in 1964.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Cape Fear (1991) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The original Cape Fear (1962) is a terrific movie, but director Martin Scorsese sent a remake to theaters in 1991. So, which one is better? Before we get into that, let’s go over the plot. A deeply disturbed rapist who was recently released from prison, Max Cady (Robert De Niro), stalks the lawyer who unsuccessfully defended him in court, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), and his family. Okay, I won’t leave you in suspense, the 1962 one is superior, but the 1991 version is still worth watching.

The newer release of Cape Fear is, interestingly enough, much pulpier and more unsubtle than the original. The direction is histrionic and in-your-face, making you wonder if Martin Scorsese was trying to be funny. It’s almost comically over-the-top at times. I’m not sure if “operatic” is a word I’d normally use to describe a crime-thriller about a rapist stalking a lawyer and his family. To add to the movie’s heightened energy, the loud-and-proud musical themes from the 1962 original, composed by Bernard Herrmann, are employed here, as adopted by Elmer Bernstein.

The 1991 Cape Fear adds traces of moral ambiguity that weren’t present in the original. Unfortunately, this only detracts somewhat from the tension, as it’s scarier when the villain is interrupting a picture-perfect lifestyle of the heroes, as seen in the 1962 version. Robert De Niro’s bad guy’s characterization is all over the place. At least, three of the actors from the older one – Gregory Peck (as Lee Heller, a slimy lawyer), Robert Mitchum (playing Elgart, a policeman), and Martin Balsam (portraying a judge) – make cameo appearances.

Scorsese’s version of the story ups the ante (including in the violence department), but at what cost? It’s also the longer film, making it seem less taut than the 1962 one. However, it’s still a compelling thriller with some memorable scenes. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it wasn’t riding the coattails of the original, directed by J. Lee Thompson. It’s not essential viewing for film buffs, but they probably won’t regret watching it once or twice.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween Kills (2021) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes (theatrical cut), 109 minutes (extended cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Fear not, gore-hounds, for Halloween Kills is a horror movie that lives up to its title. This sequel to Halloween (2018) goes all-out in the violence department, making the 2018 film look restrained in the process. Following the events in that flick, it turns out that mass-killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) is still alive (surprise!) and about to continue his murderous rampage, as a vigilante mob forms to stop him. If you don’t know the routine by now, then I don’t know what to tell you.

This splatterfest doesn’t do much to advance the story of the respected Halloween franchise. The plot basically comes to a standstill to allow good, ol’ Michael Myers to slaughter a shit-ton of people. He’s essentially a horror movie John Rambo at this point, tearing through waves of people with what looks like relative ease. If you just want to watch people die in gruesome ways, you’ll get your money’s worth. The relentless blood and guts almost makes Halloween Kills feel like the long-lost sibling to the Rob Zombie Halloween atrocities.

This slasher picture introduces us to a great deal of characters, which can only mean one thing: a lot of expendable folks are going to end up pushing up daisies. That’s just the way these productions work, I guess. Halloween Kills attempts to make a statement on the nature of vigilante justice, as the inhabitants of the terror-stricken town give in to their baser instincts and try to ensure that “Evil dies tonight!” It’s a questionable move to add depth to the proceedings, but I can forgive it.

Unfortunately, the character of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) spends most of her screentime cooped up in the hospital (what is this, Halloween II [1981]?). Still, this film passes the was-I-not-bored? test. It may not have advanced the story much (if at all), but it nonetheless manages to be reasonably frightening. Halloween Kills is not one of the better entries into the series. It can’t approach the classiness of Halloween (1978), the suspense of Halloween II (1981), the unintentional hilarity of Halloween: Resurrection (2002), or the nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic appeal of Halloween (2018), but I’d probably watch it again.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Lost Highway (1997) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 134 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Is “Lost Highway” a great title for a surreal psychological horror-thriller movie or what? The plot here is about saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) receiving VHS tapes in the mail of what appears to be somebody stalking them at their home. This is a David Lynch film, so that is the normal part of the picture. Things are going to get much stranger from there.

This flick is driven by a wonderful sense of dream logic. People act and talk as if they’re trapped in somebody’s dream…or nightmare. Everything’s mysterious, and the pale-faced Mystery Man (Robert Blake) makes the biggest impression. It’s one, big mood piece, and that mood is unease. Violent and depraved, this thriller’s primary concern is making the audience feel like they’re having a fever dream. Gary Busey (as Bill Dayton) and Richard Pryor (as Arnie) show up in relatively small roles.

There’s a lot to like about Lost Highway, but the film does feel its length (about two-and-a-quarter hours). Like an actual dream, it does seem a little lightweight, with details that are easy to forget. This work of cinematic surrealism is mighty cryptic, feeling a little too opaque at times. It’s actually possible to decipher the events that take place during the runtime (the rest of the Internet can fill you in), but I shouldn’t have to visit a website to get a movie’s full experience.

This striking thriller is one of the more oneiric films that I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a coherent, easily digestible piece of cinema, this may not be it. It’s too dark, dream-like, and demented for that. However, it’s a must for David Lynch fans and those desiring something off the beaten path. I’d recommend it, but brace yourself for something odd.

My rating is 7 outta 10.