Blade Runner (1982) Review

Director: Ridley Scott

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

Runtime: 117 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

According to Wikipedia, seven cuts of the science-fiction classic Blade Runner exist. What follows is a review of the version dubbed “The Final Cut,” which is the only edition where director Ridley Scott had complete creative control. Set in a dystopian, urban future, a specialized police officer known as a “blade runner,” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), must hunt down a group of killer synthesized humans who are almost impossible to differentiate from normal humans. Does this acclaimed movie live up to the hype?

Blade Runner is simply one of the most visually dazzling films ever released. The special effects and set design are astonishing. The rain-swept, neon-lit city that the picture takes place in is like a darker, dirtier, more menacing version of the urban jungle from Metropolis (1927). This visionary flick has some serious nocturnal energy, which works in its favor. The “Tears in Rain” monologue lives up to its lofty reputation. The musical score from Vangelis is melancholic (like the production as a whole) and atmospheric. Blade Runner can feel a little cold at first, but, by the time the end credits roll, you’re glad that you watched it.

Going into this excellent work, one shouldn’t expect an action movie. Yes, there are a couple of gripping action scenes and plenty of sumptuous visual effects, but this is really a neo-noir in a sci-fi setting. Moody lighting, detective work, and run-down locations are the names of the game. Philosophically deep, this thriller delves into the morals and ethics of creating life and the responsibilities creators have towards the created. Personally, I think these issues were handled more interestingly in the horror flick Island of Lost Souls (1932) and the sci-fi drama A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), though they’re not boring here by any means.

The reception of Blade Runner was mixed upon its initial release. However, as different cuts of the film have emerged, it’s become regarded as a must-watch movie. The insane art direction and thick atmosphere make it one of the sci-fi greats, and the presence of Harrison Ford certainly doesn’t hurt it. My take is that if you don’t expect a full-bore action extravaganza, you’ll probably end up enjoying it considerably. Also, what’s up with those creepy robots in J.F. Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) apartment? Why aren’t those talked about more?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Glory (1989) Review

Director: Edward Zwick

Genre(s): Action, Drama, War

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Stories told from the Southern point-of-view tended to dominate movies made about the American Civil War for a long time. Think The Birth of a Nation (1915) or Gone with the Wind (1939). However, in 1989, the record was set straight by this unforgettable motion picture. Shortly after the Battle of Antietam, White Union officer Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is tasked with organizing a regiment of African-American soldiers to fight the Confederacy in the American Civil War. This story is rooted in truth, and sticks pretty close to the facts.

Structured like a World War II squad movie, Glory is a powerful film that doesn’t waste a second (it doesn’t feel like two hours). No romantic subplots here, only military matters are covered, making this one a real treat for war movie lovers. In addition to being highly educational, this efficient flick features some moments of heroism that are basically guaranteed to send chills down your spine. The action scenes are beautifully choreographed and are nothing short of hair-raising.

If there’s a weak link here, it’s Matthew Broderick as the lead. He’s not terrible, but it can be hard to take the guy from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) as a tough military man. Fortunately, James Horner’s terrific musical score steps in in any questionable moments to do some dramatic heavy-lifting. Some viewers have accused Glory of having a “White savior narrative,” where African-Americans have to be led to everlasting glory by White dudes. I suppose some of these concerns have legitimacy, but, considering that the movie is based on historical fact, I don’t think that they bog down the picture.

Union officer James Montgomery (played by Cliff De Young here) sort of gets the short end of the stick in this production. In real life, he was a sincere, badass abolitionist who even considered launching a raid to rescue John Brown from prison, but, in Glory, he’s an opportunistic bigot. Well, a movie can’t be perfect. Anyway, this American Civil War epic is a must-watch. Characters are very clear, the titanic battles are thunderous, the music is rousing, and it tells an important and true story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) Review

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Genre(s): Action, Drama

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Released a few decades after the original Top Gun (1986), its sequel probably didn’t need to be as excellent as it is. A sequel sent to theaters thirty-six years after the first one being far superior to the original? Get out of town! Well, Top Gun: Maverick accomplishes that mission. Here, aging American test pilot Peter “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) must train the next generation of fighter pilots for the dangerous task of bombing a rogue state’s uranium enrichment plant.

While watching this flick, it’s delightfully difficult to tell what is special effects and what was actually filmed in-camera. The cast were flying in actual fighter jets for the making of the movie, giving the production an almost unprecedented realism (I say “almost,” because the World War I aviation classic Wings [1927] also had the actors in actual aircraft). The action scenes, both those involving training and actual combat, are impossible to turn away from.

While the first picture in the Top Gun franchise was largely a bunch of scenes of pilots learning to be the best of the best, this sequel greatly benefits from having an overarching mission for most of the runtime. Tom Cruise has got to teach these young punks how to bomb their hostile target and get out alive. All of the characters are distinct (a huge plus), and the pacing never falters. Yes, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins makes a cameo appearance.

Top Gun: Maverick is nostalgic, but this never gets in the way of it moving forward. It pays its respects to the 1986 original and leaves it in its dust. It’s an edge-of-your-seat crowd-pleaser that rewards fans of the first one instead of trolling them. It appeals to just about all demographics and cements Tom Cruise’s status as one of the best action stars in cinema history. You bet your ass that it comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Tropic Thunder (2008) Review

Director: Ben Stiller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy

Runtime: 107 minutes (standard cut), 121 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Tropic Thunder surely must be one of the most raucous, daring, boundary-pushing, and hilarious comedies of its time period. Method acting, Hollywood egotism, and Vietnam War movies are all skillfully skewered by its sharp satire. The plot concerns a group of prima donna actors – washed-up action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), blackface-clad method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), drug-addicted comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and straight man Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) – who find themselves trapped in the jungles of Southeast Asia while filming a Vietnam War motion picture.

Bound to offend, Tropic Thunder‘s foul-mouthed screenplay deals with the issues of race and ability in ways that some viewers may be uncomfortable with or even outraged by. Still, there can be little doubt that this is a laugh-out-loud funny comedy. Moments of suspense are handled with surprising skill and the explosive action beats are up to par. The soundtrack also has some well-selected musical tracks, including “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After and “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf.

The entire star-studded cast gives committed performances that only make the humor more uproarious. Robert Downey Jr.’s role as a White actor trying to disappear into his role as an African-American soldier with surgically-applied blackface is so outrageous that it earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight [2008]). Tom Cruise has never been scarier as tyrannical film producer Les Grossman.

Tropic Thunder is a maniacal, disrespectful, raunchy party of a movie. Despite all of the ableism and blackface, this appears to be a carefully constructed work designed for maximum impact. Ben Stiller starred in, directed, and co-wrote this flick, and he knocked it out of the park. I could go on and on about how hysterical this picture is, but it would probably be best if you just watched it for yourself. Well, maybe you can skip it if you think the film’s edgier content could be too offensive or enraging.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) Review

Director: F.W. Murnau

Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the greatest of all German Expressionist films, the silent vampire movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (also known by its original German tile: Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens) still has the power to induce nightmares. It may not be scary in a close-your-eyes-from-the-unrelenting-terror sort of way, but this timeless Gothic classic is creepy in ways that most productions can only dream of. An unauthorized adaptation of the 1897 Bram Stoker novel Dracula, this chiller tells the tale of vampire Count Orlok (Max Schreck) deciding to purchase a house next to real estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder).

Of course, the big highlight of the flick is the vampire himself, masterfully played by Max Schreck. He looks like nothing from this world. He doesn’t look like a guy in make-up, but like an actual monster. This movie is chockful of iconic imagery, but the most famous shot is that of Orlok’s shadow ascending the wall near a staircase during the finale. It’s one of the most breathtaking moments in cinema history. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror may have a couple of slow-moving passages, but it can also fire on all cylinders when it needs to.

Sometimes feeling like a fairy tale from Hell, this film has an eerie, sinister, silent energy. It’s pretty oneiric, sometimes having a wonderful sense of dream logic (I guess vampires can teleport through closed doors now). The morbid, unnerving atmosphere is amplified by the decision to use decrepit and crumbling locations to film on. It gives the work a “lived in” feeling. The special effects are primitive, but this only works in the motion picture’s favor.

This movie was remade as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), but this silent version is vastly superior. A lot of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror rides on its villain, and it excels here. He looks like a walking, talking incarnation of Death. While not my favorite silent film (that would be Metropolis [1927]), this one also makes a good introduction to the world of silent cinema for those unaccustomed to that style. This is mandatory viewing for film buffs.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Cape Fear (1962) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1962 classic Cape Fear (which was remade in 1991 with the same title) is one of those thrillers that wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but easily feels like it could’ve been (another one is Mirage [1965], which also stars Gregory Peck). An ex-con named Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), who just got out of prison, stalks the lawyer, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), who put him behind bars and his family. It could be the docks or the “bowling center,” Max Cady is sure to be right behind them.

This modern-feeling crime-drama was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had previously helmed the World War II action-adventure masterpiece The Guns of Navarone (1961) and would later direct – erm – Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). His leadership of the project is rock-solid. Cape Fear is a tense, tightly-wound movie, with moody black-and-white cinematography and a booming, delightfully unsubtle musical score from Bernard Herrmann (who frequently collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock).

One of the best aspects of this picture is its performances. It’s a battle of wills (that’s threatening to turn physical) between Gregory Peck’s upright integrity and Robert Mitchum’s sexual menace. The latter is truly an animalistic force of nature here. Watching him crash the Bowden family’s idyllic lifestyle is disturbing. Good supporting roles are provided by Martin Balsam as Mark Dutton, the police chief, and Telly Savalas as Charles Sievers, a private detective.

The 1962 version of Cape Fear is a tremendous thriller in the vein of Psycho (1960)-era Alfred Hitchcock. Intense from the get-go, the movie succeeds on Mitchum’s character’s unpredictability and Gregory Peck’s character’s willingness to go to extremes to defend himself and his family. It carefully escalates tension and excitement without feeling pulpy (not that pulp is a bad thing by any means). You have to find a copy of this one to watch.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 176 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, these Batman movies just keep getting darker and darker, don’t they? Set in Gotham City, superhero/masked vigilante Batman (Robert Pattinson) fights to stop the twisted murderer the Riddler (Paul Dano), who’s been bumping off members of the city’s elite. It’s a superhero actioner, an underworld neo-noir, a serial killer thriller, and a psychological drama all in one, without ever feeling hastily assembled or scattershot.

Robert Pattinson makes a surprisingly fearsome Batman, but a mediocre Bruce Wayne. Paul Dano’s Riddler is hold-your-breath scary, not just for his gruesome murders, but also for the philosophical threat he poses to Batman’s brand of justice. James Gordon is played by Jeffrey Wright, who knocks it out of the park with this role. The plot sometimes threatens to become convoluted, but it mostly stays understandable for somebody who’s bad at following intricate stories (like myself). The sinister musical score by Michael Giacchino sometimes resembles a high-tech, high-powered dirge.

The action sequences in The Batman might seem a little reserved at first compared to those in other entries in the Caped Crusader’s filmography. However, they feature clear camerawork, exciting choreography, and high stakes. The fist fight illuminated by automatic weapons fire, the harsh, pulse-pounding car chase, and the finale are the highlights in the action department. Pushing the MPAA’s PG-13 rating to its limits, this flick sometimes gives the audience am-I-watching-something-illegal? vibes, especially during the scenes involving the Riddler’s “dark web” presence.

The Batman is one of the best films in the superhero’s franchise. It features a solid blend of Batman doing detective work and outright battling his foes. Sure, it’s dark, intense, and oppressive, but this gamble paid off big time here, with the picture pulling off a real sense of danger and a desperate need for heroism. There are plenty of ace movies set in the Batman universe out there, and this is a welcome addition to that growing filmography.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Vera Cruz (1954) Review

Director: Robert Aldrich

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War, Western

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During the Franco-Mexican War, American gunslingers Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) and Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) are hired by the French-dominated Mexican government to escort Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) across rebel-held territory in Mexico. One of the better movies that either Gary Cooper or Burt Lancaster appeared in, this action-adventure-western is not just highly engaging, it was also very influential on the western genre. Wikipedia currently claims that The Magnificent Seven (1960), the westerns directed by Sergio Leone, The Professionals (1966), and The Wild Bunch (1969) all owe a little something to Vera Cruz.

This war-time western has a mean, tough demeanor that would help inspire the tones of various western works to come. Its casual violence, amoral personalities, and stylized gunplay would all be noted by upcoming filmmakers. Vera Cruz feels ahead-of-its-time, more like a 1964 flick, than a 1954 one. The cast is also stacked, featuring the aforementioned Cooper and Lancaster, as well as Cesar Romero (as Marquis Henri de Labordere), Charles Bronson (playing Pittsburgh), Ernest Borgnine (showing up as Donnegan), and Jack Elam (as Tex).

This heightened war/western feature has tremendous action…and lots of it. The big, final battle is a highlight. Gary Cooper really gets the opportunity to show off his inner John Rambo. The runtime is only a little over an hour-and-a-half, so Vera Cruz crams plenty of action scenes and an innumerable quantity of double-crosses into its package. This is nothing if not entertaining.

Vera Cruz is essential viewing for fans of the cast and the genres. The only element that really ages the work is some “Lost Cause”-style reminiscing about the American South (due to the fact that Cooper’s character was a plantation owner). However, this is offset somewhat by the presence of the badass Ballard (played by Archie Savage), a Black gunman who used to serve in the Union military during the American Civil War.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

James Cagney returned to the role of gangster in 1938 with the popular crime-drama Angels with Dirty Faces. Here, a group of inner-city kids find themselves torn between the influences of tough mobster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and virtuous priest Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien). Who will they follow in the footsteps of? Who will survive to the ending? Is James Cagney the best basketball referee of all time? Humphrey Bogart also shows up as corrupt lawyer James Frazier.

Cagney gives one of the strongest performances of his career here (he was given an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). The acting is terrific across the board, and the use of light and shadow is excellent. Overall, this movie is not as nitty-gritty as The Public Enemy (1931), action-packed as ‘G’ Men (1935), or ferocious as White Heat (1949), but Angels with Dirty Faces has a clear identity of its own.

This is a very well-paced gangster film, with it moving from scene to scene with amazing grace. On the action front, things are pretty solid. The big action moment, the final shootout, has got to be one of the very best gunfights in cinema up to that point in history. Cagney apparently had actual bullets fired in his general area during filming. Director Michael Curtiz (who would later helm Casablanca [1942]) is no stranger when it comes to exciting action.

It’s not quite up there with the aforementioned White Heat or The Public Enemy, but Angels with Dirty Faces is still one of Cagney’s best flicks. The picture’s ambiguous ending has been debated by fans for decades, and the acting still holds up. This one is certainly recommended. In Home Alone (1990), a movie titled Angels with Filthy Souls is watched on television, and, in its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), a film named Angels with Even Filthier Souls makes an appearance.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Touch of Evil (1958) Review

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes (original theatrical cut), 111 minutes (restored cut)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Touch of Evil, released in 1958, was one of the last films noirs from the golden age of that style in the 1940s and 1950s…and it’s one of the best. The story’s about American cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) and Mexican police officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) investigating a fatal car-bombing along the border between their two countries. The most critically-acclaimed movie from director Orson Welles may be Citizen Kane (1941), but, to be honest, I’d rather watch Touch of Evil, which he helmed and starred in.

In addition to the talented cast, the cinematography is a major star of the show. The long, one-shot opening sequence, depicting the car-bombing that sets off the plot, is a doozy and is rightfully famous. Shadows and interesting camera angles are used incessantly. The flick has a seedy, sleazy, nocturnal atmosphere that works wonders (although a few too many scenes take place during daytime).

This boundary-pushing classic is no action picture, but those moments where the shit hits the fan warrant a chef’s kiss. One murder scene is just as intense and ferocious as anything you’d see nowadays. It’s an edge-of-your-seat part of a fantastic film, with another one of those staggering sequences being the one with the hopped-up hoodlums at a remote motel. Some have raised issue with Charlton Heston playing a Mexican character, but it’s handled very tastefully for that sort of thing (no cheesy accent here).

If I must find any fault with Touch of Evil (other than the aforementioned complaint about too much sunlight at times), it’s that the plot can feel a bit vague in the opening scenes (even if the first thing the audience sees in the entire picture is a bomb). While films noirs generally aren’t my thing, this one is harsh, in-your-face, reasonably easy to follow, not overly talky, and satisfying. This is a movie that any self-respecting cinephile needs to check out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.