Timecop (1994) Review

Director: Peter Hyams

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is tasked with preventing the abuse of time travel, when he finds himself fighting against corrupt American politician Aaron McComb (Ron Silver), who’s been using that technology to accumulate funds for a Presidential campaign. As of the writing of this review, Wikipedia says that this is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s highest grossing movie where he played the lead role. Does it live up to that title?

When it comes to action, Timecop is definitely not the be-all-end-all Van Damme picture. The fights are actually pretty good, but the most elaborately choreographed ones are not saved for last. The ending confrontation feels forgettable in comparison to some of the set-pieces that preceded it. This feature’s finale focuses more on the emotional stakes than the physical ones, though that’s not to say that there’s no death and destruction during the third act.

The script gives the Muscles from Brussels one or two solid one-liners, but most of the comic relief is handled by Bruce McGill, who plays Eugene Matuzak, one of the higher-ups at the time travel agency. I mainly know this actor as “that one guy” from FDR: American Badass! (2012), but his attempts at providing levity are successful here. Does all of the time travel science and whatnot make sense in Timecop? Well, you’re asking the wrong person. I can’t wrap my brain around all of this complicated, scientific stuff, so I just ride with it. It’s fine in a turn-off-your-brain-and-watch-stuff-explode sort of way. It takes a high-concept idea and follows through with a fairly run-of-the-mill execution.

One can think of Timecop as a fusion of the time travel elements from the Terminator series and the sci-fi law enforcement parts of RoboCop (1987). Unfortunately, it can’t reach the high peaks of its apparent inspirations. As far as Van Damme films go, this one’s pretty average, but this average is higher than the normal score a movie starring, say, Steven Seagal would get. There are certainly better JCVD flicks out there – like The Expendables 2 (2012), Double Impact (1991), Legionnaire (1998), and Hard Target (1993) to name just a few – but this one will do in a jam.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Drama, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

If one wants to understand the influences of the popular television show Stranger Things, there’s no better place to start with than 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Set in American suburbia, a troubled child named Elliott (Henry Thomas) befriends an alien that was accidentally left behind on Earth. This is an excellent movie, but what else would you expect from director Steven Spielberg?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is full of that classic, Spielbergian sense of wonder, particularly at things that are unknown, fantastical, or misunderstood. Watching this film makes the viewer feel just about every emotion imaginable, from fear to elation, from sorrow to excitement, from awe to joy, with some laughs along the way. It manages to be warm, nostalgic, and even suspenseful (perhaps too much so for some of the very youngest audience members).

Of course, the technical aspects of this picture cannot be criticized. The glue holding the flick together is John Williams’ magical musical score. The tune that plays during the bicycle sequences is mesmerizing. The special effects also deserve a special mention. They’re not as intrusive as the effects in some other science-fiction blockbusters, but they’re still top-notch when they do show up.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the first known film to receive the “A+” grade from audiences as calculated by CinemaScore, and, after it was screened at the United Nations, Spielberg was given a UN Peace Medal. This is a slick, sentimental favorite that has stood the test of time. All one has to do is look at the works that have aped its success, like the aforementioned Stranger Things or the movie Super 8 (2011), to see its enduring appeal.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Metropolis (1927) Review

Director: Fritz Lang

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 153 minutes (“Complete” cut), 80 minutes (Giorgio Moroder cut)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the all-time great masterpieces of cinema, 1927’s silent science-fiction epic Metropolis was the first movie to be named to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. It may be silent, but thanks to its bombastic visuals and genius, impossibly vigorous musical score from Gottfried Huppertz, it’s loud as Hell. The story concerns itself with the city of the future, where tensions between the working and upper classes are reaching their breaking point…can some sort of mediator prevent a war between these two castes?

Yes, Metropolis has ahead-of-its-time special effects that will floor you, but there is more here than just that. The performances, while remarkably over-the-top, are stunning, and the whole motion picture is melodramatic in the very best way possible. Everything’s heightened (it is a work of German Expressionism, after all), but it’s no bloated soap opera. It even becomes an action-adventure film in the last third (or so), piling on massive, tour-de-force set-pieces.

The politics of Metropolis are often seen as na├»ve, simplistic, or half-baked. The feature’s director, Fritz Lang, essentially disowned it for this reason. It certainly does contain an odd mish-mash of symbols, ideas, and metaphors that may not make sense if analyzed too closely. Still, this is a brilliant, king-sized flick that paints in very broad strokes, so, if you can get behind that, you’ll have your mind blown.

This masterclass of filmmaking is available in both a black-and-white, “Complete” cut running about two-and-a-half hours (with a reconstruction of the original Gottfried Huppertz score) and an eighty-minute, color-tinted version from 1984 with a rock and pop soundtrack arranged by Giorgio Moroder. While I prefer the “Complete” edition, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the Moroder cut, which features some rousing music from Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, Jon Anderson, Cycle V, Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy, Billy Squier, Adam Ant, and Moroder himself. One of the most ambitious pictures ever released, Metropolis is still thrilling and fast-paced, making it the perfect introduction to the world of silent cinema. Few movies released since have managed to top it.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Review

Director: Peyton Reed

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a sequel that tops the original (Ant-Man [2015]) in every way. The comedy, action set-pieces, and emotional hooks are all more effective here, not that they were bad by any means in the first installment. The plot of this picture is about superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), with his special suit that shrinks the wearer to ant-size, trying to help Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) rescue Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm, while battling those who want to steal the size-altering technology he uses.

While this is obviously a superhero movie, the physical action often takes a backseat to the humor and characterizations. This might be detrimental to the success of any other actioner, but Ant-Man and the Wasp might be better off for it. This relatively family-friendly flick certainly is a crowd-pleaser with its well-integrated special effects and creative action.

While the jokes come fast, frequent, and funny, I didn’t get the feeling that they were undercutting the gravity of the situations onscreen quite like they did with the first film. This action-comedy is no drama, but the sympathies of audience members are pretty easily gained by this more earnest take. Even one of the villains of the story, Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), isn’t really such a bad person, and this feeds into the somewhat kiddie-friendly nature of the production.

The dramatic hooks give Ant-Man and the Wasp more weight than its predecessor. It still sticks pretty closely to the established Marvel formula, but it is probably one of the better features to employ it. I suppose that each subseries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe offers something slightly different for viewers, and these Ant-Man flicks specialize in movies where the physical stakes aren’t particularly high (by superhero media standards), but the films still manage to thrill anyway.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Ant-Man (2015) Review

Director: Peyton Reed

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 117 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Ant-Man is a superhero film that sticks pretty closely to the established Marvel movie formula. Fortunately, this formula works quite well, even if the feature sometimes feels like a product from an assembly line. The basic plot here is about a thief named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who steals a high-tech suit that can shrink the wearer to ant-size, and must use it for the greater good of humanity. It’s more of a heist picture than your typical Marvel flick, but it still has the usual save-the-world stakes.

The likable cast and inventive set-pieces involving the shrinking Ant-Man suit are the real reasons to watch. The characters are very well-defined, and the production makes you care about ants, of all things. The lengthy action climax will satisfy those looking for superhero-related chaos. Ant-Man is also pretty funny, being one of the more comedic entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

On the down side, this movie feels the need to follow up several moments of action and/or drama with quippy humor. This can sort of undercut the gravity of the scenes, and almost feels like a coldly calculated way of “keeping matters light.” It’s already a fairly light-weight piece, so does it really need that sort of thing? It almost appears that the film is too scared to commit to sincerity at times.

While Ant-Man would be topped by the next installment in its subseries – Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – this flick can still be viewed as effective entertainment. Despite what I stated in the above paragraph, this work still has a solid emotional hook and it benefits from characters that the audience gives a hoot about. Cynics may look at it as just another cog in Marvel’s money-making machine, but I think it works reasonably well as a solo feature.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The War of the Worlds (1953) Review

Director: Byron Haskin

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

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Decades before director Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005), there was a similarly-titled sci-fi picture that covered the same ground. Martians have invaded Earth, and humanity finds itself waging a seemingly losing battle against the extraterrestrial invaders. Largely set in the 1950s United States, this one feels like a bunch of aliens crashed into a Norman Rockwell painting.

Elements of this science-fiction-horror feature may seem hokey by today’s standards, but I think that it’s got it where it counts. The lead character, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), may not be the kind of hero you’d expect from a 1950s film, but it totally works in the context of the movie. There’s a fair amount of action once things get rolling, and the flick is bleaker and darker than one might anticipate from an American production of this time period (although it’s certainly not as moody as it could’ve been).

The most notable hit-or-miss aspects of The War of the Worlds are the special effects. They won an Oscar, with some of the destruction looking quite impressive for a 1953 movie. However, not every effect is flawless, and some of the visuals have definitely dated…if they ever looked good at all (during the scene where human artillery is firing at the Martian war machines, it looks like someone tossing fire-crackers at miniatures). The aliens themselves also present a problem, since they look more cute than terrifying.

This sci-fi-thriller, which may reflect the Cold War paranoia of the time, runs a brisk eighty-five minutes, so time is rarely wasted. Modern audiences will find some parts of the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds to be cheesy or quaint, but I think that the picture’s desperate tone and focus on physical mayhem save it from being a useless 1950s relic. To be honest, I prefer the 2005 film directed by Spielberg, but this one is still worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Tenet (2020) Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

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

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Director Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi actioner Tenet was supposed to be one of those films to bail out the struggling movie theater industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The picture follows a secret agent, simply referred to as “the Protagonist” (John David Washington), who must stop a group of terrorists from using time-inversion technology to threaten the planet. It’s a long, puzzling ride…is it worth the trip?

The admirably ambitious Tenet is, unfortunately, a confusing feature. With characters traveling forward in time and others backwards in time at the same time, it’s hard to keep abreast of. The complicated-for-the-sake-of-complicated nature of the film doesn’t really make me want to watch it over and over again, it just sparks apathy. Perhaps the time-inversion stuff would’ve worked better in smaller doses.

There is some nice action here, though. The opening sequence is the highlight, but numerous chases, fights, and moments of miscellaneous mayhem are littered throughout the (overlong) runtime. There’s certainly an I-haven’t-seen-that-before factor in play here, but the movie’s wildly intricate plot largely means that these scenes must be enjoyed in isolation from any compelling story.

I suppose that Tenet will appeal to those who like ambiguous mysteries in their cinema and try to watch the same flicks repeatedly in order to dissect every last detail. This movie is a lot less easy to follow than Christopher Nolan’s own Inception (2010), and it suffers from that. Although it occasionally dabbles in James Bond-style antics, this work feels like it’s intentionally trying to “lose” the audience in its complex storytelling.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Total Recall (1990) Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

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

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Three years after his RoboCop (1987), another sci-fi-action film directed by Paul Verhoeven hit the big screen: the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-thriller Total Recall. This imaginative what-is-real-and-what-is-not? motion picture lives up to its reputation as an excellent mind-bender. Set in the distant future, construction worker Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to have memories of a vacation to Mars he’s apparently never taken implanted into his brain…and things go wrong from there…or do they?

Total Recall benefits from a musical score from Jerry Goldsmith that’s simultaneously classy, muscular, and urgent-sounding. It’s a darkly comedic (even satirical, at times) ride, and pacing is never really an issue. A big shout-out goes to the film’s wild, glorious (and often grotesque) special effects. They really make it seem like anything is possible with practical effects (and a big enough budget).

This movie has no shortage of action, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag here. The orchestration of the action scenes is pretty average by Arnie standards (with the notable exception of their generously-pouring blood squibs), but the characters do look mighty cool when jumping through glass in slow-motion. The non-stop chasing also means the flick loses some “weight” when it needs it. Okay, the action isn’t as immaculately choreographed as it is in Commando (1985), but does it need to be?

Total Recall might surprise Schwarzenegger skeptics with its wit and clever plotting. It may not be high art, but this action flick’s got brains. The Austrian Oak’s made some great science-fiction movies over the years, and this is one of them. It’s a wildly over-the-top film, but it knows it, winking at the audience occasionally, but not enough for it to be a genuine comedy.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) Review

Director: Dave Filoni

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

This animated Star Wars movie was the first look fans would get at the style of animation that would be employed in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series, which was also launched in 2008. Set in between the events of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) are tasked with rescuing gangster Jabba the Hutt’s (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) son, Rotta (voiced by David Acord), as the Clone Wars rage on across the galaxy. This one’s strictly for followers of the franchise only.

The film in question is actually four episodes of the aforementioned T.V. show stitched together (think of it as the series pilot). This means that the structure of the picture is on the awkward side, with several climaxes. Okay, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it definitely feels like a small part of a larger whole, as characters come and go from the narrative. Yeah, sending this movie to theaters was clearly a cash-grab move.

This film caters to Star Wars fans who prefer the action set-pieces to the chit-chat (wait…are there any Star Wars fans who watch these flicks for the dialogue?). The action scenes are almost incessant here, with plenty of familiar-looking vehicles, weapons, droids, and gadgets thrown into the mix. They’re more over-the-top than anything viewers had seen in a Star Wars film up to the time of its original release, but I suppose that’s to be expected, as it is an animated film.

Speaking of animation, it’s certainly a mixed bag, to be sure. It often looks too mechanical, but it does look pretty at other moments. Anyway, Star Wars: The Clone Wars sticks quite close to the spirit of the franchise. Audience members who aren’t already interested in Star Wars will get lost awfully quick, but fans will find enough here to make it through the runtime. This feature took a thrashing from critics, yet people already in love with that galaxy far, far away will be far more forgiving.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) Review

Director: Ken Cunningham

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It’s probably a daring move to put the words “Holiday” and “Special” together into a Star Wars movie title after the disastrous The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), which is considered such an abomination that it’s never been given an official home video release. However, in 2020, Lego put out its own Christmas-themed Star Wars film, meeting greater acclaim than the 1978 flop. Set after the events in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), the good guys of that picture set out to the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, while Rey (voiced by Helen Sadler) tries to uncover some lost Jedi knowledge, causing her to discover a gem that enables time travel.

This animated film is clearly aimed at people who are already fans of the Star Wars saga, especially the kids. It breaks no new ground, but it provides a fun nostalgia trip for viewers accustomed to that beloved galaxy far, far away. A few actors from the live-action movies even return to voice their respective characters. Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams does Lando Calrissian, and Kelly Marie Tran brings life to Rose Tico.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is a lightweight pleasure, but it knows that it belongs to a franchise that’s seen plenty of controversy, and it gently ribs a few of the more divisive elements of the series. Its story revolves around time travel, but doesn’t really try much new with the concept, other than using it to show off a bunch of already-iconic characters and situations. Despite being set in a Lego universe, this aspect of the picture seems underused, with little toy-building in sight.

This is an inoffensive comedy that some have compared to an overlong toy commercial. If it is an advertisement, it certainly is an entertaining one, made by people who know the lore of the Star Wars galaxy. The young ones will get the most mileage out of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, but those who’ve followed the franchise for a while will be rewarded with an in-joke or two. It’s not essential viewing, but it’s not something you’ll regret watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.