Jurassic Park (1993) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

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

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

When the original film in the Jurassic Park series was released in 1993, it floored audiences with its state-of-the-art special effects that seemingly brought dinosaurs to life. However, there’s more to this movie than just fancy computer-generated imagery. The compelling story is about an amusement park inhabited by cloned dinosaurs being given a trial run by several experts and the grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) of the park owner, Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Rightfully regarded as a modern classic, Jurassic Park still manages to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.

This picture is famous for ushering in the modern era of computer-generated special effects. However, one of this flick’s secret weapons is how it balances the digital stuff with extensive practical effects. The two styles are blended almost seamlessly, resulting in dinosaurs that the audience doesn’t really question the realism of. The action scenes are ferocious and surprisingly well-staged.

Of course, Jurassic Park isn’t just a bunch of dinosaur scenes stringed together. It has human characters that we actually get to learn and care about. The cast is just the right size for this kind of flick. It’s large enough to make its world feel populated, yet intimate enough for the audience to not lose track of who’s who. There’s a great sense of wonder, awe, and discovery that permeates the movie. The masterful musical score from John Williams amplifies these feelings.

Jurassic Park is not just your average action-adventure blockbuster. Director Steven Spielberg carefully crafted an excellent sci-fi yarn. With moments of action, drama, suspense, horror, and even comedy, it has something to appeal to most filmgoers. Like many (most?) of the director’s works, it has a quality that makes it still feel fresh and immediate after the passage of many years. Even if you’re not a dinosaur fanatic, this one deserves to be watched.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Joshua Tree (1993) Review

Director: Vic Armstrong

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Joshua Tree, sometimes known as “Army of One,” is often regarded as one of Dolph Lundgren’s best solo vehicles…and it’s not hard to see why. It’s basically for action film buffs only, but, if you fit that demographic, you’ll most likely find it an enjoyable experience. The plot? Criminal Wellman Santee (Dolph Lundgren) breaks out of police custody and takes everybody on a wild, The Getaway (1972)-esque chase across the Western United States’ desert landscape. I know that’s a pretty bare-bones story description, but there’s a little bit more to it than that.

While the first half, or so, of the picture has a fair amount of action, this part of the movie is largely in thriller mode. It really makes you ask “What’s this all building up to?” in a good sort of way. Okay, okay, it’s not the most unpredictable flick ever made, but there’s an effective sense of mystery to these opening scenes that keeps the audience engaged when people aren’t getting beaten up or shot.

The second half of Joshua Tree is really when the action sequences really kick in. This film was directed by Vic Armstrong, who made a name for himself through his career as a stuntman and second unit director, and this experience must’ve really helped him. The centerpiece here is a spectacular shootout in a warehouse that works almost too well. By this, I mean that the scenes that take place after it in the runtime feel restrained in comparison. It’s an unexpected joy to see ol’ Dolph wielding a vintage Thompson submachine gun.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this movie sometimes resembles the Steve McQueen classic The Getaway. No, it’s not as good as that picture, but Joshua Tree is still a very watchable film. If all you’re looking for is an excellent gunfight, a rock-solid car chase or two, and a satisfactory, quasi-noirish plot, you could do a whole lot worse than this one. Lundgren fanatics will need to see Joshua Tree.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

O.S.S. (1946) Review

Director: Irving Pichel

Genre(s): Thriller, War

Runtime: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Despite being produced and written by Richard Maibaum, who also wrote a bunch of the earlier James Bond films (a series I’m not crazy about to begin with), the World War II spy film O.S.S. is a dud, more or less. The picture’s title refers to the Office of Strategic Services, which was the precursor to the CIA during the aforementioned conflict. Alan Ladd stars as John Martin, an American secret agent sent to Nazi-occupied France to mess with the Germans. Of course, he’s accompanied by a female spy, Elaine Duprez (Geraldine Fitzgerald), to give the movie some romance.

One of the major problems here is that the picture covers the entire experience an OSS agent might face behind enemy lines, rather than focusing on one particular mission. The way the film is, the heroes tackle two or three assignments during the flick’s runtime, resulting in two or three mini-climaxes, and stuffing the film with some padding. Part of the movie seems to follow our protagonists in between objectives, when they’re not really doing anything, other than simply surviving.

There’s also the matter of the film not building up to a satisfactory climax. It’s a realistic one, and I suppose that’s commendable, but it’s less exciting (well, “exciting” is a stretch) than one of the scenes that preceded it. The action’s clunky, although there’s barely any of it at all (the big explosions and whatnot are provided by stock footage). Rather than fully entertaining an audience, O.S.S. sets its sights on educating the viewer on the importance of the titular organization’s role in World War II and honoring the memory of its fallen. That has its time and place, and probably should’ve been included in the flick, but some changes should’ve been made to tighten the movie up.

A thriller largely devoid of thrills, O.S.S. is not terrible, but it doesn’t come recommended either. The plot’s unfocused and the action is almost non-existent. The romantic angle successfully creates some tension later on in the runtime, but, overall, I can’t help but think of it as a misfire. There are better espionage flicks out there.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) Review

Director: Richard Donner

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

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Lethal Weapon film series ends on as perfect a note as it could’ve asked for in Lethal Weapon 4, the best movie in the franchise since the original. This time, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are out to stop a gang that’s smuggling Chinese migrants to Los Angeles in inhumane conditions. Tonally, this is a far cry from Lethal Weapon (1987), and could probably be best described as a heartwarming bloodbath sitcom.

Despite all the touchy-feely stuff, this is still an action picture, and it delivers the big set pieces that fans of the genre crave. Hell, there are one or two moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in an installment of The Fast and the Furious movies. Car and foot chases, shootouts, martial arts brawls…Lethal Weapon 4 doesn’t skimp on the big-budget havoc. Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) is one of the most formidable baddies in the franchise, perhaps second only to Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey) from the first one.

Of all the Lethal Weapon flicks, the 1987 original did the tough-as-nails, hard-boiled stuff the best, while the fourth entry does the more comedic, family-and-friends-oriented material most memorably. It definitely has the biggest heart of the series. I mean, who could’ve guessed that a film with the title “Lethal Weapon 4” would be so emotional? Despite of all this, it also somehow manages to be the most graphically violent of the four.

Lethal Weapon 4 shows off the evolution that the franchise took. While the first one put action, thrills, and fast pacing in the driver’s seat, the final film displays how the series changed over the course of its duration to balance violence with comedy and shenanigans related to biological and surrogate family. If you’re watching this franchise, make sure you stick around for the fourth installment.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) Review

Director: Richard Donner

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

Runtime: 118 minutes (theatrical version), 121 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Police detective duo Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) return once again in what is the weakest entry into the film series. The plot is less focused here, having something to do with an ex-cop, Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), who’s obsessed with putting confiscated firearms back on the streets. Most of the picture feels a bit on the tired side, but it has enough redeeming value to make it an okay time-waster.

The pacing of Lethal Weapon 3 is noticeably less propulsive than that of the first two movies. This is partially because it takes a while for the plot to fully materialize. There’s also a fairly extensive romantic subplot for Riggs, which fits in well with his character, but also slows down the action at times. Like Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), this one ups the humor level at the expense of the more hard-boiled content (the violence is the tamest of the four pictures, for example), but the banter between Riggs and Murtaugh isn’t always as sharp as it used to be. Fortunately, Joe Pesci’s character Leo Getz is back and still has it.

The third Lethal Weapon flick does improve significantly on repeated viewings, however. The action sequences are still solid, with the best one being the fiery finale, appropriately enough. Gibson and Glover unsurprisingly still work well together, and the film, as a whole, isn’t boring…which counts for a lot.

This is probably what the Lethal Weapon series feels like on autopilot. Most of the elements that made the franchise famous are here, but it mostly feels like just another day at the office with Riggs and Murtaugh. It begins and ends strong, but the middle probably could’ve been constructed better. So, would I recommend Lethal Weapon 3? Well, if you enjoyed the other members of the series, then sure, give the director’s cut a watch (it’s pretty lucky to be tied to such a good quadrilogy). Don’t expect greatness, just a decent way to spent two hours.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) Review

Director: Richard Donner

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

Runtime: 114 minutes (theatrical version), 118 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first entry in the film series, Lethal Weapon 2 is still a worthy action-comedy with the charming chemistry between actors Mel Gibson and Danny Glover intact. This time our two heroes have to protect a federal witness, Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), who’s the target of apartheid-era South African goons. As you might expect, things soon get out of hand, resulting in piles of bodies and mass destruction.

The second Lethal Weapon flick isn’t as furiously paced as the first one, but it still moves along at a speed that staves off boredom. While Lethal Weapon (1987) orchestrates an ever escalating series of set pieces, Lethal Weapon 2 starts big right off the bat, with a high-octane car chase (personally, I found that particular scene a bit difficult to follow at times). The action sequences certainly don’t get smaller as the picture moves along. As comedic as the movie is, it still packs some brutal violence and large-scale demolition of property.

Lethal Weapon 2 seems to be a bit more humor-oriented than its predecessor, with many of the laughs coming from series newcomer Joe Pesci. Perhaps his most memorable moment is his drive-through speech. Gibson and Glover’s characters find Pesci’s character obnoxious at first, and the former’s behavior towards the latter could be considered bullying. Martin Riggs (Gibson) is no longer suicidal in this sequel, meaning some of the potentially combustible edge from the first one is lost here (although he still acts like a madman). There is a romantic subplot for Riggs, which doesn’t add a whole lot to the film, but whatever.

Like many (perhaps most) sequels, Lethal Weapon 2 doesn’t top the original, but that certainly doesn’t make it bad. It largely follows the winning formula from Lethal Weapon that made it an action classic. It’s less tightly wound, but it still provides some of the moments that made the Lethal Weapon series a fan favorite. I’d recommend watching the director’s cut.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon (1987) Review

Director: Richard Donner

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

Runtime: 109 minutes (theatrical version), 117 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The first film in the Lethal Weapon series is a masterpiece of efficient storytelling. There’s no unnecessary romance here to slow down the pace, just hetero bromance and macho bonding (along with the requisite explosions), which makes it an action fan’s dream. A stable family man of a cop, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), is assigned a new partner, the reckless, suicidal Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) on his newest investigation. Apparently, a woman named Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) got high on drugs and jumped out of a multi-story building to her doom. Of course, since this is an action picture, there’s more to the story than what initially meets the eye.

Lethal Weapon carefully escalates in the intensity of its action scenes, starting small and building up to exploding cars and whatnot. The mayhem is soon spiraling out of control in the best way possible. By 1980s standards, the action often seems fairly grounded, but it still never fails to thrill. The pacing of the movie is some of the fastest ever (even in director’s cut form [the version you should watch]), meaning the flick’s over before you know it. Despite this, it is mighty satisfying.

Even if you’re not looking for adrenaline-pumping carnage, Lethal Weapon might be worth checking out. The chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is rightfully famous, and a somewhat restrained Gary Busey, playing a villainous henchman named Mr. Joshua, unsurprisingly steals several of his scenes. While it’s not as comedic as its sequels, the film still has a healthy supply of humor and high jinks. It’s not a drama, but the character-driven moments definitely hook the viewer into the story. The plot is reasonably easy to follow, and the tone is perfectly balanced, meaning that the light and dark elements never smother each other.

Lethal Weapon is one of the best of the 1980s actioners. Even the director’s cut of the picture feels lean. All elements – action, comedy, drama, and suspense – are successfully juggled, and the movie builds up in intensity in a textbook manner. Stick around during the end credits to hear the song “Lethal Weapon” performed by Honeymoon Suite.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Review

Directors: Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 63 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the gems of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood of the early 1930s (before the Production Code was enforced), The Most Dangerous Game tells the story of a shipwreck survivor named Bob (Joel McCrea) who finds himself stranded on a South Seas island ruled by the mad Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who’s taken game-hunting to a whole new level. Putting action-adventure, horror, and thriller elements in a blender, it’s a wonderful piece of pulp.

The whole motion picture is short as Hell, clocking in at a little over an hour. There’s a very, very good musical score from Max Steiner – one of the first to play frequently over the course of a talkie film (prior to this, most sound movies only had scores over the main and end titles). The performance from Leslie Banks as the villain is appropriately lively and crazed. Banks even tries to convince the hero to join him, since apparently they aren’t so different deep down, which is now a classic action-adventure film trope. The Most Dangerous Game, while being primarily focused on violence and horror, does have a fair amount of comic relief, and, yes, there is the obligatory romantic subplot, but it doesn’t distract too much from the cool stuff.

While short, this isn’t exactly a fast-paced movie. It contains some talky sections that slow down the mayhem somewhat. Some of the fighting looks a bit dated, and a viewer should be prepared for a little bit of cheesiness (like the “He got me!” shark attack).

The Most Dangerous Game isn’t a perfect flick, but it’s got it where it counts. There’s a bit too much yapping, but it’s on a solid footing when it lets the action do the talking. Its short runtime means it should make an exceptional companion piece to either Island of Lost Souls (1932) or King Kong (1933), if you need a Pre-Code adventure double-feature.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Great Escape (1963) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Thriller, War

Runtime: 172 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Director John Sturges’ second masterpiece (the first being The Magnificent Seven [1960]), this World War II epic tells the true story of Allied prisoners-of-war (P.O.W.s) planning a mass breakout from Stalag Luft III, the Nazi prison-camp they’re being held in. Along with Casablanca (1942), a picture of this film can be seen in the dictionary when you look up “classic film” (well, not really). It’s timeless, and perhaps the definitive P.O.W. picture.

Everything about this movie works. The all-star cast is a delight to watch, and Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is masterful. There’s a great deal of successful comic relief, and the cinematography does a swell job capturing the landscapes that surround the Allied P.O.W.s, making the film seem even more epic. The excellent sets also deserve a mention. However, The Great Escape perhaps works best when focusing on suspense. It can be a real nail-biter.

In a flick that’s nearly three hours long, pacing is crucial, and The Great Escape pulls it off. Fortunately, there’s no romance to bog things down, and all roles work in harmony towards the goal of crafting a stellar motion picture (just as each character has a job in the breakout plot; each one being a cog in the escape machine).

Thanks to tough guy heroics and the change of seasons from snowy (the time of the actual prison-break in real life) to glorious summer (the season of the breakout in the film), the movie almost (almost) makes war look fun. There’s plenty of macho bonding and the picture does an exceptional job capturing a sense of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure. It’s not an action movie, but what action is in it really matters. The motorcycle pursuit sequence is the stuff legends are made of.

The highly efficient The Great Escape is all about the triumph of the human spirit. These men are seemingly uncageable. To sum things up, let’s leave with a quote from the movie: “You get ten out of ten for this, old boy!”

My rating is 10 outta 10.