Planet of the Apes (1968) Review

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

The 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes boasts one of the best endings in cinema history, but it’d be a mistake to overlook the rest of the picture. Four human astronauts – George Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), and Stewart (Dianne Stanley) – land on a mysterious planet ruled by intelligent, talking apes. This compelling story spawned a multi-film franchise and remains the best of the series.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss this movie as a kitschy, cheesy science-fiction relic, with its elaborate ape costumes and wonderfully-hammy acting from Charlton Heston, yet this flick is much more than that. This is a sly, satirical piece of filmmaking, with more of a sense of humor than might be expected. It also benefits from a palpable sense of menace and danger (Planet of the Apes was rated G by the MPAA, but this was clearly before the organization had any clue as to what they were doing).

Jerry Goldsmith’s jolting, avant-garde musical score is a highlight, as are the excellent action scenes. The scenery and sets are top-notch, and the arc for Charlton Heston’s character, a cynical misanthrope, is one of the most memorable of its kind. The special effects haven’t aged as poorly as one might think, and the cinematography is grand.

It’s the movie’s somewhat talky third act that keeps Planet of the Apes from the big leagues, as far as ratings and rankings are concerned. Yes, this part of the picture is necessary for the plot and contains the stunning ending, but most of it is less thrilling than the material that came before it. Overall, this is an intelligent, if occasionally heavy-handed, sci-fi-adventure that needs to be watched before popular culture spoils the final scene for you.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Murders in the Zoo (1933) Review

Director: A. Edward Sutherland

Genre(s): Crime, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 62 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Murders in the Zoo is a short and sweet horror-thriller from the Pre-Code days of Hollywood, before the Production Code was enforced. Its plot concerns a big-game hunter named Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) who uses animals to kill the men who have affairs with his wife, Evelyn (Kathleen Burke). It’s not quite up there with the very best of the Pre-Code era, but it’s still worth checking out for horror fans.

There are a few familiar faces in Murders in the Zoo, including Randolph Scott as Dr. Jack Woodford, the zoo’s lab technician, and the aforementioned Kathleen Burke, who played Lota in the horror masterpiece Island of Lost Souls (1932). The actor who gets top billing, though, is actually Charles Ruggles, who plays the zoo’s new publicity agent, Peter Yates. He’s the film’s comic relief character, and focusing on him so much may have been a minor misstep on the movie’s part.

Another little error is that its most shocking act of violence is the very first one to take place in the runtime. Still, there’s some good stuff later on in the flick. The fights between the zoo animals towards the end are pretty disturbing, as it looks like the action wasn’t overseen by anybody who had the creatures’ well-being in mind. When the inhabitants of the zoo aren’t brawling, though, there’s some good footage of them.

Murders in the Zoo isn’t as out of control as some viewers may hope. It might not live up to its full potential, but this is still a fun, nifty, little horror picture (it’s not a mystery movie, as the bad guy’s identity is revealed in the opening sequence). It’s really, really short as well – running only about an hour – so, if you see that it’s on television or something, you should watch it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Hard Boiled (1992) Review

Director: John Woo

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Director John Woo’s Hard Boiled, originally titled “Lat Sau San Taam,” is known almost solely for one thing: its gratuitous quantity of action. There’s so much shoot-’em-up that the plot about Hong Kong police officer “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) taking on an army of bloodthirsty gun-runners barely even registers. This is a film of little substance…it’s almost entirely style…but what style!

The action sequences in Hard Boiled are nothing short of breathtaking, being some of the finest I’ve ever seen. It’s a true ballet of bullets, with elaborate “gun-fu” scenes breaking out every few minutes. The body count of the picture is astronomical, and it looks like the actors and stuntpeople are in real danger most of the time, with squibs constantly going off and debris, vehicles, flames, and people flying all over the screen.

What holds back Hard Boiled from masterpiece status is its story. It’s nothing more than a thin, clichéd excuse for relentless physical mayhem. You’ve seen its elements before in countless gangster and cop films, so you’re not always as emotionally invested in the carnage as you’d like. Fortunately, there’s so much gunplay that firearms do the talking far more often than mouths do.

Hard Boiled is in the running for the honor of the most action-packed flick in cinema history. This hyper-violent crime-thriller (which has a good musical score by Michael Gibbs) is so chockful of fighting that it will really only appeal to the most hard-core of fans of the action genre. Many audience members will be turned off by the lack of a strong central plot and the wildly unrealistic and acrobatic combat. Sure, The Killer (1989) may be better, but this one still works wonders for those who know what they’re in for.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Safe (2012) Review

Director: Boaz Yakin

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2012’s Safe is a film that feels like a love letter to action movie fans from action movie fans. In this superb picture, a former cage fighter with a shadowy past named Luke Wright (Jason Statham) decides to protect a young girl with a photographic memory named Mei (Catherine Chan) who’s on the run from the Chinese and Russian mobs in New York City. You see, Mei is being used to memorize and protect a numerical code that everybody in the city wants to know. If you’re an action fan, buckle up, because this one’s right up your alley.

This mercifully-romance-free flick has a great emotional hook to it that successfully invests the audience in the action about to unfold. One really wants to see Luke and Mei survive and help each other. The plot itself is a little complicated at times (so many different factions are fighting over Mei), but it doesn’t detract from the experience. Jason Statham gets to show just a little more range than he usually does, although it’d be a mistake to expect Oscar-caliber performances from this actioner.

The action scenes littered throughout the runtime are simply incredible. Whether it be cars chasing each other, people pummeling each other with fists, or combatants shooting it out with firearms, this movie satisfies thoroughly. New York City hasn’t seen this much big-body-count carnage since Death Wish 3 (1985). There may be a few instances when computer-generated bullet impacts are employed, yet this can be easily forgiven.

Safe feels like throwback to the macho, pumped-up, played-straight action films of yesteryear. Fans of those sort of features need to get a hold of a copy of this one. People who don’t like shoot-’em-up action-thrillers will find little to entertain themselves with, though. Here’s a fun fact: the musical score for this movie was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman of the New Wave band Devo.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) Review

Director: Charles Laughton

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

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Charles Laughton only directed one film in his career (well, IMDb does have him listed as an uncredited co-director for The Man on the Eiffel Tower [1949]), and that picture is the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter. Set during the Great Depression, serial-killing preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) stalks two children – John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl Harper (Sally Jane Bruce) – who’re hiding a small fortune that their late father – Ben Harper (Peter Graves) – stole for them. Often considered a film-noir, I feel that this horror-thriller classic is better classified as some sort of dark fairy tale.

Influenced by German Expressionism, this movie’s shadowy cinematography is some of the very best of all time. Robert Mitchum’s fanatical, murderous holy man is one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen. There are several intentionally uncomfortable moments involving his character that’ll have you squirming in your chair. He’s a vicious, greedy wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that the audience will love to hate.

The third act of The Night of the Hunter is decidedly less intense than the first two-thirds. It’s certainly not bad…far from it. It just lacks some of the menace that the opening and middle sequences had. There are also some touches towards the end that feel like they were mandated by the Production Code of the time. However, not even a saccharine ending can sink this ship.

The Night of the Hunter is a must-watch for people wanting to learn more about the art of cinema. It’s artistically distinguished, but can also be easily enjoyed by any type of viewer. This highly relevant story is full of suspense and drama, with a gripping, superb visual style. It has an easy-to-manage runtime of 92 minutes and one of the best baddies in the medium, so why not watch it today?

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Super 8 (2011) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

After watching the television series Stranger Things and going back to the 2011 motion picture Super 8, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the two. The film mentioned above feels like a condensed two-hour story that would’ve been stretched out to an entire season in Stranger Things. Anyway, Super 8 is about a group of kids in 1979 small-town Ohio who witness a mysterious train crash while filming their own zombie movie. The flick borrows heavily from the works of Steven Spielberg (who produced it), but I think it’s highly watchable, thanks to it having an identity of its own and the Stranger Things connections.

For all the big explosions and whatnot found in this movie, it’s the human element that keeps it grounded. The coming-of-age drama involving the well-drawn characters is delightful to watch, only making the action scenes have more impact when they kick in. Most of the film focuses on child actors, which could’ve been a disaster, but the kids here know what they’re doing. The adults in the feature are just as colorful and the struggles that they face interconnect with the ones facing the children.

If you’ve read anything about this picture before, you probably already have a good grasp of what the twists and turns will deliver, but I’m going to be as spoiler-free as possible and just say that the ending, which may sound unsatisfying on paper, really delivers the goods, both in terms of emotion and thrills. It’s hard not to use words like “nostalgic” and “Spielbergian” when describing Super 8, although those phrases have become almost cliché when being used to articulate how one feels about the flick.

There might be some confusion over Super 8‘s target audience (it follows around a group of kids, yet contains brief strong violence and swearing), but this is still a terrific summer blockbuster. Yes, this review has been fairly vague to avoid revealing certain details of the film, but just trust me on this one. I can’t say that it’s one-hundred-percent original (something that gets held against the movie quite a bit), yet audiences who want to see where Stranger Things may have got some of its ideas should watch Super 8 and some of the other features that inspired the latter.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Taken 3 (2014) Review

Director: Olivier Megaton

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes (standard version), 114 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

It’s hard to go wrong with thrillers starring Liam Neeson, but Taken 3 comes fairly close. This entry is very much the weakest of the action film trilogy, but it’s still better than many flicks I’ve had to put up with. In a The Fugitive (1993)-esque fashion, former government agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is framed for the murder of a family member and has to find the true killer while dodging the law. You could say the Taken franchise is starting to run out of steam.

Taken 3 is, of course, an action movie, so how does the physical chaos stand up? Well, it’s a mixed bag for sure in this department. Some of the action scenes are edited in a way that makes them almost incomprehensible. Good luck trying to follow the car chase. There’s also the, uh, iconic fence-climbing scene, where Neeson scrambling over a chain-link fence is shown from approximately two thousand different angles in a few seconds (do a YouTube search for “Taken 3” and “Taken 3 fence” will pop up as one of the first suggestions). Fortunately, the action does get more coherent (in terms of editing and cinematography) as the picture progresses.

While the plot does borrow from the aforementioned masterpiece The Fugitive, I think that this one is competent enough in terms of story. Sure, nobody really gets taken (despite the title), but I like a picture about an innocent man being hunted for crimes he didn’t commit. Yeah, the action sequences are all over the place, but the storytelling is satisfactorily engaging.

I’ll be honest: Liam Neeson is just about the only thing that makes Taken 3 worth watching. Without him, it would feel like a forgettable direct-to-video movie or something. Despite a handful of ridiculous moments and some hard-to-follow action, I’ll give this flick a passing grade. I’ve seen much worse, and seeing Neeson beat up people is too hard to pass up. Still, if you’re on the pickier side when it comes to your actioners, you’d probably be better off watching the original Taken (2008) again.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween II (2009) Review

Director: Rob Zombie

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes (standard version), 119 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: R (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

Director Rob Zombie continues his reign of terror over the Halloween series with 2009’s Halloween II. In the tenth movie in the series, killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill again. Wait, isn’t that the plot of every Halloween film? Yyyyyaaaaawwwwwnnnnn. I’ll get straight to the point: this picture is abysmal.

This feature opens with a sequence that reminds you of the original Halloween II (1981). Remember how great that one was? [Sigh], those were good times. Anyway, as I was saying, this hunk of junk opens with Michael Myers, who resembles a hillbilly mountain man, stalking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) around a hospital. That’s something we’ve never seen before. Little stands out here from the rest of the franchise.

Well, the flick’s ultra-gore is more noticeable than any of the other entries in the Halloween series. This one also has some surrealist touches, because why the Hell not? Myers here constantly has hallucinations of his late, stripper mother, Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie), and of himself as a child (Chase Wright Vanek). There’s also a white horse. Make of it what you will.

2009’s Halloween II is a nasty, tasteless piece of cinema that goes on forever (by Halloween standards). Myers is seen too often without his mask, and – holy shit! – is that “Weird Al” Yankovic? Okay, okay, okay, I just have to make some sort of “Weird Al” joke here. After Halloween (2007), this one should’ve just been titled “Even Worse.”

My rating is 3 outta 10.

Halloween (2007) Review

Director: Rob Zombie

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 109 minutes (rated cut), 121 minutes (unrated cut)

MPAA Rating: R (rated cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

Michael Myers is now a redneck. Thank you, Rob Zombie. After the so-bad-it’s-good disaster that was Halloween: Resurrection (2002), it was decided to try to make Myers scary again, and Zombie was hired to helm the project, bringing his alternative rock aesthetic to the proceedings. This film, set in a different timeline than the rest of the previous Halloween pictures, is the unnecessary origin story of notorious psychopath Michael Myers (Tyler Mane and Daeg Faerch), going from his childhood in a white trash family to his serial-killing heyday. It’s a piece of garbage.

As I’ve already noted, this attempt to explain Myers’ backstory and sociopathy is completely pointless. The original Halloween (1978) worked magnificently because the audience knew virtually nothing about Michael other than that he was pure evil. He was “the Shape.” “The Bogeyman.” Demystifying the character was a huge mistake, even if this picture exists in an alternate timeline. At least Myers can still burst through walls like he’s the Kool-Aid Man.

Director Rob Zombie has created a thoroughly unpleasant universe for his characters to inhabit. Almost every person in his world has a cartoonishly ugly soul. You’ll probably find yourself rooting for ol’ Myers on a couple of occasions. It’s a grungy, graphic film that’s overlong by Halloween standards (around two hours) and makes you wish you were deaf from all the screaming.

So, does 2007’s Halloween do anything right? Well, Danny Trejo’s in it, playing Ismael Cruz, one of Myers’ sanitarium guards. That guy’s always fun to see. Uhhhh…well, it does ape a few moments from the previous Halloween flicks, making you remember better times. Yeah, this one’s no good. Where’s Busta Rhymes when you need him?

My rating is 3 outta 10.

Braven (2018) Review

Director: Lin Oeding

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

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

People don’t always watch movies for surprises and twists. Sometimes they just watch films for some predictable catharsis. Braven is one of those pictures that fits that bill. In the Canadian wilderness, some guy named Joe Braven (Jason Momoa) has to protect his family from a gang of drug runners who stashed their illegal narcotics in his vacation cabin. It’s fairly predictable, but, for those who don’t mind, it’s painless viewing.

Braven is a lean and competent actioner. Its emotional hooks, like the main character’s father, Linden (Stephen Lang), suffering from dementia and whatnot, are solid enough to get the audience invested in the carnage. The flick takes itself relatively seriously, with no postmodern winks at the viewer, which is a welcome change from many of today’s blockbusters. Jason Momoa is a better-than-serviceable action star, looking like a less vicious version of Steven Seagal.

The action and violence here are pretty much what you’d expect from a comparatively low-budget feature of this genre. There’s nothing too sustained or spectacular, but some of the kills are fairly tasty. Thanks to its limited locations, one could make the argument that this should’ve been titled “Die Hard in a Canadian Cabin” or something.

Speaking of the title, why is it called Braven? I know that that’s the main character’s last name, but were the filmmakers optimistically expecting this to be the beginning of a franchise? Well, I wouldn’t mind that, to be honest. Sure, this movie didn’t reinvent the wheel and is a little ridiculous at times, but action fans most likely won’t be bored. Hell, they’ll probably like it. Let’s see where Momoa’s career goes from here.

My rating is 7 outta 10.