(Second viewing, On TV, September 1998) I first saw Executive Decision in theatres the first week of its release, and kept a fairly good impression of this tense techno-thriller. I was surprised to see, watching it again on the small screen, that it still held up pretty well upon a second viewing. The terrorist-take-over-plane plot is serviceable, but given a kick in the pants by the screenwriters’ originality. The craftsmanship of the tension is obvious; so is the director’s portrayal of the characters and the superb casting. (Never mind Kurt Russell’s charming everday man: This is Steven Seagal’s best movie, y’know?) The abrupt tone change of the last few minutes, which had annoyed me a lot the first time, didn’t seem to grating on second viewing. Not only one of my favourite movies of 1996, but one of the best thrillers ever made.
(On TV, September 1998) Unfortunately, due to the movie’s reputation, I already knew every frame of the film even before seeing it. A first belated viewing was curiously familiar and strange. Not a bad movie, but clunky at times–despite what film lovers say. Peter Sellers is pretty good, but the script seems half-poised between intense seriousness and wacky slapstick: Some say this is what makes this film great, but I just found it inconsistent. Still, a great movie-seeing experience, and the finale goes where few other movies have gone before (or since). Dark fun.
(In theaters, September 1998) Given that this campus comedy was trashed by the critics, I went in with low expectations, and consequently came out of it with a certain satisfaction. The premise is based on a popular urban legend: If your roommate commits suicide, certain colleges consider that your mental anguish will be unbearable, and consequently you’re allowed an automatic A+ for the session. Now, what if you’re smart, but failing in such a way that it’s mathematically impossible to make a passing grade? Dead Man On Campus takes the premise and jogs with it. The two protagonist are sympathetic, the antics are amusing and the conclusion brings a goofy, satisfied smile to everyone. What more can you ask? Just make sure you’re either in college, or recently graduated.
(In theaters, September 1998) The traditional cliché about cheap (or Canadian, which this movie is) Science-Fiction is that due to budget restrictions, you usually end up with a few actors, fewer sets and even fewer special effects. Cube ends up exemplifying this by having seven actors, less that two sets and a Very Big Light. (It was shot for $300,000 in twenty days in a Toronto warehouse) Even more surprising, it almost works. The script is pretty bad (ordinary dialogue, stock characters do stupid things for unknown reasons, lousy logic, unlikely coincidences, etc…) but the film is well-done, and starts off with an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it belongs to the dark-and-dreary school of pseudo-artistic SF, so don’t expect to be uplifted by this. Not entirely unpleasant, no, but far from being very good. Spoiler – Avoid – Spoiler: I really hate it when the idiot survives and the only sympathetic characters in the cast all die just as the Happy Ending is dangled in front of our nose. “and then they all die” is not artistically superior to a happy ending. Cripes.
(On TV, September 1998) Above-average B-movie if it wasn’t for the ending, which is one incredible downer. The paranoid view of government agencies doesn’t help either. Still, if the science is complete nonsense, the themes explored in Carnosaur are unusually chilling. The means, however, aren’t very convincing. To its credit, Carnosaur goes much further beyond the usual “monster-eats-people” film. Part of it may be because it’s adapted from a novel. Indifferent performances, save for the mad scientist and the Clint Howard semi-cameo. Not really recommended, since in my view, good B-Movies let the lead couple survive. Trivia: The mad scientist is played by Diane Ladd, who’s the real-life mother of Laura Dern… who also played the scientist in 1993’s other dino-flick Jurassic Park!
(On TV, September 1998) Of mainly historical interest, American Graffiti is false nostalgia, presenting an idealized view of the early sixties. Seen from 1998, the nostalgia appears more pitiful than justified. Still, it has its moment, especially near the end. (If nothing else, the soundtrack is superb, bringing together many hits from that period.) Otherwise, watch it to see younger versions of Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford and director Ron Howard in a starring role. Most importantly; American Graffiti was George Lucas’ second movie, just before Star Wars. THX-1138‘s grimness is on the way out, and the willingness to be accessible is in…
(On TV, September 1998) Anyone who claims that “Spawn was the worst movie ever!” or that “All summer blockbusters suck!” should be forced to watch this atrocity and finally learn the true meaning of a bad movie. Abraxas starts off with a monologue containing the following gem “We Guardians renew our vows every hundred years. I have renewed mine ninety times. That’s right: I am nearly ten thousand year old.” The following scenes show burly guys with dinky guns running around in a forest while cheap-looking explosions appear beside them (we’re supposed to figure out that the dinky guns cause the explosions, but it’s a testimony to the ultra-cheap special effects that we’re not convinced). The bad Guardian then impregnates a girl with a wave of his magic hand (don’t ask) and three minutes later the girl gives birth to a baby, in the snow in the middle of the forest. She then picks up the baby and goes home, where she’s thrown out by her parents. Folks, the movie doesn’t get any better than this afterward. Subsequent howlers include the line “Parsecs aren’t appropriate Earth Time Units!” and a mild-mannered policeman pulling an Uzi from under his jacket and firing at the alien. (The alien’s comment? “Interesting, but inefficient”.) It’s a movie so bad it’s bad. James Belushi has a thirty-second cameo as a school director (Belushi: “Your child is strange. We want him to go away. Bullies are picking up on him.” Mother: “Have you thought about telling them to stop beating my child?” Belushi: “Uh, no.”) Don’t bother even to look at it; this review contains all the fun parts. I don’t plan on ever looking at this again, except on MST3K.
(In theaters, August 1998) This film starts off with an impressive seemingly-uncut, very complex 12-minute scene. Nicolas Cage also starts off grand, but loses a lot of energy as the movie advances. Not coincidentally, the movie also settles down after a while, causing considerable disappointment. A whodunit becomes procedural thriller, then degenerates in late-night movie fare. Beautifully shot by Brian de Palma, but finally quite average. The most-charitably-described-as- deus-ex-machina ending is adequate in the theatre, but doesn’t survive the trip back home. A shame, considering the talent involved.
(On TV, August 1998) Adapted from the Thomas Harris novel of the same name, this movie suffers a lot from a recent reading of the book. Punches are known, and a lot of the tension is absent; a fatal flaw in a suspense thriller. Still, well filmed (though with an overuse of the looking-at-the-camera angle) and very well acted. No wonder this movie won a few Academy Awards. The adaptation is loosely faithful (cutting some material along the way) and adds a clever last scene.
(On TV, August 1998) Almost a bore. What happens when you’ve got a horror movie that’s not horrific? You begin to laugh. What if there’s nothing to laugh about? You start to wish you were watching another movie. Fortunately, the finale is a bit better than the rest -and Babylon-5 fans will appreciate seeing a lot of Patricia Tallman- but there are far better choices than this for a B-Movie night.
(In theaters, August 1998) Surprisingly good entry in the cop genre, The Negotiator would have floundered without the effective, spare direction of newcomer F. Gary Gray and the superlative acting talents of Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. A friend of mine is fond of saying that Spacey (The Usual Suspects, Se7en, L.A. Confidential) has never been in a bad film; she’s still right. The setup is a bit unbelievable (cops do have an esprit-de-corps, y’know?), some of the dialogue is awful (though the delivery’s perfect!), many of the technical details are flat-out wrong (especially when computer-related) and the ending may seem an anti-climax to those expecting something else. Still, once the movie gets going, it’s an engrossing, fascinating movie that’s well worth your time.
(Second viewing, on TV, August 1998) Interestingly, the first time I saw that movie, shortly after its video release, I thought it amusing, but not that funny mostly due to timing problems. At my great surprise, I found myself laughing a lot more than expected during this second viewing. Part of this may have been caused by the increasing awfulness of the latest “satire”-type movies, or being much more familiar with the Lethal Weapon series that Loaded Weapon 1 is so obviously parodying. Whatever the reason, I can only say that this movie’s funny. Try not to miss it.
(On TV, August 1998) Far less impressive than it is reputed to be. College comedies have to be really good to succeed, and this one suffers a lot from its bad script and its muddy cinematography. (Sound’s often incomprehensible too) John Belushi is okay, as is Babylon-5 star Stephen Furst. It seems like every single female in the movie takes off her clothes at some point. Of historical value, mostly because it’s the prototype for the much-better The Blues Brothers.
(On TV, August 1998) Adapted from the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, this movie is amazingly faithful to the source material, up to the end where the book’s lackluster ending is replaced by a gunfight. Good idea, but it’s so ineptly shot that it takes away a lot of the movie’s previous impact. Still, a better-than-average thriller. Harmed considerably by the inclusion of a god-awful early-eighties electro-synth soundtrack. Of historical interest; Written and Directed by Michael Mann (Heat, The Last Of The Mohicans).
(Second viewing, On DVD, October 2002) Now that Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon has been re-adapted by Brett Ratner et al., Michael Mann’s first take on the material can be re-examined with a better critical eye. Certainly, certain aspects haven’t aged well: Underlit tables and antiseptic sets irremediably brand Mann’s Eighties aesthetics style. The awful electro-synth soundtrack is simply unbearable now. Certain plot developments come out of nowhere and don’t make much sense if you haven’t read the original novel (The discovery of the toilet-paper message isn’t very well explained, for instance) Finally, the film’s low budget must have ran out at the last minute, because the rushed ending ruins what would have otherwise been a pretty good thriller. It’s not as if the film is bad, though, even now. The urgency, personal toll and sacrifices required of the lead Will Graham protagonist (played by a too-intense William Petersen) are well-shown, and the film contains a narrative energy that only flags in the third quarter. It’s a solid thriller, too stylish for its own good but worth a look even now, though more as a comparison point between it and 2002’s superior Red Dragon.
(Third viewing, On TV, August 1998) An amazing movie, and what may be my third viewing proves it: Even despite being familiar with most elements, the movie fells as fresh and exciting as the first time. The timing is impeccable, the set-pieces are fabulous, and the level of humor doesn’t flag down. Excellent fun.
(Fourth viewing, On TV, September 2016) Taken on its own, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a better-than-average adventure: Directed with Steven Spielberg’s usual skill, it’s got original action set pieces that impress even today, genuinely funny moments, wide-screen vistas, Harrison Ford’s charm and great pacing. It’s well worth watching still. But when you set it against its predecessor or its sequel, that’s when this second Indiana Jones adventure comes in for a harsher assessment. It’s not as accomplished. There isn’t much character development. Kate Capshaw’s Willie is nowhere near as interesting as the first film’s Marion. (Heck, at times she’s straight-up irritating.) The stereotypes and jokey racism grate. There’s a much grimmer tone that doesn’t quite work as well as the alternative. There’s a five-minute stretch of possessed-Indiana that can’t end soon enough. Nazis aren’t there to be punched in the face. For all sorts of reasons, that makes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a significantly lesser movie than the first or third films in the series. If you want to watch it, do it separately from the other instalments, otherwise the comparison won’t be kind.