It must have been very easy and very difficult to make a science fiction movie in the late 70s. It was easy because after the success of “Star Wars,” studios were throwing money at anything with robots in it. But it was difficult because the genre was in a very weird place. Before “Star Wars,” big-budget sci-fi movies generally were thoughtful, philosophical works. But after “Star Wars,” the A-list sci-fi movie transformed into something more visceral. Movies with a message gave way to pure spectacle. “Logan’s Run” was pushed aside for “Flash Gordon.” “Saturn 3” tries to have it both ways. It wants to split the difference between “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Alien.” That’s how we get a movie in which Harvey Keitel accidentally teaches a robot how to be horny. Continue reading
At the end of an especially long and acrimonious election season, it’s totally natural to want to just escape into some mindless entertainment. After more than a year of doom-saying and apocalyptic imagery pummeling you into submission, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some spectacle, some whiz-bang action and some light-hearted adventure to remind you that not everything is about hate and resentment. That’s what big blockbuster summer sequels are made for, after all. Well, most of them are. Unfortunately, there also exist movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which leaves you feeling like you just watched a Super Bowl commercial for nihilism.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” has the distinction of being the second-most misanthropic movie I’ve ever seen, topped only by Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra.” At least that movie had the excuse of being an R-rated cop movie made in the 1980s based on a trashy pulp novel. This movie is based on a line of toys and cartoons made for children but still somehow manages to be hateful, bleak, and practically irredeemable. This is a movie in which a villain character flippantly says “Just run them over!” during a car chase through a crowded street and it doesn’t land as a joke because it seems so thoroughly consistent with everything else we’ve seen up to that point. This is a movie where the hero solemnly says “Honor to the end” seconds after stabbing his enemy in the back and splitting his head open. This is a movie where not a single character is motivated by anything other than greed, mistrust, or hatred. It is a grueling experience, and ranks up there with “Happiness” as one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever watched. I write this review as a form of therapy. Continue reading
I don’t mean it as an insult when I say that KISS is the ultimate triumph of style over substance. Musically, there isn’t much to distinguish them from Van Halen, Aerosmith, Boston, or any other arena-rock staple of the late 70s, but none of those other bands have had their own action figures or lunchboxes or credit cards. KISS combined the blunt, dick-swinging machismo of their music with a fire-breathing stage show and a look straight out of a Halloween party, creating something 13-year-old boys of any age could love. Their style elevated them from a rock band into comic-book characters. In other words, it’s hard to imagine another band that could have inspired the 1978 TV movie “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” Who else but KISS would even attempt to make something that aspired to be “A Hard Day’s Night” crossed with “Star Wars?” Who else but KISS could survive its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made? Continue reading
The first thing you see in “Class of 1999” is a computer screen spelling out the dire state of American urban public schools in the not-too-distant future of 1999. The next thing you see is Stacy Keach’s snow-white mullet, which looks like someone bleached a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. All we needed to see to know the movie takes place in a bleak dystopian future was Keach’s hair, so that’s one storytelling misstep right off the bat. Continue reading
These days, the two most important words in Hollywood are “cinematic universe.” Inspired by the billions of dollars Marvel has made with its Avengers movies, studios have been frantic to jumpstart their own cinematic pyramid schemes with intellectual properties from the Justice League of America to the Universal Monsters to Nickelodeon cartoons. The idea, of course, is to maximize profit by giving audiences movies that spin off characters into their own movies or movies that collect characters from other franchises into massive team-up spectacles. It worked well back in the day when Frankenstein met the Wolf Man and most recently when Captain America fought Iron Man, but it remains to be seen whether or not audiences will sit through “Friar Tuck: Origins” before they see Robin Hood finally get the Merry Men together in the last five minutes of his movie.
With so many studios desperately pushing for the Big Bang that will launch the next sure-fire hit cinematic universe, it’s easy to forget that movies used to be stupid enough to just shove a bunch of characters into one movie without making audiences pony up for the installment plan. And so you have a movie like 1986’s “Eliminators,” which resembles a look into a cinematic universe based on the cheap, unlicensed action figures they used to sell in gas stations. Continue reading