Monday, July 30, 2018

Repo Man (1984) Review

What is a cult film?  By definition, a cult film refers to any picture not considered a success upon release that goes on to develop a following in the years to come.  Most of the time, such films are of poor quality, but their flaws are what make the movie enjoyable.  Common examples of "So bad, it's good" films are The Room, Troll 2, and Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Other times, however, a cult movie can be a film that's legitimately good, but its subject matter and style stands it apart from other titles out there.  Repo Man is one of those movies.  A bizarre mixture of science-fiction, comedy, social satire, and discussions centered around plates of shrimp, Repo Man, directed by Alex Cox, is arguably one of the essential cult classics.

Otto (Emilio Estevez) is a down-on-his-luck punk teen.  Having just been fired from his job at the grocery store, Otto spends hims time hanging out with his punk friends and avoiding his stoner parents.  While walking down the street, a man (Harry Dean Stanton) pulls up near Otto and offers him cash in exchange for driving his wife's car, which is parked up the street.  As it turns out, the vehicle actually belongs to a Hispanic family, and the man, Bud, is a repo man.  The agency he works for offers Otto a job, which he accepts.  Under the guidance of Bud, Otto learns about the wild job that is a repo man.  Things are going good for Otto until the Helping Hand agency receives word of a $20,000 bounty for a 1964 Chevy Malibu.

Initially, the company ignores the bounty, thinking the high price is only because the car is stashed with drugs; in actuality, the trunk of the car is loaded with the remains of aliens that are rapidly decaying, and anyone foolish enough to open the trunk is immediately vaporized.  After Otto meets Leila (Olivia Barash), who works for an organization searching for the Malibu, he gets caught up in a crazy adventure where various faction, including the government and rival repo companies, are searching for the car, each for different reasons.

"I'll pay you a hundred bucks to star in Loaded Weapon 1,
how does that sound?"

Repo Man is odd yet mesmerizingly unique.  The plot is threadbare but the characters are memorable, if only for their eccentric personalities, and the movie is noticeably low-budget, more on that later, but look past the story-telling problems and you have a surprisingly entertaining movie.  The film's cast is enjoyable, with the standouts being Otto, Bud, and Miller.  When we first meet Otto, he's nothing more than a rebellious kid, if only because his parents are deadbeats who care more about throwing money away to con-artist televangelists than supporting their son, but after landing the job at the repo agency, Otto begins to change.  Instead of wearing sleeveless shirts, he's wearing business suits, and he acts less like a smartass, but hasn't dropped it entirely.

Guiding Otto through his job is Bud.  Harry Dean Stanton is amazing, playing a character who teaches our hero how to repossess cars without causing much trouble.  At the same time, though, he's also letting Otto snort cocaine and drink beer, so like Otto, he's not perfect.  Similar to Otto, Bud goes through his own character arc.  As the film progresses and the agency is caught up in the hunt for the Malibu, he starts going against the Repo Code he taught Otto; for example, he starts carrying a pistol around, much like another repo man, Lite (Sy Richardson), who keeps a pistol in case things heat up, but it only fires blanks.  Unfortunately, his change in attitude gets him critically wounded late in the movie and shot by the police during the climax.

Many of the characters in Repo Man go through their own arcs, especially Leila.  At first, she's actively avoiding the government agents while hunting for the Malibu, but after she's kidnapped, Leila turns against Otto and others in favor of helping the government for her own personal gain.  One person who doesn't change much at all during the movie is Miller.  Miller is the Helping Hand agency's mechanic, and when he's not fixing up the cars they bring in, he's spouting off bizarre ramblings that make no sense.  In a way, he represents Repo Man's eccentricity, and he also has some of the best dialogue in the movie, especially one scene where him and Otto how everything in the universe is unified, and we just don't know it.

 Besides offering scenes of people getting vaporized by a glowing Chevy Malibu or Otto and the repo men out on the job, Repo Man has a strong, satirical edge.  The film's comedy is hilarious, if not for the quotable lines of dialogue, with my personal favorite being Miller's revelation that yes, indeed, John Wayne was a fag.  Look past the funny lines and you'll find a film that freely mocks the Reagan-era politics of the 1980's, much so like RoboCop and They Live later on.  The film was shot in Los Angeles, albeit in the city's rundown areas where poverty and crime run rampant, plus all of the food and drinks seen throughout aren't brand items, but instead are generic, plain-white products labeled "Cereal" or "Beer."  Little background details like these subtly comment on how the economic politics of the decade greatly affected how people earned a living.

There's a lot to like about the movie, for sure, but its biggest flaw is its storytelling.  During the first act, Repo Man does a great job at setting up its world and the characters that inhabit it, but the middle section drags due to the lack of a plot, only for the final act to hastily wrap things up.  Although the ending is cool, you can't help but notice the filmmakers might have been at a loss on how to end the movie.  Two other endings were suggested during production, one where Otto joins a group of Latin American revolutionaries in South America, and another where L.A. is annihilated by a nuclear explosion, courtesy of the Chevy Malibu's extraterrestrial contents.

Elements of said endings can be seen in the movie, but the finale that was chosen is surprising yet fitting.  After a hectic chase around L.A., the Malibu ends up at the parking lot of the Helping Hand agency.  The car is glowing green and zapping anyone who gets near it, be it government agents, priests, or average joes.  Everyone's standing around, unsure of what to do, until Miller steps into frame and gets into the car, motioning Otto to join him.  He gets in, the car begins to hover, before taking off into the nighttime sky.  It's fitting that the weirdest character in the movie is the one capable of driving the car.

Given the film's low-budget, the special effects work is kept to a minimum.  Some of it, such as the vaporizations that happen whenever someone opens the Malibu's trunk, look cool, but other shots, such as when the car starts glowing green, look cheap, even by today's standards.  This isn't a big-budget, effects extravaganza, so it's excusable, but one area Repo Man doesn't slack around is its soundtrack.  The soundtrack features numerous punk artists, including Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, and Iggy Pop, who wrote and performed the film's theme tune, and it fits perfectly with the punk motifs of Repo Man.


Repo Man
 is a one-of-a-kind picture and deserving of its cult classic status.  Much like the punk soundtrack and characters, it doesn't adhere to the traditional standards of film-making, and although its narrative structure is scattershot, to say the least, it makes up for it via memorable characters, great comedy, scathing social satire, and its quirky, frenetic sense of energy.  You'd be remiss for having not seen Repo Man yet, as it's one of those movies which gets better and better on repeated viewings.

Final Score: 9/10

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Maximum Overdrive (1986) Review

Stephen King is one of the greatest writers of our time.  He's a man who can craft stories which can scare us or get us emotionally involved, but it's generally the former.  From the Stand to Carrie to The Shining, Stephen King is arguably one of the best things to come out of Maine.  Due to his popularity, Hollywood has adapted a majority of his works into popular films and mini-series, all of which have been handled by people other than King himself, so why shouldn't one of the masters of writing be able to make a movie of his own?  Based on the short story "Trucks," Maximum Overdrive follows a group of people forcibly trapped in a diner when machines around them start coming to life.

It's an average day in Wilmington, North Carolina when unusual events begin to take place.  Banners outside banks start to project the words "Fuck you" on their display, and during rush-hour, a drawbridge raises up for no reason, causing a major pile-up and multiple deaths.  Soon, reports start coming in from around the world about technology coming to life and causing havoc.  Elsewhere, the patrons at a truck-stop called the Dixie Boy begin experiencing strange activity of their own.  An electrical knife turns on and slices into a waitress, while the arcade machines go haywire, electrocuting a man inside the room.

These events are strange enough, but then the trucks outside start driving around on their own, killing anybody in their path, including a mechanic, who lost his eyesight after gasoline sprayed in his face earlier.  Afterwards, a traveling salesman (Christopher Murray) and a hitchhiker (Laura Harrington) show up at the station, along with a newlywed couple (John Short and Yeardley Smith) who arrive after hearing the reports and getting chased down by a tow truck.  Surrounded by all ends by an encircling ring of big rigs, the men and women trapped at the Dixie Boy must find a way to survive.


Sentient eighteen-wheelers that mow down anything that get in their way!  Steamrollers flattening boys at a baseball game!  Arcade machines using their hypnotic imagery to mesmerize people, before electrocuting them!  Maximum Overdrive is a gonzo movie, to say the least.  Writer/director Stephen King takes the vehicle-with-its-own-mind concept from his book Christine and cranks it up to eleven, adding a healthy dose of AC/DC to go along with the mayhem.  By no means a masterpiece, Maximum Overdrive is B-movie filmmaking at its finest.  The story lacks logic and the characters are one-note, but the inventive carnage the trucks and other devices deliver keeps things rolling.

Trapped in the Dixie Boy is a cast that's one-half cannon fodder and another half forgettable.  The leader of the civilians is Bill Robinson (Emilio Estevez), an ex-con who works at the diner and has all of the enthusiasm of someone who just woke up out of bed only to realize it's Monday.  His rebellious attitude and stoic expressions make it feel like Estevez is just playing a poor-man's version of his character Otto from Repo Man, and whereas Otto's punk behavior and character growth made him interesting to watch, Bill is nothing more than the reluctant leader.

Other characters, including the hitchhiker turned love interest Brett and the obnoxiously southern owner of the Dixie Boy Bubba (Pat Hingle) do nothing more than either advance the story, get into a situation where he or she needs to be rescued, or ends up becoming a victim of the machines.  Stephen King has shown us he can create interesting and even memorable primary and secondary characters, as seen in the likes of It, Christine, and Cujo, but that's not the case here.  In fact, Maximum Overdrive was made during a period in his life where he was battling a drug and alcohol addiction.  Reflecting on the making of the movie, King said:

"The problem with that film is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn't know what I was doing [as the director of the film].  I learned a lot from the experience, however, and I would like to try directing again some time."

Looking past his personal battles, this is still a wild, riotous picture.  After all, where else can you see a movie where a man is killed by an onslaught of soda cans, or a truck with a giant mock-up of the Green Goblin from Spider-Man runs down people?  Though flawed in the storytelling department, Maximum Overdrive makes up for it through its inventive carnage and crazy situations.  After the droll middle act attempts to provide character development, things pick back up when an army jeep with a .50-cal machine-gun and a bulldozer roll into the station.  The jeep opens fire, killing many of the people inside, before it's revealed this part of a plan to get the trucks gas.  They're machines, after all, so they need fuel, and without any humans to fill them up, they'll run dry.

However, the logic behind the sentient technology, not to mention certain story elements, leads to numerous plot holes.  The initial explanation given for the rise of the machines is because of a passing comet, but a text crawl at the end reveals it might have been the result of a UFO blown up by a nuclear-equipped Russian satellite.  Yet, it appears not all machines are affected by the unknown energy.  Big-rigs, ice-cream trucks, soda machines, drive-in speakers, and planes have a mind of their own, but other devices like everyday station-wagons and motorboats appear to be unaffected.  Plus, if the gun on the military jeep has a mind of its own, how come the guns stored away in the diner aren't firing off on their own?

There's a throwaway explanation heard over the radio which explains some machines aren't coming t life as quickly as others, but it seems conveniently beneficial to the characters.  Another issue, and this is a big one, is this: why didn't the characters try escaping earlier?  It's revealed the gas station's sewer line leads to the main road when a few of them head out to try and save the salesman, who was knocked into a ditch earlier by one of the trucks.  So, why bother rescuing him if they can's just group up, and get out of Dodge?

Don't you just hate it when a .50-cal
machine-gun holds you hostage?

Maximum Overdrive uses clever camerawork to hide the stunt-men driving the cars and piloting other machinery, and it works fairly well, but that's a hill of beans compared to Maximum Overdrive's other greatest quality, the soundtrack.  In what is possibly the greatest decision ever made, the music was done by none other than AC/DC.  The film features four songs by the legendary music band, including "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)," "Hell's Bell's," and "Who Made Who?" which also doubles as the theme song.  There's also a lot of ambient guitar riffs heard throughout the film's quieter moments, but the cheesy, poor-man's cover of the Psycho theme that plays whenever somebody gets killed is laughably bad.

Stupid yet very entertaining, Maximum Overdrive is certainly no Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile, but in the end, the fun vehicular mayhem and rocking soundtrack triumph over the film's multiple flaws.  The director may have been high as a kite, but the result is an energetic, B-movie experience where trucks and other machinery kill people, and the audience cheers at the sight of such moments.  Plus, when said carnage is played next to AC/DC, what's not to love?

Final Score: 7/10

Stephen King Quote:

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Burn-Up W (1996) Review

Being a critic is no easy task.  Although reviewers can cover as much quality content as they want, there's the looming fact that if we ignore the bad stuff, it can problem if there's too much junk out there.  Yet, every once in a while, comes along a diamond-in-the-rough.  A title, which, while not perfect, is still an enjoyable time, such is Burn-Up W.  After the middling Burn-Up and the abysmal Burn-Up Scramble, the franchise finally finds its footing with this fun but flawed entry.  Besides, compared to the other two, this one's Citizen Kane.

Burn-Up W follows the Warrior team, a private sector of the Tokyo police force who specializes in high-risk operations the regular police can't handle.  The primary core of the team consists of Rio, a hot-headed blonde who prefers hunting down bad guys then filing paperwork and trying to pay the bills, Lilica, the team's hacker and technology expert, and Maya, a gun-nut who tends to use excessive force when stopping crooks.  Other members include Yuji, the only male member of the group who also has a crush on Rio, and Nanvel Candlestick, who is in charge of weapons' development.  Led by Maki (no relation to the one from Burn-Up), the Warriors protect the city at all costs.
Women be shopping!

On a hot, sunny day in Tokyo, terrorists take over a hotel and hold the entire place hostage.  The situation is a cover for Miss Ruby, who's attempting to sell a VR device capable of deteriorating the mind through an epileptic drug; in other words, the Oculus Rift on LSD.  She uses the government representatives staying at the hotel as guinea pigs, but when the Warrior team rescues the hostages and arrests the supposed criminals, Ruby escapes.  During a police raid, her technology is confiscated and taken back to the police headquarters for examination; therefore, she sends out a pair of heavily armored henchman to attack the station while a corrupt cop keeps the building on lockdown, making sure no outside forces can get in.  Little do the bad guys know that the Warrior team is trapped inside with them, so they gear up and head out to take on the terrorists and stop Miss Ruby's reign of terror.

Whereas Burn-Up struggled to create its own identity and felt more like a poor man's copycat of similarly-themed titles, Burn-Up W hits its stride as a fun, campy, action-comedy show.  The leading ladies here fare better than the trio from Burn-Up since they're given a lot more to do.  Even the side characters, who were severely underutilized before, get their chance to shine.  Rio, Burn-Up W's take on Maki, is not just a fiery woman concerned with delivering justice, but someone who thinks the job is the only thing keeping her from living on the streets since she's in massive debt.  Lilica, the team's hacker, plays a more active role on the squad than Yuka ever did, since she never finds herself captured or forced off to the sidelines.

However, there isn't much to Maya's character, other than she obsesses over guns, but this quirk of hers helps build up to a fight scene in the final episode between her and one of the goons, who is equipped with a high-powered mini-gun.  To fight off the terrorist, Maya uses an armor-piercing shotgun.  It should also be noted Burn-Up W clearly identifies this team as their own independent unit; in Burn-Up, there was nothing special about the job positions any of the characters had since they all worked for the same police force; here, it's made clear the Warrior team does things by their own rules.

High-speed action!

Though the secondary characters like Yuji and Maki are also likable, the villain is not.  Much like Samuel McCoy, Miss Ruby isn't given much to do.  Her and the Warrior team never face off; instead, she works behind-the-scenes while her lackeys unleash the chaos.  Not helping matters is the show's ending, or lack thereof.  After the Warrior team thwarts the attack on the police headquarters, Ruby escapes, again, and the show ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger.  I'm not sure what Burn-Up's deal is with lackluster endings, but it's a case example of bad storytelling.  Although a sequel, Burn-Up Excess, continued the story, you shouldn't have to track down another entry just to see what happens next.

Burn-Up W also suffers from tonal whiplash, and the final two episodes take things a bit too seriously.  In episode three, the viewer is introduced to a friend of Rio's who helps her with her financial problems.  No less than five minutes later, and a man, under the influence of Miss Ruby's drug, goes on a shooting rampage, killing multiple officers, including Rio's friend.  This gives her a personal reason to stop the later attack on the police headquarters.  Additionally, the second episode is pointless, to say the least.  The plot sees the Warrior team tracking down an artificial intelligence which escapes from the virtual world and into ours.  Aside from a couple of moments featuring Ruby, the impact this episode leaves is inconsequential.

As stated prior, Burn-Up W is campy, fun, mostly, but the increase in comedy and fan-service leads to mixed results.  Don't expect random references to then-popular franchises this time like before, but expect to see plenty of women in skin-tight outfits and occasional bits of T&A.  For example, in the first episode, one of the thugs' demands is that a popular singer bungie jump from a helicopter naked.  The singer won't do it, so Rio has to do it, and everybody, from the criminals in the building to the cops down below, is in sheer awe of this crazy stunt.  The usage of fan-service is reminiscent of Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos.  It's a bit tacky and not for everyone, but in a way, it enhances the charm of the show.

Men, never try to sneak a peek.  Women don't like that.

Burn-Up W's animation style is a lot easier on the eyes.  Gone is the cutesy look of the characters and in its place a freeform, exaggerated art style reminiscent of other shows from around this time like Dirty Pair Flash and Outlaw Star.  As strange as this sounds, though, there are loads of grammatical errors throughout the show, and this isn't a translation error on ADV Films' behalf.  The most heinous one is a robot called El Heggunte instead of El Gigante.  Also, this robot, a creation of Nanvel's, looks an awful lot like Unit 01 from Evangelion.  Homage or plagiarism?  You decide.  Meanwhile, the dub, produced by ADV Films, is leagues better than the one heard in Burn-Up.  It's not great; the dialogue is littered with lame jokes and random pop-culture references much like the previous installment, but you can tell the actors are having a lot fun with the characters, even if Yuka's voice is as grating as hell.

Though not a masterpiece by any means, Burn-Up W is an enjoyable time.  It's fun, features some laughs, and the characters are entertaining, but the villain is cart blanche and the anime ends on an unsatisfying note.  Still, this is leagues better than the subpar Burn-Up and Burn-Up Scramble combined.  Finally, the franchise has an entry it can call decent.

Final Score: 6/10

Burn-Up! (1991) Review

Three years ago, I wrote an article loosely centered around an anime called Burn-Up Scramble.  Though primarily a discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of going in blind on something you've never heard of, the article came about because of the troubling experiences I had with this anime.  A twelve-episode piece of junk, Burn-Up Scramble was a miserable experience, to say the least.  Although I was aware the series was part of a long-running franchise, I had no desire to seek out the other entries, until now.  Last year, I picked up the original Burn-Up and its successor, Burn-Up W, and after watching them both, only one question remains: Are the two anime at least better than Burn-Up Scramble?

Burn-Up follows Maki, Yuka, and Reimi, three female police officers who work for the police in near-future Japan.  Unfortunately, they tend to spend their days filing paperwork, but as members of the police's tactical division, they also get the chance to bust the crooks.  During one such crim, the police thwart a kidnapping, only to find out the assailants have connections to Samuel McCoy, a millionaire who runs a chain of nightclubs and restaurants across the city.  In actuality, the businesses are a front for McCoy's sex slave operations, but the cops need evidence before they can do anything about it, so Maki, Yuka, and Reimi are put on assignment.

Drive faster!  I need to be on time for my J-Crew catalogue

During their investigations, Yuka, a computer expert, is kidnapped.  Maki and Reimi try to save her but fail.  Despite this, the two aren't allowed to go after Samuel McCoy, due to a lack of evidence and because of his political connections to the city.  Therefore, Maki and Reimi suit up and head out on their own to stop McCoy and save all of the women he's kidnapped, including Yuka.

Good news, Burn-Up is not a train-wreck like Burn-Up Scramble.  The bad news, it's not good.  A generic, by-the-numbers action anime, Burn-Up is derivative, lacks personality, and is so short, the whole experience feels pointless.  The anime feels like an episode of a show that should exist, but doesn't, and instead of doing something interesting with its characters, style, or tone, the anime is paint-by-the-numbers.  Similar to other shows such as Dirty Pair or Bubblegum Crisis, Burn-Up features plenty of action, ass-kicking females, and mild fan-service, but the leading ladies of this affair lack personality and all feel the same.

First, there's Maki.  She's a gung-ho officer with a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, and that's about it.  Aside from a romance with one of her male co-workers, she doesn't have much else to offer.  Next is Yuka, the tech-head of the trio.  She's good with computers, but we never see her skills get put to use since Yuka spends most of the anime in captivity.  Lastly, there's Reimi.  Like Maki, she's a bit of a loose cannon, and that's it.  The only glimpse given into her personality is she doesn't like it when others destroy her equipment.  Case in point, when her and Maki launch their attack on McCoy's mansion, her map device is destroyed during a firefight.  This enrages her, and she shoots the heck out of the goon responsible in what is one of the anime's few funny points.

Maki's locked and loaded.

Other members of the force, including Kenji and Banba, are equally insignificant.  Kenji is Maki's boyfriend, and though the anime alludes to him being a hapless romantic, it's just a tease.  On the other hand, Banba, a tall, black man who has a penchant for appearing unannounced and surprising the others, is nothing more than a bad running joke.  It's a shame too, because these characters had potential, but the writing nor the story gives them much to do, especially Samuel McCoy.  Though responsible for the horrendous crime of sex trafficking, Samuel McCoy is just as disposable as the rest of the cast.  His only purpose in the story is to be the bad guy, and nothing more.  Worse, he doesn't even have an epic confrontation with Maki and Reimi; instead, he's captured, and the anime ends with Maki saying, "And that's that."

One thing Burn-Up has going for it is its portrayal of near-future Japan, which is littered with numerous visual and audio references to franchises popular around the time of the anime's release.  For example, the police cars look like the dropships from Aliens if the wings didn't come out, and you'll also spot advertisements for "Quest Dragon 31" and "Rambo 12."  The best one is when Reimi is exploring one of McCoy's clubs.  It's a sci-fi themed one where patrons are dressed up as the Xenomorph from Alien the Thing from The Thing, among other creatures.

Speaking of which, Burn-Up looks fine for its age and sports a lot of detail in the design of its setting and action sequences.  There are also a couple of interesting shots, such as one where the camera follows the back of a police car, pans overhead as the vehicle goes around a turnpike, before returning to the rear of the vehicle.  However, the cutesy character designs feel out of place in a show such as Burn-Up, especially with how the women have giant bug eyes and the men overly slender ones.  The dub, produced by the one-and-only ADV Films in their early years, is not good.  Some of the acting, particularly the voice of Yuka, can be hard to stomach, and much of the dialogue features shoehorned-in one-liners and pop-culture references.

Hi, annoying running gag!

Short, predictable, and pointless as can be, Burn-Up is more watchable than Burn-Up Scramble, but it isn't enough to save this dud.  It feels less like a cohesive product and more like a test-reel for a show that never happened.  The characters and story leave a lot to be desired, and the leading ladies of this show lack charm and spunk.  At the end of the day, Burn-Up is bargain-bin fodder.  Quick, disposable, and boring, Burn-Up won't ruin your afternoon, but will probably bore you.

Final Score: 3/10

Original Burn-Up Scramble Article:

Highlander (1986) Review

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?  Ask anyone this and their answers will vary.  Some might want the ability to fly, others the power to shoot beams from their eyes.  Then, there are those who would wish to be invulnerable, unable to die no matter what.  After all, Wolverine from the X-Men has shown us being able to shrug off bullets and anything else thrown at you can be greatly beneficial.  Yet, if you think about it, immortality is both a blessing and a curse.  You can't die, but loved ones can; soon, they'll get old and pass away, while you'll still be alive and kicking.  Released in 1986, Highlander tells the tale of Connor MacLeod, a 400-year-old immortal from Scotland unable to die and caught up in a mystical competition where other immortals fight to gain control of the Prize.

At a wrestling match in New York is Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), but he's not there to watch the event, as he is on the hunt for someone.  His senses kick up, and MacLeod goes into the parking garage where he encounters a man.  The two draw swords and partake in a heated battle.  Connor succeeds, decapitating the man, which releases a mysterious energy from the deceased individual.  Connor absorbs his essence while all the surrounding automobiles and other electrical equipment go haywire.  The fierce sword-fight draws the attention of the New York police, who show up at the arena and arrest MacLeod for the supposed murder.

Then, the film flashes back to 1536.  In Scotland, the MacLeod clan, led by Connor, is gearing up for battle against the Fraser clan.  Unbeknownst to them, the Frasers have hired a mysterious warrior named the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) to take out Connor.  During the battle, the Kurgan finds Connor, and stabs him through the stomach, but before he can finish him off, the Kurgan is swarmed by allies of MacLeod.  Sadly, Connor dies from his wound and is laid to rest, or so the clan thinks.  The next day, he walks into the local pub alive and well, even though everybody saw his corpse the day prior.  Thinking this is the work of black magic, Connor is tied up, beaten by the villagers, and banished from his clan, never to return.  Eventually, Connor starts over, working as a blacksmith in the Highlands and living with his new wife Heather (Beatie Edney).

You could say Highlander is, a cut above the rest, am I right?

While having luncher with her, a Spaniard, Juan Sanchez Ramirez (Sean Connery), shows up out of nowhere and greets the two.  Ramirez explains to Connor that they are part of a group of people born with immortality, which is lost whenever their head is decapitated.  All surviving immortals will eventually be drawn together to participate in an event called the Gathering, and the last one standing is granted with a mysterious power called the Prize.  So, Ramirez trains Connor for this fateful day.  Back in the present, the Kurgan manages to find MacLeod in New York.  By eliminating the remaining immortals, only Connor and him will remain, and in the end, there can only be one.

Highlander is a unique film.  Beneath the sword-fighting, awesome soundtrack, and memorable characters lies an interesting and slightly emotional take on the idea of immortality.  For over four hundred years, Connor has lived through multiple time periods, amassing a large sum of wealth in the process.  A running sub-plot sees a forensics expert, Brenda (Roxanne Hart), investigating MacLeod and figuring out who he really is.  Due to his special gift, Connor has lived under numerous false identities, so no one will discover the truth.  He does this by faking his death and taking the names of children who died at birth.

His secret nature, combined with his resentment to show care to others, helps shape him into an interesting protagonist.  After meeting Ramirez, the two have a discussion regarding Connor's wife Heather, and Ramirez tells him he should not become emotionally attached to her since Ramirez had also been attracted to a woman who grew old and died.  Thus, when the same happens to Heather, MacLeod makes sure to never fall in love again, until he meets Brenda.  However, Christopher Lambert's acting is spotty.  Keep in mind, this is a Scottish man being played by a Frenchman who at the time of filming, barely knew any English.  As a result, some of Lambert's line deliveries are shaky, to say the least, but if you think about it, the unusual voice, in a way, makes sense since the character has lived for 400 years and in different parts of the world, so his accent would have fluctuated all over the place during that time.

Christopher Lambert is confronted by his casting agent, who tells
him about an upcoming project called "Mortal Kombat."

Next is Ramirez.  Imagine James Bond as a flamboyant Spaniard who's really an Egyptian, and you have Ramirez.  Sean Connery plays the role of the mentor who trains and prepares the lesser-experienced individual with the right amount of fun and wit.  His interactions with MacLeod are some of the best moments in Highlander, and although he delves slightly into the history of the immortals, Ramirez never flat out explains where this power comes from, something Highlander II: The Quickening royally screws up.

For every good guy, there's a bad guy, and in the case of Highlander, it's the Kurgan.  He's a brute, and an intimidating one at that.  The Kurgan vanquishes anyone who gets in his way, immortal or otherwise, and you can tell he enjoys terrorizing innocents and just being an anarchist.  Clancy Brown, better known for playing Mr. Krabs in SpongeBob SquarePants, is fun to watch as he hams it up, but not to the point his villain comes off as cartoonish.

Aesthetically, Highlander features great cinematography, with nice camerawork and inventive transitions.  The film's director, Russell Mulcahy, directed music videos before doing Highlander, and the way the movie is shot feels like you're experiencing a big-budget music video.  During the fight scenes, the camera moves all over the place to emphasize the kinetic energy of the sword fights.  Plus, a lot of tracking shots are used where the camera follows the person as he or she walks down a street, alleyway, or corridor.  The movie also features clever transition sequences used most effectively when switching from the past to the present or vice versa.  For example, after Connor is banished from his village and left wandering the Highlands of Scotland, he eventually stops, looks at the camera, and the film fades into a wall mural of the Mona Lisa in present-day New York.

Meanwhile, the music is great.  Though famous for songs like "We Will Rock You," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Killer Queen," Queen will always be known, for me personally, for their work on Highlander.  The band contributed multiple songs to the film, including "Princes of the Universe," which is heard during the opening credits, and when the tune kicks in, you get a huge adrenaline rush.  Other songs they contributed include "A Kind of Magic" and "Who Wants to Live Forever."  There's also a brief cover of "New York, New York" that plays during a hit-and-run rampage the Kurgan goes on, which makes me wish there was a full version of the tune.  However, the film's orchestral score, composed by Michael Kamen, is equally superb.  The grand and occasionally somber feel of the music works well during many pivotal scenes, such as Heather's death.

If Clancy Brown was the Terminator...

Highlander's interesting premise helps elevate the picture into cult classic territory, and the movie is one of, if not, the best hidden gems of the 1980's.  The story is great, as are the characters, namely Connor, Ramirez, and the Kurgan.  Though his performance is rough-around-the-edges, Christopher Lambert is good as the stoic, mysterious, yet likable Connor MacLeod, while Sean Connery delights as Ramirez.  Plus, the amazing soundtrack by Queen and Michael Kamen only increases Highlander's likability and fun as a unique and thrilling fantasy film.

Final Score: 9/10