Q: The Winged Serpent

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Q: The Winged Serpent

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree,  James Dixon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We have reached the half way point in our Larry Cohen Tribute Month. Thank you to everyone who has been sticking with the special since the first movie. Still plenty more to come. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as ‘King Kong.’ It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!”

As the title suggests, ‘Q’ is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food.  No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.

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Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called ‘I, The Jury’ until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for ‘Q’. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.

When I first watched ‘Q’, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.

‘Q’ has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grows a brain and develops a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.

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Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.

Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.

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There’s not much more I can say about ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as my second favorite Larry Cohen movie only to the one movie which I will be reviewing next week. If you want to find out what movie I’m talking about then stay tuned next week! You may be surprised (or may not be surprised)!

 

 

 

TRIVIA

  • A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
  • Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
  • In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
  • The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
  • The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
  • David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
  • The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
  • Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep

You’re Not The Only Action In Town

Jimmy Plays The Piano

Equal Share Equal Chance

I’ve Been Afraid Of Everything

Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?

Evil Dreams

The Feathered Flying Serpent

I Better Take My Birth Control Pill

Eat Him

Being Civilized

Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups

Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher

If You Know Something

Nixon Like Pardon

Get Rupert Down Here

Fry Up 500 lbs of Bacon

Stick It Up Your Small Brain

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The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’

The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.

Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.

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‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.

The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.

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The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.

As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.

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There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies.  It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.

 

TRIVIA

  • Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
  • Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
  • Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
  • Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
  • Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
  • Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
  • The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
  • Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
  • In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

RocketMan

RocketMan_(1997_film)

RocketMan

Release Date: October 10, 1997

Genre: Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Director: Stuart Gillard

Writers; Oren Aviv, Craig Mazin, Greg Erb

Starring: Harland Williams, Jessica Lundy, William Sadler, Beau Bridges, Jeffrey DeMunn

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

When we think about Disney, we think about Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. When we think about Disney movies, we think about all those fairy tale adaptations such as “Snow White and The Seven Dwarves,” “Peter Pan,” and “Sleeping Beauty” (and many more). When we think about Disney today we think about how they’ve dominated the film industry with its acquisition of Marvel and the Star Wars Franchise. One thing most people don’t think about is some of the original movies they’ve released throughout their tenure. Disney releases original family-oriented movies and they’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been alive. As a kid growing up in the 90s, many of these movies came out and at the time I found them to have all the elements of a Disney movie. They were funny, heartfelt and had an underlying positive message. There’s too many of these movies to name here, but for this next review I went back in time to the 90s to find a Disney movie that I really enjoyed. The one that stuck out is considered a cult classic by many. That the 1997 Sci-Fi Comedy film “RocketMan!”

Not to be confused with the upcoming Elton John biopic movie, “RocketMan” tells the story of Fred Z. Randall (Harland Williams) who is a computer programmer for a NASA Contractor. As a boy he always dreamed of being an Astronaut, but this is the closest he could get into the space program. He developed the Lander Program for the astronauts who are using it to train for their upcoming mission to Mars. After a confrontation with the astronauts concerning that the program has a glitch due to it miscalculating their landing trajectory, one of the astronauts is wounded in a freak accident. Putting the Mars mission in jeopardy, the mission’s Flight Director Paul Wick (Jeffrey DeMunn) enlists Randall to test along with another astronaut to join the Mars crew which consists of Captain William Overbeck (William Sadler), Julie Ford (Jessica Lundy) and Chimpanzee, Ulysses. After passing each test (which included breaking Overbeck’s records in each test), Fred is chosen to join the team. With that, there becomes one hiccup after another during the trip to Mars and when they arrive on Mars, much ado to Fred’s curious and clumsy nature. Will they make it out of Mars with their mission completed and return home safely?

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Released in 1997, “RocketMan” broke even at the box office reclaiming its reported $15 million budget. Reviews for the film were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it three stars out of four calling it “a wacky comedy in the Jerry Lewis-Jim Carrey mold”.  The film is more slap sticky in the Jerry Lewis sense rather than the Jim Carrey sense. The movie is silly with plenty of jokes and gags that will drive younger audiences bonkers. The older generation may not find this movie laughable and flat out stupid, but again this movie was intended for kids.

If you’re not familiar with Harland Williams, he has been a standup comedian since the early 90s with his outlandish improvisation style. His first film appearance would launch him into notoriety as the State Trooper in the Farrelly Brothers smash hit “Dumb and Dumber” who pulls the duo over for speeding and proceeds to take a drink of their opened “beer”.  He would go on to appear in longer roles in the movies “Down Periscope,” “Half Baked,” and the Tom Green disaster flick “Freddy Got Fingered”.  “RocketMan” would be Williams’ first leading role. His improv skills are on full display in this movie as the protagonist, Fred Randall. Williams plays Fred like a manchild. He’s thirty years old (almost a full-grown man in a quip with his mother) and like a child, he’s pure, heartfelt, clumsy and innocent. When he causes an accident, he responds the same way a child would, “It wasn’t me!” He gets easily excited when he sees the astronauts and other members of NASA and knows their specialty. It’s like he’s seen a movie star. He’s very curious and is on full display with his head movements and attention span. Above all, Fred finds ways to keep himself amused like waiting for his clearance badge or finding ways to make time fly during the isolation chamber test in a hilarious scene. Despite his quirkiness, Fred is a computer genius (he has to be if he’s working for NASA). It’s shown during the trip to Mars and through the climax of the movie. Williams provides moment after moment of silly over the top laughter in not just physical comedy, but also with his words and facial expressions. It would not surprise me if he deviated from the script.

The supporting cast is top notch and is doesn’t play a backseat to all of Fred’s screen time. William Sadler plays Mission Commander William Overbeck, the man who is destined to be the first person to step foot on Mars and into history immortality in the way Neil Armstrong did when he was the first man to land on the moon. Overbeck is not amused by Fred even objecting to the Flight Director about his qualifications about joining the Mars team. Bill has some fun at the expense of Fred by getting him drunk before his training, cranking up the speed in the Centrifugal Force Machine and initiating the artificial gravity on the rocket when Fred is floating and making bird noises. Unfortunately, he becomes the brute of Fred’s carelessness (and bodily functions in perhaps the most notable scene in the film). While not known for being a comedic actor, except for his performance of Death in a previous “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” film “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Sadler is perfectly fitted for this role and playing it grounded and straight laced.

Jessica Lundy as Mission Specialist/Geologist Julie Ford is Fred’s love interest. She is determined, strong willed and is a bridge between Fred and Bill. She too is not amused with Fred’s actions but as the movie progresses she has a change of heart and sees that Fred does care about his role in the mission and cares about the success of all of them.

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Beau Bridges is another crutch for Fred as Bud Nesbitt. He gives Fred encouragement when Fred starts to get cold feet about getting into the rocket.  Their collaboration is key during a debate about landing on Mars when the weather patterns change from their earlier projections and Bud, attempting to avoid another disaster like the Apollo 13, tries to convince his boss Wick to reconsider the mission, much to no avail considering that Bud’s reputation at NASA is not credible by the others (they put the blame on him for what happen to Apollo 13). Bud is resilient and does what he can to ensure that the crew gets home safely.

Finally, we can’t forget about the chimpanzee, Ulysses. Played by a three-year-old chimpanzee named Raven, Ulysses has been trained to find fossils on Mars. He’s also Fred’s roommate. Him and Fred develop a special bond with each other, even when Ulysses plays pranks on him such as switching his food and taking his hyper sleep chamber. He’s as scared as Fred when they’re on the rocket, but Fred provides him a sense of comfort and calm. He provides as many laughs as Williams does throughout the movie.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gillard, whose mainly been a television director, but he has directed another kid friendly movie, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” from 1993. Gillard carried that experience over to this movie. He did a great job keeping the film family friendly and focused. There’s no real unique or Dutch angle shots in the movie, which is fine. Kids aren’t focused on shots, they’re focused on what is happening in the movie with the characters and their locations. Speaking of location, I think they did a great job with the look of Mars. As stated in the trivia, the Mars scenes were shot in Utah. The red rock and lack of vegetation gave Mars the look of being distant and lonely.

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“RocketMan delivers plenty of laughs from ten years olds and adults. Not a single joke or physical gag is overused (except for Fred trying to point the blame on someone else). The pacing is fast which is a good thing. You don’t have to worry about scenes being drawn out for substance or trying to establish the characters. And like all Disney movies, “RocketMan” has not only heart, but morality. It shows that despite the personality differences between the crew, by working as a team they accomplish much. They stick together during their time in Mars and when trouble starts to come during the nerve wracking climax, they don’t leave without each other.

I would easily put “RocketMan” in my Top 10 Non-Disney Animated movies. This is a movie that has become a must watch at my household from time to time. It’s a movie that families will enjoy, and parents won’t have to worry about their children being exposed to violence or sex or other mature subjects. It’s a clean wholesome film that carries with you as you continue to grow old. There’s never a bad time to pop in this movie and enjoy the viewing experience with your loved ones.

TRIVIA (per IMDB)

  • When Randall is singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” on the world broadcast, he starts faking singing in foreign languages. Ironically, he says in French: “Je suis le papillon sur la table”, which translates to “I am the butterfly on the table”.
  • For the surface of Mars, the filmmakers shot in Moab, Utah, where they found giant cliffs, red rocks, a lack of vegetation, and the overall scale of what could be a distant planet.
  • The filmmakers spent nine weeks at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, shooting at the famous Rocket Park (the gargantuan Building 9 that houses all of the spacecraft mock-ups for the ongoing shuttle missions) and Building 32, which houses the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber and simulates all conditions of outer space (except zero gravity).
  • To prepare for their roles as astronauts, the three stars attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, riding in simulators and participating in other activities.
  • The working title for this film was “Space Cadet”.
  • At one point in the film, the commander tells Randall, “Have fun.” Randall replies with “Fun is my Chinese neighbors middle name.” Disney was afraid that the joke would offend Chinese viewers. However, many Chinese fans actually found the joke to be very funny.

AUDIO CLIPS

Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.

Critters

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Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek

Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of “Gremlins” in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green lit to be a “sister” film to “Gremlins” was the movie, “Critters”.

Released in 1986 “Critters” is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff.  Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.

“Critters” was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo DiCaprio (“Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being “Nightmare on Elm Street”. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.

The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in “ET” plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in “The Jerk” and Harrison Ford’s boss in “Blade Runner”. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help.  Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into.  A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive.  The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. “Critters” includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of “Insidious” fame playing Sal the dispatcher.

The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteer work. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a “Rio Bravo” like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges like moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed ET doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.

This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “The Mighty Ducks” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus”.  I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography.  He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Browns as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.

As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to “Gremlins”. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.

 

TRIVIA

  • Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
  • Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
  • This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982]) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters [1986]
  • Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Leprechaun 3

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Leprechaun 3

Release Date: June 27, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Writers; David DuBos (Story), Mark Jones (Characters)

Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Lee Armstrong, John DeMita, Caroline Williams, Michael Callan

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1993 movie audiences were introduced to “Leprechaun”, a horror movie in which a Leprechaun searches for his lost gold and kills anyone in his way.  The film was a box office success and launched the career of Jennifer Aniston and showed Warwick Davis’ diverse range of acting after only being known as playing Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” and playing Willow in the film of the same name. A sequel was rushed to theaters in 1994 and was just as successful as the first film. It launched a new horror franchise that spawned six films and are played regularly on St. Patrick’s Day on the Sci-Fi Channel. One of the films that is a favorite of the fans (and mine) is 1995’s “Leprechaun 3”.

“Leprechaun 3” continues the tale of the Leprechaun searching for his gold. The first film he searched in North Dakota. The second film he searched in California. For the third film, he searches where else but…..Las Vegas. The film chronicles an eighteen year old kid named Scott who is on his way to college and happens to drive through Vegas. He stumbles upon a buxom blonde named Tammy whose car has broken down and needs to get to her job at the Lucky Shamrock casino. In exchange for his kindness, Tammy agrees to sneak Scott into the casino under the condition that he doesn’t gamble. Scott, the impressionable college boy that he is decides to gamble by cashing in a $23,000 check from his parents to cover his first year. And of course, he loses it all playing Roulette. He heads to a pawn shop across the street looking to sell his watch to get some extra cash. As he walks into the Pawn Shop, he sees the shop owner dead and finds a single gold schilling on the table. There is a video on leprechaun folklore playing on the computer and Scott watches the part where the narrator states that you can have one wish if you have the leprechaun’s gold. With the gold schilling he wishes that he were back at the casino on a winning streak. Sure enough his wish comes true. However, it begins a chain reaction of events to come as the characters in the film each get their hands on the gold coin and the Leprechaun is right on their trail looking to reclaim his schilling and get revenge on those who harbor its power.

This was the first “Leprechaun” movie to be released straight to video. Turns out it was a rental success becoming the highest selling rental of 1995. This is my favorite movie of the “Leprechaun” series. The setting of Las Vegas is perfect for the film since it symbolizes luck, temptation, magic, money and greed. All the qualities of the Leprechaun character from the film series. Plus it’s great to see the Leprechaun gamble and constantly win! The film is also an omage to the story “The Monkey’s Paw”.  As each character in the film gets their hands on the gold coin, they make their wish and it comes true. However, their wish comes with a reversal of fortune, thanks to the Leprechaun.  That reversal of fortune involves some creative death scenes. As for Scott, he has other issues to deal with. During an altercation with the Leprechaun where he gets bitten, he stabs the Leprechaun in the head with a knife. His green blood gets mixed in with the bite wound and he slowly starts turning into a human leprechaun who wants all the gold for himself. He has to make a choice between destroying the gold and returning to human form or keeping the gold and forever stay as a leprechaun. It’s a choice that is not easy for him since he has developed magical powers for himself and is consumed by acquiring the entire pot of gold. It’s a good character struggle to complement the overall theme of the film.

Once again Warwick Davis is front and center in this movie and continues to be a source of comedy and menace. When he appeared in the first “Leprechaun” movie, he shed his good guy image and with the success of the movie, he proved to everyone that he could play a diverse range of characters. He is solidified with the Leprechaun franchise, but he’s comfortable with it. From the delivery of his Irish limericks to his impersonation of Elvis to his magical kills, you can tell in this movie he is having a blast playing the character. He still has a hard time nailing down the accent. It’s not really Irish, but it’s passable. Davis even admits it. His antics are the highlight of this film.

The rest of the cast is every trope you could imagine. First you have Scott, played by John Gatins. He’s an overly excited, curious and impressionable college student. As soon as he meets Tammy it’s like he immediately falls in love at first sight. He is naïve and unaware of the risks involved with gambling. Gatins acts like he’s too excited even in the most mundane situations. I do have to give him credit for doing a good Irish accent when he slowly transforms into a leprechaun. He tells a limerick to a waitress in the casino restaurant that is pretty dirty, even from limerick standards. I think he does a decent job dealing with the struggles of his leprechaun transformation and his temptation for keeping the gold when it’s revealed the only way to turn human is to destroy the gold.

Next you have Tammy, played by Lee Armstrong. Tammy is a Magician’s Assistant for the great (not really great) Fazio at the Lucky Shamrock. She gets herself into a situation that is out of her control due to a wish being granted by the gold coin. When she snaps out of it, Scott comes to her rescue. She would stick with him throughout the movie trying to help him overcome the leprechaun curse. This was Armstrong’s final acting role, not because she died, but the fact that…she can’t act. She is very dull and emotionless. There’s a scene where she is supposed to be over the top, but she plays it like how a little baby acts. It’s ridiculously bad. One thing that she has going for her is the outfit she wears throughout the movie. It’s definitely a redeeming quality.

Finally you have the rest of the small cast with Michael Callan playing Mitch, the Casino Manager who plays it like a stereotypical mobster, John DeMita who plays Fazio, a failed magician and Caroline Williams who plays Loretta, who works the Roulette table. All of these characters aren’t very likable. They’re all self-centered egotists who are battling each other over the most trivial of things. Each of them get their turn making a wish with the gold coin and they all have to do with improving themselves and each of them will get their dates with death courtesy of the Leprechaun. All of them acted like they didn’t want to be in this movie. I get it, but if you’re a working actor, you take what is given to you and you should try to make an effort no matter how bad the script could be. I’m surprised there wasn’t at least a little more effort from Caroline Williams considering she is a Horror vet having played the heroine Stretch in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.  They’re the middle men in the story since it revolves more around Scott and the Leprechaun.

As I’ve mentioned several times already the death scenes are creative. I won’t spoil what they are. There’s enough gore to satisfy a viewer’s appetite. You can’t go wrong with blood and gore in a horror movie. The special effects in the death scenes weren’t anything crazy mainly in part to another low budget. One of the famous kill scenes in all of the Leprechaun movies you can tell they exploded a cake to make it look like a human body.

There’s not much more to say about “Leprechaun 3”. It’s indeed a guilty pleasure movie and the strongest in the franchise. While it follows the same plot of the first film, it makes up with the appropriate settings and symbolism. Every St. Patrick’s Day is now a traditional day to watch the “Leprechaun” movies. If you can only watch one this upcoming Saturday, then I recommend “Leprechaun 3”. You might enjoy it even more when you’re drunk on all that green beer you consumed!

 

TRIVIA

  • Highest Selling Direct-to-video film of 1995.
  • Filmed in 14 days.
  • Warwick Davis has publicly stated this is favorite “Leprechaun” film of the series.
  • Lee Armstrong who played Tammy quit acting after this film.
  • As Scott is entering the casino, Warwick Davis can be seen making a cameo without make-up playing a slot machine.
  • The check Scott carries around in the casino is signed by the director of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith.
  • John Gatins, who plays Scott, would go on to be a screenplay writer. He wrote the screenplays for “Coach Carter”, “Real Steel”, “Power Rangers” and “Flight”, the latter receiving him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS