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 Long Riders

 

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The Long Riders

Release Date: May 16, 1980

Genre: Biography, Crime, Western

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach, James Keach

Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, James Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

 Perhaps the most overlooked filmmaker that I can think of in recent memory would be Walter Hill. While he’s most known for being a writer and an executive producer most notably with the ‘Alien’ franchise, he has several well-known movies that he directed throughout the 70s and 80s. You may have seen a movie from these eras not realizing that it was done by Walter Hill. Does ‘The Warriors’ ring a bell? How about ‘Streets of Fire?’ I’m sure you have seen the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy buddy comedy/crime film ‘48 Hours!’ Hill has created films from different genres that have a unique look and style that help tell the story of what he is trying to convey. One movie in his filmography that has always stood out to me is his 1980 Western Crime movie ‘The Long Riders!’

Featuring an ensemble cast of acting brothers, the movie depicts the James-Younger gang and their outlaw antics after the Civil War. Throughout the state of Missouri, they rob banks, trains and stagecoaches. The leaders of the gang are Jesse James and Cole Younger followed by their brothers. Their antics would lead to the Pinkerton agency, led by Mr. Rixley being hired to capture the outlaws. Some of the tactics they use to get information regarding the gang go haywire to the point that the gang seeks vengeance on the agents. As the gang prepares their biggest heist in Minnesota, tensions start to flare within the gang. Would they be able to overcome their objections and hostility towards each other to pull off their biggest score? Or will they crumble under the pressure of not only the law right behind their tails, but what impact their deeds have had on their families?

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‘The Long Riders’ was an ambitious project of actor James Keach. After he and his brother Stacy played The Wright Brothers in the television film of the same name, James came up with the idea of doing a movie about Jesse James and his gang with James playing Jesse and Stacy playing Frank James. After several years, James and Stacy ponied up much of the funding to get the film made. For the rest of the gang, they enlisted the Carradine brothers to play the Younger family. David Carradine played Cole Younger, Keith Carradine played Jim Younger and Robert Carradine played Bob Younger. For the Miller brothers, James enlisted the Quaids to fill out those roles with Randy Quaid play Clell Miller and Dennis Quaid playing Ed Miller.

The concept of having real life acting brothers play brotherly characters in a movie is ingenious. All the performances are not only different in personalities, but contemplative of each other and throughout the movie. James Keach and David Carradine as the leaders of the gang show off their leader mentality with James being the architect of their plans. While David Carradine’s Cole Younger is a man who likes to gamble, drink and have fun in between robberies, James Keach’s Jesse James is always serious and straight laced. All he thinks about is his family and his next score. Keith Carradine’s portrays Jim Younger as a handsome, charismatic gunslinger who is a genuine smooth talker. His issue in the film involves the woman he is in love with who ends up taking the hand of Ed Miller against his advice. Robert Carradine’s Jim Younger is the babyface of the group and Robert plays it with ambition and friendly. He’s so friendly he shakes the hand of the man whose stagecoach is being robbed by them. Randy Quaid trades his comedic chops for a brute intimidating portrayal as Clell Miller whose loyalty is only to the gang and not to his brother Ed, which you’ll see throughout the movie. Dennis Quaid has the less screen time out of all of them for reasons that are depicted early in the film. The screen time he does have involves a triangle he has between his wife and his gang.

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‘The Long Riders’ is the most historically accurate film of the James Younger gang I could think of in a long time. Hill’s real intention is to present us with a gang of three families of brothers and get us to accept them on their own terms. We see the gang not only as rough riding outlaws, but devoted family men which gives the characters a sense of heart.  The movie starts out at the height of their notoriety and ends with its untimely downfall. Not only is the timeline of events sequential, but Walter Hill manages to show the customs of life in post-Civil War times. There is a concentration on familiar rituals as funerals, family reunions and relationships between loved ones, but also on common Western rituals such as brothels, saloons, knife fight challenges and of course the robberies.

The music and cinematography only heightened the authenticity of the movie. The original score was written and performed by Ry Cooder. He is best known for his ‘roots’ music style with an emphasis of using slide guitar techniques. There’s plenty of guitar, harmonica and fiddles to fill your ears as you immerse yourself in each scene. The look of the film is rustic, yet beautiful. From the green pastures of Missouri to the tiny towns, to the rivers and forests, you’ll be amazed at the open landscape that is depicted throughout the film.

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And what is a Western without action? Nothing. ‘The Long Riders’ has plenty of action. You have vindictive shootouts between the gang and the Pinkertons. You have train robberies, bank robberies and stagecoach heists that are filled with tension and humor. And there is a knife fight between Carradine and the husband of a hooker he knows complete with both biting down on a belt as they try to slash each other. The action weaves into the story with fluidity. Some of the deaths are gory for a Western movie. There’s no skimping of blood or bullets in the scenes.

‘The Long Riders’ may not have a lasting impact among the mainstream Western movies, but this is one of the more memorable ones I could think of in a long time. There’s never a dull moment or a scene that drowns out long. It keeps your eyes forward at the screen as you watch the journey of the Cole Younger gang and its ultimate fall like the Corleone family in ‘The Godfather!’. Walter Hill delivers a sympathetic piece to one of the most notorious gangs in American history.  To Hill, good and bad aren’t on opposite sides of the coin; they share the edge.

 

TRIVIA

  • Dennis Quaid broke his nose during the making of this film as he did three years later on Tough Enough (1983).
  • The roles of Jesse James and his son, little Jesse, are played by father and son, James and Kalen Keach.
  • Originally Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges were going to play the Ford brothers, but they could not fit it in their schedules.
  • Stuart Mossman, who played the “Engineer,” was a renowned guitar maker and friend of the three Carradine brothers, who all owned Mossman guitars.
  • In order to make the movie, David Carradine forfeited his customary profit participation and the Keach brothers gave up their profit percentages as executive producer in order that the Carradine brothers got the same amount of profits. When the film went over its $7.5 million budget, the Keaches forfeited their executive producer fees.
  • The film features an uncredited appearance by Ever Carradine, daughter of Robert Carradine and niece to David Carradine and Keith Carradine.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Standing Guard

You Got Nice Hands

Women

When You’re Old Enough To Call Yourself A Lady

Shelby Weren’t At Cole Harbor

Jesse James Rides With The Youngers

How Come I Wasn’t Invited?

Fire Away And Fall Back

Amazingly Stupid Question

What’s To Know About Robbing A Bank?

On Your Way To Hell

Pinkerton Man

Tell You Something About Texas

Any Visitors While I Was Gone

Family Man

Take The Damn Bank

 

The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout

Release Date: Decemeber 13, 1991

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Tony Scott

Writers: Shane Black (Story & Screenplay), Greg Hicks (Story)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an action movie. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a buddy movie. For the next edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I decided to review an action/buddy movie. I was reading up on Shane Black, who has been a long time writer and has now gone into film-making with his last release being the 2018 summer film “The Predator” (Black was in the original film as Hawkins). He sold his first script to Hollywood while he was finishing up college at UCLA. That film became “Lethal Weapon.” The success of “Lethal Weapon” opened the door for Black and was soon writing scripts and they were being turned into movies left and right. One of his scripts would become an underrated action buddy film that has the spirit of “Lethal Weapon.” That movie was 1991’s “The Last Boy Scout.” I happened to check it out on Hulu in its remaining days before it expired. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw the movie, but since I wanted to do an action oriented movie review I felt this was the perfect choice. For those who haven’t seen it before, let me give you a brief synopsis.

“The Last Boy Scout” stars Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. Willis is a chain smoking private detective named Joe Hollenbeck. Fed up with the way his life is going and is estranged from his wife Sarah (Chelsea Field and daughter Darian (Danielle Harris) he takes a job off a friend of guarding a stripper/prostitute named Cory (Halle Berry). Despite not knowing the full context as to why he needs to be a bodyguard, he takes the job and watches her. During the night, he comes across Cory’s boyfriend Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), a former professional football player who was kicked out of the league for gambling and allegations of drug abuse. After a brief conflict Jimmy and Cory head back to his place, but Cory is involved in a fender bender as she pulls over, she is gunned down by a series of men. Joe and Jimmy team up to find out who is behind her murder and uncover a plot involving a corrupt politician (Chelcie Ross) and a crooked football owner (Noble Willingham). They have to figure out the connection between the two and what is the intended goal.

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“The Last Boy Scout” was directed by esteemed movie director Tony Scott who is known for directing blockbuster action movies such as “Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “Crimson Tide.” If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll find his style and taste of shootouts, big explosions and constant ball busting humor all throughout this movie. A lot of people refer to this movie as a “Lethal Weapon” clone. I can’t argue with their analogy. It has all the familiar elements of “Lethal Weapon” especially since they were both written by Shane Black, but don’t let that premises keep you from enjoying this movie.

The title of the movie comes from a scene where Jimmy Dix signs an autograph for Joe’s daughter Darian. On the signature he inscribes the message, “To the daughter of the last boy scout.” Jimmy calls Joe a boy scout after seeing a picture of him with the President of the United States and finding out that Joe used to be a Secret Service agent. That part of Joe’s career plays an integral part in the story.

Bruce Willis plays Joe Hollenbeck in a similar fashion to his most famous character, John McClain.  He delivers wise crack after wise crack throughout the movie and doesn’t seem to mind the hostile reactions from those he is talking to. When he gets deep into the investigation and realizes the politician involved it becomes a personal vendetta for him since it was the particular politician that got himself fired from his previous job. Damon Wayans is on equal sitting of Willis as Jimmy Dix. He has plenty of quips of his own, but Wayans plays the role in a more serious tone. Jimmy feels a sense of responsibility for what happens to Cory and tries to help Joe track down the people responsible. Sometimes he gets in the way or does something he’s told not to do, but he redeems himself later in the movie when he has to start thinking like a detective.

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The supporting cast is good in their respective roles. Chelsea Field plays the distant yet concerned wife of Joe’s Sarah. Scream queen Danielle Harris plays Darian as a bratty teenager who despises her father. She plays a significant role near the climax of the movie. Halle Berry’s early performance as Cory is feisty. Other notable actors include Noble Willingham as Sheldon Marcone, owner of the Los Angeles Stallions which is the central team focused in the movie as well as the team Jimmy used to play for and Chelcie Ross as Senator Baynard, the politician involved in the plot. There’s some small appearances from Bruce McGill as Joe’s friend and partner Mike, Joe Santos as a police lieutenant who happens to get involved indirectly with Joe and trying to find out what Joe is doing and Kim Coates and Taylor Negron who play henchmen.

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While “The Last Boy Scout” is a fun little action flick with plenty of shootouts and explosions, it does have its flaws (like the majority of action movies). The script is borderline ludicrous which stretches to beyond believability. How the script would stack up if it were made today could be debatable, but for this time it’s not plausible. With action movies come typical clichés. You have Joe’s wife who is cheating on him and giving the old “You’re never around” speech and you have his daughter whose profanity laced tirades are instigated by just the mere sight of him. It gets old very quickly. And you have this sub plot of a police lieutenant and his subordinate starting their own investigation into Joe and Jimmy trying to find out what they’re up to and perhaps be the ones to crack the case. Finally, I did not like the climatic ending as it felt like something out of a cartoon. I think they could’ve done something better than what was shown on screen. I could go on, but if you can overlook these things and see the film for what it is you’ll enjoy it better.

Overall “The Last Boy Scout” is a funny and fun action movie. It’s a film that holds up by its sheer weight to be enjoyable. It’s not the most memorable film of Tony Scott’s films nor Shane Black’s scripts. It’s an artifact that is buried deep within the grounds of countless action movies. It’s worth watching once to see what Scott and Black were attempting to do. Unfortunately, the movie was not a success to green light a series like what they’ve done with “Lethal Weapon”. Ironically, Wayans plays Murtaugh in the aforementioned television series. I’m sure it had something to do with his role as Dix. Everything always comes full circle.

TRIVIA

  • Although they play buddies in the film, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans hated working with each other.
  • Composer Michael Kamen hated the film when he first saw it. The only reason he provided the score was out of his personal friendships with Bruce Willis and producer Joel Silver.
  • The conversation between Joe and Jimmy about the 650 dollar pants was taken from a deleted scene in Lethal Weapon (1987). Murtaugh’s daughter is wearing an expensive dress for a New Year’s Eve party and he asks, “It doesn’t have a little television in it?” She says, “No”, and Murtaugh mutters, “I am very old.”
  • A riot nearly occurred during filming at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Hundreds of extras were recalled for a second day of shooting, but a last minute decision was made to cancel the recall. The extras were not informed of the decision and arrived expecting a day of work. They were refused pay by the production, and as discontent grew, they began to surge against the barrier that surrounded the set. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd.
  • Jack Nicholson was the first choice for the part of Joe Hallenbeck.
  • Mel Gibson was considered for the role of Jimmy Dix.
  • Billy Cole’s last words “Ain’t life a bitch?”, before committing suicide, was originally “I’m going to Disneyland.”, a common phrase among Super Bowl winners.
  • Joe (Bruce Willis) mentions “reindeer goat cheese pizza”, which Willis also mentioned in Hudson Hawk (1991).
  • Released in U.S. theaters the day before the one-year anniversary of the day that Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) was released in U.S. theaters. This film also starred Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans as buddies, although they simply provided the voices of two characters.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Witnessing The Death of Football

Pretty Good Cigarettes

Remember That

She’ll Be Screwing Them By The Time She’s Fourteen

I’m Not The One That Hates You

Go Stick Your Head In The Speaker

Filling In

Ask Your Wife

Leather Pants

New Invention Called A Razor

Circumvent

The Man Who Invented Scrabble

Goat Cheese Pizza

What Happened To Your Face?

Billions, That’s Nine Zeroes

You Couldn’t Nail A Two Dollar Whore

Think Jimmy

I Want To Know What’s Going On

 

 

Ironclad

Ironclad_(2011_movie_poster)

Ironclad

Release Date: July 26, 2011

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Jonathan English

Writer: Jonathan English (Story & Screenplay), Stephen McDool (First Screenplay), Erick Kastel (Co-Screenplay)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Here at “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I’m always searching to find movies from a genre I have yet to tackle. The majority of movies I’ve reviewed since I started this last year are Horror movies (mainly because I watch them more than anything else), but my focus this year is to try to find movies from a variety of genres and eras. Throughout the coming months I plan on diving into numerous movies from the Universal Monster Movie era to Westerns to Dramas, etc. As we approach the end of another decade in the 21st Century, I would like to review movies that have come out within this time frame. With that being said, I found a movie that was released in 2011 that I found on accident and after watching it was entertained. It’s an Action/Drama film set in medieval times that is loosely based on a historical event.  The movie is called “Ironclad.”

“Ironclad” takes place in England in the year 1215. The rebel barons have forced King John to sign and seal the Magna Carta, a document which upholds the rights and freedom of the people. Within months, King John refuses to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta and seeks to reclaim England under his rule with the assistance of Danish mercenaries. The barons, with the help of a small group of Knights Templar head to Rochester Castle, located near the coast which the King can bring in goods and supplies to the country. From their they make their last stand against King John and his army until reinforcements from the French arrive. Will they be able to withhold the army and survive or will King John prevail and punish those who defy his rule?

The movie features an ensemble cast. Paul Giamatti plays the ruthless King John. James Purefoy plays Thomas Marshal, the leader of the Knights Templar. Brian Cox plays Baron William d’Aubigny who leads the rebel group into Rochester. Derek Jacobi and Kate Mara are the royal couple of Rochester castle, Baron Reginald de Cornhill and Lady Isabel and Charles Dance makes a small appearance as Archbishop Langton, who gives the blessing of the group taking a stand against King John and uphold the terms of the Magna Carta.

 

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Let me start by saying this. “Ironclad” is a historically flawed film. Without saying too much that could reveal key plot points, there are a lot of inconsistencies between the movie and the historical time line of events. The army that is depicted in the movie that defends Rochester Castle is significantly smaller than the army that was documented. Other inaccuracies include the Danish army that King John uses in his quest to take back Rochester, the promises that were made to the Danes and the timeline of when the French would be arriving to assist the barons with defeating King John. I don’t know how much research the writers did when it came start the screenplay for this movie. Judging by the timeline and sequence of events, it sounds like not a lot of in depth research was done.

Putting all that aside, the movie is enjoyable to watch. Director Jonathan English manages to blend historical and period notices with blood, gore and mud. The first thing that struck me while watching this movie is the recreation of 13th century England. I was taken back by the beautiful landscape and beaches. The overcast weather with periods of rain and cold adds to the tension of the movie and is heightened by the stone-cold look of the castles. I’m not sure if the castles were real or if they were built sets, but they were as realistic as I’ve seen in a medieval themed movie.

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The acting is a little over the top, especially Giamatti’s performance as King John. He really did his best to portray King John as brutal, vengeful and spite who will stop at nothing to reclaim his “birthright” as the ruler of England. Some of it is laughable, but he puts in a good enough effort to where I’m not going to be too critical of him. Jason Purefoy is the strong, silent Templar leader Thomas Marshal who lives and dies by the rules of the Catholic Church. His oath is put to the test not only throughout the conflict, but by the seductive tactics of Lady Isabel. Speaking of Lady Isabel, Kate Mara does a decent performance. She is not very fond of her husband as she is in a forced marriage with no privileges. She becomes quite smitten with Thomas for his heroics and leadership. Brian Cox was my personal favorite performance as William d’Aubigny. He commanded each scene with passion, purpose and sometimes with a little humor. He feels a sense of responsibility to ensure the people of England are entitled to the freedoms bestowed by the Magna Carta and has a personal animosity towards King John since it was his hand that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.

What “Ironclad” is known for is the constant battles that is amped up by huge quantities of blood, gore and mud that’s ever graced a screen. You’ll see limbs, body parts, people split in half and even a tongue cutting through the film’s 121 minute run time. There’s so much visceral and bodies piling up throughout the screen it would put “Saving Private Ryan” to shame. Some of the battles are hard to enjoy due to the headache inducing shaky cam techniques. That was the huge problem for me. This is in large part to director Jonathan English’s amateur experience in filmmaking. This would be the third movie he directed and the second major feature only to the 2006 European Horror film “Minotaur.”

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I can continue to nitpick other things about this movie including costuming, lighting, but we’ll leave that for another movie. Overall, I enjoyed “Ironclad.” Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. That goes back to Jonathan English’s inexperience, but you can only get better at your craft the more films you make. If you can suspend disbelief about the historical timeline of this movie, you’ll enjoy it even more.

Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. It is, however, a highly competent and interesting historical drama. I have some quibbles with costuming etc; but that kind of goes with the territory.

 

TRIVIA

  • Paul Giamatti filmed his role in seven days.
  • After the first attempt by King John’s army to take the castle, King John (Paul Giamatti) can be seen eating a peach in his tent. When the real King John died in October 1216, his death was attributed to poisoned ale, poisoned plums, or a “surfeit of peaches”.
  • According to director Jonathan English, Daniel O’Meara really did eat a beetle during the starvation portion of the siege, but he’s not sure the actor swallowed it.
  • Richard Attenborough, originally cast as Archbishop Langton, convinced the film’s creative team to utilize Wales’ Dragon Studios as the primary shooting location. However, he was forced to cancel his involvement with production after suffering a debilitating fall down the stairs of his home, complications of which led to his death.
  • Angus Macfadyen was initially cast in the role of Jedediah Coteral, but dropped out when the project was re-financed. He was replaced with Jamie Foreman.
  • Depicted as pagans in the film, the Danes were Christianized by that time. The bulk of King John’s mercenaries were not Danes but mostly Flemish, Provençals and Aquitainians.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Templars Without Tongues

King John

Forced Upon Me

Rebellion Or Revenge

Asking The French For Help

You See How He Talks To Me?

I’m No Soldier

Are You Sorry For What You Have Done?

Not Tolerate Drinking

With The Pope’s Blessing

You Better Hit Harder Than That

My Husband’s Appetite Doesn’t Include Me

England Belongs To Me

Great Deal Of Thinking

Goddamned Devils

Damn Your Templar Vows

Take This Castle

King John’s Speech

Black Caesar

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Black Caesar

Release Date: February 7, 1973

Genre: Action, Drama, Crime

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D’Urville Martin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated filmmaker in cinema is Larry Cohen. He started out his career as a writer for studio-based television show to getting his opportunity to write and direct his own movies.  He was a pioneer of the independent film industry by creating the most innovating low budget movies of our time that dealt with social issues and commentary on American culture. His well-known films include “It’s Alive” which is about a mutant baby being born and “The Stuff” which is an intergalactic organism with the taste and texture of yogurt that gets the consuming public addicted.  Those films have become a staple in the horror community. Nowadays Cohen focuses more of screenplay writing and has written many scripts for some blockbuster movies (ironic since he’s always had a disdain for Hollywood).  After recently watching a documentary on Cohen’s career, there was one film that stood out as I was watching it that peaked my interest. It was a film from 1973 that is regarding by many as one of the best movies you’ve never seen before. The movie I’m referring to is called “Black Caesar!”

“Black Caesar” (or “Godfather of Harlem” as it was called in the United Kingdom) is a crime drama that tells the story of Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson). Tommy is raised in Harlem, New York city during the 50s. As a boy, he would be beaten by a cop named McKinney who would also throw racial slurs at him. The stigmatization of these incidents leads him to a path of crime. When Tommy becomes an adult in the 60s, he joins the mafia and becomes head of the black crime syndicate in Harlem. As his power and influence grows, Tommy splinters from the mafia starting his own empire and eliminating the competition. Like most crime films, as soon as Tommy reaches his peak, he starts to decline as numerous people are out to get him.

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“Black Caesar” was hailed as a critically acclaimed masterpiece for a low budget independent movie. The response from the viewing audience led Cohen to make a follow up film called “Hell Up In Harlem,” which would be released the same year in December.  The godfather of soul James Brown composed the music for the film which became a hit soundtrack and many musical pieces would be sampled by prominent hip hop musicians in the 90s. On average, the movie ranks in the Top 3 among Larry Cohen’s best films trailing behind the aforementioned horror flicks.

The film is garnered as a blaxploitation film which if you aren’t familiar with the term it means an ethnic sub-genre of exploitation movies in which African American characters and communities are the subject and are portrayed as the heroes rather than victims of brutality and segregation. The term was coined by Junius Griffin who was the head of the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during this period. (1)  While technically a blaxploitation movie, I didn’t see it this way. I found “Black Caesar” to be an original crime film with flair and style. There is so much to enjoy from this movie. Everything works clockwork from the characters to the story to the action to the music. Being a fan of crime movies, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover this film.

There’s enough going on in this movie to please fans of gangster movies. There’s action, violence, colorful characters. It follows the same character arc as in the first two “Godfather” movies and “Scarface.” You have someone climbing the ladder and reaching the top of power only to slowly start falling down the mountain and crashing into the ravine.

Fred Williamson who plays Tommy owns the film throughout its duration. Much like Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson (in his early years of course) Williamson was a professional football player who played in the American Football League during the 60s and transitioned into acting after his playing days were over. He is strong, confident and handsome and he oozes of machismo all throughout this film. Through his brutal forceful tactics, he earns the respect of his fellow henchmen and the ire of the crime syndicates in New York. Always carrying his Mauser C96 “Red 9” pistol, Williamson dominates the screen as he sets out on his plan to create his own criminal empire and seek revenge on those who may have wronged him in the past. How Williamson turns out could have been overplayed or underplayed by an actor with more ego, but he brushes that aside and creates a magnifying character with a similar arc to Michael Corleone or Tony Montana. Williamson proves he can be a leading actor on many scales.

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The rest of the supporting cast is small but fit into the plot. You have Gloria Hendry who plays Helen, a singer that Tommy falls in love with and marries. As Tommy is building his gang, she becomes unhappy and tries her best to get him to stop while he can much to no avail. You also have D’Urville Martin who plays Reverend Rufus, a preacher who grew up with Tommy in the same building who gets some involvement with Tommy’s group but keeps his distance due to his oath to God and the Church. Then you have Art Lind who plays the bigoted cop McKinney. He is as dirty as they come, and Lind shows that throughout his scenes. He continues to berate and slander Tommy even during his ascension into the crime world. Tommy has the stomach to handle McKinney until the time comes to take him out once and for all.

The film is primarily shot in New York City and Harlem with one scene being shot in California at Larry Cohen’s house (which you will see appear in many of his films). Cohen, born and raised in New York City gives the audience an intimate look of life in the big city especially in its neighborhoods. Cohen was able to get a lot of scenes done in Harlem due to making deals with the local gangs and from there you see a part of New York City that isn’t shown much in today’s movies and television series. It shows the racial makeup and the tensions going on during the time. Remember, this was before the Civil Rights Act.

I will caution you that ‘Black Caesar’ is as graphic of a movie as it could be. Not so much in terms of violence, but there are suggestive themes and concepts. Obviously, there is a lot of racial slander between the characters, again in part due to the time period that the movie takes place. There is also a rape scene and a domestic violence scene that could make you uneasy. It sure did for me. These things would not pass today in our society and culture. I don’t think this movie would even be released in theaters today unless they cut a bunch of things out and clean up the language.

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James Brown wrote and compose the music to “Black Caesar.” The Godfather of Soul provides a mix of smoking R&B to the sound of funky disco. The music is appropriately fitted within the movie to give it emotion, character and intensity. Many people consider his soundtrack to be the best album Brown has ever released.

People credit Larry Cohen with the concept of “stealing” scenes. What “stealing” means in this context is the ability to shoot scenes with no permits. There were no permits for this movie, so everything that was shot was by stealth and trickery. For example, the overhead shots in the movie were done by setting cameras up on corner roofs of buildings or on light posts. The car chase sequence was a real car chase where roads weren’t blocked off for shooting and you had bystanders going about their business. The scene where Tommy is shot and is stammering throughout the road and sidewalks, you get a mixed reaction from people. Some in typical New York fashion ignore his cries for help while others express great concern or shock. You see some people reaching out to Tommy to see if he needs assistance. Getting those raw unscripted reactions from ordinary people heightens the quality of the movie.

If I had to rank the Top 10 Gangster Movies, I would put “Black Caesar” easily in the Top 5 or maybe in the Top 3. As stated in the beginning, it’s a movie with a lot of flair, and style. There’s enough going on to satisfy the gangster movie fan. Overall, it’s very underrated and entertaining. It’s a surprise gem that sadly gets overlooked due to the heavyweight titans of “The Godfather Trilogy,” “Scarface,” “Goodfellas,” etc. If you’re able to find this movie at your local movie store, Amazon or other streaming services, you should check this movie out. If you enjoy it, you’ll be ready to move forward in Larry Cohen’s film chronology which only gets better.

 

(1) James, Darius (1995). That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury). ISBN0-312-13192-5.

 

TRIVIA

  • Originally offered to Sammy Davis Jr., who turned it down.
  • When filming in Harlem, Larry Cohen was accosted by local gangsters who threatened to disrupt the shoot unless they were paid off. Instead, Cohen offered them small roles in the film. They helped so enthusiastically that they attended the premiere to sign autographs.
  • The name Caesar is never spoken in the movie.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Shine Em Up Good

Down And Out In New York City – James Brown Song

You’ve Never Seen Me

You’re The Big Brain

Sammy, Don’t Disfigure The Man

Sauce Needed Some More Meat

The Boss – James Brown Song

Never Fear

We’ll Make Sure The Garbage Is Picked Up

Play A Couple Tunes

Somebody Call Down For A Shine?

I Want Him Nice And Fat

Sleep Well, Mr. Gibbs

Who’s Lincoln?

Been Waiting 25 Years To Kill You

I Miss My Old Bed

Heal Him Lord

No Escape

 

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No Escape

Release Date: April 24, 1994

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Martin Campbell

Writers: Richard Herley (Novel), Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross (Screenplay)

Starring: Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Wow! We’re already into the second review of 2019 (I promise I won’t be counting the number of reviews done)! For the next ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,’ we’re going back to the year 1994. During this year in cinema we had “Forest Gump.” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” (just to name a few). Of course, those movies were mega blockbusters, and all competed for the Best Picture Award at the Oscars. 1994 also had some movies that were overlooked and turned out to be very good in this reviewer’s opinion. We’ll be reviewing one of those movies right now. This week’s review is the dystopian future action/sci-fi flick “No Escape!”

Directed by Martin Campbell, best known for making two of the best James Bond films (again in this reviewer’s opinion) “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” “No Escape” is set in the year 2022 and stars Ray Liotta as John Robbins, a highly trained ex-Marine who is imprisoned for life for murdering his commanding officer. After breaking out of two Level 5 maximum security prisons he’s sent to a Level 6 facility. After holding the Warden at gunpoint in a punishment scene, Robbins is exiled to a placed called “Absolom,” island prison hundreds of miles off the main land. The island is where they send the worst prisoners to live out their days in exile. Unbeknownst, Robbins is caught in the middle of a tribal conflict between the ‘Outsiders’ who are savages that live in the jungle and are led by the sociopathic Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson) and the ‘Insiders’ who are a cooperative autonomous community living a life of peace and purpose led by a terminally ill doctor called the ‘Father’ (Lance Henriksen). Robbins assists the ‘Insiders’ repel an attack from the ‘Outsiders’ and is asked by ‘Father’ to join the community. He refuses and intends to find a way to escape Absolom even though no one has escaped the island and lived to tell about it. The rest of the supporting cast includes Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon, Ian McNeice and Michael Lerner.

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“No Escape” is based off the 1987 novel “The Penal Colony” by Richard Herley. The film got mixed reviews upon its released and only made $15M out of a reported $20M budget making it a flop. Just because a movie flops at the Box Office doesn’t mean it’s a complete failure. I first saw the preview for this movie back in 1994 when I was nine years old. I stumbled upon the film later in life on Netflix. When I saw it was available to stream it refreshed my memory of the preview and gave it a shot. I went into the movie with little expectations, but after watching it, I felt the movie was a rare gem. There’s so much about this movie I enjoyed. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

First is the story. It’s nothing original as you can compare it to any other prison escape film, but it merges with elements of tribalism, authoritarianism and hope to make it compelling. What makes the story fresher is how likable the good characters are despite their alleged crimes for which they are banished to the island for. It’s reminds me of a line that Tim Robbins says in “The Shawshank Redemption” when replying to Morgan Freeman’s question as to how he ended up in prison with, “I’m innocent along with everyone else here.”  The movie sets up Robbins as a detestable character for what he had done. He was a Marine who killed his superior. You don’t know the reason why a man who served his country would do such a thing to one of his own. You find out later the reason for it and you sympathize with him even if it was still the wrong thing to do.

Next is the settings. We start the movie in a giant Level 6 prison that is surrounded by an endless windstorm. The industrial cold environment sets the tension between Robbins and the Warden. When Robbins is banished to Absolom, we get this beautiful spacious island with breathtaking views and luscious jungles where you have the freedom to do what you want. The island portion of the film was shot in Queensland, Australia. It does give the audience a sense of peace, happiness and hope as they are emerged in this environment. Heck, it makes me want to join up with the ‘Insiders’ and live a peaceful life where you contribute to the community, you’re far away from civilization and you don’t have to worry about money or bills!

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Third is the acting. There are some great performances from each character. Obviously, Ray Liotta is the star of the movie. I was surprised that he would take on a role like this given his resume and that he is mostly a dramatic actor. Liotta has always played a character of some authority whether it is a law enforcement officer or a gangster.  Of course, we all know him from his iconic portrayal of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.” He played this role with enthusiasm and dedication. He starts off as this cold loner with the only goal of getting off the island. As the movie progresses, so does his feelings. While he still wants to get off the island, he finds compassion among the ‘Insiders’ and confines with ‘Father’ with what he had done to land him in prison in the way a Catholic goes to a priest to confess his sins. Liotta had not only the acting chops, but the brains and stamina as many scenes where he is fighting with the ‘Outsiders’ and using instinct and the land much in a sense as Rambo to subdue his pursuers. I loved everything Ray Liotta has done, this is in my top three favorite performances of his.

Another all-time favorite actor of mine is Lance Henriksen. His performance as ‘Father’ is a natural fit for him. His namesake is that of a man carrying for his children. In this, the people of his colony are his children and must do everything in his power to protect them. Henriksen has played a diverse role of characters throughout his career. This performance has similarities to his most known role portraying the android Bishop in the “Alien” movie franchise.

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The third most notable performance of this movie goes to Stuart Wilson, who plays the antagonist Walter Marek. Stuart Wilson is not a household name, but if you’re a movie buff, you may remember him from playing other villainous roles such as playing the main villain in “Lethal Weapon 3” and one of the villains in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!” The villain role suits him well. Marek is a sociopath who is looking to dominate all of Absolom and enslave the ‘Insiders’ under the laws of the jungle. He takes over as de facto leaders of all the jungle tribes. Wilson gives a weirdly amusing performance full of laughs, jokes and downright brutality.

 

“No Escape” has the right amount of action that it doesn’t take over the rest of the movie. There’s enough explosions and battles to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are several shots including Liotta jumping off the waterfall that would be used again in director Martin Campbell’s follow up film “Goldeneye!” Campbell is an underappreciated filmmaker. He knows how to create action movies when he’s given the chance. He is one of three directors to direct multiple installments of the James Bond series.

If you’re looking for an under the radar action/sci-fi flick, look no further than “No Escape!” I’ve said previous that this is a rare gem flick and it still is. It doesn’t need over the top action nor an over preachy story to be enjoyable. If you’re lucky to find a copy of the film online or in your local video store, it is worth the money.  It’s a perfect flick to watch on a Saturday night with a buddy or two.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Throughout the entire movie, there is not one single female character. There are only male characters.
  • The film is known in other countries as “Escape from Absolom”.
  • Filmed in Far North Queensland, Australia.
  • Ray Liotta agreed to take the lead role of Robbins, because he had always wanted to do an action movie, where he played a heroic character.
  • 400 extras played The Outsiders.
  • Most of the extras were European backpackers from local backpacking hostel’s in and around cairn’s north Queensland.
  • A special rig was set up for Ray Liotta’s stunt double, for the sequence which Robbins is shot in the neck by poison darts and falls into the water below, allowing the camera to follow the stunt performer as he falls.
  • After production was complete on the film, Martin Campbell was hired to direct the 1995 James Bond film “Goldeneye” and later, the 2006 reboot “Casino Royale”. “Goldeneye” bares some similarities with this film: The Goldeneye satellite, Bond getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, Boris Grishenko secretly working for Janus, Natalya taking over a helicopter and Alec Trevelyan falling to his death, in the hand to hand combat with Bond

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On Me Again

Absolom

Welcome To Paradise

Not In The Mood For An Interrogation

Wipe Your Feet

He Does That With Everyone

If You Like Roadkill

Two Shots Of Your Finest 12 Day Old

Find Forgiveness

Basket Weaving

Warden’s Dry Cleaning

No You Cannot Have My Shoes

I Thought You Were My Friend

Second Prize

We’ve Always Been About Survival

Come And Get It

 

 

 

 

 

 

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