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

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Quick Change

Quick Change

Release Date: July 13, 1990

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Directors: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray

Writers: Jay Cronley (Book), Howard Franklin (Screenplay)

Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Do you ever flip the channels on your television and find a movie you’ve never seen nor heard of, but decide to check it out? I’m sure you have done that as many times as I have, but did you watch it all the way through and at the end you really enjoyed it and wonder why you’ve never heard of it before? That happened to me about fourteen years ago. I came home from school, turned on the television and flipped it to Comedy Central to see what was currently playing. The first image that appeared was Bill Murray dressed up as a clown. “What Bill Murray movie is this?” I asked myself. I’ve seen practically every Bill Murray movie that had been released at the time except for “Lost In Translation”. After the first commercial break, the Comedy Central logo appeared in the corner along with the ‘Now Watching’ header underneath. The name of the movie that appeared next was “Quick Change!”

I watched the movie all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed it. I talked about it the next day with my friends and they were amazed that they never heard of that movie either. Fourteen years had passed, and I completely forgot about seeing the movie until I found it on DVD at the local store I go to where I pick up most of my movies. My eyes were filled with delight as those memories of the first watch through being to fade in and out trying to remember it. I picked it up and watched it again. I forgot how great this movie was from a plot standpoint and an execution standpoint.

Released in 1990 “Quick Change” is based off the 1981 novel of the same name by Jay Cronley. Murray plays a man named Griff who is fed up with his life and the way things are going. Together with his lover Phyllis (Geena Davis) and his dimwitted best friend Loomis (Randy Quaid), they decide to rob a Manhattan bank. Griff, dressed as clown sets up a hostage situation and slips away with $1 million dollars. The robbery is smooth and goes as planned. Next comes the getaway where the plan is to escape to the airport and fly to Fiji where they will live out their days in paradise. However, the getaway becomes a nightmare as the trio get involved in untimely situations that stall their plan. It takes pure luck and convincing from Murray to get out of the jams they find themselves in. In addition, they are being pursued by the New York Police chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards) who is using every resource he can find to capture them before they escape and cause another blemish on the force that is scrutinized by the media and the public. Will Griff and his pals finally reach their destination, or will their luck run out when they are finally captured by Rotzinger and the New York Police?

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Despite not being a commercially successful film in theaters, “Quick Change” received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its cleverness, execution, cast and plot. It’s a film that can be relatable in the real world since there’s robberies that happen almost every day, some with success and some with failure. Like its title, the film changes pace and situation in a seamless transition. Yes, the trio of Murray, Davis and Loomis commit a criminal act, but there is some heart in the movie, especially during some points where Griff decides to put his pals’ feelings over his. It keeps you on the edge and gives the audience the choice of whom they want to see succeed.  Do they want to see the robbers succeed or do they want to see the cops succeed?

This film was Bill Murray’s directorial debut as he co-directed with Howard Franklin, a man whom he would collaborate later in his career. Some people criticized the direction of the film due to the fact there are two directors. Having two directors is quite common in the film world. It’s all about collaboration and that the two directors have an ideal vision of what they want to achieve. With this film, Murray’s directorial involvement is with his character, his friends and the situations they are in, which is fine. Bill Murray knows what Bill Murray wants.

I enjoyed the cast of the movie. I felt the trio of Murray, Davis and Quaid got along great. Murray is his typical smartass self as Griff. He manages to stay cool under enormous pressure during the many u turns they have as they desperately try to get out of the city. Like its title, all three characters go from being ecstatic that they pulled offed a seemingly flawless heist to slowly dissolving in misery, desperation and fear. Their trust in each other melts slowly as they continue to be stuck in the city trying to find their way to the airport to make their escape. Murray’s smartass quips and razor-sharp delivery are a staple of this movie as they’ve been in many of his appearances throughout his career.  Davis, not known as a comedic actress did very well in this. She has some funny moments in the film, but plays it straight laced overall. You feel the love she has for her partner; Griff and their relationship gets put to the test throughout the second half of the movie. And of course, there’s Randy Quaid, who plays the typical goof as you’ve seen him play throughout his career. Loomis reminds me of the character ‘Mugsy’ from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He’s dimwitted and makes tiny mistakes that jeopardize the plan. Quaid becomes the more desperate of the characters as he starts to cry and howl about wanting to get out. There is a great scene involving him and a taxi driver as they try to reach their destination.

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Finally, there’s veteran actor Jason Robards who plays New York Police Chief Rotzinger. Robards provides somewhat of a calm demeanor to the craziness unfolding throughout the movie. He methodically uses his police skills to track where they’re at in the hopes of catching them before they escape. There is one thing Rotzinger has in common with the three runaways. They all have a disdain for New York City. There is a moment in the film where Rotzinger is looking out the window and wonders what he could’ve been or how did he end up in New York City for practically his entire career. It’s a reflective moment indeed.

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Besides the main cast, look out for some notable faces throughout the film that have small appearances. Those faces include Phil Hartman, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Kurtwood Smith and Tony Shalhoub, who has the longest screen time of the above-mentioned people. He’s quite funny in his performance although I think his screen time could’ve been cut down significantly because the audience gets the point of his character and what he is all about.

The plot is lightweight in comparison to other films of this nature like “Dog Day Afternoon.” Don’t let that take you away from the rest of the movie. This movie works with the limitations it provides in terms of characters and setting. It’s incredible how the characters can dodge bullets when they get trapped in a situation where the audience believes they can’t get out of. Fate and luck work within the characters’ favors. No time is wasted through its 89 minutes in duration of adding plot points and characters that are unnecessary to the overall theme and concept and no joke is overplayed or overused throughout the movie. Credit goes to Howard Franklin for focusing on the source material of Jay Cronley’s book to write the screenplay. He manages to make a heist film “likable”, which is very hard to do.

“Quick Change” is truly an underrated comedy film. To me, it ranks high up there in Bill Murray’s filmography. It’s a movie that doesn’t need the bright light promotions or the mega box office money to be considered a success. It’s a successful film in terms of its smart writing and clever filmmaking. It’s an homage to a lot of cat and mouse movies from earlier film periods. You may have a hard time finding this movie in video stores, but there’s a reason why eBay, and Amazon were created. You need to check this movie and out and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed in this. It’s a break from all the mundane comedies that are currently out today.

 

 

TRIVIA

  • This is the only film directed by Bill Murray
  • Bill Murray once said of this movie in an interview: “Everyone will enjoy this movie. But New Yorkers will enjoy it especially because they know how bad their city really is.” In another later August 2010 interview with Dan Fierman of GQ Magazine, Murray said: “It’s great. It’s a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn’t get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub…”.
  • When original director Jonathan Demme became unavailable, writer Howard Franklin and producer Bill Murray couldn’t agree on who would be a good director for the project. So, they decided to do the job themselves.
  • The Mexican flower woman at the airport who cries “Flores! Flores para los muertos!” is a tribute to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) in which a Mexican flower woman cries the same phrase outside Stanley Kowalski’s apartment. It also could be a reference to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), another film about a bickering couple.
  • Ron Howard was approached about directing the film, but he turned it down. Howard declined directing the movie because he felt there was no character to root for.
  • The name “Loomis” would have to be considered unusual, if not rare. It is odd then that Randy Quaid played Loomis in this movie but had previously played a character named Sheriff Loomis in the 1986 movie, “The Wraith”, starring Charlie Sheen.
  • The watch that the bank employee tries to give Grimm (Bill Murray) is “an Audemars Piguet, Moon Phase, 18-karat gold, alligator band” watch. He states the value is $12,000 but appreciates daily. It may be a coincidence, but in Bill Murray’s SCROOGED, he is wearing the same watch, which can be seen when he checks the time in the restaurant (before the waiter lights on fire), expecting to see his first foretold ghost.

AUDIO CLIPS

Night of the Creeps

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Night of the Creeps

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first “Predator” movie and more recently writing and directing the new “Predator” movie with Dekker). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of “Tales From The Crypt” in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following “The Monster Squad” and the utter failure “Robocop 3”. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is “Night of the Creeps”!

“Night of the Creeps” starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

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I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had “Day of the Dead” and “Return of the Living Dead” which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in “The Fog”, “Creepshow” and his most memorable role as the protagonist in “Halloween III”. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called “Night of the Creeps” his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sediment.

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The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

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Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special, so you don’t want to miss it. Check back on here Halloween night!

 

TRIVIA

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!”. The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Microwave Massacre

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Microwave Massacre

Release Date: August 31, 1983

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Wayne Berwick

Writer: Thomas Singer (Screenplay), Craig Muckler (Story)

Starring: Jackie Vernon, Claire Ginsberg, Loren Schein, Al Troupe

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello readers! First off, again I would like to apologize for the lack of reviews the past month. I’ve been extremely busy with my current place of employment as well as dealing with family matters. I appreciate your patience. With that being said, I thought I would come back to “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” in a big way. With it officially being the Halloween season, which happens to be my favorite season, I decided to review five horror movies I call the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies.” Some of these movies have been favorites of mine for a long time and others are ones I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. The only guideline I had when choosing these was movies was to choose a specific genre of Horror movie for each movie. Which means, I would not review five monster movies. I would review one monster movie, one slasher movie, etc. There’s no boundary as to when the film was released. It could be a horror movie from the 1930s or it could be a recent release. I thought I would start this month long special by first reviewing a low brow horror film. It’s a film in which the subject matter had not been talked about since “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and would come to life in the 90s with the revelation of Jeffrey Dahmer and his crimes. The only difference is that this film gives it a sick comedic twist. Our first film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Cinema Review” is “Microwave Massacre”!

Released in limited theaters in 1983, “Microwave Massacre” stars Jackie Vernon, best known as the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the old Rankin-Bass holiday cartoons as Donald, a construction worker who is miserable with his marriage and above all, his wife’s cooking. His wife May (Claire Ginsberg) just purchased a new ultra-industrial microwave and wants to elevate her cooking skills by creating some new (and unappealing) dishes. During a fight between the two at dinner, Donald bursts into a fit of rage and strangles May to death. He wakes up the next morning not realizing what had happened and when he opens the door to the microwave he sees May stuffed in there. He panics at first and then has the idea of cooking her. He takes a piece of her and eats it to discover how tasty human flesh is. From there he goes on the prowl finding anyone he can find to be his next meaty meal.

The movie was directed by Wayne Berwick. This would be his only film he directed until 2005 when he directed “The Naked Monster” another off-beat campy movie. This film will appeal to those who enjoy raunchy and campy movies who don’t take themselves seriously. There’s a lot of sleaze, perverseness, wacky and irreverent shtick topped with some cheap blood and gore to keep you sustained for the short and reasonable running time of one hour and seventeen minutes.

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Let’s start with the acting. This was the last acting performance for Jackie Vernon who was known more for standup comedy than acting. His style is in comparison to that of Jackie Mason and Rodney Dangerfield. He delivers his quips in the way of a standup routine. He provides plenty of funny moments despite his morbid nature of what he is doing. He even throws in some fourth wall moments with a wink and a nod to the audience of what to expect. There is some great back and forth between him and his wife. Claire Ginsberg plays May, the nagging and dominant wife of Donald. She berates him at times, but also shows sign of concern such as why he isn’t eating and that he doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Both played it like the stereotypical long married couple from the sitcom days of “All in The Family”. The rest of the characters are fillers including Donald’s construction worker buddies, the indifferent and annoyed bartender, Sam and some random characters like a woman wearing high cut shorts and a store clerk that seems mentally unfit to do his job. The microwave itself is a character in the movie. It looks more like a giant toaster oven than a microwave. It has all these options for cooking food from “Slow Broil” to “Barbecue”. The placement of the buttons is placed in a way like a computer console. The Microwave fulfills Donald’s needs of cooking his new tasty food and with it brings harm to him near the end.

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The props and effects in this movie are hilariously cheap as I’m sure that was Berwick’s intention. You can’t help but to laugh at giant balls of foil stuffed in a refrigerator, a fake crab that is sandwiched in between a giant bun or a human hand being placed on a skewer with vegetables. There’s not a lot of blood in the movie except during scenes where Donald is cutting up his victims or blood that is on his face from eating a raw leg. The images however can make you feel uneasy as you watch him gleefully enjoy his bounty of newfound meat.

I won’t give away the ending, but I felt it was very funny and accurate. It demonstrates the old saying that “Too much of something isn’t good for you”. We must enjoy life’s little pleasures without overindulging and over-consuming. It’s hard to promote that today where gluttony is all around thanks to big portions and mighty food challenges.

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This movie is not for everyone. You need to prepare watching this movie with the lowest expectations you can imagine. By doing so, you may enjoy the movie as much as I did. I was expecting it to be cheap, boring and not have a lot of shock value, but it was the total opposite. I’m a sucker for crude humor and this movie has plenty of that. I think Jackie Vernon was a good choice to play this type of character. The other comedians I mentioned would’ve been great too, but each of them would’ve found this role as a career killer. I think Wayne Berwick achieved what he set out to do with making this movie. “Microwave Massacre” looks and sounds bad, but it transcends into being a fun trash film classic.

And with that, the first film in the special is complete. Stay tuned for the next review in the special. It will be posted sometime next week!

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Final film of Jackie Vernon
  • Rodney Dangerfield was considered for the role of Donald, but his asking salary was too high.
  • Filmed in August and September 1981, but not released until September 1983.
  • Was released on a full-screen unrated DVD by Anthem Pictures in 2006. The front case art trumpeted the film as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time” and “Uncut/Unrated” as selling points.
  • Director Wayne Berwick makes an uncredited cameo as one of the movers who discovers the faulty wiring in the microwave, which causes the death of Jackie Vernon’s character.

 

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.

Police Academy

Police Academy

Release Date: March 23, 1984

Genre: Comedy

Director: Hugh Wilson

Writers: Neal Israel, Pat Proft (Story & Screenplay) & Hugh Wilson (Screenplay)

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, G.W. Bailey, Kim Cattral, George Gaynes, Bubba Smith, Donovan Scott, David Graf, Andrew Rubin, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The eighties brought us a diverse range of Comedy films. The subjects ranged from Teen Comedies, Raunchy Comedies, Supernatural Comedies and the Parody/Spoof Comedies. Some of the films that came out during this period were so successful that not just sequels were made, but an entire franchise. One of the Comedy series that would be born in this era was the “Police Academy” movies.

The idea to make a film about a bunch of outsiders joining the police force in the pursuit of being an officer of the law came from producer Paul Maslansky. Maslansky was producing “The Right Stuff” at the time. There was a group of police cades that arrived to help with crowd control during the filming of a street scene. When the cadets arrived to take their post, they were of many diversities and physicality. They were terrible at the job Maslansky found it humorous. He approached the Sergeant and asked him, “Are these all going to be future San Francisco’s finest?” The Sergeant explained that a new policy came out where the academy had to accept new applicants regardless of race, gender, education, physical stature, etc. The Sergeant went into further detail that the cadets could flunk the course and not become police officers. That was the moment a light bulb appeared and Maslansky wrote a two page treatment that night. He gave it to Executive Producer Alan Ladd Jr., who loved the idea and agreed to develop the movie. They hired Neal Israel, Pat Proft and the eventual director of the movie, Hugh Wilson to write the screenplay and before you know it “Police Academy” was born.

Exactly as it was versioned, “Police Academy” is a comedic look at everyday people joining the force and hoping to have a fulfilling career. There are a handful of characters that are shown in the film. First you have the super aggressive ex military man, Tackleberry (David Graf), you have the privileged Thompson (Kim Cattral), the quiet but towering Hightower (Bubba Smith), the bumbling Barbara (Donovan Scott), The shy and reserved Hooks (Marion Ramsey), the ladies man Martin (Andrew Rubin), the human beat box Jones (Michael Winslow) and the smart ass Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg). All are joining the force either through volunteer or ultimatums. Against the new policy of the Mayor, the police Chief instructs Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey) to push the cadets beyond their limits so they will quit. The cadets go through a rigorous fourteen week period of physical training, self defense, firearm training and understanding the law.

The film focuses primarily on Mahoney. After another arrest regarding an incident at his current job, Captain Reed, a former partner of Mahoney’s father, tired of Mahoney’s antics puts his foot down and gives him an ultimatum. Enroll in the Police Academy and complete it or you will be sent to jail. There is a loophole that Mahoney intends to exploit, which is to be kicked out of the academy and not go to jail. As soon as he arrives, he starts to flirt with Thompson and becomes the ire of Harris. After numerous pranks and episodes of insubordination, Mahoney gets his wish to be kicked out. While Harris is on the phone with Captain Reed, Mahoney looks out the window and sees Thompson flirting with him. He starts to reconsider his request to be kicked out and decides to stay through the course and complete it. During his time, he strikes up a friendship with Martin and helps Hightower succeed in completing the driving course which if he doesn’t pass, he will flunk. Hightower eventually gets kicked out after flipping a car over with a cadet inside after he insulted Hooks with a racial epitaph after she accidentally drove over his feet. Bummed about his friend, Mahoney gets picked on by Blanks (Brant von Hoffman) and Copeland (Scott Thomson), two cadets Harris made Squad Leaders to wither out the bad apples in the group and when one threatens to punch him, he is attacked by Barbara in which a fight ensues. Blanks and Mahoney are in Harris’ office explaining what happened. Mahoney stands up for Barbara and claims he threw the first punch which gets him expelled from the academy. Before he could leave, a riot breaks out downtown which causes the cadets to be mobilized as backup for the  rest of the force. Mahoney puts on riot gear and joins the group unbeknownst to Harris. As the riots get worse and the cadets scramble, one of the rioters manages to claim the guns of Blanks and Copeland. He takes Harris hostage on a rooftop and wildly shoots at Thompson. Mahoney races to the top to save Harris, but ends up surrendering his gun as the rioter points his gun at Harris’ head. As Harris and Mahoney are sitting on the roof top, Hightower appears and asks the shooter if he could watch him “kill these pigs!” The shooter agrees and as he is about to squeeze the trigger, Hightower punches him in the face and sends his rolling down a flight of stairs. Hightower saves Mahoney and Harris’ lives. In return for their heroism, Mahoney and Hightower are reinstated to the force with honors.

“Police Academy” was an instant success grossing $8 million on its opening weekend and finished the year grossing $81 million. Reviews were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it zero stars. It was successful that they made a sequel that came out the very next year. The sequel was also a success which triggered another movie and then another movie. The series ended with seven movies, a short lived TV show and a possible reboot which Steve Guttenberg is spearheading.

To say that “Police Academy” is a cult movie is an understatement. It’s one of the funniest comedies in my opinion. Not only that, but it provides moments of morality, decency and dedication. The characters that are supposed to be likeable in the film are likeable and the characters that are supposed to be the bad guys are the bad guys. That’s credit to the writing. The movie has plenty of physical gags, situations and witty dialogue to keep you laughing to keep you going through the film’s 96 minute run time. It’s completely relatable to the real world. You’ll have average Joes that end up joining the force for reasons that are of their understanding.

As I mentioned all the characters are likeable and the credit goes to the cast. Most of the cast were relatively unknown (not sure if Guttenberg was known during this time) and they played their roles with heart and passion. They had great chemistry on screen. Guttenberg being the top billing and the focal point of the story delivers a funny performance as Mahoney. He is witty, a bit of a smart ass and someone who likes to have fun at the expense of others. As you tag along to Mahoney’s journey you see the character evolve as he goes from wanting desperately to be kicked out of the academy to taking the opportunity of doing something meaningful with his life. It shows through his good deeds towards other cadets to his heroism at the climax of the film.  He is equally matched by G.W. Bailey’s Harris, the next great performance. Bailey plays Harris in a manner similar to R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket” but with very little vulgarity.  He immediately draws a disliking to Mahoney tries to push him past his physical limitations. George Gaynes portrays Commandant Lassard as a buffoon in a manner to Leslie Nielsen. His best scene involves a situation he gets in when making a presentation and his reaction afterwards. It will be implanted in your memory for a long time. David Graf’s portrayal as Tackleberry is another highlight of the film. Tackleberry is aggressive and sometimes unstable as you will see during his training especially around firearms. It’s funny to see him sleep with a revolver in his hand and spends his free time sharpening his hunting knife. Michael Winslow plays Jones who rarely talks, but rather speaks through sound effects. He plays pranks on some of the instructors such as making the sound of leaves crunching when an instructor is walking to acting like he is talking on the PA and telling Harris to report to the Firing Range. He has some memorable scenes including playing a video game shooter when there is no TV or console and shaving with a plastic blade and making effects to sound like it’s an electric razor. Finally, my other favorite performance is Hightower, played by NFL great, Bubba Smith. He is a man who is quiet, but provides brute physical strength such as knocking down a brick wall during a course where cadets have to jump over it to pulling on a rope only to have the ceiling come crashing down. He forms a bond with Mahoney when Mahoney helps him learn how to drive since he hadn’t driven a car since he was twelve years old. When Hightower gets kicked out for coming to Hooks’ defense, you could see the devastation in his eyes and you feel bad for him because you know he did the right thing.

If you’ve never seen “Police Academy” before I highly recommend you watch it and see what you think. A lot of people will say that this is nothing original or not as funny as perhaps some other cop comedies that have come out, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you like this film, I would recommend watching the next two sequels, maybe three. I would skip the last two sequels as they seem to have run out of ideas. You’ll laugh, you may shed a tear, or you’ll shed a tear while laughing.

 

TRIVIA

 

  • Director Hugh Wilson stated that when it came time to film the driving scene with Hightower at 4:30 a.m., the actor originally cast as the angry driver was found passed out drunk in the trailer, so Hugh himself ended up playing the role of the angry driver, into whom Hightower crashes.

 

  • When attending his audition, Steve Guttenberg wore an old police shirt belonging to his father Stanley Guttenberg, who was a New York City police officer.

 

  • The location used as the Academy campus was known as the Mimico Lunatic Asylum or variations thereof until 1911, and Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital from 1964 to 1979. It was acquired by Humber College in 1991, after being mainly used as a site for filmmaking between 1979 and 1991. It is now a renovated and active educational institution.

 

  • Michael Winslow (Jones), David Graf (Tackleberry), and George Gaynes (Commandant Lassard) are the only actors who appeared in all seven Police Academy movies. Winslow even goes a step beyond this, as he is the only actor who not only appeared in all seven Police Academy movies, but also had a regular role on Police Academy: The Series (1997).

 

  • Marion Ramsey was asked to wear a fat suit for her role as Hooks, with the idea that Hooks’ boot camp training would have rendered her slim by the end of the film. Due to time constraints, the scene showing Hooks after her weight loss was removed from the final cut. By the time work on the sequel began, producers changed their minds, opting instead to have Marion remain wearing the fat suit, in order to garner audience sympathy for her character. A brief shot of “slim” Hooks remains in the film, however, as a close-up of Marion without the fat suit is seen during the graduates’ march at the end of the film.

 

  • Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, Judge Reinhold, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, and Bruce Willis were considered for Mahoney.

 

  • The only Police Academy movie that was given an R-rating.

 

  • This movie was the most successful film of 1984 in West Germany.

 

  • Steve Guttenberg mentions in his biography, “The Guttenberg Bible”, that Donovan Scott filmed home-movies during filming. According to Guttenberg, there is a “very funny, touching, and unreleased documentary that he made of the shoot.”

 

  • Robert Conrad was offered the role of Commandant Eric Lassard, but turned down the part, which he regretted later on, to the point that he took the part of the Police Chief in Moving Violations (1985) which was co-written and directed by Neal Israel, who also co-wrote this film.

 

  • In the party scene, Tackleberry is seen to play the saxophone. In real-life, David Graf actually was an accomplished saxophone player.

 

  • After early test audiences responded the most positively to Hightower, out of all the characters, Bubba Smith was moved to second place billing, just behind Steve Guttenberg.

 

  • Was filmed in forty days.

 

  • David Graf had to choose between working on this film or Richard Benjamin’s more critically acclaimed Racing with the Moon (1984). When David initially read the Police Academy script, he thought, “What trash”. For three days, he sat and looked at the two scripts. Then, when Warner Brothers made him the offer, Graf said he knew which film was going to make money.

 

  • The Blue Oyster bar used in this movie, is actually called the Silver Dollar Room, located on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Coincidentally, Spadina Avenue is also home to Protocol Entertainment, the company that produced Police Academy: The Series (1997).

AUDIO CLIPS

My Name Is Bruce

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My Name Is Bruce

Release Date: April 13, 2007

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Bruce Campbell

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Bruce Campbell is undeniably the King of B-Movies. He’s catapulted to the top of the genre in large part to his recurring portrayal as chainsaw wielding, boomstick carrying, demon killer Ashley Williams from the ‘Evil Dead’ movies. His career has spanned for over thirty years. In the last ten years he’s had more mainstream appeal largely in part to his role in the Espionage series ‘Burn Notice’ and his return to the Evil Dead world as Ash once again in the Starz TV Series ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ (which sadly has been cancelled). Bruce Campbell portrays characters that make the audience feel like they are a part of the ride. He is not afraid of getting downright goofy as much of his acting was influenced by ‘The Three Stooges’. In 2007, he came out with a movie that pokes fun at not only himself, but his career. That movie was called ‘My Name Is Bruce’.

As the title suggests, ‘My Name Is Bruce’ is a tongue in cheek film about Bruce Campbell, his popularity and the blurred line between fiction and reality. The film is about a Goth teenager named Jeff, who happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan. Him and his friend meet up with two girls at an abandoned gravesite in the small mining town of Goldlick, Oregon. Jeff finds a circular object placed in front of what looks like to be a collapsed tunnel. Removing the object, Jeff accidentally summons the spirit of Guan-Di, who is the Chinese God War and an early settler of the town. With Guan-Di unleashed and killing it townsfolk one by one, Jeff decides to track down the one person he believes could defeat the evil spirit…..yep, you guessed it. Bruce Campbell.

While the events in Goldlick are happening, Bruce is in a movie studio shooting a sequel to the B-Movie Sci-Fi film ‘Cave Alien’.  Frustrated by the lack of quality roles, being turned down by women and crushed over a divorce, Bruce threatens to fire his agent, Mills Toddner (played by Tem Raimi in one of three roles he plays in the film). Mills tells him that he has a surprise for him on his birthday. Bruce shrugs it off and heads back to his trailer for a night of drinking and calling his ex wife. Bruce hears a knock on his door and Jeff appears. He asks him to come with him, but Bruce refuses. Jeff resorts to knocking him out and putting him in the trunk of his car. Jeff drives back to Goldlick and lets Bruce out. After Bruce gives a lecture to the townsfolk about kidnapping a movie star, he is informed by Jeff that he called his agent and was told he was free. Bruce believes that this is the surprise Mills was talking about and believes he’s part of a new movie. Bruce plays along with it unbeknownst that the townspeople are serious.

After a hero’s welcome that is filled with food and drink, Bruce leads the townspeople to the cemetery. There he encounters Guan-Di. Realizing that this is not a movie, Bruce tells the people to retreat. From there he cowardly escapes from the town to let the townspeople deal with Guan-Di. The next morning Bruce receives a call from Jeff saying that he is going to fight Guan-Di himself since he is ultimately responsible for releasing him. Now Bruce must decide if he wishes to help Jeff or let him deal with the spirit himself.

This film is hilarious. While this will appeal to the most diehard Bruce Campbell fans, I think viewers who aren’t familiar with him or his work will get a kick out of this. There’s plenty of jokes that will keep the average comedy movie fan in their seats.

You can tell throughout the film that Bruce Campbell enjoys parodying himself. The fact that he depicts himself as an arrogant, cocky, selfish, womanizing and drunken actor who lives in a trailer and is getting burned by horrible acting parts. It’s the polar opposite of the typical Hollywood actor. You get into his head of what he deals with on a daily basis from crazed fans to slimy agents. He doesn’t skip a beat with his line delivery, his physical expressions and his candor. He does show a moral compass during the film as he gets to know Jeff and his mother, Kelly whom he immediately has an attraction for despite her shunning his advances and thinking he’s nothing more than a phony.

The rest of the cast is pretty small as it primarily centers around Bruce and the relationship he builds with Jeff and Kelly. Grace Thorsen plays Kelly. She turns in a decent performance although it didn’t find her convincing that she immediately felt an attraction for Bruce especially after berating him about he thinks the situation is a joke to him, but to the townspeople it’s not. Jeff is played by a kid named Taylor Sharpe. This is his only acting performance to date (according to IMDB). I can see why it’s his only performance. He definitely plays his role like a newcomer.  He sounds dull and not too concerned about what has happened. The character of Jeff itself is strange. One minute he is all dressed up as a Goth kid and then the next he’s a regular kid blending in with the town. Eventually his Goth persona would become his hero alter ego when he makes the decision to battle Guan-Di.  I will give him props for knowing his Bruce Campbell trivia and his collection of Bruce Campbell memorabilia in his room. Other than Campbell, the other best performance of the film goes to Ted Raimi who plays three different characters. Besides Mills Toddner, he plays the town painter who gripes about having to change the population number of the town and uses lazy methods to change it and he also plays Wing, the last descendent of the original Chinese immigrants that founded the town. Radical leftists will more than likely cry that his performance stereotypes Asians, but I didn’t see it that way. I found it funny that he warns the people about Guan-Di and begins to taunt them. He only appears in a couple scenes, but he would provide something that will help them in the battle with the Chinese God of War.

Speaking of Guan-Di, I think it was an interesting monster that Bruce had to deal with. He looked like a giant puppet that dangled on strings. I’m pretty sure it was the film’s intention to make the monster look cheap as it fits in with the B-Movie concept. Nevertheless it was good to see a little innovation in the bad guy and not make him another vampire or zombie.

After watching this film again, I would easily place this in my Top 10 Bruce Campbell movies. Yes, this film will largely appeal to his fan base, but there are those out there that will enjoy it if they are a fan of B-Movies. If you can show this movie to someone who has never seen a Bruce Campbell movie, you might be able to turn them into an immediate fan. If you’re able to do that, then it will be a testament to the power that this film really has.

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

  • The exteriors for the town of “Goldlick” were actually shot on Bruce Campbell’s property where a back lot was built with the exteriors of all of the buildings. The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.
  • According to the DVD commentary, most of the Bruce Campbell memorabilia in Jeff’s room was real, including a spare Brisco County Jr. costume that Campbell owned. A few fake items, such as a poster for “The Stoogitive,” were made to fill up space.
  • There are many mentions and references to Bruce Campbell’s other films. Examples are phrases ‘sugar baby’, ‘groovy’ and ‘boomstick’ along with name checking of people like Sam Raimi (director of the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy).
  • The rude man in the wheelchair was based on a real person Bruce Campbell met

 

AUDIO CLIPS