Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review

Movies that you love to watch over and over.

“A Crime Drama with A Rippling Effect”

By: Adam Cook

This is another special review where I had the opportunity to view a movie that is being released on Video on Demand tomorrow. I want to once again thank the great people of TriCoast Entertainment for sending me this film to watch and give my take on it. The previous film I reviewed for them was a psychological horror film called Between The Darkness. The film that I’ve finished watching moments ago is a Drama that is inspired by a true event. The movie is called Hate Crime.

Hate Crime tells the story of a teenage boy named Raymond Brown (Jordan Salloum) who is arrested and awaiting trial for the murder of Kevin Demarco (Chasen Joseph Schneider). Kevin is openly gay which makes what Raymond did a hate crime. The film focuses on the parents of both Raymond and Kevin as they deal with the aftermath of the tragedy (John Schneider/Laura Cayouette as John and Marie Demarco and Kevin Bernhardt/Amy Redford as Tom and Ginny Brown). Both of them are trying to figure out how did this happen and deal with the harassment from detractors on both sides of the issue.

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Written by first time screenwriter Jonah Tapper and directed by Steven Esteb, Hate Crime is inspired by the tragic death of Matthew Shepard. For those who may be too young to remember, Matthew Shepard was a gay American college student from Wyoming who was beaten and tortured to death by two men because of his sexual preference. Matthew’s death would lead to state and federal legislation of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act which added the assaulting or death of a person who is LGBTQI in the category of a hate crime.

The film presents a non linear story about how such a crime has an effect on everyone that is associated with it. In this case, Esteb focuses on how the parents are dealing with this life altering tragedy. The pacing is slow as they all are trying to grasp with what has happened. As the movie progresses so does the emotions. Bernhardt masks his anger and frustration by performing his daily routine trying not to think about what has happened while his wife (Redford) breaks down and ultimately blames him for not being around to talk to their son and deal with the issues that is troubling him. Meanwhile, Schneider and Cayouette are a lost for words and grieve for their son, however Schneider seeks answers from Raymond as to why he killed their son. The reason is revealed around the mid way point which makes perfect sense.

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As for the central character of Raymond, Salloum gives a remorseful performance. He quickly realizes the error in judgement as he is confined in his cell and answering questions from John Schneider in order to shed light on what happened and perhaps ask for mercy.

While the location of the film is not revealed, the majority of the film is shot on a farm surrounded by cornfields with a few shots of Raymond in prison and a few flashback shots. The rural setting is once again influenced by the Shepard tragedy since that took place in Wyoming. Most of the scenes are nighttime which gives the film the appropriate tone. Speaking of tone, Hate Crime is not a drama with brutality as other films of this subject matter are. The violence is limited to the opening scene.

I appreciate the subject matter of Hate Crime, but this could’ve been fleshed out more. It felt hollow and needed to be filled with more content. It feels like a movie that was released twenty years ago rather than today. With today’s polarizing society, the filmmakers could’ve shown that hostility on both sides of the issue.

Hate Crime won’t be remembered as an important drama movie, but rather a reminder of how ones actions can lead to life altering situations for them and their loved ones.

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Hate Crime will be released on Tuesday, September 24th and will be available on Video on Demand and the following digital streaming platforms (Amazon, InDemand, DIRECTV, FlixFling, FANDANGO, Hoopla, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, AT&T and Sling/Dish)

*Photos courtesy of TriCoast Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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Team America: World Police

Release Date: October 15, 2004

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: Trey Parker

Writers: Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Pam Brady

Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa Moyo, Daran Norris

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been creating a ton of laughs and a ton of controversy for the past twenty years. “South Park” is getting into Simpsons territory as it gears up for its twenty-third season on Comedy Central in September. In addition to their hit cartoon show, they’ve created several movies and a hit Broadway musical. I did a poll last month on my Twitter page (@GPCRMovies) as to which of their movies would readers would like for me to review. It was a close race, but in the end, the movie that came out as the winner was their 2004 pre-election comedy “Team America: World Police!”

I’m sure the majority of you readers have seen this movie before, but for those who never heard of it or slipped by them, “Team America: World Police” is Parker and Stone’s movie consisting of wooden puppets modeled and performed in the same way as the hit British show “Thunderbirds!” Team America is a secret organization that fights terrorism all over the world. After one of their comrades is killed during a bomb plot in France, the team regroups and tries to find a recruit who could perform espionage work. They find a Broadway actor named Gary Johnston and convince him to join the team based on his “great acting skills!”  and gives him the task of disguising himself as a terrorist to obtain information. Eventually they uncover that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. He creates a fake peace accord with the help of the Film Actors Guild, a group of liberal Hollywood actors led by Alec Baldwin in a conspiracy to take over the world.

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When I first saw “Team America” I thought it was a satire of how Americans reacted after the events of 9/11. We all wanted to start going after terrorists and eventually that would lead into two wars (which are the longest wars on record as of this piece). Parker and Stone were able to capture the emotions of the country from both sides of the political spectrum. You have one side who wants to bomb them all to the stone age and you have another side who is protesting military action and want to use appeasement to settle differences. Like a majority of people, Parker and Stone strongly believe that the United States should not be the policemen of the world and Hollywood actors think they’re smarter than everyone else and know how to solve all the world’s problems.

The movie offers a sheer amount of wit and subversive humor.  There’s so much of it but doesn’t wear you down with the vague references and really confusing in-jokes. “South Park” fans will recognize the familiar voices of Parker and Stone as they provide different vocal performances of each of the characters to give them a stand-alone identity. My favorite voice performance is that of Kim Jong Il. Parker uses his “City Wok Owner” voice to portray Kim with the same kind of mispronunciations and anger that it’s “South Park” counterpart offers.

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The story is easy to follow and is filled with plenty of action. There are lots of explosions, gunfire and puppet to puppet combat. I was laughing in tears when Team America would go to a location and start killing terrorists and blowing people up that in the end as they are doing their victory pose, you see a city like Paris just smelt into piles of rubble.

And like “South Park” Parker and Stone aren’t afraid to go after those in Hollywood who voice their political opinions to the world as an effort to show they’re smarter than the average person. The most vocal actors/filmmakers are presented in this film. Everyone from Alec Baldwin to Michael Moore are displayed with the familiar amount of hypocrisy presented in the same manner as their real selves.

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Of course, what wouldn’t be a review of “Team America: World Police” without talking about the puppetry. As stated in the beginning of the review, this film is an homage to “Thunderbirds!” The look of the puppets and the way they move complete with exposed strings is exactly taken from the cult television series. You’ll be laughing in stitches the way they move, run, blink and fight. I would assume they worked with the same team on “Thunderbirds” to use the same puppets and style them differently or they worked with them to create them exclusively for the film. Obviously, the Kim Jong Un puppet and many of the Hollywood stars were built just for this movie.

“Team America: World Police” is not a movie for everyone. If you’re not a fan of “South Park” or its humor, then you won’t enjoy this at all. If you do enjoy the show, you’ll see this as an extension to it. I’ve seen all of Parker and Stone’s feature films. “Team America” would have to rank in the middle. “Orgazmo” is still my favorite of their short filmography, however it didn’t get the votes to be showcased here on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review.”  Congratulations to “Team America: World Police” on winning the first fan poll. Thank you to everyone who participated. I will be doing this again in the mere future. Stay tuned!

 

 TRIVIA

  • The very first footage screened for Paramount executives was of a poorly crafted puppet in front of a background of a badly drawn Eiffel Tower, prompting one executive in the audience to yell, “Oh God, they fucked us!” This was a prank pulled by the directors and the shot then pulls back to reveal a highly refined marionette manipulating the inferior one, then flies over beautifully detailed Parisian landscape full of believable yet cheesy marionettes. This actually ended up being the opening shot of the movie.
  • All the background foliage in the Panama sequence is cannabis plants.
  • Originally, Matt Damon (who Trey Parker and Matt Stone have admitted is really a “pretty cool guy”) was going to be portrayed as intelligent and articulate, but when they saw the puppet, they noted that it made him “look retarded” and decided to portray him as such.
  • Paramount immediately green lighted the idea of making a puppet movie, in the mistaken belief that it would be cheaper than a live action film.
  • Matt Stone was interviewed by Michael Moore for his film Bowling for Columbine (2002) because he grew up near the infamous school. However, he was very unhappy about the animated section of his film, believing that Moore had intentionally left the impression that he and Parker had made it. For that reason, Michael Moore was portrayed in an amusingly negative fashion in Team America: World Police.
  • George Clooney was a driving force in getting Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park (1997) to air. He also appeared in the show and the subsequent movie. As to their puppetry portrayal in Team America: World Police (2004), both he and Matt Damon are quoted as saying they would have been offended if they weren’t in the film.
  • Despite almost getting an NC-17 rating in the United States, the film was promoted as a “kids and family” movie in several European countries and rated fit for all accordingly.
  • When the camera first shows us the palace in North Korea, several of the smaller buildings are actually Chinese food take-out boxes.
  • The leaves on the palm trees in Hollywood during the F.A.G. meeting are made out of dollar bills.
  • Sean Penn was so insulted by the filmmakers’ suggestion that there was “no shame in not voting” that he wrote an angry letter to Matt Stone and Trey Parker with the closing “a sincere fuck you, Sean Penn.”
  • When the Film Actors Guild decides to go to North Korea, the members all shout “Qapla!” which is Klingon for success.

 

AUDIO CLIPS 

Terrorize This

Gary’s Acting Secret

Step Into My Car

Now I’ve Seen Everything

9/11 Times 100

Fire His Translator

Cario, That’s in Egypt!

I Like You

Five Terrorists Going Southeast

One Of The Terrorists Is Trying To Tell Us Something

Tim Robbins’ Statement

I Don’t Have Any Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Very Bad Intelligence

There’s No ‘I’ In Team America

You’ll Never Keep The World Leaders Distracted

We Need A Montage

We’re Guards

Actors Help

Johnny Mnemonic

Release Date: May 26, 1995

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi   

Director: Robert Lungo    

Writer: William Gibson

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Takeshi Kitano, Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Well readers, today is a milestone for “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review!” We’ve reached the big 50th Review! I want to take this moment to thank all of you who have continued to support this site. You’re the reason I continue to do this. I hope I’ve had some kind of impact on you checking out these movies and perhaps changing your mind on them if there are some you didn’t like nor care for in the first place. “GPCR” has come a long way since it was started in January 2018. I hope to continue this site for the next 50 reviews and beyond. I’ve been having a blast watching this movie and giving you a perspective on them as much as you have enjoyed reading them and enjoying the audio clips that are provided in each review. There’s not much more I can say except how deeply humbling it is to have a great community of people who enjoy movies no matter how big,, cheap or silly they may be.

If you been following me on Twitter (@GPCRMovies) I conducted a poll for the followers to choose the 50th Review. There was an overwhelming number of people that voted for the 3 day poll. It was a very close poll, but in the end voters chose the 1995 Sci-Fi flick “Johnny Mnemonic” starring Keanu Reeves as the movie that should be featured. With that, let’s dive into the people’s choice!

Based on the novel of the same name by William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic” takes place in the year 2021. Johnny (Reeves) is a courier with a data storage device in his brain allowing him to transfer sensitive information to his destination without worry of it being stolen on the net. The cost of this implant results in Johnny not being able to retain memories of his childhood. He wishes to have his implant remove, but does not have the money for an operation. His boss Ralfi (Udo Kier) gives him one final job to perform in which the amount is more than enough to get the operation. Johnny heads to Beijing to collect the data, however is told that the data amount exceeds his memory capacity which is at 80 gigabytes. The data he is retrieving is 320 gigabytes. An overflow of data would cause not only psychological damage but death if it is not removed within a certain time frame. Using a compression unit that would handle the data in his head, Johnny collects the data from his clients, a group of scientists and selects three random images to use at an encryption key. Before the scientists can send the key to the data receiver, they are ambushed and killed by the Yakuza. Johnny escapes with part of the key and heads back to Newark where he is then pursued by a pharmaceutical executive named Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano) who wants the data for himself. Receiving assistance from a bodyguard named Jane (Diana Meyer) and J-Bone (Ice-T) the leader of an anti-government group called the Loteks, Johnny must get the data removed from his brain and delivered to the correct destination before he is killed either by various contractors that Takahashi hires or by the data that is inside his brain.

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“Johnny Mnemonic” has been called a precursor to Reeve’s blockbuster hit “The Matrix” which would come out four years later. It does have some elements of the latter film, but they are still two different films. This film has the look and feel of a futuristic cyberpunk movie. It merges technology with a rugged industrial look. The dystopian world that is presented is nothing new in these types of movies but is essential to the overall plot of the movie.

The performance of Keanu Reeves is what you would expect it to be from him. It’s wooden and doesn’t have much heart or emotion. It lacks any kind of energy. You would think with the situation he is in and his life at risk, he would be concerned about making it through the movie alive. The whole time he complains about trying to get this data out of his head. Thankfully the supporting cast of great character actors help keep the movie from becoming a total bore. You’ve got the lovely Dina Meyer as bodyguard Jane who becomes Johnny’s protector, Udo Kier as Johnny’s boss, Ralfie, Ice-T as resistance leader J-Bone, Henry Rollins as Spider, the man who is willing to remove the chip from Johnny’s head and Japanese acting legend Takeshi Kitano in his first American movie appearance as the CEO of the pharmaceutical corporation who is desperate to get the information out of Johnny’s head that he goes to great extremes. All these characters are essential to the story of the film each with their own abilities and traits that Johnny needs to survive.

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The best and most surprising performance of the movie goes to Dolph Lundgren as the Street Preacher. Yes, he’s a real preacher who recites biblical verses and refers to himself as the savior or “Jesus”. However, behind his oath is a brutal hunter who stalks Johnny everywhere he goes. He is just like the Terminator as he will not stop until he completes his mission. It was weird at first to see Lundgren in this kind of a role, but he really puts a lot of dedication in his part. He was funny and menacing at the same time.

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The world of “Johnny Mnemonic” is dark, cold and metallic. The majority of the film takes place is Newark, NJ which is also called the “Free Zone” as it is occupied by the Lotek. You can relate this to what is going on in the world in many countries between the government forces and the rebels. The bigger cities like Beijing are advanced and high class because they are occupied by the government.  The special effects were reminiscent of the effects seen in “The Lawnmower Man” especially during some of the virtual reality scenes. One thing that sets this movie apart from some of the others is the use of creative gadgets such as a laser whip and other weapons that the resistance members have made. There’s plenty of fighting and other action sequences that breathe some life into the dull plot line. Director Robert Lungo essentially tries to make his own version of “Blade Runner!” Sadly, this would be Lungo’s only movie he directed as he has never been given another opportunity to make another movie which is a shame. I think it was decent with what he was given, but the script doesn’t give Gibson’s novel much justice.

“Johnny Mnemonic” is one of the ultimate “Guilty Pleasure” movies that is out there. It’s a love/hate movie. For those who still enjoy it like I do, it’s a 90s Sci-Fi flick that would become a blueprint for this style of film making that was only a few years away. I don’t think if it weren’t for this movie, we may never have gotten a “Matrix” movie nor would it be of the same caliber and innovative film that it became. This movie is better placed into the B-Movie category alongside some other underappreciated movies of this style and concept.

With that, this concludes the 50th review! Here’s to another 50!

 

TRIVIA

  • The script was rumored to have been dumped on the doorstep of Keanu Reeves’ house, a tactic that piqued his interest, and led to him accepting the role of Johnny.
  • At one point, Johnny’s brain implant is detected by a security scanner and is falsely reported as a device for counteracting dyslexia. Keanu Reeves does in fact suffer from the disorder in real-life.
  • Robert Longo and William Gibson originally intended to make an art film on a small budget, but failed to get financing. Longo commented that the project “started out as an arty $1.5 million movie, and it became a $30 million movie, because we couldn’t get a million and a half.”
  • Dina Meyer’s first feature film.
  • Val Kilmer was originally set to star, but left the project after he was offered the role of Batman in Batman Forever (1995). Kilmer later played Chris Shilerhis in Heat (1995), a role that Keanu Reeves was in early talks for, but ultimately turned down.
  • According to William Gibson, the movie was re-edited by the producers in order to make it more “mainstream”. The Japanese release is said to be closer to the director’s and Gibson’s original vision.
  • The only feature film Robert Lungo directed.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Pick Up, Ralfie

Snatch Back Your Brain, Zombie

Hit Me

Next Time Knock

Where Is He Taking The Data?

What’s Going On Here Ralfie?

We’ve Got All Night Asshole

Say Bye

Not On The Head

Time To Go

I Need A Computer

You Need Someone Brought To Jesus?

Doesn’t Have One Natural Bone In His Body

Just Johnny

Why Did You Have To Do That?

Halt Sinners

I Want Room Service!

Come To Jesus

 

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Desperate Measures

Release Date: January 30, 1998

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Writer: David Klass

Starring: Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Brian Cox, Marcia Gay Harden, Erik King, Joseph Cross

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Recently I’ve come up with a list of actors/actresses that I love where I haven’t reviewed a movie they starred in for “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review!” One of the names I had listed was Michael Keaton. I was shocked I haven’t done a movie of his. I’m a huge Michael Keaton fan. I still believe he was the best Batman. Not only that, but he’s an incredible actor who could play any part. He started his career in comedies then moved to dramas and suspense. Keaton’s hard work and determination would be rewarded in 2014 when he appeared in the movie “Birdman” in which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy/Drama and earned him his first Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor (Which he should’ve won. Screw the guy who played Stephen Hawking)! I came across a movie of his that appeared on streaming which I was highly fond of when it came out. It was a role a lot of people haven’t seen him play before. For this review, we’re going to look at the 1998 suspense flick “Desperate Measures!”

“Desperate Measures” stars Andy Garcia as San Francisco police officer Frank Connor who is in search for a bone morrow donor for his young son, Matt who suffers from leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant in order to live. After breaking into the FBI headquarters, he finds a donor using their database. The only match that is listed is a sociopathic serial killer named Peter McCabe (Keaton) who is serving a life sentence for several murders. Connor heads to the prison where McCabe is incarcerated pleading for him to help his son. McCabe initially refuses but has a change of heart as he sees this as an opportunity to escape. When McCabe is transferred to the hospital and is being prepped for the transplant, McCabe is unable to be sedated as he took a counteracting drug given to him by an inmate. He slips out of his restraints and attempts to escape from the hospital. Connor must track down McCabe and recapture him in time to do the transplant otherwise his son will die from his illness.

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Released at the beginning of 1998, “Desperate Measures” was met with mixed reviews. It made $13 million at the box office against a reported $50 million budget making it a flop. The movie did win an ALMA Award for Garcia for the category of “Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film in a Crossover Role.”  Unfortunately, Keaton didn’t receive any award nominations.

“Desperate Measures” isn’t anything groundbreaking or original, but it has enough to keep you focused. I’ve heard people call this movie a long chess game, a cat and mouse game and an old-fashioned car chase movie. It’s all of the above. It’s a predictable movie filled with some light tension, explosions and action sequences. The performances of Keaton and Garcia are the highlights of this film. They are perfectly matched and try to out smart each other to get ahead of the curve.

This isn’t the first time Keaton has played a sinister character. If you saw the movie “Pacific Heights,” you know what kind of a despicable criminal Keaton is in that movie. He’s essentially the same character from that movie but heightened. When you first see him in his prison cell, he is muscular and intimidating. Behind that brawn is a brain. The movie does a good job showing the audience McCabe’s planning of his escape, the methods he goes to for preparing his escape such as taking a drug to counter act sedatives prior to being put in anesthesia and improvising when things in the hospital don’t go as planned.

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Andy Garcia is in familiar territory playing an officer of the law. For what its worth his performance was spot on. You can see the emotion and determination play out in the film. He will do everything it takes to save his son at the risk of losing his job and it shows when he chases down McCabe. He doesn’t allow himself to be manipulated by McCabe but sometimes goes along with his demands in order to get one step closer to him.

The supporting cast is small but is enough to advance the story and the events taking place. Brian Cox plays police Captain Jeremiah Cassidy who thinks he has McCabe on a tight leash expect McCabe refuses to heel. He is just as determined to get him as Garcia is however, he is not concerned about keeping McCabe alive. Marcia Gay Harden plays Dr. Samantha Hawkins who is supposed to be doing the bone marrow transplant procedure but seems to become a nuisance for McCabe. Finally, we have Joseph Cross as Matthew Conner, the leukemia-stricken son of Frank Connor. You can’t expect much from child acting, but I thought he was fine in this role.

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“Desperate Measures” was directed by Barbet Schroeder, who is best known for directed the movies “Single White Female and “Reversal of Fortune,” in which he received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Director from the latter picture. He’s directed numerous suspense films, so this is familiar territory with him. This movie relies more on style than substance. The movie is supposed to take place in San Francisco, but if you read the trivia, they never shot the movie there. It was shot in Pittsburgh. I have to say I was impressed with that considering we see a few shots that are reminiscent of what you would see in that city so kudos to the location scouts. Working with a script that had a lot of holes and questionable scenarios, Schroeder did his level best to keep the audience engaged.

“Desperate Measures” can be currently streamed on Crackle. It is a free streaming service. Now would be the best time to check out this movie. It’s a movie that’s pretty unrealistic and unfeasible, however the character driven narrative and action help keep it from going off the deep end. If I had to rank this movie in a list of best Michael Keaton movies, it would fall just outside the top ten. In this case, it would be an honorable mention.

TRIVIA

  • The film is set in San Francisco, but was filmed in Pittsburgh. They used Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh, because it is a brick road like many of the roads in San Francisco. Also, the front of the hospital is One Mellon Bank Center located on Grant Street, the same building in the helicopter scene of Sudden Death (1995).
  • In addition to some of the scenes filmed in Pittsburgh, an elaborate set was constructed in a vacant hangar at what is now known as the San Bernardino International Airport, what used to be Norton Air Force Base. The prison and the hospital were three stories high, and were connected by the concourse seen in the movie.
  • Michael Bay was originally set to direct, but pulled out to do The Rock (1996).
  • Michael Keaton and Joseph Cross would appear together again in Jack Frost (1998).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

We’re Through Here

I Get The Opportunity To Kill Again

Counselors?

Little Demon

Uncle Pete

These Cigarettes Are Stale

Sorry I Can’t Get Up To Greet You Properly

Freedom From Cigarettes

I Need Some Help

They Told Me What An Asshole You Were

Are You Going To Forget Me?

Do You Have That Long?

Firefly

My Son Needs Medical Attention

My Official Resignation

Definitely Compatible

 

UHF

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UHF

Release Date: July 21, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Jay Levey

Writers: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (Credited as Al Yankovic and Jay Levey

Starring: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Michael Richards, Kevin McCarthy, David Bowe

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic is a musical treasure. Throughout nearly forty years he’s entertained us with his hilariously creative parodies of pop songs. He is considered an original talent and is respected by his peers. He’s appeared not only on the small screen, but on the big screen. In 1989, ‘Weird Al;’ starred in his own movie titled “UHF!” Since it’s been thirty years since its release, I wanted to take a trip down memory lane and review this underrated and underappreciated comedy.

In “UHF” Al stars as George Newman, a fast food worker who constantly has imaginative dreams about movies with him in as the titular hero. After he and his friend Bob (David Bowe) are fired from their job, he is given the keys to a low budget television station that was won by his uncle Harvey, who won it in a poker game. George introduces himself to the head of the VHF station Channel 8 named RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who immediately threatens to call security on him. George and Bob get to work on original programming. The low viewership and lack of funds jeopardize the station being shut down. On top of that George is depressed over missing a birthday dinner with his girlfriend Terri (Victoria Jackson) whom breaks up with him over the phone. During a segment of “Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse,” George walks out of the show and asks his janitor, Stanley Spadowski  (Michael Richards) to take over. When Bob are George are at the bar, they see Stanley’s slapstick antics which makes the patrons and the kids in the audience laugh. Soon “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” becomes a hit children’s television show which not only produces high ratings but loads of dollars from sponsors. They eventually topple Channel 8 as the number one channel in town. However, their station becomes in jeopardy once again. After George’s Uncle Harvey loses a bet and owes his bookie $75,000, RJ offers to buy the station effectively putting Channel 62 out of business. George is given two days to match the offer. The race begins.

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“UHF” was released during a busy summer in 1989. Due to numerous blockbusters being released, it didn’t get much attention. Reviews were mixed to negative. However, since it’s released more people have given the movie a second chance and like it on the merits. This in turn has made “UHF” a cult classic.

I’m a huge ‘Weird Al’ fan and I admit; I couldn’t get into “UHF” the first time around which was back in the late 90s. I revisited the movie a few years back and it turns out I liked it the second time around. After a few more viewings it is a film full of wackiness, originality and humor only the weird one could provide.

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While ‘Weird Al’ may be the star and writer of this film, the supporting cast and writer/director Jay Levey, a longtime friend and collaborator of Al’s deserve as much credit for this entertaining picture. Each actor brings so much emotion and love to their characters. “UHF” has a great supporting cast led by Michael Richards as Stanley. Despite his passion as a janitor, he fills the role of a children’s television character with confidence and ease. He is instantly loved by parents and children with his funny antics and creating a safe playful environment. He had just started his role as Kramer on “Seinfeld” and wouldn’t not surprise me if he incorporated elements of Stanley into his most iconic character. Kevin McCarthy is a great bad guy as RJ Fletcher. As a big shot TV executive, all he cares about is staying on top and squashing the completion. When George becomes a threat to him, he pulls out all kind of dastardly tricks to slip him up. McCarthy is loathsome yet hilarious when some of his plans backfire. Victoria Jackson is the sweet wholeheartedly Terri. She puts up with George through his earlier failings and despite being separated doing a portion of the movie, she still has feelings for him and comes to his rescue.

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The jokes throughout the movie are clean and hilarious. Of course ‘Weird Al’ movie wouldn’t be complete without some parodies. There’s parodies are short, but don’t feel like filler. They are appropriately placed throughout the plot. The sequence where Al dreams of being in the Dire Straits music video “Money For Nothing” in the form of “The Beverly Hillbillies” complete with the same computer generated graphics as the original video would become the lead song off the soundtrack as well as music video played on MTV.

“UHF” is a rare gem of a movie. It continues to showcase ‘Weird Al’ as a great talent. It doesn’t need sexual jokes or foul language to be funny. It’s all in the concept, story and performances. It’s a piece of pop culture that will live on with each generation. And that’s something to get you to put on some polka shoes and rock out.

 

TRIVIA

  • The Spatula City billboard was purchased by the production and it was placed for the one shot it appears in, for ease of filming it was a billboard on a highway not frequented by many travelers. For this exact reason the billboard was not purchased after the rental period ran out, and the company did not remove the phony advertisement, it is reported that for months after the film finished shooting many travelers turned on the indicated exit and inquired about Spatula City, the ad was removed shortly afterwards when the company began receiving complaints.
  • According to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy thoroughly enjoyed himself during this film and would often break out in laughter after finishing a take where his character was being especially nasty.
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would not allow use of an exact likeness of the Academy Award statuette (“Oscar”) for filming, so a *similar* statuette was created which has Oscar’s hands covering his crotch.
  • According to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, his line “Redrum! Redrum!” (an homage to the horror classic The Shining (1980) was not scripted and David Proval’s look of confusion was genuine.
  • Michael Richards improvised two scenes: where he tells the kids about his dream of being a bird and the Corn Flakes commercial where he finds a toy man.
  • In one scene, George Newman and Bob Speck discuss television lineups. One of the shows mentioned is “Volcano Worshipers Hour”. In high school, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic started a “Volcano Worshipers” club just to get in the yearbook.
  • During a VH-1 “Behind the Music” episode about ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Emo Philips shows an actual Screen Actors Guild residual check he earned for this film. It was for 30 cents. He stated proudly the check represented what being in this film did for his career.
  • Jennifer Tilly and Ellen DeGeneres both auditioned for the role of Teri Campbell, ultimately played by Victoria Jackson. DeGeneres was the first choice but never happened, for reasons unknown to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Are You Daydreaming Again?

Grab Life By The Lips

It’s A Friendly Place

Like Working In A Fish Market

This Is A Business

Hey RJ

Look At Mr. Frying Pan

If You Were Traveling Through Outer Space

One Of My Favorite Cartoons

Life Is Like A Mop

Do I Still Get To Be Janitor?

George Leaves A Message For Terri

Badgers

New Friday Night Lineup

Town Talk Commercial

I Own This Place

I Love Anchovies

Redrum

Clifford

GuiltyPleasureCinemaReview

 

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Clifford

Release Date: April 1, 1994

Genre: Comedy

Director: Paul Flaherty

Writers: William Porter (as Jay Dee Rock) & Steven Kampmann (as Bobby von Hayes)

Starring: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Colman, Richard Kind

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 Does anyone remember the move “Three Amigos” which was the 1986 comedy starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short? I had watched it recently after not having seen it in over twenty years. It featured three Saturday Night alums. While Steve Martin and Chevy Chase went on to be leading comedic stars on film, Martin short was left behind. Sure, he’s been a great supporting actor on film, but I couldn’t quite name a starring movie role for him. That is until I discovered a new streaming service (not going to mention name) and one of the first movies I see available to watch happened to be a movie that would play all the time on Comedy Central just as I was getting home from school. It’s been twenty-five years since this movie’s initial release, and this is one that is truly a “Guilty Pleasure Film” for me. For this review, we’re going back to 1994 with “Clifford!”

The film starts out in the future as Father Clifford Daniels catches a boy trying to leave the orphanage. He sits down with the boy to discuss his reasons for leaving which then Clifford breaks into a moment in his childhood. The flashback is where the movie picks up. Clifford is a ten-year-old boy (You guessed it. Short, a forty-something man at this time is playing a ten-year-old boy) who has severe ADHD (which is caused by a high sugar intake as you will see in various points of the movie)  and carries his recorder and his toy dinosaur named Stefan with him at all times. He is in an airplane with his parents going to Hawaii for a convention. After hearing that the plane is flying over Los Angeles, Clifford asks if the plane will be landing there so he can go to Dinosaur World, the theme park of his dreams. After finding out it’s not stopping, Clifford goes into the cockpit of the plane and shut down the engines to which the plane must land in Los Angeles. As a result of this, Clifford is banned from the flight. Worried that he’ll miss the convention, Clifford’s father (Richard Kind) calls up his estranged brother Martin (Charles Grodin) who lives in Los Angeles and asks if he would look at him. Martin, a big named architect who is going through his own problems such as finishing a massive train system for the city and trying to save his relationship with his fiance Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) who are at a stalemate over wanting children agrees to take Clifford into his home. And that’s when Martin’s world would be even turned more upside down.

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“Clifford” was actually shot in 1990 but didn’t get released in theaters until 1994. The reason was Orion, who produced the movie was on the verge of bankruptcy and they held off releasing several movies until they got their financials in order. The movie tanked at the box office and was universally panned by everyone, especially Roger Ebert who wrote, “The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”[1] and gave it a rare ½ star. Despite the overwhelming negative reviews, the movie has developed a cult status.

“Clifford” is indeed an odd dark comedy. I’m not sure what director Paul Flaherty or the writers were trying to accomplish with making this. It seems like they just told everyone let’s be as silly and weird as we can possibly be. I’m surprised Charles Grodin, a respectable actor stayed as long as he did, or he was completely oblivious to what was going on. The reasons that I do like “Clifford” not just because of the fact it was a movie that was played a lot during my childhood years. There are some things that I do enjoy about it, but then again, I enjoy obscure macabre comedy.
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Martin Short and Charles Grodin carry the weight of the movie. Short portrays Clifford very reminiscent of his most iconic characters on “SCTV,” which was the pointy hair Ed Grimley. Like a ten-year old, when Clifford doesn’t get his way, he behaves badly. He gets triggered that he pulls out Stefan as a kind of security blanket. Some of his actions are even criminal in today’s society. It’s not until the near end of the movie where he realizes why his family is tormented by him. Grodin is the calm authoritative figure who slowly breaks down when Clifford continues to get to the best of him. He develops his own madness and when he tries to find ways of disciplining him, it makes matters worse. It’s as if both of them are playing Chess against each other predicting on who will make the next move. The cast of the movie is very small. The only supporting actors to this movie are Mary Steenburgen as Sarah who desperately wants children and when she sees Clifford she becomes in awe of him and Dabney Coleman as Martin’s sleazy womanizing boss Ellis who looks to capture Sarah’s heart for himself.

As for the jokes, it’s a blend physical comedy with insanity due to Short’s actions and reactions. Short makes great use of his facial expressions to crack a laugh or two. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Clifford takes Stefan out of his pocket and puts it in the shower just as Steenburgen is in it. There’re other jokes such as Short putting Tabasco sauce in Grodin’s Bloody Mary, Clifford’s dancing skills when he has a house party at his uncle’s after tricking him that he was leaving for San Francisco.
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The movie ultimately failed due to its shear psychotic and emotional issues between the two lead characters. There are moments in the film which could be depicted as negligence, kidnapping and endangering the well-being of a child. Not to mention that when Clifford gets bad news he goes into this trance where he will do things such as eating everything in sight, demanding chocolate or creating something just out of nowhere as a way to get even. This movie would not be possible to make today.

So, if you’re daring enough to watch “Clifford,” you will be in for a comedic experience like no other. If you like madness mixed in with your comedy, then this movie will be right up your alley. My advice though is to not show this to any young children. They could learn some dastardly things watching Martin Short and his antics.

 

TRIVIA

  • Originally filmed in 1990.
  • Although planned for a 1991 release, Clifford became one of many films (including RoboCop 3 (1993)) produced by Orion and filmed years before its release date. The reason it was not released until 1994 was due to company Orion’s pending bankruptcy, and not because of bad press screenings, as some sources claim.
  • Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen were also a couple in the movie It Runs in the Family (1994).
  • Martin Short’s co-stars are usually standing on boxes and next to slightly oversize props.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Dreams Of Your Days In The Circus

Haven’t You Heard Of The Word Sofa Bed?

Mrs. Extra Wide Load

Larry The Scary Rex

I You Clinton

Bestest Looking Wig

Get Me The Bunny

An Authority On Wigs

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I  Don’t Want To Make This About Lighting

Leave The Dinosaur There

I’ll Get Him Later

Evil Little Monster

You Look Like Willie Nelson

Uncle Ten Most Wanted

 

The Substitute

GuiltyPleasureCinemaReview

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The Substitute

Release Date: April 19, 1996

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: Robert Mandel

Writers: Roy Frumkes, Rocco Simonelli & Alan Ormsby

Starring: Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, Diane Verona, Marc Anthony,  William Forsythe, Luis Guzman, Raymond Cruz

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Tom Berenger is an underappreciated actor in this reviewer’s opinion. Throughout his career he has played a diverse range of characters. Everyone will remember him as the sociopath sergeant in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama “Platoon,” which earned him an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor. Others may remember him as Cleveland Indians catcher Jake Taylor in the baseball comedy “Major League.” Most recently he appeared in Christopher Nolan’s surreal blockbuster “Inception” as the adviser to Cillian Murphy’s character. He’s also appeared in movies that would launch into franchises such as “Sniper” and this movie that is about to be talked about, “The Substitute!”

In “The Substitute,” Berenger plays Jonathan Shale, a mercenary for hire. After a botched mission in Cuba, he returns home to Miami and to his fiance Jane Hetzko (Diane Verona) who is a history teacher at Columbus High School. During a walk on the beach Jane is attacked by someone which results in a broken knee. Jane believes he is connected to a street gang called the “Kings of Destruction” or KOD whose leader is Juan Lakas (Marc Anthony) a student in her class. Unbeknownst to Jane, Shale decides to go undercover as her substitute teacher to investigate Lacas. Using forged credentials, Shale heads to the school where he introduced himself to the principal, Claude Rolle (Ernie Hudson). From there he acts like a normal history teacher and a quick disciplinarian over the out of control classroom. As he digs deeper into the school he believes that the school is being used as a front for transporting drugs. He enlists his team which consists of Joey Six (Raymond Cruz), William Forsythe (Hollan), Rem (Luis Guzman) and Wellman (Richard Brooks) to track Lakas and his crew to find out where the drugs are going to and the players involved.

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Directed by Robert Mandel whose biggest directorial effort before this was the 1992 college drama “School Ties,” “The Subsitiute” is an action crime drama with some heart. It can be over dramatic at times, but there’s just the right amount of action to keep it from being boring. It’s a movie that is relatable what is going on in our school system. We have so many failing public schools that are run down and taken over by gangs. The kids that are in school have no interest in learning and don’t seem to care about their futures. The movie does a good job depicting the entitled misfits and those that actually want to learn.

Berenger commands the film throughout the run time. He knows the risks he is getting involved in when he goes undercover at the school. It could affect his career as well as his relationship with Jane if she were to find out. His first day on the job is awkward but once he gets the feel for the classroom is when his military expertise kicks.in. He takes no crap from the kids and gets their attention. As he spends time with his students and shares his experiences with them, the students develop a sense of respect for him. In turn, Shale becomes emotionally attached to them and feels a sense of duty to help get them in a positive mindset about their future.

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Ernie Hudson is great as the supporting character Rolle. He is the big cheese in the school and feels a little intimidated by Shale’s presence. He tries to fire him at first after an altercation with a couple students, but Shale is one step ahead of him when he tells him the teacher’s union rules. Rolle is used to the incivility of the school and when Shale brings order he is flabbergasted. The more Shale does for the students and the school, the more threatened Rolle feels when it comes to being in power. It’s a Chess match between the two individuals. There’s also a side to Rolle that is revealed in the movie which makes him a more loathsome character.

I was surprisingly impressed by Marc Anthony’s performance as Juan Lakas. This movie was before he became an international singing sensation. Lakas is a kid who is not to be taken lightly and as leader of the KOD, he gives fair warning to those who think they can size him up. After getting humiliated by Shale, he tries to take him out and realizes very quickly that he has met his match.

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Perhaps learning from “School Ties” Mandel makes sure in this film not to go too deep into the social matters of the film. He reminds the audience that this is an action film first and foremost. There are plenty of fights, gun battles, explosions and a Rio Bravo like climax that keeps you engaged. The were very few flaws I could find in this movie. The only disappointment about the movie was the abrupt ending. For those that have been following my reviews, you know I’m not a fan of abrupt endings. I felt they could’ve developed some end results of the movie such as an investigation into the school or a further review about the public-school system, gangs in schools or what happens to Shale after his work is completed.

The movie did fairly well at the box office to spawn several sequels (Berenger not being involved in any of them). It’s a cult film that has a much longer lasting impact than it should. As I’ve said, “The Substitute” is a generational movie. It gives you an inside window of one of the biggest educational issues facing the United States. The movie will give you a new outlook on things and perhaps make you feel appreciated for where you have come from and teaches you not to take things for granted.

 

TRIVIA:

  • The movie was shot during the summer months and kids enrolled in summer classes were extras in the film. Free Papa John’s pizza was served to anyone who would stay after school.
  • Tom Berenger’s character explains to the class he is teaching about his services and experiences in Vietnam. Berenger played a Sgt. (Barnes) in the Vietnam movie Platoon 10 years earlier.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Doesn’t Constitute A Direct Threat

My Students Are Trying To Kill Me

Jon Janus Promotion

That Cereal Really Does Work

You’ll Go Drop A Grenade On Him

It’s Going To Get A Lot More Quiet In Here

What’s The KOD?

What’s Your Background?

Not Doing Their Homework

I’m The Warrior Chief

Corporal Punishment Is Not Allowed

Make Me Write I’m Sorry 10 Times On The Board

No Talking In The Library

Kind Of Hard When Your Whole Life Is A Covert Operation

You Are History

Joint Operation Between The CIA and PTA

Who Died?