The Stuff

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The Stuff

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I’ve been waiting to post this review. Now is a perfect time. It’s movie #4 in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, ‘The Stuff!’. So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic ‘The Stuff!’

The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money, he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.

As I’ve said in my opening statement, “The Stuff” is still my favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was, I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.

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Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in ‘Q: The Winged Serpent” with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it. Sorvino chews up the scenery all throughout the climax of the movie.

Like most of Cohen’s films, “The Stuff” is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties were the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.

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The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.

‘The Stuff’ is not without its flaws and there’s plenty of them. There’s no main antagonist to the movie only that the product itself and the corporate executives. I think there was a missed opportunity there. If they had a main antagonist who could perhaps be a rival saboteur to Mo or a person who wants to manipulate the infected people and make them servants of his, it would have made for a more interesting confrontation. The color of The Stuff is white. It’s not a scary color or a color that is associated with blobs or goo. If it were green or blue, I think it would’ve been a more organic look. Also, I did not enjoy the performance of the kid, Jason. If I had to create a list of the ‘Most Annoying Characters in Horror Movies’ he would be on that list. He is constantly whining about telling his family not to eat The Stuff. He also complains to Mo that he had to eat shaving cream to convince his parents that he is now under the power of The Stuff. I also didn’t like how he was portrayed at the end of the movie. It didn’t give him any redeeming quality or likeability. Finally, there could’ve been a lot more romantic development between Mo and Nicole. It’s like they meet and then all of a sudden Nicole is in love with him. My viewing experience of characters falling in love tends to build up from the beginning of the movie to the mid-way point and there was none of that here. You may notice these flaws as you watch it, but because there is so much going on in terms of the action and the horror of the movie that you will more than likely shrug it off.

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‘The Stuff’ is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.

Next week we present the final review of the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Make sure you check back next week. Same time, same place, same website.

 

TRIVIA

– According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.

– According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.

– Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen.

– Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.

– David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.

– Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.

– The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.

– The Executive’s Office at the End is strangely similar to Mr Burns’ Office from The Simpsons, particularly the Stuffed Polar Bear.

 

AUDIO CLIPS 

Tasty and Sweet

Enough Is Never Enough

Sweaty Palm

Mo Rutherford

No, Don’t Eat It

Can’t Wait In Line

The Stuff Commercial #1

You Feed The Dog

Chocolate Chip Charlie

Low Tech Solutions

I Could Always Kill You

They’re Good For Us

I Just Ate Shaving Cream

The Stuff Commercial #2

Pillow Tried To Kill Us

They’re All Stuffies

You’ll Probably Be A Casulty

We’ve Never Lost A War

Get That Shit Off My Station

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Q: The Winged Serpent

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Q: The Winged Serpent

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

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

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

TRIVIA

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep

You’re Not The Only Action In Town

Jimmy Plays The Piano

Equal Share Equal Chance

I’ve Been Afraid Of Everything

Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?

Evil Dreams

The Feathered Flying Serpent

I Better Take My Birth Control Pill

Eat Him

Being Civilized

Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups

Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher

If You Know Something

Nixon Like Pardon

Get Rupert Down Here

Fry Up 500 lbs of Bacon

Stick It Up Your Small Brain

The Long Riders

 

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The Long Riders

Release Date: May 16, 1980

Genre: Biography, Crime, Western

Director: Walter Hill

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

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

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRIVIA

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Standing Guard

You Got Nice Hands

Women

When You’re Old Enough To Call Yourself A Lady

Shelby Weren’t At Cole Harbor

Jesse James Rides With The Youngers

How Come I Wasn’t Invited?

Fire Away And Fall Back

Amazingly Stupid Question

What’s To Know About Robbing A Bank?

On Your Way To Hell

Pinkerton Man

Tell You Something About Texas

Any Visitors While I Was Gone

Family Man

Take The Damn Bank

 

The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

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

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRIVIA

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

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Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

Release Date: January 29, 1988

Genre: Comedy, Horror

Director: David DeCoteau

Writer: Sergei Hasenecz

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Andras Jones, Robin Stille, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Most filmmakers are lucky to have a handful of movies they’ve done in their career. Some are even lucky to at least get one. For example, my favorite director John Carpenter has twenty one film credits to his resume. Another filmmaker I love, Frank Henenlotter has ten. Where am I going with this? I was reading some information about a B movie filmmaker by the name of David DeCoteau. He got his foot in the door in the movie business at age nineteen working for Roger Corman and quickly worked up the ranks to where he was directing movies. According to IMDB, DeCoteau has one hundred and fifty directing credits! The movies he directs ranges from horror to science fiction to even Christmas family movies made exclusively for television. To answer as to how DeCoteau has been able to direct so many films is according to Charles Band, filmmaker and founder of such b movie horror companies as Empire Pictures, Urban Classics and currently Full Moon Features is that DeCoteau is, “hard, fast and stays under budget.” DeCoteau has directed many films for Charles Band throughout the years. His most famous film is “Puppet Master III: Tulon’s Revenge” which is regarded as the best movie in the Puppet Master franchise (I concur. It’s my favorite). For this edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” we’re going to look at another popular movie of his that has had a huge cult following for the last thirty years. That movie is 1988’s “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” (try saying that five times fast)!

I know what you’re thinking about the title and let’s get this out of the way now. This is not a softcore adult film! This could be described as a sexy horror comedy that bounces all over the walls, or in this case bumpers. The story is about three nerds who sneak over to the Tri-Delta Sorority House. They are watching the initiation of two new members getting spanked by the head of the chapter named Babs. The boys enter the house and watching the initiates hose down after getting a whipped cream spraying. Essentially they are caught by Babs. As punishment, they have to go with the two initiates named Lisa and Taffy to steal a bowling trophy from the local bowling alley. If they retrieve a trophy, the boys will not be reported to the police for their voyeurism and Lisa and Taffy will get into the Sorority. Unbeknownst to them, Babs’ father runs the mall where the bowling alley is at so she and the other sisters can watch their every move through the security cameras. Inside the bowling alley they come across a biker looking punk named Spider who is stealing money from the register and the arcades. Spider uses her crowbar to break the chain into the trophy room. From there, the boys and the pledges grab the biggest trophy on the shelf. On accident, the bowling trophy falls to the ground and breaks. Smoke beings to come out from the trophy and out appears an imp. The imp thanks them for releasing him and grants wishes to the group. A couple of them take advantage of this offer. Turns out their wishes would be fake and the imp starts his night of terror among the group by turning two of the sisters into she-demons and electrifying all the doors in the alley to prevent anyone from escaping. Now the survivors must figure out how to either escape or defeat the imp.

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This straight to video movie stars Linnea Quigley in her first starring role as Spider. She is another scream queen legend as fans will recognize her from her supporting roles in “Return of the Living Dead,” “Night of the Demons” and “Silent Night: Deadly Night.” The rest of the cast features Andres Jones as Calvin, Hal Havens as Jimmie, John Stuart Wildman as Keith (the three nerds), Robin Rochelle (Stile) as Babs, Kathi O’ Brecht and Carla Barron as Rhonda and Frankie, the other sisters in the sorority, Michelle Bauer as Lisa and Brinke Stevens as Taffy. There is a special appearance from George “Buck” Flower as the janitor of the Bowl-A-Rama. Flower is known for always playing the hobo in such films as the “Back to the Future” movies and in many of John Carpenter’s movies such as “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” and “They Live!”

“Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” is as much of a punk film as Linnea Quigley’s appearance in this. It breaks a lot of rules and lacks consistency. It makes up for it with its sheer delight of goofiness, beautiful looking girls and gore. There’s not much logic in this movie as to why the imp turns two of the girls into demons with one of them a copycat of the bride of Frankenstein and how an imp got stuck in a bowling trophy, although the explanation as to how the imp came to be and its purpose is told through a story by the janitor. If you can ignore all that, you’ll enjoy the movie a little better. DeCoteau made this movie in reportedly nine days which would show why he continues to get directing work.

The imp is a tiny little blue creature with a giant mouth filled with teeth. It reminds me of the donkey from “Shrek” voiced by Eddie Murphy. Speaking of the voice, the imp does sound a lot like Eddie Murphy. I’ve heard people say he’s sounds like Barry White, but it’s not really a deep of a voice. You don’t see the imp move around. He appears in the same shot for most of the movie with the exception of a few scenes where he is tripping Jimmie or he’s behind the bowling alley taunting Babs. His dialogue and jokes are as stereotypical as they can be.

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Speaking of stereotypes, they are in each character. You have two of the nerds (Calvin and Keith) who wear thick glasses and goofy hair and you have Jimmie who reminds me of a mix between Chris Farley and John Candy without the physicality. You have Lisa and Taffy the gorgeous pledges and you have Babs who is the prissy and mean girl of the sorority having her fun at humiliating the pledges. And then you have Spider who you know right away is going to be the heroine of the film. She’s tough and doesn’t have time for games. However, as the movie progresses, Spider shows a sense of vulnerability and confiding with Calvin as to how they are going to get out. That’s a credit to Quigley and the characters she has played previously before this film.

With Quigley being the star, the rest of the cast were decent given the material they were given. You can tell they are playing to the script and the concept of the movie. The dialogue is pure 80s cheese with many one liners and zingers coming from Quigley. Buck Flower also provides comedic relief as he spends much of the film trying to get himself out of a room he locked himself into and when he comes across Spider and Calvin gives the hilarious story of the imp and the person who summoned him.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film is not a softcore porn movie, but it does have a lot of sexual overtones. Yes, you have naked women in the beginning and the middle of the movie, but it’s much more than that. First you have Babs spanking Lisa and Taffy and getting a kick out of it. You have the lonely (and presumably virgin) nerds who get a pleasure out of the sheer sight of watching Lisa and Taffy taking a shower. You have the setting of the movie, a bowling alley. There’s so much sexual imagery and thought with the setting. You have bowling balls, bowling pins, gutters……well you get the idea. Finally you have Keith who makes a wish to hook up with Lisa and gets more than what he wished for. What he thought would be exciting in fulfilling a dream becomes a horrible nightmare.

With the exception of the flaws I mentioned earlier the only other gripes I have about this movie is the pacing. It starts to slow down during the third act of the movie. I started to get a little bored and was eagerly waiting for the climax of the movie to be done with. Also, I felt the creative death scenes in the movie could’ve used a little more depth. There’s not much blood and gore in this movie, which is ok. However, you should see the death scene go all the way through. One death scene kicks into another scene just as the victim is screaming for her life.

If you’re looking to watch an 80s horror movie that is out of the ordinary, look no further than “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama.” If you’re lucky to find this get a group of friends together along with a few six packs or other preferred drinks of your choice and enjoy this wild and over the top movie. You won’t need to get drunk to understand what is going on in the movie. Don’t be one of those people who tries to use their brain to figure out what David DeCoteau is trying to get out of this movie. You’ll end up giving yourself a headache. Think of it a rule breaking, stereotypical piece of horror comedy that you may end up liking. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. You can blame me. At least I tried to convince you to watch something unconventional.

TRIVIA

  • In the Static-X’s song “I’m With Stupid”, Linnea Quigley’s line from the movie “Yeah, it was…very stupid.” is sampled.
  • Director David DeCoteau wanted to work with Linnea Quigley so much that he handed her the script and told her she could play any character she wanted. She eventually decided on Spider.
  • Shot in twelve days.
  • The budget was too low to rent the bowling alley during peak daytime hours, so the cast and crew had to wait till the bowling alley closed at 9pm and shoot all night till 9am.
  • The movie was released in the UK on VHS under its original title, “The Imp”.
  • The janitor tells a story about a man named Dave McCabe. This was director David DeCoteau’s alternate name when he directed adult films.
  • The trophy, although appearing to be metallic, is actually made of balsa wood.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Felta Delta

Babs The Dominatrix

Should Consider Prison Work

We Were Only Looking

Saw That In A Movie

Midnight Whimp Bowling League

Don’t Panic

What’s Your Name?

He’s A Big One

Ain’t No Freakshow

Anything Your Fat Little Heart Desires

I Crack Me Up

I Have Your Pants

Very Stupid

The Imp

We’re Trapped In Here

Listen For Us

No Escape

 

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No Escape

Release Date: April 24, 1994

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Martin Campbell

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

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

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On Me Again

Absolom

Welcome To Paradise

Not In The Mood For An Interrogation

Wipe Your Feet

He Does That With Everyone

If You Like Roadkill

Two Shots Of Your Finest 12 Day Old

Find Forgiveness

Basket Weaving

Warden’s Dry Cleaning

No You Cannot Have My Shoes

I Thought You Were My Friend

Second Prize

We’ve Always Been About Survival

Come And Get It

 

 

 

 

 

 

RocketMan

RocketMan_(1997_film)

RocketMan

Release Date: October 10, 1997

Genre: Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Director: Stuart Gillard

Writers; Oren Aviv, Craig Mazin, Greg Erb

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIVIA (per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS