Mr. Stitch

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Mr. Stitch

Release Date: August 17, 1996

Genre: Sci-Fi

Director: Roger Avary

Writer: Roger Avary

Starring: Wil Wheaton, Rutger Hauer, Nia Peeples, Ron Perlman, Michael Harris

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For those that have followed this blog from the beginning, you might recall a review I did for a Sci-Fi Channel original movie entitled “Evolver!” If you haven’t seen the post before, don’t worry you still can. All my posts are archived 😊 It’s one of my favorite made for television movies. The movie represented a time in the 90s when the Sci-Fi Channel was really coming up in the cable world and its popularity would spawn its own original movies. Another movie I recall seeing when it first came out that I discovered again was a movie called “Mr. Stitch!” I remember seeing the trailer for it where it was just a man all wrapped up in giant bandages in front of an all-white screen. As an impressionable pre-teen during the day I was overwhelmingly excited to see this. I don’t recall watching it when it premiered, but I remember I was quite fond of the idea, concept and execution. Watching it again not too long ago I double down on my comments. For a movie that is twenty-three years old, it still holds up despite some moments of outdatedness. With that let’s get to the synopsis of “Mr. Stitch!”

“Mr. Stitch” stars Wil Wheaton, best known for playing Ensign Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as an androgynous human made from body parts and skin from various donors and chooses to be a man despite not having the sexual organs of one. He was created by a group of scientists led by Dr. Rue Wakeman (Rutger Hauer). He’s referred to only as ‘Subject 3.’ Later he chooses a name for himself. He is now ‘Lazarus’ after the biblical character.  At first, Lazarus is obedient and follows commands and performs his tests.  As Lazarus learns more about himself he begins having memories and nightmares from the lives of his donors. They offer clues as to the identities of those who inhabit his body while simultaneously torture him. This creates a rift between his relationship with Wakeman. Wakeman realizes he is losing control over Lazarus as he is developing independent logic and feeling. Lazarus realizes that Wakeman is hiding secrets from him causing him to no longer want to work with him. Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth English (Nia Peeples) is assigned to help Lazarus deal with his tension between Wakeman and deal with his nightmares and with it develop a sense of trust with other humans. They start to get close until Lazarus mentions a phrase that triggers English as it is a phrase that said to her from her deceased science partner and lover Dr. Frederick Texarian (Ron Perlman). Lazarus starts to be overwhelmed by being trapped in the ward and requests to see the outside world which is immediately rejected by Wakeman. He sneaks out and investigates Wakeman’s true intentions with him. Lazarus understands what his purpose is and must find a way to stop Wakeman’s plans as well as make amends with English.

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Written and directed by Roger Avary, “Mr. Stitch” is essentially a modern day retelling of “Frankenstein.” You have the Scientist who is looking to create a human being from dead (in this case created by tissue and organs of deceased humans) and you have the monster, which in this case is aware, functional and intelligent compared to the monster of the classic tale. It has the same elements in terms of the scientist creating this new life and teaching it how to interact with others and how to function with the purpose that is only known to them. You have the monster that is trying to learn, but starts to become resilient and unbalanced. The two will clash into this tug of war over power and control.

About ninety percent of the film takes place in this ward where everything is white. The scientists wear white suits and Lazarus is bandaged in all white. To me it represents both the first light we see when we are born as well as a state of purgatory where we are trapped in this area and are waiting to get to the outside of what lies ahead (for Lazarus this would be the outside world). We don’t see the outside of the ward until the near climax of the movie and several flashback scenes that Lazarus experiences as nightmares. Only other color we see in the movie is a black couch similar to a top hat that acts as Lazarus’ bed and the snot colored goo that comes out from a giant eyeball called the Observation Eye that watches Lazarus’ every move and from a device that measures and records his brain wave pattern when he is asleep (both are destroyed by Lazarus in a fit of anger).

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The look of Lazarus is comprised of numerous pieces of skin from all different colors of humans (Black, White, and Brown). His eyes have different pigments of color. His hair is long and frazzled, almost like a witch. Although he is androgynous, he identifies himself as man due to his strength and anger that is to be more in common with a man than a woman. I give the makeup department credit for creating a creature like this to represent that we are all human begins regardless of race, color, sex and creed.  I think that was Avary’s intention as well.

“Mr. Stitch” has some unique shots and visuals. What stood out to me are the choice of lenses that were used in certain scenes. For example, the “think tank” office of the scientists is shot like they are working inside a bubble. To me, the bubble represents the inner circle of those who are in it as to their research and their plans as to what to do with the research they are developing. The climax scene is deep underground and has a glossy watery effect that surrounds the confronting characters. Based on your impressions it gives you either a dream like effect or an effect if someone where high on drugs.

The pacing is a little uneven, but it doesn’t take away from the plot. Music is incorporated in practically every scene and it’s appropriate for what is happening in the scene. There is heavy metal during Lazarus’ bouts of anger or paranoia. There is a dreamy soft guitar sound during a hypnosis scene. Each piece of music sets the tone for what is happening.

The movie contains a very small cast with the majority of screen time belonging to Wil Wheaton and Rutger Hauer. Both of them I felt did a good job with their performances despite some flaws in the script. Wheaton starts out as very calm and compliant as he performs the tests that Hauer has him do. He’s quite intelligent by quickly developing his self-awareness and heightened sensibility. He is hostile to the scientists, but finds a soft and calming nature when he is around Dr. English. He develops a deep sense of trust and in some cases, love when they are together. Wheaton is able to channel his emotions of the character in the appropriate scenes throughout the film.   Hauer portrays Dr. Wakeman as a teacher and somewhat of a father figure to Lazarus. He is cautious with his responses to Lazarus’ questions and steers him away from anything he sees as a threat to his control of him. Hauer was very unhappy with the writing of the movie that he disregarded the script and began to improvise his scenes to match what he felt was more logical of his character and the story. I honestly can’t tell you that I was able to pick out which scenes he improvised, but that’s what makes him a great established actor was that he knew more about the character than what Avary had on paper.

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The rest of the cast includes Nia Peeples as Dr. Elizabeth English who is brought in to help Lazarus deal with his dreams and nightmares. She builds a rapport with Lazarus during their sessions together. As they get to know each other, she becomes slightly distraught at what she discovers about him. Her feelings for him come full circle in the climax of the film. Peeples is very attractive and gives a soft touch to the films constant hostility between the two main characters. The other main performance comes from Michael Harris as General Hardcastle, who is the head of a secret government organization called ‘The Outfit’ and is in charge of the project. He shovels billions of taxpayers’ dollars to Wakeman and his team with the goal of creating a superior human being that could be used not only in warfare but to take down the bureaucrats in Washington so he can remodel the government in his own vision. He is the real antagonist of the movie. This was perhaps the weakest and most laughable performance of the movie. His dialogue reminds me of something a professional wrestler would say, but he gets what’s coming to him and it’s very satisfying. There is also small appearances from Ron Perlman as Dr. Texarian, the original team leader of the Stitch Project, Taylor Negron as Dr. Alan Jacobs who replaces Dr. English and gets a not so warm welcome by Lazarus and Make Up Effects Guru Tom Savini as a scientist.

“Mr. Stitch is available to watch on YouTube since it’s hard to find any video copies. I think you would enjoy watching this made for television movie. It’s a creative take on an original monster story. It doesn’t drag and keeps your attention with every scene. I wish the Sci-Fi Channel would make more of these compelling films than cheap monster movies involving five headed sharks or a yeti with the speed of a greyhound dog. Really makes you miss the 90s.

 

TRIVIA

  • Part way through production, Rutger Hauer completely discarded the script and refused to do any scenes from it. The majority of his scenes were improvised by the actor. Later, Roger Avary was forced to rewrite the remaining script to match up with Rutger’s footage.
  • This movie was the first “original” aired by The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It would be a few more years before they started advertising their made-for-TV movies as “Sci-Fi Originals”, but they did advertise this quite a bit as new and never-before-seen.
  • Was meant to be a pilot for a proposed television series. After Rutger Hauer gave up on the movie, the series was sunk.

AUDIO CLIPS

Story of Frankenstein

Do We Have Any More Weights?

Reference To A Word I Have No Meaning

I Do Seem To Have A Knack For Fisticuffs

An Improvement of Nature

I’ve Chosen A Name

Residue Thought

Feet First

Classified Territory

I Dream About An Elephant

Happy To See You

I Will Skin You Alive

I Want To See The Outside

Should Be Teaching Preschool In Florida

Jacobs Tortured

Get Out Of The Car

General Hardcastle’s Speech

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Black Caesar

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Black Caesar

Release Date: February 7, 1973

Genre: Action, Drama, Crime

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

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

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

TRIVIA

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Shine Em Up Good

Down And Out In New York City – James Brown Song

You’ve Never Seen Me

You’re The Big Brain

Sammy, Don’t Disfigure The Man

Sauce Needed Some More Meat

The Boss – James Brown Song

Never Fear

We’ll Make Sure The Garbage Is Picked Up

Play A Couple Tunes

Somebody Call Down For A Shine?

I Want Him Nice And Fat

Sleep Well, Mr. Gibbs

Who’s Lincoln?

Been Waiting 25 Years To Kill You

I Miss My Old Bed

Heal Him Lord

Evilspeak

 

Evilspeak Poster

Evilspeak

Release Date: February 26, 1982

Genre: Horror, Drama

Director: Eric Weston

Writers: Eric Weston (Screenplay) and Joseph Garofalo (Screenplay and Story)

Starring: Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese, Don Stark

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Happy 2019 dead readers! Here’s to another year! The first year of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” has been a success! I again want to thank all of you for supporting the site. Hopefully we can continue to grow and expand our viewing audience. I’ve got plenty of movies to review and I’m looking to find some rare movies that perhaps the reading audiences aren’t familiar with. There will be full of surprises. If you have the following social media accounts, please make sure you follow my pages below:

Facebook – Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review

Twitter – @GPCRMovies

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s kick off the new year by reviewing a movie in my favorite genre. If you haven’t guessed by the numerous reviews including an October special, my favorite genre of movies is Horror. I stumbled upon this movie searching for some rare and unique Horror movies that I haven’t seen yet. It had an appealing cover, but you know what they say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover!” Would it live it up to the cover? Let’s find out. Here is the first “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” of 2019, the 1982 demonic horror flick “Evilspeak!”

Starring Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard) in a rare leading role, the film focuses on Stanley Coopersmith, who is enrolled at military school due to the unfortunate deaths of his mother and father. Coopersmith is an outcast at the school. He is constantly bullied by the other cadets, gets berated by the senior personnel and laughed at by the women. The only compassion he receives is from the school chef and a little puppy that he adopts from the chef when he originally planned on letting it die because it is a runt. Stanley is forced to clean the church cellar at the school as punishment (for no clear reason). As he is cleaning the cellar, Stanley stumbles upon a room belonging to Father Esteban, a priest from the Dark Ages who had been banished from his church in Spain due to dabbling in black magic and refusing to renounce Satan. In his room is a book of black magic along with Esteban’s diary. Using a computer, Stanley translates the book from Latin to English where it contains instructions for a ritual called the “Black Mass.” The “Black Mass” would allow the soul of Esteban to return and possess the human being that performs the ritual, in this case Stanley. Stanley calls upon him to exact revenge on those who have mistreated him.

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Directed by Eric Weston (also co-wrote the screenplay) the film also stars R.G. Armstrong as ‘Sarge’, Joe Cortese as ‘Reverend Jameson’ and Don Stark of “That’s 70s Show” fame as ‘Bubba Caldwell’, the lead bully of the gang that torments Stanley throughout the movie. “Evilspeak” was released in only three countries which were the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. The film was banned in the United Kingdom due to its climax and Satanic Themes. It was cited as a ‘Video Nasty’, which was a collection of movies under the UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 that are banned due to its graphic nature or subject matter. It would later be reclassified and re-released in 1987 with three minutes cut from the original release and the text images of the “Black Mass” ritual removed on the computer screen. The film has a cult following (pun intended) and is the favorite film of Anton LaVey, the late founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan.

Throughout his career, Clint Howard has always been a character actor. You will likely see him in every movie his brother Ron Howard has directed. You’ve also seen him in the “Austin Powers Trilogy” as a military radar operator or as Paco in the Adam Sandler comedy “The Waterboy.” He has that distinct look that sticks out like a sore thumb. In this rare starring role for Howard he takes advantage of this by creating a lovable and sympathetic character. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He tries his best going through the rigorous routines of military school only to be harassed by the fellow cadets and the teachers showing disdain for his tardiness and his inability to comply with the rules of the institution. His only sanctuary is the computer lab where he is building a class project with the aid of technology. His only friends are the chef and puppy dog that he keeps hidden from everyone in the church cellar as he spends more time studying the book and being fascinated with Father Esteban’s words. Although we shouldn’t seek revenge in real life, I was cheering for Stanley to get back at the bullies once his soul was possessed by Esteban. The antagonists in the movie were truly the lowest forms of life.

Speaking of the antagonists, there’s plenty of them in this film. Veteran actor R.G. Armstrong was a nice fit as ‘Sarge’ and Don Stark embellished the bully role of pack leader Bubba Caldwell with glee and delight. From Sarge to Reverend Jameson to Bubba Caldwell and his gang, all these people are despicable and nasty. I understand that you need to instill discipline on those who act out or misbehave, but some of the punishments in the film could be considered excessive in today’s world. They embarrass and humiliate Stanley every chance they get throughout the film. As a big believer in karma, they get theirs in the end.

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“Evilspeak” is not an original concept. Many have compared it to “Carrie” even calling it the male version of the horror classic. There are numerous similarities between the two films. There’s a lot of holes in the screenplay leaving many questions unanswered. The overall theme of the movie is how far does one get pushed to the point where they seek revenge? It’s a humanitarian struggle for Stanley. As he dives more into the book and translates the passages, the more intrigued and curious he becomes. He continues down a dark path where there is no return. His view of redemption is by killing those that have made his life miserable.

The pacing is slow as it spends ninety percent of the movie building up the characters until the climax where everything is moving fast as if the filmmakers were given a time limit to complete the last act. The makeup and effects are dated for its time. And if you pay attention closely, you could see a dummy or two during Despite these flaws, I think it’s a technically good film that gets as much out as it could on its reported $1M budget. It’s not a slasher film in any sense so don’t expect to see a high body count, but there’s just the right amount of gore to appease the fans.

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What makes “Evilspeak” work is how relatable it is today. Bullying continues to be a problem in schools today and with social media being a regular outlet for impressionable young people, it makes it worse when they post pictures or say mean comments about someone they like for reasons known only to them. The kids that are bullied end up taking dramatic and consequential actions such as hurting people or hurting themselves. No kid should have to go through life feeling miserable, sad or wishing they were never born. They should be enjoying their youth by having fun. Although this isn’t a movie to show kids about the effects bullying has, but it puts things in retrospect since we all have been a bully or have been bullied sometime in our lives.

If you enjoy low budget horror films that are simple and straight to the point, “Evilspeak” may be right up your alley.  Even if it’s the same old story told, and you are seething with anger over the characters, there is enough cheese going on that it can brighten your mood. Sometimes that’s all you need in a horror movie to prevent it from being all doom and gloom.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to Clint Howard, one night after shooting a scene he drove home while still wearing his bloody cadet outfit. He stopped at a light and noticed a woman staring at him from a nearby car, so he turned and smiled at her, and she responded by immediately locking all of her car’s doors.
  • Clint Howard and Don Stark agreed not to socialize during filming so that they could maintain the hostility that existed between their characters.
  • Previously banned in the UK as part of the infamous “Video Nasty” list during the 1980s.
  • The title “Evilspeak” was derived from the phrase “computer-speak”, a term used to describe the shorthand used by computer specialists for the otherwise complex. In the film the protagonist uses computers to summon evil spirits.
  • One of the prosthetic heads was accidentally made too tough for the decapitation scene it was intended for, and when Clint Howard struck it with the sword to his embarrassment it merely bounced off. Frustrated, he found a large sledge hammer then took some time to practice swinging it around until the added weight made wielding the sword seem easy by comparison, and when the scene was shot again he finally took the head off.
  • According to Clint Howard and director Eric Weston, the original cut of the film which he submitted to the ratings board contained even more footage than the uncut DVD release, including more special effects, as well as extensions of the bathtub death scene and the cadet having his heart ripped out. But their labored efforts to find a copy of this version have proven futile, and they believe it is likely gone forever.
  • Actor R.G. Armstrong was offered a choice between playing Sarge and Colonel Kincaid before assuming the role of Sarge.
  • The computer used by Stanley in the film is an Apple II, which was a very popular brand of computer at the time the film was made.
  • Richard Moll plays Father Esteban, the priest sentenced to exile for practicing the occult, and is seen performing the Black Mass in the beginning of the movie, two years before making a name for himself as Bull Shannon in Night Court (1984).
  • The production did some filming in a South Central church that had been condemned and scheduled to be torn down. When the aged minister saw that the crew were refurbishing the church, he didn’t understand that this was “show business refurbishing” and that the church would ultimately be burned down, dropping down on his knees and thanking God. Nobody had the heart to tell him the truth.

AUDIO CLIPS

Pawn Sacrifice

 

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Pawn Sacrifice

Release Date: September 25, 2015

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

First off I wish to thank everyone for their continued support of the site. I have reached Review #30. For this review of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary “Bobby Fischer Against The World.” He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called “Pawn Sacrifice!”

“Pawn Sacrifice” chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Courage Under Fire,” and “The Last Samurai” the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what “Pawn Sacrifice” does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

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As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

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Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

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“Pawn Sacrifice” is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier “Bobby Fischer Against The World” and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

 

Sushi Girl

Sushi Girl

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Before I go into the review, I would like to take this time to apologize for not posting weekly. I’ve had some personal tragedies in my life that took me away from various projects. In addition, I wanted to take some time off and rethink the concept of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. When I first started this blog, the concept was to review movies that I particularly liked that perhaps only a small cult would enjoy. I started to find myself digging into movies that have already been done before. I took a seat back and took notes on how to keep this blog going but make it appealing to the viewers. I decided that I would focus on movies that the mainstream movie goer may not have heard of before or movies that may be seen as bad by the general public, but I enjoy.  I know there will be people out there (even you the reader) that may have seen the movie I’m reviewing before, but my goal in reviewing these underrated movies is to attempt to capture a new audience. As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s “Sushi Girl”.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled “Sushi Girl”. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about “Sushi Girl”, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick “Reservoir Dogs”. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. “Sushi Girl” follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like “Reservoir Dogs”, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than “Candyman” which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Clocking in at 98 minutes, “Sushi Girl” may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

 

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

 

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.

 

  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.

 

  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.

 

  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.

 

  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).

 

  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS