Film Review: Heavy Metal (1981)

Also known as: Universo en fantasía (original Spanish language title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1981 (premiere)
Directed by: Gerald Potterton
Written by: Daniel Goldberg
Based on: original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Thomas Warkentin, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, various
Cast: Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, Zal Yanovsky

Canadian Film Development Corporation, Guardian Trust Company, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes, 90 Minutes (premiere cut)

Review:

“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.” – Narrator

Fuck, this movie is so damn cool!

However, it does lack in the “heavy metal” department, as far as the music goes. That’s not to say the music is bad, this is just a lot less heavy than the title implies. Still, this developed a really strong cult following and for very good reason.

I love the rock and pop tunes in this, though. I mean, where else can you see a sword and sorcery story with sci-fi elements playout to a Devo song? Nowhere!

This entire movie is an animated anthology. The various segments were inspired by some of the stories and art that appeared in the pages of the Heavy Metal comic magazine. This is also a very adult cartoon, as it features nudity, sex and violence. There really isn’t anything here for kids but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind. The ’80s were a different era, though. Kids today can’t watch Gremlins without needing the light on till they turn thirty.

Anyway, this was produced by Ivan Reitman and it featured a lot of his regular actors in voice roles. It’s kind of neat watching this for the first time in years and hearing John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. It almost needed Bill Murray in there to round it out but it was still pretty dope hearing these comedic legends voices pop up in something like this.

That being said, this is just a really unique experience and it still conjures up a sort of magical feeling when watching it.

Despite the action and violence, the film has a calming, chill vibe to it and I think that has a lot to do with its visual style, tone and the superb use of music to season the already flavorful meal.

Heavy Metal is a weirdly comforting movie that reminds me of a time when filmmakers were still daring and experimental and with that, often times gave us movies that were really interesting, wonderfully eccentric, bizarre and special.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other late ’70s and ’80s adult animated films.

Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War (2016)

Release Date: 2016
Directed by: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla
Cast: various

Chassy Media, Netflix, 99 Minutes

Review:

Man, I really wanted to watch this as The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of my favorite sporting events of the year and the biggest motorsports thing that I care about.

However, this was pretty underwhelming even though it told a great story, which was the Le Mans rivalry that developed between Ferrari and Ford. Since there’s a very well-received and beloved drama film on this very subject, it’s not a true story short on excitement.

I think that the biggest problem with this documentary, though, was the editing. It wasn’t very good and it made this play like a disjointed clusterfuck at times. I don’t want to be too hard on it but it shifted gears in strange ways that left my brain feeling like a speed bag.

It was hard to follow the narrative but I did enjoy the interviews within this. Although, that doesn’t save the film from its issues.

While this is probably more factually accurate than the dramatized motion picture, you’re probably better off just watching that. Plus, it boasts great performances from its A-list cast.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Le Mans and motorsports in general.

Film Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Also known as: Tea-Time of the Dead (working title), Zombies Party – Uma Noite… de Morte (Portugal), Zombies Party – Una Noche… de Muerte (Spain)
Release Date: March 29th, 2004 (London premiere)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Music by: Pete Woodhead, Daniel Mudford
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz, Rafe Spall, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Matt Lucas, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley (uncredited)

Working Title Films, StudioCanal, Rogue Pictures, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in pie. And there’s an “I” in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team… I don’t know what he’s talking about.” – Shaun

The first time that I watched Shaun of the Dead, I knew that it would not only be a cult classic, right out of the gate, but I knew it would go down as a comedy classic and one of the best of its era. I wasn’t wrong and it helped Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost carve out really nice careers for themselves.

It also kicked off the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, which included 2007’s Hot Fuzz and 2013’s The World’s End.

Out of those three films, this one sits in the middle for me, as I like Hot Fuzz more and thought that The World’s End was fairly underwhelming.

This movie is pretty simple and straightforward, though. It also came out before zombie movies and television shows really blew up and became oversaturated in entertainment. So when I saw this for the first time in 2004, it was pretty unique and immediately became one of my favorite horror comedies.

There have been a lot of horror comedies since, especially in the zombie subgenre. But this and the original Return of the Living Dead are the only two I’d consider true classics.

The cast in this had great chemistry but most of them are good friends and had worked together previously in the TV shows Spaced and Black Books.

Shaun of the Dead also feels like a natural extension of Spaced, even though it features familiar actors in different roles. The style of the comedy, the two main characters’ camaraderie and the film’s general tone match up with Spaced, though. That also probably has to do with Edgar Wright helming both.

The story sees a lovable and well-meaning loser have to step up to the plate when the zombie apocalypse kicks off in London. He needs to win back his girlfriend, save his mum and his friends and try to survive the undead outbreak with a pint in his hand.

This doesn’t need a complicated story and it’s better that it’s simple and allows the characters the time to develop and win you over. It’s funny though, as this was the first time I saw Dylan Moran and by the end, I thought he was the biggest prick in the world. And he was, in this film, but he’d actually become one of my favorite comedians and comedic actors after seeing a lot of his standup, as well as his roles in Black Books and a slew of other appearances over the years.

Shaun of the Dead was my introduction to a lot of actors I’ve grown to love over the years. Kate Ashfield, the female lead, is actually the only person in this who I haven’t seen in anything else. Still, she’s really enjoyable in this and added a lot to this group’s dynamic.

I’m glad that I revisited this again, as it’s been so long since I’ve watched any of the movies in this trilogy or Spaced. But after seeing this, I’m going to work through them all again for future reviews.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Edgar Wright comedies, as well as his television show Spaced.

Film Review: Dazed and Confused (1993)

Release Date: June 4th, 1993 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Music by: various
Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Sasha Jenson, Michelle Burke, Christine Harnos, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Catherine Avril Morris, Matthew McConaughey, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Deena Martin, Nicky Katt, Esteban Powell, Jason O. Smith, Mark Vandermeulen, Jeremy Fox, Renee Zellweger

Detour Filmproduction, Alphaville Films, Gramercy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” – Wooderson

I always viewed this movie as a spiritual successor to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mainly, because it is a coming-of-age high school movie but it is just as serious, as it is comedic. While it is goofy and funny, it’s a much better film than what it appears to be on a surface level, similar to Ridgemont High.

Also like Ridgemont, it has a stacked cast that features a ton of young stars. These stars would become big names as the ’90s rolled on and the turn of the new millennium took many of them to the heights of Hollywood. There are future Academy Award winners in this cast.

It’s also directed by Richard Linklater and it has similar beats to his other coming-of-age films, although it doesn’t have as hard of an edge as the really dark, SubUrbia.

The story starts on the last day of school and it follows several characters over the course of that day and night. Each one is faced with an uncertain future, new changes and challenges on the horizon but ultimately, everyone wants to forget about their problems and just enjoy the night.

The film takes place in the mid-’70s, even though it came out in the ’90s. But it’s also timeless and regardless of the timeframe in which it takes place, it’s also really true to what the ’90s were like. I know, because I was this age in the ’90s. I can’t speak on how this will play for modern high school students but the world is a weird, incredibly soft place now.

What makes this movie so much better than most of the films like it is the performances of the cast and how genuine everything feels. Linklater obviously wrote this based off of his own high school experiences and his personal intimacy with the material comes through in every scene. And frankly, there isn’t a single unnecessary or dull scene in the entire film.

Additionally, all the big plots are well-balanced and organized, as the night plays on and several characters weave in and out of the larger story, overlapping.

Dazed and Confused has stood the test of time incredibly well. I feel like it’s material will always be relevant and because of that, it is one of the greatest motion pictures of its type.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Richard Linklater coming of age films, as well as other good coming of age high school movies.

Film Review: The Old Dark House (1963)

Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robert Dillon
Based on: Benighted by J. B. Priestley
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell

William Castle Productions, Hammer Films, 86 Minutes, 77 Minutes (original cinema cut)

Review:

“You see, it’s an old house. Old and dark.” – Potiphar Femm

William Castle has had many of his films remade in more modern times. But this film of his is actually a remake of an older film from 1932 that starred Boris Karloff.

This is also a really interesting production, as it was made by a legendary American horror director and the British horror studio powerhouse, Hammer. Also, the film is in color, which may be normal for Hammer but it isn’t for Castle.

Like Castle’s other movies, this one mixes comedy into the horror story. I feel like this is the most comedic of his films, though, as it really hams it up and also doesn’t deliver as many scares as The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts or The Tingler.

This film also didn’t rely on elaborate gimmicks hidden throughout the theater in an effort to create a more “virtual” viewing experience.

With all these differences between this and Castle’s previous pictures, his quality and creativity still flourished. The finished product is a whimsical and amusing movie with a likable cast and a simple but entertaining plot.

I mostly know Tom Poston from seeing him on the ’80s sitcom Newhart when I was a kid. But he was also on a lot of other shows and worked the celebrity game show circuit constantly. The guy was always on my TV but I can’t recall seeing him in an actual motion picture other than this.

Poston has stellar comedic timing, though, and it’s on full display here, as he carries the picture on his shoulders and is in every scene because he’s sort of the audience’s eyes and ears in this weird, haunted house with the crazy family that lives there.

The rest of the cast is very good too, though. I liked the love triangle story between Poston and the two females leads.

Additionally, this has Robert Morley in it and I’ve liked him ever since I first discovered him in Theatre of Blood alongside Vincent Price.

This 1963 version of The Old Dark House is just a great, goofy popcorn movie that’s horror themed but light on scares and heavy on hilarity.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as Hammer films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: Slaughter High (1985)

Also known as: April Fool’s Day (working title), The Last Laugh (alternative title)
Release Date: May 10th, 1985 (Cannes)
Directed by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Written by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Simon Scudamore, Caroline Munro, Carmine Iannaconne, Gary Martin, Billy Hartman, Michael Saffran, Donna Yeager, Josephine Scandi, John Segal, Kelly Baker, Sally Cross

Spectacular Trading International, Vestron PIctures, 90 Minutes, 91 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

“We’ll take my car. It starts every time.” – Carol

The film’s tagline on its original poster boasts “From the makers of Friday the 13th” but honestly, I don’t know what the fuck the marketing department was talking about because the three writers/directors and the two producers don’t have that film listed under their credits.

One of the producers was known for working in exploitation films and porn, so maybe he was just using one of those old school tricks like flat out lying to get his film in theaters and then hoping he could sweep it under the rug if the big wigs at Paramount Pictures ever found out.

Whatever. This film came and went like the passing of the wind and nearly no one noticed it. I guess it developed a bit of a cult following over the years but having now seen it, I have no idea why. It’s absolute shit. And I don’t say that lightly, as the love of my life, Caroline Munro, is in this thing.

Granted, I’m not sure why Caroline Munro is playing a high school student when she was thirty-five at the time of filming. Still, she’s always been damn beautiful and I’m not going to nitpick about her being in a movie… ever.

Other than Munro, the film is a complete dud. It’s your standard slasher plot about a kid getting bullied, a prank gone wrong and then he puts on a mask and starts chopping up thirty year-old teens.

While I generally like slasher movies, even bad ones, this is just on another level of sucktitude. The story takes too long to get going, once it does, it’s just dull and pretty uneventful until the home stretch.

It’s also wrecked by one of the worst film scores that I’ve ever heard. Strangely, the score is done by Harry Manfredini, who made the iconic Jason Voorhees theme for the Friday the 13th films. Hey! Maybe he’s the “maker” of Friday the 13th that the poster touts.

Slaughter High is a waste of time. Sure, you could stare in awe at the natural beauty of Caroline Munro but you could also appreciate her in far better films than this one.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other really shitty slasher movies.

Film Review: Rage to Kill (1987)

Also known as: Battle Wars (Japanese English title), Guerilla Force (Germany)
Release Date: December, 1987
Directed by: David Winters
Written by: David Winters, Ian Yule
Music by: Tim James, Mark Mancina, Steve McClintock
Cast: James Ryan, Oliver Reed, Cameron Mitchell, Henry Cele, Maxine John, Ian Yule

93 Minutes

Review:

“[while torturing Blaine Striker] Let’s see how tough you really are.” – Slade

This is a film that has been in my queue just about as long as I’ve been using Prime Video, which is forever. I’ve set off on a mission, though, to clear out the oldest stuff on all my queues, so why not start at the bottom with a film I’ve let languish there for years.

What sucks about this is that I really enjoy Oliver Reed and I think that James Ryan is sort of cool in a South African David Carradine sort of way. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone but me but my mind is mush after having to force myself through this 93 minute turd.

I will say that I didn’t mind the opening sequence where the bad guys showed up and murdered the shit out of everyone, even a toddler at a party. I also thought that the big action finale was pretty decent for what it was. However, it’s the middle 70 minutes or so that really sucked the air out of what could’ve been a passable, mindless, ’80s action flick.

The plot surrounds a crazy military general, played by Reed, who leads a coup to overtake a small Caribbean island nation. An “American” racecar driver then flies down there to rescue his brother because racing cars means that you can lead a resistance army against a madman with superior weapons and a complete lack of morals at his disposal.

I’m not gonna lie, though, the premise sounds incredible but with lackluster execution, the best setup will still lead to shit results.

Rage to Kill is a dumb movie. It’s also a really bad movie. I usually don’t mind dumb or bad but when they come together in a certain way, you end up with a cold, lifeless turkey.

Anyway, I hope Oliver Reed got paid, took home a few of the babes from the movie and blew all his earnings living the over-the-top, party life he was famous for.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other extremely low budget ’80s action flicks, as well as other movies with James Ryan.

Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Release Date: November 27th, 1920 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Fred Niblo
Written by: Johnston McCulley, Eugene Miller, Douglas Fairbanks
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Mortimer Wilson
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite De La Motte, Noah Beery, Robert McKim, Milton Berle (uncredited)

Douglas Fairbanks Pictures, 90 Minutes (1970 cut), 107 Minutes (DVD cut), 97 Minutes (Academy Archive Print)

Review:

“We never let business interfere with drinking!” – Undetermined Role

My mother used to love this film a lot and I saw it multiple times, as a kid, because of that. Granted, her favorite Zorro film was the one with Tyrone Power but it was my mum’s love of Zorro movies and swashbuckling in general that made me appreciate these whimsical adventure movies too.

I wanted to go way back and revisit this one, though, as it actually set the stage for what Zorro would evolve into over the years. This generated the tone and style for the franchise from a visual standpoint and with this picture, specifically, you can see how this character and his world inspired the main character and world of the Batman comic book series.

Douglas Fairbanks, working with the original Zorro creator, made a pretty action packed, energetic and jovial motion picture, especially for its time, as this is a silent picture and had to rely more on the physical performances and athleticism of its cast.

This has a good, straightforward story and it created a template that wasn’t just reused in the dozens of Zorro films, serials and television shows that followed but also in other intellectual properties.

The Mark of Zorro is quite fantastic for its era. While it isn’t my favorite version of Zorro, it made it possible for those other versions to exist, as well as so many pulp heroes and stories from Batman, The Shadow, The Phantom and countless others.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Zorro pictures and film serials, as well as other Douglas Fairbanks movies.

Documentary Review: The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)

Release Date: July 21st, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Maysles Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[on Republicans] Who’s the party of special interest that always grinds down the little people? Who’s the party that doesn’t give a damn as long as they make millions to put in their bank? Who’s the party that scrounges around to find all the dirt they can and use it against their opponent to destroy the two party system that made America what it is today? Who’s the party that delivered a crooked president?” – Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale

I liked the original Grey Gardens documentary enough to check out this sequel, which came out roughly thirty years later.

This wasn’t a traditional sequel, as in it didn’t check back in on these women after the events of the first movie. This was, instead, a new documentary made with unused footage, which apparently, there was a lot of.

This could’ve been released years ago or added into the original film, making it a three hour affair, but it’s kind of neat seeing it resurface decades later. Why they waited that long or even did it at all is a mystery but I still enjoyed this for the most part.

However, I can also see why most of this wasn’t used in the original film. Although, the scene with the fire in the house probably should’ve been in the original, as it explains why there’s a big burnt hole in the wall of this once great coastal mansion.

I probably wouldn’t watch this over Grey Gardens, if you haven’t seen either. However, if you liked Grey Gardens, this is a good companion piece to it and it gives you more insight and context into the lives of this mother and daughter.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and the biographical drama film that is based on these women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.