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.

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

TV Review: Silver Surfer (1998)

Original Run: February 7th, 1998 – May 16th, 1998
Created by: Larry Brody
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Silver Surfer by Jack Kirby
Music by: Shuki Levy
Cast: Paul Essiembre, Camilla Scott, Colin Fox

Marvel Entertainment, Saban Entertainment, Fox, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This show came out in a time when I was way more interested in chasing girls than watching Saturday morning cartoons. Also, I was probably really hung over on Saturday mornings in 1998. Plus, this series was really short-lived that I didn’t even know it existed until years later.

I binged watched it online in an afternoon, though, as I wanted to see if it was as good as some of the other ’90s Marvel cartoons that were on Fox and existed as part of that X-Men ’92 animated Marvel canon.

I think that this is pretty decent but it didn’t pull me in like the X-Men or Spider-Man cartoons of the same era. Also, it relied heavily on CGI and with that, gave us a weird mix of traditional hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D CGI graphics. It’s not terrible, visually, but it’s a bit jarring at times and the two styles have never really worked together for me. Also, the CGI stuff looks really cheap, which is probably just because of the time when this was made, as CGI animation wasn’t as refined as it would become.

This is similar to the other shows it shares a universe with, as it adapts the comic book stories but takes tremendous liberties with the material due to the length of the episodes and trying to get the franchise off of the ground with lots of characters as quickly as possible. Considering that everything is condensed down to just 13 episodes, I’m okay with it.

I really liked the three-part origin episodes more than the rest of the series but it was cool seeing what characters they started to sprinkle in and a second season, had it been made, could’ve been an improvement with a much larger universe to explore and a richer mythos.

All in all, this was a fun way to waste a Sunday afternoon. It’s hard to tell what this could’ve been due to it not surviving a short, first season.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.

TV Review: Galaxy Express 999 (1978–1981)

Original Run: September 14th, 1978 – March 26th, 1981
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Nobutaka Nishizawa
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamaura, Keisuke Fujikawa, Yoshiaki Yoshida
Based on: Galaxy Express 999 by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Nozomi Aoki
Cast: Masako Nozawa, Masako Ikeda, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Toei Animation, Fuji TV, 113 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of Leiji Matsumoto’s big three series, this is my least favorite. One of them has to be the odd one out, I guess, but it never appealed to me in the same way as the Captain Harlock stuff or Star Blazers a.k.a. Space Battleship Yamato.

This is a much smaller story and even though it has some action and adventure, it isn’t on the same epic scale as the other two franchises. But they all do exist in the same universe and crossover and because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this series, as well.

I also hadn’t seen anything Galaxy Express 999 related in decades, so it was kind of cool revisiting it. A lot of Matsumoto’s stuff is actually free to watch on Tubi for those interested.

Overall, I’d say that I actually like this even less now. I’d check it out when I had access to it in my younger days because it was pretty imaginative and was full of a lot of cool visuals and ideas.

However, the animation doesn’t hold up very well. I guess it’s fine for the time but it just doesn’t feel like it is in the same ballpark as Star Blazers or Harlock. I recently revisited both of those series too and I didn’t seem to really notice any glaring problems with the animation like I do with this. Mostly, it just feels kind of choppy and not as fluid.

The story is interesting enough but I was only able to watch about a dozen episodes and couldn’t commit to the entire run, which I did with the other series. Still, I will probably review the film versions that came out in the same era and see how I feel about those.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Galaxy Express 999 films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

 

TV Review: The Transformers – Seasons 3 & 4 (1986-1987)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 11th, 1987
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 33 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wanted to review this portion of the classic Transformers television show separate from the first half of the series, simply because these two seasons take place after the cinematic film, which completely changed the landscape, characters and settings of the franchise.

In this era, Optimus Prime is dead and the Autobots are led by Rodimus Prime, formerly Hot Rod. Many other Autobots died, as well. And the same can be said about the Decepticons, who are now led by a suped up Megatron renamed Galvatron, as well as Cyclonus, Scourge and the Sweeps, as opposed to Starscream and the Seekers.

Additionally, Spike is older, married and has a son named Daniel, who is a big character on the show.

We also see just about every episode taking place in outer space, as opposed to Earth. The overall landscape and scope of the series has grown much larger and there is a new villain group that often times plays the Autobots and Decepticons against each other like chess pieces.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite era of the series and aesthetically, it still is. I do really enjoy the better episodes but unfortunately, there are some really bad ones too. The one with the musical aliens is nearly unwatchable. But the good things still greatly outweigh the bad.

I like the altered mythos, the newer character designs and the show just feels darker and more bleak. Granted, by the end, Optimus Prime does come back and there is even a moment of peace between him and Galvatron.

This stretch of the show also has some cool Easter eggs that officially connect it to G.I. Joe in the animated series canon. One major human character is the daughter of Flint and Lady Jaye. We even get a cameo from Cobra Commander, as an aged weapons dealer, no longer with an army to rule over.

The end of this era also debuts the Headmasters and Trigger Masters concepts. While the show didn’t continue on beyond their debut, it was a cool way to end the show. Especially, for those of us that were still buying the toys at that point. 

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Release Date: January 29th, 1959 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark
Written by: Erdman Penner, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Music by: George Burns (adapted from Tchaikovsky)
Cast: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller (narrator)

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s castle, cast my spell!” – Maleficent

This is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all-time. While I also love Alice In Wonderland immensely and have (in my own mind) debated which one takes the cake for me, it’s always Sleeping Beauty that wins out, especially when I see them both pretty close together.

As far as the classic Disney style and patented tropes go, this is a perfect motion picture but then it’s also more than that.

This, at face value, looks like a standard Disney princess story but it also features the greatest villain that Disney has ever had in Maleficent. A villain so badass and cool that she’s been featured in the great Kingdom Hearts video games and gone on to have her own series of live-action films featuring her as the main character over Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty.

On top of that, this is a visual triumph for the Disney company, as it has a very unique animation style with incredible character design, a delectable, vivid color palate and a sort of looming darkness that their other films don’t have. There’s a real beauty with this picture that holds it above Disney’s other masterfully crafted and visually impressive films.

The animation is also so smooth, especially in regards to the great action sequences. The big action-packed climax that sees Prince Philip take on Maleficent in her massive dragon form is stunning to behold. Sixty-plus years later, it has held up incredibly well and is, hands down, one of the absolute best and most memorable animated action sequences in film history.

For me and what I like in Disney films, as well as fairytale stories, this is just a perfect storm, which is greatly enhanced by the unique and alluring visuals and one of the greatest silver screen villains ever created.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic animated Disney films of the classic era.

Film Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Release Date: June 16th, 1955 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi
Based on: Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog by Ward Greene
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Dallas McKennon, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Peggy Lee

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

“(repeated line) As my grandpappy, Ol’ Reliable, used to say… I don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Ol’ Reliable before?” – Trusty

As I started reviewing Disney’s classic animated features from the beginning, I wondered where their distribution partnership with RKO Radio Pictures would end. I guess it’s here, as this is the first film distributed by Buena Vista, which was created to be the distribution arm of the Disney company.

While that might not seem as if it is important to the final film, it could possibly be a reason as to why this one feels like a slight step down in quality for what Disney had been putting out, at the time. However, following up Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan couldn’t have been easy.

Also, that’s not to say that this is bad or unworthy of the Disney brand. Lady and the Tramp is still one of the best animated films of its time and deservedly considered a classic.

In fact, this is one of the classic Disney films that I watched the most, as a kid. I always liked the characters, the story and yes, even the romance. Honestly, this may have been my first experience seeing romance play out in a film. Well, it was at least the first romantic movie I probably paid attention to.

The animation is great and I also like the few songs in the film. However, the movie plays more like a sequence of events without much tying them together. At least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the larger arc of the story and it almost feels like there isn’t one. Things happen, dogs fall in love and eventually, they live together and have babies. All of this, however, just felt like things that happened around random scenes.

I guess it didn’t need to have a clear objective and can be brushed off as just peaking into these two dogs’ lives for a bit but its lack of real structure and narrative progression does effect the quality.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.