Film Review: UHF (1989)

Also known as: The Vidiot From UHF (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1989
Directed by: Jay Levey
Written by: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jay Levey
Music by: John Du Prez, “Weird Al” Yankovic
Cast: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Victoria Jackson, Fran Drescher, Billy Barty, Gedde Watanabe, Emo Philips (cameo)

Cinecorp SAC, Imaginary Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 97 Minutes, 150 Minutes (rough cut)

Review:

“Oh, Joel Miller, you’ve just found the marble in the oatmeal. You’re a lucky, lucky, lucky little boy. ‘Cause you know why? You get to drink from… the FIRE HOOOOOSE!” – Stanley Spadowski

This was one of those movies I used to put on when I was an adolescent because it was pretty mindless, really fun and it featured a guy who I wish had made more movies: “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Known primarily for making parody pop tunes, Yankovic is a pretty talented guy all around and the fact that he wrote and starred in this “loser gets lucky” flick is impressive. Sure, this is a vanity project but Yankovic didn’t just phone in his performance and rely on a big studio to do all the work and foot the bill.

Now I can understand that this won’t be a film that most people will enjoy, especially in 2020, but it truly displays and showcases the guy’s immense creativity. This also feels like a practice run of what could have been if he continued to make motion pictures. In the long run, he’d just need to refine them a bit more and tell a more cohesive story.

That’s not to say that the story is hard to follow, it isn’t, but the film plays like a series of gags and skits with a really simple narrative just there to try and give them a larger purpose. And that’s fine for what this is.

UHF isn’t just a straight forward, ’80s comedy; it also features music videos by Yankovic, worked into the film through dreams and daydreams. His character here is a real dreamer and he spends a lot of time existing within the fantasy of his own head. Luckily, a lot of that is able to get out and into the real world, as he has to use his creativity to run his uncle’s failing UHF television station.

Over time, the station becomes a big hit, as Yankovic and his group of close friends are able to build something pretty remarkable.

Speaking of his friends, they are made up by a really good cast that includes a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, a pre-The Nanny Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty and David Bowe.

I think that Yankovic fans will definitely dig the film. Others, maybe not so much. But this is still a lighthearted, positive film that has some hysterical moments. Granted, some of these gags wouldn’t fly today in our overly sensitive and easily offended modern society.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other loser gets lucky comedies: Brewster’s Millions, Chairman of the Board, Tapeheads, Freddy Got Fingered, The Pest, etc.

Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: The Undead (1957)

Also known as: The Trance of Diana Love (working title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1957 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ponald Stein
Cast: Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes, Val Dufour, Mel Welles, Richard Devon, Billy Barty, Dick Miller

American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Hickory dickory dorse / My guest is dead, of course / The clock struck two / He’s turning blue / With little or no remorse.” – Smolkin, the Gravedigger

Man, Roger Corman certainly had a lot of films appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it was all for a good reason and it’s a lot of fun seeing the master of schlock dominate the way he did.

Fans of Corman will probably enjoy this film, even though it’s what I would consider to be below Corman’s normal quality. Normies out there will probably be bored shitless and wonder why anyone would watch this but it takes a special someone to have a real love affair with Corman’s great and uniquely impressive work.

The reason why it is impressive is because Corman can create so much with almost nothing. Now this specific film isn’t the best example of that but for a movie that was made for less than a dime, he’s able to pull this off better than any other director in a similar situation would be able to.

Although bizarre, the story is kind of interesting. A psychic researcher sends the mind of a prostitute back in time in an effort to study her past-life experiences. So the film takes place in the Middle Ages and we soon discover that the prostitute’s older self is going to be killed over suspicions that she’s a witch. The psychic sends himself back in time to convince the prostitute to avoid death but in doing so, her future incarnations can never exist. Ultimately, the psychic ends up stranded in the past.

I wouldn’t call the plot wholly original or anything but it is kind of ambitious for a cheap-o ’50s motion picture.

While the acting isn’t good, it also isn’t atrocious. We also get to see a very young Billy Barty and Dick Miller.

Overall, this is far from Corman’s best but I think that this is a notable picture in his oeuvre, as it almost feels like a spiritual predecessor to his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the 1960s, which would primarily star Vincent Price and were some of his absolute best pictures.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s other late ’50s/early ’60s films, as well as his Poe adaptations.

Film Review: Masters of the Universe (1987)

Release Date: August 7th, 1987
Directed by: Gary Goddard
Written by: David Odell
Based on: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toy line by Mattel
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Robert Duncan McNeill

Golan-Globus, Cannon Films, 106 Minutes

masters_of_the_universeReview:

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a huge franchise in the 1980s. There was a massive toy line, a cartoon, a spinoff called She-Ra: Princess of Power and a bunch of other stuff. Then, after the fanfare sort of settled down towards the late 80s, we got a live-action movie.

This film is awesome! Well, truthfully, it is pretty bad from a critical and snobbish standpoint but it is incredibly enjoyable because of Frank Langella’s portrayal of Skeletor. Sure, Dolph Lundgren is awesome but his He-Man was pretty generic. Langella’s Skeletor on the other hand, was fantastic and still comes off as a great on-screen villain and one of my favorite cinematic bad guys from my childhood.

This movie was pretty much panned by critics and everyone else. I don’t care. It’s a far from perfect film but it has so much charm and 80s awesomeness that it stands above most of the big blockbusters today. Its practical effects and makeup were spectacular, its animated bits were greatly done for a film on a tight budget and the cinematography and art direction were fantastic. This movie captures your attention in a visual sense and it delivers something pretty unique, especially for its time.

The plot is pretty weak; the story doesn’t even matter that much though, as the audience for this film just wanted to see He-Man and Skeletor throw down in the most anticipated final battle since Return of the Jedi. Additionally, it’s a non-stop fantasy action picture from beginning-to-end. It has a Star Wars meets Dune meets Conan the Barbarian vibe and it does it well for seemingly pulling from all three of those franchises to some degree.

Not only does this film give us Lundgren and Langella duking it out for the title of “Master of the Universe” but it gives us a really young and even cuter Courtney Cox, a stunning as ever Meg Foster, an awesome as always Billy Barty and Strickland that assistant principal from Back to the Future that called everyone a “slacker”.

I love this film. I don’t care if most people hate it or refer to it as “stupid” or “horrible”. Sure, it doesn’t follow the He-Man mythos that closely and it is full of cheesy moments but I don’t give a shit. Back in the day, most film adaptations of non-film stories or franchises did whatever the hell they wanted anyway.

Masters of the Universe is an incredibly flawed film. However, with Langella’s Oscar worthy performance as Skeletor and the fact that this still brings me back to my younger days when He-Man ruled the world, I’ve got to give it serious props.

Besides, popcorn goes best with mindless cheesy fun.

Rating: 7.75/10