Film Review: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

Release Date: May 4th, 1982 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Carl Reiner, George Gipe, Steve Martin
Music by: Miklos Rozsa, Steve Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni, Carl Reiner, George Gaynes

Aspen Film Society, Universal Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I hadn’t seen a body put together like that since I’d solved the case of the Murdered Girl with the Big Tits.” – Rigby Reardon

How is it that this film has existed for nearly forty years but I hadn’t even known of its existence until more recently. Maybe I saw it in video stores, as a kid, and it just didn’t jump out at me. However, being a lover of Steve Martin and classic film-noir, this felt like it could be something that was right up my alley.

In short, it most certainly was and I liked this movie a lot. However, it’s far from perfect and I think that its constant reliance on old film footage that features old film stars was really overused, even if that was the creative direction of the picture.

I loved seeing Steve Martin interact with the greatest stars of the silver screen and I certainly love that Humphrey Bogart’s version of Philip Marlowe was a big part of the story. However, some scenes came off a bit clunky and unnatural. But I guess it’s hard trying to make this feel more organic when Martin rarely has another actor to actually banter with. It’s hard reading a scene as it plays out and nailing that comedic timing.

Still, a lot of the jokes and one-liners in this movie were hilarious and Martin was the real high point of the film, making this much greater than it would’ve otherwise been.

The film looked stupendous, though, and Carl Reiner did a hell of a job behind the camera and managing the overall aesthetic of the picture. It matched with the classic film-noir clips quite well and in modern HD, this really looks crisp and pristine.

All in all, this was a weird but entertaining experiment. I can see why it might not have connected with mainstream audiences in 1982 and fell down most people’s memory holes but it still features a fantastic, memorable performance by Steve Martin in his prime.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Space Travelers (1969)

Also known as: Marooned (original title), Abandonados en el espacio (Argentina)
Release Date: November 10th, 1969 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Mayo Simon
Based on: Marooned by Martin Caidin
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, George Gaynes

Columbia Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Okay Buzz you’re right. To hell with waiting for a bunch of slide-rule jockeys. We used to fix the airplanes we flew with paperclips. Lets get into our hard suits and fix this bird.” – Jim Pruett

This is probably the most critically acclaimed film ever to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as it is the only picture out of the 200-plus that won an Academy Award. In the case of this movie, it won for visual effects.

That being said, this is still a movie worth riffing, as it is dreadfully boring, slow and despite being full of some good actors, none of the performances really hit their mark.

Originally titled Marooned in 1969, this movie was re-released on VHS around 1990 as Space Travelers. The VHS version is the one that I saw, as it’s the version that MST3K showcased.

I’m not sure if there’s much difference between the two versions of the film but MST3K didn’t have time to fit in a 134 minute picture, so what I did see was edited down. As boring and as slow as this was, I couldn’t imagine watching a version that would be 44 minutes longer than the roughly 90 minutes I saw. But maybe that extra time made the story more interesting.

Still, this is a real dud that wasn’t saved by its good effects, even for its time.

Maybe this was fairly original in the late ’60s and being that it came out during the height of the space race era, it could’ve connected with audiences that were still dreaming about space travel and exploration. But this did come out a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey and I find it hard to believe that even in 1969, that this film would even be in conversations with that one as far as being a top notch sci-fi adventure.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Space Race era movies about space travel.

Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Film Review: Altered States (1980)

Release Date: December 25th, 1980
Directed by: Ken Russell
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky (as Sidney Aaron)
Based on: Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky
Music by: John Corigliano
Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, Thaao Penghlis, Drew Barrymore, John Larroquette, George Gaynes

Warner Bros., 103 Minutes

Review:

“Fight it, Eddie. You made it real, you can make it unreal.” – Emily Jessup

I was pretty excited to see Altered States pop up on FilmStruck, a mighty fine streaming service. It’s a film I have wanted to see for a very long time but it wasn’t very accessible.

The film deals with an abnormal psychologist who gets a bit too addicted to his work and pays a hefty price for it. His work involves seeing what will happen if he mixes hallucinogenic drugs and an isolation chamber. What we get to experience is a man tripping his balls off, seeing some strange and really messed up shit. However, each trip gets more and more intense and the man starts to have physical changes. He starts regressing and at one point becomes a savage neanderthal. He even goes so far as to regress into primordial matter.

Calling this film unique and bizarre is a serious understatement. It is those things but it embraces the weird so genuinely and effectively that even if this tale is quite fantastical, you are sucked right into it.

I think the real reason why this picture works so well is the skill of its director, Ken Russell. By this point, he had already directed three Oscar winning films: Women In LoveThe Devils and The Who’s Tommy. This film would also go on to win Oscars for Best Sound and Best Original Score. But it was Russell’s uncanny vision and his ability to manufacture such vivid and intense images throughout this film that prevented this from turning into some hokey, LSD-laced, run of the mill sci-fi thriller.

William Hurt was exceptional as the psychologist, Eddie Jessup. Every single scene felt believable and he sold everything that was happening to him on screen. Not bad, as this was actually his debut film. He also had help from a young Bob Balaban, as well as Charles Haid, who became my favorite guy in the movie.

Eddie’s family was comprised of Blair Brown, who played his wife, and Drew Barrymore, as his daughter. This was also Barrymore’s debut film. We also get to see a very young John Larroquette play an x-ray technician and there’s a small role for George Gaynes, as well.

The special effects are good for its time and the hallucination sequences are amazingly orchestrated.

There are a slew of films that deal with scientists going mad over their own experiments. There are also a slew of films that are serious mind fucks. Altered States is one of the best, though. And after finally watching it, I can see where other films were inspired by it. It is a great “body horror” film and it will make you uncomfortable at times. In some regards, I think it’s comparable to earlier David Cronenberg films, as well as 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other body horror flicks from the era: VideodromeThe FlyScannersFrom BeyondEraserhead, The Thing, etc. Also, Jacob’s Ladder.

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part II – The Post-Mahoney Years (1988-1994)

These three films differ from the first four in the series in that they are missing the character of Sgt. Carey Mahoney. Steve Guttenberg left the series and thus, took the main character with him. For the first two films post-Mahoney, we got a new lead actor played by Matt McCoy. Now McCoy is a decent enough actor but he is a straight laced kind of guy and not a great funnyman like Guttenberg.

Some people think the series should have ended with Guttenberg’s exit but then some people thought it should have ended after the first movie. If that were the case, it would have been forgotten and not have become a beloved comedy franchise. Personally, I think it should have ended with the sixth film but I will get into how horrible the seventh and final film is after I discuss the two before it.

Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988):

Release Date: March 18th, 1988
Directed by: Alan Myerson
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Janet Jones, Tab Thacker, René Auberjonois

Warner Bros. Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Proctor! Where is Proctor?” – Capt. Thaddeus Harris

This is the first Police Academy film to take our characters out of their familiar setting. Since it is the fifth film, the producers were probably out of ideas and wanted to turn the fifth film’s production into more of a vacation.

Audiences weren’t happy going into a film without Mahoney, as the focal point, but what made all of these films work was the ensemble cast. Now without Mahoney, the spotlight was a little bit brighter on his cast mates. Hightower, Tackleberry, Jones, Hooks, Callahan, Harris, Proctor, Commandant Lassard and House all had more to do in this movie. I like this film because it expands on them and lets them continue on with these great characters.

Sure, the film is a step below the previous ones but it isn’t as bad as critics and IMDb would make you believe. If you are a fan of the series up until this point, you should still like this installment.

The Capt. Harris and Proctor bits in this film are some of the best of the series. The action sequences are also well done, as they take to the Everglades on airboats in an effort to chase down the villain. And the villain, who is played by René Auberjonois, is my favorite bad guy in the film series. It may also be my favorite Auberjonois role after his parts on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Benson.

Rating: 6/10

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989):

Release Date: March 10th, 1989
Directed by: Peter Bonerz
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Bruce Mahler, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Kenneth Mars, Gerrit Graham

Warner Bros. Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, crapola!” – Mayor

The sixth film isn’t very good. It has some redeeming things about it, as the cast of familiar characters are there once again, providing the audience with laughs. Watching this though, you could tell that the creative staff were out of material and out of jokes.

This was the first film in the series to play like a whodunit mystery but that felt out of place in a series where the movies were a series of random comedy gags with just a bit of plot sprinkled in to string it all together.

The villains were the cheesiest of the series, the big mystery reveal at the end was awful and the actors didn’t even look like they were having fun anymore and instead realized that if they wanted to keep making a paycheck, they were stuck churning out Police Academy films annually.

When this movie ended, so did the schedule of having a new Police Academy film each spring. In fact, for a long time, I thought this was the end of the series. It should have been. But then five years later, someone thought it’d be a good idea to do a seventh film.

Rating: 5.5/10

Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994):

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Randolph Davis, Michele S. Chodos
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: David Graf, Michael Winslow, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Lee, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Everything about me… is real.” – Callahan

This film is easily one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. It pains me, considering that it still has some of those characters I love. But at this point, they have become absurd cartoon characters.

The director of this film is an idiot. For whatever reason, he must be really into acrobatics because there was a lot of characters jumping around doing bizarre flips throughout the film. It made no sense and it was, for lack of a better set of words, fucking stupid.

There were also sound effects that didn’t fit and were bizarre as hell.

Additionally, the camera was often times zoomed in way too close to the actors’ faces. It was disorienting and visually annoying.

This film features the talents of the legendary Christopher Lee and the bad ass Ron Perlman. I feel sorry for them for having even been anywhere near this picture. Also, Claire Forlani is in this for some reason.

You would do yourself a huge favor by steering clear of this film at all costs.

Rating: 2/10

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part I – The Mahoney Years (1984-1987)

As a kid, no comedies brought me as much replayable joy as the Police Academy films. Yes, they are cheesy and the humor is crude and low brow with slapstick thrown in but to a kid in the 1980s, that is what I liked. And it may have been the first film where I saw boobs.

Still to this day, I enjoy it. And even though this comedy method is generally used poorly in most modern films, it worked in these movies and for the time they were current.

This series spawned a new movie every spring from 1984 through 1989 and then gave us an unwatchable seventh film in 1994. Up until the end though, this was a great series. I’m not sure how new audiences would take to them today but from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise was adored by fans even if it was generally panned by critics.

Police Academy (1984):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1984
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Hugh Wilson
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Donovan Scott, Michael Winslow, Andrew Rubin, David Graf, Bruce Mahler, Marion Ramsey, Brant von Hoffman, Scott Thomson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Good speech.” – Carey Mahoney

The first film in the series introduces us to many of the characters we will see over the course of several films. Most importantly, this movie gave the world the comedic talents of Steve Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s Sgt. Carey Mahoney would be the central character of these films over the first four installments.

We also got to meet Michael Winslow’s Larvell Jones, Bubba Smith’s Moses Hightower, David Graf’s Eugene Tackleberry, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Callahan, Marion Ramsey’s Sgt. Hooks, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris and George Gaynes’ iconic Commandant Eric Lassard. Other major characters would come in other films but these characters lasted over most of the series and each one of them are memorable and lovable in their own way. The Police Academy series is an example of large ensemble comedies done right.

This film in the series had the most overall narrative and is considered by most to be the best film. Later films in the series were full of long-running jokes chaining back to this film, as well as being structured by a series of gags and funny bits that were only lightly threaded together by an actual plot. This one was an adult comedy, full of a large cast of kooky characters – in many ways it was similar in style to Slap Shot, Caddyshack and in some regards, MASH. The great use of this formula in Police Academy also inspired a slew of knock-off films throughout the mid 80s.

The plot is about a bunch of screw ups who join the Police Academy after the mayor declares that anyone can join the academy and be given a fair shot. It concludes with a sequence that sees these screw ups go into the field with minimal training and finding themselves in the middle of a downtown riot.

As stupid and absurd as this film can be, it does create a solid sense of camaraderie among the characters. You care about them, their relationships with one another and the crazy situations they find themselves in. This is why this movie became a hit and why this series lasted for seven pictures. You wanted to see more of these people and their antics.

Police Academy was a huge hit at the time and deservedly so. Each subsequent film dropped of a bit in success but they all still did pretty well through the 80s.

Rating: 8.5/10

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985):

Release Date: March 29th, 1985
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Bruce Mahler, Colleen Camp, Art Metrano, Marion Ramsey, Howard Hesseman, George Gaynes, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rich Hall

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t make me flare my nostrils!” – Zed

The first sequel quickly followed the original film.

In this one, we see our beloved officers take their first job at a precinct ran by Howard Hesseman’s Pete Lassard, younger brother to Commandant Lassard. Also, Lt. Harris is replaced as the main antagonist by Art Metrano’s Lt. Mauser. This creates a lot of debate between Police Academy fans as to who was the better series antagonist: Harris or Mauser. I will say that they are both awesome.

We are also introduced to Lance Kinsey’s Lt. Proctor, who went on to become one of the funniest and most iconic idiots in cinema history. This is also the first of three films featuring Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed and Tim Kazurinsky as Sweetchuck. Zed is the big villain of the film and he is fantastic. He is also Goldthwait’s most recognizable character and plays much better as a goofy bad guy in this film than as a cop in the later ones.

This movie is still a great continuation of the Police Academy series and expands on the characters enough to where you enjoy seeing them growing up and taking on new roles.

Also, the big finale at the abandoned zoo was really cool. It was an awesome location for the gang’s hideout.

Rating: 7.5/10

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986):

Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Art Metrano, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, Bruce Mahler, Lance Kinsey, Scott Thomson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.” – Captain Proctor

The third film rehashes the formula of the first Police Academy but doesn’t do it as well.

Here we have a new class of cadets joining the academy but now the cadets from the original film are there to train them. It is a passing of the torch to a new generation but the new generation didn’t give us many new characters to sink our teeth into. Zed and Sweetchuck return and become cops in this one but they are the brightest spot by far of the new cast of recruits.

The film is still funny, it employs a lot of the same gags and it ends with a pretty decent water action sequence for a film that is a low budget 80s comedy.

The main plot focuses on two academies going head-to-head in a competition, as the worst of the two is going to be shutdown due to budget cuts. The evil academy is ran by Mauser from the previous film. Mauser and Proctor, when together, are comedy gold.

Rating: 7.25/10

Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987):

Release Date: April 3rd, 1987
Directed by: Jim Drake
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Sharon Stone, Colleen Camp, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Brian Tochi, Scott Thomson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk, Randall “Tex” Cobb

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!” – Captain Harris

In an effort to not completely redo the plots of the first and third movie, this film sees Commandant Lassard start a new program that allows citizens to train at the academy with real police officers in an effort to build up a better relationship with the community. Essentially, it is a rehash of the first and third films but the little twist makes it a bit more interesting.

Billie Bird steals the show here as the elderly Mrs. Feldman. She is a tough as nails, take no shit, bad ass old lady that is the perfect compliment to the big gun-toting maniac that is Sgt. Tackleberry.

Sharon Stone is in this film too but you’ll barely notice. You can also enjoy the small roles played by a young David Spade, Brian Backer and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo by Tony Hawk.

Also, due to a bad back injury that Art Metrano suffered, Mauser was out of the picture and G.W. Bailey’s Capt. Harris was brought back as the antagonist of the series. Harris and Proctor together were even better than Mauser and Proctor in the two previous films.

The gags are great, the pranks are awesome and this film embodies the spirit of the installments before it. Unfortunately, it is the last film to star Steve Guttenberg and a drop off in quality over the course of the next three films was a result. We also lost Goldthwait and Kazurinsky after this chapter in the series and they were definitely missed.

The highlight of this movie is the big action sequence at the end, which featured biplanes, hot air balloons and a whole lot of mayhem.

Rating: 7.25/10