Documentary Review: Life After the Navigator (2020)

Release Date: November 9th, 2020 (UK)
Directed by: Lisa Downs
Written by: Lisa Downs
Music by: Toby Dunham
Cast: Joey Cramer, Veronica Cartwright, Cliff DeYoung, Howard Hesseman, Randal Kleiser, Matt Adler, Raymond Forchion, Albie Whitaker

Life After Movies, Spare Change Films, Strict Machine, 91 Minutes

Review:

A few years ago, I heard about what had happened with Joey Cramer, the former child actor that was a favorite of mine because of how good he was in The Flight of the Navigator and his few scenes in Runaway.

For those that don’t know, Cramer robbed a bank out of desperation due to his bad drug habit. Upon discovering this, I also learned about his history with prison and drugs and how his life had spiraled out of control in the years since he left acting behind.

Sadly, this isn’t a story that’s too uncommon with child actors who grow up, don’t get work and have to return to a normal life that’s never going to be truly normal due to the level of fame they once had.

I’m happy to say that Joey did turn his life around and this film chronicles that tough journey. You meet his family, friends and get to hear from those who starred alongside him in The Flight of the Navigator. 

This documentary is really two things merged into one. It’s primarily about Joey, his issues and his battle to get better. However, it’s also about the Navigator film and reflects on it, all these years later, as it has become an iconic film, beloved by more than just the Gen Xers that saw it in the theater back in 1986.

All in all, this was a sad but ultimately feel good story. It was cool seeing everyone support Joey and still share their love of the film, as well. I just hope that he can now stay on the right path and keep building towards a better life than the one he lived for the last few decades.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Flight of the Navigator, as well as the documentary Life After Flash.

Film Review: Fried Barry (2020)

Release Date: March 6th, 2020 (Cinequest Film Festival – US)
Directed by: Ryan Kruger
Written by: Ryan Kruger
Music by: various
Cast: Gary Green, Bianka Hartenstein, Sean Cameron Michael, Chanelle de Jager, Joey Cramer, Jonathan Pienaar

The Department of Special Projects, The Department of Special Projects, Enigma Ace Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

If this hadn’t been featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I probably wouldn’t have watched it on my own. However, I’m glad that Joe Bob brought it into my living room because I was surprised and fairly impressed by it.

This is a South African picture that sees Barry, a heroin addict, shoot up, get super high, get abducted by aliens and then have his body possessed by one of those same aliens.

When the setup is done, Alien Barry just wanders all over Cape Town at night, in human form, experiencing everything the night life has to offer from more drugs, dancing, casual sex, prostitution sex and everything else in-between.

After his first night, we see his estranged wife try to reconnect with him, as well as him getting beaten up and abducted by a pedo. Alien Barry then kills the pedo and frees the kids, goes on to discover that he’s the father of a fully grown toddler that looks like him and then experiences some other zany, wild shit.

Frankly, the film is hard to describe but it’s pretty much just a random mindfuck. And typically, I don’t like these sort of films but this one held my attention and entertained me from scene-to-scene.

I think a lot of the movie’s awesomeness has to do with how well Barry himself was. He was played by Gary Green, who has mostly just played extras in other South African films. I also thought that the director did a stupendous job, top-to-bottom. Most importantly, this is fantastically well-paced and knew when it needed to move on to the next scene.

What’s kind of astonishing is that this didn’t really have a script. The director/writer, Ryan Kruger, had a list of scenes and sequences to work off of and everything else was pretty much improvised. That’s probably not the best way to go into shooting a movie but it worked for this picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other trippy as fuck drug movies.

Film Review: Runaway (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Written by: Michael Crichton
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G. W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You screwed up good, Ramsay. We got two dead officers, do you understand me mister? Two. Dead. Cops! We got two wounded – one of them your own partner – and we got two dead guinea punks! And no one knows why or what the hell its all about!” – Chief of Police

This was one of those movies that used to be on HBO or Showtime all the time when I was a kid. I probably saw it a dozen times back then but it’s eluded me ever since and sort of fell down pop culture’s memory hole.

Watching it now was kind of cool, as it wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be and even if there is a bit of hokiness in the movie, it’s still pretty serious and a much better than decent sci-fi thriller.

While there aren’t cyborgs or dystopian metropolises glowing from infinite neon lights, Runaway still has a really strong cyberpunk vibe to it. I think this is due to the amount of robots in the film, the wacky inventions like AI-controlled bullets and the general visual aesthetic of the picture.

Tom Selleck is damn solid in this and it makes me wish he was in more action and crime films. He plays a complex cop character that specializes in community service calls dealing with malfunctioning robots. Sometimes the jobs are easy and straightforward but other times, they’re deadly dangerous. What makes him complex is that he’s a tough guy but he also has a severe fear of heights. Plus, he’s a single dad, raising a son and still emotionally recovering from the death of his wife while also wooing the two ladies in the movie: his partner and a woman that’s in way over her head with the story’s villain.

Speaking of which, the baddie in this is Gene Simmons from KISS. While I can’t say that his acting is good, he still has a presence and really hams it up in a great way. When he finally gets what’s coming to him, it’s a damn satisfying momenty.

The cast is rounded out by Selleck’s female partner played by Cynthia Rhodes, the corporate damsel in distress played by Kirtstie Alley, Joey Cramer of Flight of the Navigator fame playing Selleck’s son and the always entertaining G. W. Bailey as the cantankerous Chief of Police.

It’s also worth mentioning that this was written and directed by Michael Crichton before he became a much more prolific writer when Steven Spielberg made a little film franchise out of his novel Jurassic Park.

Overall, this is still a really entertaining picture that has a pretty basic but interesting tech crime story. It certainly feels like it’s straight out of the ’80s and while the special effects may appear dated by today’s standard, I appreciate the work that went into this. The robots all look pretty cool and function well. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi or cyberpunk films of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: David Ambrose, Allan Scott, Jeffrey Ellis
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Barret Oliver, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Danny Corkill, Josef Sommer, David Wohl, Colleen Camp, Steve Ryan, Amy Linker, Kathryn Walker, Robert Arden, Joey Cramer

Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“General, a machine becomes human when you can’t tell the difference anymore.” – Dr. Ellen Lamb

I used to love D.A.R.Y.L. when I was a kid. I think it is mostly because I liked the premise and I liked Barret Oliver after seeing him in The NeverEnding Story.

Watching it now, not through kid eyes, it is still heartwarming and you care for the characters but it is much blander than I remember. I wouldn’t call it boring but it lacks energy and isn’t exploding with ’80s style and charm like similar films.

The plot revolves around Daryl (or D.A.R.Y.L. a.k.a. Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform) and how he loses his memory, is found in the woods, given to a foster family, makes friends and is then whisked away back to a government lab. All he wants is to be close to his new family and friends but some douchey Army general has other plans. Eventually, Daryl steals an SR-71 spy plane in an effort to fly back to the home and people he yearns for.

Daryl isn’t really a robot per se. He is an organic lifeform like a normal human being, however his brain is a supercomputer. Most of the story deals with the morality of the situation. Is Daryl human? What kind of rights does he have? Is he life? Is he just government property that can be disposed of? Is killing him actually murder? This was all heavy stuff for my six or seven year-old brain back when I first saw this.

Surprisingly for a film about a “robot”, there isn’t much need for special effects. The only major effects shots are when Daryl is piloting the SR-71. The stuff that was shot was done very well and although you can see the flaws in it, due to its era, it has held up well.

Barret Oliver had to carry this whole picture, just as he did with the real world parts of The NeverEnding Story. He does a fine job and was a child actor with much more skill than most of his peers.

It’s a bit sad that this wasn’t as great as I remembered it but that happens a lot when revisiting ’80s pictures that one hasn’t seen for a few decades. I still liked it though and even if the writing is too convenient and simplistic, it has a satisfying ending.

I’m just still waiting for the sequel where the government discovers that he’s still alive and flips on his murder switch.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: WarGamesReal GeniusFlight of the Navigator and The Boy Who Could Fly.

Film Review: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Cliff DeYoung, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman

Walt Disney, Producers Sales Organization, Buena Vista Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Compliance!” – Max

Everyone I knew as a kid saw Flight of the Navigator. While it wasn’t a smashing hit, it was loved by many and had its following. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as some of the other family-friendly sci-fi flicks of the 1980s.

To start, it is a Disney movie and even though it doesn’t feel like a massive epic, it has groundbreaking special effects and was well-produced in every regard.

Joey Cramer plays twelve year-old David Freeman, a kid who wakes up eight years into his future, where his world is totally different. The role needed a lot of emotion and was probably quite challenging for a twelve year-old but Cramer did a fantastic job. Looking back, I don’t know why this didn’t lead to a lot more work for the kid. He got a few roles after this but nothing too noteworthy.

The story also features an alien ship controlled by a computer named Max. Max is voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. The relationship between David and Max is really what makes this film work. While you root for David to be reunited with his family but ultimately want him to be able to go home to 1978, the real standout thing about this film is the camaraderie between the two main characters. David is depressed and feels lost and desperate while Max feels tremendous guilt for pulling David out of his life.

Apart from Cramer and Reubens, the film features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright – who I will always love for Alien, as well as WKRP‘s Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, who also lit up the screen in Head of the Class and Police Academy 2.

Flight of the Navigator used early CGI techniques to create the alien ship that took David on his journey. It was a metallic seed-shaped structure that could slightly alter its shape based off of what flight mode it was in. Also, the back of the ship would essentially melt open and provide free-floating steps for David to enter and exit the ship. The CGI animation is very similar to what James Cameron would use in 1989’s The Abyss and for the T-1000 in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

While Flight of the Navigator is not a flawless film, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and it is a fun and emotional journey. Its story is timeless and still effective and kids that I have seen watch it in recent years, all seemed to love it regardless of it feeling somewhat dated.

Flight of the Navigator is a much shorter film than what Disney does nowadays. That being said, it is welcomed, as it doesn’t waste a lot of time and stays on its rails. It gets to the point, packs an emotional punch and delivers a heartfelt happy ending. It doesn’t try to overdo it with razzle dazzle and massive special effects sequences. Frankly, I miss films like this.

Rating: 8/10