Documentary Review: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Allan Arkush, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, William Sadler, Robert Picardo, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Jonathan Haze, Jack Hill, Leonard Maltin, John Sayles, Mary Woronov

Autumn Rose Productions, End Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

If you don’t know who Dick Miller is or at least recognize his face, you were probably born after the year 2000. Even then, if you’ve ever watched a film before that time, you have most likely seen him at one point or a dozen.

Dick Miller was in everything from the 1950s through the 1990s. No, seriously, he was. Well, at least it seemed like he was in everything. The man has 180 credits to his name according to IMDb. Growing up in the ’80s, I saw him pop up a few times a year in the coolest movies of the time. The one that will always stand out the most for me was his part in Gremlins, which was the first time I remember seeing him. Every time I saw Mr. Miller after that was always a nice treat.

As I got older and went back and watched older films, especially when I found a love for Roger Corman’s pictures, I started to experience a younger and hip Dick Miller. He started his career in a lot of those early Roger Corman pictures and that association would serve him well, as all the young directors who rose to prominence, who were influenced by Corman, started hiring Miller for their films.

This documentary goes back and shows Miller’s early life, how he made the connection with Corman and how his career blossomed in unseen ways because of it. I love that it goes through his long history in films and interviews a lot of the people who were there alongside him. It also talks to the directors who hired him and have a love for his work.

Dick Miller is a guy that deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the films he was a part of. He was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and if he was in a movie it sort of legitimized it as cool. It didn’t matter when he got older either, as he took over the screen in his cameos in a lot of Joe Dante’s pictures.

That Guy Dick Miller is a pretty awesome documentary for fans who grew up watching this guy work. Even if you aren’t familiar with him, this is probably still enjoyable and will give you a solid appreciation for the man and the films he was a part of.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other showbiz documentaries: Corman’s World and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

Film Review: Piranha (1978)

Release Date: August 3rd, 1978 (USA)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: John Sayles, Richard Robinson
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, Paul Bartel

New World Pictures, United Artists, 95 Minutes

piranha1978Review:

Some people might not realize this but Piranha was made to be somewhat of a parody to Jaws and its clones, such as Orca. It was also the first film that Joe Dante directed alone. He would go on to direct some of the most memorable films of the 1980s and a few decent ones from the 1990s.

It is hard to just consider this film as horror. It has comedy elements to it, especially where Dick Miller’s water park mogul Buck Gardner is concerned.

The film sees two teenagers go skinny dipping in a pool on what they believe to be an abandoned military installation. The pool is full of genetically engineered piranha that eat the teenagers alive. This brings in Maggie, an insurance investigator. She is a bit aloof and careless and while snooping around, releases the piranha into the local river system. As the film progresses, the killer piranha eat their way through the locals. Eventually, they attack a summer camp and finally, a newly opened water park.

Piranha isn’t just a parody, though. It is also a political commentary on the bastardization of science by the government. With this film being released a few years after the Vietnam War, a lot of the military’s questionable tactics were still fresh in people’s minds.

Most of the actors in this picture are completely forgettable. The only notable characters are those that have just a bit more time than a cameo. Dick Miller is always great and would go on to work with Joe Dante for years. Plus, Piranha was produced by Roger Corman, who also utilized Miller a lot. The film also features horror legend Barbara Steele as a sinister government scientist, trying to keep a lid on the tragedy. Then there is Paul Bartel, who plays the hilarious yet very heroic camp counselor. Bartel is one of the greatest character actors of the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Being that this is a Corman produced movie, you can expect it to cut a lot of corners. The effects aren’t particularly good but they are effective. My only real complaint about the piranha, is the strange sound effects used for the moments where they feast on human flesh.

Piranha is not a great film but it is the best of the Jaws ripoffs. Sure, Steven Spielberg said that first, but I share his sentiment.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Matinee (1993)

Release Date: January 29th, 1993 (USA)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Charles S. Haas, Jerico Stone
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Kellie Martin, Lisa Jakub, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, John Sayles

Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

matineeReview:

Joe Dante made a slew of really good and iconic pictures from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. Matinee is the one that I consider to be the end of that great era. Which I guess should tell you that I enjoy it.

The film takes place in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The setting really adds a lot to the picture and gives it more meaning than it would’ve had otherwise. John Goodman’s Lawrence Woolsey sees the event as an opportunity to capitalize on people’s fears and worries, as he releases his newest atomic-themed sci-fi/horror film on the people closest to the looming threat of nuclear annihilation.

The subject matter is very dark but this is still a pretty light-hearted family film. The nuclear subtext however, is used to make a stark political and social statement very similar to how Toho Studios did it in the 1950s with Gojira (the original Godzilla). This is more than just a movie about old school monsters and sci-fi thrills and it has a lot of heart and charm as it tells its story. This very well could be Joe Dante at his absolute best.

John Goodman put on a stellar performance as Woolsey, a living legend among horror and science fiction aficionados. This film also came early in his theatrical career, when he still hadn’t evolved into the great actor he would become. This is from the same era as the disappointing Babe Ruth biopic The Babe, as well as the fairly shitty but amusing King Ralph. Although he did have the near-masterpiece Barton Fink on his résumé already. Plus, he was still in the middle of playing America’s favorite dad in the 90s, Dan Conner on Roseanne.

Goodman’s Woolsey was a big showman and master of theatrical gimmickry like William Castle (director of the original House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler). He rigs the movie theater with gadgets and other tricks, in an effort to make his film interactive with the audience. There are buzzers in the seats, special lighting effects, smoke and optical illusions that go off throughout the film’s duration.

The centerpiece of this motion picture, is the young cast. Mainly, the two brothers Gene and Dennis. Their father is shipped off to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis and they are stuck in Key West with their mother, not knowing what the immediate future holds. The film also follows Gene’s friend Stan and his budding relationship with Sherry, all while dealing with her psycho ex-boyfriend.

The kid actors are great and the fact that they aren’t all that recognizable really is a benefit to the film. They feel like real kids in real situations, despite the absurdity of their situations at times. The kid cast kind of reminds me of the kids from The Sandlot. They are all really likable and relatable and they feel authentic in this period piece film.

I also have to mention that Joe Dante regulars Robert Picardo and Dick Miller knock it out of the park in this one. I only wish Miller’s part would’ve been bigger, considering his character’s backstory.

Matinee is a fantastic and really fun film. I wouldn’t call it my favorite Joe Dante movie but I would say that it might be his best.

Rating: 7/10