Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: Orca (1977)

Also known as: Orca: The Killer Whale, The Killer Whale (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 15th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine

Famous Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to be believe, despite all that had happened.” – Rachel

I was originally introduced to this movie by my 6th grade science teacher circa 1991. While most of the class was dozing off, I really enjoyed it, even if it was one of several dozen ripoffs of Jaws.

Orca is somehow better than almost all of the Jaws wannabes, except for Joe Dante’s magnificent Piranha. But the reason for that is due to the movie’s ability to create great sympathy for the killer killer whale as well as Richard Harris’ ability to take a total bastard of a character and make him somewhat noble and redeemable.

I also really enjoyed Charlotte Rampling in this, as she added so much to the film’s context in a great way, as well as having a really organic chemistry with Richard Harris.

Being that I haven’t seen this in its entirety since that day in 6th grade, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film all these years later. It was actually better than I remembered and there were some scenes I had completely forgotten, like the whale fetus on the boat deck scene, which my 6th grade teacher may have omitted from the movie when he showed us his VHS copy of it.

While this was a Dino De Laurentiis produced picture, which means it had a limited budget, most of the special effects were damn good. Even though I knew that some of the whale celebration moments with destruction in the background were composited shots, they actually look pretty great for the time, even when being seen in modern HD.

The two sequences that stood out to me the most were the coastal house being destroyed by the whale and collapsing into the sea, as well as the scene where the female whale is gruesomely captured and maimed, leading to her death and the death of the baby she’s carrying, all while the male whale watches on in agony. It may sound kind of cheesy but it’s surreal and haunting. Most importantly, it was incredibly effective. You felt the whale’s pain and understood his quest for vengeance against Richard Harris’ captain character.

I also really dug the Ennio Morricone score. The guy is an absolute legend and his score here is enchanting while also being brooding. While it’s not on par with John Williams’ Jaws score, it is very different and fits the tone of this movie, which wasn’t exactlyJaws ripoff. This just used the timing of its release to capitalize off of the killer marine life craze of the late ’70s.

The story is actually closer to Moby Dick and just modernized with a different species of whale. But that didn’t stop it from potentially taking a shot at Jaws by having the killer whale murder the crap out of a great white shark at the beginning of the film.

All in all, I was really satisfied with this. It’s not an all-time classic but it is better than most killer animal ocean movies not named Jaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies, especially those that take place on the water.

Film Review: Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (complete title)
Release Date: August 24th, 2001
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine, Wanda De Jesus, Peter Jason

Storm King Productions, Screen Gems, 98 Minutes

Review:

“…Friday night, the whole place should be packed. A whole twelve hours before sun up and there’s money to burn, whores to fuck and drugs to take.” – Melanie Ballard

Well, this was the only John Carpenter film I had never seen. That is, until now. I just remember that when it was coming out, I thought it looked terrible. My friends that did see it only confirmed my reservations about it and in fact, they were harsher on this film than I expected. So I never really wanted to give it a watch but hey, I review movies and this was on my Starz app, so I figured I’d torture myself for 98 minutes.

I wouldn’t quite say that it was torture though. It was stupid enough to entertain me but it didn’t do much to excite me. And it’s not like John Carpenter did anything wrong, it’s just that this proved that his style had become dated. Had this script been shot by him in the late ’80s, this could have been a film that was remembered more fondly because it would’ve fit that era better.

A big issue with it though, is its reliance on poorly shot and constructed miniatures, very confined sets and going the digital route in places where practical effects would’ve probably worked better. Also, it definitely lacks in the violence department, at least in what one should expect from a Carpenter film.

It’s also kind of a boring movie, for the most part. The villains are pretty shitty and this is really just a movie with space zombies that understand how to use primitive weapons. Also, the main villain just looked like any generic horror monster from the late ’90s that was trying to be a scarier version of Marilyn Manson but just ended up looking like a goth kid without a good Halloween costume.

The acting in this is terrible too. Ice Cube can do better but he really just plays himself and dialed it in. Natasha Henstridge was okay and at least believable in her role but she looked bored. Statham was pointless in this, as was Clea DuVall, who can deliver a good performance when given the right role.

This isn’t an unwatchable movie but I can’t recommend it. I think that most people will actually hate it, even though I found it okay enough to kill 98 minutes during a tropical depression.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Later John Carpenter films, as well as other films from the era that dealt with Mars: Red Planet and Mission to Mars.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)

Release Date: July 10th, 1987
Directed by: Joe Roth
Written by: Dan Guntzelman, Steve Marshall
Based on: characters by Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald V. Casale
Cast: Robert Carradine, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, Anthony Edwards, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Bradley Whitford, Ed Lauter, James Hong

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There could be a nuclear war; there’d be nothing left but cockroaches and nerds.” – Roger

I wouldn’t say that this is a better movie than its predecessor but for some reason, I enjoy Nerds II more than I enjoy Nerds I. That could also be because of the fact that I was briefly on the set of this film when they were shooting the scenes at the front exterior of the hotel, which was the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale, which wasn’t too far from my father’s house back then.

Another benefit of this movie is that it doesn’t feature any creepy behavior from the nerds. As I discussed in my review of the previous film, Louis raped a girl, filmed and broadcasted an entire girls’ dorm in their private moments and even hid in a girl’s shower to see her naked.

This film was also PG-13 and not R, so that probably had a lot to do with the lack of boobies and rape behavior. But being that this was PG-13 made it just a stoner comedy and not a teen sex comedy. However, by 1987, teen sex comedies had sort of run their course.

The plot for this film isn’t to dissimilar from its predecessor. The nerds have to rise to the challenges put in front of them by the jocks and the cool kids. The Alpha Betas return to be the villains but this is a new group where Ogre is the only returning member from the previous movie. The new group is lead by quintessential ’80s dickhead Bradley Whitford. I call him a “dickhead” but that was what he played a lot back then. He’s grown to become a pretty accomplished actor but I still remember him most fondly for his roles like the one here, Adventures In Babysitting and Billy Madison. He was superb in Get Out and I am really looking forward to seeing him in next year’s Godzilla sequel.

Most of the key nerds return for this film except for Brian Tochi. Also, Anthony Edwards wasn’t a fan of the script and even though he is in this, his role was significantly reduced to being a glorified cameo in a few scenes. Ted McGinley and John Goodman aren’t in this either, which kind of sucked but Whitford really carried the ball and ran with it.

We also get the addition of Courtney Thorne-Smith but she doesn’t have a lot to do other to to pine over Louis but nothing happens between them and Louis is still with Betty, the girl he raped into a relationship in the first movie. Louis and Betty are married by the time Nerds III rolled around.

So the main difference between this movie and Nerds I is that it is set in a “tropical paradise”: Fort Lauderdale. Also, the nerds are holed up in a really shitty hotel that has a boisterous Cuban lady and the legendary James Hong as a sort of zen master for Booger’s gross antics. Also, Ogre becomes a nerd by the end of the film. I actually kind of liked this bit, as Ogre doesn’t really fit in with the jocks, other than being used for his muscle power and intimidation.

Based off of the reviews and ratings I’ve seen for this film, it’s not as beloved as the original. But in all honesty, it’s not that bad if you are a fan of the first one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Revenge of the Nerds but the sequels after this one get pretty terrible.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Release Date: July 20th, 1984 (limited)
Directed by: Jeff Kanew
Written by: Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Ted McGinley, Bernie Casey, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Brian Tochi, Julie Montgomery, Michelle Meyrink, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, John Goodman, David Wohl

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You know, when you were a baby in your crib, your father looked down at you, he had but one hope – ‘Someday, my son will grow to be a man.’ Well look at you now; you just got your asses whipped, by a bunch of goddamn nerds. Nerds! Well, if I was you, I’d do something about it. I would get up and redeem myself in the eyes of my father, my Maker, and my coach!” – Coach Harris

I probably haven’t watched this in ten years and I guess when I was a kid in the ’80s, this was a lot of laughs. It’s still got some funny moments but I’m not as nostalgic about it as I thought I would be. I know that some people consider this a classic ’80s comedy and while I guess it was popular enough and has sustained some of the popularity over the decades since its release, as they tease a remake every few years, it just doesn’t feel like a classic in the same way that GhostbustersPolice AcademyFast Times at Ridgemont High or even Real Genius does.

It is also a teen sex comedy, which were all the rage back then. This one is kind of light on the sex but you do get some solid nudity and sexual tomfoolery. However, some of it seems really weird when you watch it now but I’ll explain that in a minute.

The story is about these nerds that go to college and soon discover that they are nerds because somehow this never came up in their lives before. Sorry, but I find it hard to believe that these 18 year-old young men weren’t made fun of before they arrived at college, especially with how society in this film responds to them. Everyone hates nerds with extreme passion. Not just the jocks, mind you, but everyone.

So the jocks take the nerds dorms after they burn down their own frat house. The nerds try to make do with the situation but everyone rejects them and not just college kids but absolutely every single person they turn to. Even the fraternity they become a member of doesn’t want them and they only get their foot in the door due to a loophole in the fraternity’s own rule book.

Eventually the nerds win everyone over (except the jocks) but the extreme hatred of nerds is so outlandish and ridiculous that even though this is an over the top oddball comedy, none of this is remotely believable.

But the gags and the characters are still good and that’s what makes the film work. I love the ensemble and some of these characters are still great, three decades later. Lewis and Gilbert, the two main nerds are pretty boring but the supporting characters are lovable and fantastic.

Booger, played by the underappreciated Curtis Armstrong, is a rude and crude bastard but he’s hilarious. Timothy Busfield’s Poindexter is a one note character but he constantly hurts himself and screams like a nitwit. Larry B. Scott’s Lamar is a flamboyantly gay nerd and probably the first outlandish gay character I ever saw in a movie. I love Lamar and his friendship with the young Wormser is great, especially the bits where they do aerobics and dance together.

The real show stealers in this are the two main villains, actually. The main jock is played by Ted McGinley and it is the best role he’s done other than playing Jefferson D’Arcy on Married… with Children. You also have John Goodman as the drill sergeant like coach of the jocks. But I also have to point out how much I like Donald Gibb in this, as he plays the jocks’ muscle, a beefy bonehead named Ogre.

Now watching this thirty-plus years later, some parts of this movie are really fucked up. The nerds are actually terrible people and frankly, I kind of wanted the jocks to bash their heads in, even though they were shitheads too.

You see, the nerds invade the girls’ dorm and setup cameras everywhere in an effort to spy on them in their most private moments. This is played up for comedy, as I guess this sort of behavior was okay in the ’80s. Louis even hides in the shower of a girl to surprise her when she’s naked. Seriously, if some dude in a black hoodie was hiding in a girl’s shower in 2018, he’d probably get shot. Well, not on 2018 campuses where people hate guns and need safe spaces. Louis then ups his creep factor when he disguises himself as the girl’s boyfriend and has sex with her. M’kay… is this not rape? But the girl responds by falling in love with him. She probably won’t even care that Louis and his nerd buddies were watching her sleep in her panties for weeks.

Now I’m not really in an uproar about these things because this is a dumb ’80s teen sex comedy but watching those scenes is sort of cringy in 2018. But again, this is supposed to be a funny, stupid movie that plays best when you’re stoned on the couch with your friends spilling cheap beer on room temperature pizza that’s been sitting out for three days since your weekly Atari tournament.

Anyway, this is still a goofy movie that’s good at killing 90 minutes of your time. I don’t like this as much as Weird Science but hey, it’s got more tits in it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise but the sequels after that get pretty terrible.