Movies

DVD REVIEW: THX-1138 (George Lucas Director’s Cut)

THX-1138 (Originally 1970, 1998 George Lucas Director’s Cut, Warner DVD)

Directed by George Lucas

Anyone claiming to be a Star Wars fan that hasn’t seen THX-1138 isn’t really a Star Wars fan…yet.  You really can’t grok one without assimilating the other.  They are reflections of each other.  Themes and techniques intertwine.  Sometimes they are opposites, at others, cousins.

This is hard sci-fi. There are no cute furry Ewoks, there is no “villain”, there are only glimmers of heroics. This is a dystopian future brought to you by the once-brilliant director George Lucas, unhampered by his own commercial drives. This is as pure a vision as it gets.  One viewing is not enough to digest THX-1138.  There is little dialogue or exposition. There is no traditional music, and the story plods along in a very Kubrickian fashion.

The setting is not a long time ago, nor far far away.  It is the future right here on Earth, and humanity now lives in a vast underground city.  It is so vast that nobody ever ventures out to its superstructure where malformed, monkey-like “Shell Dwellers” remain. Perhaps they are mutants, victims of a long-forgotten nuclear holocaust.  It is a surveillance society.  Like today, there are few places you can escape the view of a camera lens.  Humanity lives in the bubble of a sterile, pristinely white city that resembles the dullest of shopping malls.  They are told to consume.  At strange Catholic-looking confessionals, one prays to the State and the Masses and a weird Christ-like face. Children are taught entire school courses via a chemical IV. Sexual activity is forbidden unless you are scheduled to produce a child. Sedation by drugs is compulsory. Failure to take your medications will result in drug offences and rehabilition. Some humans are deemed defective and left to themselves in a strange white prison, an asylum that seems to go on forever.

Our protagonist is THX-1138 (Robert Duvall), called “Tex” for short.  He does not feel well. He is sick, shaky, because he is secretly off his medication. Feelings of love and lust are stirring for his roomate, LUH. The lack of sedation has allowed those feelings to surface for the first time. It has also, however, affected his work, and one error is all it takes to clue in the powers-that-be that THX is a drug offender.

Themes turn up again in Lucas’ later films. See the totalitarian faceless government, complete with masked law enforcement (not Stormtroopers but robot officers).  Constant, overlapping staticky background dialogue makes up the most of the soundtrack to this film. Lucas has taken sound effects and used them as music, yet they still convey information crucial to the plot. For further comparison, some shots are even duplicated in Star Wars; see if you can spot them.

THX-1138 isn’t Lucas’ fairytale vision of sci-fi.  Scenes are chilling. THX is channel surfing and comes upon a program of an officer beating a human repeatedly for no apparent reason. This is the entertainment of the future.  The brutality is so iconic that Trent Reznor used the sounds in Nine Inch Nails’ song “Mr. Self Destruct”.  In another scene, two techs are tormenting THX’s body, but their dialogue betrays absolutely no connection whatsoever to the human being they are hurting. “Don’t let it get above 48,” says one, as THX is writhing in agony. “Oh, you let is get above 48, see, that’s why you’re getting those readings.”

The theme of escape, which was common with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, is what drives THX. He eventually finds an ally in a “hologram” (Don Pedro Colley) that he meets in the white asylum. SEN (Donald Pleasance) is suitably creepy as a man obsessed with THX and LUH.  Can they escape the city and see what is beyond?

Lucas loves tampering with his films and THX is one of them. CG race cars and cityscapes enhance the film, while CG Shell Dwellers look phony and out of place. I would have preferred the original Shell Dwellers, but in the cityscapes, the new effects certainly add depth and believability.  Just like the Star Wars special editions, some things work and others do not.  Cloud City worked well in the Star Wars digital tweaks, just as the underground one does here.

DVD bonus features are awesome, including ample documentaries.  For a treat, check for the original black and white student film that Lucas made: THX-1138-4eB – Electronic Labyrinth. See how his vision survived intact to the big screen, and see how ideas such as dialogue acting as the soundtrack was present in the original short.

A fantastic visionary sci-fi film, and a warning to us today. We must not allow our society to become as controlled as THX’s.

Not for everybody. Only for those who like thinking man’s sci-fi.

4/5 stars. Near-perfect dystopian vision.

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GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987 Paramount)

Directed by John Hughes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my top ten favorite films ever made. It’s in pretty good company with 12 Angry Men (the one from the ‘50s), Blue Velvet, Die Hard, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, The Unforgiven, etc. On the surface it may seem absurd to place what seems like a goofy road comedy from the ‘80s on a list containing films of that stature, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable at all. This film is the best road film ever made, and I have no reservations about calling it one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s no glowing pretension or aspirations to reach Citizen Kane levels of movie making, or bids for narrative complexity. It is a heartfelt holiday classic about a stubborn irate man just trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving. That man is ad executive Neal Page portrayed by Steve Martin, who is helped out in his travels by the loquacious shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith played by John Candy. The two men are polar opposites that learn to care for each other under the extreme circumstances that impede their journey home. By the end of the film, both men have learned to let down their emotional guards and trust each other, a necessary step for the two of them to arrive at their destination.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s something about these characters and situations that seems to demonstrate real life in such a direct way. It’s not a puzzle, everything is clear cut. Not to say that the movie is all surface level, there’s plenty of stuff to dive into here between the two men, particularly through multiple viewings after you know Del’s secret. The level of character depth in these two men is particularly compelling to watch on screen, as seeing the psyche of two opposites gravitate towards each other giving each other strength is both stimulating and moving. Part of that depth comes from the fact that this film was perfectly cast. John Candy and Steve Martin don’t even seem to be playing characters, but amplified versions of themselves. The dialogue, the movements, the actions are all totally natural, and the responses appear to have weight behind them that suggest the character’s past experiences. Guest appearances from Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, and Edie McClurg all appear in hilarious supporting roles as well, but I wouldn’t dare spoil them here. Well, maybe one.

Steve Martin plays Neal as an impatient cynical grouch who is dying to get out of the sales meeting he’s stuck in so that he can find a cab and get to the airport on time. Del plays the happy go lucky salesman that accidentally steals Neal’s cab during rush hour in New York City. Fate keeps these two characters together as they meet by chance at the airport again. Neal confronts Del about stealing the cab, and Del feels genuine remorse. He tries to be as affable as possible, offering up Neal a beer and a hot dog. Neal being a bit prudish rejects the peace offering with a snarky type of politeness. Of course, Del doesn’t immediately pick up on or at least chooses to ignore Neal’s hostility. All he wants is to get home in a timely manner to see his family for the holiday. A snowstorm prevents their plane from landing in Illinois, causing the flight to divert all the way to Kansas.

The two men book a hotel room together as the hotels fill up. It is at this point that the exposition ends and Neal lets out all the resentment he has towards Del.  The set up is complete and now the emotional core of the movie really begins to develop. Neal states in no uncertain terms every problem that he has with Del, not holding back any vitriol. Martin’s performance is so wonderful that it actually gets the audience to laugh along with all his complaints, even as John Candy’s face starts to sink. Martin plays it as a man who has seriously contemplated every perceivable flaw in Del’s character, and is eager to list out every mundane detail. When he says he could listen to the most boring insurance seminar for days on end “because I’ve been with Del Griffith!” his vocal inflections are so comically annoyed that the audience can’t help but laugh. The scene isn’t a joke, it’s clear that the man has been pushed to his limit, but the audience laughs because they understand his frustration. However, the way Neal starts and stops seems to suggest that it’s against his better judgement to be so mean. It all just seems to be slipping out, as one complaint leads into the next until he’s too far to back down. When Neal finally finishes venting, John Hughes hits us with the first emotional blast in the movie.

Del’s reply is an often quoted moment from cinema history. It’s so perfect in its raw emotional simplicity. Whereas the cynical Neal has been stewing over his anger and letting it out almost uncontrollably, Del’s reply is a brief calm statement of emotional truth. It’s a tender “take me or leave me” moment, but Del is clearly hurt deeply by Neal’s words. Del’s trying just as hard to convince himself that he’s strong enough to take it because of the love he has from his wife and customers. Candy’s performance completely sells the speech, and makes the audience feel remorse for laughing at Martin mocking him just a few seconds ago. You can see in his face that this isn’t the first time that someone has gone off on him for his sometimes overzealous extroverted personality, and the hurt in his eyes betrays years of pain in the past. Despite all this pain, he can’t help the way he his. He will never fight back. When he says that he doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, it makes the cynical viewers and Neal shameful for feeling any malice towards Del. The two men have been forced to share a bed, and they cozy up together for the night as Neal learns to be a little more accepting of other people.

This John Hughes road comedy distinguishes itself from a lot of his work in that it focuses on adult relationships instead of teenagers. The two main characters are middle aged men set in their own ways. These men learn to evolve the more that they learn about each other. This is similar to the plot of Hughes’ more popular The Breakfast Club, only in this film instead of the characters being locked together in one room, Page and Griffith can’t seem to shake each other as they both make their way from the streets of New York to Neal’s home in Illinois.

Every time that the two men try to separate they just end up in each other’s company again. Also every time that Del seems to be gaining Neal’s favor something ludicrous happens that screws it up. Del driving on the wrong side of the highway after falling asleep is one of these moments, particularly after the car is destroyed and lit on fire and it is revealed that Del used Neal’s credit card to rent it. Amazingly the machine is still able to run, and the two pull up to a motel for the night. All their money was stolen by robbers on the first night at the hotel in Kansas, and their cards were burnt up in the fire. Neal has to sell his watch to get a room, but Del cannot afford one at all. This is the climax of the film, as even after rendering Neal liable to the damage of an entire automobile, Neal finally decides to completely accept Del. He is forgiven. This acceptance materializes because Neal cannot stand the site of Del freezing outside in the burnt up car. Neal decides to throw out all his jaded cynicism and invite Del into his room. It is at this point that Neal is willing to forgive Del for anything, and accept him for who he is unconditionally. The journey the two men have been on together and the bond that has formed over just two days is so strong that Neal will never give up on Del again. The two men fall asleep drinking liquor and talking about how much they love their wives. Never again in the movie is Neal the grouch, he’s even a good sport about riding in the back of a refrigerated truck after their rental car is impounded for being too dangerous for the road.

They finally make it to LaSalle/Van Buren CTA station that will take Neal the rest of the way home. It is empty except the two of them now that it’s Thanksgiving day. This is where Del and Neal part ways for the holidays. That is until Neal begins to put the pieces together. Little scraps of what Del has said throughout the film finally begin to add up in Neal’s brain, and the ending scene that follows is one of the most heartwarming in any film ever. There’s no shame for any grown ass man to ball his eyes out watching it the first time. John Candy deserved an Oscar for the film closing smile he gives. For the sake of those that have never seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending here.

Most comedies are not good movies. They simply exist to generate a few shallow laughs and leave no long term impression. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the few comedies to transcend the limitations of its genre with genuine heart and characters that the audience can actually feel invested in. We want Neal and Del to succeed, as they seem like genuinely plausible people trapped in improbably unfortunate circumstances. They’re not one-note characters who simply exist for an endless barrage of sight gags to happen upon them, their choices are based on well established character traits, not just moving along because the plot needs them to. Anyone who has had to travel for the holidays feels the plight that these men are going through, even if they have never experienced it to the insanity that Neal and Del have. If you’ve never seen this movie because you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or some other reason, I implore you to seek it out and watch it today. This movie is a classic that stands up even if you don’t celebrate the holiday in the movie. As Neal puts it in the film, after the journey you’re, “a little wiser.”

5/5 Turkeys

 

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: The Shining (1980)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

Welcome back to Halloween Wednesday!  Here’s guest writer HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews.  He’s got a scarrry one today. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews
Oct 17:  Fastway – Trick or Treat Original Music Score 

THE SHINING (1980 Warner Bros.)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the rare instances where the film greatly surpasses the animal hedge madness of Stephen King’s novel. King reportedly hated the film because it changed the details of his book so dramatically, but all of the changes made to the film serve to not only translate it better to a visual medium, but also to create a deeper and more compelling story with a much more satisfying ending.* Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is quite possibly the greatest horror movie ever made. It’s a deeply visceral thrill that deals with the supernatural and the psychological, while managing to include enough slasher elements to satisfy those types of horror fans. There’s really something for everyone in this movie, except Stephen King.

Everyone knows the story by now. Jack Torrance procures a job as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and takes his wife and young son to stay with him, alone in the mountains. Jack is a struggling writer looking for a place to concentrate on his work. One day his wife decides to make seafood, and accidentally under-cooks the crabs. Jack’s intestines are sent into an uproar. Unfortunately for him, someone has locked the bathroom door. He doesn’t want to run to another bathroom and risk more leakage, so he axes down the door. This leads to the iconic image of his face sticking through the bathroom door that has been used as the cover for all recent home video editions. If you look closely, you can see that Jack Nicholson accurately portrays a man that has liquid shit running down his leg into his shoe, a man about to have an anal geyser. It’s an absolutely brilliant performance of such raw ass… I mean raw emotion that has stood as one of the defining performances in any horror movie ever. Is there a greater horror than realizing you’ve just soiled yourself?

Unfortunately for our heroes, all the food in the Overlook Hotel has been stricken with Salmonella, leaving their butts so raw that they are shining, hence the title. The only one immune to the bacteria is Danny, as he has supernatural abilities to digest anything. That’s where the paranormal aspects of the film come in. Danny talks to some ghosts that try to help him save his parents from the torment of toilet time. Danny sends a telepathic message to the old Overlook cook, and he immediately moves hell and earth to get over to the Overlook hotel.

Once the cook arrives he brings new food to last them through the winter, and decides to stay and celebrate the holidays with the Torrance family. They all laugh and dance around the Christmas tree as Jack Nicholson does his Tonight Show impression.

“Here’s Johnny!”

The whole family laughs in wholesome unison as Jack professes his unconditional love for both his wife and child. It’s a tender moment, as the whole family embraces cook Dick Hallorann as the newest addition to the Torrance gang. Dick has secretly bought Danny the new fire truck he’d been wanting before he made his way up to the hotel. On Christmas morning, Danny’s eyes light up as he had not been expecting to get it. The four get together in a loving embrace and their hearts fill with jubilant joy. My God, I’m tearing up just thinking about it!

The horror has been evaded, or so they think. Everything turns around when they receive a package in the mail, despite no one being able to get up to the hotel. Who could have left this package? They open up the package, and find a VHS copy of Bobcat Goldthwait’s debut standup HBO special, Share the Warmth. What’s odd about this movie is that the standup special was not taped until 1987, and this film takes place in 1980. To film the movie, Kubrick actually was able to send the cast and crew into the future to 2012 in order to make it even more eerie by predicting actual world events.** Rather than predicting natural disasters, or sports scores or anything like that, Kubrick became highly intrigued by this Bobcat character, and decided to abandon the novel to make his own piece of art. This is ultimately why King was not satisfied by the movie, and didn’t understand it when it came out in 1980 given that Bobcat had not reached a world stage yet. When the family finds the movie, everything goes off the rails. After watching the VHS together, Danny learns a whole lot of naughty words that should never be used by such young children. They also all immediately become big fans of the man with such Kaufman style talents and his penchant for social commentary. Bobcat’s earliest fans!

As the weeks go by, the family is pleased to find another VHS of a film called Shakes the Clown in the mail. It’s a lot different than his standup special, and exceptionally strange, but they ultimately enjoy the ride, even if it was not nearly as strong as his standup special. The next week, the family receives the holiday Bill Murray film Scrooged that features Goldthwait as the fired assistant. They determine that the movie ultimately sucks hard, but they love the parts containing Bobcat as the holiday liberator. That’s when the spirits sending the tapes stop being so kind to the family. Next they receive Police Academy 2Police Academy 2 is easily the shittiest of an incredibly shitty franchise (only speaking for the first three, as that’s when I checked out forever), a series of films Bobcat himself would later call Police Lobotomy. The family is distraught over the wasted talents of Bobcat. Another week goes by and they find instalments 3 and 4 in the mail, and are just as horrified at the glaring examples of shit personified in Police Academy fashion. This is a franchise so shitty that the best joke involving them was actually in Wayne’s World. At this point in the film, Danny and Dick begin to have psychic visions. They can’t make out exactly what’s going to happen the next week, but they begin to have visions of a horse, and Bobcat. The horse seems to be talking. Their worst fears are realized the next week when a fresh copy of Hot to Trot is sent to the house.

The family is so horrified by the turn Bobcat’s career has taken that they all suffer terminal illness, an eerie omen of the five Razzie Awards nominations that this piece of shit would be nominated for. The next week, the critically acclaimed Bobcat film World’s Greatest Dad shows up, proving to be a chilling end to the Torrance family. If they had just hung in one more week, they would have been saved by seeing the great movie.

Years later in the early 1990s, Bobcat shows up at the Overlook Hotel to perform for the guests. He’s greeted by a bell boy, and tells him that it’s nice to perform at the hotel for the first time. The bell boy cryptically replies by saying, “I’m sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the comedian here. You’ve always been the comedian.” Bobcat looks puzzled, and spots a peculiar picture on the wall. He looks at it further and sees the picture on the wall from 1980 of the Torrance family all crying holding Hot to Trot in their hands. Bobcat lets out one of his trademark screams, and the credits role.

Kubrick knows to end the film on such a disturbing note, because he knows how to play his audience. That’s why this film is considered to be one of the most classic examples of modern horror cinema released today. The feelings that you experience watching this movie moves you in such a way that you feel afraid to ever travel to a hotel, or watch one of Bobcat’s many shitty movie decisions from the 1980s. This is the greatest horror movie ever made, and there’s simply nothing else to say.***

5/5 Pumpkins

* LeBrain agrees wholeheartedly and is jealous he hasn’t written this one up yet.  But he will.  The soundtrack including music by Wendy Carlos is genius too.

** Not to mention the NASA conspiracies.

*** That sure was something!  I hope readers get it.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEWS: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It may be considered a childish holiday, but it’s not about candy!  Here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews.  For the last, Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EPs, click here.

 

BATMAN (1989 Warner Bros.)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992 Warner Bros.)

Directed by Tim Burton

Given the influx of homogenized yet generally consistent MCU movies, and the equally homogenized yet generally inconsistent DCU movies, it’s almost hard to remember a time when superhero films were not guaranteed billion dollar investments, or when they had a shred of character and individuality. The first film that truly hinted at the superhero genre’s potential to be taken seriously was Richard Donner’s Superman. It was a huge financial and critical success, with Gene Hackman giving the movie a professional actor that legitimized the comic book superhero film as an art form, and not just a niche market for children. However, DC was unable to sustain the quality of the Superman franchise, and it slowly fizzled out until crashing and burning with the critically mauled fourth installment The Quest for Peace. The future of comic book movies looked grim. That is until Warner Bros. handed the keys to the Batmobile over to the artsy and dark visionary Tim Burton, who created two acclaimed and commercially successful Gothic Batman films that work great as Halloween viewing.

At this point in his career, Tim Burton had only made two films, the eccentric road comedy Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the twisted paranormal comedy Beetlejuice. It’s not evident what Warner Bros. saw in those two comedic movies to make them think Tim Burton would be the proper choice to direct a Batman movie, but choosing him to helm the franchise would turn out to be one of the least controversial moves. The much more derided decision would be the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman, an actor primarily known for his comedies. Because of his credentials, physique, and height, many believed that Keaton was the wrong choice to portray the Dark Knight. Thankfully, these fears were unfounded as Keaton would go on to become one of the most beloved actors to don the cape and cowl. Fears were also alleviated by the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a man who does what Gene Hackman did for Superman in granting the movie a certain ethos just by being present.

To say that Batman was a success would be an understatement; it was a cultural phenomenon. People were getting the bat logo shaved into their head, before anyone had even seen the movie. It became the highest grossing movie of the year in North America in 1989, being beat out internationally by the third Indiana Jones picture.*

The film opens at night as a family of three leaves the theatre, and I’m pretty sure anyone seeing this movie for the first time assumed that they were the Wayne family. No, the movie was playing a trick on you. It’s just a normal family in the present time being mugged, with Batman running to apprehend the criminals as they make their way up to a rooftop to count their loot. As one criminal discusses his fear of being on the roof because of mysterious bat rumors, the other tells him that it’s all hogwash and that he needs to shut his mouth. That’s when Batman glides in behind them, ready to strike. The two criminals look up at a creature that they can’t fully identify. One opens fire and they see the bat creature fall to the ground. The fear reignites in their eyes as they see it menacingly rise off of the ground, presumably from the dead. After incapacitating one of them with a kick to the chest, he grabs the other and holds him above a ledge, as the bat creature asks him to tell all his criminal friends about him, and to be very afraid. “What are you?!” the criminal asks. The creature simply replies, “I’m Batman.” He sees Batman walk off the building, and the criminal scrambles to look over the ledge to see the Batman nowhere in sight.

This opening scene sets the tone for the film, and illustrates the brilliance of Michael Keaton’s Batman. This is a far cry from the campy ‘60s movie. While Adam West was a public servant, and Christian Bale was a ninja, Keaton is a creature that no criminal understands. No one even knows if he’s human, and by allowing himself to get shot, he creates the illusion that he can’t be killed when he rises from the ground. This iteration of Batman is fully committed to theatricality and mystery. Keaton’s portrayal is very effective at representing the tortured soul of Batman, how he feels completely obligated to fight crime because no one else can. He feels the need to avenge his parents, and his dedication to fighting crime has left him lonely and obsessive over his one goal. His motives had never been clearer, and the film also makes the wise call of making Bruce Wayne more of a recluse in this film than a playboy. While it is ridiculous writing that a man as famous as Wayne does not even have a picture on file at the newspaper for reporters to find, the idea of Wayne’s isolation as a character makes perfect sense in this movie. He is a man driven to fight crime no matter the personal sacrifice or threat to his own mental health, which happens to be pretty unstable throughout the movie.

More unstable is main villain Jack Napier, a nasty gangster that is sold out by mob boss Carl Grissom after Grissom learns that Napier is boning his girlfriend. Grissom sends Napier to clean out a front company, and then calls a Lieutenant that happens to be on his payroll to kill Jack. However, Batman turns up and ruins the operation. Napier opens fire at the Batman, who deflects the bullet sending it straight through Napier’s face. Napier then stumbles over a rail above a vat of chemicals. Batman extends his hand in an attempt to save him. In this scene you see a close up of Batman’s eyes. This creates ambiguity. It’s almost as if he recognizes the man that killed his parents, leaving the audience to decide whether he lost his grip or intentionally let the man go as Napier takes the plunge into the chemicals that will turn him from Jack to Joker. This is another point in which Keaton’s acting deserves praise. He’s able to convey so much emotion with only his eyes visible, something that he’d carry over to the next film.**

The film proceeds with a dark atmosphere, reminiscent of a noir story from the 1940s based on the clothing and set design. Gotham City is a very repressive setting because of all the Gothic architecture. The movie is grim. Napier transforms from a nasty gangster into a full on “homicidal artist”. Nicholson sells the material with great conviction, and manages to be simultaneously hilarious and absolutely terrifying. He strikes this crucial balance arguably better than even the late Heath Ledger, a tribute to the ethos Nicholson lends the picture. We see the Joker proceed with his plans of anarchy and death as the world’s greatest detective does all he can to stop him, culminating in a final steeple confrontation.

Since the Batman creates the Joker in this film, and Burton decides to make the flimsy and misguided creative decision to make the Joker the murderer of Wayne’s parents, a fundamental aspect of the movie is how these two characters are connected. They are two sides of the coin as Ace Frehley would say. They’re both highly motivated and highly intelligent characters set on achieving their own goals without any regard for the law, and they’re both a little crazy. Even after all Joker has done to him, after Batman knocks him off the bell tower, he still tries to save him by looking over the ledge, only to be surprised by the Joker and put into a precarious situation. While Joker does end up getting killed, it’s more of his own fault for not telling his chopper to land on the roof so he could detach the rope from his leg.

By no means is it a perfect film, there are some pacing issues with the third act dragging on too long, the Prince songs don’t work particularly well,*** the issue of Batman killing in this movie, and the fact that the cops don’t just arrest the Joker when he held the bicentennial in the streets after he announced it. Main love interest Vicki Vale is also completely disposable, as is proven by her absence in the second film with only a few sentences explaining where she went. Many of the secondary characters in this movie aren’t needed or even interesting, something remedied in the second film. The main draw of these pictures is the adversarial relationship between Batman and the Joker, good and evil. The first two Nolan Batman movies are ultimately better, but this movie has a 1980s charm and a personal directing style that makes it feel uniquely enjoyable, and it still holds up remarkably well today.

The film itself is highly stylized thanks to Tim Burton’s direction. It also has a camp factor that would disappear from superhero movies altogether after Sam Raimi’s very personal and excellent Spider-Man trilogy.  Camp isn’t necessarily bad, it’s actually very pleasing to see a movie acknowledge its own ridiculousness, and bask in it. Relish the goofiness in order to make a more entertaining picture. This actually feels like a Tim Burton movie, whereas many superhero movies today are devoid of any style or originality. They take themselves way too seriously, and sacrifice being fun. This movie manages to blend serious story telling while still acknowledging the inherent silliness of a man that fights crime dressed up like a bat.

When the time came for a follow up picture, Burton was initially not interested. He felt he had done all he could with Batman, until the studio offered him total creative control, something that he hadn’t had the first time around. If the first movie felt like a Tim Burton film, this one ups the ante by a factor of 100. This was an improvement in some areas, and a detriment in others. Tim Burton has never been overly concerned about a coherent plot, or the quality of the plot, tending to focus more on characterization and style. Batman Returns is arguably the most polarizing film in the Batman cannon, and it’s really easy to see why. Burton has little regard for the comic book origins of the characters, and decides to make the film in his own way more so than the first one. Because of this fact, both Michael Keaton and Tim Burton have expressed their preference for this sequel over the original.

A creative move like this would never be allowed today. There is no way that a studio would agree to a film so warped, dark and sexually charged. It takes place at Christmas time, to provide an interesting contrast to all the dark mayhem. Burton loves monsters, and his love of freaks is the engine of this second film. Danny DeVito plays the penguin, who is not the sleek slimy opportunist of the comics, but an actual deformed baby with flippers abandoned by his parents and raised by penguins in the sewers under Gotham City.  Now, if that sounds absolutely ridiculous it’s because it is. The suspension of disbelief in this movie is very high. As a matter of fact, to enjoy this movie you have to give in and let it all happen. The movie is absolutely absurd, but the imagination and the character development that went into making it is breathtaking and deserves appreciation.

The plot of the movie is ridiculous, and a little dumb. Cobblepot runs for mayor at the suggestion of corporate tycoon Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) because Shreck knows he can control the Cobblepot in order to get his power plant built, that will ultimately suck power from Gotham so he can store it and sell it for a higher price. The citizens of Gotham line up behind the Penguin as a serious candidate after his gang creates chaos to make the current mayor look bad. He becomes a heartwarming story around Christmas time as he creates a public image of goodness by forgiving his deceased parents for abandoning him. Batman reveals Cobblepot for the sleazebag he is in public, and the city immediately turns on him. He responds by trying to kidnap their first born sons as he feels betrayed by his fellow humans and has abandonment issues from his parents. This movie isn’t really about the plot; few Tim Burton movies actually are. This movie succeeds in its own way because of the strength of the characters, and the affection with which Burton treats them. Penguin elicits great sympathy despite being an absolutely grotesque monster, because he was never given a chance. Businessman Shreck is the true monster, as the movie makes the point that not all monsters are disfigured, ugly, or even hated by their fellow man. As the Penguin himself puts it to Shreck “We’re both monsters, but you’re a well respected monster, and I am to date…not.” Shreck is the real monster, it is impossible to feel sympathy for him at all. The first time I saw this movie, I disliked it because of the outrageous plot and the high campiness factor despite being an even darker and more Gothic film that its predecessor. However, on subsequent viewings it became clear to me that the story in this movie is really just sandbox for the characters to play in, and they’re the main reason to watch the movie because they’re so damaged and complex. The movie is like a fairytale, ungrounded and not obeying the normal laws that govern reality. While the first Batman movie seemed to be a studio compromise with Burton’s vision, for better and worse Batman Returns is a true Burton piece of work.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Catwoman, who is licked back to life by alley cats (just go with it) after sifting through confidential files by her boss Max Shreck. There really is no competition, Pfeiffer is the definitive live action Catwoman, and the movie should have focused on her character more in the movie. Her suit in this movie is intimidating, and at the same time strangely alluring. Her antagonistic relationship with Batman is one of the most interesting parts of the movie, and her life as Selina Kyle with Bruce Wayne represents how uncomfortable the two are as themselves. Before becoming Catwoman, Kyle was a ditzy, timid, awkward secretary. Bruce Wayne, when not being Batman, looks uncomfortable in his own skin and the two together seem to sense there’s more to each other than a lonely secretary and a reclusive billionaire. This tension in the relationship comes to a head in the scene where they both show up to a costume party being the only two people seemingly not wearing costumes, because their day personas are their costumes. They both feel more comfortable as Batman and Catwoman than as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. You can see it in Keaton’s face as he stumbles around as Bruce Wayne, but looks right at home in the Batcave. It’s apparent in Pfeiffer when Batman implores her to spare Shreck’s life at the end in order to come and live with him. He rips off his cowl and tries to appeal to Selina Kyle as Bruce Wayne to live a normal life, but Kyle ultimately decides that she has to be Catwoman and “couldn’t live with myself” if she settled down again as the pushover Selina Kyle. The Penguin’s attempts to fit in and be accepted as mayor under his Cobblepot name are also thwarted, and he ultimately only reacts in anger because of the rejection, crying “I am not a human being, I am an animal!” This statement could be equally true for any of them. The three characters find different ways to handle their isolation, and they are all essentially animals that cannot be tamed. Catwoman knows that both she and Batman could never be content living together as Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne.

Possibly one of the best aspects of this movie I have yet to mention is the score. Danny Elfman brought his absolute best to the first movie, creating the definitive Batman theme and a fantastic score. He ups his game even more for this sequel, creating the perfectly dark and enchanting soundtrack to match the movie that elevates each scene to that surreal fairytale level that Burton seems to be operating on throughout the movie. The soundtrack is absolutely perfect, especially the sections that deal with the Penguin. They generate actual sympathy, and the theme that connects to him is melancholic. It achieves Burton’s goal of making you sympathize with the monster, because even as he commits all these egregious acts of violence and hate, the theme calls back to early in the movie where he was ostracized by his own parents at birth near Christmas time. The theme of the movie seems to be that people can only act in their own nature, and that society’s view of monsters is only skin deep. That is why Penguin can never truly be accepted, and Max Shreck can.

Despite the blatant disregard for the source material, I find both of Burton’s Batman pictures to be thoroughly enjoyable entertainment that contain enough thought provoking content to merit repeated viewings. Some people say that these movies are all style and no substance because of the stunning atmosphere yet underdeveloped plots, but those people fail to realize that the substance in these movies aren’t found in the plot, they lie in the complex characters, their motivations, and the superb acting that goes into portraying them. While I consider the first Batman to be the superior film in a traditional sense, Batman Returns is more enchanting, captivating, visually stunning, personal, and unrestrained. They both have their own merits that make ranking them a tough call. If I’m being objective I’d say…

Batman 3.5/5 stars

Batman Returns  3.25/5 stars

If I was to state my personal feelings and attachments to the movies…

Batman 4/5 stars

Batman Returns 3.75/5 stars

 

 

The Last Crusade, which ironically LeBrain reviewed for his Grade 11 Film Class essay, comparing and contrasting it with Steven Speilberg’s first film Duel.  And I lost a mark for using the word “picture” instead of “film”, which is why I applaud Holen MaGroin for describing it as a “picture”.

** Holen MaGroin has convinced LeBrain to watch these again soon, to pick up on all these things I apparently missed when I was a kid.

*** Before Prince fans get all medieval on Holen, let me point out:  he’s right.  Every time a Prince song comes on, it causes a mental “skip” in the brain.  Like, “Hey, it’s one of those Prince songs from the album.”

Blu-ray REVIEW: Family Guy – “It’s a Trap!” (2010)

FAMILY GUY – “It’s a Trap!” (2010 20th Century Fox)

First, they did Star Wars. Due to popular demand, they did Empire next.  And just as Jedi was the weakest of the original trilogy, so is Family Guy’s version.

The full 57 minute episode “It’s A Trap!”, available on its own for those who only like the Star Wars spoofs, follows the same concept as the first two.  Favourite Family Guy characters portray the legendary characters from Star Wars.  After two, though, the well seems rather dry.  Presumably running out of original characters, they peppered the cast with characters from both American Dad and The Cleveland Show.  Rollo Brown, Klaus the Fish and Roger the Alien are some of the characters making a Family Guy appearance in the Star Wars universe.

Still, it must have been awful dry in that well when they were writing this.

“It’s A Trap!” had moments that were as funny as any previous Family Guy Star Wars.  Then there were stretches that that were as dull and uninspired as Seth MacFarlane’s worst. It was very much a rocky ride, but luckily the good outweighed the bad in this episode.

Likes:

  • As always, the surprise of what characters are playing who (which I won’t spoil, google it if you must know).
  • Many celebrity cameos (again I won’t give you spoilers).
  • The Emperor rocked.
  • Looked awesome in 1080p.
  • Ample bonus features (similar to previous instalments). Even the Trivial Pursuit challenge was fun for one viewing.

Dislikes:

  • Boring Yoda.
  • One scene where Peter/Han snaps and torments three Imperial officers…just took it too far.
  • MacFarlane likes jokes that go on too long, but they didn’t work this time.

Pick it up and complete your trilogy.

Or, you know, just watch it on Netflix.

3/5 stars

And, no — there is next to a 0% chance that Disney will let Seth do any more Star Wars.

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story [MINOR SPOILERS]

It is a lawless time.

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources – food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars….

SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

We are dangerously close to Star Wars overkill.  With the announcement of:

  1. A new trilogy helmed by so-so director Rian Johnson.
  2. A new trilogy brought to you by the folks who gave us Game of Thrones.
  3. A live action TV series from Jon Favreau.
  4. And not to mention more Star Wars Story spinoffs (Obi-Wan? Boba?) and the only movie that really matters: the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga, Episode IX.

We are very close to oversaturation indeed.  Remember when you had to wait three years between movies and much longer between trilogies?

Fortunately, Solo is a welcome addition to the crowded Star Wars family.

Solo was one of the spinoffs conceived by George Lucas before he abandoned ship.  He’d been trying to do “young Han” since at least Revenge of the Sith, when he was pictured in concept art as an orphan raised by Wookiees.  Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and son Jon wrote Solo, so you can be assured there is a level of authenticity here.  Who better to write that space scoundrel?  Nobody.

And who better to direct than Ron Howard?  He came in under difficult circumstances after the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, re-shot 70% of the movie, and pretty much nailed it too.  Howard also brought in some of his regulars (brother Clint Howard and Paul Bettany) and threw in a literal ton of Star Wars references and crossovers.  Solo is Easter Egg heaven.

Finally, composer John Powell created a soundtrack that is different yet founded in the Star Wars universe.  Powell hybridized new and old themes together into a memorable score.  He too included Easter Eggs, in his music.  Listen closely when [SPOILER] the marauder Enfys Nest and her gang arrives.  Powell utilised a children’s choir, as a clue foreshadowing Enfys’ young age under the mask.

Everybody was worried about lead actor Alden Ehrenreich as Solo.  Admit it, you were too.  Fear not, for young Ehrenreich (who is signed on for three films) nailed the role.  His higher voice is the only niggle that consistently reminds you that he’s not the Han you remember.  Similarly, Donald Glover fits into Lando Calrissian’s capes comfortably, including the suave talkin’.  Billy Dee Williams should be very happy with the new Lando.

The concept of Han as an orphan is retained, but instead of being raised by Wookiees, his backstory is more aligned with the old Star Wars novels.  He is a thief on planet Corellia, where he and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to stay under the Empire’s nose.  Corellia is a shipbuilding world with huge, expansive scenes of Star Destroyers under construction.  When Han and Qi’ra are separated, he joins the Empire, as he did in the comics.

Han wanted to be a pilot, but got stationed in the muddy trenches to quell an uprising on planet Mimban.  Han, you see, isn’t the best at taking orders.  While enlisted on Mimban, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his best friend to be, Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo).  Solo is swept into the seedy world of organised crime where he is delighted to catch up to Qi’ra, and is introduced to her boss played by Paul Bettany.  They both work for the dark, shadowy crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.

From an exciting pulse-pounding train heist to the Millenium Falcon, Solo keeps things moving.  It’s one big set piece after another, including the Kessel Run.  And yes, they used the novels as the source material.  The Falcon does indeed make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, getting a little beat up in the process.  By the end of the film, she’ll look a little more like the ship you remember.

The plot has its twists but you can foresee that some backs are going to get stabbed.  Han’s backstory is over-explained a bit too much for a single film, but there is still enough left to explore should Solo 2 be somewhere in pipe.  The truth is, the first viewing of Solo is less paying attention to the plot, and more looking for cameos.  Speaking of which, characters tie Solo into movies as diverse as Rogue One and The Phantom Menace.  You’ll see some stirrings of the early Rebellion, and Han’s intrinsic sense of right and wrong.  You might even see a giant “fuck you” to the Star Wars special editions.  [SPOILER] Han is definitely a “shoot first” kind of guy.

Things get a little muddled with a side character (Lando’s droid L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a passion for droid’s rights.  Perhaps a droid-based Star Wars movie would be interesting for the future, but it was extraneous here.  Solo is best when it’s giving you a tour of the Star Wars universe, from crime lords to the trenches on the front lines of the Empire.  Trench warfare on Mimban is directly inspired by the muddy fields of World War 1, and it’s far better than any of the Clone Wars stuff in Revenge of the Sith.

Unlike The Last Jedi, a spinoff movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  In many measures, the pressure was off.  Solo aims to be a fun movie that requires no connections to the Force or Skywalker family.  It’s a shame that it has not performed well, but that is not a reflection on its quality.

3.75/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: The King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters (2008 New Line)

 

 

THE KING OF KONG – A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (2008 New Line)

Directed by Seth Gordon

This documentary is a story about a clash of the titans.  A clash of a different variety: Donkey Kong!  Newcomer Steve Wiebe vs. veteran champion Billy Mitchell. Choose your side and watch the battle begin.

If you grew up in the 1980s, then it’s very possible that you spent a good deal of your summer holidays popping quarters into arcade machines. Whether you were a Pac-Man freak, into Centipede, or the ultimate challenge of Donkey Kong (Mario’s first game, don’t forget), then you will love the memories associated with this film. Billy Mitchell was thought to be the greatest classic gamer of all time. He held all the big records, until 2018 when it turned out that Billy was a cheatie-cheaterton!  Many of his records, we now know, were performed on emulators, not original arcade machine.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer fella.  In The King of Kong, he doesn’t come across as a pleasant guy, and not at all humble. He was, however, respected in the classic game community. So what happens when a newcomer named Steve Wiebe shows up, who claims to have smashed Mitchell’s longstanding Donkey Kong record?

Wiebe is a tragic figure, a loving husband and father who always excelled at sports and music, but was never “the best” at anything. He obsessed over Donkey Kong, drawing patterns on screens for months until finally beating the record, on an arcade machine, on film. However it’s not that simple. Many were sceptical of his claims, especially since he came out of seemingly nowhere with a Donkey Kong board given to him by Billy Mitchell’s arch-foe, Roy Shildt. To prove himself, Wiebe travelled to The Funspot in New Hampshire to beat the record in person, on one of the most notoriously difficult Donkey Kong consoles known to mankind.

Partly a history of the golden age of video games, partly a David and Goliath story, and partly just a tale about a guy who wants to be the best at something, The King of Kong is a heartwarming documentary. It will have you cheering along, and remembering the good ol’ days. Surprisingly tense at times, but always interesting, The King of Kong is very re-watchable.

The most common critique of this film is that there is some dispute over its accuracy. It seems that some game records were ignored in favour of dramatic effect. However, it’s still a great film.

The DVD is loaded with special features including two commentary tracks, and check out the cool reversible cover art. Take your pick — Steve Wiebe on the cover, or a cool painting of a loaded video arcade.  You choose!

5/5 stars.  For geeks worldwide.

GUEST REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2018) Blu-ray bonus features

We’ve already reviewed the movie ad-nauseum, so here is something fresh:  a review of the Blu-ray bonus features by guest writer Kovaflyer!

Guest review by Kovaflyer

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2018 Lucasfilm blu-ray)

Directed by Rian Johnson

If you enjoyed The Last Jedi or if you have mixed feelings about the newest instalment of Star Wars and are trying to make sense of the film, the bonus features are a great in-depth look at where Rian Johnson took the galaxy that is so very far far away.

 

The Director and the Jedi – Full length documentary feature

The Director and the Jedi is your first behind the scenes look at The Last Jedi and the hard work that went into making this Star Wars movie. This part of the bonus features takes you behind the scenes of the building of up to 120 different sets, the creation of all the creatures that we have come to know and love, the eye-pleasing costumes, as well as the amount of detail involved in the makeup artistry; like the work done to create Kylo Ren’s scar.

The Director and the Jedi also features discussions with Mark Hamill about Luke Skywalker and the direction that Rian took with Luke in the film. Mark tells us that he was going to play the Skywalker that Rian envisioned regardless of how he felt about his own image of Luke. Early footage of Mark and Daisy going over lines and choreographing the Luke vs. Rey scene was fantastic.

The interviews and interactions with Carrie Fisher are both heart warming and fun and showcase Carrie at her best; the only way that Carrie knew how to be. Carrie was excited about the direction of Leia’s character in the movie, calling her strong and in charge.

 

Balance of The Force

Rian Johnson really wanted to hit the re-set button on “the Force” and what it means. He wanted to show new Star Wars fans that the Force is not a super power, but a balance between all things, the light and dark, in all living things.  It is a gift, and not all about moving rock or things across a room.

When he started writing The Last Jedi he had a look back at Star Wars and the main characters in the story and what challenges they would eventually come up against.

Rey is looking to find herself and where she comes from; who her mom and dad are and where they have been, and what her new powers mean and how to use them. With Rey there are no easy answers and if she wants them she is going to have to find them herself.

Finn has just woken up on a ship after being injured in a fight on Starkiller Base while trying to save Rey and the Resistance. He wakes up with the ship under attack and Rey missing, and therefore he has to think fast and take action to save Rey, himself and the ship.

Leia, facing more and more loss is taking charge and leading the Resistance in the biggest fight yet.

Luke is fighting his own internal battle that the Jedi must end. In his view, the Jedi have done nothing but added to the problems of the galaxy, and if he were to bring back the Jedi, the Sith would rise again. Luke believes if the Jedi die, that a new light could rise and win. Therefore, Luke Skywalker has exiled himself; he is being selfless. Rian knew that there was a reason why Luke went into hiding, that it was a selfless act and that he was not just cowering away.

Yoda, yes that Yoda (the puppet version brought to life by Frank Oz), comes to Luke when he needs him the most. Yoda reminds Luke of the same lessons he once taught him, to stop with all the big plans and to focus on the here and now, to be the Luke Skywalker that everyone needs; to be the myth, to be the legend of Luke Skywalker and to not let the light burn out. So, Luke must train Rey and keep her in the light. The most important message Yoda had for Luke, was that failure is the greatest teacher of all. Johnson insisted to have the original puppet version of Yoda and his puppeteer Frank Oz for the film. He wanted Mark Hamill to interact with Oz and not a CGI version of Yoda, and even procured the original Yoda puppet mold in order to fashion the latest version of the Jedi master.

 

Scene Breakdowns

The bonus features also offer the following scene breakdowns.

Lighting the Spark: Space battles are massive undertakings. You get the big explosions, the visual and auditory effects. However, Johnson explains that he felt that in this space battle, he wanted to show the humans behind the spaceships; to make you feel connected to what is happening based on the relevance of the battle to the characters. It is interesting and fun to learn where some of the sound effects that were used in the battle came from (e.g. a roll of duct tape), how some of the spacecrafts and battle sequences were modelled after WWII aircraft and aerial footage (e.g. a B-52 bomber), and how Kylo Ren’s spaceship was of course modelled after Vader’s own tie fighter. In this battle, that saw so many Resistance fighters lost, Johnson chose to highlight Leia’s struggle with loss and grief and her deep love for her people.

Snoke and Mirrors: Rian explains that in bringing Snoke to life, he wanted to ground him in reality; make him have a physical presence. He was worried, however, about the complexity of creating a believable character completely out of CGI technology. In utilizing a complete motion capture suit for Snoke’s character, however, they were able to use every nuance that Andy Serkis brought to the character’s physical being; every facial expression, every twitch, etc.

Showdown on Crait: Johnson explains that the scene of the showdown on Crait was one of the first visions he had when he started working on the movie. To create the visual effects for the shots fired on the salt planet, the film crew went to the salt plains of Bolivia and filmed shooting sequences. It is amazing to hear just how many different options they went through when creating the red under the salt (e.g. shredded dyed red paper), how they reinvented the Walker from Empire into the Gorilla Walker using various sounds bytes to create its own unique ‘voice’, or how they used sounds from old beaten down cars in order to obtain the sounds for the Resistance fighter ships.

 

Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)

This part of the bonus features offers a look at the first meeting between Rey and Snoke with Andy Serkis in the full motion capture suit. It is amazing to see Andy’s performance in the raw without the CGI effects. To say that Andy’s performance was intense is a serious understatement!

 

Deleted Scenes

The bonus features also provide a look at some of the scenes that did not make the final cut for the movie; fun to watch but one can understand why they were left out for the most part.

 

In closing

In closing friends, I give this bonus footage 4/5 stars and highly recommend that you pick up the Blu-ray edition of The Last Jedi as you will enjoy some fabulous bonus features that will enhance your enjoyment of this Star Wars film.

 

 

 

 

GUEST REVIEW: Rock and Rule (1983) by Robert Daniels

Please welcome guest writer Robert Daniels, from radio’s Visions In Sound 

ROCK AND RULE (1983 Nelvana)

“Oh what will the signal be for your eyes to see me…”

Back in about 1984 or 85 I remember watching TV one afternoon and stumbling on an animated movie. Interested, I stopped to watch. It had weird, trippy images and some scantily clad cartoon woman singing and a strange creature growling. My 14 year old mind was intrigued and then was completely blown when one of the animated characters said “Shit!” Cartoon characters were not supposed to swear!! Clearly this was a mistake. No, it was not a mistake, it was Rock and Rule. Although at the time I didn’t know the title and didn’t see the movie on TV again for a while.
Rock and Rule was set in a post apocalyptic future where the street animals evolved into a human like society. MOK is an aging rock star trying to find a specific voice in the guise of a worldwide talent search. MOK hopes to unleash a powerful demon from another dimension, his dwindling popularity driving him to destroy the world in vengeance and immortalize himself in the process. After returning to Ohmtown he finds the voice he’s looking for in Angel, a singer in a local band along with friends Omar, Dizzy and Stretch. MOK invites her to join him and when she refuses he kidnaps Angel and forces her to sing to raise the demon.

This was the era of the edgy “adult” cartoon, Heavy Metal, American Pop, Wizards, Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin and others. I do remember getting into an argument with my Mom back in 1981 about not being able to see Heavy Metal. “It’s a Cartoon…it HAS to be for kids!!!”.

It would be several years later when I was in high school that I described the ending scene to someone and they said “Oh yeah, that’s Rock and Rule…” Bingo, I had a title and looked high and low for a copy on VHS. Nothing. I was obsessed to find Rock and Rule. Of course, in the late 80s early 90s there was no internet so the only thing I could do was continue to bug the people at Steve’s TV to try and find a copy. Again, nothing. Then one day out of the blue I got a call from Steve’s. They said they found a copy and would order it for me. “Great” I said, “How much.” “$129.99”. My heart sank, that was far too expensive for my blood. So the film continued to sit in the back of my mind for years.

“My Name Is MOK, thanks a lot”

Then one day in (about) 2003, I heard of a showing at the former Hyland theatre. A local Anime expert and film buff rented the then-empty theatre to show the a cut of the film.

Also Don Francks, the voice of MOK, was going to be there. I jumped at the opportunity.

The film was nothing like I thought it was going to be. First, it was produced by Nelvana Studios that I only knew for Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Droids and Ewoks, etc. All kids’ cartoons. It was also one of the first films I ever saw that listed “Songs by…” first above the main cast. This list included Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, with a special performance by Earth, Wind and Fire. After the movie there was a Q & A with Don Francks, who I later found out provided the voices for such characters as Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, Lackki from Captain Power and the un-credited voice of Boba Fett from the Star Wars: Holiday Special. I asked him if he based his performance of MOK on David Bowie. He said that he didn’t have any particular person in mind when he voiced MOK. I later found out that MOK’s full name was MOK SWAGGER a spin on Mick Jagger. However, the talent representation of The Rolling Stones’ lead singer objected and forced the producers to drop the character’s surname. It’s also interesting to note that David Bowie, Tim Curry, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and Sting were all considered for MOK but the budget of the film couldn’t afford them.

“I dunno about this, nobody seems to be buying these ‘I survived the MOK concert’ T-shirts.”

This year (2018) is the 35th anniversary of this masterpiece of Canadian animation. Rock and Rule is the first English speaking Canadian animated feature film entirely produced in Canada itself. Unfortunately the film sat in near obscurity for years after being shelved by distributor MGM and never got released in North America. The film did develop a cult following after being shown on CBC (who held the Canadian TV Rights), HBO and Showtime. Bootleg copies would show up at comic book conventions oddly enough with Ralph Bakshi being credited as director.

“She can sing, or she can scream!!!”

Much like Heavy Metal from 1981 music was a huge part of the film and also much like Heavy Metal the music got tied up in rights issues.

Back in about 2005 just before the release of the Rock and Rule DVD, I was actually in contact with someone from Nelvana Studios who told me that director Clive A. Smith, whose wife Patricia Cullen had also written the score, had the tape masters for the soundtrack in his garage and that he might be willing to let me have them for mastering. Unfortunately nothing came of this as I lost contact but it was the closest I came to producing a soundtrack release. In 2010 the film was released on Blu-ray and unfortunately has become quite expensive on the used market.
It was previously believed that no official soundtrack album had ever been issued for Rock and Rule. In fact, Deborah Harry mentions on a “Making Of…” documentary that she hopes the music gets a soundtrack release.  However, as it turns out, a handful of film critics received a cassette tape featuring nine songs (“Hot Dogs and Sushi” and “Send Love Through” were omitted). All songs are extended from how they appear in the film and in familiar copies. “Born to Raise Hell,” “I’m the Man,” “Dance Dance Dance,” and “Ohm Sweet Ohm” have been officially issued on CD, along with an alternate version of “Pain and Suffering,” and “Maybe For Sure” (an alternate version of “Angel’s Song”).

Though a deliberate Google search will turn up a couple of versions of the soundtrack, this is the most common track list:

[2:46] 01. Born To Raise Hell (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[5:14] 02 Angel’s Song (Deborah Harry)
[4:22] 03 My Name Is Mok (Lou Reed)
[2:11] 04. I’m The Man (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[3:12] 05. Earth Wind And Fire – Dance Dance Dance
[2:49] 06. Ohm Sweet Ohm (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[3:15] 07. Triumph (Lou Reed)
[1:28] 08. Hot Dogs & Sushi (Melleny Brown)
[3:28] 09. Invocation Song (Deborah Harry)
[3:41] 10. Pain & Suffering (Iggy Pop)
[5:56] 11. Send Love Through (Deborah Harry and Robin Zander)
[4:30] 12. Maybe For Sure (Deborah Harry)
[5:22] 13. Angel’s Song (Cassette Mix)
[3:29] 14. Invocation Song (Mono Cassette Mix)
[4:35] 15. My Name is Mok (Cassette Mix)
[3:42] 16. Pain And Suffering (Iggy Pop)
[0:52] 17. Triumph (Movie Mix)
[2:35] 18. Angel’s Song (Movie Mix)
[1:38] 19. Invocation Song (Movie Mix)
[1:49] 20. Pain & Suffering (Movie Mix)
[2:06] 21. My Name is Mok (Movie Mix)
[3:36] 22. Triumph (Mono Cassette Mix)

Rock and Rule falls into the category of “…what could have been”. Had MGM had more faith in the project and released it in North America it may have been a hit rather than the cult classic it would eventually become. If you haven’t seen it or are interested in a look at a piece of Canadian animation history check it out, you will not be disappointed.

A solid 4/5 stars.  Dark, and yet at the same time fun.

 

 

Robert Daniels

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Super Troopers 2 (2018)

Super Troopers 2 delights but is destined to become just another cult film

SUPER TROOPERS 2 (2018 Broken Lizard)

Directed by:  Jay Chandrasekhar

It took 17 years and a crowdfunding campaign, but we now live in a world where a sequel to Super Troopers (2001) exists!  Judging by the mostly empty theatre on Saturday afternoon, Super Troopers 2 looks to become…another cult film.  Which is a shame really, because these beloved screwup cops are adored for a reason.  And that reason is Rod Farva.

Fear not Farva fans, for your favourite character played by Kevin Heffernan is again the butt of everyone’s pranks.  Thorny, Foster, Mac, Rabbit (still the rookie!) and Captain O’Hagen are reunited once again by Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter), who insists it’s the entire original team.  That means they’re stuck with Rod Farva like deja-vu.  Maybe they can stick him with the radio.

You see, only Vermont’s favourite cops can handle this job.  It turns out a big chunk of Canada near the border was surveyed wrong.  It actually belongs to the United States, and custody is about to be handed over.  The local Mounties will be replaced by US cops.  And that’s our gang.  How d’you think that’s gonna go over in Canada, eh?  Will we still be allowed to listen to Rush?

Mayor Guy LeFranc (Rob Lowe) is an ex-hockey enforcer known as the “Halifax Explosion”.  (Fun fact:  in real life, actor Rob Lowe is “obsessed” with the historical Halifax explosion of 1917.)  He seems friendly, but the locals and Mounties take an instant dislike to the US cops.  (Will Sasso, who really is Canadian, plays the funniest of the three Mounties.  Brampton’s Tyler Labine plays another.)  As you can imagine the drama unfolds against a backdrop of US and Canadian stereotypes.  Guns and “MAGA” vs. beer and “Eh”.

Our favourite cops find a hidden stash of drugs on abandoned property.  Sending them to a lab for testing would take two weeks, so of course they sample the drugs themselves to identify them.  This is how Thorny played by Jay Chandrasekhar becomes addicted to a hormone product called “Flova Scotia”.

Fans won’t want any more spoiled.  There are cameos too, so don’t look at the Wikipedia page and just wait to be surprised.  It was pleasant to see Marisa Coughlan (Chief Ursulu Hanson) and Lynda Carter back from the original film.  Brian Cox (Captain O’Hagen) is a serious Scottish actor of impeccable reputation (the Royal Shakespeare Company for example), and the fact that he came back for Super Troopers 2 must mean he’s a good shit.

Original music was performed by Eagles of Death Metal.  Give them credit for a good soundtrack, including a cover of “Blinded by the Light”.

Super Troopers 2 follows the formula of the first, meaning the plot doesn’t matter because you’re just waiting for the next prank.  Honestly though, this drug smuggling plot is an original one that has probably never been done before.  Expect some jokes from the original to be sequel-ed.  Liters of cola, “meow”…just go see it.

Super Troopers 2 is playing now at a theatre near you.

3.5/5 stars

Super Troopers are:

  • Jay Chandrasekhar as Senior Trooper Arcot “Thorny” Ramathorn
  • Paul Soter as Trooper Jeff Foster
  • Steve Lemme as Trooper MacIntyre “Mac” Womack
  • Erik Stolhanske as Trooper Robert “Rabbit” Roto
  • Kevin Heffernan as Trooper Rodney “Rod” Farva
  • and Kevin Heffernan as Captain John O’Hagen

Soundtrack album tracklisting:

1. Tooth Fairy – Super Troopers 2 Cast
2. Blinded By the Light – Eagles of Death Metal
3. Got the Power – Eagles of Death Metal
4. Litre of Cola – Super Troopers 2 Cast
5. Saturday Night Blues – Natural Child
6. Caulk – Super Troopers 2 Cast
7. Shit Makes the Flowers Grow – Folk Uke
8. Penal Colony – Dog Trumpet
9. Fruit Gum – Super Troopers 2 Cast
10. Big Bear – Steak
11. Easy Eating – Naked Giants
12. Fuck a Moose – Super Troopers 2 Cast
13. Shasta Beast – Eagles of Death Metal
14. French Excerpt – Super Troopers 2 Cast
15. Baby, I Won’t Do You No Harm – The Sheepdogs
16. 80Kmh – Super Troopers 2 Cast
17. If You Ain’t Got the Money – Who Are Those Guys
18. Lyin’ – Charlie Patton’s War
19. Complexity – Eagles of Death Metal
20. All My Friends – Blackout Party
21. Secret Plans – Eagles of Death Metal
22. Wham – Super Troopers 2 Cast