The Rookie

Official Poster

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime  

Director: Clint Eastwood  

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel  

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello, readers! Happy New Year! I apologize for being absent the last couple months. I took a short hiatus from writing to clear my head and get refreshed for the new year. I’m going to dedicate more time on this blog for movie reviews on top of other writing projects that I have planned. Thank you for being a loyal reader and I hope you enjoy the collection of movies that we’ll be looking at in 2021!

While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight-year-old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film The Rookie.

Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with quite different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right-hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty-four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found The Rookie on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart-ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he must “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.

Charlie Sheen’s performance was mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood must bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also must deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that, he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.

The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined.  When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.

Clint Eastwood, Sonia Barga and Raul Julia in “The Rookie.”

A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens brining a sense of authenticity. One scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.

The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right-hand woman is toying with a tied-up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water, he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.

The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two-hour movie. It’s fast paced with a lot of things happening on screen. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

Overall The Rookie is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the Lethal Weapon movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick…….or maybe not.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
  • The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
  • Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
  • The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
  • The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
  • According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.

AUDIO CLIPS

Chasing G Rides
I Was Talking About The Babe
No Mistaking This German Beer
Defacing This Car
Watch Your Ass
All Of You Driving Without Auto Insurance Are Under Arrest
Your Wife
Need A Babysitter
Singing To Me Like A Canary
I Didn’t Lie
Bug Up Your Ass
Static Peep
Warm All Over
Let’s Get Hot
Cop Trope
I Was Starting To Enjoy That
Told You To Fasten Your Seat Belt

Prison

Official Poster

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin    

Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Well readers, we’ve reached the final review in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger as well as the third highest grossing Nightmare on Elm Street movie in the franchise in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s Prison!

The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity.  Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.

I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.

Opening scene in Prison.

My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw Prison in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.

The mood is everything in Prison. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.

Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies.  He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters with strong authority throughout his career and this is no exception.

Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.

Viggo Mortensen and Ivan Kane in Prison.

The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.”  While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.

I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in Prison. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in Nightmare on Elm Street 4 drew inspiration from Prison.  The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.

As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.

Scene from Prison.

Overall, I would check out Prison. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his filmmaking career. Some good, some bad.

That concludes the Guilty Pleasure Cinema Horror Movie Month special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.

Happy Halloween!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
  • The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
  • The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
  • Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
  • Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
  • The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
  • The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
  • Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
  • Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.

AUDIO

The Man Is A Dinosaur
Still One Hard Ass
Here It’s Contraband
Friends Call Me Lasagna
Cellmates
Nothing But A Lock
Sharpe Awakes From Nightmare
Bad Spirit
What Did You Use An Atom Bomb?
Got Plenty of Smokes
Won’t Cut You Any Slack With The Parole Board
Give Me Back My Ball
I Don’t Think The Warden Heard You
Angry Warden Acting
Assemble The Inmates
Total Silence

Night of the Creeps

Official Poster

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until the last week in October. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first Predator movie and more recently directing 2018’s The Predator movie with Dekker as the screenwriter). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of Tales From The Crypt in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following The Monster Squad and the utter failure Robocop 3. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is Night of the Creeps!

Night of the Creeps starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

Steve Marshall and Jason Lively in “Night of the Creeps.”

I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had Day of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in The Fog, Creepshow and his most memorable role as the protagonist in Halloween III. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called Night of the Creeps his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sentiment.

Tom Atkins in “Night of the Creeps.”

The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

Scene from “Night of the Creeps.”

Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the Horror Movie Month Special. Stay tuned, you don’t want to miss it!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!” The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

We’re Dorks
Funny As A Crutch
How About Money?
Oh My God
Walt Disney
Corpsicle
Come And Get Me You Dirty Copper
Thrill Me
What Is This A Homicide Or A Bad B Movie?
That Was Not Too Cool
It’s All Greek To Me
Spanky And Alfalfa
Screaming Like Banshees
Chuckle Heads
Where The Hell Are My Backups?
Do Something Dammit
It’s Miller Time

The Stuff

Official Poster

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi  

Director: Larry Cohen  

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Welcome to the second week of Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” For this week I wanted to review a film from one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Larry Cohen was a pioneer and maverick in the film industry. He made all his movies his way and didn’t let anyone stand in his way. He was known for shooting movies on location without permits. Cohen’s films contain a diverse range of concepts and narratives that are weaved into storylines with strange creatures and offbeat characters.  This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, The Stuff! So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic The Stuff!

The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.

The Stuff is my second favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography (Q: The Winged Serpent is first). It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.

Like most of Cohen’s films, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based The Stuff off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.

Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in Q: The Winged Serpent with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it.

The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.

The Stuff is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.
  • According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.
  • Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen
  • Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.
  • David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.
  • Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.
  • The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.

AUDIO CLIPS

Tasty and Sweet
Enough Is Never Enough
Sweaty Palm
Mo Rutherford
No, Don’t Eat It
Can’t Wait In Line
The Stuff Commercial #1
You Feed The Dog
Chocolate Chip Charlie
Low Tech Solutions
I Could Always Kill You
They’re Good For Us
I Just Ate Shaving Cream
The Stuff Commercial #2
Pillow Tried To Kill Us
They’re All Stuffies
You’ll Probably Be A Casualty
We’ve Never Lost A War
Get That Shit Off My Station

Leviathan

Official Poster

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Horror, Adventure, Mystery  

Director: George P. Cosmatos

Writers: David Webb Peoples (Story/Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)

Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

1989 was a big year for underwater themed Science Fiction movies. First, you had the highly anticipated The Abyss, namely because it’s a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most innovative and advanced through Industrial Light & Magic. The second film that premiered in 1989 was the obscure cult classic Deep Star Six, which was directed by famed Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham. Finally, you had Leviathan, directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing not one but two Sylvester Stallone movies, First Blood Part II and Cobra. All three movies did were not financially successful at the box office. The Abyss made $90 million but it had a budget of over $50 million. While it made a teeny profit, it was considered by many in the film industry as underwhelming considering the magnitude of the movie. Deep Star Six sank as fast as the Titanic. Leviathan debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. Out of these films, I chose Leviathan as the next review in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” because it’s indeed a guilty pleasure film for me. It ranks in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of all time, which I’ll reveal at a future date.

The fist time I watched Leviathan, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again, I forgot everything I watched the first time around. When the second viewing was finished, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of Alien, The Thing and The Abyss. it was entertaining. I loved it so much I began playing it several more times. Before I go into more detail as to why Leviathan is a guilty pleasure film, I’ll brief you on the plot.

Ernie Hudson in “Leviathan.”

Leviathan is the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver on the Atlantic Ocean floor. The team consists of eight members: Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Wilie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). Their team is led by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to Tri-Oceanic CEO Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (whom are working as punishment for an altercation between the two), Sixpack falls off a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan.’ She enters through the blown hole of the ship and finds Sixpack along with some treasure. As the crew looks through the contents of what Sixpack found, Doc uncovers a videotape containing a message from the Captain of ‘Leviathan.’ Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring to. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka from a bottle they found in the refuge only to discover after tasting it that Beck switched the bottles out and were drinking water. Unbeknownst to the crew, Sixpack hid a flask containing the vodka in his pocket and shares a drink with Bowman. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and forming flaky skin on his neck. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers Doc to perform tests on every one of the crew members. When Bowman sees Sixpack slowly mutating into an unknown creature, she decides to take her own life. As the crew tries to dispose of their comrades’ bodies into the ocean, the monster, now fused from Sixpack and Bowman emerges from the body bag and attacks. The crew manages to sink the creature except for its leg which gets severed off during the closing of the hatch. The severed part mutates into a whole new creature and continues the rampage of attacking the crew and grow by consuming blood. The crew declare an emergency, but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.

I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He oversees the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he takes, and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in Robocop groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew except for Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. The rest of the characters were great each with their own personalities. I loved the spunky and ambitious portrayal of Williams from Amanda Pays, the practical joker Sixpack from Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson as the somewhat paranoid Jones, Elizondo as the union steward Cobb and Michael Carmine as DeJesus whom all he wants to do is go skiing after his work is over. Sadly this would be Carmine’s last film role as he died in October of the same year due to a heart attack caused by AIDS complications. I think all the performances were good apart from Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in They Live. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.

A mutated Daniel Stern and Lisa Eilbacher.

The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in Alien. Wouldn’t surprise me if he were influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it.  The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.

Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. It borrows from the thing in terms of a small piece or particle can form a new life as it is shown during the scene where they crew attempts to dispose the creature in its first stage. When the monster gets bigger as it consumes the crew, you don’t see much of it with the exception of some flashes which is a call back to the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either encounter or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the Hellraiser movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the Alien Queen in Aliens. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.

Hector Elizondo in “Leviathan.”

Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put Leviathan second behind The Abyss. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes.  Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching repeatedly. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining. 

TRIVIA (PER IMDB)

  • In designing the creature of the film, Stan Winston and George P. Cosmatos went through a mini-library of marine life pictures and medical reference books. They were inspired by the physiology of the natural world, and came up with the idea of combining human body parts and elements of deep sea marine life into an unnatural creature never seen on film before.
  • There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look, with most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on soundstages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.
  • Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.
  • Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.
  • Second time that Richard Crenna worked with George p Cosmatos after Rambo First Blood Part II, which also had Jerry Goldsmith music.
  • Once, during the underwater photography, John Rosengrant and other members of the SWS on-set crew were underwater for so long and at such depth, that they were unaware of a violent storm that had come in, threatening to rip the topside boat from its anchor and smash it against nearby rocks. “We had no idea all of this was going on, until we came to the surface and saw all this commotion,” recalled Rosengrant. “We all go out of the water and helped to push the boat away from the rocks and hold it steady in this storm.”
  • When Doc is analyzing Sixpack’s skin sample, the computer reports back the phrase “of unknown origin”. This is a winking nod to director George P. Cosmatos and star Peter Weller having previously collaborated on the movie Of Unknown Origin (1983).

AUDIO CLIPS

Go Suck On A Shrimp
Implosion
Keep It To Nine Holes
What A Pair
Skiing
Pipe Down
Blow This
Leviathan
Several Languages
Pop Your Tops
Water
Only Skin Problem I See
You Think They Already Know?
You Don’t Know Shit About Skiing
We’ve Got A Goddamned Dracula On Board?
Bitch, We’re Still Here

Sushi Girl

Official Poster

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller  

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie, Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s Sushi Girl.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

Cortney Palm as the Sushi Girl.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled Sushi Girl. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about Sushi Girl, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick Reservoir Dogs. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. Sushi Girl follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like Reservoir Dogs, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

Tony Todd, Mark Hamill and James Duvall in “Sushi Girl.”

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than Candyman which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Mark Hamill, Andy Mackenzie and Noah Hathaway in “Sushi Girl.”

Clocking in at 98 minutes, Sushi Girl may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.
  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.
  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.
  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.
  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).
  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

AUDIO CLIPS

Your Idea Of Shelter
Full Service
Sushi Free Girl Not
Four Fifths of a Reunion
Where’s The Fifth Wheel?
Your Welcome Back Party
Fugu
Can’t Wait To Eat Shredded Blowfish
Are You In Or Out?
He’s One Of Us
You Always Clean Your Shitter Before A Job
Non Theater Masks
Who Called The Plumbers?
Jeff Fahey Screams
Mr. Tooth Decay on the March

Eternal Code Review

Official Poster

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Harley Wallen

Writer: Harley Wallen

Starring: Damien Chinappi, Richard Tyson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Billy Wirth, Erika Hoveland, Yan Birch, Mel Novak, Vida Ghaffari

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

As I’ve previously mentioned in my review for Attack of the Unknown, there are times here on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” where I receive an opportunity to watch a film sent to me directly from the distributors or producers. This review is going to be another special review since it falls a little outside the normal reviews I’ve put on here. There won’t be any audio clips or trivia. Instead it’s going to be a straight up review as to why I recommend you check out this particular film. With that being said, I had the pleasure this past weekend of watching a unique film that was written and directed by Harley Wallen, whom has appeared in over forty feature length films and TV shows. His filmography includes Agramon’s Gate which stars B Movie icon Laurene Landon, Betrayed starring John Savage and Abstruse starring Tom Sizemore. I’ll be reviewing his latest release, Eternal Code.

Eternal Code follows the story of Corey (Damien Chinappi), an Iraq War Veteran who is in an unfortunate position like many veterans as he is homeless and unable to find work, not to mention having suicidal thoughts. Sitting on a park bench, he befriends a prostitute named Stephanie (Kaiti Wallen) along with two teenage girls who bring him food and money, Miranda (Angelina Danielle Cama) and May (Calhoun Koenig). Miranda’s mother is Bridget Pellegrini (Erika Hoveland), who is the head of a biological company that is developing technology which could bring eternal life to human beings. She is fighting against a merger that is being led by Oliver (Richard Tyson). To make sure the merger goes through, Oliver assembles a team to kidnap Bridget and her husband Mark (Billy Wirth) and hold them hostage while intimidating the other members of the board to vote yes for the merger. Miranda manages to not be taken and enlists Corey’s help to rescue her parents. Using his combat training and skills, Corey seeks out to find Miranda’s parents as well as protecting her from being kidnapped.

Damien Chinappi in “Eternal Code.”

Clocking in at a runtime of 105 minutes, Eternal Code is a dramatic thriller with science fiction elements. The film deals with the concept of life, death and afterlife. While the concept of life after death remains a mystery to humans, science is hoping to solve the mystery. It also deals with the morals and ethics of this research. You have Bridget who is wanting to use this breakthrough for peaceful purposes while Oliver is wanting this for his own personal ambitions, which you will uncover as you watch the film. He’s not going to let anyone nor anything stop in his way even if it means using retaliatory measures which we find so often in our business world today.

The performances are strong in this film especially from the main leads. Chinappi plays Corey as a lost soul in the beginning, but it would take the decency and good heart of Miranda for him to snap back into a sense of purpose as he is determined to pay his debt to her by rescuing her parents. Chinappi’s performance reminds me of a mix between Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills (24 and Taken for those who aren’t getting the reference). He doesn’t rely on torturing his suspects to extract information. Instead he uses stealth, cunning and the old fashioned gun pointed at the head to get what he needs to move forward. Richard Tyson is in a familiar antagonist role as he has been known for playing villains for most of his career, most notably in Kindergarten Cop. His character of Oliver is cold, calculating and is done reasoning with others. The rest of the supporting casts play their parts appropriately and each bring something to the story. There’s two special appearances in the movie. The first is from Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II) as Charlie, who is in charge of watching over Bridget and Mark and gets easily annoyed by their constant complaining and her frustration shows during her screen time. The other is Mel Novak (Game of Death, An Eye For An Eye) who plays board member Pomeroy. His appearance is a mix between Cliff Robertson and a certain United States President whom shall remain nameless. Novak is known in the film industry for playing villains, but it was a breath of fresh air to see him play a different role as one of the more reasonable executives and would not be beaten into submission even if it meant losing his life.

Richard Tyson and Vida Ghaffari in “Eternal Code.”

You’ll need to be patient when watching this movie as the pacing starts out very slow, but then picks up around the thirty minute mark. From there you have many moments on screen that will make you tense.For those of you who are expecting long shoot em up scenes or explosions, there’s none of that in Eternal Code. There are fight scenes and dead bodies, but it’s minimal. Instead, Wallen’s direction makes you use your brain and think about what would you do in the situation that they find themselves in. The presentation fits with a real life situation if your loved ones were kidnapped, what would you do? How far involved would you be to get them back? The only gripes I had other than the uneven pacing was I felt some scenes could’ve been trimmed down as they would dwell on matters that have already been established.

Eternal Code is a pleasant flick that is a nice breather from all the blockbuster action films that need car chases, things blowing up and a high body count to keep the audience’s attention. It’s not going to fit everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more clever and dramatic, then this is worth a viewing.

Erika Hoveland and Billy Wirth in “Eternal Code.”

Attack of the Unknown Review

Official Poster courtesy of Mahal Empire Productions.

While major Hollywood studios have closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not stopped independent film companies from taking advantage of the situation by releasing their movies. One of those companies that is showing no signs of taking a break is Mahal Empire Productions. Mahal has become one of the leading companies for independent movies. Besides the quality and originality of their pictures, they’ve seized upon the concept of using campaign sites such as Indiegogo to ask fans for money to finance their films in exchange for perks. Mahal has exceeded their fundraising goals for each movie campaign and within a matter of days. They clearly know their market and have done it the right way as well as paving the way for those who want to get into the film industry. Now the company will be releasing their biggest release of the summer with Attack of the Unknown.

Directed by Brandon Slagle who in addition co-wrote the script with producers Michael and Sonny Mahal, Attack of the Unknown starts off as an action thriller as an LAPD SWAT team raids on a meeting orchestrated by notorious drug cartel leader Miguel ‘Hades’ Aguirre (Robert LaSardo). After a blazing gunfight, the Feds swarm in and take over the operation much to the disappointment of the team. From there, the story focuses on SWAT leader Vernon (Richard Grieco) whose life is starting to crumble. Besides going through a divorce, he is told by his doctor that he has cancer which has him caught in a miserable vice. Meanwhile in another part of Los Angeles, two police officers with a drunk driving suspect in the back of their vehicle come across what looks like a damaged spaceship in the desert. The ship explodes as the officers reach it only for them and their suspect to be killed by a strange tentacle that jabs them once. From there, a giant spaceship hovers over the city and an alien invasion begins. Vernon and his crew get caught up in it as they are transferring Hades to jail only to have them and their crew work together to figure out what these aliens want and how to defeat them.

Richard Grieco confronts an alien in “Attack of the Unknown.”

Attack of the Unknown takes the ingredients of various science fiction eras, most notably the 50s and the 90s, adds modern day action followed by some solid digital effects, polished cinematography and finishes it with some high quality sound, puts it in a film can and through the projector releases a movie that is all killer and no filler. It’s a film that has some serious tones, but in the end is a homage to the cheeses B movies of past and present. Considering the content, Attack of the Unknown works as a film that is perfect for a Drive In viewing since they’re riding the storm while theaters are hunkered down.

The highlighted performances in this movie are its two leads. First is Richard Grieco whose portrayal of Vernon reminded me of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 where he is on a death clock and musters the last of his strength for one final mission. In this case, Vernon’s final mission is to save the planet from its unwanted visitors. Grieco plays it with grit and is in no mood for games. Then there’s Hades played by Robert LaSardo, who has been a character actor for more than thirty years and I remember him from his appearances in such film and television most notably in Hard to Kill and Out For Justice with Steven Seagal, playing different criminals in NYPD Blue and more recently in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. It was great to see LaSardo play a significant role in this as he plays Hades as an arrogant gangster who tries to get underneath the skin of Vernon and the other SWAT teams with his smug and cocky insults to stir up who he is antagonizing in order to get a violent reaction out of them. The rest of the cast offers their own unique traits and abilities including a survivor who runs a podcast and says he can kick some alien ass due to his nonstop playing of Street Fighter. There’s even a cameo from Tara Reid, another frequent Mahal contributor although she is delegated to a flashback.

Robert LaSardo’s performance in “Attack of the Unknown” is one of the highlights of this film.

Another positive about Attack of the Unknown is that it a fast paced film that doesn’t boggle down on tedious scenes that don’t progress the story forward. The initial raid scene in the beginning is fourteen minutes long, but doesn’t feel that way as your eyes are engaged at all the bullets flying and bodies piling up. It makes you feel like you’re playing a video game. From there the invasion starts to happen and the survivors are strategizing as to how they are going to make it out of the situation alive. The film clocks in at 103 minutes which is an appropriate length for a film of this concept.

The design of the giant spaceship borrows from the major ships in Independence Day and even move in a similar fashion. As soon as they arrive on earth, they don’t waste time and start blowing up buildings in downtown Los Angeles and causing a chain reaction where citizens are running for their lives. The design of the alien creatures are picked and pulled from infamous creations. their bodies resemble those of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation while their claws seem to be taken from Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters and the helmets they used are lifted from Ridley Scott’s Alien. While the creatures look dated they are not to be taken lightly as they pack a wallop with their quick kill abilities. Kudos to the makeup and costume department for creating antagonists that pay homage to their sci-fi ancestry.

With a lackluster release this movie year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attack of the Unknown is just the film that you need to watch to escape the real horrors going on in the world. The film will be released on Video on Demand on Blu-Ray August 28th with a DVD/Blu-Ray release to come in October. Be sure to mark that date on your calendar since it will be the first big release of what is shaping to be a fall finale for new movies to be released on home platforms instead of the traditional theatrical release.

Alternate Poster.

Evolver

Official Photo

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman  

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, Paul Dooley William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic science fiction and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie Evolver.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who is an avid gamer trying to get the high school on an arcade game called Evolver. Evolver is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO of the company Jerry Briggs (played by Paul Doocey) and the creator of Evolver Russell Bennet (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

Ethan Emby in “Evolver.”

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in The Lawnmower Man (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an Evolver VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver can be predictable on numerous occasions throughout the film, but It’s still a fun little joyride with some intense moments.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from Man vs. Food because he looks like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the Evolver’s game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Evovler, the robot that was supposed to be a fun game.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister in danger when Evolver is trying to kill her does he show heart and how his selfishness nearly cost him the life of his sibling. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of the virtual world and use the real world to his advantage.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennet. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial character Q from The Next Generation series. For those who aren’t Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in Breaking Bad from Season 2 going into the beginning of Season 3. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Evolver leaving the scene of an accident.

Finally, there is the titular character. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as W.H. Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with? This is another in a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. Evolver takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, Evolver is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on my Top 2e list. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an Evolver VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the Evolver movie from a simple made for television film into virual reality immortality!

TRIVIA

  • N/A

AUDIO CLIPS

You Screwed Up My Game
What Contest?
This Time You Will Be Perfect
Evolver Introduction
Play With Me
You Can Bet On It
Target Identified
Too Much Cable
Jerkbrain
Poor Innocent Robot
Retest Evolver
Where Ya Hiding?
Killed The Little Prick
I Hope Your Attorneys Are Better Than Your Technicians
Just A Game
I’m Not Your Enemy

Masterminds

Official Poster.

Release Date: August 22, 1997

Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy

Director: Roger Christian

Writers: Floyd Byars (Story & Screenplay), Alex Siskin, Chris Black (Story)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Vincent Kartheiser, Brenda Fricker, Matt Craven, Bradley Whitford,

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I want to take a moment to thank all of you readers who continue to support this blog. Thanks to your comments and feedback through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Fort this week’s review, I present to you a movie that is perfect for this kind blog. It’s a movie that’s only available through VHS and certain streaming sites as it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. It’s a movie which features a lovable iconic actor in perhaps his first villainous role.  The actor I’m referring to is none other than Captain Picard and Professor Charles Xavier himself, Patrick Stewart. The movie I’m referring to is 1997’s Masterminds.

In Masterminds, Stewart plays Raef Bentley, a man who is hired to oversee security at Shady Glen School, a prestigious private school where children of the wealthiest people in America attend. He uses his position to take over the school and hold several children hostage in exchange for (what else) money. However, his plan hits a snag thanks to a teenage hacker named Oswald (Ozzie) Paxton, played by Vincent Kartheiser. Ozzie is tasked with taking his stepsister to Shady Glen. Ozzie is well familiar with the school as he used to be a student himself before being expelled for setting the science lab on fire. Witnessing firsthand of Bentley’s goons taking out the security guard at the front gate, he goes into the school undetected and thwarts Bentley’s plans using his skills as a hacker among other skills. Soon it becomes a test of wits between the two individuals and only one of them will succeed.

Patrick Stewart plays antagonist Raef Bentley in “Masterminds.”

The movie is directed by Roger Christian, who is infamously known for directing the worst movie of the 21st Centurty (so far), which of course is Battlefield Earth. Christan along with writers Flyod Byars, Alex Siskin and Chris Black create a movie that is essentially Die Hard for kids. The concept, story and sequences of the film are lifted straight from the iconic action movie. Despite the unoriginal concept, I enjoyed this movie most notably for the performances of the actors and how they tried to get the most out of the script. It’s quite a long movie for this kind of concept, clocking in at one hour and forty-eight minutes, but there’s so much going on that keeps the film movie. There are some slow moments in the second half, but then it kicks right back into high gear.

The dialogue is pretty dated with numerous references to things going on during the time frame of the film. Some of the younger viewing audience who wasn’t born during these events won’t understand, but for those of you who grew up with will get it right away. There’s not much in terms of crude humor, but there’s many comedic moments and environmental situations that the characters get themselves into to give yourself a chuckle or burst out laughing to. The movie doesn’t rely on sex or vulgar language to keep the audience’s attention which makes this a suitable movie for children ages 12 and up.

Vincent Kartheiser plays protagonist and computer whiz Ozzie Paxton.

As mentioned, the performances are what makes this movie enjoyable. Stewart is perhaps the most likable antagonist I could remember in a movie. You can tell that he really enjoyed playing this role. He can take bad dialogue and make in fun and funny. Stewart also provides a bit of temperament for Bentley as he takes it upon himself to make sure that no one gets hurt especially the police which is quite charming and generous to say the least. Vincent Kartheiser is a formidable adversary as Ozzie and does a good performance as the nineteen year old outcast who is quick on his feet and is able to improvise a la MacGyver when it comes to slowing Bentley and his crew down such as jamming the controls in the boiler room to sweat and disorient the bad guys, to rigging a swimming pool to blow up with dynamite and a school timer to flood the underground basement of the school. His skills and tactics earn him the accommodation from Bentley who snickers at him during their first face to face encounter and hopes that he joins his team when he graduates. Irish acting legend Brenda Fricker has a medium role in this film as the principal of Shady Glen, Maloney. She’s a tough as nails and doesn’t put up with nonsense. Fricker was a great choice for that role.  There are small appearances from Matt Craven as Ozzie’s dad and Bradley Whitford as a billionaire corporate executive looking to purchase a major news media organization but is sidetracked when finding out his daughter is one of the children Bentley is holding to ransom.

For those of you who’ve managed to get through Battlefield Earth or is aware of its style would know that it was remember for being shot almost entirely at a Dutch angle. Roger Christian includes many Dutch angles in Masterminds. Some are used in appropriate scenes, but other times it looks out of frame and unwarranted. I don’t know what his obsession is with Dutch angles. I don’t if he’s trying to be inventive, clever or cute, but he needs to learn how to use them in the correct scenes. Christian does end up using appropriate angles in certain moments of the film including overhead shots of Ozzie looking at some of the henchmen while he’s in a vent shaft and during the many hide and seek moments shown. Other than that, the rest of the movie is enjoyable as you will be enamored by the many action scenes that take place throughout the film and will be quoting the hilarious one liners and other cheesy dialogue for time to come.

Patrick Stewart and Katie Stuart in “Masterminds.”

Masterminds is rated PG-13 and is a film that kids, and young adults will enjoy. Despite the concept being done before and is rustic in some areas, it hasn’t lost its overall luster. The fact that it hasn’t been released on current video formats except for streaming shows what a rare title this is and is worthy of the title “Guilty Pleasure Movie!” Masterminds is a great 90s nostalgia flick that’s worth the $5 to $10 to rent on the Xbox Store, iTunes or any other streaming service you used. I’m so happy I was able to find this movie because this is the perfect milestone movie to present on this blog.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • This movie made only seventy-six pounds sterling on its U.K. cinema release, making it the lowest box-office taking of 1998.
  • The setting of the fictional school is actually Hatley Castle. Sir Patrick Stewart would go on to film the X-Men franchise, which also uses Hatley Castle as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
  • This movie is not available on DVD and Blu-Ray as of November 2018.
  • Kelsey Grammar was the original choice for the villain.
  • When Bentley (Sir Patrick Stewart) makes his first appearance, he asks Principal Maloney to call him by his first name, “Raef”, to which she immediately replies “Fine”. This is a reference to Ralph Fiennes, whose name is pronounced “Raef Fines.”
  • Patrick Stewart’s character wears a Manchester United shirt in the film. In reality, Stewart supports Huddersfield, but since Manchester United is more widely known, the decision was made that he should wear the shirt.

AUDIO CLIPS

Boiling Babe For Dinner
I’m Always In Trouble
Feeding Your Face Again, Dough Boy?
Raef, Fine
Enough of This Happy Boy Business
We Got A Die Hard Situation
We Believe In Discipline
Wienerhead
Benltley Addressing The School
Come Here Little Boy
Is It Hot In Here?
This Is Ugly
I’ll Be Frying
Take It In The Chest
And They Say You’re Not Good With The Fellas
Find Them
United
Who Does This Guy Think He Is?
Yes, Yes, No