Lionheart

Official Poster

Release Date: January 11, 1991

Genre: Action, Drama, Crime   

Director: Sheldon Lettich     

Writers: S.N. Warren (Earlier Screenplay), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Story & Screenplay) & Sheldon Lettich (Screenplay)

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Ashley Johnson, Brian Thompson

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s been a while since I reviewed a movie with an 80s action star. I didn’t want to do another Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal nor Dolph Lundgren movie since I’ve done one of each. I combed through the list of action stars and one name shocked me as I’ve never reviewed any of his movies for the site yet. The person I’m referring to is the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. JCVD was a prolific action star with good looks, kick ass moves and the master of the splits that would make men cringe. Going through is filmography one movie stood out as a perfect film to present since it doesn’t seem to find a whole lot of love in the movie review community. For this review, we look back to 1990 and the film, Lionheart.

In the movie Lionheart, Van Damme plays Lyon Gaultier, a solider in the French Foreign Legion stationed in Djibouti. He receives a delayed letter from his sister-in-law in Los Angeles regarding his brother in the hospital after a drug deal gone bad. After being denied leave, Lyon deserts the legion and escapes in a Jeep. Wandering the desert, he gets work as a tramp steamer which the boat he is working on is heading for the United States. He arrives in New York City instead of Los Angeles. Penniless and with no way of getting to his brother in time he comes across an illegal street fight ring led by a man named Joshua (Harrison Page). Lyon participates in a match which he wins (of course) and earns money. Seeing the potential, Joshua takes Lyon to meet a woman named Cynthia (Deborah Rennard) who runs an organized street fight for the rich. Impressed by his fighting skills Cynthia sponsors him a flight home. Unfortunately, Lyon is too late as his brother has passed. He agrees to fight for Cynthia to bankroll an account to give money to his sister-in-law Helene (Lisa Pelikan) and his young niece Nicole (Ashley Johnson). Unbeknownst to Lyon, members of the French Legion have arrived in America to apprehend him to be Court Marshalled for desertion. Lyon must save his family as fast as possible before he is taken into custody.

Jean-Claude Van Damme as French Legionnaire solider Lyon Gaultier

Directed by Sheldon Lettich who wrote the screenplay alongside Van Damme, Lionheart is one of the standout films that he’s done. It’s more than a movie with a ton of fights. It’s a film that has heart. Van Damme is looking for redemption for abandoning his brother for a long time and trying to make right with what’s left of his family. The sacrifices he makes in the film from deserting his unit to his body being bloodied, bruised and broken are displayed with determination and will.

The performances in the movie are good and convincing. Van Damme naturally evolves the character of Lyon as a loner who slowly breaks out of his shell and works to make amends to his family and generate an unlikely partnership/friendship with Joshua. Harrison Page does a great job playing Joshua. Although he is a recruiter for Cynthia and is all about the money, he does look out for Lyon and helps him connect with his sister-in-law and niece. He is also credited with giving Lyon the nickname “Lionheart” which he gets known by through the fighting world. Deborah Rennard as Cynthia is seductive and manipulative. She tries to use Lyon as her personal boy toy, but Lyon rejects her advances. She only sees dollars with him and doesn’t care for his well-being. Lisa Pelikan gives a heartbreaking emotional performance as Helene who is angry at Lyon for not making it home on time to see his brother one last time and struggles to find forgiveness, but essentially allows him back into her life and Ashley Johnson was cute as a button as Nicole. There’s an appearance from Brian Thompson as Cynthia’s bodyguard/right hand man Russell, but he doesn’t get a lot of screen time. He appears only when Cynthia appears except for one scene.

Lyon getting a proposal to fight for money

The fights in the film are engaging and enjoyable as Van Damme goes up against some of the best each with different builds and abilities. I loved the fact they used different locations for each fight including an underground parking garage complete with cars parked in a circular format to represent a cage, a near empty swimming pool with just enough water to dunk the fighters in and even a racquetball court. It felt like I was watching two gamers play Street Fighter.

The plot is simple and there’s no real twists or turns. There is some predictability near the third act which I won’t go into in order to avoid spoiling anything. Lettich does a great job keeping the audience focused going from a fight to a dramatic scene and then to a character scene, etc. There are a few moments that drag out, but most of it comes from the first quarter of the film.

The final fight

Lionheart would rank as my third favorite Van Damme film only to Bloodsport and Hard Target. It’s the most human film of his body of work that we won’t see a performance like that again until his semi-biographical movie JCVD (another classic). The film went on to gross $24.3 million on a $6 million budget which is a nice chunk of change. It’s a dramatic actioner with gladiator combat that encompasses the spirit of not just a warrior, but a man. 

Trivia (Per IMDB)

  • A trailer for the film, seen on various VHS releases from Imperial Entertainment, which produced the film, makes absolutely no indication of Universal Pictures’ involvement, since Universal would only pick up the U.S. distribution rights later in the process.
  • Filmed after Death Warrant (1990) despite being released prior.
  • A sequel was planned but never materialized.

AUDIO CLIPS

Your Brotha is Not My Problem
You’re A Real Asshole
America
Rude Operator
Let Me Count This
This Is The Lion
You’re Kinda Pretty
What’s Happening?
You Told Them To Burn My Clothes?
Everything OK In There?
I’m Not Your Toy
Scotland
I’m Going To Draw Myself A Bike
Hard Cold Sick Bitch
You Need Karate Lessons
I Knew You Weren’t A Stranger
Wrong Bet

Clifford

Official Poster

Release Date: April 1, 1994

Genre: Comedy  

Director: Paul Flaherty    

Writers: William Porter (as Jay Dee Rock) & Steven Kampmann (as Bobby von Hayes)

Starring: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Colman, Richard Kind

Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of Charles Grodin. Thank you for the laughs.

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Does anyone remember the move Three Amigos which was the 1986 comedy starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short? I had watched it recently after not having seen it in over twenty years. It featured three Saturday Night Live alums. While Steve Martin and Chevy Chase went on to be leading comedic stars on film, Martin short was left behind. Sure, he’s been a great supporting actor on film, but I couldn’t quite name a starring movie role for him. That is until I discovered that one of the first movies I saw Short in is available to watch on HBO Max. It’s a movie that would play all the time on Comedy Central just as I was getting home from school. It’s been twenty-five years since this movie’s initial release, and this is one that is truly a “Guilty Pleasure Film” for me. For this review, we’re going back to 1994 with Clifford!

The film starts out in the future as Father Clifford Daniels catches a boy trying to leave the orphanage. He sits down with the boy to discuss his reasons for leaving which then Clifford breaks into a moment in his childhood. The flashback is where the movie picks up. Clifford is a ten-year-old boy (You guessed it. Short, a forty-something man at this time is playing a ten-year-old boy) who has severe ADHD (which is caused by a high sugar intake as you will see in various points of the movie) and carries his recorder and his toy dinosaur named Stefan which he always carried in his pocket. He is in an airplane with his parents going to Hawaii for a convention. After hearing that the plane is flying over Los Angeles, Clifford asks if the plane will be landing there so he can go to Dinosaur World, the theme park of his dreams. After finding out it’s not stopping, Clifford goes into the cockpit of the plane and shut down the engines to which the plane must land in Los Angeles. As a result of this, Clifford is banned from the flight. Worried that he’ll miss the convention, Clifford’s father (Richard Kind) calls up his estranged brother Martin (Charles Grodin) who lives in Los Angeles and asks if he would look at him. Martin, a big named architect who is going through his own problems such as finishing a massive train system for the city and trying to save his relationship with his fiancé Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) who are at a stalemate over wanting children agrees to take Clifford into his home. And that’s when Martin’s world would be even turned more upside down.

Marin Short as the eponymous Clifford.

Clifford was shot in 1990 but didn’t get released in theaters until 1994. The reason was Orion, who produced the movie was on the verge of bankruptcy and they held off releasing several movies until they got their financials in order. The movie tanked at the box office and was universally panned by everyone, especially Roger Ebert who wrote, “The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”[1] and gave it a rare ½ star. Despite the overwhelming negative reviews, the movie has developed a cult status.

Clifford is indeed an odd dark comedy. I’m not sure what director Paul Flaherty or the writers were trying to accomplish with making this. It seems like they just told everyone let’s be as silly and weird as we can possibly be. I’m surprised Charles Grodin, a respectable actor stayed as long as he did, or he was completely oblivious to what was going on. The reasons that I do like Clifford not just because of the fact it was a movie that was played a lot during my childhood years. There are some things that I do enjoy about it, but then again, I enjoy obscure macabre comedy.

Mary Steenburgen, Martin Short, Charles Grodin and Dabney Coleman.

Martin Short and Charles Grodin carry the weight of the movie. Short portrays Clifford very reminiscent of his most iconic characters on SCTV, which was the pointy hair Ed Grimley. Like a ten-year old, when Clifford doesn’t get his way, he behaves badly. He gets triggered that he pulls out Stefan as a kind of security blanket. Some of his actions are even criminal in today’s society. It’s not until the near end of the movie where he realizes why his family is tormented by him. Grodin is the calm authoritative figure who slowly breaks down when Clifford continues to get to the best of him. He develops his own madness and when he tries to find ways of disciplining him, it makes matters worse. It’s as if both are playing Chess against each other predicting on who will make the next move. The cast of the movie is very small. The only supporting actors to this movie are Mary Steenburgen as Sarah who desperately wants children and when she sees Clifford she becomes in awe of him and Dabney Coleman as Martin’s sleazy womanizing boss Ellis who looks to capture Sarah’s heart for himself.

As for the jokes, it’s a blend physical comedy with insanity due to Short’s actions and reactions. Short makes great use of his facial expressions to crack a laugh or two. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Clifford takes Stefan out of his pocket and puts it in the shower just as Steenburgen is in it. They’re other jokes such as Short putting Tabasco sauce in Grodin’s Bloody Mary, Clifford’s dancing skills when he has a house party at his uncle’s after tricking him that he was leaving for San Francisco.

The movie ultimately failed due to its shear psychoticism and emotional issues between the two lead characters. There are moments in the film which could be depicted as negligence, kidnapping, and endangering the well-being of a child. Not to mention that when Clifford gets bad news he goes into this trance where he will do things such as eating everything in sight, demanding chocolate or creating something just out of nowhere to get even. This movie would not be possible to make today.

Marin Short and Charles Grodin

So, if you’re daring enough to watch Clifford you will be in for a comedic experience like no other. If you like madness mixed in with your comedy, then this movie will be right up your alley. My advice though is to not show this to any young children. They could learn some dastardly things watching Martin Short and his antics.

[1] Clifford Roger Ebert review

Trivia (Per IMDB)

  • Originally filmed in 1990.
  • Although planned for a 1991 release, Clifford became one of many films (including RoboCop 3 (1993)) produced by Orion and filmed years before its release date. The reason it was not released until 1994 was due to company Orion’s pending bankruptcy, and not because of bad press screenings, as some sources claim.
  • Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen were also a couple in the movie It Runs in the Family (1994).
  • Martin Short’s co-stars are usually standing on boxes and next to slightly oversize props.

AUDIO CLIPS

Dreams of Days In The Circus
Haven’t You Heard of the Word Sofa Bed?
Mrs. Extra Wide Load
Larry The Scary Rex
I You, Clinton
Bestest Looking Wig I’ve Ever Seen
Get Me The Bunny
An Authority On Wigs
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
I Don’t Want To Make This About Lighting
Leave The Dinosaur There
I’ll Get Him Later
Evil Little Monster
You Look Like Willie Nelson
Uncle Ten Most Wanted

The Great White Hype

Official Poster

Release Date: May 3, 1996

Genre: Comedy, Sport

Director: Reginald Hudlin   

Writers: Tonya Hendra, Ron Shelton

Starring: Damon Wayans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Corbin Bernsen, Jon Lovitz

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello readers! Welcome to another review on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” This week’s review is a real treat. The movie I’m presenting is one I’ve been wanting to post for over a year. Every time I get around to start working on it, I would get delayed by life….you know how that goes. I’m on vacation from my regular day job as I’m typing up this review and I told myself, “No more excuses, get it done!” For this week’s review I decided to do a sporting themed movie, which I don’t believe I’ve done yet (feel free to call me out if I do). It’s a Boxing themed movie that mixers comedy and satire into one overlooked film that I completely forgot about until it was available to watch on HBO Go, the original HBO streaming service before they changed to HBO Max. Featuring a ensemble cast of recognizable faces including those who would become future stars in their own right, this week we’re looking at 1996’s The Great White Hype!

The Great White Hype stars Samuel L. Jackson as Boxing promoter Reverend Fred Sultan, who represents the undefeated Heavyweight Champion James “Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans). After Roper’s latest victory, Sultan reveals that the fight was a financial flop and interest in the sport is declining. He theorizes that audiences are sick and tired of watching only black boxers beat each other up. Sultan comes up with a way to reenergize the sport and generate a huge payday for everyone by having Roper go up against a white contender citing the 1982 fight between Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney. After some research, they track down the only white man whom had defeated Roper at the Amateur level, Terry Conklin (Peter Berg). Conklin lives in Cleveland and is now in a rock band. After being approached at an after party at one of his gigs, Sultan offers Conklin a chance to return to the ring for a hefty sum. Conklin refuses stating he’s more interested in his band and fighting social issues than fighting people. Sultan uses his charm and manipulation to convince Conklin that he could use the money to eradicate homelessness which is Conklin’s main priority. Conklin agrees. Sultan uses his power and influence to get Conklin into the Top Ten rankings and the fight between him and Roper is on with Conklin training hard and Roper hardly training.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Fred Sultan Introducing Peter Berg’s Terry Conklin to the Press

In addition to the names above the film also stars Jeff Goldblum as investigative television journalist Mitchell Kane who has gathered evidence to show how unethical and corrupt the Sultan is only to sell out and join Sultan’s team, Corbin Bernsen as Peter Prince, owner of the MGM Grand, Jon Lovitz as Sol, who is Sultan’s PR guy, Cheech Marin as Julio Escobar, commissioner of the Nevada Boxing Committee, Michael Jace as Marvin Shabazz, who is the number one contender to face Roper only to be passed over for Conklin and Jamie Foxx in an early role as Hassan El Ruk’n, Shabazz’s manager. The film features guest appearances from longtime Boxing writer Bert Sugar, Brian Setzer doing a musical number and Method Man.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, The Great White Hype is a satirical Boxing film taking influence from not only Rocky but the title is based on the Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney fight of 1982 where Cooney is dubbed, “The Great White Hope.” That term has been used by Boxing to recognize up and coming white heavyweight Boxers who have the potential of being great. One name that sticks out to me is the late Tommy Morrison, who was the last known great white heavyweight boxer from the 90s until his career shockingly ended due to him testing positive for HIV (one of Morrison’s fights is shown in the film when Sultan’s crew is researching white Boxers).  

Jeff Goldblum as Investigative Journalist Mitchell Kane

The Great White Hype is a simple story with very little twists and shocking moments. It’s about one match, the Main Event. Within that one match, director Reginald Hudlin showcases the political nature of the Boxing world. Each character declares a form of morality which only a mask for them wanting to achieve their hidden goals dealing with power, money, influence, and greed all together. Jackon’s Sultan is like Don King, who is only looking after his interests and raking as much money for him from his prized fighter. Wayans’ Roper is yearning for the respect and the cash he desperately wants, being sick and tired of having his fight winnings in the form of one new Rolls Royce after another. Berg’s Conklin has his ethics and principles contradicted through being in the media spotlight and being adored by many despite the fact no one knows who he is and Goldblum’s Kane sells out his journalistic integrity to be part of a bigger click. The casting is perfectly fitted to the characters. My favorite performances were Jackson, Wayans, Berg, Goldblum and Jon Lovitz. Jackson’s loud and eccentricity glows through the film. Wayans his hilarious as Roper who gets cocky and lazy with his training that he shows up to the fight overweight complete with a huge belly. Berg’s Conklin is dimwitted who you feel during the movie that his heart is not wanting to get back into the ring. Goldblum is Goldblum and Lovitz is Lovitz who provides some great liners with the zest and snap that Lovitz is known for. I do however feel that there should have been more screen time with Michael Jace and Jamie Foxx. They only appear during each press conference pleading their case to get a title shot and one scene where they confront Sultan and his posse in his own penthouse.

I enjoyed the pacing of the film and gave some great insights as to how Roper and Conklin were preparing for their fight. Conklin is training hard but is also spending a lot of time in photo shoots and interviews where he gets contradicted on comments he was saying. Wayans’ training routine (or lack thereof) were some great laugh out loud moments. The dialogue has its cheesy moments most notably from the supporting cast. I especially enjoyed the commentary from Boxing writer Bert Sugar and the announcers of the fight who are in disbelief over both fighters.

The Main Event

Boxing is one of the few sports that seems to translate well in a film adaptation and The Great White Hype is one of those films. It is a funny and sharp satirical film that will keep you laughing through it’s near 90-minute runtime. I’m surprised this film doesn’t get mentioned when people talk about their favorite Sports films or Boxing films. Yes, it doesn’t take itself seriously like a Rocky or Raging Bull, but it’s a fresh funny take on the sport and everything that goes on behind the scenes. If you’re lucky to find it on a streaming site or if you have to pay to rent it, then do it. The Great White Hype is another in a long line of underrated films to come from the 90s.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Reverend Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) greets a man with shoulder length black hair and a black suit, with “Hey Vincent, Vincent, where’s Jules man?”, a reference to Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction (1994).
  • Sol (Jon Lovitz) mentions, when watching the film of Tommy Morrison being knocked out, that he is “John Wayne’s cousin”. Morrison was John Wayne’s (real name Marion Michael Morrison) grand-nephew.
  • Many members of the cast made either guest appearances or had recurring roles on the FOX television series Roc (1991), which featured Rocky Carroll as a regular cast member. This includes Samuel L. Jackson, Corbin Bernsen, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jamie Foxx, Albert Hall, Lamont Johnson, Art Evans, and Rick Scarry.
  • Ron Shelton has expressed distaste for the film, because his script was completely revised by comedian Tony Hendra.
  • Such was Ron Shelton’s dislike of this movie that he has said, “I tried to get my name taken off it, because the film they made was not the script I wrote. I find it a horrible movie.”
  • Jason Flemyng auditioned for the role of Conklin. Asked to strip to the waist and shadowbox, he sneezed because of the cold and smeared the snot over himself to keep in character, much to the cameraman’s disgust.

AUDIO CLIPS

I’m An Artist
I’ll Spank You
That’s The Third I Love You
I Drive A Brougham
You’ve Got A Whole Bunch of Guns
Who Beat Roper As An Amateur?
I Don’t Need My Ego Fed
I Give My Money To The Homeless
The Announcement
Kid’s Not Even A Professional
Cannot Make Caviar Out of Fish Eggs
I Can Beat Conklin and My Meat At The Same Time
How Do You Like Las Vegas?
Donations
Roper At The Weigh In
Never Met A Meal He Didn’t Like

Inhumanwich!

Official Poster

Release Date: December 15, 2016

Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Comedy

Director: David Cornelius   

Writer: David Cornelius

Starring: Matt Laumann, Michael Peake, Jack Burrows, Kayla Clark, Jake Robinson

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

What’s the weirdest horror monster you’ve ever seen in film? I’ve practically seen them all. From a Siamese twin brother who looks like a squashed octopus to a killer condom with teeth and a flushed fetus that turns into a radioactive bloodthirsty killing machine to a crazy gingerbread man. Monster films can be creative by taking some ludicrous idea and making a character out of it. Take the review for this week. It’s a movie involving a giant monster made of human, radioactive substance and ground beef. This next movie in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” came out of nowhere like something falling from the sky. The first thing that caught my attention was the movie title followed by the image of a sloppy joe with teeth. The title of the movie was called Inhumanwich!

Inhumanwich! is a Sci-Fi/Horror/Comedy about an astronaut returning to earth from a space mission. As he prepares to eat a sloppy joe sandwich his wife made him for his trip, he gets caught in an asteroid field damaging the ship’s reactor core. Radiation leaks out which gets on him and the sandwich. When he crash-lands in a wooded area, he slowly turns into a meat monster with tentacles. From there it wrecks having in a small southern Ohio town eating one human to another causing it to grow in size. The scientists at NASA team up with the military to stop this creature before it consumes any more victims.

Scene from Inhumanwich!

Written and directed by David Cornelius, Inhumanwich! is a throwback to the silly sci-fi monster movies of the fifties. It’s shot entirely in black and white which gives it that authenticity of being a movie from that era. The look of the film is amateurish in nature complete with a local cast and crew, but they all work well together to create a film that doesn’t take itself seriously which makes it enjoyable. 

I love the fact that the movie takes place in Ohio. The crew is from Cincinnati and the entire film is shot there. The filmmakers decided to give Dayton (my hometown) its own NASA Mission Control Center. I’m telling you right now, we don’t have an actual Mission Control Center here, but we do have the National Air Force and Space Museum. Other than that, the film does a good job showcasing the area with its suburban neighborhoods and heavily wooded areas.

Scene from Inhumanwich!

Like a cheesy monster movie from the fifties, the performances are filled with familiar characters found in most of those films. You have the stereotypical housewife who shows concerns (or lack thereof) of her husband, scientists who come up with ways of stopping the monster only for it to backfire and the military officers complete with firepower who’s only remedy to the situation is to shower it with bullets. There’s plenty of gags and situations with the characters that it reminds me of something Monty Python would do.

As for the star of the movie, the creature is essentially a giant meatloaf with eyes and tentacles. The first time you see it, he is chasing a hunter using fast motion effects. I was literally chocking on my sandwich as I saw this. The creature essentially eats the meat of its victims leaving the bones behind as shown in various shots of skeletons that looked like they were bought from a Halloween Store. It has the ability to camouflage itself with any ground meat as shown in one particular scene. I have to give the filmmakers props for coming up with an ingenious creation.

The film makes do a good job of limiting the use of special effects in Inhumanwich!  There’s a mix of physical effects with ones that were done on a computer. They didn’t lessen my enjoyment as I continued through the structured and easy to follow plot. One thing is for sure is that David Cornelius made sure to throw every fifties sci-fi monster trope out there and many were able to stick.

The creature in Inhumanwich!

Inhumanwich! is a great throwback to the monster movies of the era. I give the filmmakers much kudos for creating a funny and entertaining movie. If you’re sick of the big budget monster flicks, this is the total opposite. It makes you want to go back and revisit those style of monster movies.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • At about 57 minutes while General Graham is arguing with scientist Ed Farley, the crew can be clearly seen in the reflection on the general’s glasses.

AUDIO CLIPS

Two Way Communication
Big Honor
Vacuum Cleaner In Space
I Sure Do Like A Good Sloppy Joe
Meteors
I Like Gravy
Lisa and Ed Back And Forth
I Might Need A Minute Before I Can Stand Up
Damn Raccoons
Meat Being Consumed By Meat
My Instincts Tell Me Joe Is Still Alive
Too Impossible To Believe
Turned Into A Merman
About The Thing You Say You Saw
Oh Balls
Tell Mom I Love Her
Tom Hanks Story
Batman

Black Moon Rising

Official Poster

Release Date: January 10, 1986

Genre: Action, Thriller  

Director: Harley Cokeliss (as Harly Cokliss)   

Writers: John Carpenter (Story & Screenplay), Desmond Nakano & William Gray (Screenplay)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Lee Ving, Bubba Smith  

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hope you enjoyed the batch of movies that have been presented on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” I have a handful of movies ready to go and trying to write as many reviews as I can in between working my day job, writing and editing a food blog I’m preparing to launch and pursuing other artistic ventures. But enough of my time management issues, let’s get to the next non-horror movie review which will be the 1987 cult film Black Moon Rising!

Released in 1987 and written by horror auteur John Carpenter (ironic since I said I’m not going to mention horror movies for a while on this page), the film features Tommy Lee Jones in a rare leading role as Sam Quint, who is a former thief that is hired by the FBI to steal a computer disk which contains incriminating evidence against a company called the “Lucky Dollar Corporation.” On his tail is a former acquaintance of his Mavin Ringer (Lee Ving) who works for the company. Quint crosses paths with Earl Windham (Richard Jaeckel) at a gas station. Windom just tested a new prototype vehicle called the Black Moom, which can  reach speeds of 325 MPH. Quint hides the disk in the Black Moon which makes its way to Los Angeles. Upon intercepting the Black Moon, a group of auto thieves led by a woman named Nina (Linda Hamilton) steal the car along with some other vehicles at a restaurant. Now Quint needs to retrieve the disk to complete his task.

John Carpenter wrote Black Moon Rising during the time he was working on Escape From New York. The script floated around until it was picked up by New World Pictures, which hired Desmond Nakano and William Gray to re-write parts of it and tasked Harley Cokliss to direct.

Image of the Black Moon Car

The movie is essentially a “got to get back a stolen car” story filled with some great chase sequences, ample amounts of action and solid performances from the cast. It’s too bad Carpenter didn’t direct the movie because it does have a style that is suited to his work. Black Moon Rising reminds me a lot of Knight Rider considering the car looks like if KITT had a son.

As previously mentioned, this is a rare lead role for Jones who doesn’t disappoint as Sam Quint. His charm and witty sense of humor is displayed all throughout the move even in the most dire situations. He is observant of his surroundings and uses his skills as a thief to elude his pursuers. Linda Hamilton does a stellar job as Nina. Her story is developed right as she appears on the screen. Throughout the run time, you understand Nina’s background and why she chose the profession she chose. Any bitterness you have towards her in the movie turns into sympathy. She becomes an intriguing partner to Jones’ Quint whose relationship also moves as quickly as the Black Moon car. Other noteworthy performances include Lee Ving as Marvin and Bubba Smith as FBI Agent Johnson, whom Quint reports to.

Robert Vaughn as the Villain

Director Harley Cokeliss has been a B-movie filmmaker for most of his career, although he has credits directed numerous action sequences for The Empire Strikes Back. That experience paid off as he creates some thrill-seeking action sequences most notably with the car. I could feel my toes curl and my heart race when Jones gets into the car and presses all the buttons to get it to do certain things kind of like the various cars James Bond has used to get out of sticky situations.

The only thing I didn’t care for in the movie is the love scene between Jones and Hamilton. I don’t think the term ‘Awkward’ cuts it when describing the scene. You could easily list it in a top 10 list for “Worst Lovemaking Scenes!”  I understand its part of the movie and trying to fit a romantic dynamic in the movie, but they probably could’ve shown it another way.

Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton.

Despite some of the predictability, Black Moon Rising is still a fun picture that is a wink and a nod to many classic action movies. I appreciate it for its technicality, style and a cast that works together. It’s a perfect viewing for a rainy Saturday afternoon or if you’re looking for a thrilling low budget affair. It impressed me the first time I watched it and it hasn’t changed my opinion since re-watching it again not too long ago.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • This is actually the first screenplay that John Carpenter ever sold. The film had been in development for over 10 years.
  • Linda Hamilton despised working with Tommy Lee Jones. Jones had been struggling with alcoholism at the time.
  • Tommy Lee Jones did most of his own stunts.
  • A lot of Tommy Lee Jones’ wisecracks were improvised by the actor himself.
  • The stunt driver of the Black Moon had virtually no idea where he was going as he was in a semi-recumbent position whilst driving. His windshield was also made of Plexiglass that reflected every single surface, obscuring his vision even more.
  • The Black Moon was based on a Canadian car prototype design called the Wingho Concordia II which was first unveiled to the public in 1980. Only one of these were ever actually built so the car seen in the film is a copy cast from molds.
  • Tommy Lee Jones uses an original H&K P7 9mm pistol in the film. He carries the pistol without a round in the chamber, even though it is widely known to be among the safest handguns ever built and purposely designed to carried with a round in the chamber. He also used an identical P7 in Under Siege (1992).

AUDIO CLIPS

Show Our Car Off
We Used To Be In Competition
I’m Getting Too Old For This
You Are A Thief
You’re In For A Long Night
I’ll Take The Keys
They’re Stealing The Cars
I Was Here
Don’t F**k With The Government
Oh No Molina
Iron John
It’s An Interesting Machine
I’m Not Going To Open The Door
Just How Many Names Have You Got?
Come On, You Used To Work For NASA
I Would’ve Grabbed At Anything
You Just Gave A Whole New Meaning To The Term Breaking and Entering

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Official Poster

Release Date: July 19, 1991

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writers: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin, Joss Acklund

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1989 movie audiences were treated to a new original concept adventure movie about the fate of the future lying in the balance of two high school musicians passing their history exam. That movie was called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was a surprise success that not only launched Keanu Reeves into a mainstream star, but it also spawned a cartoon show and two sequels including 2020’s Bill & Ted Face The Music. For this review I wanted to look at the second film in this newly formed trilogy, which coincidentally is reaching the big 3-0 milestone! I’m talking of course about Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey!

The movie takes place five years after the events of the first movie. A man from the future by the name of De Nomolos (Joss Acklund) has created two evil robot versions of Bill & Ted and sends them back to their time to disrupt the next phase in their destiny, which is winning the Battle of the Bands and being one step closer to the Wild Stalyns changing the world with their music. The present day Bill & Ted continue to struggle at being good musicians, even with the help of their other band members, their girlfriends they rescued from 15th Century England. They encounter their evil doppelgangers when they arrive at their apartment and tell them that they are here to help solve their problems. Instead they take Bill & Ted to a desert and throw them off a cliff killing them. Now in a state of limbo, Bill & Ted must figure out a way to come back to life and stop the evil robots from accomplishing their mission. After two failed attempts at warning their parents about what happened, they are banished to Hell where they go through trials from their childhood until they are confronted by the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) who states they can return to the physical world if they beat him in a contest. After defeating Death in a contest……or in the case several contests, they go to Heaven and ask God for assistance in beating the evil robots. They are directed to a creature named ‘Station’ who is considered the most brilliant scientific mind in the universe. With Station’s help, they create two good Bill & Ted robots to counter the evil robots. They return to earth just as the Battle of the Bands begin and engage in a confrontation with the evil robots and De Nomolos for the fate of the future.

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

The sequel was as successful as the first movie, but fans are divided as to which of the two movies was better. Some fans believe Excellent Adventure was the superior of the two. Other fans believe Bogus Journey was the better film. After watching the film, I think Bogus Journey is on equal footing to its predecessor. . I would use the analogy in another Keanu Reeves movie, The Matrix to describe the two. They are two radically different films, but when they are put together they equal out. It’s a great idea to go from Bill & Ted having a positive and “Excellent” adventure to having a negative and “Bogus” journey, hence the equal concept.

The story is good although I think the script could’ve been fleshed out a little more and could’ve used a better third act. Reading the Behind the Scenes of this movie, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon admit that the original third act was ripped up and they were struggling to come up with an act that would satisfy viewers and bring the story of Bill & Ted full circle. I’m not sure what the original third act entailed with the exception of a trivia note at the bottom. With the exception of a few returning characters the only other reminiscence of the first film that are shown in the second are the phone booth which is found in only a few scenes and you get a glimpse at the future where is a harmonious utopia thanks to the protagonist and their music.

The only returning characters in the second film are Bill, Ted, Ted’s father, Missy and George Carlin, who reprises his role as Rufus, although his role has shrunk from the first film. All the other characters are new. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play dual roles as not only the dim witted heroes, but the evil robot versions of them. The evil robots are stronger and smarter, but they are programmed to speak and act just like their human counterparts which I found funny. Their master DeNomolos, played by legendary character actor Joss Acklund I found to be a very weak villain as he appears only in the opening scenes, a few scenes where he is checking up on the robots’ statuses and the final confrontation. Not much is known about DeNomolos other than the fact he was Rufus’ old teacher and that he despises the society that Bill & Ted have created and goes on a crusade to destroy them so he can reshape the future into his ideals, which could be perceived is having a Marxist ideology. Acklund didn’t have much to work with and his acting and body language gave me the impression that he didn’t want to be in this movie, which is a shame. I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “How do I go from playing an evil South African diplomat in “Lethal Weapon 2” to playing a villain having to babysit two robots in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey? I guess we’ll never know what his mindset was. 

Joss Acklund in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

The real star of the film and without question the best performance goes to William Sadler who plays the Grim Reaper. His portrayal of Death starts out serious and then goes completely one eighty when he spends more time with the heroes. When Death first encounters them just as they died, he is prepared to take them into the afterlife, but they distract him and give him a “Melvin” in order to escape. It’s only when they are in Hell that they summon Death and accept his challenge of playing him in a game to return to Earth (I won’t tell you what game or games they play, but they were my favorite scenes of the film). When Death joins Bill & Ted he becomes more of a nuisance rather than a helper. He’s always looking attention and feels left out when Bill & Ted don’t give him credit for things that he supposedly did. The accent Sadler uses is Slovakian which gives him range and power, but also makes it funny especially when during his angry outburst moments in the film.

As far as the rest of the film in terms of special effects and settings, it’s interesting to see the film’s vision of the future where everyone wears highlighter colored clothing which reflects well with the lighting in their classrooms. You see a small glimpse of Evil Bill and Evil Ted pulling their skin off to reveal their robot form which is colorful and high tech for the time and the vision of Hell in the film is depicted as a never ending industrial corridor with infinite doors and the Devil instructing the damned to “Choose their Eternity”.

Alex Winter, William Sadler and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is one of the few sequels out there that matches up to its predecessor. Matheson and Solomon rolled the dice and took their chances of not repeating the same concept of the first movie and it paid off. Watching it again after all these years, it holds up strongly in comparison to other sequels that came out in the early 90s.

Trivia (Per IMDB)

  • The guitar solo before KISS’ “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, is performed by guitar legend Steve Vai. The footage had already been shot, and the world premiere was a week away, when he was asked to do it. He also contributed various music in the film, including “The Reaper Rap”, which features on the end credits.
  • When Bill and Ted go to Missy’s séance, you can see Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the creators and writers of Bill and Ted. They’re the only men that are attending the séance. (Chris is the guy with the white shirt, and Ed is the guy with the glasses.) They also say “Ed and Chris rule the world” backwards
  • The original title was “Bill and Ted go to Hell” but was changed because of American objections to the use of the word “hell”.
  • The “Riddance of Evil” book that Missy uses to send Bill and Ted to Hell, is actually a re-dressed copy of the Stephen King short-story collection “Four Past Midnight.” She opens it to a page in the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which can be read clearly in a few frames of the film.
  • During the séance scene, the chant to send Bill’s and Ted’s spirits, can be read backwards as “Ed and Chris will rule the world.” Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson being the movie’s scriptwriters.
  • The mountain, to which Bill and Ted are brought to be killed by the evil robots, is the same mountain Captain Kirk climbs in Star Trek: Arena (1967), which Bill and Ted watched in their apartment.
  • Joss Ackland said in a Radio Times interview, he only did this project, because of a bet between him and a family member
  • In a deleted sequence, the Evil Robots use devices to re-create Bill’s and Ted’s’ personal Hells (Granny Preston, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats) and send them after the heroes. Bill and Ted end up having to face their fears to get rid of them. Bill gives Granny her kiss on the cheek, Ted calls his brother and apologizes for stealing his Easter candy, and both boys treat Oats with kindness and friendship rather than terror.
  • Director Peter Hewitt has a cameo in the film. He plays the smoker in the Builder’s Emporium to whom Death says, “I’ll see you soon.” In the cast credits The Smoker is credited as “Max Magenta”.

AUDIO CLIPS

Total Metalheads
Catch You Later, Evil Dude
Girls Mature Faster
I Can’t Believe Missy Divorced Your Dad
Most Excellent Adventure
Robot Chubby
Meeting Death
I Totally Possessed My Dad
What’s Gotten Into You?
Deep Hole
Not What I Expected
Yes Sir Dude Sir
Don’t Fear The Reaper
I Hate Them
What Is The Meaning of Life?
Logan Residence
See You Real Soon
Reaping Burns A Lot Of Calories

Brain Damage

Official Poster

Release Date: May 25, 1988 (France)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Frank Henenlotter  

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, John Zacherle (Voice/Uncredited)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I’ve been wanting to do this review for a very long time. This happens to be one of my favorite Horror/Drive In/B Movies of all time. It was done by the great Frank Henelotter, who did the Basket Case trilogy (See my review of the first Basket Case movie for Halloween) and Frankenhooker. What’s great about Frank is that he’s only made a half dozen movies, but they’re all creative, original and super fun to watch. I rather have a filmmaker I like make six great movies than a filmmaker like Ridley Scott, who’s made fifty plus movies and thirty-five of them are forgettable. So, without further ado, here is the review for Frank’s 1988 movie about drug addiction in a creepy, funny style titled Brain Damage!

The movie is about a guy named Brian who is laying in bed feeling sick. When he gets up, he notices blood on his pillow all the way down to his bedsheet. He feels the back of his neck which is also bleeding. Unsure of what happens, he lays down again. Suddenly, he starts going on a psychedelic trip where he sees bright lights and colors. Knowing that someone or something is causing this, he asks for this person to reveal themselves. From behind his neck appears a long black/bluish phallic looking parasite named Aylmer (pronounced Elmer). Aylmer reveals to Brian that he has a juice in his body when injected directly into the brain will give the person a euphoric feeling. Brian starts to get addicted to Aylmer’s juice which causes him to isolate himself from his girlfriend, Barbara and his brother, Mike. As Brian goes around town dancing and living it up with this aura in his brain, unbeknownst to him Aylmer kills anyone near him and eats their brain. Brian is eventually confronted by an elderly man named Morris, who was Aylmer’s former host and warns Brian that Aylmer is looking to take over him and by continuing to be on his juice, his brain will continue to turn into mush and become dinner for the hungry parasite. Brian must find a way to get control of himself before he becomes Aylmer’s next victim.

Rick Hearst in “Brain Damage”

As the title suggests, the movie is about drugs, drug addition and the effects it has on the person taking them and their loved ones. According to Frank Henelotter, he came up with this idea after having a bad trip taking cocaine. Henelotter makes a visually compelling monster movie with a strong message. He takes the audience for a ride through the mind and body of a junkie. You go through the highs (pun intended) and the lows of the character. In between the movie you’ll be caked with blood, gore, brains and some dark humor.

Let’s start with the acting. The film is primarily focused on the two characters of Brian and Aylmer. Rick Hearst plays the protagonist, Brian. This was his first movie and does a dang great job of playing Brian. You don’t know much about Brian in terms of what he does for a living, where he came from. Brian gets easily manipulated once he starts getting high which can be common among addicts. When he goes on his trips, he’s very child like as he’s amazed by the colors and lights around him and how he can feel the music. Hearst plays a convincing addict through his physical appearance, his facial expressions and the hallucinations he sees. You’ll laugh, cry and be horrified by what he goes through. Next, you have Aylmer, who is voiced by the great John Zacherle (AKA Zacherle the Ghoul). If you’re not familiar with Zacherle, he was the host of ‘Shock Theater’ back in the late 50s/early 60s when NBC would play the Universal monster movies on television. Zacherle’s voice is soft and sweet which he gives to Aylmer. Aylmer’s voice is soothing to Brian which makes him feel calm around the devious creature. Aylmer is smart in not revealing his intentions to Brian until a crucial scene in the film. He has the characteristics of a snake. He slithers and sneaks around when in hiding but strikes quickly when he is ready to attack. The great use of stop motion animation, puppetry and Zacherle’s voice makes Aylmer one of the best movie monsters I’ve seen in a long time.

Scene From “Brain Damage”

Like his first movie Basket Case, Brain Damage has a similar look and style to it. It’s shot on 35MM film. The atmosphere is gritty as you follow Brian through the various locations in an inner city. Henelotter fills every scene with as much detail to look at. No shot is hollow. You’ll be immersed by the transitional shot of Brian looking up at his ceiling fan which slowly morphs into an eyeball, or the blue colored water which fills up his bedroom as he slowly submerges into it. And like his previous film, there is enough blood and gore to make you squeamish. The most powerful scene in the movie (at least to me) is the confrontation Brian has with Aylmer in the bathroom at a cheap motel. After Aylmer reveals that he needs brains to stay alive, Brian refuses to go along with it and will no longer ask to get high which prompts Aylmer to challenge him that if he doesn’t get a brain, then Brian can’t have his juice. Brian agrees thinking he’ll easily win. There are several dissolve shots of Brian going through severe withdrawal symptoms that are common in addicts who haven’t gotten a fix or are detoxing. Each fade away shot shows Brian in more agony than the previous. On top of that you have Aylmer who gleefully taunts him which doesn’t help the situation. It’s heartbreaking to see Brian struggle, but it shows how powerful drug addiction is.

I’m not certain what the budget was for this movie, but Henelotter has always worked with a very small budget. He squeezes every dollar in his budget and this movie is no exception. The visuals and special effects work are so impressive that you don’t believe this was done on the cheap. I’ve always believed that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to create a great movie. If you have the right story and actors and if the filmmaker can generate a coherent story, then you’ve got a great movie.

Aylmer (Voiced by John Zacherle)

Brain Damage ranks very high (no pun intended) on my all-time favorite movies. More than thirty years later, this movie is completely relevant to the issues of drugs and addiction that we face in our world today. This movie gives you a dark, gory and comedic tale of one who succumbs to drugs. While this movie is not kid appropriate, I believe is a good movie to scare straight anyone who thinks drugs are cool. After watching Brain Damage it will make them think twice before doing something that will give them a short ride, but a long wreck in the end.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • During the fellatio scene the crew walked out of the production refusing to work on the scene. A similar incident happened during the shooting of Basket Case (1982).
  • Brian has an unexplained cut on his lip all throughout the film. It was a part of a subplot involving him getting into a fight the night before defending his brother in a bar fight. But due to time restraints the explanation scenes were never filmed.
  • In a 2016 interview, Frank Hennenlotter said one of his favorite things about shooting in 35mm was that he couldn’t misplace the camera as easily as he did with the 16mm camera he used on Basket Case.
  • Film debut of Rick Hearst.

AUDIO CLIPS

These Are Beautiful
Could We See Your Bathroom?
Start of Your New Life
Brian’s High
A Bit Underdone
Things Are Really Getting Weird Around Here
Nothing That Simple
Not Elmer, Aylmer!
Forgot Your Buckets
When It Comes To Blood In My Underwear
Aylmer’s Tune
I’d Be Happy To Help You
The Whole World’s Gonna Come To An End
What’s Your Problem Man?
Yoo-hoo!
Put Me On Your Neck

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

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