Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Film Review: The Original ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Film Series (1990-2007)

*written in 2014.

With the upcoming release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, which is a reboot, I wanted to revisit the original film series. I hadn’t seen these movies since the 90s and I hadn’t seen the 2007 CGI sequel at all. I remember really liking the first two and finding the third one to be pretty boring. Maybe it was because it was missing their main antagonist, Shredder. Regardless of all that, here’s what I felt about these films now.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990):

Release Date: March 30th, 1990
Directed by: Steve Barron
Written by: Todd W. Langen, Bobby Herbeck
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Corey Feldman, Kevin Clash, Sam Rockwell

Golden Harvest, Limelight Entertainment, 888 Productions, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Damn.” – Raphael

This first film in the series was the best of the original trilogy. It was gritty, it was fun, it was action packed and it embodied everything that made the TMNT franchise unique and awesome. Seeing this in the theater as a 5th grader, blew my damn mind.

The turtle costumes were phenomenal, the facial animatronics were outstanding and the range of movement the martial artists had inside the suits was uncanny. The acting in this film, considering what it is, wasn’t bad. Elias Koteas as Casey Jones and Judith Hoag as April O’Neil were both really good. I cared about their characters and even their romance.

My favorite part in the whole film though, had to be Shredder. For a live-action movie based on a comic book, especially for the era, he looked fantastic and menacing. I can’t even imagine a better looking Shredder in a real world sense.

Splinter was also pretty great and Kevin Clash (most famous for playing Sesame Street‘s Elmo) provided him with a good voice that gave a sense of authority and respect to a character that is really just an animatronic rat.

The movie never stops once it gets going. It actually flies by pretty quickly and is well-paced. Props to the writers who made a really good script and to the director, who orchestrated how it all went down.

Look for a very young Sam Rockwell playing a thug in a few scenes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991):

Release Date: March 22nd, 1991
Directed by: Michael Pressman
Written by: Todd W. Langen
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, David Warner, Ernie Reyes Jr., Kevin Nash, Vanilla Ice, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Kevin Clash, Frank Welker

Golden Harvest, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Go, ninja! Go, ninja! Go!” – Vanilla Ice

It didn’t take long for Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema to pop out a sequel. This movie came out less than a year before its predecessor. While it still turned out pretty well, you can feel that it is lacking in quality from the first film and that they didn’t prepare for it as well.

Also, the turtles use their weapons a lot less than the first movie because busybody assholes thought that the darker and more violent tone of the previous film was too much for kids to handle. The lack of darker tone, hurt this movie.

Unfortunately, neither Judith Hoag or Elias Koteas returned for this film. I’m not sure why but due to the film being rushed out, one could assume that it had to do with scheduling conflicts. The April O’Neil character is still in the film but was recast with Paige Turco.

I do still like this movie but I miss the atmosphere of the first one. These aren’t films that you should take too seriously, but this one got a bit too campy and the script just wasn’t as good.

The edition of David Warner to the cast, an actor I have always enjoyed, as well as Ernie Reyes Jr., who is still the best kid martial artist I have ever seen, was a treat. Vanilla Ice also shows up to give us the greatest ninja-themed rap song of all-time.

Shredder was better looking in this film, as they retrofitted his helmet and made the sharp edges on it look like bad ass buzzsaw blades. However, when he became Super Shredder, he was just ridiculous and completely pointless as he killed himself in about ten seconds. Although it was cool that wrestling legend Kevin Nash was the guy in the Super Shredder suit.

The evil mutants that they made to combat the Turtles, were horrible. They should’ve done what kids were familiar with and gave us the famous Turtle villains Bebop and Rocksteady. Instead, we got Tokka and Rahzar. Stupid names for stupid characters.

All bullshit aside, I still really enjoy this film for what it is but it lacks in a lot of areas compared to the first.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993):

Release Date: March 19th, 1993
Directed by: Stuart Gillard
Written by: Stuart Gillard
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, Elias Koteas, Vivian Wu, Sab Shimono, Stuart Wilson, Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Corey Feldman

Golden Harvest, Clearwater Holdings, New Line Cinema, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I think I swallowed a frog. I hope it wasn’t an ancestor.” – Donatello

Some people call this film Turtles In Time but that was the name of a TMNT video game. This film plot-wise, is completely unrelated to that game but they do share a time travel element.

I remember watching this just once as a kid and that was on video, as I didn’t even bother to see it in the theater. I just found the idea of the Turtles traveling back to feudal Japan to not be a story worthy enough to carry a film. It seemed like a bad one-off episode of the cartoon and at least those episodes are just twenty minutes.

Watching it now, over twenty years later, I still don’t like the film. It is boring, soulless and flat. There is really nothing interesting or redeeming about the film. Elias Koteas shows back up, after skipping out on the second film, but he is essentially wasted.

The villain is some evil British guy who comes off like an unfunny poor man’s version of Rik Mayall. Had he actually been played by Rik Mayall and humorously, the film may have been a tad bit better. But even Rik Mayall couldn’t have saved it.

The Turtles were also redesigned for this movie and they look like shit. They added a bunch of spots to them, gave them bigger eyes that looked incredibly fake and their animatronics were clunky at best.

After all that time to heal and accept this for what it is, I still hate this film.

TMNT (2007):

Release Date: March 17th, 2007 (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Munroe
Written by: Kevin Munroe
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne

Imagi Animation Studios, Warner Bros., 87 Minutes

Review:

“Duuuude.” – Michelangelo

This film is considered the fourth in the series and takes place quite some time after the others. It is also the first (and only) to be CGI instead of live-action.

This movie is pretty good. There is a lot story-wise that makes this one the best written of the series. There is a whole subplot about Raphael being a masked vigilante hero on a motorcycle, which would be great as its own standalone movie.

Also, Casey Jones is back in a much more expanded role, as he teams up with Raphael on their vigilante adventures. Although I wish Elias Koteas would’ve voiced Casey Jones, Chris Evans did a solid job.

There is another cool subplot about Leonardo living and training in solitude in Central America, which added a lot of depth to his character and his struggle as a leader.

As for the CGI, it was very well done. It wasn’t Pixar or DreamWorks level but it held its own and it was fluid and worked great with the action sequences of the film. The only thing that seemed off was that the voices were different. For instance, Splinter seemed like an entirely different character and this kind of gets in the way of consistency with the live action films. However, the Laurence Fishburne narration was fantastic.

Having now watched the original trilogy again and this film, I’d rank this as second behind the original.

Film Review: The ‘Friday the 13th’ Film Series, Part II – The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy (1984-1986)

Friday the 13th, Part IV – The Final Chapter (1984):

Release Date: April 13th, 1984
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Barney Cohen, Bruce Hidemi Sakow
Based on: characters by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz, Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Corey Feldman, E. Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

This film is the start of The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy. Reason being, all three films (IV-VI) feature the character of Tommy Jarvis at different ages, battling Jason Voorhees. Well, Part V doesn’t, as he battles a lame copycat killer.

In this film, Tommy is a small boy, played by Corey Feldman when he was still a cute kid. In fact, this is the best thing Corey Feldman ever did, even though the original The Lost Boys was pretty awesome and I am a fan of License to Drive for some odd reason.

The film also stars one of my favorite actors, Crispin Glover – most famous for playing George McFly in the original Back to the Future.

In this installment, Jason kills a house full of horny teens and decides to move on to the neighbor’s house where a young Tommy Jarvis lives with his older sister and mother. Tommy and his family also have the protection of Rob Dier, who is the brother of one of Jason’s victims from the second film. Rob has returned to Crystal Lake to destroy Jason. Considering there are like eight more films after this one, we know how that turns out for him.

I find this film to be better than the three before it. While the first is the most unique and the template of the series, The Final Chapter is more refined, fluid and engaging. It also features Crispin Glover’s dance scene, which is the best dance scene in film history.

This is the first film where Jason really feels like the Jason everyone is used to. And for a long time it was my favorite film in the series but upon re-watching these again, was upstaged a bit by Part VI – Jason Lives.

Although this film’s bizarre and intense ending is still my favorite in the series.

Friday the 13th, Part V – A New Beginning (1985):

Release Date: March 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Written by: Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, Danny Steinmann
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Carol Locatell, Vernon Washington, John Robert Dixon, Jerry Pavlon, Caskey Swaim, Mark Venturini, Anthony Barrile, Dominick Brascia, Tiffany Helm, Richard Lineback, Corey Feldman, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.

Paramount Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

Tommy Jarvis is back! But Jason isn’t.

That doesn’t make this a bad film even though fans of the series seem to hate this installment. Sure, the killer is Roy. Who the fuck is Roy? No one cares. What is Roy’s motivation? Still, no one cares. The point is, there is a psycho in a hockey mask murdering teens and other people who seemingly don’t fit the Jason Voorhees victim profile.

Tommy is older, he is slightly mad and somehow a master of judo, which he somehow forgets about when the sixth film rolls around a year later. He has visions of Jason and when the copycat killer springs up, it makes Tommy have to face those demons.

The film features a few scenes with Miguel A. Núñez, Jr, an actor I love in just about everything. In horror, he has been in the first Return of the Living Dead and Leprechaun 4: In Space. He is probably most known for being the star of the somewhat awesome, mostly awful Juwanna Man. The film also features a young Shavar Ross a.k.a. Dudley from Diff’rent Strokes and Vernon Washington, who played Otis in The Last Starfighter.

The film also features the second greatest dance scene in movie history when Violet the goth girl is putting her stellar 80s moves to the tune of Pseudo Echo’s “His Eyes”. She dies violently immediately afterwards, as Fake Jason apparently wasn’t impressed.

There is also the crazy backwoods redneck mom and her dufus son. They are over the top and entertaining. And strangely, the actors had great chemistry being the comedic distraction in a film about murdering teenagers.

This isn’t as bad as many say it is. It isn’t even the worst film in the series. It is the low point of this trilogy of films but it is still an entertaining and worthwhile bridge between the two best installments of the series.

Friday the 13th, Part VI – Jason Lives (1986):

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Tom McLoughlin
Written by: Tom McLoughlin
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, Ron Palillo

Paramount Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

Tommy is back, again! But this time, so is Jason!

Wait, is that Horseshack?! Yes, it is!

This film starts with the oldest version of Tommy Jarvis we will see in the series, fresh out of the psych ward. He is healed but needs to make sure Jason is actually destroyed before he can move on with his life. He brings Horseshack from Welcome Back, Kotter with him to dig up Jason’s grave and burn the body. Except he inadvertently causes Jason to resurrect and for the first time, we know that Jason is some sort of supernatural zombie demon.

This film is the start of Jason looking truly undead and a lot less like just a human with a facial abnormality.

Where The Final Chapter was a more refined version of the formula, Jason Lives shocks new life (literally) into the franchise, and is even more refined. In short, this is the best film in the series. Pretty crazy, I know, considering that this is the fifth sequel to the groundbreaking original.

This is the best Jason has ever been before Kane Hodder took over the roll for the four films following this one. He looked truly predatory in his movement and felt like an unbeatable zombie hulk. The resurrection scene is actually the coolest scene in the entire series and showed Jason at his absolute best.

Thom Mathews (also great in the first and second Return of the Living Dead) is perfect as the aged and more experienced Tommy Jarvis. He feels like a bad ass, even though he is missing his ninja skills from the previous film.

Jason Lives also looks the best visually. I don’t know if it was just the talent of the director, the cinematographer or the person lighting the set and setting the tone but it just looks perfect.

While I adore the fourth film, this one here, is the cream of the crop for me. This is the perfect Friday the 13th film in every way. It has everything you want and nothing that you don’t.

Film Review: The ‘Gremlins’ Series (1984-1990)

The Gremlins film series is proof that America wasn’t ruled by overprotective helicopter parents in the 80s. I’m glad I grew up in that era, as opposed to nowadays when a good old family film like Gremlins would be severely toned down and edited or have to be rated R and thus, not a family film.

I saw it in the theater with my parents. I was five. Yes, I saw people killed by little monsters and a bunch of horror violence but guess what? I loved it because I wasn’t coddled into being a complete wuss.

So let me discuss these films that, by today’s standards, should have destroyed me and turned me into a budding serial killer.

Gremlins (1984):

Release Date: June 8th, 1984
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Chris Columbus
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holiday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke, Jackie Joseph, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, Jonathan Banks

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlinsReview:

The first one is the best one. It is a classic and a “must view” film come Christmas time, even though it oddly came out in the summer months of 1984.

Gremlins is a prefect balance of comedy, horror and holiday cheer. It also is a perfect balance of cuteness and insanity and I’m not talking about the very young Corey Feldman in this picture.

The creature effects are top notch for their time and I would still rather watch these animatronic puppets than CGI any day. And one can’t not be impressed with how many Gremlins they actually put in some of these scenes. In the movie theater segment alone, it looks as if there are dozens of these creatures, all controlled and animated by some off-screen puppeteer.

The story is pretty basic and straightforward but most fairy tales are. But this is a dark and amusing fairy tale. The Gremlins, for being terrifying little monsters are hilarious. They joke around, act crazy and are lethal, even to each other. The fairy tale also has its rules that must be followed. Of course, the rules aren’t followed and that is why we end up with the glorious chaos that is this film.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are perfect as the leads in this film and they had great chemistry, which also worked well in the sequel. In fact, unlike other boys my age, this is the film where I got a huge crush on Phoebe Cates, as opposed to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Hoyt Axton was entertaining as the father character, a struggling inventor whose gadgets are the butt of several jokes in the films. Judge Reinhold and Dick Miller both show up for a bit as well.

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid and it has aged well. It still exudes the magic I found in it as a five year-old in the theater. Yeah, it is cheesy and over the top but it has a grittiness to it that you will never get when this film is eventually remade.

Gremlins is great. It is some of Joe Dante’s best work as a director.

And the soundtrack is fantastically nuts.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990):

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Charles S. Haas, Chuck Jones
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Carl Stalling
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Christopher Lee, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo, Hulk Hogan, Paul Bartel

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlins_2Review:

The New Batch is a pretty satisfactory sequel. I feel like they took too much time off between films but it still has a lot of the spirit of the original. It was also cool to see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates return, as well as Dick Miller.

The film also has Christopher Lee in it, one of my favorite actors ever, as a mad scientist who does zany experiments on animals. His carelessness leads to the Gremlins acquiring some extraordinary abilities and a few bizarre abilities. The inclusion of Christopher Lee’s character ups the ante in this film, making the Gremlins more of a serious threat than they were in the first movie.

Also joining the cast are John Glover, as Daniel Clamp (a parody of Donald Trump in the 80s), Robert Picardo (a regular collaborator with Joe Dante) and Robert Prosky (as a late night horror movie show host dressed like a vampire). All three of these guys give superb performances, especially Glover.

Gremlins 2 isn’t as good of a film as the first but overall, it might be more fun. It is less dark but it is more campy. It has more Gremlin gags as opposed to a straightforward fluid story. The plot exists and there is a beginning and an end but the in-between stuff plays more like sketch comedy with a few plot points added in to keep it somewhat coherent.

This is a very different film than the first, which is refreshing. I probably wouldn’t want a rehash of what was done previously. This film did a great job of being its own thing while continuing the story on from the original.

I had always hoped for a third and final film but that ship has most likely sailed and Joe Dante isn’t the same director anymore.