Nothing But Trouble

Nothing But Trouble

Today, I’m going to delve into a real weird one: Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble.

The plot of Nothing But Trouble is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A businessman finds he and his friends the prisoners of a sadistic judge and his equally odd family in the backwoods of a bizarre mansion.

Nothing But Trouble was co-written and directed by the comedy icon and Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd. While his writing credits are extensive (Coneheads, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Spies Like Us, Dragnet), Nothing But Trouble has been his only directorial work. His co-writer for the screenplay was his brother, Peter Aykroyd, who was a writer for Saturday Night Live and PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal.

The cast is led by, of course, Dan Aykroyd, alongside Chevy Chase (Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Fletch), John Candy (The Great Outdoors, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck), Demi Moore (Striptease, Ghost, Blame It On Rio), Raymond J. Barry (Sudden Death, Training Day, Flubber), and Brian Doyle-Murray (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack).

The cinematographer for Nothing But Trouble was Dean Cundey, who has shot films like Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, Flubber, Hook, Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween III, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Roller Boogie.

The movie required the work of two editors: James R. Symons (Fortress 2, Tank Girl, Rambo III, Over The Top, Cobra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Malcolm Campbell (Son of the Mask, Keeping the Faith, Wayne’s World, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, Trading Places, An American Werewolf In London).

The musical score for Nothing But Trouble was composed by Michael Kamen, who also worked on X-Men, The Iron Giant, Last Action Hero, Event Horizon, Hudson Hawk, Road House, Die Hard, The Dead Zone, Action Jackson, Highlander, and Brazil.

Dan Aykroyd reportedly based Nothing But Trouble on a real life experience, in which he was stopped for speeding in the middle of the night, and then taken to a local justice of the peace for an impromptu trial by the officer. Likewise, another inspiration for the film was an excuse to put John Candy in drag, which Aykroyd personally found hilarious.

Famed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert hated watching Nothing But Trouble so much that he refused to formally write a review for it, something that he rarely ever did over his career.

In a number of shots, Dan Aykroyd’s distinct prosthetic nose is switched out for a similar one that was specifically sculpted to look more like a penis.

Nothing But Trouble strangely features a cameo and performance by lauded rap icon Tupac Shakur, who is brought before the judge and subsequently released for the value of his artistic contributions.

The annual Golden Raspberry Awards, which are given out to the judged worst films and performances of the year, recognized Nothing But Trouble in six categories, including Worst Picture. Ultimately, Dan Aykroyd won Worst Supporting Actor for his roles in the film. In most categories, however, it wound up losing out to another ill-fated comedy: Hudson Hawk.

Nothing But Trouble was made on a production budget of $40 million, on which it grossed roughly $8.5 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure. Likewise, it was near-universally loathed critically: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 8% from critics and 41% from audiences.

One of the most common criticisms I have heard of Nothing But Trouble is that it is just too gross. I certainly don’t disagree with that, but I think props are deserved for both the makeup and production design for the film, rather than scorn and derision. The vision behind the decision to make the film gross may have been flawed, but the team sure pulled off the effect well, and that is deserving of some recognition.

That said, there isn’t much else positive to say about the movie. The screenplay never seems like it got properly polished: it doesn’t really move beyond its setup, and leans on insulting and derogatory humor a lot to try to fill in gaps, throwing punches at targets like overweight women and people with disabilities. I’ve heard that Akyroyd is at his best when he has other writers that can keep him on task and in check, as was the case with Ghostbusters. Nothing But Trouble is a case of him unfettered and running amok with a screenplay, and the result is quite a mess.

The combination of the focus on gross-out humor along with a sprinkling of gags that shamelessly punch down is that the movie just isn’t funny. Even Chevy Chase, who can typically elevate material with a physical performance, is ruined by his character’s writing. He is clearly supposed to be the avatar for the audience, but most of the more offensively pointed jokes are thrown from his perspective, which makes him come off like an asshole throughout the whole movie, which ruins the audience’s supposed anchor.

Overall, despite some technical merits with the makeup and design, there is no good reason to seek this flick out. Nothing But Trouble is like seeing some superior trim on a dilapidated house that’s sitting on a shattered foundation. It is best to just pass it by.

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Anaconda

Anaconda


Today, I’m going to delve into one of the more notorious modern creature features: 1997’s Anaconda.

The plot of Anaconda is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A National Geographic film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who takes them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.

Three writers were credited for work on the screenplay for Anaconda: Hans Bauer (Titan A.E., Komodo), Jim Cash (Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch), and Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).

The director of Anaconda was Luis Llosa, whose other directorial credits include The Specialist, Sniper, and Fire On The Amazon, among a handful of others.

The primary cast of Anaconda is made up of Jennifer Lopez (Money Train, The Cell, Gigli), Jon Voight (Baby Geniuses 2, Bratz, Coming Home, Deliverance, Mission: Impossible), Owen Wilson (The Haunting, Wedding Crashers, Marmaduke, Zoolander, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums), Ice Cube (Barbershop, 21 Jump Street, Ghosts of Mars, Friday, Three Kings, Torque), Danny Trejo (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete, Spy Kids, xXx, Con Air), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, Jerry Maguire, Mask), and Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy, Crimson Peak).

Anaconda‘s editor was Michael R. Miller, whose other movies include Mr. Destiny, The Marrying Man, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Ghost World, Mr. Magoo, and Soul Plane.

The cinematographer for the film was Bill Butler, who also shot such films as Frailty, Jaws, Cop and A Half, Child’s Play, Grease, Rocky IV, Capricorn One, Stripes, and Can’t Stop The Music.

The musical score for Anaconda was composed by Randy Edelman, who has also worked on xXx, Son of the Mask, DragonHeart, The Mask, My Cousin Vinny, Ghostbusters 2, Underdog, and Balls of Fury, among many, many others.

The extensive team of special effects and animatronics workers for the film included common elements with such movies as Deep Blue Sea, Snakes on a Plane, Evolution, Species, Waterworld, Mimic, Leprechaun 4, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Class of 1999, and Demolition Man.

Rifftrax, a company made up of former hosts and writers for Mystery Science Theater 3000, held a live theatrical simulcast of Anaconda on Thursday, October 20, 2014, complete with a live commentary track of humorous riffs.

Anaconda racked up an impressive total of six Golden Raspberry Award nominations (which are given annually to the worst movies and performances of the year), including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. It was later named as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in the Official Razzie Movie Guide.

Famed television actress Gillian Anderson was considered at one point for the lead in Anaconda, but ultimately had too many conflicts with filming The X-Files. Likewise, Jean Reno was apparently seriously considered for the antagonist role that went to Jon Voight.

The production budget for Anaconda was estimated at $45 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of roughly $136.9 million, making it a significant hit. It thus wound up with a theatrical sequel (Anacondas: Hunt For The Blood Orchid), two television sequels (Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and a crossover television film, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda.

Critically, however, the movie didn’t do nearly as well. It currently holds an unenviable 4.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from critics and 24% from audiences.

Despite that reception, Anaconda had a handful of prominent apologists. Notable among them was Roger Ebert, who gave Anaconda a solid 4.5 star review, saying:

“Anaconda” is an example of one of the hardest kinds of films to make well: a superior mass-audience entertainment. It has the effects and the thrills, but it also has big laughs, quirky dialogue and a gruesome imagination. You’ve got to like a film where a lustful couple sneaks out into the dangerous jungle at night and suddenly the guy whispers, “Wait–did you hear that? Silence!”

While I think that Ebert was way too easy on the film, I can certainly agree with one aspect of his review: this movie is certainly entertaining. It is pretty clear from the beginning that everyone involved knew that they were making a popcorn flick, and aimed for entertainment value wherever they could. At the same time, there are certainly some places where the mark was clearly missed.

First, however, I think it is worth pointing out that the concept here is really good: river adventures can make for pretty damn cool movies. They offer an interesting mix of tense claustrophobia on board the ship with the constant presence of unknown, exterior threats laying just beyond the banks of the river. The combination can make for some really intense intrigue when done well. Examples from over the years include everything from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, to this year’s The Lost City of Z (which is totally worth seeking out). However, Anaconda has the distinction of botching this concept quite hilariously, and it all begins and ends with the curious and bizarre performance of Jon Voight.

While Jon Voight’s astoundingly awful accent is without question the biggest problem with his character, his mind-numbing performance goes far beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, whatever he was doing with that accent was probably shockingly racist, if anyone could have figure out what race he was trying to emulate. However, his physical performance and vocabulary are equally weird. I’m sure that the result was supposed to be mysterious and intimidating, like a more villainous version of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws. Instead, Voight is just disgustingly off-putting: more like a subway masturbator than a terrifying, knife-wielding killer.

The eponymous anacondas have gotten a whole lot of flak from critics over the years. However, I have to say, the snake puppets and animatronics are totally servicable in my book. Outside of some odd jerking motions, they are still pretty convincing today. That said, the CGI snakes are a pretty stark contrast to them, and leave much to be desired during their sequences.

Overall, I think Anaconda is a pretty enjoyable ride. Jon Voight sort of makes and breaks this flick: he shatters any potential it may have had to be a legitimately good movie, but he also distinguishes it from from the glut of blockbuster mediocrity, and single-handedly solidified the movie as a cult classic with his outlandish performance. The presence of such a recognizable cast gives it some bonus points as well, because who hasn’t wanted to see Owen Wilson and Ice Cube bonding over snake-related peril? The added dimension of half-assed effects work and old-school puppetry makes the movie more than worth revisiting for a casual laugh for die hard bad movie fans and others alike.

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Today’s movie is 1987’s Sasquatch-centered family comedy: Harry and the Hendersons.

The plot of Harry and the Hendersons has the following synopsis on the Internet Movie Database:

The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.

Harry and the Hendersons was co-written and directed by William Dear, who is best known for directing Angels in the Outfield, The Perfect Game, and If Looks Could Kill, as well as providing input on the story for The Rocketeer.

The cast for the movie includes John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Raising Cain, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, Footloose, Blow Out), Melinda Dillon (Captain America, Magnolia, A Christmas Story, Close Encounters of The Third Kind), David Suchet (Wing Commander, A Perfect Murder, Poirot), Don Ameche (Cocoon, Cocoon: The Return, Trading Places), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple, Fletch, Critters, Slap Shot).

The cinematographer for Harry and the Hendersons was Allen Daviau, whose other credits include Van Helsing, Congo, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Color Purple, E.T., and Empire of the Sun.

Harry and the Hendersons was cut by Donn Cambern, who also worked as an editor on movies like Ghostbusters II, Twins, Time After Time, The Glimmer Man, The Cannonball Run, Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show.

The musical score for the film was composed by Bruce Broughton, who also composed scores for movies like Silverado, Tombstone, The Monster Squad, Stay Tuned, Baby’s Day Out, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, and Lost In Space, as well as for television series like Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, and Gunsmoke.

Rick Baker, the special effects master who has, to date, won seven Academy Awards (with five additional nominations),  was the creature designer for Harry and the Hendersons. He ultimately won one of his Oscars for his work on the movie, and has claimed that the gigantic, lumbering Harry is his favorite of his many created characters.

Speaking of the creature work for the film, the suit worn by actor Kevin Peter Hall in order to play Harry stood at well over 8 feet tall, making for an immense presence on set.

While Harry and The Hendersons did not receive a sequel, it did spawn a television series, which ran for 72 episodes over 3 seasons, from 1991 to 1993. The series did not follow the continuity of the movie, however, as Harry is shown living with the Hendersons rather than returning to the wild as shown in the film.

Harry and the Hendersons was released internationally as Bigfoot and the Hendersons. A number of promotional images with this alternate title can be found around the internet with a little bit of digging.

Harry and the Henderson features a handful of characters who are obsessed with the hunt to capture or document a Sasquatch. These characters fit the mold of “cryptozoologists,” people who study unconfirmed mythical creatures (with the assumption that they exist), and “squatchers,” who are essentially Bigfoot hunters.

Harry and the Hendersons grossed just over $50 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making a significant profit on its production budget of $16 million.

Critically, however, the movie had a mixed reception. Today, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 44% from critics and 54% from audiences.

If there is anything that must be said about Harry and the Hendersons, it is that the effects for Harry are incredibly impressive. Even though it looks creepy as all hell, the intricate facial expressions displayed by Harry are almost unimaginable for a monster suit in the 1980s. Rick Baker absolutely outdid himself here.

Beyond Harry, the big highlight of the movie has to be John Lithgow: I can’t think of a single performance of his career in which he hasn’t been entertaining in one way or another, and Harry and the Hendersons might be his pinnacle of his scene-chewing prowess. The guy is just a delight throughout the movie, and gives it more energy and passion that it had any right to deliver. The humor as it is written is a bit hit or miss, but Lithgow manages to elevate it at every turn. Without his presence, this movie might have been unwatchable.

The biggest issue I have with the movie, apart from the aforementioned comedic writing issues, is its tendency to get preachy: the message of nonviolence is really over the top, to the point that it almost feels like a PSA at times. That said, it isn’t terribly distracting, and kind of fits with the overall silly tone of the movie, but I would be remiss not to mention it.

Overall, I think that Harry and the Hendersons is 100%, grade A cheese. It certainly isn’t good by any conventional standards, but it is a true product of its era, and is worth watching for that aspect alone. Lithgow and Harry definitely solidify it as a recommendation for bad movie fans, but I think it is worth a watch for anyone, just because of how much it has seeped into cultural crevices over the years. It is also almost completely inoffensive, like a bumper car lined with plush animals, so almost anyone could enjoy it.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Uncle Sam”

Uncle Sam

For this July 4th, I’m going to celebrate by taking a look at the horror film Uncle Sam, from the writer/director team behind the Maniac Cop trilogy.

The plot of Uncle Sam is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Desert Storm vet who was killed in combat rises from the grave on July Fourth, to kill the unpatriotic citizens of his hometown, after some teens burn an American flag over his burial site.

The screenplay for Uncle Sam was, of course, written by Larry Cohen, the visionary horror writer/director behind The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive, and God Told Me To. This was one of four of his screenplays that hit the screen in 1996, along with Mark L. Lester’s The Ex, Anthony Hickox’s Invasion of Privacy, and the television movie Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Ice.

Uncle Sam was directed by William Lustig, who had previously collaborated with Larry Cohen on Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, and Maniac Cop 3: The Badge of Silence. Lustig is best known for his gritty, b-level flicks like Maniac and Vigilante, which have built a significant cult following over the years.

The cast of Uncle Sam includes the likes of William Smith (Maniac Cop, Any Which Way You Can, Hell Comes To Frogtown), David ‘Shark’ Fralick (Inferno, The Young and The Restless, Soultaker), Bo Hopkins (The Wild Bunch, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Tentacles), Isaac Hayes (Escape From New York, South Park), Timothy Bottoms (Top Dog, The Last Picture Show, That’s My Bush), Robert Forster (Lucky Number Slevin, Jackie Brown, Avalanche, Alligator, Vigilante, Maniac Cop 3), and P.J. Soles (Halloween, Stripes, Carrie).

The cinematographer for Uncle Sam was James A. Lebovitz, who shot a number of films for Troma Entertainment in the 1980s, including The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avenger Part II, The Toxic Avenger Part III, and Troma’s War.

The editor for the film was Bob Murawski, who eventually won an Academy Award for cutting The Hurt Locker. His other credits include such titles as Gone With The Pope, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Drag Me To Hell, Army of Darkness, Hard Target, Night of the Scarecrow, and From Dusk Till Dawn 2.

The musical score for Uncle Sam was provided by Mark Governor, who also composed music for Pet Sematary II and the Bruce Campbell flick Mindwarp.

Reportedly, the production team for Uncle Sam failed to disclose to authorities that they would be firing a cannon late at night for the film’s finale, which led to a number of noise complaints from local citizens.

Uncle Sam is dedicated to Lucio Fulci, an immensely influential Italian horror, western, and exploitation filmmaker who died just prior to the film’s release in 1996.

A blu-ray of Uncle Sam was released in June 2010 by Blue Underground, featuring commentary tracks by Larry Cohen, William Lustig, and Isaac Hayes, among others. Blue Underground, which was founded by Lustig, specializes in releasing cult, exploitation, and foreign horror movies on DVD and blu-ray.

In July of 2016, John Campopiano of Dread Central interviewed David “Shark” Fralick, who portrayed the patriotic killer in Uncle Sam. In regards to the movie and the role, he said:

I loved the original idea — that he was this patriotic killer. I loved the concept. Then there was all of the makeup sessions. (I didn’t do the burn, but I did all the rest of the stunt work.) It was four and a half hours in makeup and four and a half hours out of it. It really just tore my skin up. What they do is they use alcohol on skin to get the oils off so that everything they needed to put on you would adhere. It was pretty amazing. In fact, I still have the last mask I wore in the film!

From what I can gather, Uncle Sam did not receive a theatrical release domestically, and was distributed primarily on home video. I found an unsubstantiated budget estimate of $2 million, though that accuracy is certainly questionable. It is hard to say whether this flick ultimately turned a profit, but I imagine it probably broke even: I’m sure it was intentionally kept cheap for that very reason.

Critically, Uncle Sam isn’t exactly beloved. Its 2010 blu-ray release brought it back into the public consciousness for re-assessment, to mixed results. Steve Barton wrote for Dread Central that “the way underrated slasher flick Uncle Sam does a fine job of bringing the pain while we celebrate our independence,” while Nathan Rabin of The A/V Club argues that it is “incoherent as social satire and perfunctory and routine as a horror film.”

Honestly, I think Rabin and Barton are both right about Uncle Sam. The satire and social commentary isn’t quite fully cooked: there’s just a kernel of an idea in regards to military worship and conditioning children to violence, but it isn’t much built upon. Likewise, it is a pretty run-of-the-mill horror flick, in the tradition of the various lesser holiday slashers. At the same time, if you go into the movie with low expectations, and just want a formulaic slasher with some fun effects and kills, this is exactly what you want.

As far as the cast goes, it is always damn cool seeing Isaac Hayes pop up in movies. I absolutely loved him in Escape From New York, and I’m a little surprised he didn’t pop up in more over the years. This movie in particular could have used more of him: his relationship with Sam is only somewhat touched upon, and isn’t dug into too deeply. Another sequence or two with him maybe could have helped tie some themes together. Interestingly, one of his biggest emotional moments in the movie uses dialogue copied straight out of the Maniac Cop 2 screenplay: he tells a brief anecdote about being covered under dead bodies during war, remembering specifically how cold they were, and then recalls that the killer had a similar chill.

Speaking of the Maniac Cop franchise, the makeup effects on Sam reminded me specifically of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3. There is a lot of emphasis on his mutilated hands in the first act, which was also specifically done with Cordell in the Maniac Cop movies. Likewise, the makeup effects have a distinctly burned and partially decomposed appearance, not unlike the more deteriorated and decomposed facial work from the later Maniac Cop flicks. When they are shown, the effects look pretty decent, though they are kept concealed under a mask most of the time. Notably, Lustig managed to use shadows and blocking to conceal Cordell’s face in Maniac Cop, and I think that made a big difference in how intimidating the character came off, particularly when compared to the masked Uncle Sam, who never seems nearly as imposing or frightening here.

One of the biggest problems with Uncle Sam is the terrible lead child actor. Any time a movie has to lean on a child actor, it is a big risk: children who can act are rare, and ones who can carry a leading role are even rarer. In this case,  a lot of the movie rides on the character of Jody, who is played by a very young Christopher Ogden. There are times where Ogden is totally serviceable, but they are few and far between. For the most part, his line deliveries are just off, and he puts in a physical performance like he’s robot.

At the end of the film, there is supposed to be some ambiguity as to whether Jody is good or evil: this is supposed to be shown through a close up on his face, where his expression is intended to instill the audience with a sense of doubt. Unfortunately, Ogden just can’t do it: his eyes are expressionless, his mouth is unmoving, and his body language is neutral. If it weren’t for the music cue and a “shattering” effect to end the shot, I wouldn’t have realized that there was a potentially sinister undertone.

Personally, I think one of the biggest problems with this movie is the screenplay: it is a bit too busy, particularly in regards to the characters. For instance, Uncle Sam has both a sister and a wife, who live together and serve almost identical purposes. Likewise, there are two child characters with “unique” connections to Uncle Sam: one is a random kid with a psychic link, and the other is his nephew, who he is trying to recruit. To me, it seemed like both the psychic link kid and the wife were completely unnecessary: their key traits could have been taken on by his sister and nephew, respectively. It actually would make more sense for Jody to have a psychic connection to Sam, and the coalescing of the wife and sister would play more into the incestuous themes that are mentioned in the story.

Overall, as I previously mentioned, Uncle Sam has some value as a shallow, formulaic slasher movie. It was definitely a bit late to the game, though: this would have fit in great in the 1980s, but seems dated for the mid-1990s. It does provide a 4th of July themed horror movie, though, if that is what you are looking for. While this is definitely not one of Cohen’s better screenplays (nor one of Lustig’s better movies), there is definitely a kernel of an interesting idea here, even though nothing much comes of it.

Man-Thing

Man-Thing

manthing3

Today, I’m going to dive into an obscure, straight-to-video Marvel movie: 2005’s Man-Thing.

The plot of Man-Thing is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Agents of an oil tycoon vanish while exploring a swamp marked for drilling. The local sheriff investigates and faces a Seminole legend come to life: Man-Thing, a shambling swamp-monster whose touch burns those who feel fear.

The screenplay for Man-Thing was written by Hans Rodionoff, who also penned the films The Skulls II, Lost Boys: The Tribe, Lost Boys: The Thirst, and National Lampoon’s Bagboy.

The eponymous character of Man-Thing is credited to Steve Gerber, a veteran comic book writer who might be best known for creating the somewhat infamous character of Howard The Duck. He wrote a lauded 39-issue series that brought Man-Thing to wider prominence and fleshed out the story, but he interestingly did not create the character. The first appearance of the swampy creature was in Savage Tales #1 in May of 1971, and was initially conceived of by four notable comics figures: Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Gray Morrow.

This film adaptation of Man-Thing was directed by Brett Leonard, who is best known for movies like The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.

The cast of Man-Thing includes Matthew Le Nevez (Feed, Offspring), Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Jessica Jones), Jack Thompson (Australia, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil), Steve Bastoni (The Matrix Reloaded, The Water Diviner), and Conan Stevens (Game of Thrones, Son of God).

manthing2The cinematographer for Man-Thing was Steve Arnold, who also shot the films Feed, Highlander: The Source, and Last Cab To Darwin, along with a handful of shorts, documentaries, and television series.

Man-Thing was cut by editor Martin Connor, whose other credits include The Hard Word, The Railway Man, and Burning Man, along with a good number of Australian television series.

The production of Man-Thing had two lead designers: Tim Ferrier, who is best known for doing the design work for the cult favorite science-fiction television FarScape, and Peter Pound, a storyboard and concept artist who has worked on films like Ghost Rider, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dark City, and The Crow.

The initial plan was apparently to have Man-Thing film in New Orleans, essentially on-location for the Louisiana setting of the story. However, budget limitations led to a change of plans, and Australia ultimately served for the backdrop for the production.

manthing4While Man-Thing didn’t reach a very wide audience with its television debut and subsequent DVD release, those that did see it didn’t much care for what they saw. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 4.1/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% from critics and 12% from audiences.

The first thing that I noticed about Man-Thing is that the color grading is absolutely out of control. Most of the sequences are absolutely drowned in green tones, to the point that the whole movie looks like an overdone CSI episode. During the handful of daylight sequences, yellows take over with very much the same effect. However, no matter what, every sequence is unreasonably over-saturated with one color or another, which makes the movie look and feel cheaper than it needs to.

Man-Thing features a handful of unique scene transitions in the form of rapid montages of gore, pollution, and swamp imagery juxtaposed together. While I thought this was pretty interesting the first time it happened, it gets far too overused over the course of the film, to the point that it loses its potency. The same could be said for the whole movie, to be honest: there is a lot of rapid cutting whenever the action picks up, which gets really tiring after a while. When the same gimmick happens over and over again, it becomes predictable and uniform, as opposed to novel.

One of the most common complaints that I have read about Man-Thing is that it is not loyal to the source material of the comics, wherein Man-Thing is more of a heroic avenger than a murderous terror. While I am sure this was frustrating for die-hard fans, I can totally understand why the production went in the direction of a horror movie: honestly, it just makes more sense for the setting and concept, particularly for a one-off story. If this were going to be a television pilot or a franchise-builder, having Man-Thing as a protagonist would have made sense. However, I think that is a lot to ask for in a single movie. Unlike Swamp Thing, Man-Thing is not very humanoid in design, and it would be really hard to get an audience to back him.

One of the most impressive aspects of Man-Thing is surprisingly its use of gore, which I really didn’t expect. A number of key scenes in the movie take place either during autopsies or at crime scenes, where the bodies play an important role in building up the anticipation and fear of the monster’s full reveal. The fact that these corpses are done well adds a lot of power to the movie if you ask me. Honestly, most of the effects look good, which is more than a little unusual for a modern b-movie. This was likely due to the dark lighting concealing CGI issues, but if it works, it works. The portrayal of Man Thing himself is also notably cool and intimidating, and gives a distinct sense of size that does a lot for making the character imposing when fully realized on screen.

As far as the performances go, I think that all of the players are perfectly serviceable for a b-movie, particularly considering that almost the entire cast was filled in regionally on location. Even the comic relief characters, which can easily wreck the tone of a horror movie when done poorly, work like a charm.

As with seemingly every b-movie of the past 30-odd years, there is a sequence in Man-Thing with completely unnecessary nudity and sexual content that adds nothing to the story or characters. However, unlike most b-movies, it only happens once, and stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the film. While I haven’t read anything to attest to this, I have a suspicion that this brief sequence towards the beginning of the film may have been added in at some point, probably to help in selling the film to a distributor. I do know that the movie struggled for distribution before SyFy took it on, and this seems like just the sort of move that would be made to try and lure a sleazy distributor off of the fence.

It is worth noting that I have watched a ton of SyFy originals and straight-to-DVD features over the years, and typically, they are the absolute bottom of the barrel in quality. Man-Thing, when you stack it up against these cohorts, stands out from the bunch. Compare this film to any given Lake Placid sequel, or any of the litany of Mega Shark or Sharknado features, and you would come out with a much greater appreciation for it than if you compared it to Marvel Studios outings. I think that people often see this film, and compare it unfairly to movies far outside of its league.

Overall, I think that Man-Thing is a half-decent b-level flick, though definitely flawed. It clearly turned off fans due to the significant deviations taken from the source material, but as someone who isn’t familiar with the comics: this is totally ok. In a lot of ways, it feels like a modernized swamp monster movie, more so than most of the remakes and homages I’ve seen over the years.

As far as a recommendation goes, I would say to give it a shot. There are way worse entries in the early days of Marvel movies, and if you can handle any SyFy Original, you can certainly deal with the negative aspects of Man-Thing. If you go in with no expectations, and leave any prior comic book knowledge of the character at the door, you might just have a half-decent time with this flick.

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Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

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Today, I’m going to be taking a look at Wes Craven’s comic book film adaptation: Swamp Thing.

The plot of Swamp Thing is summarized on IMDb as follows:

After a violent incident with a special chemical, a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster.

Swamp Thing was written and directed by acclaimed horror master Wes Craven.  Craven is without a doubt one of the most influential horror filmmakers of all time, having been behind such films and franchises as Last House On The Left, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes. That said, Swamp Thing marked his first and only foray into the science fiction genre.

Swamp Thing is based on the comic series and character of the same name created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The character first appeared in House of Secrets #92 in July of 1971, which was intended as a standalone story. However, the character’s popularity led to an initial 24 issue solo series that ran throughout the mid-1970s. Since then, Swamp Thing has been a mainstay of DC comics.

swampthing4The cast for Swamp Thing was primarily made up of Louis Jourdan (Octopussy, The Return of the Swamp Thing), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow, Batman: The Animated Series), Ray Wise (Dallas, RoboCop, Twin Peaks), and David Hess (The Last House on the Left, Zombie Nation).

The cinematographer for the film was Robbie Greenberg, who also shot the films Free Willy, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, and Wild Hogs. The editor for Swamp Thing was Richard Bracken, whose credits include The Hills Have Eyes Part II, numerous episodes of the television shows Ironside and Columbo, and work on six different Power Rangers series.

The musical score for Swamp Thing was provided by Harry Manfredini, who is best known for his work on the Friday the 13th franchise. However, he has plenty of other films to his credit, including A Talking Cat!?!, The Omega Code, DeepStar Six, and House.

swampthing3Two of the producers for Swamp Thing were Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight, Batman, The Spirit, The Lego Movie) and Benjiman Melniker (Mitchell, Constantine, National Treasure, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

The makeup effects team for the film included Tonga Knight (Cosmos), Steve LaPorte (Van Helsing, Deep Blue Sea, Caddyshack II, The Howling), Ken Horn (Battle Beyond The Stars, The Hills Have Eyes), David Miller (Batman & Robin, The Mangler), and William Munns (Return of the Living Dead, The Beastmaster).

Swamp Thing was filmed primarily on Johns Island, which is located near Charleston, South Carolina. The island measures 84 square miles, and its marsh-y environment made it a perfect backdrop for the story.

Interestingly, Swamp Thing received a sequel many years later in 1989: The Return of Swamp Thing, which featured a handful of returning cast and crew members. However, it wasn’t received terribly well, and currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.5/10.

The production budget for Swamp Thing was estimated to be $3 million. While I wasn’t able to dig up any box office numbers for the film, I suspect it made a profit due to its low price tag, and the fact that it received a sequel.

Swamp Thing wasn’t exactly embraced by audiences and critics. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.4/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 64% from critics and 34% from audiences, all of which are less than stellar marks.

One critic who was a fan of the movie was Roger Ebert, who gave Swamp Thing a solid 4/5 stars, citing that it is “one of those movies that fall somewhere between buried treasures and guilty pleasures.”

Swamp Thing is as much a throwback to earlier monster flicks as it is a comic book movie. There are definitely plenty of moments that conjure memories of flicks like Creature From The Black Lagoon, as you might expect. The fact that the movie is very low budget and small scale really helps keep it grounded, which makes it feel all the more nostalgia-inducing. On top of that, there is no lighting trickery to be found here: the eponymous Swamp Thing is always in full light and in the open, much like the rubber suit monsters of olden days.

This is where things get complicated, though. The Swamp Thing suit straight-up looks terrible. However, maybe that is part of the homage, and the greater vision for the film? It is hard to say. Even Roger Ebert, who was a fan of the movie, referred to the creature as looking like “a bug-eyed spinach souffle.” Personally, I don’t think he is even as interesting as that: I think he just looks like a big, wrinkly dude caked in mud. Similarly, there are some hilariously terrible scene transitions (stylistic wipes, particularly) that stand out a whole lot over the course of the movie. While they definitely look like shit, maybe they were supposed to look like shit? It is an interesting boundary to consider, as many movies straddle the delicate line between faithful homage and honest craftsmanship.

As you can gather from the name of the creature, the setting is pretty important for Swamp Thing. And, honestly, I think that they absolutely nailed that aspect of the production. It is hard not to like the South Carolina lowlands in this movie: it has the exact sort of look that you would want and expect for a movie about a swamp monster. I have no idea how or why they decided on this obscure location, but it is fantastic.

swampthing2Something that I have seen written quite a bit is that this movie is supposed to be a comedy. Personally, outside of a few lines, I didn’t see comedy in this at all: it is a pretty straight sort of monster movie, with the modification of the monster being the good guy. I think it is pretty earnest about what it is: I suspect Craven was a big fan of the classic monster flicks, and wanted to do a little throwback.

Overall, Swamp Thing can be summed up as unremarkable. I’ve seen this movie a few times now, and every time, I have forgotten pretty significant details as soon as I finished watching it. I know that the movie has its proponents, but I’ve always found it a bit boring. It might be a tad too faithful to those old monster flicks for its own good.

For Wes Craven completists, fans of the source material, or just fans of comic book movies in general, it is worth giving Swamp Thing a shot. It is not so bad that it needs to be actively avoided, but I wouldn’t advise that anyone go out of their way to watch it.

Tank Girl

Tank Girl

Today, I am going to be diving into a bizarre 1995 cult classic and infamous theatrical flop: Tank Girl.

The plot of Tank Girl is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A girl is among the few survivors of a dystopian Earth. Riding a war tank, she fights against the tyranny of a mega-corporation that dominates the remaining potable water supply of the planet.

The screenplay for Tank Girl was written by Tedi Sarafian (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), based on the comic series of the same name by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. The series was initially published in strip form starting in 1988 in the independent magazine Deadline, but was collected and more widely distributed in the early 1990s.

The film adaptation was directed by Rachel Talalay, who was also behind the films Ghost In The Machine and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, as well as numerous episodes of television series like Doctor Who, Sherlock, Ally McBeal, Supernatural, The Dead Zone, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow.

The cast of Tank Girl includes Lori Petty (Point Break, A League of Their Own, Free Willy), Ice-T (Leprechaun In The Hood, Johnny Mnemonic, Surviving the Game), Naomi Watts (The Ring, Mulholland Drive, Funny Games), Don Harvey (Creepshow 2, Die Hard 2, Hudson Hawk), Malcolm McDowell (If…, A Clockwork Orange, Cat People, Caligula, Suing The Devil, Time After Time, Class of 1999), Iggy Pop (Dead Man, Cry-Baby, The Adventures of Pete & Pete), and James Hong (Blade Runner, Ninja III: The Domination, Tango & Cash, Big Trouble In Little China).

The cinematographer for Tank Girl was Gale Tattersall, who also shot the films Virtuosity, Ghost Ship, Thir13en Ghosts, and numerous episodes of the television series Grace & Frankie.

The editor for the film was James R. Symons, who cut a number of action films over his career, including Fortress 2, Over The Top, Rambo III, Cobra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The musical score for Tank Girl was composed by Graeme Revell, who has a huge number of film credits to his name: Aeon Flux, Sin City, Open Water, Daredevil, Freddy vs. Jason, Pitch Black, Spawn, From Dusk Till Dawn, Street Fighter, The Craft, and Red Planet, just to name a few.

The production designer for Tank Girl was Catherine Hardwicke, who also did design work for Car 54, Where Are You?, Vanilla Sky, Three Kings, and Tombstone, and went on to find success directing films like Twilight, Lords of Dogtown, and Thirteen.

Legendary effects worker and creature designer Stan Winston designed the humanoid Rippers, and his studio constructed them for the production.

One of the co-creators of Tank Girl, Jamie Hewlett, spoke about his negative experience working on the set of the movie in a 2006 interview with Icon Magazine:

“The script was lousy – me and Alan Martin kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren’t getting it. They forgot to film about ten major scenes so we had to animate them … it was a horrible experience.”

As mentioned in his quote, Hewlett and Martin were brought in to fill in a number of gaps in the film with animated sequences. The reason for this may have been budget-motivated or a stylistic decision, but it was undoubtedly a controversial move that has divided many.

In a March 2005 interview, director Rachel Talalay said that Tank Girl was her favorite film to direct, with a caveat:

Tank Girl [was my favorite film to direct], until the studio intervened in their useless wisdom about the ‘morality of America’.

As indicated by that quote, there were some significant editing disagreements between the director and the studio, due in large part to test audience reactions and the explicit nature of the original vision for the film. Notably, an meticulously crafted and expensive prosthetic kangaroo penis was cut entirely from the movie by the studio on moral grounds. Prior to the film’s release, Talalay made a veiled reference to the issue in an interview with Wired:

I think we’ve tried to push the envelope as much as we can…Tank Girl still has a relationship with Booga [the Kangaroo]; we’re trying to keep that in there. That doesn’t mean we plan on hardcore kangaroo sex.

Emily Lloyd (A River Runs Through It) was initially cast as the lead for the film, but eventually dropped out due to the requirement that she shave her head. Lori Petty had already auditioned for the role, and was confident that she would be a perfect fit as Tank Girl.

Courtney Love, the somewhat infamous grunge icon, curated the punk-heavy soundtrack for the film.

In recent years, thanks in large part to the re-release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, Tank Girl has become a cult favorite for many. In a 2014 interview about the growing popularity of the film in contrast to its initial failure, director Rachel Talalay said:

I really thought I’m going to break the glass ceiling and there’s going to be success for women in action…It was so devastating to me when it wasn’t. Now it has a really strong cult following and there’s a really good teen audience that loves what we were trying to do. But we were just that ahead of our time. So it’s been really frustrating.

Tank Girl was made on a production budget of $25 million, on which it took in only a paltry $4 million domestically in its theatrical run, making it a pretty dramatic financial flop. Critically, it got a divided-to-negative reception: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.2/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from critics and 63% from audiences.

In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert gave Tank Girl 2 out of 5 stars, specifically praising its vision and technical work, while calling out some of its pacing and tonal issues:

Whatever the faults of “Tank Girl,” lack of ambition is not one of them…Under the direction of Rachel Talalay, the movie plunges headlong into technique…Enormous energy went into this movie. I could not, however, care about it for much more than a moment at a time, and after a while its manic energy wore me down.

As Ebert mentions, one of the key strengths of Tank Girl is its ambitious vision. In particular, Stan Winston’s work on the Rippers is incredibly technically impressive, and their design is completely off-the-wall unique.

Additionally, the costuming and production design across the board is all really cool. The sets are interesting and over-the-top, the colors and outfits are reminiscent of the source material, and there is an overall surreal, cartoon-y effect that is achieved with the combination of it all.

All of that said, there are certainly going to be some misses when you swing for the fences every time. In this case, I think that the animated and still-frame bits just don’t work at all: they feels like awkward duct tape trying to hold an unfinished product together, and it isn’t a good look. Likewise, the humor, for one reason or another, never seems to land quite right. It might be that the frenetic energy is a bit over-saturated, so no individual moments stands out.

One positive aspect of Tank Girl that I can’t neglect to mention is the presence of one of my favorite character actors, Malcolm McDowell. I am a total sucker for Malcolm McDowell, particularly when he is playing a bad guy. While he does chew a bunch of scenery, he also disappears for a huge chunk of the movie, which was a bit of a letdown. Still, it is always a treat to see him in things. Also worth noting is that the rest of the actors all seem to be well suited for their roles, and there aren’t really any weak links in the bunch. Petty in particular really dives into her role, and (for better or worse) is the engine that keeps the whole tank rolling.

Overall, Tank Girl definitely has plenty of flaws, but I can understand why it has the vocal fan base it does. I can honestly say that there are some distinct things to like here, and that the film is deserving of revisiting. For that alone, I recommend folks give it a shot. That said, I think the movie’s flaws ultimately outweigh its positives.

One of the reasons why I think that many dislike this film is because it is obnoxious: even though that is certainly by design. I can freely admit that this is at least partially true for me. This points to a potentially larger problem with the movie: this material might just not lend itself to a blockbuster flick to start with. Unlike the similar character of Harley Quinn, who propelled the financial success of Suicide Squad, you can’t effective sanitize Tank Girl in a way that makes her antics palatable for general audiences, while also staying true to the character. I think Tank Girl could make an awesome animated series or film, but making a faithful live action version seems like it would be too expensive and too niche interest to ever try again. That said, I could totally see a Tank Girl incarnation headlining an [adult swim] lineup. Also, who knows? We’re living in a world where Deadpool might be the next big multi-film franchise. Maybe someone will roll the dice on Tank Girl again before we know it.

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Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.

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