Slipstream (1989)

Slipstream (1989)

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Next up are a handful of reviews that I’ve been putting off for some time now. For those who have frequented the blog for a while (and also have sharp memories), you might recall that 3 different movies, all called “Slipstream,” have popped up frequently in my bargain bin movie hunting. Now I am finally going to watch all three of them, and see how they actually stack up. First up is 1989’s “Slipstream,” starring Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton.

“Slipstream” was directed by one Steven Lisberger, who is best known for writing and directing the original “TRON” in 1982.  He doesn’t have a whole lot of credits to his name, but apparently he worked anonymously on screenplays throughout the 1990s and 2000s, primarily because the failure of “Slipstream” tanked his potential career as a director.

The “Slipstream” screenplay was written by Tony Kayden, a television writer who did a few made-for-TV movies as well as a handful of episodes of shows like “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie.” If that doesn’t sound like the ideal fit for a science fiction epic, you are probably right to think that.

The cinematography for “Slipstream” was provided by Frank Tidy, whose credits have included such masterpieces as Sylvester Stallone’s “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” and Steven Seagal’s “Under Seige.” However, he also worked as the director of photography on Ridley Scott’s first feature, 1977’s “The Duellists.”

The score for “Slipstream” (which is fantastic) was composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, and recorded by the London Symphonic Orchestra. Bernstein was a film composer and conductor who racked up hundreds of movie credits beginning in the 1950s, all the way up until his death in 2004. His credits include fantastic films (“Bringing Out The Dead,” “My Left Foot,” “Ghostbusters”), cult classics (“Heavy Metal”), and some of the worst regarded movies in cinema history (“Leonard Part 6,” “Robot Monster”).

slipstream891The special effects team for “Slipstream” involved a significant team of workers who were carried over by producer Gary Kurtz from an earlier collaboration on “The Empire Strikes Back,” including Andrew Kelly (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine,” “Dune”), Phil Knowles (“Alien,” “Space Truckers”), Roger Nichols (“Batman Begins,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), John Packenham (“Krull”), Alan Poole (“Empire of the Sun,” “The NeverEnding Story”), Peter Skehan (“Gladiator,” “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”), Ron Hone (“World War Z,” “Prometheus,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), and Neil Swan (“Alien,” “The Princess Bride”). Joining them were a couple of other special effects guys who have likewise gone on to significant careers: Steve Cullane (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Skyfall,” “Gravity,” “Hudson Hawk”) and Andrew Eio (“Mission: Impossible,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Event Horizon,” “Hackers”).

One of the most impressive aspects of “Slipstream” is the surprisingly deep cast, headlined by Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton, who both turn in memorable performances. The list also includes Ben Kingsley, Robbie Coltrane, F. Murray Abraham, and Bob Peck (in what might be his best role), who mostly mostly serve to fill out small roles throughout the film.

slipstream892One of the co-leads, Kitty Aldridge, has not had any acting credits since 1998, but has published a handful of novels throughout the 2000s since her acting career has ceased.

With such an impressively assembled, successful effects team and cast, you might be curious as to how “Slipstream” flew so far under the radar. Of course, there’s a reason for that. “Slipstream” only released in the UK and Australia (briefly), and the poor reception meant that it never got theatrical distribution in North America. It did wind up with a VHS release, and has since popped up on a ton of DVD compilations since falling into the public domain (which is how I came across it, of course).

The massive failure of “Slipstream” blew back particularly hard on Gary Kurtz, one of the film’s producers and arguably the driving force behind the film. Despite his earlier successes on influential and well-regarded films like “The Dark Crystal,” “American Graffiti,” and the first two “Star Wars” features, this failure basically sunk his career. He has only recently picked up producing again on a regular basis in the 2000s, and is still active at the age of 74.

The story of “Slipstream” follows a mysterious android (Bob Peck) as he is and pursued by both law enforcement (Mark Hamill) and a bounty hunter (Bill Paxton) in a weather-ravaged, post-apocalyptic world. The only means of travel in this world is by air on small, low-altitude planes, due to the catastrophic weather effects that ravage the landscape.

“Slipstream” was filmed throughout Europe, particularly in Turkey and Ireland, giving it a thoroughly impressive backdrop. Particularly, the extensive aerial shots over Ireland are absolutely gorgeous.

Reportedly, the original script for “Slipstream” was far more violent, but was cut significantly before filming. These cuts have been blamed partially for the movie’s general incoherence, though I personally feel that additional length is the last thing that this movie needed.

slipstream897As mentioned previously, “Slipstream” was very poorly regarded in the brief release it received at the time, primarily due to the meandering plot. Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at a 20% rating from both audiences and critics, though it comes from a fairly small sample size. IMDb has the movie at a somewhat higher 4.9, though that is still a long way from positive.

Most of the criticisms I have seen of “Slipstream” cite that it has very slow pacing, and that the plot meanders a bit too much. Some have complained about the effects being low quality, but that’s to be expected from a generally low-budget movie, regardless of the team behind it. Interestingly, it seems that the movie has been better received in retrospect, with people being somewhat fascinated by the casting and surprisingly good performances all around. I certainly agree that the movie is both longer and slower than it should be, but it does have a fair number of redeeming values.

First off, the performances in “Slipstream” are generally pretty good. Hamill manages to portray a chilling, strictly lawful antagonist, which provides a great foil for Bill Paxton’s laid-back, comic outlaw lead. Bob Peck mostly steals the show, however, with a great performance that captures the complexities of an advanced artificial being. His character slowly becomes more relate-able and human as the story goes on, which is pretty intriguing to watch Peck convey.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from the extended absence of Mark Hamill’s character, who vanishes for an excruciating stretch of the middle of the film. I’m curious as to why this was done, because it doesn’t seem like a script improvisation, but rather an intentional design of the story. It does allow for some development, but his absence also makes the film far less interesting to watch for a decent stretch of time.

Of all of the problems with the film, none are quite as glaring as the pacing. This is at least partially to blame on the previously mentioned script cuts before filming, but a certain degree of blame has to rest with the director and editor for not recognizing the issue and finding a way to mend it. This seems like the perfect sort of film to have a director’s cut, but, because the major cuts were made before filming, there isn’t any spare footage to make such a re-cut possible.

Though it is hard to regard this as a true flaw, there are a whole lot of borrowed elements throughout “Slipstream,” that stand out significantly. There are some obvious similarities to “Star Wars” given the number of common contributors, but some of the more obvious parallels are to “3:10 to Yuma” (the plot) and “North by Northwest,” specifically in the opening sequence which depicts a plane/foot chase. Personally, I think the mixture of them all creates something kind of unique and interesting to watch, though I don’t think some of the homages should have been so blatantly done.

slipstream895The finale of the movie features a bizarre fight inside the cockpit of a plane, which is honestly the most exciting part of the film. Unfortunately, it passes a bit too quickly, particularly in comparison to the bloated, slow sequences that clog up most of the film.

M8DSLIP EC004I’m a big fan of the world that is constructed in “Slipstream,” particularly the background details. At one point, there is a cult portrayed that worships the weather, and another portion that presents a secluded, opulent colony trying to maintain their lifestyle and culture despite the apocalyptic surroundings. It mostly happens in the background, but it is fascinating to see how people have come to deal with the world after society has crumbled.

Overall, I liked this film far better than I expected to. It isn’t a high-quality film, and there are plenty of issues with it, but it was still generally enjoyable to watch, especially if you go in not expecting anything. The acting and music is particularly impressive, and if you can bear through the slower parts, it is worth a watch in my opinion.

HorrorHound Weekend Preview

Next week, I’m going to be heading over to Cincinnati to attend the annual HorrorHound Weekend.  I haven’t been to this event before, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. That said, I’m pretty intrigued by the lineups for the panels and screenings.

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As far as the panels go, I am most thrilled about an impressive “Re-Animator” panel that looks to feature Jeffrey Combs, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbot, Dennis Paoli, and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. At this point, I have covered a whole bunch of Stuart Gordon movies that have featured the whole lot, so I will definitely be interested to hear what insights come out of that.

There are a couple of other panels I am looking forward to as well: MST3K founder Joel Hodgson has one all to his lonesome, and another features the core behind “American Mary,” a pretty solid 2012 horror movie that I only recently got around to. There are definitely more than a few high-profile ones that I will skip in favor of the film festival, though (I tried “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Walking Dead,” and I’m not big fans of either).

The movie screenings at HorrorHound are what I am really looking forward to: Fritz the Nite Owl is going to be doing his take on “Re-Animator,” there is a US premiere of a well-received H. R. Giger documentary, and I’ll finally get to check out “Bloodsucking Bastards,” an anti-corporate horror comedy that I’ve had my eye on since the trailer popped up.  I’ll also finally get that second viewing of “The Babadook” that I’ve been meaning to do, but I can just about guarantee that I’ll be passing on the opportunity to catch the “world premiere” of Bill Zebub’s latest. In case you are curious, it is called “Holocaust Cannibal,” and looks to hybridize all of the lesser elements of “Cannibal Holocaust” and the lowest of Nazi exploitation movies. If you think that sounds like it has entertainment potential, I can almost certainly guarantee  that it won’t live up to it. This is Bill Zebub we are talking about, and I sat through “Antfarm Dickhole.”

I’ll be sure to do a write-up after the convention to cover everything I wind up seeing. Honestly, I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the film line-up, as I am not familiar with most of them. There is also a deep lineup of shorts, and I’m sure there will be some gold in there as well.

If you happen to be in the area, I recommend checking out the lineup to see if anything peaks your interest. If any of you readers are going to be there, feel free to get a hold of me on twitter (@Misantropey): I’m planning to be around throughout the weekend, and live-tweeting when I can.

 

Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe

Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe

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Today on the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, we’re going to take a look at the 1990 Jesse Ventura sci-fi movie, “Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe.”

The writer and director of “Abraxas” is one Damian Lee, a B-movie writer, director, and producer who is still working today. His most recent flicks include a handful of smaller films: “A Fighting Man” (2014), “Hit it” (2013), and “A Dark Truth” (2012).

The cinematography on “Abraxas” is credited to three different people, which brings up some questions about the production. The first listed is Curtis Petersen, a veteran camera operator and b-movie cinematographer, who has well over 100 credits to his name (including “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV,” and “Look Who’s Talking”). Also credited are Mark Willis, a now-prolific camera operator working on television series such as “Hannibal,” “Copper,” and “Reign,” and Keith Thomson, another camera operator for whom “Abraxas” was one of his first ever credits. Given that there isn’t much information available about the film’s behind the scenes operations, it is anyone’s guess as to why all three men are credited, but I suspect that there was probably a dismissal at some point.

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“Abraxas” features a handful of cheesy and cheap special effects, but they tend to work pretty well for the purposes of the movie. The special effects team doesn’t have a whole lot of credits between them, but I did notice that they all worked on the 1995 Roddy Piper movie “Jungleground,” which apparently features a lot of the same accessory crew as “Abraxas.” I’ve had that movie sitting in my collection for a good while now, so stay tuned for some coverage of that flick in the near future.

The music on “Abraxas” is really odd, featuring a significant number of strangely placed saxophone solos. The composer of the score was Carlos Lopes, who worked on the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone,” as well as a handful of smaller features over the years.

Apart from Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the wrestler turned actor turned politician, the cast of “Abraxas” notably features Sven Ole-Thorsen as his rival. Thorsen is fantastic ‘heavy’ character actor who has appeared in films like “The Running Man” (also with Ventura), “Twins,” “Gladiator,” and “Red Heat,” among many, many others. Both men are famously good friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose film “Terminator” was a clear inspiration for “Abraxas.”

The rest of the cast on “Abraxas” is primarily filled out with unknowns, with the exception of the then-married couple of James Belushi and Marjorie Bransfield. “Abraxas” proved to be Bransfield’s only significant film acting role, as she hasn’t any credits since the mid-1990s. Belushi, bizarrely, is credited as “Principal Latimer,” the same name of his character in the 1987 movie “The Principal.” Whether his bit role was meant to be the same character is up for debate, but it certainly makes for an interesting little fun fact.

The story of “Abraxas” follows the title character (Ventura), a space cop, as he tracks down his former partner, the ruthless Secundus (Thorsen), who is fostering plans for domination of the universe. The pursuit lands both men on Earth, where Secundus impregnates a woman with a “comater,” which will apparently hold the key to the “anti-life equation” once it reaches maturity. Abraxas is faced with the decision of whether to kill a child, or run the risk of having Secundus’s plans come to fruition.

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Apparently, this is space sex

As far as criticisms of “Abraxas” go, the attempts at comedy in the film merit a bit of shaming. All of the attempted jokes fall flat, and don’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all. I’m not sure what exactly inspired the attempted inclusion of comic relief in the movie, but I think it would have been better off either leaving it out entirely or committing more fully, and perhaps getting a comedy writer to do a pass on the script. When you just go half-way, you run the risk of having awkward, stilted moments in the middle of a serious movie.

Something that “Abraxas” engages in that is a minor pet peeve of mine is confusion over idioms. Almost any time a robot, alien, or person out of time is featured in a movie, it seems to be mandated for the script to attempt at least one joke about how the outsider doesn’t understand linguistic peculiarities. This isn’t inherently awful, but it has certainly been done to death. Also, particularly with aliens and humans displaced in time, there is no reason for them to not be familiar with the concept of idioms. For example, if I am speaking in another language with someone, and they mention a phrase that doesn’t seem to make much sense, one of the first things I will assume is that it is an idiom that I am not familiar with. People don’t naturally react to unfamiliar idioms by getting exasperated, it just doesn’t happen. And why not have the aliens use their own idioms, poorly translated into English? That’s at least a mildly better way to deal with the issue.

“Abraxas,” in true b-movie fashion, features a number of great, cheesy effects. In particular, there are a couple of solid head explosions scattered throughout the film, as Secundus’s favorite method of execution seems to be overloading people’s brains to the point of exploding. There are also some classic animated lightning / electricity effects that are sure to incite some nostalgia for b-movie fans.

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Surprisingly, the central child actor  (the “comater”) is actually pretty solid in this film, which may have a direct correlation to the fact that he has almost no lines. Personally, I would be in favor of this being standard procedure for child actors. In all seriousness, the child is really effectively expressive without using his voice, and actually builds up a little bit of an air of menace by the conclusion of the film, as his powers become more honed.

Something that becomes evident very early on in “Arbraxas” is that the film features far too much internal voice-over, kind of like the awful cut of “Blade Runner” taken to a distant extreme. The monologues aren’t even limited to Jesse Ventura’s lead character: at times, both the villain (Secundus) and the love interest (Sonia) offer brief internal thoughts and narration, which is both lazy storytelling and a really confusing way to shift the audience’s POV.

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Something that I have seen take a bit of criticism about “Abraxas” is the set and production design. While it is visibly cheap without any doubt, I actually thought that the work was pretty impressive, and made a little go a long way. It even sort of made sense in the story for the aliens to be comparatively only somewhat more technologically advanced, so they still use keyboards and simple computers. The intelligent armbands are a little bit of a leap, but how different could they possibly be from Siri?

If there is anything that I really dislike about “Abraxas,” it is the romantic subplot. Jesse Ventura just doesn’t seem up for the challenge of an emotional role, and he seems awkward and uncomfortable whenever that is what is required of his character. I thought that the story would actually have been more interesting if his mercy had come from a developing compassion for life in general rather than because of a specific attraction for one woman. It seems that would have made him a better foil for Secundus, and kept things from getting too bogged down emotionally.

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Overall, “Abraxas” is definitely a fun good-bad movie worth giving a shot. It quite in an elite class of good-bad, but the film is entertaining enough to hold your attention, while also being plenty awful on a number of levels.

Hercules in New York

Hercules in New York

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Today’s feature is a low-budget 1969 comedy by the name of “Hercules in New York”: a film most famous for featuring the first on-screen role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Hercules in New York” was the last film written by Aubrey Wisberg, whose career featured included 1950s and 1960s science fiction films, as well as a handful or propaganda productions during World War II. Unsurprisingly, this film definitely seems misplaced in time. Even for 1969, the story and comedic style feels significantly dated. For contrast, “Hercules in New York” also saw the first directing job for Arthur Allan Seidelman, who has now had a significant career directing television movies and series. The mix of a wet-behind-the-ears director and an outdated, behind-the-times writer proved to be a bit of a perfect storm of awfulness for “Hercules in New York.”

hercules3Adding to the mix of inexperience and incompetence on the “Hercules in New York” crew was a cinematographer with no previous credits, and a musical composer with no listed credits before or since the movie. It honestly feels like the entire crew was pulled out of a hat, which I’m sure was done in an effort to keep the costs far below the radar.

The story of “Hercules in New York” follows the angsty demigod as he decides to explore the modern world, to the intense displeasure of his father, Zeus. He quickly becomes unwittingly involved in mafioso-run sports gambling in New York City, and manages to make headlines for his feats of strength. Enraged with his meddling, Zeus decides to punish Hercules, which leads to further shenanigans in the mortal world.

Worried about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unwieldy last name, the producers on “Hercules in New York” decided to credit him as “Arnold Strong, ‘Mr. Universe.'” The name “Arnold Strong” was chosen as a sort of gag, playing off of his co-star’s name “Arnold Stang.” Mr. Universe was used, of course, because that was the title that Arnold was most known for at the time, as he won the famous bodybuilding competition at the age of 20 (just 2 years prior to “Hercules in New York”). His next film role wouldn’t be for another 4 years, when he essentially played an extra in the fantastic Robert Altman movie, “The Long Goodbye.”

hercules4One of the most infamous and memorable aspects of “Hercules in New York is the dubbing that was done early versions of the feature. Because of Arnold’s thick accent, it was decided that his lines should be dubbed over, which makes for entertaining watching in retrospect. Even in the versions with Arnold’s audio track re-inserted, you can hear the dubbed voice during a closing sequence where Hercules speaks through a radio to Arnold Stang’s character. It is honestly a toss-up as to which audio track is more entertaining: Arnold’s natural voice with the worst acting performance of his career, or the bizarre voice-over that doesn’t fit Arnold’s body in the slightest.

Some years ago, the rights for “Hercules in New York” were auctioned off on e-bay, accruing bids for just over half a million dollars by the auction’s end. Given poor reception and general infamy of the flick, it is possible that the winner significantly overpaid for the product. The movie currently holds a well-deserved 17% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 29% audience score.

The character of Hercules has a long cinematic tradition: he has featured in big budget flicks, animated movies, cheap Italian films, and epic television series. Apart from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the character has been portrayed over the years by notables such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Sorbo, Ryan Gosling, Sergio Ciani, and Kirk Morris, among many, many others.

I haven’t been able to find budget information for “Hercules in New York,” but you have to assume that this was an incredibly cheap production just judging from the film quality. It is hard to say if it made any money, just because there isn’t exactly a wealth of information out there about it. The rights to the film have changed hands a few times over the years, and it is currently distributed by Trimark. However, I doubt that it makes any significant money on home video sales.

hercules2Strangely, I actually think that there is some promise in the concept for “Hercules in New York.” The Greek gods are constantly meddling in the mortal world in mythology, so why not have a fish out of water tale where a god comes down to do it again in the modern world? Of course, this film does just about everything wrong, but I think that this could have been a serviceable enough film in more capable hands at every level. Essentially, this is not a film that was damned from conception.

The biggest issue for “Hercules in New York” is its use of outdated (even for 1969) humor. The jokes are all incredibly weak and infantile, and a lot of the humor seems like it is supposed to come from Arnold Stang’s character, whose comic relief style was suited better for the comedy world prior to the JFK assassination. All of the comic portrayals in the film are overly-expressive, frenetic, and basically cartoonish: a style that can go wrong all too easily, and certainly does so here.

One other serious problem with “Hercules in New York” is that the hero, Hercules, is an absolute asshat throughout the movie. A few characters acknowledge this fact, but inexplicably forgive him and begin to like him for reasons that are never made clear on screen (which is a whole different issue with the writing in the film). The audience is clearly supposed to sympathize with the demigod, but I couldn’t help but identify with the put-out and exasperated Zeus, who has clearly had it with Hercules’s constant shit.

I would be remiss to not mention the amazingly awful Central Park bear fight in this film. The sequence almost rivals the bear fight from the Lou Ferrigno’s “Hercules” film, though I shockingly think that that one (a scene where a bear is thrown into space, mind you) is more believable that Arnold’s bear wrestling in this flick. Take a look for yourself:

At one point in the film, Mercury decides to intervene in the plot to help Hercules out of a bind. He does this by bafflingly summoning Samson and Atlas out of absolutely nowhere, exactly where they need to be to help Hercules. This might have been an interesting side plot (Mercury defying Zeus to help Hercules) if it had been developed earlier, but as it exists in the film, it feels like an improvised element used to patch a plot hole. It comes completely unprecedented and out of left field, and winds up being just another example of the mass ineptitude behind this movie.

All of the acting is this movie is honestly beyond awful. From the leads to the accessory players to the extras: not one person turns in a decent performance. At that point, you have to assume that the problem is not with the actors, but with the direction and the script: because honestly, what are the odds that you cast an entire production’s worth of duds? This isn’t “The Producers” as far as I know.

“Hercules in New York” is clearly trying to be a fish out of water comedy, but a good deal of it doesn’t make sense. Hercules should be treated as a man out of his own time, not like a creature from another planet. Is the audience supposed to believe that the Greek gods do not understand tact or basic social graces? Sure they live remotely, but they do have a sort of society on Olympus. There is the potential for this movie to be entertaining, but the writing never quite takes it in the right direction (at least not for long).

hercules1Overall, I think “Hercules in New York” sits right on the boundary between being an entertainingly awful movie and a dull, nearly-unwatchable one. If you ask me, it does land on the right side of that line, but only barely.  I can recommend this for bad movie lovers for the sake of a few select highlights, and because of just how awful Arnold is in this early role. However, it is a pretty weak recommendation: there are definitely more worthwhile bad movies to spend your time on.

YouTube Round-Up

Howdy there, loyal readers! This weekend wound up being a real doozy, so I don’t have a new review ready for today. Never fear though, because there is some good stuff coming up later this week, particularly as I start delving into my accumulated archive of bargain bin acquisitions.

In the meantime, I decided to round up a lovely bunch of full movies that are currently available, totally free, on the wide world of the internet. Enjoy!

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Willard

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I have had the damnedest time finding a physical copy of this 1971 classic, but luckily it has been hanging around on YouTube unimpeded for a while (though it is obviously a VHS rip). I particularly like “Willard” because of the way it blends a revenge story with a monster movie. The hybridization worked splendidly, and has been mimicked many times since. You also can’t help but identify with Willard, even as he starts going over the edge with his rat-fueled rampage. It is definitely worth a watch, particularly as it seems to be fading from the public consciousness. Here’s hoping it gets a blu-ray treatment at some point.

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Martin
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“Martin” is a clever 1977 George Romero vampire movie that has managed to slip through the cracks of history, and is one that the writer/director highly regards as one of his finest films to this day. On debut, it wound up being overshadowed by “Assault on Precinct 13” at Cannes, and never managed to get much off the ground. I recently read about the film in Shock Value by Jason Zinoman, and the described counter-supernatural style really stuck out to me. The question of whether Martin is actually a vampire follows throughout the movie, and Romero uses this to poke at the over-tired tropes of vampire movies. It sounds like the sort of film that would work well today, so it may just have been long ahead of its time. What luck that this forgotten gem is hanging around in the annals of YouTube!

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A Bucket of Blood
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I absolutely love “A Bucket of Blood,” and think that it might just be Roger Corman’s true masterpiece. This film has been popping into my head quite a bit recently, particularly while re-watching Martin Scorcese’s “After Hours” and the modern cult classic “Murder Party.” Both of these films feature over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek assaults on the contemporary art world, something that has never been done better than in “A Bucket of Blood.” The story follows an awkward and incompetent aspiring artist who is shunned by his local arts community. Through a bizarre series of accidents, he winds up becoming a hit artist after plastering a mold over his neighbor’s cat, which he accidentally killed out of frustration. Loving the attention, he decides to replicate the success by going on killing spree, an immortalizing his victims by coating them with plaster. The movie horrifying, hilarious, and has one of the most relate-able and sympathetic serial killers that I have ever seen in a film. If you haven’t seen this, it gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me.

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Walking Tall
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Nothing gives me quite as much joy as seeing Joe Don Baker show up in movies where I am not expecting to see him. I covered a few of his movies back in the IMDb Bottom 100, but I still hold that he is the best part about all of those awful movies. And, honestly, I kind of like “Mitchell.” I’m planning to cover Joe Don Baker in at least one upcoming review, but I think “Walking Tall” deserves a special little mention. Not only is this the Joe Don Baker-iest of all the Joe Don Baker movies, but like “Willard,” it has really fallen out of the public consciousness. I have likewise had no luck finding a physical copy of this movie, apart from the recent remake starring Dwayne Johnson. However, that flick definitely lacks the odd charm and grittiness of the original flick. I hope this gets a re-release of some sort in the near future, but for now, you can catch Joe Don Baker whacking people with a slab of wood to your heart’s content on YouTube.

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Hercules

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There are an awful lot of Hercules movies out there. In fact, I’m going to be spotlighting one of the lesser ones later this week. However, I don’t think any of them are as entertainingly bizarre as this 1983 Italian film by Luigi Cozzi. And, of course, it stars the Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno.  If you thought that either of the 2014 Hercules flicks were disappointing, then this one is sure to never let your hopes get up again. The bear fight / tossing sequence has become particularly infamous, but there are a whole lot more things to enjoy in this film than just that brief clip. This one is almost certainly worth your time, if you are up for wasting an hour and change on YouTube. It is an experience. And, if you are up for more, there’s even a sequel out there!

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: The Rest of Stuart Gordon

I have covered just about the entire directorial career of Stuart Gordon over these past two weeks as part of the Stuart Gordon Spotlight, and then some. In this entry, I wanted to take a look at a few of his deeper cuts, that have thankfully been preserved on YouTube. None of these quite merited a post to themselves, but I didn’t want to neglect at least mentioning them.

As a side note, I highly recommend checking out Stuart Gordon’s commentaries over on Joe Dante’s “Trailers From Hell.”

Bleacher Bums (1979)

This was a television movie made for a local Chicago station about some die-hard Chicago Cubs fans during the 1977 season. I haven’t watched through the whole thing, but it does mark the first official credit for Stuart Gordon behind the camera. It even got a remake in 2001, on which Gordon got a producing credit.

Kid Safe: The Video (1988)

This is essentially a PSA aimed at children, intended to inform them of how to deal with emergency situations. I don’t know how or why Stuart Gordon did this, but judging from the YouTube comments and the IMDb rating, a lot of people have fond memories of this VHS from their childhood. And, admittedly, it is pretty charming and cute at times.

Fear Itself: Eater (2008)

“Fear Itself” is essentially a more recent version of “Masters of Horror”: it spotlights various horror directors with hour-long, short-form films. Stuart Gordon contributed an episode titled “Eater,” about a Cajun cannibal. It does star Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men,” as well as a couple of previous Stuart Gordon actors in Russell Hornsby (“Stuck”) and the now-deceased Stephen Lee (“Dolls,” “The Pit and The Pendulum”).

Progeny (1998)

Much like “The Dentist,” “Progeny” is directed by longtime Stuart Gordon producing collaborator Brian Yuzna. Gordon was given a story credit on the feature, but it is unclear exactly how much input he had on the final screenplay.

Deathbed (2002)

“Deathbed,” not to be confused with “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats,” was a low-budget movie produced by Stuart Gordon in 2002. Apart from having his name attached, he did not write or direct this film, taking a rare back seat role.

Body Snatchers (1993)

Stuart Gordon shares screenwriting credit with longtime writing partner Dennis Paoli and Nicholas St. John on the second of three remakes of the 1956 classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” this time called simply “Body Snatchers.”

Honey, I Shrunk The Kids

Honey, I Blew Up The Kids

Yes, really. Stuart Gordon dreamed up this family classic in cooperation with horror writer Ed Naha (“Dolls”) and his long time producer, Brian Yuzna. He even directed an episode of the short-lived TV series, and acted as executive producer on the sequel “Honey, I Blew Up The Kid.” At least both films are far better than “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” I can certainly give them that.

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This is the face of a man who brought the world a treasured family film franchise

Thus concludes the two-week spotlight on Stuart Gordon here at Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! If you want to check out all of the previous reviews in this marathon of the macabre, you can check them all out under “Stuart Gordon Spotlight” in the “Themed Reviews” tab on the top toolbar.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Daughter of Darkness”

Daughter of Darkness
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Welcome back to the final day of my two week spotlight of the works of Stuart Gordon here at the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! I’ll be wrapping things up with one of Gordon’s least recognized works, 1990’s “Daughter of Darkness.”

“Daughter of Darkness” was written by Andrew Laskos, who was a frequent writer of television series and movies in the 1980s and 1990s. His credits include a handful of episodes of “Remington Steele,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “Hotel.”

The cinematography on “Daughter of Darkness” was done by Iván Márk, a man from Budapest who never much broke out of domestic Hungarian films. Still, he accrued nearly 50 cinematography credits by 1990, after which time he has primarily acted as a producer on short films.

Providing the music on “Daughter of Darkness” is Colin Towns, who did extensive work on television music, but also returned to work with Stuart Gordon again for “Space Truckers” in 1996.

Two of the effects crew on “Daughter of Darkness” have gone on to have long careers in film. Craig Reardon has done make-up work on films and television series such as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Volcano,” “Wild Wild West,” “We Were Soldiers,” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful” in the years since “Daughter of Darkness,” and  Gyula Krasnyanszky has done pyrotechnics work on miscellaneous films like “47 Ronin,” “World War Z,” “Season of the Witch,” “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” and the 2011 remake of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

The cast of “Daughter of Darkness” is highlighted by the presence of Anthony Perkins, who famously played Norman Bates in “Psycho.” “Daughter of Darkness” would be one of his last film performances, as he died just two years later in 1992. The rest of the cast of “Daughter of Darkness” includes Jack Coleman, who has worked extensively on television (“Heroes,” “The Office,” “Dynasty”), and Mia Sara, who is best known as Sloane from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

daughterdarkness2“Daughter of Darkness” is notably unrelated to 1971’s “Daughters of Darkness,” a Belgian vampire movie that has arguably achieved cult status. However, I wouldn’t doubt that the name was inspired by that film, even if the plot elements are entirely original.

The story of “Daughter of Darkness” centers around a young woman who is attempting to locate her long lost father after the death of her mother, a quest that leads her to a small Romanian town that proves to be full of secrets. She eventually discovers that her father is the head of a small clan of vampires, who are fascinated at the fact that a vampire/human hybrid has proved viable, and soon works the group up into an existential frenzy.

One interesting detail about the vampires in “Daughter of Darkness” is their lack of fangs. Most other traditional vampire traits are retained, but instead of fangs, the vampires have tongues that operate not unlike lampreys. I can’t say that I have ever seen that style used before, but it is certainly unsettling.

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Not a sexy vampire, but arguably a practical one

“Daughter of Darkness” is a made for television movie, so it didn’t exactly draw a lot of attention to itself. It originally aired on CBS in January of 1990, so it at least got a run on a major network, which isn’t something you see so much nowadays. It currently hold a 33% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and an IMDb rating of 5.2: neither of which are particularly impressive.

daughterdarkness4Personally, I felt like “Daughter of Darkness” was more or less a pretty run-of-the-mill vampire movie. There are a few interesting ideas, like the lamprey tongues, the vampiric class conflicts, and the issues of hybridization within the vampire community, but the end result isn’t particularly outstanding. I did think that Perkins and Sara did pretty good work in their roles, and elevated the film from being totally forgettable, but it just lacked a certain charm and flair to it. There isn’t anything particularly bad about this movie, but it never quite makes itself stand out. Also, the fact that it was made from TV clearly limited Stuart Gordon, who is no stranger to screen gore. I can’t really recommend this movie, as it just isn’t very exciting. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t going to light a fire in anyone either. I’d probably recommend it over any other made for TV vampire schlock that is out there, though. Just be aware that this is a movie that leans a lot more towards the Hammer Films tradition that the modern, sexy vampire craze.

In case you do want to give it a go, the film is currently available on YouTube.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Pit and The Pendulum”

The Pit and The Pendulum

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Welcome back! We are at the tail end of the Stuart Gordon Spotlight here at Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, taking a look at 1991’s Edgar Allan Poe inspired “The Pit and The Pendulum.”

“The Pit and The Pendulum” marks yet another collaboration between Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, a combination that proved successful over the years. Just as with “Dagon,” Gordon specifically takes on the directorial role, leaving all of the writing work to Paoli (at least in the credits).

This adaptation of Poe’s acclaimed short story is by all accounts a heavily altered version of “Pit and the Pendulum,” and even includes a highly modified version of another Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” thrown into the middle. Outside of the setting and the eponymous device, this version of the tale is virtually unrecognizable from the original incarnation. In that way, it is somewhat similar to “The Black Cat,” another Poe adaptation Gordon would take on years later. Both concern themselves very little with the source material, which isn’t inherently a bad thing in my opinion. However, I think both films attempt to add in too much extra content, which is something I will get into later.

“The Pit and The Pendulum” had a famous film adaptation done in 1961 starring none other than Vincent Price, and was notably directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman. In the years since Gordon’s 1991 take on the story, another adaptation was created in 2009 by yet another B-movie notable: David DeCoteau. However, his version was significantly less well-received, holding an astounding 2.9 rating on IMDb at the time of this writing.

The cinematography on the movie was contributed by Adolfo Bartoli, who did a significant amount of work for Full Moon Features throughout the 1990s. His credits include a handful of “Puppet Master” sequels, as well as “Demonic Toys” and “Prehysteria.”

The music on “The Pit and The Pendulum” was unsurprisingly provided by Richard Band, brother of Full Moon Features head Charles Band, who produced the film. Richard Band has contributed music to two Stuart Gordon features since “The Pit and The Pendulum”: “Castle Freak” and “Dreams in the Witch House.”

The set and production design of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was provided by Giovanni Natalucci, who worked on a number of previous Stuart Gordon features like “Robot Jox,” “Dolls,” and “From Beyond.” Personally, given the low budget, I think a splendid job was done creating a believable enough set and appearance for the Spanish Inquisition.

The cast features a score of recognizable faces for Stuart Gordon fans and general film buffs alike, including Lance Henriksen (“Aliens”), Jeffrey Combs (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” nearly everything by Stuart Gordon), Oliver Reed (“Gladiator,” “Tommy”), Jonathan Fuller (“Castle Freak”), Stephen Lee (“Dolls”), and Mark Margolis (“Breaking Bad”).

pit5 pit6The story of “The Pit and The Pendulum” follows a young couple in Toledo, Spain during the heat of the Spanish Inquisition. They wind up on the wrong side of Torquemada after an incident in which they attempt to save a young boy from being flogged. From that point, the two try to survive a variety of tortures while Torquemada faces challenges to his reign of terror, both from internal and external sources.

This version of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was apparently the result of the second attempt by Stuart Gordon to adapt the work onto the screen. Apparently, years earlier, Gordon intended to make a movie from the story, but with Billy Dee Williams and Peter O’Toole in key roles. This reminded me a little bit of how “Dagon,” which was initially set to star Jeffrey Combs, got put on the back-burner in favor of “From Beyond,” and wound up staying there for over a decade (meriting a recasting).

This adaptation certainly takes a number of liberties with the story of “The Pit and The Pendulum,” but one of the most interesting inclusions was a modified version of the sword of Damocles, an ancient Italian anecdote about the heavy responsibility of leadership, told via the image of a great sword held by a hair above a throne. I thought this worked well here, particularly given the similarities of the images of the hanging sword and the pendulum blade. However, I wish the sword had been used more cleverly and effectively in the story, though it does play in as a plot device.

“The Pit and The Pendulum” was released straight to video by Full Moon Features, meaning it never had the opportunity to make money back in theaters. The budget was estimated at a low $2 million, so it probably did well enough to meet production expectations. Given the method of distribution, the film didn’t get a lot of attention. Nevertheless, it currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.2, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% (critic) and 41% (audience). However, I found that those low numbers were a bit deceiving given: of the 9 critic reviews counted, at least one of the ‘rotten’ reviews admitted that the movie wasn’t bad, but was just underwhelming for Stuart Gordon. I agree that this isn’t great for Stuart Gordon, but on its own, it isn’t an awful horror movie. I’d say it justifies the middling score it has accrued on IMDb, but not the significantly lower metrics from Rotten Tomatoes.

When it comes to positives about “The Pit and The Pendulum,” I have to start with pointing out the performances. Lance Henriksen always plays a great B-movie bag guy, and his Torquemada is no exception. Jonathan Fuller is also pretty solid as the lead in the story, particularly in a few moments where he laughs off torture attempts to throw off his adversaries. Jeffrey Combs, as always, is fantastic in his minimal background role, and just about steals the show in a couple of moments. That said, in spite of the good performances, I definitely had some issues with this movie.

pit3Something about the opening of the film confused me out of the gate: the movie starts with Torquemada ordering the flogging of a long-deceased corpse. It almost plays as physical comedy, watching a dried corpse a la “The Crypt Keeper” being flogged into pieces. I have to assume this was intentional on the part of Paoli, but I don’t understand how this bit of absurdity plays in with the rest of the film tonally.

pit4I don’t think anything about this film took me aback as much as the inexplicable inclusion of actual witches, who are shown to be capable of telepathy. I assumed that the inquisitors were wrongfully accusing people of witchcraft, not persecuting an actual subset of witches within the Spanish population. I’m sure there were some Pagans and such in the area in real life, but even real Pagans aren’t actually magic, as the witches are portrayed in this film. I just can’t wrap my head around the logic of their inclusion, outside of providing a handful of minor plot devices to move the story along. It just seemed so astoundingly unnecessary to me: like the old saying goes, “when you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.” Why on Earth are the people accused of witchcraft in this movie actually witches? It makes more sense for the story that Torquemada is just randomly persecuting people on the slightest whim. Does the fact that these accused witches are actually magic mean that the inane selection process used by Torquemada’s men actually works? I mean, come on. That’s not only outlandish, but it is counter to the entire story.

Something else that bothered me about the story (in relation to the inclusion of actual witches in it)is what the ultimate message of it was. It obviously takes a strong stance against Torquemada’s religious violence in the Inquisition, but it is unclear why that is. Maria could be representative of the purer, better form of Christianity, which initially seemed to be the case, but then she developed witchcraft-based telepathy. What are we supposed to make of that? Is witchcraft/paganism the right way to go, as they were wrongfully persecuted by the Christians? Are the Catholics on the right track, as the Vatican attempts to shut Torquemada down? The only thing that is clear at the conclusion is that Torquemada is bad, and everything else is left muddied.

Worse yet, one of the great and defining strengths of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was its reality-based sense of terror and dread. This adaptation, with its inclusion of magic, telepathy, witches, etc., managed to turn what should be something realistically suspenseful into a tale that borders on being fantasy-based and generic.

Personally, I think that this story would have worked better in a shorter form, similar to the hour-long format of “Masters of Horror.” Paoli clearly struggled to flesh the story out enough for a feature: he wound up making additions that weakened the film, and ultimately inflated the movie just enough to throw the pacing off and void the suspense. To be fair, though, Paoli was tasked with making a lot out of very little, as the short story source material isn’t exactly rife with plot details. For what he had to work with, he did manage to build a narrative around a very narrow tale.

pit1Overall, “The Pit and The Pendulum” is entertaining despite its lack of focus and general bizarreness. The performances are all pretty great, and I liked the production design for sure. I feel like the script tried to do a little too much, and the third act just didn’t play as strongly as it should have. The sleep spell (and all of the witchcraft) was beyond out of place here, and Torquemada’s hallucinatory (?) confession scene just didn’t feel satisfying enough. This would have been a more interesting and compelling story without the supernatural elements in it, given that it is never well developed and is just completely unnecessary (or worse, antithetical) to the story.

I don’t recommend going out of your way for it, but it is a good enough watch for horror fans. If you happen to stumble across it, there is plenty here to make it worth your time in entertainment. Otherwise, this isn’t a must-find essential entry in Stuart Gordon’s filmography.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Stuck”

Stuck

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Welcome back to the two-week spotlight on director Stuart Gordon! Next up is 2007’s “Stuck,” a strange thriller pulled straight from tabloid headlines.

“Stuck” was co-written by Stuart Gordon and a fellow named John Strysik, who previously worked on 2002’s “Deathbed,” which Gordon produced. The story is loosely based on a incident that occurred in 2001, in which a woman hit a homeless man with her car, and then hit him in her garage, assuming he was dead. The screenplay changes a number of details significantly, but the general premise is based on the outlandish tale, which received a good deal of press coverage at the time.

The cinematography on “Stuck” was provided by Denis Maloney, who rejoined Stuart Gordon after working together on “Edmond” a couple of years beforehand. The music for “Stuck” is also provided by a returning crew member from “Edmond:” Bobby Johnston, who also worked on Stuart Gordon’s “King of the Ants” some years earlier.

The cast of “Stuck” includes some notable faces from Academy Award Best Picture winners, notably Mena Suvari of “American Beauty” and Stephen Rea of “The Crying Game.” The accessory cast includes Lionel Mark Smith (who also appears in Gordon’s “Edmond” and “King of the Ants”), Russell Hornsby of “Grimm,” and Stuart Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, who once again plays a curt medical professional (as she did in “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”).

stuck5 stuck1The reception of “Stuck” was pretty mediocre: it has a 72% critic score and a 55% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 6.5 rating on IMDb. However, the box office totals on the film were particularly awful: it grossed less than 100,000 dollars in a brief theatrical run on a estimated budget of $5 million, making it a financial failure.

stuck2Personally, I feel like “Stuck” is a pretty solid low-budget thriller, and builds suspense well throughout the film. I didn’t think there were any glaring flaws, but there also isn’t much about the film that makes it stand out from a crowd.

“Stuck” does feature some really good performances, particularly from Rea and Suvari. However, just like the rest of the film, they don’t really leave a lasting impression. I also found that the characters didn’t seems very realistic, which is odd given the source material is (theoretically) reality. I will say that you can’t help but empathize with Rea’s character, and that Suvari’s character becomes increasingly despicable as the story goes on, to the point that she is damn near demonic by the end of the film.

stuck6“Stuck” still has a little bit of Stuart Gordon’s trademark style despite the shift in genre, with some cringing gore moments (notably a sequence where a dog chews on someone’s exposed bone) and a little bit of dark comedy interspersed throughout. Oddly, though, judging by the trailer it was marketed as a straight comedy, which is not even close to accurate, and almost certainly blindsided any audiences going in based on that summary and hook. The trailer almost feels like a parody cut of out-of-context moments from the film, and is surreal to see after watching the actual movie. Here is another look at that:

Overall, I appreciate that “Stuck” is yet another attempt by Stuart Gordon to step outside of his usual genre boundaries. I found it to be a little bit better than “Edmond,” which takes a similar tone and atmosphere, and it is certainly leagues better than the train-wreck that is “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” It certainly doesn’t belong in the top tier of Gordon’s works as far as entertainment value goes, but it is also more of a clear-cut thriller than most of his other works. I enjoyed it, particularly for its small budget, and think that the criticisms of it are a bit harsher than is merited. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a pretty solid watch with some good performances.

 

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit

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Welcome back to Misan[tope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on Stuart Gordon! Today, I’ll be highlighting the children’s film “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”

“The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” united one of the most acclaimed horror directors, Stuart Gordon, with one of the undisputed masters of science fiction writing in history: Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, their collaboration was not to be a science fiction horror classic, but a family-friendly adaptation of a short story about a white suit.

“The Magic White Suit” by Ray Bradbury was published in 1958 in the Saturday Evening Post, and was eventually retitled and popularized as “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” Prior to the film, it was adapted by Ray Bradbury himself as both a traditional stage play and a musical, both of which had influence on the film version.

Ray Bradbury himself wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own work, marking another rare instance in which Stuart Gordon directed a film with no direct influence on the writing.

The cinematography on “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” was provided once again by long-time Stuart Gordon collaborator Mac Ahlberg, his second-to-last work with Gordon before his death in 2012.

The story of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” follows five down-on-their-luck men who happen to share the same suit measurements. They are ultimately assembled together for the purpose of buying an impeccable white suit, which they split the cost of and share. The rest of the film follows their developing friendship around the suit, as well as the way the suit affects their lives positively.

icecream3The cast of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” is actually pretty impressive, boasting veterans like Joe Mantegna (who worked again with Gordon on “Edmond”) and Edward James Olmos. Clifton Collins Jr. reunited with Stuart Gordon after appearing in “Fortress,” and joins Esai Morales and Gregory Sierra to round out the central cast. The accessory cast includes cameos by comedy legend Sid Caesar and Howard Morris, as well as character actor Mike Moroff as a heavy.

icecream6Pedro Gonzales Gonzales also makes a quick cameo as a bitter landlord during the film’s first act. Apart from being a prolific actor, is also Clifton Collins Jr.’s grandfather. Collins used to use the name of “Gonzales Gonzales” in his honor. In another bit of trivia, Joe Mantegna starred in one of the stage adaptations of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” prior to the making of the film.

Despite having a Ray Bradbury writing credit and an impressive cast, “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” wound up getting buried, only receiving a direct-to-video release and garnering very little attention. That said, it currently holds an 80% critics score and a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and has a 6.6 rating on IMDb.

Personally, I think that this movie is absolutely wretched. First off, there is a pretty significant change to the original story’s ending. Normally, I don’t much mind changes to a story in an adaptation. However, in this case, the ending alteration completely changes the meaning of the story. In the original, it is revealed that the central character doesn’t need the suit to succeed, but just lacked the confidence that the suit gave him. It is an uplifting sort of message that dispels the idea that the suit was somehow supernatural, but that it revealed something positive within the men who wore it. In the movie, however, this key revelation is skipped. Instead, the lesson is changed to be about friendship, and how the suit brought the men together. Honestly, you can tell that this wasn’t the intended ending: instead of dismissing their obsessive materialism, the story endorses it, and loses some of its charm along the way.

Perhaps most egregious of the film’s flaws is the fact that it relies heavily on stereotypes to try to drudge up humor. Outside of the racial caricatures, the only other attempts at humor come in the form of loud noises and cartoonish, flailing physical comedy, which gets to be a pretty tired schtick after a while.

icecream2Worse yet, none of the characters manage to develop meaningfully, or even have any characterization at all outside of, at best, one trait. One of them is dirty, one of them is smart, one of them can sing: they might as well be cartoon dwarfs for all of their depth.

A couple of things that I will commend about the film are the theme song, which is alarmingly catchy, and the opening title animation, which is done interestingly colorful with sand art. There are also a few moments throughout the film where street art is integrated into the story, which is also pretty cool to see.

icecream5Probably the thing that bothered me the most about this film was the unfortunate squandering of some real acting talent. Olmos spends most of the film frenetically bouncing around, while Mantegna and the others basically function as “The Three Stooges,” decades displaced in time and using long-expired humor.

icecream4Overall, I just could not stand this film. I am generally not a big fan of family and children’s films, primarily because they tend to debase to the audience. There is a way to do family fare without descending into content that amounts to solely loud noises and flailing arms, and this film does not rise to that challenge. It basically represents everything that is wrong with most family comedies, with an extra side of unappealing racial stereotyping. I mean really: would it have been too difficult to portray Latino characters as something more dignified than live-action cartoons? Or hell, why not actually cast a full cast of Latinos for the movie (looking at you, Italian-American Joe Mantegna)?

There is absolutely no reason to seek out this movie. There isn’t any genuine entertainment value to it outside of Sid Caesar’s quick cameo, and even that isn’t really impressive. I will say that Stuart Gordon deserves some props for trying something outside of his usual film fare, but this was an experiment that just didn’t go quite right. As for Ray Bradbury’s writing, I don’t know what the hell happened here, but this film is absolutely awful.