Tag Archives: Dick Miller

Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers

Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers. Fuck yeah. What a blast. I often refer to Dante as ‘The Toymaker’, as each and every one of his films (save for one political satire that only I saw anyways) has fantastical animatronic effects, plenty of creatures and no shortage of whimsy. The guy lives to make genre bliss, and you can always count on monsters, whacked out sci-fi or Tim Burton esque horror elements in his work. Here, it’s a bunch of action figures implanted with AI chips that make them fast, sentient, highly trained and very dangerous. The main story arc is something we’ve seen a zillion times: nerdy kid (Gregory Smith) looks for a way to win over girl of his dreams (Kirsten Dunst) and climb out of the beta pit. His cranky father (Kevin “lemme see that chainsaw for a second” Dunn, priceless here) owns a toy store, when he’s not terrorizing his insufferable neighbour (the late Phil Hartman) with power tools. Simultaneously, two super geeks (Jay Mohr and David Cross) over at a giant toy conglomerate ‘accidentally’ put military grade computer chips into two separate toy prototype lines which are, naturally, sent on over to small town suburbia, specifically Dunn’s store. This is all while the company’s arrogant CEO (Denis Leary) is too busy strutting around in a huff to watch his guys more closely. It’s a familiar series of events, until the toys come to life and start wreaking havoc, which is where the innovation really kicks in. The main threat is a deranged, pint sized band of commandos led by Chip Hazard (I can picture Tommy Lee Jones in the recording studio barking out lines in his pyjamas), who literally just want to blow shit up and cause widespread chaos. The voice talent they’ve amassed here is staggering, with the talents of old school tough guys Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Clint Walker, Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy as Hazard’s gonzo unit. A much more sane band of mythical creatures also shows up, led by dog/elf thing Archer (Frank Langhella) as well as an eyeball on a stick (Jim Cummings) and a dopey Frankenstein hybrid (Michael McKean). They’re more peaceful, but immediately become the main target of Chip and Co., which causes enough of a skirmish to level city blocks. The real mad genius shows up when a group of pseudo Barbie dolls (the ‘Cindy Doll’) are reanimated by Chip’s team and start causing homicidal shenanigans, bald giggling lunatic chicks given the unsettling valley girl vocal talents of Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar, both providing auditory nightmare fuel with their work. Roger Ebert thought this was too mean and violent to be a family film, and fair enough, but I really view it as a noisy, nihilistic black comedy that just happens to hide in the structure of a kids film. It’s no walk in the park, Chip’s boys see to it that it gets as shocking and messed up as one can without pushing that PG-13 rating, and that’s where the fun comes from. The special effects are really where it shines though, as they should in any film about a multitude of toys that come alive. The only thing missing is a cameo from The Indian In The Cupboard to lodge a Tomahawk in Tommy’s head and even the odds for Archer’s team. Perhaps in the sequel.

-Nate Hill

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Joe Dante’s Gremlins

I’d forgotten that Joe Dante’s Gremlins balances creature feature, slapstick comedy, charming holiday movie and outright horror flick so expertly, but it’s a delicious mix that makes for one of the most timeless fantasy films out there. Director Dante is an expert on all things 80’, gooey and larger than life, this being his flagship film of sorts, the one gemstone in a career full of mischievous monsters and supernatural moonshines. Gremlins is an ‘inmates running the asylum’ formula, distilled into the simple premise of little renegade monsters loose about a small town during Christmas. After a wacky inventor (Hoyt Axton, like John Goodman by way of John Candy) buys an adorable Furby looking thing from the back end of Chinatown, things get nuts when he gives it to his son (Zach Galligan). The rules are don’t get the little tyke wet or feed him after midnight, which of course are promptly disobeyed, causing a full on invasion of little green scaly caffeinated crackhead monsters. It’s funny because as playful and charming as most of the film’s vibe is, these creatures are actually straight up down to kill people and cause maximum destruction, a violent atmosphere that hilariously clashes with the benign, Fisher Price motifs also on display. The special effects are gloriously 80’s, tactile and practical to their bones, every grisly gremlin death a symphony of slime and projectile ooze to be savoured, if that’s your thing. The Yuletide setting is perfect for such mayhem, the increasingly dastardly antics of these little fuckers acting as a sly metaphor for the feverish, stressful hoops and hangups we all deal with over the Christmas season, whether it be bustling through a crowded mall last minute or shredding a midget goblin in a whirring magic bullet blender, anyone would be hard pressed to decide which would be more intense. The score from Jerry Goldsmith is cheeky, catchy and has an off kilter Danny Elfman vibe, perfect for the madcap, demented story onscreen. A holiday classic and then some, fuel for anyone who gets a few drinks in them over Christmas and gets bitten by the rowdy big until they’re swinging from the chandeliers throwing plates at people. The sequel, also helmed by Dante, is a lot of fun in it’s own high tech way, but nothing beats the first high flying outing, and plus it’s a Christmas movie to. Good,

Gooey times.

-Nate Hill

Fun, and in every sense civilized: An Interview with Charlie Haas by Kent Hill

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Charlie Haas began his life with no thought of working in film. He was interested in fiction and journalism until, that is, at UC, Santa Cruz he started attending a film history class taught by his future collaborator Tim Hunter.

1978 comes around, and their first collaborative effort, Over the Edge, is sold. It is highly unusual for a first time screenwriter to have his early work produced, but that was what happened. After that it was a rise and rise. A young Matt Dillon would go on the star in Hunter and Haas’s next film Tex, and while hanging around at Disney, Charlie found himself doing an unaccredited dialogue polish on, the now cult classic, Tron.

Tron (1982) Spain

Two other favorite films of mine were penned completely by Charlie Haas. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Matinee.  Both of course were directed by Joe Dante, a famously collaboratively-generous filmmaker. Charlie’s experiences were similar to those had by Eric Luke (whom I’ve chatted with before) who spoke fondly of his Dante adventure on Explorers. Gremlins 2 was a free-for-all kind of sequel. The studio wanted it and so Joe and Charlie were given quite a lot of rope creatively. Meanwhile Matinee is sadly an unsung delight that surprisingly few people I talk to have seen. If you are one of these people, hopefully listening to this may prompt you to check it out, and, if you’re a fan and you haven’t seen it in a while, well, now might be a good time to rediscover this lost little gem of a movie.

Charlie Haas is a true gentleman and it was great to finally shoot the breeze as they say. Though he is not in the industry anymore he is far from unproductive. He has been writing novels, which I shall post the links to below, so check those out.

Whether you have encountered his writing in print or on screen, please now take the time if you will to encounter the man behind the words, the great, Charlie Haas.

https://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parody-Charlie/dp/0843107960/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510213067&sr=1-5&keywords=charlie+haas

It’s good to be the King: An interview with Larry Cohen by Kent Hill

There is a quote attributed to Robert Rodriguez (another independent maverick filmmaker) that states:

“If you are doing it because you love it you can succeed because you will work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do. Because the work will speak for itself.”

It is the always interesting, ever-changing, always inventive, ever professional life and work of Larry Cohen that really personifies the above quotation. King Cohen has been out there in one form or another in an impressive career spanning multiple decades. He has been the director of cult classics; he has been the writer of hot scripts that have incited Hollywood bidding wars. His work has been remade, imitated, venerated.

These are the hallmarks of a man and his movies whose personal voice rings out loud and clear, high above the commercial ocean of mainstream cinema that carries, beneath its shiny surface, schools of biodegradable blockbusters that are usually forgotten about only moments after having left the cinema.

This is not true of the films of Larry Cohen. For his work is the stuff (pardon the pun) that came before, the stuff the imitators latch on to, the stuff from which remakes and re-imaginations are conceived. This is the fate of the masters. The innovators come and bring forth art through trial and error. They are followed by the masters who take the lessons learned from the innovators and make them, shape them by sheer force of will. But, then there comes the imitators who stand on the shoulders of these giants and take home the glory.

Still, when there is an artist that is in equal parts innovator and master; this causes the imitators to stand baffled.

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Rather than accepting my humble oration, I urge you to seek out Steve Mitchell’s most excellent documentary KING COHEN. Watch it, marvel, rejoice, and remember that there are great filmmakers out there. They may not be coming soon to a theatre near you, but they did once, and their work still stands, silently, waiting to be discovered.

Until you get to see KING COHEN please, feel free to bask in my little chat with the king himself, Larry Cohen, a gentleman of many parts, many stories and of course . . . many movies.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Larry Cohen.

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Joe Dante’s Burying The Ex: A Review by Nate Hill 

Everyone has that one psycho ex. Well… not everyone. But a lot of folks. I do, many do, enough do for there to be a whole lot of movies on the subject. Joe Dante’s Burying The Ex takes that predicament one step farther, straight into the realm of the supernatural, as the director always does. We haven’t had a Dante flick in a while (he’s the genius behind Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers, for those who don’t know), and it amazes me the lack of marketing which led to me taking my sweet time in seeing this. Glad I did, because it’s a treat. Any headline that boasts Dante, Ashley Greene, Anton Yelchin and the luscious Alexandra Daddario in the same film is automatically a rental, before I’ve even read a synopsis. This one is a darkly comic zombie romantic comedy and subtle Hammer Studios homage, an irresistible flavour indeed. Yelchin is a lad who works at a halloween FX store, has an affinity for retro horror and all things macabre, and is dating prissy Ashley Greene, who couldn’t be more different than him. She’s an abrasive, vegan type A personality jealous manipulative control  freak banshee who is sinking their relationship quicker than the Titanic. Enter Alexandra Daddario, a hip, horror movie themed ice cream parlor owner, and sparks fly between her and Yelchin. Those sparks are shot down by a dagger glare from Greene, and it’s in that moment Yelchin realizes he has to dump her. Before he can do the deed, she’s fatally hit by a bus, dies and essentially solves his problem. Or does she? Cue gothic organ music. Before he can take Alexandra on one date, she rises from the grave, now a sex starved psycho zombie bitch hell bent on keeping him for her own, pretty much forever. Quite the situation eh? Dante is never one for metaphors and heady trickery (a refreshing trait), all of his premises are straight up, face value, 100% genre simplicity. She’s dead, he needs to somehow kill her… again. It’s charming and lighthearted, while still retaining the macabre, like Tim Burton by way of Stephen Sommers. Greene is disarmingly hilarious as everyone’s worst nightmare of an ex, Yelchin is earnest and exasperated in equal doses, and Daddario is a babe and a half, always winning me over with them eyes. They all frolic in Dante’s casually R rated inter zone where everything is purely rooted in movie-land, and nothing needs to be seriously thought out. The writing is sharp, heartfelt and riddled with easter eggs for fans of horror from back in a better day. Brilliant stuff. 

JOE DANTE’S MATINEE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I don’t understand how Joe Dante cajoled the Universal brass into completing his love letter to cinema, the 1993 film Matinee, after the film’s original producers went bankrupt, but I am glad he did, because it’s such a wonderful, unique, and all together joyous little gem that it stands to reason that in today’s movie climate, this film just doesn’t get made, let alone contemplated, by the major film companies. Dante’s film is a period piece set in Key West, Florida, centering on a William Castle-esque indie filmmaker played with jovial enthusiasm by a perfectly cast John Goodman, and set against the back drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Co-starring Cathy Moriarty, filmmaker and Dante collaborator John Sayles, Simon Fenton, then popular Kellie Martin from TV’s Life Goes On, Dick Miller (a longtime Dante buddy and good luck charm), Omri Katz, child star Lisa Jakub, and Robert Picardo (Dante’s other good luck charm!), Matinee is so many things: A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship. Written by Jerico Stone and Charles Haas, the film contains a film-within-the-film called Mant, which is essentially a throwback to the pulpy sci-fi movies of yesteryear featuring a half-man/half-ant with outlandish practical make-up and special effects; it’s oh-so-clear that Dante must’ve been in cinematic heaven with these scenes, as all of the footage from Mant was shot to aesthetically approximate how those movies used to get put together. The acting on the part of the teen leads was decent (if a bit stiff at times), but that doesn’t matter, because this film’s heart is so massive, and it’s wildly evident that it needed to be made by these particular creative entities. Dante is one of those filmmakers who never got his true due as a premiere director of smart and funny and always inventive mid-budgeted studio pictures, a friend of Spielberg’s who also subscribed to the Amblin philosophy of subversive family entertainment; his terrific and continually underrated credits include Explorers, Small Soldiers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, and The Howling. The film also features a fantastic score from Jerry Goldsmith, splendid cinematography by John Hora, and perfectly timed comedic editing by Marshall Harvey. Seek this one out as my guess is that it’s escaped many, many people who would absolutely love it.

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