Tag Archives: Harry Shearer

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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Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King: A Review by Nate Hill 

Tragic. Uplifting. Comical. Bittersweet. One of a kind. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King takes on mental illness by way of a fantastical approach, an odd mix on the surface, but totally fitting and really the only way to put the audience inside a psyche belonging to one of these beautiful, broken creatures. Sometimes an unlikely friendship springs from a tragedy, in this case between a scrappy ex radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) and a now homeless, mentally unstable ex professor of medieval history (Robin Williams). Bridges was partly responsible for an unfortunate incident that contributed to William’s condition, and feels kind of responsible, accompanying him on many a nocturnal odyssey and surreal journey through New York City, an unlikely duo brought together by the whimsical cogs of fate that seem to turn in every Gilliam film. Williams is a severely damaged man who sees a symbolic ‘Red Knight’ at every turn, and seeks a holy grail that seems to elude him at every turn. Bridges is down to earth, if a little aimless and untethered, brought back down from the clouds by his stern, peppy wife (Mercedes Ruehl in an Oscar nominated performance). They both strive to help one another in different ways, Williams to help Bridges find some redemption for the single careless act that led to violence, and Bridges assisting him on a dazed quest through the streets to find an object he believes to be the holy grail, and win over the eccentric woman of his dreams (Amanda Plummer). In any other director’s hands but Gilliam’s, this story just wouldn’t have the same fable-esque quality. Straight up drama. Sentimental buddy comedy. Interpersonal character study. There’s elements of all, but the one magic ingredient is Gilliam, who is just amazing at finding the way to truth and essential notes by way of the absurd and the abstract. Watch for fantastic work from Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Kathy Najimy, Harry Shearer, Dan Futterman and a quick, uncredited Tom Waits as well. The hectic back alleys and silhouetted trellises of NYC provide a sooty canvas for Gilliam and his troupe to paint a theatrical, psychological and very touching tale of minds lost, friendship found and the past reconciled.