Tag Archives: Joe Dante

Yuletide Yarns: Nate’s Top Ten Christmas Films

Tis the season to check out Christmas in cinema! There’s a whole ton of festive films out there revolving around this time of year, ten of which I’ve picked out here as my cherished favourites! Oh and keep one thing in mind: A Christmas movie is a subjective thing and each individual is allowed to have whatever the hell they want in their Yuletide canon without a bunch of blockheads screaming “That’s not a Christmas movie” to the winds. Home Alone is a Christmas movie to many and perhaps to some The Mummy or Top Gun are also Christmas movies too for whatever personal reason or memory they hold dear. Anything you damn well please can be your “Christmas movie” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Got it? Good! Enjoy my list 😉

10. John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

An underrated one, to say the least. Pulpy, nihilistic and packed with ironically nasty energy substituting for holiday cheer, I love this ultra violent heist/revenge flick to bits. Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and an off-the-chain Gary Sinise are various degenerate characters involved in a casino robbery and the ensuing aftermath, murder, betrayal and tough talk. They’re all having a blast and there’s great supporting work from Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes, James Frain, a scene stealing Clarence Williams III plus the late great Fennis Farina.

9. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

A Christmas slasher yay!! This predates John Carpenter’s Halloween as the original genre prototype and is just such a fun, spooky old stalker flick with healthy doses of camp, plenty of creaky atmospheric portent and one of the freakiest villains the genre has to offer based on his voice alone. It’s Christmas break for a house of sorority girls in small town Ontario, which should mean rest, relaxation and good times. A deeply disturbed prank calling serial killer has other ideas though, tormenting them with perverse phone-calls and eventually outright hunting them through the drafty halls of the manor. Starring the beautiful, classy Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Margot Kidder and Nick Mancuso as the killer’s terrifying phone voice, this is a holiday classic for me, it practically fills up your living room with atmosphere when you put it on.

8. Joe Dante’s Gremlins

This is one of those ones that kind of works at Halloween too because it’s so gooey and horror-centric, but the quaint small town Christmas vibe is so pleasant and wonderful, right from the joyous opening titles set to Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas.’ One young man’s Christmas present goes haywire when cryptozoological Mogwai Gizmo and his clan get right out of control and cause a bigger holiday riot than Boxing Day at the mall. It’s like a Christmas party gone ballistic in the best, most mischievous ways and the fun lies in seeing these little green monsters terrorize, blow off steam and run around town destroying everything in their wake.

7. Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

I know what you’re thinking, but I actually prefer this rambunctious sequel over the iconic first Die Hard film. Switching up the action from a skyscraper to hectic, bustling and heavily snowed in LAX on Christmas Eve is just such a cozier, more festive setting, not to mention ripe for so much action, villainy and comedic bits. Way more characters, tons of cool cameos, a blinding snowstorm to create atmosphere and so many gorgeous explosions.

6. Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express

What a majestic film. People rip on this for being way too elaborate and hectic when compared to the simple, direct timbre of its source children’s book, but I love how far they took it. It’s a thrillingly cinematic, highly immersive rollercoaster ride to the North Pole packed with Carols, stunning motion capture animation, Tom Hanks in like four different roles *including* Santa, breathtaking swoops over northern landscapes and a genuine sense of wonder.

5. Ted Demme’s The Ref

Christmas ain’t always a loving, cherished time of year as you’ll see in this acidic, cynical and jet black comedy of family dysfunction, misanthropy and petty crime. Denis Leary is one pissed off cat burglar who hides out from the law with a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis who are basically the most unhappily married, hateful pair of grinches you could find in white suburbia. It’s a brilliantly satirical sendup of Christmas in the Midwest with terrific, off the wall performances from the three leads, a wicked sharp script and hilarious supporting work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, BD Wong and Raymond J. Barry.

4. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Christmas goes Gothic in my favourite of the initial four Burton/Schumacher Batman films. This is a seriously gorgeous gem of a film with Keaton at his moody best as Batman, Danny Devito creeping’ it up tons as the freaky weirdo Penguin, Christopher Walken embodying corporate evil like no other and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most absolutely sexy, dangerous, funny and commanding take on Catwoman ever. The film takes place over the holiday season in a Gotham highly reminiscent of bustling New York, all austere wintry edifices and decked out super malls.

3. Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

A double edged sword that works wonders as both Christmas and Halloween film, this is just a classic, iconic festive singalong with the OG beautiful Burton/Selick stop-motion animation and a wonderful host of vocal/singing performances from Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman.

2. Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Another counterintuitive one, this is an icy, sardonic black crime comedy about a mob lawyer (John Cusack), his untrustworthy associate (Billy Bob Thornton), a slinky stripper (Connie Nielsen) and a big city gangster (Randy Quaid). They’re all neck deep in an underworld embezzlement scheme on Christmas Eve, out to kill, deceive, screw over and get rich by the time midnight rolls around. I love this film, it’s a Yuletide noir with healthy doses of deadpan comedy, a mournful rumination on what it means to be a family member around this time of year and how morality plays into a life of crime. Plus positively everyone steals the show including the lovable Oliver Platt as Cusack’s drunken buddy.

1. Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol

The number of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols film adaptations is near infinity but for me this one tops them all. Dazzling motion capture animation gives larger than life vitality to the classic story of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Victorian London. Jim Carrey outdoes himself playing the old dude and *all three* spectres while the cast is filled with beloved performers like Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Fionnula Flanagan, Cary Elwes and the late great Bob Hoskins in multiple roles. Zemeckis’s sure hand with this dynamic style of animation gives the film an impressive aura of sweeping visual movement and immersion, the performances capturing the essence of each actor in various modes while the colour, carols and rousing action make this the best produced version of this story I’ve ever seen, I watch it once a year without fail.

-Nate Hill

Joe Dante’s The Burbs

Ever wonder what your neighbours are up to? Probably nothing, but there’s always that off chance that they are in fact spooky serial killers or occult weirdos. Or not. Joe Dante’s The Burbs plays with this notion of paranoia about those next door and gives us a hysterical social commentary on the white picket fence life while it’s at it for something decidedly different. Stressed out yuppie Tom Hanks is certain that the oddball German doctor family down his block are up to no good, and he whips up the rest of the folks who live around him into a fervent panic with his anxieties. It doesn’t help that the people he’s suspicious of are played by the oddball likes of Henry Gibson, Courtney Gains and Brother Theodore, but he still seems like a delusional schmuck and we’re never really sure exactly what *is* going on until the demented, ballsy ending which makes laugh like hell each time. His wife (Carrie Fisher!) thinks he’s lost it, we think he’s lost it and he desperately scrambles to prove otherwise by gathering any evidence against these dudes with the help of local kid Corey Feldman and persnickety Nam vet Bruce Dern who absolutely steals the show with priceless lines like “Smells like they’re cookin’ a goddamn cat over there!!” This one is a total scream, retaining Dante’s ooey gooey horror roots while almost reminding one of Spielberg/Zemeckis style fright flicks that take place in suburbia. The only thing separating people from one another in a neighbourhood like this are four walls and a roof, and within them anything could be happening right under one’s nose and several metres away, yet unseen. This is Hanks’ worst fear here and Dante plays it’s for absolute hilarity, mirthful menace and glorious black comedy. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Joe Dante’s Matinee

Joe Dante’s Matinee is a fantastic love letter to golden age schlock cinema, a nostalgic look back at Cuban missile fever, a multiple angle coming of age story all framed by a playful lens and given life from John Goodman’s boisterous, passionate performance as Lawrence Woolsey, the kind of loving, hands on filmmaker you don’t see a lot of these days. Woolsey blows into a small coastal California town with big dreams and aspirations to release his cheesy horror flick ‘Mant’ (about a killer Man/ant hybrid, naturally) for all to see, but faces some obstacles right off the bat. The 1950’s nuclear scare casts a long and chaotic shadow over both the town and his production, as well as local protesters who label his art as junk and just don’t understand the medium. There’s a gaggle of preteens too, in the throes of growing up and chucked in the deep end when I comes to understanding the world around them, as well as adults. Former child star Lisa Jakub (Robin William’s daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire) is a standout as a particularly sassy, wise beyond her years girl who causes a fuss with the bomb drills and is the soul of the youngster element in the film. Goodman is superb, he has an amped up monologue about what it means to visit the cinema and escape that kind of encapsulates the beloved intangibles of the medium and why it has endured for so long. The film has a meandering and unfocused feel at first glance, but it’s a deliberate fly-on-the-wall peek at a very specific time and place, how Film relates to that place and the individuals who lived through it, and it achieves that goal wonderfully. A literal slice of life on film.

-Nate Hill

“Roadblocks won’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.” : Remembering The Wraith with Mike Marvin by Kent Hill

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The Wraith was like many a glorious find back in the day at my local video store. The cover had a holographic shimmer to it – a strange robot-like character standing in front of some bad-ass, customized car that looked as though it would be more comfortable zipping through the galaxy rather than flying at break-neck speeds along the long stretches and cactus-lined roads of Arizona.

Yes sir, that cover held the promise of sci-fi mysticism combined with heat-thumping vehicular action to rival the Road Warrior.

Oddly enough, Dr. George’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure was the template for Mike Marvin’s Cult Classic. When the man who started out making skiing films came to Hollywood and saw an opportunity to fuse High Plains Drifter with Mad Max 2, one would assume it was a concept any studio would be happy to throw their weight behind.

But, then as now, the movie business can be treacherous, and Marvin’s experiences making The Wraith were far from pleasant. As a matter a fact, they were a nightmare. Plagued by unscrupulous producers, a tragic death while filming – along with all the other perils of production – it is a wonder that this certified 80’s classic ever made to to the screen.

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Lucky for us, however, thanks must go, in no small part, to a string of wonderful performers, a dedicated crew and a talented director at the helm, The Wraith survives as a one of a kind mash-up of genres that has endured and is, for this film writer at least, yet to be equaled.

This interview was conducted before I was able to sample Mike’s great and candid commentary on the Region 1 DVD release of the film. And while some of what he relayed to me you will find on that release, the truly glorious thing that I experienced was to hear these insights, plus a couple that were not covered in that commentary track, first hand from this journeyman warhorse of a film-maker.

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So seek out the The Wraith, those of you who have not yet experienced it. Let this interview, hopefully tantalize your interest to learn more about this incredible film that really was both ahead of its time, a product of its time and most assuredly one of a kind…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Mike Marvin.

 

 

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

“CHEESEBURGERS, NO BONES!” : An Interview with Mick Garris by Kent Hill

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It took a while to get a hold of Mighty Mick – but I’m glad I had the patience. See Mick Garris is one helluva talented man. His passage through the movies is a veritable plethora of Amazing Stories – apart from the show-of-the-same-name where he achieved career lift off.

Since those early days he has gone on to become a prolific writer, director, producer, author, podcaster – the list goes on. He made me laugh with Critters 2, he was the writer of The Fly 2, which was one of the only times a film has forced me bring up my lunch, and he has conducted wonderful and insightful interviews with fellow filmmakers – some, sadly, that are no longer with us.

Through it all Mick remains the soft-spoken gentleman with a passion for his work and cinema in total. He has had a long successful run of adapting the works of Stephen King for the screen. I have vivid memories of sitting through, night after night, his extraordinary adaption of The Stand. This he beautifully followed up with further adaptions of Bag of Bones and The Shining, in which King adapted his own book, and which Mick credits as one of the best screenplays he’s ever read.

He was instrumental in bringing together the Masters of Horror as he was composing the elements which formed great movies either under his pen, or benefiting from his exquisite direction. Follow this link ( https://www.mickgarrisinterviews.com/  ) to Mick’s site and check out the bona fide feast of delights for cineastes he has on offer. As I said to the man himself, “You have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and I can’t wait to cut me a slice of whatever you serve up next.”

So, without further ado,  it is my privilege to present to you . . . the one, the only . . . Mick Garris.

Riding the New Wave: An Interview with Travis Bain by Kent Hill

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It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that the Australian film industry was launched onto the world stage by a band of rebellious genre filmmakers, that would take international cinema screens by storm. Regrettably that age, to the naked eye, may have come and gone like the VHS tape. But not all hope is lost…

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Enter Travis Bain. The boy from New South Wales who, after encountering George’s galaxy far, far away, decided to run off and join the circus so to speak. In short – become a filmmaker. But unlike Spielberg and Abrams, he was not to the 8mm camera born. Young Travis would craft his fantastic adventures on audio tapes, creating a cinema of sound.

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From there he thought he might be able to launch something in a literary manner, writing work that would later become the bread and butter of Aussie action author Matthew Reilly. But, he learned all to quickly that the road to the Everest of publishing was just, if not more arduous, than path toward the Mount Olympus of movie-making.

Down but not discouraged, he took to learning the fundamentals of the cinematic arts and in time would make a debut feature. He would come north to the Sunshine State (Queensland) and find, and you’ll pardon me, his place in the sun.

His latest film is Landfall, starring the iconic Australian acting legend, Vernon Wells (my chat with him here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/09/30/zero-defects-remembering-innerspace-with-vernon-wells-by-kent-hill/ ). Travis has ambitious plans for the future. As I listened to him speak passionately about his journey, his current projects, his hopes for the strengthening of the local industry – let’s just say I’m a believer. We need artists of his ilk now more than ever; to bring the spark back to our slumbering screens. And, you can quote me if you like, Travis Bain might just be the man to lead Aussie genre filmmaking in a bold, new direction.

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