Tag Archives: Joe Dante

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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“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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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.

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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

Just wild about Larry: An Interview with Steve Mitchell by Kent Hill

Steve Mitchell has been on quite a ride. Having begun in the world of comics, he has the distinction of inking the very first book by a guy you might have heard of . . . Frank Miller. But being in New York with all his friends heading west, Steve, after forging an impressive beginning to his career, took a phone call one night from his another friend and filmmaker Jim Wynorski. Jim wanted an opinion on an idea that, if he could make it work, they might be able to get the picture made. From that conversation a film would be born. It was the cult classic Chopping Mall.

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So like Horatio Alger before him, he went west and continued writing for both the worlds of film and television. The fateful moment would come one day while looking over the credits of the legendary maverick auteur, Larry Cohen, on IMDB.  Astounded by the length and breadth of Cohen’s career, Steve saw an opportunity to possibly make a documentary that would chronicle the life and exploits of the successful filmmaker.

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After receiving a blessing from the man (Larry) himself, Steve set about the mammoth undertaking of  not only pulling together the interviews with Cohen’s many collaborators, all of the footage of his many works , but also the financing to bring these and the countless other elements together to form KING COHEN: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

This truly insightful and utterly entertaining look at the, thus far continuing, career of Cohen is the passion project of a man with whom I share a kinship. Not only for the stories behind the men who make the movies, but also how the films we know and love were pieced together with money, dreams, light, shadow and the technical tools which help capture and refine the many wondrous adventures we as cinema goers have been relishing since our very first experiences.

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KING COHEN is a great film made by a really great guy, and it is my hope, as it is Steve’s hope, that you enjoy the story of Larry Cohen, but also come away from watching the film wishing to then seek out and discover the movies contained within that you may have only experienced for the first time as part of the documentary. The films of the filmmaker that inspired Steve’s film in the first place. (that’s a lot films)

Enjoy…

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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