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Director Retrospective

Bubba Ho-Tep

directorsdBubba_Ho-Tep_posterMy friend Jennifer went into this movie cold – all she knew was it Bruce Campbell was in it and that was enough for her. Indeed, the pairing of Campbell and Coscarelli is really a match made in psychotronic heaven​. These two guys both wallow in the B movie genre, but when it comes to trashy horror flicks, they are at the top of their game.
Bubba Ho-Tep is the story of a mummy that comes to a nursing home to attack patients, but instead ends doing battle with an elderly Elvis Presley. Does that sound weird enough for you? Yeah, Coscarelli traffics in the weird and this is really an ideal project for him – fusing his very relational style of filmmaking with practical effects and B-movie monsters.  It features what may well be the last appearance of Ozzy Davis, which is kind of sad – I always felt like he was slumming a little bit in this movie – but he plays it straight and chews the scenery like a true B actor.

d826bbcc9f6ead61c47829bf168f3fc1--bruce-campbell-dynamic-duosOne of the things I love about this movie is that it really isn’t a check your brain and your kind of film… It requires a massive suspension of disbelief to accept the internal logic of this movie, but once he’s done that, you’re committed. Somehow, Coscarelli manages to make it all tie together… The guys over at Chinstroker versus Punter once mentioned that this felt like somebody was trying to make a cult movie, and you can’t do that. It just happens. I’m not sure if that’s really what the intention was, though this does have a lot of the hallmarks and in the end – that’s exactly what it has become… an endlessly re-watchable cult film… I’ve got no complaints about that!

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Phantasm Two

directorsdPhantasm+IIMan, what can I say about Phantasm 2 that hasn’t already been said? (in great part by myself already?) This film is unjustly lambasted I think, partially because Michael Baldwin is not back in the lead role and​ The plot is perhaps a bit more straightforward. They say this lacks the dream like quality that the original hand. I’m not so sure about that, I think there’s plenty of surreal imagery, though it’s ratcheted up a couple notches. This is the sequel with the most money behind it, and it shows. Every cent is on screen, with gore and very Rick Baker sensibilities. The Tall man is back as well, and he is possibly at his most imposing here. He’s always been A fascinating villain and managed to capture my imagination in the commercials I watched for this movie as a child. The balls are back as well, with a little bit of variety at it again.It’s still not as prominent as the marketing might suggest, but the creepy atmosphere of the mortuary, the dwarves and the graver and everything that comes with phantasm – it all makes up for it.

Phantasm-II-Don-CoscarelliPhantasm 2 was important, because a lot of the tropes that we associate with the series come into play here – the four barrel shot gun, the road trip aspect – even the fact that Reggie is really the star of this series… It all comes into focus here and it sets us up for the rest of this run. Phantasm 2 maybe my favourite of all these movies, it’s certainly the gate way where this series got it’s hooks into me… And it shows us a glimpse of what done Coscarelli could really do if he had a budget!

phantasm-gore-7-horror-killers-that-have-so-much-more-to-give-and-kill-png-55493


Jim, the Worlds Greatest

directorsd

MV5BYTlmMTk3ODMtYWJlNi00OTQ2LWE3YjEtNGJjMzhlZjdhOGRkL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_That’s right. I finally found a copy.

The “teen movie” really came into its own in the 80s with the John Hughes series. Jim the worlds greatest predates that. It’s a sort of film that lays the groundwork for what the teen movie would become. Don Coscarelli’s touch really shows through in this movie with his signature dreamlike quality, tracking a non-linear path through the story. In this way you can actually tell this is from the same director that made Phantasm.  Such themes are only reinforced by the fact that it’s a story of an older brother watching out for his younger brother… Indeed the entire thrust of the film is an older brother, probably a senior in high school who is already taking on the responsibilities that really should belong to the delinquent father of this piece.

Jim World’s Greatest also has a sort of meandering slice of life quality to it… There’s no 18A-Rory-1024x774real narrative or story here, there’s just life as we drift from set piece to set piece. It’s much  the same technique he would employ in his next film; Kenny and Company. Just drifting, at least, until the third act – when things get serious.

I didn’t expect this to be a comedy, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect it to get as intense as it did either. Angus Scrimm gives a performance of a lifetime here, grim and depressing as the out-of-work father who occasionally gets drunk and beats his kids. We really only get to know the present-day father, the failure… and we know it wasn’t always like this. We get glimpses of him during happier days trough flashbacks – it’s an impressive juxtaposition that Scrimm delivers brilliantly.

Reggie Banister (who apparently never had hair on top) shows up as well, giving one of hqdefaultthe most lunatic and wacky performances I’ve ever seen him do. It’s a little more than a cameo as a crashed wind rider, but man it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

In the end, it’s quite an emotional film – and it really shows Coscarelli’s skill. It almost makes me sad that he transitioned into low-budget and horror, and yet this is the kind of film that was ideally suited for the 1970s, and that era  would not last forever. It genuinely makes me wonder though, what Coscarelli would do with such material today. I’m not sure that he could even get it made – the era of emotional low-budget dramas in the theater seems to have passed, and thanks to Coscarelli’s negative experiences during his brief sojourn in to the studio system, he’s been jaded enough to never venture there again.

There is a definite evolution present here, a direct line from Jim the worlds greatest, through Kenny and Company, directly leading into Phantasm. Seriously, THAT’s the trilogy. You can see Coscarelli and his sensibilities develop while staying very true to the concepts that intrigued him, and it only reinforces my belief in how underrated this filmmaker is.

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Beastmaster

directorsd5149VNVBJ0LI have to admit, I was a little surprised to discover that beast master was a Coscerelli the film. It lacks any of his Personal style and flourish. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after although, When you consider the studio had their fingers in every step of the production, ultimately taking the film away from Coscerelli and finishing it themselves.
It’s for this reason that Coscarelli himself has some hard feelings towards the production, though objectively speaking, it’s by no means a bad movie. If anything Beastmaster’s greatest sin is being forgettable… It’s standard fantasy fare along the lines of Conan. It’s exactly the sort of fantasy that was fashionable at the time. Marc Singer is serviceable as the titular beast master, rescuing a damsel in distress but he always feels a little bit off to me, I’m far more used to seeing him in the various “V”miniseries and sequels. Going from a smart mouth resistance fighter to a musclebound barbarian is a bit of a leap. His face seems a little bit too craggy The-Beastmaster-Marc-Singerto be a leading man, (ironically he is younger here). still, there’s nothing here that really stands the test of time. It’s a few moments of striking imagery, particularly with the bird, but nothing that stands out. It’s a good excuse for direct video sequel (I believe there were three). It also suffers from falling out of fashion… Today, we prefer our fantasy in the style of the Lord of the rings and dragonlance. The whole Conan/Tarzana look has gone by the wayside. That’s not really a commentary on the quality of them, but rather how changing tastes affect our perception. Beastmaster is worth a watch, but not a serious one – not a dedicated night with this is the main feature. Put it on while you are doing something else, or hang out with it if you catch it and cable.


Kenny and company

directorsdKenny_&_Company_FilmPosterI will readily admit that I can’t exactly call this the first film entirely though it’s one of Coscarellis earliest released works – it’s preceded by Jim the worlds greatest, but I’ve never got my hands on a copy of that one… This is a quintessential 70s film – and in a lot of ways it’s childhood in the 70s as viewed through the eyes of someone who was a child in the late 50s… There is still an idealized neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else on the street and children all played together, building soapbox racers in planning their Halloween costumes… There’s always​ The younger kid tagging along with the older ones wanting to see how things work and be a part of the world. Kenny and Company also documents the first awakening of romance, that first crush and the desire to get to know the girl – and kiss her. It’s from a period, where childhood and adulthood are still far more firmly separated than they are today.
tumblr_inline_nea2y1jZsm1sqr9zcMike Baldwin from Phantasm is in this film, but he isn’t the supporting lead… he’s the secondary lead. However he is very much playing the prototype of the character that he would later immortalize in the phantasm films… Indeed I can see this as being what his character would have been like in those films if he hadn’t been haunted by the mysterious tall man. He’s handy with a hammer, foul mouthed, Brave and brash.

There is a sort of dreamlike quality to a lot of the film, a Coscarelli trademark.  Still, the dialogue ring is very true and it’s definitively in Coscerelli’s style. In the end, I found myself entranced– completely sucked in.  I genuinely didn’t expect to like it as much as I maxresdefaultdid… These days, this is a perpetual Halloween watch… And interesting drama, mixed in with my normal slate of horror films. This is a must watch, if you can get your hands on it.


Phantasm

directorsd14469577_1287266907984396_6839442167741886021_nThis where it all begins.

Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, “Jim, the World’s Greatest” was Coscarelli’s first film, followed by “Kenny and Company”. But Phantasm…this is where most of us first really encountered Don Coscarelli.

It’s hard for me to find something to say about Phantasm that I haven’t already said. I’m fascinated by these characters and to this day I find the tall man to be one of the most compelling villains ever.

I’m particularly interested in the underlying themes of abandonment – originally much stronger in cut out footage. Indeed there’s still Phantasm footage that has never seen the light of day, scenes with Jody and his girlfriend (supposedly the lady in lavender) as well as a guitar performance by Reggie Bannister. I could see it – there’s a stage in his ice cream shop and we can catch a glimpse of it in the deleted scene where they all get into a food fight there.

The story of the otherworldly undertaker and what he does to the bodies buried in Morningside Cemetery will always be one my my favorites – enough to keep me on board though all of the sequels….but more on that later.

 

 


Hop

directorsthop-2011-hindiTo be fair – this one didn’t interest me.

I don’t know what it was…the commercials did nothing for me and it felt like it was just a holiday cash grab- I’m still not entirely certain it wasn’t.

Nevertheless, my kids wanted to see it and my wife was interested so we eventually made it out to Amherst Cinema for the movie.

I’m surprised at how much I liked it. Hill is doing what he does best here – he’s taking a simple slackers-find-their-purpose story and infusing it with heart. The CG Easter bunny character should not work nearly as well as he does, but there’s something about him that just resonates. It makes me wonder how much time Hill spends with the animators, if he’s there in the room looking over their shoulders as they create these characters because I can feel his fingerprints in their DNA.

This ended up being a surprise hit in my family, and gets pulled out every year at Easter time. It may not be a buy, but if you’ve never see it, this is definitely worth a watch.


Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

directorstajr5plnqpznga8cmjsq8ckjharuI wanted to like this one way more than I did.

From IMDB : “Grumpy Cat is a lonely cat living in a mall pet shop. Because she never gets chosen by customers, she develops a sour outlook on life…until one day during the holidays, a very special 12-year-old girl named Chrystal enters the pet store and falls in love with her after realizing she is the only person who can hear this unique cat talk. As the two develop a close friendship during the holiday rush, Grumpy reluctantly thwarts the kidnapping of an exotic dog she dislikes, and on Christmas Eve rescues Chrystal after the mall closes. Through her adventures, will Grumpy learn the true meaning of Christmas? Or will it be, in her words, the “Worst. Christmas. Ever?”

Here’s the problem…this is a lifetime movie. While Tim Hill was definitely the logical (even inspired) choice to make a movie about Grumpy, I don’t think he quite understands how to make a lifetime movie – and it shows. It’s a different sensibility, a diffrent kind of humor and Hill feels tied up by the unnecessary requirements of the network to appeal to a very specific demographic.

He’s hindered further by the very fact that he’s been given a flimsier premise than usual – we’re basing this movie on little more than an internet meme with a dash of forced holiday cheer (holiday cheer being incomprehensibly the antithesis of the main character). Add a fairly poor choice in Aubry Plaza as the voice and we end up with a funny, but somehow unsatisfying movie.

It’s not a complete disaster. I still watch it during Christmas and for Hill to make a Lifetime movie that I’ll even deem to watch at all is nothing short of miraculous. I’d like to see this character tackled again but with less studio interference and a better voice actress.


Alvin and the Chipmunks

directorstalvin-and-the-chipmunks-2007Unlike characters like Garfield, I didn’t grow up with Alvin and the Chipmunks. I mean, they were around…I might skip past them while searching the cartoons on Saturday morning and I know I heard the Christmas song, but these guys were not part of my childhood.

I actually went into this one partially because I saw Tim Hill’s name attached. I was happy with what I found.  Hill has managed to make the Chipmunks hip and relevant again, while at the same time delivering a hilarious critique of the crass commercialization of the music industry. He even manages to slip in a cautionary tale to the talent who gets sucked in. Bleneded together, it works. It tells the origin of the Chipmunks and genuinely engages.

Hill also manages the budding romance in the background between Dave and his old girlfriend particularly well. It’s something you might have noticed in his Garfield movie as well – even as he’s dazzling you with the CG antics up front, hes playing with a touching rom-com in the background and it works.

Like the last couple films I mentioned, this one is another buy. We’ve enjoyed the Chipmunk films in general, but a real hats off to Hill for reigniting the franchise and kicking this series off so well.


Garfield

directorstgarfield-a-tail-of-two-kitties-2006-medium-coverThe Garfield films get a lot of hate and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the normal backlash at the kids films with CG characters….I don’t know. What I do know is that when the first Garfield film came out, I was hooked. I’m a lifelong fan of the character and I loved what  Iwas seeing. It was funny and sassy and it really FELT like Garfield (apparently a lot of people disagred). My main complain was that the dog Odie, was real and not CG (not enough budget for him to also be a cartoon apparently)

I was shocked when I heard there would be a sequel.

Hill has taken a lot of the critisisms from the first movie and addressed them. Odie is still not a cartoon, but there’s WAY less of him. Garfield dosen’t dance (except for a goofy bit at the end) and there’s more of him. Twice as much in fact.

It’s a stimple twin swapping story, Garfield takes the place of one of the royal cats of England, trying to save the family manor. Our villian, in a brilliant bit of casting, is Billy Connally who manages not to die in a film for once.

I kind of feel bad for Hill on this one, because while he crafts a funny and entertaining film, this one seemed doomed from the start with the bad press fro mteh first and Bill Murry’s reluctance to come in for the voice – I think the studio expected this to do meger numbers. The movie deserves better. Hill treats the material with respect and is more than just a hired gun on this one. Seriously, if you have good memories of watchign the Garfield holiday specials on TV, you should check this out – especially if you have kids!