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Director Retrospective

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.

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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!


Muppets from Space

directorstmuppets-from-space-1999-medium-coverThe Muppet Movie is absolutely my favorite of all the Muppet films. It’s the perfect dead-on take on Henson’s creations. But it might surprise you to know that Muppets From Space is a fast second place – none of the others even come close.

In the era after Henson’s death until the time Disney finally bought the property, the Muppers kind of meandered, not sure how to proceed. We had a couple half hearted sequals – adaptions of Treasure Island and a Christmas Carol, as well as the ill-fated Muppts Tonight show that ABC never gave a chance (yanking it after only four episodes).

I like Muppets from space because it features the Muppets just being themselves- it’s thier downtime, thier personal adventures – soemthing I always found more interesting than the skits themselves. I find the story of Gonzo discovering that he is infact an alien to be a brilliant revelation, and the journey to find his alien tribe to be hilarious.

It’s also here where we see Tim Hill’s skill in making the inanimate characters lifelike. He understands how to shoot them so you believe it…and he gets the heart of the characters.

Don’t just stream this on Netflix by the way, find this on DVD if you can. It features Hill, along with Gonzo and Rizzo commenting on the film MST3K style and is one of the best riffs ever.


Tim Hill

directorsttim-hill-sliceThis time around I feel like I need to do a little introduction before diving into this director’s spotlight…in the past we’ve covered genre directors and more familiar names, but Hill isn’t quite the household name as some.

Over the years I’ve frequently heard him referred to as a hack director. I’m not sure I can argue that. I don’t know.

What I do know is that Tim hill consistently puts out family films that I genuinely enjoy…enough that I seek his name hop-image-tim-hill-james-marsden-600x400out and go out of my way to catch his movies. If he’s a hack, he’s MY hack,  and he’s tackled some of my favorite franchises, showing skill and a wicked sense of humor. He’s one of the driving forces behind Spongebob which give you an idea of his humor, but it’s his live action work I want to explore.

That’s why I want to spend a little time looking back on his work – to shine a light on a director I really enjoy and perhaps even to mount a bit of a defense against the popular opinions.

We’ll be back next time with our first look at hill’s movies!a8efcdbc06391747e048372136139339ebf493528400b236b557f1a28ecac44b


Victor Crowley

directorsacrowley-tourIt’s funny, when I wrote up the rest of these Director’s Spotlights, this film wasn’t even announced!

Just a couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to catch this while Green was touring theaters with the film. I was actually incredibly excited about this since there was no stop in Cleveland the last time he toured with a movie.

Made in secret, this film takes the Hatchet franchise beyond the originally planned trilogy, bringing Victor Crowley back for a whole new massacre.

We begin with Perry Shen (because it’s not a hatchet movie without Perry!) on a book tour, detailing his story of what happened ten years ago in the original trilogy (remember, though released years apart, all three movies take place over just a couple 11059590_959785280732562_6077704736012482274_ndays). It moves on quickly though and shifts basically into a single set film – a real departure from the previous movies. Don’t fear though, the gore is just as plentiful and creative as anything else we’ve seen in the Hatchet series. Kane Hodder slices and dices his way through the cast with a renewed vigor. Adam told us “When I told the crew we were doing another Hatchet film, NO ONE was happy…except Kane!” No wonder. He’s now officially played Victor Crowley as many times as he did Jason Vorhees.

In preparation for the movie I actually marathoned the first three films and noticed how seldom Crowley is actually on screen. This time around it felt different and I mentioned this to Adam, asking if he intentionally put more Victor appearances in this film. He 22519602_1705549462822803_4996495298885788570_nbobbed his head up and down almost chuckling.

“I’m so glad you said that. Actually Victor has less screen time in this movie than any of the others! We first screened the film and were like oh crap…the movie is named ‘Victor Crowley’ and he’s barely in it!”

He paused and continued.

“The thing is, even when he’s not on screen, his presence is felt through the entire film, so it feels like he’s there even when he’s not. But believe me,” Green concluded. “we stuck in absolutely every frame we shot of Kane (Hodder). There was nothing left on the cutting room floor.”

10347538_997141673663589_8417250128551374714_nFor my money, the real stand out  performance here though comes from Felissa Rose. Horror fans know her as Angela from the first Sleepaway camp movie. She’s a regular on the con circuit and I run into her from time to time. I mentioned back a month ago that I ran into her at Days of the Dead and told her how much I liked her role.

The thing is, in person she’s the sweetest, friendliest extrovert I know. She smiles and chats and hugs whether you like it or not. Yet the character she’s playing here – Perry Shen’s agent- is obnoxious, irritating and despiciable. The heavy long island accent she puts on is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s such a departure from the Felissa I know that it really showcases her range and I loved it.

At the end of the day, I know I’m not saying a great deal about the film itself. Truth is I was asked not to spoil it and even though the theatrical tour is over, there are still going to be ways to watch this and I’d love for you to go in cold, with no spoilers or expectations. Right now it’s my favorite of all the Hatchet films because of the fresh approach and stand alone nature. Definitely seek this out, it’s absolutely worth a buy.

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Digging up the Marrow

directorsamv5bmjm3ndc3mjc1ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjm4mja5mze-_v1_sy999_cr00672999_al_Of all of his films, Digging up the Marrow maybe my favourite Adam Green feature. But there is a caveat, I’m a fan of the director….we’ll get that in the moment.

Digging Up The Marrow is a mocumentary done in a semi found footage style about a man chasing monsters. Real ones. Actually, more like deformed people with some spectacular deformities that have established an underground culture that is very rarely discovere. The man, Dekker, has enlisted the help of a filmmaker – Adam Green himself – to document and uncover these creatures. Along the way we discover Adam is not the first film maker he’s tried to enlist, and that there is more to this story then he’s telling.

It’s a wonderful tale, creepy and suspenseful. There are twists here and there and it keeps you engaged the whole way through – but here’s the thing, because Adam chose to use himself and his studio as characters in the film, it really appeals to his fanbase.  For those of us who have kind of gotten to know him through things like his podcast and Holliston and the shorts on his Ariescope website, we already have a connection to the character that he is playing. We walk into it with that affection and interest. This is not to say that the film is inaccessible to the casual viewer, however it is going to be more work for an outsider to develop that sympathy for the character than it is for the fans. Adam is a very sympathetic character indeed, and I think this is still going to work wether you know who he is or not. But it really does work so much better if you do already know him. For Adam Green fans, I think this is really is epitome – it is his masterpiece and is love letter to the fans. I’ve saved this for last for a reason – I want you to experience his other films, I want you to watch Holliston, and I want you to understand him as a filmmaker… And to some extent as a person. That’s what’s really going to make this film pop for you it’s what’s really going to make you care about it. It really is my favourite of all of his films, with the best monsters and creepiest creatures that you will see.

I absolutely cannot wait to see what he does next.