Frank Langella

Small Soldiers

Year: 1998
Directed By: Joe Dante
Written By: Four different people are credited with the writing of this film.

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a silly movie that only could have come out of the late 90s when technology was changing faster than the populace could keep up with it. A time when the internet was still young and it was vaguely plausible that the government made chips that could turn toys into tiny terminators. I was 16 when this movie came out and liked it enough despite how silly it was. When it made its way into our collection it did so for one reason. It was one of the last things Phil Hartman did before he died. In fact the movie was released after his death in 1998.

I was a big fan of Phil Hartman both from watching reruns of his time on Saturday Night Live and hearing him regularly as a voice on The Simpsons. He was such a talented comedian with such a fantastic voice. The circumstances of his death were so sudden and tragic. His death was so shocking that it floored the entire Hollywood community. He was shot to death as he slept by his wife, who had a sudden break down and committed suicide before police could take her into custody. Words can’t describe how unfortunate and shocking it was. The world was robbed of an exceptional entertainer for seemingly no reason and I still feel the loss if I watch The Simpsons and catch a Troy McClure episode.

This may be a silly movie but even into adulthood I am still a big fan of action figures. As a child I loved nothing more than working my imagination with my toys. Playing out various scenarios I had seen in movies or on TV I could occupy myself for hours with my action figures. I was a big fan He-Man and the Ninja Turtles until I graduated to G.I. Joes before discovering the X-Men toys and never quite growing out of those. To this day it is not unusual for me to display a cool toy I find in my office or around my home. I try to limit these things to my home but now as I sit at my desk at work I have a comic book Negan action figure standing before a mini replica of the Iron Throne right behind me.

So while this movie may be a bit childish I am still inclined to enjoy a film about action figures coming to life to do battle with one another. It’s even more up my alley as the toys in the movies were influenced by some of my favorites. The Gorgonites were heavily influenced by Masters of the Universe and the Commando Elite were obviously influenced by G.I. Joes.

I like the cast of this movie enough to think it noteworthy. Most of these characters didn’t mean much to me at the time but in hindsight it is fun to see younger versions of guys like David Cross and Kevin Dunn. I loved Cross as Tobias Funke on Arrested Development, and though I didn’t like him in this movie I thought Kevin Dunn was hilarious as the dad in the first Transformers film. Even before his awesome series Rescue Me I was a big fan of Denis Leary and I liked him in this film. Kirsten Dunst is nothing more than a typical female teenager in this film but I have always been a fan. Since she gave the fantastic performance as the child vampire in Interview with a Vampire, at some unreasonably young age she was able to stand toe to toe with the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. It was impressive enough to set a lasting impression on me. There is also a small cameo here from the SNL star Cheri Oteri and I loved her because she always made me laugh.

I think Tommy Lee Jones was an awesome choice for the voice of Major Chip Hazard. The 90’s were the golden days for Jones and his voice lent some credibility to this silly film. Originally Director Joe Dante wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and the cast of Predator to voice the Commando Elites but sadly that didn’t work out.  So they used Tommy Lee Jones as well as actors from The Dirty Dozen.

Also lending credibility with his voice was Frank Langella as the voice of Archer. The man who once brilliantly brought Skeletor to life in an equally silly movie, Masters of the Universe, is someone I can’t help but get behind. At nearly 80 years of age he is still going strong as an actor and that is impressive all by itself. He started acting in the mid 60s and is closing in on over 100 acting credits during his time.

This movie was directed by Joe Dante whose primary career was in television. He did manage to use this opportunity to drop several Easter Eggs from his most famous film within the movie. There are several references to Gremlins within the movie as Gizmo is both mentioned and seen throughout the film. I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of Joe Dante but he did helm a movie I sincerely love. Innerspace has been a life long favorite since childhood and I could never disregard something done by the creator of that film.

Before closing this out I think there is one more random fact about the movie that makes it noteworthy. This movie features the Led Zeppelin song Communication Breakdown. It’s noteworthy simply because it is so rare that Zeppelin songs appear in films. I am probably simply forgetting but I can only recall one other film that featured music from Zeppelin. Any Given Sunday had a really cool segment set to Fool in the Rain. If you can remember a movie that featured Zeppelin leave a comment because I would be interested in knowing.

This isn’t a movie I can ever recall recommending to anyone but I still think there is plenty here to make worth wild. If you are a grown up man child like myself who still has an affinity for action figures and toys then you might like this movie. If for no other reason it is worth your time simply to get a taste of a comedian and entertainer the world was robbed of far too soon. This isn’t an exceptional performance from Phil Hartman by any means but it’s what we were left with and that makes it worth it.

NEXT MOVIE: Smoking Aces (2006)

 

 

 

 

 

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Masters of the Universe

Year: 1987
Directed By: Gary Goddard
Written By: David Odell

RYAN’S REVIEW

I was born in the 80’s, need I say more? What young man sired in that decade didn’t grow up loving He-Man and the battle for Castle Grayskull? When I was a kid watching this movie, action figures in hand, it didn’t matter what the quality of the movie was. All that matter was that it was He-Man, and that made it awesome.  I have owned this movie for years now and still love watching it from time to time to fulfill my own personal nostalgic needs.  I still love this movie but will admit that it has plenty of flaws.  I think there are specific reasons to argue that this movie is awesome as well as specific reasons to argue that it is garbage.  Unfortunately there is no middle ground in that scenario and the overall product is in all truth less than stellar.  Despite that, I see plenty in this movie to justify my opinion of it while knowingly and intentionally overlooking the things that can be easily criticized about the film.

Let’s start with what I like about this movie.  Aside from the simple fact that it is a film about He-Man, and that makes it awesome, there are several things this film did well.  The costume design and make-up done by the special effects team was incredible.  Skeletor looked awesome and Frank Langella did an incredible job with the part. Langella was eager to play the role because he had a young son at the time who, like myself and so many other boys, was obsessed with He-Man. I think his enthusiasm for the role can clearly be seen in the film because his performance was head and shoulders above all the other actors involved. Meg Foster also did a terrific job playing Evil-Lyn and her make-up and wardrobe were great.  In fact all of the bad guys in this movie look awesome.  Skeletor’s mercenaries are a highlight of the film when their appearance is only taken into effect.  Otherwise these guys are generally only seen running away from the action as the black robots are destroyed in mass quantities by He-Man and his associates.  He-Man too I will say was great but only because he looked the part so well.  Dolph Lundgren was certainly a great physical specimen although his acting left much to be desired.  It’s not really his fault because when this movie was being made he was not really fluent in English being from Sweden. He has apparently said his experience making this film was the worst he has had as an actor and he refused to reprise the role in the planned sequel that ultimately never got made.

There was a sequel planned and anybody who watched the movie through the credits could see that Skeletor lived and declared that he would be back.  The planned sequel did get scripted and cast with a replacement for Lundgren (it was a professional surfer who was cast) but was never made when the studio that produced the film crumbled financially.  I was able to find out very little about what the sequel was intended to be like but what I did find out all seemed really lame. I read that He-Man was disguised on Earth as a high school quarterback (really lame if true) and that Skeletor was also disguised on Earth as some sort of business man with diabolical desires.  I don’t know how accurate any of that is but that is what I read and in truth not much is actually known because that script was never made public. There was another script written at some point while they were continuing to try and get a film made. The other version was much more apocalyptic and when the film failed it was converted into the script for the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg.  So it seems like the movie would have blown whether the studio went bust or not.  The studio was very difficult to work with as I understand it with the making of this first film as they were already having financial troubles.  The movie went way over budget and the director had to plead with them just to get the ending shot.  If you will notice in the climax of the film nearly everything looks different once He-Man gets his sword and begins to fight Skeletor.  This is because the final fight between the two was shot months after the initial shooting was finished and wasn’t done until the studio finally allowed it to be done.

Now, on to what was wrong with this movie.  I think the biggest problem is simply that the story written called for most of the film to take place on Earth.  This was necessary with the budget restraints on the film as making a movie that took place entirely on Eternia would have been very costly.  Unfortunately nearly everything that happens on Earth is a bit ridiculous.  It takes four really nasty looking mercenaries to take on a teenage girl and they can’t even accomplish that? Detective Lubic’s character, played by James Tolkan from Back to the Future, was awful and did nothing but bring the film down.  His assumption that the cosmic key may have been Russian are quite humorous and a clear example of the fears still lingering in the late 80s from The Cold War. The character of Gwildor was really lame and even as a kid I didn’t like him.  He was a made up character put in the place of Orko, who would have been difficult to have in the film because of budget and technological restraints. Some of the mercenaries were made up for the film as well and I have specifically never understood that.  Why make up characters when you have such a rich gallery of villains to choose from.  It wasn’t from the lack of effort to make them because the characters that we see in the film all look incredible.  It’s a decision I couldn’t find out anything about but I didn’t really like it. At least we got to see Beast man, but it would have been cool to have more like Whiplash, Trap Jaw, or Tri-Klops.  Although, if all these guys were going to do in the movie was run away from the action I don’t know how cool it actually would have been.

Also worth mentioning is the cast in a few other roles.  This was one of the first featured films Courtney Cox ever appeared in.  Jon Cypher played the part of Man-At-Arms and did well with it.  Some might remember him better from his role on Major Dad that aired during the early 90’s. Barry Livingston, known mostly from his long run on My Three Sonsplayed the music store owner.  Frank Langella, while great the whole time as Skeletor, did not actual perform the final battle scene with He-Man.  That was done by Anthony De Longis, who played Blade in the rest of the film.  De Longis also choreographed the fight scene itself, as well as any other time he himself sword fought with He-Man.

There has been talk for years about rebooting this franchise but nothing has ever come of it.  At one point it looked like it might actually get made and John Woo was tagged to direct it but that fell apart a long time ago for reasons I don’t know.  I have my doubts that another He-Man movie will ever be made but that’s not a bad thing.  Maybe He-Man belongs where he is now; a relic from a decade that makes guys my age get nostalgic.  That or the fact that who else would they ever get to play He-Man? Maybe the guy sounds ridiculous when he opens his mouth and tries to talk but otherwise Dolph Lundgren looked the part to a T.  On the other hand, Skeletor is too cool a character to be locked away in the 80’s basement.  This is not a movie to be watched with a critical eye, and I doubt many will find it as entertaining as I do today but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s worth your time.  If you were a He-Man fan and have never seen this I say go get it and check it out.  If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about then check out The List and read a different review.

AMBER’S REVIEW

Such a fun movie to watch. I have no recollection whatsoever of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from being a kid. I didn’t know anything about it until I met Ryan. I don’t really remember the first time he introduced me, but I know now it was important to him as a child, because a lot of different things in our life go back to He-Man or Battlecat. I really like the nonchalant attitude I can take while watching this movie.

masters-of-the-universe_movieposter_1376939269

I actually really like this poster. I think they take the necessary space to show you the important characters of the movie to bring in the fans, and then shows the human aspect to give you some foreshadowing of what the premise of the movie might be. There is a glowing light behind He-Man. It’s quite awesome. This in truth is just another montage poster of characters from the movie, but giving that I think the movie is so carefree, I am giving this poster a pass. How could you hate on this?

NEXT MOVIE: Matchstick Men (2003)

Junior

Year: 1994
Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Written By: Kevin Wade and Chris Conrad

RYAN’S REVIEW

Ivan Reitman has always seen the humor in taking America’s biggest action star and putting him in silly situations.  I have always thought this idea was hilarious and for the most part it worked well for him.  There is however a different school of thought when it comes to this movie specifically. I mentioned this movie at work yesterday and I was immediately greeted with the response of how awful it is.  It seems that it’s acceptable to pair America’s greatest action star in an odd couple scenario with Danny DeVito or pin him as the teacher in a Kindergartner class but the line is drawn when he gets pregnant.  I can’t really argue with that because I will agree this is a really stupid movie, but I have always found things I liked about it.

Now I will admit this movie would have never made it into our DVD collection on its own.  It was a Christmas gift one year from my sister, the “Arnold Schwarzenegger Comedy Pack” that also comes with Kindergarten Cop and TwinsThis may be the worst of that trio but it still makes me laugh. This movie was released the same year as True Lies, one of my favorite action films from Schwarzenegger.  He may have peaked as an actor this year, both in talent and success.  True Lies was an awesome film, but it seems to have all went down for him after that. Was it age that made him less effective in his role as America’s action star or was it this film? I don’t know the answer to that but this one definitely didn’t do anything for his image. I think it was a funny idea on paper but people just didn’t respond very well to it.  I happen to think this was probably his best role acting in his entire career. Although he has made really great movies during that time that this movie does not compare to.  Having gone through two pregnancies with my wife I can really see the humor in the large and intimidating Schwarzenegger having a bun in the oven.  With all the hormones and emotions that come with it.  There is one scene where he chases DeVito down the stairs pestering him about when he will be home for dinner that makes me laugh every time.  I can’t think of anything he did in his career that called for more real acting than him trying to pull off a performance as a man carrying a baby and mostly acting against his nature.  There is one scene in which he is just lying in bed crying over a touching commercial, feeling it the way a pregnant woman would.  How can anyone not see the humor in that?

Part of me thinks this movie was only made because Reitman, DeVito, and Schwarzenegger just really wanted to get back together for something.  Schwarzenegger and DeVito made a great tandem in Twins and I think they probably spent years wanting to do something else together. All they needed was a really funny idea to try to recapture the success they had with their first collaboration.  This movie really fell short of that effort but they made the effort and that counts for something, I suppose.  There has actually been some talk since Schwarzenegger’s return to acting about making a sequel to Twins with Eddie Murphy thrown in as an unlikely new brother.  I think this is a desperate attempt to get back into the game, as most of Schwarzenegger’s efforts have been since leaving office in California. As stupid as I think it is though I will probably still see it if it ever gets made.  I’m a sucker for the two of these guys working together even if it is a ridiculous idea at this point.  Both Schwarzenegger and DeVito have seen their better days and I don’t think it’s realistic to expect much more from them at this point.

I have always been a fan of Danny DeVito as both an actor and a filmmaker.  His movie Death to Smoochy is one of my favorite movies of all time despite the fact it was really poorly received by both the critics and fans alike.  I still like DeVito today but more and more now he is simply playing the part of a creepy old guy.  I think his part on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has really gotten out of hand and I wish that he would leave the show.  It’s still a really funny show but I feel DeVito only brings sickness to the table there.  I think he is better than that and I don’t know why he has lowered himself to that level.

I have loved many of Ivan Reitman’s films and consider some of them the best comedies ever made.  Like Schwarzenegger’s career after this film though, it was all downhill for him once this one came out.  He hasn’t made a really great movie in almost twenty five years now and I don’t see any reason to expect anything significant to come from him at this point.  We will always have the films he has already given us though and those will always make him significant in film history.  No matter what; Ghostbusters will always be one of the greatest comedies of all time and that’s just to name one of his.

Is this movie worth your time? I don’t know if I really feel right telling you that it is.  I like the movie but will admit it isn’t that great.  For a while in high school this was actually my sleeper movie.  I would put it in every night as I was going to sleep and I would be out in no time.  I feel that gives the wrong impression about the movie because I do think it is funny.  So my recommendation in for this one is to use your own best judgment.  If you have gone through the nine months yourself or with a significant other I think there is plenty to laugh about in this for you.  If you are inexperienced with those nine months though I think you are taking a significant chance on it.

AMBER’S REVIEW

Junior. This movie is ridiculous. I have seen it so many times and yet I really have nothing productive to say about this movie. I think it is somewhat funny, and the contrast of Danny DeVito and Arnold is incredibly ridiculous, but it’s an okay movie. Having had two babies myself, I find it kind of stupid to make a movie around a man like Arnold getting pregnant, junior I mean, really? What am I supposed to say about this poster? Arnold Schwarzenegger is pregnant! “Nothing is inconceivable?” I really have nothing else to say about it. Even the typography is out of left field on this one. (Nice glasses, it definitely….helps….you look more paternal?)

NEXT MOVIE: Jurassic Park (1993)

Cutthroat Island

Year: 1995
Directed By: Renny Harlin
Written By: Several writers

RYAN’S REVIEW

OK…..maybe I took a History of Pirates course in college, and received credit for it as part of my American history studies.  The class sounded really cool at the time and should have been really, but it was a disappointment in the end.  We more or less spent the summer semester watching movies about pirates, such as this one.  I do in fact really like this movie, but I have to be honest.  When this film is being viewed in a college class then both time and money has been wasted.

I find this film really exciting mainly because I was eleven years old when I first saw it and it was the most awesome movie ever.  I still enjoy this movie because while it is over the top and regularly ridiculous it is still awesome. This film is, or at least was, actually listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office bust of all time.  It is the movie that put Carolco Pictures in the tank being the last movie the studio made before filing for bankruptcy.  Carolco Pictures made many big time action movies during the 80s and early 90s, many starring Stallone or Schwarzenegger.  This movie literally put an end to pirate themed movies until Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean.   While the movie does deserve plenty of the criticism it receives the film isn’t as bad a plenty others that only stand apart because they made more money. This movie was made on a $98 million budget and had a US gross of only $10 million.  That is pretty low but I really don’t understand why more people didn’t go to see it.  I think obviously the world wasn’t ready for Geena Davis to be a powerhouse action star.

Geena Davis was actually married to the director of the film, Renny Harlin.  He obviously wasn’t thinking straight when he decided to cast his wife, and he practically killed her career.  Although they would do another over the top action movie a year later that I also love, it was the Long Kiss Godnight . I am a big fan of Geena Davis and irregardless how campy and goofy she might be in this role I still liked her as a pirate.  Her lines are dumb, but she looked so good and she is always kicking ass.  Matthew Modine did nothing to advance his disappointing career with this role.  His lines are worse than Davis’s and he doesn’t deliver them as well. I do like Frank Langella as the bad guy though, it’s a shame nobody saw this movie simply because he does do a good job.  He will never be able to top his best role as a villian though.

I have been pretty open about the fact that I can be a sucker for a stupid action movie so this movie is obviously right up my alley.  It is overloaded with action to the point that I am shocked the budget was on $98 million.  On top of all the action the movie does great work in production.  The costumes look good, the sets and ships look good.  The movie follows many cliches about pirates but I’d have to say that was appropriate for an action packed pirate movie.  I’m pretty sure Renny wasn’t after any Academy Awards when he made this one. He just wanted to make a fun action movie, and there is alot to be said about a fun movie you don’t have to put too much thought into.

AMBER’S REVIEW

Ryan told me this movie was still good even though it holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest box office flop in history. How can it still be good? That is like saying Gigli was a good movie. That movie may have even surpassed this one in box office flops. When we watched this movie the other night I thought I was going to die. This movie is completely boring and unrealistic. And although I really do like Geena Davis, I really can’t stand her in this movie. I also just in general did not like this movie. Unless you are an eleven year old boy, I wouldn’t recommend watching this movie. It is a total snooze fest.

NEXT MOVIE: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)