Kevin Dunn

Stir of Echoes

Year: 1999
Directed By: David Koepp
Written By: David Koepp (screenplay) Richard Matheson (novel)

RYAN’S REVIEW

Back in the fall of 1999 everyone was still “seeing dead people” while I was hearing echoes. The Sixth Sense had come out in August and it was still all the rave by the time this film was released only a month later. I had heard all about The Sixth Sense but it was rated PG-13 and I didn’t think a horror movie with such a rating could be so good. Come September I found myself immediately engrossed in this R rated movie that was also about a kid who sees dead people. By that time nobody had any interest in another ghost story after they had seen that shocker at the end of The Sixth Sense.

It would go on to be years before I actually saw The Sixth Sense because somehow by not watching it I was being loyal to the film that had actually caught my eye. It wasn’t the first time two films of a similar premise have come out, in fact it seemingly happens all the time. Immediate examples that come to mind are Antz and A Bug’s Life in 1998, Volcano and Dante’s Peak in 1997, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp released in 1993 and 1994 but only six months apart, Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, and the list goes on and on. It still happens as I remember in 2013 White House Down and Olympus has Fallen both came out in the same year. By rule I only watch one of these movies when they come out, if either, and in the case of this film I watched Stir of Echoes over The Sixth Sense. I would eventually become a big M. Night Shyamalan fan but not because of his breakthrough film but rather Unbreakable and his work that followed.

This movie may have gotten lumped into this anomaly of films with similar premises coming out in the same year but they are much different actually. They weren’t featuring the same natural disaster or different biographies of the same men, but there are similarities that can’t be overlooked. Even after seeing The Sixth Sense I still prefer this movie. Yeah, Haley Joel Osment made for a cute as shit kid that could really act, but what does this kid have over Kevin freaking Bacon? In fact I think it is Bacon’s performance in this movie that gives it the edge in my opinion. I have always been a fan of Bacon and he even retweeted me once, which was pretty cool, pretty pretty pretty cool. Sorry, bingeing Curb Your Enthusiasm came to a halt swiftly at the turn of the month

Where this movie wins is that it is actually scary. The opening shot alone is spooky and it leads right into the kid talking to a ghost. Hypnosis is always fun to play with too, as a beginning to the horror to come. Hypnosis is one of those fake gimmicks that everybody wants to believe in and it is sort of real to a certain degree, but nothing like what we see in the movies. It’s ironic that Kevin bacon develops a “sixth sense” of his own after the hypnosis. Another place it wins is simply all the advantages that come with an R rating. I just think that as far as places where fuck is appropriate go, horror films are one of those places.

Now that my memory is thoroughly jogged I think these movies are far too similar. It seems as if this movie is a rip off of the one that came before but actually it could be the other way around. This movie was loosely based on a novel by Richard Matheson, who is one of Stephen King’s favorite authors incidentally. The movies are fundamentally different but when two movies about a kid seeing dead people come out within a month of each other something is wrong. This anomaly I discuss is odd and if anybody out there can explain it I would love to know your thoughts on the matter. I may be alone but I think this is a better movie and it was overshadowed and fell victim to the said anomaly.

It’s a shame because Kevin Bacon does give quite an exceptional performance. He isn’t alone either, being surrounded by a supporting case that I really like. I am a big fan of Kevin Dunn and like him in many roles he has played, including this one. Zachary David Cole wasn’t the actor that Haley Joel Osment was but he holds his own. I also like Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas who play the two female leads. I don’t know who plays Neil the cop but he really reminds me of Halloran from The ShiningI wonder if that is a coincidence or an influence King got from Matheson.

This movie doesn’t end with the same kind of shocker as its anomaly but it keeps the mystery and excitement through to the end. I don’t think I’ll ever win over a fan of The Sixth Sense in the personal argument I have but I will always be on the side of Echoes. I think this is a cool movie and I’ve enjoyed watching it again. I think this movie is easily worth your time and it works for the Halloween season.

 

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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)