[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 2 – Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Cast: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin, Michael Villani

Screenplay: Stephen F. Andrich, John DeBello, Costa Dillon, J. Stephen Peace

98 mins. Rated PG.

 

The Killer Tomatoes series is almost a fantasy. Most people have at least heard of the films, but there are a select few that have actively sought them out to see that they are, in fact, real. Not only that, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon series that this writer has been searching out…glutton for punishment and all that, but these films are cultural landmarks in a lot of ways. Okay, not a lot of ways. A few ways. For example, the second film contains something major that people don’t really talk about it. I’m referring to the greatest post-credits scene in history. Oh yeah, and George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Hail, Caesar!) too.

It’s been ten years since the Great Tomato War, and tomatoes have been outlawed across the land, making pizza and pasta very strangely altered. Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke, License to Kill, TV’s Hand of God) is a delivery boy working out of his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, and he’s infatuated with the beautiful woman who lives with the odd and potentially villainous Professor Gangreen (John Astin, The Frighteners, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole), and through this mutual attraction Chad comes upon a horrifying-ish truth: Professor Gangreen, who may have been responsible for the Great Tomato War ten years ago, has a new device capable of using music to transform regular tomatoes into human henchmen and henchwomen, and it’s up to Chad and his roommate Matt (Clooney) to stop him before it’s too late!

This sequel shares some commonalities with its predecessor. Mainly, they are both shoestring-budget cheap. Secondly, they are both terribly stupid. Third, they know that, and they use it to their advantage. All that being said, I actually prefer the second film, which I felt nailed the comedy and satire much better, but Return of the Killer Tomatoes tries really hard to do something unique with the narrative, something I can commend them on, but the whole story of turning tomatoes into humans for world domination just didn’t do it for me. I much preferred the simplicity of sentient killer tomatoes from the first film.

There’s a lot of comedy to this sequel, and it mostly works, although a lot of it had been borrowed from better spoofs like Airplane! and used to better effect in films like the Wayne’s World movies, but that’s not to completely punish it. I think Starke and Clooney play off each other quite well. I’ll always know Starke from his episode of the hit series Seinfeld, in which he played the third-person speaking Jimmy, and his deadpan serious attempt to play up Chad is pretty funny. People tend to forget that Clooney has some comedic chops because he doesn’t use them often, but he’s pretty funny as Matt.

The strongest and strangest performance of the film has to go to Astin, who perfectly captures the cheese required to play a character named Professor Gangreen. He isn’t given much to do, but when he’s onscreen, he’s a lot of fun. His exchanges with his assistant Igor (Steve Lundquist, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Sleeping Car) are hilariously goofy.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes is not as strongly and consistently stupid-funny as I would have liked, and some of you may not appreciate the film’s humor at all, but I found something likably dumb about the 80s-sequel. As I said, this film fits its time frame much like the first film captured the 70s, and there’s a lot of silliness to take in, but not all of it works. It’s dumb. It’s goofy. But it’s still somehow enjoyable enough.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John DeBello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Inherent Vice (2014)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

148 mins. Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) is known for making strange movies. That isn’t a bad thing. His films always feel like a director throwing paint on the wall and turning it into a work of art. Oftentimes, he dazzles with flair and style, which complements the acid trip well.

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Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator, Her) as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, Michael Clayton, Being Flynn). This journey takes him through a series of strange encounters with people like Lieutenant Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, W., Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, No Escape), and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short, Frankenweenie, The Wind Rises). Doc, an out of place hippie in the evolving 1970s, must make his way through the web of convolution and find out the truth involving several missing persons and a few Nazis to boot in this adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel.

Joaquin Phoenix dominates here as Doc Sportello, a role seemingly made for him. His chemistry or lack thereof, is pretty perfect with Brolin, Waterston, Short, and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Wild), who portrays Sportello’s occasional squeeze Penny, a Deputy D.A.

Brolin plays the hardass cop card so well that I love seeing him onscreen. He offers slight nuance as Bigfoot Bjornsen, a relatively unlikable but totally watchable antihero. Benicio del Toro (Snatch, Guardians of the Galaxy) also appears at Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney, and he is underseen and wonderful. And can I just say how awesome it is to have Martin Short on the big screen as Blatnoyd?

While the acting performances are top notch, the flaws with this film come from a much-too-convoluted plotline anchored by a screenplay more adaptation than actual screenplay. This tactic can and has worked in the past, but here it comes off as a story that belongs on the page. Anderson’s screenplay is missing the stylistic touches that would make it great.

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A lot of this film looks and sounds great, but that screenplay proves that it can kill a movie, and it winds up doing just that here. This movie is somewhat unwatchable and feels more like a director throwing a lot of paint at the wall and creating property damage. Sadly, I had hopes.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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