Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.


Bringing Down The House

2003
Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Adam Shankman
Produced by Ashok Amritraj
Written by Jason Filardi

Right off the bat I guess I should tell you my first impression after the first ten minutes of my watching BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE: it’s a pilot for a sitcom.  And Patricia agreed with me 100%.  But you know something?  The right elements are there and it’s entertaining enough that by the half-hour mark I didn’t even care.  The cast is obviously having fun with what they’re doing and that fun comes across so well that I sat back with a goofy grin on my face and waited for the next outrageous situation and enjoyed the belly laughs as they came.  And the movie does have quite a few belly laughs and more than a few quieter chuckles.  It’s nowhere near in the same league as Blazing Saddles or Porky’s but it is a very funny movie and does the one thing I absolutely demand from a comedy: it made me laugh.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a corporate lawyer struggling through a separation from his wife and trying to stay two jumps ahead of the younger, more aggressive lawyers at his firm looking for his slot.  There’s a major client who has inherited a multi-billion dollar corporation and Peter is in charge of the account.  If he lands it, he’ll be made a partner and set for life and if he loses it…well, there’s always ambulance chasing.  Meanwhile, Peter has been having chat room conversations with a young lady named Lawyergurl since the separation from his wife and they agree to meet at Peter’s house for a date.  Imagine his surprise when instead of the tall, willowy blonde he was expecting, he gets the full-figured, more-bounce-to-the-ounce chocolate goddess Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) who claims she was framed for the armed robbery rap she served time for and wants Peter’s help in clearing her name.  And that’s the set-up for the movie’s plot, thin as it is.  If you’ve seen the trailers for this movie, they tell you all that right away in 45 seconds.  Toldja it was a thin plot.

Peter and Charlene go through the usual conventions of this kind of material where they argue and fight and bicker. They seem more like a old married couple halfway through the movie than most RealLife married couples I know, especially in the scenes where Charlene helps Peter’s kids through their various problems (kinda reminded me of that old Nell Carter sitcom Gimme A Break) and I had hopes that the screenplay would take the daring step of actually having the two characters fall in love, which would seem to me to be a natural outcome of them spending so much time together.

But no, the movie takes a different angle and has Charlene helping Peter get his wife back while Peter’s partner, Howie (Eugene Levy) falls mad hard for Charlene.  He actually becomes Charlene’s romantic interest while Peter and Charlene remain friends.  Peter goes undercover at a hip hop club in the last half hour to find out who really framed Charlene for the armed robbery rap.  And that’s where the movie makes a serious misstep.  I’d have liked to see the movie go for broke and have Peter and Charlene actually find themselves falling in love with each other and having to deal with their feelings for each other.

I haven’t seen Steve Martin have this much charisma and energy with a female co-star since Bernadette Peters, who he co-starred with in “The Jerk” (one of The Ten Funniest Movies Ever Made) and “Pennies From Heaven”.  It would have been really interesting to have seen the movie explore a romantic/sexual relationship between a man and woman from such radically different backgrounds and I think that would have raised the movie out of the TV Sitcom-On-Steroids feel BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE has and made it into something truly special.  The relationship between the two characters is so entertaining and intriguing that by the halfway point of the movie, you are hoping they’ll get together and have a real relationship.

But let’s deal with the movie for what it is.  It’s honestly and truly funny.  Steve Martin has long been one of my favorite actors and here he shows why he’s been around this long.  He’s terrific when he has to be funny and in the quieter scenes he’s a seasoned pro. This is material he’s been doing for a long time now and he knows what he’s doing.  One of his big scenes comes during his infiltration of the hip hop club and it’s a scene that had me holding my sides from laughing so hard.  He and Queen Latifah look great together and make a wonderful comedy team.  I wouldn’t mind seeing what they could do in a dramatic movie together

Queen Latifah walks off with the movie and it’s cool to see a full-figured woman looked upon as a sexy object of desire.  Patricia wondered where her character got the money for all the outfits and many different hairstyles she was wearing during this movie, but I didn’t care a lick.  As long as she was looking great.  And as she’s proved in many other movies she can act.  She looks wonderful in this movie and her sense of comedy timing is impeccable.  Her scenes with Joan Plowright (an accomplished English actress) are really terrific and Queen Latifah more than holds her own with an actress who was doing Shakespeare before Queen Latifah was born.

The rest of the cast has their moments except for Jean Smart.  Every time she’s on the screen, the movie slows down because there’s a boring subplot where’s she’s dating a young man that goes nowhere and does nothing but eat up screen time.

Eugene Levy is a standout as Howie, Peter’s best friend who falls hard for Charlene. Howie’s cooler than Peter and knows all the hip-hop slang and lingo and one of the funniest things in the movie is his delivery of that slang in straight-up lawyerese.  He has a wonderful scene where he first sees Charlene in slow motion that I think is a parody of those scenes with your typical willowy blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Katherine Heigl types and it worked for me.

And I can’t finish this review without mentioning Missi Pyle, who plays Ashley, the sister of the Jean Smart character.  She’s one of the villains of the piece and she’s so good because she turns out to be just as bad as Charlene in her own way.  They trade wicked insults back and forth with style and bear-trap wit and they have a fight scene you have to see to believe.  Imagine the female equivalents of Mike Tyson and Stephen Chow going toe to toe and you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about.

So should you see BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE?  Yeah, you should.  Hey, we’re not talking high art here or Academy Award winning performances. It’s a standard sitcom plot but the cast makes it work and they gave me my money’s worth, no doubt.  You wanna laugh for 105 minutes?  BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE will make you laugh.  Enjoy.

105 min.

Rated PG-13: The language, drug references and sexual stuff in this movie are so mild I can’t imagine anybody getting offended or bent outta shape.  You’ll find more racy scenes and harsh language in an episode of “Nip/Tuck”