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.


Ghostbusters II

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1989

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd

Based on characters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

“On Our Own” written by L.A. Reid/Babyface/Daryl Simmons and performed by Bobby Brown

It’s five years after the events of “Ghostbusters” and they haven’t been entirely good years for our heroes. Even though they saved the world from being destroyed by Gozer, that didn’t stop everybody and their mother from suing The Ghostbusters for property damage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve been forced out of business due to a truckload of court orders. Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs an occult used bookstore and entertains at children’s parties along with Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). They sing the “Ghostbusters” theme song while the kids shriek that they’d rather have He-Man singing. Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has gotten his job back at Columbia University doing more conventional research into human emotion (a curious line of research for Egon, I would think) while Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a television show about psychics and UFO’s.

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But the boys are drawn back into paranormal investigations by their old friend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver.) In those five years she’s gotten married, divorced and a new job at the Manhattan Museum of Art resorting ancient paintings under the supervision of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has a serious crush on her. But Dana’s primary concern is providing for her son Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf & Hank J. Deutschendorf II) Once again Dana is the focus of paranormal activity such as her baby’s carriage taking off on it’s own power and careening through rush hour Manhattan traffic. She’s also unnerved by the painting she’s working on, a portrait of the 16th century magician and tyrant Vigo The Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg/voiced by Max Von Sydow.)

The boys agree to help Dana and an illegal excavation on First Avenue where the baby carriage went wild enables them to discover a vast river of psychomagnatheric slime filling the long abandoned and experimental pneumatic transit system running the length of underground Manhattan. During their investigations the Ghostbusters cause a citywide blackout and are arrested. On the verge of being sentenced to jail, a sample of the slime reacts to Judge Wexler’s (Harris Yulin) near hysterical angry tirade directed at the boys and it conjures forth the spirits of two murderers Wexler sentenced to the electric chair. In order to save his life from the ghosts, Wexler dismisses all charges and restraining orders against The Ghostbusters who capture the ghosts and they’re back in business.

But can they stop the spirit of Vigo The Carpathian who has already possessed Janosz Poha and is using the river of slime, which feeds off the ill will of eight million New Yorkers to fuel his ever-growing power? What do you think? They’re too hot to handle, too cold to hold. They’re called The Ghostbusters and they’re in control. Try to battle these boys? That’s not legal.

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Whenever I read reviews or talk to people about GHOSTBUSTERS II, this is what I come away with: people don’t like it because it’s not “Ghostbusters.” But there’s no way it could be. “Ghostbusters” was so unique, so fresh, so unlike any movie we’d seen before. Me, I give the cast a lot of credit for giving it their best (well, most of them anyway…we’ll get to that) considering that most of them didn’t want to do a sequel and it had taken Columbia Pictures five years to persuade them to do a sequel.

But just like the first one, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis provide a story that feels like a story and not just something they tossed off during lunch. I like how the story picks up with The Ghostbusters having been sued out of business even though they saved the world (I wonder if that was intended as a homage to “Son of Kong” which found Carl Denham in a similar situation due to Kong’s rampage) and how the boys get back into business. I like how, just like in the first one, the Ghostbusters actually investigate the river of slime and Vigo’s history, putting clues together to uncover Vigo’s ultimate ambition of reincarnating himself in Dana’s baby Oscar (what, wouldn’t any baby do?)

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Unlike the first movie, Bill Murray doesn’t steal any scenes and his energy level here is way, way down. Oh, sure, he’s still the snarky, sarcastic Peter Venkman we know and love but the con-man/used car salesman hustler is gone. Thankfully Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson dial up their energy to compensate and it works. And we have Peter MacNicol who’s this movie’s MVP as Janosz Poha. I have no idea where MacNicol got that accent or that unusual way of phrasing that he uses but it leaves me limp with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana really doesn’t have much to do except once again half-heartedly fend off Venkman’s advances and worry about her son. Annie Potts and Rick Moranis return as Janine Melnitz and Louis Tully and their characters are given a romance so that they’ll something to do while the boys are off busting ghosts.

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I’m well aware that I hold a minority opinion but I just can’t find it in me to dislike GHOSTBUSTERS II. It still has the quirky charm of the first and that goofy mixture of science fiction and the supernatural. The cast is extremely likeable and they all have great chemistry together. I watched it earlier today, damned if it still wasn’t a more entertaining and fun movie than 75% of the movies I’ve seen this year so far. No, it’s nowhere near as funny or as quotable as the first but there’s still a lot of good laughs to be had in here. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older and more forgiving but more and more I’m judging movies on two things: was the movie fun and did it entertain me? GHOSTBUSTERS II does indeed entertain me and it’s a lot of fun.

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108 Minutes

Rated PG

Ghostbusters (1984)

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1984

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Music by Elmer Bernstein

“Ghostbusters” written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting important ESP research at Columbia University (which involves tricking one of his students into believing she has psychic powers so he can get into her pants) when he’s called to the New York Public Library to investigate a genuine ghost sighting. Despite his best efforts to avoid going, he’s dragged to the library by his colleagues, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) They encounter the spirit of a dead librarian and are thrilled that all their theories about the existence of the paranormal is validated. They dream of unlimited funding and academic success.

Unfortunately, Columbia University doesn’t see it that way as the trio are considered to be nuts. Well, Ray and Egon are. Peter is considered to be little more than a hustler and cheap con man. They’re fired from the university but that doesn’t phase Peter. In record time he’s persuaded Ray to mortgage his house (“Don’t worry about it! Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) in order to get the funds to develop and build equipment capable of capturing ghosts, buy a dilapidated firehouse one inspection away from being condemned and establish a ghost elimination service known as GHOSTBUSTERS. Their secretary, the sarcastic Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), mans the office. Ray buys a broken down ambulance he works on and refurbishes to transport their equipment they name “Ecto-1.” Although they’re initially looked upon as bunkum artists, the increase of paranormal activity in New York soon proves that they are legitimate and have to hire help, Winston Zeddmore who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.

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Turns out that they really need the extra help. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) seeks help from the Ghostbusters because a demonic spirit has possessed her refrigerator. And not long afterwards, possesses her as well. It’s Zuul, the servant of Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan) the Sumerian god of destruction. Being The Gatekeeper, Zuul must join with The Keymaster, which has possessed the body of her next door neighbor, nebbishy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the meantime, the Ghostbusters have learned that Ivo Shandor, a mad scientist designed the building Dana and Louis live in as a gateway to bridge our world with that of the dimension Gozer inhabits, granting it access to Earth and thereby causing the end of the world.

Time to strap on the proton packs, heat ‘em up, make ‘em hard and show that prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.

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What can possibly be said about GHOSTBUSTERS that you haven’t heard or read before? Well, how about this; if Neil Simon and Don Coscarelli had ever decided to get together and make a movie, it might have turned out something like this. It’s a uniquely New York movie in attitude and tone that reminded me of Simon what with that unique New York way of looking at things and how New Yorkers talk while the blend of the supernatural with science fiction reminded me of Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” movies. The unique blending of comedy, science fiction and the supernatural shouldn’t have worked but due to the talent behind and in front of the camera and the exceptionally strong story, it does so in magnificently successful fashion.

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And that is the key to GHOSTBUSTERS; the story. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis didn’t think up a bunch of gags and then write a story around the gags. They wrote a story first and let the gags grow out of the situation and the characters. And make no mistake about it; the movie has terrific characters, all of them. I especially like how the Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as blue-collar scientists. Just because they have Ph.D.’s and IQs off the charts doesn’t mean that they’re not regular guys. They smoke cigarettes. They drink beer. They like working on cars and machinery and getting their hands dirty. They eat a lot of junk food (this love of eating junk food carries over into 2016’s “Ghostbusters” where we see the all-girl team share that trait with these guys). They investigate the case of Dana’s hauntings using their particular skill sets; Ray researches the history and construction of the building, Egon consults Tobin’s Spirit Guide to find out who Zuul is while Peter…well, Peter is being Peter. And if you’ve seen GHOSTBUSTERS (and I can’t imagine anybody who hasn’t) you know what that means.

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As good as the entire cast is, it’s Bill Murray that puts the movie in his hip pocket and walks out the door with it. He gets the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. But let me say that Harold Ramis can get just as much of a laugh out of me with his facial expressions. And Dan Aykroyd is a master of technobabble that is bewilderingly comical. All four of the Ghostbusters have distinct personalities and Dana Barrett is right on the money when she says that Peter Venkman acts more like a game show host than a scientist. He’s a hustler, always on the make for a quick buck or a even quicker lay but when the chips are down, he’s the first one to make a deal with The Mayor of New York to give the Ghostbusters a chance to save the city and the world. And everybody plays the material straight. If anybody had broken character or winked at the camera it would have spoiled the movie. But the don’t and because they treat what’s happening as real, we do as well.

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Over the years, GHOSTBUSTERS has come to be hailed as a classic. It’s rightly considered one of the funniest movies ever made and the United States Library of Congress has preserved it in the National Film Registry. Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen GHOSTBUSTERS. And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s rare that a movie is a perfect blend of genres married with a terrific story and solid acting. GHOSTBUSTERS is that perfect blend.

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Ernie Hudson, left, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in a scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters.” CREDIT: Sony Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Rated PG

105 Minutes

Stripes

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Produced by Daniel Goldberg/Ivan Reitman

Written by Len Blum/Harold Ramis/Daniel Goldberg

Ask most people what they consider THE Definitive Bill Murray Comedy and you’re going to get many answers. Some will go all the way back to “Meatballs.” A whole lot will say “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters.” A lot more will say “Scrooged” or “Groundhog Day.” Then you’ll have those that will cite “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Seeing as how I’m not a fan of either one of those we’ll just push on.

But if you were to ask me what my definitive Bill Murray Comedy is, I’d always answer with STRIPES. Why? Maybe because it appeals a whole lot to who I was back in 1981 when I saw the movie. I was irreverent, foolhardy, undisciplined and more than a bit of a total asshole which is exactly what the John Winger character that Bill Murray plays in this movie is. So I identified a lot with that. But it’s also more than that. STRIPES is a superior comedy that highlights the team of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to their comedic utmost. I mean that everything these cats do in this movie is funny. STRIPES is one of those rare comedy movies that just doesn’t run out of steam. The longer it goes on, the funnier it gets. And it’s the best kind of comedy. The kind in which we’re laughing with the characters and the situations they get into and not at them.

John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his job, his girl and his apartment all in the same day and on an impulse decides to join The Army and be all the best that he can be. His best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins up with him because he’s that Best of Best Friends: the one that will totally and completely assist you in making a stupid mistake.

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Winger and Ziskey are a little older than your usual recruit so they’re not as down with the gung-ho attitude of their younger platoon mates (John Candy, John Diehl and Judge Reinhold). And Winger soon finds himself in serious contention with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) who is having his own problem with the platoon’s new commanding officer, the supremely incompetent Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). But Winger and Ziskey soon find the rigors of basic training softened by their blatantly sexual relationships with female MPs Hansen (P.J. Soles) and Cooper (Sean Young).

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Through a series of misadventures I would not dream of revealing here just in case you have never seen STRIPES (and if you haven’t then what is wrong with you?) Winger, Ziskey, Hansen and Cooper find themselves in the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which is basically a tank designed as a family RV invading Czechoslovakia to rescue Captain Stillman and their platoon who themselves mistakenly invaded Czechoslovakia thinking that Winger and Ziskey were Russian spies. Look, just watch the movie, okay?

I truly enjoy watching Bill Murray at work in every single scene in this movie. Not only is he as funny as we expect him to be in the funny scenes but there are actually a couple of scenes where we see flashes of the dramatic actor we would see in later movies such as “Lost In Translation” “Get Low” and “Hyde Park On Hudson.” I really like how Harold Ramis ended up with the Hot Chick in this movie instead of his co-star. And STRIPES is the movie that will make you wish that he and Murray had co-starred in a lot more movies. In this movie he shows how he was truly the perfect foil and balance for Murray’s type of humor.

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What else can I say about STRIPES? There’s Warren Oates and his understated performance as Sergeant Hulka. Oates is funny here because most of the time he’s on screen he’s not trying to be funny. But when he is trying, he knows how to sell the scene. And he knows how to play dramatic in a comedy movie such as in the scene where he and Murray have a confrontation in a bathroom. The scene isn’t played for laughs and in the context of what we have come to know about the two characters and their relationship to each other, it works. John Candy and John Diehl have some great scenes together that I enjoyed a lot because I know from interviews I’ve read and seen with him I think I have a good sense of how smart John Diehl is and I appreciate that you have to be really smart to plat really dumb. The Classic “Army Training, SIR!” scene where Murray and his platoon totally kick all kinds of ass in drill techniques in front of the Army brass.

The bottom line is this: I consider STRIPES to be one of the smartest and funniest comedies to have come out of the 1980s. You want to see Classic Bill Murray at his best, watch this one.

106 Minutes

Rated R