Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jingle All the Way

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! In your life, always jingle all the way.  Never only jingle part of the way.  You're better than that.




Jingle All the Way – 3 out of 5

I saw Jingle All the Way in the theater when it came out in 1996 and thought it was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.  I found the humor corny and had a hard time reconciling seeing my favorite action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger in an over-the-top goofy comedy.  The film went on to be a hacky joke in my world and would be referenced endlessly while I was in college on my radio show (we frequently had “celebrity guests” and me impersonating Arnold was one of them).  However, for this Christmas Eve, I decided to give the movie another shot and ended finding charm in it that I overlooked when I was an angst-y grunge-loving teenager.

I felt bad for laughing at this part but it was hard not to.
 

He should get back to the choppa...the corporate choppa.
He has to meet with some clients.
Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is a workaholic father who barely has time for his wife Liz (Rita Wilson) and son Jamie (Jake Lloyd).  In the meantime, his neighbor Ted (Phil Hartman) seems to be trying to weasel his way into Liz’s life and take Howard’s place.  After missing an important karate class of Jamie’s, Howard is desperate to win (buy) back his child’s love and he promises that he will get him the most popular toy of the season, the action hero doll Turbo-Man.  The only problem, he didn’t listen to his wife several weeks ago when she told him to get one and now has to try and locate one at the last minute. He soon learns he's not alone and finds a rival in mailman Myron Larabee (Sinbad) and neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop that postal serviceman from getting what Howard is after.


Sometimes Sinbad can be overbearing but his scenes with
Arnold are kinda fun.

I won’t make the argument that Jingle All the Way is a great movie or a fantastic holiday film to watch but revisiting it I realized that my own cynical teenager ways (because we took cynicism to an all-new level in the 90s) might have judged the film way too harshly.  Yes, it’s still super cheesy and has a lot of dumb moments but I actually found it kinda fun watching it as an adult.  It’s pure holiday fluff that’s all about the bright and shiny happiness of the season but it works and really is the right kind of fun fluff for the holidays.

It's so dumb when the WWE's The Big Show (then WCW's The Giant) comes out
and says, "I'm going to deck your halls" but, dammit, I sure laughed
my ass off at it.

Performance-wise, the players in Jingle All the Way really aren’t that bad.  Jake Lloyd is a kid and is doing fine for what his character is, Rita Wilson is great as the wife of a work-obsessed husband and Phil Hartman is always hilarious—even though it’s a mystery why he’s considered the heartthrob of their cul-du-sac suburban community (look, I think the guy was funny and charming but he’s not really a stud muffin).   

Well, then again, he is funny and ladies love to laugh.

Additionally, Sinbad, who plays a rival of Howard’s who is out to get his own Turbo-Man doll at the last minute, is doing a decent job in his role.  Finally, Arnold has that undeniable charm that he brings to every role he does.  As a teen, I didn’t appreciate it at all but, now that I’m older, I watch him and I see a man who genuinely enjoys what he is doing and is clearly giving his all to the role.  It shows tremendously in this and, watching this now without the angst, he’s incredibly fun as Howard.

Remember how terrible fanboys were to Lloyd after The Phantom Menace?
We are a collection of awful, awful people.

The comedy provided with this one is really simplistic slapstick that is all about over-the-top and cartoonish violence that you’d usually see in a situational comedy like this.  The gags and sequences didn’t reinvent comedy when it first arrived and it’s not something that will go down in time as a redefining piece of work for the genre but carried by Arnold the whole simple idea is very effective and proved to be some goofy and sorta dumb fun.  I love my popcorn action films that are just loud noises and visual splendor and this one is a family-friendly comedy version of that concept but with a Christmas theme and cartoon-like violence and shenanigans rather than explosions and fight scenes.

Also, the film gives you Arnold in this suit and that alone is worth the price
of admission.

Jingle All the Way isn’t a high concept comedy with deep writing, intricate characters, nuanced performances and heavy atmosphere, story and plot.  Nope.  It’s just a simple Christmas story about a father trying to do right by his son and get him the toy he really wants but, in the end, they all learn that all they need is each other.  Yes, the sappy moral is there and is heavy-handed but I’m not going to deny that I had fun revisiting and giving it another shot.  I won’t even go as far to say that this movie is one of those “so bad, they’re dumb” films because I genuinely found it enjoyable thanks to its unique charm and the charisma that Schwarzenegger brings.  I definitely judged this one too harshly years back.

I'm going to look at this picture everyday and pretend it's Arnold trying to
motivate me personally.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Small Soldiers

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Up next, medium and large soldiers.




Small Soldiers – 4 out of 5

I’ve only seen this movie once in my life—and my family actually owned the damn thing on VHS.  Despite being a fan of the director and loving some of his other films, Small Soldiers just didn’t speak to me when I saw it.  For some reason, I was reminded of it and decided to give the feature another chance—almost twenty years later.  Having basically viewed it with fresh eyes, I have to say that I was wrong when I was just a late teen and I really enjoyed this film.

You're pretty much guaranteed a good movie when you see that Dick
Miller is in it.

They look so young.  They're basically babies here!
In an effort to get the approval of their new boss (played by Denis Leary being 90s Denis Leary), Irwin (David Cross) and Larry (Jay Mohr) promise to have state-of-the-art action figures to deliver to market.  To cut corners, Larry gets his hands on experimental microchips from the government and uses them on the toys.  The son of a small toy shop owner; Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith), gets his hands on these toys:  The Commando Elites (voiced by the original cast of The Dirty Dozen:  George Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown and Clint Walker, along with Bruce Dern), led by Chip Hazard (Tommy Lee Jones) and their sworn enemies; The Gorgonites (voiced by the original cast of This Is Spinal Tap:  Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, along with Jim Cummings) and their leader Archer (Frank Langella).  It’s soon learned that the chips in the toys have the capacity to learn and Chip Hazard and his men decide to stop at nothing to destroy the Gorgonites.  Now Alan, his friend Christy (Kirsten Dunst) and their families are caught in the crossfire.

And, of course, they find love...or like-liking each other.

I’m not sure why I didn’t care for this film when I first saw.  I don’t remember hating it; I just remember it not leaving an impact on me.  Revisiting it, though, I see a movie that has great usage of special and practical effects, some killer voice acting work, a surprisingly great soundtrack, good performances, and some amusing moments.  I won’t go as far to say that I found this film to be hilarious but there are definitely some humorous sequences.

Hmmm, I don't remember Bill Hicks ever playing a role like this...
 

Ignoring the fact that this movie is a prime example of how movie science is out of touch with real science (it’s fun to snicker at these things but ultimately pointless to smugly whine about the lack of realism) the film shines brightly with how director Joe Dante handles the way the Commando Elites rise up and start a war with the human characters protecting the Gorgonites.  Dante is no stranger to movies that involve small creatures terrorizing human beings (Gremlins and its much underappreciated satirical sequel) nor is he a stranger to dark comedies (another underappreciated gem; The ‘Burbs) and he really makes this dynamic work.  Yes, the Commandos aren’t a legitimate threat but they are a fun one.  It’s already cool that the voice actors used are reunions of The Dirty Dozen (and Spinal Tap in the case of the Gorgonites) but the design department really did a bang up job mocking up and crafting their weapons of war that the toys create in order to get through the human shields and get to the Gorgonites.  It’s kinda fun picking out the everyday household items they used to make their vehicles and weapons and, ultimately, sells the reality that these bits of plastic that you could realistically just step on and snap in half are things that could actually be somewhat of a threat.

Yeah, I'd buy the hell out of some Gorgonites and Commandos figures.

One thing I really liked about this film is how it marries practical and computer effects.  I’m not one of those toxic nostalgia dudes that want all effects now to be practical because that’s how it was in my formative years.  I actually like both practical and CG effects.  The only time I have a problem with either is when they are done poorly—imagine that!  Small Soldiers does a terrific job of having these little animatronic toys for many scenes and, when moments are required that are beyond what the little robots can do, primitive 90s era computer animation is used and it works fairly seamlessly.  Granted, the computer effects aren’t as detailed or as developed as we have it now but it works and was very effective in making the toys feel like actual characters in the film and not just props on the set.

The one that picked out the sickle is going places.  He likes to add style
to his weapons of harm.

The only real downside I have for the film is the human players aren’t nearly as memorable as the toy characters—which kinda stinks because this movie has Phil Hartman in it and the man was a treasure that we lost way too soon.

The dude was just hysterical.


None of the cast are essentially bad—even Denis Leary, who is basically playing his stand-up “I’m an asshole” character, isn’t that hard to deal with.  Kirsten Dunst and Gregory Smith are decent as the two kids who fall into this mess and end up like-liking each other and the parents of both of them are fun and have their moments.  Additionally, David Cross and Jay Mohr have some fun sequences together and play off of one another very well.  The problem is that the voice acting cast and the little soldiers and Gorgonites just steal the show and it’s hard to compete with them.

"Check every hen house, outhouse, and Barbie Dreamhouse..."

I’m pretty glad I decided to give Small Soldiers another shot because it’s just another example of the great work that Joe Dante has been a part of.  Is it going to be something that I love as much as some of his other work?  Probably not but I still found a film that was very fun and entertaining and one I think I didn’t give a fair shot to ago when I was a dumb teenager on the verge of graduating high school.  Now I’m just a dumb adult in his mid-30s.

A Christmas Horror Story

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Why isn't Shutter playing this for 24 hours on Christmas?




A Christmas Horror Story – 4 out of 5


I heard about this film when it came out in 2015 and was prepared to hunt down a copy until a bunch of hardcore horror fans in a Facebook movie discussion group I’m in started raving about it.  Usually, when I hear people expressing heaping helpings of love for a film I become more invested in seeing the product but (and I don’t mean this as a dig on them) horror fans can be pretty forgiving of scary films while I am very critical of them.  Where they let things like bad makeup effects, clumsy editing, bad acting and a terrible story go, I find myself focusing entirely on these things and can’t get into it just because of its existence in a certain genre.  So, I let this movie slide but found myself ready to check it out for this holiday season.  Serendipity smiled at this because, at the same time, a friend of mine was telling me all about it and how she liked it.  Well, I went into A Christmas Horror Story expecting to hate it and see something cheap and bottom of the barrel (something The Asylum would make) but found myself actually pleasantly surprised.

This movie has Santa's little helpers turning into zombies.  That alone makes it
worth the watch.


We’ve seen horror anthology films before but never ones that were Christmas themed.  In one, some young teens break into their school in order to investigate some murders that took place years prior and to see if ghosts haunt the halls.  In our second story, a married couple and their son take a Christmas tree from some private land and discover that something happened to their child.  What was once a bright-eyed boy has become something far darker and more sinister.  The third story revolves around a family being hunted in the woods after their vehicle goes off the road.  They soon learn that it is Krampus himself after them.  In the final story, we take a trip to the North Pole where a zombie virus has infected all the elves and now Santa (George Buza) is fighting for his life.

I'll be honest, I'm happy that Krampus has made such a big return in the last
several years.  We need that darkness to balance out the light of the holiday.


Geez kid, we get it.  You like the band Creed.
My expectation for A Christmas Horror Story was a feature that had terrible acting, awful makeup effects, a low budget presentation and a collection of predictable jump scares.  I was completely wrong.  There are some low budget elements in the film—for example, Santa’s home looks a little cheesy—but the overall experience was a surprisingly competent film.  This wasn’t just some people throwing together a horror film because they had access to a camera and editing software—something a lot of horror films feel like sometimes.  Overall, the movie’s lighting, editing and the way the plot flowed and moved from one story to the next was excellent.  Stories were able to capture the perfect tone and atmosphere needed and none of the stories every felt like they were similar in any way.  Santa’s tale didn’t have the same vibe as the married couple and the kids breaking into their school didn’t have the same feel as the family being hunted by Krampus.  Very talented people worked on this one and crafted an anthology film that gelled and blended together but had stories that each felt unique with its own vibe and pacing and that wasn’t lost as it was put side-by-side with the other tales.

Kids, they'll never not be creepy.  I'm glad I'm not attractive enough for a
woman to want to have children with me.


I'll be honest, I can only stand this man for seconds
at a time.
I also really enjoyed the cast of this film.  Everyone is doing a great job bringing their characters to life.  I will admit that some members aren’t as commanding or attention-grabbing as others but, unlike most low budget horror films, this feature isn’t filled with wooden players or individuals that you swear have dirt on the director and forced their way onto set.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of William Shatner—who plays a disc jockey character; Dangerous Dan, who acts as a character who exists outside of the stories (but yet is not really the “host” of the anthology either).  Shatner isn’t terrible (by Shatner standards anyway) but he felt like he was trying to be “too funny” and his moments of levity felt forced.  Still, he wasn’t an entertainment-killer.  Finally, I have to make special mention of George Buza as Santa.  I really enjoyed his performance and found it to be the most memorable of the film but, additionally, he just looked like a cool Santa.

A very badass Santa.  Seconded only to the Santa in Rise of the Guardians.


Finally, one thing I really enjoyed about this movie is the fact it offers up a nice little twist ending that connects one of its tales with the segments involving Dangerous Dan.  With each tale, you can find little moments where each story interconnects in one way or another but the way the end comes about and unexpectedly redefines how one of the stories was playing out was pretty fun and made for a very memorable ending.  I didn’t go into this film expecting to see a twist ending but its inclusion was a very nice surprise.

Get these two in a Hell in the Cell pronto!


Concerning anything that might be holding this film back, the only thing that came to mind is the replay value.  Like any holiday specific film, I can’t see myself sitting down and watching it at any time out of the year that isn’t within a few weeks of the holiday it is about.  I’m not going to watch A Christmas Horror Story in the middle of April.  That aside, I still found the film to be a fun, albeit slightly cheesy at times, low budget horror film.  It was produced way better than I anticipated and its twist ending was just a delight.  Overall, not too shabby of a Christmas-themed horror anthology.