Sunday, February 28, 2021

Scary Godmother (2003-05) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

When I was a kid, I disliked many things aimed at my age demographic. Bananas in Pyjamas? Pass! How about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Mary Poppins? More like Evil Dead! This isn't to say I hated all kids media, but for many things I was quick to dismiss them as childish. I had this assumption about Scary Godmother when I saw the ads, but after I caught it on TV one day I was entranced, and took back every negative thought I ever had!...

One Halloween night, mean boy Jimmy and his three friends Katie Darryl and Bert decide to ditch his young cousin Hannah, so they can go trick or treating more efficiently on their own. They come up with a plan to scare her away by sending her alone into the 'Spook house', but things go wrong when she doesn't come out. As the trio wait impatiently for their plan to succeed, the deathly frightened Hannah soon meets her Scary Godmother, and realises the creatures of the night are nothing to be afraid of...

Scary Godmother is a delightful watch. Brisk at only 45 minutes, packed with plenty of entertaining setpieces and comedy moments. It can be a bit hyper at times, and one or two scenes are a little confusing, but theses are minor issues in an otherwise highly enjoyable film.

Onto the characters. Hannah is such a cutiepie! She's endearing, loveable, and has such a nice approach with everyone she meets. Scary Godmother on the other hand is the manic and fun-loving aunt you wish you could have. Never obnoxious, she carries the movie greatly, introducing us all to a world that should exist, if only the real world wasn't so boring.

Jimmy is the most villainous of the cast, and amusingly unlikeable. Not a moment goes by when you don't want to slap him, but he's never genuinely frustrating. As for his three friends, I like the way they're written. They're not bad kids, and quite likeable in some ways, but between their cowing to Jimmy, and kinda dismissive attitude at times, you can see how they'd go along with this plan, and you do look forward to seeing them punished at least a little. What I found most adorable of all was the romance between Katie and Darryl. It was so sweet! I was hoping we'd get to see a kiss, but not quite. *sighs*

The monsters are great! From the campy skeleton in the closet Skully Pettibone, hungry werewolf Max, the amusingly droll vampire family, the gruff yet friendly Bug-a-Boo, and more, they're lots of fun, and no two are alike.

The animation in Scary Godmother is charming. While some nowadays say it's terrible and unsettling, I think it holds up perfectly well. The 3D models are well designed, and move fluidly, always with life in their faces (or DEATH, as it were! Mwuhahaha!), and even their eyes manage to avoid being lifeless or creepy, as often happened with other 3D animations back in the day (or even now). The environments are created with an illustrated fashion, and it's a really cool effect. The two styles mix awesomely, creating some nifty visuals.

The directing is very good, and has lots of flair, with my favourite moment being the 'spinning' moment. It really shows off how good the integration is between characters and their location, and shows that the director wasn't just being lazy because he got a cartoon gig. There's a variety of other neat moments all throughout, and great visuals.

The cast all do a fine job, from the kids to the monsters. A couple of performances might be a bit too over the top for some, but there's nothing bad at least. The music is great too, with many super groovy tracks! We get   all with a Halloween ring to them.

Two years later, Scary Godmother received a sequel, The Revenge of Jimmy, and it's likewise lots of fun! It continues the story without rehashing anything, and it's got a really enjoyable structure, and captures the spirit of Halloween perfectly. If ever anything goes wrong with your Halloween and it seems like things are done for, don't fret, because there's always a way to fix it, or always an alternative. A great message to share. The characters are loads of fun. Hannah has grown as a protagonist, and is older and more assured, while still an adorable and sweet-natured girl. The trio of kids are nicer this time round, and hang out almost exclusively with Hannah, though everyone is still friendly towards Jimmy, despite his consistent/constant attempts to destroy Halloween. The jokes continue to earn laughs, and there's a decent mix of laughs for the kids and adults alike.

To finish, Scary Godmother is a wonderfully ooky watch, especially for kids! If you have any who want something gruesome, macabre, and terrifying, I suppose you could show them an R-rated move (goodness knows I would've been happy with that as a wee one), but if you insist on something family friendly, this is the perfect choice!...

Phantom Investigators (2002) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

It's that time of year again for my good friend Emily Intravia's annual blogathon-The Shortening   for storytime! When I was a child, we were in a golden age of television, even if we didn't quite realise it at the time (sometimes you don't appreciate things as much as you should until later on, when you reflect upon how things were, what they're like now, etc). One show that I've always fondly remembered from this time is the unsung Phantom Investigators!...

Every day there's a ghost or spectre of some kind terrorising innocent kids, and it's up to the four Phantom Investigators, Daemona Prune, Jericho, Casey, and Kira, to solve each case before it's too late, saving the world as well as satisfying their customers.  From demonic possession

Phantom Investigators was a short-lived series that came and went without much fanfare, but those of us who saw it never forgot. I only saw a bare handful of episodes as a kid, yet what I saw really stuck with me. For years I searched for it, without success. It's never had a VHS or DVD release, nor did I have any luck finding it online. Until recently! And I was finally able to see the series in its entirety. Hell, see it at all for the first time in 18 years!

This is a highly enjoyable series. Fun, spooky, and well written, each episode   full of creativity. From the design and ideas of some of the monsters, to the ways the team beat them, the show is extremely imaginative. It's also light on cringyness that can be present in some kids shows, which is a relief.

What also sets Phantom Investigators apart from other shows of its kind is the edge it has. Don't get me wrong, it's still a lighthearted kids show, but it doesn't shy away from darker elements, or genuinely effective bits of horror. Even though they're in the confines of a G-rated series, they don't feel held back or watered down. This attitude of never talking down to its audience really says a lot about its quality, and will endear it to young and old as a result.

My least favourite episode has gotta be The Stall of Doom, not because it's bad, but because the characters are so snippy to each-other all of a sudden! I know it's part of the episode's overall message, bu still, it's annoying! My favourite episodes meanwhile are a toss-up between three. First is Haunted Dreams, which manages to be creepy in the same vein as A Nightmare of Elm Street, in a way I'm surprised a [kids series was allowed to show. Then there's Ghosts on Film, which is a love letter to old B-movies, as well as a neat story to boot. But my personal favourite has got to be the finale-Secrets Exposed, which entranced young Christopher, who thought for sure this show was just some stupid childish guff, when instead it turned out to be a surprisingly mature and layered] program! I so wanted to see what happened next after that ending phone call...

The characters are a nicely diverse bunch, each with their own unique traits. Daemona was my favourite, both in visuals and personality. I wish I coulda had a friend like her as a kid! Supernatural helpers Jinxy and Wad might be annoying to some, but they grew on me, and are good comic relief (especially in one episode with a hilariously Australian ghost koala).

The animation is the most unique thing about this series. A combination of both stop-motion, puppetry, and live action, it's unlike most other shows. This may sound like a completely disparate combination, but it works very well. The flat cut-out characters integrate nicely with the environments and the live action actors.

The acting here is fun all round. The leading actors do great, and special props to Courtney Vineys as Daemona  The live action performers can get a bit goofy, but not obnoxiously so, for the most part. My favourite of the bunch was = as friendly ghost janitor Mustapha.

The music is a lot of fun, helping build an atmosphere of supernatural fun. It's always neat to listen to.

Phantom Investigators is a real diamond in the rough, and well worth checking out. It's a shame it never got a second season, and an even greater shame that it's never even seen a legitimate release, because this is a series that deserves all the attention in the world. If you're eager for spooky fun, look no further!...

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mr. Billion (1977), Renegade (1987), and Virtual Weapon (1997)

Mr. Billion (1977)

When an esteemed businessman dies, he leaves his entire $1 billion dollar fortune to his distant Italian relation Guido Falcone, who never asked him for anything more than a pair of American cowboy boots. This upsets the greedy business partner Cutler, who reluctantly bids a hearty welcome to Guido, inviting him to the States, but then doing everything in his power to make him miss the week-long deadline to claim the inheritance. From hiring a seductive PI to distract Guido, or hiring gangsters to kidnap him, it seems everything is against Mr. Billion, but he'll find plenty of help along the way...

Mr. Billion was Hollywood's attempt at bringing Terence Hill into the American mainstream, and it was a gamble that flopped. There are a few reasons for this. Much had been made of Mr. Billion's failure being down to hiring a hot foreign actor, then getting them to do different stuff to what made them famous. This is true to an extent, but I think there is a little more to it. This is a bit different to his usual fare (no Bud Spencer for a start!), but it's not that different, not as if you hired Buster Keaton to be a serious dramatic actor. I think that may have partially contributed to the low performance, but it could also be attributed to mismarketing, or just plain bad luck.

While it does feel awfully American, Mr. Billion is quite a fun ride. It's your typical 70s chase movie, but it does a few things that make it stand out. The lead gets a great introduction, with the scenes in Italy being vibrant and funny, as we see the local Italians do a recreation of old American westerns. I also liked how the movie portrayed

The behind-the-scenes for Mr. Billion were a little tumultuous, according to director John Kaplan. Lily Tomlin actually wanted to be in the movie, but the studio refused, instead bringing along an actress who hated the shoot and didn't get along with Terence (she began introductions by making a lewd joke about lighting cigarettes with her pussy/vagina, much to the mild-mannered and sweet Terence's shock).

The director wanted Lily Tomlin for the role, and she wanted to, but the studio refused, instead bringing along an actress who hated the shoot and disliked Terence. What a missed opportunity! Jackie Gleason also sounded like he was a bit put out of joint by having to work with a new young guy. But I like to think that was just early nerves, and any tension was soon dissolved.

Guido is a likable and charismatic hero. An all-round nice guy who you wanna see succeed over these assholes, and honour all his promises. Something I feel the movie really nailed was in embracing the country of its new breakout star, instead of ignoring it and pretending he's a born-and-bred Yank.

Rosie on the other hand is a real bitch, and I was hoping Guido would kick her to the curb and find someone else. Thankfully he does discover her true intentions fairly quickly, which means an end to the awkward rigmarole, and any interactions after this point will be honest. I still didn't want her to be the love interest, but if it was going to be an inevitability, I'm glad she at least mellows out by that point and becomes nicer.

The rest of the cast is pretty neat! Some overact more than others, and a few don't appear as much as they could've (this being a road trip means they mostly only get one scene each) but they still make an impression. The villains meanwhile are a conniving bunch, who'd cut each-other's throats for a dime or two (billion).

The ending is absolutely wonderful. A perfect culmination of the film's message and characters, it really fixes things up perfectly! The whole movie I was wondering if the company plus American love interest would mean Guido would stay in America, to which I said 'No, go back to your family in Italy, it's way better!'. And thankfully he gets a chance to do just that, in a really effective conclusion.

Terence Hill is a fine lead, while Valerie Perrine is alright if you like her. Jackie Gleason is fun as the dastardly villain, and the rest of the cast is populated by a few familiar faces, such as Slim Pickens, Chill Wills, R.G. Armstrong, and Dick Miller.

The direction is pretty standard stuff, good all the way through, but there are some moments that are filmed really impressively, like the whole Grand Canyon confrontation, where the camera soars through the sky, capturing the action all in one take. As overblown as the movie can get in places, it can also be really good.

Overall, Mr. Billion is a flawed movie, but by no means terrible, and wasn't deserving of being a box office disaster. It's well worth a watch nowadays, even if it may be a little different to Hill's usual output.

Renegade (1987)

Luke is an aimless drifter, going from town to town with his trusty horse Joe. One day he's abruptly saddled with teenager Matt, the smart-alec son of an old friend. Luke is pressganged into taking Matt to his father's new property, but soon discovers it's a hot piece of real estate, with crooks of all kinds trying to muscle in on the duo, or make attempts on their lives...

Renegade is an enjoyable road movie coming straight from the American way of Italy. It always amuses me just how much other countries understand the U.S., often better than the locals. With special praise going to Italy of course. They really knew what made American movies tick, and were therefore able to deliver great 'local' content like it was nothing.

Renegade comes fairly late in Terence's filmography, when his buddy comedy days were almost over, and he was getting older. But not too old to have a fun goodhearted scrap though! The story never lets things go on too long, as the road trip section actually ends only halfway through! From then on the movie settles into a new position, as it expands on the plot and villains.

The characters here are nice and strong. Luke is your typical drifter. Charming, a little lazy, and an all-round fun guy to be around. Matt on the other hand is a little shit, but as the movie progresses we see better sides of him, and his sarcasm, smart-talking, or general bad attitude never goes too far and makes him genuinely unikeable. The villains are alright. Fun when they appear, but they're always just goons. The main villain doesn't show up till nearly the end. He's interesting, but sorely underused.

Something I liked about Renegade is the way both the bikers and communal religious folk are presented, for the same reason-They aren't assholes. Groups like these typically are, in movies and in real life, but not all are bottom-of-the-barrel bastards, and it's nice to see an occasional movie reflect that.

The action in Renegade is dynamic, with lots of fun and creative brawls and encounters, as well as many car chases, each containing their fair share of chaos. Cars get smashed or crashed left, right, and centre. The movie also has a few jawdropping moments, like what happens with the house (really wasn't expecting the movie to go that far!), or Luke's reaction upon seeing the main villain, which is ridiculous and implausible, but really sells the moment, and is great to see.

The climax is anticlimactic in a way. The visuals are superb, and really excelled by the music, which builds this up in a spectacular way. But as soon as the bikers show up, the battle is already won. No need for a fight, as Robert Vaughn is immediately busted, and everyone goes home. The ending is a bit prolonged too. All good, don't get me wrong. I like how it wraps everything up. It's just weird in that the main villain is busted 15 minutes before the end, and the movie seems to have a couple points where it could've ended, but just kept on going. With good scenes, at least.

The actors are all good here. Terence can do roles like these in his sleep, but never gets complacent, always getting as much fun as he can out of them. Hill's son Ross makes for a nice lead, and never does his presence come off like nepotism or anything. The duo have good chemistry together. Robert Vaughn is an ok villain, but really only appears in the last 25 minutes.

The direction by longtime Hill collaborator Enzo Barboni is great. Some shots really stand out, with great use of colour, silhouettes, and natural vistas.

The soundtrack is exactly what you'd expect for a midwestern adventure. Lots of twangy country rock music, which isn't really my thing (at all), but it's still good. There are some softer tracks I liked better, that are used to great effect.

Renegade might not be for everybody, but even though I'm ostensibly one of those people, I still had a fun time with it. A love for Terence Hill trumps my dislike of the American midwest any day of the week, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it's a fun movie in general...

Virtual Weapon (1997)

Bill Skims is an ex-cop turned computer businessman. He returns to his old city, much to the delight of his friends, and his old partner Mike. Though this delight quickly turns into exasperation when it takes a grand total of one minute of being together again before someone shoots at them. It turns out Skims is here on an undercover mission to locate a master criminal and neutralise a mysterious operation involving deadly microchips...

I only recently learned of the existence of Virtual Weapon, and I was open-mouthed at not having heard of it sooner! It's a late-90s Terence Hill film, a buddy cop sci-fi film, has a black partner ala Rush Hour, and is directed by none other than Antonio Marghereti! So many things I'd never expect to see in one of his movies, all in a period I didn't know he'd still be doing it.

Given its time, and director, Virtual Weapon is a movie that could have gone very wrong. It could come off as too late into the man's career, he might not fit into a Rush Hour type story, and Antonio Margheriti's films are not exactly known for their quality at times. The man often made good (even great) films, and also made plenty of amusingly bad ones too. This film has a lot going against it...and so it's all the more impressive that it is really good! I mean it!

For a start, Virtual Weapon doesn't look at all like it's a few months shy from the year 2000. The film stock its shot on makes it look like it's from the 80s, and yes, that is a good thing. It also feels straight from that era of Italian cinema, like it could have easily been a Hill and Spencer vehicle at the height of their careers. With his advancing age, the role is tailored more for Terence as an older cop, but he also proves he's still got it when it comes to fighting, and his boyish looks and charms. You'd never guess he was 55 here!

The movie gets off to a quick start, with plenty of fun action. We're introduced to the characters well, and they quickly get on the case, with sneaking and fighting galore. The plot is fairly standard stuff. Nothing amazing, but told well, and always moving along at a decent pace.

Where the film gets the most interesting is the 'Cyper cop' angle. Summaries, trailers, and indeed the name itself give the impression it happens immediately, but actually it takes more than half the film. On one hand I'm glad it takes its time rather than rush things, but it maybe woulda been nice to get an earlier start on this. But despite coming later than expected, it's still handled pretty well, with some good moments. The computer stuff is amusingly of its time, but more in a time capsule sorta way, rather than dated.

Some note that Virtual Weapon could've been more ludicrous, and that is true to an extent. It could've been fun, and maybe it would've been better than what we got. But the film is always consistent with itself, so even if it doesn't go all out, at least it never feels like something its not.

The characters are all good. Skims is a fun protagonist, and always likeable. Mike is your typical exasperated partner, grumpy all the time, but cares for his buddy. Single mother (and former cop herself) Chelo and daughter Lily are a great addition, providing plenty of heart to the movie, and good connections for Skims.

The villains are probably the weakest element. Gleefully evil, there's not much to them, and they don't appear a huge amount. They get across the bare minimum, but more would've been nice.

Something I liked about Virtual Weapon is its running them of getting Skims (and by extension others) to learn Spanish. There's a good non-judgmental attitude about it. Perhaps because this is an Italian film, meaning they'd have a vested interest in getting Americans to lighten up about learning a little Espanol.

The acting is all good. Terence is a reliable lead, fun, dashing as always, and still packs a punch. Though it is hilarious to see the Italian Terence Hill, accent and all, acting as if he doesn't know Spanish. Marvellous Marvin Hagler is a good sidekick, and plays the 'black partner' role without it being a dull stereotype. Jennifer Martinez is nice in her role, and I would've liked to see her act in more films. Giselle Blondet is nice too. The actors playing the bad guys verge on the cheesier side.

The music here is nice, especially the main theme. It feels like a typical Italian movie theme. An 80s style romance song that gets you in the mood, despite seemingly being a poor fit. That's how you know you're dealing with Italians, when they can open a cop film with love songs and make it work!

Virtual Weapon feels like a perfect film, not because it's the greatest ever made by any means, but rather because it succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Even if a movie is just a simple good time, if it manages to pull that off, then that is something to be celebrated and admired. A perfect movie to end this post on, Virtual Weapon is lots of fun, especially for Terence Hill fans...