John Ratzenberger

Small Fry (2011, Angus MacLane)

I find Small Fry to be a little confusing. Not just in the narrative, though the plot also has an incredibly big hole, but the approach in general. It’s a Toy Story short, only MacLane gives it enough plot it could be a feature, not just a short.

A “Happy Meal” version of Buzz Lightyear tries to impersonate the real one, only to be found out by Woody. Meanwhile, the real Buzz has to get out of a fast food joint. He meets some other discarded Happy Meal toys and cuteness ensues.

The big surprise is Tim Allen and Tom Hanks being back. While the animation is still wonderful, this short screams Disney cash in. It seems like the exact thing Pixar didn’t want, back when Disney threatened to make Story sequels alone.

Small Fry manages to be cute and competent, but pointless.

Though Jane Lynch’s scene is really funny.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Angus MacLane; written by Josh Cooley; animated by Eric Luhta; music by John Powell; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Tom Hanks (Woody), Joan Cusack (Jessie), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Teddy Newton (Mini Buzz) and Jane Lynch (Queen Neptuna).


WALL·E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

WALL·E might be the first major Hollywood production not to feature a speaking protagonist in a while. I can’t remember the last one. WALL·E, the robot, makes some emotive sounds and mispronounces his girlfriend’s name, but he communicates through action, not through verbalization. It’s rather effective, since the robot’s supposed to be adorable and Pixar’s animation team goes above and beyond. The robot’s utilitarian in design, but everything else is precious (though the eyes aren’t particularly pragmatic).

The first half of the film is a solid, interrupted romance, with WALL·E finding a girl robot, Eve, who’s beginning to return his affections. Until he, inadvertently, causes her to shut down. This development doesn’t just make the opportunity for lots of cute scenes with the concerned WALL·E, but it also kicks off the rest of the narrative. WALL·E‘s got an interesting narrative–it’s a little short, but it’d be hard without dialogue to flesh it out and dialogue would ruin it–with two plots (the fate of WALL·E and Eve and the fate of the human race) intricately tied, but still somewhat unconnected. It’s because the moving parts of WALL·E are the romance (which reminds a lot of Broadway Danny Rose in that simple, but staggeringly affecting way). The human race and its problems mostly concern Jeff Garlin being really funny as the primary human character.

But director Stanton takes an approach to the future–and particularly the space–I haven’t seen in quite a while. There are lots of homages (2001) and references. The scenes on the decimated future Earth, polluted to all hell through mismanagement from a Wal-Mart stand-in–WALL·E‘s not just pro-environmentalist, it’s one of the most anti-corporate mainstream films I’ve ever seen… coming from Walt Disney Pictures no less–remind immediately of A.I. The references I expect, but Stanton’s enthusiasms for directing space scenes–or the wonderment one can experience thanks to a light bulb–is something special. The light bulbs and the like aside, Stanton’s space scenes remind of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of raw excitement. Stanton fully utilizes the technology, but for the story. WALL·E contains a dance scene, probably as close as we’ll get to seeing Jeannot Szwarc’s tragically unfilmed ballet for Supergirl, and it’s a perfect example of the art and technology working in unison.

The approach to the story, and how the filmmaking interacts with it, is what makes WALL·E so exceptional. There are no metaphors, no analogs, instead Stanton establishes WALL·E and the setting in five minutes or less and then everything plays out in it. WALL·E doesn’t garner sympathy because he’s an analog for a pining leading man, he garners it because he’s a little robot with a particular story.

Where WALL·E falters is in its attempt at reality. There’s live action footage of Fred Willard as the characters look into their past, along with a lot more live action clips. The way it works out is problematic… the future is CG animation, the past is reality. It’s a neat idea, but just doing as life-like CG as possible for the past–never breaking the film’s visual continuity–would have been far better. There are also some problems with how much information the film presents about this future setting. It dwells long enough to raise questions, but doesn’t want to address them (or even the raising of those questions, since many are non-Disney like).

WALL·E‘s probably Pixar’s best film (the only serious competition is Monsters, Inc., also from Stanton, but that film had third act problems) and it’s a definite achievement.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter; directors of photography, Jeremy Lasky and Danielle Feinberg; edited by Stephen Schaffer; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; produced by Jim Morris; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ben Burtt (WALL·E), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright), Macintalk (Auto), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary) and Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer).


Outland (1981, Peter Hyams)

What Peter Hyams does at the end of Outland–cutting away from Sean Connery to a shot of the mining station with a superimposed message from the character to his wife–ought to be a crime. Hyams gets one of Connery’s better performances out of him and then cheats both Connery and the viewer from giving the character a proper sendoff. Instead, the superimposed message and some really sentimental Jerry Goldsmith music. It’s particularly unfortunate, as Hyams makes very few mistakes in Outland and Goldsmith’s score is otherwise excellent. It’s even excellent two seconds before the cut to the exterior.

One could dismiss Outland as High Noon in space, but, in actuality, only the last third is High Noon in space. The rest is an effective, if derivative (from Alien in a lot of ways, particularly Goldsmith’s score), cop fighting corruption (in space) movie. There are a lot of Western elements, but Hyams nicely adjusts everything for the future setting. Strangely, his greatest strength is the human element, whether it’s Kika Markham as Connery’s fed-up wife (most of her scenes are video messages, in which she’s excellent, but Connery’s also good watching them), James Sikking as his shady assistant or–and here’s where Hyams really excels–with station doctor Frances Sternhagen. Connery and Sternhagen have maybe six scenes together and every one of them is fantastic. They’re Connery’s best moments, so maybe Sternhagen somehow got him to act. There’s this one scene, where Connery explains himself to her–short, maybe thirty seconds, forty-five, and he stunned me. Hyams’s dialogue is fine, but Connery’s delivery and Hyams’s composition make it a gold star moment.

Hyams has gone on to shoot his own films, usually poorly (with some excuse about natural light), but here he’s got Stephen Goldblatt, who makes Hyams’s shots look wonderful. Hyams knows how to compose for Panavision and he knows how to make the most out of a limited effects budget. When there finally are a bunch of sets at the end, Hyams concentrates on the enormity and the surrounding emptiness and pulls off a great concluding action scene.

The acting is all good–except Nicholas Barnes as Connery and Markham’s kid, he’s terrible–though Peter Boyle really doesn’t have enough to do as the bad guy.

A lot of the exteriors in space are excellent. Goldsmith’s score is great. Connery’s good, sometimes better. Sternhagen’s a joy. Shame about the last thirty-five seconds though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Peter Hyams; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Richard A. Roth; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sean Connery (O’Niel), Peter Boyle (Sheppard), Frances Sternhagen (Lazarus), James Sikking (Montone), Kika Markham (Carol), Clarke Peters (Ballard), Steven Berkoff (Sagan), John Ratzenberger (Tarlow) and Nicholas Barnes (Paul O’Niel).


Goliath Awaits (1981, Kevin Connor)

Goliath Awaits stars Mark Harmon as Doug McClure. Well, sort of. Harmon plays the Doug McClure role if Goliath was one of director Kevin Connor’s American International lost world pictures. And Goliath really is nothing but those four films rolled into one and modernized and given a budget (for a mini-series) far beyond whatever Connor had on the Time Forgot films. At the beginning, McClure would have been a real improvement over Harmon, who sports a mustache… oh, he was thirty? He seems like he was twenty-three… Anyway, Harmon can’t handle the lead in the teaser (since it’s a mini-series, the teaser runs about a half hour) and I was getting ready for a dreadful two and a half hours, then Robert Forster shows up as the other lead and Harmon moves over to a supporting position and he’s fine. Forster’s great, of course.

The film is oddly never slow. At three hours, it ought to be slow, but it’s really only two hours and fifteen minutes because it starts when Harmon and Forster (along with Connor mainstay–and mustache-free here–John Ratzenberger) get down to the sunken luxury liner and discover the lost world of the film (the Awaits part of the title makes little sense to me). I can’t get in to how the sunken ship has survivors and whatnot, but Christopher Lee is in charge and Frank Gorshin is his sidekick. Lee’s great in Goliath and Gorshin–doing a Lucky the Leprechaun impression–is terrible. Gorshin does Goliath more disservice than imaginable (I mean, Eddie Albert looks good by comparison). I kept wondering if, without Gorshin, it’d have been better.

Because, as a TV mini-series, Goliath follows a format–even if it is a lost world movie, it has a lot disaster movie elements–and that format means the story comes second to the cast and their likability. This aspect is why TV mini-series and TV movies are so different from theatricals… like a TV show, one is tuning in for the characters more than the events and one can change channels (unless he or she is a Christian) a lot easier than getting up and leaving a movie theater. So Harmon working out is important. His romance with Emma Samms–who I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anything before, but she’s very likable in Goliath–is important. The infrequent John Carradine performances… important (Carradine’s a hoot).

Besides Gorshin, the worst performance is Alex Cord, who’s playing an English doctor with a Texas accent. He’s awful and silly and wears around a grey sweatshirt all the time. Makes no sense. Otherwise, the performances are good (Duncan Regehr deserving a named recognition).

But, as far as directing goes, Connor doesn’t have much to do with Goliath. He sets a tone, sure, and the budget allows the submerged ship to look good… If I didn’t know about his other movies, I wouldn’t know I should be noticing comparisons. It’s very competent and solid, but it’s unspectacular.

Still, all things considered, it’s rather successful. (Especially given its excellent final act, so well-done, not even Gorshin can ruin it).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Richard M. Bluel and Pat Fielder, based on a story by Bluel, Fielder and Hugh Benson; director of photography, Al Francis; edited by Donald Douglas and J. Terry Williams; music by George Duning; production designer, Ross Bellah; produced by Benson; aired by Operation Prime Time.

Starring Eddie Albert (Admiral Wiley Sloan), John Carradine (Ronald Bentley), Alex Cord (Dr. Sam Marlowe), Robert Forster (Comdr. Jeff Selkirk), Frank Gorshin (Dan Wesker), Mark Harmon (Peter Cabot), Christopher Lee (John McKenzie), Jean Marsh (Dr. Goldman), John McIntire (Senator Oliver Bartholomew), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Bartholomew), Duncan Regehr (Paul Ryker), Emma Samms (Lea McKenzie), Alan Fudge (Lew Bascomb), Lori Lethin (Maria) and John Ratzenberger (Bill Sweeney).


Warlords of Atlantis (1978, Kevin Connor)

If you ever want to see John Ratzenberger fight a giant octopus, Warlords of Atlantis has something to offer you. Actually, it’s hard to completely dislike a film with a giant octopus, especially one attacking a ship. It’s so silly, it can’t help but amuse. I do have to wonder, since there was a giant octopus in the poster for The Land That Time Forgot (Connor’s first film with Doug McClure–Warlords is the last), if the octopus wasn’t a recycled idea. Kind of like Ed Wood’s giant octopus….

Warlords of Atlantis is a bad film, but again, so dumb it’s not particularly offensive. It’s too long–there’s a big difference in a Kevin Connor film between eighty-nine minutes and ninety-six. With Warlords’ ninety-six, he manages to add an additional set piece the film doesn’t need. It’s a mish-mash of a film anyway, borrowing from each of the previous McClure and Connor (and producer John Dark) collaborations. A ship here, a submarine here, a cavernous city here. There’s too many characters for the film to sustain–at least seven the audience is expected to recognize by name–and it’s not interesting. Warlords’ Atlantis, populated by a bunch of soon-to-be-Nazis, isn’t particularly interesting. Discovering a lost world only works if there’s some discovery going on, not a huge population of bad guys to fight.

The special effects–though some of the miniature work is good–are pretty bad. I do like how they have a real monster hand coming up in front of a rear screen projection, an idea I imagine they lifted from John Guillermin’s King Kong. There are a lot of matte paints and cinematographer Alan Hume is BAD at matte paintings. He shot Return of the Jedi, which had a number of awful matte painting shots too, so it’s not a budgetary thing. He just doesn’t do it well. There’s also the bad music… the film just doesn’t work. It’s too clean (on nice film stock) and the story is too silly. While Doug McClure’s in decent leading man form–I realized, watching the film, Doug McClure is the vanilla soft serve of actors–his character is empty. You’re not watching a late nineteenth century American inventor, you’re watching Doug McClure. The film doesn’t even try to convince the viewer otherwise. McClure’s sidekick, Peter Gilmore, is bad. The Atlantians are bad (and have silly hair and outfits). It’s got to be bad if the scantily clad human slave-girl (played by Lea Brodie) gives one of the film’s better performances.

There are also frequent attempts at humor throughout. They fail.

Since Connor’s not a bad director (though he’s got to be the most wildly inconsistent), there are a handful of nice shots. While Warlords is bad, the pacing is what does it in. At the very least, monster movies with bad special effects and bad acting have to move.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; written by Brian Hayles; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Vickers; produced by John Dark; released by EMI Films.

Starring Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil) and Daniel Massey (Atraxon).


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