HEAVY METAL (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Gerald Potterton, Jimmy T. Murakami, Harold Whitaker, John Halas, Julian Harris, Barrie Nelson, Paul Sabella, Jack Stokes & Pino Van Lamsweerde

Written by: Daniel Goldberg, Len Blum, Dan O’Bannon, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Angus McKie & Jean Giraud

Voices of: Don Francks, Caroline Semple, Richard Romanus, Susan Roman, Al Waxman, Harvey Atkin, John Candy, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy & Joe Flaherty

Based on HEAVY METAL magazine, the aptly titled R-rated animated anthology made a splash during the 80’s. This strange blend of science fiction, fantasy, and fun has been held up as a cult classic in the decades following its release. There’s something to be said for HEAVY METAL’s vibrant animation and no-holds-barred silliness. These qualities mix with an appropriately rockin’ soundtrack to make an all-around good time. Though the various stories range in quality, HEAVY METAL is worth the time of anyone who might be intrigued from the idea of an adult-oriented sci-fi/fantasy animated anthology. That concept, in and of itself, is something special. Without further ado, I’ll get onto the stories themselves…

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GRIMALDI: This wraparound tale begins with an astronaut giving his daughter a glowing orb as a present. Unfortunately for both of them, the orb is sentient and evil. The menacing green circle proceeds to melt the father and corner the daughter. The green orb then tells her tales of its evil influence throughout time and space. These wraparound segments are enjoyable, but simply tie the other (mostly better) stories together through narration. The father’s death by melting is cool enough and the ending nicely ties into the final story, even though it opens up a world of plot holes that you just kind of have to accept. All in all, the animation and sheer craziness of this story overshadow its convoluted nature. B-

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HARRY CANYON: In the distant year of 2031, Harry Canyon is a New York cabbie without a care in the world. This changes when a desperate young woman gets into his car. Soon, Harry finds his life upended as a colorful band of thugs comes looking for a strange artifact and missing dame. This is basically a sci-fi noir that lasts about 10 minutes. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and packs in a fair share of action. The story is well-paced in that it leaves the viewer satisfied and never overstays its welcome. This is one of the better stories in the film! B+

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DEN: A teenage geek discovers a green meteorite and is transported into the mystical world of Neverwhere. Besides being in an entirely new dimension, the geek also finds himself in a bald, muscular body. Adopting the name “Den,” the geek-turned-hero rescues a damsel, negotiates with a cocky immortal, and finds himself beset by the sexual advances of an evil queen. DEN is definitely the goofiest short in the bunch, but wears its corny nature as a badge of pride and constantly pokes fun at itself (through the teenage nerd’s narration). This isn’t exactly perfect, because the plot could easily turn some viewers off. I enjoyed this dumb little adventure for exactly what it was…a dumb little adventure. B

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CAPTAIN STERNN: This story follows a cocky space captain who’s been accused of terrible crimes. Confident that a bribed witness will come through, Captain Sternn pleads “Not Guilty” and finds that a glowing green rock quickly turns the trial against him in ways he never could have imagined. Of all the shorts in HEAVY METAL, this one definitely had the funniest story. It also has the best use of rock music in the entire film for me, which is really saying something when you consider that the likes of Black Sabbath, Devo, and Blue Oyster Cult are included on the soundtrack. The fantastic use of Cheap Trick’s “Reach Out” elevates this short’s humor and entertainment value tenfold. This is tied for my favorite segment in the film. A-

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B-17: Tied with CAPTAIN STERNN for my favorite segment in the film, B-17 is a horror story set on a WWII bomber. The story is simple, but effective. A pilot finds that the horrors of war also come in undead forms and desperately tries to escape a gruesome fate aboard his plane. This might be the shortest segment in the film, but it’s effective as hell. The creepy images are brought to life through unnerving atmospheric animation. The ending is also effectively eerie and concludes like any great campfire horror story should, leaving you scared and loving every second of it. If you don’t watch the entirety of HEAVY METAL, you should definitely check out B-17 and CAPTAIN STERNN on their own! A-

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SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS: The film’s two best stories are followed by its worst segment. This story follows a young woman who is abducted onto a spacecraft occupied by stoner aliens and a horny robot. Think about CAPTAIN STERNN and then strip it of everything that works. This is basically what SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS feels like. It’s lame, forced, and ultimately pointless. The sheer mediocrity is made only worse by everything that came before it. Colorful visuals and cool animation do save this story from being a complete disaster, but it’s easily HEAVY METAL’s weakest point. C

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TAARNA: I might receive some flack for my opinion on this final segment. The last story follows warrior Taarna’s quest to save a peaceful city from mutated barbarians. Despite TAARNA being frequently cited as the “fan favorite” of HEAVY METAL, I only found this segment to be good…but far from great. The imagery here is cool and I enjoyed the scenes of this badass babe whooping the weapon-wielding mutants’ asses, but this segment also drags out far longer than it should. There’s a long sequence of Taarna flying to the city that seemed purposely stretched out for the sake of cramming more music into the film’s soundtrack. TAARNA also ties up the wraparound story in a head-scratching way that you just kind of have to accept. This short contains cool visuals, but is nothing truly special. B

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HEAVY METAL is worth watching if you’re up for an 80’s animated anthology of violence, humor, nudity, and cool imagery. This film isn’t exactly high art, but remains very entertaining and impressive for being exactly what it is. Some stories (CAPTAIN STERNN and B-17) are definitely better than others (SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS and GRIMALDI), but the film as a whole is 90 minutes well spent. Whether you’re watching it under the influence of mind-altering substances or you just want to dive into a rockin’ blast from the 80’s past, HEAVY METAL comes recommended for those who enjoy this sort of thing! You know who you are.

Grade: B

PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon & Dylan Baker

As revered as John Hughes may be, I don’t necessarily love everything the man put out to the degree that most people do. Hughes deserves credit on writing charming comedic tales that never took themselves too seriously, but also maintained a degree of sensitivity. This being said, there’s a certain formula to his screenplays that can be a tad too predictable. Take PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES for example. I know people who absolutely love this movie and have made a tradition of watching it around Thanksgiving every year. Having finally watched it for the first time (I’ve seen certain clips on Youtube before), I can safely say that it’s a decent flick. There’s definitely an entertainment factor and a certain charm, but I don’t necessarily get the love that most people have for it (hear me out before crucifying me).

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Neal Page is a stressed out businessman who wants to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately for Neal, his flight is delayed and then held over in another airport. Luckily for Neal, he’s befriended the overly polite Del Griffith who seems to have a solid head on his shoulders in spite of his naïve nature. It quickly becomes apparent that Del isn’t exactly as smart as he originally seemed and the two polar opposite guys trek across many states in a race against time as Thanksgiving draws closer with every passing second. Neal and Del have their differences, but they’re stuck together through various forms of transportation (hence the title).

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The formula for PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a simple one. Overworked curmudgeon (in this case, Steve Martin) meets annoying slob (in this case, John Candy) and hijinks ensue. I can understand why people love this film so much during certain moments. There are genuinely hilarious bits (the best of which either being a meltdown from Martin at a rental car office or the pair being stuck in a car on the highway). This film is the reason that 2010’s DUE DATE exists (which was pretty much a remake under a different name and packed with cruder sensibilities). PLANES is funny in a charming way, but suffers thanks to an overly predictable and corny plot. I didn’t feel much sympathy for Del and certain moments of the movie hinge on that. One overly manipulative revelation near the ending is a heavy-handed tactic to shift the viewer’s feelings for this otherwise annoying slob, but I didn’t buy it.

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This being said, Martin and Candy do have good comedic chemistry together. I must applaud the character of Neal for remaining patient as long as he was, because plenty of people (including myself) would have snapped at John Candy’s goofball long before Martin actually says anything obviously mean to the guy. This is your typical mismatched duo but they are convincing enough as polar opposites. It’s also worth noting that the film scored the R rating for one scene and that single moment alone. It involves Martin yelling at someone with the F-bomb being said every other word, but otherwise there’s nothing too objectionable here. It makes me wish that Hughes had toned that moment down for a PG-13 rating, because this feels like more of a family friendly outing than an R-rated comedy.

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PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a decent comedy that’s charming and funny, but does suffer from an overly predictable and manipulative sappy script. There are definitely moments of greatness, but there are also a fair share of problems I had with the movie as well. Martin and Candy bounce off each other in silly ways and that’s what really counts in a film like this, but I just wish the movie had less clichés and better reasons to care about these people on an emotional level (since that is where Hughes tries to take things in the final third). PLANES is worth a viewing, but might play better in the company of friends around Thanksgiving as a one time watch.

Grade: B-