I Am Legend is the third and only adaptation to bare the name of Richard Matheson’s original novel. Another adaptation after The Omega Man was in development ever since the 90’s. Many bankable leads and directors came and went, but ultimately I Am Legend was made in 2007. Legendary military scientist Robert Neville is now played by the always charismatic Will Smith. I was intrigued by I Am Legend since I was still a big Smith fan. Maybe I was just too young, but the aggressively bleak tone depressed me for awhile after I saw it. Not that I should’ve expected a virus wiping out 90% of Earth’s population to be joyful.
I Am Legend was still a box-office hit with a committed one-man performance from Smith. Neville experiments to find a cure and tries to maintain his sanity alongside his sole German Shepherd companion Sam. The empty New York City is full of animals to hunt, mannequins to talk to, and even a Batman v Superman banner that predicted the future. After vampire-zombies and mutants, I Am Legend blends both creatures together to create the Darkseekers. Animalistic nocturnal zombie-like albino mutants with gaping mouths rendered in really terrible CGI. The horror helps them appear more threatening in quieter moments.
Neville has some moments of levity, but the bleakness doesn’t let up for a second. SPOILER ALERT! His wife and daughter (played by a young Willow) are killed in an evacuation helicopter, they rip your heart out by infecting his dog, and don’t get me started on the ending. An enraged Neville is rescued by a surviving Anna and her son Ethan. They talk of a secret camp where Neville can cure the rest of the surviving humans. Instead of accept a new race that’s capable of human emotion like the much better alternate ending, the monsters are simply blown up with Neville sacrificing himself and passing his cure onto Anna. I Am Legend is too bleak for repeat viewings, but it is a well executed portrayal of a future to avoid.
The Omega Man (or The Ωmega Man) is the second adaptation of I Am Legend. This time the Richard Matheson novel is altered dramatically to fit the groovy 70’s. Resulting in a hoaky adaptation that’s more focused on action. I’ve known about The Omega Man for years since it was parodied on The Simpsons. The omega man is scientist Robert Neville. If he’s not in Biblical epics of the past, Charlton Heston is in the dystopian future. Only Heston can make a baron post-apocalyptic Los Angeles this entertaining.
Neville drives around with his firearm hunting the mutants that now plague the world. Instead of vampire-zombies, germ warfare started the global pandemic that either killed or turned humans into eloquent cloaked albino mutants with light sensitivity. Matthias is a zealot who leads his fellow mutants like a cult. In a lot of ways similar to Beneath the Planet of the Apes released one year prior. The battle between Neville and the mutants changes forever when he encounters more survivors.
Since this is very noticeably 70’s, Neville’s love interest is the black afro sporting Lisa. Member of a partially infected society that need his blood to create a vaccine. Neville agrees to help save Lisa’s brother and they start a passionate romance. The interracial kiss and implied love making was one of the first ever seen in a movie. Although Rosalind Cash was nervous about kissing Moses. Sadly, no I Am Legend scenario is ever that simple. Not even one with this much emphasis on survivors. The mutants snuff out Neville’s influence, but hope for the future is implied. The Omega Man brought style to the end of the world.
The Last Man on Earth is the first adaptation of I Am Legend. It has direct influence from author Richard Matheson, but he wasn’t overly fond of the final result. Matheson’s story was one of the earliest uses of the post-apocalyptic formula we all know today. Like most early 60’s era black & white pictures, The Last Man on Earth has a very literal title. The last man on Earth is scientist Robert Morgan.
This was the first heroic role I’ve seen of classic horror icon Vincent Price. Price tragically narrates the thoughts of a lonely man who tries desperately to survive an empty world plagued by vampires. Although they only come out at night, fear mirrors, hate garlic, and are killed by wooden stakes, the vampires are more like zombies. Similar to the also public domain Night of the Living Dead. The origins of the global pandemic are recounted in an extended flashback. Robert once had a loving wife and daughter that he lost to the virus.
All he can do now is burn the leftover bodies, hunt for vampires, and lock himself in at night. He finds a dog, but most importantly, he finds another human. Since this is an American co-production, Ruth is played by an Italian actress. The original I Am Legend title refers to how Ruth and the rest of her new infected society view Robert. The last healthy man who’s ultimately unable to cure them. The Last Man on Earth benefits from the old fashioned atmospheric horror that Vincent Price excels at.
Robert Morgan wanders the Earth
P.S. Being public domain, I’ve supplied the full movie underneath.
Antz put DreamWorks Animation at the top of the ant hill. Of course I grew up loving Disney & Pixar, but DreamWorks has always been a top childhood favorite as well. Even though the studio may have started out of spite. Like most rival animation companies, Jeffrey Katzenberg was a disgruntled Disney chairman who left the studio in order to make his own animated movies. Although intending DreamWorks Animation to begin with the traditionally animated Prince of Egypt, Antz was fast-tracked to 1998 just to compete with A Bug’s Life. Two early computer animated ant movies about a misfit in love with a princess who fights for his colony couldn’t have been a coincidence. It was a heated feud that made Antz & A Bug’s Life the biggest copycat movies ever made, but I never questioned it. Although I was only 3 at the time, I loved both ant movies equally. Seeing Antz with my mom and brother is one of my earliest memories.
The biggest difference with Antz (and DreamWorks) is the PG rated edge that its had from the beginning. Despite being a kids film, Antz is loaded with adult themes, sexual innuendo, and a lot of swearing. Mostly thanks to Woody Allen playing nervous drone ant Z. Z is exactly like Allen with his neurotic babbling. Antz deals with societal problems that stem from a colony that never thinks for themselves. Ants are literally assigned worker or soldier at birth. To match that realism, ants have tan exoskeletons and the right number of legs. Z feels inadequate, but all that changes when he dances with Princess Bala in a bar. A lot of unconventional Woody Allen co-stars provide voices. Sharon Stone is the feisty Bala who’s looking to rebel. Sylvester Stallone is Weaver, the muscle bond soldier friend of Z that switches place with him. Just so Z can get closer to the Princess. Gene Hackman is the despicable army ant General Mandible that leads an army to their death and plans to drown the part of the colony he deems weak. Ironically both ant movies have Lex Luthor as their villain.
Meanwhile, Anne Bancroft voices the Queen, Jennifer Lopez voices a worker friend of Z’s, Christopher Walken voices a flying ant colonel, and Danny Glover voices an army sergeant that quickly befriends Z. After cleverly singing “Ants go marching one by one,” an intense battle with termites ensues. Antz is also pretty realistic when it comes to how terrible a bug’s life can really be. Ants are decapitated, burned with a magnifying glass, trapped in water, stepped on, and swatted. Humans are only ever obscured like monsters. Z survives, but ends up with Bala after a misunderstanding. They grow closer after a few arguments and become the first DreamWorks animated couple. Along the way they trek through a picnic where they meet a couple of friendly wasps voiced by Dan Aykroyd & Jane Curtin. Z tries to find the fabled Insectopia which is hilariously just a trash can. Bala is discovered, but Z returns in time to save the colony that learned from his example to think for themselves. They construct an ant ladder and escape the very first use of digital water in film. The computer animation is rough, but no less impressive with its lighting and realistic textures. Antz has a unique maturity that makes it a very underrated piece of animation history.
Them! put giant killer bugs on the map. Ants were very fascinating to me when I was kid. I dealt with them a lot and frequently learned many interesting facts about their colony. So a movie about rampant 9 ft ants from the 50’s was always on my radar. My parents were big fans who watched the movie frequently when they were younger. Although I saw clips, I didn’t see all of Them! until way later. Them! is the very first monster attack creature feature starring giant bugs.
Ants are mutated as a result of atomic radiation. Ironically, Them! was released the same year as Godzilla. You’d think Them! would end up cheesy with a premise like that, but it’s surprisingly terrifying even now. The high pitched bird call they make is creepy and so is the idea of ants crushing you in their mandibles. Them! slowly builds up to their reveal with local New Mexico police officers investigating mysterious deaths and the disappearance of sugar. Their only clue is a traumatized little girl who famously screams the title.
It starts with the FBI and a few scientists examining the area, then grows into a far worse problem that requires the military. Thanks to a couple of escaped queens, the world could soon be overrun with giant ants. It gets to the point where even information from the local drunk is helpful. The ants are dangerous due to their acidic stingers and ability to tunnel deep underground. Flamethrowers do the trick after several tragic losses accompanied by early Wilhelm screams. Highly capable actors, deep questions, a simple premise, and 50’s flare help make Them! a well executed trend-setter.
The Stepford Wives (2004) made the mistake of taking a genuinely creepy concept and making it a comedy. Although I use the term comedy loosely, because it’s not at all funny. Despite being released in 2004 with an all star cast including Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, and Bette Midler, I still never heard of The Stepford Wives. Discovering it was a campy version of a horror movie sounded like a bad idea. Rather than a struggling photographer, Joanna Eberhart is an already successful cold hearted business woman.
Until she’s fired and her family relocates to Stepford. The camp comes from the far more exaggerated 50’s era housewives and there way more obvious robotic tendencies. Joanna’s only normal friend Bobbie is more homely and they also make the confusing decision to add a gay couple. Plus there’s a robot dog for some reason. The shorter runtime makes it feel like Joanna’s madness and subsequent Stepfordization is rushed. Granted the original had slow spots, but at least the payoff was good.
The comedic tone means a forced happy ending. Since the wives aren’t even full robots, they can be easily turned back. Then another convoluted twist is added to make it seem like neither the men, nor the women were right or wrong. Like they were too afraid to make anyone look bad. Apparently that same sentiment can’t be said for the behind the scenes. Since none of the cast seemed to get along with director Frank Oz. The Stepford Wives (2004) could’ve been a refined thriller with improved technical advancements. Instead it became a joke.
The Stepford Wives appears to be a picture perfect look at suburban life. But something dark lurks just beneath the surface. I wish I’d gone into The Stepford Wives completely blind, but I doubt I would’ve seen it if I didn’t know the twist. The Eberhart’s are just your average family leaving the big city for a quiet suburban town. Stepford is almost too quiet with bright and colorful residents. You’d never guess anything was wrong until you saw the women.
All the men are part of a boys club called the “Men’s Association,” while all the women are 50’s era housewives who love nothing more than to cook, clean, and please their husbands. I didn’t really recognize anyone until I realized Katharine Ross was Elaine in The Graduate. She plays aspiring photographer Joanna Eberhart. One of the only normal wives and/or mothers left in the town. Joanna teams up with fellow newbie resident Bobbie in order to figure out what’s wrong with the women of Stepford. You can tell it’s the 70’s due to the feminist parallels.
When you realize The Stepford Wives is based on a book written by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, you pick up on a lot of similarities. Mainly the slow burn to a shocking conclusion. The men in Stepford act strangely and even Joanna’s own husband seems to be against her. Until we discover (SPOILER ALERT!) the wives are all robots! Each designed to be the perfect wife for their husbands. Regardless of how you interpret it, nothing is more disturbing than Joanna discovering her own soulless robot just waiting to replace her. The Stepford Wives is a creepy critique of an archaic society.
Happy Gilmore is the second funniest golf comedy I’ve seen. Caddyshack will always be #1, but I really underestimated how funny Adam Sandler’s early work was. After going back to school in Billy Madison, it only made sense to see the other half of Happy Madison Productions. Happy Gilmore is a devoted ice hockey player with a short fuse that’s fitting for Sandler’s often loud shtick. When his loving grandmother’s house is foreclosed on, he makes it his mission to get her the money she needs.
I care about golf about as much as Happy Gilmore, but there’s no denying how great his long-drive is. Just like Billy Madison, I started to pick up on Sandler’s defining tropes. He’ll say something immature, end up with a hot woman, and usually plug a product (Subway in this case). Yet Happy’s hockey-like outbursts, swearing, and fights on a quiet golf course are just too hilarious not to laugh. Carl Weathers is also funny as a one handed former golf pro who teaches Happy everything he knows. Same with professional a-hole Christopher McDonald as the skeezy Shooter McGavin.
Happy’s public relations director Virginia Venit tries to clean up his act to better help him in his game with Shooter. There are unexpected guest actors like gentle giant Richard Kiel, but the best appearance will always be Bob Barker. His out of nowhere fight with Happy Gilmore was so funny it boosted the ratings of The Price is Right. Happy Gilmore may be rough around the wedges, but it’s just another example of Adam Sandler bringing comedy to even the most unlikely places.
Billy Madison made Adam Sandler the star he is today. Unlike most classmates I grew up with, I was never an Adam Sandler fan. Even as a kid his childish antics didn’t win me over. I started to change my tune the more crappy his later work got. I figured I’d go back to the early work that my generation found so funny. Turns out I’m still immature enough to find Billy Madison funny. Billy Madison’s goofy voices, yelling, and penguin spotting didn’t grab me at first, but it really got hilarious when he went back to school.
Billy is a lazy partying rich kid who promises to repeat 1st-12th grade in order to prove to his father he has what it takes to run the family company. Jokes are either crass or so ridiculous I can’t help but laugh. The most attention is given to 1st and 3rd grade. 1st grade just to establish how absurd it is to see a grown manchild in class with a bunch of little kids. Really it’s the kids and a bunch of over-the-top teachers or comedian cameos that get the best jokes. A recurring gag being the debut of Sandler bullies the O’Doyles.
3rd grade is important since it’s where Billy meets his ridiculously hot teacher Veronica Vaughn. She helps him through high school after his business competitor sabotages his schoolwork. They settle things with an academic decathlon. A competition that features my favorite joke about how dumb and incoherent Billy’s final speech is. Billy Madison may feel more like a spoof at times, but it proves I should’ve given Adam Sandler’s sense of humor a chance a long time ago.
Back to School is a ton of fun I tell ya. I tell ya it’s the funniest movie starring comedian Rodney Dangerfield. The man got no respect, no respect I tell ya. I didn’t grow up knowing Dangerfield outside of his appearance on The Simpsons. Caddyshack was a hilarious breakout performance, but my parents always told me to check out Back to School. I wasn’t sure how Dangerfield would do in a lead role, but he’s perfectly natural between good natured riffing and eye bulging.
Thornton Melon is a self made millionaire who got rich selling to the tall and fat. He’s got money, time, and an unfaithful trophy wife, but that’s nothing without an education. So he decides to attend college with his disillusioned son Jason in order to convince him to stay. There were plenty of middle aged students when I went to college, but it’s still a unique circumstance. Thornton coasts through college by buying any supplies he needs, partying down, hiring employees to do his homework, and romancing his poetry professor.
Thornton still has a good heart though. Eventually learning the value of learning without money. Meanwhile, Jason attempts to have his own accomplishments and maybe get a girlfriend. This was the 80’s, so expect two F bombs and a topless shower scene in this PG-13 movie. Along with some great talent like Ned Beatty, Burt Young, and a young Robert Downey Jr. Dangerfield still steals the show with all his witty remarks. His crowning comedic achievement is subbing for someone on his son’s diving team. Performing a ludicrous “Triple Lindy” dive. Back to School is just chock full of laughs I tell ya.