True Romance has Quentin Tarantino written all over it. After Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino quickly became a noteworthy filmmaker. Yet he chose not to direct his personal screenplay for True Romance. Maybe that’s why I’ve seldom heard about the movie. Top Gun director Tony Scott’s style can be seen, but all of the Tarantino motifs are unmistakable. There’s crime, pop culture references, liberal use of the “N” word, sudden violence, and an intense appreciation for the movies. Christian Slater plays comic book fan/Elvis enthusiast Clarence. He meets sexy call girl Alabama played by Patricia Arquette at a cheesy kung fu triple feature. They quickly develop a steamy true romance that leads to marriage and an unexpected crime filled life on the run.
True Romance has an all-star cast filled with major Hollywood celebrities, soon to be famous actors, and future Tarantino collaborators. Samuel L. Jackson is very suddenly killed off and Brad Pitt is a stoner left out of the action. Former Scott collaborator Val Kilmer plays an unseen Elvis mentor to Clarence. Although True Romance isn’t nonlinear like Tarantino intended, it does feel like a series of vignettes with many colorful characters involved. An unrecognizable Gary Oldman is an instant scene stealer as Alabama’s psychotic dreadlocks sporting pimp Drexl Spivey.
Clarence & Alabama end up on the run when they accidentally take his supply of cocaine. The mob starts hunting them, including Christopher Walken and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini. The latter stands out in a rough fight with Alabama, but it’s Walken and Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s police father who have the most memorable scene. Hopper taunts Walken with his Sicilian upbringing and Walken makes Hopper the first person he’s killed since 1984. Clarence’s Hollywood friend, the police, mob, and potential coke buyers eventually get involved in a bloody shootout with a happier ending than you’d expect. True Romance could’ve been as big as Pulp Fiction, but I like it better as an underrated cult film.
Clarence and Alabama watch a movie
Turbo is The Fast and the Furious with snails. That’s how it was pitched and that’s what we ended up with. DreamWorks Animation is always a toss up, but I can’t say I was expecting a movie about a snail with super speed. Yet like the underdog himself, Turbo is a cute, fast-paced, victory. Albeit one that crashed and burned at the box-office. After the success of The Croods, Ryan Reynolds had two consecutive bombs with Turbo and R.I.P.D. Although it nearly killed his career, Turbo deserves a second chance. The computer animation is sleek and innocent with cartoony snails and realistic locations. Theo is just an ordinary LA garden snail living in a tomato patch. Like most underdog stories, Turbo dreams of racing like his hero Guy Gagné.
Gaining super speed was always gonna be ridiculous, but Turbo literally becomes fast by ingesting NOS in a Fast & Furious style street race. More ridiculous is Turbo developing other car powers like eye headlights, tail lights, and even radio control. It’s a fun enough concept on its own, but a star-studded cast makes things even funnier. Paul Giamatti voices Theo’s doubting safety obsessed brother Chet. They’re both brought to a struggling strip mall called Starlight Plaza where they encounter an ethnically diverse cast of humans and snails. Along with fellow business owners voiced by Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, and Richard Jenkins, Michael Peña voices taco truck driver Tito. His relationship to Turbo is almost exactly like Ratatouille. Except that Tito uses his “Little Amigo” to attract customers.
His relationship to his brother Angelo also mirrors Turbo’s relationship with Chet. The funniest characters are a posse of racing snails who help Turbo on his journey. All of whom would end up with their own flash animated Netflix show Turbo Fast. Samuel L. Jackson is the crazy Whiplash, Ben Schwartz is the feisty Skidmark, Maya Rudolph is the flirtatious Burn, Mike Bell is the delusional White Shadow, and Snoop Dogg himself is the smooth talking Smooth Move. He contributes to the soundtrack that includes the extremely catchy “That Snail is Fast.” Everyone gets the crazy idea to enter Turbo in the Indy 500 and they accept using Air Bud rules. Turbo’s French Canadian hero, voiced by an unrecognizable Bill Hader, quickly turns into the bad Guy who refuses to lose to a snail. I’m not a NASCAR fan, but high octane races are always fun to watch. Even with a predictable outcome, Turbo is a cliché filled family friendly thrill ride.
Turbo and his crew
The Fly II could never live up to David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake. The Fly (1986) was simply too popular not to expect a sequel. Even though Cronenberg was replaced by the first film’s Oscar winning makeup artist Chris Walas. Which is why The Fly II is gross for the sake of being gross. Jeff Goldblum is only seen in archive video since John Getz is the only actor who returns. Geena Davis refused since Veronica Quaife is quickly killed in childbirth. Much like Return of the Fly, the sequel follows Seth Brundle’s son Martin.
Eric Stoltz tries, but Goldblum is a tough act to follow. The only interesting thing about Martin’s character is his rapid aging that makes him grow into a young man at 5 years old. Businessman Anton Bartok adopts and studies Martin only to recreate Brundle’s Telepods. The right set up is there, but The Fly II isn’t clever enough to do anything with it. There’s still a disgusting animal test, Martin still ends up with a girlfriend, and there’s still a jerk getting in the way.
Daphne Zuniga is fine as Beth Logan, but her relationship to Martin doesn’t feel as tragic. Stathis Borans is only around to recap the first movie and recommend a cure. Martin experiences the same fly transformation, except that he enters a cocoon. The final act turns into a slasher movie too reliant on overly gory effects. The Martinfly barely resembles a fly and isn’t nearly as iconic. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but the confusing ending is exactly the same as Return of the Fly. The Fly II inherited everything except for the cleverness of the remake.
Preceded by: The Fly (1986)
The Fly (1986) is one of the greatest remakes of all time. Director David Cronenberg took a simple monster movie and gave it a body horror twist. Similar to the 1958 original, I only ever watched the latter half of the remake. My mother actually recommended it since she remembers seeing in in theaters. Audiences were horrified, but The Fly (1986) became a surprisingly huge hit despite being a gory Cronenberg flick. The Fly (1986) follows American scientist Seth Brundle. The always eccentric Jeff Goldblum delivers a performance so good that it’s a wonder he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor.
The tragic romance of the original is increased with Brundle meeting journalist Veronica Quaife. It helps that Geena Davis was dating Goldblum at the time. Brundle introduces her to his Telepods. Teleportation is greatly improved with more modular pods that successfully transport matter. Flesh is a bit more tricky with disgusting tests performed on a baboon. The R rating is more than earned with Academy Award winning makeup. There’s also an emphasis on sex since the remake can be seen as a metaphor for aging. Veronica chronicles Seth’s work, but can’t shake her ex-boyfriend/co-worker Stathis Borans played by John Getz.
The primary difference between the original is a slower transformation. Brundle is fused with a fly and experiences a truly disgusting mutation. Goldblum is captivating as he first feels energetic, craves sugar, and has a high sexdrive. That’s where the iconic (and often out of context) line “Be afraid, be very afraid” comes in. It gets worse when he graphically breaks a man’s arm, develops thick hairs, walks on the walls, and his fingernails & teeth start falling out. More disgusting is the fly-like vomit he uses to eat. The most disturbing scene by far is a pregnant Veronica having a nightmare where she gives birth to a maggot. Brundlefly never produces wings, but he does become more hostile when attacking Stathis and finally becomes a monstrous fly. The Fly (1986) takes an icky concept and turns it into something poignant.
Remake of: The Fly (1958) & Followed by: The Fly II
Curse of the Fly has practically nothing to do with The Fly. Despite a 1965 release, its black & white picture is even more primitive. No one returns, so the entire cast are mostly British unknown B movie actors. Maybe that’s why it was so hard to find. Curse of the Fly wasn’t available anywhere until it was part of a Fly box set. I was only able to watch it on YouTube. Not that this supposed third installment was worth watching.
Return of the Fly at least felt like a sequel with another half-human half-fly hybrid. Curse of the Fly has no flies whatsoever. It opens with an attractive woman running around in her underwear. I would’ve thought I was watching the wrong movie if not for the title card. The Delambre name is used, but there’s serious confusion as to the relation. Martin is the grandson of the original fly, but it’s unclear if they mean André or Philippe.
Martin’s father is named Henri, yet the original Inspector has a picture of Philippe as a fly when discussing their cursed family. Teleportation has a lot more focus since the closest thing to animal mutations are people with distorted faces. Even that’s not given as much attention as a plot that feels just like Rebecca. Martin hastily marries the scantily clad Patricia, she becomes the new Mrs. Delambre, and a shady housekeeper doesn’t like it. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Fly movie? Curse of the Fly is lost for good reason.
Martin is attacked
Preceded by: Return of the Fly
Return of the Fly is the cheap follow up to the 1958 classic The Fly. Despite being released only a year after the original, Return of the Fly is in black & white. It’s a little more atmospheric that way, but the B movie feel hasn’t gone away. Return of the Fly is essentially a copy and paste of the first movie with a more unknown cast. Horror legend Vincent Price is the only actor who gives the sequel any credibility.
The most obvious way to continue the story is to have André’s son Phillippe pick up where his scientist father left off. Philippe’s mother is dead, but his Uncle François is still around. Most of the movie is just Philippe rebuilding his father’s matter transporter and testing it out. Without the mystery angle, it takes about an hour to see the half-human half-fly again. So a criminal assistant trying to steal his work is added. There’s still a romance, but that’s not given much attention.
The only mildly disturbing addition is a police detective becoming a half-hamster hybrid. Other than that, Philippe becomes a fly exactly the same as the first movie. Except that his giant fly head looks just as goofy as the human head superimposed on a fly body. Another difference is having the human body run away, while the fly body is easy to capture. It’s also less clear whether the fly is a monster or not. Although there’s a much happier ending, Return of the Fly is too derivative to fly on its own.
Philippe strangles Alan
Preceded by: The Fly & Followed by: Curse of the Fly
The Fly is part monster movie, part tragic romance. Although initially written off as a cheesy B movie, the original 1958 The Fly is deeper than most. I was always curious about the movie, but I only ever saw the most iconic scene at the very end. The Fly refers to a scientist who turns himself into a half-human half-fly hybrid after inventing a way to transport matter. A particularly hilarious Simpsons parody was my only exposure to the concept. The idea came from a French short story, yet the movie takes place in Canada. Despite being released in the 50’s, The Fly is in color.
People may think Vincent Price is the fly, but he’s actually the brother. Even though I already knew the twist, The Fly is presented as an old fashioned murder mystery. Price is François, brother of scientist André who was killed in a hydraulic press. He investigates the case alongside an Inspector played by Robert Marshall. The true star of the picture is Patricia Owens as loving housewife Hélène. They think she’s mad, but her fly obsession is explained in an extended flashback.
Unknown actor David Hedison is the titular fly since his face is covered for most of the movie. The reveal is still pretty shocking with a convincing fly head and arm. Hélène, her housekeeper, and son Philippe desperately search for a fly with a white head that isn’t revealed until the very end. The most disturbing moment is the fly stuck in a spider’s web screaming “Help me!” Things end tragically for the fly, but it’s a happy ending for everyone else. The Fly is an inventive way to tell a monster story.
André caresses his wife Hélène
Followed by: Return of the Fly
The Croods: A New Age continues the DreamWorks Animation tradition of surprisingly strong sequels. I really wasn’t expecting a continuation of The Croods after 7 years. The computer animation has advanced, but it’s not too noticeable. Although I enjoyed the cave adventure and understood its Best Animated Feature nomination, The Croods felt more like a one-off. The family could only be seen again in the traditionally animated Netflix series Dawn of the Croods. Despite the transition from 20th Century Fox to Universal Pictures, a sequel was made, then delayed months later during the pandemic. Unlike Trolls World Tour, A New Age was mainly released in theaters. My brother and I ended up seeing the sequel with our mother and we all found ourselves loving it. A New Age plays to the strengths of the original by doubling the family antics, bizzare prehistoric creatures, absurd humor, and characters.
The Croods leave their beachfront paradise in search of a new home. Nicholas Cage, Catherine Keener, and Clark Duke all return along with the far more popular Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds. This was sadly one of Cloris Leachman’s final performances before she passed away. The Croods meet their match in the form of the far more evolved Bettermans. Peter Dinklage is the patriarch Phil, Leslie Mann is the matriarch Hope, and Kelly Marie Tran is their daughter Dawn. Since the Croods are mostly confined to the enclosed Betterman complex, more time is spent on each family member. Guy is given a lot of attention with a flashback depicting the loss of his family. Eep & Guy’s teen romance is given just as much attention with Grug fearing they’ll leave the pack. Even Belt gets a romance with a another sloth named Sash.
The Bettermans knew Guy’s family and try to turn him into one of them while condescending the Croods. Grug develops a funny love/hate bromance with Phil. Ugga is mostly protective of her family when Hope looks down on them. Sandy is still a feral baby, but Thunk has a particularly hilarious running gag involving a chicken and staring out a window like a TV. Gran is mostly obsessed with becoming an amazonian Thunder Sister. Although Eep could’ve been jealous of Dawn, they develop a friendship in order to explore the rough outside world. The back in forth between the conflicting cave families is the best addition to the sequel, but the adventure they go on may have been the funniest thing I’d seen all 2020. The fan favorite Punch Monkeys get a lot of attention with a secret plot involving bananas. The crazy climax is so ridiculous that I had to enjoy every minute of it. The Croods: A New Age took a good concept and let it evolve into something much better.
The Croods meet the Bettermans
Preceded by: The Croods
The Croods introduces the second best animated stone age family. Despite distancing themselves from satire, DreamWorks Animation continued to make original comedies in between franchises. I honestly thought The Croods was a step backwards for the computer animation studio. Apart from The Flintstones, I’ve never been a huge fan of caveman media. Since I was 17 at the time, I wasn’t sure if The Croods was worth seeing in theaters. It turned out to be surprisingly hilarious and even heartfelt in an appropriately crude way. The Croods is the first DreamWorks animated movie distributed by 20th Century Fox. Although originally pitched as a stop-motion Aardman movie, the story evolved with stylized computer animation.
The Croods are a crude family of cave people consisting of cave father Grug, cave mother Ugga, cave grandmother Gran, cave son Thunk, cave baby Sandy, and lead cave daughter Eep. Rising star Emma Stone is perfectly suited for the tough, wide-eyed, but rebellious teenager Eep. All she wants is to leave the cave, but her dad keeps the family safe by warning them against anything new. Nicholas Cage goes full caveman as the hilariously headstrong Grug. Catherine Keener is a little more open to change as the caring Ugga. Cloris Leachman is a frequent scene stealer as the oldest living cavewoman and overbearing mother-in-law Gran. Clark Duke is just as funny as Eep’s dimwitted brother Thunk. Sandy is a typical feral baby who gets plenty of fun moments too.
I was mostly on board with the Croods, but Guy really gets things going when he warns them of the end of the world. Ryan Reynolds lights the way with Guy’s scary new ideas and inventions humorously based on modern convenience. His Belt is actually a sloth who memorably says “Dun dun dun.” The animation really shines when Guy leads the Croods cross country to find “Tomorrow.” The path is full of colorfully bizzare sabertooth cats, cannibalistic birds, and my personal favorite Punch Monkeys. Grug is understandably protective of his family’s way of life, but everyone learns to open up throughout the course of the movie. Eep falls for Guy, Thunk gets a prehistoric pet “dog” named Douglas, Ugga lets her hair down, Gran softens up, and Sandy becomes less ferocious. Ending with a well earned new way of life. The Croods has more than enough new ideas to help its cave family standout.
Followed by: The Croods: A New Age
A Quiet Place Part II threw all the rules out the window. A Quiet Place is one of the best original horror movies of the last decade, yet I never needed a sequel. John Krasinski didn’t want a sequel either, but he was eventually convinced to return. Unlike the first movie, I knew I wanted to risk seeing Part II with a possibly noisy audience. Until it was postponed a literal week before its 2020 release. Ironic considering how similar the vacant world of A Quiet Place is to the pandemic. Part II was more than worth the wait. Everything I feared ended up being perfect for the continuation. I didn’t want to know where the Death Angels came from, but the Day 1 opening sets the tone with pure chaos.
Despite being dead, Krasinski was able to appear as Lee thanks to the flashback. The Abbotts quickly figure out not to make noise and survive long enough to immediately follow the ending of the first movie. Emily Blunt is now even stronger as the widowed Evelyn. After learning the creature’s weakness, her family is able to leave their home to find civilization. Parenthood is still important, but now questions of saving humanity are just as important. Noah Jupe is mostly out of commision as Marcus after a horrific injury, their newborn baby requires an oxygen tank, and deaf actress Millicent Simmonds has a more substantial role as Regan.
The sequel is split in two sections with Regan using her cochlear implant in an attempt to locate a source of music. The cast is bigger with Cillian Murphy representing the cynicism of humanity as old family friend Emmett. Djimon Hounsou represents the hopefulness of humanity as a community leader who learned another of the creature’s weaknesses. Characters are able to talk a lot more with secure bunkers and isolated areas, but it’s no less terrifying to see the creatures attack. The ending is just as abrupt with another win for humanity that I’m now looking forward to seeing in action. A Quiet Place Part II gives more without losing its originality.
Evelyn hides with her children
Preceded by: A Quiet Place