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Grand Theft Auto

Posted by On May - 13 - 2011

Grand Theft Auto (1977)
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Ron Howard and Rance Howard
Starring: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan and Marion Ross



The Plot: Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) is a beautiful young woman from a very accomplished family. When she brings home Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) and tells her family that the young couple will be married shortly, they do not react in the most sympathetic of manner. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as we see her family orders her to break it off with Sam and instead marry the very rich Collins Hedgeworth. Paula breaks away from her family and steals her father’s Rolls Royce and both she and Sam are then out on the run to Las Vegas in order for the two of them to be married. Unfortunately, Paula’s parents are just rich and psychotic enough to give chase all the way to Las Vegas and now the two are going to have to really jet down the highway in order to beat their pursuers. Making matters worse, Paula’s parents call up Collins Hedgeworth who offers a $25,000 reward in order to bring “his girl” back. Now everyone between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are looking for this couple. Along for the chase we have Collins, his parents, Paula’s parents, a street preacher, a gas station attendant, two mechanics and a radio announcer who simply wants the scoop! Prepare for auto-insanity!


The Review
Ron Howard has lead one of the most intriguing lives in the Hollywood system, there’s no question about that. Beginning his career as a child-actor on the Andy Griffith Show, followed by his star-making turn on the television program Happy Days. What provided his legendary career span though would obviously be his turn as a director which would see him continue working for several decades longer, and also see him win an Oscar sometime later on. However, it was during his stint with New World Pictures, where he would work with Roger Corman, that would see him cut his teeth as a director and start this new life behind the camera. This Ron Howard Action Pack from Shout! Factory, which features both Grand Theft Auto and Eat My Dust, delivers both the films that would start this new career of his, and through the special features on the double disc set, as well as the stories behind this transition.

Ron Howard may not seem like the go-to guy to star in an action packed film dealing with car chases, but the seventies were certainly a very different time and era. People were more willing to experiment during these times and although we still shades of such things today (with Michael Cera starring in titles such as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), few smaller framed actors would be thrown in such roles during modern times. As we saw in Eat My Dust, Howard was the sort of actor who could make anything work. With Grand Theft Auto, Howard is back a year later and has grown his hair out in the same manner that he continually threatened throughout the previously mentioned film. His general look is far more hipster-like and his character is certainly far different than the one he portrayed in the previous film. His hip’ness is felt seeping through the camera as he asks Nancy Morgan to pull over so the two can “fool around”. Although he still has fears of his own inadequacy at times, the character seems much more down to earth.

The broad comedy of Eat My Dust (and later on, Smokey Bites the Dust) certainly makes a triumphant return here.This can be a good thing or this can be a bad thing when it comes to slapstick comedy, so the audience usually has a fifty-fifty shot of gathering up a movie that is worth some value and although the comedy in Grand Theft Auto isn’t always on pitch its most assuredly in the better half. There are still some really strong and broadly drawn characters that walk beyond the line of “satirical” and are simply “stereotypical”. Characters such as the maniacal street preacher and every last one of the “rich” family members who are continually speaking with their bottom jaw puckered as far outward as is conceivably possible, they are the worst examples of this low-brow sensibility. The comedy remains over the top but it is also just witty enough that we can have faith in the filmmakers to take us into something interesting.

Ron Howard, who made his directorial debut here, shows a veteran skill despite being a novice at the time. Knowing that he would be doing so much behind the scenes, it was a smart idea for the director to have such a gigantic ensemble cast. An ensemble cast that would feature numerous Roger Corman regulars as well as Howard’s own father Rance Howard and his brother Clint, who both feature prominently in the movie. Howard establishes this large ensemble role so that he doesn’t have to direct himself throughout much of the picture, and he himself is only featured throughout the movie in tiny bits and pieces. His role doesn’t seem as large as many of the character bits throughout, but when he is onscreen sharing time with Nancy Morgan he does make the most of it. The small moments between Howard and Morgan make tue heart of the movie and ultimately give us reason to root for these two lovebirds.

Featuring more action than in any Roger Corman produced car chase movie I have seen yet, I give total credit to Howard for crafting such an exciting feature on his very first production. Exploding bridges, exploding cars and an innumerable amount of wrecked automobiles, Howard certainly didn’t pick a very “easy” movie for his first time in the director’s seat. The young director even handles tension exceedingly well as he stages a game of “chicken” between a Rolls Royce and a helicopter in a sequence that looks to put an end to our characters. This scene in particular has always been the single image that defines Grand Theft Auto and is one that will likely remain in the public conscious longer than anything else in the production.


The Conclusion
This isn’t a perfect movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. That broad comedy can and potentially will drive the audience batty. The time spent away from the leads in Ron Howard and Nancy Morgan could very well prove to be an issue as well. However, I have to give credit where credit is due, amongst the number of action-comedies that feature such huge ensemble casts, Grand Theft Auto remains one of the most entertaining. Give it a look and check out the Ron Howard Action Pack, since you really can’t beat the deal!




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“Eat My Dust” Review

Posted by On May - 12 - 2011
Hey everyone, here we are today with some more car-chase cinema straight from the good folks over at Shout! Factory. The Roger Corman collection continues to expand with their May 24th release of the Ron Howard action pack! Featuring his breakout action role covered today with the film Eat My Dust. Read on to get an idea of what the film has in store!

The Plot: Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is a real gear-head with a fixation on stock-car racing. He reads all of the magazines and keeps up with his favorite driver Big Bubba Jones, who drives the sweetest little ride with the fastest engine around. His father, who is the sheriff, thinks that the entire stock-car racing business is a bunch of bunk. After sneaking into a race, Hoover stumbles upon his greatest crush: Darlene Kurtz (Christopher Norris), a blond haired angel who wears tight shirts and short-shorts. After Darlene doesn’t immediately take to his charm, she soon lets it slip that she wouldn’t mind going for a ride. A really FAST ride. The only thing is, she doesn’t want to go anywhere in Hoover’s beat-up truck. She has her eyes set on Big Bubba Jones’ tweaked out stock-car. Hoover, acting off of instinct, proceeds to steal the stock-car and goes off on a mission with all of his friends and the beautiful Darlene. With Hoover’s dad and the rest of the county searching for him, Hoover is facing a lot of trouble but for now he’ll simply have some fun along the way.


And if the review isn’t enough, you can catch this nice little interview with Ron Howard in order to whet your appetite for Corman produced action mayhem!





CONTINUE READING HERE!
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Eat My Dust

Posted by On May - 12 - 2011

Eat My Dust (1976)
Director: Charles B. Griffith
Writers: Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Ron Howard, Christopher Norris and Brad David



The Plot: Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is a real gear-head with a fixation on stock-car racing. He reads all of the magazines and keeps up with his favorite driver Big Bubba Jones, who drives the sweetest little ride with the fastest engine around. His father, who is the sheriff, thinks that the entire stock-car racing business is a bunch of bunk. After sneaking into a race, Hoover stumbles upon his greatest crush: Darlene Kurtz (Christopher Norris), a blond haired angel who wears tight shirts and short-shorts. After Darlene doesn’t immediately take to his charm, she soon lets it slip that she wouldn’t mind going for a ride. A really FAST ride. The only thing is, she doesn’t want to go anywhere in Hoover’s beat-up truck. She has her eyes set on Big Bubba Jones’ tweaked out stock-car. Hoover, acting off of instinct, proceeds to steal the stock-car and goes off on a mission with all of his friends and the beautiful Darlene. With Hoover’s dad and the rest of the county searching for him, Hoover is facing a lot of trouble but for now he’ll simply have some fun along the way.


The Review
Roger Corman certainly contributed to the world of the action-comedy, that is for sure. His New World productions often featured some rather spectacularly silly comedy mixed in with some very large action spectacles. In our film today everything seems rather over the top. In both terms of good and bad, Eat My Dust is a BIG movie. The comedy is broad, very broad, but surprisingly it actually manages to work. Written and directed by Charles B. Griffith, who some regular Varied Celluloid readers may actually remember. He was the man responsible for the very similar 1981 project Smokey Bites the Dust, which I did not have many nice things to say about. The projects are similar in both their tone and plot devices, but in this instance the movie has two additional features going for it that Smokey… did not: a lot more wit and a charismatic leading man in the form of Ron Howard. Made earlier in Griffith’s career, this just goes to show just how dependent a director can be on his cast. With so much in common between the two films, the success of Eat My Dust is entirely dependent on the main cast and crew.

The comedy this go-around, within the work of Charles B. Griffith, is much more tolerable than what I had seen from him later on. The comedy is still very broad, but this time out the character of Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is much more forgivable than the lead we were given in Smokey Bites the Dust. Despite the property damage that Hoover creates along the way, it is rather understandable due to his love-affair with Darlene (Christopher Norris). The blossoming “romance” between these two makes for one of the more interesting developments in the movie. We’re never quite sure if Darlene actually likes Hoover or if she’s just here for the ride. Her free spirit makes her three dimensional and hard to read, which is commendable for this sort of project and adds an extra layer of believability.


The performances are generally what makes the project for me. We have several really well acted roles here, with Ron Howard obviously the standout from the cast. Ron Howard, within the first ten minutes, reminds the audience what a tremendous performer he was. Despite his wholesome image and somewhat geeky demeanor, Howard is a tremendously charismatic actor and puts forth as enthusiastic a performance as you are likely to see from such a young actor. His take on Hoover isn’t the standard “cocky and self confident” young man that you’ll usually see in movies like this. There is a degree of that cocky charm that one might expect, yes, but he isn’t assured that everything will turn out okay and as we see him ending up the butt-end of several jokes made by his friends, we see that he isn’t the coolest cat in the county. Howard’s ability to make a “worry-wart” character into someone you root for makes the movie that much more fun as things escalate.

The rest of the cast all do well in their roles, including the lovely Christopher Norris. Her role is a bit duplicitous at times and it makes her more interesting than your average damsel-in-distress. Not to mention the fact that she’s also about as beautiful a piece of eye candy as one is going to find, especially whilst wearing her yellow hot-pants… which the filmmakers do a fine job at showing off throughout the entirety of the movie. Warren J. Kemmerling who plays Hoover’s father and the local sheriff is also really great in his role as the pursuing force. He is a bit exaggerated at times, as anyone in such a role needs to be, but he doesn’t come off as annoying. That in itself is actually quite impressive, since I usually find these characters to be brutal on the nerves and I’m generally not that forgiving with these cliche villains. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t mention Clint Howard who shows up in a small role during the first half of the movie, and believe me you have never seen him looking so enthusiastic… or young.

The film itself looks fantastic despite its age and has been cleaned up tremendously by the good folks over at Shout! Factory. Although they didn’t remove all of the scratches or pops that show signs of age, especially during the introduction, this turns out as a good thing since its part of the film’s charm and firmly roots it in a particular time and place. The soundtrack is also handled quite well, as it brings about that “southern” charm that is expected from any good car-chase movie from this time and era. Even if the movie itself doesn’t scream out “southern” charm, the music gives it a very “genre” feel. Ultimately, this is a beer-swilling, broad humored piece of zany action-comedy and it does just the things that you expect from it. It may not be great, but its a fun little ride.


The Conclusion
Sometimes the humor is a bit overboard, sometimes things come across as being too heavily reliant on “shtick” and sometimes it just falls flat; but as Smokey Bites the Dust taught me… things can always be worse. I give Eat My Dust a solid three out of five. It’s not what I would consider a shining example of this particular sort of movie, but it takes the genre into some interesting directions and really works at its best when it tries new things.




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“Kickboxer’s Tears” Review

Posted by On May - 10 - 2011
I meant to have this review up earlier, but things have been crazy here lately. Anyway, this is a review I’m fairly excited about since it covers my new infatuation with both Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima, two of the baddest girls who have ever come out of the Hong Kong film industry! Read on and have fun, because Kickboxer’s Tears guarantees a good time!

The Plot: Michael Li (Ken Lo) is a kickboxer whose sister is fresh back in town. His sister, Feng Li (Moon Lee) who has never approved of his fighting ways, makes it just in time to catch one of his matches for a seedy promoter who wants him to throw his fight. This evil promoter tells Michael in no short order that if he doesn’t throw his fight, he’s going to pay big time. During the fight, all seems well until Michael’s opponent (Billy Chow) rubs down his glove with chili powder and begins to batter Michael with it. During the fight Michael is blinded and then beaten to death right in front of his sister. After the funeral Feng sticks around in order to help out her brother’s gym, but the seedy promoter hasn’t finished with the Li family. Unknown to him though, Feng Li isn’t one to be trifled with!


CONTINUE READING HERE!
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Kickboxer’s Tears

Posted by On May - 10 - 2011

Kickboxer’s Tears (1992)
Director: Shen Da Wei
Writers: Shen Da Wei (???)
Starring: Moon Lee, Ken Lo, Billy Chow and Yukari Oshima



The Plot: Michael Li (Ken Lo) is a kickboxer whose sister is fresh back in town. His sister, Feng Li (Moon Lee) who has never approved of his fighting ways, makes it just in time to catch one of his matches for a seedy promoter who wants him to throw his fight. This evil promoter tells Michael in no short order that if he doesn’t throw his fight, he’s going to pay big time. During the fight, all seems well until Michael’s opponent (Billy Chow) rubs down his glove with chili powder and begins to batter Michael with it. During the fight Michael is blinded and then beaten to death right in front of his sister. After the funeral Feng sticks around in order to help out her brother’s gym, but the seedy promoter hasn’t finished with the Li family. Unknown to him though, Feng Li isn’t one to be trifled with!

The Review
I never realized how much I enjoyed watching women kick butt until I recently stumbled upon She Shoots Straight, but that movie really made a world of difference for me. The closest I had ever come to anything like it was watching Michelle Yeoh’s stunt-crazy performance in Police Story III, but if there are movies out there that feature tough women trying to compete with the men and succeeding at it – then you can always count me in. Kickboxer’s Tears marks my personal introduction to the beautiful and brilliant Moon Lee who made her name during the 80’s and 90’s as a tough, no-nonsense action heroine who took part in some pretty outlandish stunts. Including a noted explosion on the set of Devil Hunters (1980) that would cover her in burns.

While Kickboxer’s Tears doesn’t look to be one of Moon Lee’s most dangerous productions, it is infinitely entertaining as a piece of early nineties Hong Kong action. Made during the height of 90’s martial arts cinema, which saw the entire genre being upgraded to modern settings and brought upon the revitalization of Kung Fu cinema in general, this is a film that delivers in all of the right ways. Featuring dynamic fight sequences, an amazing cast and plenty of onscreen violence; Kickboxer’s Tears is a film that was guaranteed to deliver. Pairing Moon Lee with the incredible Yukari Oshima (AKA: the male gang-boss from Ricky Oh: The Story of Ricky that looked a LOT like a girl… and was a girl) together, this is a project that had a whole lot going for it. The two starred together in other titles before, but this was one that really paired the two together in a “unstoppable force meets movable object” type of dynamic. You throw Billy Chow and some unusually disturbing bits of violence in the midst of the action, and you have a potential classic!

A very strong piece of Hong Kong action, Kickboxer’s Tears partially belongs to the “girls with guns” subgenre of HK action cinema mixed with a more traditional form of martial arts cinema. The big difference from your average piece of Kung Fu is the modernization of traditional martial arts away from both the “period” setting as well as the “street combat” that was and is quite popular. Not that the fight choreography has changed up that much from most films of the time, but the “Kickboxing” back-drop for the movie provides a “new” factor. The setting for the movie is based around the world of semi-professional kickboxing, which is an interesting thing to see because it isn’t an area that one immediately equates with Chinese martial arts. The number of Kung Fu artists within K1 (the world most premiere mixed-Kickboxing organization) are very slim and outside of San Shou the western world has seen very little from China’s legendary fighters within modern times.

That doesn’t mean that Kickboxer’s Tears demonstrates some hidden form of martial arts, not in the least. The choreography is very much what one expects from your average Kung Fu feature, but only this time the fighters are wearing shorts and traditional kickboxing garb. The choreography is still the same back and forth (punch, block, punch, block) set-up that you expect from choreographed Kung Fu, but its certainly of the more exciting and fast-paced variety. When the girls take to fighting, in particular, the choreography seems all the more brutal. Moon Lee is the standout from the performers and she truly holds the weight of the film on her back. In terms of her athletic and acting performance, she is the solid rock foundation that the film rests upon and she makes this the exciting piece of action cinema that it truly is.

Listed as a CAT III title of all things, Kickboxer’s Tears features very little of the excessive violence or sex that one seems to expect from the genre. The rating is a bit perplexing to be honest, but I can sort of see where it comes from. The goriest and most shocking sequences in the movie are very small in terms of screen time, but the violence that is here is a bit on the disturbed side. There are some brutal moments that generally involve a box-cutter and some severe spinal cord damage, but this isn’t a title that I would recommend primarily for the on-screen violence.

Part of what makes the movie as memorable as it was for me is the utterly terrible English dub that I watched the movie with. Terrible in all of the ways that make a bad movie “great”, Kickboxer’s Tears packs a considerable amount of really fun dialog. “Stay close to him, and then jab, punch!” may be my favorite line throughout the movie. In the context of the scene, which is during the first kickboxing sequence (which is awfully long, by the way), there are so many things wrong with the line. For one, the two fighters are keeping within range throughout the course of the fight and never step out into jabbing distance. There are no pecking shots thrown from the shoulder, because jabbing doesn’t exactly translate to an “exciting” fight. Just look at Floyd Mayweather Jr. (oh, I went there). Second of all, a jab IS A PUNCH! I’m sure the dialogue was meant to be “jab, hook”, “jab, uppercut” or maybe “jab, straight” but I guess the filmmakers weren’t very knowledgeable about martial arts or the fight game in general.

The Conclusion
Kickboxer’s Tears isn’t a perfect movie by a longshot. In fact, even as a piece of Kung Fu cinema it has issues. The fight sequence between Yukari Oshima and Moon Lee is far too short and doesn’t have the impact that most audience members might expect after the entire movie seems to pit these two against one another. Then there’s that dreadfully long kickboxing match during the first half of the movie, where we see nearly an entire match round-by-round. These are minor inconveniences however, as the overall product is of a high quality standard. I can’t help but recommend the movie, because I haven’t had this much fun with a movie in quite a while. Check it out!




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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