Tag Archives: Joe Dante

The Gremlins Gag Reel

Directors love an in-joke. There are an awful lot of movies out there that contain the odd knowing reference, cameo or other visual gag. For some filmmakers they are as much a part of cinema’s language as dollying and panning. More often than not they are references to other movies from the work of the star/director/producer of the movie you are watching, or signature moments which recur throughout that particular director’s filmography. Much of the time these gags will go unnoticed by the majority of the audience, but for the movie geek they are little golden nuggets, a secret code which only those in the know can decipher. It’s all pretty sad, perhaps, but we geeks will take any opportunity to feel special. And, yes, mildly superior.

Hitchcock was famous for giving himself cameos in his own movies, appearing in 39 of his 52 pictures. Almost every John Landis movie includes the line ‘See you next Wednesday’ somewhere within. And Sam Raimi will always get his Oldsmobile into his films if he can. But few directors have crammed as many of these little gags into a single movie as Joe Dante did in 1984′s Gremlins.

So, because it’s Christmas and watching Gremlins is one of my yuletide rituals, I present to you my visual list of the great movie’s many in-jokes. I’ve time-indexed each one, both to help you watch out for them and because I’m a big, anal geek.

Now, I don’t claim this to be a comprehensive list, although I hope it’s close. You’d have to be a fool to say you’d spotted every gag in a movie by a director who confesses he likes to ‘doodle in the margins’ of each frame. These are just the ones I know. If I’ve missed any out, please let me know. I’ll be your geek friend forever.

.
05:13 – Speaks for itself, this one. Kingston Falls resident DJ Rocking Ricky Rialto bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain famous adventurer. And that logo looks just as familiar, too. This is the first of many nods to Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg.

05:45 – The name of the store in the background is Doctor Fantasy’s, a name which Billy mentions later on. Doctor Fantasy was producer Frank Marshall’s nickname.

08:22 – Billy passes a cinema showing two movies with titles which will be familiar to informed Spielberg fans. A Boy’s Life was the original title of E.T. and Watch the Skies was the original title of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

08:49 – Billy’s walk to work is highly reminiscent of George Bailey’s run home at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, which was a big influence on the look of Gremlins. The town is called Kingston Falls, after the classic movie’s Bedford Falls. Look, there’s even an Emporium. Merry Christmas, Emporium!

13:31 – Billy’s friend at the bar is none other than the late, great Chuck Jones, legendary animator for Looney Tunes. Director Joe Dante is a huge fan of the Warner cartoons, and there are several references to the characters throughout Gremlins, including a later scene in the same bar where a Pepé Le Pew cartoon is playing on the TV in the background.

15:15 – Look what Billy’s mum is watching on the TV. It’s a Wonderful Life! Specifically the George Bailey scene which Dante imitated earlier. Cheeky old Joe.

23:55 – If you look closely at the back wall of Billy’s bedroom, you’ll see a rolled up poster for Twilight Zone: The Movie, which Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante both directed sequences for.

38:07 – The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is showing on the TV, paying homage to another Dante favourite and another movie featuring creatures born in pods. Also, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starred Kevin McCarthy, a regular in Joe Dante’s movies.

38:59 – The smiley face on the fridge door is a recurring motif from Dante’s previous movie The Howling.

43:23 – Multiple gags in this single frame. Billy’s dad calls home from the Inventor’s Convention. Behind him, in the cowboy hat, is composer Jerry Goldsmith and behind Goldsmith is the machine from the 1960 movie, The Time Machine. In the foreground, zooming around in a weird cart, is none other than Spielberg.

58:35 – We cut back to the same place later and now Robby the Robot from sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet is using the phone. Wearing Indiana Jones’ hat.

1:13:42 – Anyone who played arcade games in the 80s will recognise the Star Wars game being played by this gremlin. We used to think that game was so cool.

1:23:24 – Billy and Kate find the gremlins in the cinema. What movie is in the Coming Attractions? Yep, it’s The Howling.

1:23:38 – While the gremlins sit watching Snow White, one of them appears to have a pair of very familiar ears.

1:29:35 – Billy hunts down Stripe in the department store, but Stripe is hiding among some well-known cuddly characters, including E.T..

1:38:11 – At the end of the movie, we see a reporter on the TV. This is Jim McKrell playing Lew Landers, exactly the same character he played in The Howling.

________________________________________________________________________________

.


Review: The Hole

The Hole

Starring: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Director: Joe Dante

Newly arrived in the small town of Bensonville, brothers Dane and Lucas discover a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement of their new house. Shortly after opening the trapdoor which covers the hole, strange things begin to creep out, playing on the fears of whoever stares down into the darkness.

Welcome back, Mr Dante. Where on earth have you been? It’s been seven years since the cinema last saw a Joe Dante movie, and twelve years since it saw a Joe Dante movie that was any good (we’ll just pretend Looney Tunes: Back in Action never happened, okay). Now, at last, one of the 1980s most anarchic filmmakers, who brought us Gremlins, The Howling and Innerspace, has finally returned with something a little more like the Dante of old. The Hole marks a tentative return to form for the director. Sadly, it is only a tentative return.

Dante’s movies were almost always family fare, but with a trademark touch of darkness and insanity. Gremlins is the perfect example. With The Hole, the director returns to this template, fashioning another tale where the kids have all the fun and the adults are largely clueless as to what is going on around them. This set-up and Dante’s recognisable flourishes leave The Hole looking and feeling like a movie from the 80s. No bad thing for those of us who grew up on a diet of films from Dante and his contemporaries, like Spielberg, Landis and Carpenter. The first hour of The Hole is by far the strongest but it is ultimately let down by a weak and sentimental third act which undermines the creepy atmosphere and chills it built up along the way. Also letting the side down is lead actor Chris Massoglia, who delivers a performance worthy of the great Master of Wood, Keanu Reeves. Still there are reliable, if brief, turns from Dante regulars Bruce Dern and Dick Miller to lend class to proceedings.

You can come out now, Joe. We've forgiven you for Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

The modern teenage audience, fed on a stable diet of torture porn and dreary slasher movies, will probably find little to engage them in Joe Dante’s welcome return. This is a film that harkens back to a time when horror movies were more fairy tale than fetish. Dante fans, however, will relish in his trademark, if slightly restrained, mischievousness. Look out for the psychotic clown doll for old school laughs. Flawed but fun, The Hole is like welcoming back an old, childhood friend you haven’t seen in too long. Too bad it falls so completely at the final hurdle.

Rating - 3 Stars


15 Directors Meme

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

.

Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films