Turbo Kid (2015) Whenever I see too much buzz about an indie genre flick on Twitter, I get suspicious, but here’s a little gem that lives up to the hype. Turbo Kid exceeds your RDA of fun by a substantial margin. This Canadian-New Zealand co-production from co-writer/directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell cobbles together elements from numerous sources, but it somehow seems fresh, feeling like a lost artifact from the ‘80s. Set in a post-apocalyptic (1997) landscape, a teenager, known only as “The Kid” (Munro Chambers), forages for his existence and reads about his favorite comic book hero. After he discovers a derelict spacecraft, he gets the chance to play the fictional character for real. Along his travels, he meets an eccentric android companion (Laurence Leboeuf), and incurs the wrath of arch villain Zeus (Michael Ironside).
Ironside plays the sort of antagonist role he could do in his sleep, but manages to make him seem fresh and original. He’s accompanied by a mute sidekick with a heavy metal skull mask and a rotary blade launcher. The over the top gore effects reminded me of Dead Alive (aka: Brain Dead), and are more playful than disturbing. The young leads are appealing, the dialogue is snappy and the action is brisk. Any low-budget filmmakers that wish to make a throwback action film would be obliged to watch and study this movie.
Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, limited edition VHS (!) and Netflix Streaming
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016) After a nearly 30-year absence, Pee-Wee Herman (aka: Paul Reubens) makes his mostly triumphant return in this charming little Netflix-produced comedy. It never quite reaches the heights of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but it’s superior to the misfire that was Big Top Pee-Wee. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday follows a similar road trip format to the original film, with Pee-Wee racing against the clock to get to his new friend’s birthday party, but doesn’t just repeat the same old shtick. I got the impression he compiled a bunch of unused gags he’d saved up over the years, which results in an uneven ride. While the results are hit and miss, it’s just so cheery and eager to please that I couldn’t help but smile. Reubens settles back into the character like a well-worn white loafer, and all but the most cynical fans should be delighted. He has a enough new tricks up his sleeve to keep things interesting, and it left me hoping we don’t have long to wait for another feature or TV series.
Rating: ***. Available on Netflix Streaming
All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records (2015) For Generation X-ers like me, Tower Records was a significant component of my formative years, where I spent untold gobs of time and money. With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn the story behind this once mighty music store. Told mostly through the recollections of the retailer’s executives, director Colin Hanks (yep, that Colin Hanks) traces Tower’s origins in San Francisco during the hippie era, through its massive worldwide expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and eventual collapse in the early 2000s. The anecdotes from its founder, Russ Solomon, about Tower’s early days are fun, but somewhere along the way Hanks loses focus about what made the store great. We hear from too many people at the top, and only a handful of musicians. There’s far too much about the business side, and little from the fan’s perspective. Instead of feeling sorry for the chain’s downfall, I was left thinking: “So what?”
Rating: **½ Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Road to Wellville (1994) Director Alan Parker’s semi-fictionalized account (based on T.C. Boyle’s novel) of turn-of-the-century health guru Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins) is bursting with ideas, but like a bowl of soggy cornflakes, fails to satisfy. Bridget Fonda and Matthew Broderick play a married couple who travel to Kellogg’s sanatorium for rejuvenation. What awaits them are Kellogg’s less than orthodox methods, theories (he feels that sex is the road to death, and good health is connected with the bowels), and marital discord. The Road to Wellville almost seems like two movies, with a parallel story about a would-be entrepreneur of breakfast cereal (John Cusack) and his shady business partner (Michael Lerner). The film has its brief moments when it lampoons health fads and medical quackery, but it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, and not serious enough to be a drama. Mostly, it just feels like an enormous missed opportunity about a fascinating subject.
Rating: **½. Available on DVD