James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Every few months, MILL CREEK Home Entertainment releases a batch of VHS-styled retro blu ray releases. Most films are deep cuts or even outwardly lame studio films, but we love taking a dip into the pool of major studio films that time forgot. This month’s batch maybe my personal favorites.
GORILLAS IN THE MIST
Saving the animals is a great idea that can turn into an obsession that becomes radicalization; it’s even more enticing to put on film. Michael Apted’s adventure biopic GORILLAS IN THE MIST: THE ADVENTURES OF DIAN FOSSEY, whose life goal became, you guessed it, saving the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. The 1988 film is a solid exploration of a unique story that is tough problematic from a white savior standpoint. Still, the film touches on this subject acknowledging the consequences of obsession. The setting and a committed albeit strange Sigourney Weaver performance go through many layers of grief and dangerous situations.
Starting in 1966, Dian Fossey (Weaver) left everything to study gorillas in Rwanda (a region in Africa with its tragic history). Naive but loaded with intellect and a can-do attitude (it’s not that cheesy), Fossey ingrains herself in the culture and, more importantly, the family of gorillas. Through humble, patient, and passionate behavior, she bonds with the gorillas, but poachers and animal traders (with TIGER KING energy) threaten to ruin everything she’s building.
Michael Apted is a sturdy enough director for this project, and while the film doesn’t have the sense of wonder that we’ve seen in PLANET EARTH or JURASSIC PARK even, there’s a sense of immersion at play. I think this directly relates to Weaver’s performance as we’re not taking away from her perspective. While her methods may be dubious, this is a compelling story that made a difference in animal conservation.
BUY/RENT: Mill Creek Retro VHS line is one of my favorite lines from any boutique label. Most of the films in the line are forgettable sleepers from decades past, and that’s fine, but with GORILLAS IN THE MIST, there’s some genuine quality seeping in the mix. No special features, but a solid transfer makes for a great viewing experience.
In 1992 John Goodman (THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and Arthur Hiller made an incredibly misguided biopic for George Herman Ruth, aka Babe Ruth. Not only does Goodman not look like anything like The Sultan of Swat, or The King of Crash for that matter, the plotting rushes through every fascinating thematic element. Hell, THE SANDLOT did more for Babe Ruth’s cultural footprint than Hiller and Goodman.
Despite THE BABE’s ultimate downfall as a not at all good film, the hammy biopic is entirely watchable. Even though Goodman has publicly decreed his distaste for his performance, there are moments of apparent joy painted on his face. A near cradle to the grave story starts with Ruth’s father dropping him off at a Catholic orphanage for boys where he learns the bat from a kind priest (James Cromwell) who plays a little stickball with the boys.
From there, Hiller chronicles Ruth’s reckless behavior, drinking, and taste for philandering. Babe Ruth doesn’t seem like a very likable guy, but it’s all about the legend he carries with his name. I think what we’re discovering in real-time is THE BABE is a problematic film. The supporting cast props up John Goodman’s antics as Ruth, including the film’s MVP Trini Alvarado and Peter Donat, who play Ruth’s first wife Helen Ruth and controversial Red Sox owner Henry Frazee respectively. Inside the BABE story is a five-tooled cinematic legend that can’t get out of a slump.
STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT
STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT a movie that Sylvester Stallone would most likely be okay with having expunged from his IMDB page. (Planet) Hollywood legend has it Arnold Schwarzenegger deep faked Stallone into taking this role when he faked interest in the project even though he knew the script was trash.
The feature-length sitcom pilot stars Stallone as grumpy Sgt. Joe Bomowski, a tough-talking cop whose perpetually single and lives his life as a typical bachelor who doesn’t like to share the TV remote with any broads. (Yes, it’s that kind of movie.) For the reason that’s not answered in the script, Joe’s mother, Tutti (the lovely Estelle Getty), comes to stay with the loner cop and impedes his life. Through bad action and bad jokes the Roger Spottiswoode (TOMORROW NEVER DIES) arrives at the most obvious conclusion, a boy will always love his mother. No matter how many times she washes his police-issued handgun in bleach.
STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT isn’t a good movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a GOOD movie. There is something so atrociously wrong about every aspect of the film, from the overly macho portrayal by Stallone to Getty’s schtick that belongs in a variety show from the 1950s. However, the film is so blissfully unaware of how audiences would respond to this film at its release and almost 30 years later. I think this is what we call irony now on the internet.
There’s a special place for this odd couple pairing in the pantheon of bad movies that hung around, but the endearing face of Estelle Getty obnoxiously pointing a gun is too strange to deny.