Hunk

The Devil is a role that seems to be a coveted one among actors. I mean just look at some of the stars who have played the prince of darkness himself: Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, George Burns (he played God, too)…and you can’t forget the sexy devils like Elizabeth Hurley and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Definitely not a sexy devil was James Coco, who played the Devil in his final film…1987’s “Hunk.”

The film tells the story of awkward computer programmer Bradley Brinkman (Steve Levitt). He’s struggling at his job, but after he creates a hugely successful program his life starts to change. HIs boss (Avery Schreiber) gives him the summer off, with pay, to come up with an even bigger follow-up. Bradley ends up renting dilapidated beach house for the summer.

His attempts at fitting in with the rich beach crowd are unsuccessful. Only the strange Chachka (Cynthia Szigeti) seems to have any interest in him. But one night he meets his dream woman, O’Brien (Deborah Shelton). As it turns out, she works for the Devil (Coco) and is here to offer Bradley the life he’s always wanted…in exchange for his soul, of course.

Long story short, Bradley signs a contract for a trial period and wakes up the next morning as a buff blonde manly man (John Allen Nelson). His driver’s licence bears the incredibly believable name (sarcasm alert) of “Hunk Golden.”

Well, Hunk soon becomes the most popular guy on the beach. He’s hosting big parties, landing the hottest women, and inspiring others to copy his unique style (sleeveless jacket, unbuttoned to show his smooth chest, and a necktie). All is going well but Bradley…uh, Hunk seeks out help from a psychiatrist, Dr. Sunny Graves (Rebecca Bush). She doesn’t believe his story but is intrigued by him. But things start to turn sour when “Dr. D” himself shows up and tells Hunk all about his future serving the Devil.

Sunny continues to try and help Hunk come to terms with all this and the two begin to become involved romantically. But, we soon learn that Sunny isn’t who she seems to be. Now, will Hunk ever become Bradley again and find true happiness?

We’ve seen this sort of premise in tons of movies. The main character dreams of a better life, and is somehow granted it, but soon learns they had it better off before. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In “Hunk” it most definitely doesn’t. The big flaw is that there isn’t a convincing transition between Bradley and Hunk. One day he’s geeky and the next he’s studly. After the transformation, Hunk doesn’t go through any of the awkwardness that we expect…and which would create some much funnier situations.

With the advancements in special effects we now have, this premise could work better today. I kept picturing the effects used to make Chris Evans appear scrawny at the beginning of “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Had that technology existed in 87, so that the same actor could play both Bradley and Hunk, the film might have worked better. They are the same character in different forms, yet there is nothing that joins Steve Levitt and John Allen Nelson’s performances.

In the great list of 80’s comedies, “Hunk” ranks pretty low. If anyone sold their soul to the Devil to get this thing made, I think they could make a strong case for a refund.

Warner Archive New Releases – July 31, 2012

Sword and Sandal epics are the name of the game today at the Warner Archive. That and Heidi!?!?! How those two go together is a mystery to me…but here you go.

- The Tartars (1961)
– Gold for the Caesars (1963)
– Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1963)
– Sandokan the Great (1963)
– The Slave (1962)
– Damon and Pythias (1962)
– Heidi’s Song (1982)

The Snow Creature

From time to time I enjoy listening to various podcasts about the Disney theme parks. I love going to Walt Disney World, but I don’t get to go very often. Seven years passed between my last two visits…so when I’m there, I just soak it all in. So it does bug me a bit when so many of these podcasts, produced by supposed Disney fans, spend so much time complaining about things. One of the frequent complaints I’ve heard has to do with the Yeti that pops out during the Expedition Everest ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “It doesn’t move right anymore,” they’ll say…to which I respond, “get a life, will ya!” But, for all those who want to complain about Yeti’s, allow me to suggest a far worse alternative…1954’s “The Snow Creature.”

The film focuses on botanist Frank Parrish (Paul Langton), who is leading an expedition to study plant life high in the Himalayas. He is joined by a photographer, Peter Wells (Leslie Denison), and a group of Sherpas. Ok, we’ve got our first problem right here. I’m no scientist, but I do live where there are mountains and know that once you get high enough, the plant life gets a bit scarce. So I’m thinkin’ there’s not gonna be a whole lot of vegetation to study or take pictures of. Just sayin’.

Anyway, after climbing a bit, the group makes camp. That night, back in the village, the wife of Subra (Teru Shimada), one of the guides, is attacked by a strange creature. When word reaches Subra, he knows instantly it is a Yeti. Parrish isn’t convinced and refuses to allow Subra and the others to go off in search of the creature. But, that night, Subra steals Parrish and Wells’ ammunition. Now they have no choice but to follow Subra and the others on the hunt.

When giant footprints are spotted near the camp, Parrish begins to think there may be something to all this Yeti talk. They narrowly escape an avalanche caused by the creature and eventually take shelter in a cave. There they encounter the creature, and his family, first hand. In his anger, the creature ends up causing a cave-in, killing the other creatures and knocking himself unconscious. So, of course, our botanist/photographer combo rig up a stretcher to bring the creature back.

Parrish manages to get himself a refrigerator type contraption to bring the creature stateside. Upon arrival in the US, they run into some immigration issues. See, the creature is an abominable snow “man” but has no passport. I’m not making this up. Soon that doesn’t matter as the creature escapes and starts living it up in Los Angeles. It doesn’t take long for the creature too start attacking women in dark alleys. Now it’s up to Parrish and Lt. Dunbar (Bill Phipps) to find the creature before he attacks again.

“The Snow Creature” borrows heavily from one of the greatest films of all time, “King Kong.” Both have expeditions that stumble upon a creature, both creatures are fascinated by women, and both creatures are brought to the US, only to escape. But this is a far cry from the “8th wonder of the world.” The scenes in the himalayas are a bit silly with considerable gaps in the logic of the whole thing. I mean, how does a botanist have the resources with him to drug and bind a huge creature to a crudely made stretcher for a multi-day journey down the mountain?

Most of the creature’s rampage through LA is pretty blah as well. The Yeti spends most of his time lurking in shadows, occasionally stepping forward a tad so we can see his silhouette, then stepping back again. There are no crowds of people running and screaming as the beast lumbers down the street. Meanwhile, the pursuit of the creature is yawn inducing, to say the least. Parrish and Dunbar spend almost the whole time sticking thumbtacks into a map rather than, oh…I don’t know, going out and actually looking for the beast! Only the final sequence, with the beast being chased through the sewers, manages a small shred of excitement.

Some B-movie fans will probably have a lot of fun with this overall cheap production. There are even some sequences where footage used just moments earlier appears to have been reused. If you don’t enjoy bad movies, this abominable snowman flick will be just plain abominable.

Forgotten Disney: Education for Death

We conclude our Forgotten Disney series today with a very un-Disney Disney film. One of the many propaganda pieces the studio made during World War II, 1943’s “Education for Death.” Our guest reviewer is Dan Heaton.

Dan has been writing about film, TV, and music for nearly 15 years.  He started doing really basic reviews for a student magazine in college. Since then, he’s contributed to a variety of print and web publications, including DigitallyObsessed.com and ErasingClouds.com. You can check out his current work at his blog, Public Transportation Snob (ptsnob.com). Dan says, “The blog helps me to explore my film blind spots, interact with other movie fans, and work on my writing. I’m tackling marathons each month on a specific theme. Examples from the past year include That Crazy Nicolas Cage, When Am I? (time travel), We’re All Dead! (post-apocalyptic), and Cult Movies.”  He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and toddler daughter.

Education for Death

One of the lesser-known periods of Walt Disney’s career is his extensive work producing films for the government and armed forces during World War II. The company was reeling financially despite the huge success of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. Disney used his most recognizable animated characters like Donald Duck to promote the war effort at home. Some of these short films were designed more for comedy, while others went further and took a more serious route to attack Hitler’s regime. Some of these pictures remain stunning today, especially when you consider the source. Disney’s movies and theme parks are successful because they masterfully deliver a specific message and feeling. His propaganda films were no different and remind us of his tremendous artistic and intellectual talents.

One of the prime examples is “Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi,” a 1943 release that depicts the ways Hitler’s regime indoctrinated kids from an early age. Based on a book of the same name by Gregory Ziemer, this 10-minute short provides a series of remarkable shots that strike at our hearts. Legendary animator Ward Kimball drives home the message with striking juxtapositions of characters in each frame. The shot of small boys giving the Hitler salute is effective and clearly delineates the point of this film. Director Clyde Geronimi is trying to show how the enemy is doing more than corrupting its adult citizens. They’re basically taking over their lives at birth and never letting go. The main character is a boy named Hans, and his parents must prove they’re pure Aryans right after he arrives. He never has a chance to do anything but serve Hitler and prepare for war. The shadow of the Nazi looms over them and takes up most of the screen as he grabs control of Hans’ life.

Art Smith narrates the story, which includes German dialogue and no subtitles. This is another purposeful move to avoid humanizing the Nazis by giving them clear communication. Having a narrator ensures there’s no doubt about the point of each shot. When Hans grows sick, the footage of his mom with her son reminds us there are humans living under Hitler. While they’re shot warmly, the Nazi soldier is presented like a monster ready to devour Hans. Smith calls him a “superman”, and his giant shadow fits with that over-the-top image of the villain. His teacher looks more like a regular guy, but he’s also a huge man who gets more imposing when Hans counteracts his message. He also ridicules the boy in front of the class — a clever way to show how peer pressure drives the German populace.

There are attempts at comedy with the much-different version of Sleeping Beauty that’s reportedly told to Nazi children. This is the only misstep of the movie and could easily have been removed. The joke of the very fat German woman and a goofball Hitler doesn’t work, and it takes Smith’s narration to explain the point. It’s a fairly short sequence and stands out because it feels tacked onto a generally convincing production. It seems designed solely to retain audiences who need generic comedy to stay focused. Once we exit this interlude, the remainder stays grim and on point.

The most convincing sequence is the final act, which shows Hans accepting and becoming a full member of the Nazi army. The hellish scene of book burning is enhanced when the Bible morphs into Mein Kempf. We also see the crucifix being replaced with a sword as the violent carnage ensues. While Hans quickly grows up and becomes completely shackled, it’s setting us up for the final shocker. The image of a row of gravestones as far as the eye can see is a definitive mission statement for the movie. Disney and the U.S. Government paint Hitler as a madman leading his people to ultimate destruction. It’s a classic piece of propaganda that creates a hyper reality from the worst elements of the Nazi regime. It might seem out of character for casual Disney fans, but they don’t really know the company’s namesake that well. He was a politically motivated guy who had more on his mind than creating fantasy. “Education for Death” is a surprising example from his past that is forgotten or unseen by most viewers. It’s a classic example of war-time propaganda and the rampant possibilities of the animated medium.