Some directors are demanding. Others are difficult. But only one was accused of killing his actors. "Deodato Holocaust" tells the story of the Italian filmmaker who unwittingly became a master of horror by making a movie so real, it was criminal. In examining the film career of Ruggero Deodato, this intimate, independent documentary seeks to better understand one of the world's most controversial directors.
As with most horror fans, my earliest experience of Deodato was the notorious "Cannibal Holocaust" during the home video era. That film, along with Umberto Lenzi's "Cannibal Ferox," were by far the two nastiest titles a teenager could rent. My shock turned to appreciation when Deodato began having an influence on Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. Roth not only put Deodato in a "Hostel" film, but emulated the maestro quite literally with "The Green Inferno." Eventually, the man himself came to the American Midwest and I was able to have a very broken conversation with him in Italian. He was kind enough to give me grammar corrections, and we ended up dining at a nearby restaurant. That day remains one of the highlights of my life.
"Deodato Holocaust" is a very simple concept. The majority of the film is Deodato himself sitting in what looks like a hotel lobby and recounting stories from his life. But this simple concept is very effective; other interviewees might have rounded out the stories more, but this is not their film. This is one man's story in his own words.
We learn early on that Deodato has never embraced the "horror director" label, arguing that he also made romance and fantasy pictures. He was not even a fan of the genre - ironically because of the gore - and did not view his cannibal pictures as "horror" films. How they could be anything else is puzzling, but he is quite sincere in his position.
His early years really do not suggest a "master of horror." Deodato was pro-monarchy in his youth, as his mother allegedly descended from nobility and therefore he felt a kinship with the king. This political stance lead him to meet and befriend the anti-monarchy, pro-Republic Rossellini family and their friends, including such icons as Ingrid Berman. Deodato made "about sixty" films (in his estimation) as an assistant to Rossellini, Sergio Corbucci and others. None of them horror.
Rossellini was Deodato's strongest influence, and this is where he learned all about realism, and the use of strong images. A child's suicide figures in "Germany Year Zero (1948), for example. Deodato picked up on this realism and strong imagery and intensified it for the next generation. Working with Corbucci, Deodato is said to be the one who landed Franco Nero the iconic role of Django, making him an international star.
His directorial debut was the little-known "Gungala, the Panther Woman" - though he was credited under a fake name. From there he made a Hercules movie, 007 knockoffs and police thrillers. He was on the road to success, getting more well known all the time. And then... he achieved notoriety internationally through the marketing of "Cannibal Holocaust" as a documentary. People believed that real murders were shown, and legal battles ensued that kept him from directing for a while (in Italy, you needed a license to be a director).
Although Deodato may not see himself as a horror director, the 1980s saw him making horror film after horror film. He took over "Cut and Run" from Wes Craven, and made a few slasher films. Things took a strange turn, and he shot "Dial Help" and "The Washing Machine", films about a killer telephone yes, really) and washing machine (duh), respectively. From there, his star faded.
According to Deodato, 1999 was the year he gained immortality. Not through anything he did, but because of "The Blair Witch Project" (which he considers a poor excuse of a film). The success of this found footage pioneer reminded people of an earlier "found footage" story - "Cannibal Holocaust" - and Deodato was now seen as a genius rather than an outcast. While I was already aware of who he was, this attention indirectly gained Deodato a following and ultimately brought him to American horror conventions. So, on behalf of all the Deodato fans, thank you "Blair Witch"!
"Deodato Holocaust" puts Deodato in his rightful place, rather than as the "cult" figure he has become. Much of the film covers his horror career, and no doubt the filmmakers were drawn to him because of these films. But we also see how he has more in common with Rossellini, Corucci and Fellini than with Argento and Bava. Is it too late to honor this man and get decent releases of his hidden gems? Even the definitive book on his career is hard to come by. "Cannibal Holocaust: The Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato" is out of print and used copies easily fetch $45. Reprint this book, and somebody (Arrow Video?) get cracking on a new 4K transfer of "Gungala"!
"Deodato Holocaust" had its world premiere on Thursday, May 16th as the Opening Night Film of the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre, Brazil. No doubt it will continue to tour festivals throughout 2019, and see a wider release later on. If you have the chance to catch it, please do.
A wild animal attacks six medical students on a weekend hike in the woods. One by one, they become infected with a "feral disease", turning them into rabid, bloodthirsty creatures, and the vacation becomes a nightmare as they fight to survive each other.
Although Mark Young may not be a big name in genre film, he has been a constant presence for well over a decade, more often than not directing his own scripts. Young first came to my attention with "Tooth & Nail" (2007), quite possibly my favorite entry in that year's 8 Films to Die For. He followed that up with the action film "The Killing Jar" (2010), which saw "Tooth" alumnus Michael Madsen return, as well as Danny Trejo, Lew Temple and Amber Benson (among others).
For "Feral", Young returns to the independent horror genre and has brought Lew Temple with him. Receiving top billing is the beloved Scout Taylor-Compton, who first came to my attention with "Wicked Little Things" (2006), though she remains best known for playing the leading both Rob Zombie "Halloween" films. Rounding out the cast is Olivia Luccardi, who will be recognized from "It Follows", if not her recurring role on "Orange is the New Black".
After dying from a strange illness that she suffered from for three years, a mother (Ayu Laksmi) returns home to pick up her children.
The genesis of this film may seem strange to a Western audience. "Satan's Slaves" is an Indonesian remake (or prequel according to some sources) of the 1982 Indonesian film "Satan's Slave". Most likely, you never saw the original film, and it is apparently completely unknown outside of its home country other than to uber-collectors buying up $80 VHS tapes with Japanese subtitles. But the strange part is not that this is a remake; such a thing is ubiquitous these days. The strange part is that the original film was actually a knock off of Don Coscarelli's "Phantasm" with some Islamic elements blended in.
So, the question must be asked: do Coscarelli's plot lines and themes come through in this remake, or does it venture into new territory? The answer is simple: no connection exists whatsoever. Regardless of whatever the original source material may have lifted, it is completely erased this time around. No tall men, no silver balls. The use of a cemetery plays a role in both films, but that is hardly unusual for the horror genre. Near as can be seen, "Satan's Slaves" is its own beast.
The haunting, yet beautiful score really drives the film forward and keeps what could be a boring film alive, instead making it the perfect slow burn, not unlike "The Changeling" in pace and atmosphere. Some creepy, unsettling moments mixed with the simple ringing of a bell... viewers know they will jump, but the anticipation will keep them on edge. The promo literature says the film delivers "a sustained bombardment of scares that starts early and doesn't let up until the all-out Satanic madness of the climax", and they are not wrong (though perhaps relying a tad bit on hyperbole).
One has to be impressed by the rich cinematography from Ical Tanjung, and a great use of the Indonesian landscape, not least of all in the cemetery sequences. Not being familiar with Indonesian cinema, I would assume it is a fairly low budget affair. But one would never know that from the crisp colors and even well-chosen brown tints on screen. Perhaps technology is becoming affordable and the world is playing on a more even field, because this is Hollywood-grade art.
One key plot point involves a well that provides drinking water for the family. This inevitably had me thinking about Asian movies and wells, and more specifically "Ringu". Though there seems to be no intentional reference there, I cannot help but think this is a link some viewers will make. Which, frankly, only adds to the creepy feel of the picture. (I was also unclear why the kids were urinating near the drinking water, but maybe this is not as gross as it appears.)
All in all, "Satan's Slaves" has only two real strikes against it. The first is its being in another language. While that does not bother me one bit, it does mean the chance of it being a bit hit are slim unless some American comes along to remake it. The other strike is the title. Maybe the connotation is different in Indonesia, but "Satan's Slaves" sounds like something cheap or exploitative, a bad metal band or worse. And this is a shame because the film is really quite serious and lacks any sort of gimmick.
"Satan's Slaves" screened on June 22 at the Cinepocalyse festival in Chicago. Your mileage may vary, but for my money this was a beautifully-shot, musically perfect horror story that is well worth seeking out. An American theatrical run is unlikely, but if nothing else, hopefully it makes the rounds on Netflix. This is a true gem.
While this film does not go very deep in its 50-minute running time, it does involve a wide range of names. Some very humorous, some just unusual. Then, there are one or two that seem out of place (Nardizzi is completely unwarranted).
Because it is short, it definitely is a fun diversion if you have an hour to kill. You can be grateful that your name does not make people laugh. (The closest I ever came is that I share my name with a baseball player, but that is fairly obscure.) I enjoyed this and would not have minded more.
The unfortunate thing is that people do not seem to know the real origin of their odd names. The Hooker family claims descent from General Hooker. That may be true, but it is certainly not true (as they claim) that the term "hooker" comes from the general. Another person tells a made-up tale about the origin of "malarkey".
A man discovers an ancient Incan formula for raising the dead, and uses it for a series of revenge murders.
"Death Smiles on a Murderer" was produced by Franco Gaudenzi, who writer-director Joe D'Amato had met through production manager Oscar Santaniello. Their first collaboration led to D'Amato directing "Un bounty killer a Trinità", one of the several films directed by D'Amato with someone else taking credit. This was the first film D'Amato directed himself where he used his real name in the credits: Aristide Massaccesi.
The film credits the script to D'Amato, Romano Scandariato and Claudio Bernabei, though the latter was said to just be a typist by D'Amato. The story is credited to D'Amato, which Scandariato said was "more or less one page". Scandariato stated the film was originally written with more suspense and more of a giallo, but this was changed out of necessity. The film was given a low budget of 150 million Italian lire.
"Death Smiles on a Murderer" was shot between November and December 1972 with a working title of "Seven Strange Corpses". Some scenes which were not in the script were improvised on set. These included a scene where Luciano Rossi was attacked by a cat, which saw D'Amato achieve his desired effect by allegedly throwing the cat against Rossi's face. (I have real doubts about this given the footage that resulted.)
Actress Ewa Aulin was well-known at the time, though has strangely fallen into obscurity. Klaus Kinski is still widely known today, though perhaps more for his madness and depravity than his acting. He became involved purely for the money and had no real opinion of the material one way or the other.
While D'amato is best known for his exploitation work and occasional outright pornography, this film is rather tame. The gore is no worse than your standard horror film of the era, and while there is some nudity and romantic elements, it is fairly restrained, nothing remotely as blatant as we might see from Jean Rollin.
The Arrow Blu-ray is superb, with both English and Italian versions of the film. The incredible Tim Lucas provides audio commentary. Ewa Aulin has a brand-new interview, almost an hour in length. D'Amto is captured in an archive interview (primarily talking about Kinski). And a video essay covering D'Amato's career is worth a watch. An all-around spectacular package for the film.
A saboteur posing as a scientist strives to destroy the world's first space station.
The film is based on a story by Robert A. Heinlein, who shares screenwriting credit with producer Jack Seaman. Apparently the film was made without Heinlein's consent and he disowned it as his work. The film was directed by the mysterious Richard Talmadge.
The film is unusual for its time in both attempting to portray space travel in a "realistic" manner (which it does quite well considering it was pre-Apollo), and for depicting a future in which women hold positions of authority and responsibility equal to men; in the film the President of the United States is a woman. Being set in 1970, they were not far off on the space travel, but a bit too optimistic on the presidency.
This movie and "Cat-Women of the Moon" (1953) were made using some of the same sets and costumes. The two films were then released within one day of each other. While both are a bit cheesy, they both have their merits.
A murderous surgeon (Robert Lansing) concocts a twisted scheme to win his missing daughter's inheritance money: by transforming a Jane Doe (Judith Chapman) into her double.
Although he was a constantly working actor, Lansing is probably best remembered as the authoritarian Brig. Gen. Frank Savage in "12 O'clock High" (1964), the television drama series about World War II bomber pilots. Genre fans may know him from "4D Man" (1959), "Empire of the Ants" (1977) or "The Nest" (1988). "Scalpel" is an early role for Judith Chapman who went on to star in a wide variety of soap operas.
The film has been called a "Hitchcock wannabe", which is fair. But really, it is as good as some of Hitchcock's work. Maybe not his best films, but better than average.
Hercules (Alan Steel) is summoned to oppose the evil Queen Samara (Jany Clair), who has allied herself with aliens and is sacrificing her own people in a bid to awaken a moon goddess.
Sergio Ciani started his career as a stuntman; then he became the body double for Steve Reeves in "Hercules Unchained" and in "The Giant of Marathon", in which he also played a minor role. In the early 1960s he adopted the stage name Alan Steel and starred the leading roles in a number of peplum films with good commercial success. With the decline of the genre Steel thinned out his appearances, until his retirement at the end of the 1970s. This film, like many others, is really an extension of his stunt work. And with the misleading "Hercules" title for English audiences, it even seems like they picked up where Reeves left off.
Trying to judge a film like this is tough. The dubbing may make it appear worse than it really is, and the print quality is typically bad because it has fallen in the public domain. What if it was properly scanned in 4K and subtitled, treated like a forgotten cult film? Sure, it may still be second-rate, but certainly not as bad as it is generally seen.
After Donald Duck plays a cruel Halloween prank on his pants-hating nephews, the three team-up with Witch Hazel and her broom to teach him a lesson about 'tricks and treats.' As of this writing (2017), this short is now 65 years old. And it holds up 100%, both for its animation and its music. Far too many movies or cartoons become dated, but this one is truly timeless. In a mere eight minutes, Disney found a way to show us the spirit of Halloween, and throw in a real witch just for fun.
If there is anything at all dated about the short (and this is a big maybe), it is the use of the devil costume. Although Halloween has probably gotten more gory and creepy since this cartoon came out, I feel like actual devil imagery has decreased and perhaps become even taboo.
In spring 1976, a 19-year-old beauty, her German-born mother, and her crippled father move to the town of a firefighter nicknamed Pin-Pon. Everyone notices the provocative Eliane. She singles out Pin-Pon and soon is crying on his shoulder (she's myopic and hates her reputation as a dunce and as easy); she moves in with him, knits baby clothes, and plans their wedding. Is this love or some kind of plot? There is so much going on in this film. Initially, it appears to be from the perspective of Pin-Pon and his obsession with a woman who may be the town bicycle. But we only hear his thoughts some of the time. In other moments, we get Eliane's thoughts (as well as memories), and other people take certain scenes as the narrator, too. This only adds to the layer of mystery about what is all going on.
One thing that makes this film very French and not very American is the excessive nudity. Isabelle Adjani spends a fair amount of time in various stages of undress. This is never really necessary, but really says more about French attitudes than anything else. I do not feel like it was meant to be exploitative or sensational.
A young boy and a bunch of misfit friends embark on a quest to find a dark magic item of ultimate power before a diabolical tyrant can.
With the budget of $44 million, it was the most expensive animated film ever made at the time. Earning $21.3 million domestically, it led to a loss for the studio, putting the future of Walt Disney Feature Animation in jeopardy. Due to its poor performance, Disney released the film for the first time on home video in 1998.
Despite growing up in the 1980s, I actually never heard of this Disney film or any of its characters. Even now (2017) when I finally watched it, it seemed like a film that never existed. If Disney tried to bury it, I can understand it being forgotten throughout the 90s, especially as their second golden age was overshadowing decades of duds.
The movie itself is neither good nor bad. A few repeat viewings and it would probably grow on me, but there are no really memorable characters. And there are no songs, which is what really makes a Disney cartoon immortal.
A clairvoyant woman, inspired by a vision, smashes open a section of wall in her husband's home and finds a skeleton behind it. Along with her psychiatrist, she seeks to find the truth about who the person was and who put her there.
Chris Eggertsen included the film as number seven in a countdown of the "Top Ten Underrated Horror Gems", citing its "excellent cinematography and deft use of color", though criticizing its "poor use of dubbing". The dubbing is, indeed, a bit of a problem, but that is more or less standard with these things. Often, if I understand correctly, they do not even have an audio track to begin with and dub everything later regardless of language.
The film works great as a giallo. The general concept is usually someone thinks they see something, but is not quite sure, and then they have to investigate it. This works on those lines, but the "seeing" is a psychic vision, not quite accurate. A gallery is mistaken for a museum, a man with a beard has shaved, and so on.
A poor student (Paul Wegener) rescues a beautiful countess (Grete Berger) and soon becomes obsessed with her. A sorcerer (John Gottowt) makes a deal with the young man to give him fabulous wealth and anything he wants, if he will sign his name to a contract.
The film is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem "The December Night" by Alfred de Musset, and Faust. The Faust elements are obvious, the other two less so (though the Musset quotation might give it away). This is really a great early example of horror literature on screen.
Cinematographer Guido Seeber utilized groundbreaking camera tricks to create the effect of the Doppelgänger (mirror double), producing a seamless double exposure. Hanns Heinz Ewers was a noted writer of horror and fantasy stories whose involvement with the screenplay lent a much needed air of respectability to the fledgling art form.
A Native American warrior called Navajo Joe (Burt Reynolds) seeks revenge on a gang of sadistic outlaws who has massacred the people of his tribe.
If this film is known for anything, it is just how much Burt Reynolds hated working on it. The story, in its simplest form, is that he thought he would be working with Sergio Leone and instead got Sergio Corbucci. Beyond that, his protests seem a bit over the top. Yes, this is a bad movie. But is it really the worst one he ever did? Ultimately, it does not really seem terrible in a technical way. Just bland, boring, nothing really special. If Reynolds was not in it, it would be forgotten. The worst part is actually the soundtrack. The Navajo Joe theme is played way too many times and is not very good the first time.
Eldorado, a fictitious country in Latin America, is sparkling with the internal struggle for political power. In the eye of this social convulsion, the jaded journalist Paulo Martins opposes two equally corrupt political candidates: a pseudopopulist and a conservative.
Its exhibition was forbidden in Brazil in April 1967 for "tarnishing the image of Brazil" but after protests by both Brazilian and French filmmakers, it was authorized by the Brazilian government to be screened at Cannes and in Brazil. What image it is tarnishing is unclear to me, but but every country sees national pride differently.
If any aspect of the film is singled out, it is typically the cinematography. In this case, it comes from Luiz Carlos Barreto, who is more generally known as a prolific producer rather than a cameraman. His best-known film is likely "How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman" (1971). Although he produced 50 films, he only acted as director of photography one other time -- on "Barren Lives" (1963).
Alcoholic werewolf cop Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) springs into action when an eccentric businessman with evil intentions seduces Woodhaven's residents with a new brewery and hockey team in this outrageous horror-comedy sequel.
"WolfCop" is one of the greatest horror films of the 2010s. One might want to say one of the best "horror comedies" or "Canadian horror films", but let us not be too restrictive. The gore, the humor, the originality... it really set a high bar for other films, especially films from otherwise-unknown creative teams.
And being such a great film (and instant cult classic), a sequel was inevitable. But the challenge was put in place: could a sequel live up to its namesake? As hard as that is to do, "Another WolfCop" succeeds. This is the same gory, wacky, frenetic thrill ride from the first time around. In some ways, perhaps even crazier... but at the very least a worthy follow-up.
The gore is most definitely increased, and along with it the body count. The weird factor is up slightly, with the inclusion of an alien-type clone being (not sure how to describe it). Some of the characters and plot lines do dangle a bit, creating the appearance of an incomplete film... but oddly enough, this works, making things even stranger than necessary that not all questions get answered. What is the creature in the strip club? There are other were-animals? Do werewolves have different genitals than their human counterparts (apparently so)?
The inclusion of Kevin Smith is a bit distracting, but he actually does a fair job acting. If I was not aware of who he was he might not have seemed out of place. I suppose that is the risk you run when you try to include a cameo from a hockey-loving director who is currently in the middle of a Canadian trilogy.
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside Northeast High School as a fly on the wall to observe the teachers and how they interact with the students.
This film came out in 1969 and I graduated in 1999. So there is a thirty year gap between these students and myself. Yet, in many ways, this seemed all too familiar. My impression is that school has increasingly become oppressive for students, but the old back-and-forth between students and authority is still here. The kid who does not want to change for gym class. We did not learn that Paul Simon was a poet, but just within the last year (2016-2017) Bob Dylan has received a Nobel Prize for Literature. So the same idea is there.
The camera has a strange lingering on teenage butts. Maybe we can dismiss this as a product if its time, but today if someone went into a high school and zoomed in on a girl's butt in gym shorts, that would not be seen as very appropriate.
And what is up with the gynecologist? The sexual education comes across as surprisingly progressive, but this guy is saying things he may not know to be creepy... saying he gets paid to put his fingers inside teenage girls? And laughing about it? Ummmm... what do you even say about that sort of thing? I expect locker room talk from high school boys, but doctors?
A seedy writer of sleazy pulp novels (Michael Caine) is recruited by a quirky, reclusive ex-actor (Mickey Rooney) to help him write his biography at his house in Malta.
This is Mike Hodges' follow-up to "Get Carter" (1971) and takes a bit of a different turn. Though there does remain that seedy element, only this time transported to Malta. Fans of Italian exploitation and Z-grade science fiction are sure to recognize Nadia Cassini ("Starcrash", 1978).
Hodges spent a long time coaxing noir veteran Lizabeth Scott out of retirement to fly to Malta for the shooting. Scott said that while she enjoyed the beauty of Malta, she was not pleased that most of her footage was cut out — eight scenes in all. Hodges for his part reported that Scott was challenging to work with while shooting. Scott "hadn't make a picture in 15 years and I had to really coax her into coming back." But Scott overcame her stage fright and Hodges was pleased with Scott's performance.
While emigrating to the United States, a young Jewish mouse gets separated from his family and must relocate them while trying to survive in a new country.
The animation of this film is some of Don Bluth's best work. The story, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg, who took bits and pieces of his own family's story as they came to America. Now, my guess is they were not involved in the Wild West (as in the sequel), but for the first time around the parallels are there.
Did immigrants see America as a land without cats and streets paved with golden cheese? It seems absurd that anyone would have this expectation, but at the same time it is not completely wrong. Exaggerated, yes, but compared to the hardships and often death waiting behind in Eastern Europe, the slums of New York might have been seen as a salvation -- in many ways they were!
The last surviving child of the Russian Royal Family joins two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the undead Rasputin seeks her death.
When Disney chose Pocahontas as a historical figure to turn into a happy cartoon, they opened a can of worms. I mean, the movie is alright, but has no connection to the reality that Pocahontas went through and how traumatic it must have been.
"Anastasia" is sort of along the same lines. The story takes place in a much more recent time, but is still very much about real people. Yet, it feels more like Don Bluth got it right. Some things are wildly inaccurate (like Rasputin being a zombie), but it comes across more like a fanciful what-if story than any attempt to whitewash history. I suppose one might say they conveniently ignored almost all of the Russian Revolution, but this is a story for kids after all.
A young adventurer named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) joins an intrepid group of explorers to find the mysterious lost continent of Atlantis.
The film has the makings of a cult classic. Joss Whedon was the first writer to be involved with the film but soon left to work on other Disney projects. According to him, he "had not a shred" in the movie, which is a shame. The artistic style comes from the same hand as the creator of "Hellboy", which probably attracted a certain audience. And the protagonist is a descendant of the the legendary Blackbeard, which opened up some interesting world-building possibilities.
But the story is not as good as it could be, and the idea of different languages is cool but simplistic. The idea that a language an be translated letter by letter in nonsense, on top of the fact that "Iceland" and "Ireland" would both be in English... that is a bit silly.
An animated adaptation of "The Wind in the Willows" followed by an adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".
If this film is to be criticized, it is for the cheap attempt to make a feature-length film from two unrelated stories. Either of them could have been a full 70-to-90 minutes, and films such as "Sleepy Hollow" have proved that. Instead we get two short films packaged together to create a full film... which it clearly is not.
That concern aside, the stories are both good and done with excellent animation. It has been said that Brom Bones was an inspiration for Gaston. If he was not, it is quite a coincidence because the two have a great deal in common despite living indifferent eras and countries.
After Santa tells Michael Bolton that he needs 75,000 new babies by Christmas to meet toy supply, Michael Bolton hosts a sexy telethon to get the world to start making love.
While there are some duds within this special (notably the "cupid shuffle" skit), this really is a fine attempt at a comeback for Michael Bolton. His new association with Lonely Island and this funny, movie-loving version of himself is perfect. Whether it was him or Samberg who developed it, it works.
Not coincidentally, many of the songs performed by Bolton also appear on his newest album. On this, he covers some of the classic movie songs... which again raises the question, is this sincere, or part of an elaborate ruse?
A young man who works in the mail room at a TV network wants to move up the corporate ladder but finds himself stymied by his selfish boss. By chance he discovers that his neighbor's chimpanzee has a knack for picking successful TV programs.
This is classic Disney all the way. Somewhat silly, harmless fun, it is not hard-hitting and has really no deeper meaning or social commentary. One could, if they wanted, point to the jokes about monkeys picking what we see on TV. But that is not exactly deep satire.
Kurt Russell was alright early in his career, but it seems like this was an even bigger showcase for John Ritter. As Ritter's first film, he does not get a large amount of screen time, but certainly makes the most of each line he delivers.