A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Hercules (1983)

May 13, 2012

Hercules (1983)

When Amanda and I attended Pax East last month we were treated to a new episode of Moviebob’s Big Picture that featured a movie we desperately needed to add to our collection. Go ahead – watch it for yourself. Before we even left the theater I had gone online to order this movie so it would be waiting for us when we got home. Today we found the perfect opportunity to watch it while visiting our friend A.

Even with Bob’s summary we found ourselves overwhelmed by this movie’s cheesy glory. As the movie began we were astonished and delighted to discover that the Peabody Award winning MST3K episode “Outlaw of Gor” blatantly stole its soundtrack from this movie. It adds so much to the experience of watching this when the music reminds you constantly of a Mystery Science Theater episode. Indeed I think a familiarity with MST Hercules movies in general enhances the viewing experience. As does a modicum of knowledge about the actual Greek myths that have virtually nothing whatsoever to do with this movie.

I’m used to movies playing somewhat fast and loose with mythology to make them more cinematic. I enjoy things like the Clash of the Titans movies for example. This film however only uses some names from Greek mythology and sticks them in a silly Italian Eighties sci-fi fantasy.

This film takes a long time to get going. Mostly because there’s so much unnecessarily silly mythology to explain. The prologue explains at length about the creation of the universe from chaos and the gods who live on the moon manipulating the world of men.

Lou Ferrigno stars as the mighty Hercules, who in this version of the tale is not son of Zeus but a kind of avatar of godly power transported into a human child and raised by adopted mortal parents. (I think it is cribbing from the very successful Superman movie there.)

When Herc’s parents are killed (one by a bear and one by a giant robot locust) he sets out into the world to find out why he is cursed with super strength and hunted by monsters. He eventually wins the love of the princess Casseiopea, who is promptly kidnapped by Areana, daugher of nefarious King Minos of Atlantis. Minos and his minion, the sexy alien Daedalus, are trying to overthrow the gods with science – or something.

One fantastic trait of this movie (one of too many to individually highlight) is the delightful level of acting on display. Lou is not by any stretch of the imagination a great actor, but his pure enthusiasm for the role is infectious. The collection of scantily clad Italians he is surrounded by deliver exactly the kind of heavily dubbed over-acting I’ve come to expect from such films. Add to the crazy wide-eyed capering some wonderfully Eighties costumes (some of which the ladies barely fit into) and some of the most delightfully cheesy “special effects” and you have a magical wonderland of a movie. The monsters Herc fights are all stop-motion-animated robots clearly designed for their appeal as toys for children. Everything in the movie sparkles and flashes with effects added in post. There’s a heavily over-used electronic synthesiser foley effect that is meant to imply that something magical is happening but which gave our friend A flashbacks to Xanadu. You can almost hear producers Golan and Globus in the meetings that the movie came from. “Superman is popular – let’s make our movie look like that. And have lots of Star Wars stuff in there too – like a glowing sword fight. The kids today love robots – lets have some of those in there and we’ll make a fortune selling little plastic toys!” The result? Hilarity!

Honestly I am astonished that until this year I didn’t even know this movie existed. It is so astonishingly and hilariously bad. Everything from the writing to the acting to the design to the effects is laughable. It has instantly become one of my favorite movies ever. Thank you Bob.

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May 13, 2012 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd: The Wall

September 9, 2011

Pink Floyd: The Wall

I was intimately familiar with the album this movie is based on long before I saw the film. Like most kids born after a certain time “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” was a kind of anthem for me during a certain part of my high-school years. I had The Wall as a two tape set if memory serves me right, and I listened to it incessantly on my walkman. (Yeah, I guess that dates me.) At one point in college, slightly before I finally saw this movie, I transcribed every word on the album from the tapes – including half heard spoken dialog – as something to do one night. When I saw the film at last I was utterly blown away, and even today I still find it mesmerizing and impressive.

The album is, of course, Roger Waters’ masterful rock opera about how difficult it is to be a rock star. I’ve always wondered to what extent the music is autobiographical. Right at the beginning he admonishes us “If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes/you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.” Then he proceeds to break down the character of the singer (named Pink Floyd strangely enough) and explore what makes him the way he is. One by one Waters examines the bricks that make up Pink’s wall.

There’s his sometimes indifferent and sometimes over controlling mother. The film ads more back-story for Pink’s father with a song not on the album called “When the Tigers Broke Free” that explains about the death of Pink’s father during World War II. There’s the British school system which tried to dehumanise and homogenise him. There’s the infidelity of his wife (brought on by his own detachment.) There’s the general stress of being a rock star on the road in America. And of course there is an awful lot of drug use to dull the pain.

Ultimately Pink becomes so detached and confused that he descends into a sort of fascist dream where he’s the leader of a neo-nazi regime. The implication is, I think, that in its extremity the walls we build between each other to deal with modern life allows us to dehumanise others to such a degree that it can result in reprehensible behavior towards our fellow man. The only hope, Waters seems to say, is to break down the walls.

What the film does is to take the music of the album and present it with visuals that complement it just about perfectly. It expands on the album and makes it a little more explicit, while at the same time adding some slightly unnecessary scenes of unrelated British riots (which rang a little too true after the events in Tottingham this last month.)

The brilliance of the film, in my opinion, lies in the way it is presented largely as flashback. We get to see Pink initially in his neo-Nazi skinhead appearance, and then the movie sets out to explain how he came to be in this state. We repeatedly come back to Pink in his devastated hotel room and over the course of the film we get to see how it got to be in the state it is in. I’ve always love non-linear storytelling, and it makes for a great hook to keep you invested in Pink’s story.

Of course there is the jaw-dropping fluid animation of long time Pink Floyd collaborator Gerald Scarfe. Throughout the film his nightmare imagery brings the more psychedelic portions, such as Pink’s insecurities, to the screen. In particular there is a lot of imagery casting the women in Pink’s life as predatory creatures that use their sexuality to dominate him. There’s also some great scenes of the titular wall forming and corrupting the peaceful English countryside, the unforgettable marching hammers which are the sign of Pink’s corrupt fascist nightmare. It all culminates in the Trial, where figures from Pink’s past berate him and he is sentenced by The Worm (a talking arse with a judge’s wig) to have his wall torn down, exposing him to his peers.

This movie is a a delirious fever dream. I’ve seen it innumerable times by now which is why my review might appear to be a little cerebral and analytical. In fact it is better to let the film wash over you, as I did the first few times. There is so much to absorb here, from the story, to the music to the vivid imagery. Bob Geldof as the adult pink is brilliant, so damaged and overcome by the excesses of his life. I get the impression that it was a brutal role to play and that Geldof really gave himself up to the part. His singing may not be great, but that doesn’t hurt hte movie any. It’s an overwhelming overdose of a film and I’m always willing to give myself up to it once again.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Donnie Darko

August 31, 2011

Donnie Darko

I bought this movie because I was reassured by a wide range of people how unbelievably messed up it was. And, yes, it is a strange, what with its dreamlike daze state, time travel and visions of the future. It’s more than just random weirdness though. It’s probably the quintessential movie about teen angst – and I have to admit that I absolutely love it even though I was in my thirties when I first saw it.

Donnie is a troubled teen. There’s nothing in particular wrong with his life – his family is a typical eighties yuppie clan. He goes to a clean looking school with your typical mix of wasters, pretty people and rejects. He’s prone to sleepwalking. He’s in therapy and medicated because of a senseless act of arson he committed a couple years ago. For some reason he finds himself compelled to do things and he doesn’t know why.

Then things start to get weird.

An extremely creepy rabbit named Frank appears to Donnie and tells him that the end of the world is just 28 days away. The detached engine from a jet airliner crashes through the roof of his house and into his bedroom while he is out sleepwalking. Donnie proceeds to drift farther and farther out of touch with the world, while at the same time he finds himself caught up in some kind of time-travel paradox. There’s a sense that some of his actions are predestined – he can almost see what people are going to do before they do it, and his own actions feel like something he has no control over.

On the one hand he’s being forced by the voice of Frank to do some things that are dangerous and destructive. Such as flooding the school by smashing a water pipe with an axe or burning down the palatial estate of a loathsome self-help guru. He finds himself getting his father’s gun from his closet. He takes a knife to the bathroom to try to break through an invisible wall to reach Fred.

At school Donnie becomes prone to outbursts. He talks back to his gym teacher during an insipid ethics class based on the work of a self made guru named Jim Cunningham who offers thin platitudes and sells advice about the eternal battle between love and fear. Strangely only Donnie seems to realize that Jim is a scam artist who is lining his pockets by selling his courses and lectures to the school.

Everything builds to the climactic moment where it is revealed why Frank has been haunting Donnie and why he has the bunny suit. There’s time-travel involved and a convergence of multiple plot lines in an instant that has been pre-destined since the beginning of the movie. Which is cool and all, but it’s not really the point of the movie for me.

Okay – some spoilers now. Donnie dies at the end of the film, which wraps back around to the beginning so that all the events of the movie are shown to be an alternative universe. My interpretation of the movie is that what we get to see of Donnie’s life is a sort of idealised wish fulfilment. Before he dies he gets to see what life would be like if he came out of his shell and did the sorts of things that teenaged boys wish they could get away with doing. he floods the school. He talks back to teachers. He gets the girl. he knows the answers. It’s sort of one last hurrah for him because everything comes crashing down and he has to accept his fate.

This movie is so layered and complex that it necessitates multiple viewings. It could be read as Donnie coming to grips with his fear of death and accepting that death is not such a dreadful fate. Or you could view it as wish fulfilment as I do. Of you could see it as an exploration of multiple parallel universes. I enjoy the fact that it’s ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation.

No matter how you chose to understand the film it cannot be denied that it’s wonderfully made. Richard Kelly, who went on to direct that utterly impossible to describe Southland Tales, directs here with flare and panache. This movie combines a fever-dream feel accomplished with muted sounds, cool digital effects, and lots of manipulation of the film speed with a more normal feel at times. There are lots of scenes that are very slickly edited together with intercut views of different unrelated events which heighten the tension. There are parts of the movie that feel almost like a horror film (one of my favorite moments is when Donnie is hypnotised by his therapist and is describing his terror at the impending end of the world and he looks up and sees Frank right there in the room with them. “I see him right now!” he exclaims and chills run down my spine.)

There’s a great cast of talented actors from Drew Barrymore to Mary McDonnell to Patrick Swayze. Jake Gyllenhaal really steals the show though as Donnie himself. he’s so sinister and sullen, so dangerously hard to read. You get a sense that his family and therapist don’t just not understand him – they fear him a little. It’s a fantastic performance full of desperation and pain.

Add to all that an absolutely astonishing soundtrack. Every song here is so perfectly suited for the tone and feel of the movie – even more impressive given that some of the music is apparently last minute replacements for temp tracks that the producers couldn’t secure the rights to. It makes me want to download the soundtrack right now (although in truth I don’t tend to buy compilation albums – I’m more likely to buy all the original albums the songs came from. I need more Tears for Fears and Duran Duran on my iPhone.)

The world needs more slick, inscrutable, inspired movies like this. Any movie that forces you to think about it as much as this one does for me it a big plus in my book. And of course the creepy bunny mask that Frank wears will be forever burnt into your mind once you have seen this. “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaws: The Revenge

August 6, 2011

Jaws: The Revenge

I knew that this was going to be a ludicrous movie going into it. I had actually seen the climactic scene at the end once long ago when I tuned in to it just as the movie was drawing to a close and knew just how stupid this movie was going to get before it was over. I also remembered reading reviews of it when it first came out and how badly it was panned. As such I was pretty much prepared for the mess we witnessed when we put this in as the last movie in our second Shark Week, but even being fully braced for it I found myself somewhat amazed by just how insane and lazy this last Jaws sequel really is.

This movie picks up years after the other ones. Sean Brody has taken over for his father as Police Chief on Amity Island and his brother Mike is working down in the Caribbean as a marine biologist gathering data on the migration of conches. Their father has died (of a heart attack, although their mother is sure it was fear of sharks that did him in.) Then tragedy strikes. A giant shark (imagine that!) kills Sean just before Christmas. In fact – the shark lays a clever trap for Sean and lies in wait for him. Or so it seems.

Mike’s mother Ellen Brody, played as she was in Jaws and Jaws 2 by Lorraine Gary, becomes convinced that this giant shark is specifically hunting her family. So sure is she of this that she begs Mike to give up his job and abandon the ocean lest the shark get him too. Instead Mike convinces her to go to the Caribbean with him to those warm southern waters that apparently no great white shark has ever ventured into. Here is where the movie starts to get surreal: it turns out that Ellen is right, and the shark actually follows them somehow to hunt her, Mike and his daughter Thea. There’s even a kind of psychic connection between Ellen and the fish – she’s able to somehow sense it when the fish attacks Mike while he’s diving for conches.

What’s happened here is that this Jaws movie has become more of a supernatural thriller than a serious horror movie. The first Jaws, and even the second one, was somewhat grounded in real life, and that’s what was so terrifying about it. It actually did make people afraid to go into the water because who’s to say that there isn’t a giant shark out there somewhere in reality? The shark in this movie has more in common with Freddy Kruger than with Jaws. It’s a supernatural nightmare creature with a vendetta against one particular family and the ability to find them no matter where they go.

I suppose that makes sense in terms of the time when this movie came out. This came out in 1987 during they heyday of cheesy supernatural horror films. This movie was trying to share the same genre as Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – and it came out one year before the half-spoof Child’s Play. If you were making a horror movie at that time you had to have a cheesy supernatural undead villain and wise cracking heroes.

Sadly, Jaws doesn’t have the same flair as Freddy. For one thing a shark isn’t able to deliver witty one-liners (although this particular shark does have a throaty roar of a kind – maybe it’s half bear.) For another Robert Englund’s make-up is more convincing and more frightening than this shark. Jaws in this film is a ponderous, lumbering shark (if you can picture such a thing.) It plows inexorably forward gnashing its teeth but seems incapable of stopping or turning. It looks exactly like what it is – a styrofoam shark mock up built around an inflexible torpedo shaped submersible. One of the many problems this movie has is that the film makers allow the lumpy, seemingly semi-paralytic fish too much screen time.

Another problem the movie has is its comic relief. I can mostly tolerate the neverending witty repartee of Michael Caine as Ellen’s romantic interest the dashing airplane pilot Hoagie because he’s Michael Caine. Sure he’s playing an aging Lothario with a million anecdotes of his mis-spent youth, but he’s just so damned charming. Less charming is Mario Van Peebles as Mike’s partner Jake. I spent a lot of the movie wishing he would just stop it with the banter already! The only way I was able to tolerate him was to imagine that he was actually Hermes Conrad from Futurama. I kept expecting Bender to show up and beat up the shark after that.

I do actually quite like Lance Guest as Mike – he’s charming and caring and deosn’t want to have anything to do with the shark most of the time. Lorraine Gary is also pretty good. This movie is mostly about Ellen, and it’s nice to see Lorraine, who was a bit part at best in the first two movies, given more to work with. I just wish the movie itself weren’t so disappointing.

It’s not cheesy enough to be amusing. It’s not scary or funny. Most of the time it doesn’t even make sense (although I highly recommend reading Amanda’s review for an alternative interpretation of the movie that actually works pretty well.) To me the supernatural elements come of as feeling like lazy writing because if you just establish that your shark is a psychic monster bent on revenge then you don’t have to find a reason for anything that happens – it can all be explained as just being supernatural. At the same time the movie tries to pay homage to the first film both by imitating the touching scene of Captain Brody interacting with his son at the breakfast table and by inter-cutting the climax of the original Jaws with the completely ludicrous ending of this movie. It feels like a cheap rip-off when it does these things.

I can completely see why this movie got panned as badly as it did when it came out. It’s an utterly stupid movie, and a kind of sad way for the Jaws franchise to swim ponderously off to die. A part of me wishes it could have been better. Still – at least the first movie remains as great today as it was when it first came out.

August 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaws 3

August 5, 2011

Jaws 3

The version of this movie that we own is not in 3-D, as it was so clearly meant to be. I wanted to find a 3-D version because that was the way I first saw the movie, but there doesn’t seem to be one out there, or at least none I could find on short enough notice for it to be part of this year’s Shark Week.

The first time I saw this movie was as part of a 3-D evening of television on channel 38 back in the Eighties. They showed a whole bunch of stuff in anaglyph red/blue 3-D including a Three Stooges short and this movie and you had to get your glasses from the local paper. (I didn’t have 3-D glasses so I stuck red and blue see-through colorforms on my glasses, which worked just as well, but looked kind of nerdy.) Even way back then I was a fan of 3-D, and although I had no fondness for horror movies I couldn’t resist watching this. Really this movie needs to be seen in 3-D. It’s full of things that are obviously meant to be popping out of the screen at you from the opening credits to the grand finale. Besides that, the version we’re watching tonight on DVD has several bits where there process used to tint the film red and blue has not been completely reversed, leaving eye-watering edges on the characters and backgrounds.

Without stuff popping out of the screen this is only a mediocre cheesy shark movie with less than spectacular special effects. In this movie it is not Captain Martin Brody that is menaced by a giant shark – it is his sons. Mike is working as foreman doing construction on the new Seaworld undersea lagoon attraction in Florida and his brother Sean (who is deathly afraid of the water and has been going to college far from the ocean) is visiting. Of course on the eve of the opening of the new Seaworld a shark gets into the lagoon and terrorises the staff, until it is captured by Mike’s marine biologist girlfriend. It’s a relatively small ten-footer and all seems well until it becomes apparent that one of the staff members was in fact killed by a much larger shark. She’s about thirty-five feet long, she’s the mother of the shark they’ve captured (which died in captivity) and she’s pissed.

This movie is a sort of transition for the Jaws franchise from serious horror film to cheesy fantasy. The location alone is the stuff of seventies disaster movies like towering inferno. The undersea complex is an advanced technological marvel with a high-tech control room at its heart from which the park manager can monitor things all over and react to any situation. Of course when the big shark gets loose a bunch of people get trapped inside and so it’s a rush to get them out before they suffocate.

There are a couple things that puzzle me about this movie. One is how on Earth the film makers convinced the executives at Sea World to allow them to set their shark monster movie there. I suppose that Universal owns Sea World (and half of Orlando besides, with Disney owning the other half) but just because you CAN get the rights to set a monster movie in your theme park doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Did this movie work as some kind of strange promotion for the park? Would people who had seen a movie about tourists trapped in a park attraction actually be inclined to visit that park? I don’t know.

The other thing that puzzles me is the star power attached to this movie. Sure Lea Thompson wasn’t a big name at the time (this was her film debut I guess) and maybe Dennis Quaid hadn’t quite arrived, but they have Louis Gossett Jr., hot off of his Oscar from An Officer and a Gentleman, appearing as the street-talking big wheeling park owner Calvin Bouchard. I suppose there must have been an air of legitimacy to the Jaws franchise – or maybe he just wanted to appear in something campy and silly. Certainly his performance is a strange one. He’s the ever cool and in command corporate bigwig, but Gossett plays him with a hip sort of jive which seems strange for the character’s social standing. Maybe it’s an Eighties thing. Maybe it’s just that this entire movie is packed to the gills with accented stereotypes and Gossett preferred to fit in.

And oh, are the accents thick on the ground here. Most of the locals are played as down-south hicks such as I would expect to see in a seventies trucker movie. Then there’s the foppish British photographer and globetrotting adventurer Philip FitzRoyce and his Australian manservant. There is a sense that the people involved in this movie knew that it was turning the corner from serious film to camp. What else could a 3-D shark attack movie set in Sea World be? It is movies like this one, much more so than films like Jaws, that are the progenitors of that whole delightful genre of “Roger Corman Presents” cheesy monster movies. I didn’t mind watching it again. Amanda and I had fun laughing at the poorly processed special effects, the bits that were clearly meant to jump out at us, and the giant rubber shark. As long as you aren’t expecting a serious movie you can pretty much relax and enjoy this.

Tomorrow: The Revenge! I’m looking forward to that, I must say since I’ve only seen the very end of it before.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Breakfast Club

July 15, 2011

The Breakfast Club

Amanda was wiped out after a long day at work today and suggested we have breakfast for dinner. So I made cinnamon french toast and bacon with scrambled eggs, and I wondered aloud “what would be a good movie to watch while having breakfast for dinner?” To which she replied “How about The Breakfast Club?” Sounded perfect to me.

I was a freshman in high school when this movie came out. I didn’t see it however until probably two or three years later when it was on video. At the time I was not terribly comfortable with the movie. I enjoyed the rebellion against authority thing well enough I suppose, but there was a lot of vulgarity and talk about sex and drug use that I didn’t particularly enjoy. You have to remember just how painfully and awkwardly nerdish I was at that age. I made Brian, the nerd in this movie, seem positively outgoing and sociable.

Of course this movie is the quintessential eighties movie about being a teenager, so I guess I have to cut it some slack. John Hughes touched a nerve with this movie and insured a career of speaking to teenagers for years to come. Something about this story of five kids with desperate backgrounds bonding during a Saturday in detention rang true for millions of kids struggling to figure out who they were and how they fit into the world, and has continued to do so for decades since.

It’s a startlingly simple plot: five kids, each representing a different high school stereotype, are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. There’s a jock, a princess, a nerd, a rebel and a basket case. The loud mouthed and irritating assistant principal Vernon tells them that they are not aloud to move from their seats in the library and must each write an essay about “who do you think you are.” Because they are all from different social strata they find it initially difficult to get along, but as the movie progresses they start to find common ground and discover that maybe they’re more than the labels that are applied to them. It helps that they have a laughably inept but self-obsessed authority figure they can collectively agree not to listen to.

It’s pure fantasy, of course. That’s part of its appeal. It is about teenagers learning something about themselves and sticking it to “the man.” In that regard I think I liked Ferris Bueller a lot more. This movie tries too hard to make these clear stereotypes feel more human. It tries to make them real people with insecurities and teenaged angst and all that, witch doesn’t fit with the parts of the movie that feel more like wish fulfilment. At least the characters acknowledge that their little bonding session is fantasy – with Claire (the princess) stating right out that even after learning that these other people could be her friends she wouldn’t acknowledge them in the light of day.

There’s so much in this movie that even now I don’t enjoy. John Bender (the rebel) is the big instigator of everything that happens and I think he’s supposed to be the “hero” of the movie, if it could be said to have one, but he’s so abrasive and irritating as a character. He’s precisely the kind of person I spent most of my high school years avoiding. So is the jock, Andrew. I sympathise most (of course) with Brian the nerd and Allison the oddball, because I was very much both of those things in my formative years. But this movie spends so much time trying to make Brian cool by association, and it utterly betrays Allison in the end, turning her into just another pretty girl when she started out as so cool and dark and peculiar.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of fun moments and laughs in this movie. It has that John Hughes hipness that permeated all of his films, and it’s hard to resist that simple appeal. I might not think much of the stereotypes and the characters on display, but at least I can appreciate an attempt to say that people are more than the cliques they hang in. The notion that people are more complex than we allow ourselves to believe with our first impression is fundamental to my view of the universe, so it’s nice to see that in a movie.

I actually do like this movie. I can’t help myself. I don’t enjoy being reminded of my awkward teenage years (this would be why I don’t attend high school reunions) but this movie is an unavoidable part of the common lexicon of anybody who grew up as part of my generation or of any generation after mine. Maybe I just resent the fact that the nerd doesn’t get the girl in the end. At least my own story turned out better.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Terminator

June 21, 2011

The Terminator

This is one of my favorite sci-fi action films of all time. I was way too young to see it when it came out in 1985 – I was a sensitive thirteen year old and the blood and gore of this movie would have been too much for me. When I finally did see this on VHA, probably about three years later, it was mind blowing for me. Oh, I was still pretty freaked out by some of the gore (such as when the Terminator cuts into its own arm and removes its eye) as this was probably only the third or fourth R-Rated movie I ever saw, but I simply couldn’t look away – the movie is so incredibly awesome.

This movie has everything a sixteen-year-old boy could want in an action movie. Explosions, gunfights, car chases, time travel, an apocalyptic future, and a sex scene. How could it not leave an indelible impression on me?

The plot of the movie is fairly straight forward. Two warriors have come back from a post-apocalyptic future where machines have been trying to wipe out humankind. One is a T-100 series Terminator – a machine built by Skynet to infiltrate human colonies and wipe them out. It has a flesh and blood exterior, but inside it’s an unstoppable killer with only one purpose: to kill Sarah Connor. Her unborn son John, you see, is the leader of the human resistance which is on the verge of wiping Skynet out once and for all after decades of war. The other time traveler is Kyle Reese, a fighter hand-picked by John Connor to protect his mother and preserve the future. That’s pretty much the whole movie right there (except for some cool time-travel stuff that is revealed at the very end.) A simple man trying to defend an unsuspecting waitress from the most single-minded killer of all time.

I think that part of what makes the movie work so well is that it’s so brilliantly simple. We get a little plot exposition here and there – a few glimpses into Reese’s past (which is in the future) – and there actually is some romance and connection between Kyle and Sarah – but it’s mostly just pure action. This is the movie that proved that James Cameron knew action blockbusters better than just about any other director in Hollywood. It’s amazing to think that this was his first big break-out hit. (Though we still have the first feature film he directed waiting in the stacks here to be reviewed.)

Cameron knows how to build to a crescendo. He knows how to do an action set-piece (like the iconic police station shootout.) He knows how to inject just the right amount of humor (the gun merchant for example) or pathos (Reese’s recollections of the future.) And of course the stubborn refusal of the Terminator to stay dead at the end of the movie is the very blueprint from which many future movies would be drawn, including Cameron’s own Aliens.

Amanda commented on how well the special effects in this movie have aged, and she’s right. This movie uses every trick in the effects grab bag of the pre-digital era including miniatures, animatronic puppets, fantastic make-up (Stan Winston of course) and stop-motion animation. Sure most of the time you can spot the tricks, but they still look good enough to be believable. Part of the charm of the movie for me is figuring out how it was done anyhow.

The script is extremely polished, with the time-travel aspects better handled than just about any other movie with the possible exception of 12 Monkeys. It’s just so perfectly put together, from the photograph of Sarah that Reese has in the future to the very concept of the terminators themselves, and the explanation for why no futuristic technology could come through. I love absolutely every performance in the movie too. Michael Biehn would of course work multiple times with Cameron again in the future. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already well known at this point of course for his iconic performances in Hercules in New York and Conan the Barbarian, but this was the movie that established him as an action super-star complete with catch phrase. And Linda Hamilton gave the movie a much needed human touch as the girl being hunted who has to figure out in a very short amount of time how to defend herself.

From Brad Fiedel’s percussive score to Arnold’s accented monotone to the above average special effects to the tightly written plot everything about this movie raises it above the average eighties action movie fare. No other action movie before or since in my experience has done everything so perfectly right. Though James Cameron sure has tried a few times. We’ll look at one of those attempts to replicate the success of this movie tomorrow.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earth Girls Are Easy

June 17, 2011

Earth Girls are Easy

I have no shame in saying that I saw this in the theater because of the Doctor Demento show. Julie Brown (not the MTV one) was on the show one Sunday promoting her new movie, and I was just enough of a Dr. D. fan to go see a movie inspired by a novelty song. (A song, by the way that doesn’t appear in the film.) That was long before I knew anything about Jim Carrey or knew what a Wayans is. Of course I knew who Jeff Goldblum was because I was already a huge fan of Buckaroo Banzai, but otherwise I didn’t really know what to expect.

What I got was a lot of laughs. I was sixteen years old when this came out, and it’s pretty much aimed at that age, so it was the perfect kind of silliness for me. The fact of the matter is that I still chuckle while I watch this even today. I can see that it’s sexist and dated and stupid, but it’s also just so much fun.

Geena Davis is Valerie, a soon-to-be-married manicurist living in LA. Her fiance is an obnoxious ass who has been cheating on her and doesn’t actually seem to care very much for her. (It’s not made clear why he’s with her in the first place. She eventually throws him out of the house so maybe she owns the home and has money from a trust fund or something? It doesn’t come up.) Soon after she has broken up with her cad of a boyfriend a space ship crash lands in her swimming pool, bringing a trio of hirsute aliens into her life.

These aliens know nothing of Earth and cause general havoc in her home eating fish from the fish tank, threatening to use the cat box, chewing on records and being generally curious and alien. They watch a lot of TV. Two of the aliens – Wiplock and Zeebo – are general horndogs (the whole reason they crash landed in LA in the first place is that they were seeking out hairless females to ogle.) Their captain Mac though is considerably more calm and suave – if a blue hairy alien can be such a thing.

It’s only when Valerie brings the aliens to the salon she works at for a makeover so they can pass for human until the pool can be drained that we discover that Wiplock is Jim Carrey, Zeebo is Damon Wayans and Mac is Jeff Goldblum. Valerie’s co-worker Candy (Julie Brown, the writer of the song this movie was based on) then takes the aliens and Valerie out for a night on the town. Wackiness ensues.

What makes this movie fun is the liberal application of stupid slapstick humor and the general idiocy of just about every single character. Valerie is a new age mystical ditz. Candy is a valley girl. Wiploc and Zeebo act like horny kids, and of course both Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans were already rubber-faced masters of physical comedy by this time. (Strange to think that this was two years before they worked together on In Living Color.) Mac is generally well meaning but doesn’t understand things very well. Valerie’s pool cleaner Woody is a burnt out hippie surfer (played like every stoner stereotype rolled into one character by Michael McKean.) There’s not a single reasonable, rational or intelligent character in the whole movie. I know Amanda was put off by the general empty-headedness of Valerie as a lead character, but honestly I think the movie is pretty even handed in the way it portrays absolutely everybody as unbelievably stupid – from the police to the gas station attendants to the night club patrons.

Geena Davis is an unlikely actress to play a sexpot bimbo who only wants to find Mr. Right so she can settle down. It’s kind of strange to see her wandering around for so much of the movie in underwear and bikinis. (The character of Valerie has some of the worst Eighties fashion sense ever. Even I know that a frilly baby-doll top and stockings with bows on the knees is not something any real person ever wore.) She’s generally a smarter woman than that. It’s also odd to see Jeff Goldblum, who I generally think of as kind of nebbish and nerdy, put forth as a dreamy suave hunk. He pulls it off pretty well, but it’s still strange to watch. I have to think that this movie in some way acted as a part of Geena and Jeff’s courtship since they had been a well-known couple ever since they appeared together in the John Carpenter re-make of The Fly two years before this film came out.

Both Amanda and I had forgotten until we put this in tonight that it is a musical. It features song and dance numbers in the salon, on the beach, and in Valerie’s house. Some of the songs I remember from Dr. Demento’s funny five countdowns, so I can’t imagine how I had forgotten that they were in the movie.

What a strange combination this movie is. It’s a very eighties film in aesthetic and in the LA it portrays. It also tries to spoof the sci-fi tropes of the forties and fifties with its retro spacecraft and animated opening credits. There are some comedic devices that seem tiresome, like the way that the aliens mimic sounds perfectly, sort of acting as living foley artists. There’s also a lot of sketchy comedy involving Mac’s “love touch” which he can use to throw people and animals into a state of rapture and lust. It’s played for laughs, but I know Amanda will have a lot to say in her review about sexual coercion. Still – I can’t help laughing at the movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and for me it’s fun just to see Michael McKean, Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis all in the same movie. And Julie Brown. It’s her movie, after all. Back in 1988 I had an entire year to wait before another frequent guest on the Doctor Demento show would release a movie in theaters. We’ve already reviewed UHF though.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 443 – Action Jackson

Action Jackson – May 17th, 2011

I admit, we bought this on a whim. See, there’s a passing reference to it in an episode of MST3K we watch a hell of a lot and so when I saw it on the list I said “Let’s get that.” Okay, yeah, I have the same sorts of moments my husband has where I buy movies for no particularly good reason. But I’m going to take a moment and fill my gloat with smug because this movie is a gem of eighties action cop cheese. It is full of fantastic and ridiculous moments like the titular character leaping over a car and eventually getting his shirt torn off for no particular reason other than to show off his oiled buffness. The villain could have been a little more over the top, but I’ll get to him in a moment. First, let’s talk about Action Jackson himself.

Jackson is a cop in Detroit, busted down to Sergeant from Lieutenant for tearing a guy’s arm off. Yeah, you read that right. Dude tore someone’s arm off. Of course, the guy whose arm he tore off was a sexual predator and, as Jackson says, “He had a spare.” Yep. Action Jackson. Anyhow, said busting left him stuck on a desk with no gun and no marriage. But he’s Action Jackson! He’s ripped and he drives an Impala and he’s got a degree from Harvard Law! Clearly he doesn’t need any of this bullshit. He needs to get back out on the street to kick some ass and take names, probably in that order. Because there’s something going down and the aforementioned sexual predator’s father is involved and Jackson is going to take him out and get back up to Lieutenant. To give you an idea of how much Jackson doesn’t belong on a desk we get to see him chase after a cab on foot. A cab driven by a would-be hit-man who’d just tried to hit him. And then he smashes in the cab’s windshield with his fist. And then he leaps over it. Because he’s Action Jackson.

At no time is it implied that Jackson is actually any sort of super man. A couple of beat cops bringing in a purse snatcher do spin wild tales of Jackson being some sort of beast-like frothing maniac, but that seems to be more for the lulz of watching the purse snatcher drop a load when he meets Jackson for the first time. I mean, it seems reasonable that the other cops on the force would know that Jackson is this unstoppable tank of a man but no one really references it outside of jokes. Which is ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous. But that’s this movie for you.

The plot is fairly standard cop action fare. Jackson’s out to get his man, automotive manufacturer Peter Dellaplane, and prove he’s up to no good. We see a few guys killed off by a team of assassins and then we see Dellaplane named Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce or something like that. So of course no one could possibly believe he’s behind the deaths of prominent union bosses for the very union that works at his plants! Only Jackson knows the truth! Okay, only Jackson, an old friend of his named Morretti, Dellaplane’s butler/hit-man, possibly Dellaplane’s mistress and a hairdresser named Dee, who seems to know absolutely everything about everyone in the city and possibly the world. She’s a bit of a Deus ex Machina except replace Machina with salon. Jackson meets up with the mistress, Sydney, and together they head off to find out what they can about Dellaplane and figure out how to catch him out and prove that he’s a slimebag. Which, you know, Jackson is now very invested in since Dellaplane has murdered his own wife and framed Jackson for it.

I’ve got to admit, I like Sydney, played by Vanity. I could do with a little less whining about needing a fix, but she’s smart and she’s strong and she’s talented and while she does need rescuing a few times she also rescues Jackson. Admittedly, she rescues him in one of the most bizarre and stereotype-laden scenes the movie contains (and that’s impressive because let’s just say that this movie is not precisely sensitive to anything). But still, I like her. I like Jackson too. He’s a good guy and he’s generally a likeable character, which is more than I can say for almost everyone else in the movie. It’s rare that I start a movie not knowing who’s supposed to be the party to root for but this movie managed.

Part of it is that this movie is so very dated that it thinks nothing of having a man who should be a sympathetic character sexually harass his secretary by trying to seduce her and keep her after hours when she’s stated she has to leave for a date. I was not sorry to see him get shot. And that’s the opening scene of the movie. The next scene is the beat cops and the purse snatcher and the beat cops are pretty loathsome too, though one more than the other (who eventually tells his jackass partner that he’s about to get his head shoved up his ass, so, there’s that). Really, it’s hard to believe you’re supposed to root for these people. Except you’re not! Granted, the guys who get killed are supposed to be vaguely sympathetic, but the other cops? No. You do not have to like them, and thank goodness, because Jackson doesn’t like them. And Jackson is really the only dude you’re supposed to care about. Him, Sydney and poor doomed Patrice Dellaplane (played by Sharon Stone, who’s in about ten minutes of film time tops and still has to do one scene mostly nude).

Jackson’s boss isn’t really bad, but he is supposed to be one of those gruff Chiefs who chews out the hero in order to set the hero up to prove himself. And prove himself Jackson does, by managing to evade all the attempts on his life, infiltrating a party Dellaplane’s holding and using his connections with bouncers and former boxers to take care of business. Then he drives a car through a house. Seriously, these things happen and they are awesome.

Unfortunately for this movie, the bad guy is just sort of meh. Craig T. Nelson plays the supposed-to-be-sleazy Dellaplane and he does okay, but up against Carl Weathers as Jackson? He’s just too low key. He gets a couple of great lines about murder being a tool and so on and so forth, but he doesn’t deliver them with the conviction I expect from a villain who’s this ruthless and scheming and manipulative. I want to really believe this guy is totally and completely devoted to killing Jackson and stealing all the power he can, but he seems so blase about it. Nonchalant. Which works on one level, because this is the sort of guy who apparently thinks nothing of having his own son killed off in prison for being too much of an embarrassment to the family name. But while I can understand that sort of villainous delivery, it’s not right for this movie. This movie has a man’s balls in a mason jar and that was done by a bit role! When the minor villains upstage you, you need to fortify your performance diet by chewing some scenery.

Really though, the issue with Dellaplane isn’t enough to keep me from being thoroughly enthralled by this movie. It is so very over the top and excessive, which fits, what with it being a product of the 80s. It’s full of cheesy lines and horrible puns and big 80s hair and big 80s music and hilarious action and Action Jackson kicking ass in every fight scene and it’s just plain fun. I can’t believe I’d never seen it before but now I have and I honestly think my life is better for it.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Action Jackson

May 17, 2011

Action Jackson

I’ve never seen this movie. Neither has Amanda. And that’s a crying shame, because it is pure awesome cheese. I said when we reviewed Cliffhanger yesterday that I thought it was a movie made during the Nineties that felt like a throwback to the Eighties. This movie is a movie made during the Eighties that has a very Seventies feel to it. Oh it takes place unmistakably during the Eighties. It has giant cellular phones, a bar with hot pink lettering on its sign, yuppies and boom boxes. The plot, however, is pure Dirty Harry.

Carl Weathers (who beat up Rocky twice and is therefore linked to yesterday’s movie) is Jericho “Action” Jackson. Jackson is a policeman with a chip on his shoulder. Right at the start of the movie he gets a dressing down from his commanding officer. He’s already been busted down from Lieutenant for being a loose cannon.

Of course this is a movie from the decade of excess, so Action Jackson is not just a typical cop on the edge like Mitchell or Callahan. He’s an unstoppable super cop. He jumps on and over cars. He beats up mobs of hoods. He’s got a law degree from Harvard. (No, really.)

When an amoral business maven who made his vast fortune making crappy cars (they remind me of the 6000 SUX from Robocop – also set in Detroit) has a plot to take over the Auto Workers of America by killing all the heads of the union and replacing them with his puppets Jackson is the only possible hope. (It helps that he has some bad blood with Peter Dellaplane because Jackson put his son in jail.)

Once Dellaplane realizes that his beautiful wife has hear about his plot and talked to Jackson about it he murders his wife and frames Jackson for it. So Jackson teams up with a gifted and beautiful singer that Dellaplane has been sleeping with (and manipulating via heroin injections.) He goes out and touches base with some of his contacts in the criminal underworld. (His usual source of information turns out to have died, but he’s able to find a new one – an omniscient barber named Dee.) He’s captured, escapes, and finally drives a car up into Dellaplane’s bedroom to confront him.

This movie is pure grade-A cheese. The script is full of astonishingly bad one-liners. Bad as only the one-liners in an Eighties action movie can be. When Jackson is killing a bad-guy with a blowtorch he admonishes him to “Chill out.” It’s a hell of a lot better coming from him than it is from Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.

At one point near the end of this movie, when the heavily synthesised music swelled during an implausible fight scene, Amanda had this look of pure astonishment and joy on her face. This is the kind of delightfully implausible action super-hero movie that they simply don’t make any more. You can’t imagine how disappointed we are that there were never any sequels made to this movie.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment