Embracing the Melodrama Part II #83: Bad Influence (dir by Curtis Hanson)

Bad_Influence_Film_PosterThough it may seem like a lifetime ago, it’s only been 6 weeks since I started on my latest series of reviews.  I am currently in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 126 cinematic melodramas.  I started with the 1927 classic Sunrise and now, 82 reviews later, I have finally reached the 1990s.

(Of course, when I started this series of reviews, I somehow managed to convince myself that it would only take me 3 weeks to review 126 films.  Instead, it looks like it’s going to take two months.  So, I was only off by 5 weeks.)

Let’s start the 90s by taking a quick look at a 1990 film called Bad Influence.  I have to admit that, when I made out my list of films to review, Bad Influence was not even on my radar.  I was planning on launching my look at the 90s with a review of Ghost.  But then I saw The Avengers: Age of Ultron and I was so taken with James Spader’s performance as Ultron that  I decided to add a few James Spader films to Embracing the Melodrama.

In Bad Influence, James Spader is cast somewhat against type.  He plays Michael, who has a good job and is engaged to marry the wealthy and overbearing Ruth (who, I was surprised to learn from the end credits, was played by a pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross).  Michael should be happy but instead, he feels oddly dissatisfied with his life.  He’s shy and meek and spends all of his time trying to do the right thing and conform to the petty demands of society.

One day, as he’s sitting in a bar, Michael makes the mistake of trying to flirt with a woman who is obviously having a bad day.  When the woman’s boyfriend shows up, he tells Michael to leave.  When Michael mutters that it’s a free country, the man responds by grabbing Michael.  However, before the fight can go any further, handsome and charming Alex (played, somewhat inevitably, by Rob Lowe) pops up out of nowhere, smashes a bottle, and scares the man off.

Michael and Alex become fast friends, with Michael viewing the extroverted and confident Alex as being everything that he wants to be.  (Meanwhile, Alex seems to appreciate the fact that Michael has money and a nice apartment.)  Under the influence of Alex, Michael starts to stand up for himself and even manages to get a big promotion at work.  At the same time, he also ends up cheating on his fiancée (while Alex films them) , helping Alex hold up a series of convenience stores, and beating up an obnoxious co-worker.

Ultimately, Bad Influence is a lot of sordid fun.  It’s a bit like Fight Club, minus the satire and the big identity twist.  (Michael and Alex are differently separate characters.)  Director Curtis Hanson (who is perhaps best known for L.A. Confidential) brings a lot of style to the film’s tawdry fun and keeps the action moving quickly enough that you don’t have too much time to obsess over what doesn’t make sense.

Finally, James Spader and Rob Lowe are just a lot of fun to watch.  Spader turns Michael into a sympathetic protagonist and Rob Lowe seems to be having a blast going full psycho in his role.

Bad Influence is a well-made B-movie and it’s a lot of fun.  You can watch it below!

Neon Dream #7: 古川もとあき – One Night in Neo Kobe City

There is a common quip you’re likely to find if you read comments on Konami’s Snatcher: of all the games that I have never played, this one is my favorite. The game was ported and rehashed for much of the late 80s and 90s, appearing on the PC-8801, MSX2, PC-Engine, Sega Mega-CD, Sony Playstation, and Sega Saturn. The highly censored Sega CD port was the only English translation, and given how horribly that system flopped, you have almost certainly never played this game. That’s no fault of Konami’s. America and Europe are not exactly hot markets for menu-based graphic adventure games.

But Snatcher has a cult following of western fans regardless. Magazines reviewing the Sega CD port praised it across the board. It’s one of the earliest highly successful (in Japan at least) cyberpunk video games, and it merges this with a detective story, grasping the genre’s affinity with film noir. Its original 1988 score captured the essence of cyberpunk aesthetics, filled with jazzy melodies driven by futuristic beats where it could have easily gotten away with generic action music instead. And the game is deliciously dated: its post-apocalyptic earth–set in the oh-so-distant future of 2042–comes about as a consequence of the Soviet Union unleashing a devastating biological weapon. All of these factors make its obscurity a bit enticing. It’s not like you’ve never heard of the game because no one liked it. It’s more of a lost treasure.

The game’s western obscurity plays directly into the appeal of its genre. Learning about it, I felt like I was excavating a modern ruin from a digital trash heap, diving into long forgotten file-sharing archives and posting anonymous requests in dark corners of the internet for sources beyond Wikipedia. One of the most enjoyable stretches of my long-winded videogame music series in 2012 was the process of piecing together fragments of information to arrive at a fairly accurate break-down of the original score. It was a Konami Kukeiha Club project, which can often be a lost cause to dissect, but I dug until I found that the original PC-8801 version’s credits listed each track by individual composer. This was already complicated by the fact that it incorporated changes in the simultaneously released MSX2 port, awkwardly intermixing the staff who converted the sound. You can read my two-part entry on Snatcher below, if you’re curious:

VGM Entry 56: Snatcher (part 1)
VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)

“One Night in Neo Kobe City”, not to be confused with “Twilight of Neo Kobe City”–I had a lot of fun dealing with those sorts of naming conventions through a bad Japanese to English translator–is not original to the 1988 version of Snatcher. Motoaki Furukawa (古川もとあき) first composed it for the 1992 PC-Engine port, when greatly improved audio technology made a track like this possible. (Honestly, think about the sound quality in games you were playing in ’92. This was pretty advanced.) The song really sets the stage for the cyberpunk tech noir experience that follows. I suppose it’s not dark or foreboding, really, but when you connect this sort of sax-driven jazz to a futuristic city, the relation feels natural. When you connect it to Snatcher, it becomes cyberpunk to the core.

Hats off to Konami for letting Snatcher thrive on Youtube when so many other game producers routinely scour the net of their antiquities. (I personally had my account banned by Taito for posting some music to an obscure 80s arcade game.) I don’t know why cease and desist orders are particularly popular in the world of videogame music, but at least in my experience Konami seem to avoid that nonsense. It’s pretty cool, since the Konami Kukeiha Club doesn’t rate far behind Square-Enix’s illustrious list of composers.