Film Review: Cherry 2000 (dir by Steve De Jarnatt)


Okay, so this one is kind of weird.

Remember how, a few nights ago, I watched and reviewed something called Prison Planet?  No?  Well, I don’t blame you.  I wish I could forget about it too.  Anyway, the movie that aired right before Prison Planet was yet another futuristic tale that was largely set in a desert wasteland.  This movie was originally released in 1988 and the title was Cherry 2000.

Cherry 2000 takes place in 2017, or perhaps I should say that it takes place in 2017 as imagined by someone in 1988.  In this film’s version of 2017, both the economy and the environment are a mess, America is divided into warring urban and rural zones, and all human emotion and creativity is being stifled by government bureaucracy.  In short, Cherry 2000‘s version of 2017 is a lot like the real world’s version of 2017…

In the future, everyone’s still obsessed with getting laid but all of the bureaucratic red tape has made things difficult.  Having sex now means first getting a lawyer to draw up a contract.  In order to avoid all of the legal complications, men are now marrying specially designed sex robots.  Again, this probably seemed way out there in 1988 but, in the current world, it just looks like my twitter timeline.

(Do they have sex robots for women in the world of Cherry 2000?  As far as I could tell, all of the sex robots in the film were designed for men’s pleasure, which doesn’t seem quite fair.)

Anyway, Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) is a business executive who thinks that he is deeply in love with his robot wife, Cherry 2000 (Pamela Gidley).  However, a mix of sex and a broken washing machine causes Cherry to short-circuit.  When Sam tries to get her repaired, he’s told that it’s a lost cause.  Cherry is beyond repair.  Add to that, apparently the Cherry 2000 model is no longer being manufactured.  If Sam wants a new Cherry, he’s going to have to go into Zone 7 and get one out of an abandoned factory.

So, of course, that’s what Sam does.  The only problem is that Sam is a business guy and Zone 7 is the most dangerous place in the world.  Why is it so dangerous?  Because it’s ruled by a warlord named …. Lester.  (No offense meant to anyone named Lester but that’s not exactly the most intimidating name in the world.)  Lester is played by B-movie mainstay Tim Thomerson, who appears to be having fun whenever he appears on-screen.

To help guide him through Zone 7, Sam hires E (Melanie Griffith).  E is the film’s saving grace, largely because she kicks everyone’s ass.  The great thing about E is that, from the minute she first appears, she makes no secret of the fact that she finds Sam and his sex robot to be just as pathetic and ridiculous as we do.  Griffith plays the role with just the right mix of humor and annoyance.  If I ever have to guide anyone through a desert wasteland to a sex robot factory, I hope that I can do it with half as much style and panache as E.

Anyway, Cherry 2000 is a weird little mix of the western and science fiction genres.  For a film about sex robots, it actually has a rather goofy and almost innocent feel to it.  It’s a film that raises a lot of issues but which is also smart enough not to spend too much time on any of them.  Director Steve De Jarnatt also directed one of my favorite 80s movies, the charming apocalyptic love story Miracle Mile.  Cherry 2000 may be a mess but it’s definitely a watchable mess.

A Movie A Day #269: The Horror Show (1989, directed by James Isaac and David Blyth)


For the crime of having murdered over a 100 people, “Meat Cleaver Max” Jenke (Brion James) is sentenced to death and sent to the electric chair.  Even though everyone thinks that Max was electrocuted, his electricity-fueled spirit is still alive and pissed off.  If this sounds familiar, that is because it is the exact same premise that was used in Destroyer.  The only difference is that Max is not haunting a prison and killing a film crew.  Instead, he is living in a basement and seeking revenge on Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen), the cop who arrested him.

Lucas is already tightly wound.  There is a scene where Lucas is watching as his family laughs uproariously at a late night comic who is telling a not very funny joke about then-Vice President Dan Quayle.  When Lucas thinks that he sees Max on TV, he pulls out his gun and shoots the screen.  His wife, son, and daughter will probably never laugh at another joke about any vice president.  Soon, Lucas is seeing and hearing Max everywhere.  Max says that he is going to tear Lucas’s world apart and he means it.

That The Horror Show is going to be a mess is obvious from the opening credits, where the screenplay is credited to Alan Smithee.  The credited director is visual effects specialist James Isaac but most of the film was reportedly directed by David Blythe.  Isaac stepped in when Blythe was fired by producer Sean S. Cunningham.  Full of false scares and scenes where people go down into the basement for no reason other than to become Max’s latest victim, The Horror Show is usually boring, except for when it is violent, gory, and mean-spirited.  There are moments of strange attempts at humor that do not seem to belong.  In the middle of all the carnage, there is a subplot about McCarthy’s son (Aron Eisenberg) ordering case after case of Nestle Quick.  Did Nestle pay for the product placement?  Were they happy to be associated with a movie where Lance Henriksen has a nightmare that his daughter (played by DeeDee “sister of Michelle” Pfieffer) is pregnant with Max Jenke’s baby?

The Horror Show provided both Lance Henriksen and Brion James with rare starring roles and they did their best what they had to work with.  Also keep an eye out for veteran tough guy Lawrence Tierney as the warden who supervises Max’s execution.

A Movie A Day #224: Armed and Dangerous (1986, directed by Mark L. Lester)


John Candy and Eugene Levy make a great team in the underrated comedy, Armed and Dangerous.

John Candy plays Frank Dooley, a member of the LAPD.  One of the first scenes of the movie is Frank climbing up a tree to save a little boy’s kitten and then getting stuck in the tree himself.  When Frank discovers two corrupt detectives stealing televisions, Frank is framed for the theft and kicked off the force.

Eugene Levy plays Norman Kane, a lawyer whose latest client is a Charles Manson-style cult leader who has a swastika carved into his head.  After being repeatedly threatened with murder, Norman asks for a sidebar and requests that the judge sentence his client to life in prison.  The judge agrees on the condition that Norman, whom he describes as being “the worst attorney to ever appear before me,” find a new line of work.

Frank and Norman end up taking a one day training course to act as security guards and are assigned to work together by their tough by sympathetic supervisor (Meg Ryan!).  Assigned to guard a pharmaceutical warehouse, Frank and Norman stumble across a robbery.  The robbery leads them to corruption inside their own union and, before you can say 80s cop movie, Frank and Norman are ignoring the orders of their supervisors and investigating a crime that nobody wants solved.

Armed and Dangerous was one of the many comedy/cop hybrid films of the 1980s.  Like Beverly Hills Cop, it features Jonathan Banks as a bad guy.  Like the recruits in Police Academy, all of Frank and Norman’s fellow security guards are societal misfits who are distinguished by one or two eccentricities.  There is nothing ground-breaking about Armed and Dangerous but Mark Lester did a good job directing the movie and the team of Candy and Levy (who has previously worked together on SCTV) made me laugh more than a few times.

Armed and Dangerous was originally written to be a vehicle for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.  It’s easy to imagine Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead roles but I think the movie actually works better with Candy and Levy, whose comedic style was similar to but far less aggressive than that of Belushi and Aykroyd.  One of the reasons that Armed and Dangerous works is because John Candy and Eugene Levy seem like the two last people to ever find themselves in a shootout or a car chase.  With Belushi and Aykroyd, it would have been expected.  After all, everyone’s seen The Blues Brothers.

 

A Movie A Day #200: A Breed Apart (1984, directed by Philippe Mora)


Sometimes, the story behind a movie is more interesting than the movie itself.

Rutger Hauer stars in A Breed Apart, playing an eccentric environmentalist named Jim Malden.  Malden loves nature but he hates people, with the exception of a local storekeeper named Stella (Kathleen Turner) and her young son.  The local fishermen (one of whom is played by Hauer’s Blade Runner co-star, Brion James) may hate him but they are no match for Malden’s guerilla tactics.  Recently, a new breed of bald eagle has been discovered and Malden is determined to protect it.  At the top of a cliff, there is a nest full of eagle eggs and Malden will not let anyone near them.

Rich collector J.J. Whittier (Donald Pleasence) is determined to get those eggs for himself.  In order to deal with Malden, Whittier hires famous rock climber, Mike Walker (Powers Boothe).  Disguising himself as a nature photographer, Walker attempts to befriend Malden so that he can get to the eggs.  Even as Malden shows Walker why it is important to protect the environment, Walker falls in love with Stella.

With a cast like this, A Breed Apart should have been far more interesting than it was.  It provides a rare chance to see both Rutger Hauer and Powers Boothe playing heroes but neither seemed to really be into their roles.  Kathleen Turner was sexy but saddled with a terrible accent while Donald Pleasence seemed to be in a different movie.  When I watched A Breed Apart last night, I thought it seemed like a very disjointed movie.  For instance, the movie abruptly jumped from Stella and Walker first meeting to the end of their first date.  There was a random scene of Malden putting on war paint, while remembering the sound of helicopters.  War paint combined with helicopters in an 80s movie usually means that someone is having a Vietnam War flashback but Malden’s military background is never mentioned again.  Even Walker’s conversion to Malden’s cause and rejection of Whittier’s money seemed to happen offscreen.

According to Wikipedia, It turns out that there was a reason for all that.  A Breed Apart was filmed in North Carolina.  After principal filming was completed, four reels of film were sent back to Los Angeles.  However, only three reels ever arrived in California.  One reel disappeared and has never been found.  The footage that actually did make it to Los Angeles was reorganized and edited to try to disguise the fact that a huge part of the movie was missing.

It didn’t work.

(ADDENDUM 9/4/2017: Originally, both myself and a lot of other reviewers, were under the impression that one reel of film went missing and, as a result, the film had to be reedited to make up for the missing footage.  This story is presented as fact on Wikipedia, which is where I and I assume a lot of other people originally got it.  The lesson here is not to use an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit for a primary or even a credible source.  In the comments below, Director Philippe Mora has let me know that there was no lost reel and that, instead, there are several different cuts of the film kicking around, some of which are incomplete and some of which are ok.  Since Mora actually worked on the film, he is a far more credible source than an anonymous Wikipedia article.  I apologize to Mr. Mora for the mistake.)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Bound for Glory (dir by Hal Ashby)


Bound_for_glory_Poster

One of my favorite online film reviewers is Mitch Lovell of the Video Vacuum.  The thing I like about Mitch is that he doesn’t worry about how many Oscars a film has been nominated for or whether or not a film’s politics are currently in fashion.  Unlike a lot of online reviewers, he doesn’t worry about whether or not he’s going against the “accepted” views of the critical establishment.  Instead, he’ll watch a film and tell you exactly how he felt about it.

For example, Mitch Lovell’s review of the otherwise critically acclaimed 1976 best picture nominee Bound for Glory can be summed up in three words: “boring as fuck.”  Every other online review that I’ve found for Bound for Glory offers up polite but rarely inspiring praise for this rather lengthy film about the folk singer Woody Guthrie.  Most of those reviews do acknowledge that the film moves at its own pace but we are told that we will be rewarded for being patient.  If the review was written after 2010, you can be sure that the reviewer will be sure to say that Bound for Glory reminds us of why labor unions are still important and need to be protected from the Tea Party.  (The idea apparently being that, if a film has the right politics, it doesn’t have to actually be all that interesting.)  It’s all rather predictable and that’s why we’re lucky to have reviewers like Mitch Lovell around.  Whether you agree with him or not, it’s good to have a reviewer who will go against the conventional wisdom.

I recently watched Bound for Glory as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscars and, to a large extent, I have to agree with Mitch Lovell’s review.  This is a movie that is not only long but which moves slowly as well.  It’s not that the film has a deliberate pace.  It’s just slow!  (If you want to see a film that makes good use of a deliberate pace, check out Barry Lyndon.)  David Carradine plays Woody Guthrie, a sign painter who, during the Great Depression, abandons his family in Texas and, by hopping trains, makes his way to California.  He works with fruit pickers.  He tries to convince his fellow workers to form a union.  He gets beat up a lot.

And he plays his guitar.

If there’s anything that remains consistent about Bound for Glory, it’s that Woody is always playing his guitar and that every time he starts to play, something terrible either has happened or does happen.  There’s a huge dust storm.  Woody plays his guitar.  A fight breaks out at a union meeting.  Woody plays his guitar.  A bunch of hoboes on a train get beat up.  Woody plays his guitar.  Woody shows up at a textile mill and starts to play his guitar.  He gets beaten up by a bunch of thugs.  Woody impresses Pauline (Gail Strickland) by playing his guitar and soon, he’s cheating on his wife.  Woody partners up with another folk singer, Ozark Blue (Ronny Cox), and they get their own radio show where Woody plays guitar.  Woody promptly gets fired.

It quickly became apparent to me that Woody Guthrie’s guitar was cursed.  Whenever he played it, poor people ended up getting oppressed.

In many ways, Bound for Glory is a prototypical example of what it means to be an acclaimed-at-its-time-but-subsequently-forgotten best picture nominee.  It’s a big epic film that tells a fictionalized account of a real person’s life story.  Woody Guthrie is best known for writing This Land Is Your Land, which is a song that I mostly associate with pretentious super bowl commercials.  As Bound for Glory details, Woody was also a union organizer and political activist but what’s odd is that the film keeps the exact details of what he believed rather vague.  We’re given the general idea of what Woody believed but we’re not given any specifics.  As a result, Woody just comes across like another part-time social protestor as opposed to being a true political thinker (much less a revolutionary).

On a positive note, Bound for Glory is impressive to look at.  The film’s cinematographer was the famous Haskell Wexler (who also directed Medium Cool, a film that was as upfront about its politics as Bound for Glory is vague) and Wexler captures some hauntingly beautiful images of the American wilderness.  The scene where a gigantic wall of dust crashes down onto a small Texas town is especially memorable.

Otherwise, though, Bound for Glory is pretty much a snoozefest.  It was nominated for best picture of 1976 and, when you compare it to fellow nominees like All The President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver, and even RockyBound for Glory does feel a bit out of place.

Then when you consider some of the other films that came out in ’76 — Carrie,  Face to FaceThe Front, God Told Me To, Logan’s Run, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Marathon Man, The Omen, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Lipstick, Robin and Marian, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, and The Town That Dreaded Sundown — the nomination of Bound for Glory feels like even more of a mistake.

Oh well.

Occasionally, the Academy gets it wrong.

Shocking, I know.