A Movie A Day #71: Side Out (1990, directed by Peter Israelson)


Monroe (C. Thomas Howell) is a young lawyer who moves to California and gets a job working for his Uncle Max (Terry Kiser).  Max wants Monroe to concentrate on evicting beach bums.  Monroe wants to play beach volleyball.  Together, they solve crimes.  No, actually, Max orders Monroe to evict Zack (Peter Horton), a former volleyball champion who was once “king of the beach.”  Zack agrees to coach Monroe and his goofball friend, Wiley (Christopher Rydell) in a volleyball tournament.  But when Zack misses a match because he is having underlit, PG-13 sex with his ex-wife (Harley Jane Kozak), uncoached Monroe accidentally breaks Wiley’s arm.  Now, Zack has to step in as Monroe’s partner and reclaim his status as king of the beach!

When I was a kid, Side Out was a HBO perennial, which is not the same thing as being a good movie.  There have not been many movies made about beach volleyball and Side Out shows us why.  Beach volley ball is just not that exciting to watch, especially when the main competitors are two out of shape actors.  All the jump cuts and close-ups in the world can’t disguise the fact that neither actor looks like he could get the ball over the net, never mind playing for over ten minutes without getting out of breath.  In Side Out, beach volleyball teamwork comes down to a lot of yelling and whenever Monroe yells at either Wiley or Zack, he sounds just like the “Put him in a body bag, Johnny!” guy from The Karate Kid.

At least Kathy Ireland has a small role.  Also, in the role of Zack’s friend, keep an eye out for Duke himself, the great Tony Burton!

What are you doing here, Duke!?

Back to School Part II #20: Secret Admirer (dir by David Greenwalt)


Secret_admirer

After I finished watching Girls Just Want To Have Fun, it was time for the 1986 film, Secret Admirer!

Secret Admirer is a fairly good example of a film that is dependent upon the idiot plot.  Every plot complication could have been avoided by the characters not being idiots.  The entire storyline could have been resolved within five minutes if some of the characters had been willing to ask questions before jumping to assumptions.  Idiot plots tend to fun when they deal with teenagers, largely because, when you’re that age, you can get away with being an idiot.  That’s part of the charm of being a teenager and why nobody ever wants to grow up.  When you’re a teenager, you’re not expected to have any common sense or knowledge of the real world so you can get away with a lot more.  At the same time, idiot plots involving adults tend to be annoying because adults really should know better.  The idiot plot of Secret Admirer involves both teenagers and adults and, as a result, the film is half-charming and half-annoying.

Smart but shy Toni (Lori Loughlin) has a crush on her lifelong friend, the sweet but kinda stupid Michael (C. Thomas Howell).  So, Toni writes Michael an incredibly eloquent love note and slips it into his locker.  When Michael finds the note, he assumes that it was written by Debbie (Kelly Preston), who is pretty and popular but only dates college students.  When Michael attempts to write a response to Debbie, he is sabotaged by his limited vocabulary, lack of eloquence, and general dimness.  Luckily, Toni finds the note and, wanting to spare Michael any embarrassment, rewrites it for him.  Debbie is so touched by Toni’s note that she goes out on a date with Michael.  Toni is forced to stand in the background and watch while the boy she loves falls for a girl who is obsessed with shopping.  (Secret Admirer suggests that this obsession indicates that Debbie is shallow but seriously, who doesn’t love to shop?)  Will Toni tells Michael that she loves him or will she leave him so that she can spend a year studying abroad?  (Personally, I would leave and have fun exploring Europe but then again, I also love to shop so obviously, Toni and I have conflicting worldviews.)

But that’s not all!  Michael’s dad, George (Cliff DeYoung), also finds the note and assumes that it was written to him by Debbie’s mom, Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young).  Of course, Debbie’s father, a police detective named Lou (the always gruff Fred Ward), also comes across the note and becomes convinced that George and Elizabeth are having an affair.  He somewhat forcibly recruits George’s wife, Connie (Dee Wallace Stone), to help him expose George and Elizabeth for being the cheaters that he believes them to be….

I got annoyed with the parents fairly quickly.  It’s always fun to watch Fred Ward grimace and glare at people but otherwise, all of the adults were way too stupid and their behavior reminded me of that terrible episode of Saved By The Bell where the exact same thing happens to Mr. Belding.  Secret Admirer works best when the adults are pushed to the background and the film concentrates on the relationship between Toni and Michael.  They’re a sweet couple and you really want to see them end up together.  Michael may be stupid but he’s still really cute and the film is perfectly charming whenever it concentrates on him and Toni.

Incidentally, Michael has several friends.  They all ride around in a van and look through old issues of Playboy together.  Most of the friends are interchangeable but I did like Ricardo (Geoffrey Blake), just because he was wearing a suit and a fedora for no particular reason.  Ricardo didn’t really get to do much but his fashion sense made a definite impression.

By the admittedly high standards of 80s teen films, Secret Admirer is a minor film.  It’ll never be mistaken for Sixteen Candles or Pretty In Pink.  That said, it’s still an entertaining and occasionally sweet film.  You’ll want to skip over the scenes involving the adults but the scenes involving C. Thomas Howell and Lori Loughlin are perfectly charming.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir. by Marc Webb)


It was in the summer of 2002 that the superhero film genre finally entered it’s Golden Age (or Silver Age for some). X-Men had come out two years before to positive acclaim and, most importantly, in the box-office. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi released the first in what would be his trilogy in the Spider-Man film franchise that superhero comic book films became the power in Hollywood it remains to this day. The first film from Raimi easily captured the pulp and campy sensibilities of the source material and for an origin story film it was done quite well in that it introduced the titular character and what made him tick. In 2004, Raimi and company released what many consider the best comic book film with Spider-Man 2. The film brought a level of Greek tragedy to the fun of the first film and it definitely brought one of the best realized comic book villains on film with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. Then the franchise hit a major bump in 2007 with Raimi third entry in the franchise with the bloated Spider-Man 3.

Sony Pictures, who owned the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, were so quick to churn out a fourth film, but in doing so lost the filmmaker and cast that made the trilogy happen. In the studios’ thinking they needed to get a fourth film up and running in order to keep the rights to the film from reverting back to Marvel and Disney. So, out goes Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and in comes Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Instead of getting Spider-Man 4 we get The Amazing Spider-Man which doesn’t continue what Raimi had established with the first three films, but reboots the franchise all the way to the beginning.

Marc Webb takes the screenplay worked on by a trio of screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves) and reboots the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. We find Peter Parker back in high school as a student and still getting bullied by Flash Thompson while remaining awkward around girls (especially one Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone). yet, before we even get to this part of the film we get an introductory coda where we find a preadolescent Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his scientist father. These early scenes show hints that the enhanced spider thatwill bite and give eter his abilities may have had his father’s research and work written all over it.

This intro influences much of the storyline and leaves a huge impact on the character of Peter Parker which the previous three films never explored. The rest of the film has Peter investigating the circumstances of his parent’s disappearance and his adjustment to having been given the superhuman abilities by the spider that his father may or may not have been responsible in breeding.

First off, the film does a good job in re-establishing Peter Parker as a high school student. The original film spent some time in this part of Peter Parker’s life but never truly explored it. We see Peter not just the class genius, but also one who also shows an affinity for photography (something that the original trilogy never really explained other than he needed the job and money). There’s also some added layers to the character as this version of Peter Parker is more than willing to stand up to the bullies picking on the weaker students other than himself. It’s a huge departure from the meek and geeky Peter Parker of the past. We still get a geeky and smart Peter, but one who is also a sort of a well-intentioned slacker. We also get a proper introduction for Gwen Stacy (something the third film criminally mishandled)

The film introduces once again many of the characters the first film in the series had already done. From Uncle Ben (played by Martin Sheen this time around) and Aunt May (Sally Field) right up to the robber who runs into Uncle Ben and changes Peter Parker’s outlook on his role as a hero forever. Again these were character that had already been explored by the first three films and they’re scenes that had an air of familiarity to them though Sheen performance as Uncle Ben added more layers to the character who becomes Peter Parker’s moral center.

Another thing that the film did a good job with was the design of the film. It has been ten years since the first film and the technology in CGI-effects has leapfrogged exponentially since. The look of the OsCorp Tower was a beautiful piece of architectural design. The building loomed over New York City like something dark with a hint of malice. There were changes to the suit Peter wears that really harkens back to the McFarlane years of the Spider-Man comics. Even the return of the web-shooters was a nice surprise that I had some reservations when first hearing about it.

A third good thing about the film was the extended montage when Peter Parker realizes he has gained new abilities and begins to test them out. It’s familiar territory from the first film, but Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield adds a new level of youthful exuberance to the proceedings. Even the use of parkour by Peter Parker to show his growing abilities didn’t come off as silly. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in this montage was pretty great. One could believe at how much fun he was having at discovering each new level of abilities. Even some of the growing pains he goes through after getting bit were some of the more hilarious moments in the film that ultimately lacked much of it in the end.

Which brings us to what made this entertaining film end up becoming a failure in the end.

I admit that the film entertained me in the end, but there were things aboutThe Amazing Spider-Manwhich nagged at me throughout and afterwards. While the film was entertaining the story self and most of the characters were inconsistently written. Once one looked past the action and some of the witty dialogue in the beginning the film’s many plot-holes and head-scratching moments become too glaring to ignore.

The character of Peter Parker does get some new layers of characterization in the beginning, but as the film played out the more the Peter Parker of this film began to stray away from not just what Raimi had created and guided through the first three films but also most of the character’s decade’s long growth in the comics. Yes, we see Peter Parker as the science-genius and even moreso than the one portrayed by Tobey Maguire, but we also don’t get the awkward teen who grows into his abilities, but most importantly, one who learns through tragedy that he has a responsibility to the people around him to protect them even if it means sacrificing his wants and dreams to do so. We don’t just see Peter Parker saving people, but also one who seemed to relish beating up and abusing those who used to do the same to him and/or others. Spider-Man in this film acts more like a bully than a reluctant hero by film’s end. Even the events that should’ve taught him the lessons of self-sacrifice and heeding the needs of the many fail to make much of an impact on the teen superhero. All one has to look at as the perfect example of this darker and more selfish turn to the character was Peter’s whisper to Gwen about promises not being kept being the best ones.

Other characters get inconsistencies in how they’re written. The other big one being Dr. Curt Connors who begins the film as a scientist so intent of not just curing his disability but also helping the world. It’s a character similar in tone to Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, yet where that villain remained a tragic one throughout the film and we could see the path which led him to become a villain with Dr. Connors in this fourth film there’s such a huge turnabout in the character’s motivations that whatever sympathy we may have had for Connors was squandered.

Not every character fails to impress. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary as Uncle Ben and Capt. Stacy respectively were fully realized characters who become Peter Parker’s moral centers and voice of reason. In fact, both Sheen and Leary helped anchor the scenes they appeared in and thus made their characters’ fate have the sort of emotional impact that a growing hero needs to move from being reluctant to accepting of his lot in life. It’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalize on the performances of these two character actors to help make Peter Parker more a hero and less a teenager more in love with what he can do instead of realizing that he has more to offer those who are weakest.

This is not to say that the performances by the cast was bad. From Garfield and Stone right up to Ifans, Sheen, Leary and Field, the cast did a great job with an uneven and inconsistent script that was too full of themes and ideas but no focus on any one of them. It’s a wasted opportunity to build on what the previous cast of the three films had created. Even the third film which many would agree as being a huge, bloated mess actually had a singular focus. It was a story that tried to explore Peter Parker’s darker side andhow his life as a superhero negatively impacts everyone around him he cares for. With this Marc Webb production we get a Peter Parker who at times was compassionate when it came to others being bullied and then we get one who relished on doing the same to those he now sees deserving of payback. Even Parker’s hunt for his uncle’s killer which the film spent a considerable time following just got dropped without any sort of resolution. One of the most significant events in Peter’s life gets dumped to the wayside to concentrate on finally pitting Spider-Man against the film’s Lizard.

Did The Amazing Spider-Man need to have gotten made? The answer to that would be a yes.

Did Marc Webb, the three writers in Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves and the new cast get the reboot correctly? I would say no.

This was a film that spent too much time reintroducing characters both comic book and film fans already knew intimately. The storyline itself shared many similarities to the second film in the series yet none of the cohesiveness which made that first sequel such an instant classic the moment it premiered in 2004. The Amazing Spider-Man spent so much time trying to come off as a grittier and edgier version of the character (I call this the Christopher Nolan-effect) that what should’ve been coming off as a fun-loving, albeit self-sacrificing hero, came off as a dick once he finally got the full costume on. The people in charge of this reboot sacrificed what was fun about the film franchise for realism that the character and his universe were never steeped in to begin with.

Gritty, edgy and realism may work for Nolan’s take on the Batman film franchise, but for Spidey it fails and just turns what could’ve been a fresh new take on the franchise into another entertaining, but ultimately forgettable entry in the series. Maybe it’s time Sony just realize that it’s just pushing this franchise downhill and let the rights revert back to Marvel who seem to have found a balance between pulpy camp and serious realism.

The Amazing Spider-Man 4-Minute Preview


Tonight saw the release throughout all NBC channels (both network and cable) of a 4-minute preview of Columbia Pictures’ entry in this summer’s blockbuster season: The Amazing Spider-Man.

The preview begins with new footage that shows Andrew Garfield saving a young boy from a dangling SUV held only by him as Spider-Man and his super-strong web. Once this sequence ends the rest of the preview is mostly a rehash of scenes from the last two trailers the studio has released.

With Marvel Studio and Walt Disney Pictures hitting the jackpot with the recently released superhero team film The Avengers the other big films this summer, especially the superhero ones, have their work cut out for them. It’s going to be a tough going for this web-slinging reboot to capture the magic the original Raimi film was able to bottle when in came out in 2002, but from the looks of this preview and the trailers before it there’s a chance it could do so again.

The Amazing Spider-Man is set for a July 3, 2012 release date.

Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man (3rd Official)


I will say it now that when I first heard that Sony was going to reboot the Spider-Man film franchise I wasn’t enthused by their decision not to mention saying bye to Sam Raimi as the franchise director. I saw this decision as Sony’s attempt to hold onto the licensing rights to the character. Without a new film coming out soon the rights were going to revert back to it’s parent company in Marvel Comics (something comic book fans probably hope would’ve happened). So, a new film was rushed, with a new director in Marc Webb and a new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield.

This reboot will retell Spider-Man’s origin story once again and much more grittier than the more fun, pulpy Raimi trilogy. I think the fact that it was going to be another origin story is what made me hesitant to embrace this reboot. I’m still not fully committed to this film, but with each new trailer released my interest continues to rise. With this latest trailer we can see that the effects look to be much improved from the first three films which is understandable with advancement in CGI. We can also see in this new trailer the “grittier” aspect Sony was promising. I will say that I’m still not sold on Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but maybe seeing the finished product will prove me wrong.

The Amazing Spider-Man is set for a July 3, 2012 release date.

Review: Red Dawn (dir. by John Milius)


“I don’t know. Two toughest kids on the block I guess. Sooner or later they’re going to fight.”

[guilty pleasure]

Anyone who grew up during the 1980’s would say that some of the best action films were made and release during this decade. I won’t disagree with them and probably would agree to a certain point. This was the decade when action films evolved from the realism of the 70’s to the excess and ultra-violence of the 80’s. This was the decade which ushered in such action heroes as Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. It was also the decade which released one of the most violent films ever released by a major motion picture studio. It’s a film that has been remembered through the prism of nostalgia. I speak of the 1984 war film by John Milius simply titled Red Dawn.

John Milius is one of those filmmakers who never conformed to the stereotype of liberal Hollywood. He was an unabashed Republican (though he considers himself more of a Zen anarchist) in a liberal studio system who happened to have written some of the most revered films of the 1970’s (Jeremiah Johnson, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry). He came up with a follow-up to his hugely successful Conan the Barbarian in the form of a war film set in current times (mid-80’s) America that he called Red Dawn. It was a story which takes an alternate history of the Cold War where Soviet forces and it’s allies launch a successful preemptive invasion of the United States. Before people think that this was the idea born of a conservative, warmongering mind it’s been documented that Milius’ inspiration for this film was a real Pentagon hypothetical exercise of what would happen if the Soviet Union conducted a conventional invasion of the United States and how the government and it’s population would react and resist such an occupying force. The  story would finally get it’s final treatment with major input from screenwrtier Kevin Reynolds’ own story which added a certain Lord of the Flies vibe to the group of teenagers who form the bulk of the film’s cast.

The film actually starts off with an impressive sequence of your typical Midwestern high school day with students seated in their classrooms. One moment this Rockwellian image gets a surprise from soldiers parachuting in the field outside the school. Thus we have the beginning of the Soviet invasion with one of the teachers being gunned down for trying to peacefully interact with the airborne troopers. The rest of the film is about a group of highschoolers led by senior Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) and his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) as they flee with a handful of their classmates the massacre at their school and soon their whole town as well.

Red Dawn uses the first half of the film to show the confusion and chaos created by the sudden appearance of foreign soldiers on America soil attacking civilians and, soon enough, whatever American military response that manages to react in the area. We’re put in the shoes of Jed and his band of teenagers as they try to survive the roving bands of Soviet and Cuban soldiers patrolling the plains and countryside surrounding their hometown of Calumet, Colorado. We see American civilians packed into re-education camps and rumors of KGB secret police making certain troublemakers disappear and worst. It’s the America Cold War nightmare scenario where the Soviet Evil Empire has taken a foothold on US soil and the government and military nowhere in sight to help it’s population.

The second half of the film solves this scenario by arming the teenagers led by Jed into a sort of teen guerrila force using their school’s mascot as their rallying cry. It’s the shouts of “Wolverines!” which has become part of American pop-culture as we get to see these teenagers conduct hit-and-run strikes on enemy patrols and forward bases while at the same time arming those they free from camps. It’s during this part of the film where the violence gets ramped up to an almost ridiculous level. It’s no wonder that for almost two decades this film would be considered by Guinness World Records as the most violent film ever put on the big-screen. Milius and his filmmaking crew do not skimp on the use of blood squibs as Jed and his ragtag band of teen fighters gun down Soviets, Nicaraguans and Cuban soldiers by the score every minute during a long montage in the middle of the film.

Red Dawn in terms of storytelling is actually quite good in the grand scheme of the narrative being told, but even through the prism of nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses the characters in the film get the short-end of the stick. With the exception of Swayze’s eldest teen Jed as leader of the Wolverines the rest of the band’s teenage characters look like your typical casting call stereotypes who fill in the required roles in any ensemble cast. There’s Darren Dalton as the high school class president jealous of the group’s leader Jed, but unable to act on it. We have C. Thomas Howell as Robert the mousy one when the film begins who becomes a hardened and cold-hearted killer as the film goes on. Everyone fits in neatly to their assigned role and noen of the young actors (at the time) bring much to their characters.

This film continues to be remembered fondly by it’s fans both new and old because of the “what-if” scenario being played out on the screen. I would say that if there ever was a pure American film I would think Red Dawn manages to fit the bill. It’s a film which highlights the so-called individualism and can-do attitude Americans see for themselves. How it’s up to each individual to fight to protect their loved ones and for what is theirs. Some have called this film as a conservative’s wet-dream, but I rather think it’s a film that should appeal more to Libertarians as it focuses on individual liberties and self-preservation when the government and military tasked to protect them have failed.

John Milius has always been a maverick in Hollywood and his unpopular political beliefs have kept him from doing more work in the film industry, but one cannot deny the fact that he made one of the most iconic films of the 1980’s. Whether one agreed with the film’s politics and thought it to be a good film or not was irrelevent. Red Dawn has become part of American pop-culture and will continue to be a major example of the excess of 80’s action filmmaking for good or ill. Plus, even the most liberal people I know find the basic story of fighting to protect the nation from invaders something that feeds their innermost fantasy of playing the good guys fighting the good fight. Red Dawn is a great example of the underdog film that just happens to have teenagers kicking Soviet military ass.

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 04 “Escape to L.A.”


Torchwood: Miracle Day has been very casual in revealing the cause and ultimate agenda behind the so-called “Miracle Day” event which has turned everyone on the planet Earth with a unique form of immortality. There’s been speculation from new and old fans alike about the cause and reason. Some think it’s aliens from the future. Some believe it to be a government experiment that went terribly wrong. One thing the previous and third episode in this new season did dole out was that a major pharmaceutical company, PhiCorp, seemed to have been aware of the arrival of “Miracle Day” and planned accordingly even to the point of infiltrating governmental agencies to deflect suspicion from them. Which brings us to the fourth and latest episode: “Escape to L.A.”.

This fourth episode sees the latest incarnation of the Torchwood team arriving in Los Angeles with a plan to infiltrate one of PhiCorp’s many headquarters around the country and steal a server which may hold the information they need to expose the company to the world and finally get down to the bottom of what “Miracle Day” truly is. To say that PhiCorp has become more than just an ovelry opportunistic megacorporation after this episode would be an understatement. This episode had everything for pretty much all spectrum of Torchwood fans. It had some very emotional and quieter moments for some of the main characters (such as Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson). For those wanting a bit more action this episode had it as well as the team’s plans to infiltrate the PhiCorp server room runs across a few stumbling blocks in the form of a creepy hired assassin in the form of one C. Thomas Howell. There’s even a few lighter and funnier moments involving the team’s search for a base of operations while in L.A. with Rex sarcasticly commenting that Jack was trying to turn everyone he meets gay with Jack’s retort admitting to just such.

“Escape to L.A.” also continues to delve into the growing role of Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman still hamming it up as the twitchy, but smarter than he looks pedophile-murderer) in this new season’s scheme of things. While the last episode threw off the cloak of repentance Danes had shown on live TV this latest episode shows Danes as quite devious in trying to keep himself in what he thinks is the only way to protect himself from those who still thinks he owes society for what he had done. The interesting thing about what Danes does in this episode was that it put a voice into one of the themes being explore in this season. Danes sees those still living when they should be dead just like him being herded into places (abandoned hospitals and camps being built by PhiCorp) to be away from those still living in truth. It was interesting that he would be the voice for this theme and a counter to the fearmongering of a Tea Party politico in the form of Mayor Ellis Hartley Monroe (Mare Winningham). For once in this series, so far, I think many wouldn’t be too far off in saying they were rooting for Danes. He was the lesser of two evils in this episode even though it looks like it will be the catalyst which will propel Pullman’s character into the cult leader the season’s marketing had been hinting at.

While the episode wasn’t as good as episode 3’s “Dead of Night” it was still a very strong episode. This was an episode that actually added more pieces to the mystery of “Miracle Day” and just how far-ranging PhiCorp’s (and what could be others as hinted at cryptically in the episode’s final moments) role as the main antagonist for this new season. From how the episode ended for the Torchwood team it looks like we might see the team back on British soil as Gwen must now deal with her father’s safety.

The season continues to improve with each new episode and it’s a good thing this episode gave out more than just dribbles of clues. With only 6 more episodes to go it was high time the series went into the next gear as it races towards the answer to the question of “What is Miracle Day?”.

1st  Episode: “The New World”

2nd Episode: “Rendition”

3rd Episode: “Dead of Night”