Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)


WhoFramedRogerRabbitPosterI can’t quite remember how I found out about 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Growing up, most of my movie news came from four major sources – Entertainment Tonight, Siskel & Ebert, the occasional movie poster you’d see at a bus stop or cinema. If you were really lucky, the production company would sometimes create a “Behind the Scenes”/”Making of” showcase a little after the movie premiered. If possible, I would read the billing block of a poster to see if I could recognize anyone familiar, Just seeing Amblin Entertainment meant you’d have Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall involved. Nothing new there. I knew Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri from Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future. Movies have had mixes of animation and live action – Bedrooms & Broomsticks, Mary Poppins, etc., but the big buzz here was the film planned to somehow involve both the Disney and Warner Bros. animation studios. It was an alien concept for me, because they couldn’t be more different from each other. Historically, animation on the WB side of things were edgy and almost dared to be even raunchy if they could get away with it. Disney, on the other hand, was pristine and extremely  kid friendly. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? Daffy Duck vs. Donald Duck, all on the same screen? It was the 1980’s equivalent of asking Marvel (which ironically, is owned by Disney now) and DC (which the WB has owned for decades) to write a single Justice League / Avengers crossover story.

At the time, Steven Spielberg was already well known for blockbusters like the Indiana Jones films and E.T., but did he really have enough clout to bring two major companies together like that? It blew my 13 year old mind and I became completely obsessed.

Around the time Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out, I picked up anything I could find about it. I had Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack, a poster, a stuffed Roger doll, and the video game when it came out. I even read Gary Wolf’s novel. I begged my parents to let me see it, and it was one of the rare times where my Mom took my sis and I to the movies instead of my dad (the major movie buff, who took us to see Robocop twice the year before). I think she went in part to shut me up, and to give herself a break from my nearly 2 year old brother. It remains one of the two best movie related memories I have of her.

In the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, humans and cartoons share the same space in Los Angeles. Cartoons live in Toontown, owned by Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). It’s the story of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins – Hook, Mermaids), a Los Angeles Private Eye with a bit of a grudge against toons. For a quick buck, Valiant is hired by R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern – Firefox, Little Shop of Horrors) to snoop on Acme. Valiant’s work puts him in the path of Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer, Back to the Future Part II), after Eddie takes some racy pictures of Acme playing patty cake with Roger’s wife, Jessica (Kathleen Turner, Romancing the Stone). Roger angrily swears they’re still a happy couple and that Acme somehow coerced her before running off into the night. The next morning, Eddie is informed that the Marvin Acme’s been killed overnight. To make things worse, Acme’s Will is missing, leaving the fate of Toontown up in the air. All of the evidence points to Roger, but Roger asks for Eddie’s assistance in clearing his name. Can Eddie save Roger before Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) and his pack of weasels get their hands on him?

The production for the film required jumping over a number of hurdles. Zemeckis, himself a cartoon fan, wanted to bring some of the Warner Bros. characters along with Disney characters. Even better, he also wanted to add some of Tex Avery’s classic style to the film. Similar to what he did with Ready Player One, Spielberg negotiated with some of the studios, and while he couldn’t get everyone, he did manage to get Disney, WB and a few others to commit. With this in place, they had to somehow merge animation with live-action in a way that made it look like the cartoons were interacting with their environment.

This would require one really huge magic trick, made up from an assortment of parts.

Since it was around 1986-1987, there really was no CG, yet.. James Cameron made 6 stuntmen in Alien suits look like 600 through the use of Oscar Winning Editing, and the technology that gave us the paradigm shifting dinosaurs of Jurassic Park wouldn’t occur for another 3 or 4 years. For Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the approach was a mix of robotics, puppetry, sleight of hand gadgetry, and a lot of imagination.

The art was handled by Richard Williams and his team, who would go on to win a Special Achievement Oscar for his contribution to the film. They had to draw every cell/frame by hand, on paper and then have them inked. These would then go to Industrial Light & Magic, who would add shadow, highlights and special effects To make things harder, the artists had to work around Zemeckis’ filming style and figure out how to fit the characters into each scene.

Take Jessica Rabbit’s performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, sung by Amy Irving (Carrie, The Fury). At first glance, it seems a really easy shot. Girl steps on the stage, performs and leaves, right? However, there are so many things happening here on an effects level that I still don’t fully understand how they did it after all these years. ILM handled the lighting, from the sparkles in the dress, the use of the handkerchief and the great moment where Jessica blocks the spotlight in her walk from Acme to Valiant. I had to later explain to my mom that the “Wow” I whispered in the theatre during that scene had little or nothing to do with puberty. It was because I hadn’t seen anything like that before with a cartoon, and I’d hate the Academy forever if the movie didn’t win an Oscar for that.

Having cartoons on screen is one thing, but making it feel like they were interacting with people is another. Hoskins was the anchor that tied most of it all together. Having to work with nearly nothing – not even a green screen – and perform the physical actions required of the role was quite a feat compared to what some actors do with the motion capture rooms and digital walls we use today. Near lifesize models of Roger were created to help Hoskins handle some of the physical “grab and move” sequences, and actor Charles Fleischer actually spent time dressed as Roger on set (but off camera, of course) to feed his side of the conversation to Hoskins when filming a scene.

Puppeteers were brought on for moments were toon characters needed to hold objects, such as guns or knives. There is a moment of the movie where you can see one of the holes for the guns that the weasels, but it’s a pretty minute hiccup with all of the great work that was done. For the car sequences with Benny the Cab (also Fleischer), they used a special mini-car with a driver in the back. The car and driver were painted over (still, frame for frame) by the animators.

And ff course, it wouldn’t be a Zemeckis film without Alan Silvestri at the helm, musically speaking. Silvestri’s score for was a mix of detective noir and cartoony antics, which made for a perfect fit for the film. Overall, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those films I cherished growing up, and it’s almost impossible for me to avoid recommending it.

 

 

Goin’ South (1978, directed by Jack Nicholson)


Jack Nicholson was not an overnight success.

Nicholson was 17 years old when he first came to Hollywood in 1954.  Looking to become an actor, Nicholson toiled as an office worker at the MGM cartoon studio, took acting classes, and went to auditions.  It would be four years before he even landed his first role, the lead in the Roger Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer.  When that film failed to become a hit, Nicholson spent the next ten years doing minor roles and occasionally starring in a B-picture.  He auditioned for some big parts, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but his big break continued to allude him.  By 1969, Nicholson was so disillusioned with acting that he was planning to instead pursue a career as a director.  However, before Nicholson officially retired from the acting game, he received a call from the set of Easy Rider.  Depending on who you ask, Rip Torn, who had previously been cast in the role of alcoholic George Hanson, had either quit or been fired.  Bruce Dern, the first choice to replace Torn, was busy filming They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Nicholson agreed to step into the role and the rest is history.

Easy Rider may have made Jack Nicholson one of the world’s biggest film stars but he never lost his ambition to direct.  In 1971, he made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said, a film about campus unrest.  At the time, the film flopped at both the box office and with critics and quickly sunk into obscurity.  (It has subsequently been rediscovered and, in some cases, positively reevaluated.)  After the failure of Drive, He Said, it would be another seven years before Nicholson again got a chance to direct.

Nicholson’s second film as a director, Goin’ South, is a comedic western.  Nicholson plays Henry Lloyd Moon, an unsuccessful outlaw who used to ride with Quantrill’s Raiders.  When Moon is captured in Longhorn, Texas, he is sentenced to be hanged.  Fortunately, for Moon, Longhorn has a special ordinance.  Any man condemned for any crime other than murder can be saved from the gallows if a local woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.  As a result of this ordinance, Longhorn is populated almost exclusively by single women and reformed outlaws.

While standing on the gallows, the cocky Moon is stunned to discover that none of the women want to marry him.  Finally, an old woman emerges from the crowd and announces that she’ll become Moon’s wife.  When Moon hops off the gallows and thanks her, the woman drops dead.  Fortunately, another, younger woman, Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen, making her film debut), steps forward.

Once they’re married, the lecherous Moon discovers that Julia is a virgin and that the only reason she married him was so she could force him to work in the secret gold mine that’s hidden underneath her property.  The railroad will soon be taking over the land and Julia wants to get all of the gold before she leaves town for Philadelphia.  Though Julia, at first, wants nothing to do with Moon, he eventually wears her down through sheer persistence and the two fall in love.

Complicating matters is Deputy Towfield (Christopher Lloyd), who is upset because he feels that Julia was meant to be his wife.  Also, the members of Moon’s former gang (including Danny DeVito and Veronica Cartwright) show up at Julia’s house and discover the truth about the mine.

Goin’ South gets off to a good start.  The scene on the gallows, where Moon waits for someone to marry him and save his life, is genuinely funny and Nicholson and Steenburgen have a playful chemistry for the first hour of the movie.  Nicholson leers even more than usual in this film but the script is written so that the joke is always on Moon.  Much of the film’s humor comes from Moon always overestimating both his charm and his cleverness.  However, once Moon and Julia finally consummate their marriage, the movie loses whatever narrative momentum it may have had and gets bogged down with the subplots about Towfield and Moon’s gang.  There are funny moments throughout but the story gets away from Nicholson and the film is reduced to a series of set pieces, none of which build up to much.

Not surprisingly, Nicholson gets good performances from his cast, which is largely made up by the members of his 1970s entourage.  Along with Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, longtime Nicholson associates like Tracey Walter, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, and Luana Anders all appear in small roles.  John Belushi plays the tiny role of Deputy Hector.  (Goin’ South was actually the first film in which Belushi was cast, though production didn’t actually begin until after Belushi had finished working on National Lampoon’s Animal House.)  Unfortunately, despite all of the good performances, the script doesn’t do much to develop any of the characters.  Belushi especially feels underused.  (Because Belushi had moved on to Animal House by the time the film went into post-production, Nicholson ended up dubbing several of Belushi’s lines himself.)

Drive, He Said was largely considered to have failed at the box office because Nicholson remained behind the camera so he took the opposite approach with Goin’ South.  Nicholson is in nearly every scene and he gives one of his broadest performances.  It works for the first half of the film, when Moon is constantly trying to get laid and failing every time.  But, during the second half of the movie, Nicholson’s failure to reign in his performance works to the film’s detriment.  When the movie needs Nicholson to be romantic, he’s still behaving like a horny cartoon. Whenever he looks at Mary Steenburgen, it seems as if his eyes should be popping out of his head, Tex Avery-style.  He’s an entertaining cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.  As a result, Goin’ South is often funny but it still feels very inconsequential.

Like Drive, He Said, Goin’ South was both a critical and a box office flop and it temporarily turned Nicholson off of directing.  It would be another 12 years before he would once again step behind the camera.  In 1990, Nicholson directed The Two Jakes, the sequel to one of his best films, Chinatown That would be Nicholson’s last film as a director.  Nicholson acted for another 20 years, following the release of The Two Jakes.  To date, he made his final screen appearance in 2010, with a supporting role in James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know.  Nicholson has disputed claims that he’s officially retired, saying that he’s instead just being more selective about his roles.  Even though it’s been ten years since we last saw him on screen, Jack Nicholson remains an American icon and a living legend.

Playing Catch Up: First Daughter, Ice Girls, Raising The Bar, Walk Like A Man


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.  Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, real life has interfered with my movie reviewing, if not my move watching.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past two weeks!

  • First Daughter
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Forest Whitaker
  • Starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon

Michael Keaton as the President of the United States!?  Now, that’s a great idea.  Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie.  First Daughter was made long before Birdman so Michael Keaton doesn’t really have a huge part but, whenever he does appear, he is totally believable as a world leader.  You buy the idea that this guy could win an election and that he’d probably be a good (if not necessarily a great) President.  Someone really needs to make another movie where Michael Keaton plays the President.  Maybe President Birdman.  Just don’t give it to Inarritu to direct because he’ll make it too political…

Anyway, the majority of the film is about Katie Holmes as the President’s daughter, Samantha.  Samantha has been accepted to a college in California.  She’s excited because it means that she’ll finally be able to have a life outside of the White House.  The President is concerned because he loves his daughter and he knows that, if she makes any mistakes in California, his political opponents will try to use her against him.  Samantha goes off to college and tries to have a good (but rather chaste) time.  Making that somewhat difficult is her secret service entourage.  Fortunately, Samantha meets a guy (Marc Blucas) who loves her for who she is and not because her father is the President.

It’s all pretty silly and shallow but I have to admit that I get nostalgic whenever I see this movie.  Much like From Justin To Kelly, it’s definitely a film from a more innocent and less angry time.  To date, it’s also the last film to be directed by actor Forest Whitaker.

  • Ice Girls
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Damian Lee
  • Starring Michaela du Toit, Lara Daans, Arcadia Kendal, Sheila McCarthy, Taylor Hunsley, Shane Harte, Elvis Stojko

Struggling financially, Kelly (Lara Daans) is forced to move back to her hometown and move in with her sister (Sheila McCarthy).  Until she got married and gave up that part of her life, Kelly was once an up-and-coming figure skater.  Fortunately, her daughter, Mattie (Michaela du Toit), has inherited her mother’s talent.  However, a serious injury shook Mattie’s confidence.  Now, she says she doesn’t want to skate anymore.  Still, she’s willing to accept a job from Mercury (Elvis Stojko) at the local rink and it’s not too long before, under Mercury’s guidance, Mattie is skating once again.  Mattie also befriends another skater, Heather (Taylor Hunsley).  Heather happens to be the daughter of Rose (Natasha Henstridge), who was once in love with Kelly’s father…

It sounds like the set-up of a melodramatic Lifetime movie but actually, Ice Girls is a sweet-natured film about two ice skaters, one who has a mother who is too protective and the other who has a mother who is too driven.  In the end, both of them end up skating for themselves and not their mothers and that’s a good message for the film’s target audience of young skate fans.  The majority of the cast is made up of actual ice skaters, so the skating footage is pretty impressive.  It’s a predictable movie but I enjoyed it when I watched it on Netflix.

  • Raising the Bar
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Clay Glen
  • Starring Kelli Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler, Emily Morris, Peta Shannon

I also watched this one on Netflix, a day after I watched Ice Girls.  (I was in an Olympics sort of mood, even though neither film took place at the Olympics.)  Raising the Bar feels a lot like Ice Girls, except that the ice skaters were now gymnasts and instead of relocating to Toronto, the family in Raising the Bar relocates all the way to Australia.  Once in Australia, Kelly (Kelly Johnson) finds the courage to re-enter gymnastics and ends up competing against her former teammates.

Kelly Johnson gives a good performance in the lead role.  Though it may be predictable, Raising the Bar is an effective and sweet-natured family film.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching the film was that I quickly found myself rooting against the American team.  Australia all the way!

  • Walk Like A Man
  • Released 1987
  • Directed by Melvin Frank
  • Starring Howie Mandel, Amy Steel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Stephen Elliott, George DiCenzo, John McLiam, Earl Boen

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

Okay, I’m going to try to explain what happens in this movie.  You’re not going to believe me.  You’re going to think that I’m just making all of this up.  But I swear to a God … this is an actual movie.

When he was a baby, Boba Shand (Howie Mandel) got separated from his family.  His mother and his father assumed that he was gone forever but what they didn’t know was that Bobo was found and raised by a pack of wild dogs.  For twenty years, Bobo lives as a dog.  Then he’s discovered by Penny (Amy Steel), an animal researcher who tries to teach Bobo how to be a human.  However, as time passes, Penny comes to realize that maybe she’s making a mistake trying to change Bobo.  Bobo is innocent and child-like and obsessed with chasing fire engines.  When he has too much to drink, he runs around on all fours.  And … PENNY’S IN LOVE WITH HIM!

Seriously, she’s in love with a man who thinks he’s a dog.

However, Bobo stands to inherit a fortune and his evil brother (Christopher Lloyd) is planning on having him committed.  Penny has to prove that Bobo is human enough to manage his own affairs while also respecting his desire to continue living like a dog.

I’m serious.  This is a real movie.

Anyway, making things even worse is the performance as Howie Mandel.  Mandel has always been a rather needy performer and the role of a man who thinks he’s a dog only serves to bring out his worst instincts.  Remember when Ben Stiller played Simple Jack in Tropical Thunder?  Well, Mandel’s performance is kinda like that only worse.  At one point, Bobo walks up to a mannequin in a mall and says, “I have to go pee pee.  Come with me,” and I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  Oh my God, it was so bad.

The main problem with Walk Like A Man is that it wants to have it both ways.  It wants to be a wild comedy about Howie Mandel chasing fire engines but it also makes us want to tear up when Penny explains why Bobo should be allowed to live as a dog.

All in all, it’s a really bad movie.  And yes, it does actually exist.

A Movie A Day #107: The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981, directed by William A. Fraker)


Long before he found fame playing Deputy Hawk on Twin Peaks, Michael Horse made his film debut in one of the most notorious box office flops of all time, The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  

Michael Horse played Tonto, the young Comanche who rescues his childhood friend, John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury), and nurses him back to health after Reid has been attacked and left for dead by the notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd).  Reid was a civilian, accompanying a group of Texas Rangers led by his older brother, Dan (John Bennett Perry).  When Cavendish attacked, John was the only survivor.  John wants to avenge his brother’s death but first, Tonto is going to have to teach him how to shoot a six-shooter and how to ride his new horse, Silver.  Finally, John is ready to don the mask and becomes the Lone Ranger.  It’s just in time, because Cavendish has kidnapped President Grant (Jason Robards).

An even bigger flop than the more recent Lone Ranger film starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, The Legend of the Lone Ranger failed for several reasons.  For one thing, the film has a major identity crisis.  The violence is not for kids but most of the dialogue and the performances are.  For another thing, it takes forever for John Reid to actually put on the mask and become the Lone Ranger.  By the time the William Tell Overture is heard, the movie is nearly over.

It was made to capitalize on the same type of nostalgia that previously made Superman a hit and, just as Superman introduced the world to Christopher Reeve, The Legend of the Lone Ranger introduced the world to a football player turned actor, named Klinton Spilsbury.  Unfortunately, the world did not want to meet Klinton Spilsbury, whose blank-faced performance was so bad that James Keach was brought in to dub over all of his dialogue.   Spilsbury did not help himself by reportedly acting like a diva during the shooting, demanding constant rewrites, and getting into bar brawls offset.  Of the two actors who made their screen debuts in The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Michael Horse has worked again.  Klinton Spilsbury has not.

When The Legend of the Lone Ranger went into production, the film’s producers made the incredibly boneheaded move of getting a court injunction barring Clayton Moore (who had played the role on TV) from wearing his Lone Ranger uniform is public.  Since the semi-retired Moore was living off of the money that he made appearing as the Lone Ranger at country fairs and children’s hospitals, this move was a public relations disaster.  (For his part, Moore filed a counter suit and continued to make appearances, now wearing wrap-around sunglasses instead of his mask.)  Moore refused to appear in a cameo and spent much of 1981 speaking out against the film.

Finally, the main reason that Legend of The Lone Ranger flopped was because it opened on the same Friday as a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The rest is history.

Back to School Part II #15: Joy of Sex (dir by Martha Coolidge)


Joy_of_Sex_Movie_Poster

Let’s say one positive thing about the 1984 “comedy” Joy of Sex.

The tag line on the poster: “Somewhere between virginity and senility, lies paradise,” is brilliant.  Whoever came up with it deserves a lot of credit because it sounds a lot better than anything that’s actually heard in the movie.

Let’s say something else good at Joy of Sex.  The two stars of the movie — Cameron Dye and Michelle Meyrink — both gave good and likable performances, even if their characters got a little bit annoying at times.  (Then again, just about everyone in Joy of Sex gets annoying.)  Also, there’s a subplot about an undercover cop (played by Colleen Camp) that predates 21 Jump Street and which occasionally shows off a few hints of genuine wit.

Otherwise, this is probably one of the worst of the 80s teen comedies that I’ll be reviewing for this series of Back to School reviews.  Joy of Sex is officially credited as being an adaptation of a sex manual that was popular back in the 70s.  According to the imdb and Wikipedia, Joy of Sex went through a rather tortured development.  At one point, it was going to be an anthology film, starring John Belushi and co-produced by National Lampoon.  However, Belushi died of a drug overdose, National Lampoon abandoned the project, and the final film turned out to be another high school film.  Imagine Fast Time At Ridgemont High … but really, really bad.

Leslie Hindenberg (Michelle Meyrink) is a student at Richard Nixon High School.  She’s the daughter of the school’s phys ed coach (Christopher Lloyd, playing what was probably meant to be the Belushi role) and, as a result, she is viewed as being untouchable, even by the sex-crazed boys of Nixon High.  The problem is that Leslie has recently discovered a mole on chest and is convinced that she has skin cancer.  Believing that she only has 6 weeks to live, Leslie sets out on a mission to lose his virginity.  However, she wants to lose it to the perfect guy and there aren’t many of those at her school.  (Can you really afford to be picky when you’ve only got 6 weeks to live?)  Add to that, everyone’s terrified of the coach…

Leslie’s lab partner is Alan (Cameron Dye), who is a nice guy.  He not only has a huge crush on Leslie but he’s also desperate to lose his virginity as well!  Problem solved, right?  Well, no.  See, Alan has been led astray by the new girl in school.  Liz (Colleen Camp) is tough, outspoken, and no-nonsense.  As soon as she shows up in school, she lets everyone know that she’s obsessed with two things — sex and drugs.  In fact, she’s especially interested in drugs…

A lot of students, of course, are suspicious of Liz.  She seems to be older than everyone else and speak in out-of-date slang.  “Could she be a narc?” some students wonder.  Well, actually, she is.  She is working undercover at Nixon High and is convinced that Alan knows who is supplying drugs to all of the students.  And, it must be said, that Colleen Camp really throws herself into the role.  As happens with most of the film’s subplots, the undercover narc storyline doesn’t really go anywhere but at least Camp made the effort.

Meanwhile, Leslie’s best friend has been kicked out of school because she’s pregnant.  Leslie approaches a local reporter, hoping to convince him to do a story about what’s happened.  And, while getting her best friend back into school, Leslie starts to wonder if maybe she’s found the right man to take her virginity…

(But wait!  We know she’s meant to be with Alan!  So, surely, the reporter will turn out to be a sleaze, right?)

But that’s not all!  Someone is running around the school and using superglue to play pranks.  Who could it be?  Will the crazy principle (Ernie Hudson) be able to maintain order until the big dance?  And will the portrayal of the school’s frequently confused foreign exchange student manage to get any more racist?

And what about Tom Pittman (Robert Prescott)?  Pittman is the most popular guy in school.  Pittman doesn’t really do a lot.  To make an undeserved comparison to Animal House, he’s kind of the Bluto character, just not as interesting.  Whereas Bluto smashed guitars and beer cans and gave inspiration speeches, Pittman tries to light his farts on fire and is something of a bully.  (There is a kinda funny scene where he’s suddenly nice to Leslie and everyone’s shocked.)  The most memorable thing about Pittman is that he wears thick black glasses which are held together by tape.  So, if nothing else, Joy of Sex is important chapter in the history of myopia in film.

Anyway, Joy of Sex has remarkably little joy and next to no sex.  I imagine that were riots in the theaters after this movie came out, as thousands of angry teenagers chanted, “We want joy!  We want sex!  When do we want them!?  NOW!”

There were a lot of great teen films released in the 80s.  Joy of Sex is not one of them.

The Things You Find On Netflix: 88 (dir by April Mullen)


88

If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch 88, the best film of the year so far.

88 opens with a close-up of Gwen (Katharine Isabelle).  Gwen is sitting in a diner and she has no idea how she got there.  All she knows is that her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid) is dead and that she believes that her former employer, Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) is responsible.  Oh, and Gwen’s hand is also covered in a bloody bandage, largely because she’s missing a finger.  When Gwen tries to leave the diner, several gumballs and a gun fall out of her bag.  The cops eating breakfast overreact.  A waitress panics.  Gwen accidentally shoots someone as she flees.

Still with no idea where she is exactly or how she got there, Gwen discovers that she has a motel room key on her.  When she goes to the motel room, she discovers that the walls are covered with newspaper clippings.  And, of course, there’s a corpse in the bathtub.  On top of that, there’s also a rather hyperactive man named Ty (Tim Doiron, who also wrote the film’s script).  Gwen claims to have never seen Ty before.  Ty, however, says that they’re friends and they’re planning on killing Cyrus together.

Meanwhile, as we watch Gwen try to figure out what’s going on, we also follow the adventures of Flamingo (again played by Katharine Isabelle).  Flamingo is a tough-talking survivor, the type of girl who, when we first meet her, is busy strangling a random motorist so that she can use his car.  Flamingo goes from motel to motel, always staying in room 88.  She obsessively drinks milk.  When she runs into Cyrus and his gang on the street, they claim to know her.  However, Flamingo has no idea who they are.

Which, of course, does not mean that she’s not willing to kill them…

88 is a masterpiece of the grindhouse imagination, an over-the-top film that not only embraces its pulpy origins but practically revels in them as well.  The film is full of wonderfully strange and crazy moments, like when Gwen and Ty visit a flamboyant gun dealer or when Flamingo casually trashes a convenience store for no reason beyond the fact that she apparently feels like doing so.  There is not a single character in 88 who is not, in some way, memorably odd.  Between Gwen’s amnesia, Flamingo’s psychotic behavior, Ty’s cheerful embrace of violence, and Cyrus’s raspy monologues, 88 presents a world that is familiar and yet uniquely its own.  When Michael Ironside shows up as a strict but good-hearted sheriff, it only makes sense that, in the world of 88, Michael Ironside would be the face of law, order, and decency.

Now, to be honest, you’ll probably figure out just how exactly Gwen and Flamingo are related long before the film actually makes it explicit.  You probably figured it out just from reading this review.  But it doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, the specifics of the twist really doesn’t matter.  This film is a celebration of pure style and pulp energy.  Katharine Isabelle is brilliant, both as Gwen and as Flamingo.  In the role of Gwen, Isabelle gives a very sympathetic performance.  You want to understand what is happening to Gwen and, even more importantly, you want her to survive.  Meanwhile, as Flamingo, Isabelle is a force of pure, destructive nature.  Finally, in the role of Cyrus, Christopher Lloyd is a sleazy marvel and even manages to bring a hint of humanity to an occasionally demonic character.

88 is one of those films that will probably never get the critical support that it deserves.  However, I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.

Back to School #37: Back to the Future (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


back-to-the-future

Well, this is certainly intimidating.

Earlier today, I was sitting at my day job and I happened to glance down at my to-do list to see what I was scheduled to review next in my Back To School series and there, listed at #37, was a somewhat popular film from 1985.  The name of the film was Back To The Future and…

Oh, you’ve heard of it?  And you already know what the movie’s about because literally everyone on the planet has either seen Back to The Future or knows someone who has seen Back To The Future and loves it so much that they can tell you every little detail about the adventures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and that time-traveling DeLorean?

Well, just be quiet and bear with me.  I always like to give a plot synposis in my reviews.  For one thing, it’s a good way to let you know who plays who in the film.

mcfly

So, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is, despite his somewhat embarrassing last name, a perfectly normal American teenager.  He lives in a nice, small town.  He has a pretty girlfriend (Claudia Wells).  He likes to ride his skateboard.  He likes to play guitar (though he’s deemed to be “too loud” by at least one of his teachers).  The high school’s principal (James Tolkan) often gives him a hard time for being late but other than that, Marty seems to be a pretty regular guy…

Except his family has some major issues.  His mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is an alcoholic who won’t stop talking about how she first met her husband George (Crispin Glover) after her father hit him with his car. George, meanwhile, is a total wimp who is continually bullied by his boss, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).  Marty’s older siblings (Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber) are both living directionless lives and Marty has every reason to fear that he might end up following them.

49663309_michaeljfox1

Fortunately, Marty has a best friend named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who has built a time machine inside of a luxury vehicle.  Late one night, Doc recruits Marty to help him test out the machine but what Doc didn’t mention is that in order to power his time machine, he had still plutonium from a group of terrorists.  Those terrorists show up and kill Doc.  Marty flees in the car and soon finds himself trapped in 1955.

Marty manages to track down the younger version of Doc Brown and the two of them start trying to work out how to get Marty back to the future.  (We have a title!)  Marty, of course, wants to warn Doc about what’s going to happen in 1985 but Doc insists that Marty tell him nothing about the future.  Doc also tells Marty that he has to be very careful, while in the past, not to change the future.

McFly!

Too late!  Marty has already met teenage Lorraine.  See, Marty happened to spot George up in a tree, peeping on Lorraine as she undressed.  (“He’s a pervert!” Marty exclaims.)  When George falls out of the tree and lands in the street, Marty pushes him out of the way of an approaching car.  Marty gets hit by the car, which is being driven by his own grandfather.  So now, Marty has essentially prevented his parents from meeting and, as a result, the McFly children are slowly fading from existence.

So, before Marty can go back to 1985, he has to get George and Lorraine back together.  The main problem, of course, is that Lorraine now has a crush on her own son…

michael-j-fox-back-to-the-future-screenshot

Wow, that’s a lot of plot there.  There’s a lot going on in Back to the Future and there are times when it almost feels like a dozen different films in one.  It’s a science fiction film, with Doc and Marty spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a time machine work with 1955 technology and weather.  It’s an action film, with Marty fleeing terrorists in 1985 and Biff in 1955.  It’s a romance, with the always endearingly weird Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson making for an odd but cute couple.  (Thought it’s wrong on so many levels, Thompson and Fox also have a lot of chemistry and are cute together, as long as you ignore the fact that they are playing mother and son!)  It’s a frequently hilarious comedy, with the entire cast giving heartfelt performances.  It’s an anthropological study, comparing the 50s and the 80s.  It’s a satirical look at how teenager’s tend to view their parents, with Marty discovering that everything that he’s assumed at his mom was basically incorrect.  And finally, it’s a surprisingly subversive film, with Marty and Lorraine’s 1955 relationship constantly running the risk of turning into an Oedipal nightmare.

And yet the entire film flows together so perfectly that you’re never aware of just how busy it all really is.  Between director Robert Zemeckis’s sure-handed direction, the clever script by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and a uniformly excellent cast, Back to the Future is one of those films that verges on being flawless.

And, for that reason, it can be very intimidating to review.

I just don’t know how I’m going to do it…

550w_movies_dsma_back_to_the_future_03