A Movie A Day #337: Colors (1988, directed by Dennis Hopper)


Los Angeles in the 80s.  Beneath the California glamour that the rest of America thinks about when they think about L.A., a war is brewing.  Bloods vs Crips vs the 21st Street Gang.  For those living in the poorest sections of the city, gangs provide everything that mainstream society refuses to provide: money, a chance to belong, a chance to advance.  The only drawback is that you’ll probably die before you turn thirty.  Two cops — veteran Hodges (Robert Duvall) and rookie McGavin (Sean Penn) — spend their days patrolling a potential war zone.  Hodges tries to maintain the peace, encouraging the gangs to stay in their own territory and treat each other with respect.  McGavin is aggressive and cocky, the type of cop who seems to be destined to end up on the evening news.  With only a year to go before his retirement, Hodges tries to teach McGavin how to be a better cop while the gangs continue to target and kill each other.  The cycle continues.

Colors was one of the first and best-known of the “modern gang” films.  It was also Dennis Hopper’s return to directing, 17 years after the notorious, drug-fueled disaster of The Last Movie.  Hopper took an almost documentary approach to Colors, eschewing, for the most part, melodrama and instead focusing on the day-to-day monotony of life in a war zone.  There are parts of Colors that are almost deliberately boring, with Hodges and McGavin driving through L.A. and trying to stop trouble before it happens.  Hopper portrays Hodges and McGavin as being soldiers in a war that can’t be won, combatants in a concrete Vietnam.  Colors is nearly 20 years old but it holds up.  It’s a tough and gritty film that works because of the strong performances of Duvall and Penn.  The legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler vividly captures the harshness of life in the inner city.  Actual gang members served as extras, adding to the film’s authentic, documentary feel.  Among the actors playing gang members, Don Cheadle, Trinidad Silva, Glenn Plummer, and Courtney Gains all make a definite impression.  In a small but important role, Maria Conchita Alonso stands in for everyone who is not a cop and who is not a gang member but who is still trapped by their endless conflict.

One person who was not impressed by Colors was future director John Singleton.  Boyz ‘n The Hood was largely written as a response to Colors‘s portrait of life in South Central Los Angeles.

A Movie A Day #183: No Code of Conduct (1998, directed by David Lee…sorry, Bret Michaels)


From the strange period of time in which Charlie Sheen wanted people to call him Charles, comes this generic action movie.

Detective Jake Peterson (Charles Sheen) is a loser.  Even though his father (Martin Sheen) is the chief of police, Jake is so bad at his job that he has been assigned to work in the evidence locker.  His wife (Meredith Salenger) is always yelling at him for being a neglectful father.  The only person who likes Jake is his partner (Mark Dascasos, who is wasted) and partner’s never live for long in cop movies.  When Jake discovers that evil businessman Julian Disanto (Ron Masak) is plotting to smuggle Mexican heroin into Arizona, he has a chance for redemption but it will not be easy because Disanto is not only working with a corrupt DEA agent (Paul Gleason, of course) but he also has a band of psychotic henchmen.

This predictable and not very exciting action film is interesting for two reasons.  First of all, it was directed by the poor man’s David Lee Roth, Bret Michaels.  At the time, the future star of Rock of Love and Celebrity Apprentice winner was best known for being the lead singer of the most boring hair metal band of the 80s, Poison.  It is always interesting when someone who found fame as something other than a filmmaker tries his hand at directing.  Sometimes, the results can be surprisingly good and sometimes, the result is No Code For Conduct.  Michaels and Sheen (who co-wrote the script) may have been trying to pull off an homage to the action films of their youth but No Code For Conduct has more in common with the work of Uwe Boll than the work of William Friedkin.

The other interesting thing about No Code for Conduct is that, even though “Charles” and Martin are top-billed, it is actually a four Sheen/Estevez movie.  Renee Estevez briefly appears as a cop while Martin’s brother, Joe Estevez, is in charge of the police motor pool.  If No Code For Conduct is an act-off between the members of the Sheen/Estevez clan, Joe emerges as the clear winner.  Charlie does his wide-eyed intense thing.  Martin goes through the movie with a “the shit I do for my son” air of resignation.  Renee is not around long enough to make an impression.  But Joe?

Joe Estevez is the man!

Joe Estevez, the only Estevez that matters

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.7 “House of Horror” (dir by Bob Gale)


Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 7th episode of the 5th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  

House of Horrors has everything that you could possibly want from a Tales From The Crypt episode!  A dumbass idiot frat boy (played by Kevin Dillon) forces three pledges to enter  a supposedly haunted house.  Mayhem ensues.  This episode is full of atmosphere, dark humor, plot twists, and unexpected turns and it features two wonderfully over-the-top performances, one from Dillon and one from Meredith Salenger as a Southern-accented sorority president who may have a secret of her own.

This episode originally aired on October 27th, 1993.

Enjoy!

 

Horror on the Lens: Children of the Corn (dir by Fritz Kiersch)


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Today’s horror on the lens is the 1984 film that TSL editor-in-chief Arleigh Sandoc has called the worst Stephen King adaptation of all time.  For the record, I tend to agree with that judgment but, for some reason, a lot of people seem to like Children of the Corn.

And I will admit — the kids are creepy.  Especially that little Isaac guy with the shrill voice.  Whenever Isaac starts screaming, “MALACHI!!!!,” — well, it’s like nails on a chalkboard, to be honest.

Anyway, in case you’d forgotten, this is the movie where all the little kids hang out in a cornfield and kill adults.  It attempts to say something about religion but I’m not sure what it’s trying to say.  It’s all kind of silly but, as I said, some people seem to like it.

(Personally, I prefer that old episode of South Park where they keep declaring shenanigans on the carnival, all the cows jump off a cliff, and the visiting yankee tourists end up getting devoured by rats in jail.)

In order to help you decide for yourself whether or not this is a decent film, here is Stephen King’s Children of the Corn!  Enjoy it while you can because you just know that YouTube is going to eventually yank it down for copyright reasons.

Back to School Part II #24: Can’t Buy Me Love (dir by Steve Rash)


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For some reason, the 1987 comedy Can’t Buy Me Love is really beloved by clickbait headline writers.  I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve seen headlines like “Why We Still Love Can’t Buy My Love” or “See What The Cast Of Can’t Buy Me Love Looks Like Today!”

Why is it that the worst movies always seem to have the most rabid fan bases?  Actually, to be fair, Can’t Buy Me Love is not one of the worst movies of all time.  I watched it on Netflix a few nights ago and it wasn’t terrible.  But, at the same time, it was hardly the classic that so many articles have made it out to be.  Maybe the people writing about Can’t Buy Me Love are viewing it through the lens of nostalgia.  Who knows?  Maybe my future children will think I’m a weirdo for loving Easy A.

(They better not!  Easy A is the best!)

Anyway, Can’t Buy Me Love takes place in the same upper class suburb in which all teen films from the 80s take place.  Nerdy Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) has spent the summer mowing lawns and he’s raised enough money that he can finally afford to buy a super telescope.  However, as Ronald is walking through the mall, he sees the girl that he’s been crushing on, Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson).  Disobeying her mother, Cindy borrowed a suede outfit without asking.  She wore it to a party, the outfit got ruined, and now Cindy desperately needs a replacement.  The leads to Ronald getting an idea.  Who needs a telescope when he can use his money to pay Cindy to be his girlfriend for a month?  Cindy can buy a new outfit and Ronald can date the most popular girl in school and become popular himself!

School begins and Ronald’s plan seems to work.  With Cindy’s help, Ronald goes from being a nottie to being a hottie!  (Yes, that’s a reference to the infamous Paris Hilton film from 2008, The Hottie and the Nottie.)  Of course, it’s a very 80s transformation.  Ronald learns about the importance of sungalsses, vests, and going sleeveless.  Along the way, Cindy falls in love with Ronald and comes to realize that her friends are all a bunch of followers.  When Ronald starts to do a spastic dance, Cindy can only watch in shock as all of her friends starts to the same dance, convinced that it has to be cool if Ronald is doing it!

Meanwhile, Ronald changes.  Being popular goes to his head.  He rejects his old friends.  He becomes a jerk.  It’s only when he discovers that his oldest friend, Kenneth (Courtney Gains, who appears in hundreds of these films), is being targeted by the popular kids that Ronald is forced to confront the type of person he has become and hopefully realize that you can’t buy love…

It’s always weird to see Patrick Dempsey in these old high school movies.  Some of that is because he was so scrawny that it’s hard to believe that he’s the same actor who made McDreamy into a household word.  Add to that, Patrick Dempsey is a good actor now.  Judging from this film, he wasn’t necessarily a good actor in the 80s.  At times, Dempsey seems to be trying so hard that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch.  Amanda Peterson, who tragically passed away last year, is a lot more natural as Cindy.

Anyway, Can’t Buy Me Love was apparently a huge hit back when it was released and it appears that a lot of people have good memories of watching it.  I thought it was kind of bland and poorly acted.  I’ll stick with Easy A.

 

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


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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.