Guilty Pleasure No. 58: Robot Jox (dir by Stuart Gordon)


In the future, the world has been ravaged by a combination of nuclear war and infertility.  The face of diplomacy has changes as well.  Instead of wasting time with negotiations, treaties, or lengthy wars, countries now settle disputes through giant robot combat. 

In fact, robot combat is the most popular sport in the world!  The men who sit inside the head of the giant robots and who push the buttons that make the robots do their thing have all become national heroes.  They’re even more beloved than the robots that they control.  America loves Achilles (Gary Graham).  Russia loves Alexander (Paul Koslo).  Every fight is observed by hundreds of spectators sitting in the stands.

That becomes a problem when Achilles and his robot accidentally fall backwards and land on top of the stands.  Not only does this mean that Russia will claim ownership of Alaska but it also kills a lot of people who were only there because they thought they would get to watch some good old-fashioned giant robot combat.  Achilles is so upset that he announces his retirement.  He leaves robot combat camp and walks around the most depressing, dreariest city imaginable.  It’s hard not to notice that the city is full of signs imploring couples to have as many children as possible.  The humans would seem to be on the way out, regardless of what happens with the giant robots.

Fortunately, Achilles’s retirement only lasts for a day or two.  Once he learns that he’s going to be replaced by Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson), Achilles returns to fight Alexander.  It could be that Achilles is in love with Athena.  It could also just be evidence that it takes a lot more than a nuclear war to wipe out misogyny and Achilles can’t handle a woman controlling his robot.  Who knows?  Achilles is determined to redeem himself but Athena still wants her chance and it turns out that there is a double agent who is giving information to Alexander and the Russians!

Featuring a plot that was apparently made up on the spot, 1990’s Robot Jox is about as silly as a movie can get.  Several scenes are devoted to showing Athena and the other young robot pilots going through their training and it’s hard not to notice that none of it actually has anything to do with sitting inside the head of a giant robot and telling it what to do.  Instead, they do a lot of physical stuff, which makes no sense because piloting a robot would be a mental task, not a physical one.  But it gives the film an excuse to put a bunch of toned 20 year-olds in skin tight outfits and that was probably the main concern.   As for the double agent subplot, there’s only two possible suspects and it’s not difficult to guess which one is guilty.  The actors, for the most part, go through the motions though Michael Alldredge has some good moments as Achilles’s trainer and Paul Koslo is a blast as the maniacally evil Alexander.  In the future, it’s just not enough to destroy a man’s giant robot.  You have to laugh about it, too.

But, to be honest, Robot Jox is one of those movies that is so extremely silly that it’s impossible not to kind of like it.  The special effects may be on the cheap side but the robots themselves are actually fairly impressive and it’s hard not to smile at the sight of them stiffly walking across the combat area.  The film’s finale features not only a giant chainsaw that is stored inside the crotch of one of the robot’s but also a bizarre and impromptu trip into space.  I’m not really sure why the robots flew into space but it really doesn’t matter.  No one is going to watch Robot Jox for a coherent story.  This is a film that people watch because they want to see giant robots fighting.  And, on that front, Robot Jox delivers.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker
  49. Heavenly Bodies
  50. Maid in Manhattan
  51. Rage and Honor
  52. Saved By The Bell 3. 21 “No Hope With Dope”
  53. Happy Gilmore
  54. Solarbabies
  55. The Dawn of Correction
  56. Once You Understand
  57. The Voyeurs 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #59: Hardcore (dir by Paul Schrader)


Hardcore_(1979_film)

“Turn it off…turn it off…turn it off…TURN IT OFF!” — Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) in Hardcore (1979)

Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a businessman who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He’s a deeply religious man, a sincere believer in predestination and the idea that only an elite few has been prelected to go to Heaven.  Jake is divorced (though he occasionally tells people that his wife died) and is the father of a teenage girl named Kristen (Ilah Davis).

One of the first things that we notice about Jake is that there appears to be something off about his smile.  There’s no warmth or genuine good feeling behind it.  Instead, whenever Jake smile, it’s obvious that it’s something he does because that what he’s supposed to do.  Indeed, everything Jake does is what he’s supposed to do and he expects his daughter to do the same.

When Kristen goes to a church camp in California, she soon disappears.  Jake and his brother-in-law, Wes (Dick Sargent), fly down to Los Angeles and hire a sleazy private investigator, Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), to look for her.  A few weeks later, Andy shows Jake a pornographic film.  The star?  Kristen.

Jake is convinced that Kristen has been kidnapped and is being held captive.  Wes tells Jake that he should just accept that this is God’s will.  Andy tells Jake that, even if he does find Kristen, Jake might not want her back.  Finally, Jake tells off Wes, fires Andy, and ends up in Los Angeles himself.  Pretending to be a film producer and recruiting a prostitute named Nikki (Season Hubley) to serve as a guide, Jake searches for his daughter.

The relationship between Jake and Nikki is really the heart of the film.  For Jake, Nikki becomes a temporary replacement for his own daughter.  For Nikki, Jake appears to be the only man in the world who doesn’t want to use her sexually.  But, as Jake gets closer and closer to finding his daughter, Nikki realizes that she’s getting closer and closer to being abandoned.

Hardcore is a pretty good film, one that was shot in location in some of the sleaziest parts of 70s Los Angeles.  Plotwise, the film is fairly predictable but George C. Scott, Season Hubley, and Peter Boyle all give excellent performances.  (The scenes were Scott pretends to be a porn producer are especially memorable, with Scott perfectly capturing Jake’s discomfort while also subtly suggesting that Jake is enjoying himself more than he wants to admit.)  And, even if you see it coming from miles away, the film’s ending will stick with you.

Back to School #31: All The Right Moves (dir by Michael Chapman)


For the past week, we’ve been taking a look at 80 of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable films ever made about being a teenager and going to high school.  We’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and now, 30 reviews since we started this series with a film from 1946, we have reached the 1980s, a decade this is often considered to be the golden age of teen films.  For our 31st Back To School review, we take a look at 1983’s All The Right Moves.

How did you spend your Labor Day weekend?  Me, I spent it visiting with my family down at my uncle’s place.  Sunday afternoon, I was laying out by the pool and listening to my cousins Peter Paul and Paul Peter have a conversation.  (And yes, I do call both of them “Paulie.”)  They were talking about the Dallas Cowboys and I have to admit that I could not understand a word that they were saying.  It was like attending a Latin Mass, in that all I could do was hope that I was nodding at the right moment.  I can’t help it.  Football goes right over my head.  I know that the players are trying to score touchdowns and I know that whenever fall and winter come around, everyone I know is going to be complaining about the Cowboys.  But that’s it. (I also know that, what we in America call soccer, the rest of the world calls football.  But, to be honest, I really don’t care.)   Football talk might as well be a secret language.

However, I’m clearly in the minority as far as that’s concerned.  America loves football and so does Texas.  (Yes, I do consider my home state to be its own independent nation.  Take that, Vermont.)  And the American film industry has a long tradition of making movies — like All The Right Moves — about football.

In All The Right Moves, Tom Cruise plays Stefan Djordjevic.  Stefan lives in a poor town in Pennsylvania and happens to be one of the stars of the Ampipe High School football team.  And that’s a pretty good thing because this town is obsessed with football.  The proud Coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) is under constant pressure to win and Nickerson responds by pushing all of his players.  However, it finally looks like his approach is going to pay for both him and Stefan.  Nickerson is being considered for a college coaching  job.  Meanwhile, Stefan has a chance to get a scholarship to play football in college.  Interestingly, Stefan’s ambition is not to play professional football.  Instead, he wants to go to a good college so he can get an engineering degree.  Stefan’s main fear is to end up like everyone else in the town, working in a steel mill and not having any way to escape from a life of poverty.

still-of-tom-cruise-and-craig-t.-nelson-in-all-the-right-moves-(1983)

All The Right Moves starts out as a standard sports film but, halfway through, it takes an unexpected turn.  Ampipe High plays a game against their main rival, Walnut Heights High School.  This is the big game.  This is the game that most sports movies end with.  This is the game that you watch knowing that Nickerson and Stefan will overcome their differences (Nickerson is stubborn, Stefan is cocky) and that they will manage to narrowly win.

Except, of course, Ampipe doesn’t win.  As the result of a last minute mistake, Ampipe loses their lead and they lose the big game.  Nickerson yells at the team in the locker room.  Stefan yells back and Nickerson kicks him off the team.  Suddenly, Stefan finds himself with no future.  And Nickerson finds himself and his family being targeted by the angry, football-crazed citizens of the town…

For a football movie, All The Right Moves is actually pretty good.  Of course, it’s not really about football.  It’s about the desperation of people who have found themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and how something as seemingly inconsequential as the high school football team can become an entire town’s life.  It’s about how two stubborn men — Stefan and Nickerson — allow their own fear of being trapped to keep them from thinking and acting rationally.

The film is also distinguished by good performances from Tom Cruise (who, in the same year, would play a much different high school senior in Risky Business), Craig T. Nelson, and Chris Penn (who plays Stefan’s best friend on the team).  However, the film’s best performance comes from Lea Thompson, who is so good in the role of Lisa, Stefan’s girlfriend, that you can’t help but wish that the film had been more about her than him.  In probably the film’s best scene, she calls out Stefan for being selfish and points out that, regardless of what happens in Stefan’s future, she’s going to be stuck in the town that he’s so desperate to escape from.  The scene where she and Stefan make love is sensitively handled and it also features a split-second or so of Tom Cruise full front nudity.

So, there’s always that.

It’s no Risky Business or Fast Times At Ridgemont High but, as far as high school football films are concerned, All The Right Moves is not a bad one.

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