Hellhound On My Trail: Walter Hill’s CROSSROADS (Columbia 1986)


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‘Well the blues had a baby/and they named it rock and roll” –

Muddy Waters

Hi, my name’s Gary, and I’m a bluesoholic! Whether it’s Deep South Delta or Electric Chicago, distilled in Great Britain or Sunny California, the blues has always been the foundation upon which rock’n’roll was built. Yet there aren’t a lot of films out there depicting this totally original American art form. One I viewed recently was 1986’s CROSSROADS, directed by another American original whose work I enjoy, Walter Hill.

Hill was responsible for cult classics filled with violence and laced with humor, like HARD TIMES (with Charles Bronson as a 1930’s bare knuckles brawler), the highly stylized THE WARRIORS , the gritty Western THE LONG RIDERS, and SOUTHERN COMFORT (a kind of MOST DANGEROUS GAME On The Bayou). He scored box office gold with the 1982 action-comedy 48 HRS, making a movie star out of…

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A Movie A Day #86: Don’t Tell Her It’s Me (1990, directed by Malcolm Mowbray)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing each episode of Twin Peaks, every entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  I am going to start things with Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, a movie that I normally would never think of as having anything to do with Twin Peaks or anything else that David Lynch has ever been associated with.

In this very minor romantic comedy, Gus (Steven Guttenberg) is a cartoonist who has just recently beaten cancer.  The treatment has left him bald, overweight, and lonely.  His sister, a popular romance novelist named Lizzie (Shelley Long), sets hm up with her friend, a journalist named Emily (Jami Gertz).  When Emily does not return Gus’s affection, Lizzie decides to transform Gus into every woman’s dream, which in this movie is a rebel named Lobo who comes from New Zealand and rides a motorcycle.  Gus spends a month working out, growing his hair long, and learning how to speak with a New Zealand accent.  Emily falls in love with Lobo, never realizing that he is actually Gus but what will happen when Gus has to finally tell her the truth?  Despite good performances (especially from Shelley Long), Don’t Tell Her It’s Me it too formulaic and predictable to be memorable.  Even if he does have a mullet and is speaking with a different accent, Steve Guttenberg is always going to be Steve Guttenberg and it’s hard to believe that Emily would not be able to see through his act.

Don’t Tell Her It’s Me actually has two Twin Peaks connections.  Kyle MacLachlan, the one and only Dale Cooper himself, plays Trout, who is both Emily’s editor and her cad of a boyfriend.  It’s a nothing role but fans of Twin Peaks will be interested to know that, when Trout is inevitably revealed to be cheating on Emily, the woman that he’s cheating with is played by MacLachlan’s Twin Peaks co-star, Madchen Amick.

If only the Log Lady had been around, Don’t Tell Her It’s Me could have been a much different picture.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #77: Quicksilver (dir by Thomas Michael Donnelly)


QuicksilverWho doesn’t love Kevin Bacon?

Seriously, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have a positive reaction to seeing Kevin Bacon on screen.  He may not be a star in the way that Bradley Cooper or Bollywood sensation Shah Rukh Kahn are stars but still, he is one of those actors that everyone just seems to instinctively like.

I think, to a large extent, that is because, despite the fact that he’s been around and acting forever, Kevin Bacon himself still comes across as being a normal, blue-collar sorta guy.  Whenever you see him being interviewed, you get the feeling that Kevin Bacon basically shows up, does his job to the best of his ability, and, as opposed to many other actors, he doesn’t take himself or his movies too seriously.  He’s justifiably proud of the good films that he’s appeared in and he’s never had any problem admitting that he’s been in a lot of bad films as well.

In fact, it was Kevin Bacon’s openness about his bad films that led to me discovering 1986’s Quicksilver.  This is the film that, in a 2008 interview, Kevin Bacon referred to as being “the absolute lowest point of my career.”  (Consider, for a minute, that this is being said by the same Kevin Bacon who had an arrow shoved through his throat in the original Friday the 13th and that will give you some clue of how much disdain Kevin seems to have for Quicksilver.)

Naturally, having read that, I knew that I simply had to see Quicksilver.  I’ll admit right now that I was hoping to discover that it was some sort of loss and unappreciated classic.  I wanted this to be the review where I defended the unacknowledged brilliance of Quicksilver.  I wanted to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Kevin!  Give Quicksilver another chance!”

But no.

Quicksilver doesn’t quite suck but it definitely comes close.

At the same time, it is interesting as a classic example of what happens when a filmmaker tries to assign some sort of deeper meaning to or find inherent nobility in an activity or job that really isn’t that interesting.  Often times, this will happen with sports movies.  A director or producer will make the mistake of thinking that just because he’s obsessed with beach volleyball that means that there’s a huge audience out there just waiting for someone to make the ultimate beach volleyball film.  Or, you’ll get a film like 1999’s Just The Ticket, where Andy Garcia is described as being the “world’s greatest ticket scalper” and the audience is supposed to be impressed.

In the case of Quicksilver, it’s all about being a bicycle messenger.  I’m assuming that, one day, director Thomas Michael Donnelly was stuck in traffic and he happened to see a bike messenger rushing down the street, whizzing past all of the stalled commuters.  And Donnelly probably thought, “I wish I was that guy right now!”  Every day after that, whenever Donnelly was stuck in traffic, he thought back to that bike messenger and slowly he grew obsessed.  All of his friends and his family got sick of listening to him talk about how much he envied the freedom of that bike messenger.  Finally, a little light bulb turned on over Donnelly’s head and he said, “I’ve got to make a movie out of this!”

And then the bulb burned out but nobody noticed.

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Kevin Bacon plays Jack Casey.  When we first meet Jack, he’s a successful stock broker and he’s got a really bad, porn-appropriate mustache.  One day, he’s sitting in the back of a cab and he goads his driver into getting into a race with a bike messenger.  The messenger beats the cab.  Jack is amazed!

And then, perhaps the very same day (the film is so poorly edited that it’s hard to tell), Jack not only loses all of his money but all of his parents’ money as well.  Since poor men couldn’t afford facial hair in the 1980s, he shaves off his mustache.  Desperately needing work, Jack applies to be a  — you guessed it! — bicycle messenger.

The rest of the film is basically Jack delivering messages and talking about how he’s free now to live the life that he’s always wanted to live.  And the thing is, you like Jack because he’s being played by Kevin Bacon.  I mean, Kevin Bacon is so inherently likable that audiences even liked him when he was trying to kill Professor X and Magneto in X-Men: First Class.  But, at the same time, you listen to Jack go on and on about how much better his life is now and you just want to say, “Who are you kidding?”

Needless to say, Jack has a group of quirky coworkers.  Of course, by quirky, I mean that they are all quirky in a very predictable Hollywood sort of way.  For instance, there’s the crusty old veteran and the goofy fat guy and the hard-working Mexican guy who wants to start his own business in America and the cocky black guy who is mostly notable for being played by Laurence Fisburne.  One thing they all have in common is that they all love and damn near worship Jack, who has quite the common touch despite having formerly been a super rich stock broker with a bad mustache.

Anyway, Terri (Jami Gertz) also wants to become a bicycle messenger but she’s being used to deliver drugs by Gypsy (Rudy Ramos).  She and Jack fall in love and, along with helping out his quirky coworkers and finding a way to make back his fortune, Jack also has to deal with Gypsy.  It’s all very dramatic (though the drug dealer subplot feels as if it was awkwardly inserted into the film at the last moment) but mostly, the plot is just an excuse for scenes like the one below:

Quicksilver is … well, it’s not particularly good.  It has a few good bike weaving in and out of traffic scenes but it’s definitely no Premium Rush.  But it is kinda fun, in a “Oh my God, look at the 1980s” sorta way.  And, for what it’s worth, it’s a film that proves that Kevin Bacon can be likable in almost anything.

Back to School #36: Mischief (dir by Mel Damski)


Mischief

Have you ever noticed how, occasionally, a totally obscure film that was made several decades ago will suddenly show up on either Starz or Encore and, the next thing you know, it’s only like every other day?  That was the case a few months ago when, at times, it seemed as if the only thing playing on cable was a teen comedy from 1985 called Mischief.

After I saw it listed in the guide a few dozen times, I thought to myself, “Somebody at that station must really like that movie.”  So, one night, I actually took the time to watch it and discovered why that mysterious person loved this movie.  Mischief may not be as well-known as some of the other films in this series of Back to School reviews but it’s still a pretty good movie.

Like so many of the teen films that were released in the 70s and 80s, Mischief takes place in the 1950s.  (I assume that’s because most films about teenagers are made by adults who want to both relive and perhaps change the past.  I suppose that’s one reason why so many films released today are set in the 1990s.  In another ten years or so, all of the new high school films will be set in 2003.)  The very shy and clumsy Jonathan (Doug McKeon) has a crush on the beautiful but unattainable Marilyn (Kelly Preston).  Fortunately, Jonathan is befriended by Gene (Chris Nash) who is the prototypical rebel without a cause.  Gene wears a leather jacket.  Gene rides a motorcycle.  Gene doesn’t get along with his alcoholic, violin-playing father (Terry O’Quinn, in full asshole mode here).  Gene even stands up to the school bully (D.W. Brown) and starts dating the bully’s ex-girlfriend, Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart).  Most importantly, Gene helps Jonathan finally develop the confidence necessary to ask Marilyn out.

And, for a while, Gene & Bunny and Jonathan & Marilyn make for the perfect foursome.  But, as we all know, perfection can never last in a coming-of-age story.  Jonathan starts to discover that he and Marilyn are not quite as compatible as he originally assumed that they were.  As for Gene, he has to deal with his increasingly violent and drunken father…

That last paragraph probably makes Mischief sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is.  Make no mistake about it — while Mischief does deal with some serious issues — it is primarily a comedy and a pretty good one at that.  McKeon is endearingly clumsy in his initial attempts to get Marilyn to notice him and Nash — even though he’s playing a very familiar character — is likable as well.  Perhaps the smartest thing that Mischief did is that it made Gene cool but it didn’t make him too cool.  The film’s best scenes are the ones where Gene momentarily surrenders his rebel facade and reveals that he’s just as confused as everyone else.  Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelly Preston are well-cast as well, with Preston especially doing a good job at making a potentially unsympathetic character likable.

In many ways, Mischief is a pretty predictable film.  I think it features probably every single cinematic cliché that one would expect to see in a film about the 50s.  But the film itself is so likable and good-natured that it doesn’t matter if it’s predictable.  It’s just a good, enjoyable movie and what’s wrong with that?

(Incidentally, the screenplay for Mischief was written by Noel Black, who also directed the previously reviewed Private School.)

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Back to School #35: Sixteen Candles (dir by John Hughes)


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The 80s are often considered to be the golden age of teen films and that’s largely due to the work of one man, John Hughes. A  former advertising copywriter and a contributor to National Lampoon, Hughes went on to direct and write some of the most influential films of all time.  By deftly mixing comedy with themes of alienation, rebellion, and youthful disillusionment, Hughes changed the way that teenagers were portrayed onscreen and his influence is still felt today, in everything from Juno to Superbad to Easy A to … well, just about any other recent film starring Michael Cera.

(Okay, I know Michael Cera was not in Easy A but it really seems like he should have been…)

Hughes made his directorial debut in 1984 with Sixteen Candles, a comedy about love, birthdays, and weddings set in an upper class suburb of Chicago.  (I have to admit that, much like with My Tutor, one reason that I like this film is because I like seeing where everyone lives.)  As the film opens, Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is not having a particularly good time.  For one thing, everyone is so wrapped up in her older sister’s wedding that they’ve forgotten about Sam’s sixteenth birthday.  Her house is full of wacky grandparents (and one foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong).  At school, Sam is in the unenviable position of being neither popular enough nor unpopular enough to actually be noticed by anyone.  Instead, she’s just there.  She has a crush on Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) but is convinced that Jake doesn’t even know that she’s alive.  (Of course, she’s wrong.)  She’s also being pursued by a character who is occasionally referred to as being “Farmer Ted” but is listed in the end credits as simply being “The Geek.”  (I’m going to refer to him as “The Geek” because Farmer Ted makes him sound like he should be killing people in a SyFy original movie.)  As played by Anthony Michael Hall, The Geek isn’t your typical high movie nerd.  Instead, he’s the outspoken and confident king of the nerds and he’s proud of it.  The Geek is madly pursuing Sam and has made a bet with his friends (including John Cusack) that he’ll not only have sex with her but he’ll prove it by bringing them her panties.  (BAD GEEK! — but fortunately, Anthony Michael Hall gives such an energetic and likable performance that you can forgive him.)

There are parts of Sixteen Candles that have not aged well.  And, by that, I’m mostly referring to the character of Long Duk Dong, who is so well-played by Gedde Watanabe that it’s tempting to ignore just how racist the portrayal of his character really is.  As well, I know that a lot of my more erudite friends would probably only briefly look away from their copy of Thomas Piketty’s Capital In The 21st Century, just long enough to pronounce that Sixteen Candles is essentially a film about “first world problems.”

Well, maybe it is.  But I don’t care.  I like it.  John Hughes’s script is full of classic lines and funny characters, Anthony Michael Hall is likable as the Geek, and, as played by Michael Schoeffling, Jake Ryan is the epitome of the perfect guy.  If your heart doesn’t melt a little when he says that he’s looking for true love, it can only be because you don’t have a heart.  And finally, Sam remains a character that we can all relate to.  As played by Molly Ringwald, she’s the perfect sullen everygirl.

Of course, an undeniable part of the charm of Sixteen Candles comes from the fact that it really is a film that could not be made today.  Sixteen Candles may take place in an entirely different world from films like The Pom Pom Girls and Suburbia, but it’s still just as much of a time capsule.

First off, there’s about a thousand apps out there that will make sure that you never forget anyone’s birthday.  If the film was made today, Sam’s parents would have checked their e-mail and found a message from Facebook telling them that “Samantha Baker has a birthday this week!”  They could have just written “Happy birthday to a wonderful daughter!” on her wall and half of Sam’s problems would have been solved.

Secondly, it’s doubtful that, if the film was made today, the Geek would be able to get away with just showing everyone’s Sam’s panties.  Instead, they would have demanded nude pics, which would have then been posted on the internet for the entire world to see.  And let’s be honest: “Can I send my friends naked pics of you?” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Can I borrow your underpants for ten minutes?”

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*And, no, I haven’t read Piketty’s tome.  I have a life to live and movies to see.

 

Embracing the Melodrama #33: Endless Love (dir by Franco Zefferilli)


endless love

Do anyone remember a movie that came out in February that was called Endless Love? If you do, you’ve got a better memory than I do because, even though I saw it, I really can’t really remember much about it beyond the fact that I was disappointed by it. I know I had high hopes because the trailer was damn sexy but the film itself just turned out to be rather bland and forgettable.

Well, the 2014 version of Endless Love may have been forgettable but the same can not be said of the original 1981 version.

Endless Love tells the sweet story of two teenagers who want to have sex.  Well, actually, it’s debatable how sweet the story is  because the boy is a creepy stalker-type and the girl appears to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome but director Franco Zefferilli directs the film as if he’s bringing to life the greatest romance of all time.  The entire film is full of lush images and the swelling musical score suggests that we should hope that these two end up together, even as the boy is burning down the girl’s house.

(Believe me, I love elaborate expressions of love and romantic feelings as much as the next girl but I draw the line at burning down my house.)

David (Martin Hewitt) and Jade (Brooke Shields) both live in the suburbs of Chicago.  Jade’s parents are aging hippies.  Her father (Don Murray) may smoke weed with the neighborhood teenagers and play the trumpet at wild parties but he’s still very protective of his daughter.  Her mother (Shirley Knight) is far more permissive and open-minded.  Jade’s brother, Keith (played by a really young and dangerous-looking James Spader), is friends with David and invites him to a party at his house.  David meets Jade and soon, the two of them are obsessed with each other.

However, not everyone is happy about their newfound love.  Jade’s father doesn’t trust David.  Keith soon starts saying stuff like, “Just because you’re fucking my sister, that doesn’t make you a part of the family.”  (And, as rude as that may be, it’s really hot when said by a young and dangerous-looking James Spader.)  Meanwhile, David’s mom (Beatrice Straight) doesn’t want David hanging out with a family that she describes as being “a relic of the 60s.”

Eventually, Jade is spending so much time thinking about David that her grades start to suffer and she finds that she can no longer sleep.  She starts stealing her father’s sleeping pills.  When she’s caught in the act, David is forbidden from seeing her until the end of the school year.  “It’s only 30 days,” Jade’s mom promises him.

Well, that’s 30 days too long for David!

Taking the advice of a young arsonist (played, in his film debut and with a notably squeaky voice, by Tom Cruise), David decides to set Jade’s house on fire.  His original plan is to save Jade and her family and be hailed as a hero.  Instead, the fire ends up raging out of control and the house is destroyed.

Arrested for arson, David spends some time in a mental asylum and is legally forbidden from ever seeing Jade or her family again.  Eventually, David gets out of the asylum and that’s when the movie gets really weird…

Endless Love is a really creepy movie that makes the mistake of equating stalking with true romance.  There’s no other way to put it.  Yet, at the same time, Franco Zefferilli’s images are so vividly romantic and Martin Hewitt and Brooke Shields are both so physically attractive (never mind that neither one of them apparently knew how to act back in 1981) that you can’t help but sometimes get swept up in the film’s silliness.  Add to that, the film has a great soundtrack and you also get a chance to see Tom Cruise act like a total jackass.

Check it out below!

What Lisa Watched Last Night: Less Than Zero (dir. by Marek Kanievska)


Last night, I ended up watching the 1987 anti-drug propaganda piece, Less than Zero.

Why Was I Watching It?

Last night, I was hanging out with Jeff, our friend Evelyn, and Evelyn’s friend Steven and we were flipping stations, trying to find something that we could use for background noise.  When we came across an announcement on FMC that Less Than Zero was about to start, I made the mistake of admitting that despite having read Bret Easton Ellis’s novel and heard a good deal about this film, I had never actually sat down and watched Less Than Zero

Well, after everyone got finished making fun of me (boo hoo), it was agreed that we simply had to watch Less Than Zero

“But,” I started, “isn’t Gone With Wind starting over on TCM…”

“Fuck Gone With The Wind,” someone (I think it was Evelyn because she’s a meanie) said, “you’ve never seen Less than Zero before.”

What’s It About?

It’s about rich kids in Los Angeles doing drugs.  Clay (played by Andrew McCarthy, who my cousin Jessica met once and who she says was a really nice guy) is a college student who comes home to L.A. and discovers that his ex-girlfriend Blair (Jami Gertz) and best friend Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.) are addicted to cocaine and  that Julian owes a lot of money to a drug dealer named Rip (James Spader). 

(Personally, I would never buy drugs from someone named Rip — with the possible exception of Rip Torn.)

Anyway, Clay takes it upon himself to try to save the soul of everyone in California.

What Worked?

Downey and Spader are both great in this film.  From what I’ve read, the general assumption seems to be that Downey was just playing himself here but whether or not he was, he still gives an excellent performance.  Spader, meanwhile, turns Rip into a great villain by making evil sexy.

The film, full of garish neon and defiantly tacky pastels, looks great in its decadent, shallow way.  The same thing can be said of the music.

What Didn’t Work?

Everything else.  Less Than Zero really doesn’t work as an anti-drug film because the character of Clay seems so boring when compared to Julian and Rip. 

If I had to choose between the three of them, I’d probably hang out with Rip because 1) he always seems to be having a good time, 2) he’s apparently not a drug addict himself, and 3) he’s got the most money of all of them.    That therefore makes him preferable to both Julian, who is having a good time but is also a drug addict, and Clay who isn’t a drug addict yet appears to be miserable throughout the entire film.

Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments

One night, years ago, I found myself making out with an ex-boyfriend in a convertible while one jagged bolt of lightning split the night sky above us and hundreds of scary guys on motorcycles drove past us.  As is often the case, the memory was better than the ex.

Lessons Learned:

Drug dealers make the best dates.