Club Paradise (1986, directed by Harold Ramis)


I think I was nine or ten years old when I first saw Club Paradise on HBO.  I remember thinking it was pretty funny.

I recently rewatched Club Paradise and I discovered that ten year old me had terrible taste in movies.

Robin Williams plays Jack Moniker, a Chicago fireman who gets blown out of a building while rescuing a dog.  Living off of his disability payments, he retires to the island of St. Nicholas, which is basically Jamaica but with less weed.  Jack and reggae musician Ernest Reed (Jimmy Cliff) open up their own Club Med-style resort, Club Paradise.  Jack doesn’t know much about the resort business but he does know how to put together a good brochure.  Almost the entire cast of SCTV shows up at Club Paradise, looking for a tropical vacation.  Things quickly go wrong because Jack doesn’t know how to run a resort and there’s also an evil developer (played by Brian Doyle-Murray) who wants Club Paradise to fail so that he can get the land.

Club Paradise has got a huge and impressive cast, the majority of whom probably signed on because they were looking forward to a paid Caribbean vacation.  Peter O’Toole plays the British-appointed governor of St. Nicholas.  Twiggy plays Jack’s girlfriend.  Joanna Cassidy plays a reporter and Adolph Caesar is cast in the role of St. Nicolas’s corrupt prime minister.  Because the film was directed by Harold Ramis, it is full of Ramis’s co-stars from SCTV.  Andrea Martin tries to get her husband to enjoy the islands as much as she’s enjoying them.  Joe Flaherty is the crazed pilot who flies people to the resort.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy play two nerdy friends who are both named Barry and who are only interested in scoring weed, getting laid, and working on their tan.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy playing nerds?  It’s a shock, I know.

There’s enough funny people in Club Paradise to ensure that there are a few isolated laughs.  Not surprisingly, the movie comes to life whenever Moranis and Levy are onscreen.  (If I had to guess, I imagine they were the reason why ten year-old me liked this movie so much.)  Needless to say, Jimmy Cliff also provides a killer soundtrack.  But Club Paradise ultimately doesn’t work because the script is too disjointed and it feels more like an uneven collection of skits than an actual film.  It’s impossible to tell whether we’re supposed to think of Club Paradise as being the worst resort ever or if we’re supposed to be worried that the bad guys will shut it down.  For a movie like this, you need a strong central presence to hold things together.  Unfortunately, Robin Williams’s style of comedy is too aggressive for the role of Jack.  The role was originally written for Bill Murray and it shows.  Most of Jack’s lines sound like things you would expect Bill Murray to say in his trademark laid back fashion and it is easy to imagine Murray redeeming some of Club Paradise‘s weaker scenes simply by attitude alone.  Instead, Robin Williams is so frantic that you never buy he could be happy living a laid back life on a Caribbean island.  As played by Williams, Jack often comes across as being unreasonably angry at everyone staying at Club Paradise and it’s hard to care whether or not he manages to save his resort or not.

Club Paradise was a bomb at the box office.  Harry Shearer, who was originally credited with working on the screenplay, hated the movie so much that he requested his name be removed from the credits.  (Instead, credit is given to Edward Roboto.)  As a result of the film’s failure, it would be 7 years before Harold Ramis would get to direct another movie.  Fortunately, that movie was Groundhog Day and this time, Ramis was able to get Bill Murray.

Monster Chiller Horror Theatre: Deadly Companion (1980, directed by George Bloomfield)


Deadly Companion starts with John Candy sitting in a mental institution and snorting cocaine while happily talking to his roommate, Michael Taylor (Michael Sarrazin).  Michael has been in the institution ever since the night that he walked in on his estranged wife being murdered.  Because of the shock, he can’t remember anything that he saw that night.  When his girlfriend Paula (Susan Clark) comes to pick Michael up, Michael leaves the institution determined to get to the truth about his wife’s murder.  Once Michael leaves, John Candy disappears from the movie.

Michael suspects that his wife was killed by her lover, Lawrence Miles (Anthony Perkins) but there is more to that night than Michael is remembering.  Deadly Companion is a typical low-budget shot-in-Toronto thriller from the early 80s, with familiar Canadian character actors like Michael Ironside, Al Waxman, Kenneth Welsh, and Maury Chaykin all playing small roles.  Michael Sarrazin is a dull lead but Anthony Perkins gets to do what he did best at the end of his career and plays a thoroughly sarcastic bastard who gets the only good lines in the film.

What’s interesting about Deadly Companion isn’t the predictable plot and it’s certainly not Michael Sarrazin.  Instead, what’s strange is that several cast members of SCTV show up in tiny supporting roles, though none of them get as much of a chance to make as big an impression as John Candy.  Deadly Companion is a serious thriller that just happens to feature Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas.  It’s strange to see Michael Sarrazin trying to figure out who killed his wife while Eugene Levy loiters in the background.  It leaves you waiting for a punchline that never comes.

The SCTV people are in the film because it was directed by George Bloomfield, who also directed several episodes of SCTV.  Since this film was made before SCTV really broke into the American marketplace, it was probably assumed that no one outside of Canada would ever find the presence of John Candy in a dramatic murder mystery distracting.  Of course, when Deadly Companion was later released on VHS in the late 80s, Candy and the SCTV crew were all given top billing.

Boobs, Music, and Sci-Fi: Heavy Metal (1981, directed by Gerald Potterton)


Heavy MetalI think I was twelve when I first saw Heavy Metal.  It came on HBO one night and I loved it.  So did all of my friends.  Can you blame us?  It had everything that a twelve year-old boy (especially a 12 year-old boy who was more than a little on the nerdy side) could want out of a movie: boobs, loud music, and sci-fi violence.  It was a tour of our secret fantasies.  The fact that it was animated made it all the better.  Animated films were not supposed to feature stuff like this.  When my friends and I watched Heavy Metal, we felt like we were getting away with something.

Based on stories from the adults-only Heavy Metal Magazine, Heavy Metal was divided into 8 separate segments:

Soft Landing (directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and John Bruno, written by Dan O’Bannon)

Heavy Metal opens brilliantly with a Corvette being released from a space shuttle and then flying down to Earth, surviving reentry without a scratch.  Who, after watching this, has not wanted a Space Corvette of his very own?

Grimaldi (directed by Harold Whitaker)

On Earth, a terrified young girl listens a glowing green meteorite called the Loc-Nar tells her that it is the source of all evil in the universe.  This sets up the rest of the film, which is made up of stories that the Loc-Nar tells about its influence.  The Loc-Nar is the film’s MacGuffin and, seen today, one of Heavy Metal’s biggest problems is that it has to find a way to force the Loc-Nar into every story, even if it meant sacrificing any sort of consistency about what the Loc-Nar was capable of doing.  Even when I was twelve, I realized that the Loc-Nar was not really that important.

Harry Canyon (directed by Pino Van Lamsweerde, written by Daniel Goldberg)

In this neo-noir tale, futuristic cabby Harry Canyon (voiced by Richard Romanus) is enlisted to help an unnamed girl (voiced by Susan Roman) to find the Loc-Nar.  Slow and predictable, Harry Canyon does feature the voice of John Candy as a police sergeant who attempts to charge Harry for police work.

den_1268427864Den (directed by Jack Stokes, written by Richard Corben)

Nerdy teenager David (voiced by John Candy) finds a piece of the Loc-Nar and is transported to the world of Neverwhere, where he is transformed into Den, a muscular, bald warrior.  As Den, David gets to live out the fantasies of Heavy Metal‘s target audience.  On his new planet, Den rescues an Earth woman from being sacrificed, overthrows an evil queen and a sorcerer, and gets laid.  A lot.  Den is the best segment in Heavy Metal, largely because of the endearing contrast between the action onscreen and John Candy’s enthusiastic narration.

Captain Sternn (directed by Paul Sebella and Julian Harris, written by Bernie Wrightson)

heavy-metal_captain-sternOn a space station orbiting the Earth, Captain Lincoln F. Sternn is on trail for a countless number of offenses.  Though guilty, Captain Sternn expects to be acquitted because he has bribed the prosecution’s star witness, Hanover Fiste.  However, Hanover is holding the Loc-Nar in his hand and it causes him to tell the truth about Captain Sternn and eventually turn into a bloodthirsty giant. Captain Sternn saves the day by tricking Hanover into getting sucked out of an air lock.

Captain Sternn was a reoccurring character in Heavy Metal Magazine and his segment is one of the best.  Eugene Levy voices Captain Sternn while Joe Flaherty voices his lawyer and Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon, is the prosecutor.  Even National Lampoon co-founder Douglas Kenney provided a voice.

 B-17 (directed by Barrie Nelson, written by Dan O’Bannon)

After the Loc-Nar enters Earth’s atmosphere, it crashes into a bullet-riddled World War II bomber, causing the dead crewmen within to reanimate as zombies.  Scored to Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride), B-17 is one of the shorter segments and its dark and moody animation holds up extremely well.

So Beautiful and So Dangerous (directed by John Halas, written by Angus McKie)

Nubile Pentagon secretary Gloria is beamed aboard a spaceship that looks like a giant smiley face.  While she has sex with the ship’s robot captain, the two crew members (voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy) pour out a long line of cocaine and shout “Nosedive!” before snorting up every flake.  So Beautiful and So Dangerous is so juvenile and so ridiculous that it is actually all kinds of awesome.

Taarna

SacrificedIn the film’s final and most famous segment, Taarna, the blond warrior was featured on Heavy Metal‘s poster, rides a pterodactyl across a volcanic planet, killing barbarians, and finally confronting the Loc-Nar.  She sacrifices herself to defeat the Loc-Nar but no worries!  We return to Earth where, for some reason, the Loc-Nar explodes and the girl from the beginning of the film is revealed to be Taarna reborn.  She even gets to fly away on her pterodactyl.  Taarna was really great when I was twelve but today, it is impossible to watch it without flashing back to the Major Boobage episode of South Park.

Much like Taarna, Heavy Metal seems pretty silly when I watch it today.  But when I was twelve, it was the greatest thing ever.

Taarna_Heavy_Metal

 

Shattered Politics #46: Used Cars (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


Used_Cars_film_poster

“Do you think we like being associated with the President of the United States?  I mean, we run an honest business here!” —

Jeff (Gerrit Graham) in Used Cars (1980)

As a film lover, I’ve sat through so many disappointing commentary tracks that, when I come across one that’s actually fun and informative, it causes me to like the film even more.  One of the best commentary tracks that I’ve ever heard was the one that Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Kurt Russell recorded for the DVD release of the 1980 comedy Used Cars.

The film — which was an early credit for both director Zemeckis and screenwriter Gale — tells the story of two rival used car lots.  The bad guy car lot is owned by Roy L. Fuchs (Jack Warden).  The good guy car lot is owned by Roy’s brother, Luke Fuchs (also played by Jack Warden).  The top salesman at the good guy car lot is Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell).  The film shows what happens when Luke dies and Rudy tries to prevent Roy from taking over the lot.

The commentary track is distinguished by just how much Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell seem to truly enjoy watching and talking about the film.  Kurt Russell, in particular, has an incredibly engaging laugh and his sense of fun is contagious.  However, for me, the most interesting part of the commentary track came when Bob Gale explicitly compared Rudy Russo and Luke’s daughter (played by Deborah Harmon) to Bill and Hillary Clinton and then even starts to do a surprisingly good imitation of Bill’s hoarse Arkansas accent.

What made it interesting was that the comparison was absolutely correct.

Politicians are salesmen.  Much as politicians will say anything to get your vote, the salesmen in Used Cars will say and do anything to get your money.  Politicians sell promises that are too good to be true.  Rudy Russo and Roy L. Fuchs do the same thing, claiming that their used cars are just as good and safe as a car that’s never been owned before.

In fact, one of the major plotlines in Used Cars is that Rudy is plotting to make the move from selling cars to buying votes.  There’s a vacancy in the state senate and Rudy is planning on running for the seat.  All he has to do is come up with the $10,000 necessary to buy the nomination from the local political machine. (I imagine it would be more expensive to buy a nomination today.)  Luke agrees to loan Rudy the money but, before he can, Luke goes on a test drive with a former race car driver.

The driver works for Luke’s evil brother, Roy.  Roy knows that Luke has a heart condition and he specifically sends over that driver to give Luke a fatal heart attack.  Just as Rudy is trying to sell a car to a costumer who is skeptical about whether or not he should pay an extra fifty dollar for something he doesn’t want (“$50.00 never killed anyone!” the customer insists), Luke staggers into the office and dies.

(The shocked customer agrees to pay the extra fifty dollars.  Ever the salesman, Luke grabs the fifty before he dies.)

With Luke dead and his estranged daughter nowhere to be seen, Roy is next-in-line to take over Luke’s car lot.  So, Rudy hides the body and tells everyone that Luke is down in Florida.  Both he and his fellow salesman, the hilariously superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham), conspire to make as much money as possible before anyone discovers the truth.

How do they do it?  Illegally, of course!

First off, they break into the broadcast of a football game and do an ad.  Then, they use strippers to attract customers.  And finally, Rudy comes up with his master plan, interrupting a televised address from the President of the United States.

“You can’t fuck with the President!” Jeff says.

“Hey, he fucks with us…” Rudy responds.

Seriously, I love Rudy.

In fact, I really liked Used Cars.  It’s a good combination of broad humor and clever satire and both Kurt Russell and Gerrit Graham give such likable performances that you can ignore the fact that they’re both playing total jerks.  (In fact, I would argue that one reason that we love Rudy is because he’s so honest about being so crooked.)  Not every scene worked perfectly.  The scene where Rudy and Jeff interrupt that football game goes on forever and, after a spokesmodel’s dress is ripped off, becomes so uncomfortable to watch that it actually takes the film a while to recover.  But then, after that, you get the interruption of the President’s speech.  You get Jeff freaking out over whether or not red cars or unlucky.  You get some fun driving school humor.  And, of course, you get a cute dog that can do tricks and helps to sell cars.  The film recovers and, ultimately, Used Cars is a celebration of small businesses everywhere.

And you know what?

I really hope Rudy did make it into the state senate.

We need more Rudy Russos in government.

And we really need more commentary tracks featuring Kurt Russell!