Rockin’ in the Film World #20: EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (Embassy 1983)


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You couldn’t go anywhere in 1984 without hearing “On the Dark Side” blaring from a car radio or your neighborhood bar’s jukebox. That’s thanks in large part to audiences rediscovering 1983’s EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS via repeated showings on HBO, turning the film into an instant cult classic and veteran Providence-based rockers John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band into FM-radio favorites. The film hadn’t done well when first released to theaters, but exposure on the fairly-new medium of Cable TV garnered new fans of both it and Cafferty’s soundtrack album.

Investigative reporter Ellen Barkin looks into the mysterious death of Eddie Wilson (played by Michael Pare’), lead singer of The Cruisers, whose death in a car accident is shrouded in secret, as the body was never found. Was it suicide? murder? or is Eddie still alive? She digs deep to uncover the facts about what happened that fateful night…

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Film Review: The Mean Season (dir by Phillip Borsos)


From the very first few scenes of the 1985 film, The Mean Season, one thing is abundantly clear.  People are dying in Florida.

In itself, that’s probably not a shock.  Death is a part of life, after all.  Add to that, the majority of The Mean Season takes place in Miami, the seventh most populous area of the United States.  It makes sense that the more people you have living in one area, the more people are also going to end up dead.  That’s just the way things work.

Still, Malcolm Anderson is getting tired of all the death.  Played by a youngish and sexy Kurt Russell, Malcolm’s a journalist.  He covers the crime beat for the Miami Herald.  He spends all day reporting on death and violence and he’s finally reached the point where he’s burned out.  He and his girlfriend, a teacher named Christine (Mariel Hemingway), are even planning on moving to Colorado.  Malcolm says that he could be very happy working at a small town newspaper.  His editor (Richard Masur) doesn’t believe him and, quite frankly, neither do we.  Malcolm may say that he wants peace and quiet but it’s hard not to feel as if he’s fooling himself.

One day, Malcolm gets a phone call.  The voice on the other line (which belongs to character actor Richard Jordan) is deceptively calm.  The caller explains that he’s a fan of Malcolm’s work.  The caller also claims to be responsible for a series of murders that have recently taken place.  At first, Malcolm is skeptical.  After all, he gets calls from crazy people all the time.  That’s one reason why he wants to leave Miami, after all.  But then the caller starts to give Malcolm details about the crimes, details that haven’t been released to general public…

The killings continue and, after every murder, the caller contacts Malcolm.  Soon, Malcolm is appearing on the national news, giving carefully calculated interviews about what it’s like to be a celebrity.  Malcolm is soon on the front page of all the papers.  Malcolm’s happy.  His editor is happy.  But you know who isn’t happy?  The killer.  He didn’t go to all the trouble to kill those people just so Malcolm could get famous off of his hard work!  Soon, the killer is no longer content to just call Malcolm.  Now, he wants to meet face-to-face and maybe even get to know Christine as well…

The Mean Season is one of those movies that starts out well but then falls apart towards the end.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the killer eventually ends up kidnapping Christine.  You probably figured out that was going to happen as soon as I told you that Malcolm had a girlfriend.  (It doesn’t help that Christine is such an underwritten character that it feels like the only reason she was put in the film was so she could be used for one gratuitous nude scene and then get kidnapped.)   Once the killer kidnaps her, he goes from being a genuinely intriguing menace to just being a typical and overly verbose movie psycho.

That’s a shame because the first half of The Mean Season is really quite good.  The film makes excellent use of its locations, capturing the humid atmosphere of Florida in the summer.  As the killer, Richard Jordan alternates between being coldly calculating and surprisingly vulnerable without missing a beat.  (Interestingly, he appears to be personally hurt when he realizes that Malcolm doesn’t consider him to be a friend.)  Not surprisingly, Kurt Russell is likable as the conflicted Malcolm but his best moments are the ones where he suggests that Malcolm has become so addicted to fame that he’s almost hoping that the killer strikes again.  As the two homicide detectives who are assigned to keep an eye on Malcolm, both Richard Bradford and Andy Garcia are perfectly cast.  A scene where Bradford tries to comfort a child who accidentally gets in the middle of the search for the killer is the best in the film.  “We’re just looking for the bad guys,” he tell the traumatized child.  It’s small moments like this that elevates The Mean Season above the typical mid-80s serial killer film.

Seen today, The Mean Season — with its emphasis on newspapers — feels like a historical artifact.  If the film were made today, Russell would definitely work for either a 24-hour cable news channel or an online news site.  It actually would be interesting to see this story updated and retold for the age of clickbait.  Somebody needs to get on that and, while they’re at it, come up with the type of ending that an otherwise intriguing story like this deserves.

4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

A Movie A Day #263: Running Scared (1986, directed by Peter Hyams)


Running Scared is weird but good.

Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines!) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal!!!) are two tough detectives in Chicago.  All they want to do is three things: retire, open a bar in Florida, and bust Chicago’s most ruthless drug dealer, Julio Gonzalez (Jimmy Smits).  Their captain (Dan Hedaya) wants them to leave for Florida as soon as possible but they are determined to take down Julio first.’

There are two strange things about this otherwise formulaic crime film.  First off, the two tough cops are played by Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.  According to the film’s Wikipedia page, director Peter Hyams realized that Running Scared‘s plot was nothing special so he decided that the only way to make the movie stand out was by doing it “with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie.”  The other strange thing is that Hyams’s gambit worked.  Gregory Hines may have been best known as a dancer and Billy Crystal as a comedian but both of them were surprisingly believable as Chicago cops.  Running Scared is actually one of Billy Crystal’s best performances.  For once, he’s believable as being someone other than a version of himself.  Even his frequent one liners seem like something that a detective would say instead of Crystal recycling punch lines from his act.  Whether they are chasing down perps and firing their guns at a moving vehicle, Hines and Crystal are never less than credible as action stars.  Lorenzo Lamas has got nothing on the team of Hines and Crystal.

Predictable though it may be, Running Scared is one of the better late 80s cop films.  The action scenes are exciting and Hyams does a good job capturing the grittiness of Chicago.  Jimmy Smits is a good villain and Joe Pantoliano, Steven Bauer, and Jon Gries all shine in supporting roles.  Keep an eye out for the always underrated Darlanne Fluegel, playing Danny’s ex-wife.

A Movie A Day #262: Downtown (1990, directed by Richard Benjamin)


Alex (Anthony Edwards) is a patrolman assigned to the nicest neighborhood in Philadelphia but, after he gets in trouble for pulling over a wealthy businessman (David Clennon), he is told that he can either be suspended or he can take a transfer downtown, to the Diamond Street precinct.  Alex takes the transfer, even though everyone on the force says that “not even the Terminator would go to Diamond Street.”  Alex gets assigned to work with seasoned Sgt. Dennis Curren (Forest Whitaker), who is still emotionally scarred by the death of his former partner and does not want to have to babysit a naive white cop from the suburbs, especially one who is obsessed with the Beach Boys.  At first, Alex struggles with his new assignment and his new partner but, when an old friend is murdered by a notorious hitman (Joe Pantoliano), Alex is determined to crack the case and bring the killer to justice.

Downtown is a combination of other, better cop films: Alex’s situation is Beverly Hills Cop in reverse and his partnership with Dennis is lifted straight from Lethal Weapon.  Art Evans is the captain who is always yelling at Alex and Dennis and telling them to drop the case and the character is so familiar that I had to check to make sure that Evans had not played the same role in Lethal Weapon.  As the bad guys, Clennon and Pantoliano could just have easily been replaced by Beverly Hills Cop‘s Steven Berkoff and Jonathan Banks and no one would have noticed.  The only real difference is that Downtown is neither as exciting nor as funny as those two films.  Downtown was directed by Richard Benjamin, who will never be known as a particularly versatile filmmaker and who struggles to balance the fish-out-of-water comedy with some surprisingly brutal violence.  Beverly Hills Cops had Eddie Murphy and Lethal Weapon had Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  Downtown has Anthony Edwards and Forest Whitaker, who are both good actors but who both seem to be woefully miscast here.  (If Downtown were made today, Whitaker could play Dennis but, in 1990, he was too young to be the cop who was “too old for this shit.”)    Of the many Lethal Weapon ripoffs that came out in late 80s and early 90s, Downtown is one of the most forgettable.

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Monsignor (dir by Frank Perry)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s taking her longer than it took Saint Malachy to transcribe The Prophecy of the Popes!  She recorded the 1982 film, Monsignor, off of Retroplex on March 8th!)

Maybe it’s because I’m a fourth Italian and I was raised Catholic but Monsignor amused the Hell out of me.

See, Monsignor is a big, sprawling epic about the Church and the Mafia.  I don’t know much about the production of this film but, having watched it, I’m going to guess that it was made by people who were neither Catholic nor Italian.  This is one of those films that is so full of clichés and inaccuracies and yet so self-important that it becomes oddly fascinating to watch.

It tells the story of Father John Flaherty (Christopher Reeve, an Episcopalian who gives a performance so wooden that one worries about getting splinters just from watching it).  When we first meet Father Flaherty, he’s just taken his orders.  He’s a good Irish kid from Brooklyn.  The neighborhood’s proud of him, because he has volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the army.  (The film opens during World War II.)  The neighborhood is even prouder when he performs a Mafia wedding.  Don Appolini (Jason Miller), who may be a mobster but who still loves the Church, is especially impressed.  He expects big things from Father Flaherty.

(The father of the bride, incidentally, is played by Joe Spinell, who played Willy Chicci in Godfathers One and Two and who achieved a certain infamy when he starred in Maniac.)

Father Flaherty goes to war and discovers that it’s not easy to be a man of God in a war zone.  Everywhere around him, soldiers are either dying or losing their faith.  (Perhaps it would help if Father Flaherty knew how to properly conduct a Requiem Mass but the movie screws that up, with Flaherty saying, “”Requiescat in pace” when he clearly should have said, “Requiescant in pace.”)   After trying, in vain, to comfort a mortally wounded man, Flaherty snaps, picks up a machine gun, and starts blowing away Germans.

Having broken the Thou Shalt Not Kill Commandment and indulged in one of the seven deadly sins, Father Flaherty apparently decides to commit every other sin as well.  Or, at least, it seems like that’s his plan.  The thing is, Christopher Reeve’s performance is bland that it’s difficult to guess what could possibly be going on inside of Flaherty’s head.  Is he disillusioned with the church or does he still have faith?  When he says that he feels guilty over his transgressions, is he being sincere or is he lying?  It’s impossible to tell because, when it comes to Father Flaherty, there’s no there there.  He’s literally an empty vessel.

That, of course, doesn’t stop him from becoming a powerful man in the Church.  Through his Mafia connections, he makes a fortune on the black market and launders money for the church.  He also has sex with a cynical, nymphomaniac postulant nun, who is something of a stock figure in films like this.  In this case, the role is played by Genevieve Bujold.  Despite the stereotypical nature of her character, Bujold comes the closest of anyone in the cast to giving a nuanced performance but her character abruptly vanishes from the film.  One can literally hear the producers in the background saying, “Okay, we’ve indulged in the sexy nun thing.  Send her home now.”

Towards the end of the film, there’s a flash forward that is so abrupt that I didn’t even realize it had happened until I noticed that Christopher Reeve and Jason Miller now had a little gray in their hair.  The flash forward doesn’t really accomplish much.  Father Flaherty has lost a lot of the Mafia’s family and the Mafia’s not happy about it.  It’s kinda like the Vatican subplot in The Godfather Part III, just with less interesting actors.

Anyway, Monsignor obviously thinks that it has something to say about both the Church and the Mafia but it’s actually remarkably empty-headed.  Strangely enough, for an epic film that cost 10 million dollars to make (that’s in 1982 money), the whole film looks remarkably cheap.  If a community theater decided to put on a production of Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal, the end result would probably end up looking a lot like Monsignor.

And yet, I really can’t hate Monsignor.  It’s so bad that, as I said earlier, it’s also oddly fascinating.  You watch and you ask yourself, How many details can one film about Catholicism get wrong?  How many Italian stereotypes can be forced into a movie with a Mafia subplot?  Now, I should point out that, at no point, does Don Appolini say, “Mama mia!” but, if he had, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s just that type of film.

Anyway, Monsignor is so sordid and stupid that it becomes entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  If you’re into that, you’ll enjoy Monsignor.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #31: Black and White (dir by James Toback)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Wednesday, December 7th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On November 15th, I recorded the 1999 melodrama, Black and White, off of Encore.

Black and White is a film that I’ve seen several times and I’ve always meant to review it.  It’s an attempt to explore the state of race, rap, crime, and sex in the late 20th century.  It’s also a James Toback film, which means that it contains all of the stuff that appears in every James Toback film: a threesome in the park, improvised dialogue, cameos from famous people playing themselves, an obsession with college basketball games, casual sexism, and a lot of talk about why you should never send “a little boy to do a man’s job.”  By his own admission, the white Toback is obsessed with the black experience but, when you watch a James Toback film, you get the feeling that his entire knowledge of African-American culture comes from watching other movies.

In short, Black and White is probably one of the silliest and most misjudged films that I’ve ever seen.  In fact, it’s so misjudged that it’s compulsively watchable.  Though I’m always hesitant to casually toss around the term “guilty pleasure,” that’s exactly what Black and White is.

Black and White tells several different stories, some of which are connected and some of which are not.  Sam Donager (Brooke Shields) is an independent filmmaker who is attempting to make a documentary about white people who try to act black.  Her husband, Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.), is gay and hits on every man (and boy) that he sees.  Sam and Terry start following around a group of privileged white kids who are obsessed with rap music.  Sam asks them if they want to be black.  They say that they’re going through a phase.

One of the kids is named Wren and he’s played by Elijah Wood.  He doesn’t really do much but every time he shows up in the film, you go, “It’s Elijah Wood!”  And then there’s Marty King (Eddie Kaye Thomas) who is the son of the Manhattan District Attorney (Joe Pantoliano).  Marty’s older brother is Will (William Lee Scott) ,who is some sort of low-level criminal.  And finally, the unofficial leader of the kids is Charlie (Bijou Phillips) and she gets to give a long monologue explaining the various uses of the n-word.

(Their teacher, incidentally, is played by Jared Leto.  If you’ve ever wanted to listen to Jared Leto lecture about the relationship between Othello and Iago, this is the film to see.  That said, the whole Othello and Iago lecture is just kinda randomly tossed in and doesn’t really pay off.)

Charlie is one of the many girlfriends of Rich Bower (Power), who is not only an up-and-coming rap producer but he’s also the head of a criminal organization.  (There’s a lengthy and kinda pointless scene where he and his associates demand money from a club manager played by Scott Caan.)  Rich is also friends with Mike Tyson.  Tyson plays himself and he gets to deliver an entire monologue about how Rich should never send a boy to do a man’s job.

But we’re not done!  Rich’s cousin is Dean Carter (Allan Houston), a college basketball player.  Dean is dating an anthropology graduate student (Claudia Schiffer, giving a hilariously terrible performance) who is obsessed with fertility symbols.  Dean is also being blackmailed by a corrupt cop named Mark Clear.  Guess who plays Mark Clear?

BEN FREAKING STILLER!

Needless to say, Ben Stiller is massively miscast.  He delivers he lines in his trademark comedic fashion, which makes it next to impossible to take him seriously as any sort of threat.  He also has a backstory that is needlessly complex but at least it allows him to say, “I’m Saul of Fucking Tarsus!”

Anyway, almost the entire film was improvised, which is one of those things that probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  A few of the actors do well with the improvisation.  Stiller may be miscast but at least he can come up with stuff to say.  Robert Downey, Jr.’s character may seem out-of-place but again, Downey knows how to keep things interesting.  But the rest of the cast seems to be a bit stranded so we end up with a lot of lengthy scenes of characters struggling to make some sort of sense of Toback’s storyline.

It’s obvious that James Toback felt that this film had something important to say but, instead of any insight, it can only offer up the occasionally strange-as-Hell scene.

Like this scene, for instance, in which Mike Tyson literally attempts to kill Robert Downey, Jr:

Or this weird little scene between Ben Stiller and Joe Pantoliano, which is dominated by Stiller’s odd delivery of his lines:

Or the closing montage, which is actually rather well-put together and makes great use of Michael Fredo’s Free:

Sadly, the video above ends before it gets to the part where we see Claudia Schiffer on a date with Mike Tyson, telling him about fertility symbols.

Anyway, Black and White is one of those films that wants to say something despite not being sure what.  Again, it may ultimately be rather silly but it’s still compulsively watchable.

(For the record, Marla Maples — who also appeared in Maximum Overdrive and was married to future President Donald Trump when this movie was made — has a cameo as a character named Muffy.  We live in a strange fucking world, don’t we?)