Cinemax Friday: City Limits (1984, directed by Aaron Lipstadt)


Fifteen years into the future, a plague has wiped out almost everyone legally old enough to drink and it has instead left behind a post-apocalyptic hellscape dominated by teenagers.  Tired of living in the boring desert, Lee (John Stockwell) hops on his motorcycle, puts on a skull mask, and drives to a nearby city.  He hopes to join the Clippers, one of the two gangs that is fighting for control of the city.  However, the Clippers aren’t as easy to join as Lee thought they would be.  As well, an evil corporation (led by Robby Benson of all people) is manipulating the two gangs as a part of a plan to take over the city and also the world.

City Limits is one of those films that would probably be totally forgotten if it hadn’t been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s a good episode but, unfortunately, it’s also led to City Limits getting a reputation for worse than it actually is.

City Limits is a dumb, low-budget movie that was made to capitalize on the success of films like Mad Max.  The plot is impossible to follow, too many scenes are shot in the middle of the night, and Robby Benson is somehow even less intimidating as the villain as you would expect him to be.  (All of Benson’s scenes take place in the same bare office and feature him sitting at a desk.  It probably took a day at most for Benson to do all of his scenes.)  Even with all that in mind, though, City Limits is a fun movie, especially if you can turn off your mind, just relax, and not worry about trying to make it all make sense.  John Stockwell is a likably goofy hero and, Benson aside, the film has got a surprisingly good supporting cast, including Rae Dawn Chong, Kim Cattrall, Tony Plana, Darrell Larson, and even Kane Hodder in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him type of role.  James Earl Jones wears a big fur coat and blows people up.  He also narrates the film, which automatically elevates everything that happens.  Some of the action scenes are exciting.  Fans of people shouting insults while riding motorcycles will find a lot to enjoy in City Limits.  And, finally, there are a few genuinely funny moments.  I loved that the gangs borrowed all of their plans for old comic books.

City Limits is stupid but entertaining, whether you’re watching it on your own or with Joel and the Bots.

 

Film Review: Top Gun (dir by Tony Scott)


Oh, where to even begin with Top Gun?

First released in 1986, Top Gun is a film that pretty much epitomizes a certain style of filmmaking.  Before I wrote this review, I did a little research and I actually read some of the reviews that were published when Top Gun first came out.  Though it may be a considered a classic today, critics in 1986 didn’t care much for it.  The most common complaint was that the story was trite and predictable.  The film’s reliance on style over substance led to many critics complaining that the film was basically just a two-hour music video.  Some of the more left-wing critics complained that Top Gun was essentially just an expensive commercial for the military industrial complex.  Director Oliver Stone, who released the antiwar Platoon the same year as Top Gun, said in an interview with People magazine that the message of Top Gun was, “If I start a war, I’ll get a girlfriend.”

Oliver Stone was not necessarily wrong about that.  The film, as we all know, stars Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky young Navy flyer who attends the TOPGUN Academy, where he competes with Iceman (Val Kilmer) for the title of Top Gun and where he also spends a lot of time joking around with everyone’s favorite (and most obviously doomed) character, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  Maverick does get a girlfriend, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), but only after he’s had plenty of chances to show both how reckless and how skilled he can be while flying in a fighter plane.  Though the majority of the film is taken up with scenes of training and volleyball, the end of the film does give Maverick a chance to prove himself in combat when he and Iceman end up fighting a group of ill-defined enemies for ill-defined reasons.  It may not be an official war but it’s close enough.

That said, I think Oliver Stone was wrong about one key thing.  Maverick doesn’t get a girlfriend because he started a war.  He gets a girlfriend because he won a war.  Top Gun is all about winning.  Maverick and Iceman are two of the most absurdly competitive characters in film history and, as I watched the film last weekend, it was really hard not to laugh at just how much Cruise and Kilmer got into playing those two roles.  Iceman and Maverick can’t even greet each other without it becoming a competition over who gave the best “hello.”  By the time the two of them are facing each other in a totally savage beach volleyball match, it’s hard to look at either one of them without laughing.  And yet, regardless of how over-the-top it may be, you can’t help but get caught up in their rivalry.  Cruise and Kilmer are both at their most charismatic in Top Gun and watching the two of them when they were both young and fighting to steal each and every scene, it doesn’t matter that both of them would later become somewhat controversial for their off-screen personalities.  What matters, when you watch Top Gun, is that they’re both obviously stars.

“I’ve got the need for speed,” Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards say as they walk away from their plane.  The same thing could be said about the entire movie.  Top Gun doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff.  We know that Maverick is cocky and has father issues because he’s played by Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise always plays cocky characters who have father issues.  We know that Iceman is arrogant because he’s played by Val Kilmer.  We know that Goose is goofy because his nickname is Goose and he’s married to Meg Ryan.  The film doesn’t waste much time on exploring why its characters are the way they are.  Instead, it just accepts them for being the paper-thin characters that they are.  The film understands that the the most important thing is to get them into their jets and sends them into the sky.  Does it matter that it’s sometimes confusing to keep track of who is chasing who?  Not at all.  The planes are sleek and loud.  The men flying them are sexy and dangerous.  The music never stops and the sun never goes down unless the film needs a soulful shot of Maverick deep in thought.  We’ve all got the need for speed.

In so many ways, Top Gun is a silly film but, to its credit, it also doesn’t make any apologies for being silly.  Instead, Top Gun embraces its hyperkinetic and flashy style.  That’s why critics lambasted it in 1986 and that’s why we all love it in 2020.  And if the pilots of Top Gun do start a war — well, it happens.  I mean, it’s Maverick and Iceman!  How can you hold it against them?  When you watch them fly those planes, you know that even if they start World War III, it’ll be worth it.  If the world’s going to end, Maverick’s the one we want to end it.

 

Love on the Shattered Lens: Blue Crush (dir by John Stockwell)


Released in 2002, Blue Crush tells the story of Anne Marie Chadwick (Kate Bosworth).

Anne Marie lives in Hawaii and she’s got a lot going on in her life.  Because her mother recently abandoned her daughters so that she could run off to Las Vegas with her good-for-nothing boyfriend, Anne Marie is practically raising her 14 year-old sister, Penny (Mike Boorem).  Anne Marie is also working as a maid at a beach-side hotel, where she and her two best friends, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), spend their time cleaning up messes and trying on the guests’s clothes.  I have to admit that, if I was a maid, I’d probably try on the clothes too.  However, after watching Blue Crush several times, I can tell you that the last thing I would ever want to do would be to work as a hotel maid.  Seriously, some of the messes that Anne Marie, Eden, and Lena had to deal with were so disgusting that I had to look away from the screen.  Bleh!

Anne Marie and her two friends are also surfers!  In fact, surfing is pretty much what their lives revolve around.  Anne Marie has been invited to compete in an upcoming competition but she’s haunted by an incident that occurred several years before, an extreme wipe-out that nearly caused her to drown.  (Despite all of the beautiful surfing footage, this film does little to alleviate my own extreme drowning phobia.)  Despite Eden’s encouragement, Anne Marie isn’t sure that she has what it takes to get back into the competition circuit.

Unfortunately, there’s a group of NFL players staying at the hotel and they totally trash their room and leave a huge mess for the maids to clean up.  (At one point, Lena finds a used condom stuck to the bottom of her shoe and totally freaks out.  I would have to.  I once moved into an apartment that was already inhabited by several friends of mine and, while I was cleaning, I came across like nearly a hundred used condoms hidden in every nook and cranny of the place.  I mean, I was happy that everyone was having sex but seriously, don’t just leave your condom on the floor after it’s been used.  Pick up after yourself!  Anyway, where was I?)  Fortunately, however, one of the players is a totally hot quarterback named Matt (Matthew Davis).  Matt and his fellow players hire Anne Marie and her friends to teach them how to surf.  Matt and Anne Marie end up falling in love, mostly because they’re the two best-looking people on the beach.  With Matt’s support, will Anne Marie be able to conquer her fears and compete in the competition?  It would be a really depressing movie if she didn’t.

 

So, let’s see.  What do you we have here?

We’ve got lots of pretty shots of pretty people running along the beach in slow motion.

We’ve got a soft-focus love scene between the best-looking people in the movie.

We’ve got a ton of exciting surfing footage.

We’ve got a thoroughly predictable plot that still kind of works because everyone involved is so good-looking.

Yep, this must be a John Stockwell film.

Seriously, John Stockwell is one of my favorite directors because he always delivers exactly what he promises.  He makes films about beautiful people in beautiful places and if that’s not enough for you, too bad.  He’s a genre director and makes no apologies for it.  There’s a refreshing lack of pretension when it comes to John Stockwell’s filmography and it’s hard not to appreciate the universe that he creates in films like Crazy/Beautiful, Into the Deep, In the Blood, and this one.  It’s a universe where everyone knows that they’re in a genre movie and they behave accordingly.  It’s a world where the scenery is beautiful, the people are attractive, and nearly every problem can be solved by a kiss or the proper one-liner.

You could probably make the argument that the storyline of Blue Crush is shallow and a bit obvious.  I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you.  But who cares?  Kate Bosworth and Matthew Davis have a tone of chemistry, the Hawaiian scenery is gorgeous, and well, I just kind of love this movie.

 

Insomnia File #44: Cat Run (dir by John Stockwell)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep at 3 in the morning, you could have turned over to Showtime and watched the 2011 action film, Cat Run.

So, here’s what you get when you watch Cat Run.  You get:

  1. A few beach scenes
  2. Some stylish action sequences
  3. A nearly incoherent plot
  4. Lots of naked people
  5. Two bumbling heroes
  6. A prostitute with a heart of gold, a young child, and an encrypted hard drive
  7. A cold-as-ice female assassin played by a distinguished, Oscar-nominated performer
  8. Massive and sudden changes in tone as the film goes from comedy to action to comedy again
  9. Sex
  10. Violence

In other words, Cat Run is a John Stockwell film.  As a director, Stockwell specializes in making unpretentious films, ones that usually feature beautiful people doing stuff on the beach.  He makes the type of films that will probably never win an Academy Award (though Kirsten Dunst perhaps deserved a nomination for her performance in Stockwell’s Crazy/Beautiful) but which are still occasionally entertaining if you’re in the right mood for them.  (Seriously, just watch Stockwell’s In The Blood and then ask yourself why he could make the perfect Gina Carano film while Steven Soderbergh couldn’t.)

Cat Run takes place is Montenegro.  The prostitute is named Cat (Paz Vega).  The encrypted hard drive contains footage of a politician (Christopher McDonald) killing a woman at an orgy.  The two bumbling detectives who help her out are named Julian (Alphonso McAuley) and Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz) and they occasionally get a funny line or two.  The assassin who is sent to take care of Cat is Helen and she’s played by Janet McTeer.  Helen is coldly efficient and ruthless killer but she has a difficult time tracking down Cat.  That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it?  The bad guys are always super competent until the movie begins, at which point they suddenly can’t shoot straight.

Anyway, Cat Run is not a particularly memorable movie but it has its entertaining moments.  It’s hyper stylish and the cast seems to be having a good time.  At the very least, you get the feeling that everyone probably enjoyed spending their days off in Montenegro and good for them!  McTeer, not surprisingly, steals the film but Paz Vega has some good moments too.  All in all, this is an enjoyable film that doesn’t have a hint of ambition.  It is what it is and what’s wrong with that?

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend

A Movie A Day #320: Dangerously Close (1986, directed by Albert Pyun)


Vista Verde, an exclusive suburban high school in California, has a problem.  Some of the students have a bad attitude.  Some of them are experimenting with drugs.  Graffiti is showing up all over the school.  What better way to return peace to Vista Verde than for a bunch of WASPy rich kids and other jocks to organize into a secret vigilante force?  The headmaster thinks that it’s a great idea and soon “The Sentinels” are holding mock trials and shooting the other students with paintball guns.  One bad kid even turns up dead.  Graffiti is no joke.

The leader of the Sentinels is a rich kid named Randy (John Stockwell, who also co-wrote the script).  Randy knows the importance of good PR so he befriend the editor of the school newspaper, Donny (J. Eddie Peck).  Donny may not be rich but, because of his amazing journalism skills, he has been allowed to attend Vista Verde as a magnet student.  At first, Donny is skeptical of The Sentinels but he soon finds himself seduced by not only Randy’s wealthy lifestyle but also by Randy’s beautiful girlfriend (Carey Lowell).  Meanwhile, Donny’s friend Krooger (Bradford Bancroft) not only listens to punk music but also has a mohawk so he naturally becomes the latest target of the Sentinels.

A teen film with a conscience, Dangerously Close was one of the better films to come out of the Cannon Group in the mid-80s.  The script is smarter than the average 80s teen film and Albert Pyun’s slick direction captures the appeal of being young and rich in the suburbs.  Stockwell, Peck, and Lowell all give better than average performances  and there is actually some unexpected depth to Stockwell and Peck’s friendship.  Stockwell does not play Randy as just being a typical rich villain.  Instead, he is someone who thinks he’s doing the right thing even when he’s not.

The cast is full of faces that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been a fan of 80s high school films.  Keep an eye out for Thom Matthews, Don Michael Paul, Gerard Christopher, Miguel Nunez, Jr., and DeeDee Pfeiffer, all doing their part to keep the halls of Vista Verde safe.

 

Halloween Havoc!: CHRISTINE (Columbia 1983)


cracked rear viewer

Stephen King turned 70 last month, and the Master of Horror’s grip on the American psyche is stronger than ever, thanks to the unprecedented horror hit IT!, now playing at a theater near you. King’s macabre novels have been adapted for the screen since 1976’s CARRIE with  varying degrees of success; some have been unabashed genre classics, others complete bombs, most lie somewhere in the middle.

Top: Stephen King 1983
Bottom: John Carpenter 1983

Director John Carpenter had a string of successes beginning with 1978’s seminal slasher film HALLOWEEN, but his 1982 remake of THE THING, now considered a masterpiece of the genre, was a box office disappointment. Carpenter took on King’s novel CHRISTINE as a work-for-hire project. I recently watched it for the first time, and think not only is it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to hit the screen, it’s one of Carpenter’s best horror…

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Insomnia File No. 2: Stag (dir by Gavin Wilding)


Stag

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were suffering from insomnia around 2:30 in the morning, you could have turned over to Flix and watched Stag, a dreary film from 1997!

And I know what you’re saying.  “Really, Lisa?  I could have watched a dreary film!  WHY DIDN’T SOMEBODY TELL ME!?”  Well, sorry.  Your loss.  Maybe next time you won’t be so quick to resist the call of insomnia…

Anyway, Stag eventually turns out to be pretty bad but it actually has a pretty good opening.  A bunch of rich guys get together in a big house and throw a bachelor party.  Whenever one of them first appears on screen, they get a freeze frame that tells us their name and gives us a few biographical facts.

For instance, one coke-snorting character is introduced as “Jon DiCapri: Soap opera star, spokesman for “Stars Against Drugs.”  A drunk guy begging for money is identified as “Timan Bernard: Accountant, Author of ‘Ethics in Business.'”  The pensive fellow standing by the window and a smoking a cigarette is “Daniel Kane: Gulf war veteran, post traumatic stress disorder,” while the guy running around in a wig and lingerie is “Ed Labenski: Contractor, church treasurer.”  My personal favorite of the introductions belonged to the guy with the neck tattoo and the terrible teeth.  We’re told that he’s “Pete Weber: Drug dealer, extortionist. Self employed.”

Of course, Pete Weber is also Andrew McCarthy, playing a character who is far removed from the world of Pretty In Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire.  And Daniel Kane is actually Kevin Dillon, taking part in the type of misogynistic hi-jinks that would later be celebrated in Entourage.  Jon DiCapri is actually William McNamara, who will always be remembered for his memorable death scene in Dario Argento’s Opera.  As for Timan Bernard, he’s played by John Henson, who was the host of that terrible Wipeout show that was on the air forever despite the fact that nobody in the world would admit to watching it.

And they’re not the only ones at this bachelor party!  The bachelor himself is played by John Stockwell, the director of movies like CheatersCrazy/Beautiful and In The Blood.  His best friend is played by Mario Van Peebles.  Even distinguished character actor Ben Gazzarra is at this bachelor party!

As I said, the film starts out well enough, with the men all acting like idiots and pretty much confirming everything that I’ve always suspected about bachelor parties.  But then the strippers show up and there’s a highly improbable accident and soon there are two dead bodies bleeding out on the linoleum floor of John Stockwell’s house.  The rest of the movie is pretty much the men yelling at each other and arguing about what they should do.  Some fear going to jail.  Some want to frame someone else.  Some want to cover up the accident.  A few suggest calling the police but then Andrew McCarthy rips the landline phone out of the wall and, since this movie was made in the 90s, that is literally all he has to do to keep everyone from contacting the outside world.

Despite some decent performances, the film turned out to be pretty tedious.  That said, as I watched it, I found myself wondering how my girlfriends and I would have handled a similar situation.  What if we were throwing a bachelorette party and suddenly Magic Mike ended up lying in the middle of the floor with a broken neck?  To be honest, I get the feeling we’d probably handle it in roughly the same way as the characters in Stag.  We would just be a lot more passive aggressive about it.

“Oh my God, is that guy dead!?”

“I don’t know but that’s what I think Heather said.  But it’s all Amy’s fault and … Bitch, everyone says it’s your fault so unless everyone in the entire world is wrong … whatever, Amy.”

“Oh my God, what are we going to do with him?”

“I don’t know but Vanessa said that maybe we should say that he like never showed up at the party and then she said that Jen said that … oh my God, are those new earrings!?”

“Yeah, do you like them!?”

“They’re so pretty!  Anyway, Jen said that maybe you should like go bury him somewhere…”

“Oh my God, Jen said I should go bury him!?”

“Well, I didn’t hear for sure but Tina said that she heard Vanessa say that Jen said that you should go bury him…”

“That bitch!  I am so going to kick her ass!  Oh my God!”

But anyway, the body would eventually get buried.  Just not by me.

ANYWAY!  What was I talking about?

Right … Stag.

It’s not a very good movie.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. The Story of Mankind

Film Review: In the Blood (dir by John Stockwell)


in-the-blood-1

Do you remember Haywire?

Haywire was an action film that came out in 2011.  It briefly got a lot of attention because it starred MMA fighter Gina Carano in her feature film debut and it was directed by Steven Soderbergh.  I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Haywire.  Some of that is because Gina Carano herself didn’t seem to be a very good actress but my main issue with the film was with Steven Soderbergh.  Don’t get me wrong — I know that Soderbergh can be a genius.  However, he’s also a remarkably pretentious filmmaker.  Sometimes that pretension works, like with The Girlfriend Experience.  But, in the case of Haywire, all the pretension served to do was to make a thin story even more annoying.

John Stockwell, on the other hand, is a director who is the very opposite of pretentious.  Whereas Soderbergh often makes genre films that try too hard to be art, Stockwell makes genre films that are so unapologetic about being genre that they often become art despite themselves.  Stockwell may never be as acclaimed as Soderbergh but, on the whole, he’s a much more consistent filmmaker.

Take In The Blood for instance.  In the Blood came out earlier this year, got thoroughly mediocre reviews, and disappeared from theaters pretty quickly.  When I watched it last night, I had very low expectations.

But you know what?

In the Blood isn’t bad.

In fact, it’s a perfectly entertaining and, ultimately, rather empowering film.

In In The Blood, Gina Carano plays Ava.  Ava, we quickly learn, has led a difficult life.  Raised in extreme poverty by a father who taught her early how to fight and how to defend herself, Ava is a former drug addict.  When she goes to rehab, she meets and falls in love with fellow addict Derek (Cam Gigandet).  Once they’re both clean, Ava and Derek marry despite the concerns of Derek’s wealthy father (Treat Williams).

For their honeymoon, Derek and Ava go to the type of Caribbean island where bad things always happen in movies like In The Blood.  They meet Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who agrees to be their guide on the island.  One night, Manny takes them out to a club where Ava ends up getting into a huge fight with literally everyone on the dance floor, including a local gangster played by Danny Trejo.  The next morning, Manny takes them zip lining but Derek ends up plunging from the zip line and crashing down to the ground below.  He’s rushed to the hospital where he promptly vanishes.

Despite being ordered to return to America by police chief Luis Guzman, Ava is determined to figure out what has happened to her husband and she’s willing to beat up the entire island to do it…

Obviously inspired (much like almost every other low-budget action film released over the past few years) by Taken, In The Blood is a familiar but enjoyable burst of pulp fiction.  As opposed to Soderbergh’s approach to Haywire, Stockwell doesn’t worry about trying to disguise the genre roots of In The Blood.  Instead, he simply tells the story and he tells it well.  In The Blood is a film that’s full of beautiful island scenery, villainous character actors, and enjoyable melodramatic dialogue.  The pace never falters and the action is exciting.  In a few years, the club fight scene will be remembered as a classic of action cinema.

And best of all, Gina Carano kicks ass!  In The Blood gives her a chance to show what she can actually do when she has a director who is willing to get out of her way.  As opposed to Haywire, where she often seemed to get lost amongst all of Soderbergh’s showy techniques, Gina Carano gives a confident and determined performance in In The Blood.  After having to sit through countless action films where every female character is either a victim or a pawn, there is something so wonderful about seeing a movie where a woman gets to do something more than whimper and beg.  Regardless of how predictable the film’s plot may be, the fact that it’s a woman — as opposed to a man — who is getting to kick ass (and look good while doing it!) serves to make In The Blood something of a minor masterpiece of the pulp imagination.

If nothing else, In The Blood shows that sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.

Back to School #60: Crazy/Beautiful (dir by John Stockwell)


Oh, memories!

I don’t know if I can describe how much my girlfriends and I loved Crazy/Beautiful when it first came out in 2001.  We saw it in the theaters, we rewatched it when it came on cable, and after I bought it on DVD, we watched it at my house.  We loved the movie because we all dreamed of having a sensitive, hot boyfriend like Carlos Nunez (played by Jay Hernandez), who would love us no matter how obnoxious or bratty we may have been.  Even if we sometimes got annoyed with her, we still all related to out-of-control Nicole (Kirsten Dunst), who everyone in the world had given up on but who ultimately just wanted her father to pay as much attention to her as he did to his new wife and his new baby.  We liked the film because we wanted to be both crazy and beautiful.

And, of course, there was all the sex, all of it filmed in beautiful soft-focus with the camera always suggesting that it was showing more than it actually was.  Crazy/Beautiful was one of those films that made you feel grown up while still being very careful not to lose its PG-13 rating.

Yes, back in the day, I loved Crazy/Beautiful.

And you know what?

It may just be the nostalgia talking but I still love it.  I recently rewatched Crazy/Beautiful and, despite the fact that I was now watching as a “critic” as opposed to a 15 year-old with issues, I quickly fell under the film’s spell.  There’s just something about Crazy/Beautiful that I simply cannot resist.

It’s a beautiful film.  Director John Stockwell has made a career out of making movies about pretty people hanging out on pretty beaches and Crazy/Beautiful has a lot of both.  When Carlos, a responsible high school senior who lives in East Los Angeles and who is hoping to attend the U.S. Navy Academy, first meets Nicole, she’s doing community service by picking up trash on the beach.  What Carlos doesn’t find out until later is that Nicole is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Tom Oakley (played, somewhat inevitably, by Bruce Davison).  Nicole is haunted by her mother’s death and feels that her well-meaning but ineffectual father has abandoned her.  At first, her relationship with Carlos seems to be yet another part of her rebellion but soon, both she and Carlos are madly in love.

Can Carlos save Nicole from herself?  Can Nicole love Carlos without leading him down the path of self-destruction?  Will Nicole and her father ever reconnect?  Will … oh, who cares?  You already know the answers.  Crazy/Beautiful is less about the story and more about how the story is told.  Stockwell keeps the story moving along and fills the screen with colorful and romantic images that make Crazy/Beautiful into the perfect teenage daydream.  He also makes perfect use of the undeniable chemistry between Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst.  Both of the stars give such good performances that you really do come to care about the characters that they are playing and hope that things work out for them.  Kirsten Dunst, in particular, gives a brave performance and doesn’t shy away from playing up Nicole’s abrasiveness.  It takes courage to play a character who can be unlikable.  It takes talent to make that unlikable character sympathetic and, fortunately, Kirsten Dunst shows a lot of both in Crazy/Beautiful.

CrazyBeautiful

 

Back to School #32: Losin’ It (dir by Curtis Hanson)


Losin-It-The-Poster

Originally, my 32nd entry in my Back To School series was going to be Made In Britain, a film about a 16 year-old Neo-Nazi played by Tim Roth.  And, while I still suggest that you track down and watch Made In Britain (mostly for Roth’s amazing performance in the lead), I have to admit that, as I rewatched it, I found myself really struggling to find a way to fit it into the Back to School theme.  Made in Britain is a good film about a juvenile delinquent but it just didn’t seem like it was right for this series.  Maybe I’ll revisit it when I do my long-threatened series of “Europe Is As Messed Up As America” series of film reviews.

Instead, I decided to close out the 1983 portion of this series by taking a look at Losin’ It.  Along with Risky Business and All The Right Moves, Losin’ It is one of the three films released in 1983 that starred Tom Cruise as a high school senior who is obsessed with losing his virginity.  Much as in Risky Business, Cruise’s initial plan is to hire a prostitute.  And much like in All The Right Moves …. well, actually Losin’ It doesn’t have much in common with All The Right Moves beyond the presence of Cruise.  For that matter, it doesn’t really have much in common with Risky Business either.  Whereas All The Right Moves was a coming-of-age drama and Risky Business was a satire on capitalism, Losin’ It is pretty much a straight comedy.

And an amazingly generic one at that!

Set in 1965 and featuring a soundtrack that appears to exist solely to remind you that the film is set in 1965, Losin’ It tells the story of four teenage boys who go down to Tijuana, hoping to get laid.  There’s Woody (Tom Cruise), who is the nice guy who smiles all the time.  There’s Spider (played by future director John Stockwell), who we’re told doesn’t have to pay for it but wants to go down to Tijuana so he can see a “donkey show.”  (If you don’t know what a donkey show is, I’m sure it can be looked up on Wikipedia.)  And then there’s Dave (Jackie Earle Haley), who is short, loud-mouthed, and idolizes Frank Sinatra to the extent that he even wears a Sinatra-style fedora.  Tagging along is Dave’s younger brother Wendell (John P. Navin, Jr.), who is too young to get into any Mexican brothels but is hoping to buy some fireworks that he can then sell at school.

Anyway, they may think that they’re just going to Mexico but it soon turns out that they’re on a collision course with wackiness!  Dave and Wendell end up being held hostage in an auto junkyard.  Spider gets in a fight with a bunch of Marines and ends up in a Mexican jail.  And Woody — well, listen, we all know that there’s no way fresh-faced, All-American Tom Cruise is going to lose his virginity in a dirty old brothel!  Instead, he ends up pursuing a tentative romance with Kathy (Shelley Long), a newlywed who has come down to Tijuana to get a quickie divorce.

(Do they still give out quickie divorces in Tijuana or is that just something that happens in the movies?  I’m just asking for future reference…)

Anyway, of the Tom Cruise Must Get Laid Trilogy, Losin’ It is easily the most generic and forgettable but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a terrible movie.  Curtis Hanson keeps the action moving at a steady pace (and, if that sounds like faint praise, just try sitting through a film with an unsteady pace) and the cast is likable.  Tom Cruise is the one who gets all of the attention on the back of the DVD and he’s likable enough but really, if I had been alive and a film critic in 1983, I probably would have picked the handsome and charismatic John Stockwell as the one most likely to become a star.

Instead, 31 years later, Tom Cruise is the star (albeit a fading one) and John Stockwell is the one directing movies about life on the beach.

It’s a strange world.

Jackie Earle Haley, John Stockwell, and Tom Cruise

Jackie Earle Haley, John Stockwell, and Tom Cruise