A Movie A Day #314: Body and Soul (1981, directed by George Bowers)


When his little sister falls ill with sickle-cell anemia, Leon Johnson (Leon Isaac Kennedy) has to make a decision.  He can either finish his education, graduate from medical school, and treat her as a doctor or he can drop out of school, reinvent himself as “Leon the Lover,” and make a fortune as a professional boxer!  At first, Leon’s career goes perfectly.  He is winning fights.  He is making money.  He has a foxy new girlfriend (played Leon Isaac Kennedy’s then-wife, Jayne Kennedy.)  But then the fame starts to go to Leon’s head.  He forgets where he came from.  He’s no longer fighting just to help his sister.  Now, he’s fighting for his own personal glory.  When Leon finally gets a title shot, a crooked boxing promoter known as Big Man (former JFK in-law Peter Lawford, looking coked up) orders Leon to take a dive.  Will Leon intentionally lose the biggest fight of his life or will he stay in the ring and battle Ricardo (Al Denava), a boxer so evil that he literally throws children to the ground?  More importantly, will he make his trainer (Muhammad Ali, playing himself!) proud?

Leon Isaac Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, and Peter Lawford all in the same movie!?  No surprise here, it’s a Cannon film.  Leon Isaac Kennedy was best known for playing a jailhouse boxer in the Penitentiary films and he was a good actor with charisma to burn so it probably made perfect sense to not only cast him in a remake of John Garfield’s Body and Soul but to let him write the script too.  The end result is a film that is too heavy-handed to be taken seriously but it is still an entertaining movie.  Body and Soul leaves not a single sports cliché unused but Kennedy was a convincing fighter and the boxing scenes are well-directed.  Muhammad Ali did a better job playing himself here then he did in The Greatest.  All in all, Body and Soul is a good movie for fight fans.

Body and Soul was not a box office success and Kennedy ended his film career a few years after it was released.  He is now the head of Leon Kennedy Ministries, Inc of Burbank, California.

 

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A Movie A Day #165: Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)


If there is a male bonding hall of fame, Big Wednesday has to be front and center.

This episodic movie follows three legendary surfers over twelve years of change and turmoil.  Jack Barlowe (William Katt) is the straight arrow who keeps the peace.  Leroy “The Masochist” Smith (Gary Busey) is the wild man.  Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the best surfer of them all but he resents both his fame and the expectation that he should be some sort of role model for the younger kids on the beach.  From 1962 until 1974, the three of them learn about love and responsibility while dealing with cultural turmoil (including, of course, the Vietnam War) and waiting for that one legendary wave.

After writing the screenplays for Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now and directing The Wind and The Lion and Dillinger, John Milius finally got to make his dream project.  Big Wednesday was based on Milius’s own youth as a California surfer and he has said that all three of the main characters were based on different aspects of his own personality.  Expectations for Big Wednesday were so high that Milius’s friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exchanged percentages points for Star Wars and Close Encounters of  The Third Kind for a point of Big Wednesday.  The deal turned out to be worth millions to Milius but nothing to Lucas and Spielberg because Big Wednesday was a notorious box office flop.  Warner Bros. sold the film as a raunchy comedy, leaving audiences surprised to discover that Big Wednesday was actually, in Milius’s words, a “coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones.”

I can understand why Big Wednesday may not be for everyone but it is one of my favorite movies.  It is one of the ultimate guy films.  Some of the dialogue and the narration may be overwrought but so are most guys, especially when they’re the same age as the surfers in Big Wednesday.  We all like to imagine that we are heroes in some sort of epic adventure.  The surfing footage is amazing but it is not necessary to be a surfer to relate to the film’s coming-of-age story or its celebration of the enduring bonds of friendship.  Katt, Vincent, and Busey all give great performances.  Considering their later careers, it is good that Big Wednesday is around to remind us of what Gary Busey and Jan-Michael Vincent were capable of at their best, before their promising careers were derailed by drugs and mental illness.  Be sure to also keep an eye out for infamous 70s character actor Joe Spinell as an army psychiatrist, a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, playing a fellow surfer and providing the film’s narration, and Barbara Hale, playing the patient mother of her real-life son, William Katt.

One final note: At a time when the shameful stereotype of the psycho Vietnam vet was becoming popular and unfairly tarnishing the reputation of real-life vets, Big Wednesday was unique for featuring a character who not only joins the Army but who appears to return as a better person as a result.

Horror on the Lens: The Hearse (dir by George Bowers)


The_Hearse

Today’s horror on the Lens in 1980’s The Hearse!

You can read my review here and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

 

The Daily Grindhouse: The Hearse (directed by George Bowers)


The_Hearse

I feel no shame in admitting that I love horror movies. I don’t think that’s any secret to anyone who has ever read my reviews on this site. When I’m feeling so restless that I can’t sit still or focus, all you have to do is give me a horror film (especially if it’s one that I’ve never never seen before) and I’ll be quiet for at least 90 minutes.

That’s why I’m always on the look out for horror movies that I haven’t seen before. If it’s a horror movie, I’ll watch it regardless of obscurity, age, or critical disdain. At its best, this habit has led to me discovering neglected cinematic gems like Sole Survivor.

And it’s worst, it’s led me to me sitting through films like 1980′s The Hearse.

The Hearse is one of those public domain film that turns up in every other Mill Creek Box Set and it tells a very familiar story. A recently divorced woman named Jane (played by Tish Van Devere, who was married to George C. Scott at the time) leaves the big city to seek peace and solace in a creepy small town that’s full of rednecks who stare at her with a combination of lust and total disdain. Jane moves into a house that once belonged to her aunt and, pretty soon, she’s hearing strange sounds and having nightmares. On some nights, she sees a hearse (which, earlier, had attempted to run her off of the road) pull up in front of her house.

Jane attempts to tell the local sheirff about the strange happenings at her house but he responds by suggesting that maybe she should move. The local townspeople respond to her concerns by telling her that her aunt made a pact with Satan. The local priest comes by and tells Jane that the necklace her aunt gave her is a symbol of Satan.

None of this really makes much of an impression on Jane, mostly because she’s busy dating this creepy guy named Tom. Tom rarely ever shows any emotion and, on those rare occasions that he does smile, his face looks like a leering skull.

Again, Jane doesn’t seem to notice any of this…

Obviously, horror requires a certain suspension of disbelief but, seriously, it’s hard not to watch The Hearse and feel as if the scariest thing about the movie is the idea that anyone could be as stupid as Jane.

That said, The Hearse isn’t a total waste of time. The nightmare sequence is genuinely effective and the film itself features a few creepy visuals but, then again, there’s no way the sight of a hearse pulling up in front of a house in the middle of the night couldn’t be creepy. Trish Van Devere does okay as Jane, though she was far better in both The Changeling and One Is A Lonely Number.   (The film also features a few too many less-than-credible scenes where the town’s teenage boys talk about how “hot and sexy” they find the aristocratic and rather uptight Jane to be.)  If, like me, you’re into film history, you’ll enjoy this film as a relic of the past, an example of what horror movies were like in a less ironic age.

Life is a Beach #4: Spring Break (dir by Sean S. Cunningham)


I think I may have made a mistake.  When I started reviewing beach films, I did so because it’s currently spring break for thousands of college students across the country and, right now, they’re all probably having a good time on the beach.  Unfortunately, what I didn’t consider was that watching and reviewing these films would make me start to wish that I was currently there with them.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I want to go hang out on the beach and party and flirt and get high and live for the moment and … well, no, actually, that’s exactly what I wish I was doing right now.  None of the beach films that I’ve watched so far have been good exactly but they do all get at a larger truth.

We all need some sort of spring break.

That’s certainly the theme of the 1983 comedy, Spring Break.

The heroes of Spring Break

The heroes of Spring Break

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Spring Break is that, unlike Malibu Beach and The Beach Girls, it was not produced by Crown International Pictures.  It certainly feels like a Crown International movie.  The film is a largely plotless collection of scenes, all of which take place over the course of spring break in Ft. Lauderdale.  It starts out as a comedy and then gets strangely dramatic towards the end.  It features a lot of nudity for male viewers but luckily, it has two hot guys for me so it all works out in the end.

Two nerdy students, Nelson (David Knell) and Adam (Perry Lang) go down to Florida for spring break.  Nelson does this despite the fact that he had promised that he would spend spring break working on his politically ambitious stepfather’s campaign.  When Nelson and Adam’s picture ends up in the paper, Nelson’s stepfather (Donald Symington) sends his operatives down to Florida to basically kidnap Nelson and drag him home.  Along the way, the stepfather also somehow gets involved in a plot to take over the motel where Nelson and Adam are staying.

Uhmmm…what?

Yes, it doesn’t make much sense but then again, the plot is never that important in these type of films.  What is important is that the motel is overbooked and, as a result, Nelson and Adam find themselves roommates with two hot guys from New York, Stu (Paul Land) and O.T. (Steve Bassett).

One thing that I did like about this movie is that it didn’t waste any time pretending that Stu and O.T. wouldn’t become best friends with Nelson and Adam.  Instead, the four of them start bonding as soon as they meet and they were all best friends within the first 15 minutes of the film.  Yay for another successful bromance!  But seriously, it is kind of sweet.

And it’s also fortunate because, once Nelson is kidnapped and held prisoner on a boat by his stepfather, who better to rescue him than two guys from Brooklyn?

Yes, it’s all pretty stupid but, as far as teen sex comedies from the early 80s are concerned, this is one of the better of them.  At the very least, Knell and Lang are both likeable and Land and Bassett are both hot and that really is about the best that you can hope from a film like this.  Add to that — and this is a theme that I seem to keep returning to as far as these beach films are concerned — Spring Break is a time capsule.  Though Spring Break was released before I was born, I feel like, having seen it, that I now have some firsthand experience of what it was like to be alive in 1983.

So 80s....

So 80s….

As I mentioned at the start of this review, Spring Break feels like a Crown International Picture but, actually, it was released by Columbia Pictures.  And it was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who is probably best known for directing the original Friday the 13th!  Harry Manfredini even provided the music for both films.  That said, the fun-loving teenagers of Spring Break come to a much happier end than the ones at Camp Crystal Lake.

Lisa Goes Back To College: Jocks (dir by Steve Carver)


A typically exciting scene from Jocks

A typically exciting scene from Jocks

Having already watched 3 campus protests from 1970, I decided that maybe I should watch something a little bit less heavy-handed for my next college film.  But I knew that, in order to find a college film that would have nothing serious on its mind, I would have to find a film that was made after the 70s.

That’s what led to me getting out my Too Cool For School DVD boxset and watching Jocks, a “comedy” from 1987.  As you can probably guess from the sarcastic use of quotation marks, I probably would have been better off staying in the 70s.

Christopher Lee (!) plays the President White, the strict president of L.A. College.  President White is upset because the athletic department has failed to win a championship in over ten years so he gives Coach Bettlebom (played by veteran character actor R. G. Armstrong) an ultimatum: win a championship or lose his job.  Bettlebom argues that the rest of the athletic department would be able to win if it wasn’t for the financial obligation of supporting the school’s tennis team.  Bettlebom then tells tennis Coach Williams (played by Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree) that he’s canceling the tennis program and all of the tennis players are going to lose their scholarships.  Williams responds by making a bet.  If the tennis team wins the national championship, the tennis program will continue.  And if they don’t, the team will cease to exist, Williams will be out of a job, and the members of the tennis team will all be forced to drop out of college and have their lives totally ruined…

Wait a minute.

That makes absolutely no sense.

What the Hell is Coach Williams thinking!?

That’s the sort of thinking that leads students to protest and occupy buildings and basically act like they’re extras in Getting Straight, Zabriskie Point, and R.P.M.

But anyway, let’s just move on and not worry about things like logic and narrative sense.  It’s time to meet the tennis team!

There’s Tex (Adam Mills), who doesn’t have a Texas accent.  Tex doesn’t really do much but he’s certainly in a lot of scenes.

There’s Andy (Stoney Jackson), the flamboyant black guy who freaks out his opponents by pretending to be gay, because this film was made in the 20th Century.

There’s Chito (Trinidad Silva), who speaks Spanish and dramatically crosses himself before playing each set.

There’s Ripper (Donald Gibb), who has a thick beard, growls a lot, and appears to be in his 40s.

There’s Jeff (Perry Lang), the nice guy.  In a film full of unlikable characters, Jeff seems to be, at the very least, a decent guy.  Plus, he has a fairly funny drunk scene and, when you’re watching a film like Jocks, you come to appreciate fairly funny.

And then there’s The Kid (Scott Strader), who apparently doesn’t have a name.  Seriously, even President White calls him “The Kid.”  As you might guess about someone with a permanent nickname, The Kid is a master tennis player.

Anyway, the team goes to the championships in Las Vegas where they engage in the usual drunken hijinks and basically act like a bunch of jerks.  They also play some rather boring tennis games.  The Kid falls for a tennis groupie played by future Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay.  Eventually, it all comes down to whether or not the team can beat Dallas Tech and, as a proud Texas girl, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was saying, “Go Dallas!” the entire time.

So, is Jocks worth watching?

If you’re a Christopher Lee fan, maybe.  But, honestly, I think Sir Christopher would forgive you if you skipped this one.

But if you really want to, check out Jocks below!