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.

 

Love On The Shattered Lens: An Officer and a Gentleman (dir by Taylor Hackford)


Almost everyone knows that one scene from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman.  You can probably guess which scene it is that I’m talking about.  It’s been parodied and imitated in so many other shows and movies that it’s one of those pop cultural moments that everyone has “seen” even they haven’t actually watched it.  It’s the scene where….

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

What?

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

I know, Mayo, I’m getting to that!  Let me tell everyone about the iconic factory scene first, okay?

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Uhmmm …. right.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, it’s the scene where Debra Winger is working in a factory and a youngish Richard Gere suddenly shows up and he’s wearing a white uniform and he picks her up and carries her out of the factory while all of her coworkers cheer.  Meanwhile, that Up Where We Belong song starts to play on the soundtrack.  Even though, up until recently, I had never actually sat down and watched An Officer and a Gentleman, I certainly knew that scene.

Last Friday, I noticed that I had An Officer and a Gentleman saved on the DVR and I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well go ahead and watch it and find out what else happens in the movie.”  Add to that, I only had three hours of recording space left on the DVR so I figured I could watch the movie and then delete it and free up some space….

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Goddammit, Mayo, be quiet!  I’m getting to it!

Anyway, I watched the film and I discovered that it’s actually about a lot more than just Richard Gere getting Debra Winger fired from her job at the factory.  It’s also about how Zack Mayo (the character played by Richard Gere) hopes to make something of himself by graduating from Aviation Officer Candidate School so that he can become not only a Navy pilot but also an officer and a gentleman.  His father (Robert Loggia) is an alcoholic, his mother committed suicide when Mayo was a child and Mayo …. well, I’ll let him tell you himself.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

That’s right.  Mayo has not got anywhere else to go.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Ain’t is not a word, Mayo.

As you may have already guessed, we know that Mayo doesn’t have anywhere else to go because there’s a scene where he continually yells, “I ain’t got nowhere else to go!” over and over again.  He yells it after being forced to do a thousand push-ups and sit-ups by his drill sergeant, Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.)  Foley thinks that Mayo doesn’t have the right attitude to be either an officer or a gentleman.  Mayo is determined to prove him wrong.

I AIN’T GOT–

Oh give it a rest, Mayo!

Debra Winger plays Paula.  Paula is a townie.  She lives in a dilapidated house with her parents.  Her friend, Lynette (Lisa Blount), dreams of marrying a Naval officer and getting to travel the world.  Lynette gets involved with Mayo’s friend, Sid Worley (David Keith).  Foley warns both Sid and Mayo to stay away from the townie girls because they’re not to be trusted.  That turns out to be true in Lynette’s case but Paula’s love provides Mayo with the strength that he needs to believe in something more than just himself.

I AIN’T–

Yes, you do have some place to go, Mayo!  That’s the point of the whole goddamn movie!

Anyway, watching An Officer and a Gentleman, I was kind of surprised to discover that it’s actually two movies in one.  It’s a traditional army training film, one in which Richard Gere is whipped into shape by a tough drill sergeant.  It’s also a film about life in an economically depressed small town, where the only hope of escape comes from marrying the right aviation officer candidate.  As a military film it’s predictable if occasionally effective.  As a film about small town life, it’s surprisingly poignant.  An Officer And A Gentleman doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to depicting just how little life in the town has to offer to people like Paula and Lynette.  They have spent their entire lives being told they can either work in a factory for minimum wage and get drunk on the weekend or they can land a man who will hopefully take them away from all that and give them something more to look forward to than cirrhosis of the liver.  Lynette has accepted that as being her only option.  While Paula dreams of escape, she dreams of escaping on her terms.  She may fall in love with Mayo but she’s not going to pretend to be someone that she’s not just to keep him around.

Though he’s evolved into a good character actor, Richard Gere was remarkably blank-faced when he was younger and his performance as Mayo alternates between being bland and shrill.  However, Debra Winger brings a welcome edge to her role.  She plays Paula as someone who knows she’s stuck in a dead end existence.  She’s not happy about it but, at the same time, she’s not going to surrender her principles in order to escape.  She holds onto her ideals, even though she appears to be stuck in a crappy situation and that’s something that Mayo learns from her.  In the end, Paula saves Mayo just as surely as the Navy does.  And, just as Paula saves Mayo, Winger saves the movie.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Oh, shut the Hell up, Mayo.  Go pick up Paula and carry her off to a better life….

Back to School Part II #35: One Eight Seven (dir by Kevin Reynolds)


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I’m writing this review from memory so you’re going to have to bear with me.  187 is one of those films that seems to show up on late night cable constantly, which is how I saw it.  I probably should rewatch it for this review but … no.  I don’t want to have to sit through it again.

See, here’s the thing with 187.  It’s a film where Samuel L. Jackson plays a high school science teacher and, just by definition, that should make it the greatest film ever and yet it isn’t.

Originally, Jackson’s working in New York but then he ends up failing one of his students (played by Method Man).  Method Man ends up giving Jackson a textbook on which he has written 187 on every single page.  Jackson immediately realizes that 187 is the name of the movie that he’s in.  “Always good to meet a fan,” he thinks but then suddenly, it dawns on him that 187 is also police code for homicide!  Jackson asks the school administration for help.  They ignore him (probably because everyone knows that Samuel L. Jackson is too much of a badass to be scared by some numbers in a textbook) and he ends up getting stabbed several times in the back.

Agck!

We jump forward 15 months.  Jackson has recovered from nearly being killed and he’s still determined to teach.  He wants to make a difference!  But he’s decided that New York kids are too homicidal so he transfers to a school in Los Angeles.  Surprise!  It turns out that students in Los Angeles are just as dangerous as the ones in New York.  During his first day as a substitute teacher, Jackson is writing his name on a chalk board.  Someone throws a crumpled ball of paper at him.  Jackson flinches as it hits his back.

FLASHBACK TIME!

Now, here’s the thing: the idea of Samuel L. Jackson teaching in an inner city high school and taking on a bunch of gang members sounds totally kickass.  And you spend this entire two-hour movie waiting for Samuel L. Jackson to have one of those wonderful Samuel L. Jackson moments when he fixes someone with that powerful glare and suddenly speaks in the voice of angry and vengeful God.  You keep waiting but, with the exception of a few moments, it never seems to happen.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t expecting Jackson to say, “I’m sick of these motherfucking gangstas in this motherfucking classroom!”  It would have been great if he had said that but, after a few minutes of watching the movie, I realized that he probably wouldn’t.  187 is obviously meant to be a serious movie about America’s educational crisis.  Watching it, you get the feeling that 187‘s director, Kevin “I know Kevin Costner” Reynolds, woke up every morning and said, “I am making the most important film ever today!”

But whatever good intentions that the filmmakers may have had, it’s no excuse for totally wasting Samuel L. Jackson.  When you’ve got a powerful actor like Samuel L. Jackson, why do you waste him in such a thinly written role?  When you finally do allow him to do something big and Samuel L. Jackson-like, why do you waste so much dramatic potential by having him do almost all of it off-screen?  Jackson finally does get a great Samuel L. Jackson moment towards the end of the film but that’s just because there’s a big plot twist that doesn’t make any sense.  The end of 187 reminds the viewer that an ironic ending has to be earned.  It just can’t be slapped onto the film.

I mean, I don’t want to toss out any spoilers because, for all I know, 187 is going to be on Cinemax tonight.  If you’re up at 3 in the morning, you might end up watching it and God knows, I don’t want to be accused of giving away the ending.   But let me ask you this — if you’ve finally captured someone who you’ve spent an entire two-hour film trying to kill, would you then suddenly decide to play a game of Russian roulette?

Anyway, 187 should be avoided because it totally wastes Samuel L. Jackson and that’s kind of unforgivable.

44 Days of Paranoia #30: Nixon (dir by Oliver Stone)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Oliver Stone’s 1995 presidential biopic, Nixon.

Nixon tells the life story of our 37th President, Richard Nixon.  The only President to ever resign in order to avoid being impeached, Nixon remains a controversial figure to this day.  As portrayed in this film, Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) was an insecure, friendless child who was dominated by his ultra religious mother (Mary Steenburgen) and who lived in the shadow of his charismatic older brother (Tony Goldwyn).  After he graduated college, Nixon married Pat (Joan Allen), entered politics, made a name for himself as an anti-communist, and eventually ended up winning the U.S. presidency.  The film tells us that, regardless of his success, Nixon remained a paranoid and desperately lonely man who eventually allowed the sycophants on his staff (including James Woods) to break the law in an attempt to destroy enemies both real and imagined.  Along the way, Nixon deals with a shady businessman (Larry Hagman), who expects to be rewarded for supporting Nixon’s political career, and has an odd confrontation with a young anti-war protester who has figured out that Nixon doesn’t have half the power that everyone assumes he does.

Considering that his last few films have been W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and SavagesI think it’s understandable that I’m often stunned to discover that, at one point in the distant past, Oliver Stone actually was a worthwhile director.  JFK, for instance, is effective propaganda.  Nixon, which feels a lot like an unofficial sequel to JFK, is a much messier film than JFK but — as opposed to something like Savages — it’s still watchable and occasionally even thought-provoking.  Thanks to Hopkins’ performance and, it must be admitted, Stone’s surprisingly even-handed approach to the character, Nixon challenges our assumptions about one of the most infamous and villified figures in American history.  It forces us to decide for ourselves whether Nixon was a monster or a victim of circumstances that spiraled out of his control.  If you need proof of the effectiveness of the film’s approach, just compare Stone’s work on Nixon with his work on his next Presidential biography, the far less effective W.

(I should admit, however, that I’m a political history nerd and therefore, this film was specifically designed to appeal to me.  For me, half the fun of Nixon was being able to go, “Oh, that’s supposed to be Nelson Rockefeller!”)

If I had to compare the experience of watching Nixon to anything, I would compare it to taking 10 capsules of Dexedrine and then staying up for five days straight without eating.  The film zooms from scene-to-scene, switching film stocks almost at random while jumping in and out of time, and not worrying too much about establishing any sort of narrative consistency.  Surprisingly nuanced domestic scenes between Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen are followed by over-the-top scenes where Bob Hoskins lustily stares at a White House guard or Sam Waterston’s eyes briefly turn completely black as he discusses the existence of evil.  When Nixon gives his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention, the Republican delegates are briefly replaced by images of a world on fire.  Familiar actors wander through the film, most of them only popping up for a scene or two and then vanishing.  The end result is a film that both engages and exhausts the viewer, a hallucinatory journey through Stone’s version of American history.

Nixon is a mess but it’s a fascinating mess.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd