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Explorers

Monday, July 13th, 2020

July 12, 1985

Director Joe Dante came up in the world of Roger Corman – first cutting trailers, then directing PIRANHA – before his success with THE HOWLING (1981) brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who produced TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983) and GREMLINS (1984). So it’s notable that Dante’s Summer of ’85 entry EXPLORERS is another that (like D.A.R.Y.L. or especially COCOON) seems like it wouldn’t have existed without the influence of Spielberg’s films.

In an interview with Podcasting Them Softly, screenwriter Eric Luke confirms, “The thing that sold it, that Paramount thought, let’s make this was like the one sentence concept, because E.T. had just come out and been the biggest hit ever, so my answer to that was three boys build their own space ship and go into space and it all works, it’s not just a fantasy, there’s some scientific underpinning.”

(read the rest of this shit…)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

I am a devotee of MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME. Obviously I love the whole series, some of them even more than this one, but there are many special qualities particular to this installment. I wrote about the movie in 2007 and I think that review does the job of describing many of the reasons it’s great. But I really felt like I needed to revisit it both in the context of the Summer of 1985 movie season, and as a movie to watch in 2020, so that’s what I’ll do in this supplemental review.

July 10, 1985

Like all of George Miller’s work, THUNDERDOME boldly stands out from other films of its era. Though RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II was the action movie causing the biggest stir at the time, it didn’t have anything approaching the inventiveness or filmmaking prowess of the Thunderdome duel or the train-track chase. And yet I don’t even think of THUNDERDOME primarily for it’s action – it’s more like a fantasy film – and in a season that includes RETURN TO OZ and WARRIORS OF THE WIND, it still might be the most imaginative movie of the summer, the most detailed fictional world, the most evocative mythmaking.

It’s very much an Australian production, and a continuation of Miller’s previous films. The stunt coordinator is the legendary Australian stuntman Grant Page, who we also know from his parts in THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, DEATH CHEATERS, STUNT ROCK and ROAD GAMES. Cinematographer Dean Semler, co-writer Terry Hayes, art director Graham “Grace” Walker (now production designer) and costume designer Norma Moriceau, among others, returned from THE ROAD WARRIOR. But in the four years between MAXes, Miller had some dalliances with Hollywood, and THUNDERDOME does seem aware of its place in a blockbuster landscape largely shaped by fellow TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE segment director Steven Spielberg and friends. According to the Mad Max wiki, “on one wall [of the Bartertown set], there’s a picture of a Gremlin. Not far away, the feed and grain store has a few words painted over its front entrance – ‘Proprietor: E.T. Spielberg’.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Throne of Blood

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

THRONE OF BLOOD (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-jō, “SPIDER WEB CASTLE”) is an Akira Kurosawa movie from 1957, and the only one I’ve seen by him that has supernatural shit in it. It’s partly inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which to be honest I don’t remember that well, because I only read it in school, and Julie Taymor hasn’t made it into a movie yet. But even I picked up on it when the Lady Macbeth-like character couldn’t stop scrubbing her hands, thinking they still had blood on them. That guy died 400 years ago, and he still owns guilty hand-washing scenes. Hats off.

Two generals, Washizu Taketoki (Toshiro Mifune, HELL IN THE PACIFIC) and Miki Yoshiteru (Akira Kubo, GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE), are headed back to their boss Lord Tsuzuki (Hiroshi Tachikawa, FIGHTING ELEGY) at Spider Web Castle after a glorious victory in battle. But, like a horror movie, the woods seem to have changed, and they’ve gotten lost. Then they spot a strange all white ghosty type person (Chieko Naniwa, SANSHO THE BAILIFF) just kinda sitting there in the woods glowing. And when that happens, I mean you basically got a choice of running away or walking up to it and seeing what the deal is. They choose B. (read the rest of this shit…)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (and a little on Ganja & Hess)

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

Here’s something for a limited audience: Spike Lee, following his guerilla-style, filmed-in-three-weeks, released-in-41-theaters RED HOOK SUMMER, and his universally rejected OLDBOY remake, wanted to do a faithful remake of Bill Gunn’s 1974 arthouse bloodsucker movie GANJA AND HESS. Even with a lower budget than RED HOOK SUMMER, he knew no studio was gonna give him money for something like that, so he raised the money on Kickstarter.

It’s not something the average person is gonna need to see, but it’s weird that it took me so long to see this particular Official Spike Lee Joint (as the credits label it). I love Spike Lee, and I think even the ones I don’t like as much (BAMBOOZLED when it came out – haven’t rewatched it though and could well be wrong) are interesting and worth analyzing. DO THE RIGHT THING is still my favorite, and around the time it came out I caught a double feature of SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT and SCHOOL DAZE, and since then his only theatrical releases I’ve missed were SHE HATE ME (still haven’t seen it), RED HOOK SUMMER (I’m not sure it played here) and this one. But yes, I saw GIRL 6, I saw MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, I saw CHI-RAQ. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lift

Monday, July 6th, 2020

“I don’t much like the lift, I prefer to take the stairs, it’s much safer.”

July 3, 1985

THE LIFT (DE LIFT) is a 1983 Dutch horror film, the feature debut of music video, TV and short film director Dick Maas, who would later direct AMSTERDAMNED. According to The New York Times it played the Waverly starting July 3rd, but I don’t know if it played other cities on that day, or later, or what. It was not in the top 25 at the box office for that weekend, which means it made less than the $2,723 that MOVERS & SHAKERS starring Walter Matthau made on the one screen it had left in its tenth week. So, as with WARRIORS OF THE WIND and THE STUFF earlier in this series, I’m unsure about the exact time and size of the release, but there’s enough evidence to be convinced it was played on some screens in the Summer of 1985.

So this was a season when adventurous filmgoers in certain American cities might’ve been able to see horror movies about killer yogurt and a killer elevator. THE STUFF treated its concept with a straight face, but there were jokes, and some very clear satire. I will trust the various reviews of the time that THE LIFT is a black comedy, but to me it plays serious.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Starfighter

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

THE LAST STARFIGHTER is not a summer of 1985 release – it came out in July of ’84 – but I remember seeing it as a drive-in double feature with BACK TO THE FUTURE. I’m not sure, but I think the location of this viewing must’ve been Sno-King Drive-In Theatre, which it seems closed down a year later, its final double-bill consisting of HOWARD THE DUCK and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Same print, I bet. Anyway, I got nostalgic and decided this would make a good follow-up to yesterday’s review.

This is the sci-fi movie directed by HALLOWEEN (and also HALLOWEEN)’s The Shape himself, Nick Castle, starring HALLOWEEN II’s Lance Guest and HALLOWEEN III’s Dan O’Herlihy. Guest plays Alex Rogan, a broody teenager who lives in a trailer park and is very good at an arcade video game called Starfighter, which they have outside in the park. I don’t know if they put a tarp over it if the weather gets bad or what. That never comes up.

If you hear he lives in a trailer park you could reasonably assume there would be some kind of class themes in this story, but there’s really not. There’s no clash with the rich kids, and the park, called Starlite Starbrite, is far from a hellhole. In fact it’s a delightful place full of nice, quirky people who form a huge crowd and applaud for Alex when he beats the high score on the game. That he wants to get out of there is underlined by decorating his room with posters of Hawaii and Paris (along with the expected toy space ships and mobile of the solar system). Making it seem like a pretty cool place to live is a weird choice, but I like weird choices. (read the rest of this shit…)

Back to the Future

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

July 3, 1985

There was only one movie in 1985 that was bigger than RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, at least box office-wise, and it was considerably bigger. It would inspire two sequels, a cartoon and a movie ride at Universal Studios, though you could argue that its cultural impact was smaller than RAMBO’s merely because it couldn’t really be copied as much. How would you imitate something as high concept and specific as BACK TO THE FUTURE?

Its success surely comes from a combination of factors – the zippy direction of Robert Zemeckis, the unusual squeaky-voiced-nerd-who-carries-himself-as-a-rock-star appeal of Michael J. Fox (after MIDNIGHT MADNESS and CLASS OF 1984), the heart-pumping score by Alan Silvestri, the comic support of Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson – but all of that hangs on the ingenious premise: kid gets sent back in time to his parents’ high school days and endangers his own existence when his mom gets eyes for him instead of his dad. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fast Color

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

FAST COLOR is a really well made little movie I watched on Hulu. I didn’t really know what it was about, but remembered that when it came out last year there were people lamenting that it didn’t get enough attention. They called it a super hero origin story and felt that should’ve made it more marketable.

That description isn’t totally inaccurate, but sells it a little short, I think. It’s about a woman with some telekinetic type powers, but she doesn’t wear a costume, fight crime, fight super villains, or use her powers for heroism at all. She even explicitly says “We’re not super heroes,” and doesn’t seem to later change her mind about that. The story reminds me much more of FIRESTARTER than any comic book movie. Regular person made into a fugitive by being born with unusual gifts, running through small towns to avoid being a guinea pig for some secret government project. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pale Rider

Monday, June 29th, 2020

June 26, 1985

PALE RIDER is a solid, well made, mostly traditional western starring, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, from a script by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack (THE GAUNTLET, TURNER & HOOCH). Clint stars as a mysterious drifter only referred to as “Preacher,” because when he takes off his stylish trenchcoat he reveals a priestly collar. But this is only after we’ve seen him stick fight a gang of bullies to unconsciousness and comment, “There’s nothin like a nice piece of hickory.” So there are reasons to question whether that’s his true occupation.

The Preacher wanders into a small California mountain town called LaHood, destination unknown. When asked if he’s just passing through he says he hadn’t really thought about it. The man he saved from a beatdown, Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty, Q), invites him to stay for a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

New Patreon bonus: FIRST BLOOD book vs. movie comparison

Friday, June 26th, 2020


As I’ve mentioned before, I feel a little weird about promoting my Patreon during These Uncertain Times™. I guess I always feel weird about it. But the fact is your generous, totally optional support is helping me get through this, it’s so much better than having to freelance for morally questionable outlets, and I want to show my gratitude. So what I have here is a rough draft I dug up from 2008 when I was trying to write a follow-up to Seagalogy. If you’re interested in how the Stallone classic FIRST BLOOD differs from the David Morrell book it’s based on, here you go! (spoilers for both, of course)

Thanks again.

CLICK HERE FOR FIRST BLOOD