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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

August 9, 1985

In an attempt to put a finger on the ineffable singularity of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, let us consider the Rube Goldberg machines of Summer of 1985 so far:

THE GOONIES. First scene after the prologue. Mikey pulls a string that drops a bowling ball into a bucket and sets off a chain reaction that involves a balloon, a hen, a football and a sprinkler, just to pull open the gate for Chunk. Why? I don’t know. Because it’s cute. Its cool. Kids like it. No reason needed.

BACK TO THE FUTURE. Opening titles. A series of timers act as Doc Brown’s breakfast machine. The coffeemaker turns on, an alarm swings an arm that flips a switch that turns on the morning news, the toaster is toasting, a can of dog food slides down to a robot arm that swings around to a can opener that opens it and it dumps into a dog bowl. It’s not as elaborate or chain reaction based as the GOONIES machine, but it’s more organic to the story because it’s the work of an inventor who’s a genius and a nut and interested in time. And also maybe Steven Spielberg is just into these things, since he produced both movies.

And now, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. Again, the first scene after the prologue. Another breakfast machine. After getting out of bed in the morning, Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens in his followup to MEAT BALLS PART II) tells his dog Speck, “Come on, let’s get some breakfast!” He turns on a fan and lights a candle under a string. The reaction involves a row of interlocked pinwheels, a dropping anvil, a toy ferris wheel… this one could be an homage to the one in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, but with the addition of kitsch: an egg rolls through a tube and is cracked open by a Drinking Bird, wooden models of dinosaur skeletons carry bread slices and squeeze oranges, an Abraham Lincoln statue flips pancakes. As the meal is made (and the dog food is served) the orchestral score builds from dreamy, tinkly chimes to a booming, stomping anthem. And in the end the food is somehow plated with eggs for eyes, a strawberry for a nose and bacon strips for lips. Pee-wee calls him “Mr. Breakfast,” and they seem to already be acquainted. For his own breakfast, Mr. Breakfast requests Mr. T Cereal. (read the rest of this shit…)

Frankenweenie

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

Frankenweenie is a 26-minute long black-and-white Disney live action short that was not quite, as far as I can tell, a Summer of 1985 release. It was made in 1984, planned to play with a re-release of THE JUNGLE BOOK that summer, then production was delayed, moving it to PINOCCHIO in December, but when it received a PG rating they couldn’t play it with a G-rated movie, so it got shelved until playing with only the U.K. release of BABY: THE SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND. I couldn’t find proof of a date, but if it was the same as the U.S. then it was in March of ’85.

But I decided it was an important backstory to fill in, because it keeps coming up. It was one of the projects then-25-year-old Disney artist Tim Burton switched to after the company didn’t use any of his designs for THE BLACK CAULDRON. It was the short they considered releasing with MY SCIENCE PROJECT. And it was what brought Burton to the attention of Paul Reubens to direct a classic Summer of 1985 movie we’ll be discussing tomorrow.

It’s a simple story. Barret Oliver (D.A.R.Y.L.) plays Victor Frankenstein, a normal suburban kid who enjoys making Super-8 monster movies with his dog Sparky. But one day while playing fetch, Sparky is run over by a car – off screen, in a beautifully crafted sequence of visual storytelling that ends with a baseball rolling to the curb and Victor rising to his feet in shock. (read the rest of this shit…)

My Science Project

Monday, August 10th, 2020

August 9, 1985

The thrilling conclusion to the teen science comedy trilogy of August 2-9, 1985 is the one I knew even less about than REAL GENIUS. I can say that because all I knew was the picture of aliens I saw in the one page article in my trusty July, 1985 Cinefantastique, but I forgot it said that scene was cut. So I had negative knowledge of what the movie was about.

Like REAL GENIUS, it has a cold open in a military facility to establish what the kids will be dealing with. But this scene is in 1957 when President Eisenhower (Robert Beer, who also played him THE RIGHT STUFF) is dragged out of bed to be shown the UFO the boys captured. He tells them to get rid of it. Cut to 1985.

From that point on it’s closer to WEIRD SCIENCE than REAL GENIUS, because it’s another one about high school kids accidentally unleashing sci-fi craziness in their small town (in Arizona, I think). A major difference from the other two is that the main character, Michael Harlan (John Stockwell, CHRISTINE) is by no means nerdy. I don’t think he’s a popular kid either, he’s just a broody, gruff, kind of dim but basically nice dude who’s not really interested in anything but working on cars. His favorite singer is Bruce Springsteen, he drives a 1968 Pontiac GTO with a huge blower, and when science fiction causes it to break down outside of town he refuses to walk home because he thinks someone will see him and question his mechanic skills. (read the rest of this shit…)

Real Genius

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

August 7th, 1985

REAL GENIUS is a Summer of 1985 movie that’s completely new to me. I’ve seen the cover and known for most of my life that it was a comedy starring a young Val Kilmer that certain people swore by, and that’s about it. So the whole tone and content was a surprise to me. I had no idea it was a college movie, or that it’s grounded in a little bit of serious world. It opens like a thriller, telling us about a CIA militarization-of-space initiative called the Crossbow Project, which is very similar to the Grazer One satellite in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY. Using lasers, it could zero in on and assassinate people from space. But at this point it’s imcomplete, and they’re putting pressure on professor (and TV host) Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton, after playing a punchable prick in GHOSTBUSTERS, before playing one in DIE HARD) to push his team of young geniuses at the Pacific Technical University to crack that problem with the energy source so they can “have a working weapon by June.”

Another thing that surprised me is that Val Kilmer (TOP SECRET!)’s Chris Knight, the only character on the cover, is kind of the second lead. It wasn’t as shocking as learning that CADDYSHACK was about teenagers, but still, I wasn’t expecting it to center on 15-year old physics prodigy Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret, “Boy at Funeral,” GOING APE!) who, while other whiz kids his age are staying home doing weird science with their horny friends, is personally recruited by Professor Hathaway to go to college and work on this project. He’s a genius, but very aware of how physically young and socially inexperienced he is, making this a very scary move. He’s heard legends of Chris, the only other person recruited to the team when he was a freshman, and can’t believe it when they turn out to be roommates. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wira

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

WIRA (translation: HERO) is a really good 2019 martial arts movie that’s available on Netflix, and maybe my first Malaysian film? It cold opens with a brutal women’s M.M.A. match that will be an important inciting incident, but you don’t really know the context yet, so instead it works to establish the movie’s level of action reality: somewhat grounded in real moves and sweat and blood, but moving through them very fast, and with absolutely thunderous punching and slamming sounds. Like somebody is gonna get their head knocked off. Reminded me a little bit of the UNDISPUTED sequels, with less spinning in the air.

After the credits we meet a male hero, Hassan (Hairul Azreen, a Taekwondo black belt who’s been acting for a little over a decade), a former elite super duper commando motherfucker drifting back into town after many years, a bag over his shoulder, getting hassled by a cop (Henley Hii) like he’s John Rambo. That’s only one of the beloved action traditions he follows – we also learn that he’s a legendary underground fighter. The aforementioned cop is actually an old friend giving him shit, and Hassan ends up going along with him when he arrests some young guys for fighting. On the way to jail they realize who Hassan is and try to get a selfie with him from the backseat of the police car.

And one of them asks, “You want to avenge your sister, don’t you?” (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Samson

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

BLACK SAMSON is another entry in the ‘70s Black action cinema genre (if we can call it that when it has a white director). I watched it because it was on a double feature disc with THREE THE HARD WAY, and it looked pretty cool – the menu showed the movie poster’s painting of the title character looking pretty great with his big wooden staff and pet lion.

And fortunately that’s not too exaggerated an image of Samson (Rockne Tarkington, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, BEWARE! THE BLOB, DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR), though unfortunately he never walks around town with his lion companion, Hudu. The cat stays at the bar that Samson owns and operates, laying on a table near the stage for the topless dancers. But Samson does take the big-ass wooden staff with the lion head carved at the top everywhere he goes, as well as using it to knock out troublemakers at the bar. (read the rest of this shit…)

Weird Science

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

August 2, 1985

I’m no expert on the films of John Hughes, but I’ve seen enough to know WEIRD SCIENCE (which he wrote and directed) is pretty different from the other ones. It’s still a teen movie, like he was known for at the time, but it’s his only foray into science fiction unless you count his screenplay for JUST VISITING (the 2001 flop remake of LES VISITEURS) for involving time travel.

It feels a little off to call WEIRD SCIENCE sci-fi though. It’s more like computer magical realism, I think. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Much like EXPLORERS, we have two oft-bullied nerds, the main character Gary (Anthony Michael Hall, following SIX PACK, VACATION, SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and computer genius best friend Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, HOW TO BE A PERFECT PERSON IN JUST THREE DAYS, DANIEL, THE WILD LIFE). Going by the actors’ ages, Gary and Wyatt are about 2 or 3 years too old to be Explorers or Goonies. So they’re different in that they do not dream of adventure; they are entirely consumed by horniness. And the girls they like to stare at in school ignore them, so Gary’s big idea is to make a woman. He’s inspired by seeing BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on TV (colorized! what the fuck!?) and figures his smart friend should be able to do something like that with his fancy computer machine. (read the rest of this shit…)

Follow That Bird

Friday, July 31st, 2020

August 2, 1985

THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979) is a one-of-a-kind American family film masterpiece, followed by several enjoyable sequels. FOLLOW THAT BIRD (a.k.a. SESAME STREET PRESENTS FOLLOW THAT BIRD) is sort of the younger kids’ version of that, and it never quite caught on the same, but it’s worthy of sitting on the same shelf. It depicts Sesame Street (the street) on film, in cinematic terms, and takes some of its Muppet inhabitants out into the real world for adventures both goofy and heartfelt, with guest appearances by a few Canadian comedy stars.

It all happens because of a well-meaning but clueless all-bird organization called The Society of Feathered Friends, whose mission is “to place stray birds with nice bird families.” Somehow they receive a dossier about Big Bird living on a vacant lot with no bird friends, and decide to “help.” As they discuss how sad he looks in a photo an owl comments, “That’s funny, he looks happy to me,” causing outrage, because, according to Miss Finch (voice of Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H), “We all know he can’t be happy. He needs to be with his own kind. A bird family.” (read the rest of this shit…)

National Lampoon’s European Vacation

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

July 26, 1985

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION is one of the Summer of 1985 movies I actually did see in the theater. I was young and I’m sure I thought it was funny enough at the time, but I doubt I ever rewatched it before now, and I did not feel any nostalgia for it.

While the first VACATION was directed by Harold Ramis, this one was Amy Heckerling, following FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY. She occasionally brings what probly were considered “MTV style” flourishes to montages and stuff, but is fairly anonymous. John Hughes returned as writer/producer, but for the first one he’d been able to adapt a short story he’d already written for National Lampoon. This one had no such basis, so he had to bring in a serious, heavy hitter, not fuckin around superstar pinch hitter of a co-writer to carry his dead weight and turn this into something truly special. But that person must’ve been busy so he got Robert Klane, writer/director of the disco movie THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY (1978). Klane had previously been a novelist, but in 1970 adapted his book WHERE’S POPPA? into a movie, which led to writing some episodes of M*A*S*H, an unproduced GREASE sequel called GREASIER, the Summer of 1985 movie that I skipped THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Heavenly Kid

Monday, July 27th, 2020

July 26, 1985

THE HEAVENLY KID is another mildly-watchable but understandably forgotten also-ran from the overflowing Summer of 1985. It’s kind of a teen comedy and kind of an adult romance, with a fantastical/supernatural type gimmick.

It opens in the early ‘60s when Bobby Fontana (Lewis Smith, SOUTHERN COMFORT), a super cool James Dean type leather jacket wearing rebel, drives off a cliff during a dangerous challenge race over some macho bullshit (or “honor,” he calls it). He comes to on a crowded subway car that he doesn’t seem to realize is his transport to the afterlife. He’s stopped at the train station escalator to “Uptown,” and angel/bureaucrat/whatever Rafferty (Richard Mulligan, TEACHERS) puts him back on the train until he can receive his assignment to earn his way up.

So yeah, there’s some DEFENDING YOUR LIFE and BEETLEJUICE type satirical fantasy in here, but he’s on that train until 1985, when he’s finally given his mission to help out clueless high school nerd Lenny Barnes (Jason Gedrick right before IRON EAGLE). (read the rest of this shit…)