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Archive for July, 2020

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…)

The Black Cauldron

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

When it comes to Summer of 1985 fantasy movies that might be a little too dark and scary for their family audiences, RETURN TO OZ was not all Disney had up their sleeve. They also had an animated feature about swords and quests and undead armies that tried to push their artform into new territory. It was the most expensive animated movie that had ever been made, the only one besides SLEEPING BEAUTY that was shot on 70mm, Disney’s first that was rated PG, and the first to integrate some computer generated imagery. It’s adapted from a series of children’s novels called The Chronicles of Prydain by Llloyd Alexander, and they chose not to turn it into a musical (which took some restraint, since one of the main characters is a bard who carries a harp around). It has a mostly serious tone, with a score by Elmer Bernstein and a willingness to start out quiet and ominous, with slow fades between scenes.

Its hero is Taran (Grant Bardsley, George Cukor’s THE BLUE BIRD), a dorky young “assistant pig-keeper” unhappy with his weird job of helping his boss Dallben (Freddie Jones, FIREFOX, FIRESTARTER, WILD AT HEART) take care of one single pig named Hen Wen. He thinks he should be “a famous warrior” having adventures and shit, which he practices for by swinging a stick at imaginary enemies, narrating about how fearless he is and how scared and cowardly they are. (read the rest of this shit…)

Three the Hard Way

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

THREE THE HARD WAY (1974) is directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (this is #3 of his four movies, after SUPER FLY and THOMASINE & BUSHROD, before AARON LOVES ANGELA). His famous Life Magazine photographer father directed SHAFT in 1971, its explosive popularity leading to the wave of genre films aimed at black audiences known as Blaxploitation*. Junior directed SUPER FLY in 1972, which was even more successful than SHAFT. Though both received some criticism for promoting negative stereotypes, in style and substance they were on the more serious, artful end of the Blaxploitation spectrum.

So it’s kind of funny that for his second movie Parks Jr. just leapt right into the silly caricature side of the pool. This one teams up three of the biggest stars of the genre to play some random freelance tough dudes in different cities who know each other from way back (no explanations offered), and sends them to fight straight up white supremacists planning a genocidal super villain plot. Other than the horrendous racism that has to be depicted to show what they’re up against, this is all froth, bluster and wish-fulfillment. Which I can get behind. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sleight

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

SLEIGHT is a 2016 film from director J.D. Dillard, who later did that fun woman-trapped-on-an-island-with-a-monster movie SWEETHEART. It’s produced by Blumhouse Tilt and the prestigious WWE Studios, who I still contend should only make movies starring wrestlers, but I forgive them in this case. The Undertaker would’ve been weird in this part.

Instead, Jacob Latimore (DETROIT) plays Bo, a young man living in L.A. He’s some kind of budding engineering genius and he got a great scholarship, but he had to ditch out on it because his parents died and he was the only one left to take care of his kid sister Tina (Storm Reid, THE INVISIBLE MAN). He has a cool neighbor, Georgi (Sasheer Zamata, formerly of Saturday Night Live), who looks after Tina for him sometimes, but otherwise he’s on his own.

Like SWEETHEART, it trusts us to have the patience to watch what he does for a while instead of giving us all the information up front. We see that he works as a street magician – a really good one. He does David Blaine style card tricks that blow the minds of the various young people he approaches on Hollywood streets. And he has a few weirder tricks where he seems to make objects move – like, causing someone’s ring to float and spin above his hand, moving his other hand around it to show that there are no strings involved. He does that one for Holly (Seychelle Gabriel, THE LAST AIRBENDER, BLOOD FEST) who is clearly into him, and maybe would be giving him the same look if the trick wasn’t so astounding. He gets her number and starts having awkward dates with her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Space Truckers

Monday, July 20th, 2020

When Stuart Gordon died at the end of March I decided it was finally time to watch SPACE TRUCKERS, a movie I had been meaning to see for literally 23 years. You know how it is. You get busy sometimes.

Obviously I dig Gordon as a Master of Horror, director of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, as one should. And in recent years I’ve really come to love THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and CASTLE FREAK. But I also think he’s under-appreciated for his sci-fi movies ROBOT JOX and FORTRESS. And ever since I first saw ALIEN I’ve loved those stories that are about space but the heroes are just working class people doing their job, not some royalty or chosen one or member of any federation or academy. As the title makes clear, this is about characters like that. Truckers. In space. (read the rest of this shit…)

Day of the Dead (35th anniversary revisit)

Friday, July 17th, 2020

July 19, 1985

DAY OF THE DEAD – like MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME – is a favorite movie of mine that I’ve already written about thoroughly (click here for my review from 2013), but that still felt important to revisit in my analysis of the Summer of 1985. I could watch it every year regardless, but even more than OMEGA MAN this is a movie that I’ve thought of repeatedly since the pandemic lockdown started four months ago. And sure enough, the movie rings true in new ways in 2020. George Romero knew what he was doing.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about it in the context of ’85. Obviously DAY is a little niche  – another one of the many interesting movies coming out on the sidelines, not necessarily trying to capture the culture like BACK TO THE FUTURE or something. In a way it goes hand in hand with THUNDERDOME. Both are by visionary genre directors with the first name George, the less-well-received part 3s in the series each director is best known for, which has new chapters spread across decades, drastically reinventing its world each time. But THUNDERDOME was pitched for a wider (and younger) audience than THE ROAD WARRIOR, while DAY continued on the low budget/super-gory path of DAWN OF THE DEAD. And while THUNDERDOME has a larger scale and far more meticulous world-building than its predecessor, DAY mostly just has advances (huge ones) in its special effects makeup. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Old Guard

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

THE OLD GUARD is a pretty good Pandemic Summer blockbuster, because I’m sure it would’ve felt underwhelming if it had been advertised for months and played on the big screen, but as a movie I read mentioned once or twice and never saw promoted until shortly before it dropped on Netflix, it was enjoyable.

In the opening scenes it almost seems like another one in the tradition of CLOSE and EXTRACTION – militarized elite mercenaries or whatever, all geared up with their guns and armor and headsets, on a mission to rescue kidnapped kids in a Muslim country (South Sudan this time). But there are little hints that something else is up – wait, is that guy carrying a sword? They have a team, too, instead of one burnt out loner who’s messed up about losing a kid. Their leader is Andy (Charlize Theron, with hair and physicality that reminded me she was AEON FLUX), who thinks they should be laying low, but reluctantly agrees to meet with this ex-CIA guy Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, TRIPLE 9) for intel.

It turns out to be a trap. They breach the place and the walls close in on them and some guys come out and machine gun them. A minute later is when we get to the real premise – the team wake up, the bullets drop out of their wounds, they heal and they stand up and kill those motherfuckers with that sword and a cool ax and some kung fu and shit. (Fight coordinator: Daniel Hernandez, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, VENOM.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Profiles in Badass #1: BRUCE LEE

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

Late last year there was this new entertainment websight or lifestyle brand or whatever that was kind enough to recruit me for a bi-weekly column about the films of badass cinema. After twelve installments I decided to quit, and a couple weeks later they closed up shop, because what would be the point of doing it without my column, and/or there was an unrelated scandal involving the company that owned them. But they were nice enough to give the writers permission to put up our pieces on our own blogs and what not.

Meanwhile, the Criterion Collection is on this very day releasing a Bruce Lee box set. And I believe they will accomplish something I’ve been trying to do for years now: get people to watch all the Bruce Lee movies. In fact, that was the goal of my first Profiles in Badass column. So for those of you who didn’t go through the Rebeller pay wall to read it back in January I am proud to present column #1 to you absolutely free of charge and without any corny anti-PC stuff next to it.

PROFILES IN BADASS #1: BRUCE LEE

Everyone knows who Bruce Lee is. Kind of. They know the flying kick guy on the posters, the philosophical inspirational quotes guy, the nunchaku guy, the DJ on Tony Stark’s t-shirt. Maybe they’ve even seen Enter the Dragon, or heard about Lee’s concept of “using no way as way” being a precursor to today’s mixed martial arts, but I think that’s as far as it goes for many.

It doesn’t have to be that way! I believe many people who are only familiar with the idea of Bruce Lee would enjoy finally sitting down and watching his movies. And it’s an easy fix. Though the multitude of alternate titles, documentaries, lookalikes and posthumous-footage-extrapolations could give the impression that it’s an inaccessible “Where do I even start?” body of work like Sun Ra or Frank Zappa or somebody, set aside his work as a child actor and his TV appearances and there are really only 4 1/2 true Bruce Lee films. I know you watch more than that in a weekend when a new season of a streaming show drops. You can do this! Let me guide you.

 

(read the rest of this shit…)