Movie Rants

Evil Denis Leary VS Cuba Gooding

Jeremy Piven did not fit on the cover

You know those dreams where you’re being chased and you pour all your effort into running, but every step slows down like the ground is gooey strings of chewing gum pulling at your legs?

Judgment Night is fun like that.

It’s odd that it should be effective. It is stagey and simple and full of “be a man” themes – a boy’s film.

If you allow the overblown music to carry you into the story instead of pushing you away, you’ll find yourself in the damp city streets. The suspense works, echoing those subconscious “pursuit” scenarios despite the obvious approach.

I’ve always had a kernel of enthusiasm for this movie, since nobody remembers it and it works better than it should.

Judgement Night sorta hinges on whether or not you want to hang out with Emilio Estevez and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jeremy Piven for a while in 1993.

If you let yourself grow to like them at all (Piven is plenty fun,) and you watch the movie in the dark, it does offer thrills.

Don’t give yourself such a hard time about getting into it. You were 15 once. That’s all the movie asks, is for you to be a boy again.

Maybe you saw Predator in the theater as a kid, and the music left a subconscious impression. The Silvestri score sounds bold just like Predator.

Great Jeremy Piven roles don’t come along too often. You need to see this to complete his ouvre.

If Piven-ness doesn’t justify having a 12-year-old boy’s nightmare for 90 minutes, and being slapped by a childish script while shoved by a pushy score still puts you off, consider this:

Judgment Night perfects Denis Leary.

Leary has carved himself a niche of pique. His nicotine-fueld jittery frustration often comes across like a pinchfaced James Woods stuck in traffic but less likable. That sort of high-energy discontent isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Onstage, he’s human sandpaper. Even a Sam Kinison fan may not enjoy Leary, because Leary never screams to provide catharsis after all that shuffling and barking.

Leary just builds up steam and builds up steam, like a teakettle who is a real asshole.

In Judgement Night we get to see Denis Leary take his schtick to its logical murderous conclusion as the bad guy. The result is oddly riveting. Like the movie is, the first night you watch it as a young man.

Movie Rants

The First Part of the Last Starfighter

The computer that made the spaceships in the movie was a Cray X-MP, which cost $15,000,000 in 1984 dollars. (about $34 million today)
That Cray was less powerful than the iPhone you traded in 2 years ago.

However, as the world has discovered since then – the best computer does not necessarily make for the best movie. The Last Starfighter was not the best movie to come out in 1984, but it is one of the best “first acts” to come out in 1984.

Boy wants out of his trailer park, but he’s an absolute nobody in the middle of nowhere. Boy plays video games, and finds out he’s the Chosen One in the center of the Battle for Everything.

A lot of movies have a great set-up, and they fill you with wonder as they introduce you to their own world.

“The Last Starfighter” offers over a half-hour of high-grade, pure and entertaining 80s-ness, as it offers you that setup. Watch it for that.

Watch the boy learn that what he loves most… is what makes him useful to the universe in the battle between Good and Evil. Watch the rest if you like, but my recommendation would be “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980) to see how the Battle itself plays out.

The setup here, is the goodness. The first act is the fluffy filling that makes it a Twinkie. The rest is not entirely different from most CGI spongecakes, despite my childhood affinities for it. The 80s characters in their trailer park village are full of naive charm, the premise is full of naive charm, and it has that one girl from Night of the Comet.

You’ve got the remote. With this remote comes the power to watch not only the best VHS tapes, but the best parts of them. Just rewind this one when “the Kodan Armada” shows up. You’ll need to get up and get more trail mix anyway, since you’ve eaten all the M&Ms out of the first bowl.

Maybe pop in “Night of the Comet” and watch that until they go underground.

Movie Rants

Keanu Reeves Funkiest Movie

The Night Before (1988) was long before The Matrix, and long before Keanu’s vacant-but-eager gaze started to get on our nerves just a little.

He always had the ability to present “an empty vessel” through which a film could flow, and this early starring role gives us a chance to fully appreciate this zen form of talent.

Never heard of “The Night Before”? Check it out. Sure, it is the trifling 80’s picture you expect. But don’t watch this movie for it’s 80s-ness, or Lori Loughlin, or for Reeve’s triumphant method performance of “Naive Kid” – watch it for the music.

There are plenty of movies peppered with George Clinton tunes, but this one brings us more than the expected “Tear the Roof Off” to let-us-know-white-boy-is-out-of-his-element.

This has P-Funk you won’t find outside the movie. There are some truly well-chosen tunes throughout it, and the soundtrack becomes impressive as Reeves gets chased around downtown.

I first discovered the Mar-Keys “Last Night,” when I watched this at midnight as a kid.

That was before the internet, too. There is something to be said for the elusive nature of a new and wondrous song when you can’t listen to it just because you want to. I had to figure out what it was from the credits, and track down vinyl from the library.

Your library might not have this saxophone/keyboard goodtime odyssey on vinyl anymore, so here it is:

Movie Rants

The Creepshows

Stay up later than you’ve ever stayed up before, then leave the house.

Make sure it is pitch black out and raining, and ride from your scary part of town for an even scarier part of town. Scamper through the blue midnight rain towards the mostly-broken lights of a worn-out empty theater. Spend the entire trip to the theater wondering just how the hell you convinced your dad to take you.

Open yourself to this film. You won’t be “frightened,” exactly… but thoroughly creeped-out.

Creepshow (1982)

If you’ve ever read any EC stuff like Vault of Horror or Tales From the Crypt, you know that Creepshow pulls off the funscary feat it attempts. And more.

What makes this the Horror Anthology by which all others are compared, is the love. The movie is soaked with a genuine affection for the genre, and the combination of George Romero, King and makeup artist Tom Savini is pure 80s magic.

While I don’t know exactly how I originally found out about the movie, I still remember why I begged my parents to take me: Stephen King. At that time in life, I had yet to read 40+ of his novels, but for some reason I still knew I liked the guy. The idea that an author was in the movie fascinated me. If possible, I’d recommend seeing the movie as I did.

I still remember my dad giving a rare audible laugh when poor Jordy Verrill pulls back his fingers and yells “Meteor shit!”

Creepshow 2 (1987)

After the purely magical experience of seeing the first one in the theater, I was stoked for this sequel and I may very well have ridden my bike to the theater. When the movie started, and the Creep himself looked like somebody’s unemployed uncle instead of a gregarious rotting spectre – I was concerned.

The animated parts of the “wraparound story” were nice enough, but the overall production seemed cheap and slightly unfinished. The music was lackluster compared to John Harrison’s massively-underappreciated score for the original. The first story was entirely mundane.

But then the second story started.

Watch Creepshow 2 for “The Raft,” which is one of the most perfectly-tuned adaptations of a Stephen King story ever.

It somehow “feels” just like King’s original, putting you on the raft with the main characters while presenting the terrorizingly-unknowable in a mundane setting. Simply fast-forward to the second story and watch straight-through from there. The 3rd and final story is lovably nasty and gory, and the wrap-up for the wraparound is a bit of fun, too.

People released a movie they called “Creepshow 3” in 2006. It’s mentioned here only as a simple warning to stay away. While there are certainly more worthless horror-anthologies out there, calling this one Creepshow set expectations beyond the bottom-of-the-barrel and earned it rare 0% critics-rating on RottenTomatoes.

Movie Rants

Eddie Murphy Please Come Back to Us

You can wear your red leather outfit or the blue one if you want

Eddie Murphy, you have not aged since 1983. You appear perfectly capable of doing anything now that you were capable of doing then.

“Delirious” was your live-wire peak, and we got to see you onstage plugged into the 240v dryer plug. This standup comedy performance was so funny that you waited until 2007 to release it on DVD (that’s okay, I had a copy off laserdisc.)

Apparently, you were going through a “family friendly” phase when DVDs came out – and didn’t release your VERY BEST STANDUP PERFORMANCE in a digital format for a decade. Was it because of your poopmouth?

You had many ways of entertaining us in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Trading Places” aside from cursing.

Why did you do bad movies for so many decades? Maybe you knew that VHS and laserdisc were the only formats with enough room to contain BOTH your comedic talent AND a watchable film.

So you gave us “Tower Heist” and “Bowfinger” and “Showtime” for the DVD and Blu-Ray era, because that’s all that would fit on a tiny disc.

The physical media formats have now all faded away, and video streams on the broadest of bands wrapping the globe. So you can stop biding your time and start “paying attention to what movie you choose to be in” again.

Give us sequels if you wish – but make sure the people who write and direct them do their jobs, too. We will watch you in a “Coming to America” sequel, despite “Vampire in Brooklyn.” We will open our arms and welcome a “Beverly Hills Cop 4,” despite “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”

America is ready for you to be funny again.

Movie Rants

Poltergeist – The Certainty of the Unknown

Whether or not we think we have the world all figured out now, there is a time during childhood when we have yet to erect our defenses against a real unknown.

There is a time of the night when we feel a certainty:

We haven’t got it all figured out.

We build all protective walls of bullshit-certainty after that, and some of us have a nice little castle built by age 25.

But when young there is a time of night that we know for certain that there are things we do not know.

That time comes sometime after the covers nudge our chin, and the lightswitch has been turned off, and the house is quiet. As our eyes adjust to the dark, and a dim, grainy world swells in front of us,  we can just barely see that the closet door is open two inches.

But we shut that door.

We know for sure that we shut that door, before mom turned out the light. We know that something opened that door, and we have a desperate certainty that we don’t know what that thing was.

Poltergeist will remind you that you still know this for sure:

You don’t know what thing opened the door.

It has quite a bit of the charm of E.T., but with melting faces and horrifying slime-corpses rubbing on people. It was written and produced by Spielberg, and then directed by the guy who brought us “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” There you go.

Watch the original again, preferably in an analog video format. Laserdisc or VHS are the two ways to watch Poltergeist.

Do backpacked kids still ride circles in suburban cul-de-sacs on their BMX bikes? Do the smartphones in their pocket make them certain they have the world figured out?

Do you remember “static”? How about the dark side of “wonder,” that certainty you don’t know what opened the door?

Movie Rants

Stand By Me

I always loved the part in Shawshank when Morgan Freeman is asked why people call him “Red.” His response is straight from the book.

“Maybe it’s because I’m Irish” was written long before Freeman was cast. It wasn’t a joke in the book, yet it comes off as a warm and wry Freemanism in the movie.

Is Stephen King at his best when he isn’t writing horror?

Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me might suggest that, but it isn’t so.

King is at his best when he’s inside a character and he’s giving you the internal dialogue of their thoughts. You start rolling around in someone else’s head for awhile and you forget that you’re reading.

Turned into movies, both “Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me” let you know what the characters are thinking. You’ll notice there’s plenty of narration in these adaptations, and a lot of specific lines are used verbatim from the book

Just as King’s writing can help you forget you’re reading, Stand By Me helps you forget what year it is for a while.

I got to enjoy seeing this in the theater. The boys in the movie were about my age then, and Richard Drefuss was old.

Watching it again, he’s not that old anymore

Let yourself slip into all those character-thoughts, and they’re pretty darn comfortable in ways you had nearly forgotten, like a pair of footed pajamas. Pad around in them, pat-pat-pat across the kitchen floor to get a snack, and you’ll find yourself back in that universal realm of childhood.


Movie Rants

Flash! Ahhhhyaaaahhh!

This is why my personal unconscious is overblown and filled with Queen

I like to think of it as the birth of the 80s.

As the seas of time bestir the cosmos, and the waves of millennia wash over the planets in cycles of change, sentient beings across the universe wait for a savior and we watch way too many superhero movies in 2019.

We, the happy cornfed people of Earth, were given that savior in the form of a movie. On December 5th of 1980, the film Flash Gordon was born of man, and heralded an era of exuberant entertainment.

Flash transcends all taste and reason, lifting the skirt of the soul with a blast of electric guitars and thrilling it as no movie should.

The ludicrous-fun tone, the garish production design and a perfect score all converge in brilliant audiovisual synergy.

Supporting performances are so over-the-top that they vibrate with enervating energy. Watching the acting is like standing in your bathroom with Chris Cornell at one ear and Pavarotti in the tub both singing full-tilt-boogie and finding the same note.

A straightfaced Topol, a man who was Fiddling on the Roof for more than 50 years onstage, here wields his hefty beard to fill the screen with gravitas. Brian Blessed wields his heftier beard to provide us with inhuman levels of lovable heartiness. Max Von Sydow is not a bad guy, but the worst guy. His beard is pointy.

Yet the film is not only about beards.

Sam Jones is our hero. He never quite looks unconfused… regardless of how much ass he is kicking. But he’s a 100% hero, free of mind and full of go-for-it. He lets the movie flow through him and around him and past him, never attempting to grasp what is going on.

This was years before Keanu Reeves proved that “clueless” could be the most fundamental element of an effective protagonist, too.

(In real life, after doing a couple more movies Jones went on to become a Hostage Extraction Specialist, allowing him to be an actual hero and get paid for saving people without his acting ability being questioned)

All the red-lining performances on display are dipped in brilliant crimson and gilded by Italian production-design gold.

Visually it carries all the over-the-top performances past the roof of this universe and into a beautiful garish dimension far beyond.

In Flash Gordon, all the elements of silly film are so exploded its Big Bang is eventually expands so far it must collapse back into a tiny white point of light, then explode once again, creating a Big Bounce cosmos of entertainment.

The brazen onscreen excitement is elevated beyond comprehension by Queen, who are Ready to Get Into This Thing. More energy can be found in their end credits theme that in the totality of music recorded 1990-1999. Do not ever, ever let anyone turn down the music over the end credits.

Of course, this particular origin of the 80s happened a long time ago.

Many of us (aside from a stoner teddybear in Ted and Jack Black in concert) may have forgotten we were ever saved by the entertainment of Flash.

A laserdisc player and some speakers the size of a mini-fridge will help us remember.

Movie Rants

The Collective Unconscious on Tape

Movies first exposed me to the collective unconscious of America, revealing an image of fear or desire twenty-four times a second.

I try to submit to the experience of the film while its presented, and postpone all the metacognition and analysis until after the credits roll.

Sometimes I enjoy the stories filmmakers intended to tell the audience, but sometimes questioning the filmmaker’s intent is more entertaining.

Each movie sets out to find a director’s personal Holy Grail. Films can provide answers about what makes us human when they succeed in their quests. Yet even when they fail, the questions they raise through the queerness of their ambitions and methods can be riveting.

Nobody can be certain whether Blood Freak carries an earnest anti-drug message or its just about a guy who mutates into a turkey.

Whatever a movie sets out to accomplish, its goals and the way it attempts to reach them tell a story of its creators. That story can tell us about a culture and the whole human race.

Is it a surprise that after the atomic horrors of WWII, the most popular film in Japan depicted a tall, round-eyed nuclear monstrosity decimating cities?

Fears and desires.

(note that Godzilla, originally the bad-guy, eventually showed himself to be just as friendly and useful as an entirely foreign-funded military could ever be – keeping Japan safe and protecting it from the increasingly strange and powerful Mothras and Mecha-Whatevers of the world)

Watching the goals and methods of filmmakers, there is entertainment to be found in witnessing the most successful and failed of quests. Sometimes a delicious awe and amusement can be found in the fact of a films very existence.

Night Train to Terror comes to mind, featuring God, The Devil, breakdancing and a claymation Jimi Hendrix being electrocuted.

Directions chosen by a director may inspire mouth-slightly-open wonder, challenging any attempt at a theory-of-mind. I delight in analysis and answering questions, but I revel in that experience of the unanswerable.

“What were they thinking?”

Movie Rants

VHS Memories

The wine chiller was named after the video store I rode my bike to

Firefighters traded bootleg tapes in the 80’s and my dad got E.T. when it was still in theaters. Somebody had bribed a projectionist to run film at 3am and set up a camcorder in the first row, and my father brought home the movie a decade before its home video release. The VHS of the spaceship’s landing-lights were nightblue and smeary and eerily beautiful. The flickery images lit a sense of wonder in me.

That tape added to rows of hundreds of movies in a coffin-like piece of furniture in the living room. When I was small enough to kneel on tightly packed VHS tapes without cracking them, I’d push open the lid and crawl over them to find Alien and Blade Runner.

An Indianapolis movie theater provided free admission for the families of firefighters, so we saw most of the movies that came out in 1984. Few moments in later life thrilled me as much as Eddie Murphy’s joyride in the opening of Beverly Hills Cop. Hearing the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” gives me a tingle even today.

Entering my teenage years I was riding my bike to the video store every day and handing over paper-route money to bring home 80’s weirdness. Decades later I parked a wine-chiller in my front yard so my rich neighbors could borrow my VHS tapes without leaving the sidewalk.

A form of dialogue emerged as people shared their own tapes. My Halloween choices prompted a guy across the street to literally fill the box with weirdness, including the stupefying “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.” I got to watch the “garbage day” scene on tape.

After I left some thinky books in the box, an unknown neighbor left movies based on a Vonnegut novel and a Tom Robbins novel nestled together. Seeing the VHS tapes standing shoulder-to-shoulder when I opened the wine chiller’s door one morning, I found a sense of wonder for how community works.