Rebel Highway Double Feature: Jailbreakers & Runaway Daughters

jailbreakersA few weeks back I was looking around on Netflix Instant and saw the poster for a Shannen Doherty/Antonio Sabato Jr. movie called Jailbreakers from 1994 that looked very 90s Miramax. Even with all that going for it, it wasn’t the kind of movie I immediately wanted to watch until I looked at the director and saw that it was directed by William “The Exorcist” Friedkin! That was such a bonkers combination that I needed to check it out.

While reading the IMDb trivia page for this movie — something I can’t seem to go 10 minutes without doing after starting anything — I discovered that it was actually part of an anthology series on Showtime called Rebel Highway. The basic idea was to take the title of an old American International Pictures teen movie from the 50s and 60s, give it to a director and have them make a more gritty film with a cast of young up-and-comers. Each project had a $1.3 million budget and 12 days to shoot. Sounds like a pretty rad experiment to me!

So how are the results? Well, not so great in the case of Jailbreakers which suffered from two major problems for me. First off, there wasn’t a frame of this movie that looked like it was from the time period of the story. Actually, that’s not quite the case. More accurately, there isn’t a frame of this film that doesn’t scream, “I was made in the mid 90s!!!” It’s just got that dull look of TV movies from the 90s that, no matter how good your costumes or set dressing are, look like the time it was made in instead of the time it’s supposed to be. I can chalk that up to the low budget and pay cable quality of the day.

The second problem is more, well, problematic and it leads in to the part where I talk about the plot. Doherty plays a high school kid named Angel who was a good girl up until she met Antonio Sabato Jr.’s Tony, a bad boy biker. The two start getting into trouble which leads to them getting caught by the cops. Tony goes to jail while Angel moves with her parents to another town where they don’t know anything about her mistakes. Tony eventually gets out and reunites with Angel only to realize he might be more than just a little bad. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was pretty familiar to me too and hit a ton of notes that I’ve seen before. And, aside from a great performance by Adrien Brody, the tried and true elements don’t get much of a boost from this particular group of actors.

runaway daughters

I had a much better time with another Rebel Highway offering, Runaway Daughters. This one features Paul Rudd and Julie Bowen, though they’re not really the stars 0f this film directed by the always awesome Joe Dante. In this case Mary (Holly Fields) winds up getting together with two of her girlfriends Angie (Bowen) and  Laura (Jenny Lewis who was in The Wizard!) and driving to San Diego in order to grab Bob (Chris Young, PCU), Mary’s baby daddy before he can officially enlist in the army. Along the way they find themselves dealing with crooked cops, crazy preppers and a variety of other problems.

While Jailbreakers took an old story and just did it again with more cursing and violence, Runaway Daughters actually used the framework of this kind of story to get into some actual social commentary. Throughout the film, Laura talks about how ridiculous it is that society shuns young women for having sex when it’s a natural thing. We’re mostly told by TV and film that everyone in the 50s was a buttoned-up square, but that’s a myth. There were plenty of people looking at the norms and realizing some of them were silly.

Plus, while this movie looks the same as Jailbreakers, it does boast a more interesting story and a much better cast. Rudd doing his best James Dean or Marlon Brando impression is a lot of fun. Then you’ve got Bowen playing the instigator perfectly, Dick Miller as a grizzled but also somewhat socially conscious private detective and even appearances by Roger Corman and Joe Flaherty. And those are just the people I recognized. This might be the least Joe Dante movie I’ve ever seen, but it was still an enjoyable outing that adds a nice layer to his filmography. 

Batman Beyond Trade Post: Superman Man Of Tomorrow & 10,000 Clowns

Superman Beyond Man of Tomorrow Superman Beyond: Man of Tomorrow (DC)
Written by Paul Levitz, Ron Frenz, Tom Defalco & J.T. Krull, drawn by Howard Porter, John Livesay, Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson, Tom Defalco, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema
Collects Superman/Batman Annual #4, Superman Beyond #0 & Superman Beyond Digital Chapters #1-10

After enjoying Adam Beechen’s first two volumes of Batman Beyond, I got right on my library’s website and placed the other available volumes on hold. They don’t have Justice League Beyond and I’m still waiting on the last BB volume, but quickly moved on to Superman Beyond: Man Of Tomorrow and Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns. These stories were originally presented in a digital-first format and then put out in hard copy for the most part.

Of all the Beyond comics I’ve read, the ones in Superman Beyond feel the most disjoined, but I think that’s because it’s got three different writers involved. The Superman/Batman Annual by Levitz and Guedes was an interesting story about Superman finally defeated Lex Luthor, but it ends with him leaving Earth to explore the cosmos. This got picked up in Superman Beyond #0 by Frenz, Defalco and Buscema which finds Superman returning to Earth and discovering his place in a world that’s evolved to a new place. And then in the J.T. Krull stuff, you find Superman wondering if he should stay on Earth or not without mentioning the fact that he spent a year off planet. In the end, it feels like the first two issues are one thing and the other pieces are connected, but not all the way.

The thrust of the main adventure finds Superman dealing with Lex Luthor’s daughter, Lucy, whose true identity was revealed to her by a projection of her father. Lucy uses a combination of her own smarts and her dad’s plan to get pretty darn close to killing Superman. Luckily, Metropolis has armored cops now and Batman swings by to help out, so the day winds up getting saved and a new status quo is set up for Superman including a new secret identity as a fireman.

At the end of the day, this book didn’t really do it for me. I was never convinced of Lucy’s turn from disillusioned youth to A level maniacal supervillain in like one day. I get that she was bummed for feeling like an outsider, but to go from that to piloting massive robots around Metropolis and surrounding the planet with Kryptonite meteorites is another thing.

There were cool moments though. Luthor’s plans were pretty spectacular and I really enjoyed the moment when Bruce Wayne popped over from Gotham in his Dark Knight Returns armor to help Superman fight Solomon Grundy. But, at the end of the day, this is another sad Superman story and that’s not the kind of Superman story I want to read. For me, the heart of Superman is that he’s got hope in his heart even when things are going terribly. There is some of that at the end, but you spend all this time hanging out with a sad sack that it’s not very fun. You could argue that they went this route as a way to flip the Superman/Batman dynamic in the future because Terry McGinnis is a young guy who seems to enjoy what he does, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’m also not a fan of seeing Supes in that black and white costume, but that’s not to say that the artists in this book didn’t do a rad job of bringing it to life.

batman beyond 10000 clowns Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Norm Breyfogle
Collects Batman Beyond Unlimited #1-13

Thankfully, I had a much better experience with Beechen’s next Batman Beyond offering 10,000 Clowns. This one felt like a nice synthesis of the previous two volumes in that it had the overarching storyline as seen in Hush Beyond, but also handled a lot of evolving story elements like Dana’s brother Doug, her relationship with Terry, the appearance and origin of a new Vigilante and the reappearance of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and the new Catwoman in service of the greater good. Oh, and Bruce Wayne almost died.

In a move that feels like a great mix of The Warriors and a smaller version of the “Grand Guignol” story from James Robinson’s Starman, Gotham City is under siege by an army of Jokerz from all over the world. As it turns out, a fairly new character to the series has crowned himself The Joker King and has a new take on the Joker’s chaos theory: none of it matters, so let’s cause as much destruction as possible. To that end, he drugs all the thugs and sends them out into the city with explosives, a plan that decimates huge chunks of the city, even though Batman, Catwoman, the new Vigilante and Dick Grayson are out in the field trying to save the day. Even Bruce gets in on the action trying to protect people in the hospital while he’s seemingly dying from cancer.

I didn’t know much about this series going in, so I was surprised to see Norm Breyfogle’s name on the cover. He was a Batman artist in the 80s and 90s when I first started reading comics and actually gave me my very first comic sketch when he visited my hometown shop 20 years ago. I was surprised when I opened this book and saw him doing a very different style that was much more reminiscent of the Bruce Timm look of the original cartoon. Ryan Benjamin did more of a stylistic take in the previous two books, but this felt a lot more similar to the existing cartoon material, which was probably a conscious effort to make these digital comics as easy to digest for new, non-traditional comic book readers as possible. While I enjoy the look of Breyfogle’s usual pencils, I found myself really digging these books as well. It’s not easy looking classic and futuristic at the same time, but that’s what the cartoon did and that’s what Breyfogle did as well.

So far, I’m giving Beechen’s run on Batman Beyond a big ol’ thumb’s up, but I must admit that I’m a little worried about how it’s all going to end. I know Batman Beyond is a big deal in DC’s current weekly series/event called Future’s End and that there’s a Batman Beyond 2.0 book right now, but it’s by a different writer and also takes place in an alternate universe. Basically, I’m worried that Beechen’s run will just end and then this other things jumps in to take its place. It always bums me out when one creator does all this hard work bringing a character to a cool new place and then, after said character gets popular, someone else is brought in and changes things around to go in a different direction. I’m not saying I won’t like or try the new version of Batman Beyond, but I don’t want its existence to negate this other book that I’ve enjoyed so much. I also want to see what happens to Gotham in the wake of this insane attack by the Jokerz, so I hope to get a little bit of that, plus a well deserved ending in the last collection called Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Hot Wheels Color Changers

As I wrote over on PopPoppa, we got our daughter a basic orange Hot Wheels track for her birthday. You know, the kind with a clamp and a ramp? When my folks came out recently, they brought the box of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars I had as a kid out with them. After I saw that she was actually interested in playing with it, I broke out the other cars and she’s been enjoying it ever since.

While going through the box of cars I was reminded of that great, late 80s/early 90s trend of making everything change colors. It spread to Hot Wheels and their aptly named Color Changers line which you can see in the commercial above. I was a huge fan of these and showed them off to the kiddo which kind of blew her mind. Unfortunately, only a few of them still change. It kinda makes me want to dig through some boxes and see if my Hypercolor sweatshirt is still around. (I can’t find a picture of it on the internets, but it had a guy wearing a sport coat and hat that would change into shorts and a tank top.)

80s Odyssey: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

cloak_and_dagger Over the years, I’ve come to realize just how much I love movies about kids dealing with insane situations. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how much I loved Goonies and E.T. as a kid. I guess the real surprise is how much I still connect to those kinds of movies, even ones that I’ve come to more as an adult like Troll, The Gate, Explorers and Monster Squad. There’s just something so cool about taking pre-teens, putting them in these wild scenarios and seeing what they can do given their not-yet-adult ways of viewing the world.

I recently discovered a movie that perfectly fits this mold on Netflix Instant called Cloak & Dagger starring E.T.‘s Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Thomas plays a geeky kid named Davey who has constructed an imaginary friend based on a secret agent from a table top-turned-video game who looks exactly like his dad (both played by Coleman) in the wake of his mom’s death. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game store with his friend Kim or creates elaborate spy missions for them to act out in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. While playing spy, Davey winds up with a copy of a video game called Cloak & Dagger that contains hidden government secrets. Of course, no adults believe him, so he has to go on the run as a series of incredibly serious people try any means necessary, including murder, to get it back. Davey’s imaginary friends appears throughout the film to help him avoid death and figure out his next move until, eventually, he realizes he doesn’t need him anymore.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by how much intensity went into this Richard Franklin (Psycho II, F/X 2) kids movie. Not only is Davey continually hunted by predatory adults in this movie, but his video game store employee friend gets murdered, he realizes he doesn’t need his imaginary friend anymore and he straight up kills a guy. There’s no way this kid’s going to be okay with all this in the future. And it’s not handled in a wacky, cartoony way, so you get to see Thomas really going through some of this stuff on screen, or actively avoiding it so he can keep moving and live to see another day. I must also admit that it easily played on one of my biggest fears: people not believing you when something terrible’s happening because it sounds crazy. Since he’s just a kid who routintely talked about his made-up exploits, everyone thinks he’s full of it when he tries to tell them this crazy story about video games and spies and whatnot.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you really don’t see movies like this made anymore. These days, when kids encounter craziness, if at all, they’re usually in high school or beyond and a lot of the innocence is taken out of the picture. But, there have been a few films like the Spy Kids movies, Super 8 and even the upcoming Earth To Echo which all seem to take some of their inspiration from the movies of my youth.

If you’re interested in checking out Cloak & Dagger — which I highly recommend — look for it on Netflix Instant. If you’re looking to add it to your DVD collection (far as I can tell, it’s not on Blu-ray), there’s the basic version, a double feature with The Wizard which is another favorite from that era and as part of a 10 movie pack that also includes The Wizard, King Ralph, Matinee and a few others. I’m thinking about grabbing that last one because, of all the options, it’s currently the cheapest at $5 and I love a good deal!

Batman Beyond Trade Post: Hush Beyond & Industrial Revolution

batman beyond hush beyond Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Ryan Benjamin
Collects Batman Beyond #1-6

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Toy Commercial Tuesday, I liked the idea and execution of Batman Beyond, but wound up not watching too much of it at the time. Still, when I heard that Adam Beechen was going to write a comic set in that universe — which also happens to be the same universe as seen in Justice League, JLU, Static Shock, Batman: The Animated Series AND Superman: The Animated Series — I was stoked. Not only did Beechen write a bunch of the comic book tie-ins for the DC Animated U back in the day, but he also penned one of the strongest Robin runs in my opinion.

The story kicks off with Terry McGinnis still rocking the futuristic Batman suit with in-ear help from his mentor Bruce Wayne. As the story progresses, a mysterious character escapes from one of Amanda Waller’s secret labs and wants to take out Batman’s Rogues Gallery past and present because he thinks that there will be no need for the hero if all the villains are gone. Everyone assumes it’s Tommy Elliot, also known as Hush, committing these crimes, but finding out if that’s true or not is all part of the fun. I won’t get into the whos and whys, but I thought this was a pretty clever way of showing off the BBU and also expanding on existing themes at the same time.

Another big part of the fun of Batman Beyond is seeing how so many familiar characters ended up and this story, by its very nature, has plenty of them. When you’re dealing with the regular DCU or any shared universe, there’s a lot of different avenues the characters might go down, but with something like this, you actually get to follow them and see what happens in a more definitive reality. Sure, it’s just one potential future and I might not agree with how everyone wound up, but it’s nice to see what Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and the others are up to and how being involved with Batman changed them.

batman beyond industrial revolution Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Ryan Benjamin with Eduardo Pansica & Chris Batista
Collects Batman Beyond #1-8

While Hush Beyond was a very focused whodunit, Industrial Revolution collects stories that feel a lot more like old school comics where there’s a main ongoing story while also working with a few potboilers and even a pair of one-off character spotlight issues. These are the kinds of comics I love and Beechen does a great job moving from piece to piece.

This one book features a new villain accidentally endangering Terry’s family to the point where he agrees to let the Justice League help him, someone trying to out Dick Grayson as an associate of Batman’s, Max getting courted by a super hacker group known as Undercloud, a strike at Wayne Powers, troubles between Dana and Terry, the return of Dana’s never-mentioned brother Doug and the return of one of Terry’s most dangerous villains. It’s a lot, but it all felt very balanced.

Above I mentioned how I like finding out what happened to certain characters, but I also like seeing what bits and pieces of the existing Batman mythos Beechen and company decided to cherrypick from. Dick Grayson explains that he worked for Batman Inc., which obviously didn’t exist when the cartoon first debuted, but has been worked in since. There’s also an appearance by Batman’s crazy motorcycle from The Dark Knight which was fun.

For the most part, these issues do a great job of walking that tightrope of servicing longtime fans and being accessible to newer ones (or ones with not-so-great memories like myself). Personally, I was a bit confused when the Justice League showed up, but that’s just because I didn’t know a few continuity things like whether that’s the Barda I know or someone else. The only other time that happened was in the last issue of the second collection which is an Inque solo story. Now, that’s a solid, sad story about what drives a person to become a villain, but the problem is that the character hadn’t shown up in the series before that. After that issue the book switched production and became a digital-first book, so it also comes off as a bit of an odd way of stopping a collection, but I guess that’s just the way things work out sometime.

At the end of the day, I had a really great time with both of these books. When you’re dealing with a tie-in comic like this, I think the creators are doing a great job when you’re psyched to read the next issue or trade, but also equally excited about getting back to the source material. That’s how it was with me and Batman Beyond. I’ve got the other two Beechen books requested from the library as well as Superman Beyond (they don’t happen to have the Justice League book in the system) and also started re-watching the series on Netflix, which has been a ton of fun.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Batman Beyond

Tomorrow’s Trade Post will be all about Batman Beyond, so this is a little synergy action. I would have been about 16 when Batman Beyond debuted back in 1999. By that point I was in high school and would be getting by first job in the summer, so I’m not sure how many Saturday morning cartoons I was still watching. I do remember taping a bunch of episodes — I was big on that back then, especially with Buffy — but don’t know if I got very far into the series.

After reading the first two recent Batman Beyond trades, I’ve been more inclined to revisit this property which resulted in a bump to top of the ol’ Netflix Instant queue for the animated series and a stroll through YouTube to look for TCT fodder.

And, look, I found a pretty great one! As you can probably guess, I was out of the loop for the most part when these action figures started appearing. In fact, I don’t actually have any memory of them warming pegs at this time. I probably wasn’t buying many action figures in those days, but I think would stroll through the toy aisle of Target when we’d go.

Anyway, I’ve heard and read that the main reason WB wanted to create this show was to sell toys to younger kids by creating a younger Batman. It only makes sense, then, that they’s push this toy line with a line like “He’s cool. He’s you.” Well played, toy company, well played.

80s Odyssey: 48 Hours (1982)

48-hrs-movie-poster-1982-1020192886 Eddie Murphy was one of the Saturday Night Live stars whose films my dad introduced to me when I was a kid. I can’t tell you how many times we watched Trading Places or the Beverly Hills Cop movies when they’d come on TV. But, 48 Hours is something of a blind spot for me. I know I’ve seen the movie (or at least parts of it) a few times, but it hasn’t taken up much real estate in my head.

I knew the basics, of course, cop (Nick Nolte) springs con (Eddie Murphy) from jail to help him with an investigation, but somehow it escaped my knowledge that the movie was directed by The Warriors helmer Walter Hill and even stars a few of that movie’s leads, James Remar as killer Albert Ganz and David Patrick Kelly as a street hood coincidentally named Luther.

To get into a bit more detail, Murphy’s character used to run with Remar’s gang. Another criminal helped spring Ganz from prison and the two went on a crime spree that happened to garner attention from the cops. In the process of escaping, two of the cops get killed and Nolte wants revenge. He teams up with Murphy to try and figure out what’s going on and where they can find Remar.

48 Hours is notable because it gave Murphy his first big screen role and success. From there he’d go on to become one of the biggest comedy stars of the 80s. In the film he nails the role of angry convict with a cool head and a smart mouth. I’m a big fan of the scene where he goes in to the country bar acting like a cop and gets to get a lot of his anger out. It’s cathartic.

This movie is also an interesting milestone in movies of this kind. Apparently Hill thought that Murphy’s character here was taken, slightly changed and then used again in the Beverly Hills Cop series. I think there’s an argument that could be made to that point, but how much of that was in the script and how much was just Murphy’s performance is probably impossible to tell at this point. Some of my favorite movies from this era have a similar vibe to this one, mixing some legitimate action or drama elements with some truly great comedic acting (I’m thinking of you Fletch and Fletch Lives). There’s also an interesting transition in scores that you can hear in this film. Anyone who knows BHC, remembers the electronic theme song written by Harold Faltermeyer. 48 Hours has a pretty solid soundtrack of more traditional music, but there is a little bit of the electronic, new wave influence in there that would soon take over.

Now that I think about it, the movie also represents a passing of the torch between two versions of this kind of movie. Nolte’s character is a lot more in line with the vigilante cop films of the 70s like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, while, as I already mentioned, Murphy is the smart-talking, wise cracking cop who can take care of himself. This also allowed for the bigger action guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger to come in and fill some of those gaps with their far more over-the-top films.

I’m still not sure why 48 Hours wasn’t in heavy rotation either in my house or later on during my heavy rental period during high school, but I’m glad I came around to it so many years later. Experiencing a movie that combines one of my favorite stars from this era with a director I really adore is a nice treat. My only complaint about the movie is that Annette O’Toole is awesome and just doesn’t get enough to do in the film.