I’m pretty certain you can completely trace my love of playsets to this one right here. I was lucky enough to score not just Castle Grayskull but also Snake Mountain. I would set them up next to each other and send my toys on epic journeys and battles against one another using all the fun tricks and secrets of both sets. I love that immersive quality of toys and action figures from the 80s. It’s fun to just play with your toys, but to have a recognizable environment to put them in is just next level. I’ve still got both of these at my folks’ house and I about lost my mind when I saw that Mattel made a new one for their Masters Of The Universe Classics line.
Last fall a buddy of mine sent a few Blu-rays he got through his work my way. I’m always super appreciative when people do nice things like this because, unless I hit a really good sale, I’m probably not going to get my hands on a great many things. In that package was a little movie called Q: The Winged Serpent directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) and starring Michael Moriarty (Troll), Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). I was sold solely on Moriarty’s involvement who I had just seen in The Stuff and, as it just so happens, that film was also directed by Cohen, so I guess they bring out the best in each other because I love both of these movies, like hard.
Here’s the basics, as best I can remember them. People in New York City are dying and going missing. The police don’t know why, but it’s because there’s a giant flying monster eating them. Moriarty plays a wheelman dragged into pulling a jewelry heist that goes south. On the run, he winds up in the top Chrysler Building which just so happens to be the monster’s nest. Meawhile detectives played by Roundtree and Carradine are trying to figure out what’s going on. In the process, Carradine becomes convinced that it’s not only a big monster, but also the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzlcoatl.
One of the many elements I love about this film is the fact that Moriarty’s character is so important to how this story plays out. This isn’t the story of a down on his luck hero finding the threat to the city and bringing it to the attention of the authorities. Instead, Moriarty uses the monster to take care of two guys trying to shake him down and he only tells anyone in the local government about what’s going on until after he’s made a deal to get a huge pile of money and pardons for all crimes, even the ones the NYPD might not know about (a “Nixon-like pardon” he says). Since he’s a sneaky, shifty dude, the movie goes places it wouldn’t if this were a more typical Hollywood tale.
For his part, Moriarty really carries this movie. He pulls off this oddly alluring synthesis of charming, down-on-his-luck and bad that works so damn well. You might like him because he can play the piano so causally, but then you hate how he treats his long-suffering girlfriend. Then, at just the right point, he reveals a piece of his personal history that doesn’t excuse his behavior, but might explain it. That’s another major plus for this film, Cohen reveals bits and pieces of Moriarty’s character when they’re necessary, not before. In that way, it’s a really great example of delving out information at just the right time.
It might sound like I’m going overboard about this strange monster movie from the early 80s and maybe I am, but I still think it’s got a lot of greatness held within. However, it’s not perfect. The special effects don’t look so hot these days. From animated shadows to poorly composited images, there’s a lot for the modern eye to pick apart, but for me that was all part of the film’s charm. It did the best it could at the time and probably looked pretty darn impressive in 1982. I thought the actual Q monster looked pretty solid when it was on screen and there were plenty of dizzying aerial shots of NYC (maybe too many) that acted as monster perspective shots.
Now that I think about it, I think I might like this movie because it’s a combination of two of my favorite films without directly ripping them off. On one hand, all the perspective stuff reflect’s John Carpenter’s Halloween where he puts us in the killer’s perspective for chunks of time. Since we’re dealing with POV on a completely different level, it doesn’t feel like a direct lift. On the other hand, there’s a lot of “you don’t get to see the monster JUST yet” elements taken from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Around the time I watched Q, I heard a lot of people saying that the latest Godzilla was like Jaws in the city, but it’s a dynamic that worked well given the setting and time of this film.
Also, like both of those admittedly much better films, Q also makes the locale a huge part of the film. Cohen and company made such good use of the Big Apple that it practically oozes all over ever frame. Obviously, the Chrysler Building plays a huge part in the proceedings, though how accurate the film is or whether they actually filmed inside, I don’t know, but those swooping arial shots also firmly cement the fact that we’re dealing with NYC. There’s even a scene shot at Columbia which I only knew because I’m familiar with another film that made such good use of New York City, Ghostbusters.
At the end of the day, Q: The Winged Serpent benefits from a great many positive notes. Moriarty is stellar, Carradine and Roundtree are great, the setting is perfect, the story works specifically because of the characters involved, the monster looks pretty good and presents a definitely threat and it’s got a pretty well thought out mythology. For all those reasons and more, I fully recommend checking this movie out.
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!
As anyone who reads the blog on a regular basis will know, I’m a big fan of 80s teen and college movies. If it’s goofy, wrought with sexual tension, set on a beach or during spring break, I’m probably on board. That’s basically everything I’ve watched and posted under the 80s Odyssey category and here’s another one.
Netflix is finally starting to understand what kind of movies I like to watch and immediately notified me of Beach Balls‘ presence on the streaming service. I didn’t even notice that it’s a Roger Corman-produced film until after the fact. Frankly, I was on board when I read that, in addition to this being a movie about a kid pining over a girl, he also wanted to be in a band. That’s a subgenre of 80s teen comedies I didn’t even know I wanted, but I’m in!
The plot follows Charlie (Philip Paley), a beach kid who’s in love with Wendy (Heidi Helmer), but she only digs guys in bands. As it happens, Charlie is a solid musician, he’s just not in a band. At the same time, he’s also dealing with some legal problems after getting drunk one time and borrowing a car from some local toughs who stole the car and think Charlie turned on them when he got arrested. Because of this he’s got to deal with a recovering alcoholic parole officer, his already crazy, super religious mom and Young Republican sister who think he’s a much worse kid than he is. So, can Charlie throw a huge party, get the girl, get the band in front of a record producer and finally get in his own band? Watch the movie to find out.
A lot of this movie is pretty by the numbers, but there were some pretty interesting storytelling approaches I wanted to point out. For one thing, all of the car stuff happened before the movie starts, so we find out about it as it becomes relevant and not in one huge info dump. This actually surprised me considering these kinds of films tend to dispense with exposition in the most obvious way possible. I was also impressed by the ultimate reveal that Wendy doesn’t just date band dudes, which was Charlie’s assumption from the beginning. Those are the kinds of assumptions at the heart of plenty of movies like this, so to see it turned on its head in a realistic matter was fun. Plus, guys, I love movies about kids who want to be in bands, house party movies and bits where ultra religious weirdos get shown the error of their ways. So thumbs up all around.
The cast and crew did a solid job to the best of their relative abilities across the board. Cheapo 80s comedies like this tend to be 50/50 when it comes to seeing all kinds of recognizable faces, but this falls on the “not so much side.” There are a few interesting names on board. Director Joe Ritter was one of five writers on the original Toxic Avenger which had a far greater affect on me than I’d like to admit. Also, star Philip Paley apparently starred as Cha-Ka on Land Of The Lost as a kid. Oh and Steven Tash, who plays Charlie’s best friend Scully, was the kid in the beginning of Ghostbusters during the ESP test. I also thought it was interesting that screenwriter David Rocklin never worked on anything before or after this project.
Also, real quick, how weird is this poster/box art? If you look at it real quick, it looks like the woman is pregnant, right? Obviously, I get what they were going for, but I would have gone for a second draft on this one.
While looking around for goofy 80s movies on Netflix, I was surprised to find Joysticks, a movie I’d never heard of, but set in one of my favorite cultural artifacts from my childhood: the arcade. From the looks of the poster alone, you get the feeling that this movie’s in the vein of Meatballs. Reading the synopsis about a group of kids trying to save their favorite arcade from a mean old adult in town, my brain immediately went to Empire Records and that combination of those two favorites worked very well in my brain. I moved the movie to the top of our Netflix cue, but between that and actually getting it, I mentioned it to my pal and VHS Notebook proprietor Rickey Purdin who told me he had an extra copy of the DVD I could have!
I think watching Joysticks with Rickey and some of our other pals would have made the viewing experience a much better one because I was kinda disappointed with this flick. I hoped for something along the lines of Animal House as far as mixing fun characters and situations with bits of heart and lots of humor, but instead this movie basically lifts the plot of the John Landis classic, changes it ever so slightly, adds some Pac-Man wipes accompanied by sound effects and puts the whole thing in an arcade.
You’ve got cool guy arcade manager Jefferson Baily running a group of misfits while fighting the chicks off with a stick and dealing with Joe Don Baker who wants to shut the place down because it offers no moral benefit to the kids who line up to play the games therein, specifically his daughter. Said misfits include the nerd Eugene (as if you needed to be told that) and Dorfus, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing combination of John Belushi’s Blutarsky and Stephen Furst’s Flounder, who happens to know everything about video games. There’s even a scene where Dorfus and Eugene go to Baker’s house for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense and wind up reliving an awfully familiar scene. Oh and much like the nefarious Dean of Faber College, Baker’s wife wants to bone any male within reach. And of course there’s a big meeting at the end where the “good guys” defend themselves against the “bad guy” in a town meeting style scene (that happens to have a ridiculous number of those Pac Man wipes).
I’ve seen plenty of rip-off movies and enjoyed them, but the real problem with Joysticks is that it doesn’t have a single interesting or unique character AND it’s not that funny. The closest you get to interesting and new is the fact that Eugene — who’s so stereotypically nerdy that I wanted to punch a wall (same problem I had with Gorp) — happens to be the guy who explains the misunderstandings that run rampant in the movie. Meanwhile, the best joke in the whole thing is a weird visual thing where the punk rock gamers — run by an emotionally unbalanced young man who goes by Vidiot — go into the arcade and do a whole Pac-Man riff where they moved around like the ghosts. I laughed hard at that…and that’s about it.
The odd thing about the movie is that it also feels completely ridiculous because I have trouble imagining arcades coming under such fire. Was this really a thing? I wouldn’t be surprised it it was, but the goofiness of the movie — not to mention how crappy it looks — make me doubt everything going on. On the other hand, the movie acts as an inadvertent (I assume) allegory for the kind of scrutiny that comic books came under in the 40s and 50s as chronicled in Davi Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. You’ve got a thing that parents don’t understand so they attack it. Of course, the parents back then had more of a legit complaint considering how crazy and violent some of those comics got. Still, it’s that classic generational argument of new technology/entertainment coming under fire because, as Fresh Prince so deftly pointed out, parents just don’t understand.
Yes, I’m overanalyzing Joysticks. That’s because I wasn’t super into this movie on my own so I was trying to come up with something interesting to talk about. I think it would have been a completely different story surrounded by friends and filled with beers. I really wanted more from an arcade movie because I don’t know of many other examples of this kind of thing. However, if you’re looking for a goofy comedy PACKED with T&A and a gigantic joystick for playing PVP arcade games, Joysticks is right up your alley.
The number one benefit of watching Joysticks, though, was that it reminded me of an arcade-set story idea I started working on a few years ago. I think I’ll dig that one out and see how far I got with it in the relative future.
It doesn’t take much to draw me towards a movie. If you’ve got a flick, especially one from the 80s, starring a few people I already like and don’t take more than 100 minutes of my time, I’ll probably watch you on Netflix Instant. That was the case with Black Moon Rising, a movie I’d never heard of but featured Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Bubba Smith and Robert Vaughn as well as a futuristic super-car. I’m in, let’s do this.
Tommy Lee Jones plays a thief who steals some financial records and winds up getting followed. To avoid his would-be captors, he hides the information in the aforementioned super car which happens to be parked outside a restaurant. While he’s inside, Linda Hamilton and her crew of car thieves lock the door of the place and drive off with lots of expensive cars. Jones follows and discovers that Hamilton works for Vaughn, a big time, evil corporate guy. Jones then starts working on Hamilton to get on her good side while also trying to find out more about the car from its creators who are skittish of the whole thing at first. Of course, he gets everyone on board and leads a pretty exciting assault on a high rise to get both the car and the information back.
I realized while watching this movie that it was probably the youngest I’ve ever seen TLJ on film. It’s not that he looks so much different than he did in the 90s or even now, just fresher. It was cool seeing him running around, fighting guys and getting to wear the cool looking black leather suits instead of playing the jaded veteran. Meanwhile, Hamilton plays a very similar role to the one she did in the Terminator movies. She’s tough and bruised on the inside but keeps a hard exterior to the world that’s knocked her around. For his part, Vaughn really nails his role as the business bad guy. He really reminded me of 80s and 90s Lex Luthor from the Superman comics. He basically plucked Hamilton off the street and formed her into who she is today for good and ill solely to have someone who would absolutely follow his orders. He also tends to monitor and record nearly everything which is kind of an interesting aspect back then. He basically uses all the technology available no matter how expensive to keep his criminal empire in check.
I’ve already writen about Black Moon Rising for three paragraphs now and haven’t mentioned the most interesting part: John Carpenter wrote the movie. I haven’t been able to dig up exactly why he didn’t want to direct it, though it looks like Big Trouble In Little China which came out the same year and Prince Of Darkness which came out the following might have taken up his time. Instead, Harley Cokeliss jumped into the director’s chair. I’m not very familiar with his other works, but do believe I have Battletruck somewhere in my pile of to-be-watched DVDs and think I might have come across Malone starring Burt Reynolds at some point. It’s interesting comparing this movie to some of Carpenter’s others, especially Christine which also focused on a special car, though a far more supernatural one and also stars a real bad ass as the lead just like Big Trouble, Escape From New York and They Live. On the other hand, this is a much more real-world and technology-based film than you might expect from the creator of those other stories. It would have been really cool to see what he would have done with the movie had he actually directed.
Before closing out I wanted to say one last thing about this film, I think it’s ripe for the remake mill. I think this one has a lot of potential and would piss off almost no one. Of course, you’re also dealing with a movie that doesn’t have nearly the existing audience, fanbase and name recognition that some of Carpenter’s other movies do. On the other hand, you’re dealing with a really solid, yet open framework for a story that can easily be transferred to the current day. I’m not saying this would be a multibillion dollar blockbuster, but a pretty good vehicle (heh, puns!) for an action movie that has room for improvement and modernization. This could be something like the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic which worked out pretty well if you ask me. As it happens, I’d also like to see Statham in this one. Heck, the dude already has experience with driving fast cars. Let’s make this happen Hollywood!
Dead Heat is the kind of movie I should have already seen. On one hand, it’s exactly the kind of movie that sounds right up my alley: a buddy cop movie involving zombies. It was also, as my buddy Sean Collins wrote about years ago, an entry in one of the many Manly Movie Mamajamas I missed (they watched this and the excellent Tango & Cash and Point Break). I’ve also heard a bunch of my friends — many of the guys that attended that MMM — talk about how crazy it is. It wasn’t until Rickey Purdin’s latest VHS Diary post that the bug finally got in my ear deep enough to get me to watch the flick on Netflix Instant. And, man, they were right, this is one wacky, kind of awesome movie.
I write a lot on UM about how I like peanut butter and chocolate movies, you know two great tastes that taste great together. I’ve got a lot of subgenres I like, but I’m an even bigger fan of movies that combine those genres successfully. For the most part, Dead Heat does just that, though it’s a little more goofy and sloppy than some of my favorite movies of the original genres.
The film follows cops Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as they get involved with some crimes that lead them to a strange discovery: some of the perps had already been dead. This brings them to a company that has developed a way to resurrect the dead. In the process, Williams winds up dying but Piscopo and their pal the medical examiner toss him on the machine and turn him into the undead. He’s not your typical zombie right away but as we eventually find out, he will deteriorate like his fellow formerly dead folks.
For the first half or so, it’s your basic buddy cop flick with a sci-fi/horror kick off, but then it turns into a full-on, bonkers zombie action movie. There’s this scene at a butcher shop in Chinatown that reminded me of movies like Re-Animator, Evil Dead and Dead Alive. It was insane. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen, just do yourself a favor and check it out if the idea of reanimated dead chickens attacking two cops sounds like your cup of tea.
But the movie’s not perfect. When I first turned it on I remember thinking, “Hey, Joe Piscopo, what happened to that guy? He was supposed to be the next big thing from Saturday Night Live in the 80s.” I know part of the explanation there is that his co-star Eddie Murphy blew up as the next big thing. He starred in Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours, the kinds of buddy cop flicks that I love and inspired the making of this one, clearly. But, I also didn’t get the sense that Piscopo was comfortable in the film. It wasn’t just that his character was freaked out by the fact that his pal and partner was a zombie, but that the man himself just wasn’t used to being on a film set. There’s one scene where the ME is explaining how they’re going to bring Treat back and Piscopo is just staring directly at the camera which is a general no-no.
As far as I’m concerned, though that’s a minor quibble. I still had a great time watching this movie today. It’s not like one of the best buddy cops of all time has horror elements in it, but it’s a fun attempt that I really wish I could have watched with my buddies.
I think the MMM gang would also get a kick out of Order Of The Black Eagle, a weird, wacky take on the James Bond spy flicks of the 70s and 80s. Our super spy in question this time around is Duncan Jax, played by a guy who only ever appeared in this movie and its sequel which I couldn’t find on Netflix at all. He does his best super-smooth routine, which you almost buy and then the next thing you know, he’s talking to his baboon while on a mission. The monkey is kind of a partner/valet/special friend, though he gets left behind for most of the action at the end.
The plot’s not super important to the movie aside from the fact that some Nazis were able to put Hitler in cryo freeze and they’re planning on thawing him out. Oh, there’s also something about a space age weapon, too. Jax gets sent to put a stop to this group, the titular Order of the Black Eagle, but he’s not the only one. There’s an American as well as a rag tag group of mercenaries that you can see in the trailer. I personally love how each of their specialties are put right on front street by way of their names (ie Spike throws knives!).
I didn’t give this movie as much attention as I should have, but I got the feeling that this one was more tongue in cheek than “trying to be clever and coming off as silly.” Some of the action stuff actually looked alright and I thought the scene of what wound up happening to Hitler was pretty interesting for this kind of movie.
I enjoyed this movie for its goofiness mixed with a pretty solid ending action scene. It’s the kind of thing you put on while doing stuff around the house or with a bunch of friends just looking to goof off, drink some beers and joke around about a movie. Man, if nothing else, watching these movies made me want to set up another MMM!