We Want Action: Streets Of Fire (1984)

streets of fire poster

Walter Hill is a fascinating director to me. I discovered The Warriors in high school and it changed my brain. It felt like someone who loved comic books, taking some of the crazy, garish characters and putting them into the real world and still making it feel really real and believable even when tinged with healthy doses of melodrama. Even with as influential as that film was to me, though, I haven’t really actively sought out his other films. Sure, I’ve seen the 48 Hours movies and Last Man Standing, but that was before I realized he made those films. When I saw his 1984 film Streets Of Fire on Netflix Instant, I was super excited to give it a watch. When the titles started popping up and one of them said I was about to watch “A rock and roll fable” I got even more excited.

The film follows gun-for-hire Tom Cody (Michael Pare) as he gets hired by Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to save rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of thugs lead by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Tom brings along new acquaintance McCoy (Amy Madigan) to help out. The structure of this film is actually very similar to that of The Warriors but in a slightly different order. The hero has a mission, he gets a girl, he and his crew do their best to get back to safety and then at the end there’s a showdown behind the good guy and bad guy while a small army of armed people stand around and watch. Hell, there’s even a scene where the subway trains aren’t working because someone set fire to them! As if all that wasn’t enough, some of the Warriors cast members pop up in this film like¬†Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy) as Tom’s sister and even Lynne Thigpen who played the DJ in the previous movie popped up as a cop (interestingly enough telling the leads about the train fire). The beginning of the two films are also really similar from an editing standpoint. Heck, McCoy even kind of looks like Swan.

The story itself is set in a weird world that seems sort of 50s, but created through the prism of the 80s. You’ll understand what I mean by watching just about any scene set in a club. It feels like you’re just as likely to see some guy doing his best Johnny Cash impression or his best Stray Cats impression up on stage and that’s pretty much what you get. Every music number also has that feel too which kind of makes me wonder if Hill wanted to get into the music video game.

Anyway, even with as silly and affected as the film might feel, there’s still some real issues going on here. McCoy has to deal with all kinds of gender nonsense and does her best, but we can see her cracks. She just wants acceptance and friends (who doesn’t?). Meanwhile, our hero Tom is a total tough guy who’s clearly in love with Ellen, but he just doesn’t know how to tell her AND he doesn’t know how to do the obvious which is get the hell out of his crappy live and just move somewhere else. So there’s some stuff going on, but you’ve got to get through some of the veneer to get there, again, much like The Warriors.

I hate to keep comparing Hill movies here, but I do want to point one more thing out. The climax of the film involves the aforementioned showdown between Tom and Raven on the streets surrounded by allies on both sides. But, instead of fighting with fists or knives, they start going at it with crazy prospecting hammers but without the super pointy end. It’s a pretty bonkers scene, but it instantly reminded me of the trailers I’ve seen from Hill’s last movie Bullet To The Head¬†where Sylvester Stallone has a freaking axe fight with Jason Momoa. Now, I haven’t seen that movie yet, but it’s interesting that Hill went back to that well. It makes me want to watch the rest of his movies to see what other elements he uses over and over again or if I’ve seen them all at this point. Still, Streets of Fire is a unique, offbeat little movie that does a lot of the same things Warriors does in both theme and content. I’d probably have fallen in love with it had I also seen it in high school, but the adult version of me saw a lot of the affectedness going on and couldn’t fully commit.

80s Odyssey: Weird Science (1985)

I’ve been doing some writing the past two nights which has been very creatively gratifying, especially because I’ve been slacking a bit in that department of late. When I write, I like to have something on in the background that I can not necessarily ignore, but not really pay full attention to. Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty crummy way of explaining why I watched Weird Science the other night, but it’s the truth. I realized a few minutes in that this was probably the first time I’d actually watched this movie from beginning to end unedited. I actually have this relationship with most of Johns Hughes’ teen-centric movies because they were on TV so much when I was a kid that I’d just catch bits and pieces here and there.

Anyway, I was actually surprised with how silly this flick is. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just something I wasn’t expecting. I mean, I knew that these guys created a girl using a computer that could probably have barely handled solitaire, let alone the incredible feat of scanning images, figuring out what they meant and then incorporating that information into the techno-organic genie they wound up creating out of a Barbie doll. I think the reason the silliness isn’t offensive or boring is because most of it comes from an honest place. Of course it’s silly that Wyatt and Gary shower with their new creation wearing their clothes (and shoes in Gary’s case), but that hints at the sexual confusion and fear many guys that age feel as things change internally and externally.

That’s really the key to Hughes’ films, the honesty found therein. But, while some of his other films might get a little too inside their own teenage angst, this one really has fun with itself. I definitely need to give this film, as well as the rest of Hughes’ flicks, a more concentrated look, but this one served it’s purpose well.

Halloween Scene: Near Dark (1987)

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to love Near Dark. First off, it’s a horror movie directed by an Academy Award winner (not to mention the director of the awesome Point Break). Yup, that’s right, Kathryn Bigelow directed this vampire flick starring Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Tim Thomserson and Adrian Pasdar. Sounds like a pretty great line-up, doesn’t it?

Well, it is a good line-up, but I just could not get into this movie. Yes, the fact that it’s about a pack of vamps living in the west is kind of a nice change of pace, but the fact that it’s about a new vampire (Pasdar) who doesn’t really want to be vampire trying to figure out what he’s going to do with his unlife just felt SO been-there-done-that that I did care. In my mind I kept comparing it to John Carpenter’s Vampires (that’s probably sacrilege, I know, but I saw that movie first) and From Dusk Till Dawn. Oh, and Lost Boys, it reminded me a lot of Lost Boys without the fun of being able to watch the two Coreys doing their thang.

So, yeah, the basic plot was boring, even though the vampires were fun to watch. The combo of Henriksen and Paxton was fantastic. Actually, I should say not all the vamps were fun. Homer–played by Joshua John Miller who I also hated in Class of 1999–posed a pretty big problem for me in the movie and not just because I dislike the actor so intensely. See, the idea is that he was a kid when he was turned into a vampire, but like Claudia from Interview With A Vampire, he ages metnally while his exterior remains the same. He even goes on about how much it sucks to me an old man in a young kid body. Yet, later in the movie, he becomes obsessed with Pasdar’s younger sister (her and his dad have been out looking for him while he’s been gallivanting around with the vamps). If he’s an old man, why is he going after young girls unless he a pedopire, which just makes the whole thing way creepier than expected. I get that he might want to turn her now and then wait for her to mature, so they can be creepy old people trapped in young bodies together, but it really looks like he’s lusting after her in the movie and it’s just gross.

The ending of the movie’s also pretty stupid. Let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY in case you’re worried about having a 23 year old movie spoiled for you. See, Pasdar stops being a vampire because his dad gives him a complete blood transfusion. That’s just plain stupid, especially considering these are pretty standard vampires with super strength, healing abilities and an aversion to daylight. There’s got to be something mystical going on there and not just a blood disease. If you’re going to set up rules in your story, you have to follow them a little better.

Ah well, there you go. I actually watched this one a few days ago and then I got to see Expendables and Scott Pilgrim, so I ended up in the plus column movie-wise this week.