80s Odyssey: Gorp (1980)

gorp As I mentioned in my review of Summer School, I get really jazzed for watching 80s comedies when the weather gets nicer. The first thing I wanted to do was watch a camp movie along the lines of Meatballs, but Gorp was all that I could easily find on Netflix Instant. I actually remember watching part of this movie last year — I watched a ton of 80s movies, but only got around to reviewing half of them, if that — and had a pretty negative memory of it. At the time I remembered it as a really wacky, frenetic, all over the place comedy that was kind of a mess. But, upon giving it a second change, I realized that, while it does have some of those elements, it’s nowhere near a mess. Tone-wise, it’s a lot more in line with something like Animal House, which I somehow didn’t pick up on the first time around. You can tell that the story was written based on some wild camp stories, but when you pack all those different stories into one place, it can seem a little over the top. Since this is a comedy, though, that’s not a bad thing.

I’m actually really glad I gave Gorp another shot because, while it’s not going to top my list of favorite camp movies, it’s a pretty good entry in the genre. You’ve got the super slick 80s leads who make it their mission to split time between getting girls, playing pranks and, oh, also doing their jobs as wait staff at a summer camp.

One of the problems with watching any of these movies is the treatment of sex and women. The two leads send two of their nerdy co-workers to snap pictures of the incoming ladies which then get passed out to the guys as if they’re promised cattle. That’s far from the end of it, with the men often thinking the women are simply there for their sexual gratification, but there are actually some surprisingly strong women in this film. The main object of the leads’ affection, Vicki very clearly tells them that she does not have sex. At the same time, Fran Drescher owns her sexuality and doesn’t see she shouldn’t be able to do what the guys do. Now, while there elements aren’t exactly bright spots in the film, I would also say that they’re presented within a context that makes sense within the film, especially when you realize that A) the opinions are being stated by completely immature dudes from the lates 70s/early 80s and B) that it’s a comedy that was most likely encouraged to have as much T&A as possible. I mean, this is the kind of movie you’re watching:

Because it’s a fairly broad comedy, you wind up with a broad variety of characters from the well-rounded ladies I already mentioned to nerd and fat kids stereotypes that are so old and tired they make me angry. And yet, there are some rare moments in addition to the comedy bits that I enjoyed. At one point, one of the two main guys gets fed up with how weird his surroundings are and goes on a minor rampage. On one hand it’s a kind of meta moment because some viewers had to be thinking the same thing about the people they were watching around this time, but it’s also an effectively emotional moment where a human being realizes that hanging out with goofballs and freaks, which might seem cool to a young person, does not a happy life make. It’s actually a big sign of inner growth if you think about it.

But, don’t expect a film that features a real evolution of character. For that one moment, you’re treated to a whole cast of one-note, yet often still funny, kitchen workers who get their own fair share of screen time. Hell, the end of the movie features a fireworks war that leads to the destruction of the cabin all our main characters lived in. But that’s followed by another emotionally important moment, the one where the kids tell the mean camp owner to go screw himself, it’s time for them to branch out and make their own lives. I know I’m thinking about this way too much, but it’s another important developmental moment that makes this movie more interesting than many of the ones that would come later in the decade.

By the way, as the poster points out, the title is another name for trail mix (one I’d never heard before). I wrongly assumed it was an anagram and kept trying to figure out what it could mean without coming up with anything close to an answer. The tagline “a bunch of fruits, nuts and flakes” is actually pretty clever when you take that into consideration.

Dame Double Feature: Crazy Mama (1975) & The Lady In Red (1979)

I really never know what to expect when jumping into one of Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Double Features because, frankly, the man was fairly inconsistent when it comes to good and bad flicks. I do always know that the presentation will be prefect though because Shout absolutely kills it when it comes to putting these movies together. I especially like the “Grindhouse Experience” feature which shows one movie right after the other complete with trailers before each flick and even a clip reminding you how awesome popcorn is. My only complaint is that the menu is so CGIed, it would be cool if they could use actual photography for the menus, but that’s a small quibble. Both movies even have extra features like commentaries and interviews with the directors.

As it turned out I didn’t just like the first movie in the Double Feature, Crazy Mama, I kind of fell in love with it. I didn’t realize until just now that the movie was actually directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame which makes a lot of sense because there’s a lot going on in this movie aside from the usual “women wreaking havoc” plot I’ve seen in movies like this on from the 70s. The film has a quirkiness and a heart to it that I wasn’t expecting and some really great performances by Cloris Leachman, Dick Miller, Donny Most and a lot of other folks whose names I don’t recognize (though Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid make their film debuts in the flick in super-small roles).

Here’s the basic plot. Back in the day Sheba’s husband was killed when the banks tried to take their land. They had a daughter who would grow up to be Leachman’s Melba (Ann Sothern). After the murder they moved to California where Melba had a daughter of her own named Cheryl (Linda Purl) who just found out she’s knocked up by Shawn (Most). When the bank comes to repossess the beauty salon Sheba and Melba run, they grab Cheryl, a few things and make a break for it. They head to Vegas where they met the elderly Bertha who joins their little family. Shawn also catches up with the ladies, but Cheryl has already fallen for a greaser named Snake (played by Leachman’s son Bryan Englund). She’s not the only one though as Melba hooks up with Jim Bob. At some point the ladies get the idea to buy back their farmland, but they don’t have any money so they start running cons and holding up banks and other businesses.

There’s a lot of unconventionality on display in the film that really makes it soar for me. Not only do you have four generations of women working together to commit crimes, but they’re all pretty open when it comes to their sexuality. There’s even a bit where Snake and Bertha even talk about getting down (talk about unconventional). The most out-there aspect of the film socially speaking probably boils down to the Cheryl/Shawn/Snake relationship. Shawn starts off being pissed about Snake being in the picture, but Cheryl says she loves them both. He seems to eventually accept that and winds up sleeping in bed with the both of them. Let me tell you, seeing Ralph Malph wearing only his underwear in bed with a naked woman and a greaser is pretty damn surreal. You really start to believe that these people have formed an unconventional family unit that really cares for one another, especially after a few of their comrades fall and they shout them up to heaven. That’s where the heart lies in this movie. When folks start dying, I actually started feeling bad, not something I expected from a movie like this.

Another big mark in the plus column for this film is the realistic portrayal of the crime spree. This gang of theirs starts off small robbing a quickie marriage place in Vegas and slowly move their way up, but they are in no way criminal masterminds, especially after losing some of their gang and getting liquored up. The last bit it so sadly pointless, but that’s what would happen in this kind of situation. The very end also shows that even after all the survivors have been through, they maybe didn’t learn all the lessons they should have. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend Crazy Mama.

I didn’t like The Lady In Red nearly as much, though it’s not a bad flick, just kind of a slow and sometimes meandering one. The story is about Polly Franklin who lead a tough life which lead her to become first a seamstress in an American sweatshop (run by Dick Miller!), then a dancer, a prisoner and eventually a prostitute where she meets renowned mobster John Dillinger though she didn’t know it was him. Even though the movie clocks in under an hour and a half, it feels slow early on as Polly makes her way to becoming a prostitute. These moments are important because they show her character and build a supporting cast around her, but it still feels like a scene or two could have been cut out or down. There’s also a lengthy scene of Polly and Dillinger playing baseball and rowing a canoe that, while nice, wasn’t really necessary.

With all the different vignettes you wind up getting a lot of different kinds of movies all rolled into one. First off, it’s a period piece. Then you get the downtrodden worker segment in Miller’s sweatshop. The prostitute movie’s there too. There’s also a few prison scenes (Nurse Balbricker from Porky’s plays the awful warden who meets a very satisfying end after doing something shocking even for her) which includes a vast nude scene. There’s the monster stuff as Dilinger gets murdered and then the revenge plot afterwards because everyone’s gunning for Polly thinking she set Dillinger up (she didn’t).

The only thing I knew about John Dillinger going into this movie was that he was a mobster who was sold out by his girlfriend in front of a movie theater. I learned that from High Fidelity. So it was interesting to see this story told around that idea. I did a little reading on Wiki and it seems like the filmmakers followed the actual story at least somewhat well, which is interesting. I doubt you could show this film in an American history class, but it might get some folks interested in old timey mobsters (if Boardwalk Empire hasn’t done that enough already).

I wasn’t familiar with Pamela Sue Martin, but I thought she handled herself really well and really acted well in this thing that could have been silly. The rest of the cast is pretty damn solid too and even features Christopher Lloyd as a creepy mobster called Frognose (not a nice dude). I like seeing him being a not-too-over-the-top bad guy. That’s one of the beauties of watching these old Corman-produced movies, is that you get to see some pretty big deal stars in either the early or later days when they’re not as concerned with fitting into what people expect of them. I’m excited to keep checking these out, but I’ll always be a little leery as to whether the films will tickle my fancy or not.

Halloween Scene: Legion (2010) & Outpost (2008)

legion

I’ll be completely honest, I watched Legion over two days, but separated by probably a week or so and don’t remember a whole lot about the plot. There’s an angel who ditches his wings and a bunch of people in a diner, one of which is a pregnant woman whose unborn child is wanted by some demons. Or something. You’ve got a kind of zombie army, old women turning into wall-crawling monsters and, most importantly, an angel fight at the very end between the good former angel and the current bad angel.

I really shouldn’t even be “reviewing” this movie and didn’t plan on it, but there were a few things I wanted to note. First off, the cast is pretty impressive, featuring Dennis Quaid, Kate Walsh, Kevin Durand (Keamy from Lost, dude makes an awesome evil angel), Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Doug Jones and a bunch of others. Second, I wish the story would have been opened up to have larger steaks than just focusing on a few people in a diner. I know that would have made the movie exponentially more expensive, but I feel like I’ve seen lots of stories like this set in out-of-the-way diners. At least it wasn’t snowing. And finally, the movie is worth watching for the final battle between Bettany (the good angel) and Durand. Durand still has his wings and a pretty bad ass weapon that inspired me to put together a list of the best weapons of the past decade, both of which he uses to excellent effect.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with dudes with wings, but the director/fight coordinator/special effects guys did a hell of a job using all the elements for a great finale fight. It kind of reminded me of Grant Morrison pitting the JLA against angels in his run on that book and made me hope that director and former special FX guy Scott Charles Stewart could help out if that run ever gets turned into a movie (incredibly doubtful, but a boy can dream). In fact, all the special effects were top notch, which is why I’d like to see this thing on a larger scale.

outpost

After reading Brian at Horror Movie A Day’s review of Outpost, I immediately added it to the top of my DVD queue. Badass soldiers lead by Ray Stevenson fighting some kind of undead Nazis in a remote location? Sold! And, man, I’m glad I did because I wound up really liking this movie. See, a scientist hires Stevenson to put together a team of mercenaries to take him through the woods/jungle to an old bunker.

Once there, the soldiers discover a pile of bald naked men, one of whom is still a live and the scientist discovers a big machine in the basement that the Nazis invented to try and capture the energy of the unified field theory. While Stevenson has things explained to him by the scientist, the rest of the men get paranoid as they’re apparently shot out, phantoms start creeping around and then a full-on invasion force of what looks like zombie Nazis appears in the forest which gets lit up like crazy at night (this is a great effect by the way, looking somehow real and artificial at the same time, and definitely creepy). In fact, the movie has lots and lots of creepy moments between those phantoms and the eventual kills that come from some very solid soldiers designed to kill.

If I’m understanding the science behind the story, the Nazis wanted to capture the essence of the unified field theory (which I in no way understand). They also discovered that that energy had very interesting effects on their soldiers, turning them all but immortal, but, sometimes, out of phase with reality because they’re vibrating on a different level than the rest of the world. I’m working here with a physics knowledge based on a terribly taught high school class I took a decade ago and lots and lots of comic reading. Why the phasing Nazi ghost zombie things don’t just storm the bunker and murder Stevenson and his soldiers straight-up, I don’t know, but this is also asked by one of the soldiers who also doesn’t know, so I guess that’s left up to the audience. Maybe they’re bored and want something to do now that they can get physical.

Even though the movie reminded me a bit of Predator (which I love) and Dog Soldiers (which I didn’t love too much), I still had a great time with it. The plot does a great job of being both a solid action movie and a solid horror movie which plays up on the conventions of both. I actually got some added enjoyment from the flick by pretending that Stevenson was still playing Frank Castle from Punisher: War Zone. Punisher vs. Nazi Zombies? Double awesome.

Random Double Feature: Enemy Mine (1985) & Rising Son (2006)

I spend most of my days now sitting on my couch with my laptop in front of me and the TV on. I’m usually catching up on the crappy TV shows I missed throughout the week or watching movies I’ve decided to randomly watch. Today is one of those movie days as nothing was on TV this morning. I started off with the sci-fi flick Enemy Mine which I knew nothing about aside from the fact that Dennis Quaid was in it. I figured it would be a big crazy sci-fi movie on a fairly low budget. And it was, it just wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be in the specifics.

In the future, humans are trying to explore the galaxy, but they run into an alien race called Dracs. There’s fighting and all that. Quaid gets shipwrecked on a planet with a Drac and no one else. They start off as enemies, but eventually become friends and learn each others’ languages and culture. I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING now in case you don’t want things ruined for you. Eventually, the Drac (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) tells Quaid he’s with child (they spontaneously become pregnant, but carry their children like a mammal). After giving birth, the Drac dies and Quaid takes care of the little guy only for some scavengers to come, nearly kill him and take the baby Drac away to work in their mines. Once he gets better, Quaid goes and gets his adopted nephew back.

I give the writers and director Wolfgang Petersen tons of credit for going all over the place with this story. It could have been just a man vs. alien story or a man learning to get along with an alien story, but they got the extra few miles with the kid and the relationship and Quaid’s eventual revenge on the scavengers. There’s even a scene at the end with Quaid being honored by the Dracs on their homeworld. I like how, at the end of the movie, it’s not like everything between the two races has been solved and put aside just because two people got to know each other, but it does offer hope that maybe if he can tell his people about the Dracs, they can work something out. I also really liked the sets of the alien world. They didn’t go the Star Wars route and just choose one season/type of climate and just stick to that. It’s a very rich environment that’s fun to watch. Good stuff, highly recommended!

I’ve been on a mini-skateboard movie kick lately. Well, if a “kick” can be described as watching three movies on a subject in 8 months. Anyway, it started off with Lords of Dogtown and then I watched the documentary that was based on called Dogtown And Z-Boys, which I really should have posted about. And now, I just got done with Rising Son: The Legends Of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, which focused on one skateboarded. Rising Son is the perfect compliment to Dogtown And Z-Boys because Hosoi started skating with those dudes when he was just a kid, but eventually he became one of the greatest skaters in the game only to fall from site thanks to a drug addiction and eventual time in jail. It even has a few of the original Z-Boys in the form of Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo which was pretty rad. The doc also has some big time skaters like Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and a slew of others talking about how influential Hosoi was. Heck, even skateboarder-turned-actor Jason Lee and David Arquette are interviewed (though I think Arquette’s only on screen once). There’s even a contestant from Launch My Line, Louanna Rawls (Lou’s daughter), interviewed because she used to date Hosoi.

So, why is this dude such a big deal? Well, when he was coming up he just started doing all these sick tricks that no one else was doing and really brought skateboarding back into the mainstream after it died off with the Z-Boys crew a few years earlier. He had a swagger that made him a rock star and the talent to back it all up. To be honest, I had never heard of the dude, but then again, I don’t really know much about the history of skateboarding, just what I’ve been learning in these movies. I found the film really fascinating though and it does have something of a happy ending as Hosoi got out of jail, off drugs and is now going around talking to people about his experiences with drugs, skating and God.

One thing I’ve discovered after watching so many documentaries on Netflix is how freaking interesting life can be. On the surface, this story is just another story about a kid who made it big and then crashed, but the interest, along with the devil, is in the details. I think I’d like to try my hand at making a documentary about something, I just need to figure out what it is. Any thoughts?