NYC & LA Movie Marathon: 7 Movies From Both Cities

I watch a LOT of movies. More so than usual since I’m unemployed/work from home. Netflix really has become my closest friend which is both sad and technologically impressive. Anyway, I like to watch movies or shows while I work on freelance, which means I’m not always giving them 100% of my attention, but enough to do a series of mini-reviews. I’ve been trying to figure out some thematic similarities between the movies I’ve been watching (like the otherwise unrelated Dr. Horrible and Angel of Death from the other day). It wasn’t until I was watching Last Action Hero today which takes place in both New York City and Los Angeles that I realized that a big chunk of the movies I’ve watched recently are set in one or the other. So, what the hell? Even though they’re mostly unrelated, here’s a look at seven movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks set in these places. Hit the jump for the incredibly entertaining reviews.

First up, New York, both because it’s a place I’m semi-familiar with and it contains the movie I watched first.

F/X (1986)
As long time United Monkees know, I watched F/X 2 a little over a year ago and had a great time with it. It was a fun little action movie that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had fun with the concept. The original is a bit more straightforward and intense that I was expecting, with Cocktail’s Bryan Brown taking on an assignment from the government to make it look like a mobster (Jerry Orbach) gets killed so he can testify. Turns out he gets double crossed and things go downhill from there. Brian Dennehy still stars as the one guy trying to help Brown’s character and the two team-up to take out the bad guys and win the day, using plenty of Brown’s special effects tricks. It’s a cool movie, but definitely not as fun as the sequel.

RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008)
Not only do Righteous Kill and F/X share a common setting in the form of NYC, but they also share something in the form of awesome actor Brian Dennehy. In this case he plays lieutenant to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This review absolutely contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the movie ruined, skip to The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, the whole plot of this movie revolves around De Niro’s seeming confession to being this killer of guys who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We even have video footage of him confessing. But, it turns out that the video is Pacino making him read his (Pacino’s) diary. See, throughout the movie, they’re only referred to by their nicknames, so when De Niro reads a real name, we don’t actually know who it is. I found the twist to be a fairly interesting one that would probably make sense on further viewings (less High Tension and more Usual Suspects). Personally I liked watching these two veterans working together in a fairly tight script that brings in the talents of 50 Cent, Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg and Carla Gugino. Definitely worth the NetBox watch in my opinion.

THE MUPPETS TAKES MANHATTAN (1984)
I must admit, I’m not a huge Muppets fan. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have the history with them that a lot of people my age seem to. My only childhood memory of them is from Muppet Babies. After that? The video they did with Weezer. So, it was kind of on a whim that I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan on NetBox and I had a great time with it. The story follows Kermit and the Muppet gang who are fresh out of college (seems like that would make a great movie premise itself) and taking their show to New York to get it on Broadway. After several failed attempts to get the show made, Kermit kind of blows up at his friends who all decide he would be better off if they told him they got other jobs and moved away. This leaves Kermit in NYC, working in a diner and still trying to get the show made. He, of course, succeeds eventually, only to get in an accident that leaves him with amnesia and taking a job as an ad exec, Mad Men-style. I had a ridiculous amount of fun watching this flick and trying to figure out if I’d ever been to the parts of the city Kermit was walking around (I’m guessing so, though the place has changed quite a bit in 25 years). I also really enjoyed the flashback that spawned Muppet Babies. It made a lot of things make sense. Now, I’ve got to check out the rest of the movies.

KRUSH GROOVE (1985)
Holy crap, I loved this movie. I just watched it today (well, yesterday at this point in the early morning) and had so much fun with it. See, it’s a fictionalized history of Def Jam records back in the 80s, but starring a ton of their artists like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Rick Rubin, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and New Edition among others. I only really started exploring hip hop within the last five or six years, but that exploration has heavily included Run-DMC and the Beasties. I also had a couple Fat Boys tapes back when I was a kid (I’m guessing around the time they got huge, musically speaking, because I vaguely recognized a track or two in the movie from those tapes). That combined with my fairly recent viewing of VH1’s 2009 Hip Hop Honors which focused on Def Jam really made this movie interesting for me. There’s a lot going on in a fairly limited amount of time, but I feel like the director did a good job of balancing the main storyline of Run-DMC thinking of jumping form the Krush Groove label and the B-story of the Fat Boys trying to make it big. If you’re interested in early hip hop at all, this is a must-watch flick. I was also surprised to find out that director Michael Shultz also directed past UM reviewed movie Car Wash and a few movies I didn’t get around to reviewing like the epic Last Dragon (SO awesome) and Cooley High (surprisingly depressing).

New York To LA and Back

LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
The movie that inspired this entire entry starts off with a kid in NYC who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger movies getting sucked into movie-LA and eventually bringing the fictional Jack Slater back into the real world. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really loved this movie. I remember watching it with my grandparents back around the time it came out on video and thinking it was kind of dumb. But, see, now I’ve seen most of the movies it tries to spoof and had a much better time with it (I’m guessing my grandparents also thought it was dumb, but I bet they never said anything). The kid calls out all kinds of late-80s, early-90s action movie cliches, trying to convince Slater that he’s living in a movie. What I like is that all aspects of the story are interesting and I guess the credit for that goes to world renowned scriptwriter William Goldman (whose book of scripts including Butch & Sundance, Misery, Marathon Man & The Princess Bride is sitting mostly unread on my shelf) who came in and did a rewrite after Arnold insisted on it. Credit should also be given to Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan who did a great job of mixing the comic and action elements. Sure, the kid’s acting can be a bit thin at times and maybe over-the-top, but I think it works, especially (maybe only) if you’re a fan of these kinds of movies. Oh, it also features a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito, how can you go wrong?!

Now On To LA

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO (1991)
After watching several movies about cops getting new partners (Dragnet, The Rookie, Lethal Weapon (the latter two soon to be reviewed on their own), it’s funny how similar they end up. This one has dandy Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee teaming up to take down crime in LA’s Little Tokyo. Soon enough, something minor leads them to something huge and our heroes have to put a stop to it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this one, but I still enjoyed the weird aesthetic of it. See, Lundgren loves Asian culture, while Lee only knows martial arts because his mom made him take lessons and otherwise doesn’t care. When I was a kid I always got this one confused with Big Trouble In Little China. That doesn’t really mean anything, I guess. On another note, Wayne’s World’s Tia Carrere also stars in this movie. On another nother note, the director Mark L. Lester also directed the more-fun Class of 1999 and Commando.

ALIEN NATION (1988)
Hey, guess what? I’ve had a surprising amount of luck watching movies lately. Case in point? Alien Nation. I added a few sci-fi movies including this one a while ago and decided to give this one a shot. I remember seeing the TV series randomly syndicated when I was a kid watching late-night TV but had never seen the movie, which stars James Caan and Chicago Hope’s Mandy Patinkin. Kind of like V, Alien Nation is based around an alien race that is welcomed to earth and begins to be integrated into society, though basic stereotypes still exist. These aliens were bread to be slaves though. Like with Showdown, this movies focuses on cop Caan being saddled with Newcomer (that’s what they call the aliens) Patinkin. As the two learn about each other, they find out about a much bigger plot to addict the Newcomers to drugs and have to put a stop to it. I really liked James Caan in this flick. I guess I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I liked his every man approach. I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but this made me want to do so. It also made me add the TV series to my Netflix queue, though I was it was on instant watch. I don’t have incredibly high hopes because it got canceled after one season, but it did spawn a number of TV movies. Anyone familiar with them?

So, that ends my cinematic tour of NYC and LA, though I’m sure I’ll see another movie or two set in one of those places before the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay and wish I would have taken more pictures, but what are you gonna do?

Train-Ing Video: Class of 1999 (1990)

“These things are like a bad, f*cked up, George Jetson nightmare!” So says Cody, the hero of Class of 1999 of the robot teachers who have been flipped their programming after being sent into a Free Fire Zone in Seattle. You see, an FFZ is an area, usually around a school in a major city where gang activity has gotten so bad that the cops have backed out and let the kids run wild. Except for in the school for some reason. Think of it as Escape from New York meets Terminator and Sister Act (or, I assume, Dangerous Minds, but I’ve never seen that).

If you’re scratching your head already and asking yourself “Why would kids go to school if they weren’t being told to and, oh, and had machine guns?” Yeah me too. It’s a plot hole that you could drive an armored bus through. There’s lots of said plot holes or just lapses in logic (Why to the robots only have fake skin protecting their important “organs” instead of an actual exoskeleton? Why are the kids more likely to believe that their friends died in highly unlikely accidental ways and not getting murdered by teachers?) Anyway, if you can look past the complete lack of logic and Cody’s TERRIBLE Corey Feldman impression, this movie is a whole boatload of weird 80s fun from 1990.



You remember the major cities and the explanation of the FFZs I mentioned above? We get that information thanks to a voiceover in the beginning that accompanies a map showcasing the worst cities. You’ve got Detroit and NYC of course. Then there’s Seattle and Cleveland (not the best places in the world, but not ones I would expect there to be a lot of gang activity at), but the best part? The dot that’s supposed to designate Cleveland is not where Cleveland actually is. It should be further up north. For all I know, the other ones are misplaced too, though I did check NYC and it seems correct, hey, I’m no geography nerd, I just know my state.


Anyway, we open with a white haired Stacey Keach who, for reasons never explained, sports a mullet that terminates in a rat tail between his shoulders and white-except-for-his-pupils eyes. He’s part of a program for the DED (the Department of Educational Defense) who has these teacher robots he wants to insert into Malcolm McDowell’s school. Also, for no real reason, Cody gets released from jail at the same time. Here’s some pics (thanks to this post, I figured out how to take screencaps!)

This is the first, non-CG shot of the movie, I swear to God:


Then this:


And here’s the teacher-bots, including one of my all-time huge crushes Pam Grier! I didn’t even know she was in this movie, that’s just a bonus.


So, the story follows Cory who’s part of this gang called the Black Hearts. He doesn’t really want to get back with the Hearts because he wants to go straight (we’re not sure why and we don’t know why he was in jail in the first place), but his incredibly weird looking younger brother Angel is about to be initiated and all his friends from school are in the gang too.

Here’s Angel, I laughed every single moment he was on screen. He looks ridiculous, but that’s just future gang fashion, yo, purples and yellow all the way!


Meanwhile, he falls for McDowell’s daughter (why good kids are still in this school, I have no idea. Wouldn’t you bounce if kids could shoot guns in your police-abandoned neighborhood and your kid still wanted to learn?). His friends start dying thanks to the new teacherbots and he gets suspicious. He even saves McDowell’s daughter from being molested-at-best during the day on school grounds out in the open and gets beat up by the younger dude teacherbot and yelled at by McDowell. That’s just crazy!

He discovers the truth about the teacherbots and instead of just straight up going after Cody, the older one concocts this ridiculously complicated plan that includes killing some people and sparking a war between the Hearts and their rivals The Razorheads. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to, I dunno, crush him with your insane robot strength? So anywhere, there’s a gang war and we really get to see the Hearts in full form. Again, notice all the purple and yellow. At one point, Angel gets pulled over and they accuse him of wearing gang colors and he’s only got yellow and purple on. That’s just hilarious to me.


When THIS plan fails, the teacherbots make fake phone calls to the leaders of both gangs to get them to meet at the school to kill each other instead of, again, just killing these kids. This is when things go super-bananas. You’ve got dirt bikes and explosions in school, robot fights, the reveal of some of their awesome weapon systems and the uniting of the two goings (uh, spoiler warning?). While Cody and the leader of the Razorheads are searching the school to take down the teachers (“I’m going in there to waste some teachers – are you with me?”) they actually drive their motorcycles into the classrooms and around the room. Twice!


I was pretty impressed with the showdown at the end and the effects were pretty good (I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you’ve seen the original VHS cover, you’ll see an approximation, if you see the newer Lions Gate version, you’ll see a way updated version). Each teacherbot sports it’s own hand weapon that was fun to watch, though where their robot hands actually go, I don’t know.

The real headscratcher throughout the movie is that there isn’t a really good character. I guess McDowell’s daughter might count, but she’s so one dimensional, she doesn’t really count. Like I said, we don’t know why Cody was in jail. It could have been murder for all we know. I get that he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and he’s served his time (after a fashion), but he’s still utilizing the people who are the problem (gang members) to take down other bad guys. I guess he could be labeled as an anti-hero, but I just wish we would have gotten a little more background on him.

But, in the end, the movie is just too damn crazy and fun to not enjoy on some level, even given all the problems. And I know some of you might be wondering why I had such high hopes for a movie about robot teachers teaching in a near war zone, but this movie was written and directed by Mark L. Lester who also directed the Jeph Loeb co-written Arnold Schwarzenegger masterpiece Commando . One other thing I want to point out about the story is that it actually has some pretty emotional moments. There’s a scene where Cody goes home and we see that his mom is just as big of a drug addict as Angel and the performances are really good. I think Bradley Gregg would have been much better suited if he wasn’t asked to/didn’t try to put on the Corey Feldman voice. It’s really distracting and I think takes away from the skills you can see under the surface.

Oh, also, they gave the Grierbot a nipple hanging out after she gets torn open and they show it a bunch. I was kind of embarrassed to be watching it on the train and even discreetly covered that part of the screen with my hand. But seeing as how this is the internet and a simple Google search for “Pam Grier naked” will come up with a number of hits (this site included now 😉 I figure this images ain’t so bad.