Geek Doc: Electric Boogaloo (2015)

electric boogaloo posterHere’s a statement I don’t often make, but I was super excited when the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films popped up on Netflix Instant not long ago. Now, I love a good geeky documentary, but I usually stumble across them while looking around instead of knowing about them ahead of time. But, Electric Boogaloo comes from Mark Hartley, the same guy who made Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens, the former of which is a masterpiece and the latter of which is highly entertaining.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, cousins, bought a US film company called Cannon Films that would go on to make some of the best and worst action and sci-fi movies of the next few decades. They particularly dealt with stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, but also made movies like Cyborg, Superman IV, Masters Of The Universe, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and more than I can even count.

The doc itself tells the story of how these two guys hustled, begged, borrowed and even stole their way to Hollywood success by making more movies than anyone could keep track of. Unfortunately (for them and audiences paying good money for a ticket) the movies tended to be pretty bad, but a goldmine for fans of less-than-perfect cinema like me and a lot of my friends.

Told at a breakneck pace, Electric Boogaloo feels like an open and honest recounting of a company that was neither. Everyone from producers and directors to editors and stars appeared on the film to talk about the slap-dash way some of their projects were put together and presented to the world in general. Ultimately, it’s a story of how quickly these two men and their company could rise and how fiery they eventually fell. The only downside is that Golam and Globus, who are both still alive, refused to appear in this film in order to do their own doc called The Go-Go Boys, which doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix. Actually, there’s one other downside: there’s no mention of James Cameron’s Spider-Man film which was set up there for a while. I’d like to have seen them talk about that, then again, maybe there’s a full doc in the works for that. I hope.

Everybody Must Get Stalloned: Judge Dredd (1993), Tango & Cash (1989) and Over The Top (1987)

stallone four film favorite I don’t know about you guys, but as I get older, I find myself more likely to go back and watch a movie that I had a good time with over one that I actual revere. For instance, I absolutely adore The Usual Suspects and Reservoir Dogs. I discovered both movies in high school and they each changed my brain when it came to how you could tell a story and how film can work in different ways. And yet, I haven’t watched either film in several years. Instead, I seem to spend my time watching and craving more disposable, less “good” offerings like this 4 Film Favorites: Sylvester Stallone DVD 4-pack I recently picked up. I think a big reason for that is that I don’t always want to get too emotionally invested or have my brain messed with. I usually just want to sit down, have fun and maybe get some work or writing done in the process. Yes, that makes me a lazy film fan, but that’s how it is for me these days.

With that in mind, I’ve burned through three of the four movies in this set. As it happens, it’s the three I’ve seen before: Tango & Cash, Demolition Man and Over The Top. I’ve never watched The Specialist, but hope to give it it’s own review  later this week or next, it depends on my work schedule and, more importantly, when and if my kid naps.  But I figured it would be fun to lay down a few thoughts on these movies.

demolition man poster I actually thought I wrote about Demolition Man here on the blog before. I want to say I watched it around the same time I first saw Judge Dredd. Both movies have sci-fi settings, militaristic uniforms, Stallone teaming up with a bad ass leading lady and, inexplicably, appearances by Rob Schneider. Don’t be scared away, though, Schneider’s actually more restrained than I’ve ever seen him before. Wesley Snipes, however is not, but more on that in a minute.

In this one, Stallone plays a cop in the future, 1996 to be exact. The film came out in 1993 when LA was in a shambles and gang violence was a huge source of worry both in real life and on the big screen. Stallone’s John Spartan is a cop with the nickname Demolition Man because he goes into crazy situations and gets the bad guy, but leaves a swathe of destruction in his wake. In the beginning of the movie, he’s going after Snipes’ Simon Phoenix, a major gang kingpin who is never not wearing something silly. Phoenix sets Spartan up and the two wind up getting frozen which is what they do with criminals instead of sending them to jail.

Inexplicably, Phoenix wakes up in the future and starts running amok. It helps that this is a future where everything dangerous, from gasoline to sex, has been outlawed. Hell, they even outlawed swearing to the point where you get fined if you let loose a curse word in a public place. It’s a surprisingly dense and weird world. Taco Bell won the franchise wars, so now every restaurant is a TB, of course. Since Phoenix is basically running ripshot over the police force, they thaw Spartan out and he goes about his business, kicking ass and taking names.

One of the nice things about this four movie set is that it gives you a really good representation of Stallone’s career. In Demolition Man, he’s the stoic warrior, a guy who just wants to get in there, kick ass, punish the bad guy and save the innocents. That’s not a particularly complicated persona to take on, but it is always convincing when he does it. Meanwhile, his co-stars do an admirable job in their own roles. Sandra Bullock plays the 90s-obsessed, action-desiring cop that Stallone winds up partnered with. Benjamin Bratt is the by-the-book lame-o cop. Dennis Leary’s the freedom-loving underground rebel. Nigel Hawthorne’s the evil billionaire pulling more strings than I can keep up with. Also, for what it’s worth, I completely agree with the idea presented in the episode of How Did This Get Made covering this movie that Bullock is actually Stallone’s daughter, which adds a lot of weird layers to the proceedings.

And then you have Snipes. Man, this guy’s not a great actor. I realized this while watching Drop Zone recently. He’s just super-wooden and, even when he’s playing an over-the-top psychopath, he never really feels convincing. He always seems like a guy trying to act like another guy, but never really nailing it. “This is how a crazy guy would be right? Right? Okay, I’ll go with it.” He doesn’t really detract from the movie because it comes off as somewhat farcical all around, but I think the movie would have been a bit more grounded with a better bad guy.

tango and cash Tango & Cash is always a surprise to me. It’s a movie I think I heard more about growing up and later on into my 20s than I actually ever saw. In my mind it holds a place in the pantheon of awesome action movies, but the last few times I watched it, it left me shaking my head a bit.

Like I said the last time I watched and reviewed this movie, the sheer number of puns and one-liners spit out by stars Stallone and Kurt Russell are head-spinning. These guys throw them out like a madman has a gun aimed at them off screen and will shoot them if they don’t make like a Borscht Belt comedian getting heckled. It can be too much at times, especially when the tension is supposed to be high and these two chuckleheads can’t stop cracking wise.

Said tension comes when two of the most famous cops around get framed for killing a guy by Jack Palance. They’re introduced, each have a drug bust, meet one other, get framed, go through a trial, go to jail, fight a small army of criminals and break out of prison in the film’s first half hour or so. From there they try to figure out who framed them, Russell falls for Stallone’s sister Teri Hatcher (an exotic dancer who incorporates drums into her act!) and then they go up against Palance and his goons in an epic, end-of-movie siege. It’s a lot for a 90 minute movie, you guys.

It’s really too bad that the producers wanted a funnier movie instead of a more straightforward buddy action movie starring Stallone and Russell. The problem here unfortunately lies on Stallone’s shoulders. He’s just not great at playing this character, a slick, rich hotshot who fires off jokes in the face of danger. He’s great at parts of all those things, but putting them all together into one role didn’t really work out too well. Actually, I think there’s plenty of raw material on the screen to cut into a more serious film (serious, but still fun). You could easily make this thing at least 20% cooler just by using the mute button. Still, the end of this movie is rad — even if it does involve an LAPD-sanctioned weapons lab complete with a tour that would make James Bond pop his cork prematurely — and is worth all the craziness presented up front.

over the top poster While I tend to place Tango & Cash on a higher plane in my mind, I also find myself looking down on Over The Top a bit, but it’s actually a pretty great movie. Turns out I wrote about this one on the blog already too, but wanted to say a few more things. Yes, this is “the arm wrestling movie” which sounds silly, but it’s actually a well balanced, well acted movie about a man trying to reunite with his son at the behest of his terminally ill ex wife. That right there sounds like something out of an Oscar picture, but this one also happens to have a semi-truck driving Sylvester Stallone in the lead role as Lincoln Hawk, an evil Robert Loggia and the world arm wrestling championship in Las Vegas. Oh, and a kid somehow escaping from a mansion, stealing a car, getting on an airplane and getting into said arm wrestling championship.

So, it’s not the most grounded movie in the world, but this is Stallone at his best. He’s a simple guy with simple motives just trying to make things right. At times he reminded me of his performance in First Blood, where he’s just a guy trying to walk through town and find a friend who gets pushed too far by people who don’t understand him. He’s not the overly slick guy in Tango & Cash or the on-the-surface lawman of Demolition Man, he’s a real guy — a dad –earnestly trying his best.

I realized something while watching this movie, it’s actually a lot closer to the movies I used to watch as a kid than the action movies I gravitated to as I got older. When you think about it, there’s a lot of the same elements in The Wizard as in Over The Top. You’ve got a father and son making their way across part of the country, experiencing obstacles to their relationship and even a big competition in Vegas at the end.  Heck, there’s even a scene in Over The Top where you can see all kinds of Nintendo logos on some video game cabinets in a diner. Synergy! There’s also very little physical violence in the movie if memory serves. Sure, Stallone drives his truck through Loggia’s front door and he arm wrestles a small army of giant, sweaty biceps with bodies attached to them, but this isn’t your usual slug or bulletfest, which actually makes it a pretty good Stallone movie to watch with your kids. Who woulda thought?!

Even though I had a few complaints about each of these movies, I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed myself while giving them another watch. I’m glad I got my hands on that DVD set because, even though they’re not the high quality Blu-ray I prefer these days, they are presented in an affordable manner that allows me to revisit these flicks any time I want. As an added bonus, there’s actually a commentary track on the Demolition Man disc that I’ve got to listen to!

Sylvester Stallone Is Awesome

I had a revelation while watching Over The Top (1987) this weekend: Sylvester Stallone really is a good actor. In addition to his obvious bad assery, I found myself feeling bad for the big galoot as he struggled with dealing with his son. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, I’ve seen a surprising amount of Stallone movies this pass year including Death Race 2000, First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Over The Top, Tango and Cash (how did I not blog about those three?), Cliffhanger and Rambo. I’ve also seen most of the Rocky movies in my days, but need to rewatch them, Cop Land and, as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t wait for The Expendables. Two of those I’ve watched recently, so let’s jump in, shall we?

A few weeks back I had some free time on the weekend (I came down with a crazy cold while we were trying to paint our bathroom, I swear) and decided to give Cliffhanger (1993) on Netflix Instant Watch. I got so into it that Em, who was graciously finishing the painting while I slowly turned into a snot machine, heard me yelling at the TV and was about to yell at me for playing video games while she was working until she came in to see me on the edge of my seat.

See, the thing is that THEY’RE ON THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN. Sure there’s actors, stuntmen, matte painting and other special effects, but this is before cheap CGI, so someone was actually on a mountain and you can feel that danger. I don’t know if it was unconscious or not because it popped into my head right away “Woah, that’s high up, someone had to actually do that,” but I definitely felt it the whole time. Just try and tell me this isn’t intense:

I’d never seen the movie, so it held a lot of surprises for me, especially when it came to the cast. I pretty much only knew that Stallone and the girl from Northern Exposure (Janine Turner) were in it. I had no idea John Lithgow, Michael Rooker and the cop from CSI Miami (Rex Linn) were all in it. You gotta love Lithgow as a villain.

The thing that surprised me about both of these Stallone movies is how much deeper the story is than you’d expect. With Cliffhanger, you’d just expect it to be dudes on a mountain making other dudes find their lost money, but instead you’ve got all this backstory between Stallone and Rooker and Stallone and Turner. The same goes for Over The Top, which I picked up at Best Buy for $5 last week even though I’d never seen it before. It’s not JUST the Stallone arm wrestling movie. He’s also dealing with his 10-year-old kid who he’s never met before (played by David Mendenhall, the voice of Daniel Witwicky in Transformers), the kid’s sick mom, her dad (played by Lost Highway’s Robert Loggia!) and a bunch of dudes in tank tops at the arm wrestling championship.

Of course, it comes with its fair share of ridiculousness too. Stallone’s a truck driver and one of the prizes for the American arm wrestling championship just so happens to be a big rig. Exactly what he needs. Huh, go figure. There’s also a whole series of scenes in which his son steels a car, drive it to the airport, gives it to a security guard, flies to Las Vegas, avoids his grandpa’s goons (one of which, I’m pretty sure played a goon in Road House, the one with the curly hair) and makes his way to the arm wrestling championships all while his dad is in the middle of the competition. Crazy! How does he do this? Were credit cards even around back then? It’s like they tried to throw a little Home Alone in the middle of this action movie, it’s great. You’ve also got a great series of weirdos he has to arm wrestle (all of whom are much, MUCH bigger than him.

But, yeah, of course the best moments involve Stallone being a badass:

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If you can’t get behind this kind of awesomeness, I pity you.

Two more quick things. One, the movie was so rad that it earned itself an action figure line back in 1986 with real arm wrestling action! I very much wish I could find a commercial online for this, but as the basic video search I did on YouTube brought nothing, click through to this Virtual Toy Chest link, you’ll be doing yourself a service my friend.

And second, just try and tell me that this painted image of Stallone, arm extended with a truck and a hawk behind him isn’t cooler than anything you’ve seen in the past 13 years. Bazinga!