80s Odyssey Double Feature: Teen Wolf & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

While reading Ready Player One, I felt the urge to watch some 80s movies, as I’m sure plenty of other people have since the book came out six years ago. With that in mind, I took to both Netflix and Amazon Prime to make that happen. I didn’t wind up with films directly mentioned in the book (if memory serves, which it doesn’t always), but did come up with a pair of favorites: Teen Wolf and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Continue reading 80s Odyssey Double Feature: Teen Wolf & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Best Of The Best: Back To The Future (1985)

back to the future posterLast week when I wrote about Romancing The Stone, I included it in a list of movies that used to be fairly ubiquitous in my younger days thanks to cable channels like USA, TNT and TBS. Another franchise that easily made that list, though I forgot to mention for some reason, was Back To The Future. I’m a huge fan of this series, yes even the third one, so it was a little surprising even for me when I realized I’d never owned it in any form. Then, just before Father’s Day, the Blu-ray set went on sale on Amazon, I passed the link to my wife and now that oversight has been remedied!

Not long after, I popped the original film in and had a wonderful time watching it again. This Robert Zemeckis film — hey, he directed Romancing The Stone too — is a masterpiece from beginning to end. It’s a fantastic adventure film, it’s a wonderful comedy and it’s also one of the best time travel movies of all time.

But, if you’re not familiar, I’ll lay down the plot. This kid Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hangs out with a scientist named Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who built a time machine out of an old DeLorean. McFly needs to jump inside to escape some trouble and winds up back in 1955. His presence there winds up screwing the time stream up a bit because his parents — played by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover — don’t get together when they should. At the same time, Marty gets into trouble with local bully — and future jerkwad — Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). So, Marty not only needs to get his parents together, but also convince a younger Doc that he’s a time traveler so he can get back home.

I think I might actually remember the first time I watched Back To The Future, which is incredibly rare because, like I said, these movies all just seemed to exist on TV at random times and you’d occasionally catch bits and pieces on the weekends. Anyway, my aunt and uncle used to live in an apartment building. I don’t remember many details, but I have a vague memory of being over there with my parents and all of us enjoying the movie. That family togetherness centered around a movie still sticks with me, much like my memories of E.T.

I wish I could accurately put into words just how charming and lovable Fox is, specifically in this era. We’re talking Family Ties, Teen Wolf and The Secret Of My Success MJF when he was at his prime. Few people pull off the slightly exasperated, good natured hustler better than Fox. Plus, the rest of the cast is so on-point the whole time. Lloyd is the epitome of non-evil mad scientists while Thompson and Glover both pull triple duty, adding greatness to each version of their characters.

One of the best things about Back To The Future is how deep the world goes, especially in regards to the time travel elements. I watched this movie a lot of times during my childhood and only here and there after that, but one day I spent a lot of time reading through the movie’s IMDb trivia page which chronicles a lot of the film’s smaller moments, like the change from Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pines Mall. So brilliant. It’s the kind of movie that actually gets better the more you learn about it, which isn’t always the case.

Halloween Scene: The Frighteners (1996)

the frightenersI want to say I saw Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox at some point in high school, but I can’t quite remember. I do remember seeing a special somewhere about how they did the ghost-wall special effects, but that’s about all I could recall. So, when I saw it on Netflix, and since I’ve been in the mood to watch movies I’ve seen only once before, I figured it would be a fun watch. It turned out to be strangely timely too considering I’ve been enjoying The Michael J. Fox Show and I just watched Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator very recently.

The film itself follows the exploits of Fox’s Frank Bannister, a man who can actually see and talk to ghosts. Instead of using this power for good, though, he uses it — and the ghosts — to trick people out of their money. Basically, he sets up a haunting and then gets paid to get rid of the ghosts who simply ride back with him in his crappy car. In the course of a normal swindle, Frank becomes aware that there’s a hooded, Grim Reaper-looking figure killing people and ghosts. Frank and a recent widow become embroiled in this battle and the crook has to become the hero.

I haven’t been this conflicted about a film in a while, you guys.

One one hand, I love the plot of this film and was completely surprised by the twist at the end. I’m still not sure how or if it makes sense, but it made for good drama. Plus, Fox and his main co-star Trini Alvarado were a lot of fun to watch. I’m a long-time fan of MJF and love him in just about anything, but it’s also cool seeing him in kind of a broken down, action hero role. I can’t say that’s something I’m used to and it was a nice change. For the most part, the rest of the cast really got into their roles, I thought Dee Wallace and Julianna McCarthy really dug into their characters as the daughter and mother Bradley.

On the other hand, two elements of this film that keep it from being a true, timeless classic: the tone and some bad-by-today’s-standards CGI. While Fox and Alvarado play the whole thing straight, most of the ghosts seem like cartoon characters. This gives the film a kind of Beetlejuice vibe (as does the Danny Elfman score). And I think that would have worked well…but then Combs’ Milton Dammers shows up. If you thought Combs was intense in Re-Animator, you ain’t seen nothing yet. He’s a government agent who had been deep undercover with some cults and is now completely out of his mind. Oh, he also can’t stand when women scream at him. He’s just so over the top and bonkers that he’s nearly impossible to take seriously and definitely took me out of the film.

The bad CGI will probably take more people out of it, especially younger viewers. I’m sure they were great at the time, but everything just looks fake. That coming-out-of-the-wall thing just doesn’t work. The hooded villain is completely rendered in CGI and sometimes almost looks like an unnatural beast, but mostly looks like old CGI. This becomes most evident in scenes that include ghosts (who look like they were shot normally and then tinted blue) and the villain who is completely CGIed. The actors are doing their best, but it sometimes look like they’re just getting attacked my an ancient screensaver. The worst part is that some of the poorly CGIed scenes probably could have been done practically to better effect. I’d sacrifice some of the Reaper’s animal-like movements for a villain that actually looks real.

And yet, I fell in love with the characters and really appreciated the story so I’m giving this a thumbs-up with a “but.” I don’t see this ever happening, but I would put The Frighteners at the top of the list of films to get update with modern CGI. I have no idea how these things work, but I just kept imagining how much better the whole thing would come off with a more polished and update set of visual graphics. I think with better looking effects, it might balance out the parts of my brain that don’t like how all-over-the-place the tone gets.

80s Odyssey: Zapped (1982) & Teen Wolf (1985)

I’ve been on a real 80s movie kick since I watched Back To School and Just One Of The Guys. Since then, I’ve probably watched a dozen or so 80s flicks. I’ll be pairing some of them up and writing about them over the next few days and weeks. Zapped appealed to me instantly because, as longtime readers will remember, I am a big fan of Charles In Charge which also stars Scott Baio and Willie Aames.

The story behind Zapped actually reminds me a lot of a movie I saw when I was younger called School Spirit as both are R-rated teen comedies about a kid getting a certain kind of superpower and basically using it the way that a kid that age would. In this case, Scott Baio gets telekinesis after some of the chemicals in the lab he uses at school get mixed up and he ingests them.

There’s little touches here and there that made this film fun and quirky when it could have gotten tired and stale. Even before getting his powers, Baio is growing weed in the lab. His parents also think he’s on drugs and give him a really hard time until he controls a ventriloquist dummy to scare his mom and then she leaves him alone. Oh, Scatman Crothers also plays a coach in the movie and I always enjoy seeing him do his thing.

And, as you might expect, there’s plenty of T&A to go around. I was actually surprised that I didn’t remember this movie from my youthful days of watching USA’s Up All Night or Comedy Central’s T&A Matinee. Heck, the end of the movie finds everyone at prom and Baio going all Carrie, but instead of being pissed, he’s just ripping everyone’s clothes off. In my mind, I like to think that Baio and Aames changed their names, went on to college and wound up on Charles In Charge.

The theme for this post is “high school comedies about kids with strange abilities and the wackiness that ensure” in case you couldn’t tell. Unlike Zapped, I had, of course, seen Teen Wolf. I think it’s nearly impossible to be my age, had cable for a long time and not seen at least a part of the movie. In case you haven’t, though, basically Michael J. Fox is a nondescript teenager on a crappy basketball team who finds out that he is, in fact, a werewolf. Things actually start turning around for him when people find out about his secret (apparently, in addition to getting hairy and growing fangs, being a werewolf also makes you awesome at basketball). From there it turns into a question of identity and being true to yourself as Fox struggles between being the wolf that everybody loves and the boy Boof loves.

I think what sets Teen Wolf apart from movies like it is how differently they play everything. It runs out that Fox’s dad actually completely understands what he’s going through because he is also a werewolf (I love that scene where he opens the door and dad’s standing there in wolf mode too). I also like how no one really seems to care that he turns into a werewolf in the middle of a basketball game. Sure some people are a little weirded out, but they also don’t care because he’s actually good at the sport. I also love the character of Stiles in pretty much any incarnation I see him in. He’s that perfect 80s smooth operator that seems to be missing from modern movies. I think some actors make that guy too douchey for consumption, but Jerry Levine kills the role of ultimate party guy who everybody loves. We need more Stiles’ in our lives.

Like with Zapped and all movies like this that follow a somewhat formulaic plot (you know prom has to be involved and the lead has to like the popular girl while his female friend pines after him), Teen Wolf lives or dies based on the main character. Luckily for both flicks, both Baio and Fox are great at playing normal guys who you can either feel for or relate to. You feel kind of good when they get to be awesome and then feel bad for them when they take it too far, but then good again by the end when they redeem themselves.

I want to take a quick paragraph and talk about this Teen Wolf show that MTV’s got coming up soon. I’ve seen a few previews for it and it doesn’t look like my bag. I’m not one of those idiots who throws around terms like “raping my childhood” when things like this get remade. Not only do I find the very idea of the phrase to be repugnant and a wild misuse of a term, but someone making a new version of something you liked as a good should have no baring on your enjoyment of the original work. It’s still there. You can always watch the original Karate Kid or Teen Wolf and completely ignore the remakes. It’s as simple as that. All that being said, I the bits of the Teen Wolf show I’ve seen seem to take all the fun that was inherent in the movie out of the proceedings in order to make another cheap Twilight rip off. I said something like that to the missus the other day and she responded with something like “Kids today don’t want fun, they want brooding.” I hope that’s not true. I know movies like Teen Wolf and Zapped aren’t in vogue anymore, but they should be. Maybe teens aren’t as into comedy because the only things aimed at them are shows on the Disney channel and the occasional dramedy on TV like My Life As Liz. Where’s the Zapped, Teen Wolf or American Pie for this generation?

Michael J. Fox Talks Back To The Future On Jimmy Fallon

After a rad musical intro/ode to Michael J. Fox’s guitar performance in Back To The Future at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance by The Roots (which unfortunately isn’t included in the first clip, Fox talked about a number of subjects. His new book is one of them, ribbing Dennis Leary another, but my favorite part was when he talked about how people are constantly coming up to him and asking where the real hoverboards are from Back To The Future 2. I really need to watch those movies again, it’s been way too long.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Being 20-ish In the 80s Must Have Been Awesome

So, like most people my age (and I’m assuming most people in general) I used to think it would have been awesome to live in a different decade, especially considering the 80s brought the world acid wash jeans, frizzy hair and hair metal (or was that just New Jersey?). It’s like Cynthia said in Dazed and Confused (trying to find this full quote made me REALLY wish I had this movie on DVD) “It’s like the every-other-decade theory, you know? The ’50s were boring, the ’60s rocked, and the ’70s– Oh, my god, they obviously suck. Come on. Maybe the ’80s will be radical. You know? I figure we’ll be in our 20s and, hey, it can’t get any worse.” Well, sometimes we’re too steeped in our own decade to see the good in them and two good things about the 80s were Michael J. Fox’s The Secret To My Success (1987) and Johnny Depp’s Private Resort (1985).

It’s been a week or two since I watched The Secret Of My Success, but luckily I’ve watched the movie EVERY time it’s been on TV so I remember all the beats. I was surprised to find out that I didn’t really remember the beginning of the 1987 classic (by the way, I freaking LOVE this movie, so much so that when Em came in the room and started making fun of my, I actually got upset, but I kept it on the inside like a man).

I actually just looked at some of the players in this movie for the first time in IMDb. The director, Herbert Ross, also directed Footloose, Steel Magnolias and Boys on the Side. An interesting resume to say the least. And Jim Cash, the guy who wrote the screenplay based on am AJ Carothers story, has a pretty impressive list of movies to his credit as well, including Top Gun, Turner & Hooch, Dick Tracy (love that one too), Anaconda and the Flinstones live action sequel. Huh, I guess they can’t all be winners. And of course, it stars my personal favorite late 80s star Michael J. Fox. Damn that dude is charming.

So, for those of you who haven’t seen it, the story focuses on Fox as Brantley Foster. He’s got a good job all set up on Wall Street, but it turns out his company got bought out by another huge corporation. He ends up working for his uncle (or at least that’s what he calls Uncle Howard, but they’re actual familial relation is more complicated I believe) in the mail room, but that’s not enough for Brantley. He starts posing as a new guy named Carlton Whitfield who starts making a name for himself in the company. In addition to befriending Cousin Ira from Mad About You (John Pankow) in the mail room and trying to get a date with Supergirl herself (Helen Slater), Fox has to balance both of his lives and ends up…well, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. The movie’s available on Netflix Instant and you should watch it immediately.

In addition to being just a fun movie about working your way up and achieving the American dream (with a fair amount of lying and deception of course), I have fond memories of watching this movie when I was younger with my parents. I don’t have any specific memories of watching it, but while watching it at 26, I got transported back to some murky “younger” version of myself and really enjoyed the movie. I like it’s “if you work hard, you can achieve anything” sentiment and actually wonder how much this movie effected my ethics and mentality. I can totally see doing something like this if it were even possible today. Maybe I’ll just show up at DC or Playboy in a recently vacated office and act like I know what I’m doing. Hmm…

If not, I can always follow the model set forth in Private Resort (1985) and just have a good old time. This is an absolutely ridiculous movie starring Johnny Depp, Rob Morrow (of Northern Exposure and Numbers fame) and Hector Elizondo who is awesome and in everything. I actually had a better time watching the credits for this movie than the rest of the film itself. First off, Morrow, whose got his fery first movie roll, gets top billing over Johnny Depp. Then you’ve got Elizondo being billed as “The Maestro.” Oh, and this is all over a TON of sexy 80s ladies dancing at some exclusive resort.

Private Resoprt is your basic “two guys get into wacky adventures while trying to get laid” movies. It doesn’t rank in the top 10 of that sub sub sub genre, but it is fun in the same way it’s fun watching Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun or, well, Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s just cool to see these names doing wacky shit and being completely over the top (what’s the best place for Johnny Depp to hide when he’s accidently mostly naked in the bedroom of a married woman while her husband is outside getting a haircut from Morrow who’s not a barber? In bed with her of course). Oh, plus, you get to see full backal nudity of both of the male leads, plus a ton of lady boobs. The great thing about watching these 80s movies is that you never know whose top will be coming off because you have no idea who any of these ladies are.

Ther eare a few other enjoyable moments. For one thing, there’s this little kid who’s wandering around the resort trying to see boobs using a fishing line and one of those squeeze robot hands you can get at a toy store and look like a robot hand. He’s like the Data of toplessness. There’s also a great subplot where Elizondo is obsessed with keeping his hair nice, which is kind of funny in a meta way because I’ve only known the dude to be bald. You also get your fair share of weirdo hippy sisters who need a date, grannies who know karate, security guards who take their jobs too seriously, d-bag resort staffers, potential and actual sexual conquests, Spicoli-like duuuuuudes and maybe Nazi German guys.

All of that may make this sound like an awesome movie, but it definitely drags and has a weird lack of music, which I realized made the movie feel longer and slower. Where was the Secret Of My Success “BOW BOW CHICKA CHICKA”-like music during the chase scenes? Oh well, the movie gets extra wacky at the end and mileage may vary, but it’s worth checking out if you’re in for some great 80s weirdness.