80s Odyssey: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

cloak_and_dagger Over the years, I’ve come to realize just how much I love movies about kids dealing with insane situations. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how much I loved Goonies and E.T. as a kid. I guess the real surprise is how much I still connect to those kinds of movies, even ones that I’ve come to more as an adult like Troll, The Gate, Explorers and Monster Squad. There’s just something so cool about taking pre-teens, putting them in these wild scenarios and seeing what they can do given their not-yet-adult ways of viewing the world.

I recently discovered a movie that perfectly fits this mold on Netflix Instant called Cloak & Dagger starring E.T.‘s Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Thomas plays a geeky kid named Davey who has constructed an imaginary friend based on a secret agent from a table top-turned-video game who looks exactly like his dad (both played by Coleman) in the wake of his mom’s death. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game store with his friend Kim or creates elaborate spy missions for them to act out in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. While playing spy, Davey winds up with a copy of a video game called Cloak & Dagger that contains hidden government secrets. Of course, no adults believe him, so he has to go on the run as a series of incredibly serious people try any means necessary, including murder, to get it back. Davey’s imaginary friends appears throughout the film to help him avoid death and figure out his next move until, eventually, he realizes he doesn’t need him anymore.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by how much intensity went into this Richard Franklin (Psycho II, F/X 2) kids movie. Not only is Davey continually hunted by predatory adults in this movie, but his video game store employee friend gets murdered, he realizes he doesn’t need his imaginary friend anymore and he straight up kills a guy. There’s no way this kid’s going to be okay with all this in the future. And it’s not handled in a wacky, cartoony way, so you get to see Thomas really going through some of this stuff on screen, or actively avoiding it so he can keep moving and live to see another day. I must also admit that it easily played on one of my biggest fears: people not believing you when something terrible’s happening because it sounds crazy. Since he’s just a kid who routintely talked about his made-up exploits, everyone thinks he’s full of it when he tries to tell them this crazy story about video games and spies and whatnot.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you really don’t see movies like this made anymore. These days, when kids encounter craziness, if at all, they’re usually in high school or beyond and a lot of the innocence is taken out of the picture. But, there have been a few films like the Spy Kids movies, Super 8 and even the upcoming Earth To Echo which all seem to take some of their inspiration from the movies of my youth.

If you’re interested in checking out Cloak & Dagger — which I highly recommend — look for it on Netflix Instant. If you’re looking to add it to your DVD collection (far as I can tell, it’s not on Blu-ray), there’s the basic version, a double feature with The Wizard which is another favorite from that era and as part of a 10 movie pack that also includes The Wizard, King Ralph, Matinee and a few others. I’m thinking about grabbing that last one because, of all the options, it’s currently the cheapest at $5 and I love a good deal!

Weekend Roundup

2008-11-10
5:12:26 pm

Wow, what a weekend. It was kind of busy with a wedding and both my football teams losing, but I was also able to squeeze in far more movies than I should have.

On Friday, Em went to bed early, so I ran up to Blockbuster and did a trade in for a double feature of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992) and Desperado (1995). I’d seen Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico before, but had never seen the original piece of the Mexico Trilogy, plus I’m a sucked for a 2-for1 and traded it in. I did not know that Mariachi is completely in Spanish and it seems as though the version I had rented didn’t have an English dub, but it did have an awesome commentary by Rodriguez. So I listened to that and put subtitles on and enjoyed the heck out of myself. Turns out he made the movie for $7,000 and most of that cost went towards film. He worked with mostly no crew and local people who’d never acted before. And while I can’t understand what they’re saying on screen, they really seemed natural. Rodriguez gives a play by play of how he did everything on screen which is super informative and then, in the special features, offers up a segment called “10 Minute Film School” showcasing how he did some of the more complex stunts and basic stuff like shooting scenes with editing in mind. I’ve never been to film school, but I feel like I got a heck of an education from just listening to the commentary. It was worth the rental for the feeling of “heck, I can do this too.” Who wants to make a movie with me?

So, I was pretty hyped up after Mariachi and put Desperado on immediately after. It definitely looks and feels like a different animal with it’s slicker look, bigger actors and crazier action sequences, but Rodriguez maintains the feel of the original which is impressive. This time Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi and Salma Hayek plays his love interest. You’ve also got Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo (my personal favorite interviewee so far). What stuck in my head from my previous viewing of Desperado was how bad ass it was. And that still holds up as Banderas leaps around shooting dudes from all kinds of awesome camera angles. I also love how cool the guitar case full of weapons is. It’s like Rodney Dangerfield’s golf bag from Caddyshack 2! Anyway, I also really dug the final scene where Mariachi calls in his boys who also have guitar cases concealing weapons (machine guns and a rocket launcher!). It’s an awesome revenge story with tons of action and plenty of bad ass characters walking around looking bad ass, but none as bad ass as Mariachi. BAM!

After that I was pretty exhausted (it was 3AM), so I went to bed. The next day Em took a nap in the afternoon and I started tinkering with my VCR and actually got the dumb thing to start working again which meant I could watch some of the tapes I’ve picked up at work and garage sales lately. So I popped Don’t Answer the Phone (1980) on. It wasn’t very good. The story follows a serial killer as he calls in to a radio psychologist and taunts her. The video tape quality added to the atmosphere of the film, but it was overall just kind of uncomfortable and I didn’t even both finishing it. What I did find interesting was the fact that we as the audience spent a good deal of time with the killer even when he wasn’t killing. We see him walking along the street and calling into the radio show. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to see a slasher movie done like this, where you really get to see things from the killer’s perspective. If Don’t Answer the Phone is any indicator, maybe it’s not such a good idea.

After giving up on that flick, I still had a little more time, so I popped in F/X2 (1991), which is a tape I grabbed from Em’s parents when they were cleaning out all the tapes. They used to own a video store back in the day, so I can only assume it’s a leftover from those days (how I wish I was around when they were getting rid of their boxes and boxes of movies!). I actually thought F/X2 was a horror movie, so I was confused when I couldn’t find it in my Creature Features book. It turns out that it’s more of an action thriller than a horror movie, though. Bryan Brown (Cocktail!) stars as a Hollywood effects man who gave up the game after the events of the first movie (which I haven’t seen). This time, the woman he’s dating’s ex husband asks him to help out with a case (making him look like a woman), but it turns out that the ex gets killed and Bryan stumbles upon a much bigger plot involving cops killing cops, mobsters and the Vatican. Bryan calls in his buddy from the previous flick Brian Dennehy and now they’re on the case. It’s a fairly standard plot from here, but what I really liked about the movie is how Brown uses his crazy special effects talents to go after the bad guys. At one point, a dude breaks into his house to kill him, but Brown’s able to slip into this motion control suit that coincides with a robot clown, so anything Brown does, the clown does. Then there’s this amazingly hilarious fight scene with Brown and the clown vs. the assassin. There’s also all kinds of craziness at the end. Definitely worth checking out if you want to see the kind of movie that will never get made nowadays, one with a sense of humor about itself, but also takes itself seriously.

The aforementioned wedding interrupted my movie watching (it’s okay, I forgive them). On Sunday, I caught part of Bad Boys II (2003) on TV and you know what? That movie’s awesome. I think Michael Bay gets a bad rap. I don’t know much about the guy aside from what he puts on the screen, but I definitely appreciate his love of big crazy movies with lots of action and explosions. Some people call him a hack for that, but I don’t buy it. I’ve liked Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys I and II (though definitely II better) and Transformers. I haven’t seen The Island yet and I didn’t really like Pearl Harbor at the time, but would definitely give it another shot. I didn’t get to see the entirety of BBII (I’ve seen it before though) and man, there are some awesome scenes in there. The 360 degree scene of Will Smith on one side of a room and dudes with machine guns on the other. The chase scene where the bad guys throw cars at them. You can’t beat that kind of stuff. And, I didn’t get to see it this time, but the absolute disregard for human life while driving through Cuban homes! This is what movies used to be like back in the 70s and 80s and it’s awesome to see that again. (NOTE: I in no way support the ACTUAL disregard of human life in Cuba, just in the movies!) Also, I forgot how cool Will Smith can be when he wants to (and when the camera angels make him look so). There were a lot of fun similarities between how Rodriguez shot Banderas and how Bay shot Smith. Fun stuff.

Finally, I ended my weekend movie watching with the original When A Stranger Calls (1979). I’ve got a bit of a history with the remake. My first year here in New York, before I got married, I didn’t really have a lot going on, so on my birthday Rickey, Ben and I (sorry if I forgot anyone else, my memory’s fuzzy at best) I thought it would be awesome to go see a horror movie (Em was still in New Hampshire). WASC had just come out and Rickey and I had just seen the main girl, Camilla Belle, in Chumscrubber and had school boy crushes on her so it seemed like a great idea. It was not and I still get reminded of how bad of a movie it was. Soon after, I looked the original up in Creature Features to find out that the original actually split it’s time between the babysitter getting terrorized story and then a seven years later story when the killer breaks out of an asylum. No wonder it felt like it was way too drawn out.

So, last night I finally watched the original and was even more surprised to find out that the babysitter portion only takes up about 15 minutes of screen time! Oh remake people, you’re so crazy. Anyway, it’s a pretty effective movie, the babysitter stuff in the beginning is definitely creepy and spawned the line “The call is coming from inside the house.” You’ve also got a pretty creepy killer, he killed the kids she was babysitting in their bedrooms with his bare hands while she was downstairs. After the 7 year jump we end up splitting our time between the escaped killer as he wanders around New York trying to hit on (or kill?) some woman and the private detective who’s on his trail. Here’s another movie where we get to see things from the killer’s perspective for a significant part of the movie. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for him or what, which adds to my not loving this movie, but eventually he finds the babysitter, who now has two kids and a husband and starts screwing with her again. There are some creepy moments and the killer definitely walks the line between total creep and somewhat not-hateable. It’s not a great movie, but definitely not as bad as the remake, though this kind of makes me want to watch it again. Somebody stop me…