Day 77 Summer School (1987)

Let me say right off the bat, any resemblance between me and Mark Harmon is a figment of your imagination. On the other hand, there are way too many similarities between Mr. Shoop, the character Harmon plays in this movie, and my own Summer School experiences. To start off with, this is a Carl Reiner film, and although I’d forgotten he was in it, I did remember that the need for a Summer School teacher was a result of a teacher bailing out on a Summer assignment.  When I was a freeway flyer in the early 80s, I only got a Summer class when someone dropped out at the last minute or a class was added due to enrollment.  Unlike Mr. Shoop though, I was happy to have a class. I was a young married, getting by on part time assignments,  I needed the cash.

Also like our lead character here, I treated Summer classes differently.  Not by taking them less seriously, but by developing a closer relationship to the students. In summer, college classes met daily rather than just twice a week. I got to know my students and enjoy a little more social interaction rather than just perfunctory. I never took all my students to the go kart track, but Mr. Shoop and I dressed exactly the same for classes in the summer, Aloha shirts and shorts, usually flip flops, occasionally sneakers.  I’m not ashamed to say I still have all of the 80 or so Aloha shirts I acquired in those years. The movie is a little casual about actual teaching, but that’s sort of the point.

So Harmon is reluctantly recruited to teach remedial English to a group of kids who seem unmotivated.  In the best tradition of underdogs overcoming adversity, he finds ways to motivate them and himself.  He pushes some boundaries but never crosses the line with the girls in the class. The students start to take advantage and things get out of hand, thus the comedy. There are also a couple of poignant moments in the film. The attempt to get the students motivated by having them write letters to companies they have complaints with, reminds me of an assignment my wife used to assign her students to help them learn letter writing form. Obviously it is a fantasy version of teaching but it is a lot of fun.

As a movie fan, the film is also fun. It is full of references to other films. There is a lot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre,  references to An American Werewolf in London, and there are movie posters for surf films everywhere.  There is a studying montage that mimics all kinds of film montages. Kirstie Alley is fun supporting romantic interest, but that is not the real focus of the story. The outcome of the big test at the end is a lot more realistic than you might expect,  with a little bit of a “Music Man” finish.

“Summer School” is a very typical teen movie from the 80s. I might have been a little old for it, but teaching Summer School myself gets me a pass in that department.  I only wish I could have brought my dog to class with me.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01 Sized3000

Day 76 Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

This is a film I saw once, and in a minute I’ll talk about that experience, but my memory was that the film had a cute charm with just enough texture to make it a PG summer film for kids. It’s a little bit like a John Hughes film with a slightly different twist. It’s not angsty like the Molly Ringwald films, it’s more like a moving version of Home Alone.

I worry a bit about how the film might be perceived in these times. It does play a bit on white fears of black neighborhoods.  In the long run, the silliness of what happens undermines the argument that this is in some way malicious.  When four white suburban kids end up in a bar, singing blues to a black audience, and killing it, all negative thoughts should just be dumped.

So just about every urban nightmare shows up in the course of the film. There are car thieves,  rival gangs, mobsters, and hospital visits. Crazy homeless people and runaways populate the background.  None of it is to be taken seriously.  There are at least three musical sequences that exist only for the audience and they have nothing to do with the story. It is a very 80s way of building a story around nothing more than a premise. Hell we even get the Stone’s Gimme Shelter used to signify danger in the city.

The charm of the movie is in Elizabeth Shue who manages to take a woman in jeopardy part and make us believe she can handle it, despite being outmatched in most of the precarious moments of the movie. The truth is that we know what kind of movie this is going to be from the opening scene. The star is dancing by herself, joyously indulging in some romantic fantasy, like Tom Cruise but she is not in her underwear,  so there isn’t any sensuality,  just enthusiasm.  Bradley Whitford shows up and plays one of his trademark douche characters from the early part of his career.  A year before he was pathetically terrifying in “Full Metal Jacket “, Vincent D’nofrio appears as a manifestation of The God Thunder.

I did watch this on Disney + so there was some editing for content that was pretty obvious.  It is the language that gets altered. Early on in the story, the older brother teases his younger sister by calling her hero “Thor” a homo. That phrasing in this context is apparently insensitive  (which it is meant to be) and they dub in ‘weirdo ” to replace it, but that steps on a comic moment later in the film. The most obvious substitutions take place in a subway confrontation,  the term “bitch” is replaced by “witch “, making the two gangs sound more polite and less ominousl as they threaten each other and our kids with knives.  The “F” word is replaced twice in this scene with the word “fool” as if that will fool anyone. It undermines a gag that only works because the language is offensive.  This is an example of the dangers of streaming, the corporations that control the films can retcon the creativity out of a film that may be unfamiliar to an audience.  I wish I owned this on physical media,  I’d go back and watch those scenes again just to spite the censors on this service.  More of this is coming, and it is motivated by a desire to avoid being offensive,  but offence is the point sometimes.

The circumstances of seeing this the one time before back in 1987, bear a little more detail. In those days, an upcoming film might have a one time screening as a second feature with a movie well into it’s release.  I might never have seen this if it were not for the fact that one of these Sneak preview screenings featured a movie I was hugely motivated to see. Adventures in Babysitting  is mostly innocuous family fare (with the one use of the f-bomb the exception that proves the rule) . Looking back, it is amazing to me that this is the film they paired “Robocop’ with for the Sneak. The reaction to Robocop was a roar of approval from the audience that I have only experienced a few times (like at the end of Star Wars the first time I saw it). “Babysitting” was cute, but it was way overshadowed by the Sneak preview film it was playing with.

Day 75 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

For some reason this film is much maligned by fans of the series. I suspect it is the subplot featuring the tribe of nearly feral children that Max endeavors to save. It is a very reasonable plot line, but there is a sequence when the kids and Max are escaping from Bartertown, that plays out like a better version of the Goonies. The cute rope swinging and slide escapes just seem like they are out of another film. I guess some audiences resented toning down the brutality for cute moments with kids. Whimsy feels out of place in Max’s Universe..

Those points aside, Beyond Thunderdome has a lot of things to recommend it. The concept of Bartertown alone justifies another visit to this post apocalypse world. It’s a place where you are only admitted if you have something to trade. The idea that a code could develop, no matter how twisted, seems to appeal to our need for some type of civilization. However, rules implie consequences and the application of those consequences means someone has to have power. The social structure of Bartertown is dependant on two sources of power, intellect and guile. Both of these have to be backed by force, so the culture is playing out the same pattern that brought them to this

Another great invention to justify our two hours is “Thunderdome ” itself. The simplicity of the justice system is clear but arbitrary. Two men enter, one man leaves. We know there will be an opportunity to see it in action, and although it is sometimes fanciful, it never feels like a cartoon. Even when Tina Turner as Auntie Entity is loading over the other denizens in her padded shoulders of chain mail, it still feels threatening. The secondary characters of Master/Blaster are a clever concier that drives the plot, but also starts showing us that Max has an exterior that is developing cracks. Mel Gibson is less stoic as Max in this episode, and by the time the film wraps up, his character is downright sentimental. Some may be put off by the kids living in the Crack, earlier, but I liked the way they told their battered story and built their hopes around it.

The final chase is solid but marred by the antics of the kids and some visual humor that makes characters meant to be dangerous and turns them into comic relief. It was not until “Fury Road”, twenty five years after this film that the “Road Warrior ” final chase is matched and exceeded. This may have been a slight letdown after the heights of the second film in the series, but it has it’s own moments as well.

We saw this with Art and Kathy at the Edwards Temple City fourplex. They seemed disappointed but I was delighted by the movie. There are some sentimental touches that I thought worked pretty well. The Alan Tudek doppelganger was fun, and I liked both of the Tina Turner songs used in the Titles and end credits. Fury Road plumbs the same storyline as this film, but manages to avoid stepping into the humor trap that Thunderdome falls for. Kids can work as a plot point, but turning them into T Lost Boys in an animated movie, isn’t going to cut it.

Day 74 Blue Thunder (1983)

Science Ficton Thursday

We already talked about John Badam’s double feature partner “WarGames” earlier on the project. The director had two major summer movies open within a couple of weeks of each other. Both were big successes and fit the category of techno-thriller. It’s Science Fiction Thursday, but the stuff in this film was not so much speculative as it was just a little ahead of the game. The premise of this film is that an advanced helicopter is going to be used for nefarious purposes and the conspiracy is uncovered by a couple of cops on the LAPD Helicopter Division.

Roy Scheider is Murphy, a helicopter pilot with some PTSD and a chip on his shoulder. The helicopter nicknamed “Blue Thunder” is designed for anti terrorist activity during the LA Summer Olympics. The demonstration at an airfield shows that the weaponry is impressive, but also not as precisely targeted as you might want. To ramp up the drama, the military pilot overseeing the test is an antagonist of Frank Murphy from his service in Vietnam. Malcom Mcdowell is Colonel Cochrane and clearly is the a-hole. These two pros are great at building up the tension and there is a good degree of paranoia to be had with flashbacks and secret agendas all around.

The secondary characters are solid as well. Daniel Stern is Murphy’s partner, an observer who operates the surveillance tech on the test run. Warren Oates, in the last release film he made, is the standard police captain that the two cops work for. Candy Clark plays Murphy’s girlfriend and she is quirky enough to be interesting without having much to do except at the end. Anthony James, who bookends his career with parts in two Academy Award Best Picture “In the Heat of the Night” and “Unforgiven” has a small part as an assassin in the film.

The film doesn’t take long to get to get to the action. The plot unwind quickly so we know the players and their motivations. It is a little bi-polar however because on the one hand, the Blue Thunder helicopter is the threat. It’s advanced technology and weapons are potentially to be used against citizens. On the other hand, it is the tool that allows Murphy to uncover the conspiracy plot and thwart the bad guys in a battle across the LA skyline. In the end, it is clear that Frank is the good guy, and like all tools, the helicopter is not inherently evil, it simply depends on who is using it. While the conclusion of the film will justify including the movie on Will Walter’s podcast, it doesn’t solve the problem any more than a gun buyback solves crime. It just gives us something to feel good about.

I’m pretty sure we saw this in Hollywood, but I am not sure which theater we went to. This was a film we only saw the one time in a theater, but screened it many times on Select TV, cable, satellite and both VHS and Laserdisc. The version I watched today was a DVD-R burn of my Laserdisc. I copied a lot of my Laserdisc films so that I could share them with non-lasr owners, and in the eventuality of losing access to a functioning player. I thought it looked great.

Day 73 Bronco Billy (1980)

Everyone knows Clint Eastwood is a Jazz fan, he has written jazz music for some of his films and devoted a film to one of the greats, Charlie “Bird” Parker. Clint however is not a music snob, he likes all kinds of music. In the early to mid-80s, he devoted a number of films to a country score, often featuring songs by country music legends. “Any Which Way You Can”, “Every Which Way but Loose” and “Honkytonk Man” are all emblematic of that aesthetic.  “Bronco Billy” fits that category and adds a lot of comedy elements to the story. This movie is full of Merle Haggard moments, including a performance on screen.

This movie was not a huge success,  in spite Clint’s standing in the film industry at the time but it did make money, more than it cost anyway. . It was Probably too sincere and sweet for the cynical period of the business.  This is a movie with a headstrong hero, a selfish heiress,  and a cast of lovable misfits that just don’t know when to quit.  It is show business like most will never know, but I’ve got to tell you, I know, I lived some of this personally.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Clint stars with his one time girlfriend Sondra Locke. It is full of the romantic comedy tropes of classic Hollywood,  rather than the later day Rom com’s. There are delusional characters,  madcap moments, a couple of farcical incidents and a bucket load of character actors doing great work, most of whom have worked with Clint multiple times. Geoffrey Lewis, Bill McKinney,  Sam Bottoms, are all vets of Clint directed films. Scatman Crothers is a nice addition to the ensemble. This is a story about people who want to leave their past behind, and live out a fantasy,  in this case a Western fantasy of a Wild West Show. Bronco Billy has tunnel vision for his dream of being a cowboy.  Clint plays a guy who has a big heart, a short temper and a code he lives by, which he wants everyone else in his troupe to follow.

This is a light little film that is often overlooked in Eastwood’s filmography but perfectly conveys the show business spirit the movie is supposed to emulate. The traveling Wild West Show is a throwback to earlier times, even for 1980. There is a drop top vehicle with a longhorn hood ornament and six shooters for door handles.  A Great visual gag happened at the end with a tent made by the inmates of a mental asylum,  and the live audience in each show responds to both the show and the situation,  sometimes enthusiastic and other times indifferent.  The kids in the movie however all love a cowboy, and that’s one of the reasons I love the film as well.

I said earlier that I had some personal experience that goes with this film. My Father was a professional entertainer. He loved show business the way Bronco Billy did in the movie. We did tent shows, we had breakdowns in remote places, there were rebellions by the crew that were squashed through the sheer force of his personality.  I  laughed really hard when we saw this movie. My wife to be, just a month from our wedding wondered why I was so amused. She and my Dad were  never as close as I might have wanted them to be, but when I told her that Clint could have been cribbing some of his performance from my Pop,  I think she appreciated him a little more.

Day 72 Sweet Liberty (1986)

Comedy Tuesday

Alan Alda was a film actor, who made it big on TV after having a number of flop films. On the show M*A*S*H, he excelled at making snarky comedy comments while skewing wartime mentalities. He also wrote and directed some of the episodes which gave him the confidence and cache to do the same with some new films and he had some great success. He wrote and starred in “The Seduction of Joe Tynan”, and he added the title of director to “The Four Seasons”, which was a surprise success and seemed set to establish him as a go to actor/director. This was his next film and it underperformed in contrast to Four Seasons. He only directed two films after that, the last one being in 1990. So his directing career has lain dormant for 30 plus years, is this film the reason why?

The premise of the film is a promising one. A respected college history professor, writes a book about the American Revolution, which becomes a bestseller and is being turned into a movie. That should be enough to get a film started and keep it focused. The problem is that Alda continuously gets side tracked by some personal drama involving the professor and his long time girlfriend, and the side plot of his aging mother and the difficulty he has trying to help her care for herself. Every time the story about the movie and it’s complications gets started, we take a break for one of these sincere but irrelevant plotlines and it turns the film into something of a slog. This should be a jaunty little comedy about the clash between the historical academic record and the fictional screenplay.

The film is full of actors who should be able to bring the story to life, and some of them do. Bob Hoskins, plays the screenwriter who venerates the book but has to sell himself short to stay in the movie business. His part end up being a bit of a cartoon, ironic since he had “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in his near future. It is also interesting that the same year he made this, he also had an Academy Award Nomination for his performance in “Mona Lisa”, a far darker film. Michelle Pfeiffer was just hitting her stride in films, with the previously discussed “Witches of Eastwick” her next film. She is right for the role in this movie, but the part is underwritten and should have been more related to the main plot. It’s easy to see the potential of her character in the story, as an actress who wants to get it right in the film, but struggles to succed in the male dominated film industry.

Michael Caine is always a joy to have in a film, but he can’t write his own parts, he just has to play them, and they often force him into less than stellar movies. Here he plays an actor who is a bit of a rogue, playing a horrible historical character, who has been rewritten to be a bit of a rogue. His charms are lavished on local women and other film personnel, but he is married and his wife shows up on the shoot. He has two big scenes where his charm is supposed to carry us past the flimsy role he has. The first is a helicopter gag that feels completely out of place in the movie. The second is a sequence in an amusement park where all of the parties are together and overcome the awkwardness of the moment by singing and skipping down the street. In a big surprise, that moment actually works.

By putting his character at the center of the story, Alda is required to be more serious than he should be. I think more time spent with Hoskins, figuring out what to do about the script would have given us more to laugh at. His disputes with the director played by Saul Rubinek, are tart and need a little more to make the humor work. It is only at the end of the film when Alda’s character openly defies the production plans that the conflict between he and the director gets the comic payoff it deserves. Alda may have been satirizing Hollywood’s tendency to infantilize movies, but he needs to take a bigger bite of that apple and commit to it. His story ends up being good natured instead of funny and brutal.

We saw this at the Alhambra Place, just up the street from us. Dee was pregnant that summer and sitting in an air conditioned theater for a trifle like this was a nice tonic to her condition. I watched this on Laserdisc, and I noticed it was in a 1:33 ratio. There was no panning and scanning because it was not framed for a widescreen look. The film is shot in a very basic style, probably reflecting the TV setups of the era and not the more elaborate camerawork that would follow in a few years.

The Laser Disc Inner Sleeve had advertising for other products on it
I would love to have more of these, I do have Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Day 71 Cocoon (1985)

Science Fiction Thursday

A bittersweet mediation on aging, Cocoon gives us the kind of characters that are rarely featured in movies, old folks. They are not merely there for comic relief, although there is plenty of that. These are the main protagonists in the film and the thing they are fighting is ossification. It’s hell getting old and they are fighting tooth and nail against it, and out of the blue (both sky and sea) they get some unexpected assistance.

Art, Ben and Joe are three retirees, living in a complex that is a mixture of apartments, assisted living and nursing facilities. Next door is an estate that has a large enclosed pool that they trespass into to swim on a regular basis. Suddenly, a group of strangers, has leased the property at the same time they charter a fishing boat for the same month. The retirees seem a little uncertain about whetehr or not to continue poaching the pool. The new visitors are doing some underwater excavation and the nodules they are bringing up are being stored in the pool. Unusual things begin to happen and the story takes off.

Ok, there are aliens, but unlike most stories about folks from outer space, this in not an invasion film, and the aliens are not the main focus of the story. In a clever sequence, the three old guys demonstrate the impact the pool is now having on them by doing some diving board tricks. Is the new found energy a result of their daring at risking being caught, or is there something about the water now that the nodules are resting in it. Another unusual way that they demonstrate the influence things are having is by confronting the libidos of the geriatric set.

There is the parallel story of the mysterious visitors going on at the same time. Steve Gutenberg plays the captain of the chartered boat who suspects that something is not quite right with the four “cousins” and their recovery operation. He was still a star at this point and his charm fits with the story. Brian Dennehy is the leader of the aliens and he has a great deal of charm up to a point. There is a moment of frustration at one point where he blows a fuse, but even then he is a model of temperment.

As charming as the oldsters are with their invigorated physical conditions, there are complications. Another friend is suspicious of their conditions and he has always been a fearful man. When the group tries to convince him to join them, his fears come to fruition. One of the married couples has to deal with some infidelities and married couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy can deliver some dramatic goods. Wilford Brimley who plays Ben, was only fifty at the time this was shot and all he needed was a little hair dye to fit the part. He had cornered the market on cantankerous old guys for the next thirty years.

Everybody was great but the standout was golden age of Hollywood veteran Don Ameche. As an old Navy bachelor, his character gets to woo Gwen Verdon and deliver some of the most fun moments in the movie. It may have been sentimentality, but he ended up with an Oscar for Supporting actor without having been considered by other groups for any awards. Although he did not get an Academy nomination, Director Ron Howard was taking his first big step after making comedies, with a science fiction drama, and the DGA nominated him for their feature award that year.

Although there is plenty of science fiction storyline in the last half of the movie, the real story is about the older actors and their ability to entertain us at their age. So many younger viewers might have been turned off of the idea that the film focuses on characters in their seventies, but if a movie is made right, it doesn’t matter.

I watched this movie last year when Brian Dennehy had passed away. It brought back some warm memories then as it does now. Dee and I saw this with a group of friends down in Orange Country, which was not our usual stomping grounds. Dan Hasegawa and Steve Holland went with us, and it was near where Steve was living in Irvine, or what we liked to refer to as “the City by the Beige”.

The DVD I watched today is a Recorded Disc from My Laser Disc Collection, with a custom made enclosure shell.

Day 70 Superman III (1983)

In spite of the fact that it is not very good, I saw Superman III several times in the summer of 1983. I will explain at the end of this post why that was the case. Let’s start with the other issue, why is this film so lame? It comes down to the fact that the Salkinds, the producers of the movies, turned the creative control over to Director Richard Lester, who had come on to take over for the fired Richard Donner on Superman II. Lester’s sensibilities were to broad entertainment as opposed to fidelity to the style and character of Superman. He was interested in making the films into comedies rather than comics.

It is easy to tell the change if you see the theatrical credit sequence of the third film. There is a five minute long series of slapstick events that result in some mayhem, and allows Superman to be introduced as a side element of the shot. People get run down on the street by dogs, trip over groceries, fall into open holes and a lot of that sort of thing. If you think watching a blind man mistake a street line painting piece of equipment for his seeing eye dog, you will love this movie. If the most annoting parts of Superman II were the pedestrians rolling backwards on Rollershates during the big battle, then you are like me, not going to be a fan.

Richard Pryor was at the height of his comedy career at the time this was made. He was the lead in his four previous films and he had two concert films that were doing business the previous two years as well. There is a rumor that he got cast as a result of a joke he made about wanting to be in a Superman movie. The Salkinds had five million bucks to make that happen. So with his addition to the cast, the tone of the film completely changes and we get a character who is supposed to be an idiot savant at computer work, but a bumbler in every other aspect of his life. Pryor and Reeve, who returns as both Clark and Superman, thought the script was not very good, but you do what you are being paid to do.

This story could never go over with audiences today. This was right at the cusp of personal computers and to most people in 1983, maybe a computer can do anything. Today’s audiences know that the story needs to justify the events a lot more to make it reasonable, because a weather satellite, does not spontaneously become a space based weapon with a few pushes of a button. The technology of this plot is simply grafted on like a magic trick, to make the villains seem like they can compete with the man of steel. It just does not work.

The side plot of Clark going back to Smallville for his High School Reunion, also does not work. Annette O’Toole is fine as Lana Lang, Clark’s High School Crush, but her kid is a wooden drag on the story and indulging him just seems wrong at times. Lois Lane has twelve lines of dialogue and is in the Caribbean for most of the film, off screen. There was an OK sequence at a chemical plant, with Superman doing a rescue, but some of the choices seem more complicated than they needed to be. If Superman can freeze a whole lake with his breath, why does he need to, he could do the same thing to the fire at the plant.

Pryor is not really the villain in the piece, although he should be classified that way by the law. The bad guy is Robert Vaughns’s Ross Webster, an industrialist who is trying to use Pryor’s Gus Gorman characters skills as a computer programmer to manipulate markets he has investments in. He is the stereotypical evil business man who spouts lines like,  “It is not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail.” Heck, I used to quote that line when explaining some conflict strategies to my communications classes, but it is a punchline not a great philosophy, and although I like Robert Vaiugh as an actor, he is no Gene Hackman.

Most people would pick the scene where Superman fights himself as Clark Kent in a junkyard, as the best scene in the film. Divided into good and evil selves by synthetic Kryptonite, the battle pits two foes of equal ability against each other and that is a plus. Unfortunately, there is just not enough technical brilliance to make the sequence anything more than passable. In fact, in most of the movie, the flying scenes seem to have regressed from the first two films and the process shots look crummy.

The reason I saw this film so much is that it was regularly paired with new features each week that summer as a double feature. I think I saw it playing with Octopussy, Staying Alive, Risky Business and Strange Brew. I don’t have the inventory that I kept of films from those days so those are guesses. I just know that we did not have air conditioning in our apartment 1983, and when there was a double feature on the weekend, we could spend an entire blissful afternoon, in a dark, cool theater, so what if we saw this movie again, at least we were not sweating like crazy.

The Tagline should be…You will believe a man can laugh.

Day 69 Shirley Valentine (1989)

Comedy Tuesday

Some films are meant to have social impact, some are meant for entertainment, and some just manage to be charming when they his the right moment. I suppose you could look at this movie as a proto feminist film, but really it is not. The title character is heroic in her own personal way, but I don’t think that heroism has anything to do with the distance between men and women. Shirley Valentine is at war with banality and giving up on life. She is a middle aged woman, looking around and asking, is this it? Unlike the middle age crisis that we looked at a couple of days ago in “Tempest”, Shirley is the most level headed person in the story.

All of us would like to live out a dream, but as Shirley discovers in this movie, the reality is not the same as the image in our head. Pauline Collins originated the role in a one woman play, by writer Willy Russell, and it arrived on screen in a manner similar to his earlier work on “Educating Rita”, with a star worthy performance. Collins won the Tony Award on Broadway and was nominated for an Academy Award for this part on screen.

Sometimes actors in a play or film, break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. I suspect that if you counted lines and minutes where that happens in film, this movie will have the most time devoted to a direct conversation with an audience that is not really sitting in front of the actor. Heck, if you add the time that the character addresses the wall itself, it has to be a certainty. Shirley’s ruminating on her life and where to go with it, and we are the people she is talking to.

Although the subject of a life crisis can be dramatic, and this has those elements as well, it is far more easy to listen to someone question their decisions when they are full of doubt and are willing to let a little self depreciation into their thought process. Admittedly, there are a couple of turns in the story that seem far fetched and “movie moments” but you know what, they work. For instance, when Shirley has told us about her school days and then she runs into the girl she was envious of and cruel to, they end up having a very nice visit with one another and reveal that there were jealousies on both sides of the relationship. One of the warmest moments in the film comes from an unlikely source. Shirley has seen her neighbor from across the street as something of a prig, and she bluntly baits her with a lascivious fib, but instead of taking umbrage, the neighbor becomes a catalyst in a very sweat way for Shirley to keep moving forward.

I am shocked to discover that there were critics who put this film down as a string of greet card gibberish. That perspective ignores the events and relationships that are being described by Shirley. Context is king and I think those folks lacked the proper context. Shirley and her Husband Joe, played by future Théoden King Bernard Hill, were once happily in love. They may still love one another, but that is not always enough for a person. Relationships succeed when they fulfill our needs, when they cease to do so, then alternatives are appealing. Shirley has a holiday fling, but she is not in love with the Greek Island lothario played with dead pan delight by Tom Conti. He is merely a means by which she finds herself again. Oh, and along the way he spouts the most amusing seduction lines you will heat in a film.

Director Lewis Gilbert, who made three of the biggest scale 007 movies, also made intimate films, like “Educating Rita” and a film this movie reminded me of, “Alfie”. The Greek Island settings are skillfully shown as part of Shirley’s fantasy but also the reality. He assembled one of the funniest lovemaking visual metaphors I have seen, and he allows Collin’s timing to move the film at the right pace.

This was one of those films that I think I snuck off to see. The kids were in daycare, Dee was at work, and I had no late afternoon class so I must have gone to see this at a matinee. I thought I might have had it on Laserdisc, but now that I think about it, Dee and I rented it to watch after the kids were done with whatever they had picked out for a Friday night. In spite of the fact that I had only seen it twice, and at least thirty years have passed since I last saw it, I remembered it vividly. To access it for today, I went ahead and added Paramount Plus to my streaming services. There will be some other things to catch up on.

Day 68 La Bamba (1987)

Director Luis Valdez made only two theatrical films, “Zoot Suit” based on his play and this biography of early Rock and Roll Star Ritchie Valens. I suspect that his true call was the theater and judging by the way this movie is staged and the actors play their parts, that may be a better fit. There is noting dynamic in the way the camera moves, or in the set ups or editing. This is a straight forward biopic that covers about two years in the life of Ritchie Valens. Most of the actors went on to better performances later in their careers, but they were all a little stiff and heavy handed in this film.

The main exception is the lead actor playing the title role. This was Lou Diamond Phillips first lead role and he carries the picture over the finish line despite some of the films weaknesses. His strongest moments are the performance pieces where he manages to sell the singing, even though his musical voice was provided by someone else. That someone else by the way was David Hildago, who sings for the band Los Lobos, they provided all of the Valens material that is seen and heard on screen. I was a fan of the band from the time of their album “How Will the Wolf Survive?”,. Although they played all over the area at the time, I did not see them until years later in maybe 2005 or 2006.

There is supposed to be a lot of accuracy in the film from Ritchie’s life. The family was deeply involved in telling the story, and that may be another slight problem There are too many times when the focus shifts to his wayward half brother Bob Morales, and the abusive relationship he had with the girl he stole from Ritchie. Even if it was all true, it feels cliched and Bob is basically a loser who draws attention to himself because of jealousy. Ritchie says it correctly when they have a confrontation at a Christmas : “Nobody told you to throw your life away! I’m only sorry I didn’t say something about you being drunk half the time. You did it to yourself!”.

The climax of the film does feature the fateful moment that has become known as the Day the Music Died. I have a personal reason for connecting with this set of stories, I was born on that day, a year earlier, so Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens all died on my first birthday. I of course have no memory of that, but when the Don McClean song “American Pie” became a hit, I suddenly realized the connection and I have always felt a little melancholy on my birthday as a result.

In addition to Los Lobos, there were a couple of other 80s Rock and Roll stars who played 50s Rock and Roll stars in this film. Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, played Eddie Cochran at an Alan Freed show in NYC and Marshall Crenshaw played Buddy Holly at the Winter Dance Party at the end of the movie. Both of those guys were solid but they are not really part of the narrative which focused so much on Ritchie’s family.

Copyright HAG ?2008
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