Day 54 The Black Cauldron (1985)

The much discussed but less seen and certainly least successful of Disney’s pre renaissance films. This is a movie that certainly was not the G rated family film that parents might take small children to. It was a more adult fantasy with violence enough to get a PG rating, and dark imagery that might lead to the kind of nightmares kids had after Snow White encounters the Queen as an apple peddler. The loss of that audience of toddlers to a movie like “Care Bears” is one of the reasons the animation wing of Disney was retooled and charted a different course for several years after.

Having never read the series of books that this film is derived from, I can’t say how faithful it is to the plot of those stories. I can say for the most part it is a typical heroes quest with some interesting addendums along the way. For example, the hero, Taran, is trying to rescue a pig, not a princess. Although a princess does appear, she was not the subject of the journey and becomes mostly superfluous after she helps Taran escape from imprisonment. There is magic in the story, it comes from the evil cauldron, the sword that Taron aquires, and three witches that the heroes group encounters on their adventure. Oh yeah, the pig is a fortune teller as well.

Regardless of the story, there is certainly one thing that the film cannot be faulted for, that is the layout and animation. This is a beautifully drawn world with lush forests, bucolic cottages and looming dark castles. The world in which the characters play out their parts is one that all the artists working on the project can be proud of.

This movie was not done on the cheap, and that may be part of it’s lost reputation, it cost twice as much to make as it brought in at the box office. It has only been since home video that the studio finally saw some money from the project. At one point there were four directors and that clearly suggests that there were inconsistent visions of how the film and story needed to be put together.

Taran is bland as a hero, but not nearly as dull as the Princess Eilonwy. The more comic characters are maybe more interesting but they either overdo the personality or underutilize the character in the story. Gurgi, the furry companion of Taron is cloyingly voiced by John Byner, and a little bit goes a long way. Fflewddur Fflam is an unnecessary character that could be more interesting but was cut back substantially by the studio execs who took over as the film was being finalized. hen Wen the Pig was cute and as an important part of the story, could have used a little more on screen time.

There is a jarring difference between the cartoony fairies that the group interacts with and the Cauldron Born army of dead warriors that the villain, the Horned King produces.

Both are beautifully rendered, but they feel like they are from completely different films. For much of the movie, there is a Lord of the Rings feel, but the light hearted moments and characters are so distinct from the other things in the movie, I felt taken out of the experience by them.

Famously, the climax featuring the undead was trimmed because some of the images felt too gruesome for kids. I doubt that had they left them in it would have made the film more successful. This is a film that is song free also, it was not a musical after all, but there is no theme song, no moment of character development using song, and that was also a change that Disney was making that could have effected the films popularity.

I think this is a terrific collection of animation, undermined a bit by conventional story telling, and containing characters that needed to be more compelling. I liked the film quite well when Dee and I saw it at the Alhambra Place Theater, the five screen complex just a few blocks north of where we lived. We had no kids when this came out, but when it was finally released on VHS, it did get played a few times by my children, unfortunately at their age, they preffered Pete’s Dragon.

Day 53 Uncle Buck (1989)

Comedy Tuesday

Finally, another John Hughes film for the 1980s project. There are a couple more, but it seems odd that we are fifty plus entries into the project and this is only the second time we are getting to one of his films. Hughes was all over the 1980s and he had at least six potential movies to cover on this collection of films.

One of the key players in John Hughes films was John Candy, he seems to be in multiple films from the maestro of teen angst, but most of his roles are in the comedies rather than those like “The Breakfast Club”. This film however, mixes the more angsty storyline with a pure comedy plot and manages to make it work. The reason it works is the marvelous John Candy. As the dilettante Uncle, suddenly called on to care for his nieces and nephew, Candy brings his obtuse understanding of parenting to bear on his charges. Not all of his techniques work, but he manages to convey a sense of caring with the key antagonist of the movie, the 15 year old niece Tia.

Teenagers are hard on the family. The brittle relationship between the Mom in this story and her daughter if fraught with future peril. The resentful teen is acting out over having her life turned up because of the families relocation. She even cruelly uses that event to poke at her mom when the parents have to go back because of the grandfather’s heart attack. Candy’s Uncle Buck does not have to work hard to discover the flinty nature of his niece. His temporary authority is exercised through the kinds of threats and actions that are both effective and funny, but they create even more resentment, building the drama in the film while we are having our fun.

Macaulay Culkin is the breakout character in the film. His whole role looks like a set up for the “Home Alone” films to come. Hughes writes fun scenes that have to be played out with a deadpan expression by a young kid, and Culkin takes to them like ducks to water. Little sister Gaby Hoffman had scored earlier in the year as the daughter of Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams”. She is cute but her part is minimal, Jean Louisa Kelly as Tia has all the attention in this film. Along for the ride are Laurie Metcalf and Amy Madigan, both as romantic interests for Buck. Maybe Candy is not the physical type to think of as a leading man, but he had charm a plenty and it was not hard to imagine him as the object of desire for a couple of age appropriate women.

As a side note, I kept looking at Buck’s brother, trying to figure out where I knew him from. A twenty year gap made a big difference before I finally realized he is Kick Ass’s Dad in those two films. There are the usual familiar character actors throughout the film, that make almost every movie better because a professional is in the role.

Because he is a temporary guardian, Buck gets away with taking a lot of risks, including a verbal beat down of a vice principal and kidnapping a teen lothario. It is a fantasy comedy to a large degree with some outlandish ideas inserted to prime the comedy pump, but the central elements of the movie are grounded in reality and that’s what ultimately makes the movie poignant.

This was a late summer release, Dee was working and my Mom was doing childcare during the week when I was in class. I called her and asked if she could handle the kids for an extra couple of hours and I ended up seeing this at a matinee in Monterey Park, probably the last week of August after classes had started.

Day 52 Victory (aka Escape to Victory) 1981

One year before he inflicted “Annie” on us, John Huston directed a film that was much more in his arena, although still something of a stretch. I read that Huston did not care for the film and just did it for the money, but that does not mean he did a bad job of it. This is a WWII thriller with an interesting although improbable twist to it. Think of it as “The Great Escape” paired with “The Longest Yard” but played with what the rest of the world calls football, but we in America would label Soccer. It is a mashup of sports movie and prison escape film, and just to make sure we go the distance, it stars Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone.

As the movie starts and the titles start to flash on screen, I was listening to the music and I thought that whoever the composer was, had managed to get an upbeat military themed sound into the film. When his credit came up, I smiled knowingly, because Bill Conti had scored two Rocky films at this point, he had at least two Karate Kid movies in front of him, and two years later he won the Academy Award for the perfect “The Right Stuff”. One of the other three films he scored in 1981 was the 007 “For Your Eyes Only”, which has a smashing theme song, although the score is not right for the film. This is a match that works much better and enhances the project.

Stallone and Michael Caine are prisoners’ of war who pass time playing soccer in their prison camp. During an inspection of the camp after the killing of a prisoner in an escape attempt, a German sports propaganda officer played by Max Von Sydow , sees them and recognizes Caine as a Football professional star. Caine was already Forty seven and not in shape, so playing this part requires a lot of imagination on our parts. The German officer proposes a match between the POWs and a team of German players from the military ranks. By the time things get settled, the match is strongly opposed by the command level officers of the POWs and the Germans are looking forward to a propaganda coup.

Sly basically has the Hilts role from “The Great Escape”. He is a nonconformist American, surrounded by Brits, and trying to plan his own escape. The British Officers assist his escape with the proviso that he help arrange in Paris, an escape play for the POW team with the French Underground. The circumstances require that he be recaptured and put in the “cooler” although here it is a hot box instead. Caine has to manipulate the situation to get him out and put him on the team.

Obviously it is possible to enjoy watching a soccer match, people around the world manage to do it all year long. As far as I can tell there is no “season”. Just how can you make a film that makes the game interesting to watch? The answer appears to be to fill the team with real soccer stars, let them choregraph their best moves, and then have the greatest soccer player of the era, Pelé, be featured. Having tipped my hand about not being a fan, I can say one thing I spotted right away that gives away the fact that this is a fictional fantasy story. There are ten goals scored, and one team comes back from a four goal deficit, that does not happen in soccer. You are more likely to get a Zero/Zero tie than what happens here. Still, if the director is competent and the shots are planned well, you can be inspired by the athleticism of a player. One of the best moments in the film is when Von Sydow’s Major gets carried away by the play of Pelé and openly applauds his feat (or feet as you have it).

The game is played in a large stadium, and attended by French citizens of Occupied France. When the POW team begins to play hard and bear down, a goal being scored encourages the crowd to break into La Marseillaise, and it works almost as well as it did in Casablanca. When I looked up the words to the French anthem, I could definitely see how it would offend the Germans under these circumstances. It is literally a battle cry to arm against invaders.

There is a twist in the film that comes during the soccer match that would work so much better if we had had a chance to meet and understand the characters of the players. As it is they are blank spots that actions are projected on without any motivation or emotional justification. Still, the underdog story works again, and the improvised plan that finishes the film is emotionally cathartic.

Dee and I saw this film just the one time when it opened in theaters. We saw it at the State Theater, which went through different phases as a neighborhood theater, a second run theater, an arthouse theater, before it finally closed. There is a picture below, the location was right on Colorado Blvd., across the street from Vroman’s Bookstore and the Target.

Day 51 An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

Just as America was feeling it’s way back from the military setbacks of the 1970s, and the economic malaise that accompanied it, the zeitgeist was right for an old fashioned love story. Maybe the language would be frank, and sexuality more explicit, but the tone is still old fashioned and it fit with the moment. This was a movie that was optimistic in the long run, even as it featured some harsh setbacks.

Zack Mayo, Richard Gere’s character, is the son of a non commissioned petty officer in the Navy. His Father is not the kind of sailor that you would hold up on a recruitment poster and Zack has led a tough life, growing up around a shady environment. He was smart enough to graduate college however, and he wants to be a Naval Aviator. First he has to get through Officer Candidate School, which is basically “boot camp plus” for Officers. Much like “Full Metal Jacket”, which started this project, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is centered around the rigors of training and an adversarial Drill Instructor . In this case however, the DI is not just charged with turning out killing machines, but also instilling in them a sense of pride and honor. Mayo lucks out because his DI is Sgt. Emil Foley, played by Lou Gossett, Jr.. As much as the romance between Mayo and local girl Paula Pokrifki, Debra Winger in an Academy Award nominated role, is important, the relationship between the Officer Candidate and his Training Sgt., defines the picture.

The candidate is smart, and a bit of a slick operator, but he has yet to learn how to lead. The scene where the candidates are first finishing the obstacle course, we see Zack, squatting down next to a wall, absorbed in what he has managed to do, but indifferent to his classmates. He exploits his family knowledge of how the military works to get boats and belt buckles right for inspection, and charges his cohorts to get the same outcome. Similarly, as he develops a relationship with Paula, he finds it hard to commit to anything other than having a good time. Winger’s character claims that is her only goal also, but she is bluffing as she falls for the hard headed candidate in whom she sees potential.

There is a parallel story with David Keith (not Keith David), who is a fellow candidate and with whom Zack embarks on weekend liberty along with the two local girls. Maybe we all see what is coming, and we know that the story has to play out a tragedy somewhere for the fairy tale to mean anything, but being aware that we are being manipulated emotionally, does not stop it from working. Zack and his buddy Sid are not opposite sides of the coin, but they are divergent paths and we are forced to see the road is a bumpy one.

Gere has the starring role, but Winger is the star of the film when it comes to acting. She has a nearly thankless character arc that comes across as misogynistic at times, but she transcends the limits of the role through her performance. No one in the film though is better than Lou Gossett Jr.. Sgt Foley is just as hard core as any other Drill Instructor we see in films of this era, but he is not a one dimensional character. His antagonism to the candidates is not personal, he wants to root out the unsuitable, and polish the unrefined, so that at the end of their time together, they have earned his respect and the salute he gives them is not merely perfunctory.

Cynics may complain about the conclusion, but they are wrong. We know where the movie is headed when Mayo forgoes the chance to set the record on the obstacle course and instead chooses to provide backup to one of his classmates who needs the encouragement. That was the turning point for me. Even the fight between Foley and Mayo is a forgone conclusion at when it happens. The final moment is inevitable and as corny as it may be, it still works at moving us because we see that Paula has rescued Zack from being just another asshole in the Navy, and helped make him the Officer that he deserves to be.

One of the reasons that I remember this film fondly is that it opened the weekend of our second anniversary. We saw it as our Anniversary night out, and probably went to Black Angus for dinner afterwards. A romantic film like this was just the ticket to celebrate the romance that Dee and I were sharing and would continue to share for many years after.

Day 50 Psycho II (1983)

Hard as it is the believe, a sequel to “Psycho” came out in 1983, and it did not suck. In fact, as it continued the story of Norman Bates, it did so without disturbing the grave of the original. There are some important differences in the way the film was made, but there are also several things that show the DNA of the film and tie the legacy of the first movie to this one pretty effectively.

Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann were dead at this point, but both of their spirits hang over the film. The movie has the audacity to start with the most famous shower ever taken on screen. This recap could have been fatal if the film makers had stepped too far off the path. As it is, the few moments we spend with Marion Crane at the end of her life, are enough to remind us why Norman was treated as an insane person and not a serial killer. The distinction to us is one that is hard to fathom, and so too for Marion’s sister, who apparently married her dead sisters fiancé. When we get to the updated material in the film, Vera Miles, as Lila Loomis is pleading with the court not to release Norman, the man who murdered her sister. Robert Loggia plays a psychiatrist who has treated Norman and declares him free of the insanity that resulted in his institutionalization. The seeds are planted for what is to come.

Anthony Perkins was often seen as the bad guy in the original “Psycho”, but based on the story as it plays out, he is really another victim. In the original he often came across as sympathetic, until the possession of his mind by his dead mother took over. In this movie he is also played as a figure of near pity. He is taunted, called names and belittled by people who resent his release. That includes Lila but also a character named Toomey , who has been running the motel on behalf of Norman under a state agreement. Toomey is played by Dennis Franz, who made a career out of playing crude and vulgar characters, usually crooks or cops. He appeared in two of the three DePalma films I have written about this summer, and as DePalma was clearly influenced by or stole from Hitchcock, it seems right that one of his cast members shows up in this film.

I always try to avoid spoilers in these posts, but it is important to say that Norman is being gaslighted in this film. By who and how are for you to discover, but the why is pretty straightforward, to tip him back into his insanity. Perkins is a fraile looking man in most of his films, as Norman Bates he takes advantage of that to suggest a vulnerability that makes us sympathize with him. Although there are murders in this movie, Norman turns out to be a victim again, is he also returning to his murderous ways? That would be telling.

The writer of this movie is Tom Holland, who two years later would write and direct “Fright Night” , which I already discussed on the project. The plotting is solid and the characters for the most part are believable. There are not any especially memorable lines, but the director, Richard Franklin, made a good choice in having Perkins deliver one line with a stutter which was an accidental line reading at a script run through. The hesitation on the word “cutlery” is chillingly amusing and does remind us of Norman’s path. It is also the one moment my wife and I used as a quote in our daily lives on occasion. Sometimes in the kitchen when we were doing food prep, the phrase “cu cu cutlery” would routinely pop up.

I mentioned Bernard Herrmann before. His iconic score for “Psycho” had some incredible themes, and the use of those was offered to the director but he was trying to establish a different identity and wanted Jerry Goldsmith to do the score completely. His main theme is subtle and soothing rather than frantic. It is only later in the film that more violent motifs appear. Although he did not want to be beholding to everything in the original film, Franklin did use Dutch angles, overhead shots and a recreation of the shower scene set up in the movie. all using a template created by Hitchcock.

Meg Tilly is a sympathetic update of a Marion Crane type, but there is going to be more to her story, obviously because she does not exit after half an hour of screen time. The shots of violence last longer in the original, but the gore and explicitness of the violence is much more on display here, fitting for the 80s when Jason and Michael Myers were running the horror genre.

This was a Summer Afternoon screening at Santa Anita Mall theaters.

Not the films on this project, but an ad for the theater where I saw Psycho II

Day 49 The Island (1980)

Peter Benchley gave us “Jaws” which was a massive hit produced by Zanuck/Brown. Two years later we got “The Deep” also from Benchley but this time produced by Peter Gruber , which was a moderate sized hit. Both of these films were water based adventure stories from the most commercial author of the mid-seventies. Zanuck/Brown decided to stick their toes in the water one more time with this source, and they lost a foot, and an arm and a leg. The film returned only two thirds of it’s production cost and was written off by most critics as a piece of cinematic trash.

I am certainly not going to suggest that it is a piece of art. The story is absurd, the premise is far fetched, the dialogue is sometimes laughable, and the acting is inconsistent by the stars, and not great by the crew. Still, there is something here that might attract you. I went in search of a set of dueling reviews of “The Island” that appeared in Newsweek or Time when the film was released. Two critics on the same page of the same magazine went head to head on this movie. One dismissed it as near pornography, and the other endorsed it as a summer popcorn thriller. I wish I’d been able to track that down so I could tell you the name of the critic I would side with, although in truth it is both of them. This was a B movie made by an A production and studio, and it played as a B movie.

This is a pirate movie, and probably one of the reasons that before Johnny Depp set sail, pirate movies were seen as box office poison. The twist is that it features inbred pirates, living under a 400 year old code, existing in a contemporary world. Michael Caine is a journalist who while investigating the frequent disappearances of luxury seacraft in the Bermuda Triangle area, ends up with his son as prisoners of the pirate civilization. What follows is torture, humiliation, brainwashing and scenes of cutthroats doing what they are named after.

There are a few things that work pretty well in the story, at least as movie narrative. First, the pirates take two young people before Caine and his son are captured, and the way the young girl is used by them is chilling, fortunately not in a perverted way. If you have seen “A Quiet Place Part 2” you will know what I am talking about. Caine’s son is turned against him on the isolated Island by torture, manipulation and flattery. That is also a horrifying thought, even if it is a little far fetched to see the Stockholm Syndrome played out in this scenario. Each of the pirate attacks on the vessels they covet are also well done, and frankly brutal. It is when we are on the Island itself that sometimes things cross over to the silly side.

Caine is kept alive for a code requirement, and conjugal duties with a woman who he has widowed. The pirate culture and the anthropology surrounding it is praised by an unlikely source and with unrealistic points. David Warner plays the chief of the band of buccaneers, but somehow he has a better haircut, clearer skin, and more developed form of grunting words than the other genealogical failures that surround him. I think the movie would have played better if it were trimmed by twenty minutes. Ennio Morricone did do a lush score for the film, but it sometimes feels romantic like a 40s version of a pirate movie and that is certainly at odds with what we are seeing on the screen.

I do recall that the reviews were so bad on this film, that we did not rush out to see it. First of all “The Empire Strikes Back” was dominating the box office at the time and if we wanted to see something, we usually did that. Second, I was best man in my friend Art’s Wedding in June, and then we got married in August. I think we finally took this in at one of the second run theaters as the summer was winding down. A box of popcorn is the only treasure that makes this worth seeing, but if you like popcorn enough, then by all means have some, oh and maybe a bottle of rum.

Day 48 The Manhattan Project (1986)

Science Fiction Thursday

In the 1980s, techno-films featuring teen protagonists abound. They generally fell into two categories, goofy comedies like “Real Genius”, “Weird Science” and “My Science Project” or they fit in a second group, message based thrillers like “Wargames” or “Project X “. Today’s movie fits into the second group. It has an anti-nuclear theme and a science based premise. The problem is that it comes from a guy best know for writing with Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman, so this genre seems a bit outside his strength.

The idea that a science geek in high school could assemble a nuclear weapon is an intriguing one. When I was in college, there was a case involving the right to publish material that might enable someone to assemble a weapon like this. The courts ultimately ruled that prior restraint could not be used to suppress this type of info, so there is a basis for the notion behind the film. In the movie, we get a long string of shots, showing the teen reading advanced books on physics, military journals on weapons, and playing soccer, not very well. The soccer connection comes in later but there are a lot of technical issues that are being rushed over to get tp the spine of the plot.

John Lithgow plays a genius physicist, who has created a new way of generating plutonium and producing something quite potent. When his project gets funded, the military sets him up in a suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, and that is the political hook. Our young hero, becomes involved when his divorcing mother, draws the attention of the scientist, who uses the kids’ interest in science as a way into their lives. Lithgow is sincere and friendly, but the kid immediately seeks opportunities to exploit the guys interest in his mom. Paul Stephens, as portrayed by Christopher Collet previously seen in “Firstborn”, is a smartass but lacks any other personality traits. When he starts seeing Jenny, as played by a teenage Cynthia Nixon, he drags her into his plan to reveal the truth about the labs purpose to the community.

When the film first came out, I expected it to be a success, instead it tanked, badly. It’s total box office was under four million dollars, and in the opening weekend, it averaged under two thousand dollars a screen. I was surprised because I had enjoyed it, and it seemed like a good summer thriller for kids. Watching it a second time today, I can see several things that went wrong. To begin with, teens don’t really seek out message movies in the summer, so the target audience should have been adults. Second, the main character is not developed much past his being a wiseguy. His sudden interest in anti-nuclear research seems like it is just a plot shortcut. Also, for someone who is supposed to be very bright, he has an idiot’s view of the world and his place in it. He believes that his youth will protect him from serious ramifications of his illegal acts. Finally, he is bright enough to build an atomic device, but stupid enough to think they can be safe if they explode it in the park a few miles away? That is just stupid.

There is a complicated sequence with a laser used to cut through a wall, and then a remote control car to move stolen plutonium out of the facility. Since he puts it in his backpack later and carries it home that way, I am left wondering why all the falderal with the RC and laser. It looks like it was just added to the film for no reason other than to create an interesting visual sequence that serves no purpose. The conclusion of the film is equally silly, with hordes of people supposedly deterring the military from any action, those people are going to be allowed to wander into a site that is producing plutonium? Again it is silly. I enjoyed seeing John Mahoney and Richard Jenkins in the film, good character actors are always welcome on my pages.

Dee was six and a half months pregnant when we went to see this down in Monterey Park. I suspected right away that this movie was going to struggle because we were the only ones there for an evening show on opening weekend. My friend Todd Liebenow has a podcast on the film from seven years ago. Here is a link if you are interested:

Day 47 Compromising Positions (1985)

When you consume as many films as I do, often indiscriminately, you will discover that you have either forgotten them completely or that they get convoluted with some other film or television show you saw. That is what happened to me today. I barely remember seeing this film, i hardly recalled any of the plot at all, but I was sure I knew who the killer was because I remembered an actress playing a part in this film who turned out to be guilty. However, that is apparently a different project. I was completely wrong about what happens in this film.

This is an odd duck. “Compromising Positions” is part comedy, part thriller/murder mystery, and something of a romance. That it wanders from scene to scene with a different tone for each sequence is what makes it hard to classify. Susan Sarandon plays Judith Singer, a former journalist who has settled down into domesticity with husband Bob, played by Edward Herrmann. When her lecherous dentist is murdered after her recent visit, she becomes entangled in the investigation and gossip around the crime.

Joe Mantegna is Dr. Fleckstein, the victim, who dies immediately after the title credits. He has only a couple of lines but does a great comic performance with body movement and facial expressions. It is not without reason that a number of his female patients fell under his sway. Judith was not one of them, but several women that she knew in the cloistered upscale community were in fact involved with him. We meet several of those women along the line, and some of them are figures of pity rather than distaste. One way that you know the material is dated is that one of the subplots that involves organized crime is the production of pornography. In 1985, that was a little touchy depending on the format. Today, everything is within a few clicks on the keyboard.

Sarandon was apparently not impressed with the script but took it as a way to keep working while she was pregnant. Despite her reported lack of interest, she does a stellar job playing a woman struggling to re-establish her self concept while trying to find the answer to a mystery. Raul Julia is the local homicide detective that she both works with and flirts with. Judith Ivey is her best friend, a sculptress with a very different sense of morality than her friend. Most of the interesting dialogue in the film is between the two friends. Herrmann’s character has a tough job of being both a loving husband and a self centered egoist. At least those are the two extremes Sarandon’s character accuses him of being. When he is yelling and cutting her off, you dislike him, but when he interacts with her in other contexts he seems reasonable. The love interest from Julia never goes too far, but it does suggest the unrest that the main character feels throughout the movie.

There are plenty of red herrings along the way, and a couple of familiar faces show up. Joan Allen in her feature film debut, Josh Mostel who played Herod in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and Mary Beth Hurt who was in this project’s earlier film, “The World According to Garp”, all get a scene or two. The upper class neighborhood of Long Island is the real focus of the film. We see how gossip, casual friendships and shared family activities can link a community, often in ways that are not particularly flattering.

This was an end of summer release that did enough business to justify having made it, but it was not special enough to stand out. Dee and I saw it in Temple City at the Edwards Theaters which was a four plex.

This theater is long gone but it was a frequent spot for our Summer Movies before the two Alhambra complexes opened in 85 and 91.

Another indicator that the movie is mostly a forgotten film is the lack of a DVD release, ever. There is a VHS release and one was posted on Amazon for $54. That is a steep price for a VHS, but scarcity contributes to the demand. The film is not on any streaming service, but the complete film was on YouTube. I did find a site that will send a DVD-R copy, almost certainly bootlegged, and I would have purchased that is I had know ahead of time that it was not streaming on any service. As it is in two locations, complete on YouTube, it looks like no one is fussing about copyright so here is a link for you.

Day 46 Spaceballs (1987)

Comedy Tuesday

The world is full of people who love “Spaceballs”, I have never been one of them. I don’t dislike the film, but to me it is frankly lower tier Mel Brooks. I guess that is mostly a result of my growing up in the 70s and being spoiled by “Blazing Saddles”, “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety”. Those parodies felt inspired, “Spaceballs ” felt tired. Most of what happens is old hat and not as clever as it should be. I laughed occasionally, and smiled a few times, but I never felt in awe of the cleverness of a bit, or how outrageous the sarcasm was. It was not my groove.

This was maybe the second time I saw the film after I saw it in theaters. There are fans out there who have watched it hundreds of times, and I am glad they enjoy it. I liked it a little better than I remembered, but not nearly as much as I wanted to. Maybe the problem I have is that it so closely follows the “Star Wars” films as a parody, that when the other bits come in, they feel tacked on and piecmenal. The film it reminded me of the most from Brook’s canon of work is “History of the World Part 1”. It throws in everything but the kitchen sink, but the timing was off for me.

The satire that I liked included sending up the merchandising of the “Star Wars” films, and some of the conventions like light speed which becomes Ludacris Speed. I’m a big fan of John Candy, but “Barf” is not a good joke name, much less a good character. It’s an idea but it goes nowhere. “Yougurt” is the same way, it is a play on the name, and that is about as much fun as there is to be had with it. May the Schwarz be with you falls flat for me. Dark Helmet on the other hand works about 70% of the time, mostly because of the work of Rick Moranis. Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga are ok, but they are cardboard comic characters of better cardboard characters.

Composer John Morris manages to get in a few notes that come up just short of copyright infringement, but they manage to get the parody into the story. You will hear something like the theme from “Jaws” or “Lawrence of Arabia” but Brooks will bot have to worry about any licensing fees. The costumes of the Spaceball troopers are funny, with just enough connection to the source to amuse. The costumes of the Druid’s seem out of place, like they were left over from the French Revolution segment of “History of the World Part 1”.

Dee and I saw this when it was released at the small “Gold” Theater that was labeled the second house of the “Alhambra “Twin” theaters a couple of years before. I’m not certain, but this may have been the last film we saw at that venue. In October,  the Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987 caused most of the main auditorium and its stage house to collapse into rubble. Fortunately, the earthquake occurred at an hour when the theatre was closed. A few hours earlier, and the Alhambra might have become the site of one of the worst theater disasters in American history.

Day 45 The Presidio (1988)

I’ll give you the evaluation right up front, this is an average action thriller with only a couple of interesting characters to keep it together. I may have seen this once since it came out, but there was nothing that stood out in my memory except for the scene where Sean Connery kicks a guy’s ass using only his thumb. The plotline about smuggling and the military in Vietnam goes nowhere fast, this is just an excuse to have some chases in San Francisco and to have the three leads play off of each other.

The three leads are pretty solid despite being underwritten. Sean Connery just shows up and his character has credibility. Mark Harmon was a last minute replacement for Don Johnson, who was a replacement for Kevin Costner, who had just done a movie like this so why repeat yourself so soon. Harmon oozes charm and cockiness, and is a good counterpoint to Connery’s gravitas. Meg Ryan has a juicy part as the recalcitrant daughter of Connery’s Military Provost, who sees Harmon and puts him on her menu as fast as possible. She and Harmon have some pretty good chemistry, but the script takes some shortcuts toward the end and it leaves her wrapping up her conflict a bit too patly.

Director Peter Hyams is reunited with star Sean Connery after the success they had with “Outland”. Hyams is the cinematographer on most of his own films, including this one, so if there are visually interesting and colorful scenes, he doesn’t have to share the credit with anyone. The most impressive shot in the film has nothing to do with the plot and was a result of fortuitous circumstances. As the opening titles scroll, there is a parade formation in front of the Presidio Headquarters. As they were filming, with the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge in the background, an Aircraft Carrier was making it’s way to port and crossed the shot. This was not a plan of the Navy and the film studio, it was coincidental timing. Although the shot is impressive, it has nothing to do with the story and that is unfortunate. I think a couple of lines linking the plot to the arrival of the vessel would have made this more meaningful.

There are two chases for the action junkies, one on foot and one with automobiles. Now a car chase in San Francisco is going to have some big shoes to fill after “Bullitt” in 1968. Perhaps sensing that, the script attempts to make the chase unique by staging it at night. That helps, but not enough to make the chase anything other than ordinary. The dearth of vehicles on the streets undermines the believability of what we are seeing. The foot chase on the other hand is a bit more successful. Harmon’s character has to pursue a suspect through Chinatown, and although the alleys look like backlot shots, there are lots of people on the streets and the mayhem is more effective as a result.

Even though I don’t remember anything about the plot, there is something about seeing the movie that I do remember. We were not seeing this on opening weekend. We were catching up with it. It was a Sunday movie and we had seen “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” a couple of nights before. I know because this was the last movie we went to before the birth of our second Daughter just a couple of days later. If the popcorn had been spicier, the theater could have been her delivery room.