Film Brief: Everybody Wants Some!!

Everybody Wants Some!! is not without its occasional charms and the ability to fall into a pleasurable rhythm, but it will just as soon stall out.  Not surprisingly, it shares the same lackadaisical non-storytelling style of director Richard Linklater’s 1993 effort Dazed and Confused.  I felt a little better about this one than Dazed and Confused, but Linklater could take a lesson from American Graffiti on how to make a compelling version of the ambling youth film.

Everybody Wants Some - text blockSo my next statement you’d expect is that Linklater is a hack — but that’s not the case.  I liked, from what I saw, the charming Before Sunrise (1995), and Bernie was excellent.  So he’s just inconsistent.  Everybody wants some… good movies to watch.  A better story would help, but when Linklater goes out of his way to avoid any drama, the results are less than optimal.  4/10

Cinematic Greats: 48 Hrs.

48 Hrs. - poster large

A great movie and an 80’s flashback in one!  Sometimes a movie just hits all the right notes.  That may sound clichéd, but hear me now and believe me later: 48 Hrs. is a fantastic, funny as hell movie with a great Dirty Harry-inspired villain and a thrilling storyline — much more than one could expect in Eddie Murphy’s debut.

If you never saw it, do yourself a favor and catch 48 Hrs., an essential picture that holds its place among the many great movies of the period.

Availability: Netflix

48 Hrs. - still - Murphy

Flashdance Flashback

Flashdance poster - medium

Sundance HD has been airing Flashdance (1983) recently, which certainly puts the iconic 80’s hit in a new light.  Though it was one of my favorite films when it came out, the best viewing I could muster in my formative years was via VHS tape and 19″ Sony Trinitron.  55″ HD makes a big difference.

I was so impressed with what I saw that I considered a “Cinematic Greats” post.  Then I watched a little more and realized how meaningless that category would become once I threw Flashdance in with the likes of Bound, Fargo, and After Dark, My Sweet.  There is obvious cheese in no short quantity here — including the watered-down, Rocky-based plot — and Michael Nouri as the male lead is an absolute hack.

But the spirited dance numbers, original music, and Jennifer Beals’ winsome performance push it into positive territory.  I agree with the criticism out there, but when I see a Tomatometer rating of 33% while Blade Runner sits at 91% and is considered by many to be among the greatest of all films, well, that’s backwards-world.

Despite its flaws, Flashdance holds its place in the pantheon of iconic 80’s pictures, and, as such, is highly recommended and essential viewing — just make sure to watch in HD, and with decent sound.

80’s Flashback: The Sure Thing

The Sure Thing - poster

THIS TO ME is the defining young John Cusack role, though he doesn’t seem much matured in Being John Malkovich.

In any case, The Sure Thing (1985) is a terrific, warm-hearted romantic comedy and a quintessential 80’s classic.  Directed by Rob Reiner as the follow-up to his big-screen debut This Is Spinal Tap, he continued on with Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery and A Few Good Men.  Wow!  What a run of directorial triumphs by the Meathead.

Comparison Note: Prior post on Valley Girl

The trailers available for The Sure Thing are wanting, so here’s something much better, a hilarious clip!

Take Me to the Bagdad Cafe

Bagdad Cafe - posterThere are some movies that I have a long-seeded personal connection with, and Bagdad Cafe (1987) is one of those movies.  To give you an idea what this movie’s about, I’ll hand off again to Roger Ebert:

The heavyset German lady, her body and soul tightly corseted, her hair sprayed into rocklike permanence, is having a fight with her husband, right there in the Mojave Desert. They are in the middle of some kind of miserable vacation, touring America as a version of hell.

She can take no more. She grabs her suitcase and stalks away from their Mercedes, he drives away into the red, dusty sky, and she walks to a miserable truck stop and asks for a room.

An opening like that makes you stop and think, doesn’t it, about how cut-and-dried most Hollywood movies are. There would seem to be no place in today’s entertainment industry for movies about fat German ladies and homesick truck stops, and yet “Bagdad Cafe” sets us free from the production line of Hollywood’s brain-damaged “high concepts” and walks its own strange and lovely path. There is poetic justice in the fact that this movie, shot in English in America by a German, is one of the biggest box office successes in recent European history.

He ends his review:

Percy Adlon, the director, maintains a certain bleak undercurrent of despair, of crying babies and unpaid bills and young people who have come to the ends of their ropes.

He is saying something in this movie about Europe and America, about the old and the new, about the edge of the desert as the edge of the American Dream. I am not sure exactly what it is, but that is comforting; if a director could assemble these strange characters and then know for sure what they were doing in the same movie together, he would be too confident to find the humor in their situation. The charm of “Bagdad Cafe” is that every character and every moment is unanticipated, obscurely motivated, of uncertain meaning and vibrating with life.

This is a nice, sweet little movie.  Its charm and immigrant theme are reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch movies — think Mystery Train — or as a more recent example (on the charm aspect, not immigrants), perhaps Sunshine Cleaning, or, as an example further along the evolutionary chain, a Wes Anderson film (see prior posts).  Don’t expect a monumental, earth-shattering high drama.  But sometimes it’s nice to feel the sun-baked warmth of a good little comfort film.

* * *

A NOTE ON the Locale: Intending to visit the filming location, a small restaurant still in business off the main highway, I first stopped on my drive along I-40 toward Barstow to download “Bell Bottom Blues”, which perfectly set the mood.  Once there, I stepped inside to notice a suspect cleanliness level, with a number of the inhabitants, from an old geezer in the corner to an infant crawling about the floor — it’s as much a family home as a restaurant — looking like they hadn’t bathed in days.  The cafe interior also featured the requisite level of grit.  It was almost like a sun-bleached version of a scene from the movie that was shot there so long ago.  I was determined to eat lunch regardless of the conditions, so I ordered a hamburger and fries that, turns out, weren’t bad.  The Germans also seemed to be enjoying their lunch, as if for them this place were some landmark equivalent to Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon.

THE SOLAR COLLECTOR in the film also influenced my college days, but at last check had been decommissioned.  It used to be visible for miles around, just as depicted in the film.

Bagdad Cafe - still

Jack Palance in Bagdad Cafe

Cinematic Greats: Miracle Mile

I was actually thinking of this movie before This Is the End was on my radar, but there is definitely some overlap — so a happy coincidence perhaps.  Miracle Mile (1988, Anthony Edwards & Mare Winningham) is one of the best movies ever made on the ever-popular apocalypse theme — and yet it’s a small production from long ago that most people will never be aware of.

In the midst of a sweet, burgeoning romance is thrust the panic and chaos of full nuclear annihilation.  Miracle Mile is a miracle of execution, a text-book example of how to develop a story on film.

Roger Ebert:

“Miracle Mile” has the logic of one of those nightmares in which you’re sure something is terrible, hopeless and dangerous, but you can’t get anyone to listen to you. Besides, you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be mistaken. The film begins as a low-key, boy-meets-girl story, and then a telephone is answered by the wrong person and everything goes horribly wrong. Much of the movie’s diabolical effectiveness comes from the fact that it never reveals, until the very end, whether the nightmare is real, or only some sort of tragic misunderstanding.

Miracle Mile is also a great L.A. story.  And to cap everything off it’s got a cool, very fitting soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.  Objectively, 9/10, but for me a 9+.  A sheer delight and one of my favorite movies.

Miracle Mile - still

Miracle Mile has a clean, crisp, 80’s Los Angeles contemporary look to it that is badly served by the available trailers, so bear that in mind if you click below (this is the best video quality I could find).  It’s a shame that this movie is not available in HD, but it’s a strong enough movie that standard upscaled DVD quality will suffice.  Seek this one out.

80’s Flashback: Valley Girl

There was a certain kind of pure, sweet romantic expression in a number of films of the eighties: Sixteen Candles, The Sure Thing, The Breakfast Club… and Valley Girl (1983).  For some, Nicolas Cage wore out his welcome in a way not unlike Tom Cruise, but I will always respect and admire his better performances, so many of which occurred before he leapt into super-stardom during the age of Face/Off.

With its share of standard 80’s goofiness, Valley Girl won’t be mistaken for a contemporary, overly sophisticated film.  That’s a good thing — it’s fun and romantic, and I like it.  The soundtrack featuring “I Melt with You” is a bonus.

A nice article on the picture at kleph.com begins:

Valley Girl is a film that really had no right to be as good as it actually turned out to be. It emerged from the odious low-budget teen flick genre that was almost inescapable [in] the early ’80s.

and ends:

…to a certain point, when you are 17-years-old there are just a handful of things in your world that really matter and mutually assured destruction dents that sense of priorities only intermittently.

More often it’s eclipsed by that terribly beautiful sense of possibility and optimism wrapped up in a litany of horrible embarrassments that are the hallmark of one’s teen years.Valley Girl, somehow, captures all of that and instead of trying it hammer the point home, has the grace to understand acknowledging it is sufficient and let it be.

valleygirl05

A “Graduate” scene for the 80’s

Friday Fun Flick: Rock of Ages

Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta in Rock of Ages

Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta in Rock of Ages

How about some ROCKIN’ FUN for Friday?!  On my Best of 2012 list, I had tied the two very different musicals Les Misérables and Rock of Ages, giving both an 8/10.   Despite the title, this is not a voyage through the history of rock and roll.  This is all about 80’s rock.  Wikipedia:

The film stars country singer Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta leading an ensemble cast that includes Russell BrandPaul GiamattiCatherine Zeta-JonesMalin ÅkermanMary J. BligeBryan CranstonAlec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise. The film features the music of several 1980s rock artists including Def LeppardJourneyScorpionsPoisonForeignerGuns N’ RosesPat BenatarJoan JettBon JoviDavid Lee RothTwisted SisterWhitesnake, and others.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, go for it — you won’t be disappointed.  With good singing performances all around and a sustaining storyline, Rock of Ages is pure fun with just the right amount of camp.  And you can’t help but love Julianne Hough.

I’ve read a little of the negative press on this film, and disagree.  I think you have to take this movie for what it is.  If you do, it will exceed your expectations and you’ll have a good time.  Just make sure you do the music justice, and set your sound system on MAXX!

Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise

Eszter Balint and John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise

I’ve been intrigued lately to discover early Jim Jarmusch movies, so last night I watched Stranger Than Paradise (1984, B&W).

To give you an idea what this movie is about, I’ll cite Pauline Kael (from the Wikipedia entry):

The first section is set in the bare Lower East Side apartment of Willie, who is forced to take in Eva, his 16-year-old cousin from Budapest, for ten days. The joke here is the basic joke of the whole movie. It’s in what Willie doesn’t do: he doesn’t offer her food or drink, or ask her any questions about life in Hungary or her trip; he doesn’t offer to show her the city, or even supply her with sheets for her bed. Then Eddie comes in, even further down on the lumpen scale. Willie bets on the horses; Eddie bets on dog races. Eva, who never gets to see more of New York than the drab, anonymous looking area where Willie lives, goes off to Cleveland to stay with Aunt Lotte and work at a hot-dog stand. And when Willie and Eddie go to see her, all they see is an icy wasteland – slums and desolation – and Eddie says ‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’ The film has something of the same bombed-out listlessness as Paul Morrissey‘s 1970 Trash – it’s Trash without sex or transvestism. The images are so emptied out that Jarmusch makes you notice every tiny, grungy detail. And those black-outs have something of the effect ofSamuel Beckett‘s pauses: they make us look more intently, as Beckett makes us listen more intently.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Kael is saying, and I haven’t seen this Trash movie.  For me, these three characters command an infectious charm which make them eminently watchable, and Jarmusch is content to let the camera linger on them.  The characters are the heart of the movie, not so much their settings.  You can’t help but to like these three.  One problem I had early on was that though Eva has supposedly stepped ‘right off the plane’ from Hungary, she has not a whiff of a European accent whatsoever, and speaks English too well.  Willie too has no accent.  But who knows, maybe Hungary had exceptional English programs in the 1980s that wiped away native accents.  I doubt it and see this as flaw in the movie.  But I was able to get over it quickly enough.

I am giving this a qualified recommendation.  IF you already have seen and loved each movie in the Jarmusch trifecta, Mystery Train, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, then check out Stranger Than Paradise. It has the same understated comic elements found in those movies, but even more understated.  Consider Stranger Than Paradise a deep cut in the Jarmusch oeuvre.  You might really hate this movie, or you might love it.  At the time of its release it received a lot of critical praise.  Other than the accent issue, I had a little problem with the lack of a momentous plot line.  You know how I’m big on plot.  Jarmusch’s stories in his later movies are potent while maintaining the charm and good will of their characters.  I’ll give this movie a 7/10, but again on the contingencies I’ve stated.

When I have time, I will write more in depth about Jim Jarmusch, a key figure in the burgeoning 80’s avant garde, new wave indie or whatever you want to call it movement, in which you could loosely group David Lynch and John Sayles.  From the very first frame of this movie, you recognize that this director has an idea.  He has a vision that’s all his, he knows what he is doing and he is going for it.  He is not content to be a cog in the wheel of big-money Hollywood machinery and he’s not going to spit out formulaic drivel.  It’s refreshing and at the core of what good movie-making is all about.

Films of a Bygone Era

email 20 Nov 2008

And The Bygone Era is the 1980s.  There were a group of films that came out around the same time period where I see connections.  I’ve written of this before, connections of one film to another that others may have not made — connections which would seem tenuous or abstract if you just wrote the titles on a list.

First on the list is a movie I first glimpsed on TV in my dorm room freshman year at Tropicana Gardens, Brazil (1985, Jonathan Pryce, Robert DeNiro, other stars).  I saw just a few minutes of it and thought, what is this?  My suite-mate Dan Gibbons (whom I wrote of in my college stories) commented on the various gadgets depicted in the film as things that never quite worked being brought to the center of this society’s technological paradigm.  What specifically he was speaking of were the magnifying screens placed in front of CRTs; this film is lush with such hackneyed apparatuses. Continue reading