How I’ll Handle the 2016 Election Outcome

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When I was in my early twenties, I spent a year working at a Hallmark card store in a Shippensburg, PA strip mall. Most of the other employees were female students from the local university. There was an older woman who also worked there. She and I were on the day shift together a lot. A young African-American man got hired at the store. The older woman told me that she couldn’t believe they would hire him. I asked why. “Because of all the young girls who work here,” she replied, implying that he might be prone to raping them.

I angrily told this woman that her comment was racist and that she should “never say that bullshit around me again.” Obviously, I’m not afraid of confrontation when I’m presented with something I find morally objectionable.

The 2016 presidential election reminded me of that incident. As you might guess, the outcome has been a real challenge for me. I am not anti-Republican. Many friends and family members are Republicans. I myself was a registered Republican at one point in my life, although that was largely so I could vote for my father in the primary of a local election. I am not upset that my “side” didn’t win this year. Had any other GOP nominee beaten Hillary Clinton (who, incidentally, was nowhere near my first choice to be our Democratic candidate), I would have been disappointed, but not filled with the fear and anxiety that gripped me this past Tuesday as I watched results roll in on CNN.

I am, however, virulently anti-Trump. I won’t go into the specifics. If you’re anti-Trump too, you already know why. If not, I probably won’t convince you to join my way of thinking. (That said, please consider reading this piece for a calm, reasoned explanation of what I, and many others, are so upset about.) My social media feeds have been less about movies this week and more about politics. Focusing on anything else has been difficult. Many friends and followers have supported these thoughts. Others have told me to “get over it” or “move on.” Well, those things really aren’t in the cards for me.

And yet, as despondent as part of me feels, there has been a surprising sense of optimism creeping in. Not optimism that Trump will do a good job — he’s been crystal clear about his policies, many of which will directly hurt people I love and care about — but optimism that I am not helpless in any of this.

My wife and I are the adoptive parents of a bi-racial child. We’ve worked hard to teach him that racism is bad, that people of all colors are beautiful, and that he should never, ever be ashamed of who he is. We’ve taught him that women are not objects here to serve men, that the religions of other people should be respected even if different from our own, and that gay people have just as much right to love and be loved as straight people. These are just a few of the lessons we’ve been working to instill in him.

Having a president-elect with a long history of racism, multiple accusations of sexual assault against him, and a running mate who believes gay people can be “cured” through conversion therapy is a bitter pill to swallow. But you know what? We don’t have to stop teaching the lessons just because Trump was rewarded for things we find repellent. And if anything, this is an opportunity to show our son how to stand up and fight against bullying, bigotry, and intolerance of any sort. We’ll never have a better “teachable moment.”

Over the last 48 hours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I’m going to handle this election. There’s still a lot of rumination going on, but a few ideas have solidified. First, I’m going to continue to use my voice. It’s the only weapon I have, and I’ll wear it out if need be. If the Trump administration tries to enact legislation that is going to hurt people, I will write letters, circulate petitions, call my state representatives, and disseminate information through social media. I’ll even peacefully demonstrate if necessary. The right to do these things is inherent in the First Amendment. Our forefathers put them there for us to use. You’re damn right I’m using them.

I’m also going to get more involved in my community. I reside in a predominantly white area. That has gradually been changing over the last few years. The vast majority of folks here are kind and compassionate. There are also some bigots. If I see anyone being harassed because of their race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation, I will intervene.

I am in the process of looking into organizations I can join in my area that will advance the causes I believe in: equality for everyone, aid to the poor, protecting women from abuse, and so on. I’ve already done a few small things through my church. I am going to do more.

Through these and other yet-to-be-decided means, my wife and I going to ensure that our son learns the lessons we want him to learn. And one of the biggest of those lessons is that when our family witnesses injustice, we don’t look the other way — we do something about it.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth animosity between Trump supporters and Trump opponents. I vow to avoid the temptation to jump into that fray, because it will only detract from the work that needs to be done. Whether I approve of the president or not, I can instill my deeply held values in my son. I can work to make my community a better place that reflects my ideals. I can raise my voice for causes I feel are just.

That’s what I intend to do. And believe me, I’m just getting warmed up.

The Films of Donald J. Trump

 

trump-home-aloneRepublican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump is currently on a campaign to reclaim America’s greatness by making racism, xenophobia, and misogyny socially acceptable, and, if his plan is put into place, bringing the nation to the brink of economic ruin. It’s a big challenge, but one he’s more than qualified for. There are many things we know about Trump. He cheated on his first two wives, for example. He dodged the draft, then went on to mock former POW and legitimate war hero John McCain. He also hosted a crappy reality show in which washed up B-list celebrities sucked up to him.

What you may not know — or remember — is that Donald J. Trump also dipped his toe into the waters of acting. He has a number of prominent motion picture credits on his resume. This invariably leads to one question: Based solely on his film work, is Donald J. Trump really qualified to become the President of the United States of America? Let’s look at five of his performances to find out.

1. Ghosts Can’t Do It

Trump’s first big screen foray was in 1990’s Ghosts Can’t Do It, an intended showcase for Bo Derek that was written and directed by her husband John. It’s the story of an old man (Anthony Quinn) married to a much younger woman. He commits suicide, then returns as a ghost to convince his wife to kill a younger man so that he can inhabit the body and be with her (sexually) again. Trump appears as himself in a scene in which Derek conducts a business negotiation with help from beyond the grave. Here’s a look at him in action.

As you can see, Trump’s performance is incredibly stiff. He looks like he’s focused more on how badly he’d like to get Bo Derek in the sack than he is in giving an authentic performance. (This is probably true, given his acknowledged fondness for having affairs with married women.) In fact, he’s so bad — playing himself, no less — that he was awarded the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor of 1990. Ghosts Can’t Do It also won the Razzies for Worst Picture, Worst Actress, and Worst Director.

Trump failed so spectacularly that someone gave him an award for it. Not very presidential. We need a Commander-in-Chief who wins where it counts, rather than winning for sucking.

2. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

It would be another two years before Trump and his stubby little hands appeared on movie screens again. When he did, it was a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. In this sequel, Macaulay Culkin’s neglectful family once again leaves him abandoned, this time in the streets of NYC. At one point, he wanders into a Trump-owned building and asks for directions from — you guessed it — the owner himself.

The original Home Alone was a blockbuster that made $285 million at the box office back in 1990. Home Alone 2 was also a hit, but it only made $173 million. That’s more than $100 million less than its predecessor. By every measure, it’s an embarrassing drop. Like many of his business ventures, the film lost a lot of money. Trump likes to claim that he’s a huge success in everything he does. Home Alone 2 proves that such claims are bunk. I don’t know about you, but I want a president who starred in a sequel that out-grossed the original, not one that went so far under.

3. The Little Rascals

In 1994, someone got the terrible idea to update The Little Rascals for modern audiences. Trump was hired to play the father of Waldo, an obnoxious child who thinks he can get away with appalling behavior just because his father is rich. (Much like Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr.) The character is unnamed, but it wouldn’t be unfair to surmise that his name might be “John Miller.” In his short scene, he pays Waldo the kind of compliment that probably passes for sincerity in the home of a man who puts his name in big gold letters on every building he owns.

Aside from being a terrible parent in the movie, the end credit outtakes feature a bit in which Trump steals popcorn from the bag of the woman sitting next to him. Surely, this foreshadows things to come — a guy in the 1% stealing from someone in the 99%. Not a good sign, especially since he already thinks poor people are stupid.

4. Eddie

Drumpf…I mean Trump…returned to portraying himself in 1996’s Eddie, a basketball comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. She plays a limo driver who, through a series of contrivances, becomes the coach of the New York Knicks. Trump appears very briefly in a montage of people talking about her success.

So here we have Trump taking credit for something he had nothing to do with, much like he did with Budweiser, the release of Iranian prisoners, a number of Ford jobs saved by John Kasich back in 2011, Homeland Security’s planned raids on illegal immigrants, and the success of Bernie Sanders. All in all, it’s pretty accurate — and pretty damning, too. The guy likes to claim he’s responsible for a lot of things that had zero to do with him.

5. Celebrity

Woody Allen’s 1998 film Celebrity is a black-and-white drama about a former novelist (Kenneth Branagh) who dives into the world of celebrity journalism after divorcing his wife of 16 years. Trump once more portrays himself, badly. In the film, he expresses an intention to purchase and knock down NYC’s beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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Yet again, we see extreme religious intolerance from Trump, only this time it’s directed at Catholics rather than at Muslims. Actually, it makes sense that Trump would appear in a Woody Allen film. They have much in common. For example, both are prominent New Yorkers. They’ve both been household names for decades. Also, Woody Allen married the woman who was practically his own step-daughter, while Trump has repeatedly expressed that he would have sex with daughter Ivanka were she not his child. (No really, he’s done it more than once. And he took this super-creepy picture with her. He also once expressed hope that 1-year-old daughter Tiffany would grow up to have big breasts.)

Donald J. Trump has also appeared in The Associate, Two Weeks Notice, and Zoolander, as well as on television shows such as The Nanny, Spin City, and Sex and the City. In every instance, his “performance” has been terrible. You want to build a wall around him so that you don’t have to see or hear any more of his pathetic attempts to act. And since a president has to act, well, presidential, there is no reason to think this orange-hued, taco bowl-loving narcissist will fare any better in that department than he did acting opposite Bo Derek.

Based on his film work, it’s safe to say that Trump and his little baby hands will not, in fact, make America great again. He can’t even make a short scene in a movie great. He is vastly incompetent, despite his own claims. His performances lack substance. They defy logic and reason. Ask him about them and he will sidestep the issue at every turn, in an effort to distract you from the fact that there’s no “there” there. This is how he has gotten by so far. And don’t ask him how he plans to tackle any future acting gigs, because he has no master plan aside from insisting that he will be great and no one else can do the job as well as he can.

The lesson is clear: Donald J. Trump is bad for Hollywood. Anyone who would vote for Trump with a ticket purchase is a fool and an idiot. You want to make America great again? Send him back where he came from.

 

How “Pretty in Pink” Made Me Decide to Skip My Prom

Andie (Molly Ringwald), Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty in Pink.

It’s prom season. This past weekend, I found myself at a coordinated photo-op for students at one of the local high schools. We were there to see my wife’s nephew and his girlfriend, who had been eagerly planning this night for months. Dozens of other prom-bound teens moved around the botanical gardens, their family members following them, cell phone cameras always at the ready. There were good-looking athletic guys in tuxes and beautiful girls in gorgeous gowns. There were awkward kids who looked uncomfortable and ill at ease. There were rebels who wore intentionally dated dresses or accentuated their tuxedos with silly ball hats.

“It looks like a John Hughes movie threw up in here,” I commented to my wife.

That was a silly joke, but also kind of a personal one. I opted to skip my own prom as a high schooler. People have asked me why over the years. I’ve said it was because I don’t like overly formal events (which is true) and that I didn’t have anyone I really wanted to go with (also largely true). But the reality is both far more complicated and far simpler than that.

I didn’t go to my prom because of Pretty in Pink. 

Written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, Pretty in Pink opened on February 28, 1986. I saw it a week before, at one of the “nationwide sneak previews” that were all the rage at the time. Basically, certain movies were granted one-off showings a week before their regular release to build word-of-mouth. By this time, my views on high school had changed. For my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I felt as though I was in a constant struggle to fit in. I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t unpopular. I was just sort of there. Shyness and lack of self-confidence prevented me from opening up to people outside my very small circle of close friends. My guess is that those qualities were mistaken for stand-offishness by my peers. (One of my former classmates lives two doors up the street from me. I should walk over and ask if that’s true.) Furthermore, my personal interests were quirky. Forget football games or school dances. Much of my time was spent playing trombone in the school band, memorizing old Saturday Night Live and SCTV skits, or obsessively seeing every single movie that came through town.

Never quite fitting in gave me an outsider’s perspective on the high school experience – the cliques, the attitudes, the social strata. Hughes’ own The Breakfast Club had perfectly given voice to that perspective the year before, which only heightened my awareness of it. (For all intents and purposes, I was an Anthony Michael Hall.) That’s why, when I returned for my senior year, I decided to take a “screw it all” attitude. I did what made me happy, without worrying about how others saw me. My interest in playing by the “rules” of high school was gone. It had become clear that I needed to stop trying to do what everyone else was doing and make decisions that were right for me.

As for prom, I remained undecided. On one hand, it was a time-honored tradition. An adult co-worker at the drug store where I was employed as a stock boy repeatedly begged me go, saying that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I missed this right-of-passage — an admittedly scary thought. On the other hand, I’d lost interest in the time-honored traditions of high school. They hadn’t filled me with much purpose up to that point, so it didn’t seem like prom would turn the tide. I didn’t know what to do, and my feelings about it changed from day to day.

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Then I went to see Pretty in Pink. As everyone knows, it’s the story of a financially disadvantaged girl named Andie (played by Molly Ringwald) who is asked to prom by well-to-do popular kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy), much to the dismay of her quirky best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer), who just assumed she would go with him. Blane’s snobby rich friends don’t approve of the date either, which leads to all kinds of dramatic complications.

Watching the film, some very clear messages began to emerge. Like who you like. Do what makes you happy. Stop worrying about what everyone else says. Don’t let anyone else define you. You don’t need to fit a pre-conceived image to have worth. The movie was articulating things that were already tinkering around inside my head.

The seminal moment, though, comes a little more than halfway through. Duckie confronts Blane’s elitist best friend Steff (James Spader), who has essentially pressured Blane to rescind the invitation to prom, leaving Andie brokenhearted. In an empty hallway, Duckie tackles Steff and begins pummeling him. The handsome, rich jerk and the eccentric-but-sincere outcast scuffle on the floor. Two teachers arrive to break up the fight. As the melee ends, Duckie runs down the hall, jumps up, and — with one hand — rips down a prom banner hanging from the ceiling, balling it up and casting it aside.

Here is that moment. I’m sure many of you know it well.

It is difficult to describe how I felt when Duckie ripped down that banner, except to say that there was abrupt clarity. I realized that there is so much pressure (from others or, even worse, from oneself) associated with prom. You have to go because it’s expected of you. You have to go with the “right” person. Girls have to wear the “right” dress. There can be judgement if you get anything “wrong.” Teenagers are pressured, or pressure themselves, into believing that they must have a perfectly magical experience that will be a high point in their lives. I neither needed nor wanted such pressure. I didn’t want to go back to feeling as though I had to do the conventional things in order to fit in with some societal notion of what a teenager was supposed to be. Duckie ripped down that banner and, no lie, I nearly stood up and cheered.

And the words that went through my mind in that exact second were, I am not going to prom!

My co-worker at the drug store repeatedly urged me to change my mind. I sensed that my parents were disappointed, although they accepted my decision. My friends were understanding. A couple of them had, via their own reasoning, opted to skip the prom, too. Regardless of whether people told me I was making a mistake or giving me a theoretical You go, boy!, I knew that I had made the right choice. I didn’t need prom to validate who I was. It didn’t matter whether or not I chose to take part in this tradition because, for the first time in my life, I had some semblance of who I was as a person. Nothing about prom was going to clarify that any further.

blue-cityI wished my friends who were going to prom well and told them to have a good time. I was genuinely happy for those who wanted to go, even if the experience wasn’t for me personally. On prom night…well, you can probably guess what I did that evening. I went to the movies with two friends, one male, one female. We went to see the now-forgotten Judd Nelson/Ally Sheedy thriller Blue City. It was an okay movie. I sat in my theater seat, knowing that many of my peers were all dressed up, dancing and eating and maybe even hoping to get lucky afterward. Some were having the night of their lives. Others were probably having their hearts broken. (Hey, it happens at prom sometimes.) I didn’t regret not being there with them. I was at the movies, where I felt comfortable and at home. Where I felt like me.

Despite what people said, I’ve never regretted my decision to skip prom. Not for a second. Now, as an adult, I realize that I was right in the belief that it wouldn’t mean anything to me in the long run anyway. No prom could ever match the meaning of my wedding day, or the many magical moments that come with having a child, or any of the professional accomplishments I’ve achieved. It would have just been a thing I’d have done for the wrong reasons, out of a misguided sense of obligation.

I have nothing against prom. Many kids go, have a wonderful time, and cherish the memory. That’s great. But it’s also not me, and I had to learn that it’s okay if things are “not me.” Pretty in Pink helped significantly in that process.

Critic v Trolls: Dawn of Hate Mail

The Aisle Seat went online in October of 1995. In the last three days, I’ve received more hate mail than I have in the last twenty years combined. The source of all this anger is my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Of particular irritation to the writers of all this hate mail is the beginning of the review, which was excerpted as my pull quote on Rotten Tomatoes:

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. It is worse than Batman & Robin. It is worse than Catwoman. It is worse than last summer’s Fantastic Four (or at least more disappointing).”

I didn’t mean it was a lot worse than those other films — they’re all terrible — but they had at least one or two elements that interested me on some level, whereas BvS had none. While I knew some people would strongly disagree with that sentiment, I wrote it for one reason, and one reason only: I really do think Batman v Superman is worse. I wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t believe it. Still, people accused me of making hyperbole, click-baiting, and attempting to piss off fanboys to drive up my web traffic. None of that was true.

The reaction to my review has been mystifying. People half my age have lectured me on comic books, despite the fact that I was into comics long before they were even born. I’ve lost Twitter followers. One person I have known and been friendly with on social media for years unfollowed me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook because of my review. That same creep then went on Twitter and said some things about me that were unkind and untrue. Angry readers have reached out to me via email, tweet, and Facebook message. I have been mocked and ridiculed in the forums of websites devoted to superhero movies. A couple strangers said I look like a child molester. People told me that I should kill myself. Why so many fanboys care so passionately about a bad review of a comic book picture is beyond me, especially given that there are so many important things to be concerned about in today’s world.

Do I care about getting flamed? No. I’m just glad people are reading my work and that it’s sparking debate. I don’t respond to trolls, except with the link to a hidden page on my site that attempts to humorously express my profound lack of concern regarding their anger.

Besides, troll rage is kind of funny, and that’s why I’ve decided to share a few pieces of hate mail here. (I won’t include the really dark stuff, which I may address later.) Below are actual messages I’ve received, unedited and unexpurgated, followed by some silly personal reaction to each of them. I’ve redacted email addresses, which are private. Twitter is public, though, so I’m leaving identities as they are. (Please do not harass anyone!) Enjoy!

hatemail1

This is a fairly typical response — admitting the movie is flawed, but asserting its greatness anyway. And saying a review is bad simply because you don’t agree with it and are afraid to consider its ideas? Now that’s some hardcore bullshit.

hatemail2

More bullshit? I’m starting to sense a theme emerging here. It reminds me of this scene from an old Mel Brooks movie. I guess I’m Mel and the trolls are Bea Arthur.

hatemail3

Well, at least now I’m just writing the standard kind of shit. Is that an improvement?

hatemail9

My entire professional credibility rested on this one movie? Why didn’t anyone tell me? If I’d known that, I would have given BvS four stars!

hatemail4

I’m the worst critic ever? Do I get some sort of prize for that? A coffee mug, perhaps? Incidentally, this guy writes for a fanboy movie site. How well do you suppose he’d handle someone doing this to him? I bet I know.

hatemail7

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You got me. I watched a different movie. Warner Bros. cut together a special, sucky version of Batman v Superman just for me. And I would say that my horrible and negative mentality is one of my most endearing traits!

hatemail10

 

 

 

 

10 gallons of bleach? I’ll stick with my beloved Diet Pepsi, thanks.

hatemail5

Awesome! That’s exactly what I was going for in my review! Score one for me!

hatemail6

Click photo to enlarge

Tyree was so incensed by my review that he reached out to me both on Twitter and via email. (He tried to fool me by using “Great article” in the subject line.) This message is a fabulous honor. There are literally tens of thousands of reviews linked to Rotten Tomatoes, maybe even hundreds of thousands. For mine to be the worst of them all…well, I believe that’s quite an achievement. I do have to ask one thing, though: How am I the idiot when Tyree 1.) says I should never write anything again, then immediately tells me to write something “without obvious bias”; and 2.) doesn’t know that it’s “an idiot” rather than “and idiot”? Kettle, meet pot.

hatemail8

 

This one is my absolute favorite, and not just because of that ridiculous profile picture. First of all, he completely (and hilariously) misuses the word “prolific.” Second, he describes BvS as “realistic.” This is a movie about a guy who dresses as a bat and a flying dude from outer space teaming up to fight a giant monster. Third, he says Sin City is from the same publisher as Batman. Any serious comic book fan — and I consider myself one — knows Sin City was published by Dark Horse, not DC. Maybe I’m not the one who needs to “research the truth of the source material.”

There was a lot more hate mail, but these examples pretty well sum it up. Like I said, I’m thick-skinned, so my feelings weren’t hurt by any of it. However, there is something dispiriting about this mentality. When I was growing up, liking superheroes and comic books got you bullied. Kids who liked them were considered “dorks” and “nerds.” Now these things have moved into the mainstream, and the people who are heavily into them have become the bullies — threatening, ridiculing, and harassing those who fail to appreciate them in the “right” way. Superhero fandom was never meant to be like this, and those who go this route are an affront to everything comics are supposed to stand for. They are Lex Luthor or the Joker, but they erroneously think they’re Superman or Batman.

Life goes on, and so do movies. My review will soon be forgotten, replaced by whatever the next faux outrage is. The trolls will move on to other people. My heart goes out to the next victims.

A Modest Review of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

BVS

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the worst superhero movie ever made. Worse than CatwomanWorse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Worse than Batman & Robin. It’s even worse than last summer’s Fantastic FourIt is an irredeemable piece of garbage that’s dark, moody, and no fun. Only a moron would like this incessantly stupid “film.”

Okay, I guess I should admit here that I haven’t actually seen Batman vs. Superman. I mean, I saw some of it, but I fell asleep about 20 minutes into the press screening. (I hate movies. Having to actually watch them all day is so cumbersome.) When I woke up, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was rambling about something boring, so I played Candy Crush on my phone until the movie was over.

Not that any of this matters. Marvel paid me $5,000 to pan the film, which they hope will be a box office flop. I wasn’t sure whether to accept the cash at first, but most of my fellow critics told me that they were planning to take it. (Have I mentioned that we have a super-secret cabal?) That being the case, I decided that I may as well get paid, too. Hey, I have a family to feed! You’d have done the same thing.

And really, I don’t need to see Batman vs. Superman to know it sucks balls. The writing is on the wall:

Ben Affleck as Batman – The dude from Gigli, Paycheck, Saving Christmas, and Pearl Harbor? I think this falls under the category of “bitch, please.”

Zack Snyder sucks – He seems like a guy who really loves comic books and superheroes, and wants to treat them with care. What a nerd! Snyder is the kind of guy I gave wedgies to in high school — and I was a frequent victim of bullying myself! (Note: This is why I became a film critic. Now I get paid to say horrible things about famous people who are better looking and more talented than I am. Fight the power!) One more reason Zack Snyder should never be taken seriously: Sucker Punch. Seriously, he gets a lifelong “fail” just for that thing.

I’m biased against DC – I admit it! DC is inferior to Marvel. Name one good DC superhero. You can’t! Batman? He’s a guy in a black suit with a car. It’s not like he’s a talking raccoon or a monosyllabic tree, for crying out loud! Superman? He’s strong and can fly. Big deal! Give me a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle over that dweeb any day! And Wonder Woman? She’s not as hot as Jessica Jones or Black Widow. For further proof of Marvel’s dominance, look no further than Ryan Reynolds. DC casts him and what do we get? That crappy Green Lantern movie. Marvel casts him and we get DeadpoolBoo-ya! DC also hires no-talent hack directors like Christopher Nolan (who couldn’t direct a good movie if Alfred Hitchcock rose from the grave and did it for him). Marvel, on the other hand, hires great directors, like Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh.

Marvel is sooooooo much better than DC, and I’d say that even if they hadn’t just paid me five grand to trash their competitor’s film. I mean, they gave us the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where everything is connected! DC is just trying to copy their winning formula because they have no good ideas of their own. Does anyone in their right mind really think Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to be better than Marvel classics like Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2? Only slobbering DC fanboys, I can tell you that! And they’d think Mortdecai was a good movie if it had the DC logo slapped on it!

So yeah, Batman vs. Superman sucks and is only for brain-dead idiot fanboys who live in their mother’s basements and have eggs as their Twitter avatars. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write my rave review of Captain America: Civil War, which I won’t actually see until late next month.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice rating: (Zero stars out of four)

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Speed Zone: The Forgotten Cannonball Run Sequel

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Quick –  how many Cannonball Run movies were there? If you said two, think again. Most people remember the 1981 original, which starred Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, and Dom DeLuise. It was a huge hit that spawned a sequel, 1984’s much-maligned Cannonball Run II. (“This is the movie equivalent to phoning it in,” said Roger Ebert in his half-star review.) A lot of people remember that one, too, in part because it reached new levels of cash-an-easy-paycheck atrociousness, more or less killing the public’s interest in the franchise. And maybe that’s why very few people recall that there was a third Cannonball Run movie. On April 21, 1989, Orion Pictures released Speed Zone, which was alternately known as Cannonball Fever. If it’s possible to make a movie on this subject that’s even worse than Cannonball Run II –– and Ebert thought it was, awarding this one a rare zero stars — Speed Zone is it.

Initially conceived as The Cannonball Run IIISpeed Zone required a title change when Reynolds and original director Hal Needham opted not to return for another round. The premise is that surly Washington, D.C. police chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) wants to stop the scheduled auto race from his city to California. He arrests all the competitors prior to the start of the event, leaving the sponsors scrambling to find new drivers. The only options are a ragtag assortment of goofballs. There’s a timid parking lot attendant (John Candy), riding with the hot girlfriend (Donna Dixon) of his bully (Eugene Levy). There’s a hitman (Joe Flaherty) and the guy he’s been sent to kill (Matt Frewer). There are two MIT graduates (Sheri Belafonte and Flash Gordon‘s Melody Anderson) who have developed high-tech gizmos to give racers a competitive edge. And there are the millionaire cheaters (the Smothers Brothers) who managed to escape the mass arrest. Tim Matheson and Mimi Kuzyk play TV reporters also competing in the race, under the guise of covering it for their station.

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Speed Zone also boasts a number of celebrity cameos, including Brooke Shields (who won a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie Award for her role as herself), Alyssa Milano, John Schneider, veteran character actor Lee Van Cleef, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, and NASCAR legend Richard Petty. Most notably, Jamie Farr cameos as the Sheik, the character he also played in the two previous Cannonball Run installments, making him the only actor to appear in all three.

There’s not much plot in Speed Zone. It’s essentially a series of barely-connected scenes in which the characters either engage in bizarre bantering in their cars or attempt to outsmart each other through a variety of dirty tricks. The level of humor in the movie is often lowbrow. In one of the lamest jokes, a Frenchman on an airplane offers Tom Smothers his peanuts, but it sounds as though he’s saying “penis,” leading to some homophobic confusion. Other times, the comedy is just plain goofy, with no real point. Boxer Michael Spinks, for instance, emerges from a store holding a box of wine under each arm. Upon seeing his car accidentally demolished by two of the Cannonball participants, he squeezes the boxes so hard that they spray.

Other jokes aren’t really even jokes at all. Speed Zone thinks it’s funny to have cars abruptly swerve, change direction, drive in reverse, or crash into something. When it gets bored with that, it stages an elaborate sequence in which a jet plane carrying the Smothers Brothers leaves the runway and begins driving on the road. Really, the only time the movie even hints at approaching actual comedy is in the scenes between Candy and Levy, who bring a well-honed SCTV touch to their interactions, and between Candy and Dixon, who is delightfully ditzy as an aspiring actress. Everything else is dead weight.

Speed Zone was written by Michael Short, the older brother of comedian Martin Short and a former SCTV scribe. It was directed by Jim Drake, a sitcom director (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Gimme a Break!), whose only previous feature film experience was helming 1987’s Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. He never made another theatrically-released movie. (Drake later did eight episodes of the Disney Channel show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, among other TV gigs.) What they deliver is a choppy, inconsistent film that often feels assembled from the deleted scenes of other movies. Speed Zone lurches awkwardly from one unfunny moment to the next, culminating with an end credit sequence in which all the cast members drive bumper cars. By that point, we’re quite ready to bail.

Speed Zone opened opposite Pet Sematary, the Dolph Lundgren vehicle Red Scorpion, and the Jeff Bridges/Drew Barrymore drama See You in the Morning. It debuted in 10th place, earning $1.4 million on 1,195 screens. (It was handily beaten by the 19th weekend of Rain Man.) Second weekend box office dropped by 62%. There was no third weekend. Speed Zone earned a grand total of just over $3 million during its brief theatrical run. To say reviews were unkind would be an understatement. The Washington Post’s Hal Hinson called it “scarily unfunny,” adding that “it does something that I thought was virtually impossible — it makes us nostalgic for the previous two.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Speed Zone has long been out of print, which is another likely reason why so few remember its existence. The picture was released on VHS back in the day, but has never been available on DVD or Blu-Ray, making it difficult to find. There is, however, a YouTube upload that’s of semi-decent quality.

One suspects that those involved are quite happy Speed Zone has faded from the public’s memory. Surely, none of its makers or stars would consider it among their finest achievements. That said, it’s nonetheless a true late-’80s curio — a throwback to a time when movies still occasionally assembled name actors, paid them for a couple days of work, and tossed the half-assed results onto cinema screens across the country.

As for Burt Reynolds, passing on Speed Zone proved to be one of the few smart career choices he made in the era. If only Candy, Levy, and everyone else had followed suit.

When Filmmakers Throw Hissy Fits

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This weekend, Gods of Egypt bombed at the box office, earning just $14 million on its opening weekend. Considering the film cost a reported $140 million to make, that was not good news for anyone involved. On Sunday, the film’s director, Alex Proyas, took to Facebook to address his movie’s failure, utilizing an all too familiar approach: he blamed critics. Here’s the full text of his statement:

NOTHING CONFIRMS RAMPANT STUPIDITY FASTER…
Than reading reviews of my own movies. I usually try to avoid the experience – but this one takes the cake. Often, to my great amusement, a critic will mention my past films in glowing terms, when at the time those same films were savaged, as if to highlight the critic’s flawed belief of my descent into mediocrity. You see, my dear fellow FBookers, I have rarely gotten great reviews… on any of my movies, apart from those by reviewers who think for themselves and make up their own opinions. Sadly those type of reviewers are nearly all dead. Good reviews often come many years after the movie has opened. I guess I have the knack of rubbing reviewers the wrong way – always have. This time of course they have bigger axes to grind – they can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are. They fail to understand, or chose to pretend to not understand what this movie is, so as to serve some bizarre consensus of opinion which has nothing to do with the movie at all. That’s ok, this modern age of texting will probably make them go the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper shortly – don’t movie-goers text their friends with what they thought of a movie? Seems most critics spend their time trying to work out what most people will want to hear. How do you do that? Why these days it is so easy… just surf the net to read other reviews or what bloggers are saying – no matter how misguided an opinion of a movie might be before it actually comes out. Lock a critic in a room with a movie no one has even seen and they will not know what to make of it. Because contrary to what a critic should probably be they have no personal taste or opinion, because they are basing their views on the status quo. None of them are brave enough to say “well I like it” if it goes against consensus. Therefore they are less than worthless. Now that anyone can post their opinion about anything from a movie to a pair of shoes to a hamburger, what value do they have – nothing. Roger Ebert wasn’t bad. He was a true film lover at least, a failed film-maker, which gave him a great deal of insight. His passion for film was contagious and he shared this with his fans. He loved films and his contribution to cinema as a result was positive. Now we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

There are a number of problems with what Proyas says. First, he’s wrong. Without critics, smaller films like Room and Spotlight would have trouble getting notice amid the tentpoles and franchises Hollywood tends to focus on. Further, he accuses us of going online to see what other critics are saying, then simply following suit. Critics are the first people to see a movie. When we post our reviews — often on or before opening day — there is nothing out there to compare them against. There is no “status quo” at that point. And the assertion that all his movies have gotten bad reviews is absurd. Many critics, myself included, gave positive notices to The CrowDark City, Knowingand I, Robot.

His biggest mistake, though, is in saying that critics are “less than worthless” people who audiences don’t pay attention to, and then turning around and blaming us for the commercial failure of his film. If the public doesn’t listen to critics, then how are bad reviews the culprit? You can’t have it both ways.

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There are plenty of people Alex Proyas could blame for the failure of Gods of Egypt (which, in full disclosure, I have not seen). He could blame the studio marketing department for making it look like another lame Clash of the Titans/300 retread. He could blame audiences in general for giving their money to the third weekend of Deadpool and generally ignoring his film. Or, he could blame himself for making a movie set in Egypt and casting it with white actors, including Scotsman Gerard Butler.

But no, he blames film critics. And he’s not alone. After the failure of Cop Out, Kevin Smith famously barred critics from screening his future films, saying that anyone who didn’t “create art” was not qualified to assess it. After the dismal failure of The Lone Rangerstars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer bitterly accused critics of “gunning” for the movie. More recently, Kill List director Ben Wheatley echoed Smith’s claims, saying, “Talking about other peoples’ stuff is weird. Why aren’t you making stuff? And if you aren’t, why should you really have a voice to complain about things until you’ve walked mile in someone’s shoes?”

There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers feeling a little stung by bad reviews. There is, however, something wrong with acting like a whiny baby about it. For instance, if Alex Proyas really, truly believes that critics did wrong by his film, why didn’t he defend it? You’ll notice there’s nothing in his Facebook post to counter critics’ claims. It’s just random insults and name-calling. Ditto with Smith and Depp/Hammer.

Filmmakers really need to — pardon the expression — grow some balls if they’re going to publicly respond to critics. Cinema is fundamentally about analysis, exploration, discussion, and debate. Everyone sees a movie in their own unique way. Critics, love them or hate them, work on writing carefully considered reviews, with the intention of discussing movies in an intelligent, articulate manner. Filmmakers should respond the same way, not the opposite.

Imagine how valuable it would be for someone like Alex Proyas to counter the claims of those who panned Gods of Egypt – to explain why he, as the craftsman, believes they’re wrong. That kind of discourse between film critics and director would undoubtedly enrich everyone’s understanding of the work. You would get an in-depth look at the intersection of artistic intent and objective evaluation. There would be more consideration of why certain choices were made, what the intended effect was supposed to be, and why the director used particular methods to tell the story. The point/counterpoint would be fascinating, leading to a fuller appreciation of the movie in question, regardless of any flaws it may have. It might even make initially ambivalent audiences more interested in checking the picture out.

Alex Proyas, Kevin Smith, and others like them have had the opportunity (not to mention the public forum) to defend their works, but instead they resorted to immature You didn’t recognize my genius, so therefore you suck! vitriol. Despite what some would say, critics can totally take a little criticism themselves. Tell us why we’re wrong! Explain to us what we didn’t “get,” or why we looked at the film the wrong way! Have a dialogue with us!

If filmmakers did this going forward, it could open up a whole new — and wonderful — way of engaging with their work. And that would benefit everyone who cherishes the power of cinema.

Ten Awesome Forgotten ’90s Movie Songs

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Having already looked at some of the most Awesome Forgotten ’80s Movie Songs not once but twice, it seemed like a good time to jump ahead a decade. The ’90s weren’t always the best time for movies — the ratio of junk to classics is probably at least 3-to-1 — but music continued to be well-used onscreen regardless. Everyone remembers Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” from Young Guns II, to name just a few examples. What follows below are ten other awesome ’90s movie songs, ones that have not made the same long-lasting impact. (Note that hip-hop’s move into the mainstream during this era is reflected quite well.) Some are one-time hits that don’t get played on the airwaves anymore, while others are tunes that should have been hits but weren’t. All are terrific, and I hope you enjoy discovering or re-discovering them.

“Part of Me, Part of You” by Glenn Frey (from Thelma & Louise) – The late Eagle Glenn Frey knew a thing or two about writing movie music, having famously contributed “The Heat Is On” to Beverly Hills Cop. He also performed “Flip City” for the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. In 1991, Frey wrote and sang “Part of Me, Part of You” for Ridley Scott’s feminist road-picture Thelma & Louise. While perhaps not his best-known song, it is one of the best he ever recorded. The composition speaks to the strong bond between the film’s two main characters, played to perfection by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. As for the movie, it not only retains its power, but in some ways is even more relevant today than it was then.

“C U When U Get There” by Coolio (from Nothing to Lose) – Nothing to Lose was a mid-level hit in 1997, earning $44 million, largely on the strength of the odd couple casting of Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins. The film was released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures division. Their Hollywood Pictures arm had great success with the Michelle Pfeiffer inner city education drama Dangerous Minds and its Coolio theme song “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which remains the rapper’s best-known work. Perhaps having him contribute “C U When U Get There” to Nothing to Lose was an attempt to recapture the magic. It almost did, hitting #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (“Gangsta’s Paradise” went all the way to the top.) People don’t seem to remember this one as clearly, though, and that’s a shame, because in its own way, it’s every bit as good.

“Blood From a Stone” by Stacy Earl (from Untamed Heart) – Stacy Earl should have been a superstar. She scored two Top 40 hits in 1992: “Love You All Up” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Her music was very similar to what wildly successful (but less talented) singer Paula Abdul was doing. Yet for some unknown reason, Earl had an unfairly short-lived pop career. In 1993, she released her last mainstream single, “Blood From a Stone,” which served as the theme to the Christian Slater/Marisa Tomei tearjerker Untamed Heart. The song went nowhere, despite being typically catchy and beautifully sung. These days, Stacy is a mother and an adoption advocate, as well as an occasional singer of Christian music.

“White Men Can’t Jump” by Riff (from White Men Can’t Jump) – The 1992 Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump is still fondly remembered by a lot of people. How many can sing the eponymous theme song, though? A shining example of the musical style known as “New Jack Swing,” the tune, which only went to #90 on the charts, was performed by the New Jersey vocal group Riff. They had a few minor R&B hits in the early ’90s, but never really made the kind of impact that Boyz II Men and New Edition did. Still, their uber-catchy beats worked perfectly for the film. One listen and this will be stuck in your head all day.

“Almost Unreal” by Roxette (from Super Mario Bros.) – Swedish duo Roxette took the music world by storm in the late ’80s, with ubiquitous hits like “The Look” and “Listen to Your Heart.” In 1990, they went all the way to #1 with their biggest smash, “It Must Have Been Love,” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. (It was Billboard’s #2 song of the year, just behind “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.) Roxette were then asked to record a song for the Bette Midler witch comedy Hocus Pocus. They delivered “Almost Unreal,” a song in which the words “hocus pocus” are prominently sung in the chorus. For whatever reason, the folks at Disney decided not to use it in that picture, Instead, it became the theme for another Disney production, the videogame adaptation Super Mario Bros. That “Almost Unreal” was not one of Roxette’s biggest chart successes is undoubtedly tied to the commercial and critical failure of the movie that spawned it. However, band members Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson have also publicly dismissed their work in interviews, with the latter calling it “not one of our most inspired moments.” I beg to differ. Give it a listen and see if you love when it does its hocus pocus to you.

 

 

“The Color of the Night” by Lauren Christy (from Color of Night) – You may not know her name, but you definitely know the work of Lauren Christy. She was part of the writing/producing team known as The Matrix. Their hits include Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and “I’m With You,” Jason Mraz’s “The Remedy,” and Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?” More recently, Christy has co-written tunes for Kelly Clarkson (“I Forgive You”) and Jason Derulo (“Breathing”). Unsurprisingly, she once took a shot at solo stardom. That came in the form of “The Color of the Night,” a sultry ballad recorded for the justly forgotten 1994 Bruce Willis thriller Color of Night, a lame attempt to recapture the psycho-sexual vibe that turned Basic Instinct into a phenomenon a few years before. The tune was nominated for Best Original Song at that year’s Golden Globes. The movie, on the other hand, was given the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.

“Money Can’t Buy You Love” by Ralph Tresvant (from Mo’ Money) – After achieving stardom on TV’s In Living Color, Damon Wayans jumped to the big screen with Mo’ Money, a star vehicle he also wrote. The movie is about a con man who steals from the credit card company where he works and eventually finds himself tangled up in criminal forces much larger than himself. Mo’ Money got poor reviews, yet earned $40 million on a $15 million budget. Continuing In Living Color‘s tradition of showcasing R&B and hip-hop music, the film had a soundtrack that included Janet Jackson, Public Enemy, Color Me Badd, and New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant, whose “Money Can’t Buy You Love” remains an irresistible earworm.

“Life in Mono” by Mono (from Great Expectations) – True story: In late December 1997, I fell asleep in front of the television with MTV on. I dozed through several hours of music videos that night. Then they played Mono’s “Life in Mono,” which had been released in advance of Great Expectations, a modern adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens novel starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. My subconscious registered the song and immediately woke me up. It had such an incredible sonic ambiance that my system was forced to pay attention. (The only other time this happened was in the ’80s, when Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom [Coming Home]” similarly roused me from a flu-induced nap.) To this day, I can’t hear the song without remembering that magical moment. Two interesting bits of trivia: 1.) “Life in Mono” was reportedly used in the movie at the behest of co-star Robert DeNiro, who heard and loved it; and 2.) Great Expectations was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who later went on to win the Best Director Oscar for Gravity.

“Addams Groove” by MC Hammer (from The Addams Family) – This is probably the movie-est movie song on the list. In a true example of Hollywood “synergy,” rapper MC Hammer, who was a huge star in 1991, was hired to write and perform a song specifically for The Addams Family, a high-profile big screen version of the popular TV program that was slated for a cushy Thanksgiving weekend release. As much a piece of promotional material as it is a song, “Addams Groove” is nonetheless a cheerfully silly work, one that cleverly incorporates snatches of Vic Mizzy’s famous show theme. The accompanying music video even features the film’s stars. The Addams Family was a blockbuster, pulling in $191 million and spawning a sequel several years later. “Addams Groove,” meanwhile, went to #7 on the pop charts. It turned out to be MC Hammer’s final top ten hit.

“Identify” by Natalie Imbruglia (from Stigmata) – “Identify” is a weird song. It is sung by Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia, best known for her annoyingly chirpy hit “Torn.” It was co-written by Billy Corgan, leader of the alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins. And it was recorded for the 1999 religious horror movie Stigmata, starring Patricia Arquette as a woman who inexplicably develops the wounds of Christ. If that’s not an odd combination, I don’t know what is. Yet despite not really liking Imbruglia, Corgan, or Stigmata (or it’s final third, at least), I have never been able to get enough of this song. It has a haunting quality — lots of minor chords and unusual progressions — that I find hypnotic. When it played over Stigmata‘s closing credits, I got chills that the film itself didn’t quite give me.

There you have ten awesome forgotten ’90s movie songs. Any of them particularly ring a bell for you? I’ve already got enough for a follow-up list, so be on the lookout for that in the future, along with another installment of the ’80s version.

 

 

Ten More Awesome Forgotten ’80s Movie Songs

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Last year, I published a list of Ten Awesome Forgotten ’80s Movie Songs. It was intended to celebrate one of the greatest decades for mainstream motion picture entertainment, as well as the strong connection shared by films and music during that time. To my pleasant surprise, the piece proved quite popular. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this particular obsession.

There were far more than ten to choose from, though, which meant some really great tunes got left off. This could mean only one thing: a sequel needed to be put into the works. Below are ten more terrific songs that, for one reason or another, never made the impact of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love,” Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” or any of the other seminal ’80s movie themes. I hope you have fun discovering or re-discovering them.

“All For Love” by Nancy Wilson (from Say Anything…) – Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut is widely considered one of the greatest teen romances ever made. It details the attempts of insecure slacker Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) to win the heart of Diane Court (Ione Skye), a highly-driven girl he perceives to be out of his league. After enduring a betrayal by her father, who has embezzled from his place of employment, Diane realizes that, for all his aimlessness, Lloyd is the one person she can unfailingly count on. The final scene finds them on a plane to England, where she is going to study. Lloyd is deathly afraid of flying, and in this moment, Diane gets the opportunity to support him, just as he’s supported her. Together, they wait for the seatbelt light to go off – a sign, she tells him, that everything is okay. It finally dings, the screen cuts to black, and “All For Love” by Heart’s Nancy Wilson (Crowe’s then-wife) begins playing over the end credits.

“The Best Man in the World” by Ann Wilson (from The Golden Child) – Nancy Wilson’s sister and fellow bandmate Ann also did some movie music in the ’80s. “Almost Paradise,” her 1984 Footloose duet with Loverboy’s Mike Reno, was a top ten hit that spent 13 weeks in the top 40. In 1986, her voice once again graced the big screen with “The Best Man in the World,” the theme from Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child. Perhaps one of the reasons this catchy song isn’t well remembered is because the movie that spawned it was poorly reviewed and not as financially successful as Murphy’s previous works, Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places. In fact, it was really his first stumble as a leading man. Still, Wilson has always had an amazing set of pipes, and anchored by a trademark ’80s synth-bass, “The Best Man in the World” gets your toes tapping.

“Into the Night” by BB King (from Into the Night) – The late BB King had a long, illustrious career. That soulful voice could make anything sound amazing. King had lots of hits, but when news broke of his passing in May of 2015, I immediately wanted to listen to “Into the Night,” the bluesy song he recorded for John Landis’s mostly-forgotten 1985 comedy about an insomniac (Jeff Goldblum) running for his life following a chance encounter with a jewel smuggler (Michelle Pfeiffer). For my money, it represents a genuine legend at his finest.

“Seven Day Weekend” by Jimmy Cliff and Elvis Costello (from Club Paradise) – Harold Ramis directed and/or wrote some of the most beloved comedies of the 1980s, including Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Caddyshack. His 1986 comedy Club Paradise is not his finest work. (Ramis has said that he was mid-divorce during its production, and consequently not at his comedic peak.) The story of an injured Chicago fireman who uses his disability money to retire to a small Caribbean island, Club Paradise boasted an all-star cast that included Robin Williams, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and the great Peter O’Toole. Unresolved script problems didn’t give them much to work with, though. Comedian Harry Shearer, who did a rewrite, was so appalled by the final product that he had his name taken off the credits. Today, Club Paradise has a small cult following, but largely remains a great example of extraordinarily talented people coming together to make a turkey. The song “Seven Day Weekend” by Jimmy Cliff and Elvis Costello remains its greatest asset.

“Nothing in Common” by Thompson Twins (from Nothing in Common) – “Hold Me Now.” “Doctor, Doctor.” “King For a Day.” These are some of the biggest hits from Thompson Twins. One of their most emotional songs, however, was the eponymous theme to the 1986 Tom Hanks/Jackie Gleason comedy Nothing in Common. The movie was about a man dealing with his difficult father, and the song reflects some of the story’s themes. Singer Tom Bailey’s vocals have an especially haunting quality. Whether or not he identified with the events of the plot is unknown, but there’s no doubt that he gives the tune its hard-to-deny kick.

 

 

“Coming to America” by The System (from Coming to America) – Eddie Murphy had far more luck with this 1988 comedy than he did with The Golden Child. It was a huge hit that continues to maintain its popularity. The System — best known for their top 5 smash “Don’t Disturb This Groove” — performed the title tune, cleverly incorporating a short sample of the National Anthem in its chorus. Despite the movie’s success, the song never really caught on, peaking at a lowly #91 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Just try to get it unstuck from your head after giving it a listen, though.

“Romancing the Stone” by Eddy Grant (from Romancing the Stone) – Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, made almost the exact same amount of money at the U.S. box office ($76 million vs. $75 million). Musically, however, the sequel outperformed the original, spawning Billy Ocean’s hit “When the Going Gets Tough (the Tough Get Going).” The original’s theme, performed by “Electric Avenue” singer Eddy Grant, is equally catchy. The difference most likely lies in the fact that, despite commissioning it, the producers of Romancing the Stone only used the guitar part in the film, thereby preventing audiences from truly discovering the composition. The song also did not appear on the soundtrack album. Let’s take a moment, then, to give this bouncy number its proper due.

“Ruthless People” by Mick Jagger (from Ruthless People) – Mick Jagger is rock-and-roll royalty. He’s also long been associated with movies, thanks to documentaries like Gimme Shelter and acting performances in films such as Performance and Freejack. He also recorded the title tune for 1986’s Ruthless People, a kidnapping comedy from the directors of Airplane! The movie did very well at the box office, giving stars Danny DeVito and Bette Midler great roles and launching the career of Bill Pullman. For some reason, though, it hasn’t held up. It doesn’t come immediately to mind when recalling the big comedies of that era. This would probably be a fun one to revisit on DVD. For now, we’ll just revisit Jagger’s percussion-heavy song.

“I’m the Burglar” by Sly Stone (from Burglar) – Sly and the Family Stone are one of the biggest R&B/funk groups of all time. Their songs continue to resonate, thanks to numerous rap artists sampling them. Leader Sly Stone also did some solo work, including recording the title song for Whoopi Goldberg’s 1987 comedy Burglar, which teamed her with Bobcat Goldthwait. Goldberg plays — you guessed it — a burglar who becomes a wanted woman when a dead body is found in a home she robbed. She then has to use all of her thieving skills to clear her name. If you don’t remember this movie, don’t feel too bad about it. A box office flop (only $16 million), Burglar isn’t even available on DVD or Blu-Ray. (The DVD has been out of print for years.) I saw it opening weekend in 1987 and don’t recall it being that funny. Sly Stone’s song, on the other hand, always stuck with me in a way the movie itself didn’t. Take a listen:

“Feel the Heat” by Jean Beauvoir (from Cobra) – Jean Beauvoir was a former bass player for The Plasmatics, a punk group known for outrageous onstage antics. (Google them if you’re unfamiliar.) After a stint with Steven Van Zandt’s group Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, he went solo. His song “Feel the Heat” was reportedly hand-selected by Sylvester Stallone to serve as the theme for his cop thriller Cobra. With its pulsing bass line and overall badass vibe, it was a perfect fit. The tune didn’t get any further than #73 on the pop charts, but it still sounds fairly current, which is a feat in and of itself. Beauvoir currently oversees a Norwegian children’s program called City of Friends that is broadcast around the world.

So there you have ten more awesome forgotten ’80s movie songs. I hope you enjoyed them! I’ve got more, so look for another installment down the road. 

 

 

 

SPIES LIKE US 30th Anniversary

Chevy Chase famously left SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE after just one season to pursue a movie career. He maintained attachments to many of his fellow “Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” though, sometimes appearing with them in films. The co-star he went on to collaborate with most often was Dan Aykroyd. Both had small roles in the ill-fated CADDYSHACK II, and Chase starred in his pal’s directorial debut, the equally ill-fated (and, some would say, criminally misunderstood) NOTHING BUT TROUBLE. There was even a brief Chevy cameo in Aykroyd’s 1988 comedy THE COUCH TRIP. Their best cinematic team-up, however, remains their first. Released on Dec. 6, 1985, SPIES LIKE US was a hit ($60 million), but not a blockbuster. Reviews were mixed-to-negative. And yet, unlike more than a few pictures the two stars made in that decade, it has stood the test of time. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, SPIES LIKE US remains a comedy that fans gush about whenever its title is spoken. The rather unlikely manner in which the movie was assembled is no doubt a huge part of the appeal.

Chase and Aykroyd play, respectively, Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Milbarge, two hapless individuals duped by the fictional Defense Intelligence Agency (or DIA) into acting as decoys so that no one will realize they’re trying to hijack a Soviet missile launcher. The guys think they’re real-deal spies on a mission of global importance. In reality, they’re being counted on to act incompetently so that the real mission will remain covert. Eventually they get wise to the scheme. The movie ends with them becoming actual heroes by recalling a missile that’s headed right toward the United States.

SPIES LIKE US had all the right pieces in place: a talented comedy director, writers who fundamentally understood how to craft a joke, and two stars who knew one another’s comic rhythms almost as well as they knew their own. Aykroyd penned the original story with former SCTV star Dave Thomas, while the noted writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (SPLASH, NIGHT SHIFT) helped him shape the screenplay into the joke-filled romp it became. Signing on to direct was John Landis, who’d established himself as a maestro of anti-establishment comedy via ANIMAL HOUSE and THE BLUES BROTHERS.

It was a diverse and talented group of people coming together. That, perhaps more than anything, is what makes SPIES LIKE US both notable and enduring, not to mention a little out of the ordinary. The film melds a lot of different comic styles and voices. Chevy Chase specializes in physical humor, such as the famous sequence in which Fitz-Hume fakes a panic attack to disguise the fact that he’s cheating on the Foreign Service exam. A later scene, wherein the pseudo-spies are put inside a G-force simulator and emerge with their faces contorted, is also classic Chase. Aykroyd, meanwhile, is known for a more cerebral, dry style of humor. Jokes about Milbarge’s wonkiness are certainly of his devising, as is the whole concept of decoy spies becoming embroiled in a very real nuclear threat. Because the two stars were experienced working together, they knew how their styles could – and should – mesh. The chemistry between them permeates every frame they share.

Ganz and Mandel, meanwhile, were pure, well-seasoned gag writers who came up through TV sitcoms such as HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. Sitcoms, of course, typically require several jokes per minute that earn laughs while still advancing the week’s particular story arc. Ganz and Mandel specialized in crafting punchlines with a real zing that felt authentic to the moment. Many of the movie’s note-perfect one-liners undoubtedly sprang from their minds.

And then there was John Landis, who not only wrangled everyone’s individual sensibilities, but also added his own. Landis gives SPIES LIKE US his usual clean, unfussy style, often using the camera as an impartial observer. He doesn’t like to trick up his shots too much. Given the frequent absurdity of the onscreen antics, he doesn’t need to; the straightforward style helps keep everything in balance. Landis also adds a sub-layer of humor. As a treat for film buffs, he casts other directors in supporting roles. Among them: Frank Oz, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Martin Brest, Sam Raimi, and Joel Coen. The movie’s premise involves covert operations, and Landis stages a covert operation of his own.

The magic of SPIES LIKE US lies in the fact that it really shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Most comedies, when they succeed, do so because there’s one primary voice shaping the humor or guiding the comic viewpoint. In this case, that “voice” was actually a blending of multiple voices, each with a distinct tone.

Taking that idea to an even further extreme is the movie’s offbeat story structure. SPIES LIKE US plays very heavily on Reagan-era nuclear fears and Cold War tensions. Its climax involves a potentially real disaster that could start World War III, something that audiences were legitimately afraid of in 1985. (In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Aykroyd said, “One day we got a call from a representative of the United States Department of Defense because their satellite had spotted our rocket and called the Norwegian government. They thought a Soviet rocket had been secretly moved into Norway, so the producers had to clarify that this was a fake. Thus a major international diplomatic incident was averted.”) While the theme is dark and heavy, the movie wraps it inside something completely opposite: an updating of the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road to…” pictures. SPIES intentionally adopts the form of that series, with the characters ambling along on a trek filled with wacky adventures, beautiful women, and an eventual happy ending. Nowhere is the formula nodded to more obviously than in a scene where Bob Hope himself wanders through the frame chasing an errant golf ball.

Because it’s a mish-mash of approaches, some critics and audience members were understandably put off by SPIES LIKE US. However, that exact same quality is what makes others so irresistibly drawn to it. The movie’s comic rhythms are unpredictable, often blindsiding the viewer with a left-field joke, a kooky plot twist, or a weird character moment. This quality sets it apart from many of the other comedies of its day. Toss in a terrific theme song from Paul McCartney and you’ve got one of the most distinct, weirdly funny movies of that decade – one that is still eminently watchable thirty years later.

Now, won’t you gentlemen (and ladies) have a Pepsi?

Copyright 2015 Mike McGranaghan