Saturday, August 13, 2011

Superman III (1983)

The most-hated poster of 1983.

Enough time has gone by to give Superman III its rightful due. Once a pariah among super hero films [and really, it had unfair competition against Superman:  The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980)] it's no longer at the bottom of the genre.

No, that's a spot reserved for Batman & Robin (1997), Catwoman (2004) and this film's successor, Superman IV:  The Quest for Peace (1987) — which even Christopher Reeve distanced from. (Nuclear Man, anyone? I didn't think so.)

Of course Superman III is far from being anyone's desert island must, but if you're in the mood for a fun, nostalgic taste of the 80s, this fits the bill more nicely than you might expect. Plus, it features an evil Superman sitting in a bar, drunk, breaking bottles by flicking nuts at them with superhuman strength.

Uneven? For sure. It was, after all, the movie that paired The Man of Steel with Richard Pryor. Margot Kidder looks like she can't get off the set fast enough, and when you see Robert Vaughn, you can't help but think, "Hello, Obvious Last Minute Gene Hackman Replacement."

But for those who criticized director Richard Lester's campy take, don't forget that he's responsible for directing the most entertaining action sequence from any Superman film — at least up until the plane rescue sequence from Superman Returns (2006).

I'm referring to the junkyard battle of Good Superman vs. Evil Superman. As it turns out, it's a psychological battle inside the hero's head, but this somehow makes him even more heroic when it's all over.

I love this part of the movie, and occasionally put in the DVD just to find it in the chapter index. It shows that Christopher Reeve was ideal for this role, and understood the character perfectly. The man is definitely missed.

The battle begins.

Bully Superman = Comedy. "Come ON!"

Iconic Clark. An inspiration for comic artist John Byrne?

Still drunk . In agony . Ripped off at Oscar® time .
"You always wanted to fly, Kent. Now's your chance!"
Free at last.
Not so fast.

He's back.

Anyone else wonder why they went with the darker colored Evil Superman costume when designing the look for Superman Returns? It appears the next version of Superman in 2013 is following suit. Still, I'm holding out hope for that one.
 Meanwhile, give Superman III another chance. Nuclear Man is nowhere to be found.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

The success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes has put apes on my mind. Actually, reading Tarzan of the Apes while on vacation put apes on my mind. Then I decided to revisit an 80s movie favorite, Greystoke:  The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, while also finally checking out the Disney version of Tarzan (1999). All told, that's a bunch of apes!

I know this introduces a lot of questions for you. So I'll try to address them.

How does Greystoke hold up since last seeing it when you were 13 years old?

Pretty well. The acting is solid. Pre-Highlander (1986) Christopher Lambert is fun. And I had forgotten how beautifully photographed it was. 

It does a nice job of adapting the first part of the book, and then takes considerable license to focus heavily on themes I imagine many readers wish Edgar Rice Burroughs would've tackled — Tarzan's birthright and struggle with his humanity. A great idea for a movie. Still, I think it might've been more interesting if Tarzan had become as fully human as he did in the book. He stays more ape-like in the film.

Man, you're sure talking about that book a lot. Isn't this supposed to be about 80s movies? 


Is this movie fit for watching with my kids? For example, if I have a pre-teen daughter or a son who's almost 8? And what about my wife?

PG could get pretty racy back in the 80s, but this is safe. For your daughter, there are some early jungle scenes featuring the backside of a non-loinclothed Tarzan that you might feel more comfortable fast-forwarding through. And your son might get bored after watching the Disney version. Especially when the action is shifted to Europe. 

As far as your wife goes, she might wonder what this new Tarzan infatuation is all about, but then patiently sit through it hoping for some touching romance between Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell.

Is there any?

Not as much as I would've thought. Again, they kept him fairly ape-like, and that can only go so far.

How about some random trivia?

Okay, did you know that Andie MacDowell's voice was dubbed in post-production by Glenn Close, because Andie's southern accent wasn't considered appropriate for the character? You did? Man, don't you know that had to have hacked her off?

Did you further know that Glenn Close performed the voice of Kala, Tarzan's ape mother, in the Disney version? The lady is Tarzan-CRAZY.

Okay, you're dying to talk about the book some more. What else do you want to mention?

The book is a lot different, and by the end, features a very civilized Tarzan tracking down Jane back in the states, after meeting her in Africa. (In the movie, she's never even in Africa.) The first paragraph of the final chapter amused me:

At the sight of Jane, cries of relief and delight broke from every lip, and as Tarzan's car stopped beside the other, Professor Porter caught his daughter in his arms.

Hee hee. "Tarzan's car." I didn't know those words had ever been used together. It just struck me funny. And what a great band name. I'd go see Tarzan's Car play. Especially if they opened for Foo Fighters.

Anything else?

Yes. After Greystoke, I defy you to not want to go up to someone and do the sad "Ooo Ooo" sound, while putting their hand on top of your head to see if they're alive.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

INTERMISSION: What's Playing At The Mission, 1985

I'll get back to looking at ALL the movies I saw at this theater, but for the moment, it seems appropriate to continue the tribute to its closing (sniff).

On March 1, 2011, after close to 100 years, The Mission Theater closed its doors.

At this writing, it's in the middle of being converted into Hillside Christian Church. As the town newspaper pointed out—it has another mission.

The more I read about Don Gilbert, its longtime owner, the more I admire him. Here's a glimpse at his marketing genius:  a "Show Calendar."

Published every six weeks, most town folk would put this on their refrigerator. Don would mail one to you if you were on his list, or you could pick it up at the ticket window inside the theater (which is what I always did).

But he'd make for dang sure you didn't already have one first.

Here's what was showing from October 18 thru November 28, 1985. 

Yes, I kept one.

I wish I'd kept them all.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Farewell, Mission Theater (1915?-2011)

The rumors are true.

The Mission Twins Theater, after struggling in recent years, is no more. Renovations are underway to convert it into the new home of Hillside Christian Church.

I went for the last time this past summer, and it was obvious that the theater's end was near. Townsfolk say you had to bring a blanket in the winter months. The toilet in the men's room was boarded up. I almost stepped on a wino.

All the signs were there.

I have much further to go in remembering the more than 200 movies I saw here in the 80s, but for now, I'd like to open it for your own thoughts.

What are your fond memories of the place?

If you'll excuse me, I need a moment in The Cry Room.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Windwalker (1981), The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) and movies with my dad

I always remember the movies I saw with my parents at the theater, because there weren't many of them. Our local venue, The Mission Twins Theater, wasn't very adult-friendly. It was more of a weekend draw for kids. 
My dad has always liked Westerns, though, and since so few were produced in the 80s, it was a safe bet we’d catch Windwalker (1981)—one of the first movies we saw at The Mission. 
I don’t remember much about it, except that Dad wore a Native American headdress, and claimed that eating a hotdog from the concession stand was "the ideal way to devour the hearts of many enemies in one fell swoop.”
Maybe I dreamed this. Because the movie was deathly slow and subtitled, and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep. (They could've titled it Dances With Sheep.)

What it needed was lasers. But this would've kept my dad away. He's never liked Sci-Fi.

Around this same time, we saw The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). I must’ve liked that one, because The Lone Ranger was my Halloween costume that year. (Dad could've made a great Tonto.)
Looking back, neither Windwalker nor The Legend of the Lone Ranger were all that great. But it was fun going with my dad. And these two dusty, “brown” movies complemented the theater's  Spanish architecture well, burning a solid first impression in my mind. I'd soon be haunting the place every week. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) would really seal the deal.
Fast-forward to today. Though seeing a theatrical release with my dad while growing up was rare, we’ve made up for it in the years since I’ve been out of the house.
In fact, when my folks came for a visit last year, Dad and I accomplished a feat we’d never attempted together:  two movies in one day. And a third before the weekend was done. 
In summary, we both liked Get Low (2010).

Dad liked Secretariat (2010) a bit more than me.

And I thought Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps (2010) delivered higher returns than he did.

Surprisingly, we weren’t skunked by any of them. 
Unlike Congo (1995), which bored us both equally and mercilessly.
Over the years, we’ve made the effort to take in quite a few movies together. I remember both of us enjoying The Rainmaker (1997). I particularly remember arriving at the theater early, and talking about the better John Grisham novels.

We also enjoyed tracking down the last theater in Dallas that was still showing Gladiator (2000), because we both really wanted to see it.

And even Congo was memorable in a "misery loves company" way.
I look forward to many more movies with my dad. Maybe Cowboys & Aliens this summer. 

No, a Sci-Fi/Western would completely defeat him. I'll let him pick.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Whatever Happened To Blofeld's Cat? - For Your Eyes Only (1981)

In maybe the most surprising segment of any Bond movie, our hero is picked up by helicopter from the gravesite of his wife (See On Her Majesty's Secret Service), presumably en route to a secret mission. 

It turns out he’s been abducted by his old cat-loving nemesis, Blofeld, who disposes of the copter pilot, and intends to crash the now remote-controlled vehicle with 007 inside.

After a struggle, Bond gains control of the craft, makes some odd facial expressions, and then scoops up the bad guy, dropping him down an industrial smokestack.

"Mr. Boooooooooooooooooond!"

Cue Sheena Easton.

Wow.  An iconic villain from five previous Bond films is quickly and neatly disposed of before the opening titles. What are we in for? Certainly not Moonraker.

But wait a second. Re-watching this, something occurred to me.

What about the cat?

I may have originally assumed he went down the chimney with his owner. 

But in truth, I don't think I ever thought about it. 

If you watch again, you'll notice that the feline definitely jumps to safety. (This movie was obviously helmed by good, PETA-fearing producers.)

So what became of him after that? A spoiled, fluffy white Persian wouldn’t last 10 minutes in the tough feral cat community of working class London. 

Especially when you're accustomed to eating Chilean sea bass from Waterford Crystal, served by a butler primarily hired to change your silver-plated litter box.

So ...

Whatever Happened To Blofeld's Cat?

You decide!

1. Witnessing his owner's fate from atop a nearby storm drain, 
he carelessly stepped backwards and went straight to Cat Hell.

2. He was found and adopted by visiting real estate investor, 
Leona Helmsley, and lived the rest of his life exactly as before.

3. He made a fortune from a tell-all biography, Stroke of Evil Genius.

4. He freelanced as a pet for various organizations bent on world domination.

5. Merely a product of his environment, he was discovered frightened and dirty by a nun the next morning, and was adopted as the beloved 
mascot of a London orphanage.

6. He joined American rockabilly group, Stray Cats, but due to creative differences, separated from the band and faded into relative obscurity.

7. He was picked up at an animal shelter by a production company, relinquished his evil ways, and starred in a popular series of cat food commercials as "The Morris of the UK."

8. He relocated to Paris, only to get into repeated accidents involving buckets of paint, and a series of unwanted rendezvous with 
an overly affectionate skunk.

9. Later that day, making this same expression, 007 bellowed, “The kitty!”

He notified another MI6 agent, who immediately drove to the industrial neighborhood, discovered the cat, and promptly had him stuffed 
and mounted for placement with a wax statue of Blofeld,
 housed inside British Intelligence Headquarters. 

10. He joined an evil cat circus.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Moonraker (1979)

If you’re like me, you were introduced to 007 with The ABC Sunday Night Movie, while your dad reclined in a La-Z-Boy® and your older brother sat next to you on the couch, smearing Elmer’s® glue all over his hands, waiting for it to dry, and then peeling it off and rolling it into a little ball.  

Re-watching 007 movies can be quite eye-opening. Innuendo Galore! I'm guessing the majority of this was either edited for television, over my head, or completely off my radar. The latter is most likely, as I was only in it for cool weaponry and heroics.

A scene not nearly as dumb as it looks here.
Remember when Bond movies cornered the market on this kind of stuff?

Before big budget action and special effects-laden movies became so commonplace, 007 was no longer unique?

Then came Casino Royale (2006)—a reboot so worthy, it makes watching any prior James Bond movie nearly intolerable.

So, I know. Let's watch Moonraker!

Yes, the Bond film largely regarded as the goofiest entry in the whole franchise. I pick this one, because it happens to be the first 007 movie I actually saw in a theater, as part of a double feature with For Your Eyes Only (1981).

If you never saw it, your life probably progressed in a different direction than mine. One where you never walked up to a cash register at a Ben Franklin store and said, "Please take my lawn mowing money in exchange for these Moonraker trading cards."

Basically, in this movie, James Bond must stop a guy who looks like the children's book author in Elf (2003) from wiping out the planet with a deadly gas, and then re-populating it with a master race he plans to create on a space station.

Miles Finch, clutch children's book author

Hugo Drax, would-be world conqueror

Put another way, the James Bond producers wanted to cash-in on Star Wars mania.

There is a space battle with lasers.

But before that, Bond is nearly spinned to death in a giant centrifuge chamber, shot at repeatedly, attacked in the air and on a cable car by a metallic-toothed giant, almost driven over a waterfall, and nearly had the life squeezed out of him by an anaconda.

Disappointed henchman.

And this was the highest-grossing Bond movie to date(!) until GoldenEye in 1995.

"To those crazy American movie-goers!"

          We're suckers.