Throwback Thursday: Rutger Hauer in the 1980’s

If you’re acquainted with this blog at all, then you’re already aware of the sheer reverence I have for Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982).  So I won’t belabor that subject yet again in order to note Rutger Hauer’s passing this past Friday.

Hauer was a prolific actor, and his fans can remember him fondly from any number of roles.  Below are the trailers for my three favorites.

The first is 1986’s “The Hitcher,” which might have been the first modern, adult horror film that I truly loved.  (This is leaving aside Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 “The Birds” and various monster movies aimed at kids.)  I’m a little concerned that the trailer below misrepresents the movie, though.  “The Hitcher” aspired to be a serious film, and was truly a great horror-thriller, in my opinion.  It was moody, atmospheric, thoughtful and methodically paced (although it didn’t lack blood and violence either).  It was far better than the 80’s action-horror boilerplate movie that the trailer seems to depict.

Hauer was terrifying.  (If you are wondering, that is indeed C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh costarring.  And if you watch the trailer very closely, you can see Jeffrey DeMunn — who contemporary audiences will recognize as Dale from “The Walking Dead.”)

The second is movie is 1985’s “Ladyhawke,” which saw Hauer co-star with none other than Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer.  It had far more mainstream appeal, and it reliably kicks up nostalgia every time it’s mentioned on social media.  (Seriously, go try it.)

The third is one that far fewer people will remember –1989’s “Blind Fury,” which rode the tail end of the decade’s martial arts craze.  It was zany stuff, and it didn’t hold back on the 80’s-era cheese, but it had a lot of heart and was surprisingly earnest.  Some of the action sequences were damned impressive too.  (And if you were a nut for 80’s ninja movies, you’ll of course recognize Sho Kosugi as the acrobatic villain here.)

 

 

 

 

A review of “The Dead Don’t Die” (2019)

“The Dead Don’t Die” indeed has the greatest zombie cast ever assembled.  Seriously, just look at that poster below.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best zombie screenplay ever written, or the best direction ever seen in a zombie film.  This would-be classic was a surprisingly average viewing experience; I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.

I almost feel guilty for feeling so unenthusiastic, because I like so many of these actors so much.  Bill Murray and Adam Driver actually are quite funny as the movie’s two torpid police officers; Chloe Sevigny makes them even funnier as their panicked straight man.  And the addition of Tilda Swinton’s zany Scottish samurai undertaker makes them the perfect comedic quartet.  (I think this is the first time I’ve seen Sevigny in a movie, as she mostly does arthouse films — including 2003’s ignominiously reviled “The Brown Bunny.”  And I had no idea that Driver was this talented, given his milquetoast turn as a villain in the most recent spate of “Star Wars” films.)  I honestly would love to see the four of these characters battle apocalyptic threats in a series of comedies — aliens, vampires, killer robots from the future … whatever.

Other big names shine here as well.  Tom Waits and Caleb Landry Jones are both surprisingly funny, delivering little bouts of quirky, laconic, character-driven dialogue in a film that seems intended as mashup between “Cannery Row” (1982) and the first two “Return of the Living Dead” films (1985, 1988).  (I first saw Jones as the creepy kid in 2010’s “The Last Exorcism;” I suspect that more of my friends will recognize him as Banshee from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”)

The problem is this — although many of the characters are engaging, they populate a subdued, disconnected movie that is frequently quite slow.  Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s heart is in the right place — assembling this oddball ensemble cast for the mashup I mentioned above is actually a terrific idea.  But “The Dead Don’t Die” ultimately lacks punch, and even a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy needs a minimum of tension.  The movie is a bit too lethargic to become the truly great film that the trailer led us to hope for.

Complicating matters is the fact that that several groups of characters follow story arcs that go nowhere — sometimes literally.  (Where did the kids from the juvenile detention center run off to?  Why were they included at all?  Not much happens to them and they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.)  This movie often felt like a number of comedy skits stitched together — some were admittedly quite funny, but they didn’t add up to a cohesive story.

Oh, well.  It’s possible that you will like “The Dead Don’t Die” much more than I did.  I might be the wrong audience for this, as I’ve never cared much for horror-comedies.  (The aforementioned “Return of the Living Dead” films are on the short list of those that I like.)  Your mileage may vary.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Bosom Buddies” (1980-1982)!

Here’s some more early Tom Hanks weirdness …  he starred in ABC’s cross-dressing comedy “Bosom Buddies” between 1980 and 1982.  The show ran for just two scant seasons.  I’m surprised at that, because I seem to remember it being a much bigger deal in the 1980’s — maybe just because it was a big hit at my house, when I was in second and third grade.  I wanted to be like the guys in the show, albeit without the cross-dressing.  I wanted to be grow up to live in New York City with my best friend and a beautiful blond girlfriend name “Sunny,” and get into zany hijinks.

I remember thinking that Hanks’ co-star, Peter Scolari, was the cool and funny one.  I thought Hanks was annoying, even if he did look like Billy Joel, whose music my older sister had taught me to really like.  (Joel’s “Glass Houses” album was stacked vertically with the others beside the living room record player, not far from where I watched this show on the family’s color television.)  And that is indeed Billy Joel’s “My Life” playing as the show’s theme song — but it had a different vocalist, for some reason.  (No matter how many times I hear it, that song will always take me back to the 80’s.)

Scolari’s career following the short-lived “Bosom Buddies” certainly hasn’t paralleled Hanks, but he’s still done a hell of a lot of television.  (Among many other things, he surprisingly starred as Commissoner Loeb in “Gotham” in 2015.  I didn’t see that one coming.)

As you can see from the opening credits below, the central plot device for “Bosom Buddies” was that the two guys had to pretend to be women in order to live at an all-women’s apartment building.  It only occurs to me now as I’m writing this that the show’s title was a double entendre.  I actually asked my Dad what the word “bosom” meant when I was a kid, and he gave me an answer that was accurate, if incomplete.  (He explained the colloquial meaning of the expression — a “bosom buddy” was a best friend, who you figuratively held close to you.  I subsequently told my best friend next door that he was my “bosom buddy” at one point.)

Yeah, I know it’s strange that I can remember a conversation from 39 years ago about an obscure TV show.  It’s weird what people remember.

 

Throwback Thursday: 1980’s urban legends on Long Island!

I mentioned last week when I wrote about “Mazes and Monsters” (1982) that the pre-Internet age still had its share of urban legends.  They were definitely a part of 1980’s kid culture in my little stretch of New York suburbia.  (Would they be suburban legends, then?  Borderline-rural legends?)  They were bandied about most often during the summertime — maybe because there were long, idle days when grade-school boys had little to do beyond swap the scary stories they’d heard.

A lot of it was predictable horror-movie fare — we’d all compared tales about prowlers who killed babysitters, or babysitters who killed their charges, or about a friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s classmate who’d discovered a razor blade in the their Halloween candy.

Some of the legends stemmed from our geographic area.  There were the giant turtles, for example, that emerged from the Long Island’s waterways to stalk our neighborhoods — that one I actually believed (and still do).  A fellow Cub Scout and his Scoutmaster father had both seen one, and if there’s one person you trust when you’re a Cub Scout, it’s another Scout and his Scoutmaster dad who backs up his story.  And every kid had heard about the Amityville Horror house.

Another local myth was the “gangs” who tore through our imaginations as nefariously as we thought they tore through the region’s woods and marshes.  (In addition to farmlands, Long Island has plenty of protected woodlands and wetlands.)  There were definitely adults who went into the woods to break the law — I think it was primarily drug users and underage drinkers, and people who dumped cars illegally and then stripped them for parts.  There were a few deep-woods graveyards, for example, of rusting white Volkswagen “Bugs.”

But in our fecund imaginations, the petty criminals who’d left them there were gangs of bikers and hippies and devil-worshippers and ruthless car thieves, who just might kill a few young kids if they found them playing army or going on a hike.  (All of us occasionally ventured miles into the woods for such avocations, while we told our mothers that we were only going to the next block.  If you were a boy in my neighborhood who didn’t lie to his mother to leave the area, you were considered a wimp.)

When you’re in the second or third grade, bikers and hippies and devil worshipers and car thieves all blended together in your mind into one single nebulous group.  (As an adult today, if I ever met someone who was a biker, a hippy, a devil worshipper, and a car thief, I would be thrilled to interview them for this blog.)  We’d found evidence.  There were frequently peace signs spray-painted on or around the junked cars we liked to play on; it was just a motif of the prior decade that was still a popular graffito.   One of our number gravely explained to the rest of us that it was actually a coded symbol for Satan — if you turned it upside down, the lines in the circle represented the head of a goat.

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Throwback Thursday: “Mazes and Monsters” (1982)!

“Mazes and Monsters” (1982) was one of the 1980’s’ weirder television events — it was a made-for-TV movie that was a hysterical cautionary tale about “Dungeons & Dragons.”  It was based on a novel by Rona Jaffe that was ostensibly a fictionalized version of a real case, in which a Michigan college student was supposedly driven insane by the role-playing game three years earlier.  (The media reports that sensationalized the boy’s disappearance in 1979 were subsequently debunked, so Jaffe’s book was based on what was essentially an urban legend.)

“Mazes and Monsters” was weird and dumb.  It was a pretty labored melodrama based on a thin, reactionary premise, and it actually wound up being a depressing story.  But its infamy has earned it a kind of ironic, enduring devotion from 80’s pop culture nerds.

And here’s the kicker — it starred Tom Hanks, in his first leading film role, at age 26.  Hanks played the sensitive, unstable undergrad who was pushed over the edge, and he actually did a good job with the material.  If you’re curious, the entire movie is available for free right here over at TVfanatic.

I never really played D&D.  I was a third grader when “Mazes and Monsters” aired on CBS, and by the time I reached high school, role-playing games had been supplanted by video games.  I’m not even sure D&D ever had a massive following in my little stretch of New York’s suburbia anyway.  My older brother played regularly with a couple of his friends, but the game was hardly spoken of by anyone else.  It just never caught on with kids in my age group.

But this movie was something people talked about.  They thought the danger it depicted was real.  Seriously, look at the newspaper ad below.  (Somebody over at Youtube commented that the film was basically “Reefer Madness for D&D,” and I thought that was pretty funny.)  Here’s the thing about the world before the Internet — there was obviously no fake news spreading like wildfire online, and that was a very good thing.  But neither could you instantly debunk an urban legend.  (We still had a few, back then.)  If you heard that D&D could make teenagers psychotic, you couldn’t check Snopes.com to verify that.  (Encyclopedias were also giant-ass book sets that they advertised on TV, but that’s another story.)

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Wizards and Warriors” (1983)!

I suppose that “Wizards and Warriors” was what passed for “Game of Thrones” in 1983.  Except it was cheesy as hell (which of course meant that I loved it as a fourth grader), and it didn’t last longer than eight episodes.

It was CBS’ mid-season replacement for my beloved “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (the Bruce Boxleitner retro adventure series that I’ve written about here previously), which was cancelled due to low ratings.  “Wizards and Warriors” ran in its 8 PM time slot, and then itself was cancelled due to low ratings, so it never saw a second season.  (I believe both shows were competing with NBC’s ratings juggernaut, “The A-Team,” which every kid in the world loved except me.  I was weird.)

“Wizards and Warriors” was really just an obvious effort to capitalize on the popularity of the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing game.  The show was campy stuff.  The pilot episode, which you can watch in its entirety over at dailymotion, was entitled “The Unicorn of Death.”  It dealt with a time-bomb hidden inside a princess’ birthday present, which strikes me as a pretty surprising plot for a sword-and-sorcery program.

It had a cast that went on to better things, though.  One was Julia Duffy, of “Newheart” (1982-1990) fame.  Another was “Grease” (1978) veteran Jeff Conaway, who most 80’s kids will remember from “Taxi” (1978-1983).  The dastardly villain of “Wizards and Warriors” was played by the terrific character actor Duncan Regehr, a “that guy” actor who popped up in a lot of genre roles in the 80’s and 90’s.  Here’s the thing about Regehr — I want him to be a real-life bad guy.  He’s got an absolutely sly, suave, villainous face and manner — and his name just sounds like a villain’s name.  If he’d left acting to commit a series of high-profile crimes in the real world, that would be wickedly, awesomely meta.

 

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I introduced a pal last night to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).

And she was predictably impressed.  Here are a few observations that came up for me, about the categorically rewatchable sci-fi/horror movie that keeps on giving.  (Yeah, I know I sound overly preoccupied with this movie, and that’s weird, but I’m just really into movies.  And John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is the same kind of classic for monster movie fans as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is for people who like Christmas movies.)  [THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS.]

1) It was fun watching “The Thing” with someone who was seeing it for the first time.  Not only did I have to stifle a chuckle at her cry of “That poor dog!” during the opening credits, but I also watched while she guessed (incorrectly, as most of us did) at which characters had been assimilated by the shape-shifting monster as the story progressed.  (I noticed something ironic last night that I couldn’t mention.  When MacReady delivers his short “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me” speech, all of the men he’s addressing are also still human … Unless I’m mistaken, Norris and Palmer are elsewhere.

Which brings me to what at first occurred to me as a … remotely possible plot hole in this otherwise perfect masterpiece.  If The Thing truly wants to escape Antarctica and prey upon the rest of the world, it doesn’t need to assimilate (or “Thingify,” as I like to think) everyone in the camp.  It only needs to overtake a single human.  (This would be the silhouetted figure that the dog first approaches; my money’s on Norris.)  Think about it … nobody stationed at Outpost 31 remains at the research station indefinitely.  They’d cycle out at the end of a shift of … six months?  Eight months?  Longer?  (And what about vacations and holidays?)  Sooner or later, they’d fly home.  And, having perfectly replicated a human’s anatomy, The Thing need only sustain itself until that departure by eating the same food the other humans were eating.  Then, as soon as it arrived at any other, warmer location on earth, it could attack life in its abundance.

But this morning I realized that my analysis here is faulty.  First, the humans were already getting wise to The Thing and its means of procreation — thanks to a pre-diabeetus Wilford Brimley wisely intoning, “That ain’t dog.”  Maybe The Thing was smart enough to realize the humans could effectively quarantine it.  Second, I am assuming in my criticism that “The Thing” is acting as a single entity.  Yet it shouldn’t act that way at all; this is the entire point of MacReady’s “blood test.”  While one incarnation of The Thing is safely munching on canned goods disguised as a human, a separate incarnation was sitting in storage, exposed — presumably only until the humans finally realized it needed to be destroyed somehow.  That iteration of The Thing needed to attack and duplicate Redding if it wanted to save itself.

2)  The Thing actually shouldn’t need to reach civilization in order to begin attacking all life on earth; it only needs to reach the Antarctic coast. If it enters the water and begins assimilating sea life (and why shouldn’t it be able to?), then it’s game over.  I said last night that “a fish can travel wherever it wants,” which my friend found pretty funny, but it’s true.  A Thingified fish (or its fish-Thing progeny) could arrive at any continental coastline.

3)  If The Thing replicates a human perfectly on a cellular level, then … might it be reluctant to kill anyone else, because it would basically be a human?  (Obviously, the film’s plot-driving antagonist has no such reluctance, but … still, think about it.)  If it perfectly replicates a human brain, right down to its cellular structures and chemistry, then wouldn’t it have a conscience and experience empathy?  My friend pointed out the reductionist nature of my question, though — it assumes that conscience and empathy can have only physical origins.

4)  The movie’s characters (and most viewers) assume that The Thing is “a lifeform” or an organism.  Is it, or is it simply “live” tissue?  Somebody on the Internet Movie Database message board pointed out long ago that it’s “just cells,” and that’s … literally true; the film even shows this via crude 80’s-era computer graphic.  Is it an “organism” if it is simply tissue that replicates?  Or is it no more a “lifeform” than a cancer, or tissue grown in a lab?

5) I honestly opine that the film is perfect, or very nearly so.  It is the paragon of sci-fi/horror movies.  And I’d put it on par with other films that I hold virtually perfect, like “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “Alien 3” (1992) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001).

6)  My friend reaaaally likes Kurt Russell’s hair in this film.

Okay, enough.  I’m sorry about this.  Hey, at least I’m not obsessing over comics tonight.

 

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