Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer of 86, or No, I Have Not Been Sitting On My Ass

by Odienator

Oh, my beloved Tales of Odienary Madness. You are so neglected.

You can blame the job for that, but not entirely. Just because I am not here doesn't mean I'm nowhere to be found out here in the Blog-O-Sphere. This summer I've been contributing to the Summer of '86 series being run by Slant Magazine's The House Next Door in conjunction with Aaron Aradillas of Blog Talk Radio's Back By Midnight and Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio's Movie Geeks United! If this series were a movie, you'd see all those logos appearing on the screen before the opening credits. Alas, it is a blog and podcast series, so you'll just have to use your imagination. 

Please support the aforementioned linked sites, as the series is populated by remarkable commentators and writers--and me too. You can read all the existing House Next Door Summer of '86 pieces here, with more to come throughout the summer. I start embracing the trashier side of my 1986 movie love in August.

The Summer of 1986 was a pivotal moment in my life. I was 16, but I'd just graduated high school. I spent the summer preparing for my freshman year at a Jesuit college, coping with the fallout from losing my eye the year before, and falling in love for the first time. As if life weren't eventful enough, there were plenty of great (and terrible) movies for me to see. After spending the Summer of '85 with a patched eye and a sensitivity to light so painful I couldn't watch any movies, let alone go outside, I was ready to devour the summer movies 1986 had to offer. 

So far, I've done six pieces for the House. As a piece of shamefess self-promotion I really should do more often, here's a piece of my Summer of '86's so far. Click on the link to read the entire piece over at the House.

Running Scared (Peter Hyams, director)

Running Scared is one of the finest examples of The Jungle Fever Cookie Buddy Movie. Pioneered by Skin Game and made profitable by 48 Hrs., the JFCBM purports to promote racial harmony through the magic of macho male bonding between African-Americans and Caucasians. Yet the darker hued partners in these movies were always levels beneath their White counterparts: Lou Gossett was a slave to Jim Garner's slave trader, and Eddie Murphy was a common criminal punched out and called racial slurs by a pre-mugshot Nick Nolte. If that's equality, Amy Winehouse is sober. Running Scared has something no JFCBM has, not even the more balanced Lethal Weapon series: It starts with the two buddies firmly entrenched in a bromance Judd Apatow would envy.

Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, director)

God, I'm such a kung-fu movie geek, which makes me the wrong person to do a piece on Big Trouble in Little China. This is a flawed movie, with a script whose story is best described as garbage. The movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I still can't explain all the sorcery mumbo-jumbo or why the lead villain appears as both a decrepit old man and a ghost who can blind people with light from his mouth. I don't understand how Kim Cattrall's character is involved with its Chinatown heroes, nor how China's main character, Jack Burton, is affiliated with Wang Chi, the character whose fiancĂ©e sends the film on its journey. Big Trouble in Little China is more than happy to lazily fall back on its special effects in lieu of anything coherent. With that said, there's something about this movie…

Under the Cherry Moon (Prince, director)

Under the Cherry Moon is terrible, and it really didn't have to be. With a less egotistical, more talented director and a streamlined script, this could have been one hell of an intentionally funny buddy comedy. The male leads play off each other nicely, and a scene of mistaken identity pays off hilariously. Maybe that charming picture would have resulted if Pet Sematary's Mary Lambert got to keep the directorial reins assigned her by Warner Bros. Unfortunately, she was replaced by the film's star. The results are a script that has no idea what it wants to be, and a director who keeps finding ways to put himself into every frame like a celluloid virus.

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, director)

But Labyrinth's fascination for me is its way of merging the darker Jim Henson from Saturday Night Live and those Wilkins Coffee commercials with the sweet, lovely man whose voice and puppetry hosted the Muppet Show and Sesame Street News. As always, I accept his creations as real, and the universe they inhabit benefits from Henson's camerawork and the art direction. The M.C. Escher stairs sequence is especially memorable, as is the one number David Bowie doesn't sing. You'd think a kid who grew up on Sid & Marty Kroft drug-induced puppet freakiness would remain unshaken by its more expensive looking re-emergence, but I was creeped out of my mind by the self-decapitating Day-Glo Fire Gang in the "Chilly Down" number. It was worth it, as they gave me a line I always say to women with too much weave: "Gurrrl, where you goin' wit' a head like DAT?!!!"

Legal Eagles (Ivan Reitman, director)

Meanwhile, Hannah keeps trying to seduce Redford in order to justify actions she'll take later in the film when Terrence Stamp winds up dead. Redford resists at first, especially after Hannah performs one of her pieces for him. Legal Eagles wisely leaves Daddy's lost painting unseen, but no such fate spares us the most hilarious attempt at pretentious, arty twaddle in cinema history. In a huge apartment with no smoke detectors, Hannah plays with large amounts of fire while telling a story about watching some woman burn up in her car. At the end of the piece, she goes behind a picture of herself…and blows the fuck up. As Redford grabs a fire extinguisher to put out her smoldering, burning corpse, he realizes it's just a mannequin. Hannah appears behind him on the couch.

"How did that make you feel?" she asks.
"Like watching that Beavis and Butthead approved, batshit crazy scene again!" said I, reaching for the remote control.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (Richard Pryor, director)

Pryor plays not only the lead but the aforementioned spectral figure, whom the credits refer to as "Alter Ego." The Alter Ego serves the same purpose as Jessica Lange's Angel of Death in Jazz, that is, to walk the victim back through events in his life that led him to his near-death state, but Alter Ego is more concerned with trying to convince Jo Jo Dancer that his fucked up life is salvageable. Alter Ego is first seen pulling himself from Jo Jo's smoldering body post-freebase accident, walking out of the hospital and into traffic stark naked. At first it seems that Alter Ego is the film's comedy relief, but his true purpose is revealed when Jo Jo Dancer solves its opening scene's mystery of how its protagonist wound up in that hospital.

Like his stand-up, Pryor deftly mixes humor and tragedy, subtly tweaking familiar tales from his routines. The results are far more harrowing when played out by Pryor and his actors; subtracted from Pryor's verbal delivery, the comedic focus sort of switches places with the trauma of the actual events. Hearing Pryor tell you the story of him in the hospital burnt to a crisp, comparing himself to fried chicken, is funny and terrifying. Seeing Pryor burnt to a crisp, with doctors working on him in a well-edited and shot sequence, is just terrifying.

More to come. 
So no, folks, I haven't been sitting on my ass. But I will do my best to get my ass over here to this blog more often than I have been. Scout's Honor.

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