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Postby wpqx » Tue Jul 03, 2007 9:33 pm

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) - John Carpenter

For the fourth time John Carpenter and Kurt Russell teamed together, this time they just got plain silly. Armed with a $20 million budget and full studio support, the dynamic duo took a Western script and turned it into a kung fu masterpiece. During filming Carpenter told the actors not to play it seriously because this was a comedy, but viewers at the time couldn't quite figure that out. Ebert saw it as a slick well polished science fiction film with a hollow center, and due to some awful advertising the film pretty much completely lost its box office promise.

Like nearly all Carpenter films, particularly the Rusell ones, this was bound to find its audience eventually. I found it the night of my graduation from Kindergarten in 1989, which was also the network television premiere. I recorded the film as I graduated, and proceeded to spend that summer watching the film on average of once a day. By the time I finally saw the version shown in theaters I memorized every single frame that was cut from the network televised version. Suddenly a whole new movie emerged and the fights that I had previously memorized were added to, and there were new lines to commit to memory. Over the years perhaps the high flying mystique and magical martial arts have lost some of its impact, but in its place I have discovered a comedic gem. Taking it seriously for so many years I was amazed at how damn funny the film really was.

Seeing the film today I notice what a god awful action hero Kurt Russell is, and intentionally so. Russell's Jack Burton may talk a big game, but spends the entire film missing most of the action, messing up his few opportunities to shine. Instead Denis Lin shines as the real hero of the film, as Russell winds up something of a cartoonish sidekick. Hearing Russell and Carpenter discuss it, that was pretty much exactly as they planned. However you can't complain too much when you're still getting the acting, and of course have Burton to laugh at. Always a nostalgic treat, that astounds me by still giving me something new to admire.


Postby arsaib4 » Tue Jul 03, 2007 10:20 pm

I enjoyed reading your take on The Big Lebowski. I have to agree that the film has matured over the last few years and will most likely continue to do so. And it is "compulsively rewatchable."


Postby wpqx » Sun Jul 15, 2007 1:17 am

Hairspray (1988) - John Waters

When you hear the name John Waters a few words come to mind. Trash is usually the first, and his films have remained some of the most envelope pushing and filthiest films ever made. No one will ever forget the end of Pink Flamingos and with a breakthrough like that few would imagine Waters ever going near conventional water. Hairspray on the surface appears to be a straightforward film, with a surprising PG rating. However the film doesn't shy away from making us cringe even with a PG rating, after all how disgusting was the "kids" show Ren and Stimpy?

Like nearly all great films Waters' Hairspray is speaking to us on more than one level. Sure it is a nostalgic look at Baltimore in the 60s, which for some reason Waters always seems to be fond of. Yet the film turns teenage trauma and pop culture of the time into a tale of a country divided and an open story of class division and integration. You may think Rikki Lake's Tracy was not made for TV, but based on some of the voting policies of many fan based shows today, I could easily see her a fan favorite. Tracy like nearly every other main character has an alliterate name, certainly commenting on many of the names present of the time. Perhaps for royalty sake, but Waters fills this film with some of the least known dance songs of the era, but they all fit so perfectly within the show that we're convinced we've heard them before.

The film is of course the subject of a new remake, starring John Travolta of all people in the Tracy role. Somehow I can see him doing it. After all Divine plays Tracy's mother, as an excellent foil to her dad played by Jerry Stiller. Divine also doubles as the producer of the show and his presence just situates this so firmly in Waters' territory. Of course equally important is the setting, and like all of his films, this was also shot in Baltimore. Waters takes us all around the city, to the carnival, auto show, TV studios, and of course a trip to the black ghetto doesn't hurt. The good and bad guys are made into comic book like cartoon characters, but its all for our benefit. The main villains even come equipped with a threatening "Von" in their names, played brilliantly by Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry, of course two icons in their own right laughably poking fun at themselves.

Above all else in this film, the picture is fun, and sometimes that's what movies are about. This might not make you gag or look away, but it will make you cheer for Tracy Turnblad.


Postby wpqx » Thu Jul 19, 2007 2:13 am

Joe (1970) - John G. Avildsen

For the last 30 years the line has typically been "before Rocky, there was Joe". The winds of change were blowing, and it seems just as Gimme Shelter showed the hippy dream to be dying, Joe seemed to capitalize on it. The film is somewhat tricky to read. Because of our association with two middle aged conservative characters, we're likely to take the film as a conservative picture. However the moral of the story condemns this radical conservative violence. Watching the film, and in particular Peter Boyle's career best performance I can't help but cheer Joe as much as he repulses me. He is a disgusting man, a loud mouth, and some of his ideas are just plain wrong. However I can't help but chuckle as he complains of the current state of music blaming it on "@#%$ loving hippies".

What's remarkable about Joe is that despite being the title character over twenty minutes of the film go by before we even glimpse him, and without knowing the actor, he isn't really introduced. We simply regard him as a drunkard spouting the type of drunk rhetoric typical of a working class man. Hell I know I've gotten blasted and bitched about hippies and it isn't even relevant. What makes the film remarkable is that Joe and Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) actually do make a formidable duo. You expect at first that Bill is putting up with Joe because of what he knows and simply humoring him. However the two seem to genuinely form a partnership, and Bill welcomes his working class "partner in crime". Joe is a refreshing change of pace from his advertising ass kissers. Bill's wife on the other hand imagines this is simply a way to humor the man to risk incrimination.

Joe admires Bill because he killed the drug dealing sleazy boyfriend of his daughter. Joe bitches about killing hippies and making the world clean and better, Bill in his eyes has actually done it. Bill on the other hand admires Joe because he is from such a different world. A hard working man without any formal education, who's morals don't seem to far from his own. Joe of course takes things to extremes, and winds up being a horribly bad influence on Bill. A lot has been written about the end, and regardless of condemnation or praise it deeply affected me. I can't help but love Joe. He is so backward in his thinking, but damn it if I don't just want to beat the hell out of some hippies. The film has recently resurfaced in certain circles after the death of Peter Boyle, and anyone remotely interested in the actor owes it to themselves to see the film. As a side note the film was also the reported film debut of Susan Sarandon, who despite appearing throughout the credits and the first few minutes, is largely unseen throughout the rest of the picture. A remarkable film that forever seems buried amidst the better respected classics of the era.


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