Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Stuff I own on Region 1

1. Night of The Comet (1984)

Purchased on ebay recently, I first caught this memorable horror/sci-fi movie years ago when it was part of the screening programme on Moviedrome. I was in love with lead actress Catherine Mary Stewart at the time, having previously fallen for her after seeing The Last Starfighter a couple of years earlier. For her first scene in this film, she’s wearing what looks like a ‘Khan’ era Starfleet uniform, while try to beat the highest score on a video game in the cinema where she works. Hot on all counts.

The film is set in Los Angeles where a comet, initially perceived as harmless, has wiped out all humankind, turning everyone into piles of red dust. A couple of girls who manage to avoid obliteration, blond cheerleader Kelli and her older, headstrong sister Regina (Stewart) set out on a search for fellow survivors. This is end-of-the-world eighties style, with its light, cheery content at odds somewhat with the subject matter. Even the zombified humans, transformed as a result of red dust poisoning, aren’t particularly threatening. The two sisters, both tooled-up to the max, even take time to indulge in an ill-fated shopping spree in a huge, deserted department store. We get the obligatory fashion and frolics montage, with jump-cuts of various hats and items of clothing being tried on and paraded around, all to Cyndi Lauper’s hit of that era, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.

None of the comments above are meant as a criticism though, and for such a clearly low-budgeted film, it’s well made and actually looks great. From scenes of a deserted down-town LA, shot through red-filtered lenses, to the effective image a of toy frog swimming alone in the pool of an eerily quiet suburban garden, the imagery is equally as powerful as contemporary films in this genre. The opening credit sequence, which has scenes of huge crowds gathered around in a comet-welcoming celebration, must have only been achieved by the production team going to an actual event and asking attendees to hold banners adorned with hand-drawn comet and alien imagery.

Unfortunately the film falters after the second half, failing to deliver on its intriguing premise (probably due to budgetary restrictions) and opting instead for a fairly flat and contrived escape sequence involving the sisters and Hector (a truck driver they meet and Regina’s potential love interest) rescuing two annoyingly cute children from the clutches of some mad infected scientists. It’s still definitely worth a look if you haven’t seen it however, if only for the comforting reassurance that the human desire to shop doesn’t diminish after most of the world has been snuffed out.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

No Springsteen is leaving this house!

I have a genuine fondness for a number of films, which if found out, would mean having my BFI membership card taken forcefully from me, ripped up and being permanently banished from that institute or any other cinema-related venue. Here is a small selection.....

On the surface (like there’s anything underneath) this has all the makings of your typical glossy, eighties Hollywood melodrama. It’s essentially a shallow morality tale about an equally shallow, materialistic bartender who comes to realise there’s more to life than the pursuit of money. So what is it about this film that I love? I don’t know where to start really. Maybe it’s Bryan Brown’s hilariously amoral performance as seasoned Aussie bartender and the Cruiser’s treacherous yet lovable mentor Doug Coughlin - always spouting his sage and cynical philosophising on life (“Coughlin's Law; anything else is always something better”). Maybe it’s the amazing choreographed cocktail-making sequences, set at one point, to a Cruise-initiated bar sing-a-long to ‘Addicted to Love’, or it could be the ridiculous romantic montage sequence in Jamaica during the middle act, which actually features Cruise and his leading lady, Elizabeth Shue, on white horses, galloping down the beach, resembling nothing more than an advert for the tourist board.

This has a dismal rating of 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and it swept the board at 1988’s Golden Raspberries, but I have to say, being harsh on a film like this is akin to chastising a young child for drawing on the wallpaper - it’s pointless because ultimately, it doesn’t know any better.

The ‘Burbs
There was something about this film that really captured my imagination when I first caught it on video. I liked how it portrayed the mundane, suburban existence, where non-conformity is met with intrigue and prying neighbours. I saw it again recently and although it’s a very silly and light satire, it does have some funny moments and remains really watchable, thanks mainly to Tom Hanks and the director, Joe Dante. Dante’s career has never really reached the same heights as his peers but I was always quite fond of his films back then, particularly Explorers and Innerspace. I think they possess that Spielbergian sense of wonder, combined with a real B-movie sensibility.

The Last Boy Scout
I remember when this was first released and the awful reception it got from the critics. They really seemed to be missing the point. It didn’t help that the star Bruce Willis, was coming off Hudson Hawk at the time (a film even I can’t bring myself to defend). This is a very funny deconstruction of the buddy cop films however - a genre which was incredibly popular around that time. The very fact that it’s writing by Shane Black, the guy behind the first Lethal Weapon, itself a landmark in the genre at the time, shows that he was well aware of what he was doing with the material. I was too young to see it this on the big screen, but when I finally got round to viewing it, I wasn’t disappointed. Although I make no excuses for my love of the likes of Cocktail, this film is crying out for reappraisal.

St Elmo’s Fire
“Take me where the future lies in St Elmo’s Fireee!” I still get goose bumps when I hear that rousing theme tune. Everything about this film is pure cheese. You’ve got bad hair, bad fashion, bad music (check out Rob Lowe’s Halloween-themed saxophone gig which encapsulates all of those in one scene) and cringe-worthy dialogue (“I’m obsessed thank you very much”).
This is the quintessential eighties bratpack ensemble drama, directed by the guy who went on to make (the markedly better, but equally of-it’s-time) The Lost Boys. Also, it’s worth noting the size of star Judd Nelson's nostrils – they’re the biggest I’ve ever seen, both in the movies and real-life. They’re double the size of any normal persons. It’s been a long while since I last watched this classic, but I could probably still recite most of the dialogue. Actually, there are some things that shouldn’t be shared...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Death of the video shop

When I came across this article recently, it confirmed what I had feared for a long time - the humble video shop is finally nearing its end. It’s sad to see, but hardly surprising. Films seem to jump from the Cinema screen to retail DVD and Sky almost instantaneously these days and downloading (legally or otherwise) offers a way of viewing the latest Pixar masterpiece without making a trip outside your house (a topic for a future posting I think). I’ve even been lured into using one of the easy and stress-free on-line rental services available.

When I was growing up, there were three shops in my small town which stocked films. One was exclusively for video hire, another was a general store with a large selection and the other was the local Spar, which is now the only one which still rents films out. Spar’s video section back then was almost another shop in itself, housing hundreds of those huge, bulky VHS cases in every available space. Gradually through the years however, the stock has diminished to a point where the last time I visited, it had been relegated to a flimsy corner space, with literally a handful of DVD’s available, all mainstream studio titles.

Before the advent of digital, the video shop was a veritable treasure trove of cinematic all-sorts. Although I had much love for the big Hollywood titles on offer, I was equally enthralled by the multitude of cheap, straight-to-video genre B-movies available, with their lurid, air-brushed covers and trashy but always fun content. It also brings a smile to my face when I remember Crocodile Dundee being the most sought-after title back in the late-eighties. Seriously, that film was like gold-dust. I can still see my Dad, more than once, coming back from the video shops empty-handed, having been unable to procure a copy, much to the intense disappointment of his family. It was like he’d failed to provide for us that week or something. It was hilarious really. I mean, does anyone still remember that film now, let alone consider it a classic, worthy of a place in their all-time favourites list? My memories probably seem very quaint and whimsical now, but the local video shops really did possess a weird power over our community.

I think companies like Lovefilm offer a fantastic, alternative rental service for both the modern cineaste and any discerning film fan but they lack the unique experience that the video shop once offered. The opportunity to seek out or chance upon an unknown film, in both an intimate and tangible way, is a major loss to the young film-buffs of today - a similar grievance, I imagine, that lovers of vinyl have in the digital i-tunes age.

Look at me being all overly-nostalgic and wistful. You’d think these were the ramblings of an old man, not a sad thirty-something film geek. Perhaps I’ll console myself by watching Be Kind, Rewind again or Clerks for the 100th time.