Monday, July 12, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... V: THE SERIES, "THE SANCTION" (1x5) (1984)

Only now does it occur to me... that I've finally discovered the "real" Cobra Kai. Allow me to explain.

If you're new to the "V" series, you could start by reading my initial post on the subject which, though it is eventually hijacked by a happening known as "the Nut Slide of Doom," lays out the basic reasons why you should watch the first two miniseries and then stop before you get this far (to V: THE SERIES).

To recap: the V saga tells the story of the invasion of Earth by fascist aliens (who are actually rodent-snacking reptiles in disguise) who intend to rob our planet of its resources and enslave/eat our population. Some humans collaborate with them and become Vichy-style puppets and/or Hitler Youth. Others join the resistance, engaging in guerrilla warfare against the technologically superior Visitors. This story is skillfully told in V: THE ORIGINAL MINISERIES (1983). It is enjoyably continued as the actioner V: THE FINAL BATTLE (1984). By the time we get to V: THE SERIES, its gutted budget and watered-down purpose have rendered it virtually unwatchable. (Meanwhile, the hair has gotten bigger and the costumes have become more ridiculous, so the "so-bad-it's-good" aficionados can still have a little fun.)


Jane Badler is the best: DYNASTY meets XANADU, man

 

The plot of this episode follows "Sean," son of Marc Singer's "Mike Donovan" (the BEASTMASTER himself, and the perpetrator of the aforementioned Nut Slide of Doom), as he continues his indoctrination as a member of the Visitors' youth program. Sean is now played by Nicky Katt (DAZED AND CONFUSED, THE LIMEY, THE BURBS), a longtime character actor and terrific smartass, who is at this point still a literal child.


Presumably because THE KARATE KID had come out that summer, this episode features the Visitors attempting to re-educate their human wards at a karate dojo.

 

 They introduce a new character to do so: "Klaus" (Thomas Callaway), who is equal parts "Jaws" from James Bond, random leather daddy, and "Kreese" from THE KARATE KID.

He is a sadist with a detachable hand which unveils a chain/whip extension. It's a whole thing. Anyway, he runs this evil dojo,

which is, for all intents and purposes, "Cobra Kai" with more space Nazis.


Now, the visual pun here is that the Visitors––who, remember, are reptiles in human disguises––are pretty close to cobras themselves, therefore, making this a technically more "authentic" Cobra Kai than the one featured in THE KARATE KID!

Anyway, this plotline comes to a close when Nicky Katt punches out (eventual KARATE KID alumnus) Michael Ironside and throws in his lot with the Visitors for good.

 

This does provide us with the excellent––if extremely improbable––visual of Ironside getting his ass kicked by a stone-cold child. (Who strikes first, strikes hard, and shows no mercy.)

I guess they did teach him some effective moves down at the fascist snake-man dojo. Uh, Kreese would be proud?

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... V: THE FINAL BATTLE (1984)

Only now does it occur to me... well, before I get ahead of myself, I'd be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the "V" franchise. An anti-fascist alien invasion adventure inspired by Sinclair Lewis' IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE and John Steinbeck's THE MOON IS DOWN, Kenneth Johnson's V: THE ORIGINAL MINISERIES (1983) is a close-to-perfect three hours of television. It's potent enough to have been an inspiration to great artists (John Carpenter's THEY LIVE), popcorn flicks (INDEPENDENCE DAY), 

 

and dangerous fools (David Icke's whackadoo reptilian theories) alike. I'd say without reservation that it's one of the best sci-fi properties of the 1980s, which is obviously saying a lot. It's got everything from Robert Englund playing a lovable, post-MORK AND MINDY "gentle dullard" alien 

 

to Jane Badler playing the manipulative alien Nazi version of "DYNASTY meets XANADU." 

 

It's a rare breed of miniseries, and one which forced an important question upon the Reagan-era mainstream (which has since been "answered," for all of us, in one way or another): whose side will you choose when the Nazis come?


Then, there was a sequel––V: THE FINAL BATTLE. Made largely without Kenneth Johnson's participation, there's way more action, way less diversity, and fewer instances of social commentary, but it's still fairly solid TV, and you can really see its influence on subsequent sci-fi actioners, from ALIENS to TOTAL RECALL. Part of this is because the inimitable Michael Ironside joins the cast as the ex-CIA mercenary "Ham Tyler." 

 

His one-liners feel somewhat out of place on the heels of such heavy dramatic material, but that ain't Ironside's fault.

 

It was on this project that Michael Ironside met his real-life best friend (and best man at his wedding), the musician/actor Mickey Jones.

Anyway, I guess you could say this is all a prelude to one of the greatest/weirdest happenings in television history, a bit of fight choreography I can only describe as the "Nut Slide of Doom." It's the best stunt JCVD never did. Basically, a resistance leader––played by Marc Singer (THE BEASTMASTER himself)––decides to take out one of the alien Visitors by sliding off the hood of a spaceship and knocking the alien in the face with his crotch. That this tawdry moment happens in part 2 of a project which began with such lofty political, social, and historical aims does not invalidate the fact that it objectively rules. 

See for yourself:

 

And I'm not alone here. 

 

 

When V (again, without Kenneth Johnson) was turned into a weekly TV series, they chose this exact moment––and scored by somber synth music, no less!––to cap the opening credits sequence. They even freeze frame it. Don't believe me? Just watch.

 

Anyway. I just wanted to make sure that all of you were aware of this. And I'll be returning to V: THE SERIES quite soon for even more harebrained observations. (For the record, V: THE SERIES is terrible, and if you decide to enjoy the saga, do yourself a favor and quit at the end of V: THE FINAL BATTLE.)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

Only now does it occur to me...  okay, bear with me here. As you may know, I derive great joy from analyzing/grasping at harebrained pop cultural narratives, rivalries, curiosities, and other ephemera. Today we'll be looking at "The Ground You Walk On" sequence from the classic 80's Sci-Fi/Comedy/Musical, EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY.

This song is of the classic "scorned lover" variety, as Geena Davis realizes that her doctor fiancé (Charles Rocket) has been cheating on her and proceeds to sing about it while she cartoonishly destroys his stuff. There's a lot of archetypal 1980s tasting notes here on display, from the "80s rule of pools" (if there is a pool present, a character will be pushed into it, flailing, in a zany comic moment)

 to a Pin Art executive toy being used to reenact "The Scream"

to the yuppie tableaux of using a golf club to smash a cologne shelf 

 


 and using a bowling ball (and a ramp made of skis––not a ski ramp!) to destroy a vintage PC.

But I'm digressing. None of this is why we are here. We're here for... Madonna.

First, I must note that EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY is co-written and co-starring "West Coast" Julie Brown, comedian, actress, and MTV personality. Madonna has always been one of Brown's favorite targets, culminating finally in the hour-long MEDUSA: DARE TO BE TRUTHFUL (1991), a vicious send-up of MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991). This prompted a bitter Madonna to send Ms. Brown the vaguely head-scratching Spite Gift of a half-drunk bottle of champagne (sensationally characterized by some as Madonna "sending her own spit in a champagne bottle"). This, however, being 1988, predates that bitter little tête-à-tête. 

Anyway, in the aforementioned Geena Davis "scorned lover" song, Geena also destroys the record collection of her betrothed. This happens to include the soundtrack album to WHO'S THAT GIRL––the weird, 1987 screwball Madonna flop––the cover of which is emblazoned with Madonna's image. 



The film then takes a moment––a real, lived-in moment––to allow Geena Davis to luxuriate on a couch and hurl Madonna into a fire.



I'm no stranger to some gentle Madonna Mockery (see also: my reviews of BODY OF EVIDENCE and WHO'S THAT GIRL), and I think Geena flinging this particular record into the flames is pretty objectively magnificent. But was there any fallout from this incident? Would it still be on Madonna's mind four years later when she co-starred with Geena Davis in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN?

It would be difficult to know the answer to that question unless we had a window of insight into Madonna's mind, which would be fairly difficult to gauge, considering her levels of image control––but then... there's this, a letter from Madonna to the fashion photographer Steven Meisel, written during principal photography for A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. In short, she says:

"I cannot suffer any more than I have in the past month learning how to play baseball with a bunch of girls (yuk) in Chicago (double yuk) I have a tan, I am dirty all day and I hardly ever wear make-up. Penny Marshall is Lavern — Geena Davis is a Barbie doll and when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago. I have made a few friends but they are athletes, not actresses. I hate actresses."

Now, did Madonna choose to insult Geena Davis in this generally off-target way (apparently we all missed out on 'BEETLEJUICE' Barbie) because she was still sore about Geena flinging the WHO'S THAT GIRL soundtrack into a fiery hearth, even though said flinging was, I would wager, explicity written into Julie Brown's script? Ah, who can say. For her part, Geena seems to harbor no ill feelings in interviews, referring to Madonna as a "trouper." 

Perhaps a fitting benediction to all of this nonsense would be my favorite quote from a zebra-printed teenage tailgater in HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT: "Heavy metal rules, man!... Madonna can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. She's a dick!"

Monday, June 7, 2021

R.I.P., Clarence Williams III

R.I.P. to Clarence Williams III. Best known to audiences for THE MOD SQUAD, he was a former paratrooper, brilliant stage performer, and character actor who brought a singular intensity and scary fun to his roles, even when he was being pigeonholed as a convict or a gangster (see: MANIAC COP 2, AGAINST THE WALL, REINDEER GAMES, MIAMI VICE, AMERICAN GANGSTER, HOODLUM, THE COOL WORLD, etc.). He had a small but solid arc as an FBI agent on TWIN PEAKS, a fun bit in John Frankenheimer's TALES FROM THE CRYPT (one of his six collaborations with Frankenheimer) and got to play at "Cryptkeeper" himself in TALES FROM THE HOOD. He had an excellent supporting role in the very underrated DEEP COVER, and was the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" of butlers in THE BUTLER. His role as Prince's dad in PURPLE RAIN is an especially good one, but I must say that my personal favorite might be his turn as a blackmailer in Frankenheimer's Cannon film 52 PICK-UP, where he plays one of the most fearsome sociopaths in filmdom. R.I.P.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... GREASE 2 (1982)

Only now does it occur to me... that in an alternate universe where GREASE 1 commands no "classic" status nor cultural cachet, and audiences were forced to evaluate the GREASE films on their own artistic merits, I have little doubt that a consensus would emerge that GREASE 2 is the stronger film. Go ahead: come at me, GREASE-lovers, I dare you.

I've discussed GREASE before––specifically the presence of Lorenzo Lamas therein––and had expected GREASE 2 to live up to its reputation as one of the most incompetent, laughable, best-worst movies the '80s had to offer. Instead, I was entreated to a stylized, explosive spectacle helmed by Patricia Birch (choreographer and director of Cyndi Lauper music videos) which at times feels ghost-directed by HAIRSPRAY-era John Waters.

(She has Tab Hunter teaching sex ed and drawing a uterus on a chalkboard, for godssakes!)

 

  

(Also note young Christopher McDonald on the right)

There is a parade of vivid and well-blocked tableaux which run the gamut from vintage Broadway to Busby Berkeley to Elvis to Doris Day to Ken Russell to post-apocalyptic American International biker flicks:


It has those Howard Hawksian arrangements where twenty-five people are facing the same direction in a scene, and it works:

a darkly satirical sequence ("Let's Do It For Our Country") where a character attempts to cajole his girlfriend into bunker sex by faking a nuclear attack––an idea later lifted by Joe Dante for MATINEE:

and the bizarre "Girl For All Seasons" number where Michelle Pfeiffer's Christmas Tree/December

jockeys for attention with all the other months, like January (a big-ass martini glass) and February (a grotesque George Washington quarter and a bicorne admiral's hat, for President's Day).

And despite being set in the early '60s, you'd better believe it adheres to the '80s Rule of Pools: 

 


(I've written about this many times before, but basically the rule is that if A., a swimming pool exists, then B., someone fully clothed must enter it against their will, arms flailing.)

In any event, GREASE 2 is no masterpiece, but neither is it worthy of ridicule––I say it knows exactly what it's doing, and it does it with archness and aplomb.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

R.I.P., Tawny Kitaen

R.I.P. to Tawny Kitaen, who was more than "a video vixen" or a "BACHELOR PARTY co-star," even if it was by lightly gyrating upon the hoods of expensive cars in Whitesnake videos that she was catapulted to a form of stardom she could never quite escape. Having done a deep dive into her film work last summer, I found an actor of pathos, grand comedic timing, and real star power; a fashion bomb with huge statement bows and teased hair who was one of the great style icons of the 1980s. I wrote at length about her uncommon charisma in WITCHBOARD, CRYSTAL HEART, THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK-YAK, and even in unworthy projects like WHITE HOT and GLORY YEARS. To quote my final installment "Of Whitesnakes and Witchboards... a Tawny Kitaen Retrospective":

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I received a communique from Tawny Kitaen during the course of this retrospective. She wanted everyone to know that 'I hope you get everything that I used to be embarrassed about... David Geffen's right-hand man called me Yoko Ono, I was so embarrassed back then... and then as I got older and realized that the success of [Whitesnake] had a little bit to do with the videos and what I brought to it, and it made me feel really, really good. So I guess if I had any words of wisdom, there's this old Jewish adage, and it goes: 'When you grow up, I wish employees on you.' So John Kalodner, an employee of David Geffen gave a perspective on me that was true, but he was trying to hurt me at the same time... he didn't know that years later his words would come back to haunt him in everything that I do, when I have to talk about my experience, and that was being the Yoko Ono of Whitesnake, so I hope you can throw that into your blog.'

Perhaps this is the best note to end the retrospective on: we've seen six films here, some of them good, some decent, and some bad, but Tawny's charisma has been a consistent baseline throughout. Whether or not history chooses to remember her as 'The Yoko Ono of Whitesnake' or, much less likely, 'The Scapegoat of WHITE HOT,' the ridiculousness of the insult––if it is indeed even such––can be worn as a badge of pride, because in each of these films, many of which are baldly sexist and/or underwritten, she brings much more to the part than is expected of her. Whether as a style icon, a screen presence, or as a skillful actor, she rises above the material. So here's your benediction: 'Tawny rises above.'