Saturday, February 27, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... CHASERS (1994)

Only now does it occur to me... that Dennis Hopper slides a nice little homage to his friend and collaborator David Lynch in his "THE LAST DETAIL-reimagined-as-a-90s-comedy" road movie, CHASERS. The homage in question is an extended shot of a logging truck, just like in TWIN PEAKS.

That's not all: this thing is packed with Lynch collaborators, including BLUE VELVET and DUNE's Dean Stockwell as a car dealership owner:

"Here's to your fuck, Frank!"

WILD AT HEART's Crispin Glover as a put-upon sailor who's been pushed around for too long:

"I'm making my lunch!"

and LOST HIGHWAY's Gary Busey as a marine who clearly is improvising all of his dialogue:



Hopper himself appears as a lingerie salesman with a fake-Karl Malden nose, for some reason:


"Heineken? Fuck that shit!"

Anyway, what we have here is an episodic, charmingly rambling, critically maligned road movie that is better than I expected it to be. Tom Berenger, doing kind of a whisky-ravaged Tom Waits/BEETLEJUICE voice is a hardboiled career member of Shore Patrol, transporting Navy prisoners across the country.

William McNamara (a likable man-génue who deserved a better career––you may have seen him in SURVIVING THE GAME, DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, EXTREME JUSTICE, or Argento's OPERA) plays a young sailor on his last day before discharge. 
 
He's enlisted to help Berenger out with a prisoner transport––though due to a clerical mix-up, the prisoner is unexpectedly a woman.
Played by Erica Eleniak (former BAYWATCH cast member, UNDER SIEGE cake-jumper, and co-star of BETRAYAL and BORDELLO OF BLOOD), she actually brings pathos and humor to a role that could have easily been a caricature. As the unlikely trio crosses the country and bonds with one another (again, THE LAST DETAIL is the point of origin/departure), we meet the whole host of character actors I have already detailed, as well as zany waitress Marilu Henner (TAXI, PERFECT):

and creepy-ass trucker Frederic Forrest (APOCALYPSE NOW, FALLING DOWN):
Born to play a creepy trucker

In the end, CHASERS was Dennis Hopper's final feature as a director, and it's a weird, pleasant relic of the "EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS" era, worth a look for character actor and Americana aficionados. I can probably sum it up best in guessing that Wim Wenders probably loves the shit out of this movie.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

"The Fixed Umbrella" in Gargoyle Magazine

My latest short story, "The Fixed Umbrella," has been published in issue #73 of the legendary D.C. literary journal Gargoyle Magazine, whose past contributors include Ray Bradbury, Kathy Acker, and Nick Cave, among others. It is available for purchase, in print, here.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... BEST OF THE BEST (1989)

Only now does it occur to me... that BEST OF THE BEST (not to be confused with the Milli Vanilli album) is practically a lost Cannon film––a South Korea vs. U.S.A. martial arts tournament movie packed with Golan-Globus alumni: Eric Roberts (RUNAWAY TRAIN), James Earl Jones (ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD), John P. Ryan (AVENGING FORCE, DEATH WISH 4, DELTA FORCE 2), Eddie Bunker (RUNAWAY TRAIN, SHY PEOPLE), Louise Fletcher (INVADERS FROM MARS), Tom Everett (DEATH WISH 4, MESSENGER OF DEATH), and Kane Hodder (AVENGING FORCE). Damn!

There are at least a dozen good reasons to see BEST OF THE BEST, so, without further ado:

#1. Eric Roberts. A.K.A. a Steel Town Boy on a Saturday Night.

It's sort of the FLASHDANCE of Taekwondo tournament movies, with Eric Roberts playing a widowed father who spends his days welding at a car factory. Though he lives with a shoulder injury, his one passion is martial arts. Eddie Bunker (ex-con, novelist, and bit player who might be best known to audiences as "Mr. Blue" from RESERVOIR DOGS) is his co-worker who just wants to hang out and grab some beers.
 
Roberts has got a statement mullet and wears statement sweaters with deep V's.


As the film's heart, Roberts bleeds with his usual acting intensity, often reserved for conversations with his mother, who is played by––

#2. Louise Fletcher.

"Nurse Ratched" is quite the score for a tournament fighter movie. It'd be like if they got Meryl Streep to play Johnny Cage's mom in MORTAL KOMBAT. Fletcher gets to flex her acting chops in about three scenes, which is pretty good for something like this, I guess.

#3. Philip Rhee as "Tommy Lee." (Not to be confused with the drummer from Mötley Crüe.)

Perhaps best known for BEST OF THE BEST, BEST OF THE BEST II, BEST OF THE BEST III: NO TURNING BACK, and BEST OF THE BEST IV: WITHOUT WARNING, Rhee is a talented performer tasked with the movie's soul and most exhaustive backstory. It's a representational relief that the lead character in an '80s movie about a Korean/American martial arts tournament is Korean-American. He may only have fourth billing, but this is truly Rhee's movie (he was also a producer and co-writer).

#4. Chris Penn as a Martial Artist. It feels right to come off of the entry about an actual martial artist to arrive right here. The movie doesn't comment on Penn (right, in the blue pants)

being unable to jump rope, or basically unable to lift his legs

or do a proper push up.

I also want to be clear that I am definitely in favor of this choice. He also gets to shout the line, "Grab him like a toilet seat!" in the climactic fight. He's kind of the "Vernon Wells in COMMANDO" of this movie, whereupon an out-of-shape guy was slapped in a chain-mail sweater and pitted against Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bless.

#5. The montages. The above images come from a training montage set to an "Eye of the Tiger" rip-off called, fittingly, "Best of the Best," by Stubblefield & Hall. No "Hall & Oates" are they, but they acquit themselves with "whooooahhh/be the best that you can be/the best of the best" lyrical élan.

This is all crosscut with their South Korean opponents doing exercises that are a lot more strenuous. Even though one of the Koreans killed Tommy Lee's brother in a match, they're not exactly set up as Ivan Drago-ish villains. (Every member of the South Korean team can do a push-up.)

#6. I haven't even mentioned the people who run the American team. The first would be the head coach, James Earl Jones.

He has pretty much one rule: "DON'T EVER BE LATE!" (That should be printed on an inspirational poster and attributed to Darth Vader.) He cares a lot about his team members showing up to practice, and a melodramatic plot development where Eric Roberts wants to miss a practice because his son was hit by a car (!) leads to the following exchange:

"MY KID MIGHT LOSE HIS LEG!"


"WE ALL HAVE OUR PRIORITIES!"

Damn, James Earl Jones, you're as cold as ice!

#7. John P. Ryan. He shows up briefly as the owner (?) of the American Taekwondo team. It's kind of unclear what the bureaucracy is, but he gets to act as if he is very excited about a martial arts tournament.


#8. Finally, Sally Kirkland (JFK, ANNA) rounds out the team management as a specialist on the mental aspects of martial arts. She takes everybody back to karate school or whatever

and I thought there was going to be a big plot-line about "we're not gonna let some woman tell us how to kick dudes in the face" but she's pretty much treated with respect from the outset, so... nice job, movie!

#9. Kane Hodder. You know him best for playing Jason Voorhees from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII through JASON X, but prepare to get to know him all over again as "Redneck in Barfight" shouting "I want him, I want his balls!"
To which Chris Penn retorts, "Yeah I thought you were missing a pair, ASSHOLE!"

#10. Ahmad Rashad as himself.

He commentates over the tournament finale, lending it a "documentary" sports feel.

#11. Simon Rhee (Philip Rhee's brother) playing the South Korean badass who accidentally killed Philip Rhee's (fictitious) brother.
The eyepatch lends him a kind of "South Korean Snake Plissken" vibe, and he has the acting and martial arts chops to pull it off.

#12. The sincerity.

Without giving too much away, by the time THE BEST OF THE BEST is over you will regard it as a shockingly sincere 80s sports movie, one which that recognizes opponents as "not bad guys at whom you should scream 'U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A!,'" but multi-dimensional human beings who are also in pursuit of excellence and worthy of respect. That's all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

R.I.P., Cloris Leachman

R.I.P. to one of the all-time greats, and an actress to whom I've always wanted to devote more time here at Junta Juleil. You can read more about her sublime performances in SOMEONE I TOUCHED, CRAZY MAMA, and Cannon Films' HANSEL AND GRETEL.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... SUBURBAN COMMANDO (1991)

Only now does it occur to me...  that SUBURBAN COMMANDO––which takes ample inspiration from the original STAR WARS trilogy––may have brought inspiration to George Lucas himself.


The opening shot appears to be a Star Destroyer pursuing an X-Wing over Tatooine

But not to put the cart too far before the horse: SUBURBAN COMMANDO is the sci-fi bounty hunting family-friendly action-comedy that we, as a society, deserve. That is not to say that it is good in any objective sense, for it is not. It's no TWIN SITTERS, is what I'm saying.

Originally intended as an Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito vehicle, it ended up as a Hulk Hogan/Christopher Lloyd one, which is definitely weirder. The plot is this: interstellar commando The Hulkster has to recharge his batteries on Earth after a mission gone wrong.

Meanwhile, lily-livered suburban architect Christopher Lloyd is having a midlife crisis.

He lets himself get shoved around at work by an asshole boss and his marriage with Shelley Duvall is on the rocks

That's right, Shelley Duvall co-stars in a Hulk Hogan movie

because of implied erectile dysfunction and/or disinterest. What do you suppose the odds are that fish-of-water badass Hulk Hogan is going to turn his life upside down and teach him how to be a Real Man? Yep, it's that kind of movie.

Along the way, we have a poor man's Michael Ironside (William Ball, Tony nominee and opera director!) as an alien general and the Hulkster's greatest foe,

Jack Elam (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL) as a drunken army vet and neighborhood comic relief,

The Undertaker (!) and Tony Longo as evil bounty hunters (who easily could have been played by the Barbarian Brothers or Brian Thompson),

and a recurring gag where the Hulkster keeps trying to save a mime from what he imagines are invisible force fields, but ends up accidentally causing the mime bodily harm.

The Hulkster also wears these pants (the physical embodiment of 1991),

skateboards himself to greatness, flips a car, wears a tuxedo,
 
and does bicep curls with a jigsaw and a benchtop drill press.
Is any of this actually good? Does it matter? It really feels like a New World Picture, and I was surprised to find it was New Line, although it's definitely of a piece with other 90s New Line offerings like THE MASK, HOUSE PARTY, MR. NANNY, DROP DEAD FRED, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, and MONKEY TROUBLE. Anyway, all's well that end's well,

and Christopher Lloyd is restored to masculine greatness, Shelley Duvall wears that hideous early 90s floral print dress, and the kids are alright, I guess, but they never got much screen-time to begin with. The Hulkster learns the virtues of relaxing, too, after he utters the line, "Sometimes I think I spend more time saving worlds than living in them."

Oh yeah, remember when I said this movie may have inspired George Lucas? Well, from the starships to Christopher Lloyd jokingly referring to the Hulkster as "Darth Vader," it's rife with the fingerprints of STAR WARS fandom (though the tone is closer to SPACEBALLS). However, the Hulkster sports a particular, hideous rat-tail braid behind his ear throughout


which I think might well have inspired the "padawan braid" worn throughout the STAR WARS prequels by young Jedi-in-training,

which may be one of the worst additions to that particular canon this side of midi-chlorians. An addition which would be made even more spectacular if George Lucas had once decided "hey, that looks cool!" during a viewing of SUBURBAN COMMANDO.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... SOMEONE I TOUCHED (1975)

Only now does it occur to me... that SOMEONE I TOUCHED is the disease detective melodrama we all need right now.

It opens with local county public health official Andy Robinson––whom you may recall as "the Scorpio Killer" in DIRTY HARRY or "the dad" in HELLRAISER––hunting down Glynnis O'Connor at a game of beach volleyball (!) in order to tell her she has syphilis. Talk about harshing the vibe!


Andy Robinson, who has played a raft of psychos, degenerates, and hapless bank robbers, is meant to be compassionate and reassuring in his demeanor, like Mr. Rogers. He's a good enough actor to pull this off, but the scenario still had me chuckling.

He tasks her with informing her sexual partners––namely, James Olson (COMMANDO, RAGTIME), a  suburban man she met at the grocery store where she works checkout. He's married, too––specifically, to Cloris muthafuckin' Leachman.

I know we've discussed my love for Cloris here––as a pistol-whippin' outlaw in CRAZY MAMA and as a crazed cannibal witch in Cannon Films' HANSEL AND GRETEL––but ya know what, I don't think I sing her praises enough.

Her character's pregnant, but she's still in the labor pool––she works in an editorial capacity for a small publishing company. I must mention that said company, run by THE PRODUCERS' Kenneth Mars, is seemingly dedicated to the worship of a particular creepy dummy. This one:

There is no explanation given here, just a creepy dummy sitting around the office. On the far wall, there's a crude sketch of the dummy as well.

WHY IS IT THERE? The film overtly refuses to broach the subject, which only increases my levels of curiosity. Perhaps there is no why. It just is.

Later, when Cloris packs up for maternity leave, she takes the dummy. Again, she does not mention its meaning or purpose. She just shares a tender moment with it and puts it in a box. This means the dummy belongs to her, and is not, like, the "corporate mascot" or something. WHAT IS GOING ON.

 

Anyway, urged on by Andy Robinson's disease detective, James Olson decides he must come clean to Cloris about the infidelity and the syphilis. He has to––it could even impact the development of the forthcoming baby. 

What follows is one of the greatest moments in TV movie history. He says, "I've got syphilis."

And Cloris internalizes this, agonizes over it.

 

She feels revulsion at his touch.

  

She backs away.

 

And she backs away.


And backs away some more.

 

And, my god, she backs into yet another portrait of the weird dummy! But I must say, it's one of those rare moments in film where the melodrama is patently, risibly ridiculous, and yet it's all rather deeply felt and performed. You see a half a dozen emotions play across Cloris' face as she categorizes every implication, relates it to her unborn child, relates it to her domestic life, considers every ramification, and plans her next move. All of this is apparent and subtly played, even in the face of the longest, slowest "recoil in disgust" moment in all filmdom. I love this.

Anyway, along the way there are twists, turns, catharses, prognoses, and all manner of movie-of-the-week melodrama. It even ends with a timely and, let me be the first to say it––legitimately poignant––finale which emphasizes that your personal emotions do not matter as far as contagious diseases are concerned. You simply have to do the right thing for public health and your fellow citizens, even if that causes you temporary discomfort or perceived embarrassment. Rise above your vanity, cause we're all in this together!

There's never an explanation for the dummy, though. Ah, well. Its mystery shall endure.