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.'

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

STAR WARS at Junta Juleil

In honor of May the 4th, I thought I'd assemble a roundup of STAR WARS-related posts here at Junta Juleil:

There was the time I explored the font on Shelley Winters' name in CLEOPATRA JONES, and whether it inspired the STAR WARS main title:

There were the supporting casts of TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING and FIREFOX, which seem purposefully culled from the George Lucas Industrial Complex:

There was my theory that Bea Arthur's character in MAME ultimately became her character from the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, and that J.J. Abrams' love of CON AIR influenced the sequel trilogy:

I once expounded at length on STAR WARS' influence on SUBURBAN COMMANDO, and SUBURBAN COMMANDO's potential influence on the prequel trilogy:

There was the time I went down the rabbit hole, twice, on the animated DROIDS series, and discovered perversity, hilarity, and a breakdancing R2-D2:

And finally there was my literary analysis of the paperback sequel SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, the only STAR WARS media where Luke is called "Saberman" and Darth Vader taunts Princess Leia by saying, "Come, girl-woman... amuse me." (shiver)

May the 4th be with you!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... THE BOYFRIEND SCHOOL (1990)

Only now does it occur to me... that there's an incredibly specific TWIN PEAKS homage secreted within the awkward makeover rom-com THE BOYFRIEND SCHOOL (originally released as DON'T TELL HER IT'S ME). 

First, I must explain the premise of the film, which features Steve Guttenberg playing a heavily made-up American cancer survivor who is the cartoonist of a "Ziggy"-adjacent comic strip. 

 

Unable to find love, his sister––Shelley Long, as an over-the-top Harlequin romance novelist in the mold of her "fashion plate" character from TROOP BEVERLY HILLS––

 

makes him over as a Kiwi biker named "Lobo" with a righteous mullet, somewhere between Mel Gibson's in LETHAL WEAPON, Chuck Norris' in THE HITMAN, Brian Bosworth's in STONE COLD, and Jean-Claude Van Damme's in HARD TARGET. 

 

This, obviously, works wonders on Jami Gertz (best known perhaps as "Star" from THE LOST BOYS) who falls for The Gute as hard as a character in a (leather) bodice-ripper.

 

 Perhaps it goes without saying that all of this is completely insane.

 

(Yes, the above two photos depict a scene in which legendary character actress Beth Grant (CHILD'S PLAY 2, DONNIE DARKO, THE DARK HALF, WONDERFALLS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) is teaching Steve Guttenberg how to "do the sex" with an anatomically-accurate dummy. Note the ZIPPY THE PINHEAD comic in the background.)


Anyway, before you become too horrified, onto the semi-obscure TWIN PEAKS reference. Now, THE BOYFRIEND SCHOOL was released on September 21, 1990: nine days before the highly anticipated premiere of TWIN PEAKS Season 2. The film features a supporting role by Agent Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan, as "Trout," a shady journalist and Guttenberg's rival for Jami Gertz's love. When we first meet him, he is being chased by a lawyer who believes his name to be "Mr. Renault."

Any TWIN PEAKS fan is deeply familiar with the surname, as the Renault brothers play a major role throughout the saga, and in the first season's finale––which aired four months prior––Agent Cooper was running a sting operation against Jacques Renault.

MacLachlan escapes the mysterious man, who is calling out "Mr. Renault!" throughout, and demands that his secretary bring him coffee: which, along with cherry pie, is Agent Cooper's favored vice.

The man continues calling for him as he continues to hide,


when who should appear but Mädchen Amick ("Shelly Johnson" on TWIN PEAKS) to shoot MacLachlan a knowing look.

MacLachlan proceeds to give a classically strange Agent Cooper-style speech to Jami Gertz about the importance of procreation 


before the mysterious man discovers his hiding spot

prompting MacLachlan to exclaim, "Your client is blowing smoke!"

A quasi-Lynchian rejoinder involving the most Lynchian of textures. Then the scene is over and the Renault business is never mentioned again. (MacLachlan has a few more scenes of being a sleazy jerk, prompting Jami Gertz to fall ever harder for Lobo Guttenberg.) Stumbling upon this sort of strange specificity and vintage obscurity is essentially the raison d'être of Junta Juleil's Culture Shock.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Film Review: THE NEXT KARATE KID (1994, Christopher Cain)

Stars: 2 of 5.

Running Time: 107 minutes. 

Notable Cast or Crew: Hilary Swank (BOYS DON'T CRY, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), Pat Morita (THE KARATE KID, COLLISION COURSE), Michael Ironside (TOTAL RECALL, SCANNERS), Sonny Trinidad (THE KARATE KID PART II, DARKMAN), Walton Goggins (VICE PRINCIPALS, THE HATEFUL EIGHT), Constance Towers (SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE NAKED KISS), Chris Conrad ("Johnny Cage" in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER). Cinematography by Lazlo Kovacs (FIVE EASY PIECES, EASY RIDER).

Tag-line: "Who says the good guy has to be a guy?"

Best one-liner:  "I don't care if you're a friend of the Pope!"

 

Okay, so I'm here to talk to you about THE NEXT KARATE KID. And what can I say? It shifts the action from the iconic Los Angeles/"All Valley" environs to the suburbs of Boston. It dumps Cobra Kai for a weird high school jock-club called the "Alpha Elite." It feels mostly like a generic KARATE KID rip-off that managed to accidentally snag Pat Morita, so they had to quickly rebrand it as a bona fide sequel. Also, this thing is shot by ace Hungarian arthouse cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs. Lazlo "FIVE EASY PIECES/PAPER MOON/EASY RIDER" Kovacs. Madness.

Hilary Swank plays Julie Pierce, Mr. Miyagi's latest protégé. She's the bangs-wearing granddaughter of a Miyagi war buddy and an orphan being cared for by her grandmother (Constance Towers, of Sam Fuller fame). She is introduced while giving a series of eyebrow-arching exposition dumps to her grandmother; all of which is information that she already knows.

 Just an incredible way to convey that information.

In subsequent years, Hilary Swank went on to perform nuanced and award-winning work in a number of studio and indie films and has even won two Oscars for her efforts. In THE NEXT KARATE KID, however, she is–––how do I put this?––"not great." It's not entirely her fault; the screenplay is a mess and I'm certain that the majority of the direction she received was "crinkle your face as if you are smelling an unpleasant odor," which is certainly a choice. Hey, it's from the director of YOUNG GUNS, I don't know what you want.

And even though Swank is twenty years old and far more high school-adjacent than anyone who appeared in GREASE, the costuming and styling here make her look, to my eyes, like a thirty-year-old playing Punky Brewster. However, it was my wife who really hit the nail on the head when she said, "She looks like she's supposed to be Michelle Tanner's visiting Greek cousin from that one episode of FULL HOUSE"

 

which is probably the most accurate assessment we're ever going to get. We can go ahead and close the book on that one. 

Anyway, Swank's character is content to play hooky and deliver monologues to her pet bird of prey,

but then, look out, folks: bullies!


These tuff guys in the Levis are members of the aforementioned "Alpha Elite," and the only one of them who looks under forty is Baby Walton Goggins.



Wait, what... Goggins?! (I happen to think he's one of our finest working actors, and it's hilarious to see him play a twerpy little bully like this. Love it. Just think of it as a prequel to VICE PRINCIPALS.)

The Alpha Elite are overseen by legendary Canadian character actor and Junta Juleil hall-of-famer, Michael Ironside. 


He is the ersatz John Kreese of this movie, and it's a role Ironside was born to play. Bellowing at middle-aged high schoolers about how they need to "toughen up," baring his teeth, and kickin' butt. That's the Ironside way. He's basically his character from STARSHIP TROOPERS. When Miyagi shows up to cast aspersions on his teaching acumen,

he stares him down with that patented Ironside crazy-face (see also: HIGHLANDER 2: THE QUICKENING) 

 

and says, "I don't care if you're a friend of the Pope." Um, good one?

I think the Alpha Elite are supposed to be a dojo, a sports team, an ROTC-type organization, and the high school's hall monitors, all at once. None of this really matters, because the movie is not so invested in their plot line. Ironside gets about fifteen minutes of screen-time, and the movie routinely and immediately forgets about the Alpha Elite each time they are built up as a threat.

At prom, they bungee jump down from the rafters and... intimidate the crowd, I guess?

I don't know why this happens, or to what purpose, and, hell, I just watched the movie.

The bulk of the film revolves around Swank's karate training which takes place at a Zen Buddhist monastery somewhere in the wilds of Massachusetts. Hilary Swank practices karate moves in a montage set to a song by The Cranberries.

This is mostly to remind us that it's 1994, but it also demonstrates that Hilary Swank's karate moves are technically more proficient than Ralph Macchio's. Heresy? I don't think so. Look at that crane kick. Elsewhere, she's got some practically JCVD-adjacent extension.

There's a zany subplot where the monks leave the monastery and go bowling. I never promised you a rose garden.

Look at this shirt Miyagi is wearing. Just look at it.

 (Borrowed from Sinbad?)

Because "wax on, wax off" is far too manly to teach to a woman, apparently, Swank obtains her "karate while doing a mundane task" merit badge from Miyagi by... babysitting.

Also, the entire sequence is written and shot in such a way as to render it completely indistinguishable from an actual NERF commercial. Anyway, that's how women learn karate in the film's universe: through childcare and NERF fights. Whew.

There's also a subplot where Swank is dating this forty-five-year-old high school student,

and ya know what, we can just skip that, it's cool.

All of this leads to a sudden finale where a car gets blown up

and then Ironside comes back for revenge, 

and it feels very unmotivated, like what's he getting revenge for exactly?, and then Ironside's faux-Kreese battles Miyagi in a facsimile of the fight scene that opens KARATE KID PART II, except instead of booping his opponent's nose at a climactic moment,


Miyagi comically blows him over with a puff of air. There's a bit of fight choreography that stuck out to me, though: at one point, Miyagi grabs Ironside by his forearms, causing him to look down in horror,

a strange replay/homage to the iconic Schwarzenegger vs. Ironside "See you at the party, Richter" fight in TOTAL RECALL,  

 wherein Ironside loses his arms. So there you have it, folks: THE NEXT KARATE KID.

As a final note, I think that TV's COBRA KAI––which is one of the best purveyors of nostalgia out there, and the best current '80s reboot I can think of––should absolutely embrace THE NEXT KARATE KID. Get Walton Goggins and Michael Ironside in there. Then Hilary Swank should show up in the series finale, announce that Miyagi taught only her his most treasured karate secrets, and kick everyone's ass.