1986

Wildcats (1986, Michael Ritchie)

Wildcats is supposed to be about a woman coaching high school football but it ends up being an unintentionally thorough examination of patriarchy, misogyny, and racism. There’s a lot to unpack; more, actually, than its worth. Because Wildcats isn’t just a failure of a female empowerment picture, it’s also a failure of a White savior picture. Things with Chicago’s “Central High”’s football team haven’t been going well in general—the previous season’s star quarterback quit school to become a criminal and the same bunch of guys who couldn’t get their act together on the team are back again this year because they all are repeating because they’re dumb. Oh, it’s also classist. The team is mostly Black guys, who talk mid-eighties R-rated Black guy jive as written by a White guy (meaning it’s rarely funny, even if the actor’s able to be funny), a handful of Hispanic stereotypes (including the guy translating for the other guy because it’s a sitcom special), and Woody Harrelson. The one thing the team has in common besides being in their early-to-mid-twenties is they hate the idea of a female coach.

So it’s a problem with the only willing football coach the principal can find is Goldie Hawn. See, she asked if she could coach the Junior Varsity team and after saying yes, admittedly good but utterly cartoonish villain Bruce McGill went and gave the job to a gay guy. Wildcats is at its most interesting eighties movie when there’s the homophobia against the gay guy but then the gay guy joins with the other guys in the room for some misogyny. It’s like Wildcats thinks, while telling this story about Hawn ostensibly having her White Savior story arc, having a woman coach the boys’ football team isn’t going to have to make a comment on toxic masculinity. No, it doesn’t, of course; the film doesn’t go there. Ezra Sacks’s screenplay is profoundly bland. But it doesn’t even recognize the position its putting itself in.

Of course, it also fails the White savior story arc because… Hawn’s a woman. She’s not empowered enough to be a White savior. The first act hints at trying it a bit, but then Sacks and director Ritchie’s utter disinterest in any kind of authentic narrative pushes it aside. But if you remember back, during the end of the second act and the first half of the third, it’s stunning to think the movie might have gone for that much of an arc for Hawn. Instead, Hawn’s arc is just finding the right group of men. And once you find the right group of men, well, you can convince the other men out there to acknowledge you. And if you can’t, there’s always punching. But the right men will do it.

It’s like Hawn’s supposed to be the lead of the movie but the movie doesn’t need her. Not just as the coach of the football team—because once they’re over her being a girl it’s all training montages and original soundtrack singles and the games fly by—but as the lead. The opening credits are home movies of Hawn as a child (well, Hawn’s character presumably) and her history with football. Dad was a player or a coach. Maybe both. Doesn’t matter, because Hawn’s history with football and ability as a football coach have nothing to do with the movie. They’re nonsense details. The movie would be no different if Hawn got the job through a clerical error.

Sacks’s script goes with every predictable plot turn—once ex-husband James Keach (who’s not good but perfectly cast as an upper class prig) starts threatening to take Hawn’s kids away from her, anyway. Before Keach comes into the movie it’s just Hawn and the montages and then her trying to get the ex-star quarterback to give up crime for football, which is kind of more likable because even with the bad script you don’t dislike the actors and you wish the script were better for them. With Keach… well, he brings in new girlfriend Jan Hooks, who’s a punching bag for gags (an example of the film’s passive versus active misogyny), but it also gives Robyn Lively more to do. She’s the older daughter. She’s not very good. Her part’s terribly written, Ritchie could give a hoot about directing the actors, but she’s not very good.

So, Keach drags the film down, directly and indirectly. Especially when you get into how badly Sacks writes anything related to White privilege. Like the toxic masculinity, you can tell he notices it and sees it might not be good, but then pushes those thoughts down and acts like it’s okay to have rapey jokes about Hawn from students, as well as Black principal Nipsey Russell get threatened by rich school’s teacher McGill and whatever else I’m forgetting, and to just go with it. There’s one part where the team destroys Hawn’s office and faces no consequence because, well, she needs motivation; she’s a woman after all.

It’s a lot. There’s a lot. And even if you’re willing to forgive a solid amount because it was the eighties, the movie itself still flops around and then fizzles by the end. Ritchie and Sacks not caring about football ends up limiting what they can come up with the final game. The big showdown between Hawn and her nemesis gets hijacked by fat jokes. And Ritchie shooting a bunch of solo inserts of Hawn’s reaction shots to the game when she should be, I don’t know, coaching or something. It’s a really oddly directed movie football game. It’s poorly directed, but also oddly directed.

Though the football games are the only thing Richard A. Harris can edit acceptably. Every other cut in the movie’s a little off. Ritchie has this boring one-shot he always goes with from close-ups and Harris can never figure out how to cut it, even though Ritchie seems to have given him enough coverage.

It’s like no one cared.

James Newton Howard’s score is bad.

Donald E. Thorin’s photography is adequate.

The best technical contribution is Marion Dougherty, who casted. The team is mostly solid, performance-wise, when they need to be. They don’t do great at being assholes, but once they’re okay being coached by a woman, they’re fine. Wesley Snipes has maybe the showiest part, he’s okay. Mykelti Williamson’s okay. Not a good part, but he’s okay.

M. Emmet Walsh’s got a small role and you wish they’d gotten someone else for it, just because it’s Walsh and you want to like him and there’s no reason to like him in Wildcats. Like much of the film, he’s pointless. Sacks’s script doesn’t have anything for its performers. Not good speeches, not good scenes, not good arcs. No one even gets an arc. Not really.

Until Keach comes in strong—which is well over half-way in–Wildcats seems like it’s going to make it to the finish. Not great, not even good, but passable enough. Hawn’s charm can carry a whole lot. And given the movie is supposed to be her movie but instead Ritchie and Sacks do everything they can not to make it her movie, she gets some added sympathy. But that third act is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; written by Ezra Sacks; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Anthea Sylbert; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Molly), James Keach (Frank), Mykelti Williamson (Bird), Nipsey Russell (Edwards), Bruce McGill (Darwell), Robyn Lively (Alice), Brandy Gold (Marian), Swoosie Kurtz (Verna), Wesley Snipes (Trumaine), Tab Thacker (Finch), Woody Harrelson (Krushinski), Jsu Garcia (Cerulo), Jan Hooks (Stephanie), Willie J. Walton (Marvel), Rodney Hill (Peanut), and M. Emmet Walsh (Coes).



Malcolm (1986, Nadia Tass)

Malcolm has strange plotting. The film runs just ninety minutes—like you don’t really believe that official ninety minute runtime and it doesn’t feel like they’re rounding up from eighty-nine either. The film’s light and it seems to be coming from the drama. There really isn’t any. There’s charm instead. Almost cuteness.

The title Malcolm is Colin Friels, a thirty-ish Autistic man (though the film never describes his diagnosis or even if anyone understands he’s got one—1986 after all) who lives alone since his mother’s died. He’s a mechanical genius with a fascination about Melbourne’s trams. He even works for the trams for a while… but off-screen. The movie opens with him getting fired for building his own one-person tram. Strapped for cash, he has to bring in a lodger. He takes the first one who comes to see the room–John Hargreaves.

At this point, Malcolm seems like it’s going to be about kindly neighborhood shop owner Beverley Phillips getting Friels to socially develop thanks to Hargreaves. It seems like it for about three minutes, which is a long time in Malcolm. But then Hargreaves brings home girlfriend Lindy Davies and she stays. Like a day after Hargreaves comes in. It isn’t clear why Hargreaves and Davies weren’t just looking for a place together. Character motivations are not writer (and cinematographer) David Parker’s strong suit. Neither is the cinematography, just to get it out of the way. Malcolm has very flat cinematography. The film’s able to get through the flat lighting and the script’s absence of characters’ ground situations because of director Tass. She’s okay with composition, but she’s great at directing her actors. Friels, Davies, and Hargreaves all turn in these fantastic performances and, along with the mood (which is the script, is the direction), make Malcolm work. Even though both Friels and Davies kind of get the story focus shaft. It instead concentrates on Hargreaves, which doesn’t make any sense because the whole point of his life being different than before is specifically because of what Friels and Davies are now doing in it.

Hargreaves is really good. He gives the best performance in the film, which he shouldn’t, but he isn’t able to transcend the script. The part isn’t good enough. The closest the movie gets to dramatics often involves Hargreaves saying something shitty about Friels behind his back and Davies giving him hell for it, leading to offscreen bonding between Hargreaves and Friels. Eventually Hargreaves has some personal growth and isn’t a dick to Friels anymore but we sure don’t get to see it. There’s the potential for character development, then there’s a jump ahead past it. Multiple times. Parker and Tass are too obvious in what they’re not addressing. They draw attention to what they’re not doing and then still manage to be too deliberate in how they showcase the gadgetry.

After Davies moves in, Friels starts making different gadgets and machines to impress Hargreaves because apparently Friels thinks he’s cool. Or something. We never find out because whenever anyone wants to have a serious talk with Friels, they do it offscreen so Parker doesn’t have to write the dialogue. After the first act, Friels basically becomes a (necessary) third wheel in Davies and Hargreaves’s story, which is mostly from Davies’s perspective because Hargreaves doesn’t do anything interesting on his own. Not even when he does things on his own; the movie can’t make them seem interesting.

Hargreaves has a scummy bar friend—an astonishingly third-billed Chris Haywood, who gets about four minutes on screen and never a close-up. Haywood’s just around for when Hargreaves needs to do something away from Friels and Davies. Until Hargreaves reaches the point he realizes he’s got to grow and then he just runs away to different areas of the house.

Another success of Tass’s direction is the lack of claustrophobia, even when there ought to be.

Whenever Friels shows Hargreaves a new gadget, it’s an action set piece. They’re really cool sequences, often involving remote controlled cars or objects. Editor Ken Sallows always cuts the action well. They’re the film’s pay-off moments and they work.

But they really shouldn’t be the film’s pay-off moments. They supersede the characters. For the finale the actors don’t even get to participate in the big action sequence.

It’s a great sequence though and when the actors do come back, they’re able to make up for the lost time goodwill-wise.

Malcolm doesn’t succeed in spite of itself, it just doesn’t aim high enough. It also adjusts its aim lower as the film goes on. Its potential deflates as it goes.

But it’s really cute, really charming, often rather funny. Excellent performances from Hargreaves, Friels, and Davies. Nice score from Simon Jeffres.

Just wish the script were more interested in the characters.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nadia Tass; written and photographed by David Parker; edited by Ken Sallows; music by Simon Jeffes; produced by Tass and Parker; released by Hoyts Distribution.

Starring Colin Friels (Malcolm), Lindy Davies (Judith), John Hargreaves (Frank), Beverley Phillips (Mrs. T), Judith Stratford (Jenny), and Chris Haywood (Willy).


This post is part of the Blizzard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Quiggy of the Midnite Drive-In.

Sid and Nancy (1986, Alex Cox)

It takes a while for anyone in Sid & Nancy to be likable. Even after they’re likable, it’s not like they’re particularly sympathetic. They’re tragic, sure, which is director Cox and cowriter Abbe Wool’s point, but entirely unpleasant to spend time with. The film has a bookend–Sid (Gary Oldman) being taken into police custody for murdering–at that point an unseen–Nancy (Chloe Webb). Oldman makes a visual impression, but kind of gets overshadowed by Cox’s New York cops. They’re all outlandish caricatures, including their costuming, which clashes with Oldman’s punk rock chic.

After the bookend, the action goes back in time to London, with Oldman hanging out with Andrew Schofield (as Sex Pistol’s vocalist Johnny Rotten–the film doesn’t offer any exposition to set up a viewer not at least somewhat familiar with The Sex Pistols) and meeting Webb. Webb’s an American punk rock enthusiast–and heroin addict–with a grating voice and an obnoxious demeanor. But she’s being obnoxious to Oldman and Schofield, so it’s hard to fault her. Oldman’s a moron, arguably–as the film starts–Schofield’s flunky. Meanwhile Schofield comes off as a pretentious poser (needless to say no one thought much of Sid & Nancy’s historical accuracy, not its surviving subjects or even the filmmakers).

But Oldman soon becomes sympathetic to Webb and ends up, after some misadventures, getting high with her. From then on, they’re always together. Much to everyone else’s displeasure; well, not band manager David Hayman, who encourages Oldman’s behavior for the media attention. But much to Schofield’s. Sex is anti-punk so Schofield is anti-sex. Until they’re strung out too long, Webb and Oldman like the sex.

Most of the first half of Sid & Nancy is Oldman and Webb getting high, trying to find money for getting high, getting mad about not finding money to get high (Hayman apparently has Oldman on an allowance without a heroin allotment), Oldman messing up band obligations, Webb pissing off Schofield and others with her demands (which become Oldman’s demands, only he’s way too high most of the time to put much force behind them), Webb and Oldman fighting (usually over drugs, sometimes over the band). The dramatic result comes from the actors in scene more than anything in the script. The intensity, which sometimes means Oldman being almost completely inert, or Webb hitting a new level of annoying, propels the film. As a director, Cox oscillates between indifference and dislike for his protagonists; friction keeps the film in motion.

Until the Sex Pistols go on their U.S. tour–leaving Webb in London–and Cox gets a jumpstart, starting with the first shot of the U.S. tour. He finally finds something cinematic to chew on. The U.S. tour itself, the visual juxtaposing of English punk and cowboy hat wearing Americans, Oldman freaking out on payphone in the middle of Americana… it all becomes visual foreshadowing of the second half. The band breaks up on tour; Oldman and Webb head to Paris for a bit, back to London for a bit, then end up in New York. She becomes his manager. They visit her family. Sid & Nancy gets these moments of absurd hilarity, a pressure release as it tracks its protagonists’ descent. Cox doesn’t glamorize their heroin dependency (he does very little exploring it). As it becomes more and more clear Oldman and Webb can’t survive–they quite clearly can’t take care of themselves–Cox focuses in tighter on the two characters and their relationship. It’s always in a nightmarish setting, but often dreamy.

Oldman’s performance gets better and better as the film progresses. At the start, thanks to the narrative, Schofield overshadows him, then Webb overshadows him. After the tour sequence, when Oldman appears to get some agency, he’s always the narrative’s driving force. If not in scene, than in performance. Even when it’s Webb’s scene, like when they visit her grandparents and extended family and are way too punk rock for the late seventies suburbs. Webb gets to be flashy in those scenes, but they’re all built around Oldman’s eventual contribution.

The second half descent also has the film’s most beautifully edited and realized cinematic sequences, always set to music, sometimes (apparently) diegetic music, sometimes not. Roger Deakins’s photography is always phenomenal, but it’s often phenomenal in its dreariness. In the grand cinema sequences, Deakins never changes the film’s visual tone, he, Cox, and editor David Martin just find a way to hold the moment long enough the intensity burns through the dreary. But not visually, obviously. Cox and Martin are aware, the whole time, how to control the mood (and Deakins’s photography’s affect on it) through length of scene, length of shot. They just don’t start doing much with that knowledge until the second half.

And once Sid & Nancy opens itself ot cinematic splendor, there’s always a subtle impatience until the next sequence. The first half is so light on them (and so frequently narratively unpleasant), it causes some de facto resentment. Cox could’ve done more with the film and didn’t.

Oldman’s great, Webb’s (annoying as all hell and) great, Schofield’s great (regardless of historical accuracy). None of the supporting performances are bad and there’s a large supporting cast, but they just don’t have much to do. Or they don’t have much to do for long. Sometimes getting out faster is better. Sy Richardson, for instance, has a great scene as Oldman and Webb’s methadone caseworker. But it’s a scene. Meanwhile, Hayman’s around so much without any character development, he suffers. Ditto Xander Berkeley (as Oldman and Webb’s New York drug dealer) and Courtney Love. The more scenes they have, the more it matters they’re caricatures.

Transfixing lead performances, excellent direction, great cinematography, sublime music (original score and soundtrack)… Sid & Nancy is a technical marvel. It just should’ve been more of one, which matters since Cox isn’t invested in the narrative.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alex Cox; written by Cox and Abbe Wool; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by David Martin; music by Dan Wool; production designers, Lynda Burbank, J. Rae Fox, and Andrew McAlpine; produced by Eric Fellner; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Gary Oldman (Sid), Chloe Webb (Nancy), Andrew Schofield (John), David Hayman (Malcolm), Anne Lambton (Linda), Perry Benson (Paul), Tony London (Steve), Debby Bishop (Phoebe), Courtney Love (Gretchen), Xander Berkeley (Bowery Snax), and Sy Richardson (Methadone Caseworker).


Hoosiers (1986, David Anspaugh)

Hoosiers rouses. It rouses through a perfectly measured combination of narrative, editing, composition and photography, and music. In that order, least to greatest. There’s no way to discount Jerry Goldsmith’s score and the importance of his music during the basketball game montages. They’d be beautifully cut and vividly photographed, but they wouldn’t rouse without that Goldsmith music. In the second half of the film, the music replaces Gene Hackman as the star presence. The film extends its narrative distance from the cast (Hackman least, but still Hackman) to emphasis the narrative effectiveness of montage. And it works. Hoosiers rouses.

The almost exactly halfway adjustment in narrative distance is a smooth one. The film has been focusing on Hackman’s acclamation to a new job in a new town and then that plot comes to a close. Then it’s time for basketball. The film–and ostensibly Hackman–have been waiting for it to be basketball time. The distractions are gone; director Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo have precisely plotted out all the subplot resolutions. Hoosiers isn’t a particularly short film. It’s six minutes shy of two hours so halfway is about an hour; meaning the second half, the mostly basketball half, is an hour too.

It’s particularly impressive since there’s zero exposition about what’s going to happen in the second half, based on Indiana state high school basketball playoff systems from the mid-twentieth century. Pizzo’s narrative logic for Hoosiers isn’t something the audience needs to worry about. First, they’ve got to worry about Hackman. Then, they’ve got to watch some basketball.

The film opens with Hackman arriving in a (very) small Indiana town. Old pal and now school principal Sheb Wooley has hired Hackman to coach basketball (and teach civics, which doesn’t turn out to be a subplot). The townsfolk are suspicious of outsiders and don’t want Hackman coaching. They want Chelcie Ross, whose part is small but it’s one of those excellent risible asshat Chelcie Ross performances.

Barbara Hershey is a fellow teacher. She thinks Hackman is just going to try to get her erstwhile ward, Maris Valainis, to play basketball again. She doesn’t want Valainis to play (the previous coach died–before the movie starts–and it profoundly affects Valainis). Hershey also doesn’t like basketball, which gets more attention than Valainis’s arc. He’s present a lot, but he’s an enigma. Or he would be an enigma, if the movie were interested in the interiority of its characters. Hoosiers demands they have interiority, either through performance or filmic presentation (though none of the performances in the film, even from the amateur cast members, are bad–Anspaugh is outstanding with his actors). It just doesn’t want to show that interiority. It’s not interested.

Not while there’s basketball to be played.

Though Hershey’s basketball arc could be seen as the audience’s basketball arc. During one of their early bickering scenes, Hackman tries to get Hershey to understand the magic of the game. Hoosiers, in its second half, creates that magic (for Hershey and the audience).

So the first half is Hackman’s problems. The ones he makes for himself, the ones the townsfolk make for him. The one the basketball team makes for him; specifically the players. Even though the players are in most of the movie, only two of them have actual subplots. Valainis’s gets left offscreen because he’s an enigma (he and guardian Hershey don’t even share a shot together). David Neidorf gets one as an extension of Dennis Hopper’s subplot. Hopper’s the former high school basketball star now town drunk who Hackman tries to reform.

Some of the other players get little things. Steve Hollar is the one who pisses Hackman off the most frequently. Scott Summers is the religious one who Hackman eventually finds lovable–Hoosiers has its Americana, but it keeps it at a certain distance. Like it’s pretty and all but don’t get it too close. There’s probably some cut material with Hackman on that arc (Anspaugh and Pizzo’s version runs an hour longer), but what’s left is a nice recurring theme in the montage sequences.

The film ably pivots between its various pacing speeds. Once it gets comfortable relying on the montages, Hoosiers stays with them. It slows down a bit for the Hackman and Hershey subplot, which is nicely, gently done. Ditto the Hopper redemption slash recovery arc. The film slows down for those two. Otherwise, it’s got to fit in those montages.

Hopper’s great. Hershey’s good. Hackman’s great. Hackman gets the least showy role in the entire film. Even when it turns out he likes to get into screaming matches with referees, he’s still not showy. The film’s rising actions are muted; Hoosiers’s narrative distance is something else.

The production is outstanding. Carroll Timothy O’Meara’s cutting, Fred Murphy’s photography, David Nichols’s production design. All phenomenal.

Hoosiers is a fantastic film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Anspaugh; written by Angelo Pizzo; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, David Nichols; produced by Carter DeHaven and Pizzo; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Norman Dale), Barbara Hershey (Myra Fleener), Dennis Hopper (Shooter Flatch), Maris Valainis (Jimmy Chitwood), David Neidorf (Everett Flatch), Brad Long (Buddy Walker), Steve Hollar (Rade Butcher), Fern Persons (Opal Fleener), Brad Boyle (Whit Butcher), Wade Schenck (Ollie McLellan), Kent Poole (Merle Webb), Scott Summers (Strap Purl), Chelcie Ross (George Walker), and Sheb Wooley (Cletus Summers).


House (1986, Steve Miner)

House has got technical failures, acting failures, plotting failures (sort of), but it also has the mystery of William Katt’s hair. In some scenes it’s the standard Katt blond, but in other scenes, it’s brown. Sometimes it’s dark brown. Sometimes it looks like a perm. And it never looks like a perm when Katt’s been wet, because–of course–whenever Katt gets wet, his hair’s immediately dry the next shot.

Sadly, the mystery of Katt’s hair color isn’t part of the film. It almost seems like it might be, when Katt decides not to finish brushing his teeth but to instead go investigate the haunted closet in the haunted house he’s living in. It’s all very silly. And not in a good way.

For a while, it seems like House might be silly in a good way. It’s never funny and it’s never scary. Problematic as the film’s supposedly a horror comedy. Or a comedic horror. Katt can’t act comedy, Miner can’t direct comedy, screenwriter Ethan Wiley technically does in fact write comedy, but it’s so bad co-star George Wendt can’t even make it work. In fact, he seems mildly confused at the film’s inability to land a joke.

Wendt’s still awful, regardless of his confusion. The more lines you have in House, the less likely you are to escape unscathed. A handful of actors make it out without embarrassing themselves. Mostly. And sort of Kay Lenz. Watching House, you feel bad for Kay Lenz. She’s part of the “joke,” which is kind of ick since she’s Katt’s ex-wife and they broke up because their son disappeared because the House ate him. Though, really, maybe it isn’t why she left Katt. Maybe I had already glazed over. Because they’re both kind of great considering their son disappeared. Lenz’s a successful nighttime soap star and Katt’s a horror author. Except he’s trying to write a book about his time in Vietnam with Bull from “Night Court” and Kevin Costner’s dad from Field of Dreams.

Sorry. The mind wanders when watching House; you can’t help but wish you were watching almost anything else with the actors involved.

Anyway, once the haunted house starts taunting Katt with his missing son, there’s a lot of Katt emoting. Some of it with blond hair, some of it with brown hair. Katt’s not good at the emoting. Katt’s not good at much, though he is able to wear a V-neck sweater down to his belly button and make it seem reasonable for his character. V-necks are at the beginning when House seems like it might be dumb fun.

But Katt trades in those deep v-necks for military fatigues. Starting when he rigs a bunch of camera to photograph the haunted house but then somehow never takes any pictures, not even ones of not haunted things. Wiley’s script has a lot of dumb moments. You don’t have to think hard to be thinking too hard for House.

Like when Katt calls the FBI to check in on his missing son and the FBI tells him to stop calling the CIA too.

Actually, the movie doesn’t start off with much promise of dumb fun. I’m wrong. Michael Ensign, in the third or fourth scene, kind of ruins any potential for fun. He’s desperately unfunny and the scene needs to be funny, because Katt can’t play straight man. Katt’s terrible when he mugs through a “comedy” sequence, but he’s even worse when he’s trying to be reasonable.

There’s nothing reasonable about House.

Also Katt’s really bad at his timing. Some of it is no doubt on Miner and editor Michael N. Knue, but a lot of it is Katt. He’s always late reacting to action or other actors.

Also bad is Harry Manfredini’s score. And Mac Ahlberg’s photography. Even if Katt really was dying his hair throughout filming and it’s not just Ahlberg shooting it poorly, the film would still be shot poorly.

The special effects design is good. The execution is iffy. Miner doesn’t know how to showcase any of it. Because it’s a bad movie–poorly made, poorly acted, poorly everything. Miner’s direction is a bust.

I haven’t even got time for the terrible Vietnam flashbacks. They’re also dumb. Because Wiley’s script is dumb. And the acting is bad. And the directing is worse. And they’re all obviously on sound stages because there’s never any sky, though who knows… it’s not like Miner knows how to compose a shot on location either.

As a horror movie, House gets a fail. As a comedy, it gets a fail. It’s never funny, it’s never scary. Successful comedy probably wouldn’t have helped (who’d have done it–just Wendt, I suppose–because never Katt), but successful horror might have been nice. Some danger would’ve been fine.

A lot of things would’ve been fine but no. House is never fine (much less very, very, very fine).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Ethan Wiley, based on a story by Fred Dekker; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Michael K. Knue; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Sean S. Cunningham; released by New World Pictures.

Starring William Katt (Roger Cobb), George Wendt (Harold Gorton), Richard Moll (Big Ben), Kay Lenz (Sandy Sinclair), Mary Stavin (Tanya), Michael Ensign (Chet Parker), Susan French (Aunt Elizabeth), and Dwier Brown (Lieutenant).


The B.R.A.T. Patrol (1986, Mollie Miller)

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is about a group of kids on an airforce base who discover one of the MPs is selling military hardware to literal junk yard arms dealers. None of the adults believe them because it’s a “Wonderful World of Disney” movie and there are rules. There are limits and there are rules. B.R.A.T. Patrol frequently bumps into the limits–if director Miller just had wider establishing shots, the movie would have some scale. But it plays well with the rules. Miller and writers Chris “Yes, the ‘X-Files’” Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman never lose track of the main kids, even when some of them get crap duty.

Nia Long gets the most crap duty, but then she gets to be part of the awesome chase sequence at the end. She gets to ride the dirt bikes. She doesn’t get to do anything cool on the dirt bikes, but then neither does Jason Presson, who kind of has the biggest role. He’s the kid who doesn’t just want to go along with what lead kid Sean Astin says. Sean Astin–and his stunt bike rider–are the only ones who get to do cool things during the dirt bike sequence.

There’s probably a lot to unpack in “Wonderful World of Disney” episodes. Let’s just say Astin is the William Shatner of the bunch, only Miller doesn’t direct a performance out of him and so his deliveries are all flat. He’s an Eddie Haskall type, from the era of rehabilitating the trope. He should be funny, but he’s not. He’s not even mean in his callousness. He’s just got a role to play.

At least Presson tries a little. His part’s terribly written–B.R.A.T. Patrol has adults but no parents and Presson gets the subplot about being afraid of punishment. Fail to stop an arms deal? Get stabbed? Presson’s parents might ground him. Without the parents, there’s nothing to back up the fear. And Miller doesn’t even try to help with it. She’s got a hands off approach with the actors, which does work to her favor. Since the teleplay has so little for the other three kids–Long, Dylan Kussman, and Dustin Berkovitz–seeing the kids mug without trying to mug passes the time. It gives them some personality, even if the script doesn’t.

Astin doesn’t have any personality. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious, but adorable obnoxious. Versus Joe Wright as the leader of the base’s Young Marines. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious without being adorable. Watching Astin and Wright bicker is one of the movie’s most frequent irritations. Once it’s established the Young Marines aren’t actual threats, the interactions are increasingly tedious. Wright and Billy Jayne are trying to stop Astin and company from winning a “Youth Service Award,” which Astin and company don’t seem to know anything about.

They’re stopping the arms dealers for the right reasons, not to get any awards.

Tim Thomerson is the MP who secretly thinks Astin and the gang are all right. Brian Keith is the base commander who’s flummoxed by children’s behavior. Keith’s fine. Thomerson’s almost better; the first act implies he might get an actual part, but he doesn’t.

And Stephen Lee is good at as the dirty MP. You believe he wants to harm Astin, making him an actual threat. Same goes for junk yard arms dealer John Quade. B.R.A.T. Patrol’s thriller thread is pretty darn effective.

Good photography from Fred J. Koenekamp, even if Miller needs to open up the establishing shots more. It’s a Disney TV movie, it only has to look so good but Koenekamp is far above the bare minimum. Fine editing from Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr. The editing gets good for the last third, even if the script dawdles.

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is sort of racing with itself. Can the movie end before Astin hits critical mass and becomes too obnoxious. No. But it does acknowledge Astin’s too obnoxious. That acknowledgement is something.

Wait, can’t forget the production design. Ray Storey’s production design is outstanding. Since Miller’s establishing shots are so problematic, the locations never get established. But the way Storey’s able to match the actual air base exteriors with the plot set pieces? Outstanding.

But, yeah, B.R.A.T. Patrol is fine. Enough.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mollie Miller; written by Chris Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman; “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” created by Walt Disney; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr; music by Jonathan Tunick; production designer, Ray Storey; produced by Mark H. Ovitz; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sean Astin (Leonard), Jason Presson (McGeorge), Nia Long (Darla), Dylan Kussman (Bug), Dustin Berkovitz (Squeak), Joe Wright (Newmeyer), Billy Jayne (Whittle), Tim Thomerson (Maj. Hackett), Stephen Lee (Phillips), John Quade (Knife), and Brian Keith (Gen. Newmeyer).


TerrorVision (1986, Ted Nicolaou)

TerrorVision is a masterpiece of pragmatism. Writer-director Nicolaou works the low budget to the film’s advantage–whether it’s the fifties sitcom nuclear family only with Mom and Dad swinging or how the monster from outer space is cute, even though it’s a disgusting space mutant, with the cuteness makes up for the limited special effects. Or the sound stage “exterior” backyard scenes, which just adds to the sitcom feel. But Nicolaou keeps it in line–TerrorVision never looks cheap, it just looks absurd. If things get too silly on screen, Nicolauo and editor Thomas Meshelski bring in some almost comically gross and ominous space monster noises.

The performances take a similiar, exagerrated approach. The first act quickly introduces the family–Gerrit Graham is the TV-obsessed dad, Mary Woronov is the fitness freak mom, Bert Remsen is the annoying, paranoid grandfather, Chad Allen is the all-American kid, Diane Franklin is the punk rock daughter. Graham’s gesticulation is hilarious. Woronov works great with the other actors. Remsen is fine. He’s all much, but he’s fine. Allen’s a decent kid lead. Franklin’s fine.

All the performances are fine. Whether or not they’re good is immaterial; when Allen’s solid in his scenes with an M–16 pointed at a giant slimy space monster, the importance is the effectiveness. TerrorVision very clearly delineates its limitations in the first act–being effective, within the budget, is more important than being ambitious.

Jon Gries is fun as Franklin’s metalhead boyfriend (with a lot of Ted Logan’s intonations and catchphrases). Jennifer Richards riffs well on the Vampira/Elvira monster movie host. Both Graham and Woronov are good, especially after they work up some rapport. Remsen’s nowhere near as funny as he needs to be as the survivalist gun nut.

The leads–Franklin and Allen–are uneven, both in script and performance. Franklin’s fine but not fun. Gries’s character gets all the personality, Franklin’s functional; she’s around to get him in the door. Literally. She brings him back to her house after the monster has been unleashed. But Nicolaou doesn’t write Franklin any personality outside the caricature (with one exception). It’s similar but different for Allen. He never gets to reflect on the events going on around, which turns out to be a smart scripting move. It lets Nicolauo use avoidance to ratchet up the absurdity.

Nicolauo aims for a fun spoof of a spoof and delivers. It’s silly, it’s gross, it’s fun. Maybe the strangest thing is how good William Paulson’s alien makeup is compared to the rest of the effects; in the midst of goofy alien gore, the mask for Paulson’s alien cop looks phenomenal.

It’s another one of TerrorVision’s many, often pleasant surprises. Nicolauo knows the film’s limits and he does a lot within the constraints.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ted Nicolaou; director of photography, Romano Albani; edited by Thomas Meshelski; music by Richard Band; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; produced by Albert Band; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Chad Allen (Sherman), Diane Franklin (Suzy), Gerrit Graham (Stan), Mary Woronov (Raquel), Bert Remsen (Grampa), Jon Gries (O.D.), William Paulson (Pluthar), Sonny Carl Davis (Norton), Alejandro Rey (Spiro), Randi Brooks (Cherry), and Jennifer Richards (Medusa).


The Big Easy (1986, Jim McBride)

There’s not much script structure like The Big Easy’s script structure. It’s an exceptionally constructed screenplay. The film’s great, but it all hinges on how Daniel Petrie Jr.’s script works. As previously introduced (whether onscreen or off) come back into the film, expanding on their original impression, as the relationship–okay, hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Big Easy is about assistant district attorney Ellen Barkin trying to ferret out some bad cops. Possible bad cop Dennis Quaid is on hand not just to investigate–and hopefully dissuade Barkin about her impression of the New Orleans Police Department–but also to romance her. Romancing her quickly turns into this whirlwind love affair, with lots of sex (director McBride, cinematographer Affonso Beato, and editor Mia Goldman compose a wicked sex scene–no male gaze until after it’s all over), lots of working together (they’re supposed to be on the same side), and lots of general chemistry. The first act of Big Easy establishes Quaid and Barkin as a wonderful screen pairing.

Shame about Quaid maybe being a dirty cop, which then sends the narrative into an entirely different direction. But Petrie works so many plots and subplots in the film, it’s not until the third act everything is established. Barkin spent the first act as protagonist, with that focus moving more to Quaid (who always shared it to some degree), but in the third act, Petrie and McBride have ground situation revelations in store.

The other thing about the script is how quick it all moves. The film’s present action is maybe a couple weeks… maybe. There’s always time to relax though–as Quaid (and the title) reminds everyone, it’s The Big Easy, after all. McBride and Beato love the New Orleans locations, with Barkin’s recent transplant seeing everything fresh (for the viewer). It’s often delightful–funny, warm, beautiful–but it’s also very, very rough. McBride works wonders with the tone; Barkin and Quaid’s chemistry, regardless of what the narrative requires, always takes precedence. It’s what makes the film after all.

As far as lead acting goes, it’s hard to say who’s better. At first it seems like Barkin has a deeper character, albeit less flashy. The flashiness initially seems too much for Quaid, but once there’s a deep dive into his character, the performance becomes a lot fuller. It’s easiest to let them share the top spot; The Big Easy’s acting, how Quaid and Barkin deal with the script’s developments, how McBride frames them, is exceptional.

The supporting cast is all strong, starting with third-billed Ned Beatty. He’s Quaid’s boss and future step-father. Lisa Jane Persky’s Quaid’s girl Friday. She’s awesome in the part. It probably shouldn’t be a bigger part, since she’s just there for exposition and banter, but Persky could’ve easily run a spin-off herself. McBride’s tone for the rather serious film is often genial and welcoming. Persky and Beatty help a lot with it. John Goodman and Ebbe Roe Smith are funny as dumb cops. Grace Zabriskie is awesome as Quaid’s mom. And Charles Ludlam makes a great lawyer.

Great music, both incidental, soundtrack, and Brad Fiedel’s playful score. It’s technically outstanding–Beato excels at whatever he needs to be lighting and Goldman’s editing is strong from the start. McBride uses a variety of techniques–including actors looking directly into the camera, something I usually loathe–to facilitate performances. The second act, which is the least “pleasant” of the film, is the best directed.

The Big Easy is fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; written by Daniel Petrie Jr.; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Stephen J. Friedman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Remy McSwain), Ellen Barkin (Anne Osborne), Ned Beatty (Jack Kellom), Lisa Jane Persky (McCabe), Tom O’Brien (Bobby McSwain), John Goodman (DeSoto), Ebbe Roe Smith (Dodge), Charles Ludlam (Lamar Parmentel), and Grace Zabriskie (Mama McSwain).


Flight of the Navigator (1986, Randal Kleiser)

Flight of the Navigator works on a principal of delayed charm; eventually, it’s got to be charming, right? No, no, it doesn’t. The film’s a series of false starts. The only thing approaching a pay-off is Paul Reubens–voicing an alien spaceship–going into a riff on his “Pee-Wee” routine. It’s not even a good routine. Worse, the film wastes kid lead Joey Cramer’s substantial likability. He’s not great, but he’s not annoying. He’s always sympathetic. Well, until the idiotic conclusion.

Navigator runs ninety minutes. Almost the first hour is about Cramer, missing for eight years, returning to his family. Only Cramer’s the same age; what happened in those missing eight years. For some reason, Howard Hesseman’s NASA scientist thinks it’s got to be linked to the alien spaceship they just discovered. Flight of the Navigator takes place over like three days. The film does a weak job establishing the characters, even weaker after it jumps forward eight years, so it’s hard to sympathize with anyone. You’re not supposed to sympathize with Hesseman, who’s just a jerk. He’s incredibly miscast.

Most of the acting is fine. Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright have thin parts as Cramer’s parents, but they’re both fine. Matt Adler’s kind of weak as his now older brother, but with the script, it’s not like Adler was going to be able to do anything with it. Same goes for Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s basically just around to gently flirt with twelve-year-old Cramer and explain the eighties to him.

Technically, the film approaches competent. Director Kleiser tries for grandiose with the first half and fails, but has more success once the spaceship comes into it. Alan Silvestri’s music is lacking. Nothing else stands out. I mean, James Glennon’s photography is boring, but it isn’t bad.

While Flight of the Navigator is still about Cramer reappearing after eight years, it has a far amount of potential. Even during some of the last third’s special effects sequence, it has some left. It’s dwindling, but it’s still there. Until the lame finish, which lacks any dramatic heft. The film’s not long enough and the script’s not good enough to make Cramer’s adventure resonate. Flight of the Navigator could have run fifteen minutes and had the same dramatic impact. It’s slight and not diverting enough.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus, based on a story by Mark H. Baker; director of photography, James Glennon; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, William J. Creber; produced by Robert Wald and Dimitri Villard; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Joey Cramer (David Freeman), Cliff De Young (Bill Freeman), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Freeman), Matt Adler (Jeff), Sarah Jessica Parker (Carolyn McAdams), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Louis Faraday) and Paul Reubens (Max).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (1986, Ron Satlof)

There’s a lot of camp value to The Case of the Shooting Star. During William Katt’s investigation scenes, his clothes get more and more absurd. At one point he’s wearing a jacket with a tiger on it. Then he gets sidekick and flirtation partner Wendy Crewson, who wears really loud eighties pants, and it becomes more about their banter.

But the camp factor is more than just Katt, it’s the plot–Joe Penny’s a hotheaded action movie actor-director (Joe Penny playing Clint Eastwood)–and it’s how they keep making a big deal out of shooting in New York when the movie was obviously filmed somewhere else (Toronto). Only it must have shot somewhere else too because the tough neighborhood set has palm trees in the background.

And Alan Thicke plays a talk show host. What’s not campy about Alan Thicke playing a talk show host.

Even without the camp value though, Shooting Star’s a pretty solid diversion. Katt’s likable, especially with Crewson. Thicke’s good, Penny’s good enough. There are a lot of decent supporting turns–Ron Glass, Ross Petty, Mary Kane, J. Kenneth Campbell. Opposing counsel David Ogden Stiers seems a little better this time out. He pretends to take it a little more seriously. And Jennifer O’Neill is great as an old friend of Perry Mason. She gets a lot to do in the first act and she’s fantastic. The script doesn’t give her as much to do later, which is too bad, but she’s solid to the melodramatic finish.

Speaking of the script, Anne Collins does an excellent job juggling all the characters and all the expository dialogue. It’s not a great murder mystery, but it’s smooth and digestible writing.

Technically, the movie’s a bit of a disaster because of different film stocks. It’s even worse because camera setups figure into the story and so Shooting Star invites the viewer to think about how poorly the setups are working in this movie. Satlof’s direction isn’t as bad as I was expecting. He’s still weak on coverage, but he is giving his actors more space to move around here.

Oh. Yeah. Speaking of the lead actors. Burr’s good. He’s got some character stuff, not always successful but usually, he’s got the lawyer stuff, not always successful but usually, and he’s got a decent enough teleplay to get him through. Unfortunately, Barbara Hale gets nothing to do in this entry. Otherwise, it delivers on all promise a Perry Mason TV movie can offer.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Anne Collins, based on a story by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger and characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Héctor R. Figueroa; edited by David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Barry Steinberg; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Joe Penny (Robert McCay), Wendy Crewson (Michelle Benti), Jennifer O’Neill (Alison Carr), Alan Thicke (Steve Carr), Lisa Howard (Sharon Loring), Ross Petty (Peter Towne), Mary Kane (Kate Huntley), Ron Glass (Eric Brenner), J. Kenneth Campbell (Ray Anderson), David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston) and Ivan Dixon (the judge).


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