Monthly Archives: August 2021

80s in August: 1989

Warlock

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: R

Director: Steve Miner

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I used to own this movie on VHS.

Production Notes: Apparently, this movie didn’t get a US release until 1991. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Did I Think:
First off, I want to talk about the gay side character in Warlock. On the plus side, hey! there’s a gay side character! Also, Kassandra defends Chas, her roommate, as just being a nice, normal guy. On the minus side, there is an odd distinction between gay and queer, Chas dies first, and, well, his name is Chas… So, mixed bag.

Otherwise, I find a lot to like in Warlock. Julian Sands plays evil without mustache twirling or scenery-chewing. Redferne, the witch-finder, shows the proper amount of unease with his 20th century surroundings, and Kassandra is kind of a proto-Buffy. She doesn’t want to be pulled into the plot, but when she has no choice, she’s the shrewdest character in the room.

The effects aren’t great, but I’ll over look that.


The Blood of Heroes

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: David Webb Peoples

Writer: David Webb Peoples

Stars: Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Like many Rutgar Hauer movies, I probably saw The Blood of Heroes some late night on syndicated TV.

Production Notes: So, there are actual rules to jugger, the sport in The Blood of Heroes. It, of course, isn’t as brutal, but it’s interesting that this film has had that much impact.

What Did I Think:
I hadn’t seen The Blood of Heroes in a number of years, but it was pretty much as good as I remembered it. I hadn’t realized it before but, while it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, this is a sports film. I love sports films!

I’m also kind of impressed with the low-key treatment of gender politics. There’s not talk of whether Kidda or the veteran Big Cimber are lesser players because they’re women. They are also not assaulted because they are women nor are they used as prizes because they are women. (The only time there is much of a difference in how they are treated as juggers is when the men have women throwing themselves at them after a win while Kidda and Cimber are left with scrawny company for the evening.) In general, while the sport is brutal, its players have a certain code of honor. And if there is any politics to The Blood of Heroes, it’s class politics.

Annoyingly, the Tubi version of this film is in 4:3 ratio. It’s a very dark film, but I think that’s on purpose, and it works for the most part. The action scenes are chaotic, but not confusing. I also liked how there isn’t overheard dialog in several scenes, yet what is being talked about is obvious.


Parents

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Bob Balaban

Writer: Christopher Hawthorne

Stars: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Bryan Madorsky, Sandy Dennis

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Another fairly well-regarded horror movie that I hadn’t seen before.

Production Notes: Randy Quaid’s second appearance in August. He was the sheriff in The Wraith (1986).

What Did I Think:
What an odd movie. Since it ends up being very discomfiting, I guess it’s successful. Parents is very slow, though, and maybe a tad unfocused. Honestly, this movie weirdly reminds me of A Christmas Story (1983)—granted, a twisted horror version. Maybe it’s just that I find both a little bizarre and kind of dull. Both are told through the lens of childhood misunderstandings, which I don’t find that entertaining.


Other Movies from 1989: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ghostbusters II, The Abyss, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Pet Sematary

80s in August: 1988

Scrooged

Year: 1988
Runtime: 1h 41m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Richard Donner

Writers: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue, Charles Dickens

Stars: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe

Streaming on: Hulu (my subscription has lapsed, so no links)

Initial: I’m not sure I’ve seen Scrooged since around the time it came out, though I generally mean to, often around Christmas time.

What Did I Think:
One of the things I liked about Scrooged the first time I saw it was that it treated the ghosts in A Christmas Carol like ghosts. They’re creepy and, when they’re not, they’re somewhat generally unsettling. With an updated setting, so too were the effects updated. Lew Hayward (the Marley character) isn’t just dead with his jaw tied shut. He’s a vaguely rotting corpse. I guess my point is, if you’re doing a ghost story, even one with a redemption theme, let the ghosts be ghosts.

I didn’t at all remember that Frank Cross (Murray) was a TV executive or that the meta aspect of the plot was that he was producing this live-on-Christmas spectacle version of A Christmas Carol. Therefore, the ending has to be different. It has to go beyond just changing Frank’s heart. I’m not sure the movie really pulls off the Christmas miracle of everyone being nicer to each other (especially, since Frank was really the only guy being particularly ba-humbug). Or, maybe I’m just particularly cynical at the moment.


Akira

Year: 1988
Runtime: 2h 4m
Rated: R

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo

Writers: Katsuhiro Ôtomo, Izô Hashimoto

Stars: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

Streaming on: Hulu

Initial: Figured I should probably watch Akira since it’s such an influential anime film.

What Did I Think:
Remember how I said that Fire and Ice (1983) probably would have been better as an R-rated animated film? Yeah, Akira needed to be R and was, to its credit. It’s gory; it’s violent. There’s even some nudity.

From the outset I will admit, I don’t care for anime. My experience of it has been limited, but it all has been too loud and too much for me. That said, I can appreciate how excellent the animation of Akira is and how its story and style have impacted science fiction and animation. I did really enjoy the soundtrack which often gave a calm contrast to the frenetic action.


Child’s Play

Year: 1988
Runtime: 1h 27m
Rated: R

Director: Tom Holland

Writers: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland

Stars: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I’d never watched Child’s Play because I figured it was just a campy horror parody.

What Did I Think:
I was happy to find that my initial thoughts were incorrect—at least in regards to the first Child’s Play. I was surprised that this movie takes itself mostly seriously and is therefore actually pretty creepy.

When I watched Child’s Play, I listened through headphones (as I usually do) and the sound design adds a lot, keeping Chucky’s doings off-screen, but heard, for much of the movie. The effects are good enough and it dodges being silly because everyone is selling it serious. Alex Vincent, the kid playing the terrorized Andy, is pretty darn good. Btw, if you are bothered by a child in peril, this isn’t the movie for you.

Will I watch any of the sequels? Maybe, but I will expect them to be less serious. Will I watch the reboot (because of course they’ve rebooted Child’s Play)? Probably not.


Other Movies from 1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Beetlejuice, Willow, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Alien Nation, Earth Girls Are Easy, They Live, The Blob, Dead Ringers, Lady in White, Pumpkinhead, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

80s in August: 1987

The Gate

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 25m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Tibor Takács

Writers: Michael Nankin

Stars: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp

Streaming on: Tubi (and quite a few other services)

Initial: I debated whether this film was more horror than fantasy, but decided to go with it because I wasn’t convinced that a proper horror film would have kid protagonists.

Production Notes: Film debut of Stephen Dorff.

What Did I Think:
My fantasy/horror instincts were correct. Though there are a great many spooky occurrences and quite a few monsters, The Gate side-steps any truly frightening situations or consequences. The film felt weirdly generic to me. The neighborhood is plainly suburban. The objects characters use are unbranded. The posters in Louis’s bedroom belong to anonymous rock bands. The peril summoned is vaguely demonic. It is one of many 80s movies that featured kid protagonists, though this one with a more fantasy/horror bent. Unfortunately, there is more of a sense of dread in Stand By Me (1986) which has no supernatural aspects at all.


RoboCop

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 42m
Rated: R

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith

Streaming on: hoopla

Initial: I’d seen RoboCop a few times in the past, but as with many films I picked this month, probably not in more than a decade.

Production Notes: Set in a vaguely future Detroit. Shot in Dallas.

What Did I Think:
Oh, Paul Verhoven. The gun violence! The explosions! The group shower scenes! I kind of wish I had an 80s bingo card because there are so many very 80s things in it. Threat of nuclear war? Check. Corporations who care (but really don’t)? Check. Toxic waste? Check. (The toxic waste is featured in such a random WTF scene…)

RoboCop suffers from a few plot holes and some moments convenient incompetence, but has a lot of good points. Overall, the acting is what’s needed. Peter Weller is almost too good-looking for his face to be covered for over half the movie, but gives RoboCop a great physicality and pathos. Kurtwood Smith is menacing without being too over the top. After all, he’s only a middle-man villain. The pacing and editing are all good, but the world-building is where I think the film shines the brightest. I’m a sucker for science fiction movies that incorporate mundane things into its world. In RoboCop, it’s TV ads, the local news, and the inane TV show everyone is watching and seems to find funny.

RoboCop is as good as I remember. Don’t know why they decided a remake in 2014 was a good idea. (Haven’t seen it, but looking at the trailer, it doesn’t seem to bring anything to the table.)


The Stepfather

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 29m
Rated: R

Director: Joseph Ruben

Writers: Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield, Donald E. Westlake

Stars: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Using my 80s in August criteria, I had the option of watching a horror movie I know I like (Hellraiser), one I’d like to rewatch (Angel Heart), and one I hadn’t seen before, The Stepfather.

Production Notes: Director Joseph Ruben’s second appearance during 80s in August. He also directed Dreamscape (1984).

What Did I Think:
Grand scheme, The Stepfather was on my to-watch list due to the reputation of Terry O’Quinn’s performance. It had probably gotten mention in Nightmare Movies among other places. That hype is warranted. Any good “slasher” film hangs on its villain. Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) has to be silent and menacing. Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) has to have a good quip and pun on hand in reaction to his victim’s dreams. And The Stepfather requires a subtly; anger repressed enough that Jerry Blake is an effective con man as well as a serial killer. And Terry O’Quinn delivers. In many ways, this is more of a thriller than a horror film—the situations are almost too grounded in the real world.

(There’s also been a remake of The Stepfather in 2009. I’m not absolutely opposed to remakes, and this is another that I haven’t seen, but again I have to wonder, why?)


Other Movies from 1987: Batteries Not Included, Harry and the Hendersons, Masters of the Universe, The Princess Bride, Innerspace, Predator, Spaceballs, Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, The Lost Boys, Near Dark.

Review ~ Never Say You Can’t Survive

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories by Charlie Jane Anders

I was a few years out of college and working on my first novel when 9/11 happened. I wondered whether my silly ghost story mattered in such a world. Most artists feel like this at some point because the world is always on fire. That’s not to say that the last 18 months haven’t been…special.

Charlie Jane Anders argues in Never Say You Can’t Survive that writing (or making any art) isn’t just essential because it adds value to the world, but can be the thing that keeps a writer sane. Artists, and writers especially, are in the position to create their own worlds around them, not only as a form of escapism, but to present better worlds. It’s a form of hope and activism, even if those things are translated onto a worlds of space ships, dragons, or zombies.

I was surprised at how much of this book was nuts and bolts writing advice. As with any advice, your mileage will very. I had quite a few moments of “oh, I guess that’s a way to do it” which is never a bad thing. Many of the chapters started as blog post at tor.com and much of the language is contemporary and colloquial. Anders obviously loves writing and that comes through in these essays. If anything, reading what someone has to say about something they love is always a pleasure for me.

80s in August: 1986

Highlander

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 56m
Rated: R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Writers: Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson

Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I had last rewatched Highlander a little over a year ago, but it was the best choice for a fantasy movie available on my streaming services.

What Did I Think:
Highlander is a frustrating movie.

It’s good parts are rather good. The premise, a scattered bunch of immortals vying for the ultimate “prize,” is original. It was compelling enough to spawn not only several sequels, but two TV shows, an animated series, novels, comics, and video games. There are some great visuals, giving both the Scottish highlands and New York City measures of beauty. The soundtrack—well, I’m susceptible to nostalgia caused by rock bands scoring genre movies, but Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” remained a staple of the franchise. The acting, overall, isn’t too bad. Clancy Brown, almost literally chewing the scenery as the villainous Kurgan, is given all the best lines.

The bad, though… The editing is terrible. I’m not talking about the flashbacks (which actually were confusing the first time I saw the movie), but the editing within scenes is discombobulating. Even in an action scene with only two characters, it’s hard to keep track where one of them is in relation to the other. That’s not ideal for an action movie. The plot also suffers from overly convenient actions or non-actions. Spoilers ahead: After “killing” MacLeod, why doesn’t the Kurgan skulk around until MacLeod’s run out of his village, as is probably predictable? After taking Ramirez’s head, why doesn’t the Kurgan wait for MacLeod to return (from wherever he is)? If he’s tracked down Ramirez, surely he knows that MacLeod’s still nearby. Why does MacLeod pursue a relationship with Brenda after having a face-to-face with the Kurgan? For surviving as long as they have, these two characters don’t act very intelligently…


Short Circuit

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: PG

Director: John Badham

Writers: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jay Tarses

Stars: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens

“I have questions, queries, posers.”

Streaming on: hoopla (check with your local library!)

Initial: I liked this movie quite a bit when I was younger. Haven’t seen it in decades, but some of the lines, like the one quoted on the sidebar, have stuck with me.

What Did I Think:
Wow, the character Ben Jabituya hasn’t aged well. Actor Fisher Stevens agrees; mistakes were made.

Otherwise, this movie is…fine. It’s silly, but not quite clever. Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg are appealing. Number Five isn’t too annoying, but some of the more adult humor comes off as a little weird. The violence is generally cartoonish, though Stephie’s ex is a bit disturbing.

You know what? Never mind. Skip it.



The Wraith

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 33m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Mike Marvin

Writers: Mike Marvin

Stars: Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: This is another movie I saw a part of when I was young and sort of half remembered. Probably my first encounter with the word “wraith.”

What Did I Think:
I feel like there’s something missing from The Wraith. It plays out like a pretty straight-forward vengeful ghost story: murdered man returns to seek revenge. Not much different from The Crow (both stories have a character named Skank…). But there’s this space alien(?) aspect? And bits of the Wraith(?) that disappear? From what I’ve read, there weren’t any cuts made to the film. I guess if you’re okay with some ambiguity and like car races and a solid 80s soundtrack, you can do worse. Bonus points to The Wraith for shooting in and around Tucson, instead of doubling California for Arizona.


Other Movies from 1986: Big Trouble in Little China, Labyrinth, Aliens, Critters, The Fly, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Gothic, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Hitcher, Psycho III.

80s in August: 1985

Young Sherlock Holmes

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 49m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Barry Levinson

Writers: Arthur Conan Doyle, Chris Columbus

Stars: Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward

Streaming on: Hulu

Initial: To recuse myself, this is one of my favorite movies.

Production Notes: The stained-glass knight is the first completely CGI character to appear in a movie.

What Did I Think:
The more I rewatch Young Sherlock Holmes, the more I realize that not all the clues to all the mysteries actually line up, but that is less important to me than how much fun this movie is. I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan-girl for pretty much all of my life. The film has everything that young me would have wanted in a Sherlock Holmes story: swashbuckling, a little romance, and really good special effects. Is it actual honest-to-goodness Sherlock Holmes? Eh. Debatable. It was obviously influenced by the Indiana Jones franchise and influenced the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. Holmes films (which I very much enjoy). As an adult, I probably cut it more slack than many movies, but I also feel it’s under-appreciated in the land of Holmes adaptations.

My point is: If you’re a super serious about Holmes adhering to “canon,” maybe skip Young Sherlock Holmes. If you’re okay with Holmes fencing and foiling an Egyptian-flavored death cult, you’re in for a good time.


Explorers

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 49m
Rated: PG

Director: Joe Dante

Writers: Eric Luke

Stars: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson

“Listen, I watched four episodes of ‘Lassie’ before I figured out why the little hairy kid never spoke.”

Streaming on: Kanopy

Initial: Did I see this movie when I was a kid? (No, I think I’m confusing this one with Flight of the Navigator.)

Production Notes: Theatrical film debut of both Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix.

What Did I Think:
I wanted to like this movie. Ethan Hawkes’ Ben unabashedly likes the things he likes and is aggressively optimistic. I appreciate that in a character. I don’t even mind that this is very much a boys’ story—it’s all early teen boys dreaming and being inventive (though also being a bit creepy toward girls). Half of this movie was okay.

And then they meet the aliens. The punchline of this movie is worthy of a Twilight Zone episode, but not much more. It’s loud and grating and not entertaining. And then the kids get back and Ben sort of automatically gets the girl he’s been obsessing over. It’s unearned and there is really no reason for Lori to even be a character. She does nothing other than be a prize. Would that have bugged me in 1985? No. Now? It grates.

From what I’ve read, there were some big cuts made to Explorers. Maybe in some other version of the movie Lori did something other than be won.


The Stuff

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 17m
Rated: R

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Stars: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Scott Bloom

“No one is as dumb as I appear to be.”

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: The Stuff was positively mentioned in Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies and it went on my to-watch list.

What Did I Think:
What is the Stuff? Does it need to be frozen? Refrigerated? Just left on the shelf? Apparently, any of the above. Where does it come from? Outer space? The center of the Earth? Don’t know. Explanations don’t matter. It’s the Stuff.

The Stuff experienced brutal cuts as well, according to director Larry Cohen. The cuts here are may be more noticeable than the ones in Explorers. The Stuff starts rather abruptly. The plot barrels along; some things taken care of in brief spurts of exposition. The romance between Mo (Michael Moriarty) and Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci) is abbreviated. They go from preparing to wine and dine to later comfortably sharing a hotel room. And it sort of works. This isn’t an overly complicated film. Nothing needs much explanation.

I liked The Stuff more than I thought I would. Moriarty seems to be having a great time playing a smart-ass. The themes about the evils of commercialism aren’t at all hidden, but they’re not harped on either. It’s funny where it needs to be and less gruesome than I expected. Definitely the surprise of the week.


Other Movies from 1985: The Black Cauldron, Brazil, Ladyhawke, Legend, Red Sonja, Back to the Future, Day of the Dead, Enemy Mine, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Real Genius, Weird Science, Fright Night, Re-Animator.

Reading Notes, 8/19/21

Finished Reading

Cover: The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

This is the fourth book of the Horus Heresy, a long, still on-going series of novels detailing the events that lead to the Warhammer 40K gaming setting. Despite that possibly ignominious designation, the books I’ve read in the Horus Heresy are pretty good. They are military science fiction, a sub-genre I don’t read much of, but I like the occasionally conflicted characters and the Gothic-punk aesthetic. (When I say Gothic here, I mean Visigoth, not Hot Topic goth.) I have in the past commented that often in women’s fiction there is a lot of attention paid to clothes and hair and makeup. Those books have nothing on the descriptions of armor, heraldry, and weaponry in these books. And I kind of dig it!

Searching through my old posts, I find that I read the previous installment back in…2010. I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been that long. On the plus side, I was worried about the shift in characters after the initial trilogy of books. Since I didn’t remember much about them, Book #4 was painless to get into.

Deal Me In

Started a Twitter thread for short fiction including Deal Me In stories:

Currently Reading

Cover: Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane Anders

I intended to start reading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Ward Radcliffe this week during Bout of Books, but I wasn’t in the mood. Luckily, a pending ARC request bailed me out. I’m reading Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories by Charlie Jane Anders. Considering I’m trying to get back into writing and dealing with a bit of anxiety, it seemed like a book I might be interested in.

Also reading quite a few short stories.