Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

Film Review: Detroit Rock City (1999)

Release Date: August 13th, 1999
Directed by: Adam Rifkin
Written by: Carl V. Dupre
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Sam Huntington, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty, Ron Jeremy

Base-12 Productions, Takoma Entertainment Group, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“God forbid one day you have a son like you, Jeremiah. A boy who lies through his teeth, buys demonic records, and smokes the dope!” – Mrs. Bruce

A lot of people a generation older than me usually get miffed when I tell them that I don’t like KISS. They have a song or two I can tolerate but I’ve just never been a fan of the Coca-Cola of rock and roll and I really just don’t get it. But I was born after KISS and can’t really understand what it was like to be there, in the moment, when they took over the airwaves in the early 1970s and had their likeness all over every product imaginable like Chewbacca and E.T. That being said, I don’t hate KISS and some of them are pretty amusing guys when I see them in interviews. Plus, Gene Simmons was a marketing genius: the Don Draper of rock and roll.

I did enjoy this film though, regardless of how I personally feel about KISS’ music and cartoon nature.

I’ve always liked Edward Furlong, even if he’s been a thorn in Hollywood’s side due to his issues when he was younger. However, just watch American History X or Animal Factory if you don’t think the kid can act, he can. This is one picture where Furlong just seems to be having a lot of fun and enjoying the material. He’s also the glue that holds this thing together.

You also have Giuseppe Andrews, an actor that I have always felt should be working more than he does. He’s a fantastic talent and has had a wide range of characters. But like Furlong, he got to sink his teeth into something fun and straightforward with this movie and he does a good job with it.

Sam Huntington and James DeBello round out the group of friends and both carry their own, as well. You also have a lot of great actors in minor roles: Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty and Ron Jeremy. And of course KISS is in the movie.

The story follows four friends and band mates, as they travel to Detroit to see KISS. However, they don’t have tickets and each friend goes on their own adventure in an effort to secure tickets with less than two hours to spare. The film essentially breaks out into four separate adventures that weave back together by the end. I actually really liked the narrative structure and it was well handled, well edited and flowed nicely.

Detroit Rock City is not a teen sex comedy classic but it is as good as some of the films that many consider to be classics of the genre. Had it starred someone like James Van Der Beek or Freddie Prinze Jr. it would have probably gotten more recognition, at the time. However, it stars the kid John Connor from the Terminator franchise before he fell off the map, two guys from Cabin Fever and Superman Returns‘ Jimmy Olsen. That’s not a knock against any of these guys but three out of the four hadn’t quite gotten bigger opportunities before this.

This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you like mostly mindless fun, especially from the teen sex comedy drama. Plus, it is less derivative than most of the films in the genre.

Film Review: Destino (2003)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2003 (Annecy Animation Film Festival), originally began production in 1945
Directed by: Dominique Monféry
Written by: Salvador Dali, John Hench, Donald W. Ernst
Music by: Armando Dominiguez, Michael Starobin, Dora Luz

Walt Disney, 7 Minutes

Review:

In 1945, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and American animator Walt Disney started work on this collaborative effort. While it didn’t actually come out until 2003, 58 years since the project began, it is a perfect marriage of the two artists’ styles. Taking the surrealist style of Dali and bringing it to life via Disney animation.

From 1945 and into 1946, Dali and Disney studio artist John Hench worked together on storyboarding the project. Due to financial woes during the World War II era, Disney had to halt production. Hench put together a seventeen second animation test in an attempt to keep the company happy and on board with the project but it was put on hiatus for decades.

Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, rediscovered the project in 1999 while he was working on Disney’s Fantasia 2000. He decided to resurrect the amazing collaboration and Walt Disney Studios worked on it until it was finally completed.

Twenty-five Disney animators fleshed out the project based off of Dali and Hench’s storyboards and notes. They also got help from Hench himself and delved into the journals of Dali’s wife, Gala Dali.

The final production uses the original Hench animation while the newly animated parts are a combination of traditional hand drawn animation and some computer animation. It all comes together beautifully, however, and is consistent with the originally conceived style.

The short film follows the story of the god Chronos and his love of a mortal woman. The woman dances through surreal imagery in the style of Dali’s paintings. All of this is brought further to life by the musical score of Mexican composer Armando Dominiguez and the vocals of Dora Luz.

If you are a fan of Dali and classic Disney animation, there is nothing not to like here. It blends the two styles together magnificently along with the fabulous score.

The public and critical consensus was very positive for the film and it even received an Academy Award nomination in 2004 for Best Animated Short Film.

 

Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Flea

Big Talk Productions, Working Title Films, Media Rights Capital, TriStar Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck your baby.” – Bats

Edgar Wright has been one of my favorite directors of the last decade and a half. Granted, he hasn’t directed as much as I’ve liked and his last effort before this, The World’s End, was pretty lackluster and also came out four friggin’ years ago. He was involved in Marvel’s Ant-Man but left the project after putting in a lot of time, so that excuses the four year hiatus, I guess.

After the long wait, Baby Driver is not a disappointment. To be completely honest and frank, this is my favorite Edgar Wright film, which is pretty unbelievable with Hot FuzzShaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his oeuvre.

Now this is a film that is getting a lot of hype between the critics and other reviewers and bloggers online. This is one of those rare cases where you can believe the hype.

With fast car movies being a dime a dozen these days, Baby Driver is completely its own entity. It is better than all the films you could compare it to. The Fast & Furious movies have become cartoons and have never been able to tell a story this great. Drive, while a mesmerizing marvel to look at, doesn’t come close to having the heart of Baby Driver nor does it match its personality and characters.

Additionally, the action in Baby Driver is pretty realistic and it all seems plausible. The Fast & Furious films are ridiculous and while Drive felt authentic, it didn’t have the amount of getaways and fast action that Baby Driver does. The film shifts from car chases, foot chases and machine gun shootouts quickly and seamlessly.

All of the action, and really all of the film, revolves around music. This is not a musical, by any means, but the narrative is driven by the tunes hand-selected by Edgar Wright for this picture. The soundtrack is magnificent and I’m picking up the vinyl when the record store is open (they were closed when I swung by after seeing this at its first showing).

Not only does the music enhance the experience but so does the cast. I didn’t know much about Ansel Elgort or Lily James before seeing this but they were superb as Baby and Debora. I’ll definitely check out their future films and maybe look back at some of their earlier work.

The rest of the cast was like an all-star team of great bad asses. You had Jon Hamm (in my favorite role after Don Draper), Jon Bernthal (the Punisher, himself), Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Flea. All of these men were criminals and each was unique and interesting. Well, Flea and Bernthal could’ve used some more meat to chew on but that may have had a negative effect on the film’s flow.

Baby Driver is the most adrenaline heavy movie I have seen since Mad Max: Fury Road and it may even be a better film than that. They are two very different action flicks but Baby Driver is a perfect marriage of all its elements. I can’t think of a single thing that could have been better.

The film exceeded the expectations I did have and this is one of the best movies I have seen over the last decade. It is the best summer film this year and nothing else really compares to it. And the thing is, this isn’t even trying to be a tent pole film but it blows them all away. Better action, better acting and just a better movie, hands down.

Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know why they named that boy that African name. Knowing he from Cleveland!” – Pop

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Those Ramones are peculiar.” – Miss Togar

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

Release Date: October 18th, 1991
Directed by: David Kellogg
Written by: David Stenn
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Michael Gross, Deezer D, Naomi Campbell

Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, whackhead tried to play baseball with my homeboy’s bike!” – Johnny

I remember seeing the trailer for this thing when I was a middle school aged kid sitting in a theater waiting for something better to start. Granted, I don’t remember what that film was but it certainly wasn’t Cool as Ice.

I remember people telling me how shitty this film was. I never had the urge to see it and I was never a fan of Vanilla Ice. I was listening to N.W.A., Ice Cube, Public Enemy and a lot of thrash metal at the time.

Because of my influences, I thought Vanilla Ice was just some cream puff wannabe. Besides, how could he possibly top his performance of “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Then I noticed that there was a RiffTrax version of the movie streaming for free for Amazon Prime members. I thought, “What the hell, why not? It’s only an hour and a half and I can listen to those guys riff anything.”

I’m glad that I watched the movie. Is it bad? Oh, yes. It is straight 90s cheese of the worst kind and looking at this thing in 2017 re-familiarizes me with the worst things pop culture had to offer at the time. I’m not knocking Vanilla Ice per se, I am knocking the film in its style, its tone, its dialogue, its acting and its plot.

The story sees a wannabe bad ass with a heart of shit roll into a small town with his homies on their obnoxiously 90s motorcycles. One of the bikes breaks down and Vanilla Ice is stuck in Boringsville, U.S.A. He falls for some preppy brainy white chick and steals her personal notebook because he’s obviously a creep. However, it turns the girl on but not as much as Ice forcing her to dance and then pressing her to the floor as he gyrates on top of her in front of the whole town. Her boyfriend gets angry. Ice and the boyfriend have some fight and creeper Vanilla breaks the guys nose but he’s a douche too so my only concern is that the girl has really shitty taste in fellas. Michael Gross from Family Ties plays the girl’s dad and he’s not a super bad ass like he is in Tremors. In the end, I guess Vanilla Ice is okay though, as he saves the girl’s weirdo little brother from the crooked cops that kidnapped him.

The majority of the film is just there to show how cool Vanilla Ice is. His coolness is quite dated however and one has to question, how was he cool in the first place? I guess by the time that this film came out, it was already too late for Ice, as it was a financial and critical failure. It didn’t even cover a quarter of its small budget during its theatrical run. The director has also since disowned the movie.

Some good came out if it however, as the director of photography Janusz Kamiński would go on to be the cinematographer on Schindler’s ListSaving Private Ryan and Minority Report. And honestly, Cool as Ice had some good visual elements.

Unfortunately, a big bulk of the film was made up of pointless musical montages of Ice riding his motorcycle through the desert or posing like a lazy model on a couch that looked like it was stolen from the Max on Saved by the Bell.

Cool as Ice, however, is strangely entertaining. Obviously not in the way that was intended but there is a quaint cuteness to it. For a film deeply submerged in its own flaws, somehow a bit of heart does come through. Just a bit, though.

Also, the music isn’t horrible. Ice’s songs aren’t very good but the rest of the soundtrack is made up of new jack swing tunes that fit the movie’s era. I’ve always liked new jack swing, so I was cool with the overall use of music in the picture.

I don’t hate Cool as Ice, as many before me do. It’s a bad and strange film but it is a great time capsule for an era that I’m glad to see is several decades behind us now. Not that today’s pop culture is any better, though. Eh… maybe Vanilla Ice wasn’t so bad.