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Canon Films/MGM/UA Entertainment Company
Directed by Joel Silberg
Produced by Allen DeBevoise/David Zito
Screenplay by Charles Parker/Allen DeBevoise/Gerald Scaife
Music by Michael Boyd/Gary Remal
Those of you who have listened to episodes of Better In the Dark where Tom Deja and I talk about 1980s movies already know how I feel about BREAKIN’. I’ve called it the “Gone With The Wind” and the “Citizen Kane” of breakdance movies. Not that there’s a whole lotta breakdancing movies as a genre to compare it to. But there’s many reasons why we still remember and love BREAKIN’ for what it does. Because what it does it does extraordinarily well and does it with no pretension whatsoever.
Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) is struggling to make it as a dancer in L.A. Along with her friend Adam (Phineas Newborn III) she studies jazz dancer under the tutelage of Franco (Ben Lokey) who believes in strict discipline and classicism when it comes to dance. He also has the hots for Kelly. Kelly wants to be a success and become a professional dancer but there are lines she will not cross. But she does cross one line when she becomes friends with street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers). They may not be classically trained dancers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best. And they most certainly are. Except when it comes to battling their dance rivals Electro Rock.Ozone and Turbo could more than handle Electro Rock when it was just Poppin’ Pete (Timothy Solomon) and Pop N’ Taco (Bruno Falcon). But then they add a chick, Lil’ Coco (Vidal Rodriguez) and that changes the whole game. It changes it even more when Kelly offers to team up with Ozone and Turbo, forming a group called TKO that incorporates her jazz dance/classic moves with their street dance/breakdance. The results are a whole lot of fun to watch.
And make no mistake; there a solid reason why BREAKIN’ has lasted this long and is so highly regarded as a dance film. Well, by me at least. It’s just downright Fun to watch. And a large part of that is because I was there when all this was going on and it’s a way for me to revisit my past. My friends and I must have gone to see BREAKIN’ at least half a dozen times in the theaters (remember this is 1984. You could see a triple feature on Manhattan’s 42end St. for three bucks)
I will admit a large part of the reason why we went back to see it repeatedly was Lucinda Dickey. No great actress, she. But damn, she was smokin’ hot. In fact, none of the leads in BREAKIN’ were great actors. But they were authentic and honest and they had charisma and chemistry. Adolfo Quinones and Michael Chambers are like the Green Hornet and Kato of breakdancing. I love the fact that they unabashedly dress like superheroes. Because in their minds, that’s exactly what they are. And they made me believe they were. The relationship between the three characters is what drives a lot of the movie and they sell it. Not through their acting but through their personalities. That gives BREAKIN’ an almost documentary feel at times.
But then there are other scenes such as Boogaloo Shrimp’s dance with a broom that is a homage to a similar scene Fred Astaire did in one of his movies. Boogaloo Shrimp’s breakdance homage to that scene is just as exhilarating and vital as the original. It’s the very definition of how one piece of art can influence another.
This is the movie that infamously has Jean-Claude Van Damme as an uncredited dancer. And Christopher McDonald wins the “Who The Hell let HIM In This Movie?” award for this one.
That’s not to say that I can’t find any fault with the movie. Lucinda Dickey and Adolfo Quinones can’t sell the heavy emotional scenes between their characters. And I chalk it up to their simply not having enough experience to do so. But there is one scene where they do sell the emotion. Ozone takes Kelly to watch some street dancers. One of them is a kid on crutches. Despite the fact he does not have the use of his legs, he dances. Ozone points to him and says; “THAT is what dancing is all about. Look at his face.” A face that expresses nothing but pure joy. And that is exactly what BREAKIN’ is about. It’s about the pure joy of dancing. You want to honor what BREAKIN’ represents? Then get up and dance while you’re watching it. When the sound track plays a piece of music like Al Jarreau’s“Boogie Down” or Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”? get up and dance your ass off.
1 hr. 30 minutes
Hemdale Film Corporation
Written and Directed by Steven De Jarnatt
Produced by John Daly/Derek Gibson
Music by Tangerine Dream
Okay. Two things before I get into the story synopsis and summery part of the review. Bear with me for a bit, okay?
First off, I do not care a poobah’s pizzle about spoilers. Really, I don’t. I’ve been watching movies and TV shows long enough that I really can predict where the plot is going and what the characters are going to do. So it takes whole lot to surprise me. That’s not to say that I advocate people spoiling movies and TV shows for others. Which bring me to MIRACLE MILE. Despite it being made almost thirty years ago, the emotional power of the movie rests on you not knowing what its about. And so, unlike other movies made during that year such as “Scrooged” or “They Live” or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” which everybody knows and is familiar with, MIRACLE MILE absolutely depends on you seeing it with a fresh eye and not knowing what is going to happen next so that you have that “Oh, Shit.” feeling you’ll have when the end credits roll. And if you see it for the first time, trust me…you’ll say, “Oh, Shit.” when the movies ends. If you don’t, you have no soul.
Those who have seen MIRACLE MILE who are reading this are now nodding in agreement with me.
Second, MIRACLE MILE is a movie that comes to my mind when people ask me about my favorite horror movies. You can keep your “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday The 13th” as they’re nothing more than gore porn. And if that is your thing, Odin bless you and may Heimdall make your way clear to Midgard. But for me, MIRACLE MILE is the a prime example of the real deal when I talk about horror movies. Because it’s something that could actually happen and something I wonder about and ponder how I would behave if I were in that situation.
MIRACLE MILE begins with a sweet romance between Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) who meet up at the La Brea Tar Pus Museum and fall in love at first sight. They spend the day together and make plans to have dinner and go dancing after Julie gets off work at the all-night diner where she works. Due to a power outage, Harry oversleeps and misses the date. He races down to the diner and finds out she’s left for home. Harry goes outside the diner to use a pay phone to call her. The phone rings and Harry picks it up. What he hears changes everything as he thinks it’s a panicky message about how nuclear missiles have been launched and World War III is only 60 minutes away. Harry attempts to find out more is cut off by machine gun fire and a voice on the phone telling him to go back to sleep.
Harry returns to the diner and informs the other patrons of what he’s heard. Most of them are folks you would expect to find at a diner at 1AM and they don’t believe him. That’s until the chick at the end of the counter (Denise Crosby) who is dressed like a lawyer takes her satellite phone out of her purse, calls a few numbers, asks Harry a few questions and confirms that everybody important in Washington, DC from the President on down to the janitor who cleans the toilet at The Washington Monument is leaving town and heading for everywhere nuclear missles can’t reach.
Everybody immediately scrambles to try to get out of Los Angeles before the missiles hit. But here’s the thing that makes MIRACLE MILE so brilliant: we’re never really sure if what we think is happening is really happening. Are nuclear missiles really coming to turn America into a radioactive wasteland? And does that make any different when we’re so willing to turn on each other and become brutal, bloodthirsty monsters just to survive?
As far a apocalyptic movies go, MIRACLE MILE is right up there with the best of them. It goes so fast from from being a sweet romance to a horror survivalist movie it’ll make your head burst. I have never been much of an Anthony Edwards fan but damn if he doesn’t nail it with this one. Harry spends most of the running time of the movie trying to to save the life of a girl he’s only known for a few hours but he sells that shit. 90% of the movie rests on his shoulders and he carries it with no problem at all.
And as for for Mare Winningham…sigh…this is an actress who should have enjoyed a more successful carreer. No, she’s not what we could consider conventionally pretty but she’s sexy as hell. And she can act. Mare Winningham can do more with a look than Demi Moore or Courtney Cox can do with three pages of dialog. She’s nothing less than remarkable in MIRACLE MILE
And if you’ve never seen her in any other movie, watch her in this one.
So should you see MIRACLE MILE? Absolutely YES. It is at once one of the sweetest romantic movies I’ve ever seen and one of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen and there ain’t a lot of movie I can say that about.
Directed by Tom Laughlin
Produced by Frank Capra, Jr.
Written by Tom Laughlin & Delores Taylor
See, it’s one thing when Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) goes into a two or three minute monologue about how he’s gonna kick ass and takes his time removing his socks and boots before doing so. Given the conventions of an action movie, we go along with it for the purposes of suspending our disbelief for the duration of the time we are willing inhabit this fictional universe. But when we have JEAN ROBERTS (Delores Taylor) also going into the ritual of removing her socks and boots before kicking ass…well, you done lost me.
And don’t get me wrong. We have seen in the previous movie; “The Trial of Billy Jack” that Jean has been studying hapkido under the tutelage of Bong Soo Han himself, renowned as the ‘Father of Hapkido.’ So I would expect that between that movie and this she has achieved a level of proficiency where she can certainly handle herself if attacked. But removing off her socks and boots while her opponents, all of them trained CIA killers who have knives in their hands assigned to kill her but patiently wait for her to get herself ready to beat their asses…nah.
But then again, this isn’t the first improbable thing that BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON wants us to accept. For many years this was the red-headed stepchild of the “Billy Jack” franchise. It only had a very limited theatrical release and really has only enjoyed a wide viewing availability on DVD and via cable/satellite channels such as The Sony Movie Channel which is where I saw it. And for good reason. Whereas “Billy Jack” is a supremely good movie to watch and “The Trial of Billy Jack” is worth watching if you know what you’re getting into, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON is worth forgetting.
Through a series of events that are far too complicated for me to relate here in this review as I try and hold them down to a thousand words or less, Billy Jack is appointed a United States Senator to fill out the term of a Senator that has died. Billy Jack quickly decides to use his new found power to propose a bill to fund a national youth camp. Unfortunately for him that land has already been earmarked by the D.C. power elite for a nuclear power plant. Billy Jack counts on the help of an old family friend, Senator Joseph Paine (E.G. Marshall) to achieve this goal but Paine is under the control of Mr. Bailey (Sam Wanamaker) who holds no political office but does hold the balls of Senators and Congressmen in his pocket.
Billy Jack refuses to play political ball and decides to take to the Senate floor to get his message out. In a stirring filibuster in which we see that Tom Laughlin tries his best to invoke the spirit of Jimmy Stewart and grab an Academy Award attempts to save his youth camp and expose the evils of Big Corporation.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I fully understand that all of Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack movies are his platform for his political views. And in the case of “Billy Jack” and even “The Trial of Billy Jack” I appreciate and understand what he did. Especially in the the case of “Billy Jack” which is a pretty damn good movie when taken on its own terms. But this movie? MEH.
My recommendation? Watch “Born Losers” “Billy Jack” and “The Trial of Billy Jack” and leave it at that. There’s an excellent reason why BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON was unseen for many years and it’s the best reason of all. It’s not a good movie. Even though it boasts A-List actors such as E.G. Marshall, Sam Wanamaker and Pat O’Brien it also give the spotlight to Lucie Arnaz. And in this movie she demonstrates that she has neither the looks nor talent of her parents and we can easily see why she never had a career to equal theirs.
But Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor are always watchable. They are these characters and that gives them a reality that’s worth watching. I did enjoy seeing Teresa Laughlin as Carol as I like seeing how that character has grown and developed from a folk-song singing kid in “Billy Jack” to being Jean’s unofficial second-in-command to the point that there are a couple of times in the movie where Billy Jack asks for her opinion instead of Jean’s.
But I can’t recommend BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON as entertainment unless you seen all the other “Billy Jack” movies and just want to complete the series. It’s too blatant an attempt to cram the political views of Laughlin and Taylor into their fiction and I can’t endorse the movie as entertainment.
Motown Productions/TriStar Pictures
Directed by Michael Schultz
Produced by Berry Gordy
Written by Louis Venost
I’ve got a personal cosmology in my head that is kinda like the celebrated and legendary Wold Newton Universe created by the science fiction master Philip Jose Farmer. I connect movies, TV shows, comic books, pulp characters together in my imagination in ways that make perfect sense to me but might have others saying; “WTH?
Take these three movies from the 1980s: “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension” “Big Trouble In Little China” and THE LAST DRAGON. To me all three movies have a lot in common. At the time they were originally released they were financially and critically not well received. I myself loved all three because they mixed up various genres in such a way that I was completely enthralled and captivated. I learned something from these movies that I had also learned from writers such as George C. Chesbro: not to be afraid to mix elements from different genres of fiction. But audiences didn’t take to them back then. Of course, all three of those movies are now considered classics which I suppose now proves that they were all ahead of their time. In My Head, the events of “Buckaroo Banzai” “Big Trouble In Little China” and THE LAST DRAGON are taking place at the same time in the same universe because I can easily conceive of a universe where so much inspired and delightful insanity can all exist at the same time.
THE LAST DRAGON is a delightfully goofy mash-up of martial arts, glitzy musical numbers, Kung Fu mysticism right out of a Marvel comic book, comedy, romance and satire. Leroy Green (Taimak) is a young black man living in Harlem and studies Kung Fu with your typical wise old Kung Fu Master. Leroy’s expertise in the martial arts is so great that he is known far and wide as “Bruce” Leroy. This does not sit well with Sho’Nuff, The Shogun of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III) who sees “Bruce” Leroy as the only thing standing in his way of being the supreme Kung Fu Master of Harlem.
But Leroy seeks a more spiritual path. He only wants to find a Master who can help him achieve such a sublime state of spiritual and physical perfection that he acquires “The Glow.” A mystical energy that only a true Kung Fu Master can control. He is directed to find such a Master whose name and true identity I dare not reveal here since it’s one of the movie’s best gags. Leroy gets sidetracked from his quest when he meets up with the gorgeous pop star and video jockey Laura Charles (Vanity) who is being threatened by video arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) to sponsor his girlfriend Angela’s (Faith Prince) singing career. The fact that Angela has no singing talent at all doesn’t seem to make a difference to Eddie. It should be noted here that Miss Prince is actually an accomplished Broadway actress and it takes a lot of talent to sing as badly as she does in this movie. Leroy’s life gets complicated when Eddie and Sho’Nuff joins forces. And even more so when Leroy’s quest for a Master takes the most unexpected turn of all as Leroy is forced to look for his Master in the last place he expected to find him.
When people ask me for a list of recommendations for movies that are simply Fun to watch, THE LAST DRAGON is usually in the Top Ten if not the Top Five. And it is a whole lot of fun to watch and best of all, it’s a movie that you can watch over and over again just because of the fun value. First of all, there’s Taimak and Vanity who are one of the most charming and appealing movie couples in film history. Right from their first scene together you’re rooting for this couple to get together. And I like how this movie isn’t afraid to have fun with typical movie stereotypes. “Bruce” Leroy Green dresses, talks, speaks and acts as if he’s straight out of a Shaw Brothers movie whereas the Asians in this movie talk and act the way we traditional expect African-Americans to behave. Trust me, it’s funny. It’s also quite funny and really sweet in how Leroy’s little brother Richie (Leo O’Brien) is more street smart than his older brother but when it counts they are able to mesh their skills together.
What else can I say? The acting is excellent. Everybody knows what kind of movie they’re making and act accordingly. Look for Keisha Knight as “Bruce” Leroy’s little sister (it’s awfully cute how he calls her “Little Blossom”) Chazz Palminteri and William Macy are also in in this movie. Pay attention and you’ll see them in small but pivotal roles. Julius J. Carry III cemented Sho’Nuff as one of the greatest bad guys in the history of cinema with this movie. “The Rhythm Of The Night” is one of the greatest videos ever made to promote a movie. The moment when “Bruce” Leroy realizes who The Master is has to be one of the great Stand Up And Cheer moments in movie history. THE LAST DRAGON is one of the few movies I actually wanted to see a sequel to as I had grown to love and enjoy the characters so much. If you’ve never seen THE LAST DRAGON then your homework assignment is to do so right now.
Written and Directed by J.P. Chan
Based on a story by J.P. Chan and Jo Mei
Produced by Duane Anderson/J.P. Chan /Robert M. Chang/Yasmine Gomez
I will frequently get into arguments with my Facebooks friends who are also rabid movie fans over one simple thing. We’ll be discussing movies and our movie watching habits and the subject of Netflix will come up and they will say; “Oh, I hate Netflix. There’s nothing on there to watch.” And yes, when I hear this quite a bit from them it will drive me up the mollyfoggin’ wall because to me it’s plain and simple as a spit in the eye: if you can’t find anything to watch on Netflix it’s because you’re not looking for anything new to watch.
Take A PICTURE OF YOU for instance. Patricia and I were sitting in the den. We had just eaten a an exceptionally delicious dinner she had prepared and as she is wont to do after we have finished eating dinner she will suggest we watch a movie. She scrolled through the suggestions on her queue, said; “hey, that looks good” and clicked it on. Within thirty minutes we were thoroughly engrossed in an extremely entertaining movie that gave us more than our money and time’s worth and all we had to do was take a chance on it. So let’s table that bullshit about there not being anything to watch on Netflix, okay? I mean, how many times can you watch “Breaking Bad” or “Doctor Who”? Ohhhhh…yeah, that’s right….”Doctor Who” isn’t on Netflix anymore. Jeezly crow…I guess you might actually have to watch something else, then?
Kyle (Andrew Pang) and Jen (Jo Mei) are estranged siblings who are forced to come together to settle their mother’s estate after her death. It doesn’t help that Kyle had to take care of their mother during the last months of her life without Jen’s help. They leave their lives and move into their mother’s house in rural Pennsylvania to pack up her belongings for a weekend. It also doesn’t help that Kyle has just been through a strained divorce and that Jen is pretty much directionless and self-absorbed. The situation has more gasoline thrown on the fire by Jen inviting her best friend Mika (Teyonah Parris) and boyfriend Doug (Lucas Dixon) up to the house for the weekend. Kyle is understandably pissed that his sister would invite people he considers strangers into what to him is an intensely personal family matter.
And right around when Mika and Doug arrive is when A PICTURE OF YOU takes a sharp left turn out of Really Heavy Family Drama into 1930s Screwball Comedy. Because Kyle and Jen find pictures on their mother’s computer. Pictures that demonstrate that Moms had a freaky side that Kyle in particular would rather not know about. But Jen is determined to find out exactly what the pictures mean and especially about the sexual partner whose penis is quite prominently featured in the picture of the title.
It’s this shifting of tone that really makes A PICTURE OF YOU such a standout for me and for Patricia who was laughing herself into a hernia during the second half. The first half is pretty much straight family drama about two siblings trying to deal with their mother’s death and their own strained relationship. Once the risque pictures surface and the friends get involved…we go into a whole other sphere of influence here. The movie takes on a comic tone that comes out of the characters and the situations and turns out to be extremely hilarious in spots such as when Our Heroes think they’re spying on an illicit assignation that turns into a polyamorous tryst.
A PICTURE OF YOU is one of those true treasures of Netflix: a movie that like Authors Anonymous was apparently ignored in theaters but deserves to be seen by a wider audience simply because it’s a damn good story presented and acted by artists who believe in the story they’re presenting. I really liked Andrew Pang as Kyle because like him I think there’s some things about my mother’s past I don’t want to know. I really fell in love with Jo Mei because I don’t think there’s another actress alive that could say “holy fucking shit” in so many different ways and have it mean so many different things depending on the situation she’s in.
So should you see A PICTURE OF YOU? Absolutely YES. It’s a movie that deals with the subject of grief and loss of a parent I rarely have seen dealt with in a movie before and it does so in a way that is at both serious and hilarious. Some movies I like to watch because they are a thrill ride. Some let me share in an extraordinary adventure for two hours. And some just let me get at look inside the lives of people I wouldn’t normally not be able to get a look inside of. In that respect A PICTURE OF YOU succeeds admirably. A PICTURE OF YOU is available now for streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend it.
Directed and Written For The Screen by Scott Frank
Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Tobin Armbrust and Brian Oliver
Based on the novel “A Walk Among The Tombstones” by Lawrence Block
I was about an hour into A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES when it occurred to me that I was watching a period piece. And it hit me with real surprise because the movie takes place the 1990’s before The Internet, home PC’s and cell phones really became indispensable and integral components of our daily lives. And the thing is this: I remember the 1990’s. I was there. I lived through the 1990’s and I can’t rightly call a movie a period piece if I actually lived during that period, can I?
But yes, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is indeed a period piece because it takes place in the 20th Century and we are now in the 21st. But it’s not just the lack of modern technology that makes this movie a period piece. One of the characters, a street urchin named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) upon finding out that Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is a private detective demonstrates that he’s familiar with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And Matthew Scudder is very much a literary grandson of those two classic P.I.’s
Matthew Scudder, once a NYPD cop, left the force due to an accidental shooting he was involved in while drunk. He’s now sober and maintaining his sobriety while working as an unlicensed private detective. As he puts it to his prospective client, drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) “I do favors for people. And in return they give me gifts.” The favor Kenny Kristo wants Scudder to do for him is to find his wife who has been kidnapped. In return Kenny will give Scudder the gift of $20,000.
Scudder’s investigations put him on the trail of two truly monstrous psychopaths who have hit on a novel idea: they kidnap the wives and daughters of drug dealers knowing full well that the dealers can’t go to the police or FBI for help since that would expose what they do to the authorities. But as Scudder digs deeper into the case he discovers that this pair are more interested in killing their victims than the million dollar ransoms they demand.
I never realize how much I miss this kind of story until I see it on screen. All the fun has gone out of being a private eye as now all they have to do is know how to work a computer. Matthew Scudder does it the old fashioned way. He does legwork. He goes to the library and uses a microfiche (Hah! Go ahead and Google that!) He asks questions and interacts face to face with people. And instead of taking DNA samples he uses his brain coupled with his years of experience and the instincts he’s developed to find the kidnappers. It’s quite the performance from Liam Neeson. I know people who saw the trailers for this and dismissed it as another variation of “Taken.” Trust me, in tone, in story and most importantly, in character this is nothing like Neeson’s “Taken” movies. I liked how the Matthew Scudder character doesn’t angst over his alcoholism. It’s part of his personality, yes, but it doesn’t define him. It was responsible for a tragic mistake in his past but he’s stepped up to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.
I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one. Mainly because most of the faces were not familiar to me and so I wasn’t watching the actors playing these roles. I was watching the characters. Acting honors in this movie go to Boyd Holbrook as the drug addicted brother of the drug trafficker. He and Scudder bond over their mutual addictive problems and he turns out to be more pivotal to the plot than you would think at first. Brian “Astro” Bradley is also very good as TJ who bonds with Scudder due to his interest in detective fiction and wanting to be a detective himself.
And living in Brooklyn I naturally loved that the movie was filmed here. Some of those same streets that Scudder walks on I’ve either walked on myself or driven down. My tax guy used to have an office right across the street from the graveyard that figures prominently in a suspenseful and tense hostage/money exchange. Unlike a TV show like “The Strain” which goes out of its way to insist that it’s taking place in Brooklyn but never shows me a recognizable street or landmark, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is very clear that it’s a New York movie and lets you know it with every shot.
So should you see A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? Absolutely. It’s way better than “8 Million Ways To Die” the 1986 attempt to bring Matthew Scudder to cinematic life. Jeff Bridges did his best in the role but was sabotaged by the direction of Hal Ashby. Brilliant as he is, Ashby was the last director in the world who should have been directing a hard boiled P.I. thriller. And Scudder is such a New York character (New York City itself can be said to be a supporting character in the Scudder novels) that moving him to Los Angeles just seemed wrong.
But A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES never goes wrong from start to finish. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing throwback of a movie, one full of rock solid performances and a story to match. Well worth your time. Enjoy.