I watched four really fun '80s films this week. My queue is pretty much all in random order at this point, but all of these films were ones I had seen on video back when they were new releases. Would I love them as much as I had when I was a teenager? How dated were they?
People in the '80s smoked. In Midnight Run, they smoke at the airport counter, on the plane, on a bus. People smoked at work, at home, in retail stores. It looked a little weird, like science fiction weird.
But science fiction weird was at its weirdest with Alien Nation, a movie starring James Caan, Mandy Patankin, and Terrance Stamp. These three fine actors made their way through a film free of CGI, which relied on a story and acting to entertain the audience. Throughout the film, I kept thinking how a remake would cost $100 million and the entire third act would be a car chase, gun fight, and fistfight, with a time bomb option. At its heart though, this isn't a science fiction film, but rather an earth-based cop flick with lots of earth-living extra-terrestrials. But the best cop flick of the bunch was William Friedkin's To Live and Die In L.A.
At the beginning, it appears to be a cliché festival. Near the beginning, William Petersen's (CSI, Manhunter) partner barely makes it through the opening alive, regarding which he comments, "I'm getting too old for this shit." Wang Chung contributes the soundtrack. There's a bar with unexplained performance art dancers in black and white makeup. There's the requisite car chase that Friedkin delivers in style, much like what he did in The French Connection. Then, near the end, the movie takes some very not clichéd turns. Still, it's not nearly as well known as his horror film, The Exorcist. But the horror was seen in my pick of the week, The Stuff.
Pick of the Week
The Stuff is a Larry Cohen film about a mysterious dessert. No, not a mysterious desert, a mysterious dessert called The Stuff that takes over the stomachs of the American public.
Long before anyone talked about bio-engineered foods, Cohen produced, wrote, and directed this tale about a dessert you would die for, literally. Cohen is the writer, director, and producer of a lot of films that I love: Bone, Black Caesar, God Told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent, and It's Alive.
Michael Moriarity, a Cohen regular, plays a sleazy corporate investigator hired by some dessert companies to find out just what The Stuff is. He takes the job, but soon runs into more opposition than he realized. One person who does help him is Chocolate Chip Charlie, a Famous Amos type character, played by Garrett Morris. Much later, Paul Sorvino, as a Paramilitary Separatist, provides him with much needed firepower and backup.
The Stuff is part homage to Commie Scare scifi and horror of the '50s, in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the fun fake looking monsters that still manage to leave the viewer yelling at the screen, like The Blob. Cohen puts these elements in '80s America to nice effect.
The fun comes from the TV Commercials, one starring Clara "Where's the Beef?" Peller, the advertising, the labels, and the pervasive pints of creamy goodness on everyone's shelves. When The Stuff goes into action, it's hilarious, while still being suspenseful.
I didn't have time to rewatch the film with the commentary track on, but I've watched four of his other films with commentary, that really added to my experience of how Cohen made his films and why.
There were several good films, but this is the one I think you would have missed without my recommendation. But I've said enough already. Get this one.
134 days in, 231 days left. 170 discs in, 330 left. This leaves us at...9.99 discs per week! I'm under ten again, for the first time since January or something. I think I have figured out the rhythm; it's mostly how much I can watch before Thursday's mail pickup. But this week brings me a wedding of two friends.
I'm not sure what to do. I'm going, I'm going, it's somewhere outside Tahoe, and I've already caught a ride. I'm not sure if I should pick up one of those portable DVD players or not. Maybe I can cram ten movies in before Friday's departure, leaving me to write the column when I come back Sunday night.
However, Wednesday night I have plans, which should take up most of the evening. This brings up some of the questions that I receive emailed to me.
The number one question is "how do you find the time to watch all these movies?" I have a full time job. People are assuming that I don't work, that I'm either independently wealthy, I live off someone else, or that I'm making enough money writing this column that I can earn a living. None of those assumptions are true. (Editor: All true, painfully so.) I do, however, live across the street from where I work. Aside from having virtually no commute time, this lets me come home from work at lunch and watch a half hour or so a day. That's 100 hours this year if I did it every day.
The second question is more of a statement. "You must be doing nothing but watching movies." Not nothing, but less than last year. I go out. I still go by The Dark Room to see plays, I go to The Hemlock Tavern for the Club Chuckles comedy night, and I show up at various readings and performances around town. I do find myself heading home early from someplace like the El Rio, from watching a band, to get home to watch movies.
Please, email comments, suggestions to email@example.com.