Monday, February 20, 2012

Shoot the Moon

Shoot the Moon is a mess of a movie, but it's one that managed to stick with me for many years after seeing it.

And see it I did, that Saturday the 20th in 1982. I went with my parents, and it was playing at the Northpoint, which, looking back, seems an odd venue since it wasn't a movie that demanded a huge screen and Dolby stereo.

By 1982, director Alan Parker had made three movies, one of which--Bugsy Malone--I was a huge fan. (The other two, Midnight Express and Fame, were movies I'd eventually see, but I don't think I saw them at this point in 1982.) I think it was because of my fondness for Bugsy Malone, and because Shoot the Moon was a family drama that had some younger characters, that we decided it was an appropriate movie for a family outing. (Not that appropriate was really of much concern--I mean, just check all the previous posts to see that. But you get my point.)

The story is about the end of a marriage, with the disintegrating couple played by Diane Keaton and Albert Finney, and the affect their split has on the family, which includes four young daughters. The daughters are played by a pre-"Family Ties" Tina Yothers; a pre-"Growing Pains" Tracey Gold; Viveka Davis, who eventually appeared on "V"; and Dana Hill, who had been in some TV movies, and would eventually appear as the daughter in European Vacation. And she's the one who completely steals the movie. I wish I could offer a better clip of her in action, but you can see a bit of her in this scene from the movie's beginning; she's the one eavesdropping on the phone.

I say the movie is a mess because while it attempts to be a completely realistic portrait of divorce, the main characters do a lot of things that are completely unbelievable, culminating in one of the stupidest endings I've ever seen. (I'm not going to spoil it, but if you have seen it, I'd love to discuss it!)

But the performances make it worth watching, in particularly from Diane Keaton, who was at the peak of her fame, and, as previously mentioned, from Dana Hill who is completely heartbreaking as the daughter who just can't bring herself to forgive her dad's leaving. Karen Allen and Peter Weller round out the cast, as the mistress and the new boyfriend, respectively.

(Turns out, Karen Allen was in a lot of movies of my youth. The aforementioned The Wanderers; as well as Animal House; the ultimate, Raiders of the Lost Ark; and the oft-forgotten Starman. And you don't really see faces like hers anymore. I miss her!)

Also of note is the film's setting, which is the Bay Area, with a few scenes taking place at the Fairmont in San Francisco, and the rest set up around Point Reyes and Nicasio.

I'll end this with one more scene, which is an example of the movie at its best, and at its worst. And I'll say no more than that...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Getting Punched In The Face By Denzel Washington: Safe House

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I realize it may seem like I begin a lot of movie reviews with a discussion of whether or not the male lead takes his shirt off. But I think when the male lead in question has something like this in his past, it's a hard (no pun intended) subject to simply ignore.

So, for the record, Ryan Reynolds does take his shirt of in the new espionage thriller Safe House. But it's only in the beginning, and it's not for very long. If that's your sole reason for seeing this movie, save your money.

With that out of the way, we can move on to more important things. Like Denzel Washington's smile!

Just kidding.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Matt Weston, a young CIA operative stuck in a crappy position manning a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. He's desperate to move to a better position, ideally in France so he can be with his (requisite) girlfriend when she moves back home. When rogue agent Tobin Frost (Washington) turns himself into the U.S. Consulate, agents in the States decide to detain him at the safe house and perform some "enhanced interrogation techniques."

What seems like a relatively simple job for Weston turns into something much worse when the safety of Frost, and everyone in the safe house, is compromised. Soon, Weston finds himself solely responsible for Frost's detention and safe keeping.

Yes, Denzel Washington does flash his famous smile more than once as rogue CIA Agent Tobin Frost, and he's as comfortable in this complex-bad-guy role as he's been every other time he's done something similar. Maybe even a little too comfortable. He's got this kind of role down so pat, I almost can't help but think of Jay Pharoah's dead-on impersonation whenever Washington does his patented thing. And it makes me want to see Washington in something completely different, like a comedy, or a romance. (Take a romantic lead, Denzel! Do it!)

Safe House doesn't waste any time getting started, with people getting shot and chased through the streets within its first 10 minutes. Because of the fast pace, I was a little worried I wasn't actually following the plot well, wondering who the hell it was Frost was meeting with, what he was buying, and who it was that wanted to kill him.

Turns out, the plot is a lot simpler than it first appears to be, and this lack of complexity is actually a bit disappointing. What Frost is in possession of, and what it can mean to the world's defense and investigative agencies is massive. How the movie handles it isn't. Political implications and ramifications are not the goal here; kicking ass and chasing cars is.

And indeed there is more face punching going on in this thing than there is in many of the Rocky movies. And I've got to applaud Ryan Reynolds's acting here. He makes getting fake-punched in the face feel so real I was beginning to fear for his safety. More than once he looks like his eyes are going to pop out of his head, he appears to be in so much pain. Too bad they don't give out Oscars for one's ability to turn one's own face purple.

The movie also offers a pair of very exciting car chases, one of which includes Ryan Reynolds getting punched in the face by Denzel Washington WHILE MANEUVERING THROUGH TRAFFIC.

Director Daniel Espinosa definitely has a keen eye for action sequences; it's a shame he muddies that action with purposely grainy film stock, shaky camera work, and an annoying tendency to keep shots out of focus.

Some great actors round out the cast, including Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Ruben Blades, and Brendan Gleeson, and as such, Safe House is filled with better performances than a movie with such a familiar plot deserves. Because of those performances, and its above average moments of action, the film is able to rise to the level of pretty solid entertainment--just not something you'll be thinking about much after the lights come up. (Though I dare you to get that theme song out of your head in under a day.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012


On February 5th, 1982, I apparently went to see Taps, but I think I might have that date wrong, because the 5th was a Friday. It was probably actually Saturday the 6th, but I do know I went with a few neighborhood friends, and we saw it at the Metro on Union Street. I bet you anything we took the 22 Filmore there and back.

We probably went to see it because there were some cute boys in it, including Timothy Hutton, and Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, both in their first big roles. I can't imagine we went because we were really into movies about military schools. I can tell you I am currently not into movies about military schools, especially movies about military schools that are being forced to close, and are subsequently held under siege by angry students with an arsenal of weapons. Which is why I didn't make an effort to actually rewatch this one. (If it were available on Netflix instant, or Amazon, or even broadcast, I'd have given it a look. But I just can't see wasting a DVD rental on it...)

Now, I can't verify this in any way, but I have a feeling we might have been a little...rowdy in the theater that day. I remember thinking it was kind of boring, and if I was bored, I can guarantee my friends were bored, and if they were bored, they weren't going to be quiet about it. So, if you were in that theater that February afternoon, let me extend my late, but very sincere apologies...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

An American Werewolf in London

The final movie in my birthday slumber party was An American Werewolf in London, but first things first: what's up with the above trailer? It's pretty obviously a "teaser" trailer, but it manages to give absolutely no indication of what the movie is actually like, which is to say, a horror comedy, and is kind of all around lame. (The full trailer is better, but still kind of sucks.)

I'm drawing a bit of a blank on just where I originally saw American Werewolf. I have memories of seeing either it, or The Howling, or both, at a drive-in in 1981 with my parents, but I also found this flyer, in my "Genre Book," for a sneak preview screening at the Royal Theater.

I really don't remember going to that, so maybe my father went, and saved the flyer, and then took me and my mother to see both at the drive-in at a later point.

I will say, its existence on video in January of 1982 puts the kibosh on my assumption that movies took about a year to make it to home video back then, as Werewolf came out in August of 1981. What we watched that day was most likely a rental from Captain Video, the only place we rented movies from at that time.

Now, I remember liking the movie a lot, enough to warrant watching it for a second time at my birthday party, so my rating it a 3 1/2 in my ledger is a bit perplexing, especially since I gave Ghost Story--a much worse movie--a three. But then again, I probably shouldn't put much faith into any of those ratings; I was twelve!

Still, the movie does have flaws even a twelve-year-old could recognize, the biggest of which is its ending. It's just ludicrous and lame. (Spoiler alert, but: So, he basically freaks out, transforms, causes a ruckus in Piccadilly Circus, and is shot. The ending is really, really abrupt, and just feels like Landis didn't know how to end it. Plus, are we really supposed to believe those cops were able to shoot around Jenny Agutter in that dark alley, killing David instantly?)

The numerous dream sequences in the beginning of the movie don't really work, either, and too often just seem like an excuse for John Landis to do something he thought would be cool, like having Nazi werewolves go on a rampage.

The film is much more successful when it's funny, and it's that combination of laughs and scares that makes it something still worthy of watching.

This is probably my favorite scene in the movie; it's a perfect blend of the disgusting and the comedic:

That moment when Jack says "DAVID!" gets me every time.

I'll end this with another bit from that Genre Book: a brief mention of the movie from an issue of Trashola, and a mini-review from the East Bay Express.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Times Square

Times Square came out in 1980, and I'm pretty sure I saw it then, at the Coronet Theater. (This is another one I'll have to look up on old newspaper microfilm!)

Regardless of when or where I first saw it, it was instant love. I bought the soundtrack, played the hell out of (most) of it, and rewatched the film many, many times growing up. It addressed a kind of rebellion I'd always admired, but was never brave enough to embark on during my youth.

It's worth watching for a slew of reasons, not the least of which, it's a great portrait of a pre-Disneyfied Times Square, New York, and, in fact, the movie is partially about the gentrification of the area, and how this was bad thing. I haven't actually been to either the new or the old Times Square, but viewing this movie and comparing it to images from the new Times Square, well, it really is kind of startling how different they are. I imagine this must have been pretty shocking a change for New Yorkers, because I know how freaking bizarre it would be to see mid-Market in San Francisco suddenly full of neon signs, tourists, and name brand stores, and free of the...colorful characters that currently populate it...

Another reason to watch it is because of how great the two leads are. Trini Alvarado made some things prior to this, and would gain a modest amount of fame in years to follow, but Robin Johnson, who makes her debut in Times Square, never really had a major film role after this, which is such a loss. She's a natural, had a fantastic voice, and I think she would have only gotten better as she got older. (She has a brief role in another great movie, Baby, It's You, and a non-speaking cameo in Martin Scorsese's After Hours, but really, that's it.)

Apparently, the relationship between the two girls was supposed to be more overtly a romantic one in the original version of the movie, but the director didn't get final cut, so that aspect of the movie was toned down in the final release. I can see why this might be bothersome, but I think the relationship between the girls is pretty obviously a romantic one, at least to one of them, and I think that's enough. By keeping that aspect subtle, the story becomes more about the nature of female friendship, especially during the early teen years, and is therefore a bit more universal.

Director Allan Moyle talks about this, (along with Robin Johnson, who has totally lost her accent and raspy voice!), on the DVD release of the movie, but, alas, that DVD is now out of print. Luckily I bought a copy back in 2000, and that's what I rewatched. The whole movie still holds up, for the most part. I'd always had a bit of a problem with Tim Curry's character, and that hasn't really changed. I don't know if it's Curry, or the character, but he kind of grates. Also, the girls' weird venture into a kind of performance art that involves tossing TVs off of rooftops doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but maybe it's not supposed to. Also, the girls are wearing some really, really bad wigs during the first few scenes of the movie, and I imagine a scene of them changing their hair must have been cut...

But other than that, I still love Times Square to death. I mentioned the soundtrack earlier, and that's the final reason it's worth watching. Allan Moyle eventually had a big problem with some of the songs that ended up in the movie, and I'll agree, there's some crap in there. But what's not crap is pretty remarkable, including songs by The Pretenders, Gary Neuman, The Cars, XTC, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Patti Smith, Suzi Quatro, Joe Jackson, AND The Ramones. Whoa.

Like I said, the DVD is out of print, and not available on Netflix, but it is available on YouTube. So why don't you just watch the whole movie right here, right now! Come on, we can all watch it together and have a virtual slumber party. Pass the Jiffy Pop!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Halloween & Carrie

Continuing on with movies viewed during that birthday party on January 23rd, 1982, I am delegating Carrie and Halloween to one post, mainly because they are two movies that I think I've only ever seen on video, laserdisc, and DVD. (I neglected to mention, in my previous post about The Wanderers, that I had originally seen that movie in a theater in 1979, when it opened, and I believe it was at the Cinema 21 on Union Street. This birthday party viewing was at least my 13th viewing, as it was something I watched over and over again on VHS.)

It pains me to think that all those early viewings of Halloween were on crappy pan-and-scanned video copies, and I probably didn't actually get to see the movie in all its widescreen glory until some time in the 90s, when it was released on laserdisc.

It still managed to capture me, though, and I think that had a lot to do with the three main girls. Of course, it was scary, and gripping, and all that, but that wouldn't mean much if I didn't give a crap about the three teens being stalked. It's kind of hard to look at its influence in hindsight, but it really did set up the cliches of the genre--nice, virginal girl lives; sexually active girls die--but you have to remember that at that time, those weren't cliches. It was just that film's story.

So, I cared about the fates of all three of them: sarcastic, knee-sock wearing Annie; totally cute Lynda; and shy, smart Laurie.

Speaking of shy and smart, that leads us to Carrie, although, I'm not sure she'd really be classified as "smart" after that whole period-in-the-school-shower thing.

Carrie is kind of an odd film in my viewing history. While it came out in 1976, I didn't see it until it was out on video--and while it was officially a six-year-old movie at that point in 1982, it seemed so much older, and hopelessly dated to me and my friends. All those ridiculous bell bottom pants; giant platform shoes; William Katt's enormous hair. We might as well have been watching a movie made 20 years earlier, not six.

Still, Carrie became a movie I would revisit regularly, usually right before a new school year was starting, because as bad as I knew school could be, I was pretty sure it would never be quite as bad as Carrie's senior year at Bates High.

Coincidentally, P.J. Soles has a role in both of these movies, both times playing wisecracking teens, (Lynda in Halloween; Norma in Carrie), which is what she also played in Rock and Roll High School, another movie I watched again and again growing up, (and which I'll talk about come August).