Category Archives: Buried in DVDs

Getting some more 80s cartoons on DVD…

So aside from some odds and ends here and there, new releases of out of print 80s cartoons on DVD have really been slowing down lately (though we did finally get Scooby Doo’s All Star Laff-a-Lympics on DVD.)  I think a big part of this is a mixture of the switch from DVD to Blu-Ray and the general decline in DVD sales.  Just like with VHS when DVDs became cheap there was a too-quick boom where people bought tons of them and then a year or two later were scratching their heads trying to remember why they accumulated a collection of 300 plus movies and television shows.  DVD collecting is one of my main hobbies, in particular building specific libraries (e.g. 60s, 70s, & 80s cartoons and all of the flicks from the 80s that I loved as a kid), so even though I have what seems like six million DVDs I’m not phased in the least. Back to the 80s cartoons though, it’s kind of a shame since there are still a handful of shows that I think really deserve to be available on DVD (like Kidd Video, the Dinosaucers, the Visionaries, Teen Wolf, TigerSharks, and Jem just to name a few.) 

There are a couple of promising movements in the realm of DVD releasing though, namely print-on-demand technology and anthology sets.  Amazon has been playing around with a p.o.d. model by partnering with MTV/Nickelodeon on a series of 90s releases like Doug, the Rugrats, the Maxx, the Head, and Rocko’s Modern Life.  I’m not sure how well these titles are selling, but I can say that I’ve been more than happy with the quality of both the Maxx and Rocko DVDs, and I’d love to see some future releases of Ahh! Real Monsters, Pete & Pete season 3, Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, and maybe some 80s titles as well like You Can’t Do That on Television or a best-of Pinwheel.  Similarly, Warner Bros has also been playing around with p.o.d. with their Warner Archives releases, but so far I’ve found the selection to be wanting and the prices are way too high (but you can finally get Lilly Tomlin’s Incredible Shrinking Woman and the Rankin/Bass Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which is awesome.)  The one company that’s really got me excited though is Shout! Factory which has decided to start their own p.o.d. service that’s specializing in continuing releases of shows that have received initial sets that didn’t sell well and have since stalled like C.O.P.S. and Mr. Belvedere.  I’m crossing my fingers that there is a volume 2 release of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors in the cards…

I’m not quite as interested in the anthology releases that have been coming out, mainly from Warner Brothers, but there is one that has peaked my interest called Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Vol. 1

Warner has previously released two volumes each of 1960s and 1970s sets that are interesting, but unfortunately they were a little off-the-mark in my opinion because they contained episodes of shows already available on DVD.  If there’s one practice I hate with DVDs it’s double dipping, and these are the worst because in order to get episodes of shows like the Herculoids or Shazzan you have to also buy episodes of the Flintstones and Hong Kong Phooey.  Nothing against those two latter shows, but they’re already available on DVD and if you happen to own them than these episodes are just taking up valuable real estate on the anthology releases. I think Warner has finally gotten the message though, and with the 1st 1980s release they concentrating on putting out a collection of shows that have never been on DVD before.  The set consists of single episodes of the following eleven shows:

Mr. T

Thundarr the Barbarian

Dragon’s Lair

The Flintstone Kids

Galtar and the Golden Lance

The Biskitts

The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley

The Monchichis

Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos

Tex Avery’s the Kwicky Koloa Show

Goldie Gold & Action Jack

Though I’d love full season sets of Thundarr and Mr. T, I’m glad at least that these shows are going to see the light of day on DVD.  When I first started collecting cartoons on DVD my mission was to get 1 episode of every show I watched as a kid on DVD, and this set will fill in a good chunk of those gaps.  I can only hope that they continue this trend with at least a second volume.  I’m not sure what shows Warner holds the rights to (even though I realize they own a good chunk of Ruby Spears and Hanna Barbera), but I’d love to see some episodes of Turbo Teen, Pac-Man, Teen Force, Astro and the Space Mutts, Fangface, Captain Caveman, the Frankenstones, The Shirttales, Rubik the Amazing Cube, the Snorks and Kidd Video.

Oh and while I’m on the subject of 80s cartoon releasing, I have to say that there is another “innovation” that’s begun to take a foothold lately that I’m not a big fan of, iTunes only digital downloads.  Whereas I’m all for the idea of more streaming and downloadable content, I hate it when releases are subject to only one medium.  It was recently announced that both the Dinosaucers and the Karate Kid cartoons are going to be available on iTunes.   I’d love to have the Dinosaucers on DVD, but maybe I’ll have to settle for watching them on the computer (or eventually on an iPad maybe?)

What can you really say about a film that involves a nerd deflowering a bowling ball that I didn’t already say with this title?




I’ve been thinking a lot about 70s/80s teen sex comedies lately in the wake of Severin Films’ announcement they’ll be releasing the seminal (in every sense of the word) comedy flick Screwballs on DVD.  By the way, the disc comes out today and you can order your copy by clicking on the cover below…




Anyway, back to pondering teen sex comedies.   It’s really surprising to me how often films don’t deliver on what they promise in terms of content, in particular genre flicks.  I can’t count how many times I’ve rented a horror flick that wasn’t scary, gory, or disturbing, or a comedy that just didn’t try that hard for laughs.  This past year a friend and I sat down and watched a ton of 80s comedies both in the hopes of reliving some nostalgia and to finally expose my friend to the original R-rated bits and pieces that he never got a chance to see growing up as a kid.   My experience to most of the films we watched came through either renting them on video or catching them in the wee hours of the morning on HBO or Cinemax.  My friend on the other hand grew up a bit more sheltered and wasn’t allowed to watch most of them, and the stuff that he did catch was on basic cable over the years so he has felt like he’s really missed out on the raunchy adult humor.


Turns out he didn’t miss all that much.  Even flicks like Porky’s really don’t have all that much in the way of nudity or language so bad that it’d make his grandma blush.  Granted Porky’s was the brainchild of Bob Clark, the same guy who brought us the beloved classic A Christmas Story, but he was also the guy that brought us Black Christmas, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  Overall, after watching flicks like Fast Times at Ridgemount High, Meatballs, Sixteen Candles, Revenge of the Nerds, and Risky Business my friend was starting to feel like he hadn’t missed that much at all.  Personally, I seem to have memories of more raunch in my 80s comedies, though there are a lot of flicks that I watched back in the 80s that we didn’t revisit and were more on the periphery in terms of tasteful content like Hot Dog, Kentucky Fried Movie, Class (which seemed really dirty at the time), and the various academy (Police or Screwball) and school movies (Rock ‘n Roll High, or Ski), all the stuff that I’d catch for years on USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Godfried.


Sure, most of these films have some rude language and a jiggling pair of boobs here and there, but none of them feel like they’re delivering on their potential, not at least in the way that a lot of exploitation flicks did in 60s and 70s.  When you sit down and watch a Herschel Gordon Lewis film like Blood Feast or Two Thousand Maniacs, you get what you pay for.  When you watch a Jack Hill flick like the Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown or Switchblade Sisters, you get plenty of violence, language and T&A.  So with the 80s teen sex comedies, it sad that for the most part you really don’t get more raunch.  That isn’t to say that I don’t like John Hughes (the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) and Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) flicks, just that there was a relatively untapped market for making flicks that were a bit more visceral.


Well, getting back to the reason for this post, I have to say that I never saw Screwballs back in the 80s and it was one heck of an oversight.   Screwballs is to teen sex comedies what Last House on the Left is to horror.  There are more naked girls, goofy horny guys, and inappropriate jokes than in most other 80s films combined.   In fact the raunch reaches a level of slapstick that is more on par with the feel of a crazy 30s era gag-a-second Fleischer cartoon than an 80s comedy.  The flick was also produced under Roger Corman, which might have something to do with its level of debauchery (but in the best sense of the word.)


If you haven’t seen it, the basic gist of the film revolves around a pact made by five senior guys who all have a beef with one girl, the ultimately virginal Purity Busch.  She’s either gotten them in trouble or lead them on and the guys decide that by the end of the school year they’ll either get to see her "goods" and score, or die trying.  Though the film should be qualified as terrible, where plot is really secondary to the mass amount of gags in the film, the set dressing keeps bouncing between the 50, 60s, 70s, and the 80s, and with acting that for the most part is insanely bad, it’s still pretty great.  It’s almost like watching a live action adaptation of a much dirtier version of MAD magazine that still manages to be funny.  Between sessions of strip bowling, insane make-out sessions a the drive-in, freshman breast exams, trips to the strip club (with a guest appearance by Russ Meyer star Raven DeLaCroix), ornate brainwashing attempts involving an giant fake hot dog, insanely inappropriate cheerleading practice in bikinis, and a milf mom who is playing the cougar to the point of being overdubbed with animal growls, you’ll never be bored.


I can honestly say that I was blown away by this long-overdue-on-DVD gem, for however contrived and cliché a statement like that can be.  I have to give a hand to Severin Films for taking the time and effort to restore this film (as well as stuff like the original Inglorious Bastards.)  The DVD looks pretty good for a lowbudget early 80s film like this, and has a nice set of special features including a commentary track as well as surprisingly insightful interviews with the director Rafal Zielinski and cast (there are clips with the director and some of the actors online.)  I don’t know what more I can say except that, again, the DVD is available to purchase as of today. If you’re a fan of goofy 80s comedies and boobs, than this is highly recommended…

Review of the Mill Creek Dungeons and Dragons the Complete Series on DVD…




As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Mill Creek Entertainment has picked up the license to the 1983 Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, one of my favorite mainstays from Saturday Mornings as a kid.  The series was originally released by BCI Eclipse back in January of 2007, but has since gone out of print due to Navarre shuttering the BCI Ink & Paint imprint.   I was a huge fan of that original set as it was one of the first bright examples of an 80s cartoon property handled with love and care, and one that wouldn’t make a permanent dent in your pocketbook.   As much as I hate seeing all the BCI titles starting to drop off into OOP obscurity, I was really glad to hear that Mill Creek was picking up some of the pieces.





That being said, I was a little skeptical of what this would mean for the series being kept alive on DVD.  Mill Creek is most known for distributing public domain material in via large box sets like those 50 movie packs (featuring horror and westerns to name a couple) as well as the 150 packs of old public domain cartoons.  The quality of these public domain titles ranges from medium to poor for the most part and the sets are geared more towards introducing one to obscure nostalgic fare than being a source for nice copies of these movies and cartoons.   From time to time Mill Creek will also take on a licensed property like their releases of the Teddy Ruxpin series.  I picked up one of the TR sets in a dump bin for about $5 and that’s pretty much all it was worth.  The video and audio quality of the show left a lot to be desired, but the price was right and honestly that’s what Mill Creek is all about.  So how would the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon fare?


Well, I just received an advance copy of the Complete series set, which will hit store shelves on August 25th, and should be retailing for between $13 to $24 depending on where you find it.   They’re also releasing an entry level disc which features only the first nine episodes of the cartoon in tandem which should retail for around $10.  After cracking open the set I was both pleasantly surprised and a little bit let down with some quality issues that should have been expected…





First off, the bad. The main issue I have with this set is the packaging.  It’s cheap, really cheap and it’s sort of a shame.  I guess I was spoiled by the nice embossed sturdy box that the BCI release came in, the beautiful fold out digi-pak that housed the discs, and the included episode guide.  Compared to that the Mill Creek release is about as bare bones as you can get…





This set features all 27 episodes spread over 3 single sided discs which are housed in black paper sleeves that sort of snap into the plastic case.  Granted it keeps the DVDs sturdy enough, but I can imagine over time these paper sleeves are going to get worn and torn up.  Besides this, it’s just an annoying to have to pull out the sleeves like this and fish out the disc.  DVD packaging companies are doing wondrous things with minimal packaging these days, and a case like the ones used for the Family Ties releases (that has spindles on either side of the inner case and a flap with a DVD spindle in the middle) would have been a vast improvement at very little increase in cost…





As for the DVDs themselves, they’re not bad.   First off, all of the special features from the BCI edition have been stripped.  There is nothing extra on this set, it’s just the episodes.  Like I mentioned above, there are a total of 27 episodes, 9 to a disc, and the DVDs default into the episode selection screen for each disc…





The most surprising aspect of this set is how well the quality of the actual video and audio held up.  The BCI discs had up to 7 episodes per disc, so there wasn’t a ton of added compression to fit a couple more on, especially considering that all the fancy frills were discarded.  To my eyes, the quality is almost a direct transfer.  As far as the audio goes, it’s a little bit quieter on the Mill Creek DVDs, with the background music suffering the most, but it’s certainly not to a level that it’s ever distracting.  With the video, the Mill Creek version isn’t quite as rich, but the difference is really subtle.  Here are some screen to screen comparisons.  The Mill Creek version is on the left, and the BCI on the right…

Mill Creek                                              BCI
  
Mill Creek                                              BCI

  


All in all, if you’re more interested in just getting a decente copy of all the episodes, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy of the new Mill Creek set.   It’s a little shoddy on the packaging side, but for $13 on Amazon right now it’s one hell of a deal.  If you’re more concerned with a nicer presentation and a great set of special features, than I suggest picking up one of the remaining BCI sets before they fall into seriously over-priced out of print obscurity.  Amazon still has copies available for around $40.


As far as the cartoon itself, I still love it as much as ever and I’m glad to see it staying in print for a new generation.   If you’re interested, you can find my original review of the BCI set, as well as my expanded look at the first 13 episodes from my Cartoon Commentary! column by following these links:


Dungeons and Dragons Overview

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13




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Review of the new Transformers season one set from Shout! Factory



I just received my copy of the new Transformers season one DVD set and I was pretty darn impressed…





For the last few years it’s been a wonderful time for fans of 80s cartoons.  Between the lovely Filmation sets released by the now sadly defunct BCI Eclipse, Warner Bros. stepping up to the plate and offering action cartoons like Thundercats and the Silverhawks, WEP/Anime Works/Media Blasters releasing the complete series of Voltron, Time Life releasing the complete Real Ghostbusters, and Shout! Factory picking up dropped licenses for a ton of DiC and now Sunbow cartoons, releasing 30-odd episode sets instead of the paltry 4 episode discs for shows like C.O.P.S. and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, it’s just been great.


With the recently released Transformers season one 25th anniversary edition, Shout! Factory has stepped up its game and taken on a tent-pole series, looking to correct the mistakes in the show’s past DVD releases (both in terms of price point, attractive packaging and actual animation and sound snafus from the 2002 Rhino releases.)  Taking a nod from Time Life and their release of the Real Ghostbusters, Shout! is putting together multiple DVD sets that’ll hopefully appease both casual and hardcore fans.  This set is the first of 4 individual releases that will comprise the complete Transformers cartoon.


This first set includes all 16 episodes from season one, a 20 minute documentary featurette featuring a lot of the creative team responsible for the original toy line, the Marvel comics series, and the cartoon, a G.I. Joe-style "Knowing is half the battle…" PSA featuring Bumblebee, three archival Hasbro toy commercials, a printable script for the episode "Transport to Oblivion", and a large b&w Autobot magnet.   For the most part, these episodes are from the same masters that Rhino used in the 2002 releases, but Brian Ward and his team painstakingly researched the discrepancies between the original masters and the broadcast versions, and replaced most of the incorrect footage (and sound) with the correct sections from the 1" broadcast tapes.  For casual fans these changes will be transparent, but for longtime viewers, these new DVDs are the closest we’ve gotten to how the show was originally shown on TV.  Unfortunately, the 1" tapes segments tend to stick out a bit, and can be a bit jarring as the animation flows between the crisp sequences of the original masters and the softer, slightly duller 1" broadcast tape.  On the whole though, knowing that the original broadcast versions are preserved far outweighs the visual bumpiness.


Here’s an example of the corrected animation from the episode "Fire in the Sky".  Look to the missing Decepticon symbol on Skyfire’s chest in the original master footage from the 2002 Rhino release on the left, and the newly inserted footage from the 1" broadcast tape on the new Shout! DVD on the right…





The episodes included on disc 1:

-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 1

-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 2

-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 3

-Transport to Oblivion

-Roll for It

-Divide and Conquer

-Fire in the Sky

-S.O.S. Dinobots


The episodes included on disc 2:

-Fire on the Mountain

-War of the Dinobots

-The Ultimate Doom: Part 1

-The Ultimate Doom: Part 2

-The Ultimate Doom: Part 3

-Countdown to Extinction

-A Plague of Insecticons

-Heavy Metal War


As far as the packaging, presentation and bonus materials go, I was very impressed by the attention to detail and that Shout! had and eye on the style of the original toy packaging when designing the slipcase, sleeve inserts, disc art and the episode guide.  The foil embossed slipcase is brilliant and just plain beautiful (especially compared to the rather dull silver digipaks of the original 2002 Rhino release.)   This is the best work I’ve seen from Shout! when it comes to their 80s cartoon releases.  The menu navigation is light years better than the old Rhino DVDs as well, with an included feature to play multi-part episodes together without interrupting the flow of the cartoon by cutting out the opening and closing credits on the in-between episodes.  The 20 minute "From Toy to Comic to Screen" featurette takes its cue from the docs that Andy Mangels did for the BCI Eclipse He-Man, She-Ra, and Dungeons and Dragons sets, and is well produced.  The main focus of the doc centers around Hasbro acquiring the toy license from Takara, the development of the Marvel comic series, and eventually how the story-lines for the three platforms differed, and features creative talent that worked for Marvel, Hasbro and Sunbow past and present.  It’s not quite as in-depth as I was hoping, skirting talk of the production of the series for the most part, but according to the specs of the Complete series set, we can expect two more docs in these individual sets, as well as two additional and exclusive docs on the complete set (including a voice actor reunion), so there’s room for more down the road.   Also, it was kind of weird that the interviewees hid all mention of Marvel when talking about the comics, they’d just refer to "a comic company", or "that comic series".  As for the toy commercials, two of them pertain to G1 toys, while a third is for the G2 Optimus Prime re-release.   It’s really interesting seeing these, though it can be distracting while watching them because the child actor’s faces were blurred (I’m guessing for rights or residuals issues.)  There’s also a glimpse of the Sunbow Marvel comics commercial in the documentary which kind of makes me hope that these will be included on future sets or maybe the complete set, but I’m not holding my breath…


All in all, for a set retailing between $20-30, fans couldn’t really ask for anything better considering the Rhino DVDs have been out of print and fetching upwards of $100 a set.  This is the first time the Transformers series has been released with this much loving detail at such an affordable price in the US, and hopefully it’s just the icing on the cake as there are three more sets, as well as the G.I. Joe series to look forward to. Brian Ward and the team at Shout really did a great job with this set.



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Adapting the Watchmen, what is the point?


If there’s one thing that I lament about the film-going experience as I get older, it’s that I move further and further away from the boy who used to watch movies with unquestioning wide-eyed amazement.  When I turned thirteen I started looking at film with a slightly more critical and as the years packed on with an increasingly cynical eye.   It’s a very rare experience for me to walk into a film without the baggage of 20 odd years of cinema watching experience, comparing and contrasting to genre and style.  It’s hard to not have a jaded outlook, in particular when I have any sort of vested interest in the material, and growing up a comic book collector during the 80s and 90s it’s hard not to have such an interest in a film adaptation of the Watchmen.

More importantly, if this film accomplishes nothing else, it has made me question the point of adaptation in general.  I can’t claim to completely understand it, but the yearning to see stories from various other media adapted into film is incredible for me.   As a pre-teen I couldn’t think of anything more exciting than seeing the Lord of the Rings made into films.   As a comic collector I burned to see my favorite franchises turned into major motion pictures, and it’s a feeling that’s hard to shake to this day, especially in the wake of the Watchmen adaptation.  But when I stop and truly think about what adaptation requires, and what it ultimately offers, I have to wonder just how pointless it is.  What is the point of making a film like the Watchmen when I can read the comics the way they were intended to be taken in?  Is it to capture new readers of the comic, to hold up the greatness that a lot of us believe the Watchmen holds and force it on an audience that would only take a chance on it in the film medium?   Is it supposed to outshine the original?  As someone who has already experienced the story in its original form I have to say that no matter how spot on the film was, it would only ever be something that can come close to the original, but never supersede it.  The original, for what it is, has little in the way of flaws, and doesn’t need to be told any other way.  It can only ever be a much quicker way to experience the story, something that is antithetical to the original work.  If I wanted to get somebody to experience the story, I’d just give them the book.  At the end of the day, the Watchmen is a specific story that works as it was created and any adaptation would just pale in comparison.  It isn’t something like Spiderman, which is an icon, a concept of a character that can be used to tell any number of stories.  For someone who is not intimately versed in super hero comics to catch the film, well I think they’d be missing the point of the story anyway.

When I walked out of screening with my wife, my first reaction was that the movie was all muffin top and no actual muffin, but let me back up a second.  All the beats were there in terms of story points, and visually the movie is stunning.  I had the same reaction that a lot of comic fans seem to be having with the flick in that it’s amazing to see the characters from the comic leap to the screen picture perfect.  Again, even this reaction is because of the baggage I’m carrying from watching super hero movies for the last 30 years.  Up until the mid 90s it was very rare that a comic book character could be visually translated onto the screen with such faithfulness to the source material.  The Christopher Reeve Superman was good, but only about half right.  The Michael Keaton Batman, though special in his own right, was a bit off from the caped crusader in the comics.  When you get right down to it, the foam rubber Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the first live action film were some of the very first truly amazing visual translations of characters from comic to screen.  Over the past decade this has been a focus that filmmakers seem to increasingly nail on a consistent basis, and for a group of characters like the Watchmen to make the transition almost wholly intact, is incredible, if only because the source material isn’t ripe for adaptation.  For a movie studio to put as much time and money into the translation without the benefit of a huge merchandising machine in place in this day in age is wild.

It’s the visual culmination of years of trying to perfect the balance between pleasing the fans, logistics of production, and advances in technology.  The thing is that 30 years of super hero films have trained the audience that anything better than horrible is just fine with us.  So a picture perfect visual adaptation of the Watchmen isn’t an aspect that the film can really rest its laurels on.   The other celebrated aspect to the film is the fact that it managed to keep enough of the tone and content to garner an R rating.  The original comics are unrelentingly “adult” in content; in particular when compared to the rest of the output from the publisher (DC comics) at the time it was published.   When you get right down to it, super hero comics are aimed at a young audience, and that was one of the conventions that the Watchmen sought to challenge.  The hurdle the movie is attempting to leap across is the fact that most films these days are specifically molded to appease the sensibilities of the largest possible audience, which is why most “adult” fare is targeted to a PG-13 crowd.  Show just enough to appease those with darker sensibilities, and hold back just enough so that the content is suitable for most teenagers, and bang, that mystically profitable age range is targeted.  Unfortunately, most uncompromised stories don’t fit very easily into any sort of age specific category.  Life in general just doesn’t fit into predetermined boxes all that well.  So the fact that the Watchmen is rated R, and a deservedly hard R, could be viewed as another accomplishment on the path to an uncompromised adaptation.  Again, though, a laurel not to be rested upon.   Side-stepping the mediocrity of the film industry, as admirable as it is, shouldn’t be celebrated, it should be expected.  Even if it were, the violence and adult content in the Watchmen comics are not a selling point.  I think I’d have to philosophically side with Sam Peckinpah on this one and admit that these characteristics of the original comics are an abhorrent necessity in conveying the story.   It’s not cool to watch Rorschach chain a child murderer to a hot water heater in a building he just set afire, giving him a hacksaw as a means to disfigure himself with the possibility of an uncertain escape.   It’s not cool to watch as an inmate’s throat is cut with a box cutter in order to get him out of the way of cell bars that need to be acetylene torched.   It’s not cool watching a woman brutalized and half raped for character development; it’s necessary to tell the story that Alan Moore set out to write, and it’s there to disgust the reader.

So what’s left?  Story, acting, tone (not just of the R rated variety, but in terms of overall plot and world), and execution (in terms of direction), this is where the film starts to fall apart for me.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read the original comics, and after walking out of the screening I felt like a lot was left out, though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what.  I know of the fan gripes, that the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic story was excised for the theatrical cut (to be released on DVD as a cartoon later this month, along with the possibility of be re-cut into the expanded edition of the Watchmen film on DVD), that the Newsstand and the relationship been the proprietor and the kid who reads the comic was left unexplored, the dropping of the prison psychiatrist’s back story, and probably the most popular gripe, the alteration of the final sequence in the film and dropping of the giant squid Macguffin.  Those aspects didn’t bother me as I’m much more concerned with the core story, not all the little details.   I mean when you get right down to it, it would simply be impossible to include all the plot threads and details, there just isn’t enough time to incorporate it all.   No, an adaptation from a long format to a short calls for cuts to be made, fat, no matter how interesting, to be trimmed for the core story to come through.  So does it?  I have to say yes.  All the “important” stuff is there, the dynamic between Rorschach and the rest of the Watchmen (and the rest of the world for that matter), Dr. Manhattan’s abandonment and eventual rediscovery of humanity, the dissection and exploration of super heroes as saviors or gods, the futility of doing things the right way, and an expose on the dark depths to which humanity can find itself when it loses its way on the path to righteousness and moral right.  All of the landmark elements from the comic series are represented, yet the film still seems (at least to me) to lose its own way in the midst of adaptation.

There are a couple themes that seem to have been partially dropped, and an aspect to the original story that can’t translate verbatim and possibly could have been redirected but wasn’t.   First off, I don’t think the overall tone of the story was kept intact in the translation.  Reading the original comics isn’t a fun beautiful experience on the whole.  I believe that many of the characters are drawn (both literally and stylistically) to be so ugly that it’s hard to follow their stories without disgust.  In fact I think it’s really hard to pick a character that as a reader you can truly get behind so that the focus isn’t placed on watching that one character interact within the world created, but instead for the reader to be forced to watch all aspects of the world not unlike the social conditioning of Malcom Macdowell’s character in A Clockwork Orange.  If there is a hero in the book it’s the bond between Dan’s Night Owl II and Rorschach.  Aspects of both characters are admirable, but neither is strong enough to carry the role of a hero for the story.  Back to the point, the world of the Watchmen is ugly and dark, it isn’t polished, and when it appears to be it’s just a thin veneer covering something rusty and broken.  Zach Synder made a conscious effort to adapt the material in such a way that this gritty ugliness is polished and beautiful to watch.  Scenes are set to overbearing music cues that are at once both too perfect and too pop for the good of the story.  The soundtrack is full of hit songs and memorable anthems and don’t speak to the world of the film at all except in the most obvious and coincidental ways.  The one section in which this really worked for me was the opening credit sequence after the brutal murder of the Comedian, which is a couple minute montage set to Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-changin’ (illustrating the formation and ultimate failure of the Minutemen super hero team, and their impact on society.)   It’s heavy handed, but it works.

Unfortunately, there are too many sequences that follow during the next hour or so that keep up this absurd music video-like quality to the film so that the world of the Watchmen isn’t given a chance to breath on its own.  It’s suffocating, and in the end the obvious tone to the music is what informs the tone of the scene, not really what’s playing out before your eyes.  At its most inhibiting, the music can completely tear you out of the film you’re watching and put the viewer in the mindset of other films.  The flash back sequence of a 70 foot tall Dr. Manhattan obliterating Vietcong troops set to Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is such an obvious reference to Apocalypse Now that it borders on pretentious (“You’all like crazy overblown scenes from films about the war in Vietnam?  Well here’s a crazy overblown scene about the war in Vietnam, set to the music from that original example!”)

The cinematography itself is also so pretty and picture perfect that it does nothing but damage the tone of the story being told.  Everything is so rich and colorful, every movement of the characters is so choreographed and precise that it’s a wonder to behold, awe inspiring really.  But honestly, I don’t think this is what we’re supposed to be feeling while watching the film or reading the story.  I think the blame doesn’t necessarily fall with the director so much as the source material which is being adapted.   If there is an obvious downfall of the comic book medium it’s in the limitations with which the storytellers and artists have to tell a story.  The medium emulates life, but it’s forced to take snapshots of movement and moments, and begs the reader to read between the panels.  Comic pages end up looking like a collection of all the most perfect moments imaginable in a story, but by nature it almost has to be (where film doesn’t.)  Also, during the 80s (in particular) mainstream comics were still on the precipice of achieving a more realistic coloring style and were still shackled by the garish color conventions that printing had to offer at the time.  Where the film takes these cues and relishes in them, is when I believe it becomes a misinterpretation of the limitations of the medium.  It has to be very difficult as an artist to keep yourself from picking the absolutely perfect moments to draw in a comic.  Aesthetically specking this is process an artist normally goes through to make interesting and pleasing artwork.   To a degree this can translate to film in general, but it’s only one choice of many to convey particular moods and tone.   For whatever beauty there is in the grittiness and violence in the original Watchmen comic, in the picture perfect snapshots of moments and it’s vividly colored world, I think it has to be weighed against how unsettling it was when taken in context of practically every other super hero comic being published at the time.  This beautifully rendered chaos becomes ugly in this comparison.

As for the path not taken with the adaptation (that I alluded to above), another key factor of the original comics are their deconstruction of the super hero mythos within comics in general.  This deconstruction just doesn’t translate well to film because there are too many factors to take into consideration for an audience not steeped in comic history, and it’s too meta (for lack of a better term.)  It won’t work for people who aren’t steeped in these conventions because the concepts aren’t novel to the history of cinema (which obviously wasn’t a concern of Moore when writing the comic.)  Cinephiles and the majority of film goers have been inundated with truly realistic depictions of flawed heroism and the dangers of getting behind anti heroes,a nd honestly I don’t think that audience distinguishes all that much between a character’s chosen occupation.  Flawed cop or caped crusader, it’s all the same to most people.  I believe there was a chance to redirect this deconstruction at a more clearly defined target, the super hero film as a genre in particular.  Sure, the content of this deconstruction would deviate some from the Watchmen source material, but the heart and soul of one of that source material’s original aims would be kept intact.  I truly think that as a piece of “important” literature, the Watchmen’s interpretation of the super hero ladden world is one if it’s crowing acheivements. 

Getting back to the misplaced tone of the film, there are distinct choices to portray certain aspects to the story in a much more grandiose manner that mar the tone.  There is little super heroic fighting in the original comics for instance, and when Synder adapted the material he chose to heighten these moments, turning them into exactly what the original comics were intending to deconstruct and downplay.   Watching Silk Spectre II and Night Owl make an assault on a street gang or a maximum security prison is like watching all of the horribly unrealistic action that is common to films such as the Matrix, X-Men, and Ghost Rider (not to mention that the methodology and consequences of the violence is increased.)  These non-super powered characters are doing truly unrealistic and super powered things like punching through concrete, and throwing people clear across rooms.  Watching Rorschach scale the side of a building evokes the feeling one gets when watching Spiderman do the same thing, and that is a terrible misinterpretation of what the Watchmen is all about.

I will say that incongruous to my feelings on the adaptation above, I loved the change in the ending of the film.  Whereas the giant-squid-alien Macguffins that are used as a doomsday device/deterrent in the original comics are a terribly interesting way of bringing the final outcome of the story to fruition, I am completely blown away by the poetry Snyder managed to squeeze out of the new destructive device.  Having Ozymandias trick Dr. Manhattan into building devices that would emulate his powers of atom level disintegration under the guise of generating a free source of energy is genius.  When the “bombs” go off vaporizing many major cities in the world, both putting into play Ozymandias’ ultimate goal of world peace through banding together against a common foe, and framing Manhattan for this destruction in the process (by using his power’s signature and instrumenting a portion of his loss in humanity and eventual exile from Earth), Snyder effectivly turns Jon Osterman into God, the ultimate deterrent for war.  Synder taking such a stab at Christianity is so much in the vein of what Moore was doing with the original Watchmen comics that it almost makes up for the fast and loose way he handled the build up to the reveal of the story, almost.

I also have to say that again, adaptation issues aside, a good majority of the characters do translate well to screen.  Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach is amazing (though a tad too emotional when compared to his monotone print counterpart), more so when not wearing the mask.  Patrick wilson’s Night Owl manages to capture the essence of the original character, at some times more convincingly than int he comics.  Some don’t fare so well though, particularly Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter.  Her portrayal of the character is too strong and confident, she’s played as a sex bomb and doesn’t seem to be the same broken down dependent character from the original comics.

All in all I still just have to wonder what the point of the whole experience was.

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Didn’t want to wait almost two more weeks to post this…



Hello all, sure has been awhile huh?  Guess it’s about time I updated the blog and brought it into the new year, though I haven’t been completely neglecting the site as you can see from the slight facelift I’ve given it.  I’m still pretty dense when it comes to website construction, so I’ve been slowly tinkering with the code in hopes of getting this place shaped up into a slightly less messy place to visit.  Call it pre-spring cleaning, except all the content is staying put, I just took some time to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls.  If nothing else, there is no fear of stabbing yourself accidentally on the old horribly sharp and generic header I used to have…





Anyway, on to the topic of conversation I wanted to get to today, the remake/reboot of Friday the 13th, which I saw this past weekend with my wife.   Granted it’s not on DVD yet, but it will be so I figured the best place to store it on Branded would be in the Buried column.  It was sort of a weird experience as we decided to catch an evening screening (we typically only hit the theater before noon on the weekends to take advantage of the half price tickets at our local AMC), and we don’t usually watch horror flicks in the theater since my wife really isn’t partial.  She bit the bullet though as we had a free ticket courtesy of the pretty interesting Friday the 13th DVD documentary His Name was Jason.  I was expecting the place to be crowded as it was a Saturday night and we were seeing a relatively popular flick, but our screening was only about 1/4th full.  I was also hoping to have a decent audience as it’s always more fun to see certain flicks (like comedies and horror movies) with a bunch of people who get into the screening, but we were plagued from the audience from hell.  Through the entire running time of the film the teenagers that were in the room with us kept playing musical chairs.  The ones that weren’t seat hopping kept getting up to leave for five minutes at a time before stomping back in.  Needless to say it was hard to get into the movie what with all of the ADD addled kids about.


As for the film itself, I was sort of happily surprised and disappointed all at the same time.  I’m not a diehard Jason fanatic, and though I love plodding through the first 8 Friday films from time to time, I’m not particularly bothered by the idea of a remake or reboot, or whatever they hell they want to call this new flick.  In fact the one thing I kept reading going in was that the new movie squishes aspects of the first four Friday films into one plot, which seemed like a good idea and it boded well for the idea that the filmmakers might ditch the horrible 40+ minute lead up most of the originals employed.  I mean when you get right down to it not that many people are probably watching a slasher film for good character and plot development, at least not a series like the Friday films.  Actually, I think character development is a great place to start talking about the new flick.


If there is one thing that I don’t envy about the process that sequel and remake writers/directors must go through, it’s the balancing act between giving the audience what it’s looking for while also trying to put an interesting spin on an old story or concept.  I mean how many times can we see Jason kill a bunch of camp counselors before it gets boring?  In particular when dealing with a weirdly iconic character like Jason Voorhees, how do you paint him from a different angle?  He started out as a deformed "mostly-drowned" child/hallucination, shifted into a fully grow potato sack wearing inbreed hillbilly, took a side step into hockey mask stealing stalker, and eventually graduated into becoming an undying soulless zombie maniac (do we even need to envoke his cyborg years?)   He’s been mother obsessed, self obsessed, Corey Feldman obsessed, a disgruntled pawn of Freddy Kruger, and yes, okay, he was even shot into space.  What’s interesting to me is that throughout all of this Jason has managed to stay pretty static character-wise.  Sure, he’s put into new situations from time to time, taken a stroll through Times Square, spent some time as a demon worm, an even been a guest on the Arsenio Hall show, but he’s pretty much the exact same mute coveralls-wearing lovable mug.   The Jason I grew up with took the concept of Michael Meyers from the first Halloween film and brought it to a whole new level.  He is the boogie man, a mostly faceless killer who acts out of pure fanatic revenge at first and later on out of a meaningless impulse.   He’s not of this world; he lives in the shadows and pops up totally unexpected from out of no where with an almost teleportation-like quality.   He serves at the ultimate punishment and the consequences of walking the wrong path, and he has no needs.  Hunger doesn’t deter him, money won’t stop him, and he won’t even bat an unleveled eye at a half naked woman.  So as a part of the filmmaking team for the new flick, how do you deal with the character’s iconic status?   Where do you deviate, what past character traits to you pay homage to or resurrect?


Well in the case of the new film, the creators decided to develop Jason’s character, enough so that the new incarnation only resembles the tried and true icon.  Underneath the hockey mask is a new Jason, one that I personally don’t care all that much about.  The problem I have is that the new Jason thinks too much.   He’s painted as a monster with plans and day to day rituals, a man with needs, preferences, and dare I say it feelings!  The filmmakers have made him the worst kind of being, a human being.   In the new flick Jason has an underground labyrinth home base; a series of dugout tunnels where he keeps an odd assortment of baubles and junk.   I don’t know about any of you, but the Jason I grew up with has no time to amass a collection of anything, even disturbing rotting junk.  The new Jason is so won over by the sight of a girl who looks enough like his mother that he not only hesitates in killing her, but he abducts her, keeping her captive in said underground lair.  On the surface this isn’t all that beyond the scope, but when you stop to think about it for even a minute it flies in the face of what the character is capable of.  Hostages kept for any length of time need to be fed, they need water, and they need a place to poop for crying out loud!


On top of this the filmmakers have instilled an odd intent into the new Jason, leading him to set traps for his victims, keeping them pinned down so that he can come back to them later.   The new Jason isn’t the unstoppable force of nature he used to be, but more of a plotting, scheming, opportunist.   I guess in my mind, when you’re dealing with a character as iconic as Jason (yet not as old-as-the-hills like say Santa Claus), it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to humanize him.  Though I haven’t seen it, I think Rob Zombie did something similar with his iteration of Michael Myers from his Halloween remake.  I don’t need to identify with Jason as a character, I just need to be poop-in-my-pants scared of him or rooting him on as he kills annoying kids.  Even though I think the intent of making the character (in the new flick) relate-able was to up the disturbing factor, it just didn’t work for me.


Part of the problem for me is Jason’s antihero status from the original series of films.  Though the first film is 98% without the character, it’s set up in such a way where the viewer doesn’t really bond with the camp counselors, not to mention the fact that so many of the kill scenes are shot from the first person perspective of the killer.  It trains us to anticipate and eventually begin to enjoy the slaughter.  In the third film the main characters take on such underdeveloped stereotypical roles, that they serve as nothing more than lambs to the slaughter, deaths we just can’t wait to see soon enough.   By the fifth film we’re no longer watching for plot, and by the seventh Jason might as well be playing King Ghidorah to Tina Shepard’s Godzilla!   What I’m getting at is that half of the fun of Jason is rooting for him (or against him in either Part 7 or Freddy Vs. Jason), and it’s really hard to get behind his character in the new flick because he’s more real, and well, to be blatantly obvious, he’s killing people.  I know how stupid that sounds, but think about it for a minute.  As viewers, do we ever root for the three psychos in Last House on the Left?  Do we really want to see Laurie Strode lose to Michael in Halloween?  Do we really want to see the demon Pazuzu for Regan to masturbate/stab herself with a cross in the Exorcist?  Hell no.  But we do want to see Jason slaughter a bunch of braindead kids, and in order for this dynamic to work, I think his character needs to be as inhuman as possible (to the extent of making him a zombie in the later films.)


By this point I’m sure you’re asking yourself how I could have simultaneously been happily surprised with the flick.  I guess my biggest fear going into the film was that it was directed by Marcus Nispel, the same guy who brought us my least favorite horror film of all time, the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I don’t really want to get into that flick, but I will say that I absolutely adore the original film, and the remake missed the point of its predecessor completely.  I don’t particularly care for the trend in modern horror of making the genre so damn mean.  Be it torture porn (Saw, Hostel, et al), or flicks like Severance (that take interesting and fun characters, let you get to know them for 40-50 minutes, and then force you to see them killed in a sadistic and just downright mean fashion), I just have a hard time relating to this generation’s horror.   I expected the new Friday the 13th to be just more of the same, and I was completely surprised by how well Mr. Nispel nailed the tone of the original series.  There’s a little bit more of each of the trademarked elements for sure (more T&A, more annoying characters, more gore, etc.), but it really works as a whole.  Believe it or not, even for the faux-Jason, the film is fun to watch.  Go figure.  I wish I had more to say about it, but it’s really just refreshing to see a flick like this and enjoy myself in this day and age.



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"Is that even possible?" [pause] "I guess so."



I’ve been on a John C. Reilly kick lately, and this past week I sat down and watched the flick The Promotion (written and directed by Steve Conrad.)  I wasn’t expecting to really connect with the film at all as it’s sort of set up with a pretty standard comedy plot and stars Seann William Scott (he of Stiffler fame from the American Pie movies) who I’m not all that enamored with.  Honestly, I was expecting to enjoy Reilly’s performance, a few jokes here and there and that’s about it.





Part my initial disinterest was that the flick seemed to be drawing from the same cultural ennui of flicks like Waiting, Office Space and more importantly Clerks.  I experienced Clerks at the perfect age, 19, right smack dab in the middle of my initial career as a grocery store stock clerk and budding film buff, and connected with it in a very visceral way.  For my money Kevin Smith totally captured what life was life like for a 20-something pop culture nerd working in retail, whittling away the hours with humor as the world (customers, supervisors, family, etc.) slowly sucked away at your soul.  Well, with a lot of genres (sub-genres, sub-categories, what-have-you) it seems like there are one or two films that do a great job of addressing the particular subject matter, and thereafter other flicks just seem to be watered down imitations or parodies.  For me, in the minimum wage lackey category of comedy films, Clerks stands head and shoulders above the rest (with a nice honorable mention to Office Space, even though it deals more with corporate misery), and after watching flicks like Waiting or Kill the Man I was getting kind of tired of the genre.  When I saw the trailer for the Promotion, I was expecting just more of the same.


Actually, I think part of my disinterest lies simply with the fact that I’ve moved on from that time and place in my life.  I’m over ten years older, working a slightly more rewarding office job (I still emotionally connect to Office Space just fine thank you), and I’m less interested in wallowing in sarcastic hopelessness, preferring a bit more upbeat fare (in general, not as a rule.)  Again, watching the trailer for the Promotion, which revolves around two grocery store assistant managers vying for the coveted store manager position at a new location, I was expecting to be less than engaged by the plot.


For the first half of the film everything was going exactly as I figured.  I was really enjoying John C. Reilly’s Richard Wehlner, there were a couple of really funny jokes (in particular a handful about an annoying banjo teacher/gay dominatrix type), and a few surprising cameos (in particular by Jason Bateman and Bobby Cannavale.)  I was actually a little surprised that Seann William Scott didn’t bug me all that much (something I also noticed in the flick Southland Tales), though there wasn’t anything particularly engaging about him either.  Then, as the rivalry between Reilly and Scott started to heat up a bit I found myself wanting the film to side-step the clichéd plot (where one of the two would take on the role of the villain and you’d start rooting for the other by proxy) and veer into more uncharted territory.  The weird thing is that it did.


I as mentioned before, the film stars Scott as Doug Stauber, who is an assistant manager at a grocery store chain located in Chicago, and along with his wife (played by Jenna Fischer) is just trying to make a go of life in middle class America.  Figuring on being the shoo-in for the Store Manager position at a new location under construction, the couple decides to take a chance on buying their first house.  At the same time, Canadian transplant Richard Wehlner (Reilly) (and his family, including his Scottish wife played by Lili Taylor), also an assistant manager (though for a chain of Canadian sister stores), and a recovering drug addict, transfers to Chicago putting Stauber’s "shoo-in" status in jeopardy.  As the bigwigs descend on the store to check up on Doug and Richard, each end up dealing with their own demons, be it a gang making life on parking lot duty hell, the possibility of slipping back into depression, alcohol and drugs, or their need to get ‘promoted’ in order to grab a hold on their life.


Though the film is mainly a comedy, it manages to avoid some of the more obvious or gratuitous plot machinations, and pretty much plays the jokes in a subtle manner (even the more outrageous humor isn’t in your face.)  The flick manages to balance the gags with plenty of introspection and does a surprisingly amazing job at illustrating a more real-life struggle for success.  This is what kills me about most movies where the characters are always shooting for the stars, where success is defined only by achieving what in the long run only a very few people can.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for striving for greatness, but I’m also content in not shooting myself into the cosmos.  Becoming an amazing success is wonderful, unless the trip there and beyond is horrible.  Anyway, about halfway into the film I started hoping for a particular outcome, and was surprised when it occurred.  Where Clerks deals with the grind of working a Middle
American job with sarcasm, apathy and slack, The Promotion deals in hope, duty, and a positive work ethic.  It’s the other side of the coin, and sort of the next logical step after a film like Clerks (which is sort of where Smith was going with Clerks II, just without the goofy dance sequences, inexcusably ignorant fanboys, and donkey sex.)

Why I’m a dork, part 63: The List…



There are a ton of reasons why I’m a nerd/dork/geek/what-the-fuck-ever, but if I had to pick one that exemplified this blog, it would probably have to be the word document file that I’ve been working on for the past four years that I call "the list."  What is on this list you probably aren’t asking?  Well I’ll tell you.  It’s a list of every film I’ve ever seen.  Not so dorky you say?  Well it’s also annotated.


Over the course of the past four years I’ve spent a good bit of my spare time reading over IMDB lists, complete video and DVD release guides, and any other list of films I could find to compile a list of everything I’ve ever seen, film-wise.  I was pretty proud of myself at first because this sprang out of boredom at work as I tried to think of some project that would take a long time, and when I decided to draw up the list, I figured that I’d never finish it.  I have seen quite a few movies, but the thing that I felt was going to be the biggest stumbling block was finding thorough lists of flicks.  See most of the lists and guides I was reading were either yearly best-of’s, or limited to what has been released either on video or DVD, and even then these weren’t exhaustive as they leaned toward more popular fare.  So between these, 6 million Google searches, and my collection of movie ticket stubs that I started collecting about 20 years ago I managed to put together a pretty exhaustive list.

Is anyone still reading this?  God bless your inexhaustive patience and limit for boredom if you are.  So were there any stipulations to what could and couldn’t find a home on the list?  There sure were.  First off, I had to feel like I remembered a decent amount of the plot in order for the flick to make it on the list.  If I remembered the title but couldn’t remember the plot, I nixed it.  Second, and this is the super stupid anal part of this list considering I’m the only person who will ever see it besides what ever estate lawyer lackey is forced to read through it upon my death, I had to feel like I watched the flick from beginning to end.  So anything that I’ve seen edited on TV didn’t make the list either.

So what are these annotations you probably aren’t asking about?  Well, once I finished the general list it didn’t seem quite as cool as I had hoped.  I did mention that I was a dork right?  So in order to make the list cooler than G. Gordon Liddy the night before the Watergate scandal broke, I decided to run through the list and mark each movie with some code.  First, each flick was marked to show who (out of my circle of friends and family) that I saw the flick with.  Then I marked it as to whether or not I saw it in the theater.  Then whether or not I owned it.  Then I figured I’d try and mark the approximate number of times I could remember watching it.  This list was really starting to take shape now.  I had to make a key for the various notations.  As a coupe de grace, I decided to highlight all the flicks that I wanted to own on DVD, and then whether or not they were available on DVD, so now the list was all colorful as well.

Outside of feeling like the biggest anal-list-retentive geek on the planet, I felt like all the time and effort I put into the this was well worth the, well, effort, if for nothing else, than for giving me fodder for other boredom relieving activities like "count the seconds".  Have you ever found yourself on the toilet with a calculator so bored that you decided to mathematically deduce the total number of seconds you’ve been alive, or the approximate number of breaths you’ve taken, or the possible number of times you’ve pooped in your life?  Liar, I saw you doing it.  Wil Wheaton has done it.  Well, he wasn’t on the toilet, but that’s neither here nor there.  Anyway, this list has a ton of statistics fodder for crap like this, from the approximate proportion of my life I’ve spent watching movies, to the ratio of films seen with each of my friends, and who I am more likely to see a flick with.  Last warning, I mentioned I was a dork, okay, so stop screaming at me.

One thing I’d like to do it to be able to compare this list to someone else’s like another movie buff that’s seen a ton of movies.  I mean, even though the list took four years to finish and refine, at the end of the day there are only 1950 films on it. Is that a lot?  Dunno.  Doesn’t look like a lot, but then it felt like a lot when I set out to make it.  I think I might need therapy…

Don’t you understand, the only thing I’m good at is riding this bike!


Wow, when the heck did the middle of November jump in our laps?!?  Mentally, I’m still back in late August trying to figure out how to not go stark raving mad because of all the changes at work.  Sheesh.  I’m totally neglecting the internet right now (actually it feels like I’ve been out of the game so to speak since the start of the year.)  But I’m not writing to complain about my silly life woes, no I’m back to get into a fun head-space, and what better way to do this than by cracking open a bootleg copy of one of my favorite all time movies, the 1986 BMX cult classic RAD.

Growing up in the 80s I had a chance to catch the insane home video boom right from the beginning, what with all of the mom & pop rental shops opening and the initial flood of movie titles on VHS and Beta.  My family was a late adopter in terms of getting our own VCR, so instead we’d rent one every other weekend from a little store tucked in a corner of a Gooding’s shopping center down the street from us.  As a kid I was a creature of habit when it came to renting movies, not only because I loved watching the same flicks over and over, but also because there were only a handful of titles that I was interested in packed into that tiny rental store.  I remember that the store was divided pretty evenly between Beta and VHS, and the little old couple that owned it only ordered the flicks in one format or the other.  For some reason my parents only ever really wanted to rent a VHS player, so I was severely restricted in terms of titles to rent.  Usually it was a choice between three or four movies, Red Dawn, War Games, SpaceCamp, and RAD, and for some reason the flick that I was always choosing was RAD.   It was also around this time that I realized just how much VHS tapes used to cost back in the day.  I think on my sixth or seventh rental I got up the courage to ask my mom for a copy of the movie for Christmas, so we asked the rental store owners how much a copy cost. ;’When they told us that a new copy of the movie would run about $110, both my and my mother’s jaws hit the floor.  Owning VHS was apparently only for the very, very rich in 1986 (well actually it was aimed at store owners for rentals as the industry really hadn’t caught a whiff of just how much people wanted to own copies of films.)

So I never got a copy of RAD on VHS, and later on when I starting building my own library of films, I was cheated again as RAD has never been officially released on DVD.   I had to resort to picking up a bootleg copy on ebay, which was just a crappy port of an old VHS rental ripped and burned to disc.  My copy did come with a nice bonus disc though, which included the majority of the RAD soundtrack songs.

The flick begins with the very iconic Tri-Star opening (with the Pegasus running kitty corner into the screen and then leaping over the logo), something that I associate with plenty of Saturday afternoons spent glued to the TV during movie marathons.

Anyway, I thought I’d sort of go through the movie chronologically and talk about the stuff I find interesting.  RAD is part of an unofficial trilogy of flicks in the 80s that touch on the 3 main popular extreme (for lack of a better term) sports of the decade (skate boarding, which was covered by the movie Thrasin’, surfing covered in the seriously underrated flick North Shore, and BMX.)  Though there were a couple other BMX movies in the 80s (namely the Aussie flick BMX Bandits, which was more about escaping murderous thieves than BMX), none were as cool to me as RAD.  The opening features a plethora of professional BMXers free-styling over the credits, set to the rocking Jon Farnham tune, Break the Ice (which deserves to be held up with other 80s triumphant movie rock ballads like Rock Until You Drop from Monster Squad, and You’re the Best from Karate Kid.)

The flick was produced by Jack Schwartzman, the husband of one of the film’s stars, Talia Shire (and father of Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman.)  It was directed by Hal Needham, the guy responsible for many of the goofy Burt Reynolds car-centric comedies of the late 70s and early 80s (like Smokey and the Bandit and the Cannonball Run series), so you know that he can handle the fast paced action of RAD.

I think it was during this credit sequence that I got the most jazzed while watching the flick.  The pro BMX riders doing all sorts of stunts (which I can only hazard a guess to what the names are by using the internets) would always get me in the mood to go outside and try them myself.  Trouble was that I’m horribly uncoordinated when it comes to most physical activities, not to mention that I’m deathly afraid of pain and looking too much like an ass (a trait I’ve since grown out of), so I’d get pumped, go outside to ride my bike (a sweet powder blue and white GT Performer covered in pink GT stickers), fall off once while trying to do a simple trick and then pedal back home in a huff.  Pretty sad I know.  Guess I would have been the definition of a poser.

Anyway, the flick’s main star is Bill Allen who at the time was a 24 year-old guy who looked a hell of a lot like a young Powers Booth.  Playing opposite of Allen was a young Lori Loughlin, who would later on play Uncle Jessie’s girlfriend/wife on Full House for six or seven seasons.  Rounding out the cast (in terms of the more known established actors) are Ray Walston of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, Jack Weston (who I remember mostly from Dirty Dancing, Ishtar and Short Circuit 2, but who also had turns in flicks like the Cincinnati Kid and the original Thomas Crown Affair), and H.B. Haggerty (who was a familiar wrestler and starred in another underrated flick from the 80s, Million Dollar Mystery.)

In the above screen caps you can take a gander at two of my favorite 80s BMX memories, the first being a fabled full pipe and the second my favorite freestyle move though I have no idea what it’s called.  Basically it’s when someone does an endo, starts pogoing on the front tire and whips the frame of the bike around in circles, stepping over it as it flips around.

The opening credits sequence is one of those (for me) breathtakingly awesome bits of 80s nostalgia and excitement that I revel in like a drug.   Between the sickly sweet fist pumping heartfelt ice breaking and right making anthem playing over the free-styling action, and the non stop montage of professional BMX riders doing all your basic tricks and such, it’s just 80s perfection.  Every time I hopped on my GT Performer heading out for school in the morning, this is the kind of thing I had in my mind’s eye.  Sure, I couldn’t do much besides popping a wheelie or coming to a side-sliding stop, but I always imagined I was just as talented and, well, cool.  Never meant to be though.

Anyway, back to the film.   The action opens on Cru Jones and his two friends Becky and Luke, splitting up to do their morning paper routes…

What follows is a montage (of which this film has in spades) of the three playing out every possible BMX cliché and fantasy, at least in terms of riding around a local neighborhood goes.  There’s riding through construction sites (which was always a favorite of mine growing up within a series of newly built subdivisions…)

…followed by the perfectly timed (or not so much so) jump off of one structure onto a car (and the hilarious wipe out that ensues, complete with straightening of hair and uttering the word “gnarly”.)

To illustrate just how ensconced Cru and his compatriots are in their small town, the local fire department is shown getting their delivery mid-street at the appointed time, as well as a friendly garbage man who obviously gives Cru a ‘lift’ on a regular basis…

Of course, everything isn’t wine and roses.  The filmmakers had to make sure and keep an edge to the characters, which is where the ornery residents of the ‘hood come in.  You’ve got the guy who doesn’t appreciate his paper thrown into his flower bed, and the most typecast curmudgeon of all time, Ray Walston, who gets a walkway full of spilled coffee and newspaper, courtesy of our hero Mr. Jones.

The sequence ends with Cru in the middle of town staring down an iconic clock tower pumped at another shot at his own best time.  Again, though this sequence is pretty cliché, it does address a lot of what it felt like to cut through my own neighborhood, using my regular shortcuts through golf courses, and light woods to get to school or my friend’s houses.

There’s even a nicely executed bit with Cru riding though a specifically rigged section of fencing (again, another childhood fantasy of secret passageways hidden throughout the subdivision), which he then turns to face revealing the plot of the film in an advertisement for Helltrack, a 7-Eleven sponsored BMX event coming to the small town.

Again, the plot is pretty straight forward with the corrupt owner of a BMX company (an actual company Mongoose, who I’m sure didn’t realize how their company was going to be painted when they agreed to be featured in the film) putting on Helltrack to promote one of his star riders, Bart Taylor (played by real life Olympian Bart Conner), and securing a million dollar T-Shirt licensing deal.  The catch, and the entry of our hero into the story, comes with a local town hall meeting where the residents want to know if local talent can enter into the race.  After some thought, Mongoose owner Duke Best (played with plenty of sleeze by Jack Weston) decides that there will be a qualifying race, the top contenders of which will be featured in the final Helltrack race.

If you’ve ever seen a kids flick in your life you can probably figure out the rest of the film from here.  But this is beside the point as the cult status of this film isn’t in its intricate plot shenanigans, but in the 80s laced cheese, and fun BMX sequences.  One of my favorite of which takes place in a lumberyard where our heroes have a clubhouse (again, another staple of my childhood fantasies realized on film.)  Again, like with the morning paper route antics, this group of BMX nerds is apparently frequently confronted by a local motorcycle cop (played by the iconic H. B. Hagerty) who chases them for sport.  In this bit, it involves riding around huge stacks of freshly cut & stacked wood, as well as a mountain of logs that Cru ends up very unconvincingly riding up to evade the policeman (you can see the planks through the logs the stunt rider used to scale the heap.)  It’s crazy and over the top set to a goofy fun rock song called Get Strange by the act Hubert Kah.

Of course, there’s also the angle of the Cru’s home life with precocious sister Wesley (place in pitch perfect Peppermint Patty tomboy by Laura Jacoby), and his hardworking depressed mother played by Talia Shire (who brings way more gravitas to the role than the film probably calls for, but is plenty welcome.)   Basically, the old push and pull of Cru’s hopes and dreams of becoming an ace BMXer, and his obligation to get good grades and go to college (the money for which his mother works hard to earn.)   It’s not enough that there’s a super evil greedy BMX company owner to contend with.

Completing the template set up by films like the Karate Kid, Cru also has to master that perfect race winning BMX trick, the awe inspiring 360 degree mid jump back flip.  It’s surely the crane kick of this film, though is eventually more or less useless in the grand scheme of things.

The film really picks up steam with the introduction of the main villains of the piece, Bart Taylor and his twin toadies, Rod & Rex Reynolds (played by the dreamy real life twins Carey and Chad Hayes respectively.)  They’re introduced in the weirdest fashion, a parade through the center of town.  Granted, the whole Helltrack business would probably be a big deal, but parade worthy?  I don’t know.  Of course, blowing into town along side Bart, Rod, and Rex is the lovely Christian Hollings (played by the one and only Lori Loughlin, who looks about ten years older than the character she was cast to play.)

One of the weird themes in this flick involves our hero Cru not always portrayed in the best of lights.  As I mentioned in the beginning of the film he’s not the best paperboy, annoying shop keeps by riding through their stores, and knocking coffee out of senior citizen’s hands willy nilly.  There’s also a short bit with Cru jumping a fence into the school parking lot right into the middle of a group of yuppie teens, who granted probably deserved it, though it’s still unprovoked and not the nicest.  During the parade, there is a weird sequence where Cru and his friends stop the parade to let a lady in a car on a side street through the traffic, but then to the angry sneers of the evil BMXers and being chased by the local fuzz, Cru beats a hasty getaway by jumping his bike onto a car and riding over it.  Maybe it’s just the crotchety old curmudgeon in me, but this would have pissed me off and I’m sure dented the hood and roof to hell and back.  Maybe I’m just getting to old to appreciate these teen action flicks.

By far, my favorite sequence in the entire film revolves around a school dance that Bart, Rod and Rex are forced to attend while in town.  The scenes feature two of the zaniest, most ridiculous dance sequences ever put to film (including both Rodney Dangerfield performances in Caddyshack and Back to School.)  The first is the stupendously retarded evil line dancing bit, set to the song Music That You Can Dance To by Sparks.  Bart Taylor is decked out in his supremely “cool” suit jacket over a plain yellow T-shirt looking like a reject Billy Zabka clone and is dancing with a hussy all gussied up to look like Debbie Harry.   They’re both so stiff and trying way too hard to exude sexiness that they come off laughable, particularly in their Macarena-like dance moves (don’t you dig the crossed arms grasping the shoulders dance move?)   The look of evil intensity on their faces is offset by the absurd faux break dancing styles of the Reynolds twins dancing around a zebra-striped, skintight-lycra-wearing shell of a woman.  Hands down, the evil dancing craziness reaches a nice crescendo when the twins drop to the floor doing the god awful push-ups move, followed by a double dose of the worm that has to bee seen to be believed.

As all this is going on inside, Cru (who has come to the dance Dutch after being rebuffed earlier in the film), is doing a bunch of freestyle BMX tricks outside the school gym.  A crowd begins to gather, when all of a sudden Lori Loughlin arrives and a very tenuous, yet lasting connection is formed between the two star-crossed lovers…

…which leads to the single most insane dance sequence ever!

Set to Real Life’s Send Me an Angel, Cru and Christian proceed to rip up the floor BMX style, dancing on their bikes.  The above screen captures just don’t do this sequence justice.   In fact I don’t have the words to adequately describe just how over the top, hilarious, and amazing this sequence is (check out youtube for the proof and judge for yourselves…)
This craziness is followed by a lightening fast procession of falling in love montage scenes set to With You by John Farnham.  Again, it’s predictably hokey, but lovable just the same and ends with the oddly named Ass Sliding scene.  Why is there a nice concrete slide in the middle of the woods leading down into a nearby lake?  Don’t know, but it makes for some zaney love scenes…

Again, adding to the idea that Cru isn’t the best person in the world, he ends up sort of cheating during the Helltrack qualifying races by riding outside of the boundaries to avoid entangling with the other racers, and skipping over obstacles.  It’s a weird message to send to kids, and it sort of ends up muddying the film a bit.  Ces’t la vie though.  The sequence is scored by the rocking Thunder in Your Heart by John Farnham, which is equally as high five inducing as the opening song Break the Ice.   It’s rare that a movie like this get two fist pumping anthems…

Of course, by taking part in the qualifiers, Cru has to pass up on taking his SATs, and really pisses his mother off.

To complete the clichéd plot, Cru is wooed by both Duke Best and the evil BMX hussies to come ride for them, and just as soon as he turns them down, our hero finds more obstacles in the way of riding at Helltrack…

Enter the last bit of cult styling to the movie with the introduction of the Rad Racing team, as Cru and his friends find that they have to have a liquid corporate sponsor in order to ride at Helltrack.  The group decides to print up their own T-Shirts with their newly formed team logo and sell them to raise the money they need to race.

Of course in all the ruckus there is some strife for the blossoming relationship between Cru and Christian.   If this film holds the record for the most insane dance sequence, then it also holds the record for the corniest make-up love scene involving a god awful poster featuring pandas and ice cream, reenacted by the two doe-eyed lovers.

As a quick aside, take a look at that monster comic book rack in that ice cream/convenience store!

Again, falling back on the Karate Kid template, the film features a ‘sweep the leg’ moment as Duke Best informs Bart, Rod and Rex that they need to wipeout Cru no matter what it takes (punctuated by Weston knocking back some whiskey.)

The film builds to the crazy BMX track called Helltrack, and boy does it live up to its name.  Featuring an almost two story vertical drop and some craze jumps (for standard BMX bikes at least), not to mention a giant cereal bowl (of Kix no less), Helltrack was a very convincing set piece.

Again, another strength of this movie was that it featured a bevy of real BMX superstars…

A). Team Hutch – Jeff Ingram. B). Team Robinson – Richard Fleming. C). Factory DK – Robert Rupe. D). Powerlite – Danny Millwee. E). Redline Team – Scott Clark. F). Norco – Kirk Bihun. G). GT – Mike Napareho. H). Binghams Schwinn – Glen Adams. I). Peddle Power Rider – Chris Phoenix. J). Team Robinson – Travis Chipres. K). GT – Eddie Fiola (who also did most of the stunt riding for Cru in the Film as well as being the Technical Advisor on the stunts.) L). GT – Kevin Hull. M). Skyway – Richie Anderson. N). Vans – Beatle Rosecrans. O). Hutch – “Hollywood” Mike Miranda.

All in all, this is one of my favorite cheesy films from the 80s, one that I can watch a hundred times in a row and never get tired of.  I’m sure true BMX fanatics can’t stand the flick, but as a kid I loved it to pieces.  Hopefully one day it’ll get a true DVD release, but in the meantime I hear that Bill Allen is signing copies of the bootlegs (as well as selling headshots.)  Also, don’t forget to check his site for some more Rad trivia, straight from Cru’s mouth…

Buried in DVDs now buried in the Branded archives…


Did you ever wonder how some people can find the time to have multiple blogs?  Well I did, and then for some insane reason decided to start up a second about a year or so ago called Buried in DVDs where I waxed deconstructive on my favorite movies and my DVD collection.  I felt awesomely productive for a few months, and then I was all of a sudden asking myself where in the hell did I think I’d find the time for a second site and promptly stopped updating it.  I think I initially wanted to keep this content separate from Branded as I was going to get into a lot of non-eighties flicks and TV shows, but honestly, I don’t really think it’s necessary to paint myself into such a tight 80s corner.  So I’ve decide to integrate the archives of Buried in DVDs into Branded (a process that is one hell of a time sucker. )

Anyway, for anyone curious, there are a handful of Buried posts, well, buried in this site now (you can access them through the banner on the sidebar.)  Hopefully this will free me up to posting about movies and TV shows again as I at least feel it’s all working toward the same goal (and site) now…