THE SUMMER OF 1990: CADILLAC MAN

Meanwhile, the same weekend as Bird on a Wire

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The Movie: Cadillac Man

The Director: Roger Donaldson (No Way Out)

The Stars: Robin Williams, Tim Robbins, Pamela Reed, Fran Drescher

Release Date: May 18, 1990

Box Office: $27,627,310

“You know what you are? You’re an ass-half. Takes two of you to make an ass whole.”

Robin Williams’ legacy speaks for itself. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from his career, however, is that the roles that drew off both his edge and pathos were the ones that resonated the most. A film like Flubber or Jumanji would require an elastic personality, but not the sheer force of forlornness Robin was capable of.

Dead Poets’ Society and Good Morning, Vietnam had managed to get both sides of the comedy/tragedy mask right to the point of an Oscar nomination and led both to huge hits commercially. Moreover, director Roger Donaldson was riding high off the questionable success story that is Cocktail. Cadillac Man, Robin’s direct follow-up to Dead Poets’, landed on May 18, 1990, a week before the summer “officially” kicked off on the holiday weekend as it usually did 25 years ago. Its box office take was a fraction of the films that surged him to the A-list, and it’s pretty understandable why.

Orion—one of the most ubiquitous and powerfully courageous studios of the era—marketed Cadillac Man quite transparently. Robin was sold as a sleazy womanizer whose passion for moving Caddies in Queens gets thwarted by a hostage takeover by jilted lover Tim Robbins, his bug eyes and AK-47. Some took the plunge. Others wanted the inspiration, the feeling-good part. A generation out, it’s lost in translation.

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Seeing why Cadillac Man found more attraction as a rental and pay-cable staple is very understandable. Surface-level glances at Joey O’Brien (Williams) seems to show he’s miscast for the part, especially as Ken Friedman’s screenplay certainly called for something darker. Al Pacino was attached to the role before him, clearly a reversed straightforward homage to being the hostile party in Dog Day Afternoon. Imagining Danny DeVito schmoozing unwitting Japanese and Russian customers, or Michael Keaton—riding high off of going demented as Beetlejuice and Batman—sporting that mustache and talking 60 miles per minute to negotiate his life—feels more in line what they set out to make.

Cadillac Man, nevertheless, is unquestionably one of the most underrated films and performances Robin Williams ever offered. That magic shoots up in the opening scene, where notices a hearse break down as he cruises in his convertible. Instead of offering grievances and a sensible way to find help for the Jewish mourners (led by an irate Elaine Stritch), he refuses to—he immediately drums up a way to swindle a commission off of them and gets tossed aside.

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Woe is Joey, and he needs redemption. He’s trying to win his ex-wife (Pamela Reed) over again, but he’s too sidetracked by three simultaneous affairs with Fran Drescher, whose husband is a mob boss that Joey owes money to, aspiring artist Lori Petty, and dealership receptionist Annabella Sciorra. The latter is a problem point, as she’s married, and her husband Larry (Tim Robbins) crashes the lot’s big weekend sale armed with C4 and an AK-47. Oh, and Joey has to sell 12 cars or he’s fired.

Very few characters in Cadillac Man are sympathetic—they’re mean-spirited, vain, and make terrible decisions. For one, Joey is an absolutely deplorable person. He’s a personal and professional deadbeat who brags about his issues and supposed flaws to the audience, an opportunist who will try to push a luxury vehicle on anyone he crosses paths with right until the end. That’s not to mention the priorities on his libido—for the love of god, he has wild, nightly sex with The Nanny and still shows up at his ex-wife’s house to win her and their daughter over.

Williams pulls off something rather miraculous as Joey. He has all the traits of the kind of man who crashes and burns in a midlife crisis, but upon meeting Larry and realizing the incestuous bickering of his cohorts in the workplace, he realizes he just might be sane enough to save the day. Precisely, that’s how you see the warmth in Joey, that despite his poor judgment he has the charisma to solve problems and, like the salesman he is, negotiate.

The supporting cast is remarkable as well. The women in Cadillac Man are terrific—Reed’s harried former spouse is arguably the only character without a shoulder chip. Drescher is hilariously obnoxious and Lori Petty kickstarts that divine quirk she carried throughout the decade.

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Tim Robbins is the scene-commander, however. He was high off playing a stupid hothead in Bull Durham and he repeats that here as Larry. Larry is the kind of criminal who fashions himself after the movies he’s seen, empowering himself by idle threats yet making faulty decisions with his vengeance. Whereas your normal deranged psycho wouldn’t give a shit about food, he allows his captives to take refuge at the Chinese restaurant across the street and give them opportunity to cross paths with the police.

There’s a sense of violence and danger that could have made Cadillac Man a straightforward thriller, something Donaldson has and had experience with on films like No Way Out and Species. The direction is confused because comedy is not his forte, leaving Williams’ improv skills and the eccentricity of its cast to carry the weight. Orion definitely wanted this to be the Ruthless People of 1990. They did their job, but audiences wanted their lead to inspire them and make them laugh. It’s too dark to be an outright comedy, too light to create a real threat—but it works gangbusters and deserves something of a cult following beyond “Oh, I saw that a long time ago.”

Maybe if Kino Lorber, Olive Films, or Shout! Factory can get it on a Blu-ray. I’d buy it.

Cadillac Man is not available to rent or buy on iTunes or Amazon, nor is Netflix streaming it or renting the DVD. However, it is airing on MGM HD at 12:05 am on Tuesday, May 26. That’s May 27 on your cable guide, but I consider midnight to still be part of my day. Set your DVR’s accordingly.

Alternately, grab the DVD on Amazon!

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THE SUMMER OF 1990: BIRD ON A WIRE

This summer, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of 1990, a year that boasted what is arguably the last summer movie season that almost exclusively catered towards adults.

The great Scott Mendelson of Forbes posted an article shortly after wanting to embark on this journey. When studios tried to go kid-friendly, they could barely get to the $100 million mark, but R-rated films and decidedly mature PG-13 efforts ended up proving to be the kings of summer. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Home Alone proved PG-rated movies were moneymakers, but that happened outside of the season. And now, in 2015, The Pleasuredome salutes the crazy, big-budget, high-profile, and often overblown summer that was the beginning of the 90’s.

Our first submission comes in from a writer who will only refer to himself as “Mark Puckerberg.” As such, I can only post this under the pseudonym due to his fear that the principles of the summer’s first star-studded gambit, Bird on a Wire, would provide unfathomable retaliation against him. Mr. Puckerberg has shown great courage in kicking off our look back, and I hope you enjoy what he has to say about Mel & Goldie’s adventure

. Mind you, I’ve actually never seen this movie.

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The Movie: Bird on a Wire

The Director: John Badham (Stakeout)

The Stars: Mel, Goldie, David Carradine, Bill Duke

Release Date: May 18, 1990

Box Office: $70,978,012

Nobody has ever said that Bird on a Wire is their favorite movie. Maybe there was one guy back in ’90 whose yearbook caption listed this as his favorite movie. Director John Badham made a career out of nobody’s favorite movies. Sure, he’s got a good solid contender in Saturday Night Fever, but otherwise it’s the odd man out that claims to be the world’s number one Blue Thunder superfan.

Let me back up a bit and give a little personal story about this movie. Don’t worry, it’s not about formative sexual experiences or the cold, distant love of my father. Just relax. I won’t ask you to open your dead heart and emote. The weekend this movie opened, what I really wanted to see was Class of 1999, which is about cyborg teachers, and let’s leave it at that. That flick was playing way across town, and my pre-license self was still at the mercy of adults with cars. Therefore, if I wanted to see a movie, I had to settle on a closer theater. This was the only movie whoever was involved agreed to see.

Mel, Goldie, and John Badham’s unremarkable style was no proper substitute for cyborgs. Don’t worry, gentle reader, I saw the cyborg teacher movie when it hit video. In those days, however, we had to wait sometimes as long as six months for a movie to hit home video. Yes, it was a cruel and barbaric time.

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Now, I reluctantly return to Bird on a Wire, which, all these years later, is still no match for cyborgs. Let me explain the labyrinthine plot right away: Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn get chased by David Carradine and Bill Duke, playing themselves. That’s roughly the extent of the plotting. The rest is exposition, and not all that interesting. Apparently, 15 years before the film, Mel & Goldie were lovers. Mel and a friend were caught up in a drug smuggling operation (it’s really not made clear; this movie doesn’t seem interested in explaining its own bullshit) against their will. David Carradine ends up murdering the friend, as David Carradine often do (see also: Kill Bill).

Mel enlists in the Witness Protection program, and things seem okay… until Carradine is released from prison. For some reason, he cannot proceed with a lucrative partnership with a drug lord until Carradine kills Mel. When the movie opens, Mel is working for an older black man that owns a garage in Detroit. Sounds a lot like a popular series of movies Mel made, right? Anyway, this guy might as well have been named “Short Timer.” I half expected a scene of him being fitted for a coffin as he walked and talked. As fate has it, and it always does, Goldie must go to Detroit as part of her soulless corporate gig. This affords Mel & Goldie a (re)meet-cute, and poop plops in the toi… I mean, the story gets set in motion. Soon, they’re aided of a crooked FBI agent, and there’s no doubt he’s crooked. He’s played by Stephen Tobolowsky of “Ned Ryerson?” fame, but that was before he played sympathetic characters so he’s a jerk. The bad guys end up chasing Mel & Goldie all over the country. Well, at least two states.

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Bird on a Wire came out at a time when Hollywood was at least minimally obsessed with hippies and their ethos, but they were more concerned with the fallout of that over the decades. All of that was an unfortunate byproduct of baby boomers running Hollywood, and the silly next generation assumed all that hippie nonsense actually meant something. This was evident in both thoughtful ways (Running on Empty) and not so thoughtful (Rude Awakening, Flashback). Bird on a Wire manages to be neither of those. The movie isn’t even interesting enough to let Mel be a smuggler or have any guilt or remorse over the death of his friend.

Instead, they were very innocently flying back and forth to Mexico in the mid-70’s, probably delivering much-needed medicines and supplies to impoverished orphans. Yes, some murky blackmailing is the only reason that he ever crossed paths with Carradine’s character, who, I must note, spends most of the movie dressed like modern-day Steven Seagal, replete with garish tinted sunglasses. There is no real reason the movie presents why these characters have to be hippies, or ex-hippies, or any iteration thereof, except that it makes sense for the timeline. At one point, Mel dances and sings along to Bob Dylan, but the movie constantly throws Aaron Neville slow jams on the soundtrack. If it was all in tandem with Mel’s identity crisis following 15 years in Witness Protection, then great job.

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Mel’s history with the FBI is also treated just as haphazardly. In Bird on a Wire‘s version of the Witness Protection Program, the biggest problem for Mel isn’t ordering spaghetti and meatballs and getting noodles and ketchup. Rather, Joan Severance pines for him, forcing Mel to have the indignity of having to pretend to be a gay hairdresser. That’s right, Mel has to affect a stereotypical lisp in order to fall back in with his former compatriots at the salon. Thankfully, there isn’t much of this. Considering it was 1990, it could have been worse. This movie’s FBI just generates new identities based on possible Three’s Company plots, as another variation has him being a hunky carpenter and all around handyman for the aforementioned Severance, who runs an idyllic veterinarian’s clinic/home for wayward fatales. Rough life.

Everything climaxes in what we’re told is a zoo, but this zoo looks like no zoos I’ve ever seen. In design, it looks like one big room where they let all manner of big cats and monkeys play together in a warped representation of the laws of the jungle. It looks more like a laser light show than zoos of which you would see in San Diego or the Bronx. Mel used to work there, so he knows the layout, but the movie makes sure to not have him use that advantage in any meaningful way. If all you want out of a movie is to have Bill “Anytime” Duke mauled to death by big cats, then this is the movie for you.

Spoiler: Mel & Goldie sail off together, probably much to the chagrin of her loving and loyal boyfriend. A similar fate befell Charles Grodin in Seems Like Old Times, when fate puts her and Chevy Chase together in the final scene. Goldie was kind of trifling.

I’d go into more detail, but as it is, I just told you the whole movie. That’s it. It’s uncannily generic. Mel & Goldie get off a few good zingers, and they have chemistry together, that’s for sure. I did spend most of the runtime wondering why Kurt Russell wasn’t involved, but I don’t want to go overboard here. I’m not even sure why the movie is called Bird on a Wire, when I’m surprised it wasn’t simply released as Untitled Mel & Goldie Project, as that’s the only thing is really has going for it: the innate likability (before 2006) of Mel & Goldie.

In conclusion: Not enough cyborgs.

Bird on a Wire is running on Starz and Encore right now. It’s available to buy and rent on iTunes and Amazon, or on DVD.

WHAT IF THIS GOT MADE? The Avengers (1985)

Often, the Internet likes to wonder about alternate paths movies would have taken in other eras. In fact, the fantasy-cast trend dates back to the 90’s, where Wizard magazine would dream on a supernova that comic book movies would get made.

Who would direct these films? What big-name actor or star on the rise would have the role decades earlier?

Welcome to What If This Got Made?, a column that examines the could-have-been and could-be possibilities of films occurring in different eras, now or then, and realistically trying to make the pipe dreams feasible.

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The Movie: The Avengers

The Era: 1985—THEN

For the first shot at this, I’d like to address an article over at IGN last month. The Avengers was retooled for 1985 with an all-star cast that felt like—uh, well, you wouldn’t have much allowance for the visual effects.

It got us thinking, however, how would an Avengers film 30 years go down? Take into consideration of where the actors involved were at in their careers, the scope of the film, all that. Pleasuredome contributor Chris Coppedge and I are proud to kick off this column with a look at how we think it would’ve gone down in ’85.

Universal holds the rights to the Incredible Hulk, but they want to cash in on the blockbuster era. Spielberg’s a crown jewel, but they want another guy since he’s busy with other material, and they need boffo bucks. Why not go for comic books? In 1982, plans for a 3D Hulk film start with Joe Dante attached, but negotiations fall through with Dante. After failing to snag the rights to Spider-Man and X-Men, they get a package deal of other famed Marvel heroes—Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and more—and decide to go all in with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

THE DIRECTOR

Mike: IRVIN KERSHNER (The Empire Strikes Back)

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One of Hollywood’s most prolific workman directors, Kershner’s profile took a boost with one of the most acclaimed sequels of all time. He’d brought back Sean Connery as James Bond in Never Say Never Again two years earlier. It’s the sort of movie every genre director would be offered and turn down—why not go for a guy who can get the job done and well?

CHRIS: Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone)

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THE WRITERS

CHRIS: Steven E. de Souza (48 Hrs.) and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon)

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The plotting of Die Hard with the smart-assery of Lethal Weapon, although this would have the same basic plot.

MIKE: James Cameron (The Terminator) and Steven E. de Souza (Commando)

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Jim Cameron’s on the rise. They’re taking notice of this Terminator risk, but they also know he’s delivering some cool action beats for Stallone on his First Blood sequel. He delivers a draft that pits the heroes against the menacing artificial intelligence being Ultron. Deemed too expensive, Universal brings in Steven E. de Souza—who’d dabbled in plenty of genre fare before and would continue to stay in the field of thrills and spills after ’85—to make it funnier and slightly smaller scale than the more brooding, existential danger of Cameron’s draft. That’s where the Nordic god of mischief, Loki, replaces Ultron as the villain…

THE CAST

TONY STARK/IRON MAN

CHRIS: MICHAEL KEATON

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The livewire of films like Beetlejuice mixed with the turmoil of Batman? Perfect, says I. Keaton was on his way to being one of America’s favorite smartasses and Stark is one of the greats at that—likely, however, Keaton would be clean-shaven.

MIKE: CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

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Walken balances sarcasm and personal demons like few other actors and his eccentric charm is the stuff of legends. Think about the risk of casting Robert Downey Jr. back when Marvel was starting up their film business—it’s the same here. He’d done some noble genre work like The Dead Zone, which is what makes Kershner believe he can humanize the famously tortured, alcoholic Tony Stark in red and gold metal armor. In later interviews, de Souza claimed Stark was the hardest character to write and that Walken improvised roughly 80 percent of his dialogue—a notable example was telling Loki to “quit playing reindeer games.”

STEVE ROGERS/CAPTAIN AMERICA

MIKE: MICHAEL BIEHN

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Hot off working with him on The Terminator, Cameron recommends the rising Biehn to take the vibranium shield. Only when the studio’s top three choices for the role—Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges, and Richard Gere—turn down the part does Biehn get an audition. It’s an arduous process that involved much screen testing, with many up-and-comers failing to get the confidence and valor of Cap right. Universal brass caved in when they saw the surprising opening weekend gross of The Terminator and believed in the freedom-fighting spirit that Biehn showed in his screen test.

CHRIS: KEVIN BACON

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Footloose cemented Bacon’s aw-shucks likability and energy, yet could nonetheless summon up great, righteous fury. Those angry solo dancing scenes? I’d say that’s perfect hints at what he could do with for Cap.

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CHRIS: JEFF BRIDGES

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This was hard. This was really, really hard. I emphatically did not want a lovable meathead like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Van Damme in this role. I think with a little bulking up and some kind of crazy accent, 80’s Bridges could bring this guy to life wonderfully.

MIKE: RUTGER HAUER

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Both drafts of the script eliminated Thor’s Earth alias, Donald Blake, from continuity. The Dutchman went without argument as the first choice for the part. Interviewed in Starlog about how he’d done two fantasy films the same year—Ladyhawke and Flesh + Blood—Hauer joked, “I didn’t have a hammer in those.”

BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK

MIKE: KEVIN KLINE/DOLPH LUNDGREN

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When Bill Bixby decided to focus on more directing jobs, Lou Ferrigno walked with him, leaving a gap for two new actors to play both sides of the coin. Kline plays introverted nerd appeal beyond hilts and his conveyance of that leads to a wounded, existential portrayal of Banner that balances out when he suddenly regrets his transformation. Lundgren’s physique went highly praised in auditions and he got some help from ILM and a little upstart called Pixar to make this Hulk far more than a strongman in green paint. While the Hulk only appears in a few scenes due to budget concerns, the scenes of destruction pay off with audiences.

CHRIS: BILL BIXBY/LOU FERRIGNO

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Perhaps this is cheating, but I think Bixby would be wonderful as an older, more deflated take on Banner, yet still dedicated energy amongst the then-younger actors.

NATALIA ROMANOVA/BLACK WIDOW

CHRIS: SIGOURNEY WEAVER

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How could I NOT cast her in this role? This would be a year before Aliens, but she could still kick plenty of ass at this point.

MIKE: HELEN MIRREN

mirrenThis was an extremely hard choice for me. Part of me really wants to put Rachel Ward in the role, but Mirren’s Russian ancestry just resonates here. That’s in addition to the affirmed turns she had early in the 80’s in Excalibur and The Long Good Friday. Mirren has a Valkyrie spirit no matter what she does—she stops everything on screen. Black Widow is one of my favorite Marvel characters because of how deadly she is. Unlike other famously homicidal antiheroes like Wolverine and The Punisher, Natalia will manipulate enemies before she ultimately offs them. Cameron initially wrote her as just that, a hardened S.H.I.E.L.D. operative recruited away from the KGB with a brain wired to shoot anything that moves. The revised draft by de Souza had her as a second-in-command villain, closer to her comic roots, a KGB spy infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. who ends up exploiting Earth’s cosmic invasion—only to turn good in the third act. The femme fatale idea was rejected by Mirren and Kershner, the original idea sticks, and she earns a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress—but she gets unfairly shafted from an Oscar nod. Often cited as the MVP of the film, Mirren gets a meaty role but another character gets the “villain” shaft…

CLINT BARTON/HAWKEYE

MIKE: JAMES REMAR

remarCast thanks to his wild-eyed turns in The Warriors and 48 Hrs., Remar’s ability to play incendiary, short-sighted hellraisers is a perfect fit for the often hostile archer. Cameron took full advantage of the character as just that, a guy who the Avengers viewed as the red-headed stepchild of the family, an instigator who ends up lacking self-esteem and gravitas in battle. Studio notes felt that he was too similar to Black Widow and, reading into the comics, felt their bond needed to be stronger, so de Souza’s draft turned Hawkeye into being hexed by Loki’s powers for most of the film, continually trying to thwart and murder the team, as to eventually steer Romanova’s bloodlust towards Loki. Cameron later said in an interview, “I already made my killer robot movie—why make another?” Hawkeye’s original portrayal later had many of his traits retrofitted into the character of Hudson in Cameron’s Aliens.

CHRIS: KURT RUSSELL

kurtRussell was something of a big star at this point and I think he could have done well in a more supporting role, showing a strong range from cold and inert to energetic and affirmative in the final battle. I’d love to hear his delivery of “You and I remember Budapest very differently.”

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CHRIS: KENNETH BRANAGH

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Not gonna lie, kinda proud of myself for this one. At this point, Branagh was a virtual unknown outside of the British stage, much like Hiddleston was before he broke out in Thor. Combined with his enormous energy and verve as an actor, especially at this part of his career, Branagh would give a Shakespearean gravitas to his scenery chewing, elevating the villain to something of a tragicomic antihero.

MIKE: MICK JAGGER

jaggerPerhaps the most bizarre casting choice of the film, Jagger returned to acting for the first time in 15 years to play one of the Avengers’ earliest adversaries. Jagger makes a lot of puns involving Rolling Stones songs, leading to a goofy in-joke where Iron Man blasts “Street Fighting Man” out of his suit in a battle scene at an art museum. Beyond the goofiness and novelty, Jagger is one of the coolest, most charismatic dudes to walk the Earth and critics praised his ability to menace without overtly threatening the audience. The fanboy community has a problem with his performance as years go by, but in our hearts, Mick Jagger nailed that role.

PHIL COULSON

MIKE: JOHN PANKOW

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Coulson was an original character that de Souza created as comic relief, a rookie S.H.I.E.L.D. lackey who offered warmth to the team but doesn’t suffer fools. Chicago actor Pankow—who had just filmed To Live and Die in L.A.—takes this role, one that critics noted was a lighter version of who he played for William Friedkin. Coulson surprisingly connected with test audiences, enough that reshoots had to be made so that he survives Loki’s injury to him and he joins in on the climactic New York battle, and that future adventures would feature the dutiful, by-the-book charm.

CHRIS: BILL PAXTON

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Business-like, yet with humor and heroism? That’s Paxton. Of course, in your version, he dies at the end. -Mike

MARIA HILL

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This is slightly gag casting, since Cobie Smulders is primarily known for How I Met Your Mother and I thought it would be fun to do another sitcom star in this no-nonsense role. That aside, I think Struthers would be fine here.

MIKE: GEENA DAVIS

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Another original character created for the film, Geena Davis snags the role right on the cusp of The Fly and an Oscar win. She’d been hitting the sitcom circuit and had bit parts in stuff like Fletch, but one small role in a $40 million blockbuster led to a flood of offers. While Hill was established into the Marvel fold and Coulson a new addition in the 2012 film, the likely playout of this film had them in a buddy-cop relationship, with Hill being the looser cannon of the two.

COL. NICK FURY

MIKE: JAMES COBURN

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McQueen’s dead, Bronson’s busy with his vigilante career, and Eastwood should be Batman in an 80’s Dark Knight Returns. Also, Bruce Lee trained Coburn to kick people’s asses and the man could rock a cigar. Court adjourned.

CHRIS: DANNY GLOVER glover

This wasn’t that difficult. Weary with authority, but still badass—it’s Glover’s stock in trade.

What About the Sequel?

Mike: Dropped into theaters for the Christmas season of 1985, Universal gets the second highest grossing movie of the year with The Avengers, clearing $166 million domestically and giving them the top two highest grossing films of ’85, Back to the Future being first. Naturally, sequel talk starts and Warner Bros. starts getting thoughts about answering the call with a fresh take on Batman.

What happens? Maybe The Avengers 2 comes roaring in the summer of 1988, or for the Christmas season. Perhaps new creative blood enters in the form of newcomer Frank Darabont, who makes his directorial debut and co-wrote the script with his Blob and Nightmare 3 comrade Chuck Russell. With the studio’s blessing, Ultron is allowed to be the villain? Maybe John Lithgow provides the voice of the monstrous Stan Winston creation. Who knows?

Chris: Some possible sequel castings: John Lithgow as the voice of Ultron, Mark Hamill as Quicksilver, Lea Thompson as Scarlet Witch, Rutger Hauer as JARVIS/The Vision.

Mike: Hey, we finally saw eye to eye on a casting choice!

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters now, but you already knew that.

Mike’s Video Alley: The Red HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER VHS Tape!

Millennials are arguably the last generation that was able to embrace the soul-opening wonder that was the mom-and-pop video store. Before there was a Blockbuster on every sub-metro highway, your local video store—or, as previews on tapes would call it, “your local video library”—would be right next to the pharmacy or a convenience store. Hell, your rentals may have been inside of a pharmacy or convenience store. The point is, in an era of having a few hundred Netflix tiles and a strong indecision to decide what to watch, the novelty of posters, swag, and popcorn machines surrounding the Styrofoam-stuffed VHS and video boxes feel lost in time, buried in our memories.

I remember before the Blockbuster came to town, our local stop was Video Alley, where I rented Clifford, The Naked Gun, and many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tapes there. Posters all over, the aforementioned old-time popcorn machine, a Silence of the Lambs butterfly sticker… it’s all part of my vivid early childhood memories. I can still see the brown generic clamshell boxes and the red-and-gold logo that boasted comedy and tragedy masks.

Streaming has made that physical experience a relic, if more convenient, in terms of accessing movies, but nothing replaces that experience.

Welcome to Mike’s Video Alley, a look at the tapes, merchandise, and even some movie moments that highlighted the video store experience.

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The Original Hunt for Red October VHS Tape!

 The Hunt for Red October remains the best entry of the Jack Ryan movies, or any Tom Clancy adaptation for that matter. The dialogue flows, the cast rules, and John McTiernan completed his three-strike turkey that started with Predator and Die Hard. Despite the massive box office and Paramount’s setting a trend of pricing videos to own three years earlier with Top Gun and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Red October was priced for rental and if you wanted to own a copy, you’d have to shell out $80 to $100 to own it.

Now, if you planned on accruing enormous late fees or wanted to rent it twenty continuous times in a row so that you could memorize Sean Connery’s “Once again, we play our dangerous game” speech, that would be a viable option. If you wanted to conserve cash, you could be patient, wait six months to a year for the thing to hit Sam Goody for $15-20 brand new, or buy it previously viewed for the same price three or so months down the road.

Retroactively speaking, I would have suggested getting your hands on the tape while it was still a rental, as Paramount started a nifty trend on Red October.

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The physical tape and label lived up to the color of communism. I’d been on the hunt for this going back a while and managed to track it down on eBay a few years ago. VHS usually reserved crazy colors for the kids (dig those orange Nickelodeon tapes!), but a big hit like this demanded something a lot more attractive. It’s just a tad disappointing that such a beautifully badass videotape wouldn’t be available in stores. Were they looking to make this a collector’s item and throw people into a frenzy?

The tape is sourced from The Video Vault in Dwight, Illinois (rest in peace). The top sticker on the tape categorizes The Hunt for Red October as “drama,” code name DRAMA 638. For the life of me, I’ve never understood those codes—was it the 638th drama to come in stock?

I find the genre designation odd because I’ve always considered it a film that falls somewhere between action and thriller. Sure, it’s dialogue-driven, but did the folks at The Video Vault not pick up on the submarine warfare and a handful of shootouts? That was always the side effect of movies that blended genres—you ended up in a broad misfit category once the new-release phase passed by.

Given, that was probably a corporate move, but come on, it’s an action movie. Hell, the description on the back of the box promises “high-tech excitement and sweats with the tesion of men who hold Doomsday in their hands” from the man who gave us Dutch Schaeffer and John McClane. Eventually, sometime in 1991, The Hunt for Red October gets dropped in with the likes of Rain Man and Wall Street, where “high-tech excitement” and “Doomsday” are not terms associated with classic drama.

The contents are sadly no-frills as well. It doesn’t live up to that tape. Obviously, it’s reformatted to fit your old as hell TV screen and that screws up the picture. Meanwhile, the only trailer at the beginning promises Paramount’s “Great Movie, Great Price” promotion, where their “classics”—and this would technically refer to movies released the late 80’s and earlier—have been priced to own at $14.95. For me, the goal of tapes was always selling the “coming soon” aspect of things, or maybe a cute commercial plus a trailer.

Later, Ghost came on a white tape and The Godfather Part III on two shiny gold cassettes, but that was the perestroika moment for Paramount’s custom-colored VHS days. Even with three big movies from one year, I’d say that was a cool legacy to have.

That’s all I got. Remember to adjust your tracking, be kind, and rewind.

We’re Coming Back, We Swear!

Okay, I’ll confess.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve had fresh material on here and I feel like it’s time to bring it all back. This time, however, I’ve got a new gang of awesome writers and talent on-board, so it won’t be just me. In the coming weeks, expect some cool new material from my new team and me.

See you on the inside!

There Are No Words…

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

And you milked that spark for every last drop, Robin. Good god. Here’s my friend from The Erix Antoine Network on his passing:

The Erix Antoine Network

Robinwilliams

I’m trying to remember when I was first exposed to Robin Williams…

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment. I’m pretty sure the first thing I ever saw with him in it was Moscow on the Hudson. And I fell asleep during it. … Oh wait. I remember. My first exposure to Robin Williams was a Mork action figure I had. I didn’t know what it was. It was this little man with curly hair, dressed in a red jumpsuit of some kind. And there was what appeared to be a giant silver V on his chest. There was a popular sci-fi series on TV at the time, called V. At the time, I remember thinking this action figure was from that show. So I would just refer to it as V.

All this is to say that Robin Williams has been a part of my life – in…

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ERIX ANTOINE’S ANNUAL PODCAST: Episode 3 – And The Kids LOVE Glenn Frey!

Erix Antoine of The Erix Antoine Network, Jason Pollock of what is best in life and I recorded a loud, raucous commemoration of the summer of 1989 for The Erix Antoine Network, when Batman, Indiana Jones, the Ghostbusters, James Bond, the Enterprise, Riggs and Murtaugh, Rick Moranis and more duked it out in a summer season for the ages. Films are debated, fisticuffs thrown, some REALLY funny jokes are made.

It has nothing to do with considering these guys friends that this is the most fun I’ve ever had doing a podcast, and there’s TWO PARTS to this! So, kick back with your wonderful toys, flip on Like a Prayer or the Batman soundtrack and listen and share!

The Erix Antoine Network

BatmanLogo

And here’s another one.

On schedule this time.

It is officially the 25th anniversary of Batman. And, for a guy who was turning twelve in the Summer of 1989, that’s kind of a big fucking deal.

For many others, it probably isn’t. But the fact is, Summer 1989 does remain one of the “legendary” movie seasons. And it seemed fitting that now, one generation removed from its explosion, we should look back and reminisce.

To do this, Jason Pollock and I got together with our good friend Mike Flynn who runs a fun blog called The Pleasuredomeand he’s about as obsessed with movies in general and the Summer of 1989 in particular as I am.

What resulted from this was an extremely rich discussion, where we went over the films but also tried to pin down if 1989 even deserves its legendary status… It was such a splendid…

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Quick Thoughts on… NEIGHBORS (2014)

neighbors

Neighbors isn’t just the frat-versus-suburbia comedy the marketing has promised. This is dark, dangerous stuff, and arguably the ballsiest and dirtiest studio comedy since Observe and Report (also starring Seth Rogen, natch). Like The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s the sort of movie filled with awful behavior that can be too easily construed as endorsed by the filmmakers.

What it really functions as is a biting satire of modern parenting, the extremity of college life, the tyranny of American misogyny and the scary intersection where it all collides. It’s a comedy where the protagonists aren’t above deception, recreational drug use and reckless property damage to get a point across.

With a few keystrokes, Rogen and the hilarious Rose Byrne’s burned out new parents, Mac and Kelly, would be combating Delta Psi in the guise of a “neighbors from hell” thriller from the early 90’s a la Pacific Heights or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Their charm makes it lighter but the chaos is pitch black.

And I’ll just lay it out here right now: Zac Efron is fucking brilliant in this. He is the breakout performance, the high point, the character that incoming teenagers and twentysomethings will idolize for the wrong reasons. Going back to The Wolf of Wall Street, Efron’s role is very much like what Leonardo DiCaprio did as Jordan Belfort, and his frat ringleader Teddy is effectively Belfort if he’d skipped business class to watch Old School on a loop. The only thing charming about him is his chiseled physique and hypnotic blue eyes; he bears a strong resemblance to a young Rob Lowe. Beneath that is the villain of the piece, and one of the best comedic acting jobs of recent memory. Just a few years ago I’d never have envisioned him as able to pull off a role like this. Now, he’s as much of a Disney star as Kurt Russell.

He is a human rollercoaster of sociopathic hedonism, an abider of “bros before hos” and unwilling to allow anything less than the opposite of wholesome in the way of his boys, which include memorable turns from Dave Franco (whose moment dressed as Robert De Niro’s cat-clutching Meet the Parents character is even funnier than you think it’d be from the trailers) and a not-so-McLovin Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

This movie is going to be huge and I fucking loved it. There are images here that will linger past being just a comedy. I got the comedy I paid for. The culture clash is the sweet stuff and the best part. And it’ll absolutely grow on repeat viewings.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (1974)

How many of you are not excited for Captain America: The Winter Soldier? It better be none of you. Okay, maybe I’ll stomach one unlucky bastard for not mustering up the excitement for what’s sure to another win for Marvel Studios. Whether or not it can top Iron Man Three for me remains to be seen, but my close friend Josh Marowitz (follow him on Twitter @IAmJustJoshing) saw an advance screening in Raleigh last Thursday night. His response: “…not just the best Marvel film yet, it’s the best comic book movie ever. Period.” This is coming from someone who adored the first Cap (and after multiple viewings cited that as his favorite), and the last time he said this thing sort of thing as a gut reaction was The Dark Knight. I don’t know what to tell you other than get excited, boys and girls.

cap2A couple months ago, I gave some love to Francesco Francavilla and his beautifully rendered Batman 1972 concept art. Now, Eisner award-winning artist Paolo Rivera has taken the purported 70’s conspiracy thriller influences of The Winter Soldier and embodied them into the beautiful poster above. The structure of the characters, the quote marks around it, implying The Winter Soldier is the standalone title of the piece… I adore the out-of-time look to this. Had this been done 40 years ago, I’d put money on something like this happening. All it needs is the old rainbow-like Columbia logo or A UNIVERSAL RELEASE in the bottom-right and boom. Ready for prime-time in ’74.

Not a paranoia thriller tack, but enjoy with some cool 70’s music:

Mikeromanagement: COCKTAIL (1988)

Mikeromanagement is a new column I’ve decided to introduce to the fold here. This is something that I’ve long wanted to take to the masses.

Here’s the jist: I watch something that is so loaded with utterly nonsensical or questionable material and/or so objectively terrible that I will write a detailed summary of the film—even more than you’ll find on Wikipedia. It won’t just be plot details: this is a stream-of-consciousness, analytical experience that I’ve intended as a tool to play with intricate details of the material I’ve picked up on.

Without making you wait any longer, here is my first subject under the Mikeroscope:

cocktailTo break the noticeably uncomfortable silence, I clear my throat and say, “I thought you were very fine in Bartender. I thought it was quite a good movie, and Top Gun too. I really thought that was good.”

He looks away from the numbers and then straight at me. “It was called Cocktail,” he says softly.

“Pardon?” I say, confused.

He clears his throat and says, “Cocktail. Not Bartender. The film was called Cocktail.”

A long pause follows; just the sound of cables moving the elevator up higher into the building competes with the silence, obvious and heavy between us.

“Oh yeah… Right,” I say, as if the title just dawned on me. “Cocktail. Oh yeah, that’s right,” I say.

Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho

Last month, Patrick Ripoll of the Director’s Club Podcast vowed to clear up some of the gaps in successful movies of the 1980’s. Figuring despite the probable thousands movies I’ve seen I had some of my own, I made my own list. Moreover, I decided to take a stab at watching the entries on both lists.

Last Thursday, I arrived at Patrick’s choice for 1988, Cocktail. The ninth highest-grossing movie of the year became a punchline for its tacky portrayal of “flair bartending,” a talent that turns simple drink-mixing into a kind of performance art. While I do hail from a family with at least three talented bartenders, I’ve never had the pleasure of having a fine young man or woman prepare a margarita or a Long Island Iced Tea with the poise of an Olympic athlete.  None of these slick tricks appeared in screenwriter Heywood (Rolling Thunder, Fort Apache the Bronx) Gould’s 1984 novel, which is ostensibly—based on his track record—a much darker story about a man approaching middle age.

touchstone

Cocktail took a ride through the Touchstone Pictures car wash, meaning the gritty character study was whitewashed as Tom Cruise’s next starring vehicle. He was hot off a banner 1986, the massive success of Top Gun and a great performance under Scorsese in The Color of Money cementing him a worldwide superstar. The rest was not history—rather, the historical resurgence of the Beach Boys that culminated in their biggest hit, “Kokomo,” and their legendary guest spot later in the year on Full House, bringing the entire Tanner household to their concert after a dilemma of who D.J. could bring as her guest left the house divided.

At least that’s how Cocktail is remembered now—it brought back the Beach Boys. Watching the movie now, perhaps that fucking awful song was the only thing worth a damn in its wake. Directed with the smoky pizzazz of a wine-cooler commercial by Roger (No Way Out) Donaldson, Cocktail is the story of Brian Flanagan (our man Mapother), who just got back to New York City after a stint in the military. Savvy, charismatic and willing to work, he goes job hunting and finds out how shitty life is when you lack a college degree.

cruisin2

Right off the bat, the X-ray vision just detected a big pile of red, white and blue manure with the Gipper’s face on it. Education is a valuable thing, but whatever happened to the life experience you gain in the military? Doesn’t THAT qualify you for the job!? What good is the GI Bill? Look, I’m not accusing this movie of having a pro-military, Rambomania agenda, or trying to insult anyone who’s served or is in the military. I’d assume the novel painted him as a Vietnam veteran given the age of the character, but with it being Tom Cruise, the math doesn’t add up at all. He does enroll in business school, so he has that going.

Anyway, his travels take him to a TGI Friday’s in the Upper East Side, where wise bartender Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown, giving this movie a nice big glass of class) is closing up shop. Doug hires Brian sight unseen, bringing him into a world where alcohol is king and a mystical beverage called the Red Eye—a mix of beer, raw egg and tomato juice—is an all-purpose cure. He also lives by the code of “Coughlin’s Rules,” a sort of bartender Zen that Dalton would applaud. Doug refers to bars as “saloons,” like some kind of Old West badass who’d fit right in with Al Swearengen. Brian, welcome to the world of bartending, where you serve drunks in comically baggy shirts.

doug

Now, maybe I’m being overly realistic here, but there’s a little thing called bartending school that one must attend before becoming a real bartender. My older half-brothers made it through and they’d made a living out of it. In fact, the eldest actually did it before this movie had come out. Meanwhile, my cousin failed on some minor error, sending him into the wonderful world of selling booze. The heart of the matter (Don Henley wrote that for this entry) is that bartending may sound like a brainless career, but it’s one of those things where you need to know what you’re doing.

And Brian does not know what the fuck he is doing on his first crowded Saturday night. It’s rush hour on the 101 freeway bad. He’s trying to balance all the beer bottle openings and the angry Brooklynite demanding white wine and he keeps checking the bartender’s guide because he has no idea what a Cuba Libre is, which leads to Brian exploding on the waitress, “YOU BITCH! Why can’t you just say it’s a RUM AND COKE!?” He then gets a taste of his playboy side when he detects “serious ‘fuck-me’ eyes” from a seemingly single lady—who we then learn then isn’t.

dougbrian

Today, the kid would have been fired on the spot for fucking up orders, co-worker abuse and sexual harassment, but we’re okay because this was another time. An 80’s time.

Instead, Brian is completely won over by the concept of this Friday’s place (its name isn’t mentioned in the film, by the way, but you bet your ass it’s one of them). He decides to use the idea of spreading these things all over shopping malls in the nation for a business project, which leads to one of the sillier and more underutilized subplots of Cocktail: Brian’s coming of age with capitalism.

professor

Look at the nose and lecherous face on that motherfucker. That’s Brian’s professor. He’s already frustrated with the class’s presentations, which include a proposal for pet cosmetics (PETA would have a heart attack) and a frumpy housewife who’s torn to shreds for her aspirations to be “the Donald Trump of the cookie industry.” Then, he fails Brian for wanting to take TGI Friday’s national because of all the subpar food and “stale beer” they serve. That professor was not a trailblazer.

So, after some more success at Friday’s dancing to the Georgia Satellites’ “Hippy Hippy Shake” cover, Doug and Brian get recruited for a gig at some club called Cell Block, a nightclub modeled after a prison. Cold, gray, bleeding sex—kind of like the energy that Brian Flanagan brings to his career. Patrick Bateman himself would probably pick up hookers and do blow in the bathroom at this joint.

cruisin

In fact, I should also mention this is arguably the Tom Cruisiest Tom Cruise performance of all time. People tend to hate on Tom Cruise for being one-note and cocky, something that Brian Flanagan manifests entirely without any other emotions. It’s the Tom Cruise that Christian Bale cited as his inspiration for his American Psycho performance. The Tom Cruise that Ben Stiller has lampooned on multiple occasions, with his hyena laughs and feats of deluded narcissism. He does this sort of thing in Top Gun and Days of Thunder, but those are counterbalanced by the vehicular fetishism that comes along with the verve of Tony Scott’s direction.

I love the guy—his debut in Taps is killer. He’s great in Risky Business. He’s an equal to Newman in The Color of Money, to Hoffman in Rain Man. Born on the Fourth of July, Interview with the Vampire, Magnolia, Collateral—what he brings to movies like that is a distinctively manic wavelength that nonetheless comes across as charming and magnetic. I should also probably express my unbridled love for Jack Reacher, where he commands a stellar presence in the sort of thing McQueen or Eastwood would have done in the 70’s. All of you haters who complained about casting a 5’7” guy in a role Dwayne Johnson was meant for—shut the fuck up. That movie kicked ass. End of tangent.

During the first Cell Block scene, clubgoers gonna clubgo when all of a sudden a nerd in the strongest sense of Donald Gibb’s growls shows up—a self-described “yuppie poet” who does some shit about Wall Street. His poetry is a bunch of bullshit, so Brian challenges him to a poetry slam. His bartender rhymes are him reworking the manual into some kind of colorful medley to make a lot of cool-sounding drinks sound cool until you try them. It’s such a weightless scene but it shows how off the wall Brian’s desire to be King Shit Bartender of the Universe is. If you’re gonna do that, do it in style with some Tone Def Jam Poetry!

gershon

So Gina Gershon shows up. I’ve had a crush on her since Face/Off turned me into the psycho action-movie lover I am today when I was 9. She’s Coral, a leather-clad Rolling Stone photographer who becomes a sexual conquest of Brian (and, later, Doug). How do we know she’s a temptress? She orders a drink called The Orgasm from Brian. Guaranteed, she gets lots of those in the sack from him. Did I mention her name is Coral?

She tears Brian and Doug apart, but she puts the meat of the movie in motion, as Brian and Doug decide to take their bartending show to the tax-free tropical money tree of Jamaica…

And at this point of this post, I’ve spent all this time discussing what is effectively the first 30 to 40 minutes of the movie, give or take. That first third in New York is the most entertainingly terrible segment of the film, which plays like the next year’s Road House without the action and is filled with spoon-fed Reaganomics bullshit to set up the midsection and a rollercoaster of 1980’s clichés:

  • Hypersexuality
  • Images of a dry-iced, moody, trenchcoated urbania straight from the video for “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” by Genesis
  • Tacky montages
  • A tackier soundtrack of synth music and Top 40 hits from Robert Palmer and Starship—aside from Palmer and Ry Cooder’s cover of “All Shook Up,” this is probably one of the worst hit soundtracks of the 1980’s
  • 26-year-old Tom Cruise

Before I do go on with this next part of me dissecting the movie, I’d like to acknowledge the greatness of Bryan Brown. I feel like this and F/X were the only grasps that major American audiences got on the lean, chummy Australian. Cruise plays Brian Flanagan as an unlikable douche, so he needs the Doug character to balance that shit out. Cocktail has as much pulse as a morgue slab without his performance, a flawed, weathered middle-aged man trying to make sure the kid under his wing doesn’t repeat the same mistakes he did—even when they keep making bets on women and boxing matches that could put their friendship at odds for life. Save for a part in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and some assorted TV work including a two-episode stint on The Good Wife, Bryan Brown hasn’t been up to much. Seriously, Quentin Tarantino needs to get this man in his next picture, and in a plum leading role—not like, say, the mining company guys from Django Unchained.

dougbrian

Okay, so they go to Jamaica. That’s when “Kokomo” kicks in and, I am sorry to any folk reading this, fuck that song to the Bermuda Triangle where it doesn’t exist anymore. The reason it sucks is because you can’t take a bunch of surfer-dude rockers from California and try to reformat them as Caribbean bums. For the good-natured rock-and-rollers that gave us “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Get Around” to go all adult contemporary on our asses was a travesty.

It’s like a congregation of Jimmy Buffett impersonators joined by Bobby McFerrin on Valium, at which he sounds like that tortoise Bugs Bunny always lost races to. Not even the almighty Jesse Katsopolis should have been so welcoming of the Beach Boys on that Full House episode. He should have tried to pull Brian Wilson’s Zach Galifianakis beard off and use it as hair extensions to further the power of his mullet. (Oh, did I mention “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” also shows up in on the soundtrack? Bush/Quayle ’88 baby!)

shue

Cocktail turns into a bit of a slog once they hit Jamaica (mon). Brian gets to hit on older women and Doug gets to bang a scantily-clad Kelly Lynch that he impulsively marries. Enter Elisabeth Shue as Jordan Mooney, spoiled rich kid whose businessman father is vacationing. Brian takes a liking to her fast, as, why not, Elisabeth Shue (another underutilized actress who is great in anything from Leaving Las Vegas to Piranha). Brian courts her but doesn’t win her over until this whole speech on cocktail umbrellas that leads to a sexy time montage. Jordan gets her one-piece off and there’s tremendous side boobage and they get it on under a waterfall, then by a fire. As an 80’s movie, especially a Touchstone one, it’s very soft and kissy and not even Cinemax After Dark material. I’m sure the XXX version of the movie went all the way, and it probably didn’t even need a title change—and if it did, it’d be Cocks in Tails or something like that.

Unfortunately, that romantic night gets tainted because Brian turns MILF Hunter shortly after the tryst, leaving us on a cliffhanger at the hour mark. Boy, does this thing get overwrought when shit gets back to New York. Brian ends up boy toy for Bonnie, a socialite in a loveless marriage. In other words, a trite retelling of American Gigolo. Who gives a shit? That is, until he accompanies Bonnie to a swanky Manhattan art show, where Brian insults a sculptor’s attempt at a cockroach. Wild fisticuffs ensue, which would have resulted in the sculptor and Brian out of the joint in handcuffs.

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Apparently, nobody told me this was a movie from the Last Action Hero universe, so the relationship breaks off and nobody is arrested. No further damage is done. And this bit sets up the third act of despair, despair, despair. Here, Brian Flanagan ceases to exist as a sympathetic protagonist, even an antihero. He’s aggressive, head-up-his ass confident despite the fact that:

  1. He’s burned his bridges with three love interests.
  2. He forcefully tries to win back Jordan at her waitress job. Her retaliation: turning Brian into some kind of hideous potpourri of condiments and leftovers.
  3. Jordan’s overprotective father hates uneducated men, and sees Brian as such despite his mastery of the art of juggling bottles of hard liquor. Not exactly a talent that helps on college applications and entrance exams.
  4. Brian confronts Jordan like an abusive pimp, or a raging, jealous husband—and the tension is relieved when Jordan drops the bomb that she’s pregnant! For a sex machine like Brian, he can’t even use a fucking condom like he’s an utter barbarian or Jack Nicholson, who once claimed he’d rather “cohabitate with a warm garbage bag” than don a rubber. At least Jennifer Jason Leigh got an abortion in Fast Times.
  5. Kerry (Kelly Lynch) tries to fuck Brian, and he actually finds the dignity to not act on her advances out of respect for his mentor…
  6. Who, despite the company of many philandering women, went broke on a bad gamble for their proposed bar, Cocktails and Dreams.

Doug confesses “The only thing I know about saloons is how to pour whisky and run my mouth off.” That he had no idea of insurance, safety regulations, utilities, building codes, payroll, or even SALES TAX. How the fuck do you not factor in SALES TAX!?

Let me give you the CliffsNotes version of this: HE HAD NO FUCKING IDEA OF HOW TO RUN A BAR OTHER THAN WHAT BOOZE HE WAS SUPPLYING. Ergo, realizing that his passion in life is one he only knows at face value, he commits suicide on a houseboat, penniless and outcasted from the world.

 despair

Cocktail is so broken in terms of morality that even the mentor figure is a fucked-up deadbeat. Had the film been darker, perhaps this would be acceptable. But let me reiterate the “Touchstone Pictures car wash” theory from earlier. Of course, Touchstone was Disney’s distribution imprint for their adult-oriented fare. We can have Michael Eisner to thank for that. Say what you will about putting Disney on a corporate track around the same time, but Eisner—alongside Jeffrey Katzenberg—worked their magic under Touchstone the same way they had at Paramount.

At that time, they had an uncanny savvy to do four-quadrant, PG-rated blockbusters and concurrently hit box-office jackpots on R-rated movies. Partial thanks to Eisner enemy and Paramount executive and then mega-producer Don Simpson, they took great advantage of the budding MTV market and churned out plenty of blockbusters with at least one megahit single: An Officer and a Gentleman. 48 Hrs. Flashdance. Beverly Hills Cop.

That strategy was copied over at Touchstone, with hit singles showing up in their movies—Eric Clapton’s “It’s in the Way That You Use It” from The Color of Money, Mick Jagger’s eponymous theme for Ruthless People. Movies that didn’t have singles accompanying them even boasted big hits: Down and Out in Beverly Hills has Talking Heads’ rendition of “Once in a Lifetime” from Stop Making Sense prominently featured, and Richard Dreyfuss preps dinner for Madeleine Stowe to Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” in Stakeout (it may have been the other way around, that’s a mediocre one).

Cocktail was like a perfect storm of the Paramount magic, with an enormous hit soundtrack and a slick, benign product to sell to the masses for the summer of 1988. And hey, Tom Cruise is the lead, so who gives a shit? The songs were great. They sold tickets. People went for Cruise and the bartending. Nobody fucking cared about Cocktail’s lack of merits—it was a hit of its time because of its star and its music.

kokomo

Here’s the top 10 highest grossing movies of 1988:

  1. Rain Man
  2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  3. Coming to America
  4. Big
  5. Twins
  6. Crocodile Dundee II
  7. Die Hard
  8. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
  9. Cocktail
  10. Beetlejuice

With the exception of Crocodile Dundee II, these are all good to great movies, and I’d say Die Hard, Roger Rabbit, The Naked Gun, Rain Man and Beetlejuice are justifiable classics. Looking past that point, all of these films with the exception of Cocktail were propelled by critical and commercial word of mouth and/or stars who could open a movie and keep it in theaters for months. Cocktail sorely lacks that former element. It’s all flair (no pun intended) and no substance, and it does it in such a spectacularly awful way that, like a horrific vehicular accident gone viral on YouTube, your curiosity can only get the best of you to just watch.

brianjordan

And it’s that kind of pandering and star security that allows Cruise to fight off a group of hotel security guards like it’s Final Fight or something in the climax so that he can profess his love to Jordan. He proposes to Jordan, who immediately accepts in spite of her not-really boyfriend having just beaten the shit out of a group of innocent men. The ending is at the now-open Cocktails and Dreams bar, where Brian and Jordan are happily married like this is some kind of fucking Shakespearean comedy. Brian does some poetry—then he finds out he’s knocked up his one-night stand with twins! Surely, the marriage doesn’t last. I give it three years tops.

Cocktail is a cataclysm, easily the worst movie Tom Cruise has ever made and one of the most puzzling box-office smashes of the 80’s. Had he gone straight from this to Days of Thunder, bypassing his incredible work in Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July, his career would have been relegated to lower-budget schlock and eventually dumped onto a steady diet of sub-direct-to-video and made-for-cable purgatory in the 90’s. Like Brian Flanagan, it holds in its possession a laundry list of deplorable qualities—greed, vapidity, misogyny, promiscuity, and one of the ugliest, most disgusting displays of vanity I’ve ever seen. No producer, writer, director or actor would have intended this kind of discomforting content over 25 years ago. Luckily, “Kokomo” would probably fail to crack the top 200 iTunes downloads, or worse yet, it would be some bad dubstep or rap-infused variation.

On a revisionist dime, Cocktail is deeply abhorrent. Its thematic material—let alone the bubbly treatment of it—would never get the kind of care in the modern film industry, with so much sensitivity for feminism and even racial politics, given the hints of Jamaican stereotypes the pop up during that bit. For many readers who saw it in 1988, perhaps it was a fun time, for others, it sucked then-and it sucks now.

Don’t take the over 3,000 words I have now invested into this piece as a reason to avoid it. I’d recommend watching it if you can stomach the cheese and deviancy on display—even if this probably sounds a hell of a lot better than Cocktail is. I’ll catch you all on the other side of the bar, and we can toast Red Eyes together.

When it pours, I reign. Make sure you like the official Facebook page for The Pleasuredome too, and follow the official Twitter feed at @ElPleasuredome. You should also follow me at @MikeDrewFlynn on the talking-birdie site too.

Order Cocktail on Blu-ray for $9.96 at Amazon here. Go the Amazon Instant route ($3.99 HD rental) here. You’re welcome.