Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Let’s discuss more movies released since the day I was born!

I’ve been watching a lot of movies I’ve seen before, just because they’re fun. Let’s check them out!

Outland (1981). I’ve always liked Outland, so when I had the chance to see it again recently, I did. It’s basically High Noon in space, which doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it does make it familiar. As usual, the strength of any movie usually lies in the acting and directing, not the story, and Sean Connery is terrific in the Gary Cooper role, discovering that shenanigans are going on at his mining station on Io, but the corruption goes to the top so he places himself in opposition to the bigwigs, who hire bad guys to come and kill him. Frances Sternhagen is good as his reluctant ally, and Peter Boyle is good and unctuous as the dude in charge of the mine. Peter Hyams, an underrated director, gets the most out of the setting, and the finale, a fight outside of a huge greenhouse, is wonderfully staged. It’s just a very good science fiction movie that never gets a lot of love, and the fact that there’s a JIM STERANKO COMIC ADAPTATION sitting out there that has never been collected in English really, really fucking bugs me. Jeebus, Heavy Metal, get the fuck on that already!

Bachelor Party (1984). This is far more tame than you might remember, despite the presence of the donkey (which dies of a drug overdose before anything really nasty can happen), but it’s still a 1980s sex comedy, so boobs are plentiful. Hanks makes it work, as you can just see that he was going to be a big star (this came out after Splash, so people already knew, but I don’t know when it was filmed in relation to that movie). It’s a funny movie, and it has a nice charm to it that you might not get in some of the raunchier sex comedies of the era – Hanks and Tawny Kitaen really do love each other, which is nice. The cast is not exactly packed with stars, but it’s still fun – Adrian Zmed does his thing, Robert Prescott is nice and evil (this is his film debut, and he was so good at being an asshole that he played basically the same character a year later in Real Genius), Wendie Jo Sperber is hilarious, and Monique Gabrielle is scorching hot as the old flame of Hanks’s who is in the movie simply to get naked. It’s a silly movie, but it’s a lot of fun. Watch this, The Man With One Red Shoe, and Volunteers in order (which is how they were released in 1984-1985) and get the full “Tom Hanks before he decided to be serious” experience!

Masters of the Universe (1987). This movie is pretty much garbage, but, I mean, you get to see Dolph Lundgren being ridiculous but trying so hard to get everyone else to buy into it even though everyone seems to know how stupid it all is, Frank Langella committing so hard to chewing scenery as Skeletor (this was before Langella became a Serious Actor, so it’s not as incongruous as, say, Raul Julia dying because Street Fighter killed him), Meg Foster getting far too little to do as Evil-Lyn (Foster is good only in specific roles, and she’s actually quite good here, but she gets far too little to do), James Tolkan channeling his role as the principal in Back to the Future to yell a lot in this movie, Christina Pickles showing up as a sorceress (and probably thinking of Courteney Cox, “Hey, that chick is fun – I hope we work together again”) and, of course, Cox doing Courteney Cox-like things (I like Cox, but she’s basically Monica Geller in everything, both before and after Friends). Don’t get me wrong – this is phenomenally dumb movie. But its heart is in the right place, and I can’t hate something that tries this hard. It’s a charming way to spend a few hours.

Road House (1989). Road House, on the other hand, is a stone cold classic, because it’s dumb in all the right, glorious ways. A famous bouncer? Really? I mean, that’s just the beginning of the glorious dumbness. Why can’t the people of the town contact the state police or the FBI? Why do the townspeople cheer when Wesley destroys the car dealership if they all hate him? Just what the hell, Patrick Swayze?!?!?!? (This is in regard to his entire character, who’s a walking WTF figure.) It’s still wonderful because it’s so dumb. I love everything about it, from the ridiculous atmosphere in the bar before Swayze “cools” it to the fact that Ben Gazzara just ordering the woman he’s with – Julie Michaels – to get up on stage and strip. I love 1980s nudity, because it’s actually not just for titillation (I mean, most of it is, but not always), but casual, like the way a lot of people are casual when they’re naked (Kelly Lynch getting out of bed to join Swayze after they’ve gotten it on is a good example of this, as they don’t try to cover her up as she wraps the sheet around her – of course she’d still be naked, as she was just getting busy!). I love “I used to fuck guys like you in prison,” because it’s such a nasty, creepy, and memorable line and the dude who says it was good friends with Swayze and when his mom saw the movie for the first time, she stood up in the theater and yelled that that was her son, which is awesome. There’s nothing not amazing about this movie.

Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). This movie is also dumb as hell, and while it’s not anywhere near as awesome as Road House, it has its charms, mostly because of the definitely homoerotic tension between Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee – at one point Lee actually tells Lundgren that he, Lundgren, has the biggest dick he, Lee, has ever seen, which … what the fuck? I mean, Lundgren ends up with Tia Carrere (hilariously using a body double for her nude scenes, but as far as I know, Carrere had no issue with nudity later in her career, so what’s the hang-up here?), but it’s clear he and Lee belong together. Anyway, the “twist” in this movie is that hulking Swede Lundgren grew up in Japan so he knows all about Japanese culture while Brandon Lee is of Asian heritage but grew up in the “Valley” so he’s ignorant of Japanese culture (ignoring the fact that his heritage is Chinese). They’re mismatched cops who have to take down a drug-smuggling operation led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, because of course he’s the bad guy in this movie (in the 1980s and 1990s, if you wanted an Asian actor for your bad guy, you cast Tagawa or James Hong – it was the law!!!!). The movie hums along at 1 hour and 19 minutes, which is ridiculously short but doesn’t allow you to realize how dumb it is, and then, after some fairly gratuitous nudity, some excellent violence, some big explosions, and more homoerotic longing than you can shake a stick at, it’s over. Good times! And, of course, watching this makes you bummed about Lee, because it was clear he had all the charisma his dad had, and man, he would have had a fun career.

Striking Distance (1993). This is a pretty by-the-numbers cop movie, with a good cast that does what they can, but it’s still nothing special if very re-watchable. Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, Robert Pastorelli, John Mahoney, Andre Braugher, and Brion James are in this, and that’s not bad. Willis rats out police corruption and gets ostracized for it, there’s a serial killer who returns after a few years away to taunt Willis, who now works on the river patrol, and Timothy Busfield gets dumped in the water because he’s a dick. The best thing about the movie, honestly, is its location, as it was filmed in Pittsburgh and it makes great use of the city and the rivers around it. Too many movies don’t take advantage of the uniqueness of wherever they’re set, but that’s not the case here. Anyway, it’s entertaining, even if the mystery isn’t too hard to figure out, and it’s nice to see good actors doing their thing, even if it’s in the service of a nothing-special story.

Species (1995). I know that none of the cast of this movie was exactly a Big Star or Important Actor, but I’m always fascinated when people you’ve heard of actually show up in a B movie. And Species is very much a B movie, not that that matters, because it’s a good B movie, but it’s kind of weird that Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, and Forest Whitaker are in this movie. They had all been around for a while, and they had done some good work, so it’s odd to see them “slumming” it, to a degree. Ben Kingsley, it became clear after he won his Oscar (he was 38/39 when he won, but it was his first movie role of any consequence), was interested in the “Michael Caine” career, where he took every offer that came his way so he could amass some money and maybe every once in a while he’d get a nice, juicy role (so he does Gandhi in 1982, Schindler’s List in 1993, Death and the Maiden in 1994, Sexy Beast in 2000, and in between he was in some very questionable flicks), and he chews his way through the scenery very nicely while wearing the most 1990s duster imaginable. Natasha Henstridge is perfect for the role – she’s not required to talk all that much and she’s naked about half the time she’s on screen. The very idea of this movie cracks me up – “Oh, we got alien DNA from an unknown place out in space and we can splice it with human DNA, so let’s do that instead of concentrating on the other message we got, which provides us with clean, renewable energy!” Kingsley decided that instead of winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and getting filthy rich in the process, he’s much rather choose a different role model, and that role model is Victor Frankenstein. Well done, Kingsley! And hey, is that four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams as L’il Sil? Why, yes, it is! This is a fun movie, although the lousy effects at the end almost ruin it, and the cast commits to it hard, and that’s all you can ask for with movies about a naked alien blonde who wants to have sex with every man she sees (come on, Alfred Molina, you had to know it was too good to be true!). It’s a lot of fun.

Smokin’ Aces (2006). I love this dumb-ass movie and will try to watch it every chance I get, and it never disappoints. Let’s consider this amazing work of art: Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta are FBI agents tasked by their boss, Andy Garcia, to go to Lake Tahoe (really Stateline, Nevada, but they call it “Lake Tahoe” because it sounds better) and retrieve magic performer and wannabe gangster Jeremy Piven, who’s holed up in the penthouse of a hotel with his boys, one of whom is Common and another of whom is Joel Edgerton. They think he has a crapload of information about Primo Sparazza, an ancient mobster who was once the target of a FBI undercover operation but who killed the FBI agent trying to investigate him. They also learn that Sparazza’s goons, one of whom is played by Alex Rocco (who’s probably most famous for getting shot in the eye in The Godfather), are trying to kill Piven, putting a million dollar bounty on his head. Piven’s manager, Curtis Armstrong, is trying to negotiate a deal with the Feds, while one of Piven’s lawyers, played by Jason Bateman, wants him back because he jumped bail in Las Vegas, so he hires bounty hunters Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, and Martin Henderson to get him. Various assassins, played by Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson (they’re partners), Nestor Carbonell, Chris Pine and his brothers Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling, and Tommy Flanagan, are all converging on the hotel. And Matthew Fox shows up as the hapless head of security at said hotel. I’m sure you followed all that! It’s breathtakingly amazing. People get killed all over the place, mostly with bullets, but occasionally with chainsaws, what looks like a knitting needle, and by hand. There’s a bit twist that’s actually not bad, there’s a character who gets menaced by a special needs boy with self-taught karate skills (it’s the most uncomfortable part of the movie, not because they make fun of the kid – they actually don’t, which is kind of refreshing – but because of something else that I’m not going to get into here), there’s rasslin’ and romance – it’s a lot. But man, is it fun. You could do a lot worse than shoot this straight into your veins the next time you have a chance!

A Cure for Wellness (2016). Man, Dane DeHaan is not a good actor, and he’s not all that pretty, so how the hell does he keep getting work? He’s the lead in this just-okay horror flick, and he really sets it back, because he looks like he’s going to be blown away in a stiff wind. He’s supposed to be some kind of Wall Street big shot, but he simply doesn’t seem like that kind of person, and he’s sent by his company to a weird spa in the Swiss alps where another executive has fled because they need the dude back for some deal they’re putting together. So DeHaan goes there, and of course everything is very weird, and of course he gets sucked into the whole thing, and of course the head of the hospital/spa is bizarre. It doesn’t help that he’s played by force of nature Jason Isaacs, who destroys DeHaan, acting-wise, in every scene they share, which is a lot. DeHaan knows something is strange, knows things are probably a lot more dire than even he believes, and knows he’s being targeted by the doctor, yet he never actually leaves. He has at least two, and possibly three, chances to leave the place without really anything happening to him, but he keeps going back. Now, he’s hot for the only young person there, Mia Goth, but, I mean, really? (It certainly doesn’t help that Goth isn’t the best actor, either.) Anyway, the movie is absolutely gorgeous – the spa and the environs are spectacular, and while no one is going to accuse Gore Verbinski of being a great director, he’s always been a superb stylist, and he really gives this a great atmosphere with some amazing camera work. But he can’t make up for the silly story and his lousy leads. In the end, it’s a nice movie to look at, but fairly forgettable.

Enola Holmes (2020). We thought my daughter might like this, so we watched it with her recently, and as she is a 15-year-old girl, we could get nothing more out of her about it other than, “It was all right.” Those of you who have had any experience with 15-year-old girls know that that could mean “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen” or “Man, that sucked” and pretty much everything in between them. My daughter contains multitudes, yo! This is a slight but fun movie, with Millie Bobby Brown becoming one of the youngest producers ever (she secured the rights to the book) and getting paid a cool 6 mill to play Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister. She’s fine in the role, and Henry Cavill is quite good as Sherlock, but I can see why the Conan Doyle estate sued over his portrayal, because he is far too nice for the time period (1884), as it’s clear in the earlier Holmes stories he was kind of a jerk. The anachronisms in this movie are legion, from a teenager inheriting a lordship and being able to vote in Parliament (they couldn’t until they were 21) to the diverse cast (which I don’t mind at all, but they don’t even try to address why a black woman can own a tea shop or a Pakistani man can be a high-ranking police inspector), but the thing that really bugged me is that Mycroft isn’t smarter than Sherlock. Sam Claflin is given the thankless role, and his Mycroft is an asshole, which is fine, but he’s also kind of dumb, which bugs me. I suppose it’s really best to think of this as taking place in a fantasy England, because if you think it’s set in an actual London of 1884, so many things will bother you even if you haven’t read too much about the time period. Finally, one of the plots – what happened to Enola Holmes’s mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter because of course it is – doesn’t really resolve. I mean, she seems to be involved in some pretty underhanded stuff, but they just kind of move past it to focus on the other major plot. Weird. Anyway, it’s fun, and Brown shows that she can carry a movie (this is the first time she’s been the lead), and we’ll see if we get any more of them. Watch it with your 15-year-old daughter and prepared for her to be unimpressed!

I know that I watched a lot of dumb movies this time around. But in these rather stupid times, dumb movies are comforting. I’ll get back to highbrow stuff soon enough!


  1. Eric van Schaik

    Of your list I’ve only saw Masters of the Universe (in Cinema), and it was….not good. Saw bits of Species (meh) while zapping.
    If you want to see a dumb movie try Shaolin Soccer 🙂 It’s soccer meets the Matrix…

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        Shaolin Soccer is like pro wrestling, with buddhist monks on a soccer team as the babyfaces, and every other stereotype as the heels. I mean, the ultimate team is called Team Evil! I love Stephen Chow!

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Yes, Outland is a really solid movie, a bit of an underrated gem, I’d say. And yes, Sternhagen is really good – I like her character as much as Connery’s.
    I totally agree about Bachelor Party: it’s so dumb, but so funny and entertaining. I also like Volunteers quite a bit (although there, John Candy almost steals the show). In fact, I like Hanks’ ‘dumb’ movies from the ’80s far, far more than, say, Splash or Big, which seemed to be critical and audience darlings.
    Of the other ones you covered here that I’ve seen:
    Road House I like well enough, but not as much as you and Hatcher do (is there something about the movie that captivates Gregs?);
    Species and Striking Distance were movies I found watchable, but that’s about it – I’ve never had the desire to watch either again;
    Masters of the Universe is a movie I’ve only seen part of, about 10 years ago when I stumbled onto it while channel surfing. It was a scene in which Meg Foster appeared, and I *really* like Meg Foster, but as soon as the scene switched and she was gone, I changed the channel. Maybe if, as you observed, she’d been given more screen time, I’d think about watching the whole thing.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Volunteers is a really good movie. I know why it doesn’t get more love (it’s not “serious” enough, as Splash and Big are, despite the fact that they’re comedies), but it’s very good.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I still like Hanks quite a lot, but winning those two Oscars (neither of which he exactly deserved) didn’t do him any favors. But I’ve liked many of his movies since 1993!

      1. conrad1970

        I did forget about The Polar Express, that was a fun movie. My all time favourite Tom Hanks movie would have to be The Burb’s, that was just brilliant plus Carrie Fisher was in it which is always a bonus.
        On the downside the Dan Brown adaptations were just

  3. I enjoyed Bachelor Party. John Candy’s Bridge on the River Kwai parody would have been worth seeing in Volunteers even if the rest of the movie was awful (which it wasn’t). Have never been able to finish Polar Express
    Outlander is very, very meh. As SF critic Baird Searles put it, there’s nothing that made me say “Of course that’s what the future would be like, but I’d never have imagined it.”
    God, I hated Cavill in Enola Holmes — too bland, too mellow. But yes, Mycroft is horribly written, stuck with being the stuffy relative who wants Enola to Conform And Marry Well. There were some PoC business owners in the era so I don’t have a problem with that part.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: I think Cavill is pretty good – just when you think he’s bland, he makes a wry comment or does something with his eyes to let you know he’s far more interesting than he lets on, so I enjoyed it. Your opinion may vary, of course!

      I don’t really have a problem with the people of color, I just wondered if it was unusual enough that the characters might be taken aback a bit by it. I don’t know if they would be, but I suspect the filmmakers don’t, either.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Outland and Peter Hyams are highly underrated (2010 is a damn good movie and far more coherent than Kubrick). Hyams made it look like a realistic space colony, not some Star Trek Utopia or Flash Gordon space opera. It’s a mining colony and it looks like a mining colony. I like the little touches, like shotguns for law enforcement (don’t want to penetrate the bulkheads), or the fact that legal bordellos would exist on a mining complex. The cast is great, with Stephen Berkoff as the psychotic who Connery has to take out, in the bordello, after the dude has loaded up on the drugs they are taking to increase production.

    Bachelor Party I would say ic occasionally funny, and those occasions are frequent enough to make it an enjoyable watch, but not enough to want to own the film. Tawny Kitaen was never going to win acting awards (though this is light years ahead of The Perils of Gwendoline) but she is believable enough (turns out she was a bit of a psycho in real life). And yeah, Prescott rules as a bully.

    Masters of the Universe is a guilty pleasure movie for me. It’s not good (though I like Langella’s scenery consumption); but, if you view it as probably the only decent attempt at Jack Kirby’s New Gods we are likely to get (I know it is in development; but, my expectations are low that it will reach production and even lower that it will be good…or even Kirby). The director was a Kirby fan and he deliberately gave it overtones of the 4th World and other Kirby stuff (Skeletor is a mix of Darkseid and Dr Doom and He-Man is a bit Thor and a bit Orion). Taken that way, it makes a bit more sense, even down to the wonky dialogue. And, yeah, Meg Foster’s eyes are a special effect in their own right.

    Roadhouse is just a time-shifted western, which is why it works. The dude who raped guys like Dalton, in prison, is Marshall Teague, a terrific actor who played the spiritual warrior Ta’lon, on Babylon 5. Plus, this film has Red West, shitkicker and Elvis’ buddy; you can’t go wrong. If that wasn’t enough, middle-aged crazy Terry “NWA World Heavyweight Champion” Funk is also in this.

    Showdown in Little Tokyo does have it’s moments, mostly due to Lee, though I think he got to shine more in Rapid Fire. Really think he would have eclipsed his father in movies, as a more versatile performer, had not tragedy occurred.

    I haven’t seen the rest, though everything I have heard of Enola Holmes sounds troubling, starting with giving Holmes a sister. if you want to explore the distaff side of Holmes, Irene Adler is a better vehicle, as Carolyn Douglas understood (wrote a series of Adler novels). And, yes, Mycroft is the smarter brother; always.

    Based on your premise in your title, I would have to go back another couple of decades for a similar feature. Problem is, the 60s and half the 70s would be a lot of Disney.

    1. As it’s based on a young adult series, it’s not surprising they went with “sister” rather than either adult Irene or Young Irene. But I didn’t have a problem with it. Hell, given how little Holmes says about himself, I don’t feel it’s even that counter to canon.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Yeah, I dig 2010. I’m pretty sure I saw it first, but I could be wrong. You can’t go wrong with Helen Mirren!

      I didn’t know that about Kirby and He-Man, but yeah, it does make a bit more sense.

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