Movie Project #11: Road House [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Road House [1989]

Road House [1989]
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: Hilary Henkin, David Lee Henry
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara
Running Time: 114 minutes

Pain don’t hurt.

Even though this year’s project is stacked with acclaimed films, I don’t know if there was anything I was looking forward to more than the incomparable Road House. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while now should know how much I love bad (or so bad they’re good) movies. There’s something to be said about shutting off your brain and just going with the flow, embracing cheesy acting and terrible dialogue as the delectable pieces of junk food they are. I’m happy to report that Road House is every bit as awesome (and awful) as I had heard.

Patrick Swayze, still riding the wave of success from Dirty Dancing, stars as a professional cooler (aka bouncer) named Dalton. He has built up a reputation as being the best in the business, and he is hired by businessman Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar called the Double Deuce. It’s an absolute pigsty of a nightclub, and it is home to many of the bottomfeeders of society. Its patrons are loud and short-tempered, and every other minute a huge bar fight breaks out. The poor house band even has to play behind a cage to avoid being hit with thrown beer bottles. The current wave of bouncers (including pro wrestler Terry Funk!) will throw out those who get particularly unruly, but they’re generally content with the unstable atmosphere.

Road House [1989]

Enter: Dalton. He immediately clears out the staff members that refuse to play by his rules (one of which is simply to be nice) and begins overhauling the business. Problems arise when Dalton fires a bartender who has ties to the local business mogul, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley has his finger in seemingly every business in town, and he wants to keep things the way they are. He does his best to make Dalton’s life miserable, though Swayze plays him like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Along the way, Dalton gets a love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), and some backup support from his longtime buddy and veteran cooler, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). When Garrett shows up, the film gets more and more violent, lending itself to some wildly entertaining barfights. Naturally, there’s a huge showdown at the end that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie. It is here where Wesley’s top henchman, Jimmy (Marshall Teague), makes one of the most awkward threats imaginable (“I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”) before succumbing to Dalton’s wicked throat punch (it has to be seen to be believed). At this point, the film has its foot on the gas and culminates with an epic finale at Wesley’s personal mansion. To give you an idea of just how utterly ridiculous this becomes, take note that the last words mentioned in the film are “A polar bear fell on me.”

Road House [1989]

But this imbecility is what makes Road House so much fun. Swayze kicks a bunch of ass, Gazzara hams it up as the main villain, buildings get destroyed, characters find excuses to fight over anything, and Sam Elliott gets to show off his pubic hair. Wait… scratch that last part, that’s something I wish I did not see. Ditto for Patrick Swayze’s belly button (some things just cannot be unseen).

Is Road House great cinema? Not in the slightest. But it’s a damn fun film, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

8/10

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Movie Project #9: Major League [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Major League [1989]

Major League [1989]
Director: David S. Ward
Writer: David S. Ward
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Sports
Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen
Running Time: 107 minutes

For as much as I love baseball, it’s baffling that it has taken me this long to watch Major League. I’m a sucker for films about sports, especially baseball, and this David S. Ward comedy still has a large number of vocal supporters to this day.

It’s easy to see why this film is so revered. For one, it’s a classic underdog story. The protagonists are the perennial losers known as the Cleveland Indians, a team that could be called the Cubs of the American League (now that the Red Sox have snapped their awful streak). When Major League was filmed, the team hadn’t won a World Series in 41 years. Now, 25 years later, that streak is up to 66 years. The idea of turning around a team that has been losers for so long is always appealing, and Major League sets up such a rags-to-riches story perfectly.

After the fictional Indians owner passes away, his wife, a former showgirl named Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), inherits the team. Although she enjoys baseball, she hates Cleveland. Her goal is to move the team to a much more desirable location, say Miami, but in order to do so she must lower the season’s attendance to under 800,000 tickets sold. She concocts a maniacal scheme to bring in a brand new group of players comprised of has-beens, bottom tier minor leaguers, ex-convicts and anyone else who has no chance of being on a legitimate big league team.

Major League [1989]

This group of misfits includes erratic hurler Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), oft-injured catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), diva-esque third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), voodoo-practicing power hitter Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and the speedy but light-hitting Willie Mays Hayes (a young Wesley Snipes). To manage the team, minor league skipper Lou Brown (James Gammon) is brought in.

It could be argued that these guys have talent, but they have significant flaws of varying importance. At first, as expected, they are terrible. The team is regularly blown out at the beginning of the season. The fan attendance dwindles rapidly, and everything seems to be working out according to the new owner’s plan.

But somehow, some way, the team starts getting better. “Wild Thing” Vaughn gets a pair of hipster glasses that improves his eyesight and his game drastically. Willie Mays Hayes uses his speed to beat out tepid ground balls. The offense starts clicking. All of a sudden, the Indians are fighting for the division lead.

Major League [1989]

It’s here where the film starts to lose its footing a little bit. This was going to be a predictable story from the start, but once the team starts winning, the film becomes a series of one sports cliché after another. It still has its moments, but Major League is at its best when we’re watching this group of castoffs failing miserably. Hell, I could watch an entire movie based on the spring training scenes alone — the bumbling introductions of the players is comedy gold. Even better are the scenes that feature an incredibly snarky Bob Uecker as the game’s announcer.

There are plenty of laughs, memorable characters and enough one-liners to grant Major League entry into my regular baseball film rotation. I didn’t fall in love with it as much as, say, Bull Durham, but it still makes for a great time. Now if only the Indians could get their own “Wild Thing” to finally remove them as laughingstocks of the American League.

7/10

Movie Project #3: Say Anything… [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Say Anything... [1989]

Say Anything… [1989]
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor
Running Time: 100 minutes

Is there a more iconic image of 1980s teenage romance than a young John Cusack standing outside of his ex-girlfriend’s window while holding a boombox over his head? Going into Say Anything…, that scene was pretty much all I knew about the film. It was a bit of a surprise then that this scene was so short. I sat there waiting for this magical moment, and then… she didn’t even look out the window! That’s cold, man. Cold.

John Cusack is Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school grad who is all about punk rock and kickboxing. On graduation day, he gets a wild idea: he decides to ask out Diane Court (Iona Skye), the smartest girl in school. His friends, a group of girls including Corey Flood (Lili Taylor), scoff at his idea, but he’s a man on a mission. He works up the courage to make a phone call and gets her dad, James (John Mahoney), instead. They have an awkward conversation (it ends with Lloyd saying “Good afternoon” in response to the dad’s “Good luck”), but it proves to be fruitful as she calls him back the next day. Much to Lloyd’s (and everyone else’s) surprise, she accepts his invitation to a party later that night.

Say Anything... [1989]

The two of them hit it off immediately and fall into a heated romance. However, there are two obstacles in the way of their relationship: 1) her overprotective father, and 2) Diane is moving to England after the summer. Her father means well — he has even taken certain illegal risks to make sure she can be as successful as possible — but he immediately looks down at the “basic” Lloyd. It’s a matter of two completely different social classes coming together due to an undeniable connection, but it’s a relationship that is difficult to sustain.

What impressed me about this conventional tale is that Lloyd is genuinely a great guy. Sure, he may not be sure what he wants to do with his life, but he knows how to treat a girl. Diane realizes this, too, but it’s her that has to do some growing here. It’s rare that a guy in romantic comedies comes across so well, so it’s refreshing to see things from this perspective.

Say Anything… [1989]

For this being a Cameron Crowe film, I was a little surprised to see music take a bit of a backseat here. There’s the seminal boombox scene in which Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is the main focus, but other than that, the soundtrack is rather subtle. This is not a fault at all, just a bit unexpected.

There is a bit of melodrama near the end that feels caked on, but for the most part, Say Anything… hits all the right notes. It also certainly says something that such a small scene in the film has made an incredible lasting impression over the years.

8/10

Movie Project #8: Do the Right Thing [1989]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

Do the Right Thing [1989]
Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: Spike Lee
Country: USA
Genre: Drama
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro
Running Time: 120 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had only seen one Spike Lee film (25th Hour), and had heard nothing but praise for Do the Right Thing.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe nominations, #96 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films, National Film Registry

“Always do the right thing.”

So says Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) to Mookie (Spike Lee), offering some simple advice that we could all certainly follow. Yet it’s not easy to always do what’s right. By the end of Do the Right Thing, this is especially apparent, as we are introduced to over a dozen characters who have all struggled with this concept.

Set during a sweltering summer day in the predominantly African American Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, the film shows little semblance of a plot for the first 90 minutes or so. Numerous individuals are introduced, occasionally running into each other, and there is no central figure. It could be argued that Mookie is the main character of the film, but he is just part of a large ensemble. In the wrong hands, this many characters could present major issues in terms of development, but Spike Lee has managed to introduce and provide depth for every single person on screen.

There’s Mookie, a delivery boy for Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the corner pizza shop that’s been there for 25 years. Sal (Danny Aiello) is the owner, and he is waiting to pass the reigns to his two sons, Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro). The fact that their neighborhood has become a mostly black community has been bothering the two sons, but not so much Sal, who has taken pride in the kids in the neighborhood growing up on his food.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

Tensions arise when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) inquires about Sal’s “Wall of Fame” in which there are photos of a number of famous Italian Americans (i.e. Al Pacino, Joe DiMaggio, etc.). Buggin’ Out wants to know why there aren’t any black people on the wall, to which Sal replies that he is proud of his Italian American heritage and will only show Italians in his shop. This escalates into a heated argument, and Buggin’ Out threatens to start a boycott of the pizzeria.

Most neighbors just laugh at the boycott threats — after all, Sal’s has been there forever. Who’s business is it to tell him what to put up in his own restaurant? Yet there is one other supporter, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), a strong young man who always carries around a large boombox blasting Public Enemy. Raheem had his own altercation with Sal, who refused to serve him food unless he turned off his stereo.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

These types of confrontations and verbal spats are everywhere in the neighborhood. Much of this is due to racial tension, and it simmers for most of the film before finally reaching a boil in the tragically violent conclusion.

Without giving anything away, the film’s ending is one that raises a million questions. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why did it have to come to this? Did anyone “do the right thing”? Every character in the film has their own negative traits, just as we as humans are inherently flawed. Most try not to let their prejudices get the best of them, but in the scorching heat, it may be just a little easier to lose control.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

In order to really emphasize the record-breaking Brooklyn heat (which undoubtedly helped escalate these conflicts), Lee opted to use copious amounts of red and orange colors in his backdrops. This gives the film an especially unique feel. Lee also nailed the neighborhood setting, as it truly seems we are watching a day in the life of this particular area.

Do the Right Thing is an astonishing piece of filmmaking that still manages to feel fresh today. It elects not to choose a side, instead allowing you to make the decision for yourself. I am writing this post a day after viewing the film, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. This is a film that will linger and linger, and I can’t imagine it will ever go away.

9/10

Movie Project #31: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Action/Adventure
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody
Runtime: 127 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom pretty much back-to-back, but over a year has passed since then. Perhaps my general disdain for Temple of Doom had something to do with it — after that subpar effort, I was skeptical that the third entry could achieve the greatness of the original. Little did I know that I would enjoy the hell out of the finale, which in some way even surpasses its legendary beginning.

Set in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), now teaching at Barnett College, is informed that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail. Knowing that his father must be in trouble, Indy travels to Venice, Italy to meet with a colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). After a thrilling trip through rat-infested catacombs, the duo learn that Mr. Jones was abducted by the Nazis and is now held in a castle near the Austrian-German border. This soon becomes a globe-trotting endeavor in which Indy races to find both his father and the Holy Grail, all while fending off those evil Nazi bastards.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

At this point, it’s Indiana Jones 101, but the Last Crusade is most enjoyable thanks to its near-perfect casting. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery have terrific chemistry, and they are a lot of fun to watch together. Although Connery is only twelve years older than Ford, he looks much older in the film, and he does a great job adding comic relief to the non-stop adventures on screen. I’ll take him over Short Round or Willie any day. Old favorites Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) make welcome returns, and the new love interest Elsa is enjoyable as the icy cool blonde.

The Last Crusade has a number of memorable moments as expected. Two obvious highlights are the aforementioned trip through the catacombs, and the epic tank chase en route to the Holy Grail. Also, who can forget the absolutely ridiculous (and awesome) cameo from Adolf Hitler? This is a film that revels in its over-the-top adventures and has a good time doing so.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

I feel I would need to revisit Raiders of the Lost Ark to determine which I liked more, but to say I enjoyed the Last Crusade would be an understatement. This film blew away my (admittedly reserved) expectations, and it’s one that I feel I may enjoy even more on subsequent viewings. Now, the question is, dare I risk tainting these memories by watching the fourth movie?

9/10

Retro Game Review: Golden Axe [Genesis, 1989]

Golden Axe [Genesis, 1989]

Golden Axe
System: Sega Genesis
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Release Date: December 22, 1989

Golden Axe is a side scrolling beat ’em up game, one of many released during the 16-bit heyday. What sets Golden Axe apart from the rest is its medievil setting with memorable characters including the legendary Gilius F’N Thunderhead, a badass dwarf with an axe to grind. There are two other characters, a barbarian musclehead with a sword, and a beefy Amazonian babe who wears a tiny bikini. Played either solo or with a friend, these warriors have eight stages to hack & slash their way through, all in the name of saving the princess and slaying the EVIL Death Adder.

The game is simple enough, with the best method being to hack away and use attainable magic sparingly. Enemies are a dime a dozen as you fight through skeletons, knights and other annoyances. Every stage results in an epic boss battle, and they get increasingly more difficult as the game goes on. Occasionally enemies pop up riding on dragons and other beasts — these can be knocked off and used for your own gain. While pretty formulaic throughout, Golden Axe is very well-polished and still holds up today. There are some unique levels included, such as one that takes place on the back of a flying bird (falling off = instant death).

On top of the regular game mode, there is a beginner option for those looking for a quick and easy fix, as well as a Duel mode that pits you against rounds of increasingly more difficult enemies. But really, the coup de grace is battling through the adventure with a friend. Although Golden Axe tends to show its age today, especially with its laughable sound effects, its general gameplay holds up well. This is a classic beat ’em up with a well-deserved legacy.

8/10

Golden Axe