Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Todd Liebenow ""

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Todd Liebenow

Todd Liebenow is a puppeteer by trade & runs the excellent Forgotten Films Blog ( He is a fan of all sorts of movies from many different eras, but right now is most intrigued with the films that have been forgotten by time. Check out his blog for some off-the-beaten-path recommends(which are usually available for viewing on Netflix). He can be found on Twitter at @ForgottenFilmz.


When Richard Donner made the world “believe a man could fly” in 1978’s “Superman,” his mantra was “verisimilitude.”  He wanted to create a superhero that existed in the real world.  But by the time producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind unleashed “Supergirl” on the world six years later that was completely out the window.  The film features a completely ridiculous story...something about Supergirl trying to get back a spinning glowing croquet ball.  What’s amazing is you have several top-notch actors (Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, Peter Cooke) who should’ve known better absolutely chewing up the scenery.  But what makes the film so much fun is the spunky/sexy performance of Helen Slater (in her first film role) as Supergirl.  Jerry Goldsmith’s triumphant score also makes me cheer for this film despite its shortcomings.  

The Legend of Billie Jean(1985)
Perhaps I should call this the Helen Slater memorial list.  Here she is again in a movie I saw countless times on HBO in the 80’s.  Like “Supergirl,” the story is just so ridiculous, but Slater gives the film everything she’s got as an accidental outlaw fighting for justice.  It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that she could become the outlaw celebrity of Corpus Christi, Texas and rally the community to her cause.  I guess when I watched this as a teen, I would imagine myself having the bravery to do the same...complete with a Pat Benetar soundtrack.  But the movie is strange.  I still can’t quite wrap my brain around future-Lisa Simpson Yeardley Smith, 20 years old at the time this was filmed, playing a part that seems to have been written for an eleven year old.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band(1978)
When Julie Taymor’s film “Across the Universe” came out a few years ago I was surprised.  I mean, the last time someone had tried to create a movie musical by stringing together a bunch of Beatles songs the result was disastrous!  Still, I can’t help but love “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  You’ve got Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees, who can’t act...and that’s saying a lot since they don’t even have any dialogue.  The supporting cast gets even stranger, with everyone from George Burns to Donald Pleasance to Steve Martin making an appearance.  But the movie has a wonderful weirdness to it, especially in its remakes of the classic Beatles tunes.  Where else are you going to hear George Burns sing “Fixing a Hole,” or “She’s Leaving Home” sung by a couple of fembots?  Mixed in are also a few musical Aerosmith’s classic take on “Come Together,” and I do admit a big soft spot for Alice Cooper’s wonderfully bizarre version of “Because.”

The Fastest Guitar Alive(1967)
Rock n’ roll great Roy Orbison made his only big screen appearance in this strange musical/western.  The gimmick is just so great...he’s got a shotgun built into his guitar.  Pluck the right strings and the barrel extends out in a strangely suggestive way.  Unfortunately, there’s not as much shootin’ it up as I would like to see, but there’s something fun about watching poor old Roy struggle with his lines.  I love when he pulls the gun on a guy and states, “Don’t move fella.  In case you’re wonderin’, I can kill ya with this and play your funeral music at the same time.”

Game of Death II(1981)
The fact that Bruce Lee’s unfinished symphony “Game of Death” was completed and released in 1978 was audacious enough.  The film used Lee’s original footage combined with new footage of a double wearing sunglasses.  There was even a scene which appears to have a cardboard cutout of Lee’s face taped to a mirror with a double positioned behind it.  But then came “Game of Death II,” which is even more unbelievable.  The sequel features more of the same sort of bargain basement trickery, using more stand-ins mixed with old footage of Lee.   They even use footage of Lee’s actual open-casket funeral when they kill his character off not even halfway through the film. A brother to Lee’s character takes over the story from there.  What follows is almost indescribable.  One of the most memorable scenes involves a kung-fu fight with a lion...and by “lion” I mean “stunt-man in a rented lion costume.”  But, the martial arts action is actually quite good...especially during the closing sequences as our hero’s brother makes his way through an “underground tower” that features more blinking lights and lava pits than Dr. Evil could ever dream of.  The set looks more Buck Rogers than Bruce Lee.  Had the film tried to stand on its own, and not clumsily piggy-back on the legacy of Bruce Lee, they may have had something,  As it is, it may be the ultimate in Bruceploitation, and I love it!

The Wiz(1978)
This movie had so much going for it.  Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow...brilliant casting.  Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man...again, inspired.  Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion...hey, he won a Tony for playing the role on Broadway!  Plus Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, director Sidney Lumet.  What the heck went wrong!  I’ll tell ya what went wrong...Diana Ross!  She completely lacks the emotion and the sense of wonder required to play the role of Dorothy...besides being about four decades too old for the part.  But I love the production designs, all guided by the decision to make this version of Oz be an urban setting.  I was surprised to learn several years ago that this was not a feature of the stage version of “The Wiz.”  The movie was the only version I had ever seen!  I’ve caught myself watching the “Brand New Day” musical number that comes after the witch is melted over and over again.  It’s just so joyous!  As a fan of the Oz books, I think it captures the emotion of the Winkies finally being released from the oppression of the witch better than what we see in other film versions of the story.  Though, it is a bit strange when they all suddenly transform into the Solid Gold Dancers.

Roller Boogie(1979)
“The Exorcist” often appears on lists of greatest movies of all time, but it’s just not my kind of movie.  Linda Blair became famous playing the little girl possessed by a demon, but I’d rather take her as the misunderstood rich girl who just wants to skate in “Roller Boogie.”  Leading man Jim Bray was an actual competitive roller skater and his performance is...well...what you’d probably expect from a competitive roller skater.  An actor he’s not, but he and Blair do a great job with the skating sequences.  I’ve found myself quite enthralled with their fancy footwork.  A chase scene through a late 70’s version of a skate park is also a fun sequence.  The soundtrack is pretty cool too, full of obscure disco non-hits. Though the story is goofy (we’ve got to save the local rink from slimeball gangsters kids!) the movie is a fun late 70’s time capsule.

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