Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '85 - david j. moore ""

Monday, March 23, 2015

Underrated '85 - david j. moore

Photo courtesy of Daniel Roebuck
david j. moore is the author of World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies from Schiffer Publishing. His next book The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: A Complete Guide to Action Stars on Film is coming Fall, 2015 from Schiffer. 

Zone Troopers - 1985 (MGM DVD)
"Come on, Sarge, where's your sense of adventure?"

It's 1944, and American Troops are combing through Italy, fighting Nazis. The Sarge (the great Tim Thomerson) is heading a small platoon, each guy a classic type: Mittens (Art LaFleur) is a meat cleaver of a man, with hands made for socking jaws, Joey (Timothy Van Patten) is hooked on sexy sci-fi pulp stories, and Dolan (Biff Manard) is a civilian journalist with a nose for scoops, and he thinks the indestructible Sarge is going to make a great story back home. When the four of them are behind enemy lines they not only run afoul of a whole legion of Nazi scum (and Hitler too), but they stumble on a crash-landed alien spacecraft and the fuzzy alien co-pilot who's running around with a ray gun. At first, the team thinks they've uncovered a Nazi plot to create some kind of super secret weapon, but Joey knows better: aliens have invaded Earth and a massive fight for survival is about to begin, but whose side will the aliens be on when the ray guns start blasting?
Inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 30s and the stories that begat such wonders as Superman, Indiana Jones, and The Rocketeer, Empire's Zone Troopers is a delightfully and unabashedly sincere throwback to the action adventure and science fiction tales that kept our country well-oiled and inspired for decades before CGI and irony began degrading our cinematic culture. Writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (who, incidentally, also worked on The Rocketeer and other gems like Eliminators and Trancers) pumped Zone Troopers full of lunchbox beauties like practical effects, great characters and character actors, and the score by Richard Band is a beaut. For this to come out in 1985 is actually kind of amazing. Directed by Bilson.

Cavegirl - 1985 (Code Red DVD) (djm)
Photo courtesy of Daniel Roebuck
One of the unheralded teen sex comedies of the mid-1980's, Cavegirl is the film debut of busy character actor Daniel Roebuck, who looks way too old to be playing a nerdy fat high schooler, but here he is as the lovable schlub Rex who, while on a field trip with his equally too-old looking classmates to an old cave in the wilderness, slips back in time to the stone age with everything a guy needs to survive (including shaving cream and deodorant) in his backpack. He runs afoul of a clan of dim-witted Neanderthals, but he falls head over heels in love/lust withEba, a shamelessly cute blonde bombshell cavegirl (played by the late great Cindy Ann Thompson) who tries learning his language, even if all he tries to teach her to say is "Can I sit on your face?" or equally immature sexual innuendos. Rex, a comedian in the making, emulates Charlie Chaplin and other funny guys to an audience of knuckle-headed club-wielding morons, and yet somehow all seems right with the world because he's found love in the unlikeliest of times and places.
Basically a throwaway sexy hijinks movie with less sex, nudity, and crudity than even the tamest "R"-rated teen sex comedies from its era, Cavegirl (which was distributed by Crown International) pulls off a minor miracle by being beautifully charming in its utter sweetness and innocence, despite earning its "R"-rating (for nudity and mild crude humor). Most of its appeal lies on the pretty shoulders of its star, the lovely Cindy Ann Thompson, but Roebuck pulls his weight too. A major asset to the film is a synth pop soundtrack by the SSQ Project (comprised of Jon St. James and Stacey Q, a.k.a. Stacey Swain, who also appears in a cameo in the film). The catchy songs "Synthecide" and "Anonymous" play several times throughout the picture. Of note: "Anonymous" was later used in the end credits of the cult film Beyond the Black Rainbow. It all goes back to Cavegirl. Directed by David Oliver.  
Photo courtesy of Daniel Roebuck

Fandango - 1985 (Warner DVD)
The Groovers - a Fraternity fellowship from the University of Texas - has planned a bachelor party for one of their own - Kenneth (Sam Robards), who arrives in a state of funk and depression. It's 1971, and Kenneth calls off his own wedding because he's received a draft notice to ship out to Vietnam, but that doesn't stop his best pal Gardner (a spunky Kevin Costner) from tearing up the draft note because he too received the call to duty, and there's nothing that's gonna stop him from making sure he and his closest friends have the time of their lives before shit gets real. Gardner packs his buddies into a car and they hit the road for a road trip only one of them will forget ever happened. Along for the ride are: Kenneth, tightass Phil (Judd Nelson), slob Dorman (Chuck Bush), and another guy who is so wasted that he literally sleeps through the entire movie, and with wild stallion Gardner at the wheel, they embark on a road trip through Texas and into the wilderness of Mexico where they get blasted by sand, wind, booze, and a skydiving stunt that defines one of the key characters. This is The Groovers at their best, worst, and most hilarious.
Writer / director Kevin Reynolds (who would later work again with Costner on several very big projects like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld) was given the chance of a lifetime when Steven Spielberg saw his student film (also called Fandango) and gave him the go-ahead to make a feature film based on it. Strangely, Spielberg was so unhappy with the movie Reynolds delivered, that he removed his name from the credits, despite the movie still having "An Amblin Entertainment" moniker on it.Fandango is one of the great, unsung coming-of-age movies from the 1980s, and it showcases Costner's star-on-the-rise. Also of note is an interesting score by Alan Silvestri, who had just worked with Robert Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone.

Vision Quest - 1985 (Warner DVD)
"You're on a vision quest, man. You're trying to find your place in the circle."

On his eighteenth birthday, Louden Swain (MatthewModine) decides that this is his year to be a hero. He's already a high school wrestling star in his weight division, but when he makes a switch to drop two weight levels to 168 pounds to go up against the undefeated champ of a rival school, he really goes for broke by starving himself and working out like there's no tomorrow. His home life is humble, and he keeps his ego in check. His dad (played by Ronny Cox) is an out-of-work auto mechanic, and his mom is MIA with the man she had an affair with. Louden's best friend is Kuch (Michael Schoeffling from Sixteen Candles), an abused teen who wishes he were part Native American so that all his big talk about "vision quests" and going on the warpath had some depth and meaning. One night, while out with his father, Louden inadvertently comes to the rescue of a worldly woman named Carla (Linda Fiorentino), a drifter without a ride or a place to stay. He invites her to stay with them in their spare room, and she takes them up on that. Over the next few weeks, as Carla tries to get her bearings, Louden becomes infatuated with her, and he loses sight of his goal to drop the two weight classes because he gets sidetracked with her. Carla (who's three years older than he is) senses that she's become an innocent obsession for Louden, but she never leads him on and she's sensitive enough to realize that perhaps they both need each other at this particular time of their lives. With his big match just days away, Louden must offset his physical imbalances (he begins having nosebleeds and fainting spells) by balancing his own feelings for Carla, who may just be the right person to help him through this trying season of his life.
One of the very great teen films from the 1980's, Vision Quest has such inspired performances in it. Modine is nuanced and charming as the understated Louden, and Fiorentino is fantastic as the young woman who guides him through to manhood. The relationships between all of the characters in the film feel very real, and the pop soundtrack and the synthesized score by Tangerine Dream all evoke the time and place indelibly. The story is told from a first-person perspective (just as the novel by Terry Davis was), and the direction by Harold Becker is spot-on terrific. I love this movie. It's a personal favorite. Also with Daphne Zuniga (The Sure Thing, Gross Anatomy) in a small, supporting role.  

The Peanut Butter Solution - 1985 (Starmaker VHS)
A cinematic nightmare for children who grew up in the 1980's, the French Canadian-produced The Peanut Butter Solution is embedded in the collective consciousness of thousands of thirty-somethings walking around today. It is the niggling haunt that has a forgotten name and it pursues us in our memories when we least expect it to. It is the fable about a grade-schooler named Michael (Mathew Mackay) who upon a dare enters a spooky house and is scared nearly half to death when he sees something that the movie dares not show us. In no time, Michael's beautiful hair begins falling out, and he begins to look like a sick child on chemo, dying of the fright that made his hair disappear. He is counseled by two elderly (very creepy) ghosts, who tell him how to make his hair grow back, and the recipe is made for disaster: the main ingredient is peanut butter, and being a kid who can't really follow directions to the "T," he overdoes it with the stuff and his hair begins growing at an exponential rate. His buddy Connie (Siluck Saysanasy) also secretly tries the stuff, but what ends up happening to poor Connie is that his pubic hair (!) begins unfurling in great swoops and curls! There's nothing to stop the spurts of hair growth for these two unlucky kids, but there's also something deeply sinister afoot in their apparently insanely unsafe neighborhood - a whole bunch of children are being kidnapped by a crazedlunatic, who is harvesting hair from every girl and boy he snatches, and using their hair to make magical paintbrushes! Oh my golly, this movie will leave you battle scarred and traumatized for life.
A true masterpiece of the bizarre, The Peanut Butter Solution exists only by its own flabbergasting rules, and it plays a game with your mind and wins only by its daring and complete and utter insanity. Forget about The Goonies and The Explorers, this kid horror film will chisel its gnarly signature on your very soul and claim you for its own ...forever. Oh, and if you're a fan of Celine Dion, she sings some pop songs on the soundtrack. You're warned! Produced by the infamous Rock Demers and directed by Michael Rubbo.  

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin - 1985 (MGM DVD)
By 1985, several big-screen attempts to outdo and out-riffStar Wars and Mad Max had already come and gone - stuff like Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn,Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and The Ice Pirates - but upon the inauspicious arrival of the entirely animated Starchaser, none of them had quite gotten it right in terms of successfully combining the "used future" genre with sword and sorcery heroics, right down to the Jedi-mythos the way that the original Star Wars trilogy had done so well. Starchaser (which was originally released in theaters in 3D) doesn't waste time in thrusting an entire mythology at the viewer; set in an interplanetary, apocalyptic future on a dark, dangerous place called "Mine-World" where a cyborg god emperor named Zygon (voiced by Anthony De Longis) has enslaved a measure of humanity to mine for precious crystals. His thousand-year reign is threatened when a prophecy of a savior begins to come to fruition: A young slave boy named Orin (voiced by Joe Colligan) unearths a bejeweled hilt of a magical, invisible sword, and when he plucks it from the depths of Mine-World, Orin is visited by a Jedi-like tutor who instructs him that he is the catalyst for a new era for mankind and that a whole other world exists above Mine-World and that it's his duty to save his people from enslavement. Orin escapes his bindings, journeys upward and emerges topside in a post-apocalyptic place where vicious Mandroidsstormtroopers, and classless human smugglers vie for survival. He joins forces with a Han Solo-type cigar chomper named Dagg (voiced by Carmen Argenziano), saves a red-haired princess named Aviana(voiced by Noelle North), and realizes that everything he was told concerning the prophecy is true. It's the adventure of Orin's lifetime, and with his magical sword he manages to slay Zygon, free his people, and unleash the Jedi-like spirit within himself.
Inspired by the pulpy adult-oriented comic strips from the pages of Heavy Metal, the "PG"-rated Starchaser is the stuff that kids dreamt about in 1985: it's got sexy Fembots, mutants, cyborgs, light speed, ghosts, space bars with three-boobed dancers, good guys who cuss, robots with laser whips, and all the good stuff that should be in a science fantasy adventure. Politically incorrect and dangerously inappropriate for supersafe and gluten-free parental enforcers, this movie shines like a bright light in a black hole of lost childhood years, and anyone looking for a fun movie with enough inspired innovations to fill your space bars at home should dig this one up from Mine-World where you've been slaving away to find precious movie gems buried in the rubble. Written by Jeffrey Scott and directed by Steven Hahn.  

Photo courtesy of david j. moore
Gymkata – 1985 (Warner DVD) (djm)
Whoever grew up watching action and martial arts movies in the VHS era should remember watching Gymkata. Starring real-life gold medal-winning gymnast Kurt Thomas, this film is one of the very few films that defined my childhood. Thomas plays Jonathan Cabot, an Olympian who is approached by the Secret Service to follow in his father’s footsteps as a secret agent and go to a remote country called Parmistan, which is on the border of Russia, and enter a life-or-death game. The winner of the game is granted one request, and the Secret Service wants Cabot to ask for the right to set up a satellite system in that country which would be the first warning system in the event of a nuclear strike against the United States from Russia. Cabot agrees, and as soon as he does he is trained to become a lethal fighter. His unique abilities in gymnastics are sort of integrated into a new form of martial arts … Gymkata! He is joined on his journey to Parmistan by the princess of that country, and they are besieged by ruthless killers who want to make sure that he never enters the game. Once they’re in the king’s court (it’s very feudal and medieval), Cabot has a chance to size up his competition. Richard Norton plays the king’s most trusted assistant, and this is the guy Cabot will have the most trouble with. Once the game begins, the movie accelerates into iconographic territory. The final stage of the game leads into a town full of the criminally insane and everyone there is a crazed lunatic running around with pitchforks, knives, and other assorted sharp objects. Cabot is surrounded, besieged and grossly outnumbered. He finds the nearest stationary gymnastics horse in the town square and does a lot of damage to the crazies who are out to kill him. The film ends with Cabot triumphant.
First of all, there’s no other action movie like this one. Yes, it is a loose remake of Enter the Dragon, which was directed by Robert Clouse, this film’s director, but it’s radically different in tone, style, and execution than any other vehicle action film in the history of movies. Second, the fact that Kurt Thomas never made another action movie before or after this one works for the film’s benefit because he’s really different and his style of fighting (while completely bogus) is actually very cool to look at – and in the context of this film – works beautifully. The sound effects, the mood, and the bizarre tone of the entire film make Gymkata an unforgettable viewing experience. The weird locations and local extras help make an indelible impression, and the heroic score by Alfi Kabiljo elevate the film to a whole other level. I love everything about this film, and fans of unique, interesting martial arts movies must check it out. It also stars John Barret as the ill-fated Gomez, Conan Lee, and Tadashi (American Ninja) Yamashita.
Photo courtesy of david j. moore

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