Saturday, May 2, 2015


BIO-DOME (1996; Jason Bloom)
As a psychological experiment of sorts, I decided to watch this movie on the same day that I watched Jean-Luc Godard's latest film GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE. It was an interesting experiment, but not one that I necessarily recommend. I'd be curious to hear what Godard thinks of BIO-DOME though. That would be an interesting conversation I think. That said BIO-DOME is a movie that exists on its own plane of dopey-ness that is kind of remarkable. It is a time capsule that reminds us that it is often difficult to tell in hindsight how or why we as a culture ever became fascinated with certain figures in the first place. I would say actors, but I feel like Pauly Shore was more than an actor and was just more of a personality that grew alarmingly in popularity in a relatively short amount of time. Hollywood jumped on the shore bandwagon in the early 90s and cranked out a bunch of movies pretty quickly. They started off strong with ENCINO MAN in 1992 and SON IN LAW in 1993. These are both solid, silly films that I am absolutely a fan of and which I recommend. Shore's quality dip began in 1994 with IN THE ARMY NOW and continued in 1995 with JURY DUTY.  I'm always curious about this kind of decline in an actor's career. What was it about? Was it about losing a sense of what was funny or good about the first couple films that were made? Was it an ego-driven. "I know what's good" sort of disconnect on the part of Shore himself? What happened exactly? I may never know but I remain curious and will certainly be looking for in-depth interviews with Pauly Shore on Youtube later (post script: I listened to this recent Nerdist Interview with Pauly Shore and it shed a little light). So anyway, BIO-DOME...
One of the problems with BIO-DOME is that it seems to want to portray its two main buffoons (Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin) as two of the dumbest people ever and yet still sorta cool - or at least more cool than the other characters in the film. The other characters are a group of scientist-types who have committed to living in a bio-sphere for one years as a grand experiment. This is of course based on some true experiments of this nature that were actually carried out in the 90s. This group, led by the great William Atherton (GHOSTBUSTERS, REAL GENIUS, DAY OF THE LOCUST), is supposed to be a bunch of uptight stuffed-shirts who could certainly benefit from being taught to "loosen up" a bit by our borderline mentally handicapped main duo. So as I said, the filmmakers really create a tough scenario in that these two guys are supposed to be both likable AND the most annoying pair you'd ever wanna be stuck in a confined space with for a few days, let alone an entire year. This is one helluva challenge in terms of character and one that even guys like Preston Sturges or William Goldman would find quite difficult to pull off. So needless to say, the movie ends up making me kind of hate not only the idiots, but ALL of the characters which is too bad. As a no-brainer kinda comedy, it's fine and perhaps a bit nostalgic for some people (myself included), but I just can't totally get around the tonal and structural problems created by the story and the characters. I can't believe I'm spouting off about tonal problems with BIO-DOME, I feel like a jerk. 

FIREWALKER (1986; J. Lee Thompson)
Chuck Norris was a full-on stage of my childhood. I can't recall the exact order, but it went something like Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee and then Chuck Norris. I went through tons of the films from each of those actors back when our local grocery store had a pretty big video rental department. I was heavy into karate movies and Chuck was a natural extension from Bruce Lee. I think I always liked how stoic Chuck could be as he was dispensing with bad guys with swift punches and kicks. I got to FIREWALKER later and remembered liking it quite a bit as a kid. I recalled the banter between Chuck Norris and Lou Gossett Jr. being quite funny and charming. Upon revisit, I can't say it held up in that particular respect, but it's still a fun time. Cannon films did like to go to the INDIANA JONES well often and this along with ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (which I covered previously), were both enjoyable attempts at capturing that spirit. The story is pretty simple. Lady hires adventurers to help her find treasure. Not too complicated. Chuck Norris feels a bit overly saddled with too much "clever" banter here, but he does okay with it I suppose. Sometimes it just feels like he'd really rather not deliver certain bits of dialogue, but he does anyway. Regardless, Lou Gossett goes a long way to elevate to film and the material by his mere presence alone. 

HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (1987; Robert Townsend)
Comedy is such an interesting thing to look back on years later. Certainly nostalgia can help boost things that seem a little flat to a modern sensibility. A person might watch a Buster Keaton film for the first time this year and not be as impressed with it because they've seen his gags ripped off and repurposed over the years. You can try to explain the context to them, but the bottom line is that they've seen it already and or it just isn't funny to them. One of my wife and I's big sticking points when it comes to movies is comedy. She and I have very similar senses of humor when it comes to some things and other times we just completely miss each other. I sat down to show her HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE and mentioned the IN LIVING COLOR connections that it had. We only got about half way through when I could tell the humor just wasn't landing for her. And to be honest, it wasn't landing for me the way I remembered. What was once edgy now seemed quite tame and pedestrian to me and I couldn't help but ponder why that was the case. I think I just kept thinking about IN LIVING COLOR and how Keenan Ivory Wayans (co-writer on this film) had taken some of the ideas present here as sketches and made them funnier and edgier. That said, there are still several bits in here that still make me laugh and are sharp and pointedly observed. There's a lot to salute in this movie certainly. First off the satire still rings true in that the film brings to the forefront the fact that African American actors were (and sadly still are) given a very limited range of roles that they could play in both film and television. Another thing that is and was huge about HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE is that it was made for $100,000 at the time and $60,000 of that budget came from Townsend's own credit cards. The movie ended up grossing something like $5 million and that is extremely neat considering how it was made independently by a guy who had something important, poignant and still humorous to say to people.
I've heard Robert Townsend speak of his mission in life being to continue to try to put positive images of African Americans out into the popular culture and that is beyond commendable. Plus, Townsend is a darned funny fella and an extremely affable and positive person so it's hard not to like and respect him.
On a side note, I love that this film was shot by Peter Deming the same year he shot EVIL DEAD II. Deming would go on to shoot 3 of the SCREAM films, 2 of the AUSTIN POWERS films and work with David Lynch on several movies. He also recently shot CABIN IN THE WOODS.

Bonus: Siskel and Ebert Review HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE back when it was released:

COOLEY HIGH (1975; Michael Schultz)
This is my favorite film of this group and one that folks don't talk about enough. What it is is basically an Black version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I may prefer it to GRAFFITI myself actually and when you watch it you may or may not see why I feel this way. The story centers on some high school kids on the North Side of Chicago in the mid 1960s. The main youngsters are played by Glynn Turman (who you may recognize from the many films he made) and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (who was a regular on WELCOME BACK KOTTER among other things). Both actors are fantastic and convey a true sense of friendship and camaraderie. The film gives a nice sense of period and buddies just hanging out, has a good soundtrack and also takes a turn for the dramatic that is quite gripping. It pulls off a lot and is one of the best films that American International ever released. See it!

TEACHERS (1984; Arthur Hiller)
In rewatching TEACHERS, I was struck by several things. First off, the cast is ridiculous. It's one of those casts that has no idea how good it will look 31 years later. The secondary roles got to people like Morgan Freeman, Crispin Glover and Laura Dern. Those are just the secondary roles. It's a great ensemble. Secondly, I noticed some similarities between this movie and a certain other Arthur Hiller film from 1971. I'm talking about THE HOSPITAL. Both that film and this are certainly skewering the institutions in which they are set. It reminded me a bit of what Frederick Wiseman does, but he is obviously much more observational in his documentary work. So THE HOSPITAL is a bit more of a biting satire and as well it should be with a writer like Paddy Chayefsky behind it. TEACHERS doesn't nearly pull off what THE HOSPITAL does, but I appreciated it's approach to the chaos that is public education and how it would seem (?) to have gotten a bit better since this movie was made. The main crux of the story has to do with a student who is suing the high school the film is set in because he graduated, but never learned to read or write. There's lots of stuff that seems a bit outlandish (kids stealing cars from teachers, teachers dying in class without being noticed), but Hiller plays it pretty straight for the most part and it's more effective that way. It was quite interesting to watch this film closely on the heels of CLASS OF 1984 (recently on Blu-ray from Scream Factory) as that film is out and out nuts but is trying to get at a few similar ideas about education and the education system as well as how students and teachers interact with each other.

No comments: