Friday, May 4, 2018

Worth Mentioning - May the 4th Be with You

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


Star Wars, Star Wars actors, and Lethal Weapon.


CORVETTE SUMMER (1978)

My love for movies led me to go on a lot of cinema-inspired adventures with my mom. Over the years, she took me to special screenings, marathons, festivals, conventions, and even a major premiere (in addition to innumberable routine trips to the nearest theatres). She did these things for me, but she also went to a special cinematic event years before I was born. In 1978, the premiere of director Matthew Robbins' film Corvette Summer (which Robbins also co-wrote with Hal Barwood) was held in Toledo, Ohio. Every Corvette owner in the country was invited to show up, and a whole lot of them did - according to the Guinness Book of Records there were between 5000 and 7000 Corvettes in the parade that was held as part of the festivities. My mom was there, and she told me about going to the premiere of Corvette Summer long before I had even seen the movie.

This film had a lot of attention directed toward it when it was coming out, because it starred Mark Hamill, an actor who "you loved in Star Wars", the poster reminds you. Corvette Summer was Hamill's next screen appearance after the first Star Wars and reached theatres just one year and one week after that gargantuan hit. Hamill plays high school senior Kenny Dantley, and the story begins when Kenny spots the remains of a Corvette Stingray in a junkyard. He rescues the Corvette from the trash heap and lovingly restores it in his school's auto shop class, turning it into a customized right hand drive monstrosity.

 

Kenny is in love with this car he has made. And thanks to a classmate played by Danny Bonaduce, it gets stolen as soon as it hits the streets. From that point on, the film follows Kenny as he travels from California to Las Vegas in search of his car. He finds a sort-of love interest in Vanessa (Annie Potts), a young woman who is moving to Vegas so she can work as a prostitute, using her van as a mobile love shack. He has a friendly encounter with a gambler played by the legendary Dick Miller, who isn't in the film nearly long enough. He runs afoul of a group of car thieves, is beaten down by the always intimidating Brion James, and unearths some dark secrets.

Corvette Summer is an oddity that likely would have sunken deep into obscurity if not for the presence of Hamill in the cast and the allure of the Corvette. Kenny isn't an interesting enough character for it to be a satisfying drama, it's not funny enough to call it much of a comedy, there's not enough action or thrills for it to fit into those genres. It just putters along with its own unique tone, telling its heavier than expected story. I wouldn't really call it good, but it has its strange charm.

All those Corvette owners who attended the premiere probably had a better time just hanging out and looking at all the gathered cars than they had watching the movie.



STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII - THE LAST JEDI (2017)

I was excited when Rian Johnson was hired to direct the latest entry in the Star Wars saga, and part of my excitement came from the fact that I had no idea what to expect. I liked Johnson's previous films, but I didn't know what a Star Wars movie from the director of Brick and Looper would be like.

Judging by the popularity of an online petition calling for The Last Jedi to be stricken from canon and replaced by an alternative Episode VIII, it seems like the answer is, "If there's anything a lot of Star Wars fan expect from the follow-up to The Force Awakens, Johnson will do the exact opposite." It is interesting to see how he purposely sought to defy expectations. It kind of speaks poorly to the fact that this new trilogy wasn't mapped out before filmmakers embarked on it that JJ Abrams could set up so much in The Force Awakens that Johnson could then just shrug off, leaving the next filmmaker to pick up the pieces (at the time, Jurassic World's Colin Trevorrow was supposed to be the filmmaker who had to figure out how to wrap this story up, but now Abrams is back at the helm.)

Personally, I didn't have anything I expected to see in Episode VIII, I had no theories for where storylines might go, so I was open to whatever the movie wanted to show me. I was intrigued by Johnson's choices, but not always overjoyed with them. There are things I like in The Last Jedi, things I don't, and the thing that sticks with me most is how much time is spent with our heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) having long distance psychic conversations with the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). These scenes felt to me like watching a couple kids having an internet chat.

It was good to see Mark Hamill back in the role of Luke Skywalker after so many years, and it was bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher in her final screen role.

In the end, this isn't a Star Wars entry I feel passionate about in any direction. It has some fun action, some jarring humor, and took the story in unexpected directions. Now I just hope Episode IX will wrap things up in a satisfactory way and take this trilogy out in a blaze of glory.



FORMULA 51 (2001)

Released in the UK in December of 2001 under the title The 51st State, this action/crime comedy didn't reach the US until October of 2002, by which time director Ronny Yu had been chosen to be the director of the long-awaited horror franchise crossover Freddy vs. Jason, and was in fact in the midst of that production when the movie was released in the states. That's the main reason why I went to see, with my mom and a friend of her's, Formula 51 when it was playing on the big screen, to celebrate the fact that Yu was working with beloved horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees at the time. My mom had also received a joking recommendation from a friend that the end of the movie was a sight to behold.

Formula 51 was written by Stel Pavlou in the mid-'90s, and started its journey to the screen when Pavlou sent the script, unsolicited, to actor Tim Roth, since he had heard that Roth made sure to look at every independent script that came him way. Roth liked the script, and for a while was planning to make its feature directorial debut. Judging by the credits, Roth didn't have anything to do with the finished product, and looking at the movie it's tough to see why he would have been passionate about it. This is one strange, cheeseball flick.

Samuel L. Jackson (who was notified that he had been cast in the Star Wars prequels while in a meeting with Pavlou) stars as Elmo McElroy, a disgraced pharmacologist who has spent decades being forced to make drugs for a criminal kingpin (a scenery chewing Meat Loaf) who's called The Lizard due to a skin condition. One day Elmo packs a bomb into a package of drugs, but the Lizard survives the explosion when he's blown into a pile of baby dolls. While Elmo meets up with a representative of a different criminal organization, Robert Carlyle as Felix DeSouza, in an effort to sell them his drug creation POS 51 (51 times stronger than cocaine, 51 times more hallucinogenic than acid, 51 times more "explosive" than ecstasy), he's tracked by an assassin hired by the Lizard, Emily Mortimer as Dawn/Dakota. Also in the mix is Dog Soldiers' Sean Pertwee as Detective Virgil Kane, a corrupt cop who's also on the trail of Elmo and his new buddy Felix, and Rhys Ifans as yet another connected criminal.


Formula 51 is a lot like a live action cartoon, albeit one with shootouts, car chases, bloodshed, and adult language. It has a very strange sense of humor and moves along at a quick pace, wrapping up with plenty of time to spare before the 90 minute mark. "Zany" isn't a word I use often, but it's the word that comes to mind when trying to find a way to describe this movie. It's a film where the camera flies through Meat Loaf's digestive system while he has a devastating case of explosive diarrhea. That's zany.

As for that ending that's a quite a sight? It's a moment where the kilt-wearing Elmo drops his kilt on a golf course and we watch Samuel L. Jackson's ass walk off into the sunset. (Give or take a sunset.)



LETHAL WEAPON (2016 - ?)

I did not think a television series inspired by the Lethal Weapon films would work at all. With the pairing of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, those films had caught lightning in a bottle, and while maybe Damon Wayans would be a suitable replacement for Glover in the role of family man Roger Murtaugh (and Wayans had been in The Last Boy Scout, which was written by Lethal Weapon's Shane Black, so there was a nice connection there), there's no way anyone could ever live up to Gibson's performance as the off-kilter Martin Riggs.

The previews I saw of the Fox show didn't make me feel any more positive about it. It looked awful to me, I thought for sure this was going to be one of those movie-based shows that would come and go very quickly. While it all seemed cheesy, I was especially put off by the casting of Clayne Crawford as Riggs. Riggs is now a southerner with a mustache and a questionable haircut? (Even more questionable than the mullet he had in the movies.) No, I couldn't go along with that.

But then a strange thing happened. The show started airing, and I kept hearing people say good things about it. Even my mom was watching and enjoying it. I had to give it a chance... and to my surprise, it actually is a decent show.

Sure, it does use the set-up and characters of Lethal Weapon as the foundation of what is really your standard police procedural show, the sort of thing that's a dime a dozen. But it's fun to watch, and episodes move along at a good clip. Elements from the films are worked in here and there (like Thomas Lennon as Leo Getz, a character played by Joe Pesci in the film sequels), and the show is reasonably faithful to the idea of who the characters were. Wayans capably carries on the essence of Roger Murtaugh, as I figured he would - and Crawford grew on me as Riggs. He's definitely not Gibson's Riggs, and the mental anguish the character deals with is sanitized for network TV, but this different version of Martin Riggs is a likeable guy.

Wayans and Crawford have a good supporting cast to work with, standouts being Keesha Sharp as Murtaugh's wife Trish and Jordana Brewster as LAPD psychiatrist Maureen Cahill, a variation on a character Mary Ellen Trainor played in the films.

I'll admit, I was wrong about this show. Lethal Weapon does work as a series. It's not the movies, but it's entertaining for what it is.

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