Friday, February 15, 2019

Worth Mentioning - A Brain That Holds Its Ears

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.

Martial arts, classic comedy, and creepy neighbors.


After following the early years of Jean-Claude Van Damme's action hero stardom, I drifted away from watching his movies in the mid-'90s, missing out on movies like The Quest. But it was movies like Tsui Hark's Double Team that drove me away, because a poorly reviewed movie co-starring the "bad boy" of the NBA Dennis Rodman, a player known for his tattoos, piercings, unusual fashion sense, and wild, flashy hairstyles, was not the way to keep me invested in Van Damme's career.

I purposely avoided Double Team for a long time because it seemed ridiculously stupid to me. When I finally got around to watching it eleven years after it was released, I did so only because a podcast called the Adudathuda DVDpodBLAST recorded a mocking commentary for the film... and when I watched the movie before listening to the podcast, I found that it is indeed ridiculously stupid. But it's the kind of stupid that's entertaining. This is a "so bad it's good" movie.

The tone of this film is all over the place. For much of its running time it's a subpar spy thriller. Van Damme plays Jack Quinn, a retired government agent who has spent the last three years building a life with his wife in France. He's pulled back into the business by the re-emergence of a terrorist named Stavros (Mickey Rourke), and things are deadly serious when an operation intended to result in the capture of Stavros instead ends up causing the death of the terrorist's 6-year-old son. Then things get kind of sci-fi for a stretch when Quinn is locked up in a hi-tech facility on a private island called The Colony.

Don Jakoby (who previously worked on Lifeforce and Death Wish 3) and Paul Mones (co-writer of The Quest) get the screenplay credit for Double Team, but the project started out as a script called The Colony that was written by Jakoby. Apparently the island was a place for agents whose cover had been blown in that initial script, and the lead character would be trying to escape the island to get revenge on an enemy. Here The Colony is like a prison for agents who are "too valuable to kill and too dangerous to set free", and Quinn's stay there only takes up about 25 minutes of the movie before he figures out a way to escape and go after Stavros - who has now abducted his pregnant wife, who is going to be giving birth any minute.

Those are grave stakes, Quinn has to save his wife and his newborn. That's dark material... But this is also a Van Damme / Rodman team-up movie, and Quinn seeking the help of Rodman's character - an arms dealer called Yaz - allows the film to regular swing into absurdity. The color of Yaz's hair changes almost every scene, he's often wearing outrageous outfits, and he jumps out of a plane with a safety device of his own design: rather than use a parachute, he cocoons himself in material designed to look like a gray basketball. The basketball hits the ground safely, the person inside it unharmed despite the fact that it's clearly just a thin fabric.

We're also treated to the sight of Van Damme disguising himself with some style tips from Rodman, then fighting a villain who must have stolen his weapon from the set of Robert Rodriguez's Desperado.

This all builds up to a climactic battle between Quinn and Stavros in the Roman Coliseum (France's Arles Amphitheater stands in for it), which has been filled landmines and has a tiger running around inside of it, with a baby that's only a few hours old right in the middle of everything. And this sequence ends with the greatest thing Double Team has to offer - the most egregious display of product placement ever and a sight that makes the movie worth seeing all by itself. A Coke machine plays a very important part in this film's final moments, and when I showed this scene to my nephew in 2008 he laughed so hard at its stupidity that he almost passed out.

Double Team was a flop built on bad ideas, but a movie that can make someone laugh that hard definitely has some merit.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1961 – 1966)

I recently finished watching my way through the entire run of the classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, and this trip through the show's five seasons turned out to be a bigger journey than I would have imagined. It took me over a year and a half to watch the whole show, a long time even when you take into account that the seasons were slightly longer than what we're used to these days - those five seasons amounted to 158 episodes. But what added to the amount of time it took to watch them all is the fact that my life changed completely during that year and a half. I went through a lot of bad things during that time, lost loved ones and property, found myself living under very different circumstances. Obviously there were many days in there when I didn't watch an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, but when I did I would usually only watch one episode at a time... And those awful days, I would find it comforting when I did put the show on. Having a black & white show based around friendly old school comedy to turn to was soothing.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was one I would see reruns of frequently throughout my childhood, when I would watch the show with my maternal grandmother, someone I lost a long time ago. One thing that made a lasting impression on little kid Cody was the opening title sequence, when main character Rob Petrie (played by the titular Van Dyke - it is sort of odd that the show was named after the actor when he's not playing a character named after himself) comes home, walks into his living room, and trips over an ottoman on the way. I thought that was always the opening, that Van Dyke would go flipping over that ottoman every episode, but they would switch that out with another one in which he manages to dodge the ottoman. And they used that dodging version a lot. I always wanted to see him trip, but there he would go dodging it again.

Rob Petrie works as a writer on the TV variety show The Alan Brady Show with Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), and we spend a lot of time in the writers room over the course of the series, watching Rob, Buddy, and Sally bounce jokes off each other, and watching Buddy mock producer Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon). The chemistry between these actors was really something incredible, and they are hilarious people. Early on, the writing trio would go a bit too far with their act for my taste, even putting on comedy shows when they would go to somebody's place for a party. My thought was, "It would be exhausting to know these people." I was glad when the party performances came with less frequency as the show went on.

After work, Rob goes home to his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) and young son Richie (Larry Matthews), and often hangs out with his dentist neighbor Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris, who directed more than half of the episodes), whose wife is Laura's best friend Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert). I never warmed up to Jerry that much, but Laura and Millie have some fun shenanigans. Moore was great in the role of Laura, and the show gave a lot of attention to the Petries' relationship, even dedicating flashback episodes to the days when they were dating, getting married, and preparing for Richie's arrival.

There are no shake-ups in the five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show, no major cast members left, no unwelcome additions came along, nothing all that earth-shattering happens to the characters. We just watch these people live their lives and have good times with each other for 158 episodes, and when the show wraps up it does so simply because creator Carl Reiner (who shows up in some episodes as Alan Brady) went into it with the thought it mind that he only wanted to do the show for five seasons. They did five seasons, provided a lot of entertainment, and then went on their way.

From now on, I'll always associate The Dick Van Dyke Show with the things I experienced during the year and a half it took me to watch it, and I'll always appreciate it for the laughs it gave me during those dark times.


Among my earliest cinematic fascinations were martial arts action films, from Bruce Lee classics to the movies that were coming out at the time starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and including any movie with "ninja" in the title that I could find. I have very fond memories of watching those movies with my older relatives and daydreaming of making movies like that myself. While I still watch those movies I first saw during my childhood quite often, I have fallen behind on modern martial arts action films. But I'm eager to catch up.

I mention that back story because watching writer/director Vincent Soberano's The Trigonal took me right back to the days of watching martial arts action movies when I was a kid. Aside from the presence of modern technology like cell phones, this is exactly the sort of movie I was watching and enjoying the hell out of back in the '80s and early '90s.

Ian Ignacio takes the lead and proves himself worthy of becoming a new action star playing Jacob Casa, who has had a lot of success as a professional MMA fighter. In the place where he comes from in the Philippines he's seen as a hero, and people think he's indestructible. Hopefully they're right, because Jacob is going to be put to the test over the course of this movie. Just when his pregnant wife Annie (Rhian Ramos) has convinced him to put the fighting life behind him, representatives of wealthy drug manufacturer Henry Tan (Gus Liem) show up to invite him to take part in The Trigonal, an underground tournament that's brushed off as a myth but is very real.

You know Tan's lackey Allen (Christian Vasquez) is bad news as soon as he shows up, because Vasquez gives some of the strangest, most over-the-top line deliveries you could ever hear. I don't know whether to consider his performance poor or genius, but I had fun watching him... Even if Allen was acting like a total scumbag for most of his screen time. After Jacob turns down Tan's offer, Tan kicks Allen off his payroll. So Allen goes back to Jacob's dojo to get some revenge, but only finds Annie there.

With Annie fighting for her life in the hospital after being brutally attacked by Allen, Jacob decides to seek some revenge of his own - and that involves infiltrating The Trigonal and bringing down Tan's criminal empire with the aid of the local police. Along the way, Jacob gets some extra assistance from Sarah Chang as Mei Lei, who is also a capable ass-kicker and is very excited by the idea that they might get to pull off some Jason Bourne / John Wick style heroics..

Once Jacob gets into The Trigonal, the final act of the film consists of multiple fights that are fought at the tournament, which is a battle to the death with a $1 million cash prize. Contenders are even given bladed weapons to hack and slash at each other with. It's violent, and it's a major example of the classic martial arts movie elements you can find in The Trigonal. Tan also happens to be one of those wealthy baddies who owns his own private island, which I thought was a nice touch.

Enhancing the entertainment factor of the tournament even further is the fact that Tan has a financial stake in making sure his fighters, especially Paul Allica as the slimy James Lowe, come out the winners in their matches. All of them are juiced up on a new brand of steroids Tan has concocted, and he's showing off their abilities to the potential buyers in the audience. But there's a problem with this drug: it weakens the kidneys of the people who take it. One of my favorite things about this movie is that Jacob goes into The Trigonal knowing that his opponents are going to have weak kidneys, so he trains to deliver blows with enough force to "penetrate the tissue deep enough to reach the kidneys".

The plot kicks off with tragedy that's tough to see happen because Jacob and Annie are good people, but The Trigonal is far from a downer. Not only are the fight scenes cool, but the movie also has a strong sense of humor running through it. There are laughs here and there, with the awesome Chang bringing some lively comedic relief to her scenes and Liem also being amusing as Tan, especially when the character gets frustrated.

If you're a fan of martial arts action movies, this is definitely one to seek out. I found it to be a blast to watch, as Soberano and his cast have made a film that delivers a whole lot of old school fun.

The review of The Trigonal originally appeared on

THE 'BURBS (1989)

Not long before working with director John Carpenter on the Chevy Chase project Memoirs of an Invisible Man, screenwriter Dana Olsen worked with one of Carpenter's fellow "masters of horror" Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling) on the dark comedy The 'Burbs, which takes place entirely in a suburban cul-de-sac.

One inhabitant of that cul-de-sac is family man Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks), who has decided to spend his week vacation from work at home. With all this free time on his hands, he becomes obsessed with the mysterious neighbors who have just moved into the least presentable house in the neighborhood... and it isn't long before Ray begins to suspect that these neighbors are a bunch of murderers. Ray takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of this mystery, and he's encouraged in this mission by his pal Art (Rick Ducommun), a teenager who is very entertained by all of this (Corey Feldman), and military veteran Rumsfield (Bruce Dern). Ray's wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), on the other hand, is not so enthusiastic about how her husband is spending his vacation.

These neighbors, the Klopeks, only come out at night, dig holes in their yard, and throw out their garbage in an odd way. Definitely the behavior of homicidal maniacs. When an elderly neighbor disappears, leaving behind only his toupee, Ray and his cohorts jump to the conclusion that the man has been killed by the Klopeks and intensify their investigation.

The Klopeks are definitely weird, but it's really funny to watch the lengths Ray and the others go to in their endeavor to prove that the Klopeks are worse than weird: digging through the trash, tearing up their yard, watching their house. These guys have too much time on their hands. The 'Burbs has a great sense of humor, and Olsen wrote some wonderful character interactions that were brought to the screen by the perfect cast.

Things get quite wild and over-the-top, but my absolute favorite moment in the film is a simple line delivered by Dern. He's taking the Klopeks a plate of brownies (and preparing to snoop around inside their home) when a board on their front porch breaks under him. As his feet go through the floor, he drops the plate of brownies - and he lets us know they're a lost cause by saying, "There go the goddamn brownies." The way he says it cracks me up, and that's the thing that sticks with me the most about The 'Burbs.

The scene where Ray has a nightmare after catching glimpses of Race with the Devil, The Exorcist, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on television is also pretty great.

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