Friday, March 7, 2014

Worth Mentioning - It Can't Be... But It Is

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.

Cody revisited a comedy classic, travelled the world without leaving the couch, and tossed some horror into the mix.


Rodney Dangerfield co-conceived the story for and stars in this film as a man named Thornton Melon, who has made millions opening Tall and Fat clothing stores across the nation, then branching out into other endeavors like manufacturing toys. After breaking up with his cheating wife, Thornton goes to visit his son Jason at Grand Lakes University, where he matriculates. There he finds that things aren't going so well for Jason - his grades are poor, he doesn't fit in, he's got no friends, doesn't get any attention from girls, and couldn't even get on the diving team. He's considering dropping out. Even though he didn't go to college himself, Thornton was raised by a father who was always strict about his grades, and he's always believed the words his father said to him - that a man is nothing without an education. To make sure Jason completes school, Thornton decides to enroll in the college with him.

The world of comedy recently lost writer/director/actor Harold Ramis, who counted 1980's Caddyshack among his numerous notable works. In Caddyshack, Dangerfield played a character who disrupted the lives of the uppity rich at a country club. Ramis was also one of the several writers on this movie, and this time around Dangerfield disrupts academia, buying his way into Grand Lakes and taking a very unorthodox approach to his college life. He may value Jason's education, but for himself he focuses on partying, using his money and connections to cheat his way through most of his classes. He butts heads with the business teacher, disagreeing with his lessons, and starts romancing the literature teacher. At the same time, Jason's college life also starts improving, and he finally gets some female attention himself...

But in a classically structured story like this, you know the characters are going to hit a wall at some point, that the irreverent Thornton is going to have to see the error of his ways and get serious about things in time to bring about a cheer-worthy ending.

The climactic sequence famously takes place at a diving competition, where Thornton has to perform the "impossible" Triple Lindy maneuver that he used to pull off during his days of diving in an Atlantic City water show. When watching this movie as a child, I was particularly fascinated by the armpit farts Thornton does during his pre-dive warm-ups.

Back to School is one of the best and most memorable comedies of the '80s. It's a lot of fun, has a lot of laughs, and has a set-up and story that you can imagine working throughout the decades - in his review Roger Ebert said it was something like the Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields could have done in their day, and I agree.

Dangerfield is fantastic as Thornton Melon, and is supported by a great cast that includes Sally Kellerman as his love interest, Burt Young as his chauffeur/bodyguard, Keith Gordon as Jason, Robert Downey Jr. as Jason's only friend, Terry Farrell as Jason's love interest, Karate Kid antagonist William Zabka as Jason's antagonist, Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, Escape from New York, Creepshow) as Thornton's cheating wife, and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), Ned Beatty, and Sam Kinison as the diving coach, the dean, and a professor, respectively.


Three years after circling the globe on their motorcycles, a trip that was filmed for the incredible documentary Long Way Round, actors/pals Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman reteamed for another great road adventure, this time one that would take them all the way from the northern tip of Scotland in John O'Groats to the southern tip of South Africa in Cape Town, a trip that would take them 15,000 miles.

Like its predecessor, the collected edition of Long Way Down runs ten captivating episodes, which take the viewer along for the ride through the months of prep and training and then the entire nearly three month long journey.

Travelling along a route that takes them through a different part of Africa than Boorman passed across on the Race to Dakar, the trip takes the pair and their support team through Scotland, England, France, Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Nambia, and finally South Africa.

At first, the idea of a trip through Africa may sound like a comedown after following the pair as they completed the mind-blowing notion of making a circle around the entire planet, but as the journey goes on you'll come to realize that the continent has much more to offer than the dangers the news has warned us about. In addition to beautiful types of wildlife, it holds the remnants of great history and great tragedy, and McGregor and Boorman take in both. They visit a filming location of the original Star Wars, the amazing Leptis Magna Roman ruins (their examination of the plumbing system has always stuck with me), the pyramids and the Sphinx (even going inside a pyramid), and also see sites where genocidal mass murder was committed, being told the heartbreaking stories that haven't gotten enough coverage.

As with Long Way Round, this travelogue documentary contains awe-inspiring sights, vehicular accidents, border troubles (the American members of the crew were denied entry into Libya), trying times, laughter and tears, uncomfortable moments, heavy emotional moments, and lots of fun. After seeing what the guys experienced the first time 'round, McGregor's wife Eve learns to ride a motorcycle so she can join them for a small stretch of the drive, briefly adding a new dynamic. Unfortunately, the sandy desert roads prove to be quite a struggle for the fledgling rider.

McGregor and Boorman are great company to have for the hours that it takes to watch their trip, and I would love to see their adventures continue. There has been talk over the years of trilogy-capping entry called Long Way Up, which would find the pair riding their motorcycles from the bottom of South America and heading north. Both have mentioned the idea with some enthusiasm, but have also shown some reluctance to put in all the time these sorts of trips require. I do hope to see Long Way Up happen someday.


The cash-ins and rip-offs made in the wake of Alien's successful release in 1979 were legion. This ten-years-later offering from Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures stars George Kennedy and Andrew Stevens as two of the last men left alive on Earth in a not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future.

In a set-up reminiscent of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, our cast of characters are government employees who have weathered the apocalypse in the subterannean Mojave Lab bunker. The ground above them is a wasteland populated only by creatures called Gargoyles, monstrous mutations caused by the chemical accident that devastated the world. The scientists at Mojave Lab have developed a vaccine to the plague that wiped out 99% of the population... That's the problem; most of the population was wiped out before they developed it. Now the small team is stuck underground, they've lost contact with the outside world and are running low on supplies. They might only be able to survive two more months in their bunker, then they're going to have to find somewhere else to go.

The situation goes full Alien when some topside exploration results in the discovery of a bloodied female human survivor. The woman is taken into the bunker/lab, where examinations find that she's pregnant. But it's not a normal pregnancy. The fetus is growing at a greatly accelerated rate. It's clearly a mutation, and this is an opportunity to study one from birth. The Mojave doctors attempt to perform a C-section... a procedure that is horrifically interrupted when the mutant monster fetus comes ripping out of its mother like an Alien chestburster and scurries off into the bunker's air shafts.

From that point on, the humans, armed with lazers, flamethrowers, and crossbows, and the newborn Gargoyle, which continues growing rapidly until it's a hulking beast, stalk each other throughout the bunker, the monster whittling down the number of people one-by-one.

The Gargoyle also tries to increase the numbers of its own kind. Unlike in Alien, there are no hatching eggs or facehuggers involved in doing this. Instead, this film takes a more sleazy exploitation approach - Gargoyles multiply by raping and impregnating human females.

The Terror Within is very cheap, not very stylish or imaginative, and very obvious in being a complete rip-off. It's not a great movie... and yet, I was entertained while I was watching it. What can I say? Sometimes a subpar variation on a classic can be exactly what you need at a certain moment in time.


Coming in at the tail end of the slasher boom, writer/director Wallace Potts's entry in the subgenre stars Bobby Ray (or Robert R.) Shafer as Officer Joe Vickers, a cop who spends his time on duty not busting criminals but instead roaming the countryside finding people to murder in sacrifice to the devil.

The titular psycho cop's primary prey during the movie's running time are a group of six college students who have come to a luxurious vacation home in Vickers' jurisdiction, just looking to drink beer and lounge around the pool.

After dispatching the property's caretaker/security guard, Vickers begins toying with his intended victims, stealing their personal belongings and, most troubling of all, their supply of beer. When he has the college kids truly on edge, he begins picking them off.

Like a proper slasher, Vickers doesn't resort to using his pistol (the reason he gives is that "Satan doesn't like bullets"), but often kills his sacrifices with police equipment like his billy club, a stun gun, or even his cruiser.

I don't consider Psycho Cop to be one of the greatest slashers to come out of the '80s, the characters aren't very involving and a lot of the dialogue is quite silly, especially that delivered by Vickers himself - he's the sort of horror villain who likes to drop silly one-liners while doing his killing. Despite not ranking it highly, I do find the movie to be quite entertaining.

It's hard to go wrong with an '80s slasher, I find most of them enjoyable on some level and this one has its merits. Even the things I listed as negative points provide it with its own charm. Vickers' lines may be groanworthy, but he's still fun to watch in action. If you're into slasher movies like I am and haven't gotten around to viewing Psycho Cop yet, it's definitely one to check out.

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