Wayne’s World [1992)

When I was a kid, film was something you put in a camera.

Movies were movies.

Cinema didn’t really exist in my vocabulary.

There were no connotations between these three words.

Film, movie, cinema.

And so this was a movie I grew up on.

On which I grew up.

It was many years before I took Churchill’s admonitions about grammar seriously.

Grammar grammar.

Not film grammar.

And so here we have a very fine, enjoyable film.

Probably not coming to the Criterion Collection (unless it’s April Fool’s).

The milieu is rock and roll.

This film taught me a lot.

[Back in the days when I thought “alot” was a word.]

“Where’s von Stroheim?”

“He’s alot.”

Alas…

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know sparkling wine from Dom Perignon.

Didn’t know Cantonese from Mandarin.

And lots of other subtle shadings which I’ve since come to appreciate.

This was probably Penelope Spheeris’ shining moment.

Unless you’re a fan of punk rock (and I am).

She did a hell of a job directing this unlikely hit.

Wayne’s World grossed nine-times its budget.

Those are early-Bond numbers.

The sequel (not directed by Spheeris) barely broke even.

Oops…

Kinda like when The Strokes fired Gordon Raphael.

But I guy dress…

Mike Myers was wonderful here.

29 years old.

Looking fit and really nailing his part.

There’s something very natural about the comedy of Wayne’s World.

It’s far less stilted than even the best of the Austin Powers franchise (that being the first installment…FYI).

The immensely-talented Dana Carvey is good as Wayne’s painfully-awkward sidekick Garth Algar.  The role doesn’t really make the best use of Carvey’s talents, but sometimes you gotta suck it up for a payday.

[Like the Suck-Kut, for instance.]

Wayne’s World had its own lexicon…patois…parlance.  Schwing!

It’s a little racy.

Wonder how Claudia Schiffer felt to be reified thusly?

Guess she should have thought about that when she started hawking jeans.

There’s really no escaping Lara Flynn Boyle recently (thank God!).

She has the worst role of all.

But I suppose Twin Peaks wasn’t exactly the same pay grade as Seinfeld.

She wasn’t selling out, she was buying in.

Indeed, I don’t doubt Morgan Spurlock pulled the kernel of inspiration for his The Greatest Movie Ever Sold from the sequence in which Wayne gobbles Pizza Hut, Doritos, and Pepsi while Garth is pimped out in Reebok gear.

Somebody’s interminable band name list got put to good use…

Crucial Taunt?!?

I must say, that detail escaped me as a kid.

But that was before I had a brief (burn out, not fade away) career as a rock musician.

We didn’t know Queen.  We didn’t know Kierkegaard.  We didn’t know Hendrix.

It was an exceptional experience on many levels.

As an impressionable youth.

Rob Lowe (a very strong comedic talent) has to play the yuppie prick in this vehicle.

Chris Farley has a memorable (yet all-too-brief) cameo as a security guard.

Farley and director Spheeris would reunite a few years later for Black Sheep.

Brian Doyle-Murray gets the treatment in his interview.

[“This man has no penis.”  Must-watch TV.]

Multiple endings…

Remarkable ingenuity.

Can’t say I’m familiar with such Situationist play in even the most erudite of art films.

But of course the gleeful bathos of the Scooby-Doo ending brings us back down to Earth.

Tia Carrere is really charming as the heroine.

Colleen Camp (remember her from Bruce Lee’s “almost” Game of Death?) has a crap role.

At least she helped Cassandra Wong learn English by way of the Police Academy movies.

Meat Loaf as doorman.

Ed O’Neill as murderous donut shop manager.

Donna Dixon as Garth’s dream woman (remember the babe from Spies Like Us?  Yeah, that one.).

And Alice Cooper!!!

Some history of Milwaukee and socialist mayors.

You gotta love rock and roll 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

Airplane! [1980)

My congratulations to Hulu for finally making a move in the right direction as regards comedic movies.

This is a chestnut from my youth.

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, this endless stream of one-liners hits some very special notes indeed.

[flying on instruments]

Ted Striker has a drinking problem…

His aim is off.

It dates back to when he was stationed on the island of Drambuie [sic].

He led the strike against Daiquiri.  We’ll be coming in low…beneath their radar.  Attacking from the north.

[when will you be back?  I can’t tell you that.  It’s top secret.]

Yes, his postwar record is even worse than his war record.

I know the feeling.

Leaves his cab with the meter running.

Striker is always coming in too hot.  Robert Hays.

World record for sweat.

But at least he has his Elaine for whom to hope.  Julie Hagerty.

Avoid the brown acid.  And the fish.

But if you do need a doctor, just look for someone perpetually wearing a stethoscope.

Leslie Nielsen.

Plays it straight as a javelin [donnnnnngggg!].

The cavalry trailing Kramer.

But back to Leslie…from Regina, Saskatchewan.

[Municipal bonds…AA rating…best investment in Canada]

Extremely underrated is Peter Graves as the pilot:  Clarence Oveur.

On the ovarian trolley.

[Have you ever seen a grown man naked?]

and

[Do you like gladiator films?]

or

[Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?]

And of course, the man himself:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

{on this night when my Spurs fell a point shy to the Thunder}

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387) is Roger Murdoch.

I previously wrote about Kareem’s turn in the Bruce Lee “almost” Game of Death.

Airplane!, then, was his second appearance on the big screen (and first since his kung fu debut in 1972).

Lloyd Bridges picked the wrong week for everything.

All the vices.

From a fag to a swig to bennies to some genuinely Ramones shit.

{now I’m gonna have nightmares about Westbrook}

[How ’bout some coffee?]

[…never has a second cup of coffee at home.  …never vomits at home.]

Robert Stack checks in like Gregg Popovich after a meal at Taco Bell.

[That may have been the lousiest landing in the history of this airport…]

But the absolute secret weapon is the flamingly-gay Stephen Stucker as Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs.

[it looks like a big Tylenol]

[a hat, a brooch, a pterodactyl]

Stucker’s contribution is still alive (though he sadly passed away in 1986 at the age of 38).

And so the queen act was no act.

AIDS.

Shit…

[golly]

June Cleaver speaks jive.

Joey Hammen (Ross Harris) went on to have a very interesting music career which saw his path intersect with Beck, Stereolab, and The Dust Brothers.

[Odelay!]

David Leisure and Kawhi Leonard both went to San Diego State University.

That should definitely help us in Game 3.

But we’re going to need a lot more defense from Ethel Merman.

Really, the Spurs need to revisit this excellent tome by Joel Cohen:

dynomite

No library focusing on military strategy is complete without it.

From Jomini to Clausewitz to Winshield Wiper Man:

if he can just manage to get the hood back down on the Boeing 707 after checking the dipstick.

No need to commit hara-kiri, James Hong.  Just filed under “seppuku”.

It’s 1-1.  Go Spurs Go!

 

-PD

Game of Death II [1981)

And now we ostensibly enter the schlock of true B-movie Brucespoitation.  Eight years after his death, producer Raymond Chow and distributor Golden Harvest were still trying to milk money from the cutting-floor scraps of their cash cow.  But someone kept things fairly interesting:  director See-Yuen Ng.

Though there is little to no continuity between Game of Death and Game of Death II, both films share a watchable quality which teeters on the edge of this viewer’s incredulous ennui.  Put simply, this film is better than it has any right to be.  Which is not to say this is a great (or even good) film.

The most hilarious midnight movie aspects are the contrasts between film fidelity and definition circa 1973 (the actual footage of Lee) and 1981 (the footage of everyone else).  I almost feel sorry for director Ng for the sleight-of-hand editing and shooting necessary to even attempt this picture.  Back to the film stocks not matching…much of that is also evident in the lack of deft color correction.  Occasionally a background matches and we must hand it to the technicians who found just the right shade of puke green to provide a shred of matching in the shot-reverse-shots.

Fortunately for all involved, Lee’s character meets his demise about halfway through the film.  It’s smooth sailing from there regarding the different eras of film stock.

This film is not without messages.  Some, apparently, have not been interpreted the same by all viewers.  Whereas I distinctly heard the Ginza district of Tokyo mentioned as Lee’s (and his on-screen brother’s) destination, English Wikipedia tells us that the action moves to Korea.  Of course, the astute spectator who added this bit of plot synopsis to the aforementioned site seems to have been oblivious that another contributor has Lee active before the end of the paragraph (the initial contributor giving away Lee’s character’s death along with the Korea location).  So to clarify, Lee does not resurrect during the course of the film.

Roy Horan plays a significant role as a raw-venison-eating, deer’s-blood-drinking, bearded kung fu nut.  As the name implies, Horan’s character is of white European lineage (not Chinese).  There is a subtle undercurrent which implies that Lee’s friend (and consequently his own character as well) died for teaching kung fu to non-Chinese.  This, of course, has some parallels in Lee’s actual life story.

For all of the professional attributes in this film, the “lion” attack (obviously a human in a lion costume) does not pass muster.  It is, again, the stuff of midnight movies.  Perhaps they were over budget by that point…

Tong Lung is actually pretty darn good as Lee’s brother (the hero of the film) Bobby Lo.

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that a multinational organization turns out to be the ultimate culprit of the two film murders in question.  There are all sorts of strange strings waiting to be pulled here…fake deaths, the aforementioned cartel (this particular multinational is illegal in nature), etc.

The most interesting takeaway (take out?) was the revelation (somehow…perhaps due to the less than enthralling screen drama) that one political entity would have stood to gain from the actual Lee’s real life death.  That entity would be China.  Made before Hong Kong rejoined the PRC, Bruce Lee’s films and fame might have posed a significant threat to China in that (had he lived) he might well have been a unifying figure which could have fired the flames of revolution for those residents of HK not particularly excited about joining a country with such a totalitarian approach to dissent.  But then again, any country which blocks the Internet (not counting Hong Kong and Macau) has far less to worry about.  No information dissemination, no 21st-century speed of dissent.  And it would just happen that today was July 4th…

-PD

Game of Death [1978)

Panopticon.

Self-censorship.

Can’t leave well-enough alone.

Yes.  In America we have our heroes of the Revolution.  George Washington.  Paul Revere.

But here…we have a sad goodbye to a great hero for Hong Kong.

Thus begins the Bruce Lee apochrypha.

It starts very bad.  Some of the editing seems straight out of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show.

But it gets better.  Way better!  No, this is not a great film.  It’s not even really a good film.  But for fans of Bruce Lee it is worth watching for several reasons.

I must admit:  Bruce Lee brought about a change in my innermost being.  I know that sounds naïve.  I owe some credit to Shaquille O’Neal.  I just happened to catch an interview between Shaq and Yao Ming in which O’Neal admitted that his passion for basketball stemmed from being inspired by Bruce Lee.

Having recently seen Lee’s canonic oeuvre when I came across this interview, it made total sense to me what Shaq was saying.

And that brings us to one of the highlights of Game of Death:  Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Yes, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer indeed plays a fairly significant role in this film.  What is more, this gives me the opportunity to reach out and wish Kareem a speedy recovery as he has just recently undergone coronary bypass surgery.

It actually is amazing that director Robert Clouse put together a semi-watchable film from what little he had to go on.

Hugh O’Brian is pretty good in this.  It’s just a shame that his acting talents go to waste in dialogues with body doubles.

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, let me clarify:  Bruce Lee was no longer alive when this film was being put together.  Though Lee filmed portions of it, his absence presented a particularly insurmountable problem.

It pains me to say this, but it really is the ensemble cast which keeps this film afloat when it should lag and sag from Lee’s missing contribution.  Dean Jagger is a disgusting psychopath who reminds me of what I imagine Donald Rumsfeld to be like behind closed doors.

The biggest saving grace is Colleen Camp.  She looks so beautiful in this film!

As for there being a conspiracy involved in the demise of Bruce Lee, I don’t doubt that for a second.  Unfortunately, it is not a subject on which I have any pertinent knowledge.

We fans can continue to gain inspiration from the anti-fascist characters Lee embodied.  His short life brought such joy and exhilaration into the world.

-PD

Enter the Dragon [1973)

Hollywood fail.  Yes.  Bruce Lee’s first three films are each better than this hunk of bejeweled shit.  Most notably, it shows how talented Lee was as a director (Way of the Dragon) compared to Robert Clouse.  But then we get the message that Lee was an “uncredited” director on this film.  Is it a reference to the fight scenes and their staging?  It seems, rather, that Lee merely directed the opening sequence of the film under consideration.

Back to Clouse then.  Perhaps his other films were better, but this one really misses the mark.  All of the special details which made The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon such wonderful films are generally missing here.

Don’t get me wrong:  there are great moments within.  When dealing with a talent like Lee, there is always something salvageable.  Yet still, it is mind-boggling to me that the addition of major studio backing (Warner Bros.) only served to dilute the power of what Lee had been steadily building through his filmography.

But of course that would all end on July 20, 1973 when Lee died (just six days before Enter the Dragon premiered in Hong Kong).  Lee was in Hong Kong to dine with Lazenby.  George Lazenby.  The two intended to work together.  Lee met Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. to discuss his next film Game of Death.

Cerebral edema, they say.  Had occurred as recently as two months prior.  Seizures and headaches.  Mannitol.

A headache on the day of his death led to Equagesic (aspirin and meprobamate).  Analgesic/tranquilizer.

Swelling of the brain…  Was his death really an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer component of Equagesic?

A sad day.  Eleven days later his pallbearers included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, and George Lazenby.

Yes, there seems to be some dispute between the doctor in charge of autopsy (Donald Teare) and Lee’s doctor in Hong Kong.  It doesn’t really add confidence to the conclusion of the former to note that he (Teare) was recommended by Scotland Yard.  This was, of course, during the 156 years which Britain ruled Hong Kong as a colony (ending in 1997).

Had Lee eaten cannabis or hashish?  Was this the true cause of his death?  Some have claimed that Lee did this regularly to relieve the stress of fame.

Dr. Peter Wu, who had treated Lee two months prior to his death, called Dr. Teare “an expert on cannabis.”  Hmmm…

Teare’s conclusion was that the Equagesic had killed Lee.

I do find it suspicious that Lee died just six days prior to the Hong Kong release of this film.  The $850,000 film would go on to rake in $200 million by 1992.  Less than three weeks after his funeral in Seattle, the film premiered in the U.S.

Clouse would go on to cobble together footage of Lee and a couple of stand-ins for the 1978 release Game of Death.  It is interesting to note that the plot of Game of Death involves an international martial arts film star struggling against a racketeering syndicate.  What is more, this particular plot element seems to have not existed when shooting was done prior to Lee’s demise.  Perhaps Clouse redeemed himself in code???

-PD