Director Joel Schumacher passed away yesterday at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer. He started out as a costume designer (The Last of Sheila) in the 70s before transitioning to screenwriting (Sparkle, The Wiz). In 1981, he made his directorial debut with the comedy The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Looking at his IMBD page, you can see how eclectic his directing career was. There were big blockbusters (BatmanForever), dramas adapted from books (A Time to Kill, The Client), thrillers (Flatliners), and even a musical (The Phantom of the Opera). He didn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed as one type of director, but instead made the movies he enjoyed.
I’ll remember Schumacher best for The Lost Boys. It’s one that I have to stop and watch whenever I come across it on TV, which is often. He was able to put together the perfect mix of horror and comedy. It’s a very fun film.
I’m looking forward to re-watching my favorites from Schumacher and discovering his other films that I haven’t gotten around to seeing.
Forty years ago, someone thought it would be a great idea to make a pseudo-biopic-musical about the Village People called Can’t Stop the Music.That someone was Allan Carr. At the time, he was on top of his game after producing Grease two years earlier. Given that blockbuster success, it’s not surprising that Carr was able to get any film he wanted green-lit. Similarly, the Village People were a very popular disco act. The kitschy group, consisting of the Cop (Ray Simpson), Cowboy (Randy Jones), Native American (Felipe Rose), G.I. (Alex Briley), Construction Worker (David Hodo), and Leatherman (Glenn M. Hughes), had sold tons of albums worldwide. The movie could have been a hit in theory, but it crashed and burned. The box office was horrible, critics ripped it apart, and it won the first annual Razzie Award for Worst Picture. That’s the triple crown of sucking. Over the years, CSTM has bounced back somewhat and become a cult classic, mainly because it’s so delightfully absurd. Here are ten ridiculous things about the film.
10. The writing
The plot is very thin. Musician Jack (Steve Guttenberg) enlists his roommate Samantha (Valerie Perrine), a former supermodel, to help him get a record deal. He can’t sing, so a group is needed to perform the music. They assemble a motley crew and brand them as the Village People. Now they just need to get Samantha’s ex-boyfriend Steve (Paul Sands), president of Marrakech Records, to sign the group. There’s also a silly subplot about Samantha falling for uptight lawyer Ron (Caitlyn Jenner). The movie needed a bit of romance I suppose. Bronte Woodard wrote the screenplay and you have to wonder how high he was while doing so. The story is just a bunch of nonsensical moments and wacky hijinks thrown together. There’s also the wooden dialogue with lines like, “The 70s are dead and gone. The 80s are going to be something wonderfully new and different, and so am I”. Yikes.
9. Nancy Walker
On one hand, it’s fantastic that actress Nancy Walker was hired on as the director. She became the first woman to helm a multi-million-dollar movie. On the other hand, this is what she made. CSTM marked her first and last feature film. There’s also the fact that before this she was best known for starring as the “quicker picker upper” lady in Bounty commercials. No amount of paper towels could clean up this mess of a film though.
A lot of CSTM revolves around Samantha, which is a bad choice. Perrine isn’t a bad actress, but she can only do so much with such an empty character. She mainly bounces from scene to scene being bubbly. Carr originally wanted Olivia Newton-John for the role. She turned him down and signed on to be in Xanadu instead, which is the equivalent of dodging a bullet only to get hit by a bus.
At one point, Jack and Samantha hold auditions for new group members. There are some random acts, like a clown on stilts and a stripper. Then the Leatherman struts in and sings a stirring rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” while standing on a piano. Perhaps they were trying to add some gravitas to the film?
6. I Love You to Death
I-I-I-I love this song to death. It’s dumb and repetitive, yet fun. The Construction Worker sings it ferociously, in a fantasy sequence, as female dancers in tight red dresses slink around him. I think it’s supposed to be sexy, but it fails on that front. Once a dancer bites his bicep, it’s impossible to take this seriously. Not to mention all the glitter that rains down on them.
5. Guttenberg’s gusto
Guttenberg is dialed up to a 23, on a 1 to 10 scale, every moment he’s on screen. The best is the opening where he enthusiastically roller skates through the streets of NYC as “The Sound of the City” plays on the soundtrack. He’s just so damn jazzed up about…everything.
4. Do the shake
In order to finance the Village People, Samantha comes out of supermodel retirement to do a TV commercial for milk that also features the group. The beginning of the ad has little boys dressed up as the VP characters. They drink their milk and grow up to be strong macho men. Then they do an intricately choreographed Busby Berkley-type number to “Milkshake”. It’s nuts. Also, a DJ should put together a mashup of the song and Kelis’ “Milkshake”. A shakeoff.
Lulu (Marilyn Sokol) is Samantha’s sidekick. She’s also an incredibly horny woman. Sex jokes and double entendres fly out of her mouth at a rapid pace. Sokol comes off as plain goofy, though, as she vamps and gyrates for the camera. You feel so embarrassed for her, yet you’re unable to turn away.
The Village People, Samantha, Jack, and Ron take a trip down to the local Y and find themselves caught in the middle of a cluster of hot muscular guys. A gay fever dream ensues. There’s locker room lip syncing, synchronized diving, slow-motion wrestling, and some very 80s special effects. Side note, CSTM is the only PG movie to feature full-frontal male nudity with a flash of peen in the shower scene. Someone at the ratings board must have been asleep at the wheel. There’s also a boob shot with Perrine. Something for the straight guys in the audience. All zero of them.
1. The fact it exists at all
But, really, how did this movie get made? In the summer of 1979, when production started up, disco was dying due to oversaturation and the “disco sucks” movement. Building a movie around a fading music genre/scene probably wasn’t the best idea. Someone should have stepped in and pulled the plug before it even began. Of course, then we wouldn’t have this craziness to “enjoy”. Maybe you shouldn’t try to stop the music afterall.
Back in 1990, Mariah Carey made her debut with her self-titled album. Up until then, she was a backup singer in NYC looking for a big break. That came when she met Tommy Mattola, the president of Sony, and signed to his record label. Contrary to the Svengali narrative, Mattola didn’t create Mariah. Most of the material for that first album came from a demo tape that she had made in high school, she wrote her own songs, and her incredible singing wasn’t taught. She was a powerhouse of her own making. Here are Mariah Carey’s 11 tracks.
11. You Need Me
You know what you don’t need on the album? This song. It’s overproduced and boring.
10. Sent from Up Above
Only slightly better than YNM, but still “eh”. It sounds very early 90s and not in a good way.
9. All in Your Mind
The best moment on this one is the whistle note staccato at the end.
8. All Alone in Love
AAIL is one of those songs you’d hear on a “quiet storm” radio night. Smooth and easy.
7. There’s Got to Be a Way
A song with a message that still needs to be heard today. Mariah sings about overcoming racial inequality and bigotry.
This is a fun dance/r&b track with some electric guitar thrown in. She even raps. You wouldn’t think it would work and yet somehow it does.
5. I Don’t Wanna Cry
The fourth single off the album and probably the most overlooked. It’s not as flashy as the others. However, it’s a beautiful heartbreaking song that deserved to go to the top of the charts.
4. Love Takes Time
The album was already finished and mastered when Mariah wrote LTT. She intended it for her next record, but the executives at Sony loved it and insisted she include it on MC instead. It’s another pretty breakup ballad. Her specialty.
For her third single, Mariah switched it up and put out an up-tempo new jack swing track. Over a very danceable beat she tells her ex that he’s going to regret letting her going and he’ll come crawling back someday. She knows her worth. Then she takes it home with an amazing high note. Where’s he going to find another girl that can do all that?
A very close 2nd to the top track here. Vanishing is the deep album cut that many fans point to as their favorite. It’s so simple yet so rich with the piano and her vocal runs that seem to go on forever.
1. Vison of Love
The song that introduced Mariah to the world quickly established her signature style. In 3 1/2 minutes she goes from incredible low notes to the highest of highs. It’s the definition of vocal gymnastics. Throw in a timeless melody and you have a hit. The fact that there was nothing like it out there at the time definitely contributed to its success. That uniqueness inspired Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, and countless other singers. Mariah’s vision completely changed the music scene.
Activist and writer Larry Kramer passed away yesterday at 84. Over the years, his writing was critically acclaimed and won many awards. But he’ll be remembered most for his unbridled activism. Kramer was on the frontlines when the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. He helped to form the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later the more militant ACT UP. His approach was usually abrasive and confrontational. However, that anger was necessary in order to get people in power to implement changes. I enjoyed Kramer’s book Faggots and was moved by his play TheNormalHeart. I’m also very thankful for the battle he fought and the lives that it saved.
Naomi Campbell is beyond fierce. Since the 1990s, she has defined the term supermodel. She’s landed the best magazine covers, walked in every fashion show, and was featured in George Michael’s iconic “Freedom 90” video. Her face and walk are wondrous. Plus, she has that attitude that you want from a diva. In an industry that values youth, Naomi has defied expectations well after her supposed expiration date. Today, at 50, she’s still at the top of her game.
Today would have been activist & politician Harvey Milk’s 90th birthday. In his short life, he changed the world for the better. The 1970s saw him leading the charge for LGBT rights and equality in San Francisco, earning him the title “Mayor of Castro Street”. After being defeated in two previous elections, Harvey finally won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country. While in office he helped to defeat the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have banned gay teachers in schools.
Sadly, Harvey was assassinated in 1978, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. But his mission continued on with other gay activists and politicians that followed him. There was also the Oscar winning documentary about his life, The Times of Harvey Milk. Then in 2008, the biopic Milk introduced him to another generation. Harvey and his legacy will not be forgotten. “Hope will never be silent.”
How to Build a Girl is a quirky endearing coming of age movie. Set in mid-90s England, it concentrates on sixteen-year-old outcast Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein), who is continually bullied at school. While her family is supportive, they are pretty unstable. Plus, the only “people” she can talk to are the pictures of famous figures on her wall that come to life in her fantasies. She’s desperately yearning for something to happen in her life and take her out of this mess. That something arrives in the form of a job at an indie rock magazine.
At first the douchey all-male staff dismisses Johanna, but she manages to win them over with her genuine writing talent. She takes it a step further by reinventing herself as Dolly Wilde, a brash, biting music critic. Armed with a new persona and look (shocking red hair and even louder outfits), Johanna’s star quickly rises. But she soon realizes that she doesn’t necessarily like the girl she has become.
The movie is adapted from Caitlin Moran’s memoir and her life makes for an unusual yet enjoyable story. You root for Johanna to succeed and cringe when she falls on her face. Feldstein is extremely charming in the role. She brings both heart and the humor to her character. I also thought it was great that director Coky Giedroyc wasn’t afraid to show Johanna as a sexual person. She hops from man to man, like a sexual anthropologist. Usually with plus-sized women in movies, their sexuality is downplayed or ignored. Giedroyc puts it all out there in a frank manner.
I liked the overall message of the film: being comfortable in your skin and owning who you are despite what others think. Johanna sees that she has built herself up into someone she doesn’t recognize, so she breaks it all down and rebuilds. She ultimately becomes the person she is most proud of. It’s something anyone can identify with, in your teen years and beyond.
It wasn’t until a few days after seeing Girl that I realized how much it reminded me of the 1994 comedy Muriel’s Wedding. They each feature outrageous young women that don’t fit in with the popular crowd and decide to make themselves over into someone new. Both protagonists have oddball families. Plus, music (ABBA, indie rock) is featured heavily. Feldstein’s Johanna also has a similar affable energy as Toni Collette’s Muriel. The two films would make a great double feature. Maybe at a drive-in.
Iconic musician Stevie Wonder turns 70 today. He’s definitely one of those artists who created the soundtrack to our lives. I first discovered him in the 80s with “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. The song, from the movie The Woman in Red, was everywhere in 1984. It topped several Billboard charts and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. People, including me, just love Stevie.
“Fame, I’m gonna live forever!” Or for at least 40 years. Back in the 80s, Fame gave a fresh take on the big screen musical and instantly left a mark on pop culture. The movie follows eight students (musicians, actors, dancers) at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. Working from a script written by Christopher Gore, director Alan Parker captures all the highs and lows over a four-year period. Let’s remember, remember, remember, remember (yeah, I did it) Fame.
During the audition process we meet the fresh hopefuls looking to secure a spot at the prestigious PA school. Coco (Irene Cara) is a confident triple threat. Bruno (Lee Curreri) is the innovative musician. Lisa (Laura Dean) lacks confidence and direction, but still manages to get into the dance department. Shy Doris (Maureen Teefy) gets pushed into auditioning by her overbearing stage mother. She’s joined in the drama dept. by closeted Montgomery (Paul McCrane) and class clown Ralph (Barry Miller). Rounding out the group is Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray), who quickly impresses with his dancing. Parker cuts between the main characters and a bunch of other wannabes, establishing the culture of the school. Everyone is striving for something.
The kids arrive for freshman year (with the thoughtful “Dogs in the Yard” playing over a montage) where they discover that PA is not an easy school. It’s especially difficult for Leroy since he’s illiterate. I could have done without the stereotypical “inner city youth who can’t read and the hard-nosed teacher (Ann Meara) who pushes him to learn” storyline. But it was 1980, so what do you expect? Doris and Montgomery become fast friends as the awkward outsiders. She worries she’s not colorful enough for this school. Whereas he is trying to blend into the background.
The big rousing number in this year is “Hot Lunch Jam”. The students dance on tables, bang on the piano, and sing about macaroni and baloney. It’s a fun song.
Hilary (Antonia Franceschi) arrives on the scene in the dance department and promptly pisses off Coco by going after her boyfriend, Leroy. Lisa is kicked out of the department by her harsh teacher. We think she’s going to jump in front of a subway train, but she just dumps her dance gear on the tracks instead. I’m glad Gore spared the audience from the usual teen suicide story. It would have been too afterschool special. Meanwhile, Montgomery comes out to his drama class. A safe space for a gay guy if there ever was one.
Bruno is reluctant to share his music with others, so his enthusiastic dad, a taxi driver, steals his tape and blasts it from his cab outside of the school. In the most over the top musical moment in the film, students rush out of their classes and start dancing in the street, or on top of cars, as “Fame” plays. Off-screen the song was huge, going to number #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Doris comes out of her shell and rebels against her bossy mother. She also falls for Ralph, leaving Montgomery out in the cold. He expresses his loneliness with “Is it Okay if I Call You Mine”, a very pretty sad ballad.
My favorite song on the soundtrack, “Out Here on My Own”, is featured in this year. Coco’s vocals and the beautiful piano accompanying her are perfect. The track became the film’s second hit single and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. It was the first time two songs from the same movie were nominated.
Ralph’s stand-up comedy career takes off, but his need to party like a Belushi after his shows hurts his personal life. Luckily, he comes down to earth before something tragic happens. Meanwhile, Hilary gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. She won’t let a baby get in the way of her ballet career. On a better note, Leroy is offered a spot in Alvin Ailey’s dance company.
In the worst moment in the movie, a sleazy producer manipulates Coco into taking off her top for a “screen test”. She’s sobbing as the camera rolls. But there’s no follow up since we don’t see her again until the end of the film. I would have liked to see more of her POV. Without that, the scene feels exploitative. Maybe that was the point, to show how terribly young women trying to break into the industry are treated. Still, it could have been handled better by Parker and Gore. That’s actually a recurring problem I have with the film. They’re constantly bouncing around from character to character. I wish there was more of a plot and time to flesh out these stories.
The finale comes with the graduation ceremony and a performance of “I Sing the Body Electric”. Lisa, Coco, and Montgomery have solos, Leroy dances; and Bruno plays the piano, finally sharing his music with the world. The lyrics talk about looking forward to the you yet to come and knowing you’ll shine brightly then. It’s appropriate for these kids with their dreams of success, yearning to shed their old skin and be reborn as stars. I also like the arrangement with the full orchestra, rock band, and choir. The song does get schmaltzy, but it’s still works for me. It’s a touching end to the movie and a great sendoff for these characters headed towards their next chapter.
On Friday, May 9, 1980, Paramount Pictures released Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. The low budget horror film about a serial killer picking off camp counselors was a surprise hit that year. It proved that a simple premise with genuine scares can go a long way. A thousand sequels followed, but none of them matched the original. Here are the five scariest moments from the movie.
5. Don’t Have Sex
The film opens at Camp Crystal Lake in the 1950s. An amorous young couple sneaks off to a storage room to get busy. They don’t count on a killer joining them. Not the kind of threesome you want. They’re cornered and quickly murdered. This is a prime example of why you shouldn’t have sex of any kind in a horror movie. But, if you do, have an escape route.
4. In the bathroom
Here’s one reason I’m not into camping: the bathroom situation. I have zero interest in walking through the woods to get to a toilet or a shower. Especially when a psycho could we hanging out in there. Marcie (Jeannie Taylor) thinks her friends are playing a trick on her, waiting to pop out from one of the shower stalls. The tension builds as we watch her pull back every curtain. But then, surprise, the killer is actually behind her and Marcie gets an ax to the face.
While Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie were having sex (don’t do it!), a dead body was above them, on the top bunk, and the killer was underneath their bed. That’s a sinister sandwich. After Marcie exits, the killer drives an arrow through Jack’s throat from below. It’s disgustingly bloody. On a side note, back in the day I worked for Laura Kightlinger’s agent and got to know the actress/writer a little. Great woman. Laura worked on Will & Grace. Kevin Bacon guest starred on W&G. So that makes me two degrees away from Kevin Bacon. Kinda.
2. Kill her, Mommy, kill her
If you’ve seen Friday the 13th or the first Scream, you know that Mrs. Voorhies (Betsy Palmer) is the killer, out to avenge her son’s death. She seems like a sweet middle-aged mom when she pops up towards the end of the movie. But she quickly shows her crazy ways and it’s quite frightening, especially when she speaks in Jason’s voice. Mommy has gone around the bend. She chases Alice (Adrienne King) through the camp in a series of near misses. Alice manages to get the upper hand and chops her head off. In slow-motion.
1. Beneath the surface
After Alice has wacked Mrs. V., she decides to climb into a canoe and take a nap. Sure. She wakes up the next morning in the middle of the lake. Tranquil piano music plays as she looks at her reflection in the peaceful water. Then a deformed zombie-like Jason suddenly surfaces, dragging her into the lake. It’s one of the best last scares in a horror movie. If that doesn’t scare the bejezus out of you, you’re already lacking in bejezus.