You never know what hidden “gems” you’ll find while scrolling through Hulu. The other night I stumbled upon a movie I’d never heard of before, The JanuaryMan. I see now why it was hidden since 1989.
It’s hard to describe TJM mainly because it doesn’t know what it wants to be. In the course of 97 minutes, which feels much longer, it goes from a thriller, to a romantic comedy, to a serious drama, to a farce, and around again. It’s whiplash-inducing. The gist is a serial killer is strangling women in NYC and the mayor (Rod Steiger) orders the police commissioner (Harvey Keitel) to do something about it. Since the mayor’s daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) was friends with the most recent victim, he’s invested in the case. The police commissioner implores his retired cop brother (Kevin Kline) to rejoin the force and catch the killer. Because he’s the only one who can?? Mmmk. He agrees to help, but there’s tension because his brother is now married to his former girlfriend (Susan Sarandon). A lot of time is spent on this dopey triangle where nobody is worth rooting for. Then it becomes a weak quadrangle when the cop starts seeing the mayor’s daughter. With all this extra fluff, you could almost forget a serial killer is running around the city. Perhaps the screenwriter did too.
If the film had stuck with one genre or tone it could have been decent. But instead it got turned into a confusing mess and the audience is forced to slog through it. Not even a cast full of Oscar winners/nominees can elevate this script. They’re just as lost as us, which makes for some conflicting acting styles. Someone really should have told Steiger to dial it down a notch. He’s acting with a capital A in a very B-level film.
I’m trying to think of one redeeming quality for this movie…Alan Rickman. He plays the cop’s eccentric artist friend who gets roped into helping him nab the killer. Rickman is fun to watch whenever he’s onscreen. The movie doesn’t deserve him.
“The Winner Takes It All” was the first single off ABBA’s Super Trouper album. It paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a breakup. ABBA isn’t known for the depth of their lyrics (what the hell is “Super Trouper” about anyways?), so it’s interesting how detailed this song is. They find an inventive way of comparing a relationship to a game. “The winner takes it all/The loser’s standing small/Besides the victory/That’s her destiny”.
The music is beautiful, going between a soft piano arrangement and a midtempo beat. It makes you sad and reflective, but you want to dance too. The vocals are also great. My favorite part is Angetha’s soaring “alllllll” on the last verse.
“Winner” went to #1 in several countries. It was the group’s last top ten song in the US, which is odd considering there were strong follow up singles like “Lay All Your Love on Me”. Those people who didn’t get ABBA were the real losers.
On this last day of October, I thought of a melancholy Barry Manilow song. He has a few of those, but “When October Goes” is most appropriate for today. The song was included on Barry’s 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Café. It’s sad and wistful as well as touching and beautiful. Like the other songs on the album, “October” was recorded live in one take. The simple stripped-down nature of the recording adds to the feeling of track. I also hate to see October go (really, this month flew by), but I enjoy this Manilow moment.
Before watching the documentary Killing Patient Zero, I knew very little about Gaetan Dugas. It turns out he was a loving son, brother, and friend. He enjoyed his job as a flight attendant for Air Canada. He was also openly gay and completely unashamed of his life. The one thing I thought I knew about Gaetan was completely wrong: he was not the man who inflicted AIDS upon the world.
At the beginning of the epidemic, doctors were desperate to figure out how this “gay cancer” was being spread. They theorized that sex was the cause and began to interview a sampling of gay men about their sexual history. Gaetan was one of these patients who generously cooperated with the CDC. Doctors produced a cluster study that featured him, amongst others, showing how the disease had traveled through sexual partners. Later, Gaetan was mistakenly labeled as “patient zero”, as if AIDS had originated with him. Reporter Randy Shilts latched onto this false story when he was doing research for his novel And the Band Played On. He took it a step further by writing that Gaetan had knowingly passed on the disease to the men he slept with. Once Shilts’ book was published, Gaetan, who had died by then, was put in the spotlight and his reputation was savaged.
Director/writer Laurie Lynd attempts to repair this damage in her documentary. Through interviews with healthcare professionals who were on the frontlines, he dispels the myth of a patient zero. They confirm that Gaetan was not the originator of AIDS. His friends talk about the warm caring man they knew. Someone who would not have purposely spread a disease. There’s even archival footage from a town hall meeting about AIDS featuring an outspoken Gaetan. The short video offers a much more accurate portrayal of him than Shilts’ book ever could.
I finished Zero feeling informed about the subject and also angry on his behalf. It’s horrible how this man was vilified by the public. I hope that more people will see the film and get an understanding of Gaetan’s true character. He and his loved ones deserve that vindication.
In 1985, Columbia Pictures released Joel Schumacher’s coming-of-age-in-your-20’s drama, St. Emo’s Fire. The movie focuses on seven friends who have recently graduated from Georgetown University in D.C. The gang includes philandering Alec (Judd Nelson), his steadfast girlfriend Leslie (Ally Sheedy), moody Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), wild Jules (Demi Moore), reckless Billy (Rob Lowe), loyal to a fault Wendy (Mare Winningham), and infatuated Kirby (Emilio Estevez). Their post-grad year is filled with strife, heartbreak, laughter, and reluctant steps toward adulthood. The critics roasted the film, summing it up as a bunch of yuppies whining about having to face the real world. One writer even gave the actors the unflattering nickname, The Brat Pack. But the audience loved the movie, making it an 80s favorite. Let’s revisit St. Elmo’s Fire.
After college, Alec begins to pressure Leslie about marriage. When she puts him off, his next natural step is to begin cheating on her. Oh, ok. Kevin is also in love with Leslie, but since he can’t be with her, he stops having sex altogether. Hence, his moodiness. When the truth comes out about Alec’s cheating, Leslie flees to Kevin’s place. He confesses his love for her and they sex it up all over his apartment. Leslie keeps her pearl necklace on the entire time. That’s extremely yuppie. Alec unexpectedly comes over to see Kevin and Leslie smacks him in the face with the news that she slept with his best friend. Drama. After this all goes down, Kevin assumes he and Leslie will be a couple now, but she puts the brakes on that. It’s interesting because we get both guys’ points of view about what they want, but very little from Leslie. It’s not until the end of the movie when she tells Alec and Kevin that she’s not going to be with either one of them and is instead choosing herself, that we finally hear her side. It would have been nice to see more of this. Sidenote, since Kevin stopped sleeping with women, everyone thinks he’s gay. Jules even theorizes that he’s in love with Alec. That would have been a much more interesting storyline. Later, after they both realized Alec was an asshole, Kevin and Leslie could have become a 1985 Will & Grace.
Jules was wild in college, but after graduation she takes it to a new level. For one, she can’t manage her money. Who knew getting an advance on your salary was a thing? She maxes out her credit cards, buying clothes and garish home décor. There’s a terrifying giant ceramic clown head in one scene. Then she has the brilliant idea to start sleeping with her boss, which ultimately leads to losing her job. This is followed by a cocaine spiral. In a misguided suicide attempt, she locks herself in her apartment and opens all the windows, letting in the freezing cold air. The stupidity of this proves she’s really just crying out for help and not trying to end it all. Billy is able to comfort her back into reality. She tells him that she’s so tired. Yes, dear, adulting is hard. Now close your windows, find a new job, and get on with your life. Also, throw away that scary ass clown head.
This is the nuttiest story in the movie. Basically, Kirby went out on a date with Dale (Andie MacDowell) back in college. One date that led to nothing. Four years later, he runs into Dale. She barely remembers him, but Kirby is still hooked on her. This fixation escalates. He follows her to a party, where he creepily watches from the window. Then he crashes the scene and tells her he’s obsessed. No shit. Instead of calling the cops, Dale invites him over to her place. Girl, really? She tries to dissuade him from his infatuation. Instead, Kirby has tantrum, because things aren’t going his way and storms out. Later, he throws a big party to impress Dale, but she doesn’t show up. Incensed, he tracks her down at a cabin in the snowy mountains that she’s sharing with her boyfriend and throws another fit. Again, instead of calling the authorities on this psycho, she invites him in after his car gets stuck in the snow. The next day, when Dale is politely seeing Kirby off, he kisses her. Instead of telling her boyfriend to kick his ass, she actually swoons. WTF? Kirby speeds off, thrusting his fist in the air triumphantly. I truly cannot figure out what we’re supposed to think about this story. Stalking is romantic? If you pressure a woman enough into liking you, she’ll eventually cave? This behavior isn’t acceptable and yet everyone in the movie goes along with it. Not me!
Billy & Wendy
Out of everyone in the group, Billy has the hardest time letting go of college and stepping into the real world. It’s funny because he has the most adult attachments. A wife and baby. Instead of trying to gain some stability for them, he remains selfish and irresponsible. He loses jobs as soon as he finds them and gets drunk every night. He’d rather run around with his friends than grow up. It’s a sad Peter Pan situation. Wendy, unfortunately, enables Billy’s behavior. She’s in love with him and can’t call him out on his ridiculous behavior. Even after he gets drunk and totals her car, nearly killing her, Wendy forgives him. I found that plot point to be really stupid. But not as bad as Wendy offering her virginity to him. Sigh. So, Billy realizes he needs to get his shit together. He’s going to divorce his wife so she can be with a guy who actually wants to be a husband. And, Billy is moving to NY. If you can make it there…well he probably won’t. As a going away gift, Wendy gives him her V-card. Now, I know Billy is incredibly good looking (this is prime Rob Lowe hotness here), but he’s still a tool. He doesn’t deserve your “flower”, Wendy.
The theme song to the movie, “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” is pretty awesome. It incorporates the themes of the movie (growing up, finding your future) in one jazzy-pop-rock moment. Plus, the video, starring singer John Parr and his enormous fluffy hair, is perfectly 80s.
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.
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.
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.