erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 1980s posts

Friday February 01, 2019

Movie Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There is no question mark in the history of movies more unnecessary than the one that pops up before the end credits to Dino De Laurentiis’ 1980 flop, “Flash Gordon.” You know the bit. The story is done, the villain vanquished, and “The End” appears on the screen. But wait, who’s that picking up the villain’s ring? And laughing like the villain? And that’s when the question mark is added:

The End?

No, honey, this is really the end. There won’t be any sequels to this fucking thing.

There is also probably no DVD bonus feature in the history of DVD bonus features more mislabeled than the interview here with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. Someone in PR called it “Writing a Classic” and for a moment that got me excited. Wait, is Semple really going to argue that “Flash Gordon” is a classic? I gotta hear this!

Yeah, no. Semple is defensive throughout:

I don’t remember having a single meeting with anybody except Dino. In my opinion, it could’ve used some criticism. There’s no question the script would’ve been better. ... Even though it may sound a dream, “Go write it and we’ll shoot it” is not a terribly good idea.

Review of Flash Gordon 1980Semple spoke no Italian and De Laurentiis spoke little English, so a woman who worked for DDL translated the script for him. Except, says Semple, her English wasn’t great. She once showed up at his house, saw his cat, said “Nice dog.”

It gets better. During filming, De Laurentiis told Semple to visit Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione for ideas. He did. He saw him in his London mansion with a couple of Penthouse pets. “It was idiotic and insane,” says Semple, “the idea of going to Bob Guccione for ideas.”

The coup de grace: “Obviously,” Semple says, “people at Universal read the script, and nobody said it was awful.” 

Nobody said it was awful. PR-speak for: “Writing a classic.”

‘We couldn’t figure it out’
Going in, I assumed watching this on the heels of watching the original 1936 version with Buster Crabbe would make it better—the way that, say, watching the 1966 “Batman” on the heels of suffering through the 1949 “Batman & Robin” serial made it way, way funnier. Nope. Doesn’t help at all. The ’36 version actually comes off good in comparison.

I assumed this, by the way, without even knowing that Semple, who wrote “Batman ’66,” also wrote this. So what happened? Was his sense of humor gone? Did it get lost in translation? 

“Star Wars” happened.

Originally, George Lucas wanted to remake “Flash Gordon” but he couldn’t secure the rights; so he made “Star Wars” instead. Once everyone saw how much money he made, they all scrambled to put together his original idea. Semple again:

I remember Dino said one day, “We run ‘Star Wars.’” He got a copy of it. “We see why everybody go see this movie.” But we couldn’t figure it out. “Star Wars” has a certain amount of ... I won’t say realism, but, I mean, it was treated as if it was really happening. And “Flash Gordon,” in my opinion, never appears as if it actually was really taking place anywhere. I mean, Mongo was more than mythical. I mean, Mongo is straight out of an Italian comic book.

My favorite line in the above? We couldn’t figure it out. Semple, Jr., 57, and De Laurentiis, 61, couldn’t figure out why a bunch of teenage boys like me were going to see “Star Wars” again and again. “Flash Gordon,” born of greed and jealousy, was created by old men attempting to emulate something none of them understood. 

“Star Wars” had a blonde lead? Here's one that‘s more handsome. 

“Star Wars” included a respected/Shakespearean actor? Here’s a bunch of them: 

  • Max Von Sydow as Ming
  • Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin
  • Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan
  • Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov

This actually leads to a problem. In the ’36 original, the supporting players were bit actors who mumbled or hammed it up through their roles, while Crabbe’s Flash was earnest, athletic, dynamic. You could see why he was the star. Here, Sam Jones is fine as Flash, but he’s overwhelmed by the better actors. Ming is more powerful and more merciless; Barin is stronger, angrier, tougher. In the title song, Flash is repeatedly called “savoir of the universe,” but for most of the movie Dalton wipes the screen with him.

Sadly, the plot is pretty much the same. Yes, in the original, Mongo was going to crash into Earth, while here Ming simply toys with us from afar. He creates storms and typhoons and earthquakes, then sets Earth’s moon on a collision course with Earth. Dr. Zarkov recognizes this as an attack, and he’s planning to counterattack via rocketship, but, as in the original, his assistant flees. Which is when Flash and Dale (Melody Anderson) land near him by happenstance. Rather than agreeing to help, as in ’36, Zarkov simply kidnaps them. More exactly, he and Flash fight, but Flash’s crushing blow sends Zarkov into the big red button that starts up the rocket ship and takes them to their destiny. 

Of all the changes that happened in human history between 1936 and 1980, the most visible in the movie—more than atomic energy, computer technology and space flight—is the sexual revolution. In the original, Flash was stalwart; he wasn't interested in Princess Aura no matter how often she threw herself at him—or saved him. Here, from the get go, he's checking her out. So much so that Dale nudges him. “Hey, remember me?” she says. His initial “execution” is occultish, performed by men in metal masks and hooded cloaks that seem like extras from “Eyes Wide Shut." But he's saved by Aura ... who then seduces him.  

We keep waiting for the hero to emerge. Early on, there’s an absurd scene where Flash (a professional football player rather a polo player) is tossed a football-like object and is able—for the first time—to run rings around Ming’s men. It's weird—as if he needed the football to act. Without it, he’s not much. On a tree planet, where Barin acts like a tyrannical Robin Hood, Flash is lowered into a swamp and falls into quicksand, and in Vultan’s “Sky City,” he’s forced to duel Barin. This one he finally wins, then displays his true value by showing mercy. Everyone is stunned. Everyone except us, since it was telegraphed earlier:

Aura: Every moon of Mongo is a kingdom. My father keeps them fighting each other constantly. It’s really brilliant strategy.
Flash: Why don’t they team up and overthrow him?
Aura: Team up? What does that mean?
Flash: Why don’t I show you some time.

After the duel, he gets the air jetski thing, and helps lead the final assault on Ming’s castle. The good guys win, the bad guys are killed, and Barin is declared the new ruler of Mongo. Because what could be better than a tyrannical tree lord?

Barbarella II
I should add the special effects throughout are awful—recalling less 1977’s “Star Wars” than 1967’s “Barbarella,” which De Laurentiis also produced. But even with good effects, I’m not sure how you reboot “Flash Gordon” for the modern age. It’s really just a 1920s boys adventure story to the Orient (see: Ming), set in outer space. At least they left out the Shark King.

Van Sydow is the best thing in the movie. Early on, Zarkov is trying to reason with Ming and says, “We are only interested in friendship. Why do you attack us?” and Ming responds in that cold-blooded, matter-of-fact way of Sydow: “Why not?”  

But such moments are few. Director Mike Hodges made “Get Carter” in 1971 and “Croupier” in 1998, and not much of value in between. Semple, Jr. went on to write the Broccoli-less Bond flick, “Never Say Never Again,” and the jungle disaster “Sheena” with Tanya Roberts. De Laurentiis, with or without his translator, went on to produce some good movies (“Dead Zone”), one great one (“Blue Velvet”) and many disasters (“Dune,” “Maximum Overdrive,” “King Kong Lives,” “Body of Evidence.”). Via IMDb’s user ratings, “Flash” is considered his 101st worst feature film out of exactly 202. Its current rating is 6.5. Unbelievably, it has its fans.

The End?

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Posted at 12:33 PM on Feb 01, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  
Wednesday October 21, 2015

Movie Review: Rocky IV (1985)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Blame Hungary.

“Victory,” one of two films Sylvester Stallone starred in between “Rocky II” and “III,” was filmed in 1980 in Budapest, and, according to a July 1981 New York Times article, it made Stallone a “U.S. booster”:

Stallone came home from Hungary a flag waver. He says if everybody had to spend two weeks in a Communist country, “patriotism in America would reach epidemic proportions.”

“To this day, I believe all our hotel rooms were bugged,” he says. “If you had an amorous night with your wife, you’d walk downstairs next morning and everyone would be grinning. The police have keys to everyone’s house. They can turn off all the electricity in a city if they don't like what’s going on. And every couple of months the tanks run down the streets, just to remind people that they’re there.”

Rocky IVWithout “Victory”—in which Allied prisoners symbolically defeat Germany in a soccer match—would we have had “Rocky IV,” in which the U.S. symbolically defeats the U.S.S.R. in a boxing match?

Fucking Hungary, man.

Change and change: What is change?
Here’s the joke from back in 1985: “This time Rocky beats up a big white guy.” But it was Stallone who laughed all the way to the bank. The movie was the No. 3 grosser of the year, after “Back to the Future” and “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” It was Stallone’s peak, top of the world, ma, but it was also the beginning of his end. His movies were becoming too stupid even for his fans.

What a dull mess this thing is. Unadjusted, it’s the highest-grossing “Rocky” but also the shortest (91 minutes); there’s not much there there. Paulie gets a robot, the Soviets enter professional boxing, Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition bout, so Rocky goes to Russia to train and fight him. Cue: fight.

Poor and garrulous in the first film, Rocky has now become rich and taciturn. His mouth used to run a mile-a-minute as he struggled to entertain (Adrian), advise (little Marie) or explain (Gazzo). He wasn’t the brightest bulb (the locker combo in his hat just killed me), but he was sweet. He had charm. His charm was not knowing he had charm. Here, he’s kinda smart, counseling Apollo correctly, but he barely says anything in the second half of the film. He’s serious and charmless. I miss the old chatty Rocky.

We don’t even get impediments to the fight. In the other “Rocky”s, something always puts the fight on hold: He could go blind (“II”), he’s lost the eye of the tiger (“III”), he’ll die (“V”), he’s old (“Rocky Balboa”). Here, nothing. That’s why so short.

The movie continues the “Rocky” death cycle. We lost Gazzo after “II,” Mickey in “III,” and Apollo here. Actually, the one I miss most is Bill Conti. The emblematic “Rocky” score, as well as its signature song, “Gonna Fly Now,” is lost for some shitty ’80s songs by Survivor and John Cafferty: “Burning Heart” and “Heart’s on Fire.”  Apparently the theme is “heart.”

Wait, did I say there were no impediments to the fight? Adrian, in a thankless role, tries to be that (again). She tries to get Rocky to not fight, but it sets up an absurd contradiction. Here’s the exchange:

Rocky: We can’t change what we are.
Adrian: Yes, you can.
Rocky: We can’t change anything, Adrian!

Contrast with the speech he gives the Soviets after his victory:

During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that's better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!

So Rocky fights because we can’t change, but after the fight he tells everyone that we can change? In what round did he learn that lesson? 

Another one. In the first “Rocky,” it’s vaguely ominous that Rocky’s bout with Apollo Creed is seen as “a show,” that it’s just marketing, that it doesn’t mean anything. Of course, in the first round, Rocky disabuses Apollo of this notion. “He doesn't know it’s a damn show!” Apollo’s trainer says. “He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

In “IV,” Drago’s bout with Apollo is seen as “a show,” that it doesn’t mean anything. But in the first round, Drago disabuses Apollo of this notion. “What are you guys doing?” Apollo’s trainer yells. “This is supposed to be an exhibition!”

Rocky making the fight real in the first movie is a positive, but Drago doing the same in “IV” is a negative? OK.

Star-spangled shorts
I watch this thing now and think about how sad we were; what need we had.

We need to portray this Russian, and hence all of Russia, as stoic villains who would kill our heroes without a second thought (“If he dies, he dies.”). We need to portray ourselves as the underdogs, smaller and weaker, but naturally strong rather than chemically-enhanced. (They cheat). Then we need to show us going toe-to-toe with them for 15 rounds for the right reasons rather than their wrong reasons (Drago: “I win for me! FOR ME!”), and, as a result, not only do we win, but we win over the crowd, which chants “Rocky! Rocky!” like it’s Philadelphia rather than Moscow. (Question: Was “Rocky! Rocky!” the forerunner to “USA! USA!”? I’m serious. I’m curious.) We even get the Politburo to stand and applaud for us. But being us, we’re magnanimous in victory. We talk about change. Then we drape ourselves in the American flag. Because the star-spangled shorts just aren’t patriotic enough.

Oh, and all of this takes place on Christmas Day.

Fucking Hungary, man. 

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Posted at 06:49 AM on Oct 21, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  
Tuesday August 11, 2015

Movie Review: The Killing Fields (1984)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Who decided on the music? And how much did it harm the movie?

I’m not talking about the dissonant music we hear when the foreign journalists are in the clutches of the Khmer Rouge and fearing for their lives. That’s obtrusive but appropriate: time out of joint, life upended. I’m talking about the music we hear after Dith Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who won the Oscar for best supporting) somehow secures their release, and they return to the city proper, with its increasing lawlessness and triumphant teenaged soldiers, and our guys are pushing along a small white truck but the camera lets them push it out of frame while it holds on the mass of Cambodians being herded out of Phnom Pehn—prefiguring mass relocation, reeducation, and, for many, death. That’s when we get something out of western opera: medieval chants and bombast. At first I thought it was from an opera, but it appears to have been created for the soundtrack by Mike Oldfield. He was going old school, but old western school, which hardly seems appropriate. It’s so over-the-top, silence would have been preferable.

The Killing FieldsWorse, of course, is the last song we hear, but I don’t know if we blame Oldfield since he obviously didn’t write it. (According to IMDb.com, we blame producer David Puttnam.)

So after years in the countryside, hoeing mud and being subjected to dissonant loudspeaker propaganda, not to mention a constant threat of torture and death; and after escaping one misery only to tromp through the titular killing fields and then land in another, as a kind of au pair for a benevolent KR leader; and after fleeing that situation with several others, two of whom die on a landmine, Pran finally makes it all the way to Thailand. He’s working at a Red Cross station there when he’s told someone has arrived to see him. Confused, he goes outside, and sees, half out of a car, his old boss/mentor/friend, and the film’s co-star, New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterson, nominated, lead), who has been looking for him all of these years, plagued by the guilt that he didn’t insist Pran leave when he had the chance.

And what’s the music we hear during this powerful moment? “Imagine” by John Lennon.

Even when I saw the film as a 21-year-old in 1984, I all but slapped my forehead in disbelief. And that’s the mood you take with you from the theater. It absolutely ruins the feeling it's spent two-plus hours cultivating. 

They came from TV
I decided to watch “The Killing Fields” again after I saw the documentary, “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” at the Seattle International Film Festival this year. I thought it needed a rewatching. I remembered so little of it.

Mostly, I remembered that the movie was split into two parts: before the Khmer Rouge and after. A lot of waiting around in embassies in the first half, and the horror, the horror of the second. To be honest, in the rewatch, I fastforwarded through some of the second-half scenes of horror.

Is the first half more interesting because it’s ensemble? Because of its different tensions? Pran is almost in a servant role. He gets Schanberg into and out of places. Sometimes he wakes him up in the morning. Does he ever resent it? Is that what he and the driver talk about once they drop Schanberg off at his swanky hotel? And by the way: What happens to the driver? Does he make it out alive? Do we ever find out?

Back in’84, I liked the bored, soggy worldliness of the international journalists stationed in Phnom Pehn, and that feeling’s still there. John Malkovich is stellar as Al Rockoff, while Julian Sands is startling handsome (but not much of an actor) as Jon Swain. Spalding Grey is our U.S. consul, a government functionary trying to do the right thing, but, sadly, he’s not really that good, either. Is Craig T. Nelson as the stonewalling military attaché who keeps Schanberg from visiting Neak Luong, the site of an accidental U.S. bombing?

A lot of the principles came out of television. Director Roland Joffé had been directing British TV series when he got the gig, Waterson had been relegated to TV movies after the box office disaster of “Heaven’s Gate," Sands was in Brit TV.

Ngor, of course, came out of nowhere. The producers were looking for someone to play Pran and he was working at a medical clinic near L.A. and someone suggested him. He had the background (he’d escaped the Khmer Rouge himself) but zero acting experience. But he’s quite good. For some reason I thought Ngor didn’t really deserve his Oscar; back then, I’d been rooting for Adolph Cesar in “A Soldier’s Story.” But his performance anchors the movie.

The Nixon Doctrine
“The Killing Fields” is not a great film but it is a worthwhile film. The line of the movie belongs to Pres. Richard Nixon, whom Schanberg, back home, watches on a primitive VCR while “Nessun Dorma” (again with the opera) plays in the background. This is what Nixon says to the press, almost with a swagger, while explaining U.S. incursion into Cambodia:

Cambodia is the Nixon Doctrine in its purest form.

Truer words. Maybe a different John Lennon song should’ve ended the film: “How Do You Sleep?”

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Posted at 03:43 PM on Aug 11, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  
Tuesday May 05, 2015

Dig If You Will the Picture: A Few Thoughts on Seeing 'Purple Rain' 31 Years Later

Prince Purple Rain

Nobody digs his music but himself? 

Last Thursday, P and I went to see a showing of Prince's “Purple Rain” at Central Cinema, a fun, dine-in movie theater in Seattle's Central district. It was part of the “Movies in Black & White” series that my friend Jason Lamb hosts in Portland and Seattle. And yes, “Purple Rain” is not in black and white (it's in purple), but that's not the point of the series. The point of the series is to screen movies that lead to racial discussions. Tough thing to do. There's always a lot of posturing in racial discussions. No one these days wants to be Bull Connor. Or even Laurie Pritchett. 

Anyway, I didn't really talk much during the post-screening discussion, which turned less on racial matters than gender matters. A lot of misogyny in the film: girls tossed in trash bins, hit, stripped, ignored, etc. This attitude, in fact, is the thing that needs to be overcome in the film. At least that's what the Kid needs to overcome in order to become a success. He's one of four acts at First Avenue in Minneapolis (the club I went to growing up), and he may be on his on his way out. As the club owner, a fat black dude wearing an ugly Detroit Tigers cap, tells him, “Nobody digs ye music but yeself.” But then the Kid opens himself up to collaboration with bandmates Wendy and Lisa, and he sings “Purple Rain,” which they wrote, and that brings the house down. And he finally becomes successful. 

Here are the two objections I have with that story arc:

  • It's bullshit. The notion that becoming less selfish and more inclusive leads to success is a tired Hollywood trope that is rarely if ever borne out in reality.  
  • The first song we hear the Kid play is “Let's Go Crazy,” which is one of the greatest rock songs ever written. It's also the music nobody digs but himself. Which is ... crazy. 

It's really the second objection that I could never wrap my mind around. Just how dumb is that club owner? How dense are the flat-footed kids of First Ave not to recognize one hellbent, balls-out, rock-n-roll song? 

Other thoughts on the film 31 years later:

  • The First Ave in the film was a lot more racially diverse than the First Ave I went to in '83 and '84.
  • A lot of early-MTV sexism. At the same time, Apollonia. Good god, girl.
  • The only real actor in the film was Clarence Williams III, Link from “Mod Squad,” who played the Kid's father. He has a stillness to him. Everyone else was a B actor at best. But Morris Day was fun.

I do think it's funny seeing Prince all duded up—hair a tower of curls, shirt ruffled, suit as purple as the Joker's—tooling around the scabby Minnesota countryside on his motorcycle as if it's the most ordinary thing in the world. Naw. Minneapolis has a touch of the Amish in it. We look askance at anyone calling attention to themselves. We're Bud Grant on the sidelines, Garrison Keillor on the radio, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale coming in second and smiling in presidential races. Prince's outlandishness was probably in reaction to all that. No wonder he wanted to go crazy. 

Overall, the music still rocks but the movie hasn't aged well. It's kind of astonishing to remember that not only was it a huge box office hit—knocking “Ghostbusters” out of the No. 1 slot at the end of July 1984, and grossing a total of $68 million, or $165 million adjusted—but it was a huge critical hit, too. Both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel included it in their top 10 movies of 1984.  

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Posted at 06:47 AM on May 05, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  
Friday July 19, 2013

Movie Review: Hero At Large (1980)

WARNING: SPOILERS

They should remake this movie. We could use its message again.

An out-of work actor named Steve Nichols (John Ritter) takes a gig appearing as Captain Avenger at local cinemas to help promote the apparently dying superhero movie of the same name. He’s a generous personality, a gee-whiz Midwestern guy who helps fellow actors get jobs, and he likes the superhero gig. He’s kind of thrilled by it. One night after an appearance, wearing an overcoat over his red suit, he’s at a mom-and-pop grocery store in his Lower East Side neighborhood when it’s robbed. It takes a moment, but eventually he springs into action. Poster for "Hero At Large" starring John Ritter and Anne ArcherHe stands arms akimbo, annunciating like the character, and scatters the hoodlums—one of whom flees outright, the other after a 15-second fist fight—then turns to mom and pop, amazed at what he’s done, what he’s gotten away with, what acting he did.

The rest of the movie follows from this one act of daring and kindness. He appears four more times as Captain Avenger:

  1. His life and career failing elsewhere, he attempts to remake the magic of the first incident but winds up with a bullet in the arm and a determination to hang up the cape and tights.
  2. When Walter Reeves (Bert Convy), the PR firm representing Captain Avenger—as well as the Mayor in a tough reelection campaign—figures out who he is, they cajole him into an orchestrated elevated-train-robbery to make people feel good about the city again. It works, but Steve feels like crap afterwards. He knows it’s phony, he feels like a phony, and he’s determined to hang up the cape and tights.
  3. Still, as agreed, he shows up at a rally for the Mayor, accepting a key to the city, then, apparently on his own, gives a “It’s not me, it’s you” speech to the cheering crowd. He talks about how there are heroes everywhere; he says we just have to pull together and care more about each other. It’s at this point, though, that an enterprising reporter, Gloria Preston (Jane Hallaren), exposes incident #2 as a fraud, which means Steve’s a fraud. The mob turns on him quickly. Fights break out. People don’t care again.
  4. Ashamed, about to leave the city for good, he comes across a tenement-building fire (of course), with a kid trapped inside (of course), and the Fire Chief determined not to let any of his men risk their necks (of course). So he springs into action again as Captain Avenger. After he saving the boy, though, he needs saving. Which is what happens. Two burly local guys, one black and one white, along with the Fire Chief, run into the burning building to get him, thus proving the message in his speech. We are all heroes.

After that, he gets the girl, J. Marsh (Anne Archer), along with a happy ending, and the two walk along the streets of New York as the camera pans up and back. Fade out

We could use this message again.

Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
No, not the “We’re all heroes” message. Ick.

I’m talking about the movie’s tangential discussion on hero worship: our overwhelming, insatiable, juvenile need for heroes. You could really do something with that in this day and age. You could attempt to upend the genre with that.

“Hero At Large” was made at a time when the genre didn’t even exist. It opened on February 8, 1980, when only one superhero movie, as we now understand them, had been made: “Superman,” starring Christopher Reeve. Before that, you had a few TV superheroes (Hulk, Shazam, 1950s Superman), a mess of Saturday morning cartoons, and the movie serials of the 1940s.

More, popular cinema was just beginning to switch from an era of gritty antiheroes, disappearing frontiers and depressing endings to the over-the-top heroics and ultimate triumphs of … take your pick. Luke Skywalker. Rocky Balboa. Indiana Jones. Maverick. John McClane. Superman. Batman. Spider-Man. Iron Man. The motherfucking Avengers. In its own way, despite its gritty New York locations and everyman message, “Hero” is trying to push us toward that future. It wants us to want heroes. It wants us to feel good again.

At one point, as New York City is going Captain Avenger crazy, a local TV host (William Bogert) talks up the phenomenon, then lets his two female panelists, journalist Gloria Preston and Dr. Joyce Brothers (playing herself), debate the matter:

Brothers: Who’s to say it’s unhealthy to admire a heroic figure?
Preston: Oh, I will. The next we’ll be doing is, uh, looking for genies in bottles or having our fairy godmothers take us to the ball.

The host then asks if the public response to Captain Avenger doesn’t indicate that people would like to have a hero. Brothers: “Of course they would.” Preston: “What happens when they find out it’s a joke?”

Preston’s assumption is incorrect at this moment. Steve hasn’t faked anything. He’s a legitimate nice guy and one-time hero. No, the better response is: “Of course people want a hero. Then what?” I.e., What happens when you buy into it as much as we buy into it? When you see it every weekend at the movie theaters? When you see it every night on TV? Do you begin to think we’re the heroes, that our powers are limitless, that happy endings are de rigueur? Do you transfer the tropes of the genre off the screen and into, say, the political realm? Do you see our country as the hero, stalking and routing villains, and then wonder where the happy ending went? Why it got so complicated? Do you have trouble dealing with complexity and relativity of the world? Do you have trouble seeing the world as it is? Do you assume absolutes? Do you yearn for a simpler time?

“We need our hopes, just as we need our fantasies,” Dr. Brothers says on the talk show, then turns toward the camera and speaks directly to Steve. “We need you, Captain Avenger, dream and reality. Keep it up!”

He does. We have.

Come and knock on her door
The rest of the movie is lukewarm romance: Steve inveigling his way into J.’s apartment and her life. It’s got a “Three’s Company” vibe—he’s often shirtless, or in a towel, and there’s sexual innuendo. J. isn’t interested in him until she is. Then she isn’t again. Then she is. It’s love.

Archer is both annoying and sexy, while Ritter is too emphatic, too pungent, in both his niceness and his pushiness. He seems to gulp things in. The acting from both actors feels like acting.

Steve is basically Clark Kent—Midwestern nice guy that nobody in the city believes can be that nice—while the back-and-forth with J. borrows heavily from “Superman”:

J.: Why do you do it?
Steve: Because of what happened. All of those people who called in and wrote letters. How often do you get to do something that’s really special?
J.: You really mean that, don’t you? You’re for real.

Later, when it all falls apart and he’s ready to leave city, still wearing his red suit and striped underwear, she gives him a pep talk:

J.: If you run away, the bad guys win.
Steve: They win anyway. They’ve got the numbers. … Nobody listens.
J. (quietly): I did.

So did Hollywood.

Captain Avenger at the mom-and-pop store

Captain Avenger to the rescue!

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Posted at 07:55 AM on Jul 19, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  
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