Category Archives: 30Hz Cinema

The 30Hz movie-related ramblings

1989 Flashback: Skin Deep

Dr. Westford: A scorpion who couldn’t swim asked the frog to carry him across the river on his back. The frog said, “Do you think I’m crazy? Halfway across the river, you’ll sting me and I’ll drown.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the scorpion. “If I sting you and you drown, I’ll drown too.” Frog thought about it, he said, “Climb on.” Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog, and as the frog was drowning, he said to the scorpion, “But now you’ll drown too.” The scorpion said, “Yes. I know.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the frog, and the scorpion replied, “Reason has nothing to do with it. I’m a scorpion. It’s my character.”

Zach: You know what I feel like saying to you?

Dr. Westford: Yes. You feel like telling me to go fuck myself, and you probably will, because it’s your character.

Zach: See you next Tuesday.

skin deep 1989

Skin Deep (1989)

What is it with Blake Edwards, weird beards, and unhealthy relationships with women? Because Blake couldn’t get enough of all these things in The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Burt Reynolds, he’s back to the grindstone with Skin Deep. John Ritter’s deeply troubling facial hair reflects the grotesque human that is Zach Hutton beneath the Jack Tripper skin.

I’m sorry. I’m not ready to move on yet. It’s just such an awkward length. No one grows a beard like that, a don’t tell me it was just “the 80’s” and shrug.

skin deep 1989

A Skin Deep Story

John Ritter plays an unrepentant alcoholic womanizer who says he wants to change but does everything he can to preserve his selfish, self-destructive ways. He compulsively chases every pretty skirt, his wife leaves him, his agent’s dying, and he gets arrested for drunk driving on the average Tuesday.  It’s Clean & Sober (1988) or Leaving Las Vegas (1995) wrapped in screwball gift wrap.

John Ritter vs. Burt Reynolds

The differences in John Ritter being a huge dick and Burt Reynolds being a womanizing asshole boasts so many unsubtle nuances. While I like Ritter in most everything, he’s a little out of his element here. His travails feel utterly pathetic rather than symptomatic. Skin Deep doesn’t do enough to differentiate his legitimate metal illness from his leering, roguish tendencies. At a certain point Skin Deep can’t even highlight any of the character’s redeeming qualities.

The viewer must believe that women cannot resist Ritter’s Zach — that their attraction to him occurs at such a primal level that his face value inadequacies fail to pose obstacle to copulation or god forbid, a relationship. We don’t, and yet every single woman that crosses his path cannot help but be pulled into his black hole. He’s amiable, but he’s no Rudolph Valentino… or Burt Reynolds.

That said, the movie still has something to say about alcoholism. It’s just buried a little bit deeper than you would have liked. Blake Edwards has attempted to delve into the unrepentant mind of the alcoholic through a haze of farce and bleak humor all while serving up a puerile and unlikable anti-hero.

Skin Deep’s Redemption

The women needed more time to become human rather than brief caricatures and conquests. Even the woman that’s supposed to ultimately change his life feels like a cardboard standup that walked out of Blockbuster Video. It’s a scriptural-level problem that will cause many people to tune out before the 30-minute mark. No amount of Ritter charm could make that completely palatable.

If you can overcome a rough start, the movie offers a few base pleasures, namely one truly inspired comedic set piece. Zach overcomes his crippling erectile dysfunction by turning his penis into a lightsaber. It’s true. This happens.

The bit reminds us all that Blake Edwards had some creative demons, but we reaped the benefits of that mania though the beauty of glow-in-the-dark penile slapstick.

Get it? Slap. Stick? Oh never mind.

Skin Deep Final Thoughts

I hadn’t caught up with Skin Deep until this #Watch1989 exercise because it’s just never seen much fanfare. It certainly wasn’t a film I caught at the Multiplex during it’s theatrical run and it’s never received a Blu-ray release. Skin Deep has its proponents, but there’s not a lot here to recommend over a dozen other movies that dare explore the effects of alcoholism on-screen.

And yet.

There’s just enough that works beyond glow-in-the dark penises to warrant a watch. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the movie dishes out a number of quotable exchanges and enough Ritter charm to smooth out the roughest edges. It might be personally damning, but if I’d seen this movie at a more formative age, I have no doubt I’d be a Skin Deep fan.

Skin Deep is available to view on Amazon Prime Streaming.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

1989 Flashback: The Dream Team

Billy: We’re a special combat unit looking for some Libyan terrorists. In fact, I think we have them cornered at a bagel shop across the street. Now if we could just get some pants for the colonel.

Army Surplus Store Owner: Give me a break.

Billy: Alright, we’re four escaped lunatics.

Army Surplus Store Owner: This I believe.

the dream team 1989

The Dream Team (1989)

Few movies and actors stand out as representatives of the 1989 movie scene more directly than The Dream Team and Michael Keaton. Keaton, of course, would don the Batman cowl later this very same year.

Released April 7th, 1989, The Dream Team met with modest reviews and a lukewarm box office. It finished second behind Major League for the week and went on to take a total of $28million in 7 weeks in release.

Contemporaneous critics considered it One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-Lite and even in 1989 cited its flippant attitudes toward mental health and treatment. Even as they wagged their fingers, critics like the curmudgeonly Vincent Canby appreciated “the talents of the principal performers.”

Michael Wilmington of the Lost Angeles Times hit a home run with the following observation:

The union of four oddballs–rebel-writer, obsessive noodge, religious fanatic and couch potato–is almost too schematic, as if the writers were somehow trying to define ’80s dissidence. But even though you can predict virtually everything that happens from the first five minutes on, the director and actors manage to hook you in.

Howard Zieff’s The Dream Team doesn’t do anything that hasn’t already been done and done better, but there’s something about the film that resonates with fans despite the obvious, face-value criticisms.

the dream team 1989

The Dream Team Story

Dr. Weitzman, a psychiatrist working in a New Jersey sanitarium, takes his four primary patients on a field trip to the Yankees game, but along the way he accidentally stumbles upon two crooked cops as they murder a fellow officer. He’s assaulted and knocked into a coma. Now stranded in New York City on their own, the patients must work together despite their differences and relative inefficiencies to find their doctor and protect him from the cops that want to eliminate the final witness to their nefarious doings.

The Dream Team Cast

Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, Christopher Lloyd and Stephen Furst turn an average script about “runaway” mental patients with a predictable narrative into something warm and comfortable.

The appeal is not just watching these eminent characters each given the green light to chew scenery under the guise of mental instability (although one can’t help but enjoy that aspect of the production). The real appeal of The Dream Team might just be the way these actors make us feel just by being on screen together.

the dream team 1989

Part of this belongs in the realm of extratextual nostalgia for each of their careers. Keaton, Boyle, Lloyd and Furst have been given characters that tap into themes and elements from past performances. That “nostalgia factor” can’t be discounted. They are also merely talented comedic and dramatic actors who understand that the art of playing broad comedy isn’t inherently connected to playing loud and louder.

Even Michael Keaton, whose character Billy Caufield displays violent tendencies, turns it off at a moment’s notice (which makes you think it’s mostly just an act to escape a world that just sucks a little bit too much). He’s introduced, in fact, as he plays ping-pong with a patient named Kenny who can’t move his paddle fast enough to make contact with even the slowest volley. It’s played for a laugh, but Billy displays empathy. There’s even a callback later when he makes sincere mention that he’s going to be disappointed to miss his regular ping-pong date.

“If you ever work up a serve to go with that backhand it’s going to be a dark day in Peking, baby,” he says after Kenny once again fails to return his very easy serve. These are jokes — yes — but they’re not the point-and-laugh kind of gag, and I think that’s an important distinction.

Each of these actors plays caricature, but with a tether to regular human compassion. Christopher Lloyd ends up doing the bulk of the heavy lifting when he’s faced with returning to his family to ask for help. He’s shut himself off because he’s embarrassed and expects they’ll all have moved on without him. The movie slows and among the chaos, a quiet moment of insight and relatively fragile emotion.

Without the abilities of Keaton, Lloyd and Boyle, there’s nothing holding together the erratic tone of the film. I don’t want to sell the small moments as anything approaching the level of dramatic profundities. They’re drama among swirling chaos, but the imbalance somehow contributes to a more complete whole.

The Dream Team’s view on mental illness, though…

Jon Connolly and David Loucka’s script provides a safe playing field for the mass consumption of mental illness. While One Flew Over attempts to humanize patients without scrubbing them clean, The Dream Team presents average humans with a slightly more drastic case of offbeat. Michael Keaton spins compulsive lies and flies off handle. Peter Boyle rebels against corporate America by becoming a nudist born-again Christian. Christopher Lloyd just wants things in their right place. Stephen Furst has insulated himself from the world by quoting baseball commentary. In another movie, they’d just be colorful eccentrics without agency. This narrative, however, forces agency.

The movie has no interest in delving into mental illness on a serious level. I’ve seen casual condemnations of the film suggesting that it undermines the very foundation of the mental health industry. While I understand the frame of reference that would lead someone to make this kind of assertion, I can’t take such a thing seriously when the film offers caricature and innocent humor at the expense of grim reality. The Dream Team plainly recalls One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it has no interest in anything other than escapism, which it does at no one’s specific expense (except maybe some misguided psychiatrists).

The Dream Team in 1989

Let’s return to my introductory thought that The Dream Team is a movie that represents the moviegoing year at large. 1989 remains a year best known for the movie events of the summer — Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, and, of course, Batman. Those movies didn’t define 1989 in my mind, however. The movies that slipped between the first-run cracks defined 1989.

UHF, Tango & Cash, Major League, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Weekend at Bernie’s, Say Anything, Troop Beverly Hills — lesser budgeted Hollywood fare that didn’t make waves at the box office but ultimately found a devoted and lasting audience. As the last gasp of the 1980’s, the year offered audiences so much more beyond the tentpole productions. The greatest tragedy is that none of these movies would actually be made in 2019.

The Dream Team Final Thoughts

Though this isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as I remembered, I’m drawn more to the moments when The Dream Team becomes an somewhat quietly effective drama amidst the face-value silliness — and that it works at all feels somewhat miraculous, if not held together with spit, duct tape and Michael Keaton hyperbole.

Christopher Lloyd, most notably, provides this balance and he’s probably not given enough credit when Boyle and Keaton are blustery forces of nature. And maybe this is nostalgia talking, but I’m not here to dissect Hollywood’s treatment of mental illness. I’m only here because The Dream Team still resonates as a feel-good, low-aspiration comedy and a showcase for three brilliant comedic actors.

The Dream Team is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

1989 Flashback: Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects

[after making the pimp named Duke swallow a diamond-encrusted watch]

Duke: I’m dying!

Lieutenant Crowe: No, you’re not… But you are gonna have to stick your head between your legs to tell the time.

kinjite 1989

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989)

I’m certainly capable of acknowledging some of the more problematic aspects of older films with regards to their treatment of gender and race. Without getting into a much broader philosophical debate about placing films in their appropriate context, some movies are merely a reflection of contemporaneous pre-evolved attitudes and some movies are just plain gross.

Welcome to Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects — where the population of Asians becomes a scourge on Los Angeles and the only man standing between your daughter and child prostitution is Charles Bronson.

Kinjite’s “Perspective”

Released on February 3rd, 1989, the ninth and final collaboration between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson requires a bit more editing to make the 67-year-old Bronson a believable action hero. As part of his character makeup, Bronson’s Lieutenant Crowe is a xenophobic revenge-filled vigilante surrounded by lunatics with even more warped frames of references.

And to showcase exactly how warped this movie’s point of view is, I’d like to highlight one particular scene. Crowe confesses to his captain that he’s off his A-game because some sombitch oriental  molested his daughter on a bus. The captain, straight out of the angry-for-no-reason police captain playbook, goes off his rocker. He tells Crowe about how his “nephew Stevie was touched by a priest in choir practice. NOW WHAT THE HELL’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH YOUR WORK?”

Why is that dialogue in your movie? Not even the “It was the 80’s!” defense can make that okay. That wasn’t ever okay! None of it, but then again, the movie never actually ties up that molestation thread because it doesn’t think so much of it either. Like the police captain, Kinjite suggests “Hey, this daily mistreatment of women doesn’t much matter because THERE ARE MINORS BEING KIDNAPPED AND FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION.”

Just to clarify, while we all believe that just because one is totally heinous that doesn’t absolve the relatively lesser, but still abhorrent, sin, right? I’m not insane here.

Kinjite’s Story

Bronson’s hot on the trail of a pimp by the name of Duke who runs a child prostitution ring. Now Duke’s not Asian (he’s reliable bad-guy character actor Juan Fernández) and Duke’s crew is mostly black so at least the movie spreads around it’s racism.

The movie’s focus on the growing Asian influence in southern California seems ancillary to the premise of the film. The movie borrows the Japanese term “kinjite” for the title. There’s also that aforementioned secondary narrative about how it’s apparently permissible to molest women on public transportation — specifically in Japan. Due to their culture of shame they won’t speak out. None of this, however, ties directly into Crowe’s vendetta against Duke.

If the kidnapping and ultimate “rescue” of a Japanese girl from Duke’s clutches intends to soften our protagonist, there’s no on-screen evidence to suggest his newfound appreciation of cultural diversity. He’s just satisfied that he’s achieved his goal of putting baddies behind bars.

Kinjite: A Verdict

Though a dud at the box office (for good reason), Kinjite offers viewers a few lasting images in exchange suffering through the gross bits and hackneyed Golan-Globus dialogue.

Charles Bronson waves around a dildo for a brief moment in the opening scene and later makes Duke swallow a massive watch. He accidentally drops a perpetrator off a balcony because he’s wearing fancy loose boots. When he gives Duke some “poetic justice” by gleefully walking the “pretty boy” into prison, Danny Trejo makes an early film appearance as one of the very hardened catcalling inmates excited to welcome their new friend.

Like I said – gross.

1989 Flashback: Deepstar Six

Well, at least Snyder will get his name in the Guinness book of records. I mean, causing two nuclear explosions in one afternoon has to be some sort of record.

deepstar six poster

DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six has the distinct honor of being the first “terror from the deep” film to reach the 1989 box office — making Leviathan, The Evil Below, The Rift and The Abyss nothing more than simpleminded pretenders to the throne… of first into the water. DeepStar Six is the jerk kid that yells, “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg!” as he’s already jumping into the lake.

In its rush to grace theater screens, DeepStar Six forgot a few key elements of narrative film. Namely script… and characters… and originality. The dialogue’s trash, and producer/director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th, House) cast so many of “that guy” and “that girl” in supporting roles that he forgot to cast charismatic leads. While amiable and easy on the eyes, Greg Evigan and Nancy Everhard would be a good choice to carry a CBS drama that’s cancelled after 13 episodes.

DeepStar Six arrived early to the party, but that doesn’t do anyone any favors in 2019. There would have been a splash of novelty in January of 1989 — but from our perspective, Cunningham’s underwater thriller feels like bilious regurgitation.

The DeepStar Six Story (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before)

An experimental U.S. Navy deep sea laboratory surveys the ocean shelf, researching the potential for underwater colonization methods and installing a nuclear missile storage platform. The 11 crew members have one week left on their tour of duty when they discover a massive system of caverns beneath the planned site. Crotchety project manager (Marius Weyers) wants the cavern detonated and filled in order to proceed on schedule. Wide-eyed scientist (Nia Peeples) wants to study the potentially untouched ecosystem inside.

deepstar six 1989

The detonation causes a massive fissure in the ocean floor, unleashing a beast from the deep who consumes and torments the DeepStar Six residents (notable among them: Taurean Blacque, Miguel Ferrer, Matt McCoy, Cindy Pickett).

And Yet, A Reason to Watch DeepStar Six

Aside from playing “Let’s Remember From Where We Know That Actor Without Using Our Phones,” DeepStar Six gives movie fans reason to queue it up.

If we write off the film’s turpitudinous screenplay (which does indeed torment unnecessarily) as a sunk cost, practical effects fans will enjoy the budget-conscious model work and creature effects. Cunningham attempted to spin his success with Friday the 13th into a similarly-styled underwater slasher film. Low budget thrills and water-based filming, however, generally make unpleasant bedfellows. The suspense elements just don’t work — largely because we’re not given reason to care about these people.

deepstar six 1989

If viewers stick around for the film’s finale, however, they’ll be treated to a course in the budget-conscious deployment of a practical effects monster. (The creature itself looks like an underwater version of the Graboids from Tremors.)

In a masterful thriller like Jaws, Spielberg manages to hide the shark as much as possible while achieving maximum bang for a relatively minor buck. Even the most cursory search uncovers stories about how Spielberg maintained the illusion of reality despite repeated shark failures. DeepStar Six, due to its lack of mastery, telegraphs its shortcomings. Notable absence and notable success show like neon seams binding the special effects to the rest of the film.

deepstar six

DeepStar Six, A Verdict

There’s an old mantra that you learn more about the creative arts by studying bad examples than you do good ones. I believe this to be 100% true, but you have to study the good ones first to recognize the how/when something fails. Jaws works so beautifully as suspense that the film never severs the viewer connection to the screen. You’ll never know what didn’t quite work.

No punches pulled, DeepStar Six doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the actors to sell the illusion and it doesn’t have the money to distract from the acting with glorious effects. It does, however, showcase how Cunningham went about hiding the creature until absolutely necessary. He used sound and shadow and restraint to maximize an $8million budget, and I know some big budget filmmakers who could take a few of these tips to heart. A few of DeepStar Six‘s dollars should have been reallocated to script development. That would have been the wisest of all uses.

DeepStar Six is available to view on Amazon Prime Streaming.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

1989 Flashback: Gleaming the Cube

I don’t know what’s worse: getting blown up in nuclear war or having a 7-11 on every corner.

gleaming the cube poster

In my effort to watch movies from 1989 (because 30th anniversary) that I missed the first time around, I rattled the streaming services to see what shook down. Not to steal the 80s All Over podcast thunder  — but I definitely don’t plan to watch everything from 1989. They’re doing the heavy lifting, I’m just doing a couple squats and calling it a day.

I have a weakness for 80’s counterculture movies and Christian Slater; therefore, it’s inexplicable that I’d never sat down with Gleaming the Cube until now.

We’re Surrounded by Gleaming the Cube and We Don’t Even Know It

Released on January 13th, 1989 in 469 theaters at a time when everyone was watching Rain Man and any other movie might as well just bugger off — Gleaming the Cube made only $2.7million at the box office. It gained more life on home video and cable replays on USA Network and has become a cultural touchstone for young skaters everywhere. References to the film have appeared in The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, South Park, The Goldbergs, The Lego Batman Movie and even the new Netflix Voltron series.

gleaming the cube

Christian Slater plays Brian Kelly, a 16-year-old skateboarder who takes it upon himself to investigate the death of his adopted Vietnamese brother after the police rule his death a suicide. Brian and his anti-establishment skater friends take down Cali-based international arms dealers by being punk as hell and now kowtowing to the man.

And that’s all you really need to know. Brian falls for a girl, gets dismissed for being a social misfit, and ultimately proves that despite his outward IDGAF appearance, he’s not the zero that everyone thinks. While the narrative feels trite and advances predictably, there’s a well-intentioned heart to the film that embraces the social consequences of being anti-establishment. I don’t want to oversell the film’s profundities, but Gleaming the Cube masks a certain amount of intelligence behind its caricature-laden and simpleminded facade — perfectly paralleling the plight of its main character.

gleaming the cube

I don’t know if director Graeme Clifford had such ambitions in mind for this teen drama, but I also can’t immediately discount him as someone who stumbled into relative creative success. Frances, his first feature, garnered Academy Award nominations for Lead Actress (Jessica Lang) and Supporting Actress (Kim Stanley). The biopic of Frances Farmer immediately preceded a couple episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. After Gleaming the Cube? A wasteland of Kirstie Alley and made-for-TV movies.

Gleaming the Cube Verdict

Kinda dumb, but dumb in a way that seems to be intentionally masking some intentioned ideas about counter/teen culture. The bevy of talented skaters/stuntmen include Tony Hawk and Mike McGill and even though I don’t follow skating I’m familiar with these two titans of the sport. As a result the skating scenes aren’t just cursory exercises — they’re carefully plotted and performed. There’s a reason Gleaming the Cube continues to inspire skateboarders in 2019.

You can’t deny the charisma of late 80’s/early 90’s Christian Slater. He’s a potent screen presence because he rides a line between a little bit dangerous and totally relatable. Although he’d already appeared in some prestige movies like The Name of the Rose and Tucker: A Man and His Dream, Gleaming the Cube gave Slater a chance to be his own thing — a thing that he would perfect later on in 1989 in Heathers and Pump Up the Volume (1990).

Gleaming the Cube is available on Amazon Prime Streaming. Unfortunately there’s no Blu-ray or HD version available.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.