Tag Archives: 80s flashback

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.

 

 

 

1989 Flashback: The January Man

Nick Starkey : Frank, I got one thing to say to you, and it’s hard but I gotta say it. And if you can accept it, a lot of other shit’s gonna fall into place. Frank, Mom loved me more than you. That’s why I took the fall for you, Frank.

Frank Starkey : I wish you’d just fuckin’ die.

John Patrick Shanley’s Joe Versus the Volcano changes lives. No hyperbole. Just the facts. People who love Joe Versus the Volcano, myself included, speak of the film in spiritual ways. Shanley, a successful playwright, dabbled in Hollywood by way of winning the Academy Award for Moonstruck (1987) in 1988.

The little golden statue allowed him some room for experimentation. As a result, in 1989, MGM dared to make a noirish, romantic-comedyish, serial killer movie called The January Man. Despite starring the then red-hot Kevin Kline, fresh off A Fish Called Wanda (1988), The January Man made only $4million at the box office.

The ever gregarious New York Times critic Vincent Canby proclaimed: “The January Man is well titled. It’s a big-budget mainstream production that, in spite of its first-rate writer, director and cast, manages to fail in just about every department. It couldn’t have stood up to the competition from the slightly less bad films released in December.”

Vincent Canby and Bosley Crowther in their office at the New York Times.

Regarding The January Man, I agree with Statler and Waldof

In my mind, Vincent Canby’s either the Statler or Waldorf of film criticism, but in this instance he’s not spitting wildly over the microphone as he works himself into a froth (as I’d imagine him if he were podcasting all his reviews). It’s rather clear that what appears on screen couldn’t have been Shanley’s original vision — that the producers of the film didn’t trust a wild-eyed young buck that had a mind for merging mismatched genres in an anti-hero and social misfit named Nick Starkey.

Scandalized and disgraced former NYPD detective takes his wild, self-destructive talents to the fire department before being called back into service by his jerk-store police commissioner brother (Harvey Keitel) and the mayor (Rod Steiger). Apparently Nick’s the only man smart enough to catch a devious serial killer murdering socialites. And apparently his brother married Nick’s ex-girlfriend (Susan Sarandon), for which Nick still harbors emotions. Police Chief Alcoa (Danny Aiello) hates Nick’s laissez faire attitude, but goes along with the reinstatement because the mayor says. Nick’s painter friend (Alan Rickman) comes along as his assistant, because in this New York City even the comedic relief are more capable of solving crimes than the police commissioner. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio pops into the picture as friend of one of the victims and practically serves as the romantic interest that gets Nick’s eyes off his brother’s woman.

Together the trio of amateur sleuths recognize that the police are barking up the wrong leads. When they arrest the wrong man, the powers-that-be close the case. Nick, however, believes the killer will strike again unless he takes matters into his own hands. Tune in for amazing on-screen 1989 computer computations, underdeveloped subplots and characters played by major actors that just disappear.

Finesse, Lost in The January Man

John Patrick Shanley’s script aims for dark thriller with light comedy and some romantic melodrama and sometimes it works and most of the time it really doesn’t. But it could have. It’s like you set up the board for a game of Clue, placed all the pieces and then chucked the board. (I’m sure that’s a perfectly clear metaphor.)

Without knowing anything about the production (because nobody proliferated Interwebs with minutiae in 1989), The January Man feels like a movie that had a killer script and somewhere along the way a “committee” got ahold of it and made it palatable for the lowest common denominator. They didn’t understand the quirks and redlined what would have made it unique. Kline’s disgraced former police officer turned fireman and painter Alan Rickman make for a fun pair of non-detectives solving crimes, but alas, it should have been so much more. Ideas are all over this movie — all setups without punchlines. It’s a 97-minute act two. Everyone other than Kline feels like wallpaper, and the murderer doesn’t even reach wallpaper status. (Does that make him shelf paper?)

The January Man probably claims the most DNA in common with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an off-kilter murder mystery that wanders off in strange and unusual ways. Mismatched buddy cops. Love interests. Odd twists. Embrace the script at the level of character and let these characters find their own way — quirks, messiness and all. Shane Black knew how to direct a Shane Black script. Meanwhile Pat O’Connor (Circle of Friends) had absolutely no idea what to do with a John Patrick Shanley script other than herd it into a boilerplate serial killer movie.

God bless you, Alan Rickman.

The January Man Verdict

With a cast featuring Kline, Rickman (fresh off his breakthrough in Die Hard), Susan Sarandon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Danny Aiello, Harvey Keitel and Rod Steiger, a viewer could almost weep for the movie that never was. Sarandon’s character clearly hit the cutting room floor — but structurally her role (like many other elements we’ll never know about) colored outside the lines.

Kevin Kline’s Nick Starkey was meant to be a portrait of a man, wronged by the institution and his family, with an acerbic sense of humor. He’s not outwardly angry about his unfortunate fall from grace, he’s just going through life as best he can, which is to say, emotionally stunted and free from material distraction. At home only among his eccentricities and his oddball friends. These filmmakers took all that messiness and all those rough edges and tried to sand them down into something that would make sense for everyone. As a result, none of it makes sense. We laughed a bit but mostly scratched our heads and wondered what else we missed.

At this point in his career, Kline’s a legitimate movie star on the verge of being a superstar. Leading man charisma, a devilishly handsome mustache and easygoing charm. He deserved a movie that embraced his ability to play light but be dark and brooding beneath the facade. Audiences may not have known what to do with John Patrick Shanley’s original vision for The January Man (and it may not have made any more money) but at least we could have held it up as an underappreciated genre-bending thriller that dared to be unique and eccentric.

The January Man might not be perfect but there’s enjoyable characters buried in a haphazard mess of a movie. The January Man is available on Blu-ray from Kino Studio Classics.

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.