Legendary B-movie writer/producer/director Andy Sidaris mastered the art of turning picture perfect postcards into sweaty soft-core cinema. His lush widescreen images of natural beauty, mostly filmed on the various islands of Hawaii, are mere backgrounds for busty blondes in swimsuits toting machine guns and grenade launchers. Mixing outlandish violence, smooth sex scenes, and classic one-liners that would make Mr. Schwarzeneger jealous, Sidaris’ genre films cast Playboy Playmates as secret agents and spies caught up in lethal missions, albeit assignments that weren’t too dangerous for a sudden left turn into a night of delirious carnal pleasures. At their best, Sidaris’ films offer one implausible plot twist and seedy scenario after another, a volatile combination that ultimately gives these lowbrow action films a lasting identity…
I wonder what a He-Man tentpole film would look like in our current comic book-obsessed, event picture landscape we call modern-day Hollywood? Whatever direction the project would take (origin story; psychologically dark; epic CGI), there’s no way in hell it could resemble Gary Goddard’s jarring mix of corny screwball comedy and choppy action heroics, 1987’s Masters of the Universe. While time has not been kind to this blatantly ridiculous superhero film, it’s still refreshing to know that a “big budget” sci-fi saga based on a popular 1980s cartoon is this manic and strange, even going as far as making its ox of a star, bulging bicep titan He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), the lone voice of reason in a sea of obliviousness. Immediately after a crippling laser shootout occurs between the forces of Grayskull and the dark hooded stormtroopers employed by the evil dictator Skeletor (a masked Frank Langella), the sweaty He-Man tells his loyal brood Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher) and Teela (Chelsea Field) that “we’re all in this together.” I’m not sure what’s more hilarious, Lundgren’s wonderfully sincere line delivery or the fact that all of the other actors seem on the precipice of explosive laughter.
All of the recent Spielberg chatter inspired me to revisit one of the director’s earlier works. E.T. was the natural choice, mostly because it’s been more than a decade since my last viewing. I was immediately struck by the film’s organic examination of innocence and purity, a thematic cocktail that may feel sugary in this cynical day and age but really is something to cherish. I’d forgotten that E.T. is an unabashed kid flick, permanently rooted in the rush of emotions these young children experience on a moment to moment basis. The film asks the viewer to give in to its seamless rhythm, the children’s intoxicating conversations and the modes of communication they develop with E.T. For Spielberg, camaraderie and loyalty are more important than traditional plot devices.
E.T.‘s luminescent focus on wonderment and awe crescendos when Elliot looks over at E.T. slowly dying on the gurney, the boy’s eyes filling with the terror of imminent separation. This fascinating and draining moment encapsulates Spielberg’s motif of isolation and loneliness, a childhood fear he’s been examining throughout his filmography. A final note: Visually, much of E.T. is one long, fluid glide through exterior spaces, culminating in the fantastic bike sequence where federal agents chase Elliot et al. through a suburbia seemingly under permanent reconstruction.
Due to my extensive non-writing work schedule and too many concurring assignments, I was only able to attend four films at the year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival. Still, between Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai’s swoon-worthy Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s massively essential A City of Sadness, it was time well spent. I wrote up each screening over at The House Next Door.
This picture proves the existence of Cinema Hell. My first entry for Keith Uhlich and The House Next Door‘s great “Summer of…” series is the impressively not-so-great Howard the Duck. Duck soup anyone? Review.