Daddy-Batter Blues On The Wong Dong Trail
Now Playing: Frederick Delius--"Sleighride"
I've probably mentioned before that my critical love of the cinema came largely from the all-nighter movie fests held by my friends and I in high school and during summers home from college. It began on the cusp of the 1990s. I was terribly, terribly
excited about the death of the 1980s (and despite certain occasional nostalgic twinges, I'm still pretty sure I fel the right way at the time) and started to realize that I wanted more out of my pop culture than simple mindless consumption. I got the latest Leonard Maltin guide and started checking off the titles I'd seen and the ones that looked interesting, and then set to work. I flatter myself and my friends that we collected together a large selection of flicks, mostly older titles, if not exactly monuments of Hollywood's ostensible "Golden Age" from the 1930s-1950s (that would come later)--Shaft
, Flash Gordon
, Shaft's Big Score!
, Hercules Goes Bananas
, Conan The Barbarian
, The French Connection
, Dark Star
, Shaft In Africa
, and so on. We watched very little contemporary material, for reasons I thought I knew at the time but came to know much more fully this last weekend, one of the most entertaining on record.
My friends Tracy and Dan, who I met through Sara and who threw such a wonderful Halloween party last year
, decided to hold a movie sleepover in honor of Tracy's birthday. I hadn't done one of these, even alone, since the old movie fests, and was awfully enthusiastic about the idea. All the more so when I discovered it was to be a 1990s-themed party, with trivia games interspersed between barrages of goofy and at times deliciously sleazy cinematic fare. It was an inspired choice, particularly as the ongoing 80s-nostalgia industry would have us believe it was all John Hughes and sensitive, introspective loners who just needed to be understood. The final third of the decade usually gets left out of the equation.
I decided to make a banana-chocolate tart for the occasion.Banana-Chocolate Tart
1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar
3-5 ripe bananas
1 tart crust
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (which I forgot)
Make tart crust. What I usually do is mix 1 1/2 cups flour with a pinch of salt, manhandle a stick of butter into it until it's loosely clinging crumbs, and then slowly pour 1/3 cup ice water into it until the crumbs are moist and congealing. You're supposed to do this with a food processor, but I get pretty good results by hand. Roll it out and then into a 9-in. tart pan and cook it with foil for 15 mins. at about 350-400 degrees, then for 5 uncovered.
Melt chocolate and butter together (I did it in a microwave), then stir. Bring corn syrup and sugar to boil in heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Lower heat and cook, stirring for 2-3 mins. until sugar dissolves into syrup. Remove pot from heat. Slice bananas into 3/4 in. disks, and cover tart shell bottom with one layer (oh, that's what I did wrong!). Whisk the egg and egg yolk together, then whisk a third of the chocolate mixture into the eggs. Do very gradually because apparently the mixture could cook the eggs, thereby scrambling them, and you don't want that. Whisk in corn syrup mixture, then vanilla, until you've got a smooth-looking custard. Pour over bananas, put tart in oven, and bake for about 40-45 mins.
It was the first time I'd ever tried a sweet pastry of this kind apart from sugar cookies and oliebollen
, and it was rather fascinating to boil the corn syrup together with the sugar, later combining them with the chocolate-butter mixture and producing a kind of ganache to pour over the bananas. Either I didn't do something right or the recipe simply didn't allow for the proper amount of filling, because some of the bananas were still half-naked. Fortunately, that didn't seem to make much of a dent in the taste, which was excellent.
I walked over to their house Saturday evening, pausing along the way to take in a gorgeous post-twilight view from the Huron River bridge that crosses over from the Medical Campus. The sky stil hadn't completely clouded over, you could see Venus, and the medieval-looking buildings that lay along the ridge to the west gave a great Draculian feeling (prophetically enough) to the enterprise. On arrival, we had a rousing game of "Apples to Apples," and then got straight into it.Easy Wheels
(1989): A wolf-fetishist, female biker gang with a sideline in baby-snatching runs afoul of a male counterpart whose leader had some weird shit go down in 'Nam (the latter presided over by, of all people--I swear
!!!) and who spouts annoying existential love poetry which reminded me of Arcane's Nietszche-quoting henchmen in Swamp Thing
. There are some rather creative assumptions made about Iowa, very, very old female wolves who "talk" with male human voices (and grunting, at that), and a pair of relative star turns given by Eileen Davidson (of the multiple personalities on Days of Our Lives
some years back--"Stefano, he's King of the Vampahyers!!") and Paul LeMat (of American Graffiti
and Melvin and Howard
--nominated in the latter for an Oscar, if I remember right) as the gang's respective leaders. While not the best or most entertaining occult biker film ever made (for that
, see here
), this definitely had "spoof" written all over it. Unfortunately, it was one of those that just barely failed to pull it off, thereby transforming into the real thing.Cool As Ice
(1991): "Drop that zero and get with the hero!" This was initially the most exciting title of the evening, primarily due to the star billing of one-time singing sensation and man-hoochie Vanilla Ice. Even offering a summary of the plot just feels wrong
(although somebody actually made it work here
), but here goes: Ice plays "Johnny," a rapping biker who rolls into a sleepy Midwestern town and instantly starts making a play for a straight-arrow valedictorian. Her father (Michael Gross of Family Ties
, the poor bastard), naturally enough, is in the Witness Protection Program, and so Johnny gets to vanquish not only her asshole boyfriend but also the Grade-Z equivalents of Howard Stern and Joe Pesci from the same year's Home Alone
. Ice's performance is really just indescribable (paradoxically enough, in so many ways), although it reminded me of how much I used to love Leonard Maltin, as the review has this to say: "[Ice] does not exactly inspire memories of Ronald Colman." Strangely, this thing's cinematographer was Janusz Kaminski, who only two years later would win the Oscar for shooting Schindler's List
!!! That's a quality shift to rival Michael Reeves between The She-Beast
and The Sorcerers
.Leprechaun 4: In Space
(1996): Yes, "In Space" is really the subtitle. It's one of those Snakes on a Plane
things, where the title promises exactly what you end up getting. I've never seen any of the Leprechaun
movies, so this was a genuine eye-opener. The Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is stranded on a mysterious planet--in space
(it obviously doesn't do to ask too many questions)--with what appears to be a seductive dancing girl--who's really a princess
(again, doesn't do...)! Fortunately, a crack team of Space Marines turned mercenaries
(insert pre-existing disclaimer), sponsored by the deformed Mittenhand (Guy Siner, the fey Gruber of 'Allo, 'Allo
and General Ravon in the 1975 Doctor Who
classic "Genesis of the Daleks") arrive to make everything funnier. Weapons are fired, malevolent Irish sub-gnomes swim up electrical strams into human urethras in much the same way as those fish in the Amazon, there are sleazy not-quite sex scenes, bare breasts are shown (amusingly carrying an automatic death sentence)... in the end, it all boils down to there being a leprechaun in space, so complaining about anything pertaining to the movie just seems kind of gauche.
I dozed off through half of each of the next two movies--The Forbidden Dance
(1990) and Double Dragon
(1994). The first was the second of two lambada-centered movies that came out in as many years, and featured the very lovely Laura Herring (who'd go on to star in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive
fifteen years later--which I still haven't seen) as a princess from the Amazon who comes to L.A. to stop the evil developers from tearing down her rainforest, in the process bringing the lambada to the States, confronting anti-Hispanic racism, and acquiring a yanqui
boyfriend with stupid hair. I assume everything worked out, because I fell asleep halfway through the movie. There's not a whole lot to say about Double Dragon
--it's a movie based on a video game, and they aren't usually any good (Resident Evil
excepted, and not much). Admittedly, I'm not much of a gamer--I haven't really played since my brother still had his old Sega, and afterwards I never really felt the urge. I do wonder if Scott Wolf, on joining the cast of Everwood
, was hazed in any way by being made to watch his performance in Dragon
, because he's really very silly. His brother, incidentally, is played by future Brotherhood of the Wolf
star Mark Dascasos.9 1/2 Ninjas!
(1989): I'd taken a cursory glance at the back of the video (it did me a world of good to see that most of these movies, bless them, were still on good old VHS) to see the plot, but apparently I hadn't taken much of an interest. It was also five in the morning at this point, so I wouldn't have been greatly concerned at any rate. Expecting a cheesy martial-arts ripoff, I found myself utterly taken aback by one of the more genuinely surreal experiences I've had watching movies in some time. Ninjas!
is a parody of 9 1/2 Weeks
(which I haven't seen), but with ninjas. Like Vanilla Ice's performance in Cool As Ice
is indescribable. Unlike Vanilla Ice's performance in Cool As Ice
, I actually want
to describe Ninjas!
A ninja businessman
--Joe--falls into a nasty scheme by, yes, an evil developer, to evict Lisa, a cute girl he meets ("somebody's mom," and I wish I could remember who said that). Everything that happens afterward is just so weird
... Often very funny (with a few misfires, and the movie runs out of steam halfway, but just... weird
. High praise from this quarter, obviously.Die Hard Dracula
(1998): Fittingly, the prize for "weirdest movie" went to the final contender, which, astonishingly enough, has nothing to do with Die Hard
. Probably the weirdest thing about it is that it's all done on live-action video as opposed to film. At a time where I can hardly think of even any fictional TV shows that still do that, Die Hard Dracula
stands out in the strangest way. The result seems to be video of someone's European vacation (and there are some Romanian or Czech churchgoers in one early scene probably well-deserving of a Borat
-style lawsuit) mixed with some overwrought acting, school play-caliber set design (again, I wish I could remember who mentioned that), and near-softcore porn. We have a Mark of the Devil
-style narrated introduction that, because of Die Hard Dracula
's curious cinematography, resembles one of those late-80s proto-Discovery Channel documentaries of the kind prolific before the rise of Ken Burns. Then, a bunch of people in cast-off Renaissance Festival gear run around a castle only to encounter Count Dracula, who, in a stunning reversal of cultural assumptions, totally rocks this bloated Meat Loaf look (although they thankfully seemed to save a few bucks on his tuxedo shirt). Meanwhile, in the future
, a guy who looks like Hayden Christensen loses his girlfriend in a freak waterskiing accident and understandably decides to get over his grief by visiting that place in Europe with all the vampires. After moping around Prague for what seem like geological eons, he gets in a car accident in Moravia and very sensibly starts running as fast as he can away from the road
, to find a tavern in an "all mod cons" equipped village. The barmaid is the spitting image of his dead girlfriend. Van Helsing shows up (Bruce Glover, father of Crispin, who appeared in Chinatown
and who endeared himself to countless grateful generations of James Bond fans as Mr. Wynt in Diamonds Are Forever
, mincingly threatening Sean Connery), which is fine, since, ridiculous as this thing is, it's already
better than Van Helsing
(though probably about the same as Coppola's Dracula
). They chase Count Dracula. They bargain with Count Dracula. They attempt to kill Count Dracula. Count Dracula calls women "stupid broads." Count Dracula goes to the dentist
. Eventually, Die Hard Dracula
reduces the viewer to a state of shock. There are stupefyingly awful special effects, worse attempts at "comic relief" (the Hayden Christensen kid is particularly maladroit in this department), some decent nudity in the style of late-night TV ads ("Do you have trouble meeting people? Do you want to meet exciting people who can show you a good time? Call 1-900-DRACULA!
"), and a moronic ending that the filmmaker probably thought was daring but isn't (again, in so many ways). It's a wretched movie--there's really no getting away from that, but the scenery is sometimes gorgeous, there's at least one cool and genuinely scary scene towards the end, there's the sheer array of plot devices and decor (buried treasure, Dracula's ability with the ivories, the employment of safely public-domain orchestral music, including chestnuts like "The Blue Danube" and "Ride of the Valkyries" but more unusually Prokofiev's "Fanfare" from The Love For Three Oranges
) and the mere fact that this thing exists at all
is strangely inspiring; more than one person in the audience realized out loud that they
could make a movie, too, if something like Die Hard Dracula
saw the light of day (one could make the same argument for at least half the product coming out of Hollywood these days, but Die Hard Dracula
threw the whole thing into major relief).
The movies were chosen pretty much at random, but there were a few themes that unexpectedly cropped up or figured prominently in the plots or imagery--flipping the bird, a callous attitude towards the abandonment or sacrifice of children ("I can always have another son/child"), and especially the wearing of lacy, white, anti-erotically elaborate women's underwear--by women, though the bottoms bore a slight resemblance to codpieces--of the kind that can still occasionally be seen in the back pages of the Metro Times
. We all got several good laughs out of that, and there was a healthy creative energy to the weekend that lasted through breakfast at Big Boy, then a couple of brainstorming-type games back at Tracy and Dan's (resulting in the generation of at least one immortal catchphrase), and up to my return home, where I nearly ruined everything by watching Luis Bunuel's prestigious The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Last but not least, the people in the movies could do worse than to read this
Thanks, Tracy, Dan, Sara, Dug, Amanda, Olec, Dresden, Karen and Jason. Word to your mother