Dave's Movie Hall of Fame: April '18

Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey

Clerks (1994)

I was in my teens when I discovered punk rock. There was something in the unrefined music and sharp tongued vocals that got me right in the guts and forever changed the way I looked at life. Few films capture the same feeling and raw energy of a punk record as Clerks does so completely. Underneath the stripped down, rough exterior there’s a vitality, a need to exist, to speak ugly truths with sardonic laughter, and to rise above. I grew up in the suburbs, there are convenience stores that were like second homes to me, and I’ve spent most of my time hanging with friends ranting about pop culture. When I saw the characters in this film I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I know these guys.’ They’re middle class losers with attitude who haven’t figured themselves out. Kevin Smith was able to capture these characters and their world with genuine authenticity because he’s one of them. This is straight from the source cultural art, not the artificially flavored Hollywood representation. As a result this film still holds up, just like those old punk records, and where others might see garbage some of us find ourselves.

 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Between 1974 and 1994 John Carpenter made some of my all time favorite films. This revolutionary 20 year body of work shows a fearlessness of craft attacking a wide range of gerne, often blending together elements to a level unprecedented prior to his groundbreaking career. Here he does a fantasy martial arts comedy originally written as a western but extensively reworked into the modern day by the director of Buckaroo Banzai. A born cult classic, unique both in style and tone (more than half of which was appropriated for the video game series, Mortal Kombat). It stars Kurt Russell, one of Carpenter’s best collaborators, as loudmouth truck driver Jack Burton, who Russell plays entirely in a John Wayne impersonation. As Carpenter put it, Jack is a sidekick who thinks he’s the hero, and it’s the central joke of the movie. It’s one of those movies that when I bring it up, if people know it, they either roll these eyes and go, “That movie is so stupid,” or they slam their fist on the table and shout, “Hell yeah, Big Trouble in Little China!” It’s highly imaginative, weird as all out, packed full of dumb jokes, and you either get it or you don’t.

 

Clue (1985)

The idea of a board game where you solve a murder mystery captured my imagination as a child. Unfortunately the mechanics of the classic Parker Brothers game are a bit simplistic and left me wanting for something far more complex. (I didn’t find those games until I got older.) The premise still engaged me, though. A group of people arrive at a mansion, someBODY drops dead, and they have to find out which of them did it. Things certainly could get complicated, or, in the case of the 80s film, they could get increasingly more absurd. Written by John Landis, who proved his knack for morbid humor with An American Werewolf in London, and featuring a great cast that includes Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, and punk rock frontman Lee Ving, they realized the loose concept provided by the game translated perfectly into a theatrical farce. I love it when things get exaggerated to where they are completely beyond belief, and this is a film that goes from the characters freaking out about one murder to shrugging off a dead body on the doorstep saying, “Better throw it in the lounge with the others.” It’s actually not a bad mystery either, with it’s “Clues” weaved in throughout the movie to be resolved in three different possible endings. That you can figure out who’s committing the murders by which of the ensemble cast is missing or late to a scene still fascinates me and makes me laugh at the same time.The dialog is not only fantastically witty, but also serves to obscure the characters’ motives in a political blackmail plot. Remember, “Communism was just a Red Herring.”

 

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

Like any good American Monster Kid I cut my teeth for horror on Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Essentially stealing their act from Abbott and Costello, the original 1969 -70 series captured a magic that has stuck with generations of young viewers. And while, yes, as the joke goes the show taught us that the real monsters are always humans, there were those of us, like me, who always wanted to see the gang come up against an actual supernatural threat. Nearly 30s after their creation we got our wish. Somewhere along the line Hanna-Barbera got picked up by Warner Bros. and by the late 90s were all but absorbed by the parent company, and it was at that time that they went into production on what would be a series of direct-to-video features where Scooby and the gang came up against Real Monsters! The first (and the best!) of these was Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. At the time this was the darkest Scooby adventure that had ever been presented. Not only did it employ more mature horror tropes from movies I was far too young to have seen yet, but you have to remember, this was before zombies became the staple of pop culture that they are today, and their core market still had quite an edge, so seeing the gang come up against the rotting undead was kinda gruesome. Truth is this was my first zombie film! I was ten years old and completely obsessed. I can still remember carrying around the plastic clamshell VHS case just staring at the cover and letting my imagination go wild. I still have that original copy, too.

 

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

A latecomer to the cycle of major Vietnam War pictures saw Kubrick more focused on the psyche of modern soldiers than moral quandaries over the war itself. Broken into two parts all but completely dominated by the first half that leaves the second feeling like a less coherent epilogue. While technically told from the point of view of a character called “Pvt. Joker” the true star of the film, whose voice will permanently etched in your memory, is the drill sergeant played by real life marine veteran R. Lee Ermey. Ermey’s shouted tirades, written and improvised by Ermey himself, are simultaneously hilarious and authentically unnerving. The conflict that arises between his character and the dough faced “Pvt. Gomer Pyle”, remarkably portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio, is the highlight of the film. It’s a much more interesting conflict than a hero vs. villain conflict. It’s a function vs. human experience conflict that asks if the ends justify the means. Ermey’s character is there to turn the soft boy into a hardened marine, but the put-upon nature of the training and the isolated targeting of Pyle breaks the boy. In effect Ermey’s character succeeds, Pyle becomes a hardened soldier, but there’s nothing left of the boy we saw when his training began. It’s a dramatic loss of innocence arch that ultimately sees the destruction of the character mentally, and then physically. The powerful, if lopsided film, becomes an effective statement not on the Vietnam War, but on poisonous mentorship and the psychology of making boys into weapons of war. Towards this point the film ends with a surreal scene of soldiers marching across a burning battlefield while singing the theme to The Mickey Mouse Club.

 

*Bonus Short: Hunting - That ‘70s Show (2000)

I grew up with this show through my early teens. Sitcoms were a staple of family viewing; we would often watch them together, but there were my older siblings shows, my parents shows, and this my show. It was the first show I collected on DVD and I have no idea how many times I’ve watched through the series, especially seasons 1-5. Different points of the stories have stuck with me in one way or another, the relationship between Eric and his father, Red, standing out amongst them. The usual “Eric at odds with Red’s tough love” routine is nicely contrasted by occasional scenes of the two of them bonding or understanding each other better. One of the earlier, and best, examples of this contrast came in this episode from the second season. Red and Eric spend a good portion of the episode sitting in a deer blind just talking. When a deer shows Red wants Eric to take the shot, which Eric misses. Red then spends the next several minutes mocking Eric for missing a perfectly clear shot, until the boy gets so fed up he points out distant targets and shows his father he really does know how to shoot and that he missed the deer intentionally. Red then surprises Eric by telling him that he respects his choice. It drives home a theme that while Red takes him to task for screwing up and generally acting like a dumbass, when Eric makes a choice and stands by it Red respects that. It greatly impressed me as a kid and is still one of the topmost scenes I think of from the show. I always appreciate it when shows are not only funny, but also have good character building moments that resonate with viewers. Oh, and when the deer came back around Red shot it.