COMPILED BY ERIX ANTOINE
It was only a matter of time…
The B Action Movie Thread has been a gargantuan mainstay of this site for several years. So, in our continued efforts to dominate the internet in every conceivable way, here is a weekly column. A digest, if you will. Dig in and we’ll see you in the thread!
THIS WEEK ON THE B ACTION MOVIE THREAD (Last Week’s Installment)
Mike here bringing you the best in slam-bangin’, pistol-packin’ greatness from the B Action Movie Thread. This week, our chronicles span from page 1423 to 1427.
Jox drops some hints on the much anticipated Universal Soldier IV (this would be the third or sixth film has well, depending on your views):
I got a hold of a…synopsis…it should be pretty badass, with JC being his “rogue” mode as he was in the last 20 mins of US3, Dolph having a way more important part (euphemism) with a twist that could turn quite awesome if they do it right….
Last week, the teaser for Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian reboot debuted to much chagrin, even Rene, who caught it prior to Battle: Los Angeles. It prompts him to reiterate his love for the very unloved Conan the Destroyer:
Everyone dismisses it because it’s PG and has a lot of comedy. It’s a big step down from the R-rated first one. I agree that it’s a lot of fun. Plus Arnold’s sidekick is Tracey Walter, and it’s got Grace Jones bearing her teeth like a feral cat and talking about just taking a man when she wants one. The Returning Mako is most welcome, and the Dagoth creature is a great man in a suit creation. Can’t forget about another great Basil Poledouris score either. Another rousing action score from the man.
Oh yeah, and Mr. I fucked more women than the entire male porn actor population, Wilt Chamberlain.
Just when you think this is the work of a solitary madman, S.D. Bob Plissken chimed in that he agrees. Plus, how can you hate a movie that has this?
In true B Action tradition, we also debate Wilt Chamberlain’s claim of having 20,000 romantic conquests.
Erix reminds us that Arnold Schwarzenegger directed this in the early 90’s:
Moltisanti’s Jackass 3D review: That sweat cocktail. Holy Jesus.
Carrying over from last week’s column, page 1424 features a lengthy discussion on the Punisher. The big news is that our friend Jox forwarded last week’s installment to the film’s director, veteran editor Mark Goldblatt, who had this to say on our work:
Thank you so much for sending this on to me. It’s pretty wonderful to read these reviews of THE PUNISHER. Lots of fans seem to like it these days, and that certainly makes me happy. Now if we could only find a way to get it remastered for dvd…………………Doesn’t seem so easy.
You know what that means, boys! Time to start cracking on getting our big Blu-ray special edition!
There’s this vintage commercial for the NES game…
Thoughts on the video games the character has inspired:
Moltisanti: Kingpin was a real tough cookie to crumble in that game.
BubWilliams: …the PS2 game is the best. It’s got the violence/blood, Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti script, and not mention Thomas Jane voicing the Punisher. It’s a shame there hasn’t been a sequel to that … I still pop it in the old PS2 and play it every now and then. I actually finally got 100% on it last year, it was that damn challenge where you have to kill Jigsaw without being hit, it was a bitch.
PragmaticPriest: I’ve owned the NES Punisher game for years. I actually dedicated a couple of days 4 years ago to finally beat that damn game. There were still grenades and extra lives when the Kingpin went down. The game was really ahead of it’s time with the over the shoulder perspective instead of just crosshairs. I didn’t really play another great over the shoulder game until Resident Evil 4 showed up.
Rene: I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the PS2 Punisher game. That’s a lot of fun. Especially after the game is finished and you can go back to different levels and use the various guns in the Armory. Some of which weren’t available in every level … I haven’t played it in a while, but I think some time this week I’m going to pop it in my 60GB PS3 and have some fun. I’ll have to add in my stuff from my memory cards so I can already have the full armory intact and have a lot of fun.
Jason Statham’s busy 2011 slate is discussed, including the debut of a red band trailer for his film Blitz as well as his project with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro (!!!!), The Killer Elite (sadly not a remake of the Peckinpah film which *could* use a revisit).
We’re crushed to hear that The A-Team won’t be getting a sequel, but Duke Fleed provided a wonderful plan B for a direct-to-video cast:
Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith- Treat Williams
Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck- Gabriel Macht
Sgt. B.A. Baracus- Michael Jai White
Captain H.M. Murdoch- Ray Park
Reporter Amy Amanda Allen-Dina Meyer
Colonel Roderick Decker-Michael Ironside
For those of you who don’t think we’re not cultured and limited to visual media, Fat Elvis remarks that he’s been burning through Donald Westlake’s legendary Parker series.
Felix provides some insight to Alec Baldwin’s disappearance from the Jack Ryan role from Mr. Miami Blues himself. Fat Elvis doesn’t buy it:
That Baldwin take on how he lost Jack Ryan is revisionist bullshit. In the past it was acknowledged he lost it because of ego during production and in negotiation. They only turned to Ford after he was being unreasonable and talks broke down. And if you can get the biggest movie star in the world, Ford, to anchor your franchise -a movie star you, the studio have a good relationship with– you leap at the chance. Echoing what Molt said, I even think Ford brings interesting things to PATRIOT GAMES.
Its a big mystery how a young actor could be given such a big role in a potentially huge franchise and then piss it away. The problems I think were a few fold the first episode of Inside The Actors Studio had Alec on it and while he was good his smug i’m an actor schtick really stood out especially when talking about his experience on Hunt which he said McTiernan at one point told him ” in the 3rd film i’ll have you smoking a cigar in a boat! ” with this Alec paused and then shook his head.
McTiernan at this point could do no wrong he was on a streak of Predator, Die Hard and Hunt. I mean the man practically made Bruce Willis a film star (no tv or Blind Date comments!). I think McTiernan was joshing with Alec and Alec took him seriously these were Tom Clancy novels these stories were based around anyways. Alec had the Ryan character on a platter until McTiernan wasn’t in the fold for Patriot Games.
Noyce was brought on as director and the script was pushed through. The script and ending of Patriot Games was a huge mess for Paramount at the time I remember when they had to go reshoot the ending with Ford on a soundstage fighting Sean Bean. Patriot Games is a slow burn kind of film and I have a hard time seeing Baldwin itching to star in this movie.
This is the guy that went on to do Malice though what a joke that film and Baldwin’s performance is.
It came down to all this plus Baldwin making demands about the script and his schedule to Paramount. The producer is right he has shareholders to think of and the show went on,
Message to young actors who have just one film under your belt in a franchise don’t be a douchebag and start making demands you are replaceable. Chris Pine good luck.
Personally thought Patriot was alright but Ford didn’t add much to that and either would Baldwin honestly. Hunt and Clear remain my favs and Molt and I agree again Ford standing up to the President rings better than Baldwin however and this is what kills me about Alec had he channeled his Glen Gary Glen Ross attitude and told the President ” you know what you’re second place and you get a set of steak knives! You know what I have Mr President a pair of brass balls. ” ah who knows.
Paramount went cheap with not keeping McTiernan and went expensive bringing Ford but I do wonder what would have happened had McTiernan and Alec had stayed with the franchise. Make no mistake about this though Sean Connery was a huge reason why Hunt worked and Alec was a big part of why it worked as well but if you look closely at the actors Baldwin was opposite of its hard not to bring your A game and those guys not make you look good.
Thought Affleck and Sum of All Fears were garbage. Change the villains from Middle East terrorists in the book to Nazi’s in the film its almost unthinkable how fucking stupid on its face that choice was. Phil Alden Robinson had no balls and outside of Liev who was great as Clark there was nothing I liked about that film.
VacuumJockey tells us there’s no need to worry about the RoboCop reboot:
I used to be very cold to the thought of a Robocop remake, but I’m telling ya, if the Elite Squad helmer remakes it, my ass is in the seat the day it opens!
(You can tell that I love the ES flicks because I’m gushing over them like a chick
Seriously my droogs: See Elite Squad 1 and 2 at your earliest convenience, I implore you. IMO they are essential viewing, even though they aren’t cheesy at all. They’re just bad bad badass.
A first look at Ray Stevenson going obese in Thor:
Big news breaks this week that Taken 2: Rendezvous (working title according to the thread) will happen with Liam Neeson returning to his foreigner-killin’ ways. Erix tells you why you should be excited:
First… The choice in director. Was From Paris With Love really such a failure that they deem Pierre Morel unworthy of returning? He did a fine job with the first one. And, though I haven’t seen it, Transporter 3 is supposed to be bad. So… Why Olivier Megaton?
Second… ISTANBUL. I like it! I think the exotic locale is a perfect place for Bryan Mills to kick some ass with Leland Orser and Jon Gries.
Third… They were actually considering replacing Liam Neeson?? Like, they thought TAKEN was a brand or something?
Ultimately, what matters is that Besson and Mark Kamen have written a tight script and Neeson is back in the saddle. I’m thrilled that TAKEN II: RENDEZVOUS is close to becoming a reality.
Felix provides this hilarious statement on the remake of Red Dawn from producer Tripp Vinson, firing back at the criticisms over the (admittedly kind of funny) post-production decision to change the villains from the Chinese to North Korea:
Red Dawn isn’t for everyone. So, if you are interested in seeing a movie filled with preachy political discussions – Red Dawn ain’t for you. If you love movies in which Americans are the bad guys – Red Dawn ain’t for you. If you get emotional watching daytime television – Red Dawn ain’t for you. If you’re a vegetarian – Red Dawn probably ain’t for you. But! If you like meat with your potatoes, muscle cars that roar, tanks, guns and things blowing the fuck up by American’s kicking some Commie ass – then we have something special coming your way. WOLVERINES!
We close this week with an EXPLOSIVE first look at Stephen Lang in Conan the Barbarian:
A long way from that weasel Freddy Lounds for sure.
I’d also like to take a moment aside and give some love to one of our luminaries in the thread, Fat Elvis, who’s contributed a few things that I have admittedly overlooked in previous weeks. Though, as Erix said, he makes “the mistake that many of us have of automatically assuming that Sydney Pollack is a better filmmaker than Peter Hyams,” he’s provided us with some extremely fun content the past few weeks; recently, he viewed the “Indiansploitation” epic Johnny Firecloud:
One of the best exploitation (Indiansploitation?) films I’ve ever seen. Fun fact: origin of the immortal phrase “You and I are gonna tangle assholes.” Also cool that Johnny Firecloud looked just like Javier Bardem. Ralph Meeker is a great slimey racist. When they fuck with the wrong Indian, and the kill-crazed rampage starts–so much fun!
Also, this hilarious trailer for Michael Winner’s last film to date, Bullseye!
“Even James Bond never had it this rough!” And let’s not forget another classic find from him, the trailer for The Thing with Two Heads:
Gabe T: I always wanted to see a more serious, and therefore, funnier remake with 50 Cent and Gene Hackman. I’m going to assume it’s too late for that.
Fat Elvis, we salute you!
THE MIND OF RENE F. RANGEL
THIS WEEK’S MOVIE
ERIX IS A KID AGAIN WHEN IT COMES TO CLOAK & DAGGER
Cloak & Dagger is the favorite movie from my childhood. Every time I watch it, I travel back in time. I can remember specific smells… tastes… No other movie does that for me.
Let me be specific. Because I revisited it the other day in order to write this column.
So, for 100 minutes that afternoon, I was back in Framingham, Massachusetts.
I used to spend a lot of time there as a young boy – in this dreary, horrendous condo complex where my grandparents lived. It was very uniform looking (all the buildings looked exactly the same – beige with green trim) there was a swimming pool (where my father once made me flip underwater, but we were still at the shallow end and my face slammed against one of the steps on the ladder – thanks dad) and the interior of the buildings had that smell… I can’t quite describe it. I’ll just call it the smell of Florida. An “old people” smell? Not sure how else to describe it. But, as I walked through the dark hallways I marveled at all the oak doors… I spent a lot of time wandering through the halls of that building. I should say, those buildings. I had an obsession with basements back then. So I would always want to go to the basement of a building. The basement here was just a laundry room, but to me it was like traveling into another dimension.
The thing is, there weren’t too many kids at this place. In fact, there weren’t any that I can recall. So it was just me, my parents and grandparents… That’s it. So I would spend a lot of time watching TV or playing with myself. I mean… BY myself. It was just me and the theater of the imagination. And so, I was much like the hero of Cloak & Dagger – Davey Osborne – played by Henry Thomas.
If I had to guess, I would say I was probably about his age when I first saw the movie. Maybe a year or so younger. And I remember that I was in the TV room. That’s what I called it. It was this room that had a nice big TV and a sofa bed and a huge shelf that housed my grandparents’ collection of Time Life books and National Geographic magazines. That’s where I used to sleep.
And I sat in that sofa bed on a Sunday morning in 1986, eating Quaker ™ oatmeal and watching Cloak & Dagger on Cinemax.
It has a very arresting opening. The way Brian May’s music (his best score, bar none, by the way) has those ominous tones as the initial titles appear… The way it swells as the title appears.
And then we’re into the movie’s first action sequence, which involves Dabney Coleman parachuting into some backlot that’s supposed to be Russia or Yugoslavia or The Czech Republic or one of those places that was supposed to be “a bad place full of bad people” back in the 80’s.
Anyway, it’s Dabney Coleman and he parachutes in there and kicks some ass.
I didn’t know who Dabney Coleman was when I saw the movie. I know who he is now, of course. But it’s worth noting that my first exposure to the wonderful actor was by watching him play a kick-ass action hero named Jack Flack. A man who, in his introductory scene, parachutes on top of some poor Commie guard. Then blows a poison dart into the throat of another one… Then he uses a razor on his Rolex to acquire an important briefcase from some Commie general, slams the shit out of the Commie’s limo driver with that same briefcase, punches the Commie in the nuts before anything can be done to stop him, causes an Arab bad guy to stab himself in the chest and, finally, uses his beret as a shield to ricochet a bullet into a Femme Fatale’s heart.
All of this takes place in the film’s first 4 minutes.
I don’t know what you would have done. But I can assure you, I was not about to stop watching this movie.
So, when does the kid from ET show up? Well… It turns out that this entire scene exists in the imagination. We surmise that when Jack Flack is cornered in an alley and, all of a sudden, a bunch of giant dice start rolling towards him. And it turns out that what we have just seen is the dramatization of a D&D-like board game.
The opening scene is perfect because it establishes the fantastical “world” of the movie while instantly grounding it in reality. But it also establishes the mindset of the hero. We understand Davey Osborne immediately during this opening scene. We understand that he has a complex imagination and that he’s ingenious. We also establish that he doesn’t have a lot of friends. Because a kid with tons of friends would not hang out with his gal pal Kim at the mall’s video game shop with Morris.
Bill Forsythe plays Morris. That’s how he’s billed in the credits. BILL Forsythe. And it’s also worth noting that this was my first exposure to the actor. Most of your probably remember William Forsythe as “that guy from Extreme Prejudice.” Or “the crazy bastard from Out For Justice.” To me, he is and will always be the cuddly pederast from Cloak & Dagger.
It’s important to establish that Davey is lonely and a little weird. Because that’s how you set up the very real relationship he has with his imaginary friend Jack Flack.
This is the emotional core of the movie. A film that, on the surface and as I appreciated it at the time, is an adventure story about a kid getting chased around San Antonio by a bunch of evil people. But it’s really a movie about letting go… About growing up.
Davey Osborne is forced to grow up very quickly when Morris sends him and Kim over to Textronics (an obviously veiled Texas Instruments) to pick up some catalogs and Twinkies from the vending machine. Obviously, Davey treats this like a special mission and he acts like a little dork at the building – embarrassing his friend, talking on walkie-talkies (also procured for him by his buddy Morris), brandishing his water pistol, ducking around columns… Shooting at imaginary bad guys. All that shit.
And then Jack Flack shows up on the stairwell and they talk about the importance of the mission and all that…
But then you know who else shows up? A wounded technician being chased by a couple of cold-blooded killers. He thrusts a video game cartridge into Davey’s hands and gasps something about “take this… don’t let them get it… runnn” and spits out some numbered code before the bad guys shoot him a couple of more times and he topples to his final resting place at the bottom of the stairwell.
The world of gaming plays a big part in this movie. If we want to get historical about it, it’s probably the first ever video game movie. In this day and age, it’s become commonplace to adapt video games into movies. But Cloak & Dagger was probably the first time it was done. And you know what else? It’s probably still the only time where it’s been done 100% right.
It doesn’t follow the plot of the game at all. The game is about Jack Flack infiltrating the underground complex of the evil Dr. Boom and blowing it up one level at a time. And, while it might have been fun to see a movie about Dabney Coleman blowing up the underground complex of Dr. Boom (he could have been played by Yves Montand), I think screenwriter Tom Holland (and this is right up there with Fright Night in terms of quality, by the way) opted for something more creative and a lot more interesting.
By making the actual Cloak & Dagger game cartridge into the movie’s McGuffin, and using some of the game’s characters and elements as window dressing, they are free to tell an original story that transmits that same feeling of excitement and danger, while being completely grounded in reality. But, because video games play such an important part in the story and the hero’s lifestyle, they maintain the pulse of the movie.
And, like most action films, it is structured a little like a video game anyway. With a series of ever escalating challenges for the hero and an almost impossible “final boss level” that involves quick thinking and sharp timing.
Also, like most action films, it is violent. Very violent. And I miss the glory days of the 80s when a PG movie could be like this and have balls. I know PG13 is the new PG. But I guess my point is, those are teen movies. This is, for all intents and purposes, a kid’s film. The main characters are children. Even Coleman’s Jack Flack is really just a man child… Egging Davey to “play right!” And “playing right” means getting into as much trouble as possible and actually killing human beings if he has to.
It is a kid’s film where a child witnesses horrible violence; is shot at several times, with the intent of his death being caused. Spends a good portion of the film’s running time in the trunk of a car with his friend’s corpse for company… And is responsible for the deaths of the villains. Four of those deaths are indirectly caused by him and one of the villains actually dies by his hand.
Unheard of today.
But I am glad that it’s not a huge movie. Because maybe director Richard Franklin would have been asked to go back and turn all the guns into walkie talkies.
The other, very important kid’s film element is with regards to the portrayal of adults as either forces of evil or elements of mistrust. In a child’s world, grown ups are not to be trusted, unless they’re in arrested development (like Morris). And, please don’t trust your dad. Because he never believes you anyway.
Dabney Coleman also plays Davey’s father. And there is a great poignancy in their relationship. He starts out like most adults in these films. An old guy who is hard on his son. But Coleman never plays the role as just the stern hardass. This is a man who truly loves his son, and as the movie builds upon that and Davey comes to realize just how much he loves his father, it allows for one of the great tearjerker endings of the 80s. Not a dry eye in the house with the movie’s final moments and that final line… Believe me. I got all misty on that Sunday morning and I’ve never failed to get misty since.
Dabney Coleman is tremendous. He plays these dual roles perfectly. It makes perfect sense in the context of the film that Jack Flack would resemble Davey’s father. But Coleman plays each role at a different pitch. He’s both the whimsical playmate and the caring, serious father. It’s the sort of thing that he should have gotten an Oscar for. This is a marvelous character actor who has given many great performances, and it’s a shame he isn’t more recognized. I still think this is his best work.
Now then… Earlier I referred to Morris as a pedophile. That was mean and, perhaps, a little uncalled for. But there is something very specifically creepy about the adult characters in this film. In particular, the bad guys.
The lead bad guy is Michael Murphy as Rice. Also my introduction to the actor. Although I had already seen several Woody Allen films, I had yet to see the ones where he participates. And my initial (theatrical) viewing of Salvador was still a couple of months away. I found him very frightening then. And how could I not? Murphy is a very good bad guy. He has no problem brandishing a machine gun and threatening to shoot a kid first in the kneecaps and then in the stomach so he can die slowly and painfully.
His two henchmen – Alvarez and Haverman – are played by Eloy Casados and Tim Rossovich respectively.
Casados, in particular, is chilling. There is this great scene where they’re trying to get at Davey in a tour boat at the park. As Davey keeps moving towards the back, Casados always finds a way to get close to him, always with a smug look on his face. It’s delicious stuff. It should also be noted that his intention is to stab Davey through the heart with a switchblade in this PG-rated film.
Scenes like that one are very well-mounted. Richard Franklin also directed the underrated Psycho II. So he’s a student of Hitchcock and he puts that to very good use here. Although it’s a modern action film, it is very much in the tradition of the old-fashioned thrillers that give the movie its title.
As a nod, in fact, to Hitchcock, Franklin cast husband and wife John McIntire (Sheriff Chambers) and Jeanette Nolan (Norma Bates) as an old couple that Davey runs into during his adventure…
There’s more to these two than meets the eye. And they figure very heavily in the film’s superb edge-of-your-seat climax.
Coming full circle now… The movie has all this action and adventure. But, as I stated, it’s really about growing up. For years, Davey has lived in a fantasy world having adventures with his friend Jack Flack. But now, when the adventure becomes real, he has to face that reality and come to grips with the fact that real violence is no fun at all. And real actions have real consequences.
Although I sounded preachy just then, the movie doesn’t beat you over the head with this at all. And it drives the point home in a wonderful confrontational scene between Davey and Jack Flack, as Davey makes a very hard choice and we see him grow up right before our eyes.
(TRIVIA – It is this scene, also, that I believe suggests Jack Flack may not be an “imaginary” friend at all. But, rather, a kind of spirit who takes the form of a child’s hero and actually craves and feeds on that child’s wonder and amazement as much as the child might need the company)
The Toy Story series has been praised for how it touches on issues of moving on and abandoning your playthings. And here, my friends, is a movie that did that same thing just as beautifully and, I would argue, in a more emotionally satisfying way.
I don’t know of any other kid’s movie that balances the dark thriller elements with childlike wonder and whimsy the way this film does. And that’s probably one of the reasons I was so mesmerized that morning and find the movie still holding up beautifully today.
They really don’t make them like this anymore.
Oh… Back to 1986 – The credits are rolling, I’ve got tears in my eyes… My oatmeal long finished… My dad walks in and it turns out he had been watching it also in the next room.
“It was kind of like Play It Again, Sam – right Erik?”
Yes. But maybe Play It Again, Sam would have been even cooler if Humphrey Bogart and Woody Allen have to jump out of a phone booth just in the nick of time, before Tony Roberts flattens them with a speeding truck.
I mean, it’s good and everything. But it could have used more Humphrey Bogart kicking ass and Woody Allen running around in fear action is all I’m saying.
I guess Tom Holland felt the same way.
I’ve known about Cloak And Dagger for years. At first, I thought it was a movie about the Marvel Comics Duo. Then I discovered it was a Dabney Coleman/Henry Thomas feature. I never got around to seeing it until recently when Erix was discussing it, as a movie that he fondly remembered from his childhood. Mike discovered that it was on Netflix Instant, so I decided to give it a spin since I’d been curious about it for a long time.
First off, Dabney Coleman does not play the asshole he’s so adept at being usually. Here hes a FRIGGIN’ ACTION HERO! The movie starts off with him parachuting into a party. Then you discover that this version of him is a figment of his son’s (Henry Thomas) imagination, since he really is an air traffic controller. His son just likes to play a videogame called Cloak And Dagger. Apparently some secret information was coded onto a Cloak And Dagger game, and it comes into Henry Thomas’ hands. He uses the imaginatory version of his father to help him out in certain scenes, and the entire movie is one great blast of action and paranoia.
It’s cool knowing that the movie was shot in San Antonio, Texas, as that’s only a 4 hour drive from where I live. One of my oldest friends from school lives there, and I try to go over there and hang out with him as often as possible, so it’s great seeing stuff like The Alamo, and the River Walk, which plays a role in one scene.
It’s certainly worth a viewing, and if you’ve got Netflix Instant, why not? It’s basically free.
On January 22, 1984, Ridley Scott’s 60-second commercial for the new Apple Macintosh computer aired during the broadcast of Super Bowl XVIII. “1984 won’t be like 1984,” Apple promised, heralding the item’s debut as a revolution to technology and consumer electronics.
The video game industry, however, had been cast in a Orwellian shadow. Numerous manufacturers perished from the saturation of a market, and companies like Coleco and Mattel abandoned the gaming business altogether. Most importantly, however, it was the sting of Atari’s rather moronic overestimation that its 2600 port of Pac-Man and the notoriously rushed E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial would be monstrous commercial hits. On top of that, the Atari 5200 turned out to be a clunky and problematic beast of burden for the company, and it marked the beginning of the long and painful end of Atari.
Arriving late in the summer of 1984, Cloak & Dagger was a classic victim of circumstance, a film that, paraphrasing the words of people who acrimoniously crossed paths with John McClane, came out at the wrong place at the wrong time. Kids were more fixated on the exponential popularity of action figures like Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines, not to mention the runaway success Coleco achieved post-ColecoVision with Cabbage Patch Kids.
All the consumerist mayhem at the time was a thorn in the side, given the film’s pedigree. It was the sophomore effort of rising child star Henry Thomas, who had a big role in winning over the hearts of millions in a little movie directed by that blockbuster stalwart named Steve. Henry played a boy who befriended an alien with a glowing heart, a cross-dressing habit, and a brilliant engineering talent that helped him create the early 80’s version of Skype with a record player, a circular saw blade, a coffee can, a bunch of wires, and a Speak & Spell so he could get home.
Anyway, young Henry’s movie became a really, really big box-office success (as in highest grossing movie ever), so there was that. Add in the Hitchcock-influenced style of rising Australian director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland, who had just knocked Psycho II out of the park the previous year and managed to make a sequel that was not only surprisingly great, but the sort of thing Hitchcock would have been proud of, and this, my friends, is the recipe for success.
Or not. It seems that aside from my colleagues and my screenwriting professor, Cloak & Dagger is a forgotten gem fondly remembered by people old enough to see it during heavy pay-cable rotation or rent it. I myself had not seen it prior to a few weeks ago, when Erix insisted I check it out on Netflix Instant (now you have no excuse not to watch it if you haven’t seen it or have Netflix!), and lo and behold, it’s the sort of secret classic you hear about that actually turns out to be as good as they say.
For one, Henry Thomas, much like Carrie Henn and Jonathan Ke Quan in the same era, is a child actor who doesn’t resort to annoyance and playing off the novelty of a kid in the lead role. He’s bursting with charisma, and the way he transitions from childlike awe to the fear instilled by the government rogues after him feels quite realistic. Dabney Coleman, one of the character actors of the 1980’s (and still going, now as the old, dementia-ridden comrade of Nucky and lover of young girls on Boardwalk Empire), gets not only to play understanding father but gets a chance to be an action hero as Jack Flack. In a dual role, he contrasts well against his usual typecasting as bureaucrats and assholes as a genuinely nice guy and fearless hero.
Most of why this movie works, however, is Franklin’s direction and Holland’s screenplay. Given Franklin’s background as a disciple of Hitchcock, from his Australian homages like Patrick and Road Games to riding on the tails of the man himself for Psycho II, it’s no questions asked that Franklin retains those sensibilities here. It’s a very suspenseful and relentless film, playing like an Amblin production of North by Northwest. Franklin also doesn’t have second thoughts about the peril Davey falls into.
Cloak & Dagger was released on August 10, 1984—the same weekend as maiden PG-13 voyage Red Dawn but still hot off of the backlash against Gremlins and Temple of Doom (not to mention Universal’s own riskier PG projects, like Streets of Fire and Conan the Destroyer) that summer. Franklin admirably pushes the limits of the rating here, delving into some surprisingly dark territory (Seriously, why do Davey and his friend hang out with that weirdo who runs the video game store?), creating an anarchic and violent labyrinth for the narrative to play out in, which makes the suspense and Hitchcockian elements automatically genuine. Yeah, and there’s a part in this PG-rated movie that anyone and everyone who lost control of their bladder over Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass would probably have a Scanners moment if they saw it.
The interplay between Davey and Flack—as well as the ever-increasing stakes and danger in the face of children—are a fitting foreshadow to the excellent prowess Holland showed when he moved to directing on Fright Night and Child’s Play. (Everyone attributes Chucky to Mancini, but Holland co-wrote it. Watch both of them back to back and tell us you see the similarities.)
I do want to expand on the rating thing too. Cloak & Dagger is PG, yet there’s a ton of deaths and questionable adult situations. Then we needed the PG-13 rating to give movies balls for the teens who couldn’t pass for 17. That rating lost its balls too, and it’s hurt so many projects in the industry today. Luckily, the past few years have seen a bunch of PG-13 titles that actually bring back the reason why they created it in the first place because of stuff like Cloak & Dagger—Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, Drag Me to Hell, and most recently True Grit and The Green Hornet have come back to remind us you don’t need an R rating to have a pair.
Jack Flack would be proud.
RENE ON MOVIES AND THEIR RATINGS
Today’s movie for the B-Movie Column is not only underrated, but it baffles me that it got away with a PG rating. I had never seen it, although I’ve long known about it, and when I saw it last week on Netflix Instant, I was surprised to see a high amount of blood, and people getting shot, as well as a a young kid shooting the main villain. This movie came out the same year that the MPAA said “WE”VE HAD IT!” and they decided along with Steven Spielberg to implement the PG-13 rating. Before this there was only G, PG, R, and X. Movies were able to get away with A LOT in PG rated films.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark is an amazing action adventure film, and I love it dearly, but I’ve read on how Spielberg had to edit a few frames from the climax to avoid an R-rating, when Belloq goes Scanners. That’s just that. There’s a Nazi Mechanic getting shredded, guys getting shot in the head, and Toht, the Gestapo officer getting melted. This last one was an effect that for years I couldn’t view without looking away.
The Getaway is another one. First, I was surprised that Peckinpah made a PG movie when I saw this back in the late 90’s when my Dad loaned me his VHS tape. Then I was shocked to see the amount of squibs that went off in the movie. Especially during the climax when Doc shoots the shit out of the bad guys with a shotgun in slow motion.
Gremlins and Indiana Jones And the Temple Of Doom had a lot to do with the implementation of the PG-13 rating, as any film nerd would know. There’s been theories that had these movies not been done by Spielberg, that they would certainly have gotten R-ratings. With that, we had the first officially rated, but not released PG-13 movie in Red Dawn. I didn’t see Red Dawn until 3 years ago (I know, I know) and that’s another that was a veritable R in disguise.
For a long time after that, PG-13 movies weren’t all that edgy, and in recent years, there’s been a resurgence in pushing what is allowed in a PG-13 rated film. The one that seemed to start this is The Dark Knight. With the level of violence, and showing a half burned face, it’s a miracle they got away with the PG-13 rating.
Live Free Or Die Hard, which was released the year prior was condemned for being a PG-13 film, when it should have been R-rated. It was short on foul language, but it did have a lot of violence, and a guy getting chopped up in ventilation fan blades.
This past year, Red had people getting blown to pieces on screen.
Recently this year, The Green Hornet had a lot of violent shootouts, and a death for the main villain that I can only wonder how they got it passed the censors.
Yes, the PG-13 rating isn’t that much of a wimp rating anymore. They’re pushing the edge so the directors can say “Hey, look what I got away with!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Given the video game theme, we also wanted to discuss video game movies this week. But there’s only so much we can spit out in one column and this one is long enough as it is. So – Mike, Rene and I will be back to discuss video games next week. Along with a very special TAG TEAM REVIEW… Stay tuned.)