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This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
When Jeff Goldblum was making Vibes in 1987 he told a reporter visiting the set that the film was merely “a light entertainment” and that he preferred “more serious, adult movies.” Goldblum went whole hog into those waters with Twisted Obsession (1989), a retelling of the 1976 Christopher Frank book The Dream of The Mad Monkey. Twisted Obsession is virtually unknown in the U.S. and if you see it you’ll understand why.
Goldblum plays an ex-pat screenwriter in Paris named Dan who suspects something carnal is occurring between a director he knows and the director’s teenage sister. Dan himself starts lusting after the sister; they engage in a few positively graceless sexual encounters and suddenly Dan’s embroiled in a love rhombus (this guy also has an on again, off again thing going with his lit agent). For good measure, Twisted Obsession includes a subplot about vanishing cadavers and clandestine, cult-like activities.
We’re supposed to feel a modicum of sympathy for Dan because his wife abandoned him and their small child and he can’t afford nicer clothes and he’s got an egregious, take-no-prisoners mullet. There’s zero warmth in Goldblum’s performance, however, so Dan is just a creep. Moments meant to feel playful come across as bitter and mean. When Dan spikes a corn cob into his son’s face as a joke (ha, that old chestnut) you only chuckle out of shock and discomfort because the anger is so palpable.
Twisted Obsession chokes to death on its own morose and surly vapors and it’s clear no one has any idea what to do with it now. One assumes Goldlbum’s current enthusiasm for the film must be nil. It does nothing to support his 21st Century persona as benign goofball; if anything, Twisted Obsession uncomfortably mirrors recent accusations that Goldblum’s offscreen behavior is not really benign. I only saw the movie because it’s part of The Excellent Eighties, a DVD set that positions itself as an ultimate source for kitschy, fun-loving crap from the ‘80s (David Hasselhoff is prominently displayed on the cover). Jeff’s mullet must have cleared the bar.
“Look at this dad’s wacky hair as he sexes a 17-year-old! Does he have a keytar too?”
Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom drama The Post signals early that it will be cliché-ridden hokum. As the production company logos vanish, we see military choppers hovering over a steamy jungle while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” takes off in the background. Pairing Creedence with footage from Vietnam was overdone 30 years ago; any first year film student would be docked a letter grade for such a boring, obvious move. Of course, by the time The Post is over the viewer has been so assaulted by the plain and the literal that they might forget there ever was a scene in Vietnam.
I’ve read that Spielberg considered The Post an act of resistance against Trumpism, a counter-attack on “fake news” that for some reason absolutely had to come out when it did. One might argue the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post’s fight to print the shocking truth about the Vietnam War is more prescient now since Trump decided to cap his anti-media, fib-laden presidency by swiping classified documents. At any rate, The Post was flung together very quickly, without pulp or artistry, condemning it to die in the shadow of All The President’s Men (still the greatest film ever made about the freedom of the press).
Tom Hanks does not transform into Bill Bradlee, the gruff editor pushing to serve honesty to Washington Post readers. Meryl Streep does not transform into Katharine Graham, the beleaguered Post owner trying not to tarnish her legacy. All you see is Hanks and Streep vying for more Oscars with nothing but cold wet ham for dialogue. The Post’s supporting players fare no better. The front page story is on their faces: I’m doing this because it’s Spielberg.
Only Bob Odenkirk rises to the occasion in the lynchpin role of reporter Ben Bagdikian. A much better film could have been made out of the story threads wherein Bagdikian secures the bulk of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg. Odenkirk’s comedy partner David Cross is in The Post too, looking like the saddest version of Martin Balsam you can imagine.
The most laughable part of this whole cornball affair is that it concludes with a Marvel-style cliffhanger at the Watergate Hotel. Oh no! A burglary? Cue the typewriters! Even more pathetic are the final frames, which have Spielberg copying one of the most indelible shots from the start of All The President’s Men. Working on Ready Player One at the same time as this film must have given him brain damage.
At least Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman don’t cruise by in the DeLorean.
— I deleted my substack after it came to light that the company was giving money to anti-trans voices; eventually I will repost much of that content here as I attempt to relaunch jg2land; only recently have I accepted the fact that throughout the history of my freelance career this blog has been the only truly reliable structure
— my latest book A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever will be published by Lyons Press in the Fall of 2022; I think it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever done and I hope you will agree
— they changed the interface on the wordpress post editor and I don’t know how to make that image of Muncher smaller but honestly every image of Muncher should be the size of a highway billboard
– Hulu recently added “Perfect Strangers” to its streaming stable; my first question after spinning the episode wheel for about a week straight is, since Bronson Pinchot’s Balki is just a sanitized version of the brief but memorable role he plays in Beverly Hills Cop, do you think “Perfect Strangers” ever tried to get Eddie Murphy to make a guest appearance? Also, do you think anyone from Beverly Hills Cop chagrins Bronson Pinchot for spinning this character into television, even though legend tells us Pinchot himself improvised it while filming Beverly Hills Cop? Do you think they ever asked Judge Reinhold to be on “Perfect Strangers?”
– the chemistry between Pinchot’s affable, earnest Balki and Mark Linn-Baker’s cynical, beleaguered Cousin Larry is often utterly crackerjack; when the writing plays to their strengths the laughs flow like water and you can see how this goddamn thing ran for eight seasons; this is probably how “Perfect Strangers” survived so many supporting cast hiccups (the actress who plays Twinkacetti’s wife in the first two seasons returns in the third as an unrelated newspaper gossip columnist; very confusing if you’re watching “PS” totally out of order on a Tuesday night, face deep in kung pow chicken)
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Balki is accidentally hypnotized into believing he is Elvis Presley the night before his tax audit; this is in season four, so it is plausible by this point that Balki might be paying some kind of income tax on his earnings from the newspaper’s mail room
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Larry brings home 58 live turkeys just a few days before Thanksgiving because he’s convinced he can make a buck off last minute shoppers; there’s nothing funnier than imagining Larry and Balki succumbing to the will of 58 live turkeys in their kitchen and living room, and imagine it is what you have to do—the budget apparently only allotted for two to three birds at a time
– yes, there’s an episode where Balki claims to have met and befriended Carl Lewis after a showing of Benji: The Hunted; Balki’s enthusiasm for this film is very endearing
– over the course of “Perfect Strangers” Larry and Balki meet, awkwardly date, and fall in sitcom love with their upstairs neighbors, Jennifer and Mary Ann (their partners respectively); these parallel romances remains chaste for the most part, even when they all wind up living together, although every once in a while something truly ribald slips by—like the time Balki admits Mary Ann really knows how to “toss his salad”; this occurs in a much later season when all the Friday night heat was ostensibly on Urkel
– people forget “Family Matters,” the show which begat Urkel, is a spinoff of “Perfect Strangers” (before she was mother to Laura and Eddie, wife to Carl, Harriet Winslow was elevator operator to Larry and Balki at their newspaper job); though he pops up on several other ABC TGIF entries of this era, Urkel never came to pay his respects to the cousins, which is fucking nuts because “Perfect Strangers” is the only TGIF show that takes place in the same city as “Family Matters”; even stranger, Mark Linn-Baker crossed over to “Family Matters” in one of its later seasons, but not as Larry, as some other guy
– the episode where Balki takes on the persona of hip hop star Fresh Young Balki B is less incredible than memory; the several minute applause break I recalled for the introduction of Larry as MC Cousin does not occur
– in the seventh season the King of Mypos (Balki’s fictitious homeland) comes to visit and of course dies unexpectedly; this turns into a Weekend at Bernie’s type deal but you’ll be more amused by how many times the dead guy thinks he’s off camera and starts moving his face around
– the final season of “Perfect Strangers” is inexplicably only six episodes, but don’t worry, they cram in pregnancy, a sporting good store, a Myposian death curse, a game show, and a two parter in a hot air balloon
– the only reason they should reboot this show is so we can learn if Bronson and Mark can still execute the Dance of Joy; it was foretold they would not be able to at this advanced age in the season three episode “Future Shock”; surely this is one of the top betting pools in Vegas
– whenever anyone starts talking about how this program gets strange in its later years, remind them the first episode produced after the pilot consists of guest star Michael J. Fox arguing with Santa Claus until the judge literally smothers him in a hug
– “Night Court” is the 1980s sitcom that took an actor best known for playing a Boston area con man and had him play a New York judge so virtuous they had to balance his morality with a wacky persona (this guy isn’t all nobility; he plays with chattering teeth and whoopee cushions at his bench!); it’s possible Harry Anderson’s “Cheers” character Harry The Hat and Judge Harry Stone are the same individual, a dual personality torn between two cities and two very different codes of honor; then again, no other characters from “Cheers” ever materialize on “Night Court,” and “Cheers” had a crossover with every other fuckin’ show on NBC at some point (even “St. Elsewhere”); don’t worry, a shared universe exists between “Night Court” and one other Must See TV sitcom—the Paul Reiser vehicle “My Two Dads”
– in this first season, Paula Kelly plays savvy public defender Liz Williams, a perfect adversary for John Larroquette’s ego-driven prosecutor Dan Fielding; unfortunately, they don’t give Kelly enough to do and these end up being her only 13 episodes; Karen Austin chews more as clerk Lana Wagner, trying her best to parse Judge Harry’s odd mechanisms while stemming what might be an eruption of attraction on her part; Austin is fun and charismatic in this role but she also did not make it to round two (she was cut loose by “Night Court” producers after developing Bell’s palsy); it’s disappointing these talents were shortchanged but the good news is they had careers long before and after these legal hijinks (and Austin quickly recovered from her malady)
– “Night Court” takes place in New York City thirty years ago but they dress all the bums and lowlifes who wander in and out of the gallery like they’re in a train yard seventy years ago; it’s like the classic hobo review and follies
– Yakov Smirnoff guest stars in one of these episodes; somehow he makes it all the way through without saying, “What a country!”
– call me a cynic but it’s difficult to believe these people are all so chummy after hours; if someone had abandoned a baby with one of the bailiffs at the O.J. trial would Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, and Judge Ito have gone over to the bailiff’s house to help out?
– generally the humor of “Night Court” is timeless but every once in a while the writers slip in the topical, like a Pia Zadora reference (1984 audiences were very ready to laugh at her expense)
– as a wee tyke I’d watch this program and dream about visiting a New York City municipal court; in 2011 I got to live my fantasy after receiving a citation for being in Prospect Park after sundown; to my dismay, it was nothing like on the tv—the judge did not do any magic tricks, the attorneys did not crack any jokes, and overall the experience was vaguely depressing; based on this I am wary of befriending any sheep herders from Mypos
– if “Night Court” was just John Larroquette and Richard Moll’s bailiff Bull Shannon trading insults for thirty minutes each week it still probably could have lasted for nine seasons (the dudes is funny)
– excuse my dissidence but it is frankly disgusting that the “Night Court” theme song has not become our country’s national anthem
SPOILER ALERT: there might be spoilers in this.
– the nightmare never really ends, time is anything it wants to be, reality may be actively working against you; these are the sentiments I take away from season three of “Twin Peaks,” an eighteen hour tapestry that’s as frustrating as it is arresting and interesting; if you agree life is more about the journey than the destination, hop in, because we might end up at the DMV
– ask me why the original “Twin Peaks” strikes a chord with so many viewers and I’ll theorize it lies in the even braiding of various fascinating strands: the inherent kitsch of Anytown, U.S.A., the seamy underbelly of Anytown, U.S.A., the Pacific Northwest’s foggy weirdness, a police procedural, and a bevy of legitimately intriguing townies; “Peaks ’17” skews that balance as scores of principle characters and their stories are pushed aside for jaunts with new cast members, lengthy views into unsettling paranormal screen savers, or bizarre non-moments; the art to be found in the sequence where Robert Forster makes a 15 minute Skype call in real time is the lack of art
– David Lynch is critic-proof, of course; perhaps the only way his fans would cry foul is if he’d done anything conventional for the new “Twin Peaks”; that said, the decision to bury our hero, Agent Dale Cooper, in a doppelgänger story line wherein he is not himself at all for the majority of the season while relegating our other beloved icon Audrey Horne to a handful of similarly out-of-character sequences comes across in some ways as cruel (especially if this is in fact the last “Peaks” ever, as Lynch has suggested); it feels like maybe we’re being punished for enjoying these people too much
– don’t worry, we spent plenty of time with Lucy and Andy; you’ll be happy to know they’ve somehow become even stupider
– the game is afoot from the first episode, after a character declares that very unpopular “Peaks” staple James Hurley has “always been cool”; David Lynch has seen your “fuck James Hurley” memes
– when fans say “Twin Peaks: The Return” is unlike anything on television, they’re correct; it trusts its audience implicitly, assuming from them a specific brand of loyalty and intelligence; also, many of the aforementioned journeys into unexplained realms are uniquely hypnotic; the program may vex you but it’s rarely boring to look at, even when a guy is just sweeping a floor
– the remark has been made that, thanks to his role in this, Jim is now the Belushi with the more revered body of work; this is only because season three of “Twin Peaks” is longer than all of John Belushi’s films combined
– the final two episodes introduce a few wonderful and brilliantly conclusive ideas, only to pull them back and present something else; Lynch is as Lynch does, and that itself may be the true point of this coffee soaked exercise
– there are some wigs in this thing, hoo boy; Spirit Halloween shoulda been thanked in the credits; to be fair, I don’t know how to make a wig (I also don’t know how to make prestige television)
– at eighteen hours you’d think they would have found room to throw in Bill Pullman wailin’ on a saxophone but no such luck; at least we get (the) Nine Inch Nails and Edward Louis Vedder Severson
– the reputation of this two episode “event” from 1979 precedes it: it’s the Justice League of America as another cheap and witless variety show, the first entry bouncing flimsy adventure between two or three sets and a thicket of curdled jokes while the second is a roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon; serious comic heads treat “Legends” like the bubonic plague but it doesn’t reach the scalding hell of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” or “The Chevy Chase Show” (then again, maybe this reviewer has spent too much time entrenched in dreadful horse vomit and is now numb to true pain)
– with the rights to Superman and Wonder Woman tied up in much better properties, this Justice League is lead by Batman; Adam West returns to the cowl and proves time cannot weather his intoxicating dopiness; at his side is Burt Ward’s Robin, who also has no problem getting back on the horse (and his comedic chops feel like they’ve improved since 1968); another “Batman” reprise comes via Frank Gorshin as that maniac the Riddler; though Gorshin isn’t in command of the baddies he’s certainly in command of all the acting talent; that said, Jeff Altman is devilishly charming as Weather Wizard and you can see why they later paired him with Pink Lady
– for Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, the Flash, and Hawkman, NBC called in rent-a-hunks, deliciously sculpted figures with high watt smiles and heroic-seeming dispositions; alas, none of these guys were in danger of sweeping the Emmys, though perhaps Bill Nuckols should have received an honorary award for not dying of embarrassment while wearing the helmet “Legends of The Superheroes” shit out for Hawkman (the mask might be nothing more than construction paper); by the way, these shows aren’t the only peacock droppings Nuckols has on his résumé: he’s also Wally on “Supertrain”
– there are women in “Legends of The Superheroes” but not very many and they aren’t given much to do; in fact, famed rogue the Huntress doesn’t even speak in the first episode; hard to believe a series that introduces an African American character named Ghetto Man would marginalize women like that
– yes, the enormously problematic Ghetto Man debuts in the latter episode to clown his fellow do-gooders and shout his magic catch phrase, “Kareem!”; on a more positive note, future “Night Court” star Marsha Warfield pops up in the first entry and is deftly funny as a flabbergasted woman lingering in a phone booth as our heroes grapple with Solomon Grundy; Warfield goes uncredited but let’s choose to believe the comedienne was savvy enough to have her name removed from this not A+ production
– Batman calls Robin “laddy bubby” at one point, which might be the clearest indicator there’s more going on in the Batcave than previously figured
– a big surprise in “Legends” is that the wizard Mordru, undisputed master of black magic and various other nefarious sorceries, prefers to travel by jet ski
– Adam West, god rest his beautiful soul, refuses to tuck his cowl into the Bat costume for the duration of these programs and it is slightly infuriating how lazy and drunk it makes the Caped Crusader appear
– Hawkman’s mother shows up in episode two and get this…she’s not a hawk, falcon, or bird of any kind
– Ruth Buzzi is also present as Aunt Minerva, a nemesis of Captain Marvel who inexplicably wants to marry him; guess she didn’t get the memo that he’s secretly a ten year old boy
– judging by the reactions of the heroes during the roast episode they didn’t screen the jokes ahead of time; what looks like genuine amusement breaks out across all their faces after each playful barb (Captain Marvel Garrett Craig in particular is having a real hootenanny of a good time)
– in addition to jet skiing, the wizard Mordru (here portrayed by Dead End Kid Gabriel Dell) treats us to a ghoulish rendition of “That’s Entertainment” which concludes with the Dark Nobleman taking a cream pie to the face; no better proof exists that wasting food is hilarious
– Warner Bros released “Legends of The Superheroes” on DVD in 2010 but because this thing was shot on video it still looks like a greasy shit sandwich; didn’t they realize ding dongs in the future would feast on this as meaty irony and crave it in the highest of definitions?
– airing in January of ’79, “Legends of The Superheroes” pre-empted the Jack Webb series “Project U.F.O.” which suggests the government created these terrible comic book tv shows to keep a lid on extra terrestrial activities; assume Jimmy Carter will confirm or deny this before he dies
Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.
There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allowed to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.
Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.
Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.
Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.
What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.
– Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?
– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife
– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes
– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?
– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake
– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies