Spy Kids, and six more movies

Blue Collar (1978)

"They pit the lifers against the new boy, the young against the old, the black against the white, and everything they do is to keep us in our place."

Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto are buddies working together on the line at the Checker factory in Detroit. (For any non-seniors reading this, Checker was the company that made the iconic old-school taxi cabs.) 

Our three protagonists are getting screwed at work, by their bosses, and by their union. Times are tough, wallets are thin, and Keitel's daughter needs braces, so they decide to pull a robbery.

You see Richard Pryor's name in the credits, you expect comedy, and there are some laughs here, but it's gallows humor. Pryor is not only not funny — a remarkable accomplishment — he's also damned good in a dramatic role.

There's a coke party, which seems stupid to me. A bunch of cash-struggling blue collar workers couldn't afford to put so much money up their noses. And these three men are all cheating on their wives, but also super-dedicated family men, a juxtaposition I've not come across in real life.

Other than that, though, everything feels authentic. These guys could be any working stiffs, and they are, and as Kotto's character says, we're stuck a system designed to keep us down.

I saw Blue Collar when it first came out, and again tonight. It packed a wallop then, and still does. This has to be one of the most pessimistic big-budget movies ever made by a major studio. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Captain America (1990)
and Fantastic Four (1994)

The Neverending
Film Festival

In the 1990s, before Marvel launched its juggernaut of blockbuster superhero movies, comic book sales were lagging, so the company rented its superheroes to low-budget kingpin Roger Corman. Corman's companies made at least two forgotten Marvel movies. Maybe more, but I don't care enough to research it.

I think I've seen one of the recent Chris Evans Captain America movies, but it was so bland I barely remember it. This earlier version is bland, too, but hey, I always found the Captain America comic books bland. The character is bland. He's basically a walking pledge of allegiance.

This version of Captain Bland seems less bloated, has more of a comprehensible story, and interesting actors in supporting roles — Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Darren MacGavin, and Michael Nouri from The Hidden. Someone named Matt Salinger plays Captain America, silly shield and all, but he's kinda… bland. 

As for Corman's Fantastic Four, it was never released theatrically, so someone must've thought it truly sucked. It's been pirated online, though, and it's easy enough to find, but guess what? It sucks.

Four space travelers get exposed to some wacky cosmic rays, which gives them each different superpowers. One gets all stretchy. One can make fire by thinking of flames. One can make herself invisible. One becomes the Incredible Hulk, but he's orange, not the ordinary green Hulk. He looks better in orange, and it's a well-designed costume that's better than CGI.

The scene where one of the Four figures out why the cosmic rays affected each of them differently — because the rays somehow understood each of their character flaws — is unintentionally funny, and reminded me of the end of The Wizard of Oz.

The plot? Yeah, there is one, but it's not much. A weird-looking bad guy kidnaps a blind woman to make her his bride, and rape is implied but immediately forgotten. There's also something about world domination, of course (required in superhero movies) but most of this seems like the movie's Invisible Woman — barely there.

The music suggest that this is all tongue-in-cheek, and when the pretty woman walks on screen, she's repeatedly greeted with tinkling piano music, as if to suggest that she's sugar and spice and everything nice.

I haven't seen any of the other Fantastic Four adaptations, but they've all been flops. Maybe they were just as bad as this. The orange Hulk was the only thing I kinda liked here.

Verdict: MAYBE, for both movies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Foodfight (2012)

This is an animated bore that seems to be set in a supermarket world, where a hound dog-looking detective (voiced by the insufferable Charlie Sheen) has lost his dumb blonde girlfriend (Hillary Duff).

Not sure why or how this ended up in my watch queue. I used to enjoy cartoons once in a while, when they were cartoons — drawn by human hand, and scripted by, well, writers.

I'm put off, though, by this more modern and marshmallowy style of computer-generated imagery, and repulsed by the almost-AI-written 'carnival of zany' wisecracks that define this, and most animated works these days. I was gone after about 15 minutes.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Klute (1971)

This movie wasn't quite what I'd been led to believe. It's a good detective drama, and I especially liked the ending, but why do so many people claim Klute is a classic?

Jane Fonda plays Bree Daniels, a high-class hooker who's in therapy, and wants to be an actress.

Donald Sutherland is John Klute, a cop who's looking for a friend who vanished after boinking Fonda and sending her several kooky letters.

There's a plot twist 2/3 of the way through that's so obvious you'll grow impatient waiting for it. 

Roy Scheider is kinda fun as a bad guy.

Sutherland is so low-key he's an ad for thorazine, and there's almost nothing interesting about his character, so why is the movie called Klute instead of Bree?

Fonda's Bree is much more interesting, but still, almost every scene establishes again that despite being a prostitute, she's actually very nice, wants out of the business, has other career plans, etc. She's a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, but showing and telling us that half a dozen times would've been more than ample.

Verdict: YES, but c'mon.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Spy Kids (2001)

When I feel like a kid, sometimes I want to watch a movie for kids, and this was fun.

It's about two siblings who discover that their parents are retired spies. They discover this, though, when their parents get kidnapped, so the kids have to rescue Mom and Dad.

"My parents can't be spies — they're not cool enough!"

It's complete silliness, with great gadgets, wild visuals, realistic brother-sister squabbling, manufactured monsters, imposter robots, and some genuine laughs.

Written and directed by Robert Rodrigues (El Mariachi). Alan Cuming plays a bad guy, who's also a Pee-wee-esque kids' show host. He's so authentically Pee-wee that his show's theme song was written by Danny Elfman, same as Pee-wee's. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

For an audience of me, it's a bad idea to begin a movie with a hymn, performed in its entirety. Two full minutes of "Just A Closer Walk with Thee," but why? It isn't pertinent to the plot — this is a movie about basketball hustlers — and it put me in a bad mood right from the start.

The bad mood may have colored my judgment, but the lightweight comedy-drama of White Men Can't Jump never won me over. It's another Ron Shelton sports movie, and it's OK. Not as good as Bill Durham, not as bad as Play It to the Bone.

Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson play basketball plausibly, and Rosie Perez improves everything she's in, but basically this is two hours of smartass on-court trash talking. Yo' momma. Yo' sistah. Yo' grandma. Yo' aunt.

Verdict: MAYBE.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   


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