Endless Bummer: Meatballs 3 – Summer Job (1986)

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By the standards of its time, “Meatballs 3” is a normal movie – really sexist and homophobic by the standards of ours, in other words – up to a point. That point is breached when the dead porn star who’s been sent down to Earth to help our hero lose his virginity gives him instructions on picking up women. “No,” she says, “means yes”. This gets repeated a few more times, and I became sad. My wife, half-watching to that point, looked at me open-mouthed, and said “I remember being younger and thinking the No Means No brigade were just stating the obvious”; my brain wandered to the numbers of sexual assaults that have been justified, down the years, with “I thought she was just playing hard to get!”

 

So I don’t just get angry for the entirety of the rest of this review, I’ll pretend it was given the best possible spin (in reality, the woman subject to this “romancing” has to knee him in the balls to get him to stop) and followed it up with “treat women as if they’re your equals –because they are – and you’ll probably do okay”. Because, take that bit out and you’ve got one of the stupidest, funnest, most OTT sex comedies of the era, one I thoroughly enjoyed in my teens and almost enjoyed as much today.

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This is a sequel, of sorts, to the first “Meatballs”. Rudy is now 16 or thereabouts (and has switched from Chris Makepeace to McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey) and is off to work for Bill Murray’s character Tripper at his river resort. The opening scene really lets you know what you’re getting yourself in for, as a group of people have had a bet on how long it takes the evil woman (who I’m not sure is ever referred to by name, let’s call her Cruella) to entice an erection from him just by flirting. 32 seconds, in case you were wondering – with one charmer shouting “You could hang a flag on it!” Then, as he’s leaving the diner all this has happened in, we see he was reading a book called “How To Pick Up Tons Of Horny Girls”.

 

Still with me? Wondering if Bill Murray is actually going to show up in this movie? Of course not! He’s sold the resort to Mean Gene, a member of a Hell’s-Angels-on-boats group called The River Rats, but didn’t bother telling his friend with anything as convenient as a phone call. He just leaves a letter as he’s gone off to manage a female mud wrestling group in Omaha…but Rudy’s old friend Wendy from the first movie is also working for Mean Gene, and she’s now played by Isabelle Mejias, who we saw yesterday in “Heavy Metal Summer”. She’s got the super-cute tomboy thing working for her, and it’s a damn shame her career never really went anywhere.

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Just trying to sum this movie up is hurting my brain. I haven’t even mentioned that it appears this movie is a cheat, have I? The first five minutes tries to give the impression it’s set in the 1950s, with the cars and the diner and the music…then Rudy’s book is enclosed in a magazine called “Portable Computer”, and it’s very obviously set in the present from that moment on, which poses a few questions. Was it sold to investors as a 50s-set nostalgia trip? Or did they just have some stock footage lying around which they used to pad out the opening of their movie?

 

We can do this! We can get through this recap! Wendy throws herself at Rudy, including inviting him over to watch “E.a.t. Me – The Sextra-Terrestrial”, but he’s all about scoring with “hot” women, and his screaming to the stars “I just want to get laid!” triggers Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. By a fortunate coincidence, the star of that porno, Roxy DuJour (Sally Kellerman, who spent the 80s in crap like this, suggesting she was desperate for the money – she’s Oscar nominated!) just died, so to help her get in “upstairs”, she needs to go back down to Earth and do a good deed, which she reads as helping Rudy have sex.

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For some reason, every asshole from the diner scene at the beginning spends the entire summer at Mean Gene’s. Now, it just seems like it’s a bar on the river, with a spot for refuelling boats, no hotel or anything like that, so…dammit, this movie has no logic and if I keep doing this the review will be 10,000 words long. Now’s the time to just throw all the weirdness “Meatballs 3” shows at the wall, and see if anything sticks.

 

How did the filthy “River Rat” Mean Gene have enough money to buy the entire resort? Why did he pretend that Shannon Tweed was his wife and not his sister, if he was going to spend the entire summer “cheating” on her? He’s not involved in the betting subplot in any way. Why does he invite the rest of the gang to hang out and drink free beer, as his business model presumably relies on partying teenagers not being hassled by scumbags? Why does the entirety of the wet T-shirt contest consist of two girls? Did Cruella really have sex with a bull at the end? For those of you who remember “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”, this is co-star Caroline Rhea’s movie debut, in an uncredited role. “Meatballs 3” evidently traumatised her to the point she didn’t act again for four years.

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Kellerman is, of course, more a hindrance than a help. After being fine with him wanting to hit on a plain-looking not-too-young biker chick at the bar (I’d lay odds on her being the girlfriend of one of the producers, as she certainly didn’t get the gig thanks to her acting), she’s disgusted that he wants to have sex with the younger, hotter woman who runs a kiosk on the waterfront, because she’s “too old”. Huh? By the end, of course, after he becomes the hero of the resort and gets respect from Mean Gene, he realises that Wendy is the woman for him, but now Wendy is the one getting help from the ghost. And “no means yes” gets illustrated once again.

 

This movie is so gleeful in its ludicrousness that, were it not for that horrible central message, it would be a “classic” of sorts. It’s just boobs, boobs, dumb joke, “you’re the faggot!”, boobs, sleazy guys, boobs, constant sex, women with no self-respect, boobs, comic violence, dumb joke, boobs, “lesson learned”, closing credits.

 

Rating: thumbs up*

Endless Bummer: Heavy Metal Summer (1988)

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I wonder, sometimes, if reality is constantly changing around us. Like, if anyone ever learns too much about something, reality will change just a little to mess with them, or to teach them some humility. The reason I say this, dear reader, is because I have seen a lot of 1980s “summer” movies – the teen raunch, holiday destination type of thing. A lot. Yet, in 2015, there are still movies from that era I’ve never heard of, much less seen, and I feel a little surprised by that. That brings us to “Heavy Metal Summer” (aka “State Park”, as generic and boring a title as I’ve ever heard, so thank heavens they changed it).

I’m also becoming familiar with the works of Rafal Zielinski, who appears to have reinvented himself in the 2000s as an arthouse director of sorts, but in that brief blissful period of Canadian tax relief for movie companies, was the go-to guy for resort-based laughs. Both “Screwballs” movies, “Recruits”, “National Lampoon’s Last Resort” and this all bear his name, and they’re a weirdly mixed bag in terms of quality, boobs-per-minute, and other real genuine measures.

While a cheap rip-off of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” plays, we’re introduced to the main players in our little tale, and the location which will be their home. Eve, Marsha and Linnie are on their way to Camp Weewankah so Eve (the beautiful Kim Myers, from “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2” and “Hellraiser 4”) can win a “wilderness race” to pay for college; Johnny Rocket and Louis are a couple of heavy metallers, on their way to LA to make it big, but decide to stop off at the Camp to rest up for a day or two; Truckie works at the camp and is disgusted that the state is selling off its asset to a pesticide company for them to build a factory, and is therefore moonlighting as “Weewankah Willie”, dressing in a bear outfit and committing acts of vandalism to expose evil boss Rancewell to the rest of the world.

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What’s surprising and refreshing about “Heavy Metal Summer” is how it’s from the perspective of the women, for the most part. Eve is dealing with her parents’ bankruptcy in a decent, mature way by trying to provide for herself, Linnie is thinking about getting married so decides to play the field a little first, to see if she really likes the guy she’s going to get engaged to, and Marsha just wants to check out guys. Add the female park ranger checking out the naked dudes and you’ve got, for the 80s at least, a feminist movie! Okay, there’s boobs in it, but at such a low level as to be almost invisible by the standards of the time.

Apart from the cartoonishly evil head Park Ranger and Rancewell, everyone sort of seems like a real character too. The old couple who’ve parked up next to the Heavy Metal van are excellent, there’s a good number of supporting characters who do a decent job, and…I probably ought to check myself before I say anything I’ll regret, but this is a pretty fun little movie. If the purpose of the “Endless Bummer” review series is to unearth a few hidden gems, then consider this one unearthed. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to why this one works – the writer is just one of the many unsung hacks who work mostly in TV; the director’s oeuvre has already been discussed; there’s no particularly strong acting work (apart from Kim Myers, I suppose)…it’s just that all the elements chime together, those old standards work because they’re standards sometimes. The subplot of financial crisis seems perhaps more pressing and relatable to our 2015 eyes.

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Okay, it’s not perfect – did anyone ever say “I’ve never even talked to a heavy metaller before?” (although the way the weirdo and the normal girl come together is unusual and good fun), and right-wing gun nut Ted Nugent pops up for a brief cameo, which always spoils things. But it has one of those things for which I’ll resurrect “Is Always Funny”:

“Beach bums who say dude a lot and are perpetually cheerful and stupid are always funny” (this is a subset of the “stupid but friendly jock” archetype)

You may disagree, but I say “bah!” to you. Used in the right proportion to the rest of the movie, the two guys here (so stupid it takes them ages to figure out their boat isn’t moving because they never started the motor) lift every scene they’re in. They’ve been replaced by the stoner in modern movies, but I look forward to the return of the beach bum. While I’m waiting, we’ve got movies like this to enjoy. It’s on Youtube, so as long as you’re not in too demanding a mood, you’ll enjoy this one. One last warning – how big is your tolerance for guys in Speedos? There are a lot of guys wearing very little material in this one.

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Rating: thumbs up

Endless Bummer: Meatballs Part 2 (1984)

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“Meatballs 2” is a weirdly fascinating failure – I mean, not enough to bother watching, in case you were thinking of doing that, but fascinating nonetheless. It’s got a lot of great comic actors (woefully misused). It’s an early example of the “we need to save our camp” sub-genre (done in a really weird way). Oh, and it’s got a Jewish alien dropping his son off on Earth to get a Space-Scouts merit badge (?).

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Part 2 is a movie with no central character. If you’ve seen it before, or if you watch it based on this review (please don’t) tell me who the main character is. It’s not Flash, the Fonz/Bruce Campbell hybrid who we meet first, because he’s not in it enough. It’s not the sweet, virginal Cheryl, as she’s in it even less, even though her and the other girls in her cabin drive most of the plot. It’s not camp owner Giddy, because what teen comedy has an old man star (Richard Mulligan was 52 at the time but looked 10 years older)? It’s not the younger boys and their new alien friend “Meathead”, because they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie until 5 minutes before the end. Hopefully this will illustrate what a curious experience watching this was.

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Camp Sasquatch is your traditional good time, healthy outdoor activity camp, run by Giddy with help from bus driver Albert (an already-fairly-famous Paul Reubens) and head counsellor Jamie (Archie Hahn, genuinely brilliant improv comedian). Into this fairly nice place comes Flash, who is sent there as punishment for getting arrested (the days when it was that easy for criminals to get access to children, eh?), a few other undeveloped counsellors and a bunch of kids. The girls decide to help Cheryl see a penis before the end of the summer, and the younger boys – who include future TV producers Scott Nemes and Jason Hervey, oddly enough – meet Meathead the alien and occasionally have pretty low-key adventures with him, mainly centering round his ability to walk through things.

 

Camp Patton, over the lake, is run by Colonel Hershey and Sergeant Felix Foxglove (an appallingly unfunny homophobically camp turn from John Larroquette, who ought to be ashamed of himself). For absolutely no reason whatsoever, the local Native American owner of the lake sells it to Hershey, and he stops Camp Sasquatch from using the lake. Then, again for no reason, he agrees to a boxing match for sole possession of both camps and the lake, but sabotages Sasquatch’s champion, meaning Flash will have to step in and fight Patton’s champ, Mad Dog. Never mind that Mad Dog is played by the 6’4”, 280lb Donald Gibb whereas Flash is about 5’8” and 170lbs!

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As I hope I’ve got across, none of this makes any sense at all. It feels like random bits of plot from about five different movies, just tossed together. Worst of all is the Meathead plot, and there’s a 100% chance it was written in when “ET” (released two years prior) became such a big hit. Because there’s such a prominent role given to the kids and the kid-friendly alien, that leads to the main problem with the movie…

 

…It’s a sex comedy with no sex in it. The girls have their plan to see “pinkies” (perhaps the only interesting thing about the movie is the driving force for the dirty stuff being women) but it’s all really chaste, with the most exciting thing a bit of kissing right at the end of the movie. No nudity, no dirty jokes, no wacky plans to get drunk or stoned, no nothing.  All we’re left with is a series of anaemic pranks and farce-like scenes, with perhaps the lamest closing joke in movie history.

 

What makes all of this weirder is knowing who the director is. Ken Wiederhorn, as well as making underwater Nazi zombie classic “Shock Waves”, also directed “King Frat”, perhaps the all-time-great grossness for its own sake movie. What “Meatballs 2” needed was a farting competition! Well, anything other than a boxing match where one of the fighters is levitated by an alien, allowing him to win easily. But honestly, it feels like a movie made by people who’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to be young, rarely offensive in its badness (apart from Larroquette) but never any good either. It’s worse than bad, it’s boring.

MEATBALLS PART II, Paul Reubens, 1984. ©TriStar Pictures

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: City Cops (1989)

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In a genre and era rife with sexism and homophobia, it takes a special movie to really stand out from the crowd. “City Cops” is that movie, though, with numerous scenes that left me open-mouthed with amazement that, even in 1989, this was seen as acceptable. I really don’t know where to start – it can’t be the plot, because it makes no sense, and it can’t be the acting, because it’s all terrible, and the dubbing is done by the same two guys and one woman for the entirety of the cast, leading to the unusual sensation of most conversations sounding like one guy talking to himself.

Cynthia Rothrock, who deserved far far better than this, is FBI agent Cindy (no surname given). Some guy they need for some reason is in Hong Kong, so she’s asked to go over there and pick him up. On her own, with seemingly no “hey, local police, we’re on our way” communication beforehand. When she gets there, she meets two local cops who seem way more bothered about trying to pick up women than they do with showing even the most basic level of competence at their jobs – I’ll call them Sex Pest and Moron, because I honestly don’t remember their names in the movie. The Captain demands that she be subservient to him, and she agrees because she’s a woman and women should absolutely not do or say anything to contradict a man.

 

Right, we’ve established the basics. A huge chunk of sexism to start the movie off, the sort of sexism that just thinks it’s the normal way of the world, which is even worse. But the worst is yet to come, and it centres around the FBI informant. We meet him, dressed as a woman (let’s call him Cross-Dresser), in a shopping mall. Sex Pest and Moron are trying to track down someone who’s been molesting women in the mall, and this criminal feels up Cross-Dresser, and when he’s arrested says because he tried to molest a man, it doesn’t count – so they just trip him up and he falls, hands first, onto an old lady, which counts as molesting in their book.

 

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L-R – Cindy, Moron, Sex Pest

The two cops realise that Cross-Dresser is the guy that Agent Cindy is looking for, so decide for reasons unknown to take him to dinner. At one point, Moron drinks from Cross-Dresser’s glass of water, to which he says “aren’t you afraid I have AIDS?” After a solid few minutes of homophobia, Cross-Dresser (seeing an opportunity to escape, although why he’d want to is never mentioned) claims he was Rock Hudson’s boyfriend, and while Sex Pest is off scrubbing himself with bleach, Cross-Dresser disgusts Moron so much he’s allowed to go off to the bathroom on his own, so escapes. Sex Pest comes back to the table, shouts “where’s the queer?” and Moron says he didn’t want to accompany him to the bathroom, for fear “he’d probably rape me up the bum”. And scene!

 

Now, it seems way more likely that Cross-Dresser was dressed as a woman in order to avoid the police, not because he was gay. There’s quite a lot of scenes where the dubbing makes no sense, indicating that some plot changes have occurred from the original Hong Kong movie…but then again, who knows? Zero reference is made to his sexuality again, and he spends the rest of the movie in “male” clothes.

 

Sex Pest and Moron, because they’re bored of Cindy, decide to play a trick on her, selling her as a prostitute to a local loan shark while they’re in a bar. Sex Pest then comes on to one of the waitresses, who according to the movie just happens to be Cross-Dresser’s sister…his preferred seduction technique (one shared by Jackie Chan in a lot of his Hong Kong movies) is to hover a hair’s breadth from sexual assault until the woman relents. Plus there’s a Japanese yakuza gang knocking about, although if you held a gun to my head I wouldn’t be able to tell you what their relation to the rest of the plot is.

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As the film wheezes on, Sex Pest gets his girl, and then while on a stakeout, Moron gets a kicking so, for reasons I will never understand, Cindy gives him a good massage. As she’s rubbing his chest, her face appears to be trying to convey a growing romantic attachment, and even though he’s an awful cop, an awful human being and has a face like a smacked arse, they start a relationship. I mean, you can’t have a woman in a movie without her needing a man to complete her as a person! Haha!

 

There’s a decent fight at the end, but it’s too little, too late. It’s best thought of as a horrible relic from a less enlightened time (even though 1989 is way too late for this sort of garbage to be acceptable), and unless you’re a Rothrock completist, best steer clear of this one.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Endless Bummer: Screwballs 2 (aka Loose Screws) (1985)

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I know we movie reviewers like to throw around hyperbole, but this could be the most morally reprehensible of all the 80s teen raunch movies. There is a 0% chance of anything like this getting close to a cinema release today – I’m sure some sub-Asylum company is still churning out stuff like this now, but there’ll be the faint whiff of post-modernism about it, or the boys will learn a valuable lesson by the end, or something to justify 90 minutes of T&A.

“Loose Screws”, on the other hand, has none of that. Four guys are expelled from BEAVER HIGH for their elaborate schemes to have sex with girls, or just to see them naked. They’re sent to COXWELL ACADEMY, one step up from reform school, although everyone else there seems pretty okay, under the supervision of PRINCIPAL ARSENAULT, gym teacher HILDA VON BLOW and French teacher MONA LOTT. Our boys interact with such delightful fellow students as NIKKI NYSTROKE and TRACEY GRATEHEAD during the movie.

But who are our heroes, I hear you ask? Apart from minor 90s action star Bryan Genesse in a very early role, their careers have sadly not taken them to the heights they deserved (in some cases, this was their only credit of any note). New to the franchise are Genesse as “Brad Lovett” and Lawrence Van Der Kolk as “Steve Hardman”, names which are dull enough to not bother putting in bold. Returning from part 1 are Jason Warren and Alan Deveau, but they aren’t playing the same characters (for those of you with long memories, their former names were “Melvin Jerkovski” and  “Howie Bates”, almost quaint in their simplicity). For “Loose Screws”, they’re retooled as MARVIN EATMORE and HUGH G RECTION. Now, Mr and Mrs Rection, what on earth were you thinking?

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I know what you’re thinking, though. “Mark”, so your internal monologue goes, “I really liked the scene where one of them tricked a bunch of girls into taking their clothes off so he could inspect their boobs. Is there anything like that in this one?” Not only is there a scene like it, it’s almost exactly the same! For those of you who enjoyed the monomaniacal pursuit of untouchable Purity Busch in part 1, helpfully the movie provides us with MONA LOTT, and you’ll no doubt have a great time watching our fearsome foursome pretend to be interested in private lessons, send the fattest of the four to sneak through the air ducts to spy on the girls’ locker room from above (see if you can guess how the scene ends!), pay a masseur so they can feel her naked body, and video-taping her getting undressed. Such japes!

Luckily, we’re not confined to them trying to sleep with their adult teacher. “Loose Screws” has a broader palette than that, with a “plot” centring round a competition with a scoring system relating to number of women slept with, seen naked, and so on. HUGH G RECTION invents a chemical which, when put in the swimming pool, dissolves the bathing suits of the nubile teens while leaving their skin unharmed. Lovett pretends to be a woman to sleep in the girls’ dormitory, and taking advantage of the extreme short-sightedness of the lovely Candy Barr, tries to get her to touch his penis. They take a trip to a strip club and not only witness a rather long wet t-shirt contest, but are called up on stage to spray four lucky ladies with whipped cream. Last but not least, Hardman sort of has sex with the Principal’s wife a few times. And there’s something for the female viewers too! We get one scene where the boys are sat around in their (rather small) underwear, just shooting the breeze.

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Their behaviour is so appalling they’re even expelled from COXWELL, but decide to get their “revenge” at the unveiling of a new statue of the school’s founder. They perform this feat by swapping a video of the school’s history for one of the Principal and Miss Lott having sex, then rig the statue so it emits aphrodisiac gas, causing two women to sexually assault the Principal, and Miss Lott to perform a striptease in front of the packed auditorium. They are, of course, both fired on the spot. As we’ll all agree, trying to do your job fairly, and not acceding to the demands of four sex-crazed juvenile delinquents, is a perfectly valid reason to have your life completely and utterly destroyed. That they appeared to have a few minutes of film left to use, so turned our heroes into a band at the end, with a music video recorded on that same stage, is just the cherry on top of this sundae of cinematic perfection.

I’ve not even mentioned the soundtrack yet, with songs like “Do The Screw” and “I Have A Rubber In My Wallet”! I hope you enjoyed this review, anyway. The movie itself is so thoroughly rotten but so single-minded in its pursuit of boobs and sex that it passes through some sort of event horizon to become good again. But is it good enough to watch? I think a healthy amount of laughing at, rather than with, the movie will be necessary…but they really pack stuff in there. The weird golf course sex scene! The synchronised dancing! The bench gag!

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Canada, for a few years in the 1980s, had a tax law which made it financially worthwhile to make movies there, and for some reason a lot of them were Porky’s-inspired sex comedies, often with “balls” in the title (probably relating to Canadian-filmed “Meatballs”). This started with the first “Screwballs” in 1983 and had just ended by the time of semi-sequel “Screwball Hotel” in 1988, so we ought to admire just how much terrible filmmaking they managed to fit into that time.

Rating: thumbs up

Endless Bummer: Meatballs (1979)

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Imagine, if you will, a “Ghostbusters 3” in the early 90s that was, rather than comedy made by some of the funniest people ever, a cheap stupid sex romp. Because that’s what happened to “Meatballs” – same director (Ivan Reitman), same star (Bill Murray), one of the same writers (Harold Ramis). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! “Meatballs 3” is yet to come.

 

“Meatballs” basically sets the template for not only every “summer camp” movie, but every comedy set at a resort of any kind – mountains, beaches, you name it. Murray is Tripper, the head counsellor at Camp North Star, and he lives in squalor, with graffiti on the walls, clothes and food containers everywhere…but he has a heart of gold too.  Camper Rudy (Chris Makepeace) feels out of place and Tripper takes him under his wing, helping him out and building up his confidence; Tripper also has to “supervise” the other counsellors, most of whom appear to have some level of competence at their jobs. Compare this to later movies, where the counsellors are only there to get drunk and have sex, and it’s weirdly refreshing.

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One other crucial bit of template setting is largely ignoring the kids – we get a few scenes where it looks like some of the actual campers are going to get a storyline, but after the halfway point we barely see them again (apart from Rudy). Perhaps for the best, after this exchange as Murray is showing the counsellors round:

“Alright, this is the 14 year old girls cabin. They have the drive and the equipment, but they don’t have the experience. They better not get it from you guys. Not this summer, anyway, huh?”

With this scene, and the one where Tripper, rejected by love interest Roxanne (Kate Lynch), pins her down, refuses to leave or let her leave and then wrestles her as she’s shouting at him to stop, the best you can say is that it’s a product of its time? The anti-Polish joke and mild homophobia are just the icing on the cake.

 

But I don’t want you to think it’s that awful a movie – it’s got tons to recommend it, still. First up is how, for all I’ve just said, there’s reasonably equality in this movie. No nudity, no women feeling like they have to have sex with some sleazy asshole, the female counsellors pass the Bechdel Test, and the reasonably unglamorous cast dresses in roughly the same thing – bell-bottom jeans or short shorts , plus camp t-shirts. It’s pleasant to see, and adds to the gentle, hang-out comedy vibe the whole movie puts out. With a lesser star, you’d be too busy worrying about stuff like “what does this slob do when the camp isn’t open?” or “why does this movie have no plot, really?”

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After making a joke of how much they’re ignoring the kids (all the counsellors go on an overnight camping trip on their own), the plot wraps up with an “Olympiad” between Camp North Star and Camp Mohawk, where Rudy has to save the day by running a marathon against Mohawk’s finest – in a scene which goes on for ages and has no music til right at the end, feeling quite weird to my modern sensibilities. There’s cheating, there’s a guy winning a wrestling match by using pro wrestling moves…Then most everyone pairs off at the end – even Spaz, the nerdy guy!

 

Bill Murray was in the middle of his tenure on “Saturday Night Live” when he made this, and this is his first starring role. He’s obviously brilliant, visibly cracking up the other campers during his big rousing speech at the end (a speech which boils down to “it doesn’t matter if we win or not”, a great touch), and I get the feeling director Reitman just leaned back and let him do his thing as often as possible. He was so good that they shot extra scenes with him and Makepeace after principal photography had ended, which means the rest of the cast feel a little underdeveloped; which is a shame, as it would have been refreshing to see more of the girls just be funny with each other.

 

It’s also filmed at a real summer camp, all the extras were real campers and counsellors, and the scene shot at the “Parents Visit” day was really shot at that camp’s “Parents Visit” day. It’s a perfect example of a movie making it look like it’s got a bigger budget by shooting real events and inserting themselves into it, and it adds up to a great look. If you’re desperate to see what the same camp looks like in 2008, then Disney’s “Camp Rock” filmed there too.

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It’s a surprisingly mellow, funny comedy, with none of the “we need to save the camp from the evil developers” storyline that would become a staple of the genre in the 80s (and is the plot of the sequel). It’s also, oddly, the first film Ivan Reitman directed after 1973’s “Cannibal Girls” – the improvised slasher movie we covered and enjoyed – as he spent most of the 70s producing horror, including a couple of early David Cronenberg movies.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Endless Bummer: Screwballs (1983)

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Our “Endless Bummer” season of more obscure or unusual teen movies continues with something that reminds us of nothing more than “Porky’s” with no morals. That seems pretty horrific, doesn’t it? When you start thinking that “Porky’s” was kinda sex-positive, and had that whole storyline about fighting anti-Semitism…and that’s when you think “oh my god this movie is so repellent it’s made me wax lyrical about bloody Porky’s” and pour yourself a stiff drink.

“Screwballs” has one slightly unusual feature, and that’s the makeup of its main cast. The intro shows the various ways our five heroes end up in detention, and luckily they’re all sleazy ways. Rick dressed as a doctor and gave breast exams to the new students (called “freshmen”, which means if my wife is correct, they were supposed to be 14 years old. Yuck). Brent sexually teased the movie’s villain “Purity Busch” (what a name) in French class. The even better named Melvin Jerkovski was caught masturbating in the meat locker. Howie, the nerd, rearranged every mirror in the school in order to see up the skirts of cheerleaders after practice. And poor new kid Tim was tricked into entering the girls washroom. Anyway, the weird thing is, these five would be enemies in a normal high school movie – the cool guy, the rich guy, the pervert, the nerd and the new guy. But here they’re all united in their hatred of Ms Busch and decide that, before Homecoming, one of them will have sex with her (or they’ll see her naked).

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A simple and beautiful concept. I mean, breast exams! Let’s talk about the ladies of the movie a little, too. Purity is played by Linda Speciale, whose career sadly went nowhere after this (although, fun fact, she was in the first episode of “Breaking Bad” and is the only person to be naked on screen in that show). She plays the part with a sense of knowing just what effect her beauty has on her horny teen classmates, despite being the allegedly uptight Christian virgin, which is odd-ish. The somewhat looser-moralled Bootsie Goodhead is a different kettle of fish, though. Played by Linda Shayne, who also co-wrote the movie and is now better known as a writer and director, has to do all the work in her romance with new kid Tim, delivers the hopefully-wrote-it-herself line “wanna play hide the salami?”, entices an erection from Howie to help him get a bowling ball stuck to his crotch to pop off, and never lets a dirty smile stray from her lips. She’s great, even if the film is thoroughly rotten.

There’s a Spanish Fly scene, where a bottle of the stuff in the punch at a boring party (for the opening of the school’s airplane repair garage? Were they offered an aircraft hangar to film in for the day and wrote a scene around it?) turns everyone into blackout-drunk sex maniacs. There’s a strip bowling scene, where everyone seems delighted to take their clothes off. There’s a way too long scene set in a strip club (just in case there weren’t enough boobs for you already). There’s a cheerleader practice scene where the girls chant “we must, we must, we must develop our bust” – hurray for feminism!

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It’s just scene after scene of the guys trying ever more elaborate ways of either getting into Purity’s pants, or just getting them off her. The weird thing is, at least three of the guys are getting regular sex with other girls, so I’m not sure what their motivation was, other than cold-hearted revenge. Yes, ladies and gentlemen (although mostly gentlemen, I presume), the closing scene of “Screwballs” is celebration as the famous five sew metal into Purity’s prom dress then get a super-powerful magnet to pull it off, leaving her topless in front of the whole school. Just drink in the sexual politics on display there. And yet…it’s horrifically entertaining. It’s so single minded!

I’d be genuinely interested to find out what Linda Shayne thinks of this now, but I wonder if the lion’s share of disappointment must be heaped on the head of ISCFC regular…Jim Wynorski! As well as giving us one good movie (“Deathstalker 2”) and about a hundred pieces of garbage (everything else he’s ever done), he worked a variety of movie jobs, including writing stuff like this. He was probably the person who thought that five guys pursuing a view of one girl’s breasts would be funny and charming, not a horrific series of ugly meaningless sketches with no continuity. Director Rafal Zielinski appears to have found his level early in his career, and would go on to basically nothing (although he did do “National Lampoon’s Last Resort”, which I quite liked). Well, he tried his hand at arthouse movies for a while too, so let’s hope they were slightly better than this.

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Watch this to be reminded that although we still have a long way to go to get true gender equality, we’ve still come a long way in 30 years. Can you imagine the ungodly furore if this movie was made today?

Rating: thumbs up

PS – while this was watched / enjoyed on Youtube, the blu-ray from Severin Films looks amazing, packed full of special features, including an interview with Shayne and Wynorski. Worth picking up, I’d say, even if the film is bizarrely terrible. Actually, Severin look great, and their site will be getting some of my £££ soon.

Youtube Film Club: China O’Brien 2 (1990)

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The denim-iest front cover ever

 

Competence in 80s and 90s martial arts cinema is by no means a given (witness the work of Ron Marchini if you’d like an example) so it’s nice to see one where everyone involved knows what they’re doing. Robert Clouse, director of “Enter The Dragon” and the first “China O’Brien”, has the good sense to keep the first movie’s stars – Cynthia Rothrock as Sheriff China; Richard Norton as teacher / former special forces guy Matt; and Keith Cooke as one-handed Native American badass Dakota – and let them do what they do best.

After the bombshell of finding out that China’s real name is Lori (thanks to a plaque she’s awarded at the beginning) we get cracking with the plot, which is only tangentially related to any of our heroes. One of the locals is in the FBI’s witness protection programme after ratting out criminal Charlie Baskin, but he also stole $5 million from him, unbeknownst to his family. Charlie busts out of jail and goes on a revenge spree against the people who put him behind bars, including, best of all, getting the judge as he’s on stage at a magic show. Was he just really confident or had no-one warned him a killer with a grudge against him was on the loose? Anyway, the baddies need the money to do a big drug deal and thanks to a mole inside the FBI, know where it is.

 

So China and her crew protect the family while hunting down Baskin and his seemingly limitless army of goons (seriously, that 5 million isn’t going to be much when you’ve divided it a hundred ways) and the story progresses as these stories do, with minor characters getting picked off and so on. Not a single one of the villains is any good at fighting, though, which means China and the boys go through them like a warm knife through butter.

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When this movie really picks up is in the last 20 minutes. Up to then has been okay, if a little slow, but it’s as if they all suddenly go “crap! We’ve got all these cool ideas for fights and stunts but we’ve already done the first hour! Let’s just cram it all in!” Basically, everything after the extremely odd one-camera scene – where all the main heroes are having a conversation in one shot, as if their second camera broke so they had to cram everyone into one corner of one room to film them – is a masterpiece of martial arts cinema.

 

You’ve got Richard Norton in an immaculate white t-shirt / double denim combo, not a bit of dirt or blood on him after all the fighting; China kicking someone clean through a wall (like they had a wire-fu special effects guy, but only for a day’s filming); someone getting a piano dropped on them; one goon hiding inside a toilet; China killing someone with a bow, after evidently forgetting she put down her gun for ever because she didn’t want to kill anyone else; and, perhaps best of all, KNIFE HAND GUY! He just shows up out of nowhere, has a cool fight with China and that’s it. He’s so awesome he makes it to the poster above, despite only being in the movie for maybe 45 seconds.

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There’s a couple of smaller performances that according to IMDB were the result of them realising the film was too short and having to go back months later for reshoots. Billy Blanks, taebo master, star of such gems as “No Retreat, No Surrender 4” and “TC2000” and perhaps the worst actor I’ve ever seen in my life, shows up in an uncredited role as “Zebra Print Zubaz Pants Guy” and gets his ass kicked swiftly – I’d like to think he was just hanging out on the set, visiting his martial arts buddies, and the director paid him a few hundred dollars to get beat up on camera. The other oddity is Baskin has a girlfriend at the beginning who’s obviously a bodybuilder, and it seemed a no-brainer that she’d be fighting China at some point. Unfortunately, she just disappears from the movie after a few scenes, wasted opportunity and all that.

 

It’s not what you’d call a great film, or even a very good one. The first hour is too slow and while I love Rothrock and Norton, neither of them are great actors so it can be a bit of a slog to get through their scenes. But what it does have is that super-entertaining final act. Norton wears a Canadian tuxedo to a funeral, it doesn’t so much have an ending so much as “this line’ll do as a last one, cut”…it’s got it all.

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Rating: thumbs up