The Weekend Watchlist - Flashback Friday Edition
Inspired by last week's rediscovery of the 1985 classic (yes, classic) Gotcha!, which completely held up, I wanted to devote this Weekend Watchlist to a highly-specific subgenre of films - movies I watched constantly on HBO as a kid. Some of them are amazing, some...not, but all of them offer a glimpse into how I became the person I am today. All of these films are available through a pretty wide range of streaming services (Tubi?) so instead of listing them all, I'll take this moment to recommend www.justwatch.com which allows you to search for movies and television shows and determine where you can find them streaming for free or VOD (video on demand).
The Last Dragon (1985)
Going back to 1985 for my first pick, and easily my favorite of these films today is the officially-titled Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon. Set in Harlem, the film stars Taimak as "Bruce" Leroy Green a young man obsessed with martial arts and martial arts films, and specifically with Bruce Lee (because how could you not be?). While searching for a master who can teach him the power of "the Glow" he runs afoul of a shady music producer/video game arcade owner named (naturally) Eddie Arkadian and the local gang leader, Sho-Nuff. You can probably already tell this movie is crazy, and I haven't even gotten to Vanity (a Prince protege) as Laura Charles, who owns a club called Seventh Heaven, hosts a pop music video show, and who performs a truly strange musical number in the middle of the film. The movie also features an early appearance by Shameless and Fargo (the film) star William H. Macy as Laura's manager. Over the years I've gone from loving the movie nostalgically, to loving it ironically, to now just full on genuinely enjoying everything about it. Part of that was realizing how much I always identified with Leroy, who never quite fit in with everyone around him, and who wound up being cool without changing or compromising who he was.
BMX Bandits (1983)
Alright, so I'll state up front that I tried to rewatch this movie a few years ago and it was rough. Maybe it was the nonsensical plot, which involves three BMX bike riding youths in Australia who come up against a gang of criminals in a plot revolving around stolen walkie-talkies, building a bike-riding course to do tricks on, and doing cool tricks on your bike. It was clearly the latter (and maybe the walkie-talkies) that were the draw when I was a kid, but I was obsessed with this film. It inspired, among other things, the building of a small ramp that I used to jump my own bike (and the ensuing wipeout that resulted). It also inspired the British sketch comedy show That Mitchell/Webb Look to create a series of sketches titled "Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandit" about a crimefighting duo consisting of a wizard who can summon a host of all-powerful archangels and a dude who can do bike tricks. My love (mostly nostalgic) for this movie is still so strong that despite knowing it didn't hold up last time I tried to watch it, I still feel the urge to give it another shot. Oh, and fun fact - a young, pre-stardom Nicole Kidman stars as the third BMX Bandit, so if you ever harbored a desire to see her pop wheelies on a bike, this is absolutely the film for you.
Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)
I'll admit, I haven't seen this movie in years. But based on my memory of it, this is a seriously underrated movie. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Pryce, Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Jim Belushi (and yes I'm assuming my audience knows who those people are) the plot is the sort of Hitchcock-ian thriller/comedy you don't often see anymore. Whoopi plays a bank employee who unwittingly intercepts a message from a spy who calls himself "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and who needs her help. While developing feelings for Jack (who she hasn't met face to face) she becomes targeted KGB agents who want to learn Jack's identity. I don't know how big this movie was in the 80's, but it seems nearly forgotten today, which is a shame. It's as much a showcase for Whoopi as Beverly Hills Cop was for Eddie Murphy or Fletch was for Chevy Chase. There's also some solid prescience in the online relationship that develops between Whoopi's character and Jack, despite the fact that most of us wouldn't have had the slightest idea what "online" even meant at the time.
The Monster Squad (1987)
As this week sees the release of the Frank Dekker/Shane Black film The Predator, I'll close out this list with the first of their collaborations, The Monster Squad. This is an odd movie that combines the boys' adventure genre of the 80's (The Goonies, Explorers) with the Universal Monsters from several decades earlier. It's something that absolutely shouldn't work and absolutely does. While it's largely a comedy, there's a pretty surprising amount of violence, talk of virgins, and problematic sexual politics (blackmail involving nude photos taken without the person's consent) that would all seem out of place if you've never watched a comedy from the 80's (there's a reason they had to come up with PG-13 as a rating). You'll also have to buy into the idea that the coolest person at the school - he rides a BMX bike, smokes, and wears a leather jacket and sunglasses - would really want to hang out with a gang of nerds two or three years younger than he is. The movie definitely falls into the "holds up" category for me, though. Oh, and helpful hint - in this movie (and maybe only this movie) "nards"="testicles".
Opening This Week (click posters for more information)