1980's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

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Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan are two articulate friends who love music and have the combined academic skill of a sunbathing sloth.  When a mysterious stranger approaches the two with a way to complete their history report, Bill and Ted go on an excellent adventure throughout time.  Stephen Herek directs Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, with the screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (just Excellent Adventure moving forward) is the tightest comedy ever captured on film.  In this post-Apatow era of long-winded improv, Excellent Adventure's a remember how many laughs can be mined from a great script.  Every joke is a setup to another joke, like how Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) blow out their audio equipment in the opening scene to show how bad they are at playing and when they get the "good stuff" at the end they still sound horrible.  Then there's the running oral fixation of Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) whose gigantic corndog in the San Dimas mall never fails to get a laugh out of me.

The most important piece is Excellent Adventure's sincerity.  Despite the high concept plot, it's really just about two high school kids who want to be better than they are so that they can live out their dreams together.  That made this last go around, which I think is the 40+ time I've watched Excellent Adventure, hit my heart a bit harder than previous year's viewings.  I'm not successful yet, but Bill's maxim, "Be excellent to each other," is still an aspiration to live up to.


White Dog (1982)

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Julie, a struggling actress, decides to take over the care of a large white German Shepard she hits with her car.  After the dog protects her from an assault it seems she has found a perfect protector.  Her perfect protector has a fatal flaw - he's been groomed to have a taste for black skin.  Julie begins searching for a way to keep her protector alive and finds a man willing to try and deprogram the white dog.  Samuel Fuller directs White Dog, with the screenplay written by Samuel Fuller and Curtis Hanson, and stars Kristy McNichol, Burl Ives, and Paul Winfield.

I believe racism can be defeated, and toward the end of White Dog it is - if only for a moment.  What happens afterward, and closes the film, is where Samuel Fuller introduces the last of his many ink blot tests where the confrontational images onscreen forced me into thinking just who is in the right.  Personally, the dog had the correct target in mind just when everyone thinks he has been deprogrammed to no longer be an attack dog.  People who want to bury the sins of racism or consider the violence committed in the name of white supremacy the acts of "lone wolves" are complicit in the next act of violence. And the next. And the next.

Fuller gets to this point by painting a striking portrait of how white supremacy views itself in the midst of White Dog's melodrama.  The simple, strong, and quick-to-action German Shepard is given the action hero treatment.  He's smart enough to figure out how to escape an electrified cage in a sensational slow-motion shot looking up at the dog as he ignites sparks while leaping over his prison.  Then there are his protective actions, fueled by the war movie propaganda playing on Julie's (Kristy McNichol) television, and the dog gets another shot worthy of his heroics as he jumps through a window to attack a man assaulting Julie.


Changing Reels Episode 3 – After Hours

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Martin Scorsese has crafted many iconic dramas so it easy to forget he has a funny bone as well.  In episode three of Changing Reels we explore Scorsese’s dark comedy After Hours.  The film follows an office worker who, in an attempt to woo a girl he meets in a coffee shop, encounters the worst night of his life in SoHo.  We also discuss our short films picks of the week:  Dony Permedi’s Kiwi! and Bradley Tangonan’s High Rider.

Subscribe to our show on iTunes!

Show notes:

  • 1:12 – Kiwi! by Dony Permedi
  • 5:38 – High Rider by Bradley Tangonan
  • 10:17 – After Hours by Martin Scorsese

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Sweet Home (1989)

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Earlier video game writing was under the banner Why Video Games, now Pixels In Praxis.  For a FAQ on Pixels In Praxis and explanation of spoiler policy, click here.

Ghost bustin' timeSeth, I have a sneaking suspicion that the topic of this edition of Why Video Games is a sort of "It's time to eat your vegetables." Sweet Home presents a number of challenges unique to it which haven't been present for other games. First off, it's the oldest game we've done so far, so the mechanics at play aren't going to be as refined as we're used to. Second, it's still not available commercially in the United States so the only way I could play it "pure" is by learning kanji and importing it to play on a Famicom, or one of those bargain stations which have the Famicom built in. Third, the only version we have to play is emulated and based on a translation which is now a few years old, so since this is a text-heavy RPG we're at the mercy of the translation skills to communicate the directions for us.

Keeping all this in mind, I decided to take a different approach to Sweet Home. Since the temptation to cheat thanks to emulator Game Genie's and save states is so great I tried to play it as "purely" as possible. This meant using only the in-game saving feature, not looking up any Game Genie codes, and on that note trying to play it without FAQs. After all, if 10-year old Andrew was able to find all the secrets of Final Fantasy VI without the use of the internet or other cheating utensils, surely 31-year old Andrew would be able to get through Sweet Home without relying on modern tools.

This, it turns out, was a foolish thing to think. Sweet Home implements a number of novel ideas which would go on to be used in better games and in this creates a convoluted nightmare of sorts to figure out. I had to restart the game twice because I couldn't figure out the system intuitively, and there weren't in-game queues to push me into finding out options which would have made each of my attempts much easier. For starters, I had no idea that you could send for your other party members to fight with you to share experience, or that there are limited healing items so having everyone with you is the only way to get the most of them, or that permadeath for some of the characters effectively stalls your progress in some ways as - depending on who dies - you may be without certain tools to help you decipher the game.

I wanted to preface our discussion with the limitations, both inherent to the game and self-imposed by myself, because I want to make sure our readers are clear on why I didn't like this at all. Of course, I eventually broke down and looked through some FAQs and Let's Plays, but as opposed to platformers or action games which can build in-game means of communicating just what the hell you're supposed to do - I was at a loss for much of Sweet Home. At the same time, this was the genesis for a lot of things we now take for granted in many RPGs. So tell me Seth, is this Sweet Home the carrot to Octodad's sweet fried calamari?Damn chairsGreat question. I'm not sure I can draw a direct line between Sweet Home and any game that can come out in the many years since. This game seems somewhat an anomaly to me. It's trying to do a lot of things. While the interface is exactly as problematic as you describe, it does manage to shove a lot of interaction into an 8-bit experience. On the surface, it borrows a lot of basic mechanics from the growing RPG genre of the era. Random encounters. Team of heroes pitted against the unknown. There's a power arc described by the level of each character and the associated power stats. All that is well established.

But where it gets interesting, is the experience I think they're trying approximate with this game- that of the Horror Movie. I say that as distinct from horror story or generally-scary video game theme. Everything they stack on top of the basic RPG framework seems to be putting me inside a classic horror flick where a team is sent into the haunted mansion setting and are faced when the tried-and-true tropes we all take for granted now. Stick together or split up? The mansion is in disrepair, therefore falling objects and creaky floorboards can give way at any time. I found myself submitting to the theme, allowing the house to consume my team mates gradually, feeling through my reactions to those events, and trying get a handle on how they could have designed such a game.


Claire Denis: Chocolat (1988)

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France wanders the African land searching for questions to an answer she does not yet understand.  When offered a lift from a friendly motorist, her thoughts wander to her past and the affair that never was between her white mother and their black servant.  Claire Denis directs Chocolat from a screenplay written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau which stars Isaach De Bankolé, Giulia Boschi, Mireille Perrier, and Cécile Ducasse.

We just don't want to be noticed

"They saw no use in helping a race that was already
too charming and naïve and lovely for words.
Leave them unspoiled and just enjoy them, Michael and Anne felt."
Langston Hughes-

"I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids —
and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible,
understand, simply because people refuse to see me
-Ralph Ellison-

I've taken an unusual path through Claire Denis' career.  Starting with Beau Travail, after she already established herself as a great filmmaker, I jumped ahead to the critically beguiling Trouble Every Day and the arthouse greatness of White Material.  Though I've loved each of these films I've been struggling to find just what it is about her work that has captivated me so much.  Keeping this in mind I decided to travel back to the beginning of her career with Chocolat, and I believe I'm closer to the answer which have somewhat eluded me when watching her other films.

Chocolat shows Denis started her career with an absolute grasp of the way we empathize through film, which is how we reconstruct the memories and feelings we carry with us throughout our lives.  There are some interesting choices in the soundtrack to Chocolat which don't necessarily accentuate the film but give me a deeper understanding to how Denis approached her outsider status in colonial French Africa.  An early scene shows the elder France (Mireille Perrier) hitching a ride with a black man and his son.  Earlier she watches the two emerge unseen from the ocean, and a jaunty tune plays on the soundtrack as she rides with him.  The tune seems an odd fit, but she is enticed by the mystery of this other, and is trying to make sense of it in her own terms as expressed through the soundtrack.