"Good-looking people turn me off. Myself included."
RED DAWN (1984) [COLLECTOR'S EDITION] - DVD
**½/**** Image B Sound C+ Extras N/A
starring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Powers Boothe
screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and John Milius
directed by John Milius
THE OUTSIDERS (THE COMPLETE NOVEL) (1983) [TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION] - DVD
****/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A+
starring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett
screenplay by Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, based on the novel by S.E. Hinton
directed by Francis Ford Coppola
YOUNGBLOOD (1986) [TOTALLY AWESOME 80s DOUBLE FEATURE] - DVD
ZERO STARS/**** Image D+ Sound C-
starring Rob Lowe, Cynthia Gibb, Ed Lauter, Patrick Swayze, Jim Youngs
written and directed by Peter Markle
POINT BREAK (1991) [PURE ADRENALINE EDITION] - DVD + [WARNER REISSUE] - BLU-RAY DISC
DVD - Image B- Sound A Extras C
BD - Image B- Sound B+ Extras C
starring Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
screenplay by W. Peter Iliff, based on the novel by Rick King
directed by Kathryn Bigelow
DIRTY DANCING (1987) [TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY] - DVD
½*/**** Image B Sound A Extras B
starring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, Steven Reuther
screenplay by Eleanor Bergstein
directed by Emile Ardolino
GHOST (1990) [SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION] - DVD + BLU-RAY DISC
DVD - Image A- Sound B Extras B
BD - Image A Sound B+ Extras B
starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn
screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin
directed by Jerry Zucker
KEEPING MUM (2006) - DVD
½*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B
starring Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze
screenplay by Richard Russo and Niall Johnson
directed by Niall Johnson
by Walter Chaw Early on in the stupidest/smartest movie of 1984, a band of high-schoolers, having just witnessed a few planeloads of Cuban paratroopers land in their football field and machine gun their history teacher ("Education this!"), stock up for a stay in forest exile by cleaning out a gas-n-sip. Sleeping bags, canned goods, and the last thing off the shelf? That's right: a football. I spent the rest of Red Dawn trying to figure out if the football played some role in the eventual fighting prowess of our carbuncular guerrillas or if it was merely a big "fuck you" to the rest of the world that thinks "football" is soccer. The jury's still out, because while there's an awful lot of grenade-chucking in the last hour of the picture, none of it looks particularly football-like (or athletic come to think of it) despite the deadly accuracy of each toss aimed at the hapless commie combatants. (So clueless are they about modern-day conventional warfare that they're repeatedly ambushed by this untrained makeshift militia; they're the Washington Generals to our Harlem Globetrotters.) It's just one puzzle in an altogether puzzling film--one that has Patrick Swayze playing Charlie Sheen's older brother (and Jennifer Grey the sister of Lea Thompson in an even greater genetic stretch) and C. Thomas Howell as a remorseless, psychopathic nihilist who takes his dose of glory by Rambo'ing up against a Russian attack helicopter. Maybe his transformation from '80s-wallpaper milquetoast to tough-guy killing machine had something to do with being forced by the brothers Swayze-Sheen to drink fresh deer blood from a tin cup.
I loved this movie when I was eleven--and two years later, when Tom Clancy did his own version of a conventional WWIII in Red Storm Rising, I loved that, too. It's no surprise that the audience for clunky, half-literate, technical garbage is so fervent; when asking one particularly unpleasant fellow what it was that he liked about Michael Bay's Transformers movie, he said, "Didn't you see the [such-and-such-make-model-year] car?" This tells me that if you made "Car Show: The Movie (with Chicks and Boom Boom)", it'd break box office records like the proverbial motherfucker. Red Dawn didn't do that (its respectable-for-'84 $35M gross nonetheless landing it well outside the top ten of that year), but it did become a touchstone in a decade of which the best films (The Terminator, Back to the Future, Predator, Die Hard) were macho carnival rides (remember Marty McFly's inchoate rage at being called coward?) that, a lot of the time, dealt with either futuristic technologies, time travel, or--why not?--both. Think of Red Dawn as taking place in a retrofitted 1961--a time not long after the bloom had fallen off the Castro rose, when Uncle Joe was almost dead but not quite, and nothing was cooler than cleft-chin, movie-ready Presidents set up against the steadily-encroaching Hun.
Maybe I'm just nostalgic because Red Dawn was the first film I'd ever seen set in my home state of Colorado (Calumet--which is a real town, but deserted)--albeit shot in New Mexico, but whatever--and that the image of a bunch of 'necks tooling around in old Fords with bristling gun racks was less fantasy than cozy, front-porch documentary. More likely, the adolescent, hormonal fugue state of wanting to store Lea Thompson beneath a trap door in your room, wishing your teacher killed by invading forces, and arming oneself in preparation for the indiscriminate murder of dozens of incompetent foreign stooges proved too intoxicating a cocktail to resist. Taken as a turgid daydream (the only way to take a film this wilfully preposterous), Red Dawn's combination of frustrated sex, patriotic murder, young male bonding, and ditching school makes perfect sense: It's only in this world, after all, that hiding behind your pickup when an enemy tank is bearing down on you is a damned fine idea and assured of success. It's into this conversation that Swayze inserts himself as an American icon. He's less an actor (no one thinks of him as an actor, though he's not bad) than a presence: one part pro-athlete, one part rock star, one part pop-culture anachronism. It's only a matter of time, really, before he--like Kevin Bacon and Chuck Norris before him--earns himself a viral pastime in honour of his semi-ironic veneration. I'm sort of surprised it hasn't happened already.
Swayze is Jed, the ex-star-quarterback for local high school team The Wolverines who takes control of his little rebel band by engaging them in a pointless pissing contest, drawing an almost literal line in the dirt and challenging his reluctant charges to man up. Half-muscle, half-twinkle, all heart, Jed is the first to ask after the boys' fathers, thus uncovering the baddies' makeshift concentration camp that's based, rather brilliantly, in a drive-in theatre, where a propaganda reel plays on an endless loop. Of course Swayze-Sheen's dad is embodied by Harry Dean Stanton, who, in one of a series of unforgettably cheese-ridden moments, raises a fist and hollers for his boys to avenge him. Stanton delivers a little Phoebe Cates-in-Gremlins-chimney speech that suggests he spent much of his kids' childhood beating the shit out of them amidst teaching them the very survivalist techniques that will transform them into badass Russkie-killing machines. (Red Dawn therefore emerges an apologia for insurgents and child abuse.) Sometimes too smart for its own dumbness (Alexander Nevsky is showing at the only movie theatre in occupied Calumet), it's usually just dumb enough for its own dumbness, knowing which side its toast is buttered on and laying on the dead a yard thick over every couple minutes or so of its closing chapters. Inaugurating the MPAA's ambiguous PG-13 rating, its relentless but bloodless bloodletting set against not a whisper of sex or nudity established the tone for PG-13 films in Puritanical America ever since. I was reminded more than once of Borat offering that Premier Bush should drink the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq to a thunderous chorus of approval at a rodeo in Georgia.
I was reminded, too, of the historical lessons of occupation and the inevitable rise of insurgency--often in the form of terrorism and IEDs--appearing in a halfwit pastime like Red Dawn, giving lie (as if further debunking were necessary) to the sometimes-stated position of the Bush Administration that no one could've possibly predicted the deadliness of the backlash in occupied Baghdad. (Which reminds me of the time Condaleeza Rice proclaimed that someone using a plane as a big flying bomb was something no one could have imagined, neglecting in the process Samuel Bicke, Tom Clancy, the Columbine shooters, the Japanese air force in WWII, Stephen King as Richard Bachman, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City"...oh, and Al Qaeda.) It's almost worth it for the image of Jennifer Grey blowing herself up to get just one more bad guy (and the shouldn't-be-this-funny suggestion that the Lea Thompson character has been ass-raped by the have-you-ever-seen-such-villainy Boris & Natasha enemy)--even better are the words of the beaten commanders who marvel that the best way to defeat folks who've had everything they care about butchered, pillaged, or shat on is to dig a pit and fill them with it. Nostalgia is defined by the fact that this used to be how we saw the brutal, stupid-ass Russian Hun, barrelling into the middle of a large country without much of a plan beyond patrolling a position held together by spit, doggedness, and dead boys you're sadly not going to get to buy back.
I like, especially, the commandant brought in two-thirds of the way into Red Dawn to pacify the situation pointing at a map and declaring that "areas of pacification" are expanding and that they are on the verge of winning "hearts and minds." Listen: I don't know from Middle Easterners, but the idea that any foreign power at any point would come to rural Colorado and believe that a declaration that Marxism is the new law/religion/credo--and, furthermore, morally superior to Christianity, Democracy, our Constitution--is arrogance on a level so insane that blowing the bastards up would actually be a mercy for the retarded sons of bitches. Whether or not they're right (and I'm not saying they are), it's not what they're saying, it's how they're saying it. Missionary crusades (that's the new stance of this administration, isn't it?) generally end with the annihilation of one of the groups. Asking people philosophically diametrically opposed to sharing a loving glance and a soul kiss under martial law and occupation is pretty idealistic and pretty dumb--but it makes perfect sense to the ones God backs. Pity that God plays both sides against the Apocalypse.
So it's not cynical that the new Collector's Edition DVD of Red Dawn features an option to keep a running tally of onscreen violent acts (the Wolvies outpace the Russkies at around the 48-minute mark (20-18) and never look back), since it's how we think about violence if we ever think of it at all. Better, this offers a charming synchronicity with the opening minutes of the picture, where Jed looks sadly at the football field's scoreboard claiming a home team loss of 20-13, effectively describing the United States as the "don't tread on me" nation now and into eternity. I do wonder if the Red State demographic most derided for their bellicosity isn't more "in tune" with the foolhardiness of trying to forcefully impose a way of life on another people. It makes one pull up short even more forcefully when one considers that if our Red leadership went into this mess knowing full well they weren't going to convert anyone to our way of thinking, then why did they go in?
The 48-minute mark is also when the picture's narrative ceases to be anything but a series of non-sequiturs: "good" terrorist attacks against the occupying soldiers; random ambushes and sniper assaults; spontaneous eruptions of the "Star Spangled Banner"; and the continued forced evolution of Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell into action heroes. (A Herculean task on the order of squeezing an elephant out of a pastry tube.) After the good guys are martyred one-by-one, à la Sgt. York's turkeys, everything comes to a head in the city square as the ambivalent Cuban general decides to let the Swayze-Sheens die in each other's arms, discreetly off-screen so as not to ruffle any delicate feathers left unruffled by over an hour of bloodshed. Swayze weeping over the prostrate body of Sheen, after all, is a little gay. As written and directed by third-Y chromosome John Milius (with an assist by Kevin Reynolds--yeah, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Kevin Reynolds), apparently the only crime you could possibly commit in Red Dawn is sodomy: same-sex or Lea Thompson. Giving far too much credit to the film to suggest that the interesting bits about it are generated in it as opposed to regurgitated by it insensately (and thank Alexander Haig, Reagan Secretary of State, as chief consultant/resident regurgitator), the film is prescient chiefly because we keep committing the same fucking atrocities to the same fucking hornets' nests, again and again and again. It's the earnestness that simultaneously damns it and saves it; Red Dawn is an ugly bit of propaganda about the chimp-ness of the man-monkey, but this man-monkey sort of digs it. It can't help it.
Speaking of Swayze and cradling, cast in Francis Ford Coppola's excellent adaptation of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders as responsible eldest brother Darry, shepherd to wayward Ponyboy (um, C. Thomas Howell--no fooling (Darren Daulton is also in both films)), he turns in the film's keystone performance. His trademark physicality on display throughout but especially in a scene where he's preparing himself for the Greasers' rumble against less-sympathetic rival gang the Socs (pronounced "sohshs"), so, too, is the Swayze sensitivity in a remarkably affecting reunion sequence in a hospital corridor. (Only a celluloid Gregor Mendel could imagine a family of boys comprised of Howell, Swayze, and Rob Lowe (as middle-brother Sodapop), but there you have it. At least here Charlie Sheen's real-life brother Emilio Estevez is brother to no man.) The story follows Ponyboy as he makes the understandable mistake of falling in love with Cherry (16-year-old Diane Lane), earning him the ire of her Soc boyfriend and leading to his getting dunked in a fountain in the middle of a park. His buddy Johnny (Ralph Macchio) kills the yuppie scum, sending the two on the run into teen melodrama history. Inspired by a letter he received from an eighth grade class, Coppola turned The Outsiders into a devouring CinemaScope fever dream: an homage to Robert Wise and Nicholas Ray that took its chief inspiration from the timeless backlit twilights of Gone with the Wind, which the boys read to pass their time in self-imposed exile. The result is a picture more honest about its Americana than American Graffiti or, shudder, Grease--projecting a time now forty years hence as a remembrance of halcyon nights at the drive-in, getting into fights with the goons across the track, and falling in love with a girl who can't talk to you at school in front of her friends.
The Outsiders might be the most aesthetically beautiful film of the decade. In envisioning a widescreen epic of youth at its terminus, Coppola's forced artificiality and stylized deep-focus places his impossibly beautiful youth in a commensurately perfect landscape. (It's a lost world populated by lost boys.) It really is kind of amazing marking the faces of the pre-Brat Pack brats here: Tom Cruise and Estevez and Matt Dillon and Lowe and Howell (and Tom Waits?)--film debuts for a few of them (Howell, most notably); a few more would never be better. The scene immediately following Johnny's murder of Soc Bob (Leif Garrett) as he, shuddering, tries to justify himself to Pony is handled in an amazing two-shot, a corpse in the background serving as mute audience to a literal one. Play it counter to a moment of the boys in hiding shot against a rear-projected sunset in a hyper-real, golden twilight hour for the breadth of the picture's artistry. Coppola, bloodied from One from the Heart (the film that sank Zoetrope), apparently hadn't washed his hands of the desire to resurrect the three-strip Technicolor epic, and his follow-up is, in a lot of ways, a more ravishing wonderland for its flashes of true grit. Each of Dallas's scenes, in fact, are shot straight (if in red smoke or inky night), and in this way and more, Coppola manipulates the way we understand how melodrama churns in its own exploded trajectories. The newly-assembled "The Complete Novel" edition of The Outsiders restores most scenes elided for the theatrical release (including a couple of key scenes with Lowe's Sodapop, one a homoerotic cuddle between he and Pony), augmenting them with a wonderful new/old soundtrack. And not in spite but because of its determined embrace of all that is corn, it's damned near a masterpiece.
The same certainly can't be said of double-threat Peter Markle's deplorable Youngblood. The film that proves in a surprising number of ways the wellspring for Ron Shelton's similarly-dated Bull Durham from two years later (but don't hold that in its favour), it, like The Outsiders and Red Dawn, variously features a drive-in/moviehouse (this one playing Slumber Party Massacre), rumbles, and noble death's bed vigils--and, like those flicks, Patrick Swayze in a key role as the old guy crashing the party, serving as mentor/older brother/Oedipal goat. In this one he's cock-of-the-walk Sutton, the captain of a minor league hockey team invaded by the eponymous Youngblood (Lowe), a hotshot farm boy with skates of gold but a ten-cent head. Youngblood gets fucked by an old lady (Fionnula Flanagan!) who makes a tradition of such indiscretions à la Susan Sarandon's whore/manager from the Shelton pic; earns an enemy in some thyroid freak; and, after being humiliated, undergoes a training montage to return in victory to claim the hand of his Eighties-hot ladylove Jessie (Cynthia Gibb).
A match made in feathered-bangs heaven, the love story is incredibly seedy, beginning with a "meet cute" in a ramshackle hallway as Youngblood wanders around wearing only his jock and proceeds into a rare secondary "meet cute" as Youngblood is caught reading a porno novel at the local drugstore. Unbelievably poorly directed (the first "proper" sex scene is edited like an interrogation from "Dragnet"), its screenplay is so obviously trying to be risqué that it comes off like a frustrated virgin's idea of naughty: Let's show his ass! Let's show her tits! Meanwhile, digressions involving Sutton shaving Lowe's balls and a couple of French Canadian roughnecks peeking in on Youngblood (Keanu Reeves (!), attempting a Quebecois accent--a little like Keanu Reeves trying not to do a baked accent) are so gay that it's almost possible to see the film as a comment that the real audience for movies like this are pre-sexual little boys and homosexual big boys. More similarities: Making Rob Lowe a tough guy is as funny as making C. Thomas Howell a tough guy. The hockey sequences, incidentally, are for shit, with various extras falling down and skating in slow-motion whenever Youngblood's on the ice. Oh yeah, he wins the big game, teaches the uncertain moral message that blood vengeance is sweet, and earns the respect of everyone involved. If I've spoiled something for you, have the self-respect not to admit it.
At the least, Youngblood has the distinction of being the answer to the trivia question of when was the first time Swayze and Reeves shared the screen? (Just as Red Dawn does with Swayze and Jennifer Grey and The Outsiders does with Swayze and Lowe. There'll be a test afterwards.) The second time was in Kathryn Bigelow's camp classic Point Break, natch. Bigelow will forever have my heart as the women responsible for one of my foundational films as a younger asshole, Near Dark, whose band of nomadic Midwestern vampires led me to her Two-Lane Blacktop homage The Loveless (the debut vehicle for Willem Dafoe); her fascinating phallus-play Blue Steel; and then forward into the years-ahead-of-its-time Strange Days. Point Break, though, is the moment when Bigelow defied conventional wisdom that action films were the exclusive purvey of men by infusing the picture with a needle-in-the-ass steroid aggression that, with a tiny bit of squinting, looks like it was helmed by former husband James Cameron. This is, of course, an incredibly dickheaded thing to say, but after borrowing most of his Aliens cast for Near Dark, Bigelow--with Cameron aboard as executive producer--cribs the symbiosis between hero and quarry, shifting back and forth from prey to pursuer in the same quicksilver way as the simultaneously-shooting Terminator 2. It's meant as a compliment.
In a lot of ways, Point Break provides the defining roles for both Reeves and Swayze (sure, the Bill & Ted films and Road House, respectively, do, too): Reeves's ex-gridiron hero-turned-FBI agent Johnny Utah (fuck yeah!) and Swayze's Zen bank robber-cum-surfer Bodhi embody what is for them quintessential elements of their woolly souls. On the one side, here more than anywhere is Reeves's prep work as pop saviour in The Matrix trilogy: "The One" haloed in sick green fluorescents (or the black-tie/white-shirt monkey suits of the Mr. Smiths of the world, as the case may be) before being allowed to let his inner, completely-high little Buddha free. On the other, Swayze's physical grace is married to his manic mien (mane?) and blue-eyed, guru soul. You feel like Swayze can teach you something--and will--while flexing his enviably-toned obliques. No one else could have been a bouncer with a Ph.D in philosophy, am I right? No one else could have taught Baby how to dance, either, without it seeming overly sordid. Johnny Utah goes deep undercover to expose the felonious hijinks of a gang of fun-loving, sun-baked thieves, taking what they can from the man so as to better indulge their lifestyle of sand and surf. None of it's surprising from a story point-of-view, yet from a wonderfully- shot and choreographed house raid to a tremendously rousing high-wire stunt of mid-air brinkmanship concerning the pros and cons of parachutes in sky-diving, Point Break deposits itself as more than a decade ahead of its time in terms of American stuntwork and action sequences. A film like Live Free or Die Hard owes large swaths of its existence to this film more than it does to its own primogenitor in terms of fluid elegance, colour schema (Bigelow's training is as a painter), and flat-out ballsiness.
Speaking of James Cameron and cradling, his Titanic is but the final crack in the dyke begun by Dirty Dancing a decade previous: the sort of cringe-classic epimethian sobriety illuminates as the moment at which the little boys we were making movies for post-Star Wars became the little girls we're making movies for now. What other explanation can there be for this pestilential genus of prefab starlet sprung from the lubricated loins of the Disney Channel and "American Idol?" Funny that the Lindsay Lohans of this world should count as their ancestor the recipient of history's best nose job, one Jennifer Grey, who, as Dirty Dancing was tapping the zeitgeist, had not yet gone under the knife. Easy for me to say, but though Grey's revised appearance is undeniably stunning, one can't help but wonder if she didn't sacrifice the distinctiveness that made her the perfect babysitter-club avatar in 1987--can it be twenty years ago already?--for a role as just another beautiful girl in a town full of them. Grey's Baby is away on a trip in the Catskills with her irritating Soc family when she espies Greaser Johnny Castle (Swayze, fuck yeah) behaving like a bad boy with the ten-cents-a-dancers hired by a greasy resort manager (Jack Weston) who's corrupt in his own way but not so bad that he's actually bad. After Johnny's dance partner for the Big Contest comes down with sperm poisoning, who should step in but awkward Baby, cast in the prototypical Swayze role as carnal schoolmarm and badly in need of a Youngblood training montage. She gets it from misunderstood sensitive guy Johnny--to the disapproval of daddy (Jerry Orbach), of course--and against all odds on the night of the Event, she steps up and shows the world that Baby can dance, Johnny keeps it mostly in his tights, and only pictures this awful gross that much money. If it weren't for a few genuine moments of chemistry between Swayze and Grey, there wouldn't be anything to recommend it.
Something similar could be said of director Jerry Zucker and writer Bruce Joel Rubin's peculiar blockbuster Ghost, which, because Swayze is terrific in it, has managed to fool a lot of people into believing that this piece of shit is good. Needless to say that it's not, but more specifically, if you're wondering why The Righteous Brothers enjoyed a brief resurgence at the very coffin-nail end of the 1980s, look no farther. (Lest we forget, Bill Medley of said Brothers performed the man part of the "Time of My Life" anthem for Dirty Dancing.) In a lot of ways, the popularity of "Unchained Melody" in relation to this picture is like the popularity of "My Heart Will Go On" in relation to Titanic: Suddenly, wedding DJs had a whole other reason for wanting to kill themselves--the empty, overblown sentimentality attached to these tunes mirroring, nay, narrating the films to which they're attached. In Ghost, a pre-implants Demi Moore (what is it about Swayze and his work with soon-to-be augmented women?) plays a woman who loses The Swayze (as buff business stud Sam) to the murderous designs of evil Carl (Tony Goldwyn). Carl and Sam appear to be pals at first as they act out a male-bonding gag in a crowded elevator (shades of a similarly-unfunny male-bonding gag in Youngblood that finds Swayze's character convincing a teammate to put his bridge in a girl's drink), but a business deal with some moneyed Japanese declares the end of the "Me" decade with his act of wickedness tempered by Sam's supernatural acts of teaching a nice shyster to be a better person--and arranging for a bad shyster to be dragged off by CHUD. Ghost is very much a film of its time, just as the also-Rubin-scripted Jacob's Ladder, from the same year, pinged off the cultural climate in another real, essential way by predicting not the death of the Eighties, but the transformation of the aggressive Eisenhower delusions of Reagan's voodoo cowboy foreign policy into the "history will teach us nothing" nihilism of the fast-digitizing, Luddite, Born-Again Nineties.
The centrepiece here is Swayze's Righteous Brothers-scored sex scene with Demi Moore at her most Ralph Macchio/Rob Lowe/K.D. Lang--a pinnacle of cheese initiated by some conjugal pottery-spinning and representative of maybe the last time this type of baroque faux-fuck sequence held any cachet until, yep, Titanic--another Paramount title, as it happens--reintroduced the Harlequin mess with a steamy backseat and a hand slapped against a window. I did like Sam (as the audience surrogate) lamenting the NEW YORK TIMES art critic--the standard lowbrow salvo about frustration and all that--moments before his noble spirit is separated from his hyper-toned bod. The highlight for me, however, is the late, great Vincent Schiavelli's cameo as an angry, subway-bound spectre who teaches a little of the lore of ghosts to our hero. In fact, the only reason to revisit this turd is for that. It's certainly not for Goldberg's Oscar-winning turn as Oda Mae Brown, a sassy fortune teller/medium who skirts the razor's edge of the Negro-'fraida-ghosts stereotype as well as the mammy shit we're still trying to wash off our collective stain. If the picture had any courage whatsoever, when Sam possesses her at one point to share one last kiss with his mortal beloved, we would have seen Whoopi planting a big wet one on Demi Moore--but illustrative of the film's basic uselessness are the lengths to which it goes to avoid any real honesty in its various representations. Swayze, doing a lot of silent, physical acting in his reactions to matter passing through his newly non-corporeal state, is finally the least disingenuous thing in it. (And The Swayze without a solid body? Hell indeed, and the film is more poignant for it.) All the better because he's not helped out much by Maurice Jarre's ridiculous score and the cartoonish treatment of farce-meister Zucker. Give a solid assist to ace editor Walter Murch for the film's forward motion, though, and to the thrill of recognition a true Swayze-ite gets from the loving, equal-time objectification of Swayze's abs amid the love scene. Ghost is a movie about corporate malfeasance and greed, aided by bloody awful early CGI (of course the MacGuffin centres around a computer) and predicting the basic flippancy of Forrest Gump and American Beauty. Out of the Eighties frying pan, into the fire of the new millennium.
With Swayze no longer in the public eye as anything but a pop-cultural toss away on one of those VH1 retrospective shows, his entry into the conversation these days is as a shade of his iconic man-mentor. He's not entirely unlike guys like Robert De Niro in that way, though unlike De Niro, I don't think Swayze is disrespectfully cashing in on his legacy. Sadly, that respect is tested by 2005's Keeping Mum, an insufferable British dark comedy in the tradition of other happy-horseshit classics Waking Ned Devine and Greenfingers and The Full Monty and on and on into quirky geriatric hijinks purgatory. Dame Maggie Smith stars as Grace, a well-meaning sociopath who becomes the housekeeper in the house of schlub priest Walter (Rowan Atkinson), his frustrated wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), and his nymphomaniac daughter (Tamsin Egerton). Swayze lampoons his beefcake mentor persona here (as he does much better in Donnie Darko) as the golf pro lothario Walter's wife is banging on the side and, spoiling nothing because no one is going to rent this film (just as no one went to see it in theatres), Grace kills him in a moment of mercy for everyone involved: audience included. Keeping Mum is an unfortunate crossbreed of Saving Grace, a Tom Ripley novel, and Monkey Shines--an unbearably fey tea-and-crumpets opera mixed with a serial killer machinations that suggests that carefully-calculated murder is the way to social order and real happiness. I like the idea, I must confess, that the only way to truly walk the Christian walk is through the acceptance of greater atrocity, but the picture is way too dim-witted to be a satire of organized religion or, better yet, man's eternal struggle with its Old Testament self. No, Keeping Mum is best regarded as a smug, self-satisfied bit of ugliness perpetrated by guys who should know better and, at the end of a long piece about Patrick Swayze, this is as good a place as any to stop: with his corpse wrapped in a tarp in the back of his truck, the victim of the business end of irony.
Red Dawn drops onto DVD in a two-disc "Collector's Edition" sporting a nifty 1.87:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that frees the picture of the excess grain found in previous home video incarnations but doesn't do much to animate what is frankly a flat-looking film. The DD 2.0 stereo audio isn't anything to write home about, either; the centre channel, in particular, is a disappointment, necessitating constant volume adjustments to keep up with the fluctuating dialogue levels. The first platter boasts the aforementioned "Carnage Counter"; subsequent extras are relegated to the second platter, which, alas, was not included in our review copy.
Two discs likewise support "The Complete Novel" of The Outsiders, a director's cut prepared in 2005. Lush and gorgeous in its own right, Disc One's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film is a marked improvement over that of the older DVD (something to do with it no longer sharing space with a pan-and-scan alternative, I imagine). Shots that unfold at night or during the magic hour, specifically, all but glow--the work of Brian DePalma's sometime-DP Stephen Burum (he previously shot second unit for Coppola on Apocalypse Now) is exquisitely transcribed. This is showcase material. A new DD 5.1 remix is gorgeous, too, full-seeming and fulsome with logical use of every channel. Elsewhere, two film-length commentaries are appended by freshly-minted introductions courtesy the respective participants. The first, from Francis Ford Coppola, shows the veteran helmer at his most gentle-seeming and earthy, recounting the kid-inspired genesis of the picture ("I'll do anything a child asks me to do") and giving the rationale for coming back to the film at this period in his career in a way that makes a lot more sense than buddy George Lucas's own puerile justifications. The yakker itself is lovely and personal, skirting the line between anecdotal and technical with an enthusiasm that seems genuine. The second yakker reteams Macchio, Lane, Swayze, and Howell, their chummy session conducted after a dinner reunion at Coppola's Napa Valley vineyard. (Dillon and Lowe were recorded separately and spliced into the track.) While it would have been nice to have Lane and Dillon, famously linked at one time, together in the same room, that's the rubbernecker in me. Particularly interesting is how everyone gushes over Diane Lane's incomparable beauty: As someone who has no doubt spent her life on the wrong end of that microscope, Lane doesn't say a word in response.
Disc Two has "Staying Gold: A Look Back at The Outsiders" (25 mins.), a documentary that cannily juxtaposes footage from the abovementioned reunion party with on-set B-roll that demonstrates Coppola's kid-loving side. Paired with "The Casting of The Outsiders" (13 mins.), you get a really interesting, surprisingly involved glimpse into the involved audition process (which terrified the actors cast) alongside priceless clips of Kate Capshaw and Anthony Michael Hall trying out. A moment where Lowe breaks down and expresses frustration with Coppola's process is really pretty astonishing. I like, too, Coppola admitting that an early moment with Sodapop spooning Pony was initially chopped because the audience couldn't resist tittering--and that this particular elision haunted him until this opportunity to reinstate it came along. Less illuminating are "S.E. Hinton on Location in Tulsa" (7 mins.), in which the author visits some of the, yes, filming locations; and a vintage "Today" show segment (3 mins.) saying what we already know about the film's inspiration. Wrapping up the featurettes, a seven-minute segment of a few of the stars, today, reading pertinent sections of the novel is admittedly pretty neat. Six deleted scenes--most test-reel quality anyway; I suspect Coppola's decision to shoot the film first on videotape has something to do with these "deleted" segments--are either variations on existing scenes or not germane to the picture. The original theatrical trailer rounds out the slip-covered package.
The bottom half of a sleazy Eighties twofer, Youngblood meanwhile returns to the format in a swingtray keepcase with Johnny Be Good (see sidebar). It's a literal repackaging of the 2001 disc, complete with mediocre 1.85:1 non-anamorphic video and zestless Dolby Surround audio. Whaddaya expect from the bargain bin at an all-night Loaf-n-Jug?
Fox brings Point Break home again via a "Pure Adrenaline Edition" that recycles the disappointingly soft 2.37:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the previous disc whilst dumping its DTS option to accommodate a fresh batch of supplementary material. On the plus side, the image is without edge-enhancement or grain issues, and the audio, upgraded to DD 5.1, booms the gunshots and crashes the waves with similar, parallel fidelities. Self-conscious, it's true, but there's design in the sound design. Four featurettes adorn the platter starting with "It's Make of Break" (23 mins.), wherein Swayze pretty much reiterates what he said about Dirty Dancing. I was interested in hearing that the picture had already had a pre-production period before losing funding for a few years and being rescued by Cameron and Bigelow from eternal turnaround. Bigelow, in archival footage, refers to Johnny Utah (fuck yeah!) as an "everyman"--which, to me, is hilarious. "Ride the Wave" (6 mins.) speaks of the spirituality of surfing (sort of cool) and the spirituality of the film (sort of not). "Adrenaline Junkies" (6 mins.) is a survey of the stuntwork in the picture while "On Location: Malibu" (8 mins.) interviews a couple of non-descript supporting actors on the subject of staging/shooting parts of the film in, yes, authentic locations. Eight "Deleted Scenes" are rough and mostly harmless; three trailers for the film and a stills gallery close out the festivities. It should be noted that, throughout, the only regulars present for the trip down memory lane are Swayze, Lori Petty, and John McGinley. The absence of Reeves, Busey, and, especially, Bigelow, speaks volumes.
Reissued on DVD (for the umpteenth time) in a "Twentieth Anniversary" edition, Dirty Dancing is a retread in so many ways, really; post-modernism can be a bitch sometimes, can't it. A commentary by screenwriter/producer Eleanor Bergstein ported over from an earlier release is a literal wall of sound as Bergstein goes on and on about every minutia of the production. It's a goldmine for fans, masochists, and other emotional/intellectual children. For what it's worth, her peculiar ascription of "the female gaze" to the film made me 'pit up a little in my mouth. She might be right, but if you watch any of Swayze's pictures, you'll notice the camera spends as much time gawking at Swayze as it does any of his co-stars. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer seems recycled from the 2002 edition and, frankly, reminds at times of the comparatively cheap The Evil Dead. Why it isn't stronger is beyond me. Or maybe it's not. On the other hand, a DTS-ES remix ported over from that same "Ultimate Edition" is quite accomplished, leading me to believe that the only way to listen to The Ronettes is through seven fucking channels of digitally-boosted sound.
Disc Two houses, as disc twos are wont to do, the bulk of the special features. "Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze" (12 mins.) is every bit as sexy as it sounds. Contrariwise, no, it's not. It's basically a talking-head thing with Swayze saying how much he loved the experience of making the most perfectest movie there ever was or ever could be. I did appreciate the bits where Swayze discusses the joy and the mystery--the rewards of dance and how his training incorporates itself into the physicality of his roles. A glimpse of Swayze holding a guitar jogs one's memory that he's responsible for "She's Like the Wind," a song so genuinely awful that it actually makes one pine for the Dennis Quaid track from The Big Easy. "She's like the wind, through my tree" stands as one of the most inscrutable, semi-dirty lyrics in Top-40 history and the video of him performing it acoustically herein brings new meaning to the word "priceless." It is sweet that he dedicates it to his wife. Contrariwise, it's creepy. "A Tribute to Jerry Orbach" (6 mins.) is respectful and complete; 11 deleted scenes, 3 alternate scenes (3 mins.), and 6 hellishly extended scenes (12 mins.) run the gamut from a phone call to a walk to nowhere; a "Gag Reel" basically consists of Grey cracking up (30s); and four screen-tests bugger the imagination in addition to explaining why Swayze and Grey were the dream participants in this danse macabre.
But wait, there's more! Two scenes are newly repurposed with multiple angles for your obsessive, onanistic pleasure. "The Classic Story On Stage" (5 mins.) details Bergstein's chafing milking of her cash cow into an inevitable stage version, while a scored, animated photo gallery sets production stills against a pink background. "Interviews" with Grey, Bergstein, and choreographer Kenny Ortega appear to be contemporary reminiscences of, sigh, the time of their lives. They last approximately eleven minutes apiece. A tribute to the late Emile Ardolino (13 mins.) is respectful indeed, but too Dirty Dancing-centric. My favourite Ardolino film is Chances Are--but how about a little love for the Whoopi vehicle Sister Act? Videos for "Hungry Eyes," "She's Like the Wind," and "I've Had the Time of My Life" finish off this infernal perennial.
Opening with a forced trailer for Dreamgirls (is there any other kind?), Ghost resurfaces on DVD in a "Special Collector's Edition" sporting a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer so clear that the horrendous CGI looks worse than it did before. The Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition conclusion of Sam going into the night now resembles a Tron outtake while the screeching spirits of the damned suggest charcoal versions of the Pac-Man ghosts. The DD 5.1 audio is loud but murky. It's also adorned with a Zucker/Rubin commentary track that's surprisingly fun--not Carpenter/Russell or Raimi/Campbell fun, but more jovial than I expected it to be. Probably helping is that it replaces the soundtrack proper. Zing! I listened carefully but heard no reference to the homage paid in Sam's first post-mortem dream sequence to Don't Look Now. Best to pretend it never happened.
"Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic" (13 mins.) confides that the picture's inspiration was "Hamlet" (ONION A.V. CLUB, where are you?) before a semi-charming story about Rubin breaking down and weeping when he heard that Zucker was the choice of director. Now we're the ones weeping. Zing! Lots of repeat-info here--I'd recommend watching one or the other; what's worth reiterating is that people like Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise turned down "the best script in Hollywood at the time." Here I was thinking Ford and Cruise were morons. "Inside the Paranormal" (8 mins.) is a hoot, essaying a collection of psychics and mediums, animal or otherwise, going on about what they pretend to do that does not include that tool John Edward. In the self-explanatory "Alchemy of a Love Scene" (6 mins.), Swayze utters the eternal Swayzism: "We was pretty greeeezed up with that mud stuff all over my arms. It was pretty sexy, got my juices goin'." Rubin, pretentious as all fuck if you can dig it, says that he based Moore's character Molly on Merisault before offering that the eroticism has a lot to do with the shaping of a phallic bowl. No shit, professor. "Cinema's Great Romances" is a love letter to the AFI's honouring of 100 love stories that showcases Paramount's contributions to the flaccid conversation, culminating in the pottery scene (18 mins.); Ghost's trailer, a photo gallery, and trailers for the recent Titanic megaset, The Last Kiss, and Dreamgirls round out the presentation.
Director/co-writer Niall Johnson contributes a feature-length yak-track to the Keeping Mum DVD over a crackerjack 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. It's a monologue chockablock with useful information delivered in a vibrant, enthusiastic fashion completely at odds with the limp uselessness of the picture it adorns. As for the film's soundtrack, because it's rendering a dialogue-heavy mix, the DD 5.1 audio is totally adequate--and barely given a workout outside a thunderstorm during the burial of a certain yappy dog. Eleven "Deleted Scenes" with optional commentary reveal not only that what was left out is as stupid as what was left in but also that Johnson doesn't have much idea of why anything was elided. "Outtakes and Bloopers" (6 mins.) is the standard reel of people flubbing their lines in their veddy British way, although, despite the uselessness of such things, the bits where Kristin Scott Thomas can't stop laughing at the plaid skivvies Swayze sports in one otherwise embarrassing scene are funny. I don't know, exactly, why Swayze can't remember the phrase "coconut crème," but I would've remained blissfully ignorant of that particular block. An "Extended Scene - Walter in Goal" (2 mins.) could just as easily have been fused with the last, as it's more of Atkinson doing his best to not channel his Bean character and failing utterly. An "Alternate Opening" (3 mins.) with optional commentary sees the director proclaiming it "fascinating" how things change during the course of the film and shows young Rosie (a.k.a. Grace) in a continuous tracking shot that the creative team "knew wasn't working" without further clarification of how the final version works better. A trailer for Keeping Mum joins three forced trailers for other TH!NKFilm product (Candy, Off the Black, Tideland, Strangers with Candy, Life of the Party) in capping things off. Originally published: August 6, 2007.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - POINT BREAK
by Bill Chambers Warner wasted no time in reissuing Point Break on Blu-ray after Fox's distribution rights to the Largo Entertainment production lapsed. Aside from a tacked-on Warner shield, however, this is the same disc that Fox put out in 2008, for good or for ill. The HD presentation looks better than its SD counterpart--more legible, especially in the night-surfing scenes--but the 2.37:1, 1080p transfer lacks HiDef pop, to say the least, and I remain unconvinced that there isn't more blood to be squeezed from this stone. Ineffably humid, the image wants for definition beneath a coat of scummy grain; colour separation is poor (foliage tends to go clumpy, while black crush sometimes rears its head--although black itself is more typically deep green) and fine detail is virtually non-existent. Accompanying the video is a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track with good bass response and clean, clear dialogue, though the mix's essential 1991-ness finally proves insurmountable, with the surfing sequences missing depth and dimension even as gnarly waves pummel the viewer from all four corners of the room. Supplementary material from the "Pure Adrenaline Edition", as covered below, returns in full, sans any kind of uptick in video quality. Once again frustratingly elusive: a subtitle stream translating such Gary Busey mad-libs as "Speak into the microphone, squid-brain!" for us laymen. Originally published: July 21, 2011.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - GHOST
by Bill Chambers Paramount brings Ghost to Blu-ray in an excellent 1.78:1, 1080p transfer. This is one of those movies I've audited on every format (including LaserDisc), and it's always looked older than it should, with deep-orange skin tones, dim black levels, and noise-reduced detail contributing to the premature aging. Ghost's natural lustre, such as it is, has been restored for its HiDef debut, and now the film is primarily dated by its pre-CGI special effects. Grain is present throughout, spiking during the opening credits--which is bound to happen when you combine 35mm, opticals, and ghostly-white backdrops covered in drywall dust--and almost never totally absent, lending sharpness as well as a nice, filmic credibility to the image. Colours are natural (though Oda Mae Brown's wardrobe still "pops"--like it hasn't, frankly, since the cinema), while contrast has impressive dynamic range; it was a pleasure to finally see the picture returned to something like its original condition. Ghost sounds better on BD than it has in years, too, the disc's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio finally doing justice to the deep groan of the subway ghost's angry vibes as well as the static crackle that greets Sam's failed attempts to move objects with his mind. The mix may not be terribly immersive, even for its time (Ghost came out the summer of six-track wonders like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Days of Thunder, Dick Tracy, Back to the Future Part III, and Total Recall), but it benefits from lossless compression in terms of clarity alone. I wish, however, that this track responded a little better to amplification. Extras are ported over from the Special Collector's Edition DVD, and only the theatrical trailer got upgraded to HD. Note that on my copy, English subtitles are a default selection and have to be turned off. Originally published: February 24, 2011.