Movies ‘Till Dawn: Reagan-Era Excitement!

12 a.m. – “Breakin’” – Musical/Comedy/Drama

product_images_modal_B-B2BRCover72dpi__7B691f7386-829a-e411-9d31-d4ae527c3b65_7D(1984, Shout Factory) An unexpected box office hit for the prolific Cannon Films in the spring of 1984, “Breakin’” is essentially a rock and roll film from the 1950s tricked out in spandex and half-shirts instead of crinoline and pegged pants. Here, as before, a winsome naïf (former “Solid Gold” dancer Lucinda Dickey) serves as audience surrogate as she abandons her square, whitebread existence in favor of fun and (discreetly) sexy freedom through a new underground artform – breakdancing, of course. Her personal Elvis/Dante is Ozone, played by dancer/choreographer Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones, a founding member of the legendary Lockers (with Toni Basil and Fred “Rerun” Berry), and their dance numbers together and with comic sidekick Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers transcend the corny premise and dialogue to suggest at least a bit of the excitement and liberation of street dancing, just as Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry did in stiff movies like “Rock Rock Rock” and “Hot Rod Gang” half a century ago. A host of notable figures also appear as background performers, most notably Ice-T, in his screen debut, and Chris “The Glove” Taylor, who serve as the MC and DJ at a dance battle at the old Radiotron club near Macarthur Park, respectively, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (!) can be glimpsed dancing (in a wrestler’s singlet) near East Market Street on Venice Beach. The Shout Factory Blu-ray pairs “Breakin’” with its memorably monikered (and decidedly sillier) sequel, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” and features commentary by Quinones and that film’s director, Sam Firstenberg; a trio of shot-on-video interviews with new and veteran b-boy dancers and rappers from 2003 offers some perspective on the history of street dancing and music, but will be superfluous to most viewers. Oh, and good luck getting Ollie & Jerry’s Top 10 title song “Breakin… There’s No Stoppin’ Us” out of your head.

1:30 a.m. – “The Last Dragon” – Action/Musical/Comedy

91qJPVTJJzL._SL1500_(1985, Sony) If “Breakin’” draws on ‘50s rock and roll pics for inspiration, “The Last Dragon” is an amalgam of movie tropes and genres, stitched together into a silly but sweet and upbeat fairy tale that hovers somewhere between broad comedy and martial arts fantasy. The core story, by actor-turned-screenwriter Louis Venosta, is the stuff of both silent films and Shaw Brothers costume action pics (with the former also being a huge influence on the latter), with virtuous young oddball Bruce Leroy (Taimak) learning how to use his nascent kung fu skills to battle the operatically villainous Sho’Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem (the late Julius J. Carry) and a Runyon-esque arcade owner (Christopher Murney) hoping to turn his girlfriend (future Broadway star Faith Prince) into a star by kidnapping the host (Vanity) of a music video program. If the visual effects and ‘80s fashions are hopelessly hokey, the performances, as directed by Michael Schultz (“Cooley High”), generate a believable warmth and humor that transcends the more dated aspects: Taimak and Vanity are an appealing couple, while Carry, Murney and Prince all add layers of character and even humanity to their cartoonish roles. Much of the picture’s appeal also comes from overturning stereotypical notions about race and class – the black hero who loves Chinese culture, the trio of wiseguy Asian rappers, Bruce’s Italian-obsessed, pizzeria-owning dad– which one can’t help but draw a parallel to executive producer Berry Gordy’s own vision for Motown Records as a label for young Americans of all colors and walks of life. Gordy’s influence naturally extends to the soundtrack, which is anchored by DeBarge’s massive hit “Rhythm of the Night” and features cuts from both the old and new R&B guard, including Smokey Robinson, Syreeta and Willie Hutch. Sony’s Blu-ray includes a retrospective featurette with Gordy, Schultz and Taimak that covers the film’s production history and cult status, as well as the wealth of future talent in the film’s supporting cast (William H. Macy, Chazz Palminteri, Mike Starr, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Keisha Knight Pulliam and “Sopranos” writer/producer Frank Renzulli),

3 a.m. – “Beyond Westworld” – “The Sound of Terror” – Science Fiction/Television

61DoPoPgVuL._SL1000_(1980, Warner Archives Collection) As the title suggests, this short-lived CBS science fiction series picks up shortly after the conclusion of “Westworld” and attempts to graft its chilly dystopian world view onto a more traditional action-drama format: here, the Westworld robots’ lethal behavior is part of a world domination plan by their creator, arch-villain Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), who disperses the lifelike machines across the globe in an attempt to wreak havoc on society. It’s the job of Westworld security chief John Moore (Jim McMullan) and partner Pamela Williams (Connie Selleca) to ferret out the robots in a variety of scenarios – aboard a nuclear sub, among police officers, and in this most amusing episode, in a rock band that includes Rene Auberjonois, Dirk Blocker and Otis Day (!), all in Village People-cum-Bicentennial America outfits. “Beyond Westworld” may not work for fans of the source material, but less stringent viewers might enjoy its pulpy thrills; all five episodes of the series, of which only three were aired, are featured on this two-disc set.

4 a.m. – “Karate Kids USA” – Action/Comedy

The_Little_Dragons_VHS_cover(1979, Mill Creek Entertainment) A low-budget predecessor to the “3 Ninjas” series and other such kung fu wish fulfillment fantasies for adolescent boys, “Karate Kids USA” was a staple of afternoon cable and UHF broadcasts for decades, and satisfied the requirements of its core audience with generous amounts of stupid adults, smart kids (with karate skills) and goofy slapstick. Bowlcut-bearing twins Chris and Pat Petersen are top-billed as smart-alecky siblings whose martial arts talents are called into play when a young girl and her parents (Rick Lenz and Sharon Clark) are abducted by a pair of hillbillies (Joe Spinell and John Davis Chandler) and their mom (Ann Sothern). A great number of adults (including co-producer Tony Bill) are shamed by their inability to rescue the family, which the boys manage to pull off with a great deal of attitude (and a fondness for dropping the S-bomb) and a surprising lack of actual karate. It’s easy to knock a picture like “Karate Kids USA” – especially considering the pedigree of the people behind the camera, including director Curtis Hanson and co-writer Alan Ormsby, who penned the winning “My Bodyguard” for Bill (in addition to such ‘70s cult horror favorites as “Deathdream” and “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”)– but let’s be honest: unless you’re just entering the sixth grade, suffering from insomnia or the flu, or an obsessive character actor watcher who can appreciate the presence of Charles Lane in the cast, “Karate Kids USA” isn’t for you. If you fall into any of those categories, you’ll probably have a fine time with it. Initially released in 1980 as “The Little Dragons,” the success of “The Karate Kid” in 1984 prompted an array of VHS reissues under various titles, including “Karate Kids USA,” the title borne by this version, which is included in Mill Creek’s sprawling, 12-disc “Martial Arts Classics” megapack. In order to court family audiences, several home video companies solved the problem of the boys’ frequent cursing by simply dropping out the sound of the offending words on the dialogue track, which made for an even more disorienting film experience for many viewers.

5:30 a.m. – “Easy Money” – Comedy

product_images_modal_EM-MAWBRCover72dpi__7B530c6822-9aa7-491f-ae40-e492e677aa24_7D(1983, Shout Factory) After almost two decades on the nightclub and variety show circuit, Rodney Dangerfield vaulted to movie star status on the strength of his supporting turn in “Caddyshack” (1980) and the one-two punch of his comedy LPs “No Respect” and “Rappin’ Rodney” (the title tune was one of the first rap-oriented singles to break into the Hot 200). “Easy Money,” his first starring vehicle, is a lightweight comedy that borrows from both W.C. Fields and “Romeo and Juliet,” with Dangerfield as an uncouth baby photographer (!) who must abandon his many vices in order to collect an inheritance from his flinty mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald). The script, co-written by Dangerfield and P.J. O’Rourke (among others), leans heavily on ancient ethnic stereotypes – loud Italians, pugnacious Irish – but Dangerfield’s loose cannon persona carries the picture and much of the humor; he’s well supported by an all-pro cast that includes Joe Pesci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, the late, great Taylor Negron, Tom Noonan, Jeffrey Jones and Tom Ewell. A monster hit in the summer of 1983, “Easy Money” launched Dangerfield’s brief tenure as a box office draw, which peaked three years later with “Back to School” (1986). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray packages the film in a double bill with the grim “Men at Work” (1991), with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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