Movies Till Dawn: Guilty Pleasures and Nostalgic Nonsense (2021 Edition)

Hard to Hold” (1984, Kino Lorber) Pop-rocker Jamie Roberts (Rick Springfield) contends with writer’s block, his ex-wife (Patti Hansen), and the attention of adoring fans while also pursuing romance with icy Janet Eilber. Much-maligned vehicle for Springfield, intended to springboard him into movie stardom after success as a TV soap star and singer, is hapless, though most of the errors are committed by Thomas Hedley‘s leaden script (he also wrote “Flashdance”). But it’s not the Compleat Turkey it’s been made out to be (by Springfield, among others): Springfield is a personable performer, even with nothing to do sweat and smile and briefly flash his ass; also, the soundtrack, front-loaded with Springfield’s songs (“Love Somebody” was the big hit), also features tracks by Graham Parker and Peter Gabriel, Hansen is amusing, and Springfield’s band features Bill Mumy, Robert Popwell, Mike Baird, and Tony Sayles. Certainly no worse than “Cool as Ice” or “Hearts of Fire,” both from the same time period and featuring more popular (and respected) performers; Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by journalist Bryan Reesman and an interview with director Larry Peerce, whose credits include the teen-oriented melodramas “Other Side of the Mountain” and “A Separate Peace” (and “Wired”).

The Twilight Zone: Season 2” (2020, Paramount Home Video/CBS Home Video) Second go-round of Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg‘s revamp of Rod Serling’s classic series is, like its debut season, ambitious and thoughtful but can’t touch the original in terms of compelling or memorable stories. The series again features plenty of marquee value in front of and behind the camera – Peele wrote “Downtime,” about a hotel manager (Morena Baccarin) and the truth behind her “dream” job, and Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”), Glen Morgan (“X-Files”) and Osgood Perkins (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter”) are all at the helm of various episodes. The 10 episodes are polished, and some of the premises are intriguing – Jimmi Simpson (always good) is haunted by Gillian Jacobs‘ voice in “Meet in the Middle,” and handyman Damon Wayans, Jr. learns that he can manipulate events in his sleepy town by altering a model layout in “A Small Town.” But none of the new Zone episodes land the same punch as the original (or even the ’80s revamp) – they’re unusually static, requiring us to find the shivery center instead of the other way around. The sole standout – and largely because of its execution – is Perkins’ “You Might Also Like,” which links to and updates the original TZ classic “To Serve Man” in an odd but darkly amusing fashion. The Paramount/CBS Blu-ray set includes deleted and extended scenes and a gag reel.

Pump Up the Volume” (1990, Warner Archives Collection) Writer-director Allan Moyle’s youthquake drama has its plusses and minuses, but also manages to predict the lone broadcaster (or podcaster) as a voice for individual thought of all stripes. Christian Slater is the lonely high schooler who finds a purpose in his basement pirate radio station, from which he holds court with profane gusto on various social ills against a soundtrack of Clinton-era alt-music (Sonic Youth, Rollins/Bad Brains, Ice-T, Pixies). Slater does remarkable work with Moyle’s rants, which, in their manic riffs on the steamrolling of  America by various evils, remains sadly prescient; but scenes in which Slater’s words inspire his fellow students to reject conformity are no less hokey than (as Greil Marcus rightly wrote) kids in ’50s teensploitation movies rebelling against their parents’ anti-rock-and-roll stance (or the crew of ”90s archetypes in Moyle’s wretched “Empire Records”). With Samantha Mathis and jazz great Annie Ross, stuck playing a standard-issue Bad Principal; Warner Archives’ Blu-ray is widescreen.

Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

Tremors” (1990, Arrow Video) Amiable but aimless handymen Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward attempt to save their fellow residents of a tiny Nevada town from an invasion of colossal and ravenous burrowing worms. Doesn’t sound like much, and as the endless sequels and brief series proved, the idea is cardboard in the wrong hands, but director Ron Underwood (a one-time educational film director) and writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson (whose credits would suggest that they were incapable of anything remotely clever) do a fine job of infusing ’50s-style creature features with funny, likable (and agreeably diverse) characters who behave as people would in such a situation (read: lots of mistakes), not as can-do heroes. That this gaggle of dopes – which includes Michael Gross and Reba McIntire, cast against type as gun-happy survivalists (a quirky, non-threatening notion 30 years ago) and the great character actor (and Beat artist!) Victor Wong – not only cares about each other but bands together is one of the film’s most endearing elements, though Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.’s unique and aggressive (and disgusting) monsters are also a highlight. Arrow’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray (which bundles standard and 4K versions) is overflowing with extras, including commentary by the director and writers, multiple new, extended, and vintage interviews with the cast and crew (including Bacon), vintage making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, shorts by the film’s creators, the original screenplay (in PDF), and trailers for the many sequels.

Dragnet” (1954, Kino Lorber) The shotgun slaying of a criminal (Dub Taylor) puts LAPD’s finest – Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) – after mobster Stacy Harris with the same rigid adherence to the fact (just the facts) they exhibited for decades on radio and television. According to Toby Roan‘s fact-filled (just the facts) commentary on Kino’s Blu-ray, the ’54 “Dragnet” was the first time a television series was adapted to film, but the feature, produced and directed by Webb, adheres largely to the same no-frills visuals and terse, pulp-heavy dialogue of the 1951-1959 series (delivered by Webb and the cast in the trademark flat tones and machine-gun staccato that spawned endless parodies), though Webb does allow for some location shooting, incliding visits to DLTA and the Natural History Museum and a glimpse of Ciro’s on Sunset. The transferral of those elements from the series to the film will most likely please fans of the series and those who appreciate budget noir (which, at this point in the franchise’s history, the series most resembled, and not the ’67 revamp, in which Friday hassled hippies each week); newcomers will either find the affectations hilarious or be horrified by Friday and Co.s’ flagrant disregard for basic rights (like interrogating suspects in a hotel room or extensive use of warrant-free wiretaps) and patronizing dismissal of undercover cop Ann Robinson. Kino’s Blu-ray features the aforementioned commentary by Roan, who provides volumes of history and info on Webb, the film, and the character-actor-heavy cast, as well as the theatrical trailer.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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