Alan Smithee Podcast 61: Revenge of the Nerds (1984, Jeff Kanew) / Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987, Joe Roth)

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Nerds came of age in the 1980s. Marginalized for decades prior in a variety of insufficiently descriptive monikers like bookworms and poindexters, the sudden advent of personal computing and mounting intrusion of technology into the everyday lives of socially healthy people were bringing bespectacled geeks into cultural consciousness. This meant they were no longer marginalized: nerd characters were becoming a part of TV and movie casts as fully rounded stereotypes of many traits. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the epochal Revenge of the Nerds, which acknowledged the pile of nerd stereotypes accumulated since at least the breakout performance of Eddie Deezen in Grease and as blaxploitation films of the 70s did for black stereotypes, attempted to make nerds kind of cool through comic exaggeration and emphasizing their underdog status.

After 1984, far fewer movie nerds were mainly the butt of jokes – rather becoming humanized like Crispin Glover’s George McFly in Back to the Future, Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science or stupid Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love. The common denominator is of course their desire to get laid, which is universal to the male moviegoer and made more attainable when even “Genuine Nerd” Toby Radloff (of American Splendor fame) could find his Bride of Killer Nerd in the 1992 Troma film of the same title.

American Splendor comics actually featured a story of Radloff going to see Revenge of the Nerds which was recreated in the Paul Giamatti film years later. To be sure, the joke of the scene is how the nerds in the film are ultimately the creations of Hollywood and not entirely comparable to real life – their happy ending triumph over the bullying jocks is preordained – but genuine nerds like Toby needed that fantasy in 1984. They needed to see the jocks as villains for once, and were willing to look the other way on the occasional spot of movie bullstuff like the nerds having a robot butler in their frat house and working virtual magic with the pitiful computers of their day. For once, normals were invited to laugh with these guys and not at them. The relationship of lead nerds Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards is established from the beginning as one of longtime mutual endurance in the face of social intolerance. Their sensitivity towards one another anchors the story from the start in the reality that lots of nice young men don’t fit in because they’re awkward, not because they’re inferior people.

The film’s secret weapon may be the broader categorization of “nerds” as anyone who doesn’t fit into the social hierarchy. The stunningly cohesive ensemble cast is an even split of classic nerds (Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Edwards & Carradine) and simple misfits: Brian Tochi the Japanese exhange student, Larry B. Scott as the openly gay black guy, and Curtis Armstrong as the immortal “Booger.” Armstrong’s character is the perfect distillation of qualities which make someone unpopular with the in crowd without actually being too smart, too unfashionable or too shy to the degree that classic nerds are. He’s merely rude, crude, lewd, dry, gross and underachieving. Hard to believe that 15 years later, guys like Seth Rogen and James Franco would be more or less honing their “Booger” personas on the movie career launching pad of Freaks & Geeks.

While the effect of Revenge of the Nerds on the rest of pop culture began almost immediately, 20th Century Fox didn’t have clue one as to why the film was popular – let alone worked – when they signed a different director and writer for the 1987 sequel Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. The extent of creativity for the follow up was literally “let’s send the nerds to Ft. Lauderdale, where hijinks ensue.” Nerds In Paradise does what the first film didn’t, which is to play the nerds as near-total goons from Mars incapable of normal human behavior. The jokes are seldom based on performance or character, instead a turgid series of encounters with wacky ethnic stereotypes or comical misunderstandings lurch by while three-fifths of the returning cast from the first film were presumably getting soused between takes. Even the jocks are more two dimensional this time around; the cruelty of Ted McGinley in the first film had a realistic nuance compared to the bigger-is-funnier pranks of Bradley Whitford which ultimately culminate in stranding the nerds on a freaking desert island.

Probably worst of all for the average non-nerd moviegoer in 1987 was the total lack of nudity compared to the rather ribald Part One: Nerds In Paradise bears the rating of PG-13, resulting in nothing appealing for any audience except perhaps preadolescents too young to watch the first film and not discriminating enough to realize what they’re watching isn’t funny.

NEXT WEEK: TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE SPECIAL! TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983, JOHN LANDIS & STEVEN SPIELBERG & JOE DANTE & GEORGE MILLER)

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Episode 47: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976, John Cassavetes) / Less Than Zero (1987, Marek Kanievska)

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Los Angeles is a city of unpaid debts. There is nary a story on film set there which does not use someone’s lack of funds as the plot engine and the consequences tend to bring a character to climax. If they have their debt taken out in trade can be a fate worse than death. This happens in all walks of life: glamorous and sleazy and sleazy-glamorous. In LA the distinctions are blurred: there are beautiful women even in the gutters. Perhaps especially in the gutters.

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast our LA-bound pair of films feature very good actors being very feckless patsies to their creditors. To be fair, Ben Gazzara is as successful in his task as the title of John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie declares. Too bad for him that’s not the solution to his troubles and not a cure for the habits that got him in such a situation. The owner of seedy yet curiously chaste strip club, Gazzara gets his kicks with cards instead of girls – one stripper and her mother whom he both befriends serve more as an imitation family unit than sex fantasy. He values comfort above all else, and the best he can do for the patrons of his business is to make them feel comfortable and forget their troubles, yet in forgetting his own troubles with the comfortable old habit of gambling he’ll continue on stepping into trouble.

Unlike the two-time losers of Cassavetes films, the cycle of comfort addiction is taken for granted among the enclaves of wealthy youth. Bacchanalia and death the only real forms of rebellion the children of the rich have at their disposal against their parents, the former ironically made possible by necessity of rich and hard working (at least at one point) parents. Even amongst those youth not engaged in rebellion, the allure of upper class bohemia is perceived as a form of sophistication above the sphere of responsible squares in any economic strata. When money isn’t a concern, an arms race of sorts develops as to who has the most ostentatious appetites, and they mostly reside in the dangerously exciting place where comfort addiction puts you into debt.

Bret Easton Ellis’ best selling debut novel Less Than Zero was a fictionalized account of his fellow trust fund babies in Beverly Hills sinking into emotional vacuity and moral depravity. Since then he’s basically spent the rest of his career further detailing the sophisticated cruelty he observed growing up with other spoiled rich kids in books like The Rules of Attraction and American Psycho. Those novels were adapted to film as well, but not excised of their lurid material nearly to the degree that Less Than Zero was sanitized. Ellis might have expected to see the loss of certain episodes as the viewing of a snuff film and the sexual slavery of an underage girl. The sillier refashioning of his source material and guarantor of bad moviedom was turning the main character from a bisexual and morally ambivalent naif into Andrew “Mannequin” McCarthy, non-threatening boy matinee idol and most certainly not to be a bisexual screen icon.

Without ambiguities of his own McCarthy is merely left to whine and mope about his drug-using friend’s downward spiral, which makes him an awfully boring protagonist. It’d be like if The Lost Weekend weren’t about Ray Milland, but a friend who keeps calling his apartment and wondering why he doesn’t pick up the phone.

McCarthy’s friend is Robert Downey Jr, handily the best actor in the film and whose performance begged to be at the center if the film was going to take so many liberties with the story anyways. Since the producers apparently envisioned the film as a cautionary anti-drug tale, perhaps they were concerned that making the addict the main character might have been construed as some kind of lionization. This would’ve been true to the degree that Downey Jr is a cooler actor than Andrew McCarthy, which is to say, a whole lot. James Spader turns in the other best performance of the film as Downey’s scummy dealer, and as you might expect, he doesn’t get the screen time he deserves either – instead McCarthy’s costar minute for minute is Jami Gertz, doing an atrocious job as his ex-girlfriend who once had a fling with Downey.

Still, Roger Ebert thought the anti-drug message was compelling enough to give the film a full four stars. Too bad for all involved (except Downey in the long run) this film killed their careers deader than Downey’s character Julian.

NEXT EPISODE: DARKMAN TRILOGY SPECIAL! DARKMAN (1990, SAM RAIMI) & DARKMAN II: THE RETURN OF DURANT (1995, BRADFORD MAY) & DARKMAN III: DIE DARKMAN DIE (1996, BRADFORD MAY)

Episode 35: Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) / Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner) / Robocop 3 (1993, Fred Dekker)

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Hey Lewis, it’s supercop! This week on a special An Alan Smithee Podcast we look back on the Robocop trilogy. Few other trilogies of films intended as ongoing franchises ever experienced such a precipitous, virtually calculated drop in quality from one of the greatest films ever made (even Criterion agrees) to a definitively cynical rehash with official comic book credentials – Frank Miller, whose film career somehow outlasted the kid oriented director of PG-13 Part 3, Fred Dekker. Old wounds are opened as old e-hate mail from Dekker himself is disclosed for the first time!

NEXT WEEK: THE STRANGER (1946, ORSON WELLES) & JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001, KEVIN SMITH)

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Episode 28: The Stepfather (1987, Joseph Ruben) / Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996, Alan Smithee and Kevin Yagher).

ALL NEW. From the people who brought you “An Alan Smithee Podcast”…More of the night WE came home and watched horror movies for Halloween. This week we observe a couple of strict disciplinarians doing their thing in their own special ways.

the-stepfather

The original The Stepfather has finally come out on special edition DVD and even if titular star Terry O’Quinn would now prefer to be known for Lost, his performance as “Scary Jerry” the bad stepdad will live in infamy. He might’ve had to carry the whole movie on his shoulders (as he had to in Stepfather II: Make Room For Daddy) if not for the stellar direction of Joseph Ruben and subtle clockwork screenwriting of mystery novelist Donald Westlake. The Stepfather constantly skirts the line between trash and class; a gimmicky premise with suspense that builds by inches, a psycho killer movie focused mainly on the killer’s psychology, a “slasher” more by comparison to On Golden Pond than Friday the 13th. This Halloween, Daddy’s home.

Then we go straight to hell, or as close to hell as a diminished sequel budget allows in Hellraiser: Bloodline, the last Hellraiser movie to retain some of the franchise’s original mythology before Dimension began randomly inserting Pinhead and/or Ashley Laurence into whatever psychological thriller scripts were gathering dust around the office.

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This film is not directed by either host of An Alan Smithee Podcast, nor was it directed by Alan Smithee – special effects virtuoso Kevin Yagher took the reigns for his sole directorial effort and, as you might guess, the effects are the only vaguely redeemable factor. Except the puzzle box, which looks shoddier than ever! Unlike the Lament Configuration, Hellraiser: Bloodline is easy to figure out: it sucks. Listen and discover why.

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NEXT WEEK: THE BEACH (2000, DANNY BOYLE) & THE BANK DICK (1940, EDWARD F. CLINE)

Episode 13: Mannequin (1987, Michael Gottlieb) / Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Episode XIII
Mannequin (1987) / Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
It is a period of transition. A period of passive voice.
Hosts Matt and Andrew discuss one of the biggest blockbusters of the last twenty years, not to mention the only film in the last twenty-five years to feature G.W. Bailey acting like an idiot.*
* if you ignore the countless other films where he acted like an idiot. But Mannequin does feature James Spader licking his hair, which not many films (?) do.

Films discussed
Mannequin, Mannequin: On the Move, Weekend at Bernie’s, Weekend at Bernie’s II, 
Police Academy, Less Than Zero, St. Elmo’s Fire
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Terminator, Aliens, Alien, Piranha 2: The Spawning, The Abyss, True Lies, Titanic, Predator, Commando, Terminator Salvation

Show Notes: Episode 3: The Trial of the Incredible Quentin, Part 1 of 2

This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.

It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.

- Chip

Films discussed:
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)

Show Notes: Episode 2: Carpenter was a Jesus, Part 2 of 2

Continuing their conversation on Carpenter, Matthew and Andrew pick up with his Christine adaptation. Following a discussion of all his theatrical releases, they touch on his recent television episodes and become wistful at thoughts of his future endeavors.

Films discussed:
Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Body Bags (1993), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996), Vampires (1998), Halloween H2o (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), Cigarette Burns (2005), and Pro-Life (2006).