Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 50: The Weirdest Year of Your Life

Episode 50 Website CoverIt’s the 50th episode of Pop Culture Affidavit! For this special episode, I take a look back twenty years to the year I graduated from high school. Along the way, I look at how senior year of high school is represented in movies. It includes stops at, among other things, American Pie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Paper Towns as well as a host of personal memories about my own senior year of high school (which ended on June 25, 1995). Was high school the best time of my life? Was it a waking nightmare? Was it a little bit of both? You’ll have to listen to find out.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page



Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 20 — Eddie Lives!

Episode 20 CoverThe latest episode is a little late but I promise you it’s well worth it.  This time around I take a look at one of my absolute favorite rock and roll stories, Eddie and the Cruisers.  I delve into P.F. Kluge’s original novel; talk about the 1983 feature film starring Michael Paré as Eddie Wilson, along with Tom Berenger and Ellen Barkin; and I even cover the sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!  So come along for a rock and roll ghost story for the ages!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Here is the trailer for Eddie and the Cruisers:

Here is the trailer for Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!: 

And just because it’s so cool, here’s the full Eddie and the Cruisers poster:

Eddie and the Cruisers Poster

White Water Summer

So a couple of weeks ago I noticed that White Water Summer was going to be on one of the random movie channels on the higher end of my digital cable menu (Encore? Flix? FX Movies? Movierama? Video Empire?), I thought, “Yes!  I am SO watching this and blogging about it!”  Then I couldn’t help but laugh when I set up the recording because the of the description that Comcast provided: “Kevin Bacon plays a sadist in charge of adolescents on a camping trip.”

If you take that description at face value along with the title, it sounds like a horror movie, as if Bacon plays the serial killer in some bad Friday The 13th ripoff (which, considering White Water Summer‘s 1987 release date isn’t entirely unrealistic); however, the film is actually a coming-of-age tale that involves Kevin Bacon in one of his douchiest roles, as an outward bound-type counselor named Vic who takes a very reluctant, scared kid named Alan (played by Sean Astin) and several others on a trip into the wilderness.

It’s not a movie that a lot of people have seen–it never made it past its original limited release and I’m sure it wasn’t flying off video store shelves–and it wasn’t well-received, getting a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  But I have to say that the reason I wanted to blog about this movie isn’t because it is a great piece to play in a game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (if anyone actually plays that game anymore), but because this was one of those movies that I rented over and over as a kid and with which I have always felt this oddly deep connection.

As I mentioned, Kevin Bacon’s Vic is an expedition leader who is clearly a full-fledged “nature boy” because when we see him for the very first time, he is walking down the streets of New York City wearing the same fully loaded backpack that you’d wear when hiking through the rough terrain of the Rocky Mountains.  He is there to visit Alan, who is basically Sean Astin in his Goonies phase, as opposed to another, older Alan who narrates the movie, which is Astin in his “Kirk Cameron’s wise-assed sidekick” phase.  This, by the way, was because most of the movie was filmed in 1985 but shelved, then there were Ferris Bueller/Zack Morris-type interstitials where an older Alan would talk to the camera to offer commentary about what was going on that were shot two years later right before the film was released.

Anyway, Alan winds up being convinced (he’s kind of forced) to go on the trip and heads off with three other guys: Mitch (Jonathan Ward, who played middle child Doug Pembroke on the first season of Charles in Charge), George (K.C. Martel, who played Mike Seaver’s friend Eddie on Growing Pains), and Chris (Matt Adler, who starred in the 1987 surfing flick, North Shore).  George and Chris are the older guys who tend to look down on Mitch and Alan and even give Alan the nickname “Dickface.”  They head off to the woods and almost immediately, Alan proves to be the “problem” on the trip–he carves his name in a tree, he doesn’t want to catch a fish with his bare hands, he freaks out when crossing a rope bridge, and is literally left hanging when he’s too scared to rappel across a huge rock formation named Devil’s Tooth.

That’s a huge simplification of most of the movie, but most of what happens is basically tension between the very reluctant and often scared Alan and the “Oh come on, you guys are going to be great at this and if you aren’t, I’m going to push you until you DO WHAT I TELL YOU!!!” Vic.  The other guys do get into it with Vic here and there, especially the night he leaves them all alone in a thunderstorm and they freak the hell out (George, especially, who hams it up rather dramatically).  But for the most part, Alan is “dickface” the entire time and Vic’s their brave leader and a really cool guy.  Until that moment I mentioned in Devil’s Tooth, which is when they all turn on Vic by walking away from him to go back to the ranger station, then when he tracks them down (and is slightly unhinged), beat the crap out of him and break his leg.  So it becomes up to Alan to take a wounded Vic down a raging river to get help (hence, the white water in the summer).

As far as coming-of-age stories go, it is a bit tepid, especially by today’s standards.  There’s no sex, there’s no horror, there aren’t any real quotable linesand one of the few things that you can really laud it for is that it’s shot beautifully.  But I rented this movie at least four or five times between the time I first saw it in 1987 and the time I started junior high school in 1989, which is odd for a kid who was subsiding on a steady diet of Schwarzenegger, Seagal, and Van Damme.  Sean Astin finally getting up the courage to make his way across a dangerous rope bridge and being left to figure out how to rappel over a ravine isn’t exactly Arnold camouflaging himself with mud and setting all sorts of woodland traps for the alien in Predator; and while Kevin Bacon’s Vic is a total jackass, I wouldn’t say that he’s that Bolo Yeung in Bloodsport.  Still, I loved it and still love it because when I was 10 years old, I identified with Alan. (more…)

16 Days of Glory

As of my writing this, we’re about knee-deep in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.  In fact, as I glance over to my television, the NBC Sports Network is showing a U.S.-North Korea women’s soccer match (it was either that or tennis).  I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter, especially at how it has me watching and enjoying sports I would never watch otherwise (I went to lunch with some work friends the other day and we watched a water polo match that was on at the restaurant).

This love of the Olympics has its roots in my love of sports, of course, because if I didn’t like sports I wouldn’t care about the Olympics; however, I feel like sometimes I am the only guy who watches the games for the sheer pageantry of it all.  Which is why, by the way, I kept tweeting out snarky bon mots throughout last Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies, pissing and moaning about how badly NBC was mangling their tape-delayed coverage.  In fact, NBC’s fail on this part has been so epic this year it’s like a running joke among tweeters and bloggers, especially those who look forward to the games every four years.

But I’m not going to spend this entry complaining about NBC (that’s what Twitter is for).  No, I thought it might be cool to sit down for a few moments and think about why I am so enthralled by the Olympic Games and why I will spend so much time watching them, even staying up until ungodly hours to watch women’s gymnastics prelims in the summer or a curling match in the winter.  And thankfully it’s not a hard thing to figure out because the very first games I watched were I think the games that people my age think of the most when they think “Olympics.”

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be speaking for my entire generation but I think that the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics really did come to define “Olympics” for quite a number of Children of the 1980s.

I turned seven in 1984, which meant that this was the first Olympic Games that I actually remember.  I’m sure that people who are even slightly older than me will tell me they have memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics, especially the “Miracle on Ice,” and to that I say that they’re seriously lucky.  Being born in June 1977, I was all of 2-1/2 years old when the underdog U.S. hockey team beat the U.S.S.R. and then Finland to win the gold medal, so if I saw the game against the Russians (which I highly doubt), I don’t remember it at all.  Had there not been a boycott of the Moscow games that same year, I may have seen the 1980 Summer Games, but that wasn’t to be.

The 1984 Summer Olympics soundtrack cassette. This is not available on CD or digitally, so I kind of regret not getting it back in the 1980s when I really wanted it.

So, the summer when I was seven years old and was allowed to stay up slightly later than usual, I saw some of the competition, but most importantly I caught quite a bit of the opening ceremonies.  I don’t know if it was because my parents thought it was important for me to see it or if ABC aired it live instead of on tape delay (which may have been the case — a 3-hour time difference meant it might have aired live; then again, ABC tape delayed the U.S.-Soviet hockey game in 1980 so I wouldn’t put it past them), but I saw quite a bit, including parts of the Parade of Nations (or as my wife put it, “The Model U.N.”).

In my mind, I thought it was the most epic thing I had ever seen (which is saying a lot because I had been watching Star Wars every morning for the past two years).  The audience all had cards on their seats and after a guy came flying in on a jet pack–yes, a JET PACK, which is awesome on so many levels–the PA announcer told them to hold up the cards and the entire stadium was then decorated in the flags of the participating countries.  Plus, you had a theme composed by John Williams that to this day stands as one of my top five John Williams pieces (and next to his NBC News theme, one of his most underrated).  In fact, I loved it so much that when I saw a copy of the soundtrack on cassette at TSS a few years later, I wanted it.  In fact, I coveted that soundtrack so much that I actually took it out of the place where it had been placed and put it behind another cassette on another shelf where nobody but me would find it, not realizing that I probably wouldn’t ever get the money to buy it or that I didn’t have to hide it because it was 1988 and nobody but me was coveting the soundtrack (for the record, I never did get the tape).


Sometimes, more isn’t that groovy

For so many good movies, there are the unfortunate sequels. Oh sure, there are good sequels out there, but there’s also Predator 2, American Pie 2, or Eddie and The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. And I’ve seen all three of those, so I know.

Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, most of those sequels are pretty much forgotten, relegated to late night runs on random cable channels that cannot afford quality movies, and I don’t think I would have known there was a sequel to American Graffiti if it hadn’t been pointed out to me via Charles Champlain’s book, George Lucas: The Creative Impulse when it came out in 1992. While it doesn’t get the attention of Star Wars, Empire, Jedi, or the original American Graffiti, More American Graffiti is covered halfway decently. In reading about the movie online and watching it last week, however, I get the feeling that this one is ranked in the Lucas filmography as “At least it’s not Howard the Duck.”

Okay, that’s a little harsh, but it wasn’t a movie that I intended seeking out and had I not been showing American Graffiti in my advanced English class, I would have been fine with watching bits and pieces of it here and there throughout the years whenever I happened to come across a random showing on WPIX or on cable. Plus, when I looked it up on Netflix, it was available for instant viewing.

American Graffiti, Lucas’s 1973 classic, follows a group of friends on the last night of the summer. What Lucas and director Bill Norton do is set More American Graffiti on four consecutive New Year’s Eves, from 1964-1967. After an initial scene in 1964 where several characters from the original meet at a racetrack, the storylines go their separate ways: John Milner is drag racing cars in 1964; Terry “The Toad” is in Vietnam; Debbie is a hippie in 1966 San Francisco; and Steve and Laurie are a married couple in Modesto in 1967. (more…)

Three O’Clock High

My movie viewing history as a child and adolescent seems to have two phases.  Starting from when I was very young, I have always loved science fiction and action movies.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, considering I was born the year Star Wars came out and spent the better part of my youth watching cartoons that were used to sell action and sci-fi based toys.  My father, his friend (my “uncle”) Chuck, my Uncle Lou, and quite a number of other family members happily fostered my love for those things through buying me toys and making me copies of those movies, or not balking at the fact that in the fourth and fifth grade I was watching R-rated movies.

But as I went through high school, I began to become more interested in another genre, which was the teen movie.  I’d known about the types of movies for a while and had owned a copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off since it first came out on video, but before I graduated, I had probably seen every movie starring John Cusack or directed by John Hughes.  The person or people who deserve the credit for this are not the same who got me into a galaxy far, far away, because none of them absolutely loved Say Anything … the way I did (though nobody seemed to think it was weird that a 15-year-old boy wanted to rent Porky’s).  I lay the blame for my love of the teen movie genre at someone I didn’t even know:  the programming director of WPIX.

Now, here is where I probably should talk about how I first watched Three O’Clock High on a random Saturday afternoon on WPIX and that prompted me to rent the uncensored version of the movie and from there I was completely hooked on this little gem of a film, but that would be a lie.  That’s because I actually saw Three O’Clock High in the theater, which should have been a sign that I would become fully ensconced in teen angst flicks within a few years, but in all honesty I went to see it with my friend Tom on Columbus Day weekend of 1987 because we had nothing better to do that day and the commercial had been running on television for the better part of a couple of weeks, so we asked my dad for some money and rode our bikes up to Sayville Theater to take in a very cheap matinee.

My dad was on the phone when I asked him for the money, although I wasn’t deliberately timing it that way because the cost of a matinee for two people at Sayville Theater in those days came in under ten bucks, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t going to get the money.  He reached for his wallet and began describing what he thought was the movie we were going to see: a guy has to protect a daughter and she’s in danger, which was the plot of the Scott Glenn version of Man on Fire.  I corrected him and he stopped telling my neighbor what the movie was about and looked at us incredulously.

“You’re going to see the one about the fight?”  he asked.

“Uh … yeah,” I said.

My father looked at both of us and let out a groan, as if we had just committed the most disappointing act a couple of ten-year-old boys ever could have done.  I mean, I might as well have told him that we were going to the salon to learn how to braid the hair of my sister’s My Little Pony collection.

And yes, Three O’Clock High is about a fight.  Casey Siemaszko plays Jerry Mitchell, an overachieving geek who raises the ire of Buddy Revell (played by Richard Tyson, who is probably best known for being the villain in Kindergarten Cop) because … well, Jerry touches him and Buddy hates being touched. (more…)

The Sure Thing

Being that I grew up without cable television and didn’t always get the chance to get to a video store, there were times in my formative years where I lived for a good movie on broadcast television.  The local stations always seemed to comply with my wishes, too, because WPIX seemed to have one of the deepest film libraries imaginable, and even our local Fox affiliate would bust out something random when the network wasn’t running their primetime programming.   And of course you had the ABC Sunday Night Movie, which is where I got most of my exposure to the Roger Moore-era Bond films as well as various versions of the first two Superman movies.  The 1980s and early 1990s were a glorious period of movies on television, and are definitely directly responsible for my ongoing obsession of teen films, especially those of the two Johns:  Hughes and Cusack.

Now, I think one day I will probably do an entire post on the edited-for-television version of The Breakfast Club because it has its own place in the “Children of the Eighties” museum, and how WPIX seemed to have all of the rights to all of John Cusack’s mid-1980s teen comedies, even Hot Pursuit, which is one of those “Someone greenlighted this?” films that only the most hardcore of teen movie buffs will sit through.  I’ll even go into Better Off Dead, which was the start of my Cusack fandom (up until then, I’d recognized him as the older brother in Stand By Me and The Journey of Natty Gann, the latter of which made me bawl my eyes out when I first saw it), because I would rather focus on one of the films that is in my All-Time Desert Island Top Five Cusack films, and that is The Sure Thing (the others, in chronological order, are Better Off Dead, Say Anything …, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity).

Directed by Rob Reiner in 1985, The Sure Thing was his follow-up to the seminal This is Spinal Tap and has the most Eightiesness about his films from that decade, even though it does not look dated at all (except for maybe Nicolette Sheridan’s hair and the fact that her breasts are real, but we’ll get to that).  I first saw the film in 1991 when  it had its network broadcast premiere on Fox one summer evening.  I was about to enter high school at the time and therefore the strict 8:00 bedtime my parents had maintained up until that point was starting to be eased, especially since it was the summer and I didn’t have school and rarely went out at night because I was either without rebellious friends or spending the summer recovering from some kind of facial surgery.

Anyway, I had heard of the film’s title because I had the easy-level sheet music to Rod Stewart’s “infatuation” in a movie themes book for the piano.  Never played it, though because I didn’t like Rod Stewart very much and the only thing I remembered about that song was the black-and-white video where he’s being really pervy.  The way the song is used in the film, by the way, is where I am sure that David Hasselhoff got his inspiration for about a hundred Baywatch montages, because it’s simply Nicolette Sheridan in a white bikini on a beach putting a blanket down, putting lotion on, and laying out while a very 1980s-looking title font rolls credits.  And even though I don’t like the song, I give props to Reiner because it’s a damn near perfect introduction.

I stuck with the movie not because of Sheridan (although being that I was fourteen years old, I was definitely, shall we say, intrigued), but because I noticed Cusack’s name in the credits and I had just spent most of the summer watching my taped copies of Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer to the point where I had every line memorized and they were already wearing out.  Rob Reiner was a director I was slightly familiar with too, having watched Stand By Me and The Princess Bride quite a bit.  And the plot was simple enough to keep me going through Fox’s various commercial breaks that advertised the only thing it had going for it in the summer, which was the beach club episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 (I can never remember the name of the beach club, btw.  I want to say Malibu Sands, but that was Saved By The Bell … ah, Stacy Carosi …):  guy travels 3,000 miles to get laid.

Okay, that’s not the entire plot of the movie because the 3,000 miles to get laid part starts after the movie’s first act is over and that first act sets up the two major characters: Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) and Allison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga, who I definitely knew from Spaceballs).  They’re attending college together at some ivy league-type school in the northeast (Gib tells his friend that he’s “never seen so much corduroy in one place”) and much like any good romantic comedy where opposites attract, they don’t really like each other after they first meet and by the time they wind up stuck together on the road trip to UCLA, where his friend Lance (a pre-Goose but nicely fratbro Anthony Edwards) has arranged a night with The Sure Thing; and her boyfriend Jason (Boyd Gaines) attends, they absolutely despise one another.

At this point, the film actually becomes a road movie and very much in the classic sense, which is what I think gives The Sure Thing its timelessness.  It’s one of those movies that I’m sure hasn’t been attempted in the remake/reboot sense, and I have a feeling that if a remake was attempted it would fall completely flat because it would be more like Road Trip, which has its moments but also has diminishing returns on subsequent viewings.  I’ve been watching The Sure Thing for twenty years—first on a pirated VHS copy and then on DVD—and to this day I laugh my ass off the entire way through.   I think it has to do with how realistic the situations and characters actually are.  A movie like Road Trip might be zany and crazy, but what happens to Allison and Gib while they’re on the road in The Sure Thing could very well still happen.  Reiner and the screenwriters seemed to take a lot of care to make sure that the film felt organic and that comedic bits, such as Allison’s flashing a truck full of guys after Gib calls her repressed, aren’t forced.

The credit also goes to the entire cast, too.  Cusack’s obviously the star (and it’s hard to believe that he was only 17 and actually had to be emancipated from his parents in order to shoot on location), and he nails every line and rant (his “if I fail English my life is ruined” bit is a classic).  But it’s not a John Cusack showcase; Zuniga’s job is to elevate the comedy above that of stuff like Porky’s, and she plays Allison like a Mallory Keaton with a brain.  Then, you have her on-screen boyfriend, Jason, who is the epitome of the “square” and should be a one note character, but Boyd Gaines delivers his lines so well that he almost steals certain scenes, especially when it becomes obvious that Allison is kind of over him.  The line, “How about a good hot mug of China Black?” which should be a random line, is quite possibly one of the funniest lines in Eighties teen movies.

But I digress.  I could very well sit down and talk for at least a couple of hours (or in our case, 1500 more words) about all of the little things that make this such a favorite of mine.  I’m just honestly pleased that a film genre that is very so often disposable has produced a gem like this.