Space Invaders Hit Drive-Invasion 2013! The Starlight Drive-In Blasts Off With 1980s Sci-Fi Classics!

Posted on: Aug 29th, 2013 By:

The Starlight Drive-In presents Drive-Invasion 2013Starlight Drive-In; Sunday, Sep. 1; Gates open @ 10 a.m.; Admission $20 advance, $25 at door, children 3-9 $5; Advance tickets here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Official World Famous Drive-Invasion is upon us, and there’s a whole slew of hot bands from Memphis garage-thud legends The Oblivians to the one and only  MAN… OR ASTRO-MAN? being cooked up at the Starlight Drive-In for all of y’all Drive-Invaders! But let’s not overlook the great movies that will hit the screen as soon as the sun goes down. This year, there’s an action-packed lineup of 1980s sci-fi flicks that run the spectrum from wild and wacky to dark and gritty.

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION; Dir. W.D. Richter; Starring Peter WellerEllen Barkin and John Lithgow; Trailer here.

Let me tell you a secret.

You may not know this, but our planet was invaded by Red Lectroids from th dimension. This realm had been occupied by clandestine Red Lectroids since October 31, 1938, when Dr. Emilio Lizardo—having been possessed by their leader Lord John Whorfin—brought them to Earth. Specifically, to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. This was reported live as it happened by Orson Welles, but he was later pressured to claim that his broadcast was a work of fiction. From that day, they had been posing as humans and developing technology at Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems in order to take over this planet. Thankfully, we were protected by the Hong Kong Cavaliers under the leadership of physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero Buckaroo Banzai.

The efforts of Buckaroo Banzai and his crack team/backing band to our planet from the imminent threat of complete takeover by the Red Lectroids were documented by writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter in their 1984 docu-drama THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION. Rauch and Richter present the true-life tales of Banzai with the effortless charm and thrill-a-minute excitement of vehicles featuring pulp heroes like Doc Savage, or radio adventurers like Captain MidnightPeter Weller embodies the role of Banzai with a wry and drolly laconic air. Ellen Barkin is magnificently funny, smart and sexy as Penny Priddy, the twin sister of Banzai’s late wife. And John Lithgow is completely unhinged as Lizardo/Whorfin, sporting a wild red fright wig and speaking in a ridiculously over-the-top Italian accent. Supported by a stellar cast of veteran character actors (Clancy BrownJeff GoldblumChristopher LloydRobert ItoVincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya, among others), the film is nearly as wild, exciting, funny, fast and ridiculous as the real-life events they are based upon.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER; Dir. Nick Castle; Starring Lance GuestRobert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy; Trailer here.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER is essentially what every kid playing video games in the early 1980s dreamed would happen to them. Teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a nowhere kid in a nowhere town, whose only real escape is in playing the Starfighter video game outside the diner where his mom works. One evening he manages to top the highest score on record, which gets the attention of the game’s inventor Centauri (Robert Preston). It’s revealed that Centauri is a disguised alien and that the game is a test to find people qualified to actually fight in an interstellar war between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire. And it’s up to Alex to save the Rylan home world and protect the universe from the Ko-Dan leader Xur.

As far as STAR WARS rip-offs go, this has long been a favorite. It’s directed with brisk energy by Nick Castle (who played Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN!), and features a spectacular mix of practical special effects and early CGI. Lance Guest does a great job in the role of the film’s ersatz Luke Skywalker, convincingly frustrated by his surroundings and dreaming of something bigger. And he’s bolstered by great performances from Robert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy. It may be a slight movie, but it’s a lot of fun.

THE THING; Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Kurt RussellWilford Brimley and Keith David; Trailer here.

Something from another world has crash-landed in the Antarctic. Something that can mimic any living thing. It’s already wiped out a Norwegian research station. Now it is inside the neighboring American compound, and it could be taking the place of any person—or persons—there. Who can you trust, when anyone could be…the Thing?

Many people consider this one of the greatest remakes ever made. I am not one of those people. To me, this isn’t a remake at all; this is simply a second adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novella WHO GOES THERE? The Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby 1951 film (there is disagreement over who actually directed) was a loose adaptation of Campbell’s story, jettisoning the entire “alien imitation and assimilation” aspect of the plot, and only focusing on the threat of an alien menacing an Arctic scientific outpost. While John Carpenter borrowed the title treatment from the Hawks/Nyby film, everything else is much more faithful to Campbell’s original tale.

Though it’s hard to find someone today who doesn’t love THE THING, this wasn’t the case in 1982. It received mixed-to-negative reviews upon release and was considered a flop, only barely breaking into the top 10 for three weeks and only taking in a third of its cost on its opening weekend. Critics and moviegoers seemed to prefer the “aliens are our best friends” approach of that year’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, which came out just two weeks prior to THE THING. And the special effects of Rob Bottin—now seen as a landmark exercise in visual effects—were largely seen as unnecessarily grotesque and gory at the time, overshadowing the onscreen suspense.

It’s amazing how wrong people can be.

In the years since, a much-needed reappraisal of the film has taken place. It’s now regarded as one of John Carpenter’s finest works, second only perhaps to HALLOWEEN. The ensemble performances are excellent across the board. Kurt Russell makes a believably reluctant hero, questioning everyone even as he questions himself. And each supporting actor—from Wilford Brimley to Keith David, from Donald Moffatt to Richard Masur, and on down the line—creates a unique and memorable take on their character. Bottin’s bravura special effects are shocking and surreal, heightening the alien nature of the transformations on display and providing a sense of “anything goes” unexpectedness to the proceedings. And John Carpenter proves himself a master of onscreen composition, creating gorgeous tableaux with every shot. He keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, but never rushes things. And he ramps up suspense at every turn, continually making you question every person on the screen before you. Add on one of Ennio Morricone’s best scores, and there’s little more one can ask for.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 26: Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me! ROBOCOP Rises Again at Splatter Cinema Sat. Sept. 8

Posted on: Sep 6th, 2012 By:

Splatter Cinema Presents ROBOCOP (1987); Dir: Paul Verhoeven; Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Dan O’Herlihy; Sat. Sept. 8; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Thomas Drake
Contributing Writer

Short: “I’ll buy that for a dollar.” “Dead or Alive, You’re coming With Me!”

Medium: Murphy (Peter Weller) is an old school cop who is part of a privatized police force in a decaying old Detroit. Detroit has been bought by the megaconglomerate, OCP, which plans to rebuild her in their shining image. Two competing robotics projects change Murphy’s life forever when the Ed-9000 project goes haywire and kills a major OCP exec, causing Project Robocop to initiate.  Murphy is fatally wounded in the line of duty, and since he is now an OCP employee, his corpse is OCP property as well. They turn him into a cyborg with three laws: “Serve the Public Trust”; “Protect the Innocent”; “Uphold the Law.”

Robocop is a hit with the locals and cleans up against the bad guys. However, the brain of Murphy begins having flashbacks of his former life.  Meanwhile, a vengeful OCP employee turns against Robocop to sabotoge the project and supplies street gangs with military weapons. Shenanigans.

Maximum Verbosity: When I try to explain the subgenre of cyberpunk to Slines, they look confused at the mention of  NEUROMANCER or SNOWCRASH.  Then I say ROBOCOP, and they usually get that. ROBOCOP was a pioneer of movies like it – a dark future where corporations ruled, near enough to feel familiar but far enough that they had the freedom to radically change society.  We do, in fact, have corporations buying up cities, influencing elections, and gaining a dominant hand in our daily lives.  We do, in fact, have anthro-modeled drones with guns being put together by the military to shoot people in war.  We do, in fact, have cyborgs with mind-linked artificial limbs; some of which are being developed for the military. We do, in fact, have privatized police forces.  We do, in fact, have “reality television” with interactive audience participation where they can indeed “buy that for a dollar.” In fact, we do have situations where corporations can require their citizens to sign away their basic rights that have been upheld by the federal courts. People like to talk about how prophetic BLADE RUNNER or MINORITY REPORT were about the direction things are going, but ROBOCOP is batting a much higher average.

Of course, the movie is not real life. Reality is much more nuanced and complicated; but at the same time, ROBOCOP is also very complicated and nuanced. On the basic surface, it’s just a standard action flick; bad guys wrong heroic cop; heroic cop fights them, gets the evidence and stops the bad guys. Sure, he’s a ROBOcop, but he’s still basically a cop. Indeed, ROBOCOP is basically just a cop movie; that’s the formula it follows.  In some ways you could ALMOST plug in bits of it (albiet badly) into most any cop movie and have it kind of work here. Eddie Murphy in armor anyone?

But beneath this surface, there is a complicated political statement being made about free enterprise vs the public good. It asks questions about what lines should be crossed? How far will we let corporations go?  Should we be allowed to sign away our rights?  Make no mistake, there is a thriving black market for organs, and there are many who are pushing to allow private citizens to sell their organs for a profit – living or dead.  Since corporations frequently take out life insurance policies on their employees, why not claim a profit on their organs if they die on the job?

The best manifestation of this lies in the media coverage and snarky commercials that weave between the major scenes. This is where the ROBO (sci fi) part of ROBOCOP really shines. You see the future (well…present now) of news. You see that the past is the present is the future in terms of how commercials work and what is sold. They set the tone of the action flick that makes it much more than an armored guy going around shooting people. Indeed, at its core, Robocop is really about what it means to be a human. Is it our memories? Murphy loses those at first, but they slowly come back. Is there a ghost in the machine? Is there a soul somewhere in our meat suit?  The movie struggles with these questions as Murphy watches his family from afar, cursed to only be able to watch his former family but unable to confront them based on the Frankenstein monster that he has become.

Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith in ROBOCOP. Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures Corp. 1987

The play of the laws is also exceedingly well done and a fantastic nod to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Indeed, ROBOCOP, much like Asimovian robots, has a secret “zeroth” law, though these two are diametically opposed. Asimovian robots are compelled to serve humanity as a whole. OCP robots are compelled to serve their corporation executives at the exclusion of the innocent, the law or the public trust.

The contrast couldn’t be more clear.

Peter Weller’s performance as Murphy is fantastic. He sets the bar so high that I doubt the remake will really do the character justice by comparison. Equally impressive is the rather understated performance of his partner played by Nancy Allen. She doesn’t have much screen time, but she is the foil that encourages Murphy to see himself more as a man and less as just a machine. A bond forms between them, and she also gives the audience a connection to the character. As a sidekick she’s pretty damn impressive, especially compared to the abilities exhibited by Robocop himself. The entire cast does a fantastic job, but I’d like to make a special shout out to the crime boss played by Kurtwood Smith, who knocks it out of the park as a bad guy who is both a stereotype and an extremely complex character at the same time.  Smith has gone on to do some very impressive work since then.

As a side note, if you like to see bad guys turned to goo and properly punished for their arrogance – shot, stabbed, burned and maimed – this is a movie for you. Eighties movies were very good at this kind of thing, and ROBOCOP delivers it wholesale.  It is a movie that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you cackle with glee at the destruction of evil. If you’re into that kind of thing

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