“My Bodyguard” (1980) dir. Tony Bill, scr. Alan Ormsby

OK, I got my kids to watch one of my favorite movies from my so-called “formative” years, the 1980 sleeper hit “My Bodyguard.”  I wasn’t too sure how they’d take it, but they loved it.  My 9-year old son asked me incredulously, “How is THIS a PG-rated movie?”  My answer?  This is a superior “youth” film from an era where people accepted a certain degree of edginess in their mainstream entertainment.  Don’t forget that Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 classic “Over the Edge,” one of the darkest and most dangerous “youth” films ever made and one that would NEVER be produced in these times, was a PG-rated film.

“Bodyguard” is a great film that mixes humor, pathos, and a lot of darkness to provide a very “real” take on familiar teen trauma scenario: bully and his cronies intimidate others into paying extortion for so-called “protection” from an unknown terror … but mainly from themselves. “Bodyguard’ is an expertly written and directed comedy-drama about such a scenario with a lot of 1970s grit. There’s terrific performances by Chris Makepeace, Adam Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Martin Mull, Ruth Gordon, Paul Quandt, and a very young (and adorable) Joan Cusack.  “Bodyguard” isn’t perfect, but it’s head and shoulders above almost any film featuring teenagers over the last several years. A very smart, sardonic, and sometimes sad and dark film with a terrific ending.  If you’ve never seen it, please check it out.

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“Wild Things” (1998) dir. John McNaughton

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Oh … my … God! Ostensibly, a modern film noir erotic suspense thriller, “Wild Things” is one of the most deliriously nasty and hysterically funny films ever made. If you aren’t laughing your ass off throughout this movie, you either have no sense of humor or are dead.

Before “Wild Things,” director John McNaughton was best known for the intense classic “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and the critically acclaimed, but under-appreciated thriller “Normal Life” (discussed earlier on Dave’s Strange World). However, “Wild Things” wound up becoming McNaughton’s most popular and best-known film. While “Basic Instinct” is the magna carta of erotic thrillers, “Wild Things” is its disreputable punk rock cousin, pissing all over whatever “class” “Instinct” had.

Recounting the plot is pointless. Mainly because there are double, triple, quadruple, quintuple … ad nauseum crosses with added red herrings that extend even into the credits. The fact that a new (and frequent) plot twist completely changes the meaning of everything you saw before it is part of the fun.

To call “Wild Things” sleazy is damning it with faint praise. Of course it’s sleazy … but trust me, it takes a lot of talent to make something this disreputable so much fun. The performances by Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, and Bill Murray are pitch perfect for the insanity you’ll experience while watching it. As much as I love “Color of Night” for its bats–t craziness, “Wild Things” delivers everything “Color of Night” has in a much cooler, confident manner. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a major, major treat. Like a bad (but still enjoyable) one-night-stand, you’ll hate yourself the next day … but only to a certain extent.

“Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues (featuring Kirsty MacColl)

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A tragic and funny Christmas classic. Pogues lead singer Shane McGowan channels his inner Tom Waits for this wonderfully down-and-out duet with Kirsty MacColl. Some politically incorrect language, so not safe for work or little ones.  Look for Matt Dillon as a beat cop putting McGowan in jail.

“Over the Edge” (1979) dir. Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten 1979 film “Over the Edge” is one of the best and most frightening films about teenagers ever made.   According to various things I’ve read over the years (which may or may not be true), either “Edge” or “The Great Santini” was intended to be Orion Pictures first release (it was actually George Roy Hill’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten “A Little Romance” – featuring the debut of the lovely Diane Lane), but like many of Orion’s films during the illustrious, but tumultuous time they were around, seemed to be plagued by poor marketing, poor distribution, or skittish executives not quite sure how to market a great film that didn’t fit into any commercial niche.

“Edge” is about a planned community named New Granada which seems to be a suburban paradise, except for the fact the planners never provided anything for the growing population of older kids (who are not yet driving age) to do.  With nothing to do, the kids fill their time with sex, drugs, and crime, leading to a very frightening climax.  While the film is tastefully made (given the subject matter), I’m really shocked this got a PG rating (even given the permissive standards of the late 1970s).   This film would have enormous trouble getting greenlit today, let alone getting by with anything less than an R rating.   Everything from the writing, to the directing (by Jonathan Kaplan) to the acting (including a star-making screen debut by Matt Dillon) is top-notch.

“Edge” is based on a true story from the early 1970s where a planned upper-middle class suburban community near San Francisco named Foster City had a higher juvenile crime rate than any other comparable community in the country.   The problem was that this planned community (which had man-made canals with docks attached to homes, so one could boat to a local grocery store) had nothing designed for the large population of young people to do.   The community became overrun with vandalism, arson, bombings, and other activities more affiliated with war zones.   The story became the subject of a highly read San Francisco Chronicle article about Foster City by Bruce Koon (“Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree) and screenwriters Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter wrote a screenplay based on the article.

I won’t go into more detail about the inception, production, release, and critical resurrection of the film, because a very lengthy 30th anniversary oral history published in Vice Magazine tells the story much better than I can.  After you watch the film, please please please read this article, which will tell you everything you need to know:

http://www.vice.com/read/over-the-edge-134-v16n9

As for the film, “Over the Edge” is a must see and just gets scarier the older I (and my children) get.  I lived in a community very similar to New Granada recently and remember the alarming reports of shocked adults finding empty beer cans, liquor bottles, and used condoms in the trails behind the homes.  After a few months there, I told my wife, “There’s a movie you need to see that’s exactly like where we live now.”

“God Give Me Strength” (from the 1996 film “Grace of my Heart”) dir. Allison Anders

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This film appears to be based on Carole King’s life … but not exactly.  Because writer-director Allison Anders did a very smart thing when she came up with “Grace of My Heart.”  Instead of going the straight biopic route … and getting raked over the coals for fudging details of what actually happened to keep the story moving, she fictionalized her account.  This way, she could create composites of people, tell a compelling story, and keep people focused on her film.  And, instead of trying to buy the rights to all of the great songs from the Brill Building era (which would have been cost-prohibitive), she hired the composers of that period (Burt Bachrach, Gerry Goffin, etc) and teamed them up with Elvis Costello and others to write new songs.  This was another incredibly smart move, because not only are the new songs terrific in their own right, but having the old songs would have further distracted audiences from the narrative.

Anders script and directing are terrific. There’s loads of great actors in this film (Eric Stoltz, Matt Dillon, Patsy Kensit, Bridget Fonda, John Turturro), but Illeana Douglas towers above them all in the performance of her career as the lead, Edna Buxton.  She should have copped an Oscar nomination for this.  Unfortunately, even though Martin Scorsese was Executive Producer, the film was released by Gramercy Pictures (the mini-major created by Universal Pictures and Polygram Films), who botched the release of a lot of terrific films of the period (“Dazed and Confused,” “Mallrats,” “Bound,” “Kalifornia”) that are now considered classics.  When they had the occasional hit (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Fargo”), it seemed purely accidental.  But I digress …

This is the musical highlight of the film, in my opinion.  “God Give Me Strength” was written by Burt Bachrach and Elvis Costello and is sung by Kristen Vigard (Douglas is lip-syncing).

If you want to hear a great podcast about this film, check out The Projection Booth’s episode on this film.  It’s really terrific.

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2012/04/episode-60-grace-of-my-heart.html