Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

The Blockies: Day 1

Ah, summer. That wonderful time when movies make a whole ton of money but not a great deal of sense. The summer blockbuster is, at this point, a major part of our culture, yet they’ve never received the respect they deserve. Until now. Starting today and continuing for the next four days, your friends at Culture Blues present The Blockies: A Salute to Summer Movies. Our contributors will be honoring their favorite summer flicks in a variety of categories – by genre, by decade, by most badass. Thanks to a generous grant from The Michael Bay Foundation for the Arts, Culture Blues artisans are at this very moment crafting a solid gold prize for the winners (can only be picked up in person).

Let the festivities begin!

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Biggest Badass of Blockbusters – Who’s angling for a #1 seed?

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More on this badass later.

Jason Bourne, Matt Damon, The Bourne Trilogy, $525 million total
It’s a very simple formula: good guy is wronged, good guy finds out who wronged him, good guy kicks ass.  The Bourne trilogy never forgets how much its audience wants the hero to punch the bad guys right in the face.  Right in the fucking face! Jason Bourne doesn’t take any joy in what he does, he doesn’t have any cutesy catch phrases; he’s just a man on a mission. A man on a badass fucking mission! Remember that scene in the first Matrix movie where Neo gets all the computer programs loaded into his head that teach him kung-fu, and how to operate every vehicle ever? Well Jason is like that, only without the douchebag shades. There is something unbelievably satisfying about watching him systematically destroy the enemy.  If anyone wants to train me to be a dangerous assassin and then wipe my memory, I’m not really doing anything next week. (Ben)

Denton Van Zan, Matthew McConaughey, Reign of Fire, July 2002, $43 million
Dragon Hunter. That is DVZ’s job title. I think that explains my choice right there. This isn’t some wussy, sword-and-spell, fantasy dragon hunter either. This guy hunts dragons with good old fashioned military might, tanks and shit. He is the mastermind behind the only proven method of dragon hunting, which naturally involves skydiving. He figured out the secret to exterminating the dragons, cause he’s a genius. Then he challenged the gargantuan daddy dragon to a fight, cause he’s awesome. And when things started going sideways, he jumped off a cliff towards the dragon wielding a battle axe, cause he’s totally nuts. Christ, I love DVZ.  (Jeremiah)

Dar the Beastmaster, Marc Singer, The Beastmaster & The Beastmaster 2, first appearance August 1982, $14 million combined
Granted, there are probably better choices for badass; guys whose punches hit harder, whose explosions bloom bigger, and whose life-ending one-liners are zingier. But, let me ask you this: do any of them talk to animals? Some might describe Dar the Beastmaster as a campy hybrid of Conan and Prince Adam with less blood than the former and more side-ass than the latter, but not even those guys can claim to have the power of a black tiger (does such an animal even exist?!). Marc Singer is a freaking Greek God in the first Beastmaster where he pretty much recreates the temple attack from Conan the Barbarian, except instead of chopping off James Earl Jones’ head, a ferret sacrifices itself to kill Rip Torn. Badass! And let’s not even get into the sequel (that comes like 10 years later and yet Dar is still seriously shredded!) where The Beastmaster finds himself in the most dangerous land yet… Los Angeles! Are you telling me there’s something more badass than a man running into the sunset with his tiger while late 80s victory rock blares? I don’t think so. (Jeff)

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Favorite R-Rated Summer Movie – Some movies that irrevocably corrupted us

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Chill out, Bacon. You got your Blockie.

Animal House, July 1978, $120 million
Bluto’s wide-eyed glimpse of topless pillow-fighting sorority sisters resembled mine when I used to pop in the Animal House VHS as a little kid and fast-forward to that very part. Ah the days before chapter selection. You really put in a lot of effort to see some tits, kids these days have it so easy. However, the most memorable nudity is without a doubt the gratuitous shot of Donald Sutherland’s ass cheeks as he reaches into a kitchen cabinet. That may have scarred me for life, and I see now what the MPAA was trying to protect me from. If naked undergrads weren’t enough to earn the R rating, the morally corrupt actions of some of comedic cinema’s most memorable characters sealed the deal. Otter pretends to be a newly dead girl’s boyfriend in order to successfully get with her roommate in the back seat of a car. Boone hits golf balls toward human beings. Pinto gets in touch with his inner devil when a cute girl passes out in a vulnerable position. Cumulatively, the loveable Delta Tau Chi creates one awful influence that left younger viewers wanting to achieve Double Secret Probation status when they got to college. (Zach)

Total Recall, June 1990, $119 million
In 1990 a big budget summer tentpole release starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world was actually allowed to be rated R. And this isn't a soft R, and it's not an R made necessary by adult themes and situations. This is a gleefully vulgar and violent film that wallows in excess like a pig in shit. It's almost as if director/genius Paul Veerhoeven just wanted to see what he could get away with. There are headshots, spikes shoved through craniums, loss of limbs, a three breasted hooker, bystanders getting killed just so they can be stepped on as a sort of dark sight gag and enough crotch shots to make Roddy Piper and Keith David wince. No other blockbuster has worked so hard for its R rating. (Jeremiah)

Unlawful Entry, June 1992, $57 million
Unlawful Entry will always hold a special place in my heart as the film where I caught my first glimpse of boob. It's also my favorite offering from the Yuppie-Thriller genre that was so prevalent during the early 90s. Others might go with Fatal Attraction or Single White Female, both good choices, both perfect companions for Unlawful Entry during a heavily censored basic cable afternoon marathon. What sets Unlawful Entry above them, as well as the many other R-rated blockbusters, is Ray Liotta. He commits to psychotic cop Pete Davis with the same zeal that he would a more three dimensional character in a movie that's actually good. It’s hard work making Snake Plissken look like spineless yuppie scum, but Liotta succeeds. (Jeff)

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Favorite Mentor – Summer has so much to teach us…
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Patrick Mason, Sean Connery, The Rock, June 1996, $134 million
In terms of shear breadth of knowledge, John Mason didn’t exactly teach Stanley Goodspeed all that much during the pair’s short adventure to Alcatraz. The coolest moves that Mason makes (timing his roll through a flaming gearbox comes to mind first) he keeps to himself. But by leading by example (read: casually killing people), Mason teaches Goodspeed an invaluable lesson: don’t be such a pussy. And this is by no means trivial. Goodspeed is, by all accounts, very much a pussy. And if he didn’t grow a pair by the time it was apparent he needed to marginalize some domestic terrorists, he would have been vaporized along with the entire Alcatraz Island. At which point we could all safely assume that Mason would have already swam back to San Francisco and bedded his wife. (Jason)

The Blockie panel agrees: better than Yoda.

Yogurt, Mel Brooks, Spaceballs, June 1987, $38 million
Who wouldn’t learn a thing or two from a yiddish-mumbling version of Yoda, who has the wherewithal to manipulate the Schwartz while simultaneously managing his own merchandising franchise from the midst of a medieval cave? He really was one muppet way ahead of his time, and his mother must have felt some serious naches over his accomplishments.  But not everyone was proud of him. “Yogurt! I hate yogurt!” Lord Helmet whines when he realizes he’s in for a serious match against a Lonestar now under Yogurt’s tutelage. Talk about a mentor in control, Yogurt has Lonestar so captivated in his teachings that he mistakes a mere clearing of Yogurt’s throat for some breakthrough translation of his necklace. Not to mention, Yogurt uses his Druish resourcefulness to convince Lonestar that a bupkes Cracker Jack giveaway contains a supernatural force. I’m a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, but I could never get over Yoda’s super Goyish ways. Luckily, Mel Brooks answered all of our wonderings about what a Jewish, golden spray-tanned version of Yoda would be like. Now excuse me while I go play with Spaceballs the Flamethrower! (Zach)

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Favorite Fight – Wherein the Blockie may be used as a weapon
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Start the count on how many times Ben can talk about Star Wars.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, May 1999, $431 million
I remember the first time I watched Episode I: The Phantom Menace. My expectations were simultaneously through the roof, and below the floorboards. They were high simply because I am a huge nerd, and generally accept most Star Wars related fiction as awesomeness despite all reason (and muppets). They were low because George Lucas is an asshole, and really likes to piss me off. I contend that this movie is far better than Episode II, but that isn’t a huge compliment. Jar Jar Binks and the terrible dialogue brought it down several notches below where it could have been if a screenwriter with any competence had taken the reins. But then something amazing happened. As the film neared its climax, the best fight scene I’ve ever seen occurred. It had everything you could want. Darth Maul is more than adequate as the villain, despite almost no speaking parts he is one of the most infamous Star Wars characters of all time. He is badass enough to take on two Jedi Knights at once, and for those of you who didn’t think that’s awesome, I hate you. There is tragedy; Qui-Gon Jinn dies at the hand of the Sith Lord. There is some of the best choreography you’ll ever see in your life. And Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts Maul in half and saves the day in dramatic fashion. Anyone involved in the fight scene, with the exception of Lucas himself, is allowed to accept this Blockie award. (Ben)

The Bourne Ultimatum, August 2007, $227 million
The Bourne series breathed new life into the flagging American action film, but its most significant contribution was its fight scenes. Faster and more technical than anything in previous mainstream blockbusters, they were frenetic while telling a story and highly stylized while remaining gritty and tense. The fights built on each other and culminated in Bourne's battle with Desh in the third (and possibly final) installment. Starting with an exhilarating window-to-window jump, this fight packs a lot of thrills into 100 seconds, including one moment of visceral violence that deserves to be part of cinematic history forever - BookPunch. Astute viewers will note this completes the trilogy's trilogy of increasingly literary improvised weapons (pen, magazine, book). Bourne introduced a new kind of fighting to American blockbusters, washing away the sour taste of the robotic wire fu The Matrix ushered in nearly a decade prior. (Jeremiah)

No lightsabers needed.

Roadhouse, May 1989, $30 million
The final fight between Dalton and Jimmy is basically perfect. It is methodically paced and unhurried, featuring some stunning long takes where Patrick Swayze and career villain Marshall Teague are really allowed to tee off on each other. It’s visceral, suspenseful, and the eye can actually follow it – every flying knee or driftwood swung to the rib cage has meaning in the context of the fight. All modern directors should be forced to watch this immaculate two minutes to learn how to properly stage combat. Director Rowdy Herrington should sit down with Christopher Nolan and his ilk and throat punch the reliance on disorienting close-ups out of them. I used to fuck directors like you in prison.  (Jeff)

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Favorite Chase Steve McQueen endorses this Blockie
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Twister, May 1996, $241 million
I’ve never seen one, and I’ve always wanted to. But never have I wanted to be right in the fucking middle of a tornado until I hopped into my mom’s car after seeing Twister in the summer of ’96. I think I told her to hit the gas and head straight for Oklahoma in search of my own set of storm chasing stories to tell. With Phillip Seymour Hoffman leading the charge toward each twister, battle cries, blaring music, and Cameron Fry at his back, it was easy to get behind such a fun group that was sacrificing safety and common sense for the benefit of turning a new scientific leaf. You also had the constant sexual tension between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton who wanted to bone more and more with each passing cloud of destruction. Finally, after a buildup of failed experiments and familial vendettas, they set their route toward the midst of an F5, also known as The Finger of God. While most chases end with mangled cars and blinding explosions (and there are plenty of this variety earlier in the film) this final one ended with hundreds of winged orbs fluttering in the air, collecting hordes of numeric data in what was one of the more cathartic chase finishes in Blockie history. (Zach)

Gone in 60 Seconds, June 2001, $101 million
The lengthy car chase from Gone in Sixty Seconds was not very epic as far as chases go. It was a weak adaptation of the “final run” gimmick and the number of explosions is a big fat zero. Here, it gets the Blockie for giving viewers the opportunity to watch (and more importantly, hear) a ’67 Shelby GT500 gracefully merk on the fuzz. The attention to detail is immaculate; we hear every gear change down to the minute squeak as Eleanor’s tires try to catch up with the beast that is her mighty engine. The apex for me was not where director Dominic Sena wanted it (when Eleanor jumps over a car crash site), but rather when Nic Cage hits the nitrous button and I jump off the couch and shout “Go baby go!!” as he outruns a freaking helicopter.  (Jason)

The mad rush to get to The Blockies, presented live, in text, on the internet.

The Blues Brothers, June 1980, $57 million
There are undoubtedly more tense sequences with better stunt driving and better editing and camerawork and blah blah blah. But this one stands out for being the only one of its kind. When Jake and Elwood lead the entire Chicago police force on a wild chase, it turns into a ludicrous live action cartoon free from the restraints of reality and logic. As the cars overturn, pile up and fall from the sky, The Blues Brothers crashes its way into the history books - for a time, no motion picture had trashed more vehicles. Simultaneously zany and deadpan, just like the film it’s found in, there will never be another chase quite like this one. (Jeremiah)

Alien 3, May 1992, $55 million
When the list of awards was first unveiled at a press conference outside of the Culture Blues offices, I'm sure most people immediately envisioned vehicles for this particular award - a slick car chase of some kind. Not me. I knew right away where my Blockie was going for this one. At a key juncture of Alien 3 the part of the crew that hasn’t had creatures burst out of their chest or acidic saliva burn off their face is forced to serve as bait, and run a bit of a relay race. Except instead of a baton, they are passing off their own mortality. The object is to lure the alien into a certain part of the ship, and I wish I could tell you the exact reason for that, but I haven’t seen this movie in like ten years. Regardless, the chase scene is underlined by a tense score, and some brilliant direction. We see things from the perspective of the alien, who is upside down on the ceiling for most of the scene. This was about as tense as I have ever felt in a movie theater, largely because a lot of the characters the creature was chasing were expendable and effective character actors. Most of them were simultaneously well liked by the audience, and could also die at any moment. This was not the best movie of the Alien franchise, but certainly one of the best scenes. (Ben)

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Favorite Action Blockbuster – The Blockie for which 85% of summer films were eligible

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Way better than Avatar.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, July 1991, $204 million
The second of James Cameron’s rampaging robot adventures has a lot not going for it. It’s cheesy and sentimental as all get out, even at the risk of the some of the first film’s tenets (you know, that the Terminator doesn’t feel). It lacks the extremely efficient and streamlined narrative of the original. It’s a dressed up retread whose drawbacks lie primarily in its attempts to differentiate itself from its progenitor. It’s a crappy sequel… except for the fact that it features some of the greatest action sequences and special effects you will ever see. Despite all its shortcomings, Terminator 2 is undeniably amongst the greatest action movies ever made. (Jeremiah)

The Expendables, August 2010, nothing yet but probably like infinity dollars
I realize that The Expendables doesn't come out until August, but how can it not be the greatest summer action movie ever? Rambo, McClane, Drago, Grady (what do you mean Eric Roberts from Best of the Best doesn’t have last name recognition?), and The Terminator in the same movie? Did these guys steal the screenplay 13 year old me wrote in his tree house? The who's who of 80s action superstars might not be that exciting for today's jaded, uninitiated action fans, so The Expendables brain trust decided to throw in modern era badasses like Jason Statham and Jet Li. Even better! Still not enough? How about a smattering of real world face pounders like Randy Coture and Stonecold Steve Austin? And if you pre-order your tickets right now, I’ll throw in Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, and Terry Crews.  I'll admit that Stallone, as a director, makes me a little nervous as The Expendables trailer looks like it's one exploding head away from being a retread of Rambo's recent assault on Burma. Fortunately, the word "plot" shouldn't factor in here. This is like the all-star game of action movies, but instead of crazy dunks and lax defense we get fist fights, quips, and blood geysers. I can't wait. (Jeff)

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Favorite Summer Film of the 80s – The Blockie we grew up on…

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Ben and Giovanny arguing over who gets to write about Empire. This caption will likely set off a debate on who in this picture is Darth.

The Empire Strikes Back, May 1980, $290 million
If you are of my generation, and consider yourself a geek, there are a few things you have to know and love. 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Magic The Gathering: Revised, Vertigo Comics, the legacy of Shigeru Miyamoto, and of course, Star Wars. Of the movies that make up the Star Wars franchise, Empire Strikes Back stands out as the ultimate entry; its combination of plot twists and the expansion of Lucas' universe are the work of staggering imagination and exceptional vision. Over the course of the 124 minute runtime, we faithful explorers of a galaxy "far, far away" are exposed to the hazards of the desolate ice planet known as Hoth, the swamp and bayou covered Dagobah, and the floating wonder that is Cloud City (mercantile center of the gas giant Bespin). These new locales serve as the backdrop to a story with limitless moments of greatness; who among us does not remember the first time we were introduced to Master Yoda? Or the measures our heroes had to go through to escape freezing to death. And of course, Billie Dee's betrayal. To this day, I still remember the chill that ran down my spine when Vader maimed Luke. To this day, I think Han Solo is as badass as they have ever come. Empire isn't just my favorite movie of the decade, it is my favorite everything of the decade. (Giovanny)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, June 1988, $156 million
Today digitally drawn hot shots like Buzz Lightyear and WALL-E are getting lots of praise, but if they were to meet Roger Rabbit, we know what the rabbit would say: "Suck my pole, you pansy Pixar bitches, I'm hand drawn." It's hard to believe now the effort that must have gone into making WFRR a live action and hand-drawn animated feature that for the first time in film history didn't offend our tastes. I acknowledge I was only four when the film was released in 1988, a scabbed-knee munchkin equally impressed with David the Gnome and Handi Snacks, but let's not fool ourselves: that movie was awesome. I remember specifically Jessica Rabbit's mature "boobie-trap" jokes flying over my head and I was too young to appreciate the tip of the hat to film noir, but I, like everyone else, was intrigued by the combination of darkness vs. wackiness, good vs. evil, Doom Vs. Roger Rabbit, and the twisted plot of murder in Toon Town.  Seeing Warner Brothers and Disney characters in the same movie was a nice surprise, as well. I had always assumed they were contractually banned from hanging out.  Looking back, I'm sure this had something to do with sponsorship, but as a 4-year-old in 1988 I was delightfully flabbergasted. And I have to say, I still am. (Lauren)

Fletch, May 1985, $50 million
Not to get unnecessarily nostalgic but unlike today’s flash-bang dumdum yellfests, a great deal of 80s summer blockbusters actually worked on the level of literate movies, and thus had characters we could admire. This was before Hollywood perfected the magic formula of bigger and louder and therefore before our blockbusters' heroes became merely ciphers for the action to happen around. You could admire an 80s blockbuster protag because they were more than just meatheads saving the world - they had senses of humor. They were cool and they didn't need to unsmilingly walk away from explosions to prove it. For me, no one epitomizes this sensibility better than Chevy Chase's Fletch. A curmudgeonly journalist with an acerbic wit who, despite his devil-may-care attitude, actually harbors high-minded ideas of justice. Fletch the film works well as both a mystery and a comedy, but Fletch the character works as the essential 80s male role model. (Jeff)

Also The Blockie winner for Most Prevalent Junk in a Kid's Movie

Labyrinth, June 1986, $12 million
As a child, I could not get enough of Labyrinth – every few months I would make my Dad track down the VHS tape and I would spend an afternoon in Jim Henson’s puppet world. Like WALL-E, the recipient of another one of my coveted Blockie awards (spoiler!), this movie works for children and adults. The storyline has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it: you’re tense because you want Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly) to take care of business and escape this world, and at the same time you’re not in a hurry because there is so much to see. I love the scene with the talking door knobs, for instance. And who doesn’t like that weird little dog thing that rides the shaggy bigger dog thing and shoots the bow and arrow? But in retrospect, one of the most glorious things about this film is that David Bowie gets to spend the rest of his days with one of his lead acting credits being, “The Goblin King.” Awesome. (Ben)

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10 Responses »

  1. I'm obviously Darth

  2. *taps foot impatiently*

    on another note, im parked directly next to a delorean today at work, i swear to god. i looked in the window just to make sure it wasnt decked out. definitely standard issue delorean. i want nothing more than to go out to my car as the guy whos car it is..i swear i will ask him if i can sit that thing. it is amazing. most beautiful car ive ever seen.

  3. Lauren! No! WFRR was my first movie-theater movie, and it scarred me for life. It was terrifying! To this day I have nightmares about getting flattened by steamrollers.

    OK, that last part isn't entirely true. But it could be true.

  4. SHREK! Does that count?

  5. Shrek movies are absolutely eligible. Aside from the fact that I hate Shrek, I can't even imagine where you would have fit him into these categories though.

  6. For reasons I am too drunk to figure out right now I can't sign in and get my fancy avatar/picture thingy. That's fine Ben... You can be Darth, we all know it ends well for him. At least as Luke I have access to my junk (does Anakin even have junk post Mustafar? The wiki is murky), and I'm the last hope of the galaxy. How/where would you like me to arrange your pyre?

  7. but luke is such a whiny pussy.

  8. That's okay acky, I can live with that. Although I must say, Darth has the best line in the entire saga "I find your lack of faith disturbing". Classic.


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