The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (Hulu)
“Remember... no matter where you go, there you are.” W.D. Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) is one of the great cult movies of the 1980s, notable for its cheerful ability to throw in just about everything under the sun, making a colorful, scrambled-eggs mix of movie genres, tropes, themes, etc. I believe there’s even a kitchen sink in there somewhere. The son of an American mother and a Japanese father, our hero (Peter Weller) is a physicist, a brain surgeon, a rock star, a martial artist, and a test pilot who also has time to lead a team of adventurers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (whose members include Jeff Goldblum, Clancy Brown, and pop star Billy Vera), to help save the world.
John Lithgow chews the scenery as a heavily accented bad guy, a scientist whose mind has been taken over by an alien, and there is a girl, Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), and an evil plan to release an entire race of aggressive aliens from the eighth dimension, and there are good aliens and bad aliens, and... It can get a bit complicated. But the fun is just throwing up your hands and laughing along with all the absurdity. Of course, it was a flop, and of course, fans discovered it after the fact on home video. The end credits promise a sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, that has yet to see the light of day, though it is still discussed. We can only hope.
Everybody Wants Some!! (Hulu/Amazon Prime)
How does one follow up a groundbreaking masterpiece like Boyhood? If you’re Richard Linklater, you make an ensemble comedy in the vein of National Lampoon’s Animal House, Meatballs, and Wet Hot American Summer, set in 1980, about a college baseball team living together in a raucous frat house. Blake Jenner plays the freshman who must be introduced to all the crazy antics, and Glen Powell plays the spiritual leader, charmingly verbose and occasionally smoking a pipe. It’s the final few days of summer before school starts. The group goes to a country bar, a punk rock club, and a party thrown by theater nerds; they drink great quantities of beer, pick up girls, and occasionally practice some baseball.
As with the film’s spiritual predecessor, Dazed and Confused (1993), Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) is virtually plotless, though Linklater’s observant, thoughtful camera makes every scene fascinating and hilarious. It revels in time and place, like a time-traveler sitting back and enjoying everything, and, even after 116 minutes, you don’t want it to end. Unlike the meatheads in a deliberately dumb comedy, these guys are a great combination of wise and naïve, sowing their wild oats but also laying the groundwork for an effective, bonded ball team. Zoey Deutch plays the cute girl, whose heart the hero tries to win. The soundtrack tunes are by Van Halen (the title song), Cheap Trick, Hot Chocolate, Blondie, The Knack, and, memorably, the Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”).
In the 1990s, Hollywood was Jane Austen crazy. Several polite, English-style adaptations like Persuasion (1995), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Emma (1996), and Mansfield Park (1999) graced theaters, while a much-loved Pride and Prejudice mini-series ran on PBS. But the most entertaining homage was Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995), which took the plot outline from Emma and transferred it perfectly to a Beverly Hills high school, with class struggles intact. The heroine is now Cher (a great Alicia Silverstone, fresh from that Aerosmith music video), who, along with her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash), was “named after great singers of the past.”
She decides to give a makeover to a tragically unhip new girl, Tai (Brittany Murphy), but troubles arise when her matchmaking attempts go awry. More awkwardly, she finds herself falling in love with her ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd). Director Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) keeps the movie bright and sunny, with decorative primary colors, and invests totally in Cher’s confidence in her own misguided decisions; it’s a highly appealing, constantly hilarious combination. Breckin Meyer is very funny as a stakeboarder who shows interest in Tai, Donald Faison plays Dionne’s braces-wearing boyfriend, Wallace Shawn is a teacher, and Dan Hedaya is brilliantly deadpan and grumpy as Cher’s dad. It all worked so well that Clueless outgrossed Gwyneth Paltrow’s official version Emma, which arrived a year later.
Devil in a Blue Dress (Crackle)
Someday when critics begin looking back at the career of Denzel Washington, this outstanding detective movie might be referred to as his own Maltese Falcon. Based on the debut novel by Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) tells the story of Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins; it’s 1948, he has just been laid off, and is wondering how he will pay his mortgage. A man (Tom Sizemore) approaches him about a kind of detective job. He wants Easy to find Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), a white woman who was involved with a former mayoral candidate, and is now hiding out somewhere within the black community. Easy takes the job, aware that it’s not the smartest move, but needing the money.
Before long another woman has been killed and Easy is the prime suspect. To get to the bottom of the entire shady business, Easy enlists his friend Mouse (an amazing, unhinged Don Cheadle), and gets down to his first serious investigative work. It was written and directed by Carl Franklin, an actor-turned-director from the Roger Corman camp who had made the superb crime film One False Move. His sense of place and economy are superb, with a use of bold surfaces making up 1940s Los Angeles. Additionally, it was a landmark of African-American cinema. Easy was so popular—then-president Clinton proclaimed Devil in a Blue Dress his favorite book—that Mosley continued the series to this day. But though the movie was acclaimed, it didn’t exactly light the box office on fire and no sequels have been made. It’s too bad, but we can still hope.