Now We Are Here
I made the mistake of going to see the new Star Wars movie the other day. I knew it was going to be awful, but I was 8 when the first Star Wars movie came out and it was so insanely popular that for a lot of people like myself, Star Wars has become a cultural touchstone. I felt that since it was the last movie, I had to go see it in the theater. Basically, I just gave my hard earned money to the Disney corporation in exchange for entertainment so bad that it’s been banned in prison. I have three kids. This kind of shit has been going on with Disney for years.
And it’s not like Disney is really going to let this be the last Star Wars movie. When have you ever known Disney to pass on the opportunity to make a buck? There are fucking Disney grapes in my grocery store, for crying out loud. They will brand anything, and you will sit there and fucking like it because Disney is goddamn magical, and if that means that you have to look at a drawing of Goofy on your Disney-brand douche, so be it. (On the off chance that Disney is as crass as I am weird, I looked it up and came upon a posting on eBay for a “Disney Moana Shower Gel Douche Tattoo Bracelet Set”. (Jesus, who is in charge of naming products over there? You can’t just throw random words together like that. I know. I’ve been doing it on this site for years.)
I had planned on writing a post about this experience, but then I remembered that my last post was about another current movie (Cats), and the last thing we need is for this site to turn into a demented version of At the Movies. It would be so entertaining as to put all of the other movie reviewers out of business.
Me: Hi, I’m Greg, and this week on At the Movies, I review, uhhh… I dunno, some festering pile of weasel excrement or other. What? Oh yeah, the fucking Star Wars movie. Holy shit, that wasn’t any fucking good. I’d rather eat broken glass for a week than talk about this goddamn movie, so instead of doing that, I’m going to do a bunch of mushrooms and reenact a scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a movie I’ve never watched.
Director (offstage): Greg…
Me: Hey, fuck you, Murray! I have to watch hours of interminable bullshit every fucking week, and what do I get out of it? Nothing. Do I ever get to review something interesting, like porn? No, because you’re a simpering bastard with an IQ below the Trump-line and a case of gonorrhea so bad that Kim Kardashian won’t even take your calls. Fuck this, you know what? I’m going to start reviewing the movies I want to see.
Me: Hi, I’m Greg, and this week on At the Movies I review Frozen 3: The Felching. But first, I’m going to shoot some elephant tranquilizers, punch a Shriner in the face, and tell you about the time Marty Scorsese and I snuck onto the set of the Brady Bunch and cornholed Florence Henderson with a tuber.
Editing that show would be a bitch.
So no Star Wars review today. Instead, I’m going to review Xanadu, the 1980 movie starring Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John, which although it has a metascore of 35% on IMDB, is SUPERIOR TO STAR WARS IN EVERY CONCEIVABLE WAY. That’s right, Star Wars dorks, Olivia Newton-John is way better than Han Solo, the Force is actually a type of lunch meat, and Obi-Wan Kenobi blows goats. Oh, and you’re still never going to get laid.
But before we get to Xanadu (tag line: Better than the Empire Strikes Back too!), a little history. Back in the 1970’s, people came up with some seriously crazy fucking ideas. Pet Rocks, electing Jimmy Carter, allowing Jamie Farr on television, etc. The list goes on and on. And since there were so many ideas floating around, corporations decided that they needed to be ahead of the curve in case one of these ideas panned out. And that’s how Roller Disco became “popular”.
I put the word “popular” in quotes because although there was no shortage of roller-disco-related entertainment in the late 70’s/early 80’s, no one actually did that shit because:
Jesus. When I was a kid, my parents bought me roller skates, but not the good kind. I had the kind that clamped on to the bottom of your shoes and had metal wheels. I felt like a loser using the things, but looking at that photo above, I realize that my parents were simply trying to make sure that I didn’t associate with Roller Disco people. I love my parents.
The only two good things to come out of the Roller Disco era were Xanadu, and the following clip from the Roller Disco episode of CHiPS that I’ve watched roughly 47 trillion times because it’s one of the funniest stunt-double scenes I’ve ever run across. Watch when the “kid” grabs on to the bumper of the station wagon:
God, I love that clip. When I die, I want a flat-screen TV on my headstone that plays this clip non-stop. My headstone will be solar-powered and the best thing ever.
Anyway, enough frothing at the keyboard, let’s talk about Xanadu. Most people know of Xanadu from the 1816 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree.” Hahaha, just kidding. No one reads poetry from 1816. Your average American probably thinks Coleridge is a type of intestinal malady. No, they know of Xanadu from this piece of shit movie, which is odd because the total box office was less than what your typical person can find under the couch cushions, but whatever.
Ok, here’s the plot. Our hero (and I use the term loosely) is Sonny, and his job is to paint larger versions of album covers. Seriously, that’s his job. Why they couldn’t just enlarge the original, I don’t know. Maybe this guy is a real prick, and his boss is just trolling him until he quits.
One day, while Sonny is walking along Venice Beach, some crazy-ass bimbo just fucking skates right into him and then takes off. Instead of doing what every Californian would do (lawsuit), he starts longing for this mystery woman, who in actuality is a Muse.
A Muse, for those of you who slept through Classic Civ class with a hangover, is an inspirational goddess from Greek mythology, which I assume means that they have very hairy armpits and long last names like Wappapoppadoppalous. If only the Muses would inspire everybody to get cast in a better movie.
Meanwhile, Sonny also runs into some old fucking crank playing the clarinet on the beach. This is Gene Kelly, who is in the movie because of this conversation:
Studio Executive #1: We need to cast someone in this movie that will really speak to this generation.
Studio Executive #2: Yeah, someone hip, someone now…
Studio Executive #3: Someone with street cred, someone the kids believe in.
All Executives (in unison): Gene Kelly!
Really. Was Errol Flynn not available? Anyway, Gene Kelly was not a good choice, as evidenced by the fact that he starts acting like a goddamn mental patient almost immediately. I’m paraphrasing this part of the movie, but not by very much.
Sonny: Hey, why are you playing the clarinet?
Gene Kelly: Let’s be partners and open a roller disco.
Gene (his character is named Danny McGuire) has got this… thing about partners. He immediately wants to become partners with Sonny, which I’m sure was pretty awkward (“I don’t swing that way”). He proposes a partnership, re-proposes it, and generally says “partner” a lot every time he’s on screen with Sonny. If I had thought of it at the time, I would have worn a Danny McGuire costume for Halloween that year. When people opened the door, instead of saying “Trick or treat!”, I’d have said, “Whaddya say, partner?” and then blew a clarinet in their face for 5 minutes.
So Danny wants Sonny to quit his lucrative album-copying job in favor of opening a roller disco. As luck would have it, Sonny runs into the Muse and discovers that not only is she keen on skating, she also happens to live in an abandoned roller disco. (I wasn’t even aware that Mount Olympus had a homeless problem.)
Sonny and Danny and the homeless Muse spend a bunch of doing not much in the way of plot development (or acting, for that matter), and the movie is headed towards boredom when this brain-bending scene pops up. My guess is that someone dosed Gene Kelly with ayahuasca, because dude, what in the fucking fuck?
There’s an endless amount of weird Xanadu clips, simply because Xanadu is a weird movie, the type of weird you get when Harvey Weinstein runs out of Valtrex and in a rage just starts ordering people to caper in front of a camera for his amusement. (This, by the way, is how the movie Freddy Got Fingered came to be. No one, and I mean no one in their right mind gives Tom Green a movie.)
Xanadu plays out like some movie executive funded it on the condition that they get Gene Kelly to play a role, and then Gene Kelly showed up and started acting like a lunatic, but they couldn’t tell him to fuck off so they just incorporated a few of his ideas to keep him happy.
Gene Kelly: Say, what kind of production is this? Where is the bandstand? Or the Andrews Sisters? And why is no one doing the goddamn Lindy Hop? Also, I want to do a sequel to Singing in the Rain. I call it Singing in the Snow, and I’m going to need an umbrella, a lamp post, and 74 1/2 tons of virgin snow flown in from Alberta…
Director: (whispered to production assistant) Go get me some ayahuasca.
The music in Xanadu is actually pretty decent. Most of the music was written and performed by ELO, a band I like. I mean, they’re pretty good. I’m not going to lose my mind and latch onto the lead singer or anything (although I’ve heard that’s all the rage on the East Coast… ahem). Olivia Newton-John has a few songs in there. Hell, even the Tubes are in there, because if you’re going to have a weird musical, you’re obligated to get one of the weirdest bands in rock to come along for the ride. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Tubes, their lead singer, Fee Waybill, once rode Bea Arthur like a horse from LA to Poughkeepsie. Then he had her tail cropped.)
And then I must have gotten into the ayahuasca myself, because there is no fucking way this actually happened:
This is exactly why you don’t give Gene Kelly creative input into anything more complicated than toilet paper. Mimes, jugglers, zoot suits… I bet there were more than a few monster hangovers the morning after this scene was shot. How demeaning. But still infinitely better than Star Wars. I give Xanadu 1 out of 100 stars.
(By the way, if you get reference behind the Rush/Olivia Newton-John pic at the top, it’s because you’re awesome. Rush is awesome, and don’t let anyone else tell you differently.)
Jesus Christ, where do I start? Could the opening credits of the ChiPS clip be any longer? Ponch and the other guy seem to be in no hurry to catch up to the car with the little asshole hanging on to it, no siren, no flashing light. Then they stop the car in the middle of the goddamn freeway. I could only watch a little of the second clip, because I liked Gene Kelly and I was embarrassed for him. The last clip…what was that? Seriously, what the hell was that? I’m finding it difficult to get the sneer off my face. Star Wars was worse?
Did your roller skates come with a key to tighten them onto your shoes? Mine did, but I didn’t think that kind of skates was still around when you were a kid. Metal wheels were great because they made that “thud-ump thud-ump” sound when you rolled over the spaces in sidewalks.
CHiPS – I LOVE how the old woman ignores other drivers’ pleas to pull over. “Oh, you must be one of those crazy people!” And then she tells a cop how she’d like to commit violence against a child. Awesome.
Gene Kelly – Gene Kelly seems to be like Gregory Peck: Almost universally respected and beloved. (I certainly have no beef with him.) And yeah, throughout the movie I kept feeling bad for him, mostly because I kept thinking that he likely thought that this was a career resurgence instead of the shit-show it turned into.
3rd clip – Nothing prepared me for the mondo-bizarro opening night scene. It is fucking OUT THERE.
Skates – Yep, mine had the key (my mom put it on a string so I could keep it around my neck). This was mid-70’s, probably right before the polyurethane wheels became popular. In the rural Midwest, roads are either new and smooth as glass for one year, or they’ve got tons of potholes and are covered in rubble. So any kind of outdoor roller skating was risky, but the metal wheels locked up if you even thought of gravel.
Oh, shit, I always turn this clip off after the stunt double. I had no idea it was in Spanish!
How’s your Spanish? I know some, and was trying to work out what the kid is saying, but the sound quality is too poor.