First Watch: Flashpoint (1984)

While browsing the Max streaming app some time ago, I came across what looked like a gem of a movie called Flashpoint. While I didn’t remember ever hearing of it before, the fact that it was from the ’80s and starred Kris Kristofferson was all the reason I needed to give it a shot.

The description on Max read “Texas border patrolmen (Kris Kristofferson, Treat Williams) find a jeep, a skeleton, and $800,000 in cash dating from 1963.” Even though I was already going to watch it anyway, the synopsis was enough to get me further intrigued. All things considered, this is a movie I’m surprised my dad had never turned me on to.

Flashpoint felt like a movie trying to go in several different directions to start with, but as the film wound on, those various directions started to weave together and the pace quickened to what felt like a race to the finish. With a unique and somewhat surprising ending (at least to me), I was left with a feeling of great satisfaction with the time I had devoted to watching this film.

Kris Kristofferson turned in an excellent starring performance and Kurtwood Smith brought the goods as usual. Treat Williams also did a fine job in his role as the young and full-of-spirit border patrol agent hell-bent on doing the right thing. The cinematography was great too. Since most of the setting of the film was the southwestern desert, the film is full of breathtaking shots.

I had never even heard of this film before stumbling across it on Max, but am so glad I discovered this lost gem of an action suspense thriller.

3.5 stars.

If movies from the ’80s are your thing, check out Gary’s ongoing project over at Geekster where he is currently reviewing 84 movies from 1984.

Re-watch: Independence Day (1996)

Back in the summer of 1996, I was working full-time at the grocery store that I would go on to work at for a decade. I had just graduated high school and was fortunate to be in the position of having friends from school and friends from work to hang out and do stuff with.

When the ads for Independence Day started dropping, several of those friends and I were getting excited to see this latest summer blockbuster. The little two-screen theater in the town where I worked was a weekly stop for us as we took in at least one movie every week. When Independence Day weekend rolled around, there was no question as to what movie we were going to be watching.

Independence Day is the story of an alien race coming to Earth to take it over for its resources. After a first strike that wipes a lot of major world cities off the map, the US stages a counter attack that is ineffective. Fortunately, the world has an ace up it’s leave in genius Jeff Goldblum. He figures out a way to weaken the aliens, and a rag-tag group of former combat pilots led by the President show the way to bring down the hostile invaders, and the world lives to see another day. One of the hooks of the movie is that the events take place across July 2, 3, and 4 in the movie, leading to the United States declaring it’s freedom on the 4th of July once again.

Independence Day was the major summer blockbuster of 1996, and all of the hyp leading up to it had me very excited to see it. Watching it in the theater there was an electric mood as the packed house loved every minute of the spectacle.

It was also a breakout performance for Will Smith. Up until this point, he had starred in the movie Bad Boys and was still a sensation on the hit TV show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but this was his coming out party as a major leading man in Hollywood.

With it’s massive scope, incredible effects, and all-star cast, Independence Day became one of the biggest movies of the ’90s, and one I still go back and watch every Independence Day weekend.

4.0 out of 5.0 stars 

Re-watch: The Stoned Age (1994)

Back around 1995, I picked up The Stoned Age at my local video store and gave it a watch late one night. I remember liking it at the young age of 17, and thinking it was a “cool” movie. I saw that it was streaming on Tubi and decided to watch it again for old-time’s sake. 

The Stoned Age is a movie with a very simple premise. It details one night in the life of two young men in the late ’70s whose world revolves around three things: getting drunk, getting stoned, and looking for “chicks”. They hear about two lovely and lonely young ladies who are looking to party, so they go to get in on the action. Various issues arise that the young men must overcome in hopes of achieving their goal of hooking up with these young ladies. We meet a cast of characters along the way, none of which are very memorable. In the end, do they succeed? Do they take any important life lessons from this night? Will they survive the wrath of an angry father? You’ll have to watch for yourself to find out.

Please don’t take that last sentence as a challenge or an endorsement to watch this movie. It’s not good. I’m not really surprised that I dug it when I was 17, but now 28 years later, I could hardly slog through it. I stopped it at three different points and only kept going back to it so I wouldn’t feel guilty about writing a review of it without watching it all. 

It feels like someone was trying to duplicate the success of Dazed and Confused from a year prior, but didn’t have the cast or story to even come close to pulling it off. The fact that both movies are set in the ’70s and weed plays a large part are really the only two things they really have in common. 

I hate to be entirely negative, so I’ll give them props for a decent soundtrack. Otherwise, this is one I can’t encourage you to watch whether you’ve never seen it before or like me, haven’t seen it in a very long time. It hasn’t aged well at all. Or maybe I haven’t. Either way, The Stoned Age is a hard pass.

1/2 a star.

The Summer of Thunder at Hardee’s

Days of Thunder hit theaters in 1990, and I was all in on it. All in except for actually going to see the movie itself in the theater. Back then, it was rare to convince my folks to go to a theater to catch a movie, so I usually had to live vicariously through whatever promotional tie-in merchandise was available when new movies came out. That task was made more difficult by the fact that a lot of my friends at school were getting to go to the movies on a regular basis to see whatever the hot new thing was, and I just had to stand around and listen to them talk about how awesome it was, and Days of Thunder sure sounded exciting.

Sure I had seen the trailers for it during television commercial breaks, and I have some faint memories of reading about it in a magazine. Maybe something like an issue of Cinescape, or maybe there was a special one-shot magazine released for it or something. I don’t know, but either way, I knew what the movie was even before my friends were describing all the details to me.

But anyway, Hardee’s rolled out these Thunder Racer cars, and I really wanted them. First, they were tied to a hot new movie that I wanted to see. Second, they were 1/64 scale die-cast cars and I was already a lover of both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars and had quite the growing collection. And third, it was an additional toy I could snag on the weekend. I say additional because I would spend my weekly allowance on a toy while shopping on the weekend, but this gave me an opportunity to get a freebie.

You could get a Thunder Racer car for just $0.99 with any purchase…not just a kid’s meal. But it might as well have been offered with the kid’s meal as far as I was concerned because that was probably what I was ordering then, and there was no way I was leaving Hardee’s without a Thunder Racer car!

But you couldn’t just get them all on one visit, as a different one was available each week as you can see in the earlier photo. This meant that four separate trips had to be made to Hardee’s to get them all. A feat that I was unfortunately unable to pull off. I managed to get the first three…the City Chevrolet, the Superflow car, and the Hardee’s car but missed out on the Mello Yello one for some reason. Luckily for me, they were quickly released by Racing Champions as well and I was able to get the Mello Yello car that way. I never end up with Rowdy Burns’ Exxon car though.

I’m not sure what, if anything, was actually included in the Funmeal Pack meal promotion that was out at the time. I know the box featured Days of Thunder artwork, but I distinctly remember having to purchase the cars separately.

As I continued to get the various ones I had, they began to dominate play time in my room. At the time I had a few other Racing Champions cars as well, so NASCAR races were taking place on a regular basis that summer. Most of those races were won by the green and yellow City Chevrolet, but every now and then, that beautiful orange Hardee’s with Russ Wheeler at the wheel snuck out a win.

But now let’s talk just a bit about the Days of Thunder cups you could also get from Hardee’s. My brother was a big fan of special cups in general, but Hardee’s cups in particular. He has a full set of those Moose cups at one time, and numerous others as well. At this point in time, he had no trouble attaining whatever special merchandise like this he wanted as he had a job and was driving.

While I never personally cared for most cups like these, the Days of Thunder cups were ones I really wanted. I guess I just wanted to show my support for a movie that I hadn’t seen for some reason. Or I just thought they were really cool looking. Or both.

The artwork on the cups is great, and the colors really pop. I like how the Days of Thunder title logo appears on the cup in the same color as the car featured on each one. You can’t see it in the photo above, but on the backs of the cups were stats on the drivers of the cars. That could be perceived as a little lazy though since Cole Trickle drove three of the cars featured, and the stats could all be the same.

I can’t begin to calculate how much money my mom had to spend at Hardee’s on me that summer. But the food had to be bought to purchase the cars. They were $0.99 each. And you had to buy a 32oz drink to get a cup. Well, now that I think about it, I guess you could purchase a 32oz drink and get the cup, and make that the purchase that qualified you to buy a Thunder Racer car. Maybe she didn’t spend all that much after all.

Regardless of how much was spent, it was all worth it in my eyes because I can remember that summer better than most, and I always refer to it as the “summer of thunder”.

Re-watch: The Goonies (1985)

First finding out about this movie was kind of an adventure on it’s own.

I can’t tell you when The Goonies first debuted on HBO. It had to be sometime in 1986 or maybe even as late as 1987. But either way, it was before we had cable at home. My dad and I stopped by his sister’s house one evening, and they lived in a part of town where you could get cable. While Dad was talking with his sister, I wandered into the living room where my younger cousin was watching TV. What I saw when I walked into the room were several kids coming out of what looked like a set of water slides in a cavern, and a huge pirate ship. I was immediately intrigued. I asked my cousin what this was and he replied that it was The Goonies, and he was watching it on HBO. Up until this point in time, I had no knowledge of this movie, but knew it was one that I wanted to watch in full.

This was around the same time we had gotten our first VCR and our first video rental store had just opened in town. The next time we went into that store, I inquired about The Goonies. The lady behind the counter told me it was a popular movie with kids my age, and that it was currently rented out. The story remained the same on the next several visits, but finally one day, the movie was in and I was able to rent it and finally give it a watch. I really enjoyed that first watch, and every subsequent watch through the years after that. Since my last viewing, about 15 years have passed. I remedied that situation this past weekend and watched the 4K UHD version. It’s still great.

The Goonies is a wonderful tale of a group of kids whose parents are all about to lose their houses to developers so they can knock them down and build a golf course in their place. Through some ingenuitive storytelling, the kids come across an old pirate’s map leading to a treasure hidden somewhere along the Astoria Oregon coast where they live. The kids set out on a treasure-seeking adventure hoping to find the loot and save their homes. Along the way, they have to deal with numerous booby traps and the murderous Fratelli family in order to find the treasure.

The Goonies is an absolute thrill ride. The group of kids and teens has a diverse set of personalities that play well with, and off of each other. And while all of the young actors perform their parts very well, it’s the set design of the underground world that they are traversing that I love the most. As they go through the various caves and encounter the various booby traps, I still find myself marveling at the design of it all. The dialogue and interaction between all of the characters in the film is superbly done as well.

I can’t imagine that kids around my age at the time could watch this movie and not be chomping at the bit to go on a similar adventure of their own. My friends and I were designing our own traps and mazes around our properties and going “adventuring” during sleepovers for a long while after this film debuted. And this speaks to how well done this movie was as a whole…when you can make an entire generation of kids want to recreate what was on screen, you’ve done a lot of things right.

Most of you reading this have probably seen it, but it’s definitely worth dusting off a copy and watching it again…especially if you now have kids of your own to share it with. I’m sure they’ll have the same sense of wonder that we did when we first saw it.

4.0 stars.

Re-watch: Backdraft (1991)

When Backdraft originally debuted back in 1991, I desperately wanted to see it. As I’ve explained before though, my parents weren’t the movie theater type. And as I was only 13 at the time of its release, I wasn’t going to be going by myself. The closest I got to it was having to hear my brother talk about how great it was after he and his friends saw it. But a year later, it was on HBO and other channels like it all the time so I got to see it finally thanks to the cable descrambler we had. My brother and I probably watched in a dozen time that summer it debuted on PPV and HBO.

It’s about a group of Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist who is targeting various victims who are contractors who are connected to each other and a high-ranking city official.

Stephen McCaffrey (Russell) is the Lueinent of Engine Company 17, and his younger brother Brian (Baldwin) is a probationary fireman assigned to the company after graduation from the academy.  The two brothers are the sons of a legendary Chicago firefighter who lost his life battling a blaze while young Brian watched on.  As the movie reveals, the two brothers have never been close, and are at odds with each other more than on the same page.

After several firehouses are shut down due to budget cuts, the arsonist starts taking out the decision-makers behind those cuts by setting deadly “backdraft’ fires to murder them.  Company 17 finds itself as the company that ends up fighting those fires, while Inspector Donald Rimdale (DeNiro) is the one tasked with finding the arsonist behind the attacks.  It all climaxes at a large fire at a chemical plant where the killer is revealed and the McCaffrey brothers must stop him once and for all.  All while battling the huge blaze.

Growing up in the ’80s with a Dad who was the local fire department chief, I was always fascinated by firemen and firefighting in general.  Now while I was never a fireman myself, I do know more about it than most others who were not.  And what you see in Backdraft is pretty close to how things are.  The camaraderie displayed between the firemen in the film feels real and on point.  And the firefighting sequences are top-notch.  The arson investigation is pretty straightforward, but you can’t really guess who is behind it until near the end of the film when everything comes together.  The writers did a pretty good job though of trying to lead you to one conclusion of who the killer is before revealing the true villain.  

Backdraft was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, and everything about the movie was well executed.  The story arc of Kurt Russell’s Stephen McCaffrey may be the best thing about the film.  From being the overprotective brother to being the ultimate badass fireman, right through to the final confrontation and climax, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey was a story well told. Kurt Russell was more than the commander of Engine Company 17…he also carried a commanding presence in his performance.

Backdraft was a blockbuster in its time for a reason and is still a yearly summer re-watch for me even now.  It was a “big” movie with a big cast who were hitting on all cylinders at the time, and it lived up to the hype with its special effects and storytelling.  There’s not much more that you could ask from a movie like this. 

4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Re-watch: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)

I didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan. While I knew of the series’ existence, was familiar with how popular all of the movies were, and had even seen a little bit of Return of the Jedi at a birthday party in the mid-80s, I had just never searched out the movies out to watch them. I even played with my brother’s hand-me-down toys. I enjoyed playing with the action figures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Trooper, Tuken Raider and more, along with the Ewok’s treehouse and the Millenium Falcon. But I still didn’t fell the need to try and watch the movies.

Then sometime around late 1992 or early 1993, USA was showing Star Wars on a Friday night, and I decided to make it my entertainment for that night. I really enjoyed it, but they didn’t show the other two. But in the late spring or early summer of 1993, they showed all three movies on consecutive nights from Tuesday through Thursday, and I made it a point to watch all three. Over the course of those three nights, I became a fan. I even watched all three again the following Sunday when USA ran them back-to-back-to-back throughout the afternoon and evening.

Later on, I picked up a few of the Dark Horse comic book series to be able to experience more of the universe, but that was as far as I went with my fandom. But in early 1999, I became aware that a new prequel series would be dropping, and I was excited. Not like true blue Star Wars fanboys, but I was excited nonetheless.

My local theater was relatively new having only opened two years earlier, so the technology there was still top-notch. As a matter of fact, they were one of the first theaters in the world to install the Lucas-designed surround sound system ahead of The Phantom Menace being released. Add in the fact that they would be offering the first showing of the new release at 12:01 AM that fateful Friday, and the fact that they would be playing it in multiple theaters around the clock earned it the designation of the number one place in the world to see the new Star Wars movie.

While I didn’t go to the 12:01 AM showing, I did reserve tickets for the 7:00 PM showing on opening night and bought ten tickets so that any of my friends interested in going would have seats. I found no shortage of people who wanted to go that night. The crowd roared its approval as the familiar Star Wars “crawl” rolled up the screen and we all settled in to enjoy the unique experience together.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace features Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young apprentice Jedi knight under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn; Anakin Skywalker, who will later father Luke Skywalker and become known as Darth Vader, is just a 9-year-old boy. When the Trade Federation cuts off all routes to the planet Naboo, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan are assigned to settle the matter. Along the way they meet the underwater race of the Gungans, discover a new Sith apprentice is after them, and have to help free the Naboo from the Trade Federation and battle the Sith apprentice known as Darth Maul.

Now in the years since the film was released, the prequel has caught a lot of crap. But for someone like me who was never a serious fanboy, I had no issues with the prequels in general, or The Phantom Menace in particular. I thought it was an amazingly fun film and a great experience in the theater.

Having watched the movie another dozen times since that initial viewing, I still feel the same way. What Lucas and team was able to put on screen was beautiful and captivating. While I never cared much for the character of Jar Jar Binks, I’m not overly annoyed with him like most of the fanbase. I really don’t care either way.

The cinematography is top-notch in The Phantom Menace, with every shot being epic and beautiful. The story filled in some gaps and questions from the original trilogy, and you couldn’t really ask for much more action than the film provided.

The initial battle scene between the Jedi and the Trade Federation droids, the underwater chase scene, the pod race, the big battle on Naboo between the Gungans and the Droids, the fighter battle in space, and the fantastic final showdown between the Jedi and Darth Maul were all packed with excitement.

So while a lot of serious Star Wars fans pick nits with the film, as a casual fan, I think it’s great, and recommend it to anyone who has never seen it, and urge those who have to give it another look and appreciate what was accomplished by the filmmakers.

4.0 stars.

Re-watch: Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused hit the silver screen in 1993, but somehow I didn’t notice at the time. It took another couple of years for me to become aware of its existence. I was sitting in English class one day and one of my friends was quoting it. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he clued me in and stressed that I needed to see this movie. It still took me a couple of years to get around to it, but when I finally did, I was an instant fan.

Dazed and Confused tells the story of the last night of school for a group of high schoolers and junior high schoolers. A party is planned, a party is busted, and another party is planned to replace the first one. In between all of this, the many characters of the film weave in and out of each other’s storylines and spend their night cruising around, hanging out at the local game room, drinking, getting high, and thinking about the next phases of their lives. It’s hard to imagine how you could pack so many characters and storylines into a movie about a single night, but Dazed and Confused pulls it off perfectly without it seeming like too much is going on.

The movie is a good interpretation of a night in the life of a teenager in the late ’70s. In those days before the internet when people had “nothing to do”, so they spent their time hanging out with and talking with each other. What a novel concept. The fashion, the cars, and especially the soundtrack combine for an amazing cinematic experience. And the actors all pull off their characters well, and some shine as bright as the sun in theirs. Personally, Matthew McConaughey’s “Wooderson” is not only my favorite character in this movie but is one of my favorite movie characters of all time.

I was a teenager in the ’90s just before the big boom of the internet, and some of my fondest memories of those times is doing exactly what the kids in this film did to kill time. Cruising around town, hanging out with friends, and talking about everything that mattered to us, even if those things didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. This movie brings those times back to mind every time I watch it, and I connect with it on a nostalgic level.

But you don’t have to have that kind of connection to Dazed and Confused to enjoy it. It’s a great coming-of-age comedy with a fantastic soundtrack that just breezes by while you watch it.

4.0 stars for the movie thanks to the whole vibe it puts off, and the nostalgia connected to it.

Willow Magic Cups From Wendy’s

Willow was a movie that captured my imagination in a big way back in 1988. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I was excited as hell. Not even really knowing the whole plotline didn’t stop me from acting out adventures based on it before it even hit theaters. But that excitement was tempered by the fact that I knew the chances of going to the theater to see it were slim and none, and I could practically go ahead and strike slim from the options.

Usually, when I would get pumped up for a movie that I wasn’t going to get to actually see in the theater, I was comforted by the fact that there would be movie tie-in merchandise to enjoy. But when it came to Willow, I hadn’t seen a thing that was due to come out. That was until I saw a commercial advertising Willow-themed kid’s meals at Wendy’s. The box art featured in the commercial piqued my interest but the show stealer was the Magic Cups that you could get there.

I knew I wanted them when I first saw them. Mainly because they were for Willow, but also because of their “magic” ability. The cups had a base scene printed on them, but the rest of the scene became filled in when cold liquid was added to the cup. That was a cool feature at the time, and certainly was deserving of the moniker “magic cup”.

While I may have never been able to convince my parents to go to the movies with any kind of regularity, talking them into going to Wendy’s was pretty easy since it was a favorite for both of them. So on the next trip there, I got my Willow Kids meal and my first and only Magic Cup.

I never really cared much for cups that were offered by fast food places, but these Willow Magic Cups were one of the exceptions. I only managed to get one of them while they were available, but I held onto it for years. In fact, I held on to it so long and used it so much that most of the paint wore off of it. Once the paint was gone, so was the “magic”, but the memories remain.

Here is a photo I found online of the cup that I had:

Captain America: The Movie (1990)

I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more patriotic than the iconic Marvel Comics character, Captain America. These days, the Chris Evans incarnation in the MCU is all the rage, but once upon a time, there was another movie version of the red, white, and blue hero.

The film was originally intended for theatrical release in August 1990 to coincide with the character’s 50th anniversary, but due to numerous delays, it ended up being released two years later in the summer of 1992 as a direct-to-video offering. It also started airing on cable television in the summer of 1992, which is where I first saw it on HBO. Being the comic book fan that I was at the time, I recorded my own version on home video.

This version of Captain America has largely been forgotten, if ever known about in the first place, but it’s still packed full of campy fun that you might enjoy. So here it is in all of its original 1990s glory for this Independence Day.

Time Capsule: Suburban Commando Magazine From 1991

In this Time Capsule, we’re taking you back to the fall of 1991 and the debut of Hulk Hogan’s movie, Suburban Commando. This souvenir magazine is full of information on the movie, photos from the set, and several pinu-up posters. Check out this magazine at your leisure and reminisce about the days when Hulk Hogan was a budding Hollywood star.

The flipbook below is easy to use, and I suggest enlarging it to full size for maximum enjoyment.

TRN Drive-In Podcast: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

In observance of Groundhog Day, I wanted to share a fantastic podcast episode reviewing the 1993 classic movie, Groundhog Day. The TRN Drive-In podcast features a rotating cast reviewing movies from the ’80s and ’90s.

In this episode, Gary (@milehighsamurai), Karen (@KarenFlieger8), Tim (@OldSchool80s), and Jason (@RD80s) journey to Punxsutawney, PA to watch Phil Connors experience Groundhog Day, over and over again. You’ll hear facts you may not know, box office stats, casting what-ifs, Drive-In awards including their favorite scenes, lines, and which supporting actor stole the show.

Listen to TRN Drive-In Groundhog Day below and continue the conversation with your thoughts on the movie in the comments section.