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We here at JPFmovies didn’t know you could be “Less than Zero” until we re-watched the 1987 film classic starring Robert Downey Jr. Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and James Spader.

When deciding what film to review next, the editorial board here at JPFmovies decided to follow our 1980s Brat Pack lead of the Breakfast Club with a far darker movie involving sex, money, drug abuse and well . . . It is a bit telling that Robert Downey Jr., was one of the stars of this film given his recurring substance abuse problems—After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapses, Downey, while incarcerated, had to be released from prison during the day to finish a film he was in the middle of making. He claims (and since 2001 there has been no evidence to the contrary) to have left his substance abuse problems behind. We here at JPFmovies sincerely hope he has beaten those demons down and out of his life. Well, enough of that, let’s get to the film.

The cast of Less than Zero were part of the 1980s “Brat Pack”; however, this is hardly your typical Brat Pack film. It is much darker, grittier and tragic than any John Hughes film (i.e. Pretty in Pink and the like). Very loosely based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name (note he was also author of American Psycho), Easton Ellis himself wasn’t too happy with this film at first, but he mentions that it has grown on him over the years. The book was much darker. Andrew McCarthy’s character “Clay,” as we shall see, was altered the most. In the book, Clay’s behavior was not as cut and dry as in the film. In the novel, Clay is a user as well, plus he is bisexual. The studio decided to eliminate both perspectives because they needed a character that audiences could sympathize with, and, in the book, Clay wasn’t the all American he is portrayed as in the film. Naturally, the studio went and changed Clay around to appease teenage Andrew McCarthy fans.

The film that was shot was far edgier than what ended up on screen. It was ultimately taken away from its director, denying Marek Kanievska the final cut. This is textbook behavior for a studio that gets nervous about selling a film with an edgy subject manner. Chicken shits! As anyone who follows JPFmovies knows, this is one of our biggest pet peeves, and we firmly believe that such a lack of courage is one of the main factors that has led to the collapse of American cinema.

The story begins with three rich, happy, wide-eyed teenagers graduating from high school. Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) is skipping college and starting “Tone Deaf Records,” a label financed by his wealthy father; Blair (Jami Gertz) is foregoing college to pursue a modeling career; and Clay (Andrew McCarthy) is heading out east to an unnamed ivy league school. The movie essentially takes place when Clay comes home for Christmas break. Upon Clay’s return, he finds that his high school girlfriend, Blair, has become addicted to cocaine and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian. Julian, whose life has really taken a turn for the worse, after his startup record company falls apart, has become a drug addict, cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit and reduced to homelessness. Julian is also being hassled by his dealer, an old classmate named Rip (James Spader), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.

Clay’s relationship with Blair rekindles and Julian’s behavior becomes more unstable. His addiction is worsening and, since he does not have the money to pay off his debt, Rip forces him to become a male prostitute to work off the debt. After suffering through a night of withdrawal and hiding from Rip, Julian decides to quit and begs his father (Nicholas Pryor) to help him. He then tells Rip his plans for sobriety, which Rip does not believe; Rip forces Julian back into doing drugs and hooking. Clay finds Julian and rescues him; after a violent confrontation with Rip and his henchmen, Clay, Julian and Blair all escape in Clay’s awesome Corvette and they begin the long drive through the desert so Julian can attempt to achieve sobriety once and for all. However, the damage has already been done; the next morning Julian dies from heart failure in the car.

After Julian’s funeral, Clay and Blair are sitting on a cemetery bench reminiscing about him. Clay then tells Blair he is going back east and wants her to go with him, to which she agrees. We see the snapshot of the three of them at graduation—the last time all three of them were ever happy together. In our opinion, Blair is the worst actor in the film.

Less Than Zero is a wonderfully strange movie. It’s a beautiful looking film about some very ugly things. It deals with issues of drug abuse and empty lifestyles while the acting is so well done, the takes and compositions so great to look at. But for every beautiful scene in the film there is an equally dark nihilistic shot where we watch Julian experience the deep suffering that serious drug addiction can lead to: homelessness, desperation, lies and eventually the ultimate self-destruction: death.

When you watch this film, and we here at JPFmovies recommend that you do, be ready for a film with characters that you probably won’t like very much, selfish characters only looking out for their own personal satisfactions, especially given the evolution of the careers of these familiar faces we see today.

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Posted by on July 1, 2017 in Movie Reviews


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Cannonball (1976) or Don Simpson why didn’t’ you sue the makers of Cannonball Run for copyright infringement?

David Carradine stars in Cannonball, also known as Carquake, a 1976 film that was one of two released in ‘76 (the other being The Gumball Rally) that were based on a real illegal cross-continent road race which took place for years in the United States.  The same theme was later copied by The Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II and Speed Zone!  The Cannonball was directed by Paul Bartel, who, together with Don Simpson, wrote the film.  Simpson even makes a cameo, but we will get to that later.  Apparently the name of the film and the plot were inspired by Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, (1882-1960), who traveled across the USA several times and by the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an illegal cross-continent road race introduced by Brock Yates to protest the 55 MPH speed limit—a fine protest indeed.


The Trans-America Grand Prix is an illegal underground race held every year starting in Los Angeles and finishing in New York City.  Coy “Cannonball” Buckman (David Carradine) hopes to win the race and get his career back on track as he was recently released from jail serving time for killing a girl while driving drunk (we find out later someone else was driving).  “Modern Motors,” a prominent racing team, has promised a contract to either Cannonball or his nemesis Cade Redmond (Bill McKinney), whichever one of them wins.  Cannonball is still on probation when his parole officer, Linda Maxwell (Veronica Hamel), who he is having an affair with (only in the 70’s: truly outrageous), determines he will be crossing state lines in violation of his parole but instead of stopping her parolee, she is co-opted into joining the “fun.”


Other drivers include teenage surfer sweethearts Jim Crandell (Robert Carradine—who would go on to play Lewis Skolnick in the 1984 classic Revenge of the Nerds) and Maryann (Belinda Balaski) driving Maryann’s father’s Chevrolet Corvette, middle-aged Terry McMillan in a Chevrolet Blazer, three stimulating waitresses, Sandy (Mary Woronov), Ginny (Glynn Rubin) and Wendy (Diane Lee Hart) driving in a van, haughty German driver Wolfe Messer (James Keach) driving the yellow De Tomaso Pantera, preppy African-American Beutell (Stanley Bennett Clay) in a Lincoln Continental Mark V, a car which he was hired by a wealthy elderly couple to transport to New York for them and Cannonball’s best friend “Zippo” (Archie Hahn) in a Pontiac Trans Am identical to Coy’s.  


Unlike Cannonball Run and others, this race degenerates into a violent and deadly demolition derby.  The Pantera is blown-up, Beutell’s borrowed Lincoln Mark V becomes progressively more damaged as he crosses the country, while Jim and Maryann face engine trouble with the Corvette’s broken fan belt.  The rivalry between Cannonball and the increasingly-unstable Redmond gets out of control as they try to force each other off the road costing Coy his Trans Am after Redmond breaks the headlights.  Luckily, he finds some hicks who just happen to have a 1968 Ford Mustang that admire Cannonball and offer to trade cars as long as when he wins the race, he mentions their name on TV.  Coy and Redmond have their final showdown on an unfinished bridge, which Cannonball and his newly acquired Mustang successfully jump while Redmond loses control, crashes over the side and dies when the car explodes.


Bennie, meanwhile, has sent a gunman to kill the driver of the “other” red Trans Am as it is beating Coy.  He is unaware that the driver is Zippo or that Linda is now riding with him, as Coy thought it safer for her to do so since Redmond was after him.  While with Zippo, she has found out that it was Zippo who was driving the car in which the girl was killed, not Coy.  Coy took the blame because he knew the weaker Zippo would never survive in jail.


Bennie’s gunman shoots Zippo dead and the Trans Am crashes and explodes.  Linda jumps clear, but is injured.  Jim and Maryann see the wreck and pick up the comatose Linda, taking her to the hospital.  Behind them, the presence of the wrecked Trans Am on the freeway causes a multiple-car pileup.


Terry McMillan and Louisa arrive first at the finish line, but Louisa lets slip that the Blazer was flown there and he is disqualified.  The girls in the van and Coy are neck-and-neck until Sandy attempts to take a shortcut when the girls get lost and are stuck in traffic and the van crashes.  Coy arrives at the finish line and is about to stamp his timecard, making him the official winner, when he is told about Zippo and Linda’s accident and realizes Bennie caused it.  He tears up his timecard so it can’t be stamped and gives the pieces to Bennie, who is taken away by gangster Lester Marks (played by the film’s director Paul Bartel) to whom he owes all the money he bet on Coy, presumably to be killed.  Assured of his racing contract, Coy is taken to the hospital to be reunited with Linda by the team manager.  Having decided to finish the race in spite of believing they cannot win having lost so much time, Jim and Maryann are the next to arrive at the finish line.  They are surprised and overjoyed to be told they are the winners of the $100,000 first place prize.


At the hospital, Coy and Linda enjoy their reunion, while Beutell delivers the Lincoln – now completely wrecked – to its horrified owners.


Cannonball is the movie that broke the dam and started a flood of films revolving around illegal coast to coast car races.  In fact, I am shocked that the makers of Cannonball Run were not sued for copyright infringement.


The cameos by Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone (clip provided) are uncredited, while Roger Corman and Don Simpson are both listed in the credits (clip of Don Simpson as Assistant DA).  The real stars of this movie however are the cars.  The film showcases some of the most popular American and a token European (Pantera) muscle cars, ever to make their way on to the road.  My mom had a Lincoln Mark V, just like the one in the film (See the picture of the Lincoln and the clip)—it was even the same color, except that we had a white leather interior.  That Lincoln could have won a race–it had a huge motor in it and it felt like you were riding on your living room couch.  Unfortunately, they don’t make them like that anymore.  There was also a Dodge Charger, Trans Ams (must be popular because there are two of them), a Corvette, Mustangs and the Pantera–all rigged up.  


Some of the highlights to look for include the massive car pileup on the interstate towards the end of the film and the exploding Detomaso Pantera.  As you can imagine there’s enough car carnage to make even the most Blues Brothers hardened fan giddy with excitement.  There is also an element of violent explosion with other drivers not even giving the accident a second glance.  I would also like to point out the outfit that Stallone is wearing while he and his cohorts are eating a bucket of KFC.  I love KFC.  It was good to see all of those great cars again, throw in some bad acting and one of my personal favorite actors David Carradine and that is a recipe for a fantastic film.  To those who say this is a “B” film my reply is simple F%$^k You.


Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Movie Reviews


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