Moment of Coolness: Xanadu Dancin’ Scene

Xanadu is a cheesy movie.  Make no mistake, this movie is a quintessential 80s cheese movie.  It oozes–nay, fountains–with cheese.

I still love it.

However, there is one scene in particular that stood out for me.  Rose a bit above the standard cheese.  It’s the “Dancin'” scene featuring The Tubes.  First off, the inclusion of The Tubes is a weird choice because, well, they’re a friggin’ weird-ass band.  Aside from the one single “She’s a Beauty”, they aren’t what you call a mainstream band.  They mostly fit comfortably in ‘cult’ status.

The rest of the music in the movie, by contrast, is very much mainstream for the eighties.  Not that I dislike ELO and Olivia Newton-John, but they’re not exactly edgy.  The Tubes, on the other hand, skate uncomfortably on the edge of pornography from time to time.

Plus, Gene Kelly is in this movie.  Yes, that Gene Kelly.  Dancin’ in the goddamn rain Gene Kelly.  In fact, this was essentially his last movie.  Old bastard could still dance, too, as he did a dancing scene with Olivia in the movie as well, which was also kinda cool.  Gene is not an actor one usually associates with anything the slightest bit ‘edgy’.

But I digress.

Anyway, the scene goes that the two characters Danny (Michael Beck of The Warriors ‘fame’) and Sonny (Gene Kelly) are out searching for the perfect spot for his new nightclub.  They find an old wrestling arena and look around it.  The two of them have two different images of the music for the club.  Sonny wants a Big Band, bandstand and a retro-forties look.  Danny wants a rock band in spandex and leather.  The two different bands appear in the darkness of the club as they’re individually described.

Then the scenes go back and forth from the Big Band to The Tubes, each doing different numbers.  Then, the two scenes ‘bump into’ one another and ‘merge’, both musically and physically.  the two sets slide into one another and the dancers and musicians sync up their songs.  This is all done with mechanical effects and choreography, long before CGI or anything close. 

The overall effect is . . . surprisingly good.  Still dated and cheesy, but not at all bad.  A very interesting use of compare/contrast that links up nicely.  It rises above the level of the movie quite nicely. 

Check it out.

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Moments of Coolness #4: The Incredibles Family Reunion & Dash

the-incredibles-04I absolutely adore Pixar’s The Incredibles.  This is (as has been noted by others) how The Fantastic Four should have been.  Almost everything clicks in this movie.  The animation is great, the soundtrack is stellar and the voice actors are terrific.  This, however, is not the gist of my Moment of Coolness.  There are two moments in it that rise above the rest of the film.

No, I’m not talking about Edna Mode (although I adore her as well.)  There is one scene with Dash and one scene with the whole family.  The scenes are close together in the movie but have two separate impacts.  They’re brief, but rise above the rest of the film in a subtle fashion.

Let’s talk about Dash’s scene first.

On the surface, it’s just a nifty action scene.  Dash runs from the flying evil minions in their hovercraft.  Some people have compared it to the speeder bike scene from Return of the Jedi.  There is some resemblance there, but there’s a lot more to it.  The true Moment of Coolness comes when Dash runs out of the jungle onto a lake.  He didn’t realize it was there, and before he knows it, his feet hit the water.  And he keeps running.  He looks down and realizes what he’s doing and lets out a laugh of pure joy. 

the-incredibles-03This is the first time in his life that Dash realizes just what he’s capable of doing.  He sees what his full potential is and he can’t help but laugh.  No one else is around to hear his laugh or see what he’s doing, but it doesn’t matter–he sees it.  It’s the first time he’s seen his power as a gift instead of a curse.  It’s a powerful–but subtle–scene.  Brad Bird pulls it off beautifully.

The second Moment of Coolness scene happens shortly after the Dash scene.

The family gets reunited in the jungle and there’s a moment of familial affection.  A moment later, the evil minions show up and start attacking.  That’s when mom and dad become Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible.  They take down the minions (who had been giving the kids such fits) in seconds with consummate ease.

the-incredibles-01This is the Moment of Coolness.  For the very first time, Dash and Violet realize that mom and dad aren’t just mom and dad.  Their parents are two veteran, kick-ass superheroes.  This is meant to be a metaphor for the first time children realize their parents had lives before them.  That parents are more than just parents.

This realization is summed up in Dash and Violet in just two words: “Wow!” and “Whoa!”

the-incredibles-05Absolutely brilliant.  Brad Bird, I would bear your children, were I so equipped.

So I guess that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

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Moments of Coolness #3: Wrath of Khan first skirmish

Okay, for you youngsters out there you might not realize how groundbreaking Wrath of Khan was.  You just see the repeated jokes with Shatner screaming “KHAAAN!” and not think much more of it.  See, thing about it is, back in 1982 when it was first released, it hit like a bomb.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture had come out three years earlier and was a snoozefest.  Sure, it looked pretty and it was pretty cool seeing all the characters back together after over a decade but essentially it was just Paramount trying to capitalize on the sudden boom in interest in Sci-fi movies after Star Wars had taken the world by storm.  Suddenly they were a bankable commodity instead of ‘B’ movie fodder.

Anyway, I wasn’t exactly chafing at the bit to see the sequel.

I changed my mind in a hurry.

First thing that hit me was that they were wearing uniforms–that looked like military uniforms.  They weren’t wearing t-shirts or leotards–they were in uniforms.  Second thing was that the ship and sets had a definite look of grim, military purpose to them.  They weren’t day-glo lit and friendly–they meant business.  Third, the movie had a definite brutality that had been lacking.  People bled, burned and died in some hideous fashions.  It hearkened back to the more martial episodes of TOS like “Balance of Terror” except it was taken to the next level.

I think these elements sparked my interest in military sci-fi and such authors as Pournelle, Drake, Weber and others.

The opening skirmish with Khan encapsulates all these elements perfectly, along with some grim humor and cleverness.

Lastly, in what might seem a trivial matter to a generation brought up on CGI effects, was the problem of the special effects.  There hadn’t been an actual space combat in the new ST universe and no one was quite sure how they were going to do it.  Everything was filtered through the behemoth known as Star Wars at the time.  It had to be as interesting and as flashy as SW but it had to be true to the source material.  How were they going to do the phasers?  How would the ships move?

The special effects crew outdid themselves and it set up a new standard.  The power of the scenes still holds up even after 30 years.

Moments of Coolness #2: Uncanny X-Men #108–Wolverine punched into orbit.

Okay, this pivotal moment in my childhood was in 1977.  For those geeks out there, you’ll remember this was the year Star Wars hit the screen–and all the titanic cultural baggage that followed.  I was deep in comic books at the time, although I found it difficult to keep up with regular issues and I was easily distracted with cool covers and such.

But I do remember being hypnotized by X-Men very quickly.  Maybe it was the bizarre character designs or the trippy stories, but I was hooked.  Dave Cockrum had handled the art chores quite competently for several years and was no slouch.  However, to this day I remember the instant I fell in love with the John Byrne/Terry Austin combination.  It was their first issue: #108.  The X-Men had been teleported to another galaxy where they were fighting to keep a nutbar emperor from destroying the universe.

Last issue the X-Men had fought the Emperor’s “Imperial Guard” who were a bunch of super-powered soldiers who outnumbered the X-Men by a large number.  They’d held out for a while before numbers and power were overwhelming them.  They were saved at the last minute by the Starjammers and pulled a win.

Background stuff:  The Imperial Guard were actually a thinly-veiled ‘homage’ to DC’s “The Legion of Super-Heroes”.  My assumption was that this was done either at the urging of Dave Cockrum (who drew The Legion for several years) or as a nod-and-a-wink to Cockrum before he quit X-Men.

I leave Legion geeks to figure out which one is which.

Anyway, they figure they’ve got the emperor where they want him until the big gem he’d been trying to use starts to cause reality to ‘blink’ across the entire universe.  It’s about this time that a little, Muppet-lookin’ critter called “Jahf” jumps out of the gem and says how he’s the guardian of the gem and he’s going to kill them all.  Jahf is one of Byrne’s quintessential creations and looks kind of cool even through he doesn’t look threatening.

So Wolverine isn’t too impressed by Jahf (probably because he’s the only villain they’ve run into who’s shorter than Logan,) and talks smack to him.  What happens next is . . . well, take a look:

Wolverine can break orbit faster than Superman–provided one gives him a boost!

I remember the smug look, the rearing back of the fist and the big “POW!” that filled the whole panel.  Not only was this a moment of sublime coolness (punched into orbit?!–AWESOME!) but it really featured Byrne’s narrative art skills.  I have never forgotten this one page and it’s been (Dear God!) thirty-six years!

Moments of Coolness #1: Golden Voyage of Sinbad Kali fight.

Alrighty.  This whole exercise in “Moments of Coolness” is essentially to find snippets of movies, television shows, comics, books, etc. where I’ve experienced a sublime moment of coolness.  Sometimes it’s from a very good movie, etc.–and sometimes not.  Sometimes a mediocre or wretched piece of cinema or piece of art has a moment where they surpass everything else before or since within the piece.  Everyone has these ‘moments’, I believe.  Some are universally shared in pop culture and others are not.

To begin, I’ll share a moment from one of my favorite movies: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.  This Ray Harryhausen gem is from 1974 when I was a mere 6 years old.  I don’t believe I saw this one in the theater–but I might have.  The memories are a tad dim.

Anyway, this is essentially a ‘B’ fantasy movie that gets almost everything right.  John Phillip Law plays our title protagonist, Caroline Munro plays the love interest (and gets to constantly show off her impressive and well-oiled cleavage) and Tom Baker (yes, that Tom Baker!) is the villainous Koura.  Apparently this role was what convinced the BBC to allow Tom to take over the role of the fourth incarnation of The Doctor on Doctor Who.

John Phillip Law had few other notable roles in his career and Caroline Munro was mostly known as a model and a Hammer Girl.  So this movie is basically a bunch of unknowns or B-listers.

And it doesn’t matter in the slightest.  It starts off grand and only gets grander.  Few of the actors have much resemblance to Arabic sailors, mind you, but they try the accents as best they can.  Hey, it was the seventies.

As much as I’d like to go on at length about the movie in general, my ‘moment’ comes near the end.  Koura has been gloriously chewing scenery through the movie up to this point.  Koura and his man-servant have been looking for the movie’s MacGuffin (three magic golden tablets) in competition with Sinbad and company.  They’ve reached the lost land of Lemuria in search for the last tablet and gotten ahead of Sinbad through some alchemical skullduggery.  They’re captured by a bunch of green-painted (or maybe they were supposed to be green-skinned–not sure) natives who are getting ready to sacrifice them.  Koura–nobody’s fool–smacks a stone statue of Kali with a vial of magical goodness and animates it.  The natives grovel to this wonder as Kali dances at his whim.  He eventually bores of this, commands it to stop and sends the natives away so he can search their shrine for the last tablet.

So Koura is tearing up the place, chewing scenery and generally acting like a good villain should act when Sinbad and company catch up with him–apparently alone.  Sinbad has a bit of a bone to pick with him since he had tried to murder him a couple of times.  But, being a good guy, he tosses Koura a sword and announces: “To the death!”

Koura agrees and tosses the sword to Kali, who catches it and proceeds to spring identical swords from each of her six hands!  Yikes!

The situation instantly changes.  Sinbad thought he had Koura exactly where he wanted, only to find he was facing a giant, homicidal, fantasy-equivalent of a Cuisinart.

Now the really cool part.  Nobody says a word.  Sinbad and Kali circle one another while the rest of Sinbad’s crew looks on in horror.  Sinbad doesn’t look frightened or panicked as he faces this death machine.  They pace back and forth . . . the music builds . . . is he crazy enough to fight this thing?  The music reaches a crescendo, Sinbad reaches a decision and the fight begins!

I won’t try to describe the rest of the fight–as cool as it is–but that one moment was just an electric moment as a child.  Because damn, that thing looked mean!  And the method used in the scene was something you rarely see today.  The director just let the tension build with zero dialogue.  Everyone knows what the score is.  There’s no need for dialogue for those moments.  He lets it ride.  And it works beautifully.

I’d like to see a modern director do something as cool.

Anyway, for those of you who’ve never seen this movie, I can’t recommend it highly enough, for Harryhausen’s effects and Tom Baker’s over-the-top villainy if nothing else.