The Great Shismar Ain't Shit

For better or for worse, I decided to to bring HBO back into my life about a year ago when I upgraded to digital cable. Comcast had sort of a deal happening at the time, and I was growing tired of waiting for the DVD releases of Entourage and True Blood to come out so I could catch up on those shows. We'd had the network at home when I was growing up, and like a lot of kids growing up in the 80's I logged waay to many hours watching it when I probably could have been doing more constructive things.
A trend that I'm finding myself falling into all over again lately.
I think one of the great misconceptions about the 80's is that we all watched MTV nonstop. Granted we did a lot of that, but the thing about MTV was that (much like radio), when a song came on that you weren't particularly fond of you tended to just switch away from it.

But with HBO what almost always happened was that you'd switch to it and end up in the middle of some movie that you didn't instantly recognize, and you'd hang around watching it while you searched the couch cushions for that little colored booklet that told you what movies they were playing. You'd rarely find it (someone would always take it in the bathroom, or lose it altogether) -- but by the time you'd given up on searching you were usually deep enough into the plot of whatever no-name movie they were playing that you kinda felt compelled to finish out the story.

But more importantly, when that movie came on again (and it would, because back then HBO replayed everything to death), you'd watch it again because "Hey, I watched part of this the other day -- but now I can see the beginning!"
Next thing you know, you've seen Red Dawn four times.
Not that it's a bad thing (Red Dawn rocks) But as a result, there's this whole string of movies that for whatever didn't always make an initial splash in theaters that lots of us know and love probably a little too much, because they were always friggin' on.

Action movies like Big Trouble in Little China, Lone Wolf MqQuade, and Point Break. Chick Flicks like Working Girl, He Said She Said, and Adventures in Babysitting. Sci Fi features like Solarbabies, Megaforce, and Silent Running. Moves you didn't really have an interest in seeing, but would watch anyways simply because they were on.
I swear to god the Chevy Chase/Dan Akroyd comedy Spies Like Us was on twice a day for about 10 years running. I like that movie, but even now I wonder if it was because the film itself was funny, or simply because it was on so much that I had no choice but to surrender to the comedy gold that was "the cheating on the special agent's exam" sequence.
Whether HBO realized they were doing this or not I don't know -- although it's entirely possible that in those early days of premium channel cable that there were only so many movies to go around that they had the rights to, and they just cycled them to try to fill in the spaces between the bigger name releases that they showed in prime time, and the pseudo-softcore series they liked to run late at night (The Hitchhiker, anyone?).

The good part of this was that many of these lesser known movies that HBO would show were really entertaining to watch. Especially for kids at an age and a time where going to the movies was more of a special deal than a regular weekend event.

But the bad (and there was a lot of that to go around) was that you also found yourself watching a lot of crap.
Seriously, How many latch-key afternoons did I waste on The Legend of Billie Jean?
And you might find yourself asking -- if the movies were so bad, why did you do it?

The answer is easy. Because if nothing else, HBO and Cinemax have always functioned (as A.V. Club writer Nathan Rabin so perfectly coined it) as reliable boob delivery systems.
Simply put: If you were willing to put in a few hours with a bad movie, HBO would reward you with topless women.
So you watched Swamp Thing. You watched Just One of the Boys. You prayed for Fast Times at Ridgemont High to come on. You began to really appreciate horror movies like Wolfen, Chopping Mall, and Demon Knight.

Sure you came to like these movies for other reasons (mostly), but in a pre-internet world where nudity wasn't simply a click away whether you wanted it to be or not (honestly, sometimes I think Google image search is just messing with me) there was almost a magical, magnetic force to films with a little extra skin in them.
And although it's certainly not rocket science -- there was a time when it seemed like
HBO and Skinemax were the only two channels on TV who really understood this fact.
Anyways, the point I've been trying to get to here (before I distracted myself with this tangent about movie boobs) was that at least for me, all this HBO overload sorta left me with the feeling that there were a series of actors and actresses that I could generally "trust" to pick decent scripts to work on.

In other words, when you were looking through the old HBO guide or looking on the TV guide channel to see what was coming on later and you'd a movie you'd never heard of before starring one of these people, you'd be more likely to give it a shot.
Movie I've Never Heard Of? = Probably not gonna watch it.
Movie I've Never Heard Of with Rutger Hauer in it? I'm there.
It's a theory that works both ways -- because I have an alternate list of people who when I see their names I know the movie is going to utterly suck (*cough cough* Jessica Alba *cough*) regardless of the plot. But in general, this unofficial mental list has served me fairly well when it comes to discovering cool movies I might not have otherwise heard of.

The short list of winners for me includes people like Kurt Russell, Michael Ironside, Lance Henrikson, Donny Yen, Ray Liotta, Eihi Shiina, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Bill Paxton, Jason Statham, and Keith David (but not David Keith).

Of course, names like this usually tend to show up in the Roger Corman type schlock films they tend to play on the Sci-Fi Network, but for someone with my tastes and sensibilities it usually works out pretty good.
It's like my "If Bruce Willis is Blonde the movie is more fun" rule (Fifth Element, The Jackal, and [hopefully] Surrogates).
The only problem is that because my list is built mostly of veteran character actors who tend to take years off between projects, so if the movie channels aren't in the mood to hit you over the head with re-runs, you don't always get a chance to see them.
Or to put it another way, for every two movies Michael Biehn makes, C Thomas Howell makes 10.
Case in point is someone I feel is one of the most underrated actors out there, Dennis Quaid. Dennis has done his share of stinkers (Meg Ryan), but back in my youthful HBO-verload days he did two movies that basically got him a lifetime pass from me. Dreamscape and Enemy Mine

Dreamscape is pretty much what it sounds like, but Enemy Mine if you've never had the pleasure of seeing it is the story of a soldier marooned on a planet with an alien that his race is at war with, and the Odd Couple-ish friendship that develops between them as they try to survive the ordeal. If this sounds sorta stupid, consider that the big plot twist comes when the alien (played by Louis Gossett Jr. of all people) discovers that he's pregnant. Then they spend the next hour or so pretending like Dennis wasn't the baby daddy.
Hey, they were marooned. What were they supposed to do, play checkers?
Anyways, because of these two dumb movies I've always been willing to check out other films that Dennis was in (Sadly, this preference also extended an olive branch to his brother Randy, who's let me down ever since). The results aren't always winners, but most of the time you can count on Dennis to bring it, especially when he's called upon to do an action role.

And I know some schmuck is going to point out that Quaid had a starring role in GI Joe, and offer that as evidence that he sucks -- but I would argue that making that movie in general was a stupid idea, and no one actor or actress was going to be able to turn that sinkhole into anything more than a cash grab, so why not get paid enough that you can make one or two real movies in the next five years?

One of the movies HBO is currently playing too much is called The Express, in which Dennis plays the football coach for Ernie Davis, the first African-American to every win the Heisman. Despite being based on a true story, the movie-about-an-athlete/team/coach-who-fights-racial-prejudice-in-the-50's-and-teaches-the-South-a-lesson-about-equality-and-harmony has largely turned into a bad cliche -- but if you can stand one more shot at it, consider giving The Express a go, because it's actually a better than average take on the idea.
Something I certainly never would have discovered if they'd given the role to Tommy Lee Jones.
The reason I bring all this up is that Dennis Quaid for whatever reason is back on the scene, and has a bunch of movies coming out that I'm really jazzed to see.
Especially this one --

-- NSFW, in a bad language and horror movie type of way.
And while I accept the possibility that a movie about a machinegun wielding Angel could suck, there's no way that it (or his other flick, Pandorum) won't be fun.
And considering some of the crap that's been in theaters lately, I think we could all use a good time on the screen.
I'm probably not the only one who thinks this way. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only person in the world who has a list of actors or actresses they'll usually show up for if they're in a movie. Seriously, how else can Kate Hudson's success be explained?
So, who are some of yours?

[Listening to:  Missy Elliot - "Beep Me 911" ]


wigsf said…
Up here in The Canada, we had this thing called First Choice. Now it's called TMN (The Movie Network, golly, gee, what an original name). It is, for lack of a better term, the Canadian HBO. It aired all the same stuff as HBO (The Hitchhiker then and True Blood now). Only difference is the government mandate on all broadcasters (shut the hell up and play some shitty Canadian content, because otherwise, Quebecois butch dyke films would never be seen by anybody other than Quebecois butch dykes and honestly, who gives a flying poutine shit about Quebecois butch dykes?)

As a kid, my dad always had at least one descrambler box in the house, then eventually we made the switch to grey market [cough cough, illegal] satellite TV (both DirecTV and Dish Network, that's right, three friggin' dishes on the side of the house right now, none still in use). I saw a lot of Canuck HBO in my earlier years.
Remember that Chevy Chase/Demi Moore/John Candy/Dan Ackroyd/Digital Underground mindfuck that was Nothing But Trouble? I musta seen that one a few hundred times.
I do agree with you on Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers) and Lance Henrikson (No Escape). They've made some cool movies over the years.
I would throw into that mix Delroy Lindo. What role of his won me over? Soul of the Game. (Yeah, another made for cable movie about black athletes breaking various colour barriers.) Every role I see him in, crappy movie or not, he always draws my attention. In Get Shorty, it's him and Danny DeVito that make the movie. Not Vinnie Barberino. In Devil's Advocate, he's in what, one, two scenes; but he's mesmerizing in them. Gone in Sixty Seconds was a nasty steaming pile of shit, but he was watchable in that one. And Ransom, well, Ransom was just a really well made film. Nothing wrong in that one.
I used to think highly of Steve Buscemi, then everybody started thinking highly of him, so poof, what's the point now? He got, ever so briefly, ugly cool. So now it's uncool for me to really like him. Remember that shitfest Airheads. He was watchable in that one. Or that sick fuck he played in Billy Madison? (Okay, who wasn't playing a sick fuck in Billy Madison?)
van walker said…
Because actors make bad a/k/a "the rent gots ta be paid" choices (Udo Kier, anyone?), I tend to follow directors more. That said, here's the list, in no apparent order other than "who's that guy that did that one movie with the thing and the know which one, dammit!":

Ridley Scott
Peter Jackson
Steven Spielberg
John McTiernan
Guillermo Del Toro
Robert Rodriguez (even "the rent gots ta be paid" kid stuff)
Tim Burton
Neil Marshall
Christopher Nolan
Stephen Soderbergh
Gore Verbinski
John Carpenter
Zack Snyder
James Cameron
Quentin Tarantino
Martin Scorsese
Clint Eastwood
Park Chan Wook
The Coen Brothers
The Hughes Brothers
Spike Lee
Kathleen Hughes
Sam Raimi
Stephen Chow
Roland Emmerich (Sue me. Sue the everlovin' hell out of me. This guy blows the world up better than anyone but the Deity of Your Choice, AND in 70mm Dolby Digital Surround, about every three years. It's like watching 70s porn...five minutes of worthless plot followed by 30 minutes of DAMN! I DIDN'T KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT WITH SOMEONE'S LEG!)
Steven Sommer (see Emmerich, Roland, with less world getting blowed up)

And that's all I have to say about that.
Werdna said…
I hardly follow actors, and less so directors. I used think John Woo could do no wrong- then he came to America, and now I'd choke him out.

I'll go with Chow Yun Fat (always watchable), anything by Miyazaki (some are better than others), and anything that has fart jokes not told by Pauly Shore.
Satorical said…
I go with directors as well. I will see anything by the following people:

Terry Gilliam
Danny Boyle
Julie Taymor
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Peter Greenaway
David Fincher
Tim Burton (unless he pulls another Planet of the Apes)
Heff said…
Totally ignoring the question at hand, I can't believe you brought up HBO from back in the day, and didn't mention the HBO series "Dream On" starring Brian Benben. Talk about loaded with boobage !
Van said…
Woah, the graphic designer in me is loving the HBO 80s art. But I grew up overseas and didn't have the fancy HBO. I had cartoon tapes and Michael Jackson videos that I watched on repeat...