Big Mouth Billy Fish

Leave a comment


Elizabeth Daily, Diane Lane and Rick Moranis

In 2011, a 45-year-old director completed a long-gestating project which was viewed with confusion as a vanity project, an inchoate mash-up of his childhood obsessions, his adult obsessions, and his lust for micromanaging every aesthetic detail. Suckerpunch will be a fascinating time capsule in 20 years, but will never inspire romantic reveries, and in its own time it was a failure, bringing to life the latent fantasy landscape of very few people other than Zack Snyder.

27 years earlier, another maker of populist masculine films, slightly younger than 45, was met with similar public indifference for his own labor of love. Writer/director/producer Walter Hill used the power he had assembled from The DriverThe GetawayThe Warriors, Alien, 48 Hrs. et al. to expand his world beyond “tough little stories” into a whole fantasy landscape, a seamless intermingling of greaser/sock-hop and New Wave fashions, a world of young-forever romance and nighttime and rainstorms and neon and highway underpasses but no highways. A world where you’re never more than a block from someone who owes you a favor, or vice versa. I’m not going off on creative-writing flights of fancy here, this is exactly how Hill describes his inspiration.

Streets Of Fire, is, by design, comic book in orientation, mock-epic in structure, movie-heroic in acting style, operatic in visual style and cowboy-cliche in dialogue. I tried to make what I would have thought was a perfect movie when I was in my teens – I put in all the things I thought were great then and which I still have great affection for, custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor.”

No protestations here of intricate allegories tackling tough issues, like we got from Snyder when he was challenged by accusations of masturbatoriousness.

Streets of Fire features a hero with two qualities: tough-guyness, and honesty, played by Michael Paré [evoking a young Peter Weller, or a Travolta unable to smile]. A dream girl who talks tough but is fated to be kidnapped and fought over [Diane Lane as Ellen Aim, rock singer whose onstage apparel looks like something Sarah Vaughan would wear, except made out of spandex]. A variety of non-dream girls who actually are tough [Amy Madigan as a soldier, in a brave performance written for a man much taller than her; Elizabeth Daily as a plucky superfan; Deborah van Valkenburgh, the tough girl from The Warriors, here as your typical soulful waitress and Paré’s sister]. A bad guy who wears by far the most outlandish outfit in the movie. Gang wars in which what matters is ritualized combat between leader and leader, in which the loser doesn’t necessarily even get hurt, he just… loses, and leaves town, in a form of fairy-tale logic which would soon be labeled video-game logic. A world where people pay for everything in coins.

Amy Madigan and Michael Paré

Amy Madigan and Michael Paré

The plot of Streets of Fire: Gang leader Raven [Willem Dafoe] kidnaps Ellen Aim, not to make any particular point, just because he wants her. Her lover/manager Billy Fish [Rick Moranis] recruits her ex-lover Tom Cody [Paré] to assemble a small posse to get her back. Billy Fish himself is enlisted to tag along for the ordeal because he knows the territory. Cops [1950s-style, but racially diverse] get in their way. Gangsters get in their way. She is returned to safety, and then Raven challenges Tom to ritualized combat. That’s about it.

Did you notice the phrase “tag along”? That’s a red flag. The movie moves fast and is full of memorable images and moments. But Billy Fish is the most annoying character in any movie of the 1980s.

One of the most notoriously annoying characters of the decade is Willie Scott [Kate Capshaw], who tags along in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, who whines steadily, diminishes the adventure by giving persuasive arguments for turning around and avoiding all risks, and seemingly doesn’t need to be tagging along anyway. Billy Fish combines all these attributes with the other annoying aspects of Rick Moranis characters, being a socially awkward nerd who is also an impulsive loudmouth who gets others in trouble by never shutting up. And not only that, he’s also the rich guy who bosses everyone around, calls people “pal” or “sweetheart”, and lauds himself for being smart enough to escape his childhood neighborhood and eclipse the losers he grew up with. And he’s constantly asking what’s going on, because there can’t be a moment of peace.

The following, unless I missed something [surely did], comprises all of Billy Fish’s lines from Streets of Fire. I watched it after reading that Moranis left acting because his strengths were in improvising and writing, and he had no interest in the roles that fit his persona in if there was no room for creativity in the dialogue. Nothing is unplanned about Streets of Fire. Some actors are comfortable playing a one-note role. Moranis got bored early when filming this one.

* * *

  • How we doing here, we all set?
  • Yeah, not one of them’s got a pot to piss in. I never should’ve let myself get talked into this dumb benefit, I could’ve been making some real money tonight. All right, let’s get this thing started.
  • Yeah. So what gives? And make it fast, my time is valuable.
  • You and what army?
  • Easy. All you gotta do is earn it.
  • I started out there. It’s the shits. I wouldn’t go back to that dump if you paid me.
  • I don’t think so. It’s not my scene.
  • Look, Cody, you sound pretty dumb. But nobody’s that dumb. I’m the one paying you. That means you go get her, I wait here, and you bring her back to me.
  • Can you really get her back?
  • Alright, I’ll go. She’s real important to me.
  • That’s right, Cody.
  • Hey, what’s your problem? We’re not takin’ no skirt along.
  • Listen, skirt, lemme make it simple for ya. Take a hike.
  • Hey, what is this? Get serious. I’m not paying you any extra to take some sweetie pie along for company.
  • Look, I’ll take you through the Battery and where the Bombers hang out, but I’m not taking any risks. I’m not paying you to add any thrills to my life, that’s not how it works.
  • Look, Butch, I buy and sell people more valuable than you every day.
  • Let me tell you something. These clothes are worth more than you make in a year.
  • If they got her anywhere, they got her at Torchie’s. It’s a real knockdown joint, no class. I used to book bands in there. It’s right in the middle of a big factory, it’s the shits. You’ll love it, McCoy, it’s just your style. Okay, Cody, what’s the plan? How do you figure on handling all these guys and their motorcycles? You start killing Bombers, we’re gonna be in worse shape than we’re already in.
  • Just keep going straight ahead, then make a left under the bridge.
  • Look, I know my way around. That’s why you brought me along, remember?
  • Walk? I’m not gonna walk around here, I’d get killed!
  • What are we talking to this creep for? Let’s get out of here.
  • Just trying to get away from you. We’ve got some business here.
  • I’m not gonna pay this jerk!
  • Don’t call me shithead.
  • Go buy some soap.
  • I don’t need this guy to tell me she’s at Torchie’s, I said they have her at Torchie’s.
  • Are you crazy? They’ll notice me in a second down there!
  • What about her? I thought she’s supposed to do the driving.
  • Jesus, Ellen, am I glad to see ya! I thought you were gone forever!
  • You’re not going with him, you stay in the car!
  • McCoy, can’t you drive this car any faster? I don’t want any Bombers sneaking up on us. Let’s get our asses outta here real quick. And where’s this Grant Street anyway, I never heard of it before, are you sure you know where you’re going?
  • Listen, I say we give it a couple minutes, then get outta here, okay?
  • I’m talking about saving our ass. We’ve got a lot to live for, Ellen!
  • Don’t worry about him, he’s getting paid a lot of money to look after Raven.
  • What, do you think he’s doing this for love? You think he’s doing this ’cause he’s your biggest fan? He’s getting paid, dear. He takes his chances.
  • What’s this old flame stuff?
  • What, is she kidding?
  • Well, Cody, we’ve had our differences, but it looks like we’ve got it made now, huh? We just zoom along here for a couple hours, then we’re home and dry.
  • Bury the car? What are you talking about, bury the car?
  • Gonna get rid of the car? What’s wrong with the car? Is this what I’m paying you all this money for, to come up with these brilliant ideas? Why don’t we just hand ourselves back over to Raven and ask him to shoot us?
  • What are you talking about? What are you going with him for? Hey, I don’t like the way this looks, Ellen. I’m paying the bills around here, how about some respect?
  • Wonder what they’re talking about.
  • Cute.
  • How big a thing do you think they had, anyway?
  • Yeah, well, she’s with me now.
  • I hope you two got everything straightened out.
  • What’s he mean, he hurt your feelings? What’d he say? Did he say anything about me? What’d he say?
  • We’re nobody. We’re going nowhere.
  • Look, knock it off. We’re not interested in conversation, okay, moron?
  • Great. We just got rid of the old wheels. Wonderful leadership, Cody.
  • This is great. Just great.
  • Changing flat tires isn’t exactly my line of work, dear.
  • The famous Sorels sure put a lot of money into that bus, huh?
  • Listen, Cody, I didn’t know you had a thing with Ellen in the old days. You better get some smarts. Learn to adjust to the fact that you’re out of the picture now. See, Cody, I do things for her. Things that a guy like you could never do. Things that matter in the real world.
  • Keep your hands off the suit, buddy.
  • Come on, hurry the hell up with that flat tire! It’s time to go.
  • Way ahead of you, Cody. Whaddya think, I gotta be a genius to know what you’re going for?
  • I’ll handle this. I’ll talk us through.
  • Aw, knock off the crap, will ya? As far as I’m concerned anybody that goes into the Battery and does some damage deserves a medal.
  • Look, cut the shit, okay? You guys got a big job to do, we’re trying to get where we’re going, now let us through. Or do you want to come to some kind of financial arrangement?
  • You guys talk my language.
  • Glad to see there’s some integrity left in the force.
  • First he dumps the car, and now he’s dumping the bus!
  • Don’t worry, babe. Everything’s gonna be okay from now on.
  • It’ll be great.
  • No, she’s not. She’s tired. She’s been roughed up. I’m gonna take her back to the hotel so she can get some rest. This whole thing started ’cause I had to do a gig in this shithole. I shoulda stayed the hell away from this dump.
  • Now you’re talking, kiddo. C’mon, let’s get out of here.
  • I’ve been expecting you. I know what you want. Ten grand. As good as my word. I pay on time.
  • You know, you play rough, Cody, but you do a good job. You should do a little more work for me when you get a taste of what that money’ll bring you. Then you’ll realize I’m the one with the brains around here and you’ll start treating me a bit nicer.
  • Where do you get off talking to her like that? She’s way out of your league, musclehead.
  • You know what’s wrong with that guy? He’s stupid.
  • What’re you sorry about? Where are you going? Where are you going?
  • What is this? You can’t get away with this! You think you can ride into any town and kidnap anybody you want? Now get the hell out of town and leave these people alone.
  • You know something, Waldo? We’re gonna be rich.
  • Great, huh? New discovery. I’ll take them right up the ladder.
  • But don’t worry, Cody, I’m not going to stand in your way with Ellen. I know how it is between you two.
  • She needs me, but she loves you.
  • Is that what I’m supposed to tell her?
  • Take it easy, Cody. Thanks.

* * *

Despite the presence of Billy Fish, and the fact that the kids of 1984 were more in tune with musicals starring Prince or Kevin Bacon, Streets of Fire has inspired love from many hard-bitten romantic teenagers in the following decades, particularly apparent in the form of fan art.

Read a more fair assessment of Streets of Fire here, from Robert C. Cumbow.

Tonight is what it means to be young.

Tonight is what it means to be young.

18 Titles That Might Introduce Fresh New Ideas Into The DIE HARD Franchise

1 Comment


18. A Kiss Before Dying Hard

17. To Die Hard, To Sleep Hard, Perchance To Dream Hard

16. Dying Hard, Or Hardly Dying?

15. A Day No Pigs Would Die Hard

14. Whom The Gods Love Die Hard

13. Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox If I Die Hard

12. Die Hard Stay Prettysamuel-jackson-bruce-willis-phone

11. Die Hard Stay Pretty II: Die Hard! Die Hard! My Darling!

10. Die Hard Star Pretty III: What Can You Say About A 25-Year-Old Girl Who Died Hard?

9. Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying Hard

8. (I Just) Died Hard In Your Arms

7. Hope I Die Hard Before I Get Old

6. Dracula: Dead, Hard, And Loving It

5. Skate Or Die Hard

4. Skate Or Die Hard II: Surf Nazis Must Die Hard

3. The Young May Die Hard, But The Old Must

2. Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori Durum

1. He Dies Hard For The Money, So You Better Treat Him Right

MAGFest 11: Arcade game assessment

Leave a comment

Space Invaders

Space Encounters

Space Encounters

Classic, of course. Perfectly calibrated. You wonder, should I eliminate the enemies row by row? Clearly I should, because that gives me more time long-term. Or should I go column by column? After I shoot one guy, it’s easiest to shoot the guy right behind him, so this makes sense practically if not in an ideal world. Which of these is best if we are concerned about minimizing the amount of damage to our shields? We need our shields. Like Centipede, this combines mutually unmaximizable objectives with a milieu that rewards patience rather than frantic reflexes.

Space Encounters
Like its near-namesake, there’s a colored overlay on the screen which helps define the zones of the game. But the important part of this game is the controller. It’s fantastic! You actually lean forward to push your ship forward, and pull back to pull it back. It’s also a steering wheel and of course you shoot with it. The controller is so heavy, requiring physical effort to manipulate, that it gives a better feeling of being within the space of the game than any other game I’ve played. And the other interesting feature is the lack of enemies. There really aren’t many things to shoot. Which is good because to shoot them you have to get really close, or at least I did since there seems to be no way to aim. The haptic controller and realistic-in-a-way randomness make this a unique experience.

This is a space shooter with a huge map. Your ship stays in the same place, and the background scrolls behind you. This was revolutionary at the time – before Sinistar! There’s a mini-map next to the background, telling you where you are, and where the ships you need to blow up are. It’s quite optional whether you blow up the smaller things – they aren’t that much of a risk, though it helps if there’s fewer of them. In addition to the free scrolling and the mini-map, this game pioneered having a computer voice, and pioneered the continue screen! Players must have been infuriated that a continue screen had been possible all these years. But how is the gameplay? Excellent. The ships you need to blow up have one spot in the middle you need to hit. If you approach from the right angle you can destroy the ship right away – otherwise its 8 projectiles (which you can also destroy, rendering it helpless, if you want to do things gradually) shoot at you. Some need to be approached from above/below, and some from left/right.

Exceeded my high expectations. You’ve got the ordinary mushrooms you have to destroy. Then more appear from the fragments of any unkilled centipedes. Then more are dropped by these snake guys that go sideways, and by these other guys that just fall accompanied by a loud BLOOP. With the interplay of these various sources of trouble you need to be reactive, while still focusing on eliminating the mushrooms at the bottom of the screen first. Then in carrying OUT this challenging combination of tasks, you use a trackball and a fire button. You generally move left to right only, which seems odd for a trackball, but it’s great because you can fine-tune your speed to catch up with or overtake your foes. And whacking the ball to go as fast as possible, unlike in most games where it’s a sign of desperation or a cocky flourish, is actually a strategy when you want to overtake the centipede before it makes a U-turn. Finally, the ball’s 3D capabilities soon become essential, when the creatures reach the bottom of the screen and you need to shift paradigms and go above them. A real game of skill.

Donkey Kong
Frankly it is amazing that this is where the empire started. The enemies move slowly. Mario moves slower. The enemies follow rules that are frustratingly unclear. It’s unclear whether it’s safe or deadly to be in a certain pixel. There are no surprises except death. The action once you reach the top of the screen is a little different from the action you take to get there, but not different enough. Even among single-screen platformers, which I never spend much time on, this is lacking.

Donkey Kong 3: Where Donkey Kong becomes King Hippo

Donkey Kong 3: Where Donkey Kong becomes King Hippo

Donkey Kong Jr.
An improvement over the original. I like how you climb slowly on one vine, but if you grab two vines you climb quickly. That adds a little complexity. The enemies don’t follow clear rules again, which is now more “caution-inducing” than “maddening” despite increased speed and difficulty. And right off the bat, Mario has gone from good guy to bad guy! Maybe there’s a reveal at the end showing Mario was framed or impersonated, as has become so popular in later decades of the franchise?

Donkey Kong 3
Where’s Mario? Instead, there’s some Fix-It Felix looking guy. Where’s Donkey Kong? He’s just sitting there taunting me. This isn’t a platformer? I just shoot these bugs? Wasn’t this a Game & Watch game? It was! I call shenanigans on Donkey Kong 3 and deny its existence.  The progression of the franchise has a lacuna here.

A “best of” of various shooters. Slick and enjoyable. If it was less predictable or had any mash-up qualities this would be a great one to own at home.

I played this for a while without reading the instructions. All I perceived was a NICE use of inertia. Inertia is satisfying. Upon finally learning the rules it became an exhilarating experience, somehow enhanced by my inability to figure out why I was sometimes zooming super-speedily [horizontally speaking] and sometimes couldn’t build up the slightest head of steam. The basic premise is you crash into the enemies and whoever is higher, vertically speaking, wins, that being the rule of the lance. An epiphany hit after a while: This is almost the same as the paradigm of “jump on your enemies, otherwise any contact with them is fatal.” Nice new perspective. I just wish the look of the enemies or other graphics would change between levels. Maybe it does after a while.


Here’s something I could play for hours. Why aren’t there more classic games where you walk from room to room? The Guardian Legend‘s indoor segments owe a debt to Berzerk. The “walk from room to room” function allows you to ease into difficulty levels. If there are too many robots to shoot, you can bail out, leave the room and come back. If the bouncy smiley face pens you in, run away and leave the room and come back. You can play this game evasively And the robots talk! And they make fun of you! The only problem is, you can’t touch the walls. I think it would be just as hard to shoot the robots if you COULD touch the walls, so dying as a result of wall contact is a constant source of frustration. The robots are challenging enough despite their slow pace. No need for even slower, even deadlier enemies in the form of load-bearing constructional elements.

Berzerk: "Intruder Alert. Stop the Humanoid"

Berzerk: “Intruder Alert. Stop the Humanoid”

This is the one game that let me get a high score. So right off the bat, it’s recommended. That being said, it would be nice if the stages were somewhat randomized. In theory. It would be nice for me if the game were EXACTLY LIKE IT IS because this is the game I have mastered, relatively speaking. This game was lodged in a Mario Bros. cabinet so I don’t know what the instructions look like, but it’s probably hard to explain what the buttons do. You can push one button to accelerate, but don’t push it for too long or you overheat. You can push the other button to maintain speed, or to accelerate but less effectively but with no risk of overheation. Also, on my 298749823948th play, my little bikey fella suddenly turned yellow and black, and the rules regarding overheating SIMPLY DID NOT APPLY. That was awesome. According to a YouTube comment and no other sources, this happens if you unbrokenly wreck five other guys without wrecking yourself. I couldn’t do it again, but it was awesome. All this game needs is well-known Nintendo characters to be the racers. I would have played 23974239842398742 times instead of merely 298749823948 if I could race as Kirby or A Boy’s Blob or Alex from River City Ransom. Has any chapter of the Mario Party saga EVER included an Excitebike level?

Marble Madness
One of my favorite NES games so I can’t quite judge this one except to say the joystick makes a lot more sense than the D-pad for a diagonally oriented game. Much like Excitebike, the gameplay is a few discrete stages and it would be nice if you could start at a later stage instead of wasting time in lower stages again and again. And this is such a good idea for a game that it’s a missed opportunity. Make longer stages. Randomize the geography a bit (for NES at least). Why not have 3-minute-long stages? You get more margin for error and more gameplay.

This game is super hard and the enemies are grotesque and off-putting. Nonetheless, I like the unified color scheme, and the game advances slow enough that you can memorize what to do pretty well.

Zaxxon: Maybe the 8-way joystick that comes with the handheld game works better.

Zaxxon: Maybe the 8-way joystick that comes with the handheld version works better.

Kind of like R-Type in that you advance slowly and need to memorize what to do. This one has an even steeper learning curve because of its use of 3D space (traversed diagonally) combined with a controller that doesn’t move diagonally. You move it one way for horizontal, another way for vertical [northwest/southeast[, as you advance toward the northeast. It’s quite hard to know where you are vis-a-vis the other things on the screen (missiles mostly). But it looks great, with walls and fences and buildings that almost compare to the original SimCity. I would have hated this one if I had to pay a quarter per turn.

Robotron 2084
Man, does THIS one look lovely. For a game where each level is a single room it is so nice. So many colors. Each robot enemy is multi-hued. The game has another punishing learning curve and I would detest it if I was paying per death. But it seems like I should be able to figure it out, since you can run in one direction but shoot in another. Two joysticks! The first two levels are simple, and the third lets you get situated, and it’s such a relief to see those brighter-than-bright colors that you don’t need to spend much time in it. On a darker note, there are so many enemies that it sticks with you. It’s a tough world, especially when humans have been enslaved by robots. And in terms of basic logistics, having played Berzerk for so long before this one, it was hard not to wish I could back out of a room and reenter when the robots were proliferating uncontrollably.

So many robots

So many robots

This is a platformer that is easier to figure out than Donkey Kong and less frustrating because it scrolls a bit. The artwork is pretty bad, but I like the door-based combat, and far prefer trampolines to ladders when it comes to inter-platform travel. The doors look pretty terrible, though. In terms of graphics this is the cartoon mouse game equivalent of The Langoliers. If made one year later it would just look like it was done on a budget instead of looking eye-bleedingly cheap.

Total classic. And it’s all about inertia. Your ship has inertia, and so do your enemies. So you can tell what they’re going to do, you can tell they aren’t going to suddenly switch directions unfairly, the whole thing is perfectly calibrated. The button you just pushed combines with your existing trajectory to make smooth curves. Another good thing about the inertia is you don’t necessarily have to shoot in the same direction you’re moving. It would take a while for this to get old.

For a game generally recognized as the first side-scroller, it’s impressive that it already contains the “rescue your allies” motif as well as the shooting motif, and it’s even more impressive that the rescuing mechanism works and is often more fun than shooting at enemies. Who are these enemies anyway? I have to avoid the terrain, I have to rescue people, violence is a low priority.

Eyes: Look, they're eyes

Eyes: Look, they’re eyes

This is just a version of Snake / Rattler Race. Being limited to the Pac-Man style map is not ideal for this kind of game, and the cabinet had a joystick that couldn’t make two turns in quick succession.

Another weird game in Pac-Man maps, this one hit a chord with me. Imagine Pac-Man as a shooter. Yep. You have to shoot the pellets to accumulate them – running over them has no effect. You can run right through the enemies, because what matters is whether you shoot them or they shoot you. [Although by the time you run through one, he’s probably had enough time to shoot you.] The requirement to shoot the dots, and the fact that you can’t shoot THROUGH the dots but your enemies can, makes it challenging despite the enemies’ slow pace. As for why it’s called Eyes, you control an eye. Your looking part is at the front, and the back is red. Your enemies are alien eyes [yellow, green]. Yes, all the characters are Eyes. This game [like Nibbler] was made by a company called Rock-Ola that didn’t really have any hits. I want a copy.

I was a fan of Alleyway on the Game Boy, despite the lack of power-ups. I love the circular version called Vortex on the iPod Classic. In the original [so to speak] Arkanoid, there are power-ups, but they barely improve it because they don’t last long. You should be powered up until you slip up and lose a ball — it’s only fair. Also it would be nice if brick color meant something, but all we get is that the gray ones don’t break.