Category: 1984


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(A quick note before I write this review. I think [emphasis on think] that I watched this movie on Monday evening. I was going to review it when I came to work on Tuesday but I forgot to bring my laptop that day and I’ve been on the road since then because of an Arcade Fire concert in Pittsburgh Wednesday and then a Paul Simon/Sting concert in DC on Wednesday. So I ap0logize in advance for the possible weakened state of this review)

Towards the beginning of Heathers, Winona Ryder’s somewhat morally centered Veronica voices her hesitancy to one of the cruel pranks of the powerful Heather clique, and Queen Bee Heather Chandler drops one of the film’s many great throwaway lines, “Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” While I’m glad such absurd aphorisms would no longer sound natural in today’s world, language in the 1980s had character. That character was often garish and patently over-the-top, but it rarely felt dispensable or throw-away. 1984’s Sixteen Candles has not aged particularly well and it plays hop-scotch with being downright offensive at times, but it has more character and memorable style than any modern teen film that isn’t The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

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This viewing of Sixteen Candles was my first since high school (when I was a vocal member of the church of John Hughes. For what it’s worth, I still think that Pretty in Pink is his best film), and after years of catching glimpses of the watered-down broadcast for TV version, I had forgotten how dark and raunchy elements of Sixteen Candles actually are. The film predates the PG-13 rating system, so this is likely one of the few PG films you’ll ever see with bare breasts, the word “fuck,” and more cursing and casual date rape jokes than you can throw a stick at.

The actual plot of Sixteen Candles is about as simple (and well-trod these days) as it gets. Wallflower high schooler Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is turning sixteen the day before her beautiful (and brainless) sister’s wedding, and in the chaos surrounding her sister’s wedding, including visiting grandparents and their insane Chinese exchange student, Sammie’s family forgets her birthday. To make matters worse for Sammie, she’s in love with gorgeous senior Jake Ryan (MermaidsMichael Schoeffling), but she doesn’t think he knows that she exists, and all the while, a far too horny and overbearing nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) keeps trying to win Sammie’s heart for himself.

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As I said, the plot of Sixteen Candles is simple to a fault, and it’s been done a million times since, and time hasn’t been kind to one of the original high school romantic comedies. Everything involving Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) is so racist and insensitive that it’s a wonder this movie was made by a major studio. He’s such a collection of awful Asian stereotypes (can’t drive, can’t speak English, yells “Bonsai” when dropping out of a tree despite being Chinese not Japanese) that I spent whole portions of the film cringing. Although to Gedde Watanabe’s credit, he rolls with the part and sells it for as many low-brow laughs as he can get.

Jake Ryan is arguably the Ur-“Dreamy High School Crush” archetype, but I never realized prior to this viewing how much of a sociopath he actually is. Let’s put this into perspective: Jake Ryan’s fragile ego is stroked by a shy girl who constantly looks at him but he knows nothing about her. He only barely knows her name. So, he decides to go on an epic quest to meet this girl despite the fact that he has a gorgeous girlfriend. He abandons said girlfriend who is completely shitfaced, black-out drunk to try and call Sammie and meet her. And then, he abandons his girlfriend to the clutches of the horny nerd and tells her that the nerd is him, and then Jake makes a joke about how the girlfriend is so drunk he could “violate her ten different ways.” He’s a terrible person.

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Despite those huge complaints, there’s a sincerity in Sixteen Candles lacking in the majority of modern teen comedies. When Sammie stares at herself in the mirror when she wakes up on her birthday and bemoans the size of her bust, that’s something many high school girls have had to deal with. When Sammie wallows in her seemingly unrequited crush on Jake Ryan (despite the fact that the two barely know each other), it feels real because everyone who was ever in high school has been there. And when she talks to her father, we recognize the real awkwardness of parents and children talking about romance.

And, most importantly of all, Sixteen Candles is legitimately funny. Anthony Michael Hall’s Farmer Ted/The Geek is the film’s unsung comic hero, and he and his friends (including a young and already charming enough to be a star John Cusack) provide many of the film’s best moments. Farmer Ted and his crew crash a senior party and not long after arriving, Ted leans against a beer can sculpture and knocks it over earning the ire of the jocks. And the payoff comes later as Farmer Ted’s friends are being driven home in the trunk of the jocks’ car, and they’re both convinced that they’ve made new friends. And the film has plenty of great little bits like that.

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Sixteen Candles is an 80s classic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great film. And there are times where it’s outright bad (Jake Ryan is legitimately one of the most loathsome romantic leads in any rom-com ever), but with a subversive streak a mile wide and an honest ear for certain elements of teenage life, Sixteen Candles‘ shelf life is sure to last for years and years to come. One can only hope that future generations who discover this film move on to Hughes better features, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink as well.

Final Score: B

 

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I am a sucker for imaginative storytelling and engrossing world building. From a classical storytelling perspective, the Russell T. Davies years of Doctor Who or the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation aren’t bastions of great characters or “important” insights into the human condition, but as someone who loves fantastical new worlds, they scratch that need. Ever since I was little and I was introduced to The Hobbit, I’ve had a constant desire to see new things and explore worlds I’ve never encountered before. 1984’s The Last Starfighter has a wonderful premise and a compelling mythology, but the film suffers in its execution with a story that ultimately feels woefully deficient and underdeveloped.

Perhaps it’s the screenwriter in me (long time readers should know that I’ve written two unpublished screenplays and I’m hard at work on a third one right now), but I found myself nitpicking every step of the way little areas where I felt The Last Starfighter missed a storytelling opportunity or had major characters seem embarrassingly thinly drawn. In fact, if I had to sum up my reaction to this film in one quick sentence, it’s that The Last Starfighter rests on the laurels of an ahead of it’s time basic plot but then fails to properly capitalize with compelling villains, good acting, or proper pacing. Though these thoughts didn’t keep me from enjoying the film, I kept getting pulled out of the experience after one cheesy interlude after another.

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Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is your average teenage boy living his last summer before the beginning of college. Alex lives in a trailer park with his mother and little brother as well as his girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), and he dreams of nothing more than going to a nice college and getting out of the Starlite Starbrite trailer park once and for all. And the only thing that Alex seems to enjoy in life any more besides the company of his girlfriend is the Starfighter arcade box up at the general store near the trailer park. One night Alex finally beats the Starfighter game and finds his life changed forever.

It turns out that the Starfighter video game was a secret test left on Earth by the alien Centauri (Robert Preston) to find new recruits for the Starfighter defense program defending the galactic frontier. Centauri shows up on Earth and whisks Alex away to an alien-filled space station to convince Alex to help defend the galaxy, but when it becomes clear that Alex’s life is in danger, Alex wants to go home. But, it isn’t long before he’s back on Earth and realizes that everyone he loves and holds dear will be in danger if he doesn’t fight. And Alex is forced to take up the call and become the titular last starfighter.

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None of the performances in the film are anything to write home about and pretty much all of the aliens are invariably over the top. Lance Guest is appropriately sensitive and lost as the hero and Catherine Mary Stewart also gels as his girlfriend, but it’s also clear that both were cast more for their good looks than for any acting talent. Robert Preston hams it up in every single second he’s on screen as the Merlin-esque Centauri to the point of distraction, and I’m not entirely sure what was up with the weird little laugh Alex’s alien navigator Grig had to do every time he thought something was funny.

Surprisingly, the special effects of the film both look like a product of the mid 1980s, but they also don’t distract from the overall experience of the film by coming off as too cheesy (except for maybe the absurd encephalitis that the primary alien species seems to suffer from). In fact, the 1980s video game look of some of the space ships and the space battles actually adds some perhaps unintentional charm to the film as it captures the arcade aesthetic that propelled Alex into space in the first place.

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If you are a fan of cheesy science fiction (particularly of the 1980s variety), by all means check The Last Starfighter out if you’ve never gotten around to it. It will be a pleasant diversion, and it will harken back to a day of more innocent film-making. It’s not perfect, and I wish I could have had a crack at writing the script for this film’s story, but it’s fun. If you don’t enjoy this particular brand of science fiction, you likely won’t see the point of this movie and may even think it’s quite stupid. That’s fair, but I enjoyed the hour and forty minutes I spent with this film.

Final Score: B

I get far too metatextual in my reviews but without explicit posted explanations of the way that I operate sometimes I feel the need to explain things. For example, I don’t have a strictly posted and enforced editorial policy about what my grades for movies/books/TV shows/etc mean. “A+” is pretty obvious. It means that I think the film is practically perfect and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. “A” films are also phenomenal but might have one or two smaller flaws keeping them from perfection (or there’s nothing about it that is “A+” caliber). “A-” are great films with a more significant flaw. “B+” are films that are good on the verge of being great but not quite there. “B” films are simply enjoyable films but there’s not necessarily anything fantastic about them. “B-” movies are good but with serious problems although at the end of the day, I think their good qualities outweigh their bad ones. “C+” and below are a little more amorphous. Generally, this is reserved for films I didn’t enjoy and each step down from “C+” is a comment on how few redeeming factors the film had. However, this doesn’t really mean they’re genuinely bad films. Sometimes, they’re just so mediocre that they leave absolutely zero emotional impact on me. That’s what happened with the 1980s showbiz dramedy, Irreconcilable Differences, which was neither bad nor good (although the acting was pretty awful). It was just completely forgettable.

Nominally centered on the divorce case (though more accurately the “emancipation of a minor” case) between 10 year old Casey Brotsky (Drew Barrymore) and her self-absorbed Hollywood parents Albert (Ryan O’Neal) and Lucy (Cheers‘ Shelley Long) who have long since abandoned any pretense of actually caring about their daughter, Irreconcilable Differences is actually more of the story of the blooming romance between Albert and Lucy and the Hollywood excess and greed that drives them to their current situation. A film history professor at UCLA, Albert met Lucy while hitchhiking across the country to start his new job, and although she was engaged at the time, they fell in love on the trip and were soon married. After being invited to screen a Hollywood producer’s movie, Albert’s encyclopedic insight into cinema lands him a job as a screenwriter in Hollywood and before long, he’s writing and directing (with the help of Lucy) a long-gestating film that becomes a smash hit. However, when it comes time to make their second film, Albert falls in love with the movie’s young starlet (Sharon Stone in her debut role) and leaves Lucy. While Albert becomes incredibly wealthy, Lucy’s life begins to fall apart and neither parents gives any attention to their young daughter Casey who becomes just another fixture in their lives and a pawn in their battles with each other.

Drew Barrymore is not a good actress. I’m sorry but it’s true. She has the emotional range of a professional wrestler. Actually, they can at least fake anger and machismo. All she can do is cloying adorableness. That’s all she has going for her. And that’s grown-up Drew Barrymore I’m talking about. She was ten years old in this film and just a complete wreck to watch. I don’t know how she’s had a thirty year career in Hollywood. It defies the laws of the logic. We’re supposed to sympathize with her plight, but because Barrymore’s acting was so rigid and dull, I just didn’t give a shit. Ryan O’Neal wasn’t much better. His Hollywood royalty status aside, he shamelessly mugged for the camera, and the number of scenes where he was hammishly overacting were innumerable. If he flashed that awful, fake smile  one more time directly at the camera, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the film. Shelley Long was better but not by much. Lucy isn’t nearly as interesting a character as say Diane Chambers from Cheers, and Lucy just tended to swing from neurotic to hysterical. At least Shelley Long was able to nail those emotions.

Surprisingly, the beginning of the film was actually fairly enjoyable. Watching Albert and Lucy fall in love on the road and experience their entry in the world of Hollywood had some freshness. It’s obvious that the film’s screenwriter is a movie lover, and there are a plethora of little tidbits about Hollywood lore and moviemaking scattered throughout the film. And, I definitely bought the fledgling romance of Albert and Lucy as he was hitchhiking. Then, once you got to the actual dramatic moments of the film where the characters were supposed to change for the worse, much of it felt artificial and forced. I could not buy the drastic change in character these individuals experienced. It seemed incredibly unrealistic. Also, the film is obviously meant to be satirical of Hollywood egos and excess and what not. The film’s not funny… at all. I don’t think I even chuckled once the entire film. The only moments in the entire film to make any sort of emotional response were the romance scenes between Lucy and Albert and once that was abandoned the film became more cliched and trite almost magically. Also, no judge in his right mind would actually grant the emancipation case requested in this film. The lack of legal realism was pretty absurd.

I don’t know what sort of crack the Golden Globes were smoking when they gave Drew Barrymore a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film (or even Shelley Long for Best Actress in a Comedy) but obviously, they weren’t thinking straight. I honestly can’t think of anyone in 2012 who could really find a film like this especially enjoyable, but I also thought Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a completely joke and others fawned over it so what do I know. Maybe if you’re a really big Drew Barrymore fan (but at this point, you’ve stopped reading my review because of my complete lack of respect for her acting abilities) you should see the film. That’s about the only group I can recommend this movie to. I don’t think there are still big Ryan O’Neal or Shelley Long fans anymore. If there are, they probably aren’t big internet users or reading this blog. Everybody else can pass Irreconcilable Differences over and watch something more worthy of your valuable times.

Final Score: C

Before 2005’s Sin City, my only familiarity with actor Mickey Rourke was his small part as the chihuahua owning criminal in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Suddenly, with his iconic turn as the framed bruiser Marv, Mickey Rourke’s career was reborn like the phoenix from the ashes. Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel would have been an entertaining but expected translation of a beloved classic. Mickey Rourke took his scenes and just ran away with them. There was almost universal consensus that he was the high point of the film, and his career has hardly slowed down since. He picked up a Golden Globe for his iconic performance in Darren Aranofsky’s The Wrestler (and barely lost the Oscar to Sean Penn for Milk) and has managed to reposition himself as a 50’s something action star with turns in The Expendables, Iron Man 2, and Immortals. Despite his recent success, Rourke is still a sad cautionary tale of wasted talent. In the 1980’s, Mickey Rourke was poised to be the next Marlon Brando and his star was set to eclipse even that of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Yet, he essentially through it all away with increasingly self-destructive behavior and incomprehensible decision to temporarily give up acting to pursue a career in boxing (a field in which he had previous training). It would be nearly 20 years before his part in Sin City reminded the world of the star he could have been. 1984’s The Pope of Greenwich Village was my first exposure to pre-meltdown Mickey Rourke, and while the film moves at an incredibly languid pace, Rourke’s performance is spectacular and you get a performance from Eric Roberts that manages to simultaneously be both brilliant and awful at the same time. It’s an interesting if flawed picture.

The Pope of Greenwich Village (based off of a Vincent Patrick novel of the same name) focuses on small-time hood Charlie (Mickey Rourke) and his perpetual screw-up of a cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts). After one of Paulie’s bone-headed get rich schemes gets Charlie and Paulie fired from their cushy gigs at a fancy restaurant (where the more capable Charlie was in charge of number running), Charlie is forced to watch his life fall apart in front of him. In short order, he loses his girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah), his son, and what little money he had. Things start to look up when Paulie comes to him with a “sure-fire” scheme for the pair to make enough money to retire. Paulie knows of a horse he thinks is guaranteed to win a big race, and he wants Charlie to help him steal $150,000 from a safe that is just waiting to be cracked. Just when the stars are beginning to align for Charlie, an undercover cop accidentally dies trying to stop their robbery, and things go from bad to worse when they discover the $150 grand they stole belonged to a local mafioso with a penchant for taking body parts off of those who wrong him.

Before I get into all of the things I thought this film did spectacularly well (Rourke’s performance chief among them), I want to examine the film’s most unforgivable flaw. Without wanting to come out and say the movie is boring (because it certainly kept me engaged over the course of its two hours), I can definitely call it torpid and snail-like. Outside of a few key moments here and there, not a whole lot happens. This would be more acceptable if the movie had some grand statement about life or some deep insight into the human condition, but it doesn’t. Instead, we just get a fairly detailed portrait of a couple of days in the lives of two hoods who have delusions of grandeur (especially Paulie). There wasn’t any engaging character development, and I essentially didn’t know any more about the motivations and make-up of these characters than I did after the first thirty minutes. If I give the film’s writing any credit, it had some consistently funny and quotable dialogue although that still wasn’t enough to distract me from how slow the movie could be.

As anyone who’s seen The Wrestler knows, Mickey Rourke has an incredibly naturalistic style of acting. Eschewing any of the theatrical artifices that normally come with the trade, Rourke just taps into something so inner and real that you completely forget that this is a man acting. That’s an impressive feat in and of itself. What pushes him to five star acting talent is his ability to combine this with startling levels of intensity. I watched this film and all I could think about was Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (though his famous line from On the Waterfront of “I coulda been a contender” springs to mind regarding Rourke’s career). From Stanley Kowalksi to Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, he continues that long lasting tradition of a homespun passion and fire. You put Mickey Rourke in front of the camera and give him a character full of life and zip, and he’s going to blow the audience away. This film was no exception. It wasn’t as challenging a part as in The Wrestler, but it was still incredibly impressive. Less impressive (but perhaps more interesting) was Eric Roberts. He has an exceptionally expressive face, and with just a few facial gestures or motions of his body, he could channel all of the dim-witted bombast that makes Paulie the loser he is. However, Eric Roberts then proceeds to open his mouth, and you have to wonder if Roberts has ever actually heard another human being speak. I can say with no hesitation that I’ve never heard another person talk the way Eric Robert talks in this movie. I honestly can’t tell if it’s brilliant or horrendous. My opinion would drastically swing one way or the other over the course of any given scene.

For fans of crime movies, this isn’t in the same league as Goodfellas or even the under-rated British film The Long Good Friday, but it’s still something you should give a try if you’re into incredibly well-acted cinema. It moves at its own deliberate pace, and by the time the film ends, you’ll probably wonder if there was any point to what you just watched. But, I highly doubt you’ll consider the film a waste of your time. The more and more I think about Rourke’s performance in this film, the sadder I get about the wasted potential that was his career. Much like River Phoenix (though River died and never had the chance to stage Mickey’s current comeback) in My Own Private Idaho, this is a look at an iconic star in the making who unfortunately took himself out of the picture. Geraldine Page was nominated for an Oscar for this film in a small supporting role as the hard-ass mother of the cop who dies and she was nearly as excellent as Rourke. I also read somewhere that Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) was originally asked to direct this. I think his version of this film could have been a masterpiece since The Deer Hunter still ranks as what I consider to be the greatest war film of all time, bar none.

Final Score: B

 My tastes in music often trend dangerously close into hipster territory. I firmly believe that Radiohead is greatest band since the Beatles and that Panda Bear’s Person Pitch is my generation’s answer to Pet Sounds. While The Suburbs was probably Arcade Fire’s weakest album, I was ecstatic to see it win Best Album at the Grammy’s instead of the other garbage albums that had been nominated. It is perfectly apt then that the first concert film I review for this blog is the seminal classic Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. The Talking Heads were the kings of the art school crowd in the 1980’s, and while I had never really formally introduced myself to their music, this film was a splendid introduction and quickly made the Talking Heads one of my new favorite bands even if I’m mildly convinced that David Byrne isn’t entirely sane.

The film begins with David Byrne entering on stage by himself with just his acoustic guitar and a boom box. He breaks into a solo rendition of the group’s hit “Psycho Killer” which is probably my favorite Talking Heads song. At the end of each song, a new member (or two) of the band joins David Byrne on stage as they go deeper and deeper into the band’s catalog until the whole band (and the band is huge) is on stage rocking out like nobody else on the planet. The film was edited together from three separate concerts but you never actually notice that while the film is being directed. Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) was the man behind the camera and the lighting and cinematography and professional hardly does her work justice. This was easily the most well made concert film I’ve ever seen and that includes the stellar Woodstock documentary.

Like I said earlier, I wasn’t really that familiar with the Talking Heads music before I watched this film. I had heard “Psycho Killer” because of Rock Band and “Burning Down the House” is their most famous song. I had no idea how talented and engaging their music is. I’m literally at a loss for words on how to describe their music. It’s like if you took the funk of Parliament, added in some of the sonic and psychadelic aspects of Pink Floyd, threw in a mix of the New Romantic stuff like the Replacements, sprinkled a little Santana in, and then something that is entirely their own, and you can begin to imagine their incredibly unique sound. You have complex orchestration spread out over a band with almost ten members mixed with a sound and energy that almost makes them feel like a jam band. This is dance music for smart people.

David Byrne is possible insane. He throws himself around in fits and shakes and seizures like he’s Joe Cocker on cocaine. He swivels his hips and prances around the stage like he’s Buddy Holly and wears ridiculously over-sized suits. He makes crazy faces like he’s slowly losing his mind while singing some of the band’s more out there and sinister songs. At one point, he just started doing laps around the stage during an extended bass/lead guitar segment. There was so much manic energy during every second of this performance that it’s a wonder that David Byrne didn’t have a heart attack from the exertion. That energy passed over to every single member of the group who all looked like they were having the times of their lives on that stage and that is part of what made the film so fun.

If you like music and have a scrap of intellect, you should check this one out. It was simply amazing. It’s been a while since I watched a concert film before this, and Woodstock might have been the last one, but now I want to watch more. One of my great regrets in life is that I haven’t had a chance to see more of the bands I love live. I also hate the fact that a lot of my favorite bands are no longer together and still making music. This is must watch cinema.

 Final Score: A