Thursday, December 29, 2016

Where Were You in ’87?

by ScottDS

Last year I jumped back 20 years but this time I’m doing 30 years again. I had forgotten how many classic movies were released in 1987. Of course, I was four years old and not aware of any of them, though several later became favorites, starting with the first two.

RoboCop – I still can’t believe Andrew prefers the second film to this one! For my money, Paul Verhoeven’s blood-soaked satire is a near-perfect movie. Volumes have been written about the film’s satire of 80s America and Verhoeven’s outsider perspective (not to mention the Jesus metaphors) but the film really works both as a corporate satire, but also as an old-fashioned western. What is RoboCop, if not a sheriff who’s come in to clean up the town? They don’t make them like this anymore: memorable characters, quotable dialogue, a heroic musical score, and at the heart of the film, a genuinely human story. The film was followed by two sequels, a cartoon, a low-budget TV series, a series of Canadian TV movies, and a forgettable remake. “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

Predator – One of the best “guy movies” ever made, Predator tells the story of Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer who leads a Special Forces team into the jungle on a rescue mission, only to find out their enemy is not of this Earth. The Predator (designed by the late Stan Winston) has become one of our iconic screen monsters. The cast, including Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and future filmmaker Shane Black, is an absolute blast. McTiernan would follow this up with Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and Shane Black is currently working on a new Predator film with his Monster Squad collaborator Fred Dekker. “I ain't got time to bleed.” This leads me to…

The Monster Squad – A box-office failure upon its release, this charming film has since become a cult classic. Fred Dekker, who was later sent to director jail after RoboCop 3, co-wrote and directed this story of a group of young nerds who have to battle the old Universal monsters. A wonderful “backyard adventure” in the Spielberg style (but without the success!) and the origin of the fan favorite line “Wolfman’s got nards!” I haven’t seen it in years but it’s just a fun movie. It’s also pretty un-PC: at one point, Dracula is threatening a young girl and screams “You bitch!!” to her face. Go figure…

Fatal Attraction – A classic I watched for the first time just recently. What amazed me was how casual Michael Douglas and Glenn Close are about the whole thing, at least at the start. They’re both adults, his wife and daughter are out of town, so why not have some fun? Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Some, including Glenn Close, have speculated that her character suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Aside from the lack of cell phones, this movie is also dated in another way: it was released back when Hollywood made actual adult dramas, for adults, with adults acting like adults and not overgrown children. This film was the second highest-grossing film of 1987. Can you imagine that now? “I’m not going to be ignored!”

Moonstruck – Another perfectly pleasant film. Cher stars as a Brooklyn accountant who falls for the brother of the guy to whom she’s engaged. Norman Jewison directs a script by acclaimed playwright John Patrick Shanley (best known to me for Joe vs. the Volcano and, of course, Congo). Yet another classic I watched relatively recently for the first time. I’ve noticed that the best romantic comedies make it look easy. It’s difficult to make any movie, but romantic comedies… I mean, it’s just people. And we can all relate to these stories, whether it’s crazy relatives or getting over a bad breakup, or simply falling for someone who will never feel the same way. This is another genre that Hollywood doesn’t do much nowadays and I think it’s a shame. “Snap out of it!”

Broadcast News – I haven’t seen all of James L. Brooks’ movies, but I found As Good As it Gets to be a bit overrated. Needless to say, Broadcast News is considered to be not only a classic romantic comedy but also an excellent look at the news gathering process. Holly Hunter is Jane, a news producer with no personal life. Albert Brooks is Aaron, a long-time friend of Jane’s and a reporter who sweats profusely on camera, and William Hurt is Tom, a tall and handsome reporter who may have some problems in the ethics department. Another movie just about people trying to have a normal life in a workplace that’s anything but that. “Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?”

The Untouchables – One of Brian De Palma’s most successful movies, this is one I have to keep on when it shows up on TV. Kevin Costner is Elliot Ness, a Prohibition agent who goes after Chicago gangster Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro. Yes, the filmmakers (including screenwriter David Mamet) played around with history a little bit but the final product is just so much fun. Sean Connery won an Oscar for playing Malone, an old Irish cop who partners with Ness. Not only do Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith get in on the fun, be on the lookout for Patricia Clarkson in one of her earliest roles as Ness’ wife. The highlight is probably the Union Station sequence, De Palma’s homage to Eisenstein. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun!”

Dragnet – This is a total guilty pleasure! A comedic remake of/sequel to the original TV series, Dan Aykroyd was born to play Joe Friday, who loves to explain police rules and regulations in his trademark staccato. Tom Hanks, back when he was a “comedic actor,” plays his mismatched partner, the oddly-named Pep Streebeck. They’re tasked with investigating a series of arson fires and it all ties in to a Los Angeles porno king (a lisping Dabney Coleman) and a phony preacher (a wonderfully-sneering Christopher Plummer). There is actually an interesting idea here: when it comes to public outrage, one side can’t exist without the other. But it doesn’t matter – this movie is just bizarre, with cult rituals, a virgin heroine, and some pretty funny gags. “Pagans!”

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Oh boy. Two words for you: Cannon Films, who purchased the Superman cinematic rights from the Salkinds, and then proceeded to slash the film’s budget at the last minute. In this one, Superman decides to rid the world of all nuclear weapons (breaking Tom Mankiewicz’ rule that Superman shouldn’t get involved in real-world events). Lex Luthor seeks to profit from this and ends up creating one of the worst screen villains ever: Nuclear Man. Most of the effects are laughable and the plot itself is borderline nonsensical (45 minutes were cut)… but Reeve gives it his all, Hackman is always fun to watch, and the music score – what survived, anyway – is pretty great. “Destroy Superman!”

Spaceballs – Not nearly as witty as The Producers or as political as Blazing Saddles, this movie is still hilarious. Even people who haven’t seen this film are probably familiar with “Use the Schwartz!” Sadly, this film is sort of a time capsule. John Candy and Rick Moranis were staples of my childhood and while Moranis has been retired from Hollywood for years and currently lives in New York City, Candy left us much too early. Making sequels after a long period of time rarely works but this is one instance where I’d be interested to see what they do, especially with Star Wars back in theaters for all eternity. “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Speaking of John Candy, another staple of my childhood who left us much too soon was filmmaker John Hughes. Sixteen Candles might be my favorite Brat Pack film but this is my favorite Hughes film period. Steve Martin is just trying to make it home for Thanksgiving when he befriends a loudmouth shower curtain ring salesman (John Candy) and shenanigans ensue. When my brother and I were younger, we re-enacted the “You're going the wrong way!” scene for dad's new camcorder. (At the time, my brother was short enough to stand on the driver's seat without hitting the roof!) A sweet movie and a holiday classic. “Those aren’t pillows!”

Empire of the Sun – Steven Spielberg’s dramatization of J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel features a young Christian Bale as a boy separated from his parents after the Japanese invade Shanghai at the start of World War II. This is one of Spielberg’s masterpieces and it’s a shame it’s not as well-known as Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. Oddly, I tend to consider it alongside A.I. in that both films deal with parental separation and both leave me feeling uneasy by the end. (Is there a shrink in the house?!) Production values are top-notch, John Williams’ score is excellent, and look for John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano, and a young Ben Stiller. “P-51! Cadillac of the sky!”

September – One of Woody Allen’s humorless melodramas – coming after 1978’s Interiors and followed by 1988’s Another Woman (the best of the three), September is a chamber piece and the plot is the usual Woody: upper-crust New Yorkers dealing with relationship drama and trying to make sense of a chaotic universe. The production history is more interesting: Woody cast the film, re-cast one role just a few weeks into production, finished the film, decided it didn’t work… then re-cast it and filmed it again! “It's hell getting’ older. Especially when you feel 21 inside.”

Lethal Weapon – Richard Donner’s film more or less reinvented the buddy cop movie. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover have excellent chemistry as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh: Riggs is depressed and suicidal while Murtaugh is a normal family man dealing with turning 50. While investigating the death of a young woman, they discover a heroine smuggling ring run by Vietnam War-era mercenaries. The movie could’ve been a forgettable potboiler but Gibson and Glover elevate the material, the villains are genuinely menacing, and Donner’s at the height of his directorial powers. This film was followed by three sequels, a spoof (Loaded Weapon, which is actually pretty funny), and is currently a TV series on Fox. “I’m too old for this shit!”

Also: Adventures in Babysitting, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Big Easy, Can’t Buy Me Love, Death Wish 4, Dirty Dancing, Evil Dead II, Good Morning, Vietnam, Hamburger Hill, Hellraiser, Innerspace, Ishtar, Jaws: The Revenge, The Last Emperor, Less Than Zero, The Living Daylights, The Lost Boys, Masters of the Universe, The Miami Connection, Near Dark, No Way Out, The Princess Bride, Prince of Darkness, Raising Arizona, Revenge of the Nerds II, The Running Man, The Secret of My Success, Stakeout, Three Men and a Baby, Three O’Clock High, Throw Mama from the Train, Tin Men, Wall Street, and The Witches of Eastwick.
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