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.


Shawn said...

Hated "Broadcast News". It is well written and acted, but Brooks' character was a selfishort pick who couldnt stand to see Holly Hunter's character happy with someone else. So he broke them up.

Saw most of these in the theater at the time. Ah memories.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for the article, Scott! It's always fun to look back and compare that to today. What a better time for films!

AndrewPrice said...

On the specifics, yeah, I do prefer Robocop II. It flows better to me and it's more entertaining. Robocop is too dark for me.

Predator is all kinds of awesome. You know what? Spaceballs really hasn't held up for me. Lethal Weapon, Adventures in Babysitting, Lost Boys and Wall Street were all amazing. I love Prince of Darkness. Three O'Clock High is a overlooked gem... "You didn't even try... how does that feel?"

Good year for film!

ArgentGale said...

Definitely some good stuff and classics that I need to see! The Untouchables is actually one of my all-time favorite movies, both for the fun factor and a strange reason: back in high school my American History teacher actually showed the movie to his classes, including us! Me and my friends had so many lines from the movies memorized: Capone's baseball speech, Malone's lines before he walks into a trap, and probably our overall favorite: "Where's Nitti?" "He's in the car." Maybe I can catch up on some now that I'm on vacation for a while. =)

- Daniel

PikeBishop said...

A great year for movies. Dragnet was always one of My HBO movies (if you come accross it, you have to watch it to the end, like Untouchables for you) Dragnet also featured probably the first safe sex scene as AIDs became a bigger worry among straight people. Hanks's character looks at his empty box of condoms (called "Titans" heh heh) and does not pursue the encounter with his lovely bed mate still sleeping.

PikeBishop said...

I am in the minority on Spaceballs, but most of it seems flat and forced, and as several critics noted at the time, Brooks made it when everyone was "Star Warsed out", four years after Jedi and ten after the original. Just my opinion

ScottDS said...

Shawn -

I forgot about that. I haven't seen Broadcast News in years... not a movie I'm interested in revisiting. As far as James L. Brooks, I'd like to see As Good As it Gets again to see if it's really overrated, or just me. :-)

ScottDS said...

Andrew and Pike -

Originally I had a line re: Spaceballs - "A perfect movie for 10-year old boys!" and I meant it in a good way. It's not the first movie I go to when I need to laugh, but there's so much residual goodwill, plus the "Spaceballs: The Movie" scene is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen. (Of course, it helps that I was 10 when I first saw it!)

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Interesting, re: Dragnet. It was always one of those movies I'd keep on... one of the best DVD purchases I ever made was the Tom Hanks 3-pack from Universal with this, The Money Pit, and The 'burbs - not bad for $10!

ScottDS said...

Argent -

Yep, The Untouchables is definitely one of those movies! I always liked this exchange:

“You're a treasury officer.”
“How do you know that? I just told you that.”
“Who would claim to be that who was not?”

Rob S. Rice said...

_Robocop_ just... wading into that cocaine factory and neutralizing it was one of the truly great scenes, as was the near-instant imposition of anarchy in Detroit when the police walked. _Adventures in Babysitting_ shifted so effortlessly from the comic to the serious and back again... The Alien Chest-Burster's MUSICAL NUMBER at the very end of _Spaceballs_ nearly burst MY chest... The _Predator's_ fiendish laughter as it triggered its bomb... The emotional whipsaws in _Empire of the Sun_ were VERY effective... Marvelous how DeNiro, Costner, and Connery all sharpened each other and every other actor in _The Untouchables_... 1987 was a lousy year for my family, but the movies took our minds off a lot of it.

ScottDS said...

Rob -

I'm sorry to hear that re: your family.

I was tempted to do 1997 because I didn't know how many memorable movies from 1987 I'd be able to write about. Turns out there were plenty!

PikeBishop said...

Scott: RE that Untouchables scene, in that exchange, Connery gives him a quizzical look and asks, "What do you want? A free lesson in police work?"

ArgentGale said...

Definitely, Scott, and that was another good one! Of course I also can't forget this one

Mountie Captain: Mr. Ness, I do not approve of your methods!
Ness: Yeah, well, you're not from Chicago either.

The only other movie I can remember knowing that many lines from was Blazing Saddles with my cousin. They really don't make them like that anymore, do they?

- Daniel

ScottDS said...

Argent/Daniel -

I used to think it was rose-colored glasses... and there ARE good movies being made today (The Nice Guys is a blast - first new movie I've purchased in a loooong time!)...

...but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Hollywood's batting average used to be better, and there are no doubt a variety of reasons, from pandering to China, to economics (why make 10 small movies that'll make $100 million when you can make one big movie that'll make a billion?), etc.

Half of these movies would probably be cable series if made today!

From my day job at one of the big entertainment ad agencies, I can safely say that studios do value the known and predictable. Too much money on the line to do anything other than "safe." There are some exceptions, though.

Kit said...

Empire of the Sun is an underrated classic. The fall of Shanghai is still powerful.

ScottDS said...

Kit -

Sure is. It's of those movies that, despite being a masterpiece, I'm hesitant to watch again. I don't like the uneasy feeling it leaves me with.

Michael K said...

I was starting my first semester at my alma mater. Saw all the movies involving violence and mayhem listed above. "Predator" was awesome; "If it bleeds we can kill it". I saw "Empire of the Sun" and was pretty bored although I was only 19 at them time. I remember the hymn from the movie, which I cannot name, the scene of the Mustang buzzing the POW camp, and the kid seeing the light from the dropping of the A-bomb; which is probably an impossibility. I remember going to see "Fatal Attraction" at a large theater in Boston. I went with a female friend of a friend and she was grabbing me due to her fright all movie long and I must admit I enjoyed that.

P.S. Will a "Rogue One" review be posted?

AndrewPrice said...

Hi Michael, I'm planning to review Rogue One on Friday.

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