Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quarter Back: June 1984

Quarter Back is a monthly feature looking back at the movies of 25 years ago. One movie will be watched for the first time, one will be revisited.

Now THIS is a month.

Look at the number of very good-to-great movies June '84 offered us. Twenty-five years later, we're still talking about The Karate Kid, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Once Upon a Time In America, Star Trek III, and Top Secret. Even Bachelor Party was deemed popular enough to warrant a straight-to-video sequel just two years ago.

Flash forward another 25 - is Transformers 2 going to escape anybody's lips? The Proposal? Land of the Lost? Only The Hangover seems to have a shot at pseudo-immortality.

There are always going to be bad movies. An era - a month, a year, a decade - has to be judged on the good ones. And that's why the next person who says "Hollywood sucked in the '80s!" is going to be punched in the throat.

Featured Movies

The Pope of Greenwich Village
Seen it before?: Never.
Release date: June 22, 1984
Actors: Mickey Rourke, Daryl Hannah, Eric Roberts
Director: Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Amityville Horror)
Box office: $6.8 million (#97 in 1984)

Well, Eric Roberts did it. He went "full retard."

The problem, though, is Roberts wasn't actually playing a mentally handicapped person in The Pope of Greenwich Village. Julia's older brother was then Eric Roberts, Golden Globe Nominee (for 1983's Star 80) - and he obviously believed his own press, overacting the juju out of a fairly generic "shady friend" role. Paired with Mickey Rourke's typically dour, slow, quiet, will-you-please-show-a-fucking-emotion-you-smirking-bastard early '80s persona, Roberts comes off like an A.D.D. kid having a seizure after eating 20 packs of Fun Dip. A movie-ruining performance.

The plot? Eh, basically Rounders, with Rourke as Damon, Roberts as Norton, substituting poker for safe-cracking, and adding Daryl Hannah in a leotard. Boom. Grade: C-

The Karate Kid
Seen it before?: Only about a million times, dude.
Release date: June 22, 1984
Actors: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (in an Oscar-nominated performance), Elisabeth Shue, The Zabka
Director: John G. Avildsen (Rocky, Lean On Me, 8 Seconds)
Box office: $90.8 million (#5 in 1984)

I put this DVD in last night, planning to, ya know, listen to it while doing other things. I had a list of things to do more important than watching a movie I'd seen 50 times between 1984 and 1987, and about 20 times since - including when I made my half-Japanese fiancee watch it for the first time. Because, seriously, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san are perhaps the most important literary characters in each of her cultures, and she should recognize.

Anyway, of course I ended up watching the entire thing beginning-to-end. Laundry not done. Filing incomplete. Weeds not whacked. But that's ok, because one thing hit me when watching The Karate Kid for the first time with a semi-critical eye.

What. A. Script.

Seriously, how many moments from this film are completely engrained in our pop culture aura? Look at this list of lines and moments, and think of how they still crop up from time-to-time:

  • "Wax on, wax off."
  • "Sweep the leg."
  • catching flies with chopsticks
  • "Daniel-san."
  • "Finish him!"
  • cutting bonsai trees
  • "Get him a body bag!"
  • "Mercy is for the weak."
And, of course, there's Daniel lining up for the crane kick, which is one of the top 10 cinematic images of the decade. What would be more indelible? E.T. and Elliot connecting fingers. Willem Dafoe reaching up for the sky. Marty McFly with a trail of fire running between his legs. Jack Nicholson smiling through the shredded door. Han Solo frozen in Carbonite. After that, what? Tom Cruise tossing liquor bottles?

Nope, it's Ralph Macchio - all 95 whiny pounds of him - ready to kick a little ass and bang Elisabeth Shue. Certainly not based on a true story, but awesome nonetheless. Grade: A

Other films 25 years old this month:

Another Country - A British lad suffers the trials and tribulations of being gay in the 1930s. Hot. Featuring way-before-famous performances by Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Cary Elwes.

Bachelor Party - Remember when Tom Hanks used to be funny? We saw a hint of it during last month's "Saturday Night Live" cameo, but too many of his recent performances have had him acting like a somber twat, muttering things like "Da Vinci!" Sad.

Beat Street - If this were made now, Beat Street 2 The Streets would already be in production. Which would be a great title. The mid-'80s were certainly the golden era of perfectly awful hip hop-themed flicks - this, Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Krush Groove. They would soon be replaced by lambada-centered travesties, and Rae Dawn Chong would never work again.

The Cannonball Run II - I've covered this classic a couple of times. Those movies really are funny, I promise.

Careful, He Might Hear You - I thought this was that early Tom Hanks horror movie, but that was He Knows You're Alone. Wait, hold on - checking IMDB - a British custody drama? Really? With that title, did anybody else expect a slasher flick?

Conan the Destroyer - "Ok, guys. Conan the Barbarian was a big hit, one of the top 20 of 1982. We have a brand new star, Arnold Schwarzensomething, on our hands. So obviously, we need a sequel! Except this time, let's forget the serious action. Instead of making it R-rated like the original, let's go PG! And instead of stuffy old esteemed co-stars like James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow, let's pair Arnold with Wilt Chamberlain and Grace Jones! Gold, I tell you, gold!"

Ghostbusters/Gremlins - I'm pairing these together because I'm amazed to find they were released on the same day. I was eight years old on June 8th, 1984, and what better summer vacation present could I have gotten? Two smart, fun, PG-rated flicks that didn't treat me like I was a moron or a baby. Kids of today should be so lucky.

Once Upon a Time In America - Director Sergio Leone's final film was a four-hour epic covering a group of New York gangsters from the 1920s until 1960s. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci worked together for the second time, and were joined by James Woods (later with them in Casino), Danny Aiello and Burt Young. The film debut of one Miss Jennifer Connelly.

Rhinestone - Sylvester Stallone isn't the quickest learner. It took him three comedies over eight years - this, Oscar and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot - to realize that genre wasn't his thing. But pairing him with Dolly Parton was just ever-so-obvious, right?

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock - The squeaky spoke in the "all odd-numbered Trek movies suck" argument. Solid flick.

Streets of Fire - Oh, Michael Pare, your stint as a leading man was ever-so-short. Eddie and the Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment, and this, all released within a year of each other. And then, fini. At least you got to hang out with Diane Lane during this.

Top Secret! - The great unheralded Zucker movie. I'd place this as a solid second place, just behind Airplane and a smidge ahead of The Naked Gun. Much like The Funny Tom Hanks, I miss The Funny Val Kilmer. And the "backward scene" should have garnered an honorary Oscar.

Under the Volcano - A British dude living in Mexico gets drunk. I'm sure there's more to it than this, as it comes from Albert Finney and the director of The African Queen. I just can't be bothered to find out (I get lazier as we get to the bottom).

Quarter Back: May 1984
Quarter Back: April 1984


Stanicek said...

Funny...I do recall being thrown for a serious loop seeing the Christmas-set Gremlins in the summer...it was 6 year old heaven - monsters, summer vacation, Christmas AND toy tie-ins. And what would I be watching if I was 6 years old now? Yet ANOTHER Pixar movie?! No thanks, I'm going back to 1984.

Josh M. said...

I note some sarcasm - as if pointing out that Pixar movies also don't treat kids like they're dumb or a baby. BUT... no Pixar movie has ever revealed there's no Santa Claus or called anybody "dickless." Until Pixar does that, it remains a step below.

Josh M. said...

And. And. And airplane flying dogs. A perfectly good movie knocked on its ass by AIRPLANE FLYING DOGS.

Stanicek said...

No sarcasm, seriously, I don't dig on animated movies...give me tiny little puppets killing old ladies by shooting her out a window any day.