Monday, July 27, 2009

Quarter Back: July 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.

Trust me, I'm aware this blog is read by journalists worldwide, and is a trendsetter and pop culture standard bearer. The pressure weighs on me daily. However, if you're going to rip me off, at least throw some credit my way.

Anyway, the summer of '84 continues, though most of July's releases were swallowed by the still-rolling Ghostbusters, Gremlins and The Karate Kid. Audiences didn't find time for most of the following films - and they were better for it.

Featured Movies

Best Defense
Seen it before?: Never.
Release date: July 20, 1984
Actors: Dudley Moore, Eddie Murphy, Kate Capshaw
Director: Willard Huyck (Howard the Duck)
Box office: $19.3 million (#56 in 1984)

Eddie Murphy's star blazed after 1982's 48 Hrs. and 1983's Trading Places, but one Dudley Moore comedy had him back at his old "Saturday Night Live" stomping grounds. He hosted the show in December '84, and pinned his presence squarely on Best Defense.

"Best Defense turned out to be the worst movie ever done in the history of anything, and all of a sudden, I wasn't that hot no more," he said in the show's opening monologue. "So, I called up the producer of 'Saturday Night Live,' and I go, 'Um, you still got my dressing room?' So, I signed the contracts to host the Christmas show, and while I was waiting for Christmas to come, sitting in my house by myself, somebody brought me a script for a movie called Beverly Hills Cop. Did Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop is a hit, all of a sudden, I'm an actor again. But, it's too late to pull out, so I had to host the show."

So is Murphy being too hard on Best Defense? Is it the the worst movie ever in the history of anything? Well, considering Patch Adams was still 14 years away from release, the answer is a resounding "quite possibly."

In the film, Moore plays an engineer working on a, uh, computer system for a tank. Or something. I watched the damn movie six days ago, and have already forgotten. In a separate story that takes place three years later, Murphy plays the driver of said tank. The two story threads are interwoven like a flash-forward episode of "Lost," except this damn thing is even harder to follow.

(Rumor is that Best Defense was originally Murphy-less. After a few disasterous test-screenings, Paramount threw a few million Eddie's way, and his whole storyline was conceived way after the fact. Given the bizarre structure of the film, Murphy's billing as a "strategic guest star," and the fact Moore and Murphy never share a scene, I completely believe this).

Director Willard Huyck would get one more chance to helm a film, and the result was the legendary disaster Howard the Duck. Just last year, he was credited as a producer on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Somebody stop him. Grade: F

The Last Starfighter
Seen it before?: A long, long time ago in a galaxy a few miles from here. Little memory of it.
Release date: July 13, 1984
Actors: Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart
Director: Nick Castle (The Boy Who Could Fly, Major Payne)
Box office: $28.7 million (#31 in 1984)

"Kids, we know you spend all of your damn time playing video games! But it could be for a good cause! See, that video game could have been planted at your trailer park by an alien race, and they could be scouting for real pilots to help them defeat an evil space villain about as menacing as Elton John! So keep staring at that screen for hours on end, and a ship might show up soon to make you an intergalatic hero!"

Yeah, that's about it. It's no surprise Atari worked closely with the filmmakers.

The Last Starfighter was one of about a thousand early '80s flicks to try and profit from the success of Star Wars. It had a decent enough premise and good performances, but it failed as trailblazer. Rushing to be the first movie to use 100% computer-created special effects (as opposed to models), the filmmakers didn't seem to realize the technology just wasn't there yet. Grade: C

Other films 25 years old this month:

The Bostonians - Christopher Reeve and Vanessa Redgrave star in this adaptation of Henry James' 1886 novel. Somehow I missed this firecracker.

Cheech and Chong's The Corsican Brothers - The sixth and (presumably) final Cheech & Chong movie is a loose - extremely loose - adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novella. My only surviving mental image of this film is Cheech hanging from barn rafters without pants. And who knows, I could have dreamed that. It sounds like something I'd dream.

Electric Dreams - A champagne-soaked computer comes to life and romances Virginia Madsen. Really. Part of Hollywood's short-lived belief that kids would see anything with a computer in it, after it worked a grand total of once with Wargames.

The Jungle Book - You old, over-30 folks remember when Disney would release one of its "classics" back to theaters every summer, a tradition that died when the video market boomed. Summer '84 saw the return of the 1967 jungle comedy, and it added $23 million to the Mousehouse's coffers. And Disney is just about to relaunch this theatrical strategy - sort of. Instead of just putting the same ol' film on screens again, the next year will see 3-D versions of Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Beauty and the Beast.

Meatballs II - Typically, '80s movie franchises started off R-rated, but descended into kid-friendly territory for the sequels. It happened with Major League, Police Academy, Revenge of the Nerds, Robocop and Vacation. Running the opposite way, though, was Meatballs. The first two - one starring Bill Murray, one starring a pre-Pee Wee Paul Reubens - were PG, while III and IV were raunchy tits-and-giggles wankfests. Respectively starring Mssrs. Haim and Feldman, oddly enough.

The Muppets Take Manhattan - The image of Kermit riding a bicycle still haunts me.

The Neverending Story - Almost four years ago, I wrote about wanting to see a remake of this. Not that there's anything wrong with the original - it was easily one of my childhood favorites - but I'd love to see this story with modern effects. Well, it's happening. I'm cautiously interested.

Purple Rain - Prince's one and only hit movie. It was followed by a small string of flops, including the Purple Rain-sequel-nobody-knew-was-a-Purple Rain-sequel, Graffiti Bridge. I finally saw this a few years ago, and it isn't good. At all. Not sure what our mid-'80s brethren got so worked up about.

Revenge of the Nerds - Of all the boob-baring '80s comedies trying to emulate Porky's, this was easily the best. Legitimately funny script, some memorable performances, a fun soundtrack. And yeah, boobs.

Quarter Back: June 1984
Quarter Back: May 1984
Quarter Back: April 1984

1 comment:

LH Dumb T said...

"The first two - one starring Bill Murray, one starring a pre-Pee Wee Paul Reubens - were PG, while III and IV were raunchy tits-and-giggles wankfests. Respectively starring Mssrs. Haim and Feldman, oddly enough."

Corection: Haim did not appear in a Meatballs movie. Meatballs 3 starred Patrick Dempsey and Meatballs 4 starred Corey Feldman