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.
The year's Best Picture and Best Actress winners would emerge in September 1984, but this month is notable for absolutely nothing else. It's a wasteland, to the point that nearly half the titles are currently unavailable on DVD.
The two movies highlighted below were not my first choices. A perfect world would have presented me with The Bear, starring Gary freakin' Busey as Bear freakin' Bryant. It would have been much more fun, not to mention timely with football in full swing. But nope, unavailable.
The Evil That Men Do? Out of print.
The River Rat? Nope.
The Wild Life? Despite being written by Cameron Crowe, it can't be found.
Ninja III: The Domination, starring the white chick from Breakin' as A NINJA? No, but Netflix did kindly offer me Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and 3 Ninjas as alternatives. Dammit.
Seen it before?: No.
Release date: September 28, 1984
Actors: Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard, Wilford Brimley
Director: Richard Pearce (No Mercy, Leap of Faith)
Box office: $9.6 million (#82 in 1984)
"Farmers' rights" was a hot political cause in the mid-'80s, as the government began foreclosing on property that had been in families for generations. The stories of displaced workers particularly interested actress Jessica Lange, who enlisted the help of partner Sam Shepard to highlight the issue.
So yeah, Country is sorta boring.
I imagine it actually works better 25 years later than it did at time of release, because the film serves as a time capsule. It paints what appears to be a completely accurate portrayal of the time, and more importantly, treats its characters with respect. They may live in "flyover country," but there's not one square dance, deer hunt, Civil War reenactment, or any other Hollywood cliche of what country folk are like.
The meat of the story, though, is just a little too black-and-white. Farmers are good, bankers are bad! But when the film seems to suggest Shepard's character isn't that good a farmer, I'm thinking, "Well then, should the bank keep propping him up when he's not repaying his debts?"
Sidenote: In his recently published diaries (an awesome read, no matter your political beliefs), Ronald Reagan actually highlighted the film as "propaganda." I'm not educated enough on the issue to pass judgment on that either way. Grade: C+
All of Me
Seen it before?: Not since the '80s.
Release date: September 21, 1984
Actors: Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant
Director: Carl Reiner (The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Summer School)
Box office: $36.4 million (#23 in 1984)
The final of Steve Martin and Carl Reiner's four collaborations was a showcase for the actor, trying to bridge his "wild and crazy guy" persona with that of a serious performer. And it worked, I guess - but that doesn't mean the movie lives up to its overblown reputation.
Quick synopsis: Lily Tomlin is a dying millionaire, and upon death has her soul accidentally transferred into Steve Martin's body. So Lily controls one half of his body, Steve controls the other half. Wackiness ensues.
Of course, Martin pulls off the physical comedy with seeming ease, but that doesn't excuse the flimsy premise. It's a middling "Saturday Night Live" sketch stretched to feature length, and not worth the efforts of the people involved. Grade: C
Other films 25 years old this month:
Amadeus - The eventual 1984 Best Picture winner, and one of the more deserving honorees of the decade. Years ago, I was assigned to substitute teach a high school music class. Every single class, for three straight days, was assigned to watch this movie. I never got tired of it, and if I'm not remembering this too romantically, the usually jaded kids enjoyed it as well.
The Bear - No, not the nature flick about an actual bear from the early '90s, but Gary Busey donning the houndstooth as the legendary Alabama coach. And yeah, unavailable on DVD, which is a crime against sobriety.
Body Rock - Lorenzo Lamas struts his stuff in this dance drama, in the vein of classics such as Beat Street and Breakin'. I'll be honest - I didn't even check to see if this was available on Netflix. I don't like you people nearly that much.
The Brother From Another Planet - Writer/director John Sayles delivered this immigration parable about an alien who crashlands on - wait for it - Ellis Island. Heavy.
The Evil That Men Do - One day, a book will be written about Charles Bronson's output in the '80s. There must have been some shady international tax shenanigans going on. He starred in eight films between 1983 and 1989, and only two cracked $10 million at the box office (this one and Death Wish III, both barely). Somebody was presumably losing fistfuls of cash, and yet wretched titles such as Assassination and Messenger of Death kept getting pumped out despite zero interest stateside. I assume Bronson was more popular internationally than here, but could it have been by that wide a margin?
Exterminator II - The film's IMDB page has a telling comment: "Probably inspired by Michael Jackson's video 'Beat It.'" Which, in my mind, translates to "Why the holy hell haven't I seen this?"
Heartbreakers - Obviously not the 2001 Jennifer Love Hewitt comedy, but a Peter Coyote flick about two friends who fall for the same woman. I'm pretty sure that concept wasn't even close to original in 1984.
Impulse - A toxic spill causes small town residents to lose all inhibitions and give in to their basest instincts. Starring Hume Cronyn. Ok, it sounded good for a second.
Irreconcilable Differences - E.T. cutie Drew Barrymore files for divorce from her parents (Shelley Long and Ryan O'Neal). And a young Sharon Stone shows her boobs. That's about the only part I remember, to be honest.
Ninja III: The Domination - Again, it's the white chick from Breakin' as a ninja! How awesome. This title always confused me as a kid, because there were no movies simply called Ninja and Ninja II. It turns out this is a continuation of Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, with the common link being actor Sho Kosugi. Even though his character's name is different in each film. So, yeah - I'm still confused.
Places in the Heart - The Best Actress winner mentioned above. Sally Field earned her second Oscar in this farming drama - so yes, while 1998 had the battle of asteroids-hitting-Earth movies, 1984 had the battle of female-driven farm dramas. Possibly the only '80s vs. '90s battle in which the latter decade emerges victorious. (Field's Oscar win here, incidentally, produced the infamous "You like me! You really like me!" speech).
The River Rat - Tommy Lee Jones stars as an ex-con who bonds with his daughter while building a boat together - but leave it up to a shady warden (Brian Dennehy, in-between shady sheriff roles) to throw a wrench in those plans! Bum-bum-bummmm!
A Soldier's Story - A racially charged whodunit, mostly known for putting Denzel Washington on the map.
Until September - When Karen Allen recently appeared at Atlanta's DragonCon sci-fi convention, I wonder how many people asked her about this Paris-set romance co-starring Thierry Lhermitte? HUNDREDS, probably. (Well, it was from the director of Return of the Jedi. No, I'm actually serious about that part.)
The Warrior and the Sorceress - A Conan the Barbarian knockoff, starring - get this - David Carradine. And proclaimed to be a remake of - no really, get this - Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. I'll let IMDB describe: "The mighty warrior, Kain, crosses the barren wastelands of the planet Ura, where two arch enemies, Zeg and the evil degenerate Balcaz, fight incessantly for control of the village's only well." I'm actually devastated this isn't available on Netflix.
The Wild Life - This was basically an attempt to recreate Fast Times at Ridgemont High two years later. Fast Times producer Art Linson directed, Fast Times screenwriter Cameron Crowe wrote the script, Fast Times actor Eric Stoltz starred. Since you probably haven't seen it, can't quote a single line, or name a single character, I don't have to tell you if it was successful or not.
Windy City - John Shea and Kate Capshaw star in this couples dramedy set in - damn, I forget.
Quarter Back: August 1984
Quarter Back: July 1984
Quarter Back: June 1984
Quarter Back: May 1984
Quarter Back: April 1984