Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quarter Back: October 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.

In 1984, I watched every movie I could get my hands on. Of course, at 8 years old, I was stuck on what my parents deemed safe, which means I watched the same movies over and over. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky III - so yeah, basically the same movies I watch over and over today.

I'm guessing October '84 was spent around the glow of a warm VCR, because I certainly didn't see any of these titles in theaters. Yeah, for some reason, my mom didn't take me to see Mr. Universe as a killer cyborg, a Diane Keaton Israeli/Palestinian drama, or a celebration of the goriest movie moments in Hollywood history. Weird, huh?

Featured Movies

Stop Making Sense
Seen it before?: No.
Release date: October 19, 1984
Actors: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison
Director: Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia)
Box office: $4.9 million (#112 in 1984)

Twenty-five years ago, Jonathan Demme delivered what was instantly considered one of the greatest concert films of all time. It opened with David Byrne standing on a bare stage, acoustic guitar in hand, performing his now classic "Psycho Killer." With each song, new equipment would be wheeled out and a bandmember would join - a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, back-up singers, etc. Not until the sixth song was Talking Heads there in toto.

It's as cool as it sounds. And it's easy to remember why Talking Heads were such a huge band of the moment - "Psycho Killer," "Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime," "Once in a Lifetime," "Girlfriend Is Better," "Take Me to the River." All fantastic songs.

The problem is, after that electric opening, I remembered I don't really like concert films. Prince's Sign O' the Times bored me to tears, and even U2's Rattle & Hum never garnered a second viewing (and I worshipped every other aspect of '80s and '90s U2). And I have to admit to never seeing other "classics" of the genre, Gimme Shelter or Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz.

I don't know, I just don't find it very interesting to watch a band perform - especially when you're missing the all-encompassing sound, the electricity of an audience, and the alcohol buzz that enhances the electricity. There's some artistry there, I get it, but are the cool parts cool because they are for you, or because you're imagining they are for the audience? Byrne is one of rock and roll's standouts as far as stage presence goes, and of course the music is great. But you're not there, you're not with them, and it's different and sorta boring by comparison. Grade: B-

Seen it before?: Long, long ago, and only the edited-for-TV version.
Release date: October 5, 1984
Actors: Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Ralph Macchio
Director: Arthur Hiller (Love Story, Silver Streak, Outrageous Fortune)
Box office: $27.8 million (#33 in 1984)

The movie was clearly a moderate hit, as its box office standing reveals. (The #33 films of the past few years were High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Beowulf and Jackass: Number Two, all regarded as successes). Looking back, though, I'm confused who it was made for.

We have Nick Nolte (48 Hrs.), JoBeth Williams (The Big Chill) and Judd Hirsch ("Taxi") - so clearly, a movie for adults. But then we have Ralph Macchio (four months off The Karate Kid), and a liberal sprinkling of bad sitcom humor - so clearly, a movie for teens. And then the rub: two movies in one, but neither is particularly memorable.

Nolte is a teacher in a rough New York City high school, hit on every side by a collection of soap operatic cliches. A kid graduated that can't read. A loner acts out, but he really has a heart of gold. Somebody has a gun in a locker. One of the girls is pregnant, and a teacher is the father. There's an undercover cop posing as a student (seriously, has this ever happened outside of TV and movies?). There's a mean district boss threatening to fire everyone.

I'm assuming the movie is called Teachers and not Students for a reason, and that it wants Nolte and the adults to be the focus. But it all seems so juvenile. There's a good movie in there somewhere, even a good comedy that can examine the real problems of a teacher. But this one is too confused to be it. Grade: C-

Other films 25 years old this month:

American Dreamer - The month of JoBeth Williams, apparently. In this romantic adventure, she played a car crash victim who wakes up thinking she's an international spy. I don't know, I prefer my car crash victims to wake up as ACTUAL international spies, a'la The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Body Double - Ah, the '80s - a more innocent time when people actually wanted to see Melanie Griffith naked. She starred in this Brian DePalma murder mystery, kicking off a leading-lady career that would run for about 10 years, cresting with 1988's Working Girl. And like many other '80s leading ladies, she hasn't appeared in anything you've heard of for a while.

Comfort and Joy - Writer-director Bill Forsyth, who has spent his career making movies you've never seen, added another one onto the pile with this tale of the Glasgow ice cream market. Starring Bill Paterson, now the star of "Law & Order: UK," which really does exist.

Crimes of Passion - I mentioned Melanie Griffith, but nobody had a steeper fall from sexual grace than Kathleen Turner. In 1984, she was sexy as all hell in Romancing the Stone and this thriller, but as Bill Simmons recently pointed out, 10 years later she was Chandler's cross-dressing dad on "Friends." I mean, here's a before and after - but really, for your sanity, don't even look. Robert Zemeckis recently announced a Roger Rabbit sequel, but can she even voice Jessica Rabbit again? Won't you be thinking of that "after" picture every time she speaks?

Eureka - Gene Hackman played a rich man dealing with the downside of wealth in the 1940s. Despite a cast that included Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci, I have NEVER heard of this. Am I alone?

Firstborn - This family drama is now more notable for its supporting cast (Robert Downey Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker) than its actual stars (Peter Weller, Teri Garr, Christopher Collet). Of course, the only reason I saw this as a kid was Corey Haim. Because, believe me - there was a time when Corey Haim was completely badass. Remember that the next time you attack today's youth for liking The Jonas Brothers.

Garbo Talks - Gilbert has just learned that his Greta Garbo-worshiping mother (Anne Bancroft) has six months to live, and attempts to make her final wish come true - she wants to meet the reclusive actress. Garbo didn't take part in this film or any other one for the last 49 years of her life. Hope that's not a spoiler.

The Little Drummer Girl - I thought this was a Christmas movie for years. In fact, it's a somber meditation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict starring Diane Keaton. So I was close.

The Ploughman's Lunch - If you're dying to dabble in the politics of mid-'80s Britain, you're in luck with this drama starring Jonathan Pryce. If not, there's always Transformers 2.

The Razor's Edge - Columbia Pictures wanted Bill Murray for Ghostbusters, but the comedian wasn't quite as gung-ho. So a deal was struck - he'd do the paranormal comedy, but only if the studio would finance his dream project, this adaptation of the W. Somerset Maughan novel. In it, Murray played against type as a World War I veteran who visited Paris, India and Nepal in search of the meaning of life. Columbia lost a bit on the film, as it made only half its $12 million budget back. But considering the $291 million Ghostbusters pulled in, the Columbia execs weren't kicking themselves.

Songwriter - Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson starred in this comedy set in the country music world. Limits weren't really stretched, no.

Stranger Than Paradise - Jim Jarmusch's black comedy is still worshipped in the independant movie world, as it served as a kind of kickoff to the Spike Lee/Steven Soderbergh/Miramax era of indie dominance.

The Terminator - Well, if you knew one August '84 release would still be spawning sequels 25 years later, you wouldn't guess Garbo Talks: Salvation would be at a theater near you. But still, what this James Cameron film created is nothing short of amazing; in dollars, in special effects milestones, and in its reach (remember, there was a recent TV show as well). The franchise kickoff is definitely more dated than the sequels, but is by far the most frightening.

Terror in the Aisles - Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen hosted this theatrical documentary (sort of) about the history of horror movies. Basically, it was just a glorified clipshow, stringing scenes together from Alien, Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, Halloween and about 75 more. A relic of the pre-Youtube era.

Thief of Hearts - This was Steven Bauer's one grasp at leading man status, coming off his performance as Al Pacino's brother in Scarface. Five years later, he was Christian Slater's brother in Gleaming the Cube. Obviously, it didn't take.

Quarter Back: September 1984
Quarter Back: August 1984
Quarter Back: July 1984
Quarter Back: June 1984
Quarter Back: May 1984
Quarter Back: April 1984


Stanicek said...

I love the idea of Garbo Talks: Salvation - it would startle the hell out of people. Making part 4 of a movie that 1) no one has ever heard of and 2) didn't have a parts 2 or 3. But by this time in the franchise all the original cast members are out - and we got robot-zombies and monkey sidekicks. I'm there.

NCT said...

I'd like to give a shout-out to Kathleen Turner in Body Heat and The Man With Two Brains.