Thursday, December 31, 2009

Quarter Back: December 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.

Featured Movies

Seen it before?: No.
Release date: December 21, 1984
Actors: Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage
Director: Alan Parker (Angel Heart, The Commitments, Evita)
Box office: $1.5 million (#147 in 1984)

People love to bag on Nicolas Cage for suddenly becoming a weirdo - the silly haircuts, the flaring eyeballs, the overenunciated syllables. But what they forget is Cage has always been a nut. From his falsetto voice in 1985's Peggy Sue Got Married, to his live cockroach-munching in 1989's Vampire's Kiss, to his Elvis fetish blossoming in 1990's Wild at Heart, the craziness ain't exactly a product of this millennium. Really, it's just his movies aren't as good these days.

Cage had one of his earliest starring roles in Birdy, and there are sure signs of the electricity we're so used to now. The decibel outbursts are there, and his mania is housed in the lanky frame of a teenager, making it all the more manic. He plays Al, a popular neighborhood guy who becomes fascinated with the local weirdo - a kid obsessed with birds (Matthew Modine, at the time a much safer bet for A-list stardom).

Well, it turns out his obsession - mixed in with a healthy dose of Vietnam - drives the kid to the brink of insanity. Our tale is told through flashbacks, the "present" being Cage visiting Modine in an asylum, trying to talk him back from the brink of permanent residence.

Birdy walks the fine line many films about "crazy people" do - in the wrong actor's hands, the audience can lose empathy with a character and just find him annoying. And there are points where I wanted to punch both guys in the face, one for being so weird, and one for caring about somebody so weird. I just had problems relating to a guy who liked to curl up naked and sleep in a bird cage. Maybe I'm the crazy one. Grade: C+

Seen it before?: Yes, but not in awhile.
Release date: December 7, 1984
Actors: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Keir Dullea
Director: Peter Hyams (Timecop, End of Days, Stay Tuned, The Presidio)
Box office: $40.4 million (#17 in 1984)

My love for Star Wars and its sequels was firmly established by 1984, and my parents reacted by taking me to any movie about outer space. I mean, I loved Han Solo, so anything with spacecraft and starscapes would be perfect, right? No matter the content, no matter the rating, no matter if it was a sequel to a film I'd never seen - if it had space in it, it was for Josh.

In theaters, I saw Dune - a bizarre adaptation of an even more bizarre novel, involving torture, murder, abstract concepts such as "folding space," and giant worms that arise from the ground and devour anybody on the surface. In theaters, I saw Aliens - a classic, yet horrific R-rated roller coaster, a sequel to a film I'd never seen, and a terror way out of my 10-year-old league. In theaters, I saw Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone - which just sucked.

It seems bizarre to me now, but I remember loving my 1984 multiplex trip to see 2010. Again, it was a sequel to a movie I hadn't yet heard of, featuring serious looking adults doing serious looking things, and less a laser-blasting good time than a somber meditation on world peace and the psychology of machines. But I ate it up - which, I guess, means my parents were right. Pretty planets equal a good time.

Well, revisiting this film now, I expected to scoff. After all, it was a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I now cherish. It replaced Kubrick (who didn't want to be involved) with a guy who'd go on to direct John Ritter in Stay Tuned. And - well, you know what, that's enough. That's enough to form scoffing expectations.

But it's good, though. It's really good. It's no work of art like the original, but it's a damn fine, interesting, gripping sci-fi story featuring great effects (for the time) and excellent performances. It has a couple of epic scenes, harkens back to the original without aping it (no pun intended), and the finale actually earns its straight face.

And hey, it's always fun to see what a 25-year-old vision of the year 2010 looks like. The Soviet Union still exists, Omni Magazine is still printing issues, cassettes are still in vogue, and while we can travel to Jupiter, our computers are limited to green and red text on black screens.

Grade: B+

Other films 25 years old this month:

1984 - Fantastic high school memory: as lazy teachers are wont to do, we dedicated two days to watching this film after reading George Orwell's book. Well, her laziness apparently extended to discovering the rating - which was very much R. And I think there were boobs. Trust me, these moments are golden in ninth grade.

Beverly Hills Cop - Eddie Murphy had big hits with 48 Hrs. and Trading Places - and one big disaster with Best Defense - but nobody was prepared for the bonanza of Beverly Hills Cop. It was the biggest hit of 1984, is essentially the 39th biggest hit of all time, played in theaters for a year, and put Murphy at the top of the Hollywood food chain for the next decade (he wouldn't have a true flop for another 11 years, 1995's Vampire in Brooklyn, but many would soon follow). No wonder then Murphy is about to revive his Axel Foley character in Beverly Hills Cop IV.

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo - Filmed back-to-back with Breakin', which was released just seven months previous, the adventures of Ozone, Boogaloo Shrimp, and the white girl continue. And 25 years later, it still provides a quick joke in any conversation regarding sequels. ("Aww man, I can't wait 'til Avatar 2: Electric Boogaloo!").

City Heat - Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds star in this disasterously bad buddy comedy (read Ebert's review for hilarity's sake).

The Cotton Club - Francis Ford Coppola's expensive flop cast Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane and Nicolas Cage in the story of a 1920s jazz club. Never could summon the interest.

Dune - Yes, apparently December '84 was a confusing month at the movies for lil' Josh. David Lynch's sci-fi epic is pretty much a mess, but there is some gorgeous, fantastic stuff in there. And I definitely wish I still had my Dune action figures from when I was a kid. While my friends were playing with those gay ol' G.I. Joes, I had Kyle MacLachlan in military gear, a fat acne-scarred guy in a body suit, and Sting in metal underwear.

The Flamingo Kid - The first movie to receive a PG-13 rating, though it was delayed five months and was beaten to theaters by a few others. Matt Dillon stars as a recent high school graduate working at a fancy club for the summer.

Johnny Dangerously - A "madcap" gangster comedy featuring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo. All I know, I enjoyed the hell out of this as an eight-year-old, and still use the words "fargin'" and "corksoakers" because of it.

Micki and Maude - Oh, the hilarity of bigamy. Dudley Moore stars as a man married to two pregnant women (Amy Irving and Ann Reinking). However, it does feature Andre the Giant as himself, so there's some value here.

A Passage to India - Director David Lean's last film, following a so-so career (Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). Of course, considering it involved the colonial English, Indians and rape, I somehow missed seeing it. If it had been set in space, of course, there's no telling.

Protocol - Odd that I vividly remember seeing four December '84 releases in theaters: 2010, City Heat, Dune and this Goldie Hawn comedy. In it, she plays a cocktail waitress who thwarts a Washington, D.C. assassination and an arms deal. Not exactly Oscar bait.

The River - Mel Gibson, still known as Mad Max at this point, headlines the third major farming drama of 1984 (following Country and Places in the Heart). But this time - there's a'floodin' involved!

Runaway - Tom Selleck takes on KISS's Gene Simmons and mechanical spiders in this thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton. There had to be cocaine involved in some phase of production.

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

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