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

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

To everything, Turner, Turner, Turner

Yeah, I'm still here. Every last slack-filled cell.

We haven't quite hit the "three weeks without a post" mark, but it's getting way too close for a guy who recently opined about being more prolific. FAIL, as the kids - and far too many of you - say.

Truth is, I have wanted to specialize the blog, limiting it to movies and professional football (it makes sense to me). I'm rethinking the whole timing issue, though. Obviously, draft aside, there's not too much football stuff going on this time of year. And Hollywood certainly hasn't participated, offering very little output to get excited about.

I wrote about my Star Trek disappointment, and I have been similarly underwhelmed with Terminator: Salvation (not godawful, just boring) and The Taking of Pelham 123 (decent flick gutted by an off-the-charts stupid ending). Even the two movies I've legitimately liked - The Hangover and Up - have left me less joyous than most.

(Really, though. Was The Hangover that funny? Good and everything, and I laughed, but all these folks on Facebook were talking about having sore muscles the next day. I have to see it again, I guess. And airplane flying dogs just seemed a little beneath Pixar. Can't explain it.)

Things are lookin' up, though. Obviously football season is closer with every passing minute, and there are some exciting flicks on the horizon - Public Enemies, The Hurt Locker, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (love those movies, so suck it), and a new Tarantino.

And for a sure sign of impending pigskin paradise, check it:

That's me and The Fiancee lounging around in our favorite shirts.

Ok, yeah, it's The Fiancee with a guy who pulls in a little more cash than I, Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner. She has recently embraced my inner dork (hey-o!) and accompanied me to a couple of preseason Falcons events. This one was a meet-and-greet with a few players at Duluth, GA's PGA Superstore.

Turner and I talked at length about our 2008 fantasy football championship, in which, once again, he led my team to an undefeated record. He said it was the proudest moment of his life, and he would gladly take a hometown discount to sign with me again in '09. "We'll see, buddy," I said, patting him on the back. "I don't think I'll get you with a third round pick again." He then started crying, which I thought was a little immature, and refused to sign autographs for the next man in line (ok, kid in line).

Really, though, I can't imagine there's another woman out there who would be dorkier about this kind of stuff than I am. Ask her about this, and she'll own up - the girl was levitating three feet off the ground as we were walking out. It was awesome.

Anyway, so yeah, I'll do better. Promises. In the next day or five, I'll be sure to tackle the Academy's dipshit decision to double the amount of Best Picture nominees, and my 40,000-word NFL preview can't be too far off. Keep the fanmail comin'.

Friday, June 05, 2009

When did it get to be 3 a.m.?

Well, Doug was right.

Flickchart is, in fact, the pixelated version of mainlining a theoretically more addictive version of heroin straight into your eyeballs, while simultaneously licking Krispy Kremes and letting out one of those awesome farts that makes you bite your lip and pump your fist.

Since I was eight years old, I've been making lists - and no list has been more abundant, or ever-changing, than "My 10 Favorite Movies." In its first incarnation, I'm quite sure The Goonies was at the top. Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Die Hard have all resided in the penthouse as well (ok, Die Hard still does).

Flickchart, though, introduces a new way to formulate this list, something so deceptively simple, and perfectly crafted for wasting days on the Internet. Basically, you're given the choice of two movies, and you click on the one you like better. Once you've done this tens, hundreds, thousands - ok, ten thousands of times, your list will start to take shape.

Where else are you going to be asked to compare Hotel Rwanda and Barb Wire? And how do you make a decision between Coming to America and Amadeus? And if you've always gone back and forth between the first two Godfathers - well, it's the moment of truth, amigo.

Remember, though - you gotta be honest. You can't pretend Roger Ebert is standing over your shoulder, critiquing every selection. If you like Finding Nemo more than The English Patient, well dammit, click Finding Nemo. It might be embarrassing to choose Animal House when The Deer Hunter is its competition, but if that's the way you feel, go with it (I did). And as painful as it is to select anything over The Karate Kid, sometimes you just have to. That's the only way you're going to come up with an honest representation - and besides, a top 10 list full of "heralded classics" would be pretentious and boring.

And it's not a perfect system. I was never given an opportunity to select some of my favorite films, and it doesn't seem to remember your previous answers. And you really have to make thousands upon thousands of selections to get any factual representation. I worked at it for much longer than I care to admit, and still see some glaring errors.

What follows are my results. They certainly aren't perfect; if given the option, I'd switch the order of a few. But it's damn close.

Here's the system I used, if you care: I rated 1,500 movies face-to-face, poster-to-poster. After that, I pared it down, and ranked only my top 50 against each other. After that, I went a step farther and ranked only my top 20. That allowed me to focus on the true contenders, but mostly, it was just a time saver. After trudging through this for awhile, I didn't want to waste any more minutes comparing Raiders of the Lost Ark and K-Pax.

The top 20:
  1. Die Hard
  2. Jaws
  3. The Right Stuff
  4. Boogie Nights
  5. Goodfellas
  6. Midnight Run
  7. Shakespeare in Love
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  9. The Great Escape
  10. Aliens
  11. The Hunt For Red October
  12. The Royal Tenenbaums
  13. The Empire Strikes Back
  14. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  15. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  16. The Shawshank Redemption
  17. Mulholland Dr.
  18. Glengarry Glen Ross
  19. Heat
  20. Alien
A few notes:
  • Again, there are a few things I'd adjust. I do rate Shakespeare in Love higher than most, and it's a legit Top 20 contender - but it ain't that high. If I could manually adjust this thing, it would fit in nicely just below Shawshank. And in almost every list I've ever made, Field of Dreams lands near the top. Here, it's at #23. Maybe that's The Amy Madigan Factor showing its true colors. I've always tried to ignore how much I hate her in it, but apparently Flickchart sees the truth.
  • No Godfather films. The first one is at #22, the second at #27. Low.
  • Predator is at #31 - higher than I would have thought, but kick-ass nonetheless. And I was actually given the choice between it and The Terminator - the age-old Best Schwarzenegger Movie argument. I went with the jungle-set classic.
  • The newest movies to rank high on the list are Children of Men (#25) and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (#33).
  • Flickchart is definitely dominated by films from the 1970s-on, so film historians may have a harder time populating a true list. Of course, this works for me, as I'm a low thread count-wearing buffoon who tends to like movies made in his own lifetime. Sue me.
  • Tom Cruise movies apparently gel together - numbers 35, 36 and 37 are Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia and Collateral. Yes, I loved Eyes Wide Shut (though not as much as the other two; a flaw in the system).
  • The first Sylvester Stallone movie on the list is at #55 - Rocky IV, which is actually my fifth favorite Rocky entry. Rocky comes later (#69), then Rambo (#78) and Rocky Balboa (#101). I only remember being given one chance to rank Rocky III, against something like Goodfellas,which I presume is why it comes in at #1,174. Suffice to say, the list shows greater fallibility the farther you go down. For the record, even I would never put Rocky IV 50 spots before Cool Hand Luke and Seven.
  • I feel safe to say I'm the country's only Bush voter who selected The Motorcycle Diaries over The Passion of the Christ.
  • What actor appears most in the top 20? Well, as far as I can tell, it would be a tie. Robert De Niro acted in three (Midnight Run, Goodfellas, Heat), but so did Alec Baldwin - sort of. He was featured in The Hunt For Red October and Glengarry Glen Ross, but he also was the Royal Tenenbaums narrator. Steven Spielberg directed the most, with three (beating out John McTiernan's two).