Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quarter Back: March 1985

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.

This month marks 25 years since "the shift."

In the early '80s, the success of Porky's led to a glut of imitators - juvenile comedies more interested in breasts than brains. Some recaptured the gleeful spirit of honest, R-rated fun (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Revenge of the Nerds), but most were just flaccid excuses to show nipples to American teens. Not that there was anything wrong with that.

Seriously, the stretch from '82 to '85 saw so many bawdy, boob-filled flicks, today's teenagers should be careful watching. Odds are, their mom is in at least one of 'em.

Bachelor Party, Class, Fraternity Vacation, Hardbodies, Homework, Hot Dog... The Movie, Hot Moves, Hot Resort, The Last American Virgin, Losin' It, My Tutor, Police Academy, Porky's II: The Next Day, Private Resort, Private School, Risky Business, Secret Admirer, Spring Break, Tomboy, Up the Creek, Valley Girl, The Wild Life, Zapped.

A few great, some good, most bad, all R-rated and aimed at the same demographic: males who couldn't yet see naked women with the click of a mouse.

All good things must come to an end, though - and that end was never more apparent than in March '85. Within three weeks of each other, two films were released with the same general theme: "guys will do anything for sex." Beyond that initial set-up, though, their paths diverged wildly.

Featured Movies

The Sure Thing
Seen it before?: Surprisingly, no.
Release date: March 1, 1985
Actors: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Tim Robbins
Director: Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride)
Box office: $18.1 million (#49 in 1985)

"Stereotypical '80s teen movie" is well-represented on that poster. A hot bikini babe, the same variety seen in the ads for Spring Break, Private Resort and Hardbodies. The longing teenage boy. The hot girl you're supposed to think isn't hot because - gasp! - she's wearing a sweater.

There's something different, though, and you need to squint to catch it. At the very bottom. See it?


The introduction of the teen-friendly rating in 1984 put dollar signs in the eyes of studio executives. No longer would their younger-skewing films have to go all-out for the R rating (thereby losing a significant portion of the audience), or completely sanitize themselves for PG. There was a middle ground now, and filmmakers could take advantage.

On its face, Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing is about a college guy (John Cusack) going cross-country with a single-minded purpose: sex. His best buddy in California has promised him a "sure thing," a stupidly hot blonde (future desperate housewife Nicollette Sheridan) who will definitely drop trou when he arrives.

Through a set of semi-believable contrivances, he ends up road tripping with snooty classmate Alison (Daphne Zuniga, who should have eventually been A-list). It's not exactly rocket science what happens: they fight at first, but eventually learn to laugh, love, blah blah blah. But it's amazing what great performances and a clever script bring to even the most predictable of affairs.

The Sure Thing did break some new ground, however. When a female character goes topless, we only see her bare back. When Cusack gets mad, we hear nary a "fuck." And the climax of our lead couple's relationship isn't between the sheets, but a simple kiss. It was a new world for Hollywood, and would be the norm for quite awhile. (And being completely honest, the movies were a lot better. I hate admitting that.) Grade: A-

Porky's Revenge
Seen it before?: Hells to the yes.
Release date: March 22, 1985
Actors: Dan Monahan, Wyatt Knight, Tony Ganios
Director: James Komack (this was his only feature, though he did helm episodes of "Star Trek" and "The Monkees")
Box office: $20.5 million (#43 in 1985)

Porky's Revenge was the third and final film of the quintessential '80s trilogy (screw you, Indiana Jones!). And as noted above, it was the dying gasp of the raunchy teen comedy, until a neutered revival 15 years later with American Pie and Road Trip.

A little bit of Porky's history: the legitimately hilarious original, a comedy about '50s-era high school seniors, arrived in theaters in 1982. It was a massive hit, finishing fifth at the box office that year, ahead of Star Trek II, 48 Hrs. and Poltergeist. A quickie sequel followed a year later, and ignored the raunch for - no lie - a politically correct, anti-racism theme. It crashed, burned and smoldered.

So three years after the original, Porky's Revenge arrives - with the same cast still playing high school seniors. (The film's IMDb page reveals most of the guys were in their 30s by the end of '85, so one can imagine the receding hairlines getting in the way of teenage hijinks.)

Revenge gets back to the baser aspects of the original, mostly by introducing the tried-and-true "Swedish exchange student" who constantly removes her top. However, unlike Porky's, the script falls limp, and there aren't any gags worth remembering. Still, the cast is incredibly game, and it kills me nobody ascended from that likable group.

Sure, Porky's Revenge outgrossed The Sure Thing by a couple million, but the die was cast. John Hughes was on the scene, and his PG-13 run (Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful) would soon commence. In 1989, Cusack himself would make the undisputed king of puppydog teen romances with Say Anything..., and boobs would disappear from teen flicks for over a decade.

The raunchy comedy has "evolved" in some ways, replacing the constant stream of nudity with a healthy dose of gross-out gags. So in a way, Porky's Revenge deserves our thanks for raging against the dying of the bimbo light. Grade: C

Other films 25 years old this month:

Almost You - Griffin Dunne's wife is incapacitated in a car accident, so he does what any upstanding New Yorker would do: bangs the nurse taking care of her. Can't claim to have heard of this one.

The Aviator - Christopher Reeve desperately wanted to shed the red and blue tights. No matter how hard he tried, though, the guy never had a hit without the word "Superman" in the title. His movies between Superman III and IV - The Bostonians, The Aviator and Street Smart - all failed to crack the $1.5 million mark, and it didn't help he was making stuffy period dramas like this one.

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend - True story: When we got home from this "dinosaurs exist!" family film, my brother (then all of eight) announced his intent to build a life-size brontosaurus, stretching from our driveway to a neighbor's house. He got wood, foam, paper mache and wire, and set out to blow us away. A week later, he had moved on, and our trash can was full of wood, foam, paper mache, wire, and an eight-inch long tip of a brontosaurus tail. (And the first person to tell me "brontosaurus" isn't correct terminology gets kicked squa' in the nuts.)

The Care Bears Movie - Oh, and similarly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves inspired him to become a master archer. A barely used bow is probably still rusting in some bushes. (Oh, The Care Bears Movie? Not sure I could tell you anything the title doesn't perfectly describe.)

Certain Fury - Tough girls Tatum O'Neal and Irene Cara are running from the law in this low-rent drama from director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Yes, Jake and Maggie's dad.

Def-Con 4 - I remember staring at this poster when I was a kid, just sure there was a super-cool movie behind that super-cool image. Seeing it hasn't been released on DVD yet, however, I'm skeptical.

Desperately Seeking Susan - Vision Quest cameo aside, this marks Madonna's movie debut - and it was huge news in March '85. To be fair, though, nobody knew what Madonna's movie career would amount to.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning - It takes a special kind of flick to be the "the worst Friday the 13th movie." I even hated this as a kid, and I didn't hate anything as a kid.

He-Man and She-Ra in The Secret of the Sword - Again, what do you want to know that the title doesn't tell you?

The Hit - Gangster-in-hiding Terence Stamp is suddenly kidnapped by two hitmen (John Hurt and a 22-year-old Tim Roth). A '90s movie before its time.

Into the Night - Jeff Goldblum is an average guy who meets Michelle Pfeiffer and finds himself on the wrong side of Middle Eastern criminals. Mmm, mid-'80s Michelle Pfeiffer.

King David - Once upon a time, somebody thought casting Richard Gere in the story of Israel's King David would be a moneymaker. Once upon a time, somebody was really, really wrong.

The Last Dragon - This martial arts film, starring one-name wonders Taimak and Vanity, is still wildly popular in the black community. So there's no surprise a remake is on the way, starring one Mr. Samuel L. Jackson.

Lost in America - Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty travel cross-country in this critically adored comedy. According to Netflix, I watched it in March '07 and awarded three stars. I have no memory of this. Either I'm getting old, or it really wasn't that great. Or both.

Mask - Nope, not the Jim Carrey one. The Eric Stoltz-as-a-Nightmarish-Ginger one.

Mission in Action 2: The Beginning - Just four months ago, I profiled Missing in Action in this space, and found a quality nugget of trivia: this prequel was actually filmed first, but released later because it was of lesser "quality." Considering the first one was crap, I wasn't about to throw myself on the viewing grenade again. Oh, and how stupid was it to release this Chuck Norris-goes-to-Vietnam flick two months BEFORE Rambo: First Blood Part II hit theaters? At the very least, they could have surfed the copycat wave for a few extra million.

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment - My least favorite trend of the '80s: a perfectly fine R-rated original produces a de-balled sequel, all in the name of selling tickets to kids like me. Blame the invention of the PG-13 rating, I guess, but it happened all over the place: Caddyshack, Major League, Police Academy, Revenge of the Nerds, Vacation. All R-rated classics (yes, classics) with PG or PG-13-rated sequels. And you know what that meant? LESS BOOBS.

A Private Function - A pig theft rocks 1947 England, and Maggie Smith and Michael Palin are on the case! No, this didn't really play a huge part in making Smith the highest grossing actress in history. (Her participation in six Harry Potter films, on the other hand, skews the results).

The Purple Rose of Cairo - My introduction to Woody Allen. In this comedy, a movie character (Jeff Daniels) gets fed up and walks off the screen, leaving the other characters to wonder if he's coming back. Mia Farrow also stars, and no doubt brought adopted teenage daughter Soon-Yi Previn to the set.

Return of the Jedi
- The third Star Wars film returned to theaters two years after its original 1983 release, but George Lucas hadn't gone fatface-crazy yet. So there's no Hayden Christensen, Sarlacc beak, or Broadway musical in Jabba's palace. Simpler times, my friends.

The Slugger's Wife - Oh, there was excitement 'round these parts when The Slugger's Wife opened. The baseball-centered romance starred Caddyshack's Michael O'Keefe as a member of MY Atlanta Braves, and it featured cameos by a number of local talking heads: Skip Carey, Pete van Wieren and Brad Nessler among them. As godawful as the movie was - and holy shit, it was bad - I still remember how cool it was seeing my hometown skyline in a movie for the first time (my eyes had been shielded from the R-rated Sharky's Machine).

Sylvester - Every damn year would have a damn movie about a damn horse, which meant I'd have to go with my damn sister, instead of seeing something damn cooler. Like Police Academy 2. Seriously, it was all the time. The Black Stallion Returns was '83, Phar Lap was '84, Sylvester was '85, Lightning the White Stallion was '86, Hot to Trot AND Return to Snowy River hit in '88, and Steel Magnolias was '89! (See what I did there? Julia Roberts looks like a horse? Get it?)

Quarter Back: February 1985
Quarter Back: January 1985
Quarter Back: December 1984
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

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reader's corner

From the book, Jaws: The Revenge. By Hank Searls. Berkley (1987).
Suddenly the banana boat hit the wake of the Big Egg Harbor cruiser ahead. She could hear Thea squealing as they hobby-horsed through the waves. She turned to see that the child was hanging on.

Behind Thea, she saw a fin. From her low vantage point it looked like the Rock of Gibraltar, awash in a streaming tide. It was rushing up their wake.

Instinctively, she turned her body, yanked Thea from her place, and body-slammed the athwartship between her daughter and herself.

Her last thought, as she braced to take the impact, was that she'd sprained her back.

For an instant she was in shadow, as the great white's jaws sprung open.

Then she and the last five feet of the rubber boat were crushed into a jumble of flesh and neoprene rubber as the swords of glittering ivory met and pressed.
- page 268

Friday, March 19, 2010

An impulse buy, and this time it was personal

As if 1987's Jaws: The Revenge wasn't awesome enough - with a great white following a Bahamas-bound plane o' Brodys for shark vengeance - did you know there was a freaking book?

Yes, Hank Searls - noted author of Jaws 2 - returned to the shark-muncher genre to pen what's surely a riveting page turner, based on Michael de Guzman's amazing screenplay. You know, Michael de Guzman, the guy who wrote all those classics you've definitely heard of.

And how Mr. Searls turned a zippy 89-minute nail-biter into a 313-page obvious classic - well, that's the mark of a grade-A novelist. Can't wait.

Some people get high and watch 2001; tonight, I'm gonna get drunk as shit and read Jaws: The Revenge.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Five short months

If you were awakened this morning by some weird squealing, followed by, I don't know, what felt like seismic activity, followed by, maybe, a weird smell in the air - yeah, my bad. It was just my natural reaction upon seeing this.

Click for bigger awesomeness.

Friday, March 05, 2010

For S's and G's

So it turns out the Academy Awards are Sunday night. I discovered this half an hour ago, which isn't the way my obsessive, chart-making mind used to work. A detour into my 30s, as well as a cavalcade of legitimately bad Best Picture winners, have dulled my Oscar enthusiasm.

Seriously, fucking Crash?

And yet despite my ignorance and apathy, I still know the way the Academy thinks. The politics, the maneuvering, the complete lack of excitement and bravery. And that's why, for no reason other than to see how right/wrong I am, here are my Oscar predictions.

Picture: The Hurt Locker
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Animated Feature Film: Up
Art Direction: Avatar
Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Cinematography: Avatar
Costume Design: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Documentary (Feature): The Cove
Documentary (Short Subject): "The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"
Film Editing: The Hurt Locker
Foreign Language Film: The White Ribbon
Makeup: The Young Victoria
Music (Original Score): Up
Music (Original Song): "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart
Short Film (Animated): "The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)"
Short Film (Live Action): "The Door"
Sound Editing: Avatar
Sound Mixing: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar

If there's a shocker - and there never is anymore - I see an ever-s0-slight chance Inglourious Basterds wins Best Picture.

In the Academy's eyes, it has one thing going for it: it's a Jewish revenge fantasy, which the heavily Jewish voting bloc might appreciate. Alas, there is one massive detail working against it: Basterds actually was the best movie of '09, and Oscar never likes rewarding that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Quarter Back: February 1985

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.

Seriously, what the hell? I was all prepared to actually publish this in February - had most of it written, and both movies watched two weeks ago. And then - well, screw stupid February with its stupid 28 stupid days.

Featured Movies

Heaven Help Us
Seen it before?: Don't think so, although I recognized certain scenes. HBO, maybe?
Release date: February 8, 1985
Actors: Andrew McCarthy, Kevin Dillon, Donald Sutherland
Director: Michael Dinner (Off Beat, Hot to Trot)
Box office: $6.0 million (#110 in 1985)

Straddling a fine line between the nostalgia of Diner and the raunchiness of Porky's, Heaven Help Us is actually a pretty good entry into the '80s teen derby. In his first lead performance, Andrew McCarthy is the new kid at an all-boys Catholic school, with future stars Patrick Dempsey and Kevin Dillon as classmates.

It's easy to guess the filmmakers based this on personal experiences, as the scholastic scenes are given more attention than the wannabe lascivious ones. In fact, though it shoehorns breasts onto the screen in typical '80s fashion, calling Heaven Help Us a sex comedy is misleading. Actually, the film's strong suit is examining the testy relationships between the kids and the monks in charge (no, there aren't any cliched Catholic priest/boy subplots, although I did like using the word "testy" just then). Donald Sutherland and John Heard, in particular, have fun with smaller roles. Grade: B

The Breakfast Club
Seen it before?: Of course.
Release date: February 15, 1985
Actors: Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson
Director: John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
Box office: $45.9 million (#16 in 1985)

Reviewing The Breakfast Club as a thirty-something defeats the purpose, really. The anguish seems melodramatic, the kids appear self-absorbed, the plot wraps up a little too nicely (I never bought Claire falling for Bender, sorry). But damn, it seemed true at the time - I'm not far enough away from high school to have forgotten that.

When you're a teen, the sorrows are amplified, the world revolves around you, and the teachers don't, can't, won't get it. John Hughes understood these simplicities, and his empathy is why The Breakfast Club resonates today. For anybody in their 30s and 40s, it's a 90-minute time capsule. It can't hit the same buttons it did in 1985 (that's impossible), but it reminds you they existed in the first place. Grade: A-

Other films 25 years old this month:

The Bay Boy - This long-forgotten Canadian (booooo!) drama is notable for one thing: Kiefer Sutherland's first significant film role. And the story of a murder-witnessing teen is probably 50 times more exciting than this season's snoozefest "24."

Fantasia - Walt Disney's classic briefly returned to theaters, but the coked-up teens of '85 didn't embrace it quite as much as their tripping-balls parents had.

Fast Forward - Hey, kids of today - you might have Step Up and You've Got Served, but '80s teens had retarded dance movies too! But is your A.D.D.-riddled, crumping/pop-locking/whatever garbage directed by Sidney Poitier? Hear that, you little assholes? Fast Forward, directed by SIDNEY POITIER. (He was a movie star once. Ask your grandparents.)

Heavenly Bodies - Oh '80s, how I miss you. When a small dance studio is endangered by a big corporate gym, scores are settled at a televised aerobics marathon! Yes, it's basically Dodgeball with a straight face.

Lust in the Dust - John Waters-mainstay Divine plays a wannabe saloon singer in this camp western, which hasn't been viewed by a straight person since 1986.

The Mean Season - Kurt Russell is a Miami journalist who begins receiving phone calls from a serial killer. I'd like to think it was a 15-year-old Dexter.

Mischief - This teen comedy is still talked about for only two reasons: Kelly Preston's right boob, and Kelly Preston's left boob. An otherwise lame attempt to cash in on Porky's, Mischief did in fact feature the future Mrs. Travolta's ample assets, and they were good. Google Image Search is your friend.

Turk 182 - I'd love to know what movie played more on mid-'80s HBO: Turk 182 or Just One of the Guys? This movie was impossible to avoid if you had cable, and my memories are actually pretty fond. Timothy Hutton feels wronged by New York City's mayor, and goes on a city-wide graffiti protest, becoming an anonymous folk hero in the process. A pre-op Kim Cattrall is his love interest.

Vision Quest - One of those, I don't know, very '80s movies. Vision Quest manages to package a popular Madonna song ("Crazy For You"), a decade-friendly "hot older woman seduces teen" plot, an at-the-time rising star (Matthew Modine, who would soon careen off the rails by turning down Top Gun), and wrestlin'. And in unusual form, the flick actually holds up.

Witness - Ah, the good ol' days when a Harrison Ford film was an event. I still remember standing next to a soccer field, begging my mom to let me see the R-rated drama. I mean, Han Solo, Indiana Jones - it was UNFAIR UNFAIR UNFAIR I wouldn't be allowed to follow the travails of Philadelphia cop John Book in Amish country. Alas, I would have to wait. And now that I'm 34 and can see anything I want, Ford's contribution to multi-plexes is PG-rated dreck like Extraordinary Measures. Fantastic.

Quarter Back: January 1985
Quarter Back: December 1984
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