Tag Archive for '1980s'

Inner Space

Inner Space (4/19/15) Encore (1987 ***1/4) Directed by Joe Dante, starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. An alcoholic test pilot is miniaturized and injected into the rear end of a hypochondriac. I hadn’t watched this film in many years, likely decades, but I had fond memories of it from its original release and multiple viewings in the late 1980s / early 1990s. It holds up reasonably well, thanks to Joe Dante’s solid direction and good performances all the way around. This film was made a couple of years before Meg Ryan’s breakout role in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and — while absolutely adorable — her acting was a tad underdeveloped. There are lots of fun Easter eggs to watch for, including: (1) An appearance early on by a stalled AMC Gremlin; (2) cameos by Martin Short’s SCTV co-stars Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin and (3) an extra sneaky cameo (in a supermarket checkout line) by animation legend Chuck Jones!

James Stewart: A Wonderful Life

James Stewart: A Wonderful Life (4/7/15) TCM (1987 **1/2) Directed by David Heeley, hosted by Johnny Carson, featuring interviews with and/or footage of James Stewart, Carol Burnett, Richard Dreyfuss, Katharine Hepburn and many others. The King of Late Night walks and talks with his friend and frequent guest Jimmy Stewart, in a celebration of a beloved star’s distinguished career. This “documentary” has all the production quality earmarks of a late-1980s made-for-video project. Johnny Carson narrated and acted as host, delivering a performance that was completely lackluster, except for when he was talking with Stewart himself. Otherwise, Johnny just seemed pissed off, like he was doing the project as some kind of contractual obligation. One thing Carson brought to the table was to remind me of Jimmy Stewart’s frequent appearances on The Tonight Show and the delightful little poems he used to read. While I don’t know that I learned much from this “film,” it was very interesting to note Stewart’s steadfast reluctance to discuss his WWII service record, where he flew 20 combat missions over enemy territory, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. Something tells me that someday somebody is going to make a biopic about that period in Stewart’s life.


BeetleJuice (12/12/14) IFC (1988 ***1/2) Directed by Tim Burton, starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder. When an adorable couple dies, their home is invaded by assholes, and they must enlist the aid of a “bio-exorcist” with a strange name who turns out to be an even bigger asshole. I can’t honestly say when the last time is I watched this film, which I’m certain I’ve seen at least a couple of times on video since seeing it in the theater. Why watch it now? Well, there’s been recent internet chatter about Tim Burton directing a sequel, and I was also more than a little curious to see young Alec Baldwin’s performance again. Also, it had been long enough that while I remembered the film’s more memorable moments, I didn’t remember much else, so I was able to watch it with somewhat fresh eyes. Having done so, I believe it’s one of Tim Burton’s best films, actually, mainly because the story holds up fairly well, with clearly-delineated goals and character arcs and whatnot. I know I’ve been fairly critical in the past about his storytelling skills. I wonder what the delta has been…

Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes (11/29/14) Netflix (1985 ***) Directed by Barry Levinson, screenplay by Chris Columbus, based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, starring Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward and Anthony Higgins. The teen who will one day become the world’s greatest “consulting detective” teams up with a young John Watson and together they solve their first case. I had this film, which I’d seen in the theater when it was originally released, in my Netflix queue for some time, gathering the digital equivalent of dust. Then recently I read a story (in The Hollywood Reporter, I believe) that listed Young Sherlock Holmes amongst the films to be dropped dropped by Netflix at the end of November to make room for new ones. It was fun watching it again after all these years. Tonally, this film has an uncanny similarity with the Harry Potter films, the first two of which were directed by Chris Columbus. The similarity was so striking that at one point my wife walked into the room and wanted to know why was watching Harry Potter without her. One techno-geeky trivia note: This film has an interesting claim to fame in the history of digital F/X: The scene in which a priest finds himself face-to-face with a stained glass knight was the first blend of live action and CG, and was created in a collaboration between ILM and Pixar, back when Pixar was in the computer hardware business. The young Pixar artist who worked on the shots was John Lasseter, who of course went on to direct Toy Story a decade later and has subsequently become the creative head of Disney (which now owns Pixar).

The Shining

The Shining (11/8/14) MAX (1980 ****) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Stephen King, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers. A writer takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, but the isolation proves the old adage that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” After watching the documentary Room 237 (2012), I felt inspired to watch its subject, a film I hadn’t seen in a long time. The Shining truly is a masterpiece, regardless of what Stephen King thought of it and whether or not Kubrick really had a secret agenda. As is the case with many great films, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything to write about it that hasn’t been written far better by others far more articulate than I. But I will offer this: There is something about the film that is so atmospheric. I wonder: Has anyone considered setting a video game in The Overlook Hotel? Perhaps it would make for a wonderful setting for an immersive experience….

Justice League: A New Beginning

Justice League: A New Beginning (10/29/14) Comics (1987, 1989 ***) Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, illustrated by Kevin Maguire. Originally published in Justice League #1-6 and Justice League International #7. A billionaire named Maxwell Lord decides it’s high time the world’s greatest super team (in the DC universe, anyhow) is re-assembled. I was a big fan of this series, which came out at a time when I was still buying comic books in serial form. I’m not sure if there’s any actual basis to it, but I’ve always felt a connection between this incarnation of the JLA and the TV show Moonlighting (1985-89). Just as the weekly adventures of Maddie and David brought a comic His Girl Friday dialogue sensibility to TV, Giffen and DeMatteis brought it to the unlikeliest of DC properties, the Justice League of (freaking) America! Even today I admire the audacity of whoever got behind that idea and gave it the go-ahead. It was fun to see the personalities of well-known (and some lesser-known) heroes clash like squabbling children, and a high point of the collection was Batman knocking out the Green Lantern Corps’ token A-hole Guy Gardner with a single punch. Having said (or, for you purists, written) all that, I regretfully admit that in the intervening decades the books didn’t necessarily hold up well. Maybe it’s simply a factor of the overall quality of comic book writing improving over the years. It’s also highly probable that my thorough enjoyment way back when was a combination of (a) The fact that I was in my early 20s and (b) the impact that always comes with the “shock of the new.”

Amazing Stories, Season 2

Amazing Stories, Season 2 (9/8/14) Netflix (1986-87 **1/2) Anthology series created by Steven Spielberg, directed by and starring various. 21 episodes, originally aired 9/22/86 – 4/10/87. The second season of Spielberg’s anthology series featured a number of well-known directors, including Danny DeVito (“The Wedding Ring”, Joe Dante (“The Griebble”), Robert Zemeckis (“Go to the Head of the Class”), Brad Bird (“Family Dog”), Paul Bartel (“Gershwin’s Trunk”) and Tobe Hooper (“Miss Stardust”). While the first season was stocked with star power, the second had no shortage of familiar faces, including (in no particular order): Charles Durning, Jon Cryer, David Carradine, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lloyd, Danny Devito, Rhea Perlman, Patrick Swayze, June Lockhart, Laraine Newman, Hector Elizondo and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. I watched the series streaming on Netflix, and for reasons I don’t understand, the frame rate was choppy throughout. It’s very obvious that this show was a deliberate effort to recapture the magic of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, including the participation of writer Richard Matheson as series consultant. I’m more than a little curious about the production story behind this program, and it may be telling that each of the episodes in the second season was directed by a different person. The result, however, was fairly uneven and my relatively low **1/2 rating is because there were only a few “gems” and a lot of episodes so disappointing I was tempted to fast-forward through them. The highlight of the season for me was its 16th episode, the Brad Bird written and directed “Family Dog,” which went on to have its own short-lived TV show, running for 10 episodes in 1993. Bird went on to direct The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004).


Brazil (6/9/14) Netflix (1985 ****) Directed and co-written by Terry Gilliam, starring Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin. A gifted but unambitious worker living in a Kafkaesque future society attempts to correct a fatal bureaucratic error and becomes entangled with a member of the underground who’s also his literal dream girl. I have vivid memories of seeing this when it was originally released. At the time I was an undergraduate engineering student taking film classes on the side. I was already a fan of Terry Gilliam because of Time Bandits and his involvement with Monty Python. This film blew me away and I saw it at least three times in the theater. At one point in my younger life I proudly pointed to it as my personal favorite film of all time. Seeing it again years later, I still hold it in high regard. However, as a man approaching fifty, I find elements of the story troubling. We’re also living in a post-9/11 society when sympathies for terrorists (even if mistakenly categorized) make for a bitter narrative pill. Then again, maybe it’s appropriate for Brazil to be unsettling, given the dystopian world it represents. Of course, I’m basing my feelings on the version of the film I watched, which was the original theatrical cut, the one Terry Gilliam was famously unsatisfied with. In fact, I’ve never watched any of the other versions, and I wonder if that would make me less troubled or more so. It’s likely that in the annuls of film history that Brazil will be known as Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, and given his output the past few decades it seems unlikely he’ll manage to surpass it artistically or commercially. Personally, I also have a fondness for The Fisher King (1991), a film I’m criminally overdue to rewatch. (Favorite)

84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road (5/30/14) TCM (1987 ****) Directed by David Hughe Jones, based on the book by Helene Hanff, starring Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench and Mercedes Ruehl. Spanning two decades beginning in 1950, a female New York writer reaches across the Atlantic for reasonably-priced books and forms a bond far stronger than book-binding glue. I loved this movie when it first came out, though not quite enough to read Helene Hanff’s epistolary novel/memoir on which it was based. After all these years, it remains a beautiful film with a story made all the more poignant knowing the principal characters were real people. But as much as I love this film on an emotional level, I also have to appreciate it in terms of its production execution. Prior to its airing on TCM, Mel Brooks, who was the film’s executive producer (as well as the late Anne Bancroft’s husband), bragged about how the movie, shot half in New York and half in London, cost almost nothing ($4 Million) to make. (Favorite)


Mannequin (5/7/14) HBO (1987 *1/2) Directed by Michael Gottlieb, starring Andrew McCarthy, Kim Catrell, Estelle Getty, G.W. Bailey and James Spader. A young man finds his creative calling in the form of a department store mannequin that comes to life only for him. I couldn’t remember if I’d seen it before, and after watching it, I’m still not sure. The other thing that’s puzzling is that I could have sworn the film came out when I was in high school, yet it was really released the year I graduated from college! Regardless, it’s really a terrible movie, and I can only imagine that James Spader (who my wife and I have loved this past TV season on The Blacklist) must be quite embarrassed by both the film and his cringe-worthy oily performance in it. Finally, from the credit where credit’s due department: It’s worth noting that my wife absolutely, positively refused to watch this film, which is further evidence that she has far better taste in movies than her husband.