80’s Movie Mania: Bodacious Round 2

First things first. Let’s tie up a loose end from the previous installment. In a coin flip I am giving The Outsiders a victory over Weird Science. The former is just too good to overlook, with a powerful story and an all-star cast, while the latter, though it is another collaboration between John Hughes and Anthony Michael-Hall, is probably their weakest effort. Okay, so…let’s move forward. Today we’ll have the second round of competition in the Bodacious Division. Rock n’ roll dudes!!

 

 

 

Bodacious 2

Batman vs. Pretty in Pink
1989-BatmanThere have been many incarnations of my favorite superhero. The Caped Crusader of course originated in comic books in 1939 and continues to be a staple of that medium today. A famously campy television show aired on ABC for three seasons in the late 1960’s. Director Christopher Nolan brought his dark & gritty vision of the character to the big screen in a solid film trilogy a decade ago. And before that directors Tim Burton then Joel Schumacher produced a quadrilogy (I think I just created a new word!) of Batman movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s. We’ll talk about the other films at some point in the future, but for now we focus on 1989’s Batman, the first of that quadrilogy. Starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero and the legendary Jack Nicholson as his archnemesis The Joker, Batman adequately reflects the character’s caliginous & savage comic book history while still remaining classic popcorn escapism. There were concerns about Keaton being cast in the starring role because he was known mostly for being a comedic actor, but he nailed it and to this day remains my favorite big screen Batman. Of course everybody knows that Nicholson steals the show and is still the best Joker ever, with all due respect to the late Heath Ledger. Anyone who has enjoyed the plethora of films in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” in the past several years should know that they owe a ton of credit to Batman for breathing new life into the genre nearly three decades ago. Unlike its opponent Pretty in Pink did not get a first round bye, besting Broadcast News in a close call. John Hughes, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, John Cryer, If You LeavePretty in Pink has everything one could want in an 80’s film. A tip of the cap must be given to the powers-that-be for the ending, wherein the girl (Ringwald) DOESN’T pick the loveable loser best friend and instead chooses the good-looking rich guy…just like real life.

The Verdict: Batman. This is a tough one because Pretty in Pink is the prototypical 80’s movie, while Batman is slightly ahead of its time in embracing a gloomier 90’s-esque sensibility. However, I must go with my heart here. In my opinion this is the best comic book film ever made, although I have admittedly seen very few others.

 
Risky Business vs. Iron Eagle
risky-business-1983-02-gHe’s baaaacckk. Tom Cruise dominated the box office in the second half of the 80’s, but his breakout role came in 1983’s Risky Business. Cruise stars asiron-eagle high schooler Joel, whose parents leave him alone while they go on vacation. Like any normal teenager Joel goes a little nuts, including getting’ busy with a…lady of the night. After inadvertently sending his father’s Porsche into the river he must come up with some quick cash to get it repaired. The answer?? Turn the house into a brothel for a night…obviously. Risky Business not only features a fantastic soundtrack (Phil Collins, Bob Seger, Muddy Waters, Prince), but includes an iconic scene in which Joel dances around his living room in his underwear lipsynching Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Iron Eagle upset An Officer & A Gentlemen in Round 1. It ranked 41st at the box office in 1986, behind unremarkable bombs like Cobra, Children of a Lesser God, & Police Academy 3, but ahead of solid competition including Flight of the Navigator, Youngblood, & Brighton Beach Memoirs. Obscure trivia: Did you know that Robbie Rist, best known as Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, has a role in Iron Eagle?? Well you do now!!

The Verdict: Risky Business. I love Iron Eagle, but Risky Business is a time capsule film and probably one of Cruise’s Top 5 roles.

Coming to America vs. St. Elmo’s Fire
coming-to-america1Eddie Murphy is back too. I’m sensing a theme. At any rate, 1988’s Coming to America is much more aligned with the kind of comedy we expect from sefMurphy. He stars as a pampered prince from one of those fictional nations that movies like to create, but doesn’t want to enter into an arranged loveless marriage. So the prince & his loyal assistant (played by Arsenio Hall) take off for NY City. There they find jobs at a McDonald’s-esque fast food joint and the prince falls in love with the owner’s lovely daughter. From there it is a classic fish-out-of-water story intertwined with a rom-com. James Earl Jones plays the king, while Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr. have really small “blink and you’ll miss it” roles. This is undoubtedly one of Murphy’s best movies. St. Elmo’s Fire beat Romancing the Stone in the first round and is a classic Brat Pack film. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1985, behind stiff competition like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, & The Goonies, but besting notable films like Teen Wolf, Weird Science, Young Sherlock Holmes, & Vision Quest. St. Elmo’s Fire, by the way, is “a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere, such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption, sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms, regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light” and is named in honor of St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. I have no idea what that has to do with the movie, but meaningless trivia is kind of my thing.

The Verdict: Coming to America. St. Elmo’s Fire has a fabled cast and a kickass theme song, but it is a flawed film, probably in part because it is directed by Joel Schumacher and John Hughes is nowhere in sight. Coming to America is directed by John Landis and has a likeable cast with a fun script. It doesn’t necessarily paint outside the lines, but it doesn’t really have to.

 
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home vs. Eddie & The Cruisers
trekThere were six films made with the cast of the original Star Trek series…William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForesteddie Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy, George Takei as Sulu, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, Walter Koenig as Chekov, & James Doohan as Scotty…between 1979 and 1991. In this fourth installment the crew of the USS Enterprise goes back in time to modern day (1986) San Francisco to scoop up some humpback whales that will play a part in saving Earth in the 23rd century. It is a quintessential fish-out-of-water story, with our favorite space cowboys trying to fly under the radar in the 1980’s. It also holds up a rather humorous mirror to modern culture and allows the characters to really shine in a fun, lighthearted way. Eddie & The Cruisers scored an upset victory over the more acclaimed A Fish Called Wanda in Round 1 because that’s just how I roll. It is actually based on a novel that I may read someday. The premise is fantastic, but I have a lot of questions about the execution. In doing some reading about the film it sounds like it just ended up in the wrong hands and several mistakes were made. A more skilled director and production team might have made a movie that isn’t quite as overlooked & underappreciated as the final product.

The Verdict: Star Trek IV. I love Eddie & The Cruisers, but it could have been so much better. The Voyage Home isn’t necessarily a traditional Trek film. The action doesn’t take place in outer space and The Enterprise is MIA, but the script is really good and the cast does some of their finest work. It makes me smile, and in my book that’s pretty cool.

 
The Princess Bride vs. Cocktail
pb21987’s The Princess Bride is another film based on a book, the author being the guy who would go on to write or assist with screenplays for films like cButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, A Few Good Men, & Good Will Hunting. The film uses the book as a framing device, with Peter Falk (aka Columbo) starring as a grandfather reading to his ill grandson, played by a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage. In the “fairy tale” a young farm girl named Buttercup falls in love with a laborer. He goes off to seek his fortune so they can be married but is presumed dead when his ship is attacked by an infamous pirate. A few years later Buttercup is set to marry the prince of yet another fictional country before she is kidnapped by one of the oddest trios you’ll ever see. Of course the young lady’s true love isn’t really dead and sets out to rescue her. The film is directed by Rob Reiner and has a charming cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, & Andre the Giant. The best way I can describe it is delightfully quirky…family friendly escapism at its best. Cocktail got the decision over Stripes in Round 1. It was the 9th highest grossing movie of 1988, beating out solid competition like Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Everybody’s All-American. The Beach Boys’ song Kokomo is the film’s unofficial theme song and was a #1 hit.

The Verdict: The Princess Bride. This is a tough one because I love Cocktail. It is probably the most underrated Cruise movie. But The Princess Bride, besides being a cult classic, is a really solid film and a lot of fun.

 

 

Stand By Me vs. Weekend at Bernie’s
Stand-By-Me-Website-Banner-3-980x363-980x363Stand By Me defeated K-9 in Round 1. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but WeekendAtBernies_184Pyxurzahead of Pretty in Pink, The Fly, Three Amigos!, & Hoosiers. It was directed by Rob Reiner and features a cool 50’s soundtrack. The framing device with Richard Dreyfuss as an older version of one of the characters that lets us know how all of their lives ended up playing out is a nice touch. Weekend at Bernie’s got the first round decision over Bachelor Party. It ranked 39th at the box office in 1989, ahead of Road House, The Fabulous Baker Boys, & The Dream Team but behind crapfests like The Karate Kid Part III, The Abyss, & The Bear (whatever the heck that is). It is interesting to ponder what became of stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman. McCarthy…a member of the infamous Brat Pack who starred in notable films like Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, & St. Elmo’s Fire…hasn’t been in anything memorable since Bernie’s (unless one wants to generously include the 1993 sequel) and has more recently been doing guest spots in TV shows that no one watches. Silverman starred in a mid-90’s sitcom called The Single Guy for a couple of seasons and does a lot of TV stuff, but Bernie’s seems to be his career highlight. Fame is indeed fleeting.

The Verdict: Stand By Me. It isn’t even close.

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) Part 1

sports2Sportswriter, fellow pro wrestling fan, & former ESPN talking head Bill Simmons wrote a delightful column last summer about films that may or may not be considered a true sports movie. Some of his conclusions I agree with, others I do not. I march to the beat of my own drummer so I don’t really care about others’ opinions, but Simmons’ basic premise is spot on. There is a lot of crossover when it comes to sports movies, especially with rom-coms.


So what exactly defines a sports movie?? In pondering that question I have come to a few conclusions:

• A sports movie usually features a loveable underdog trying to overcome impossible odds. Sports is all about cheering for one team and/or against another. Fans tend to like sports packaged like old westerns…the good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats. The dividing line between heroes & villains is clear and everyone loves a good David vs. Goliath story.
• A sports movie should concentrate, if not exclusively then atleast mostly, on the sports. We need to see game action, usually involving a climactic contest where our underdog shocks the world with a last second victory. This is where the line gets blurred most often, with more rom-com-ish films focusing heavily on relationships, usually between a star player or coach and a beautiful young lady that is way too good for him. In that type of story sports takes a backseat, which can be problematic in defining it as a sports film.
• Sports movies will oftentimes have two specific characters: an aging veteran who just can’t walk away, and/or a young buck that is talented but has a lot to learn. One or both characters may be present. If both are in the film then the old guy is probably a mentor/guru for the youngster.
• Sports movies almost always have an inspirational speech. This speech theoretically is about sports, but really it is a philosophical & spiritual illumination of life and the universe.

That’s pretty much it. There are other clichés that we could dive into, but I think I’ve covered the biggies.

The process of compiling this list, narrowing things down, & getting the right order was more difficult than expected. There are films that I love from a big picture perspective, but kind of fall short within the specific confines of being a sports movie. There are other films that really aren’t great films, but inside the narrow boundaries of the genre are quite entertaining. As with my 100 Favorite Films I cannot escape the limits of my own life experiences and personal taste. Someone my father’s age or a 20-something like my eldest nephew might cinemahave a completely different compilation. So be it. I appreciate quality, but I’m not a movie critic. Just because something is good doesn’t mean I like it, and just because the masses on Rotten Tomatoes may eviscerate a film doesn’t mean I haven’t watched it a hundred times on cold, lonely, dreary Saturday nights. You’ll see a good cross section of sports represented here…football (high school, college, & pro), baseball (Little League, the minor leagues, & MLB), basketball, hockey, horse racing, amateur wrestling, martial arts, golf, auto racing, boxing, and even a certain unusual “sport” that we all played in grade school. There are a few old black & white films from the 30’s as well as stuff from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, & the 21st century. There are comedies, dramas, & biopics. Yet this eclectic mix of movies has one common thread…sports. I love them. You probably love them. And hopefully you’ll enjoy this fun little effort.

 

 
25 Miracle
Miracle is interesting from this standpoint: how come it took nearly 25 years for a major miracle2motion picture to be made about one of the greatest real sports stories of all time?? The film tells the tale of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team that stunned the world by upsetting the Russians and going on to win the gold medal. Kurt Russell carries the movie portraying head coach Herb Brooks, who died in a tragic car accident just before Miracle hit theaters in 2004. I would have liked to have seen a bit more character development to differentiate the players, but Russell is solid as usual and the hockey scenes are compelling. This is a story that needed to be told, and I suppose it is done about as well as possible.

 

24 Everybody’s All-American
Everybody’s All-American is based on a novel that I’ve never read but is on my bookshelf so I’ll eaaget around to it eventually. It’s a really good story that explores what happens to a big man on campus whose pro football career isn’t nearly as glamorous as his collegiate glory days, and chronicles the challenges he faces when even that pro career begins to fade. Dennis Quaid is a grossly underrated actor and I’m a sucker for tales set in a different era (this one takes place in the 1950’s). Everybody’s All-American kind of gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. It was in theaters in 1988, with stiff competition from Big, Rain Man, Coming to America, Cocktail, The Naked Gun, A Fish Called Wanda, Beetlejuice, Bull Durham, Die Hard, & Who Framed Roger Rabbit. If you’ve never seen it check it out on Netflix. You won’t regret it.

 

23 North Dallas Forty / Any Given Sunday
ndfFilms about professional football seem hellbent & determined to focus on the sport’s seedy underbelly…violence, drugs, sex, partying. While baseball is often romanticized in cinema football is shown no mercy. North Dallas Forty is a 1979 movie (also based on a book I’ve not read but would like to) starring Nick Nolte and country singer turned actor Mac Davis. They play for a fictionalized facsimile of the Dallas Cowboys. True story: I watched this movie on our illegal HBO when I was probably 10 or 11 years old. I lied to my mother and told her it was rated PG. When she found out that it was rated R and that I had lied to her she grounded me for about a month. Any Given Sunday is an updated version of “look how vicious football is and what jerks these agsguys are” theme, but it stars Al Pacino as the head coach and Pacino makes anything awesome. The aforementioned Dennis Quaid is along for the ride as an aging QB who loses his starting job to a young & cocky Jamie Foxx. Oliver Stone directed and I’ve never been a big fan of Stone’s style, so this isn’t really a film I’ve watched as much as others you’ll see here.

 

22 A League of Their Own / The Bad News Bears
LeagueOfTheirOwnThere really was an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed for about a decade during and after World War II. There were 15 teams, mostly located in the Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota). The league was created by Phillip Wrigley, the heir to his father’s chewing gum empire. A League of Their Own is a dramedy centering on the four time league champion Rockford Peaches. The only negative issue with the film is the questionable casting of Madonna and the repugnant Rosie O’Donnell, but fortunately it is saved by outstanding performances by Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Garry Marshall, and especially Tom Hanks in a rare supporting role. I like movies based on true stories and this one works really well. The Bad News Bears is such an iconic movie that the premise has passed into the general lexicon as a way of describing a ragtag bunch of irreverent The-Bad-News-Bearsscrew-ups. The reference is a bit dated now, and I bet there are people who use it that have never even seen the original film made in 1975. There was a remake in 2005, but this is just one of those stories that shouldn’t be redone. Honestly, how could anyone really replace the late Walter Matthau (except for Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple…but Klugman is dead too)??

 

21 Vision Quest
Vision Quest is a romantic drama set against the backdrop of high school wrestling. It was vqreleased in 1985, the same year as more beloved classics like Back to the Future, Fletch, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Teen Wolf, Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Cocoon, & St. Elmo’s Fire…so it is easy to understand why it is largely forgotten. However, it really works as a sports film, especially if you have had any exposure to amateur wrestling. Both of my nephews wrestled from the time they were 4 years old thru high school, and the youngest won a state title during his junior season a few months ago. If you aren’t a fan of the sport you may not like Vision Quest as much, but with a solid cast, fantastic soundtrack, & a good story it’s well worth the time.

 

 

 

That’s all you get for now. Join us again soon for Part 2!!