80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 1

Welcome back to 80’s Movie Mania!! Unfortunately I’m still not getting the interactive response I’d hoped for, so I am forced to make decisions on the polls I posted for the first round of the Bodacious Division. To that end: Weekend at Bernie’s conquers Bachelor Party, Cocktail beats Stripes, and Iron Eagle defeats An Officer & A Gentleman. Now we move on to first round matchups in the Tubular Division. I am persistent so there will be more polls. Please vote. Enjoy!!

 

 

 

Tubular – Round 1

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure   vs.   History of the World Part I
btdThis is a matchup for all you history buffs!! Bill and Ted are two California stoners destined to do great History-of-the-World-Part-1-mel-brooksthings in the future…if only they can pass their high school history exam. To help them in their 1989 epic adventure George Carlin travels back in time in a phone booth and introduces the two mindless teens to historical figures like Billy the Kid, Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, & Abraham Lincoln. As you might imagine it’s a pretty funny trip thru the ol’ space-time continuum. A sequel came out a couple of years later but it lacks the magic of the original. The 1981 epic History of the World Part 1 is written, produced, & directed by the legendary Mel Brooks. It is comprised of short segments parodying events set in The Stone Age, The Old Testament Biblical era, The Roman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, & The French Revolution and stars some pretty big names like Orson Welles (who narrates), Dom Deluise, Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, & Brooks himself. The humor is kind of old school vaudeville mixed with Americanized Python-esque zaniness…and it works.

The Verdict: Okay Manoverse…I’m giving you another shot here. Can we get atleast 10 votes on this one??

 

 

 
WarGames   vs.   The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
wargamesWhat would happen if a precocious teenage computer hacker inadvertently started World War III?? best-little-whorehouse-texas-dolly1983’s WarGames addresses that idea. It was the first starring role for both Matthew Broderick & Ally Sheedy and is a fun, entertaining, vaguely conceivable, well written thrill ride. 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on a Tony Award winning Broadway musical and stars Dolly Parton as the madam of a brothel whose…activities…are largely ignored because the madam is in a relationship with the local sheriff, portrayed by Burt Reynolds (still one of the biggest actors in the world at the time). Things get riotously complicated when a Springer-esque talk show host portrayed by Dom Deluise decides to expose the “chicken ranch”.

The Verdict: WarGames. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is an amusing yet forgettably frivolous comedy we recall only because of its above average cast. WarGames is really well done, taking a heavy subject and spinning it into enjoyable entertainment.

 

 

Scarface   vs.   License to Drive
scarface1Al Pacino is still one of the best actors in the world and has been for over four decades, with 1983’s coreysScarface being one of his most treasured films. Pacino stars as Cuban drug lord Tony Montana in a violent story about cocaine & organized crime that was written by the infamous Oliver Stone and helmed by heralded director Brian DePalma. License to Drive is a 1988 comedy starring The Coreys…Haim & Feldman…about a 16 year old kid who takes his grandfather’s vehicle out for some misadventures despite having failed his driving test. The cast also includes Carol Kane, Heather Graham, & One Day at a Time’s Richard Masur.

The Verdict: Scarface. It isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but considering the competition this is a no brainer. Even The Coreys made better movies than License to Drive.

 

 
Three Amigos!   vs.   European Vacation
Three-AmigosIt’s Chevy Chase vs. Chevy Chase!! In 1986’s Three Amigos! Chase co-stars with Steve Martin & Martin euroShort as dimwitted silent film actors in the early 20th century who inadvertently become involved in a battle against a bandito who is terrorizing a small Mexican village. They think they have been recruited to simply put on a show, but the young senorita who has enlisted their help mistakenly believes they are genuine heroes that can save her neighborhood. Hilarity ensues. Three Amigos! has never won any awards, but it is a quirky showcase for the inimitable talents of a trio of comedy legends. European Vacation is a 1985 follow-up to the original Vacation wherein the wacky Griswold clan wins an all-expenses paid tour of Europe on a goofy game show. As usual things go horribly yet hilariously wrong for Clark, Ellen, Rusty, & Audrey. It isn’t as funny as the first film or 1989’s Christmas Vacation, but European Vacation has its charms and upon further review is better than the first impression it might have left back in the day.

The Verdict: This one is in your hands too Manoverse. I’m counting on you!!

 

 

 
Three Men & A Baby   vs.   La Bamba
3menOnce again we have a trio of big name co-stars…in this case Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, & Steve Guttenberg. labambaThree Men & A Baby was the highest grossing film of 1987, beating out the likes of Fatal Attraction, Good Morning Vietnam, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, Dirty Dancing, Lethal Weapon, and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. The story finds three NY City bachelors suddenly tasked with taking care of an infant that one of them has fathered. The men have no clue what they are doing and therein lies the comedy. The film was directed by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy and was followed a few years later by an unremarkable sequel. Word on the street is that a third film…three decades after the original…is in the works. La Bamba was also made in 1987 and is a biopic of Richie Valens, a Latino rocker in the 1950’s who had a few big hits before his life was cut short on The Day the Music Died in a plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. La Bamba has an awesome soundtrack and Lou Diamond Phillips is mesmerizing as Valens.

The Verdict: 1987 was a really good year in film!! I’m also leaving this one up to y’all. Let’s get those votes in!!

 

 

 

Porky’s   vs.   Mr. Mom
porkys1982’s Porky’s is the quintessential teen sex comedy. Actually it is a forefather to movies like Superbad, mrmomRoad Trip, & American Pie in a genre that keeps on keepin’ on with decidedly uneven results. Porky’s is set in the 1950’s and has a group of Florida high schoolers on the typical quest to lose their virginity, ticking off a local nightclub owner in the process. There are no big stars in the film, but it was directed by Bob Clark, who would use the success of Porky’s to launch his passion project…a little ditty called A Christmas Story. You may have heard of it. 1983’s Mr. Mom is amongst the early works of Michael Keaton, still one of the most underrated actors out there to this day. Keaton co-stars with the lovely Teri Garr as an engineer downsized from Ford Motor Company who becomes a stay-at-home Dad while Mom re-enters the work force at an ad agency. It is Keaton at his funniest.

The Verdict: Mr. Mom. The basic plot of Porky’s has been done better in other films. Meanwhile, Mr. Mom is an oft overlooked gem that really showcases Keaton’s comedic talent.

 

 

Moonstruck   vs.   Flashdance
moonstruckI have long opined that Cher is a much better actress than singer, and the 1987 rom-com Moonstruck is flashdanceone of her more memorable performances, earning her an Oscar for Best Actress. Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and the movie itself was nominated for Best Picture, losing out to The Last Emperor, which also beat out Broadcast News and Fatal Attraction…a prime example of the folly and apparent crack smoking prowess of Oscar voters. At any rate, the real gem in Moonstruck is Nicolas Cage as a man who falls head over heels in love with his soon-to-be sister-in-law. 1983’s Flashdance tells the story of a female steelworker/stripper in Pittsburgh who wants to be a professional dancer. She becomes romantically involved with her boss (from the steel mill…not the nudie bar) and has to overcome feelings of inadequacy to chase her dream.

The Verdict: Moonstruck. I feel like Flashdance is remembered more for its soundtrack than for the movie itself. Meanwhile, the pedigree of Moonstruck cannot be denied.

100 Favorite Movies…..#5

Do you remember 1983?? I do…sort of. I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. Ronald Reagan was in office and proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, more commonly referred to as Star Wars. The U.S. Invaded Grenada, an island that very few had ever heard of and probably 95% of the population still cannot locate on a map. Everyone wanted their MTV, a channel that at that time still aired music videos. Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday. Return of the Jedi ruled the box office, or one could buy a $3 ticket to see films like All the Right Moves, Flashdance, The Big Chill, Mr. Mom, Terms of Endearment, Valley Girl, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Right Stuff, Scarface, Eddie & the Cruisers, Jaws 3-D, Octopussy, The Outsiders, Risky Business, Trading Places, and War Games. DeLorean stopped making cars two years before a DeLorean was used as a time machine in Back to the Future. McDonald’s started selling something called Chicken McNuggets. Chrysler introduced us to the minivan. Legendary college football coach Bear Bryant died. Sally Ride…well…rode the space shuttle Challenger, becoming the first woman in space. Challenger would carry the first African-American astronaut into space just a few months later. Underdogs NC State, lead by coach Jim Valvano, shocked Hakeem Olajuwon and his Houston Cougars to win the NCAA basketball championship with a last second shot. Michael Jackson’s album Thriller spent over 9 months at the top of the charts and Madonna released her self titled debut. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also had a self titled debut album. The Japanese started selling some sort of video game system named Nintendo. Poison and Run DMC began their careers while ABBA and Sly & the Family Stone ended theirs. The Price is Right began having contestants play a game called Plinko. CMT, The Disney Channel, & The Nashville Network launched. Every child in America wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. We said goodbye to Archie Bunker, MASH, Taxi, CHiPs, Laverne & Shirley, Square Pegs, and Little House on the Prairie while saying hello to Webster, The A-Team, and Mama’s Family.

 

And quietly, right before Thanksgiving, a little movie called A Christmas Story came to your local cinema. Most folks didn’t pay much attention at the time, and by Christmas it had ended its brief run. 27 years later it is among our most beloved holiday classics and one of my all time favorite films.

 

There are certain benchmarks that measure the passage of time, touchstones that commemorate life’s events and happenings. Auld Lang Syne and the big ball drop signify a New Year. The Jerry Lewis Telethon envelopes Labor Day. The kickoff of football season means summer is over and autumn has arrived while baseball ushers in springtime. And for me, the first time I catch A Christmas Story on television (usually on Turner Classic Movies on Thanksgiving or the day after) means the Christmas season is in full swing, while the final showing of the annual 24 hour marathon that ends at 8pm on Christmas Day is the unofficial end of our most glorious holiday.

 

I cannot imagine that there are many people that have never seen this most nostalgic of Christmas classics. It is the story of a 9 year old boy’s dogged determination to overcome the persistent objection “You’ll shoot your eye out!!” and receive the only gift he truly desires…a Red Ryder BB gun. Along the way we see typical snippets of boyhood Americana…the school bully, overbearing but lovable Moms and gruff, foul mouthed, well intentioned Dads, interactions with neighborhood chums, teachers who are much more aware of their students’ shenanigans than the kids realize, inadvertent use of foul language resulting in a child’s mouth being washed with soap, and a visit to a mall Santa who isn’t exactly jolly. The story is set somewhere around the late 1930’s/early 1940’s and of course was thrust upon the public in the 1980’s, another case where a sense of timelessness and wistful nostalgia crosses the time-space continuum and adds to one’s eternal enjoyment of the experience. Based on stories written by humorist Jean Shepherd about his childhood in pre-WWII Indiana, A Christmas Story has well developed characters and a rapier sharp script that is funny yet poignant and maybe even a little subversive. I have read Shepherd’s works, or atleast the one’s germane to this movie, and he is a very good writer. However, I think we have a rare example of the movie being better than the book.

 

It will forever be amusing to me that A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark, whose other notable films include Porky’s (and Porky’s 2), Rhinestone, and the original Black Christmas. Clark’s sensibilities would not seem to lend themselves well to the family/holiday comedy genre, but somehow it works perfectly. If one pays close enough attention there is an edginess…just the slightest hint of twisted, dark humor…present. But overall A Christmas Story is a movie to be enjoyed by, if I may steal a line from Nat King Cole and Mel Torme, “kids from 1 to 92”. The cast is absolutely perfect, with my personal gold star going to Darren McGavin as The Old Man, aka Mr. Parker, the father who is never given a name. McGavin did some other notable stuff in his career…the sci-fi cult classic TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker, supporting roles in Airport ’77, The Natural, & Billy Madison, and a host of guest starring roles on various television shows from the 1960’s through the 1990’s…but his legacy will forever be tied to our current subject du jour. The Old Man is an odd combination of tough talking disciplinarian and clueless buffoon. In other words, he embodies a typical Dad. Sure the kids and their escapades are cute, and Ralphie’s schemes to somehow land that BB gun are the centerpiece of the movie. However, I submit that the sublime pleasure that is A Christmas Story is just as much about The Old Man’s potty mouth, his disdain for the redneck neighbors and their dogs, the ongoing battle with an old broken down furnace, and of course the overwhelming pride he feels after winning a trivia contest and being awarded with a hideous pop art lamp in which only he can see the beauty. The Old Man isn’t quite a slapstick fool in the vein of Clark Griswold, but one can see shades of Griswold-iness in he and his family. I recall reading somewhere that Jack Nicholson was the first choice to play The Old Man, but that he would have been too expensive. Just another one of those happy accidents in cinema where creatively working with a low budget ended up being so much better than just throwing money at the issue.

 

As mentioned, few took notice of A Christmas Story when it hit theaters in 1983. But television gave it new life, first on HBO in the mid to late 80’s and then on the Turner family of networks in the 1990’s. Momentum built slowly but surely and was given a huge boost when a 24 hour marathon, spanning 8pm on Christmas Eve to 8pm on Christmas night, began airing annually in 1997. In the ensuing 13 years the rise from forgotten theatrical disappointment to quite possibly the most popular Christmas film of all time has been meteoric. I cannot say that I have ever watched all 24 hours of the marathon because I do have a life, but I usually catch bits & pieces throughout and probably sit down and watch the whole thing twice. I would like to believe that A Christmas Story would have been recognized by the masses for its genius without the less-than-subtle marketing blitz, but let’s face it…the American public will fall for the hard sell and can be goaded into bandwagon jumping. I suppose scoffers will always believe this to be a movie that the public had to be convinced to like, and that may be true on some subliminal level. But I think it is safe to assume that we have all been sold lemons of far lesser quality (look at the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for example) than A Christmas Story, a film that deserves its place in the pantheon of traditional holiday entertainment, and has earned its high spot on this particular list as well.