80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 2

Today we finish up second round action for 80’s Movie Mania. Please feel free to go back and check out Round 2 results for the Gnarly, Tubular, & Bodacious Divisions. I haven’t been posting polls much lately because it seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong, but until then we’ll just forge ahead. As always feedback is appreciated. Tell your friends & family about the site. Let’s grow The Manoverse into a force to be reckoned with in the blogosphere!!

 

 

 

 

Radical 2

 

Rain Man   vs.     Night Shift

More Tom Cruise?? Yep, I’m afraid so. In 1988’s Rain Man Cruise plays Charlie, a down-on-his-luck NightShift-Still2shyster whose estranged father dies and leaves him nothing but an old car and some rose bushes. The old man left millions of dollars to an older brother that Charlie didn’t even know existed. That brother, Ray (in an Oscar winning performance by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant residing in a mental institution. Charlie impulsively decides to take Ray away from the facility and get legal custody thereby gaining access to the inheritance. The ensuing road trip is full of fun & poignant moments as the two brothers bond and Charlie matures. Rain Man not only got Hoffman his second Oscar but also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Original Screenplay. Night Shift defeated Fletch in Round 1. It ranked 36th at the box office in 1982, behind clunkers that no one remembers like Things Are Tough All Over, Best Friends, & The Dark Crystal, but ahead of notable competition including The Thing, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Diner, & Grease 2. It might be an overstatement to say that Night Shift launched the careers of Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, & Shelley Long, but it definitely counts as a prominent catalyst for them, especially the directorial trajectory of Howard and Keaton’s stellar filmography. Winkler’s portrayal of a character that is the polar opposite of Happy Days’ Fonzie showed his range even if he never became a huge movie star.

 

The Verdict:       Rain Man. The pedigree cannot be denied, and unlike many Best Picture winners it is the kind of lighthearted popcorn flick one can enjoy anytime it may pop up on television.

 

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Flight of the Navigator

After receiving a first round bye the ultimate mockumentary makes its Mania debut. Presented as a faux documentary of a supposedly real rock band, 1984’s Spinal Tap is a satirical look inside the zany world of rock n’ roll. It stars Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny Kosnowski), Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, & others on The Simpsons), & Christopher Guest (the real life husband of Jamie Lee Curtis) as members of a goofy British band that sings songs like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, & Gimme Some Money. Written & directed by Rob Reiner, the movie features cameos & early screen appearances by stars like Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, & Anjelica Huston and contains many memorable scenes & quotable lines. Actual rock stars like Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, U2’s Edge, & Dave Grohl allegedly love the film and praise its accuracy. Flight of the Navigator upset The Goonies in Round 1. I can be a rebel on occasion. Navigator ranked a lowly 48th at the box office in 1986, behind idiocy like Friday the 13thnavigator Part 6, Wildcats, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, & The Golden Child (a film that nearly killed the career of Eddie Murphy). However it did fare better than decent flicks like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Best of Times, 9 ½ Weeks, Highlander, & Maximum Overdrive. A quick look back reveals that Flight of the Navigator was released in early August of 1986 and faced stiff competition from summer blockbusters Aliens and The Fly as well as 80’s mainstay Stand By Me.

 

The Verdict:       This Is Spinal Tap. I adore the whole mockumentary genre, and this is the one that started it all. Great characters, well-written script, superb cast, fun cameos…there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.

 

 

 

 

Wall Street           vs.     Revenge of the Nerds

wallstreet2_560Michael Douglas, son of legendary 20th century actor Kirk Douglas, has had a fine career. He co-starred with Karl Malden in the 1970’s TV cop show The Streets of San Francisco. He won an Oscar for producing 1975 Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s starred in notable films like Basic Instinct, The China Syndrome, & Falling Down. But he reached the pinnacle in 1987 with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko, a dodgy business tycoon who famously opines that “greed is good”. Charlie Sheen is also along for the ride as an inexperienced but ambitious stockbroker who first admires Gekko before eventually turning against him. The world of stocks, bonds, & corporate raiding is a tricky one to translate to film, but Wall Street pulls it off, keeping things accessible to the viewer and creating a level of suspense, intrigue, & drama normally reserved for more action based movies. Revenge of the Nerds defeated Twins in the first round. It was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1984, behind hits like Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Footloose, & Thenerds2 Karate Kid, but besting pretty solid competition, stuff like The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Well okay, that last one sucked, but I had to sneak it in somewhere because thirty years later the title, as well as the concept of break dancing in general, cracks me up. The powers-that-be squeezed all they could out of Nerds, with three sequels in the course of the following decade. The original still pops up on TV occasionally and is always good for a few chuckles.

 

The Verdict:       Wall Street. Gordon Gekko may be one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. He has become the icon of a certain fragment in time, a symbol of arrogance, materialism, & yes…greed.

 

 

 

 

Splash       vs.     The Naked Gun

splashEveryone remembers Ron Howard when he was a little kid starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, and then as a teenager playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. However, Howard knew from an early age that he wanted to become a director. He left Happy Days after its 7th season to concentrate on directing and has strung together an impressive list of well-received & entertaining hits. One of his early triumphs is 1984’s Splash, about a NY City businessman who falls in love with a mermaid. The cast includes Tom Hanks (in his breakout role), Daryl Hannah, John Candy, & Eugene Levy. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1984 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The Naked Gun beat out Dragnet in Round 1. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1988, behind really good films like Rain Man, Big, Coming to America, & Die Hard, but besting some pretty good flicks like Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Alright, I’m joking again about that last one, Anyway, as far as the parody/spoof genre goes The Naked Gun would be on its Mount Rushmore…if such a thing existed.

 

The Verdict:       The Naked Gun. I suppose this is kind of an upset. Splash is definitely the more critically acclaimed film, and with names like Howard, Hanks, & Candy its pedigree is indisputable. However, one of the benchmarks I hold in highest esteem is repeat viewings, and I don’t think I’ve seen Splash in atleast 20 years. It’s just not shown on television that much for some reason. And to be honest if it were on but The Naked Gun was also on at the same time I have a feeling I’d choose the latter. Splash is mostly remembered as a springboard for the careers of Howard & Hanks (who have both done better work in the ensuing years), not necessarily for the movie itself. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun epitomizes an entire category of films and is just plain old funny. Poor Tom Hanks…beaten by Leslie Nielsen & OJ Simpson two rounds in a row.

 

 

 

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial    vs.     Sixteen Candles

One of the earliest moviegoing experiences I remember is going to see Coal Miner’s Daughter at the sixteendrive-in with my parents & sister, which was likely sometime during the summer of 1980 or 81 when I was 8 or 9 years old. The other experience I remember is going to see E.T.. Our local mall opened in 1982, the same year that E.T. was in theaters, and it was there that I saw it. Produced & directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg, E.T. tells the story of a cute, friendly little alien botanist who is inadvertently left behind by his compatriots when their peaceful mission to collect samples of Earth plant life is interrupted by government agents. E.T. is discovered by a 10 year old boy named Elliot, and eventually his younger sister Gertie (a 5 year old Drew Barrymore in one of her earliest roles) and older brother Michael. The kids decide to keep E.T.’s existence a secret from their mother and formulate a plan to help the alien get home to his own world. Drama ensues. E.T. quickly overtook Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time and held that title for over a decade. To this day it is still in the Top 10 on that list when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. It won four Academy Awards, though it lost Best Picture to Gandhi. Sixteen Candles got the decision over Red Dawn in Round 1. It ranked a humble 44th at the box office in 1984, behind head scratchers like Cannonball Run II, City Heat, All of Me, & Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But hey, it beat horror classic Children of the Corn, so that’s…something. I guess America hadn’t gotten the John Hughes/Brat Pack memo quite yet.

 

The Verdict:       E.T.. I’m going to contradict myself. It’s probably been even longer since I’ve watched E.T. than Splash. In that time I’ve seen Sixteen Candles plenty of times. I was initially prepared to hand Sixteen Candles the upset victory, but I just can’t pull the trigger. E.T. was the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME for 11 years!! How do I overlook that?? This is a great example of why Manoverse participation would be helpful. I’d love to take the temperature of the masses, but I have no faith that delaying the decision with a poll would accomplish anything.

 

 

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High     vs.     Spaceballs

fast2Fast Times beat Brighton Beach Memoirs in Round 1. It was the 29th ranked film at the box office in 1982, space2behind classics like Poltergeist & First Blood as well as not so great movies like The Toy, Young Doctors in Love, and The Sword & The Sorcerer. The good news is that it did better than some impressive competition like Pink Floyd: The Wall and re-issues of The Empire Strikes Back, Bambi, & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fast Times isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards, but it meant something to those of a certain age. I’m not sure how modern teens view it…if it speaks to them on some level or seems completely lame & outdated. I really hope it is the former rather than the latter. Spaceballs won a tossup over Summer School in Round 1. It ranked 31st at the 1987 box office. One would think a Star Wars parody might do better, but atleast it bested solid competition like The Lost Boys, Can’t Buy Me Love, Raising Arizona, Some Kind of Wonderful, & Over the Top. A sequel would seem to write itself, but for some reason it just never happened.

 

The Verdict:       Fast Times. Easy call. Spaceballs is a great parody film, but it isn’t better than an archetypal 80’s film that helped define the decade and an entire generation.

100 Favorite Movies…..56-60

After a four month hiatus the time feels right to jump back into this series. Actually this little break was rather unintentional, or atleast I never meant for it to last this long…I just had other things I wanted to write about for awhile. There is still an eclectic mix of things in the pipeline, as I hope is always the case. Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. For now though, we’ll grab some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and head into the theater.

 

 


60 Hoosiers

It seems appropriate to be writing about Hoosiers on the cusp of NCAA basketball’s Final Four. I assure you the timing is purely coincidental though fitting. Hoosiers is a mid 80’s film set in the early 50’s, which right off the bat gives it a timeless quality. It stars Gene Hackman as a former college basketball coach who, it is eventually revealed, lost his job after hitting a student. Coach Norman Dale has been out of the game for over a decade when he is thrown a bone by an old friend, the principal of a small Indiana high school in need of a coach. Anyone who knows basketball knows that it is especially revered in Indiana, and that is reflected in the story. There’s the usual conflict between the coach and his players, who just don’t understand his methods. Throw in a budding romance between the coach and a fellow teacher (who can’t stand each other at first of course), a town drunk who also happens to be a basketball guru (played by Dennis Hopper in an Academy Award nominated performance), a gifted but troubled player who is reluctant to join the team, and townsfolk who are just a bit too passionate about their team (overcompensating for their empty and meaningless lives of course) and you’ve got yourself a nicely layered movie. Hoosiers has all the typical clichés that were originated in Rocky and have become staples in sports films like Rudy, Tin Cup, Remember the Titans, and Major League. Hackman and Hopper give nice performances and Hoosiers is a more than decent flick. It’s a bit predictable and the characters could be flushed out a bit more (it’s less than 2 hours long…another 20 minutes would have been peachy), but there’s no denying it has a place amongst the great sports movies. That place just may be a little lower in my opinion than many others’.

 

59 Vertigo

It should become apparent as one reads through these 100 movies that I am a Jimmy Stewart fan. By my count there are 6 of his movies on the list. It is ostensibly his Everyman quality…nice guy, small towner, “aw shucks” attitude that draws fans to Stewart, but the truth is much more complex. Jimmy’s talents had many facets, and in his career he played diverse roles…small town nice guy, hardscrabble cowboy, sophisticated man-about-town. Three directors guided Stewart through a large chunk of his 92 films – Frank Capra (3 films), Anthony Mann (8 films) Alfred Hitchcock (4 films). It is his work with Hitchcock that, in my opinion, is the most unique. Vertigo is much like that book that you were assigned to read in school and really resisted, but upon being forced to read it you rather enjoyed. I am not normally a huge fan of the suspense thriller genre, and years ago when I first made myself watch Vertigo (afterall, any self respecting Stewart fan just HAS to), I was fully prepared to not really like it all that much. However, much to my surprise I was sucked in by the singular story and the mesmerizing performances. The plot is far too intricate to describe here, but suffice to say it involves deception, dual identities, murder, obsession, and of course vertigo (i.e. paralyzing fear of heights). Jimmy strays about as far away from the “aw shucks” nice guy persona as he would ever get, but doesn’t cross too far into villainous territory. Vertigo demands repeat viewing so one can digest all of Hitchcock’s twisted goodness, but it is time well spent…although I do recommend following it up with a screwball comedy as a palate cleanser.

 

58 American Beauty

Speaking of screwball comedies…well, okay, maybe not so much. Any movie that climaxes with a person’s brains being spilled onto the kitchen floor probably can’t really be called a comedy. Actually this film is one of those that is rather difficult to categorize, but all things considered I must admit that American Beauty makes me laugh. Maybe it is the spot on accurate portrayal of the desperation and despair inherent in modern suburbia. Perhaps it is because it takes the average happy family myth and turns it on its ear. That’s a common theme nowadays. Numerous sitcoms portray families as dysfunctional trainwrecks of unhappiness. But that is a relatively new development in entertainment. Before American Beauty only two examples, both of them television shows…Roseanne and Dallas…stood out as having such a cynical approach to family life. I never particularly liked the Roseanne show, and Dallas was a soap opera. Kevin Spacey, who I enjoy in just about everything he is in, is brilliant in American Beauty as a man going through a mid-life crisis while dealing with a loveless marriage and a brooding & timid teenage daughter. As Lester Burnham, Spacey deals with his unhappiness like an NFL linebacker deals with a running back trying to bust up the middle for a big gain. Lester begins smoking pot with a voyeuristic teenage neighbor, starts working out in order to impress his daughter’s gorgeous cheerleader friend, and quits his suit and tie gig (blackmailing his young boss for a year’s salary on the way out) at an advertising firm in lieu of working the drive thru at a local burger joint. Meanwhile, Lester’s materialistic, oddly driven wife begins a torrid affair with a real estate rival and the daughter begins an eccentric romance/friendship with the pot smoking teenage neighbor. That kid has issues of his own, with a military man for as father and a quietly desperate mother who lets her husband run roughshod over the family. All the stories converge into a strangely violent climax. Kudos can certainly be given to Annette Bening as the wife, Carolyn, Wes Bentley as voyeuristic neighbor Ricky, and the always entertaining Chris Cooper as Colonel Fitts…but the engine that drives American Beauty is Spacey, who makes every movie he is in better than if he was not present.

 

57 This Is Spinal Tap

I am a big fan of “mockumentaries”, movies that present the story within the framework of a supposedly real documentary. The undisputed king of mockumentaries was made in 1984 by director Rob Reiner (fresh off his success as “Meathead” on All in the Family), and stars Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley), Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (known to 21st century audiences as the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and others on The Simpsons). Guest would go on to be a successful director of mockumentaries himself, as well as being the husband of 80’s scream queen and the still smokin’ hot Jamie Lee Curtis. This Is Spinal Tap follows a fictional British heavy metal band as they venture out on an American tour and includes flashbacks that tell the group’s backstory. Sharp eyed viewers will spot cameos or bit parts by now well known faces such as Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Dresher, Dana Carvey, Anjelica Huston, and Billy Crystal, but it is the interaction of the three band members that makes the movie great. The band is…well…not that bright, which leads to hilarity. There are several iconic scenes that anyone who has ever seen the film will never forget…the amp that goes to 11, the spontaneous combustion and “unfortunate gardening accident “ (among other things) that continues to take the band’s revolving door of drummers, the Stonehenge set, the black album cover. And the songs – Spinal Tap produces songs with titles like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, Breakfast of Evil, and Swallow My Love. Basically This Is Spinal Tap takes everything we think we know about the awesomeness of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and throws it all out the window. You’ll never take rock music as seriously again, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

56 Batman

Sometime in late childhood I became fascinated with Batman. I am not sure when or why. I was never a comic book sort of kid, and the early 80’s were dominated by Superman, with the movie franchise starring Christopher Reeve. I suppose Batman’s backstory fascinates me, with him being just a normal guy who is psychologically scarred as a child after seeing his parents gunned down by street thugs. Batman is not from another planet and he has no superpowers. He is just a man who kicks ass and takes names. He does have a dual identity, and he does happen to be filthy rich, but I can forgive those indulgences. I really enjoy the old television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It only lasted for 2 seasons in the late 60’s (the almost identical timeframe as the original Star Trek series – who was in charge of TV shows in the 60’s and why did they keep cancelling great ones??) and was long gone before I was even born, but repeats were shown on some channel that I cannot recall when I was younger. Then in 1989, Tim Burton, who had achieved great success with Beetlejuice, decided to bring The Caped Crusader to the big screen. As I recall there was some trepidation with casting funnyman Michael Keaton in the titular role, but as it turns out he was perfect…much better than those who followed him – Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Of course the real star of this particular movie is Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I’ve never been a huge Nicholson fan…he’s more of a persona than a great actor…but he was the absolute best Joker. There are many that would say that the late Heath Ledger surpassed Nicholson’s achievement, but I feel like Ledger’s performance is too often looked at…subconsciously…through the prism of his untimely death. At any rate, all the stars aligned on this rendition of Batman on the big screen, and 20 years later it holds up quite nicely.