1987

Spaceballs (1987, Mel Brooks)

It’s kind of amazing how much of Spaceballs is actually funny–pretty much everything with Rick Moranis and Mel Brooks as the Spaceballs president–given how everything with Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga falls flat. It doesn’t even fall… it’s a zero degree plane. Some of it has to do with the writing of that portion–Brooks and his co-writers aren’t particularly interested in the good guys because they aren’t funny (the jokes are cheap and substandard and Brooks tries to give it a narrative–and romantic tension–instead of playing against narrative for laughs, like the Moranis parts). But it’s not all poor writing–Pullman’s terrible and Zuniga’s worse, giving one of the abysmal performances in a Hollywood studio film from the 1980s.

There aren’t any good performances on the good guy side–John Candy’s probably the best, if only by comparison (he’s not good by any means and his character is unfunny) and Joan Rivers’s vocal work as the robot is obnoxious. It doesn’t help it’s obvious the robot is frequently a dummy. Brooks as the Yoda stand-in isn’t funny and the only amusing parts of his sequence (besides the Wizard of Oz reference, which is good) is trying to place the actors playing the Dinks (the Jawas). The less said about Dick Van Patten, the better.

The bad guys are all great, from Brooks as the dumb president (though it’s hard not to think he’s doing a Harvey Korman impression), George Wyner and then there’s Moranis. Moranis does something real strange in the movie, especially given the Pullman, Zuniga and Candy sequences. He acts and he acts very well.

The rest–the jokes about marketing–is hit and miss, but the real problem is Brooks tries to tie a narrative to the movie instead of just playing for laughs. It makes Spaceballs rely on Pullman and Zuniga, so it really can’t do anything but fail.

And… I really do think George Lucas ripped off the good planet’s costume designs for Episode I.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Mel Brooks; written by Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham; director of photography, Nick McLean; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by John Morris; production designed by Terence Marsh; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Mel Brooks (President Skroob / Yoghurt), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa), John Candy (Barf), George Wyner (Colonel Sandurz), Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix, Dick Van Patten (King Roland) and Michael Winslow (Radar Technician).


Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Until the current administration, I could always take comfort knowing the British probably did more terrible things than the Americans ever could. For instance, they might test atomic bombs in Australia and radiate the aborigines, which is the public service announcement of Ground Zero. It isn’t only a PSA, it’s also a reasonably thrilling thriller and a strange father and son story. But the relevance–the British trying to cover up killing a bunch of innocent people–makes Ground Zero an odd film. By all other elements, it’s an Australian take on the mid-1980s thriller–it was shot in Panavision (though the only releases to date have been pan and scan and it’s obvious there’s often something or someone missing) and it’s got a really annoying, mid-1980s synthesizer score booming throughout… sometimes too loud to hear dialogue.

But it’s a good mystery thriller. It fetishizes filmmaking a little–the camera operators in particular–and its handling of that material is very cool. It actually goes just the right amount into it, which is a pleasant change. The political element takes the film over at a certain point and it’s an immediate change in tone, but there’s a solid foundation, both due to script and Colin Friels.

Friels’s performance–complete with a mid-1980s, Australian semi-mullet–allows Ground Zero to operate on its three levels (suspenseful thriller, politically relevant piece, and son searching for his father). None of the three levels gets quite the attention they need or deserve, but Friels makes them all work together–he convinces he’s a father trying to be better for his son, while still confused about his own father, he convinces he’s a regular guy in the middle of the political intrigue (Hitchcock wisely wrapped his situations in a layer of artiface, something Ground Zero might have benefitted greatly from doing), and also the movie star. Friels is a leading man movie star, but he’s also able to be someone’s father (something American movie stars do not do well–or at all anymore… Clooney hasn’t been a parent since he hit the big time).

The other performances, particularly Jack Thompson, are very good. Donald Pleasence has a small role and, even though the script fails him, he has some excellent moments.

I remember the film being more of a “wow,” but it has been at least seven–maybe nine–years since I last saw it. It’s incredibly solid though and sometimes solid is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


Stakeout (1987, John Badham)

I think home video–tape and disc–has done a great disservice to John Badham and his legacy… as in, with this digital (or analog) evidence, one has easy access. Instead of coming across Stakeout at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday night, pan and scanned, cut for content, and full of commercials, I can sit and watch it on DVD (finally widescreen) and observe just how much better a lot of it works in the late night context.

Stakeout is a cop sitcom, with occasional moments of violence, which I imagine one can thank Badham for including. I mean, it gets so violent at times, particularly at the end, it’s jarring. Stakeout establishes itself, early on, as two things–first, an opportunity to watch a hungry Aidan Quinn tear up the screen (did I really just type, “tear up the screen?” I mean, he does–it’s a really physical performance, he’s jumping all over the place for attention–but it’s still a lame line)–and second, as a harmless comedy. The cops joke around all the time (there was apparently very little violent crime in Seattle in the late 1980s) and most of their attention is spent on summer camp pranks.

Stakeout works for two primary reasons–the script and the cast. The script’s got some really endearing, funny scenes and it’s paced in such a way… well, if one were watching it late night and had gone to get a soda or a microwave burrito (or just fallen asleep for a bit), he or she might be confused and think Richard Dreyfuss at one point meets Madeleine Stowe’s mother. Kouf’s real good at creating a working reality for the film–with an unseen ex for Dreyfuss and a barely seen wife for Emilio Estevez–only in the mind of the viewer.

Dreyfuss is solid in the lead, Estevez is excellent as the sidekick though, the real surprise of the film. Stowe’s good, she and Dreyfuss have chemistry, but she occasionally tries an accent. I think it’s supposed to be Mexican Irish, but it comes off bad. Quinn’s fantastic, like I said before, and so is Ian Tracey as his sidekick (I wonder if the film were ever a juxtaposing of the two duos, with the primary leading the other down a reckless path… probably not). Dan Lauria and Forest Whitaker are funny as the prank cops….

Badham does a decent job throughout, helping with some of the endearing quality through his establishing shots (really, this one is a big complement). During the chase scenes and at the end, his work is the best. It’s dumb, “T.J. Hooker” action and he does it well. The big problem–Stakeout goes on about fifteen minutes too long–gets a quick fix, with Badham and director of photography John Seale (doing his best work of the film) create a really good ending to the film, which made me think about how Badham “movies” (I hate how he wants them to be called movies) ought to be seen, not watched.*

* The difference, of course, being in the viewer’s amount of control. An uncontrolled viewing is seen (theatrical or televised) and a controlled viewing (home video) is watched.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Tom Rolf; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Kouf and Cathleen Summers; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Det. Chris Lecce), Emilio Estevez (Det. Bill Reimers), Madeleine Stowe (Maria McGuire), Aidan Quinn (Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery), Dan Lauria (Det. Phil Coldshank), Forest Whitaker (Det. Jack Pismo), Ian Tracey (Caylor Reese), Earl Billings (Captain Giles), Jackson Davies (FBI Agent Lusk) and J.J. Makaro (B.C).


Nadine (1987, Robert Benton)

There’s got to be some kind of story behind Nadine, one explaining why it makes no sense in its plotting, why the ending makes no sense and why it only runs seventy-eight minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t find any reference online to those issues, so I guess they’ll remain a mystery.

As it stands, Nadine is a couple great characters in search of a story. Well, not even a story–the characters have a story. They’re separated and they get back together. It’s everything around that story. Benton’s script moves real fast–without a lot of bridging scenes; it’s frequently confusing–and he spends some real nice time on the couple, ably aided by Howard Shore’s score.

But the rest of the film–involving a land deal, Rip Torn as a lame villain (he’s Rip Torn, no other explanation for villainy needed apparently), Jeff Bridges’s dumb bar and Kim Basinger hating the dumb bar–is a mess. The bar in question barely appears in the film, but everyone’s always talking about it or mentioning it–at least as much as something can be talked about in seventy-eight minutes.

Bridges and Basinger are both fantastic, whether together or apart, but together’s a lot more fun. But I really don’t know what Benton thought he was doing with the film. There’s a visible lack of content, even if there were bridging scenes in place, because–well, it appears he’s trying to tell the romantic comedy equivalent of Chinatown, which isn’t even necessarily a bad idea (I guess), but there’s no setting beyond the cars and the title announcing the time and place.

There’s three action set-pieces too. There’s a car chase, which isn’t bad and is somewhat amusing, but it’s not a movie with car chases… then there’s a suspense sequence, then there’s a gunfight.

Oh, no, I think Benton was trying to do a non-traditional traditional Hollywood comedy here… argh.

If a movie could float on Jeff Bridges’s considerable charm, Nadine would certainly be a candidate. Except, it’s disqualified, because Basinger’s really appealing and the two of them are wonderful together.

Glenne Headly has a bit part and is great, big shock, as is Jay Patterson. Jerry Stiller is in it for a minute and a half, but it seems like keeping him around would have been a better idea.

I just wish I knew the “making of” of Nadine.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert Benton; director of photography, Nestor Almendros; film editor, Sam O’Steen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Arlene Donovan; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Vernon Hightower), Kim Basinger (Nadine Hightower), Rip Torn (Buford Pope), Gwen Verdon (Vera), Glenne Headly (Renee), Jerry Stiller (Raymond Escobar), Jay Patterson (Dwight Estes), William Youmans (Boyd), Gary Grubbs (Cecil) and Mickey Jones (Floyd).


Crazy Moon (1987, Allan Eastman)

Crazy Moon appears to be a Canadian attempt at a John Hughes movie. In order to differentiate, they make the female lead deaf, which then makes Crazy Moon no longer in the Hughes vein–Kiefer Sutherland’s lead is also weird in a very non-Hughes way–and for much of the film then, they’re failing to meet that bad standard. Instead, Crazy Moon is charming. It’s too likable characters spending time together, with old standards playing a little too loud in the background. After the movie goes through its hurried plot-points–the third act takes up maybe six minutes–it all of a sudden becomes that terrible Canadian imitation of John Hughes it seemed ravenous to become. Sutherland’s character changes in a split second, but it turns out the big change wasn’t necessary because everything gets resolved real neat within a minute. Maybe two minutes, but short enough the song for the showdown with his brother is also the song for the end credits.

In terms of acting, Sutherland does a real good job throughout Crazy Moon. His essaying of the character does work the script should have done (like establishing off-screen emotional trauma). Peter Spence, who plays his brother, is rather bland, but his scenes with Sutherland do get a lot of work done. If the film had actual layers, instead of the illusion of layers, Spence’s performance would be more important, but as it stands, it’s fine. As the love interest, Vanessa Vaughan is good. At times though, she’s visibly bored. Maybe it’s just been a while since I’ve seen an eighties movie–with the stalking lead–but a lot of Crazy Moon works only because she’s hung up (something never really addressed) about being deaf.

Still, it’s just as pleasant of a viewing experience as it always was… though I can’t believe I never noticed the omnipresent boom mikes. The direction’s unremarkable throughout, never dipping up or down; the camera sits there and lets the action play out. Given Crazy Moon‘s finest assets are Sutherland and Vaughan’s appealing performances (not the choppy script), it’s a fine approach.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Allan Eastman; written and produced by Tom Berry and Stefan Wodoslawsky; director of photography, Savas Kalogeras; edited by Franco Battista; music by Lou Forestieri; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Kiefer Sutherland (Brooks), Vanessa Vaughan (Anne), Peter Spence (Cleveland), Ken Pogue (Alec), Eve Napier (Mimi), Sean McCann (Anne’s father) and Bronwen Mantel (Anne’s mother).


The Living Daylights (1987, John Glen)

John Glen does a litany of disservices to The Living Daylights, mostly due to his inability to direct actors–Timothy Dalton specifically–but also on a number of technical levels. Glen relies far too much on rear screen projection for banal driving shots. Some of the other technical aspects–the bland sets and terrible lighting of them–aren’t necessarily Glen’s fault, though they are his responsibility. His inability to direct Dalton hurts the film most of all. Dalton can’t deliver the Bond one liners and he has real problems with the Lothario aspects of the part, but when he’s doing different things, he’s fine. Towards the end, once the film centers on he and Maryam d’Abo, he gets really good.

D’Abo’s another particular part of Living Daylights. She’s not so much good–though she’s very appealing after a while–as she is perfect in the part of a naïve cellist. Part of her appeal might be the short end she gets from the Living Daylights plot. While I realize it’s a James Bond movie and deceiving the audience every three minutes, whether it’s a character’s allegiances or an action set piece (cliffhangers only work when you’ve got some time in between crisis and resolution, a week, four months, not five or six seconds). But. So d’Abo is more appealing because she’s getting run through the duplicity ringer, but she’s getting run through it by Dalton, who’s James Bond and isn’t James Bond supposed to be smart? The audience knows more than he does and it doesn’t help Dalton at all, since he’s already saddled with bad lines and bad direction. It’s like the filmmakers already gave him a vote of no confidence or something, though he’s far more personable and likable than first choice Pierce Brosnan ever was, which might have more to do with the Brosnan Bond movies but whatever. They shouldn’t have jinxed him.

The stunts are cool, especially having seen all CG-composite Bond movies. The locations are nice, but cutting from a crappy set to a good location–it almost looks like all the sets were the same sound stage used over and over, since Glen uses the same composition for all of them. John Barry’s score is good. The supporting cast ranges. Art Malik and Joe Don Baker are good. Jeroen Krabbé, who I was expecting to be great, was not.

At the end, Glen (or the second unit director) does a fantastic, explosion-heavy shootout at a Russian airbase and he does a good job of it. Compounded by the recent dramatic developments and Dalton and d’Abo’s chemistry, The Living Daylights really turns around at the end, which very few films do. And it has a silly ending, which rewards the involved audience member–maybe it should have been more concerned with immediate rewards throughout, but still. It’s nice to see films used to make that consideration, since so few do so anymore.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Glen; screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, based on a story by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Alec Mills; edited by John Grover and Peter Davies; music by John Barry; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Wilson; released by United Artists.

Starring Timothy Dalton (James Bond), Maryam d’Abo (Kara Milovy), Jeroen Krabbé (Gen. Georgi Koskov), Joe Don Baker (Brad Whitaker), John Rhys-Davies (Gen. Leonid Pushkin), Art Malik (Kamran Shah), Andreas Wisniewski (Necros), Thomas Wheatley (Saunders), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Robert Brown (M) and Caroline Bliss (Miss Moneypenny).


The Monster Squad (1987, Fred Dekker)

Fred Dekker can definitely compose a shot. For whatever its faults, The Monster Squad is one good looking film. Some of that credit belongs to the production designer and the cinematographer and the special effects people, but most of it belongs to Dekker. Dekker composes beautiful Panavision shots and he directs actors really well too–well, some of them, but more on that aspect later.

The Monster Squad is a mix between The Goonies and Ghostbusters and maybe even a little E.T. It’s developed a cult following for whatever reasons a film develops cult followings, but it’s a dramatic train wreck. There’s an infamous missing thirteen minutes (the film’s producers told Dekker to cut it to under ninety), but unless those thirteen minutes are all bridging scenes… The film takes place over three days and the leaps in logic are astounding (my favorite was the kids all being out at midnight with parents completely unaware) and it’s so smug, it’s not even well-meaning in its “message.” Still, there’s a lot of good stuff in Monster Squad.

First, there’s Stephen Macht. The guy’s fantastic–and not all of Monster Squad‘s script is bad. The family stuff is all excellent–it might be stereotypical cop too busy for his family, but it’s being performed by good actors–and some of the humorous stuff with the kids, the one-liners, are good. There’s a cute dog. It’s just so unbelievable… Anyway, besides Macht’s wonderful performance, there’s Duncan Regehr as Dracula. Regehr doesn’t actually have much to do, but he does a great job. The kids are… well, they’re all the kids who guest-starred on 1980s TV shows, pretty much. Only Robby Kiger is good in the scenes with the other kids and with the ludicrous elements, Andre Gower is good at the family stuff with Macht, but not the other stuff. Brent Chalem is terrible.

Even though its special effects are still excellent, The Monster Squad is incredibly dated by its dialogue. Watching it–as I near thirty (and I was vindicated by this widescreen copy, since it clearly shows something I’ve been saying for twenty years was in the film was simply pan and scanned out)–I can’t imagine ever showing it to one of my (prospective) children. The conversation about the rampant homophobic slurs coming out of the kids’ mouths weighed against the film’s content just isn’t worth it–and Monster Squad gets nasty, using terms I didn’t even understand until now. Just really mean-hearted stuff. It might be a fairly accurate representation of how boys talk, but it’s not a documentary about kids being stupid shitheads and its presence is somewhat odd (though, maybe not, given how fanatically Dekker defended it in a recent interview). There’s also a really weird aspect about the two main kids, Gower and Kiger, hugging all the time….

The film definitely suffers from a lack of wonderment or even a comprehension of it. When these kids, who are obsessed with monsters, discover this pretend passion is actual, there’s no moment of recognition. It’s an absurd fantasy and it doesn’t recognize that condition and it suffers greatly for it. However, I can’t believe, how good-looking a film it is in its original aspect ratio. Whatever its significant faults, Monster Squad is a beautifully produced film. It’s like the Olympia of kids movies. No, that one’s a little far, but Dekker’s interview really pissed me off (I mean, seriously, I don’t know if he’d mind the comparison of ideologies).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Dekker; written by Dekker and Shane Black; director of photography, Bradford May; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andre Gower (Sean), Robby Kiger (Patrick), Stephen Macht (Del), Duncan Regehr (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein), Brent Chalem (Horace), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Michael Faustino (Eugene), Mary Ellen Trainor (Emily), Carl Thibault (Wolfman), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Gill-Man), Michael MacKay (Mummy), Leonard Cimino (Scary German Guy), Jon Gries (Desperate Man), Stan Shaw (Detective Sapir) and Jason Hervey (E.J.).


Matewan (1987, John Sayles)

What was that? Did anyone else see that? (Probably not, I’m watching the Canadian widescreen DVD).

Sayles actually ripped off the looking at the camera bit from The 400 Blows. He actually did it–while having the character’s future self narrate the epilogue. I’ve been dreading watching Matewan for over a year, since April 2004 in fact. I thought the dread came from my having only seen Matewan in school, but I guess I was just being smart. Matewan is easily Sayles’ worst film. It’s also one of his only “bad” ones. Matewan isn’t that bad, of course (get to that in a second), it’s just propaganda. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but it’s also propaganda. Management abusing labor is a fact and it’s a crime and Matewan is accurate in its depiction of it. But. Sayles presents one agent of management as a human being. The rest are not. The rest are villains. So, if there’s a shoot out with the villains, it’s impossible to care about them, impossible to think their deaths are at all a tragedy. Their deaths are weightless. Even Lethal Weapon 2 made excuses about its level of violence. It’s a disappointment, but Matewan is also Sayles’ first “big” film and it obviously got away from him.

There are signs of the Sayles goodness, of course. There are lots of interesting characters, but he doesn’t know what to do with them. There’s still too much of a story, instead of all the little stories that usually propel his films. There’s the Sayles cast, Chris Cooper and David Straithairn and Mary McDonnell are all excellent, Cooper the most. It’s hard to believe he didn’t become a vanilla leading man after Matewan.

I’m incredibly upset about this film… I was off movies because Stripes was so shitty, because an Ivan Reitman/Bill Murray picture was so painfully mediocre (and unfunny). What is a bad John Sayles movie going to do to me?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Sayles; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Sonya Polonsky; music by Mason Daring; production designer, Nora Chavooshian; produced by Maggie Renzi and Peggy Rajski; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Chris Cooper (Joe Kenehan), James Earl Jones (‘Few Clothes’ Johnson), Mary McDonnell (Elma Radnor), Will Oldham (Danny Radnor), David Strathairn (Police Chief Sid Hatfield), Ken Jenkins (Sephus Purcell), Gordon Clapp (Griggs), Kevin Tighe (Hickey), John Sayles (Hardshell Preacher), Bob Gunton (C.E. Lively), Josh Mostel (Mayor Cabell Testerman), Nancy Mette (Bridey Mae), Jace Alexander (Hillard Elkins), Joe Grifasi (Fausto), Gary McCleery (Ludie), Jo Henderson (Mrs. Elkins), Maggie Renzi (Rosaria), Tom Wright (Tom), Michael B. Preston (Ellix), Tom Carlin (Turley) and Jenni Cline (Luann).


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