(Posted by Aaron Aradillas)
Since it is damn near impossible to remember a time when people weren't obsessed with The Numbers, I thought we might take a look back at what the Top 10 looked like 25 years ago this weekend.
TW LW TITLE WEEKEND GROSS THEATERS TOTAL GROSS WEEK #
1 N Easy Money $5,844,974 1,130 $5,844,974 1
2 3 Risky Business $5,252,090 891 $20,322,398 3
3 13 Mr. Mom $4,279,384 734 $11,199,896 5
4 1 National Lampoon's Vacation $4,028,780 1,252 $38,365,442 4
5 2 Cujo $3,592,620 1,293 $12,693,430 2
6 4 Return of the Jedi $3,033,669 1,284 $222,489,243 13
7 N Yor: Hunter from the Futore $2,810,199 1,425 $2,810,199 1
8 N Metalstorm $2,019,000 549 $2,019,000 1
9 6 Tradiong Places $1,877,435 785 $75,420,736 11
10 5 Staying Alive $1,836,786 818 $53,455,638 6
So, bring back any memories? When was the last time a movie was in tis 13th week of release and still almost being in the Top 5? Does anyone remember either Yor or Metalstorm? Follow me after the break and we'll take a more critical look at this week's offerings.
1. Easy Money was Rodney Dangerfield's follow-up to Caddyshack. It was pretty obvious that Rodney could carry a movie. The only problem was creating a vehicle where he could do his thing. Easy Money wasn't it. (It would be 3 years before the right story could be constructed for Rodney's talents. 1986's Back to School is a beautifully realized college comedy that can stand alongside the Marx Brothers movies.)
Easy Money finds Rodney playing more or less himself in that seemingly reliabe story of a cheerful vulgarian being forced to change his ways in order to receive a big reward. In this case it is Rodney's Monster-In-Law who is leaving him $10 million if he promises to stop drinking, smoking, gambling, and doing all the things we love Rodney for. For some reason filmmakers think this story is a perfect fit for high-wire comic actors. It isn't. It neuters them from doing what we go to see them do. Richard Pryor and John Candy in Walter Hill's lackluster (and PG-rated) Brewster's Millions is another example.
I think the fact that Easy Money had 4 screenwriters might explain its stop-and-start pacing. One of the writers was P.J. O'Rourke (!), and this most certainly doomed the movie. P.J.'s look-at-me-ma smart-assedness doesn't jibe with Rodney's stay-loose humor. Director James Signorelli is best known for multiple epsisodes of Satuday Night Live (and least known for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark). The movie is also notewrothy for showcasing a post-Raging Bull Joe Pesci. It would take Michael Jackson's Moonwalker before Pesci could show off his full comic potential.
2. Risky Business made Tom Cruise a star, gave Bob Seger a moment of coolness (more so than American Pop), and dared to have the audience be on the side of a guy whose moral compass was well on its way to not working properly. Actually, writer-director Paul Brickman's savage critique of a youth generation discarding any lessons learned from previous generations was compromised by the very audience it was critiquing. (How very meta)
As Joel Goodson (gotta love that last name), Tom Cruise embodied a more cunning version of the All-American kid wanting to get ahead without really trying. The movie basically shows us a kid learning that the only way to not suffer from guilt is to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. The movie's catchphrase ("What the Fuck?") isn't so much a cry of rebellion, but an announcement that leaving a mark at whatever the cost is what counts in this world. WTF?
This is not to say that Risky Business isn't a finely crafted satire. In fact, the movie's critical success pretty much guaranteed it would endure. Risky Business might be the only movie (with the possible exception of Top Gun) where the movie came before Cruise. Of course, now Cruise comes before everything and he deserves credit for knowing almost from the beginning that the key to a successful career was finding a balance between working with "A" talent and protecting one's image.
What the fuck.
3. Mr. Mom might be the most misunderstood (and underrated) movie on this list. A feature-length sitcom (one of the producers was Aaron Spelling) about family life at the Dawn of Downsizing, Mr. Mom was a sleeper hit because audiences recognized an emotional truth that critics too easily dismissed. Mr. Mom is really the opposite of Risky Business. The screenplay by John Hughes has a sincerity that flies in the face of Brickman's hip cynicism. Yes, the direction by Steve Dragoti is barely functional. The cinematography by Victor J. Kemper (Vacation, Cloak & Dagger, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure) is just a notch above a Very Special Episode of Family Ties. But there are comic bits (like when Michael Keaton's Jack goes grocery shopping for the first time) that work because they show a working-class man attempting to adapt to a reversal of what he thought he was supposed to be. Unlike the kids in Risky Business, Jack and his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) are trying to instll in their kids a values system that is quickly being challenged by the corporatization of America.
While Risky Business only infers its allegiance to the Reagan administration, Mr. Mom is pretty upfront when addressing its socio-economic politics. When Caroline goes back to work in advertising, we get a surprisingly sharp look at '80s marketing and comsumerism. (There's an interesting shot of a corporate boardroom table where we see the various take-out packages from a working-lunch brainstorming session. Each person has their own preferred brand of take-out.) Caroline's big break is a mjaor tuna fish company that is going through a down cycle in sales. Caroline's solution? Have the CEO of the company do a mock PSA stating that he'll be lowering the price of cans of tuna fish to 75 cents until America's economy bounces back. The final shot is of a restored family unit watching the debut of the spot. (The overture from Patton plays on the soundtrack.) It's a happy ending with a little sting. The American family unit has to learn to make due.
4. National Lampoon's Vacation is a pretty easy movie to review. With the exception of Animal House, it's the only National Lampoon movie worth remembering. Some people prefer Chevy Chase in Fletch. Not me.
5. Cujo is a solid Lewis Teague-directed shocker. It's good, but it doesn't compare to the greatnest that is Alligator. I confess, like a lot of young males of a certain maturity level, I went through a Stephen King phase that lasted roughly 1 1/2 books. Cujo was the book I read in its entirety. I stopped halfway through Misery. (Did King actually think we wanted to read one of Paul Sheldon's books?) I quickly realized that King's bloated prose was not for me. (His short stories are better.) I can still remember Brian DePalma, in a 2001 Premiere article about the making of Carrie, saying, "He's the Edgar Allen Poe of our time." Has DePalma read any Poe?
6. What else can be said about Revenge...I mean, Return of the Jedi? Not much. It is interesting to note that a Star Wars-related offering is not doing so well at this weekend's box office. I confess that the Ewoks never bothered me. (I was only made aware recently of Lucas' musings on the parallels between Vietnam and the Ewoks fighting tactics. I don't think I have the energy to fully analyze that one.) I will say this: Mark Hamill's acting in the Star Wars movies has always been underrated. Hamill's ability to convince the audience that he believes in the otherworldly characters he's interacting with is a rare gift that not just any actor can pull off. (Just look at Robert DeNiro's "acting" in Rocky & Bullwinkle and you'll see what I mean. Granted, Mark Hamill couldn't pull off Raging Bull or Once Upon a Time in America, but you can't have enreything.)
This "discussion" from an episode of Nightline is a real howler. Take a look:
John Simon actually suggests Tender Mercies as an alterantive to the "de-humanizing" Jedi. Why anyone would want to inflict Robert Duvall's "understated" Western on children is beyond me.
7. Yor: Hunter from the Futre a.k.a. Il Mondo di Yor is one of those Italian space operas that seemed to get theatrical bookings from time to time. I won't even pretend to know my Italian Sci-Fi. The trailer makes me almost nostalgic for the dog days of August when something like this or this would get a wide release.
8. Metalstorm is a movie I don't even think got moch rotation on HBO. (Maybe Showtime had the honors.) The only noteworthy item seems to be it was an early showcase for Kelly Preston. This was obviously before her one-two punch of Secret Admirer and the best adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel (yes, even better than Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight), the underrated 52 Pick-Up.
9. Trading Places was the better of the two John Landis offerings from the Summer of '83. (The other being, obviously, the ill-fated Twilight Zone - The Movie.) A sort-of class-conscious movie, Trading Places got most of its mielage from Eddie Murphy's unbelievably sharp comic timing and not-so-subtle anger. A somewhat routine re-telling of that old story about heredity vs. environment, Murphy gave standard comic situations a modern spin. He ran laps around co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis without ever breaking a sweat. It was the brilliant casting of Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche as the Duke Brothers, Randolph and Mortimer, that gave the movie an extra shot of energy. (Denholm Elliott did a nice variation on John Gielgud's Hobson from Arthur.)
Like Risky Business, Trading Places celebrates Yuppie values while pretending to mock them. It was only 5 years earlier that Landis would've laughed at the downfall of Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III. Now, he plays it almost for poignancy. Odd.
10. Staying Alive is the precursor to Showgirls in its depiction of human nature, which is to say it hasn't got a clue how hard-working dancers interact with one another. The irony is that Saturday Night Fever was very wise in its depiction of the ways young men and women were trying to relate to one another. Also, the music was better.
Sylvester Stallone's attempt to force a Rocky-like story structure on to the life of John Travolta's Tony Manero made for one of the more heartbreaking moviegoing experiences of the year. I think Stallone's ill-conceived notions of what a PG-rated (!) sequel to Saturday Night Fever should look like are best encapsulated in the movie's opening credits sequence, a jacked-up "homage" to the opening sequence of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. Things go downhill from there.