Posted by Aaron Aradillas
(Due to some technical glitches, I've taken down the orignal post for tweaking. This is the new and improved version. My apologies for any inconvenience.)
Seeing as last week's entry brought back so many memories, I thought it would be fun to look at a weekend that actually correlated to this Labor Day weekend. That means 22 years ago Aug. 29th-Sept.1st fell on the same days as this Labor Day weekend.
Let's see what we were seeing 22 years ago.
TW LW TITLE WEEKEND GROSS THEATERS TOTAL GROSS (SO FAR) WEEK #
1 2 Stand By Me $5,037,343 801 $11,932,227 4
2 4 Top Gun $5,024,325 1,289 $131,345,236 16
3 1 The Fly $4,198,506 1,171 $22,279,867 3
4 6 The Karate Kid II $3,776,755 1,542 $98,942,459 11
5 3 Aliens $3,586,256 1,249 $66254,475 7
6 8 Nothing in Common $3,492,620 951 $22,066,579 5
7 9 Extremities $2,761,032 696 $6,645,066 2
8 10 Ruthless People $2,729,612 958 $59,165,825 10
9 N Born American $2,225,475 1,71 $2,225,475 1
10 7 Armed & Dangerous $1,813,353 1,123 $12,229,865 3
So, bring back any memories? The fact that Extremities jumped up two slots is a bit of a mind-blower. Who knew that the continuing adventures of Daniel LaRusso would outgross the continuing adventures of Ellen Ripley? We're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's take a more critical look at what we were watching over the Labor Day weekend.
1. Rob Reiner's Stand By Me is what we would call "counterprogramming." Released in the middle of August, the movie kept building upon its audience. It was a Stephen King adaptation that didn't rely on the King audience for its success. Indeed, the film's trailer almost omits King's connection to the movie.
The movie is a good piece of middlebrow nostalgia that works best when it doesn't push its "significance" on you. Basically, take out the Richard Dreyfuss narration and you have an almost perfect movie. Unfortunately, Rob Reiner (and screenwriters Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans) can't resist reminding us that the moment between the ages 12 and 13 is the most memorable moment you'll ever have. (This would seem to negate American Graffiti where we were told that the moment after high school and right before college is the most memorable moment you'll ever have. How many "memorable moments" can one generation have?)
I think what audiences connected with was the remarkable ensemble acting by Wil Wheaton, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, and the late River Phoenix. And it is Phoenix who takes the stock character of the misunderstood "bab" kid and creaes something universal. He conveys the hunger of not wanting to fulfill what is expected of you beautifully. (His tearful "confession" is a heartbreaker.)
The best scene in the movie? An imaginative gross-out that King stand-in Gordie Lachance (Wheaton) tells around a campfire. It's a gross-out you can only tell when you're young and innocent.
2. Along with Rambo: First Blood Part II, Top Gun is possibly the most representative example of 80s commercial moviemaking. It's a movie of the moment that functions as nostalgia almost the moment it leaves the theater. As an example of a movie with no shelf life its pretty entertaining. It's also the movie where Tom Cruise BECAME the movie. (The Color of Money, which would be released a few weeks later, would be the last time where the movie came before Cruise. It wouldn't be until 1999, with Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia, where the movies would be just as relevant as Cruise.)
Like the earlier-in-the-year Iron Eagle, Top Gun was a Destrroy All Commies extravaganza (but with a better soundtrack). It used Cruise's all-American image to powerful effect. It also showed that Kelly McGillis' sexuality was better suited when she acted opposite an adult like, say, Harrison Ford. And Val Kilmer managed to keep his dignity by daring to give a low-key (by Top Gun standards) performance.
3. David Cronenberg's remake of the 1958 B sci-fi/horror standard turns out to be one of the greatest love stories ever made. A brilliant re-think of schlock, Cronenberg's The Fly is an unsettling meditation on the deterioration of the human body during Era of AIDS. Jeff Goldblum, in the performance of his life, plays Brundle Fly as a man who realizes too late that the unconditional love of another person is the truest way to achieve teleportation.
The Fly is also one of Croneberg's best gros-outs.
4. I'm pretty sure if you were to ask people in the know what were some of the big money-makers of 1986 they'd probably mention Top Gun or the surprise hit Ferris Bueller's Day Off or maybe Crocodile Dundee. I'm also pretty sure those same people would be startled to know that The Karate Kid Part II was the 4th highest grossing movie of the year. This is a textbook example of the studio (and filmmakers) striking while the iron's hot. The kids (including yours truly) who had made the first installment in the sage of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Machio) a big hit on video (and more importantly HBO) were practically demanding more.
The one masterstroke of the filmmakers was to switch the setting from sunny California to the nysterious (at leat to most 7-year-olds) Okinawa, birthplace of Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi. And while I gently mock the movie, I'm actually still quite fond of it. John G. Avildsen's sturdy direction (read: simple) doesn't get in the way of the story or the performances. And next to The Outsiders, Machio never seemed more assured of his acting choices.
But the movie really belongs to Morita (and Miyagi). While the studio would never think of making Mr. Miyahi the center of the movie, it was the way he reacted to the people and situations around him that made the The Karate Kid Part II (and the still-great Part I) special.
5. What can you say about James Cameron's Aliens that hasn't already been said? Like Lucas' Ewoks-Vietnam parallels, Cameron saw his entry in the Alien franchise as a version of Vietnam, with a group of hot shot Marines going into foreign territory ill-equipped to do battle with a more determined enemy. That's all fine and good, but I have an easier, simpler way of looking at Aliens.
If Alien is the spaced-out prog-rock entry...
and Alien3 is the grunge-rock entry...
and Alien: Resurrection is the techno-electronica entry...
then Aliens is without a doubt the Reagan-sanctioned rock 'n' roll entry.
Some critics dismissed this movie as a father-son Terms of Endearment. I can't think of a higher form of praise. (Granted, Gary Marshall is not in the same league as James L. Brooks.) The structure of Nothing in Common is kind of ingenious in the way it sneaks up on you. The first half is a rather knowing and engrossing look at TV advertisement, with star-in-the-making Tom Hanks playing that rarest of characters in an 80s movie: a likable Yuppie.
It isn't until Hanks' David Basner is forecd to confront the reality of his parents' marriage ending after 36 years, that we begin to see a streak of cruelty that he justifies as self-preservation. As the parents, Eva Marie Saint (fragile, easily wounded) and Jackie Gleason (simply great in his final performance), give late-in-their-careers performances that are like a master class in how contrasting acting styles can complement each other.
An Honorary Mention should also be given to a terrific performacne by Barry Corbin as an airline tycoon who is not all that dissimilar from Gleason's character. The scene where Hanks finally stands up to Corbin is the movie's highlight. The son finally breaks away from the father.
7. Extremities wants to be a "serious" movie about the Victimization of Women, but because Farrah Fawcett's acting style is better suited for the intimacy of TV, it comes off as an exploitation movie. Based on an apparently well-received stage play, the film version of Extremities comes off like I Spit On Your Grave for the Off-Broadway crowd. Just look at the movie's trailer and you'll get an idea of how schizoid the movie is. Director Robert M. Young is a long way from Short Eyes.
8. A cheerfully mean-spirited comedy, Ruthless People solidified Danny DeVito as a one-of-a-kind movie star. Having already given a great comic performance earlier in the year in Brian DePalma's underrated gangster comedy Wise Guys, Ruthless People was a showcase for DeVito's specialty of playing lovable scoundrels.
A loose re-telling of the O. Henry story "The Ransom of Red Chief," Ruthless People is a candy-colored (cinematography by Jad De Bont), fast-paced screwball comedy that takes advantage of the ever widening gap between the rich and everyone lese.
A rare non-spoof outing for the ZAZ boys (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker), the movie has a surprisingly deep roster of memorable supporting performances. You have Bette Midler, completing her triumphant return to movies after the earlier-in-the-year release of the classic American comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills, as Devito's spoiled wife ("I've been kidnapped by K-Mart!"); Bill Pullman, in his movie debut, as the slow-witted boyfriend of Devito's mistress; Anita Morris, fresh from the Brat Pack noir Blue City, as DeVito's hot-to-trot mistress; Art Evans and Clarence Felder as two of the most deadpan detectives ever, William G. Schilling as a police chief who "...like[s] to hear a woman make a lot of sound"; Helen Slater, still trying to find redemption after Supergirl, as the slightly annoying innocent wife of kidnapper Judge Reinhold. And, then you have Reihold (in the follow-up to his great performance in the lovely romantic musical Off Beat), as a sweet-natured stereo salesamn ("The Big Room!") who learns being ruthless isn't for him. He'd rather be rich.
Oh, and I love wrong numbers.
9. Renny Harlin's Born American is an international action movie I'd barely heard of. It looks as if Daddy Chuck Norris opted out of the picture and put in a good word for his son. Harlin, an underrated B movie technician, followed this up with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, one of the more visualy arresting of the Freddy sequels. If there are any 80s B action experts out there, please, feel free to leave comments.
One of the many disposable John Candy cmedies that gave only a glipse of his comic genius. (Armed and Dangerous was made even more depressing because Candy was paired with the equally talented Eugene Levy.) This late summer throwaway saw Candy and Levy as two would-be private security officers on the trail of...I don't even recall. Basically the story was just an excuse to put Cand & Levy in would-be comic situations (like having them disgusie themselves by dressing up in S&M gear) that rarely paid off. (I much preferred Candy's previous summer offering, Carl Reiner's sweet-natured Summer Rental.)
Two tidbits of trivia worht noting:
1. This was the second of America's Sweetheart Meg Ryan's participation in Big Summer Movies. I have to admit she is cute in the movie.
2. This was a major letdown for director Mark L. Lester after the one-two-three punch of: