Sunday, April 1, 2012

Four Mid-80s Movies

Here is another wrap-up post. I noticed that these movies were all made around the same time (I didn't plan that) so I decided to group them together. I'm going to keep these short again as I still have a lot of movies to discuss!

The Muppets Take Manhattan
I'm a big fan of the Muppets and have written about two other Muppet movies on this blog. Somehow I hadn't seen this one before.
The Muppets play themselves in this movie, with the only difference being that they are recent college graduates, just like how some of them were reporters in The Great Muppet Caper. The next two Muppet movies would have the Muppets playing characters from famous works. While I love The Muppet Christmas Carol, it is also fun to see the Muppets being... the Muppets!
There is no breaking of the fourth wall which is unusual for a Muppet movie. But to make up for this there are tons of cameos which is what you expect when it comes to the Muppets. This movie features an early role for Gates McFadden who later became famous for her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The song "Together Again" from this movie is one of the best songs by the Muppets. The Muppets Take Manhattan was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song Score but lost out to Prince's Purple Rain.
This is the only Muppet movie to be directed by Frank Oz. It was also only the second movie he directed, with the first being Dark Crystal (1982).
I liked The Muppets Take Manhattan but its just not as good as the other Muppet movies. There is some filler like the Muppet babies segment which apparently only existed to launch the cartoon series which I loved as a kid. This is also the last Muppet movie Jim Henson made as he died in 1990.
The only other theatrical Muppet movies I have left to see are Muppet Treasure Island (I saw it as a child but don't remember much and need to re-watch it) and Muppets in Space.

The Goonies (1985)
This is a movie that I heard a lot about but had never seen before. The basic story is about a group of friends who stumble upon a treasure map which leads them on a crazy adventure to find the loot that once belonged to the pirate One-Eyed Willie. Although I liked The Goonies, I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more had I seen it as a child.
The cast of  kids features Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
The villains (the Fratellis) were good and of course I enjoyed the performance of the late John Matuszak, a football player turned actor, as the iconic Sloth.
This is actually only the second movie I have seen (the other being Superman) directed by Richard Donner. However, he did direct several episodes of TV Shows I like such as The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Get Smart, and Gilligan's Island.
I'm not sure why people still want a sequel to The Goonies now that its been over 25 years. That said, I'm surprised that it didn't get a follow-up back in the 80s. I guess the reason for this is because The Goonies was only moderately successful and not a giant box office hit. The movie has a sizable cult following so perhaps the sequel wanted by the fans will indeed happen someday. Tron: Legacy did pretty damn well, especially considering it came out 28 years after the original, so maybe there is hope for The Goonies 2 after all.

Crimewave (1985)
Although this movie is a collaboration between Sam Raimi (director), the Coen brothers (writers), and Bruce Campbell (supporting actor) I came into Crimewave expecting the worst. Don't get me wrong, I love all of these guys, but I have heard that this early work from these directors/writers/actors had a disastrous production that seemed doomed from the start. Director Sam Raimi even disowned the movie due to studio interference, one example being that he wanted Bruce Campbell to be the leading man but the powers that be said no. While that would have made things better, a lot went wrong here and its not a surprise that the movie ended up being bad. Crimewave is still not down there with the worst movies I have ever seen, but it doesn't have that "so bad, it's good" feeling of a movie like Batman & Robin.
The story honestly doesn't make much sense so I'm not even going to bother trying to explain it, especially since its been a few months since I've seen it. Crimewave tries to be a live action cartoon (think Looney Tunes or Tom & Jerry) but the concept just doesn't work and the result is not funny. I remember the movie Mousehunt did the same thing and although its been a long time since I've seen it and didn't love it, it did a better job at that sort of thing than this movie.
Our main character, Vic Ajax, is played Reed Birney. As I alluded to earlier Birney is miscast and doesn't work in the role at all.  Edward Pressman has a minor role as Ernest Trend and is just plain awful. To be fair the guy only has two acting credits including this movie and mostly works as a producer. Can't say I'm surprised!
Bruce Campbell is entertaining as usual and its fun to see him play the heel. However, the studio should have let Campbell be the lead as Raimi intended.
Brion James (Blade Runner, Enemy Mine, The Fifth Element) plays one of the villains. To his credit he does feel like a cartoon character even though overall that idea simply failed.
If you are a fan of Sam Raimi, the Coen Brothers, or Bruce Campbell this is an interesting watch to see how far they came and hints of what they would go on to do. For example, the Hudsucker name is featured in this movie and the Coens would go on to make the movie The Hudsucker Proxy. But if you are not a fan of any of these people you should just avoid it. Still, Crimewave is watchable and I give it credit for trying something different even though I feel it doesn't quite work overall.

To Live and Die in L.A.
To Live and Die in L.A. was directed by William Friedkin, the man who also made The French Connection and The Exorcist. I actually still need to see both of those as this is the first Friedkin movie I have seen!
Many of the actors in this movie such as William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, and John Turturro were unknown at the time but later became more famous. At the time Dean Stockwell was the most well known actor in the film and he only has a minor role as a lawyer.
The story focuses on the counterfeiter Eric Masters who is perfect at his craft. While making this film there was actually a real counterfeiter on set, so what we see on screen is accurate. The most interesting part about this is that some of the counterfeit money actually made it into circulation!
Although the basic plot of a lawman hunting down a criminal who killed his partner (which is loosely based on the story of a real Secret Service Agent) is your typical crime thriller, the movie does an amazing job with its in-depth look at our main characters and its unique style for a crime movie.
Masters is being pursued by the authorities and in the process the partner and good friend of our main character, Secret Service agent Richard Chance, gets killed. After this happens Chance vows to do whatever it takes to bring in Masters, no matter what the consequences are. When Chance decides he will break the law if necessary to stop Masters, we see the line between criminals and and the justice system become blurred.
The movie is stylish and has good editing. Some examples of this are when the camera cuts as the counterfeited money is literally cut by a machine and two birds flying together until one flies away when our main character's partner is killed. There is an interesting scene where it appears that Masters is kissing a man but it is revealed to be a woman, his lover Bianca. We later find out that Bianca is a lesbian that he is in love with, (he apparently pays her to be with him as she has her own girlfriend) which I assume is the reason for this editing as he seems to view her as masculine.
I've heard that Miami Vice has a similar arty style but have never seen that show. I guess I should check it out now!

The famous car chase scene is remarkable to watch. Not only is it one of the best chase scenes in the movies, they don't make 'em like much any more since we see more and more CGI and less practical effects in film these days.
Wang Chung did the soundtrack and most of the music in the movie. The use of their song "Dance Hall Days" with the line "you need her and she needs you" being played during a critical scene was brilliant. I know some people don't like 1980s "cheesy" synth pop-rock but I dig it just fine. This is a solid soundtrack that goes well with the movie although its certainly not one of the best soundtracks ever. A cool piece of trivia about Wang Chung's involvement with this movie is that director William Friedkin specifically told the group not to create a theme song. The band later turned in the title track but after Friedkin listened to it he liked it so much that not only did he keep in the soundtrack, he put it in the opening scene! It's a damn shame that Wang Chung is more known for the big hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" than their work here.
The setting of L.A. is great and the film gives a great sense of the time and place of the city. Los Angeles basically becomes a character itself and its both the first and last things we see.
I try to avoid spoilers so I'll just say the ending is perfect. It was actually not the original ending in the script as Friedkin decided to change it late in production. The studio did not like the change but I'm glad it turned out the way it did as it fits really well.


  1. Some classics here. To Live and Die I only just got around to checking out recently. Sure the soundtrack dates it but it's still a thrilling piece of cinema. Definitely check out some early Miami Vice if you get the chance - the first season is pretty damn good.

    If you enjoyed Petersen's performance check out Michael Mann's Manhunter. He's awesome in that. Did you get the chance to check out the deleted ending. It's pretty dumb, I'm glad they got rid of that.

  2. I'll watch some Miami Vice when I get the chance.

    I really liked Petersen here so I'll have to see Manhunter. Should be interesting since I've seen Silence of the Lambs and am curious how the Hannibal character was handled in a different, earlier movie.

    I did see the deleted ending and don't like it. I am glad that Friedkin fought the studio and was able to change it.