Satisfaction

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This is a tough one to write. I mean, Mallory Keaton (born in 1966 as “Justine Bateman”) obviously means the world to me and after her TV series ended, well, she had to do something, didn’t she? Apparently, she scrawled her John Hancock on the first script to come across her kitchen table, and in hindsight, it wasn’t the best choice she could have made. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but Mallory’s first post-Family Ties footstep sent her in the completely wrong direction and her subsequent career ended up being a voyage of about six or seven meters, a fair measure short of a thousand miles.

Okay, it may have been that she was bound and determined to shed her vaguely prep, barely sentient (but still so very, very hot) Midwestern good girl image, but for her to attempt to portray a rebellious rock n’ roll singer right out of the blocks was just too much and too sudden of a jump. Did we see Shelly Long hamming it up as Nancy Spungen in Sid and Nancy or Erin Moran breaking out the electrical tape to play Wendy O. Williams in The Story of the Plasmatics? No, we did not. I remember I happened to stumble upon this movie while it was playing in the background at some party during the scene where Mallory’s character is trying to stir things up by shouting out some anti-authority slogans during a high school graduation ceremony and instantly bursting into tears at how wrong it all was. It got even worse when she ends up being the lead singer in a “rock band” since neither she nor the people writing and filming the movie have the faintest idea of what a rock band, or even rock music, is. It’s all as genuine as margarine and just as sickening, I’m afraid, reaching a low point when Mallory starts banging on a cowbell with all the earnest ridiculousness of some bell-bottomed member of Foghat.

The entire project isn’t helped by having Julia Roberts slinking around its edges–playing bass guitar in mom jeans, of all things. I have never for a single second found this woman sexy, lovable, charismatic, or even a halfway decent actress. America’s Sweetheart?? You have got to be joking. I mean at least she’s tall, but I’ll take Sigourney Weaver or even Wendie Malick the next time I want to look up at a famous actress as we leave a fine restaurant hand in hand after enjoying a delicious meal I haven’t paid for. In fact, I blame HER for forever sullying Mallory’s good name. Sometimes, it’s okay to be irrational.

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump in the 80s was quite a different kettle of rotted fish from the TV personality we (cough) “love” now. First off, he was relatively new and hadn’t yet been given enough time to do much damage. Even then, though, there was already something cartoonish about the fellow. Start with the name, which sounded every bit as manufactured as Stuart Goddard telling some coked-up MTV VJ his name was “Adam Ant.” Ridiculous. Except the Trump name was real–Donald was the baby prince of an already established scuzzball empire built by his father. The surname is an anglicized version of the Low German word “Drumpf.” And yes, just as you might have guessed, that translates to “toadstool” in English.

His two great accomplishments this decade were the construction of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and the 1989 release of the board game Trump: The Game.  The Trump Tower is everything you’d expect from something that was unveiled in the go-go 80s–tons of the “world’s finest marble” and heaps of the “planet’s rarest brass” all slapped together in the public areas to no memorable effect, but the black monolithic exterior does have a dozen or so live trees growing out of it, so you can give Trump credit for being a brave pioneer of sustainability if you want to. As for Trump: The Game, not enough people ever played it for history to record whether or not it was any fun, but I can say that as far as its name goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one released last year by a certain LA rapper called The Game: The Game.

His woman of choice for this decade was Ivana and she was very blond and very tall and liked to tell little fibs about being on the 1972 Czechoslovakian Olympic ski team. I don’t think she ever accomplished anything other than bringing three more Trumps into the world (readers can decide for themselves whether that is an actual accomplishment or something more akin to a criminal act) but her first name does comprise exactly one-half of my all-time favorite drag queen stage name: Ivana Koch.

Since this blog only covers a brief ten year period I am unable to discuss all the mischief he’s caused in the past 30 years or so, like trying to pave over half the Scottish Highlands or threatening to bum rush the White House every four years. He’s a hard man to look at, and recent rumors about him being the object of a new float in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are worrisome. It probably won’t come off– The Donald would never cede control of his image to a bunch of mere designers and float makers, but if he does insist on “playing himself” this coming November, organizers will hardly need to pump in any helium in order to send his bloated corporeality skyward.

Steff from Pretty In Pink

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If ever a movie character managed to seamlessly blend the ridiculous and the sublime, it would have to be Steff (no last name, please) from Pretty in Pink. The ridiculous? This is high school, yet James Spader was 26 at the time and looked about 32. He’s purportedly a rich “preppie” from Chicago but instead of wearing Polo Ralph Lauren with some Brooks Brothers thrown in as rich preppie kids from the midwest would have done back then, he prefers baggy silk/linen blend suits paired with sockless smoking slippers like some rent boy from South Beach. Most, if not all, high school students have classes to attend, but Steff wanders the hallways of the school at will, puffing on cigarettes and peeking in windows like some Versace-clad ghost who somehow never received his copy of the student rules and regulations handbook.

The sublime? All of the above! Spader plays this shuffling, slouching villain so over the top that it actually works. That breathtaking mad flow, that insufferable clipped diction, that bulletproof hands-in-jacket-pockets insouciance! Not to mention the relentless browbeating of his milquetoast buddy Blane, his vicious, tactless “wooing” of Andie, and of course he and Duckie going all handbags on each other in a deserted hallway. (Steff’s contemptuous “Nice, huh?” just before spitting on the school floor is the single best moment in the movie, in my book).

And the hits keep coming:

“What, are you shopping for records or something?” (A query directed towards a guy flipping through records while inside a record shop)

“If you got a hard-on for trash don’t take care of it around us, pal!”

“When Bill and Joyce are through with you, you won’t know whether to shit or go sailing.”

“You got a problem, friend??”

And of course his piece de resistance: “The girl was, is and will always be NADA.”

Is it really any surprise that after graduation, he moved out to LA, changed his name to Rip, and started slinging ‘caine?

Escape From New York

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The anticipation was visceral–electric, even. HBO had been running the trailer for months. And then finally, on some weeknight in December of 1981, they premiered Escape from New York. I was young–I hadn’t been allowed to see it in the theater despite howling for the privilege like a coyote with his leg in a trap, but by the time it hit cable, these painfully restrictive parental attitudes had softened. So I watched it, eagerly, like Christmas had come early that year.

Its impact was immediate. I walked into school the next morning and announced to my homeroom classmates that I was no longer to be called by my Christian name but rather by my new name, Snake, instead. No one paid me a bit of mind–I would continue to be addressed as “Mike”, “Dick”, or “Idiot” for the next 5 years or so, but that’s not the point. The point was that Snake Plissken was the coolest anti-hero I had ever seen. The previous holder of this title–Kelly Leak from The Bad News Bears–duly genuflected and took the next seat over.

What did this guy look like? An eyepatch, some seriously feathered hair, a sleeveless shirt woven from a material the labs of Under Armour and their competitors still can’t replicate, form-fitting camouflage pants, motorcycle boots and a tattooed cobra uncoiling out of his waistband. Someone in wardrobe was obviously familiar with the work of Tom of Finland, but that is merely hindsight. Escape From New York was science fiction, it was fantasy, it was a dystopian cautionary tale, it was the psychiatrist from Halloween tearing apart self-appointed Manhattan royalty with an M16. It was the fate of the entire human race hinging on which Maxell XLII-S got pushed into the government’s tape deck.

I’m using up my quota of words, but if you’ve seen it, you love it. Any other reaction is impossible. 35 years later, the one-word character names can still bring up images as vivid as Seurat’s riverbank pointillism: Cabbie. Brain. Maggie. (The) Duke. Hauk. Snake. And most indelible of all–Romero, with his demonic hiss and shock of white hair and handful of Presidential finger.

15 years later John Carpenter and Co. would move the whole shebang to the west coast, but I still haven’t even watched that one. Why try to outdo perfection??

Cannonball Run I and II

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What could be more fun than to watch dozens of B and C-list movie stars cavorting on a cross-country death ride to meet up in Las Vegas to worship at the feet of their master, The Walkin’ Dude—Mr. Randall Flagg? Er, wait a minute I think I’m getting this movie mixed up with a BOOK by Stephen King called The Stand.

Let’s start again.

It was a late 70s Saturday night broadcast of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that pretty much hooked me on madcap cross-country ensemble comedies, but unfortunately for me, Hollywood never really produced too many of them.  Enter Hal Needham and Brock Yates. They had a dream of doing a movie loosely based on a real coast to coast race known as the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Trophy Dash and they were lucky enough to have a good pal in Hollywood to help them along, and not just any good pal, but the #1 box office attraction in the land. His name was Burt Reynolds and he got the thing green-lighted with probably about as much effort as it took him to undo Loni Anderson’s bra every night. The movie did so well that three years later they produced a sequel, titled, logically enough, Cannonball Run II.

Herewith in ascending order of magnitude is a brief look at some of the stars who were involved in either one or both of these uproarious films:

Jimmy the Greek—Way, way before the nasty cesspool of Steubenville, Ohio made a name for itself around the world by institutionally covering up a heinous sexual assault, it much more quietly went about the business of producing upstanding citizens like this guy and Dean Martin. I think I like the old Steubenville better.

Jackie Chan—Speaking of Ohio, in the hopelessly xenophobic General Motors-centric Ohio town I grew up in people actually threw sodas at the screen whenever this guy appeared. Because they thought he was Japanese.

Jack Elam—A superlative character actor, but this character was a disturbing one to watch. I hope for the sake of his immediate family he didn’t “take this role home with him” as some actors claim to do.

Burt Convy—Nowhere near as cool as the movie of the same name, which starred Kris Kristofferson as “The Rubber Duck”

Terry Bradshaw—The guy called every offensive play (for both teams!) in four Super Bowls and never lost a one.

Mel Tillis—I always found it odd that a man could be so richly rewarded for mocking people (albeit including himself) with speech impediments, but people weren’t so uptight about things back then.

Adrienne Barbeau—Maggie from Escape from New York. The damsel in distress from Swamp Thing. How anyone with a pulse could not want to eat her up like a super-sized hot fudge sundae has always been one of life’s great mysteries.

Telly Savalas—He brought a gravity to his role as Hymie Kaplan that no one else could have delivered. Jesse Jackson later mentioned by name how impressed he was with this character and got torched for it.

Dom DeLuise—The beloved Falstaff of many a Burt Reynolds and Mel Brooks movie. If he ever managed to do or say one thing that made me laugh I certainly can’t remember it. But it seems like he was a kind soul.

Peter Fonda—“Crazy Larry” will always be an A-lister in my book.

Dean Martin—Vindicated in the 21st century as quite possibly the coolest cat who ever lived, but in 1981 he was considered to be little more than a drunken buffoon stuck fast in an era that had long been passed by. I can only imagine the fun Dean and Jimmy the Greek had on set reminiscing about their childhood days running errands all across southeast Ohio for their mentor “Dom the Guppy.”

Roger Moore—People always say he was the “worst” James Bond but I thought he did just fine. He used to ski in Gstaad with William F. Buckley and David Niven! What did the people constantly tearing him down ever do? Bumper ski down some potholed street by grabbing onto the back of some rusted-out Pontiac Bonneville? I thought so.

Shirley MacLaine—I think this is about the time people stopped taking her seriously and she just took the ball and ran with it.

Burt Reynolds—Although these movies did well, the sun was setting on Burt’s career around this time and gallivanting around like an idiot with a bunch of other idiots didn’t help things much.

Frank Sinatra—And Frank, oh yes, Frank. Mr. Sinatra lived so passionately for the champagne and “classy broads”—it’s a shame his last ever movie role was a spectacle that was roughly the equivalent of having a shaken-up can of warm Blatz dumped over his head while in the act of having unprotected sex with a $5 chickenhead hooker. On a public street. Nice knowing ya, pallie!

To Live And Die In L.A.

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The southern California sun slowly leans down to kiss the horizon, its rays diffusing through insect-sized smog particles to create colors reminiscent of fire and blood as the incredibly unlikely group of musicians known as Wang Chung provide a pitch-perfect soundtrack. Welcome to William Friedkin’s Los Angeles. This the third and final film in Billy’s unholy Trinity—The French Connection and The Exorcist are the other two. William Petersen wears cowboy boots and jeans as tight as the spandex of a wannabe Sunset Boulevard rock star. He’s a cop so blindly outraged by the murder of his partner he doesn’t have the slightest clue what he’s doing and so he leads us down into the hellish depths of a supposedly “shallow” city. 

He’s chasing a man named Rick Masters and Willem Defoe’s reptilian intelligence and offhand wit immediately elevate his counterfeiter/artist to the pantheon of great movie villains. He tools around the ghetto in a jet black Ferrari 308 and gives his girlfriend a human plaything for her birthday. No small detail escapes him:

“You say you’re from Palm Springs, yet you don’t have a tan.”

Gotcha, pal, and another head is about to get blown off in an incredible twist that’s not-quite-the-ending.

What else? Dean Stockwell is a languid, cynical lawyer, Darlanne Fluegel one lithe thoroughbred of a pole dancer and John Turturro gets to play a character who is both mule AND rat. There’s a white-knuckle car chase that never seems to end. Friedkin lovingly applies every bit of style he can to this 2 hour film, but he would pretty much disappear soon after, his creativity spent. Michael Mann would pick up his torch and run with it.

FUN FACT: This movie spawned a porno spoof called To Live and Shave in L.A., the name of which was then appropriated by a noise-rock outfit from Florida who still release recordings to this day. So its impact has been pretty profound, I think.

Patrick Swayze

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“She” was like the wind, and the wind is something you can’t hold onto, but plenty of women wanted to hold onto the man who sang that song, a certain Mr. Patrick Swayze.

I wasn’t one for either Ghost or Dirty Dancing but those movies were huge, taken straight to the top of the box office heap by a predominately female audience ravenous for everything Patrick. And this attraction to him has never abated. A 2013 poll taken by Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP magazine found that a whopping 73% of all newlywed women play the DVD of Dirty Dancing on their wedding night in order to physically prepare themselves for the consummation of their marriage vows. And Gwyneth herself once told Sally Jessy Raphael that her biggest regret in life was that Patrick wasn’t the one who “popped her cherry.” Now that’s a fellow with sex appeal!

But Patrick could also win over the guys in the audience, too–he was the rough and tumble older brother in The Outsiders and bad-ass commie fighter Jed in Red Dawn. And then, of course, we have Road House. There was a certain dwarf-like creature who emerged alongside Patrick in the 80s, a guy who danced around in his underwear, flew fighter jets, and helped drive that retarded dude to Los Angeles in a string of hit movies. Yes, they tried to tell us Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was the biggest star of them all, but I’d like to see Maverick last even 10 minutes in the Double Deuce. It would never happen. Dalton would break him down like a fistful of chowder crackers and not move a hair of that incredible coiffure out of place while doing it.

No, Swayze was the main man in the 80s and the best was yet to come. For we hadn’t even seen Bodhi yet.

The King of Comedy

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Rupert Pupkin lives with his mother. He’s probably about 40 and unemployed. He wants to be a famous (the key concept of this film) comedian but his schtick is about as knee-slapping as an open grave. No matter. He thinks—no, he KNOWS–he’s funny and that’s all that counts. Haven’t we been told our whole lives to do everything we can to make our dreams come true?

Rupert’s dreams are very precise and his drive to realize them akin to whatever the hell it is that powers battleships about the open sea. His pleasantly polite and utterly indefatigable persistence lead to one of the funniest lines ever uttered in the movies as his hero Jerry Langford’s manservant makes a panicked call to his absent boss after Rupert and his date show up unannounced at Jerry’s mansion “for the weekend” and start making themselves quite at home:

“Mr Rangford! They are touching things, they are ruining evwyting!!”

Mr. Langford appears posthaste, nine iron in hand, to personally see Pupkin off his property in a scene you could watch 100 times and never get tired of. But the joke is on him because this powerful man soon ends up completely powerless— wrapped head to toe in duct tape and entirely at the mercy of the impure fantasies of 6 foot tall gargoyle Sandra Bernhard. And so Rupert gets his wish and becomes famous.

It’s Scorsese at a supreme level he would only manage to hold onto for a few more films. DeNiro is a congenial monster; Bernhard downright frightening. Jerry Lewis puts in his best acting job ever and yes, I’ve seen The Caddy.

Little Darlings

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I remember shaking my head in disbelief when I saw the trailer for this movie. They were going to make a sex comedy featuring two of my favorite actresses– Tatum O’ Neal and Kristy McNichol—based on a race between the two to lose their virginity? Please, where does the line for tickets form? Tatum had already “struck me out swinging,” if I may indulge in some quite appropriate baseball parlance, as the ace tomboy pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer in the 70s classic The Bad News Bears. That bob, those freckles, that already ragged beyond-its-years voice, that nasty curveball. You couldn’t help but love her. Kristy McNichol, a brooding brunette from the ABC-TV drama Family, was more the girl-next-door type, if the girl next door happened to be named after a dog. (Buddy, in case you’ve forgotten). Naturally, since it was the early 80s, the role of feather-haired cherry-buster went to Matt Dillon, because, well, that was what he did back then.

My personal expectations for this movie were so high that the end result was bound to be disappointing. It turned out to be a fairly standard summer camp movie and of course it’s the poor, tough girl (Kristy) who ends up surrendering to Matt on some dirty inflatable raft behind a tool shed, while the rich girl (Tatum) leaves camp every bit as intact as when she’d arrived and in better clothes to boot. I guess the filmmakers were trying to teach the film-going public some kind of lesson about socioeconomics and sexuality, but it’s all pretty much lost to me now.