Wednesday, June 9, 2021

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The Worst of '85?

The Golden Raspberry Awards were founded in 1980. They've been shitting on fun ever since: consider their first Best Picture lineup not only included my favorite film of all time, Xanadu, but William Friedkin's best film Cruising. Five years later, they still struggled with how to appraise parody, targeted actors who weren't bad but were obnoxiously popular, and found a groove they would never get out of - dishonoring Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta. And, as if that wasn't enough, they had the audacity to nominate the great The Last Dragon in Worst Original Song...for the two best tunes on the soundtrack! Risible. Among the many which I did not see, here were nine films nominated for Razzies:

King David
nominee:Worst Actor (Richard Gere)

The story of the Biblical king of Israel. Yes, there is a blankness to Richard Gere's performance that underwhelms. There is also a fidelity to the general content of Biblical sources that makes for some bizarre moments and inscrutable characters. And yet. How can I resist something that gives us performances like Edward Woodward's as King Saul, a man chosen by God, only to be forsaken in favor of a shepherd boy; Jack Klaff as Jonathan, his loyalties torn between his friend and his father; and Denis Quilley and Niall Buggy as the prophets, humorless, strict, almost bloodthirsty? Who can say "boo" to something that can so clearly question the motivations and manipulations of those prophets, that strives to make a portrait of a lonely and tragic king, without explicitly straying from the text? It comes up short, but it's interesting.

Krush Groove
nominee: Worst Original Song ("All You Can Eat")

A fictional account of the founding of Def Jam, with many of the acts playing versions of themselves - The Fat Boys, Sheila E, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, etc. For the most part, they're pretty good, especially when you consider that the film asks them to play genuine dramatic beats like betrayal between brothers, romantic rivalry, and dropping pearls of wisdom. Blair Underwood makes his debut as the Not Russell Simmons. The nominated song is bop, but I understand thinking it's the worst: it's a frustrating earworm that won't leave my head. Still, it and "Holly Rock" are my favorite tunes from the phenomenal soundtrack. A fun film about determination, the realization of one's dreams, and an industry that really does allow for everyone to rise up together.

Lust in the Dust
nominee: Worst Actor (Divine)

\Western parody has several kooks winding up in a dusty town in search of gold. Divine and Lainie Kazan play rivals for the affections of gunslinger Tab Hunter, and director Paul Bartel is the man who brought us Private Parts, Death Race 2000, and Eating Raoul, to give you an idea of the tone of the piece. Good, bawdy fun. Honestly, nominating Divine just looks foolish.

nominee: Worst Actor (John Travolta), Worst Supporting Actress (Marilu Henner), Worst Screenplay

Rolling Stone journalist covers health spas as new singles bars, falls for instructor. Much maligned at the time, often mischaracterized as a campy disaster, its main concerns are journalistic ethics and the obsessive pursuit of physical perfection/personal fulfillment. The journalistic part is boring, frankly, with our hero working on a second, more "serious" story, seemingly as a way to establish his credentials as a "real" journalist (whatever floats your boat, but it's awfully dull) and so he can prove himself to be worthy of the final clinch (I remain unconvinced). The second beat is a little more interesting, if not quite as deep as it wants to be. What makes this whole thing sing, though, is Jamie Lee Curtis's performance as aerobics instructor Jessie Wilson, a woman who cares uncynically for others, whose work allows her to leave an unhappy past behind her. Curtis is vulnerable, and well does she play the push-pull of wanting to trust someone that she doesn't. Really, its greatest mistake is letting its leads have sex before he takes her hip-heavy class.

Red Sonja
winner: Worst New Star (Brigitte Nielsen)
nominee: Worst Actress (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst Supporting Actress (Sandahl Bergman)

I don't know, a warrior woman avenges her family and stops the apocalypse. It's no Conan. Sometimes it works. I liked Brigitte Nielsen's chemistry with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I liked the camaraderie between her, Paul Smith, and Ernie Reyes, Jr. Danilo Donati did the sets and costumes, and his work is always a feast for the eyes.

Rocky IV
winner: Worst Director (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Supporting Actress (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst Musical Score, Worst New Star (Brigitte Nielsen)
nominee: Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor (Burt Young), Worst Supporting Actress (Talia Shire)

The later Rocky movies are entertaining as hell, but the further they go, the more Stallone seems to forget that the first one was an underdog tale ending in loss. The fact that he has Rocky keep repeating hosannas of humility actually hint at this: it's the insistence of someone so far out of touch he thinks he's still humble. Anyway, here Rocky avenges the death of his friend and American pride by taking on Soviet mutant god Ivan Drago. Brigitte Nielsen as Drago's wife is the best thing here, successfully executing a performance of genuine wifely and canny marketing knowhow to create an identity for her husband that is personal and patriotic. Everything else is...well, it's fine, it's good, it does what it does.

St. Elmo's Fire
winner: Worst Supporting Actor (Rob Lowe)

Friends feel the strain of life after college. Lowe's win is puzzling, as only he could make a reasonable case for the guy's simultaneous scuzziness and potential for redemption based on pure charm. Scuzzy is the word for most of the men here - the Emilio Estevez plotline is horrifying - though the film seems self-aware enough to know it. That's the whole thing, isn't it, the first year of adulthood is your last year of youth, so here you are, behaving immaturely, making grand gestures and huge mistakes, with reality finally smacking you in the face and punching you in the stomach...with no one else to bail you out. I can dig it. It's sketchy and messy, but I dig it.

A View to a Kill
nominee: Worst Actress (Tanya Roberts)

James Bond goes up against a microchip manufacturer, who, uh, something? Basically Goldfinger, but updated for the 80s: just as Goldfinger is going to destroy the gold in Fort Knox to send the value of his stock rising, so does Zorin target Silicon Valley. Instead of cheating at gold and cards, Zorin cheats at horse races. Instead of Tilly Masterson avenging her sister, Stacey Sutton avenges her father. Not as smooth as its predecessors, the years are showing on Roger Moore, the here-and-there assemblage of girls hints at multiple drafts stitched together. The song is still great. Tanya Roberts is unremarkable.

Year of the Dragon
nominee: Worst Picture, Worst Director (Michael Cimino), Worst Actress (Ariane), Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star (Ariane)

White cop on a mission to take down a rising gangster in Chinatown. The interesting thing about watching the films of '72 and '85 back-to-back are the parallels that begin to crop up. Year of the Dragon reminds me a little of Come Back, Charleston Blue: both are crime films taking place within minority communities, wherein homegrown gangsters decide to move in on mob territory and run things for themselves - a real sense of community, you know? Come Back, Charleston Blue has as its protagonists Black detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones, who take the intra-exploitation personally; they also have to straddle two tensions: being Black in a police precinct, and being cops in a Black neighborhood. Year of the Dragon has as its protagonist a racist white detective who doesn't care for the Chinese because of his experiences in Vietnam, and the one Asian cop they do allow is a rookie, a bad shot, near-sighted, ultimately sacrificed (spoiler), but does get to give a monologue about the racism experienced by Asians and Asian-Americans throughout history, a scene that, I guess, is supposed to cancel out having such a hateful piece of shit as your protagonist, a truly risible character that's not so much "complex anti-hero" as he is "racist misogynist asshole." John Lone is the villain, and gosh, he's great, dangerously sexy and suave, and while you're never rooting for his character, if it's a choice between him and Mickey Rourke... I guess, in the end, there are great moments and fine ideas, but they are overshadowed by a bad choice for a protagonist. Let the girl reporter be the lead. Let the undercover Asian cop be the lead. Let John Lone be the lead. But having a racist fall in lust with an Asian woman while "cleaning up" Chinatown without any hint of irony...isn't the arc the filmmakers seem to think it is.

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