Spring turns into Summer, giving us dance movies, fantasy flicks, and Christmas in June - with a horror twist.
A feature-length version of So You Can Think Dance's Stage Vs. Street season, in which trained dancer Kelly becomes enamored with the breakdance scene in general and charismatic dancer Ozone in particular. It's the snobs vs. ...well, they're not slobs, that's the whole point, they just have their own community and style. Fun LA movie with Venice Beach and MacArthur Park/Rampart Village as your main backdrops; the Radio-Tron club and community center was real, the dancers featured are real breakdancers from the scene. Some nebulous plotting, sure, and there's no way in hell Ana "Lollipop" Sanchez is losing a dance battle, and yes, the editing is a disservice to much of the actual dance sequences. But for every eye-roll-worthy moment, there's Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers' sidewalk dance or Christopher McDonald's class performance or, you know, the finale. I liked it. Wait 'til you hear about the sequel!
You had your pick that May between breakdancing teens or sad ones. Molly Ringwald became a star thanks to her portrayal of Sam, a teen girl whose entire family has forgotten about her sixteenth birthday, distracted as they are by her sister's upcoming wedding. It's John Hughes (his directorial debut!) so there is a patina of authenticity in the young actors' performances. There's also some wild stuff, like the long conversation between the geek and the jock about how date-rapeable the beauty queen is and aren't they great guys for not taking advantage of that? Interesting, actually, that in a film supposedly about Sam, her own storyline is forgotten in order to focus on the boys at a house party. Best performance in the film comes from Haviland Morris as the aforementioned beauty queen. I get why this movie has the place it has in American pop culture, but it is uneven.
Once Upon a Time in America
There's a 4.5-hour director's cut that's readily available - the one Europeans got in 1984 - but if you dig around the Internet you can find a transfer from the original VHS release that preserves the 2-hour US theatrical cut that Oscar voters and '84 American audiences got to see. I've addressed the director's cut on Screen Drafts, so what about the shorter version? Well, you've still got terrific costumes, enormous and detailed sets, Ennio Morricone's poetic score, the performances by Robert De Niro, James Woods, Tuesday Weld, and Danny Aiello, and the fact that their Judaism feels less diluted. On the other hand, relationships are sketchier, characters (like Peggy) and details (like the opium addiction) feel inconsequential, time periods are fuzzy, and the entire third act becomes odd, a tacked-on coda. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of either cut; I admire the film more than I like it.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Follows right after the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Spock is dead and yet there is some Vulcan hoodoo that could resurrect him; at the same time, the new planet Genesis that has emerged becomes a point of contention for Federation scientists and Klingon radicals. Applaud its overall weirdness, with its cradle-to-teen Spock directly linked to this new planet, mind-melding, and ritual climax. I don't think I've ever seen a performance or a script less invested in a father-son relationship as Shatner's Kirk, and the Klingon stuff is a big shrug despite to-the-rafters thesping from Christopher Lloyd. Probably great for fans, just OK for me.
Streets of Fire
Speaking of overall weirdness, how 'bout this gem of a rock-musical about a rebel who returns to his hometown in time to save his now-famous rock'n'roll ex-girlfriend from a gang of thugs led by dangerously beautiful Willem Dafoe? What time period is this? I don't know, but I'm into it. A faster, songier sister to Trouble in Mind, bookended by two dynamite Jim Steinman songs, featuring a badass Amy Madigan.
"How had you never seen...?" Actually, as soon as I watched, I asked myself that. Fun, clever little Christmas horror is a valentine to creature features of old, the sets and costumes and performances dialed up, the horror of the titular beasties never in question. They are scary scamps, make no mistake! Will probably watch again this Christmas, and again next Christmas, and again the following Christmas - it deserves its place in the Christmas Canon, is what I'm saying.
Dolly Parton bets her boss at a Manhattan honkytonk that she can turn cab driver Sylvester Stallone into a one-night country singing sensation; if she wins, she is freed from her contract, but if she loses, she is tied up for another five years and has to screw the boss. Gross stakes, but at least the chemistry between Parton and Stallone makes up for...uh...well, look, it's not the worst romantic pairing I've ever seen, but Stallone's not exactly a natural comedian, not here, anyway. Tim Thomerson steals the movie.
A spoof of the spy genre and, somehow, teen rock movies of the early 1960s, courtesy the creators of Airplane!. Val Kilmer gets the joke and nails every setup and punchline. Sets, makeup, editing, choreography of scenes really impress with their commitment to the bit (yes, it's hilarious the one scene that's run backwards, but think of the number of takes and amount of planning it must have taken to complete that single shot). Oh my gosh, and just last week, I burst out laughing thinking about "Skeet Surfing..."
Conan the Destroyer
Sequel to Conan the Barbarian sees Conan on a quest to...do...something? And there's a wizard with an ice castle in the middle of a lake. Some interesting sets and costumes, but pales in comparison to its truly epic, jaw-dropping predecessor. Grace Jones should have been the villainess.
The Company of Wolves
Hey, didn't I review this for 1985? Yes, because it received its wide US release then, but I did not realize at the time that, despite IMDb only listing The Company of Wolves' 1984 US screening as a Filmex event, it qualified for the 1984 Academy Awards. So, here it is. Still dreamy, still comfortably snoozy, still thoughtful in its depiction of werewolves and their place in coming-of-age sexual fantasy. Artsy!
The NeverEnding Story
Well, gang, here it is, the movie that made me want to do 1984. My friend Tanner Thomason recommended it, I got a copy from the library to watch - oh wow! What a tale, a tale of a boy who doesn't fit in, grieving his mother, unable to communicate with his father - who just happens to find a book about a world where imagination and joy are dying because of this great, awful Nothing that takes over, that saps the will as effectively as the Swamps of Sadness suck us into their muck. I watched it a second time months after my first viewing to make sure - but yes, I love this movie, and I had to watch the films of 1984 to see what it was up against, why even its crafts were ignored by awards bodies! Did I find other films that I liked more? Baby, I'm not giving that away now. But this was a pleasant surprise.
Oscar-nominated films that were released during this period: The Natural and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in May; Ghostbusters, Under the Volcano, The Karate Kid, and The Pope of Greenwich Village in June; The Muppets Take Manhattan and Purple Rain in July.
Tomorrow, four of my all-time favorite directors, as we explore the films from the end of Summer through October.