Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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1984: The Year Begins

Why 1984? I hadn't planned on it - actually, I had wanted to do 1998 after 1948, then move on to Hollywood's Golden Age. But sometimes The Universe takes you on another journey. In the past two years, thanks to appearances on the Screen Drafts podcast and recommendations by friends horrified at the "classics" I've missed, I have had the films of 1984 thrust upon me. It took one such recommendation to finally get me to go, "Oh, OK, I have to see this year in full." And while a slate of 76 films isn't necessarily full, it is a lot! I think!

This week, we focus on the releases not nominated at the Academy Awards. Today, it's the films released between January and April...and one before that...

Sleepaway Camp
November 18, 1983

Now, I cannot find a 1984 release date for this film, but it is listed among the films qualifying for the 57th Academy Awards so, for our purposes, here it is. A cult classic slasher flick, a step above the usual partly because the campers are, for the most part, played by age-appropriate actors, and partly because the "twist" and its unveiling are genuine shockers. Even knowing the twist (thanks to an episode of Robot Chicken) ahead of time does not dull the impact, so effective is the editing and sound design in those final moments, so layered are the multiple horrors and indignities. A rebuke, I think, of bullies young and old, and it's hard to get into the meaty discussion of this one without spoilers, so feel free to email me at silverscreeningroom@gmail.com if you want to chat. But wow, it's a good one!

The Lonely Guy
January 27

Based on Bruce Jay Friedman's The Lonely Guy's Book of Life, here we see Steve Martin going through a romantic drought, bonding with other lonely guys about how to cope, bouncing back after writing a successful book about being a lonely guy - all played straight-faced but written farcically. Amusing, but I found myself unable to fully meet all its comic rhythms. Still, points for the magic between Martin and Judith Ivey, as well as Joyce Brothers' game winking at her own celebrity.
Unfaithfully Yours
February 10

Did not expect to follow up 1948's Unfaithfully Yours with a remake, but once I saw the opportunity, curiosity got me! Dudley Moore takes the Rex Harrison role of a renowned conductor who suspects his wife may be having an affair and fantasizes about his revenge. Something about the execution here feels more pathetic and acidic. And, let's face it, there's no real chemistry between Moore and on-screen bride Natassja Kinski, who gets little else to play than "my hot younger wife." At least Linda Darnell got some laugh lines! A shrug.

Harry & Son
March 2

I went on about this one at length on the "Paul Newman mini-MEGA" episode of Screen Drafts. A rewatch confirmed it as a personal favorite, focusing as it does on a South Florida father and son team: the former worked hard all his life and enjoys a Budweiser at the end of a long day, the latter is content enough with go-nowhere work while he focuses on his artistic pursuits. They don't always understand each other, but they try; the love is there, they can't always express it effectively, but it comes out in unique ways. An authentic depiction of the relationship between parents and kids, as well as an enjoyable summertime lark. Like I said, it's a personal favorite, so...I don't know, your mileage may vary, but it spoke to me. I know this movie.

Repo Man
March 2

"How have you never seen...?" Look, I just hadn't, but now I have, and I admit I am better for it. Government conspiracies, alien beings, secret societies, the underground punk scene - and, of course, the daily grind of the titular occupation, which, unsurprisingly, involves a lot of running away from people with guns (or responding with your own) and an understandable reduction of the world to The Grind - gotta do what I gotta do to make mine! Surreal narrative, hot Emilio Estevez, great soundtrack and score. No stretch of dullness, no pauses, pure weird energy. Imagine taking on the plight of the desperate working-class, the radicalism of youth, and the exploitation of the consumer without any outright, hand-wringing message-making!

This is Spinal Tap!
March 2

"How have you never seen...?" Yeah, we've heard that one already. Somehow even funnier than its reputation - the jokes are much more deadpan than I expected. Rob Reiner's a perfect straight man, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest play their broad parts sincerely, Fran Drescher (without the voice!) is nuclear levels of hot, and the undersung Tony Hendra as the band's manager - their chief enabler, manipulator, antagonist, and Elmer's glue - keeps it flowing perfectly. Yeah, no notes really, just...everything y'all said was true.

Mike's Murder
March 9

A woman pieces together how and why her every-now-and-then lover was murdered. A patient drama - I hesitate to say thriller, though it's not not that - that I found rewarding thanks to its performances and its empathy for addicts, victims, and...well, just people. Love that the relationship between heroine and victim is basically fuck-buddies, but writer-director James Bridges doesn't consider that superficial: he acknowledges the love and messy emotions that occur within repeated physical intimacy with someone...even as, really, neither knows the other at all. It's an intriguing, adult premise, executed superbly. A big thank you to Darrin Navarro for recommending this one, I would not have thought to watch it otherwise.

Moscow on the Hudson
April 6

Paul Mazursky, you done done it again! Robin Williams is a Russian circus musician who defects to the United States following a special tour. And would you believe, while it gets into Cold War stuff, it also focuses on the citizenship process, the experience of assimilation, the amount of work necessary to survive as an immigrant in the city, what it means to define oneself as an American, why one would want to be both an American and proudly still of their nation of origin? Mazursky never misses a trick...well, except for casting the Cuban actress MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso as an Italian. Why not just make her Cuban? She certainly doesn't sound Italian! But what a great script, what a great lead performance, what a fine film!

April 13

Another Darrin Navarro recommendation, this one centered on an Arctic scientific research base that uncovers an ancient caveman. One scientist bonds with the caveman, but, of course, there are complications both within their little habitat and from the outside world. John Lone plays the titular iceman - physically, vocally, facially, a grand performance imbued with the necessary levels of fear, curiosity and loneliness (imagine you woke up with all your family and friends gone for millennia!). Besides Lone, kudos to the makeup and score.

April 13

Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World, The Beverly Hillbillies) makes her directorial debut with this low-budget ensemble flick about teen punks living in a condemned house, the remnants of a community once marked for middle-class utopian ideals now become a hovel for the destitute. Does a commendable job of pleading for sympathy and understanding while also allowing that, yeah, these are dumb kids who do dumb kid things, what d'ya want?

Oscar-nominated films that were released during this period: Broadway Danny Rose and El Norte in January; Footloose in February; Against All Odds, SplashGreystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and Romancing the Stone in March; Swing Shift in April.

Tomorrow: '80s genre classics take us through the Summer of 1984!

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