My Take by Jim Carl - October 24, 2012

JIM’S 10 LEAST-FAVORITE AMERICAN MOVIES OF 1980-1984

SCARFACE (1982)
Everyone has a film genre they hate.  For some, it’s slasher flicks. Others dislike war movies.  My grandmother hated those body-switch films from the 80s.  Me?  I cannot stomach contemporary gangster movies.  I don’t care if they’re about the Italians, Cubans, Portuguese, British, or the bloody Holy Roman Empire.  Boiled down, every gangster movie is about the same thing: a bunch of self-absorbed misogynists bitching and whining about who owes them money, who can save them money, or who can make them money.  I've never watched The Godfather in its entirety.  The closest I came to Goodfellas was its TV ad.  The subject matter does not appeal to me.  It’s so easy for me to be a hater.  (Okay, I did like The Untouchables.)  Why does Scarface exist?  Why is it so popular?  Three hours of a villain’s foul-mouthed, drug-induced, narcissistic self-entitlement.  Oh look, there’s a chainsaw.  Brian De Palma has made some movies I love, including the aforementioned The Untouchables, as well as Carrie, The Fury, and Dressed to Kill, but I've never understood what attracted him to this folly. (This review also suffices for any Guy Ritchie film of your choice.)
 
RAGING BULL (1980)
To some, the inclusion of Raging Bull on this list is akin to sacrilege.  This is one of those artsy, widely-regarded black-and-white movies by “an important American director”, like Eraserhead, that film professors love to dump on their poor, unassuming undergrads, and I have no idea why, except sitting through this is the equivalent of field work.  To me, it’s basically another woman-hating gangster flick set in the boxing world.  Animal growls and roars have been added to the soundtrack to signify…I dunno, something pretentious or other.  I couldn’t pay it much attention during film class.  De Niro gets fat.  Characters drop the f-word, non-stop.  Cathy Moriarty is beaten up.  Whatever.  I hate these characters.  I find them repugnant. There are millions of people who love this movie.  If you’re one of them, please do not invite me to your movie party because it will suck.  It appalls me that Peter O’Toole lost the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Stunt Man to De Niro for this.  Thank God Ordinary People beat it for the 1980 Best Picture Oscar. 
 
THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8th DIMENSION (1984)
In fairness, I’ve never made it to the closing credits.  Over the years, I’ve tried watching Buckaroo because I’ve heard it’s a very entertaining movie, but this is not my type of entertainment.  It’s all a bit too flamboyantly quirky for no reason other than quirkiness is what the screenplay required.  I suppose that good actors like Peter Weller and John Lithgow appear in movies like this one in hopes that a savvy producer will catch their performances and someday cast them in better ones. What’s strange is that I usually like the type of trash that glows in the dark, and this is that type of garbage, but its Monty Python-esque humor is not for me.  I’ve sat through about an hour of Buckaroo (several times) and never once smiled.  And then I turned the channel and laughed and laughed while watching a rerun of Reba.  That woman sure is funny.     

THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
This movie is a lie.  I have no angle of approach to this material.  Someone once told me that to appreciate Spinal Tap, you really should work in the music business.  I call bullshit.  I have worked in the entertainment business for 25 years and have never met any musician (and I’ve worked with some legends) who wasn’t a hard-working, dedicated professional.  This movie is supposed to be a parody, but a parody of what?  I suppose it’s a parody of what people who’ve never worked in the entertainment business must suspect people who are working the entertainment business are really like.  As if this type of nonsense happens behind closed doors.  As if any venue could afford it.  Because everybody secretly knows most rock stars are brain-dead losers, right?  Let me tell you as someone who’s been there:  This is pure fiction, and if you believe any of the stereotypes this movie parodies, then shame on you.  I know, I know.  I’m overanalyzing this stupid piffle of a comedy, so let’s move on to…         

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981)
There’s only so many Depression-era musicals I can take.  Never mind that I can’t think of another one off the top of my head, except maybe for Newsies, because this one was enough.  Jessica Harper, the star of the film, recommended it to me.  I like Jessica.  She’s a very nice lady.  Here’s a movie with a fantastic set design, beautiful costumes, stunning cinematography by Gordon Willis, precision choreography, and some good performances.  Yet it’s at the service of some of the ugliest songs I’ve heard since The Nightmare Before Christmas.  It’s like getting dressed in fancy clothes for the evening just to listen to your Ipod.  I’ve rarely disliked a movie so much that I shut it off with less than 20 minutes to go, but I did that here, without the slightest interest to see how it was resolved.  I’ve heard that Steve Martin gets shot by a firing squad and dies at the end.  Good.  
 
CAVEMAN (1981)
I expected so much better from this movie.  The poster has one of my favorite taglines from the early 80s: “Back when you had to beat it before you could eat it.”  You have to admit, that’s cute.  It’s cuter than anything that happens in this movie.  Caveman is not a motion picture as much as a series of comedy sketches inspired by Wyle E. Coyote, but without his wit.  These gags were tired in the days of Milton Berle and Fred Allen, so why revive them in 1981?  If you’re gonna spend all that money on special effects, at least bother to have a funny script on which to hang them.  Even worse, there’s no spoken dialogue; no subtitles to explain the grunting theatrics which advance the plot but not the movie.  I suppose the filmmakers thought they were making a modern-day silent comedy.  Worst offense: It’s not funny.               
 
ALL NIGHT LONG (1981)
I never understood the term, miscast, until I saw this alleged screwball comedy.  I always supposed that if an actor was good enough and if the direction was strong, they could overcome any character.  All Night Long brutally proves this is not true.  Take a look at any scene here with Barbra Streisand.  (If you can find a copy, that is.  For years, the film was notoriously out of print.)  Here’s one of the most powerful personalities in the entertainment business, and she’s saddled with a script that casts her as a quiet, breathy, bubble-headed ingénue.  The problem with casting an actor like Streisand as a dumb blonde is that the actor must be very careful not to allow any of their own intelligence to seep through; otherwise the illusion is shattered.  It’s very hard for a smart actor to play someone who’s supposed to be genuinely stupid.  Rather than being the comedic center of the film, Streisand spends its entirety looking bewildered. She is as ineffective here as someone like, perhaps, Anna Faris would be indispensible.                          

FORT APACHE, THE BRONX (1981)
Here’s an example of an early-80s over-baked, liberal message movie, disguised as a police procedural.  Think Fame with sidearms.  Although I was only twelve when the film was released, I still remember the controversy this film generated.   People complained about the film's less-than-flattering depiction of the Bronx's Puerto Ricans and African-Americans.  Finally watching Fort Apache several years ago, I found its script dull and its politics wishy-washy.  You know a message movie’s in trouble when you can’t find its message.  Notice that subplot about Danny Aiello as a racist cop who throws a Puerto Rican kid off a building.  It feels forced, as if the writers typed “Insert Important Social Message Here” while working on the script, but then forgot to go back and fill-in the pages.  This is basically a very-special two-hour episode of Blossom…I mean NYPD Blue starring Paul Newman.                 
 
REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984)
I am not above a good fart or booger joke.  I don’t consider myself a film snob.  Remember, I’m the guy who defends trash like The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu in the same breath as Ordinary People.  In fact by admitting my dislike for films like Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now, and Eraserhead, some people might wonder if I have any good taste at all.  It certainly gives them reason to think a little less of me.  Which brings us to Revenge of the Nerds.  Here’s a stupidly harmless college comedy in the vein of Animal House, but without that film’s wicked sense of depravity.  Revenge was one of the most popular films of all time amongst my West Texan high school classmates, but I could not tell you why, except they had even worse taste than me.  Here’s a film I’ve grown to hate over the years, if only because so many of my friends defended it.  That, and it totally wastes Queen’s "We Are The Champions."

BLADE RUNNER (1982)
I already covered this in an earlier blog, but I’ll paraphrase it again here.  Blade Runner marks the first time in my life that a movie I originally deemed unworthy arose, Lazarus-like, from its own ashes to become another generation's phenomenon.  This is a stylish but boring film, filled with nifty special effects, and Harrison Ford having no fun, whatsoever.  For having such a cool plot involving replicants and flying police cars, Blade Runner sure doesn't have any breath of adventure.  Do I think Blade Runner is a bad movie?  Not at all.  It has one of the prettiest one-sheets ever made and the score by Vangelis is beautiful; I own the soundtrack on CD.  And yes, the special effects are indeed quite impressive, pure artistry for its time.  And yet, to me, the script is ice-cold.  I'll stick to my guns when I write that Blade Runner got the reception it deserved in 1982, which was hardly positive.  I resent when members of my own generation go turncoat over Blade Runner, claiming love for a film they first overlooked, just to feel in tune with modern times.  It renders an entire generation into hypocrites.

Comments

I agree about contemporary gangster movies. The last one I liked was THE GODFATHER PART III. No second viewing of GOODFELLAS for me, ever. And after a couple early episodes of THE SOPRANOS, I never tuned in again.

Back in the day I really liked FORT APACHE, THE BRONX and BUCKAROO BANZAI, but haven't seen them since the eighties.

I know I have mentioned before that I've liked BLADE RUNNER since the beginning. I think the coldness was an intentional part of depicting that fascinating future world where people were virtually barren of emotion because the wild juggernaut of technological development had overtaken quality of life. I have, though, been annoyed by all the recuts. After enjoying the film twice in '82, I went to see the "director's cut" in the nineties, and was disappointed. Then several years ago I bought the "final cut" on DVD, and again thought it was a lesser experience then the original version. I realize it's not a perfect film, but I like to revisit BLADE RUNNER's '82 cut every five to ten years.

Thanks, Bill. It's always a pleasure to find another gangster-movie hater. LOL

We have discussed BLADE RUNNER. Alongside BUCKAROO and SPINAL TAP, no film mentioned on this list has drawn more comments from readers. I don't dislike the film. I just don't "get" its reputation as one of the Greatest American Movies Ever Made (according to Roger Ebert, who initially dismissed the film with a 3-star review in 1982!). It's a good, little movie; nothing more or less. I'd probably rank it alongside THE LAST STARFIGHTER or TRON. Jim

Have to disagree with about Buckaroo Banzai and Spinal Tap. Guess that rules out you scheduling Spinal Tap for the upcoming november 11th. Do you like any of the later mockumentaries?

A lot of people love both those movies, so I'm clearly in the minority on those two. Again, that's my personal taste speaking there. I have no problem booking either film for a series at the Carolina. BUCKAROO is coming for ESCAPISM in September, in fact.

I ran SPINAL TAP about 2 years ago, Scott. The rights had been lost since then, but it's recently been acquired by Rialto Pictures. It would be a perfect film for RETROTREASURES next season, don't you think?

I liked WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and BEST IN SHOW, probably because neither was set in my own workplace, so a lot of the jokes were pretty much what I imagined, regardless of whether they were realistic or not.

Jim

Just curious, Jim, have you seen the different cuts of Blade Runner? I'm just wondering if you're counting the original studio cut or the five million other cuts available for Blade Runner.

I've rewatched the many different cuts of BLADE RUNNER over the years hoping that I missed something. True tale: I HATED Ridley Scott's LEGEND with the Tangerine Dream score. I very much liked the Director's Cut with Goldsmith's original music. I keep hoping to have a similar experience with BR, but it hasn't happened.

I suppose if I had to pick a cut, I'd pick the one that ends with Dekker and Rachel getting into the elevator, if memory serves right.

My qualms with BR are more about my own generation, especially those who disliked the film in 1982 (Roger Ebert, included) and then joined the revisionist bandwagon in the 90s. Imagine if, 10 years from now, JOHN CARTER suddenly became a bonafide cult classic and its followers thumbed their noses at everyone from 2012 for being too shallow to have realized it at the time. That's how I feel about Blade Runner. Okay film, but why this one and not, say, TRON or THE LAST UNICORN? I don't get the lavish praise heaped on it. Sorry. Jim

Oh dear. Nerds is one of my favorites of all time! I still quote it now like it is relevant. I would love to tell you why you're wrong, but I'm a big fan of titles like Two-Headed Shark Attack and Mega Piranha, so what do I know? I think that movie is special for me because I connected in some part with almost all of the "nerds". If I had joined a sorority - It would be Omega-Mu all the way!

You don't have to like it to play it sometime for us right? :)

LOL, I'll play it someday, Susan. I've always said that I work real hard to differentiate between my professional and personal taste in movies. As I wrote, the movie is harmless. It was all my high school friends who wanted to watch it, again and again on VHS at parties, that made me grow weary of it. I can say the same thing about THE PRINCESS BRIDE and HIGHLANDER. Being in college in the late 80s and early 90s, those were another set of films that I grew to dislike if only because I got so tired to never having any other option (or so it felt) to watch anything else with my fraternity brother and sorority sisters. I know they're good movies. I'm just sick of them, if that makes sense. Jim

In fact, you'll notice that BUCKAROO BANZAI appears on my list above, but it's coming for ESCAPISM this September. In a 35mm print from MGM, no less. So yes, I do honesty honor what the fans want to see. You need to form a NERDS community group and start hitting the Retro surveys, Susan. LOL I think that's what happened with enough people who wanted to see BUCKAROO again on the big screen. Jim

I totally get it! There's lots of movies people LOVE that I just don't get why (Avatar and Eyes Wide Shut are two). Sure would be boring if we all loved and hated the same stuff.

Mayor [of Nerds], I like the sound of that!

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