Friday, February 11, 2011

10 day-glo, Air-Jordanny, Simple-Mindsed, Reaganesque 80s double features!

In “Kickin’ It Old Skool,” Jamie Kennedy plays a breakdancer who lapses into a coma in 1986 and awakens two decades later to a world in which Madonna, Tom Cruise and a Bush in the White House are the only constants!

During the 1980s, American pop culture was going through an awkward stage thanks to new technology and an exploding music video esthetic. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 ushered in a new era of patriotism / arrogance (pick one) that America hadn’t exuded since the 1950s. Hollywood (now fully driven by the blockbuster mentality) drew on all of these elements, imbuing films with an over-the-top look and feel that’s made many of them painful to watch, some harmlessly amusing and a precious few cherished time capsules.

We’ve put together ten double features of quintessential ‘80s flicks. These aren’t the BEST films of the decade or the worst… okay a few of them are among the worst. But they all sum up different aspects of that time when Members Only jackets, Joe Camel, Cabbage Patch Dolls and Michael Jackson were considered acceptable.

To many teenagers in the ‘80s, John Hughes’ films became gospel set to New Wave soundtracks. “The Breakfast Club” remains the standard bearer for teen-ensembles, in which a disparate group of high school archetypes (we don’t need to list them, do we?) spend an afternoon together in detention and come to realize that they’re not so different after all. But the message becomes muddled when gloomy, Cap’n Crunch & Sugar sandwich-munchin’ Allison (Ally Sheedy) is made over into a bland, preppy princess at the end. What about that much-vaunted individualism? It’s quashed even more in “Pretty in Pink” (directed by Howard Deutch), where the endearingly dorky Duckie (Jon Cryer), is the much better match for vintage clothes-wearing record store clerk Andie (Hughes muse Molly Ringwald) than the wealthy preppie Blane (Andrew McCarthyzzzzzzzz). The fact that the original script put Duckie with Andie is irrelevant. Onscreen, she ends up with bland Blane, sending a horrible message that, as in many of Hughes’ films, even the most idiosyncratic individualist (including Annie Potts’ Iona) longs to be a part of the mainstream.

9) Breakin’ (1984) / Beat Street (1984)
How fitting that the first major films to depict hip hop culture were set in Los Angeles and New York, creating the first east-vs-west rap battle in terms of which film you like better. “Breakin’” stars Lucinda Dickey as Kelly, a Los Angeles jazz dancer who discovers breakdancing and rap and integrates it into her art, becoming a (ahem) breakout sensation. The movie features the screen debut of Ice-T and spawned a quickie sequel with the unforgettable suffix: “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” “Beat Street” is a far grittier film, set in the Bronx, where a DJ/rapper, a graffiti artist and wannabe mogul dream of making it out of the ghetto. Cameos by Grand Master Melle Mel and the Furious 5, Afrika Bambaataa, the Rock Steady Crew and more give the movie some street cred, slightly lessened by the rampant Puma product placement.

8) Rocky III (1982) / Rocky IV (1984)
Which “Rocky” film better sums up the ‘80s? “IV,” in which the Italian Stallion (Sylvester Stallone) fights Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) to avenge the death of Apollo Creed in the ring is a testosterone-laden metaphor for the impending end of the Soviet Union. But “III” pits Rock’ against two of the decade’s most iconic figures, the fool-pitying Mr. T in the part of Clubber Lang and Hulk Hogan as the wrestler Thunderlips, as well as featuring Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” as its pumpin’ anthem. Then again, “IV” features a wad of awful ‘‘80s rock by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, Kenny Loggins, Europe and Go West (altho’ they’re mitigated by James Brown’s awesome “Living in America.”). Afraid it’s a split decision.

7) Tron (1982) / WarGames (1983)
While Disney’s “Tron” (in which a computer game designer becomes a digital gladiator) was the first film to extensively make use of computer graphics, few realize how much of the film’s distinctive look was actually accomplished by traditional animation methods. Still, the use of a computer to aid in the effects eliminated the movie from consideration for an Academy Award because it was “cheating.” Another flick tackling nascent computer technology was “WarGames,” in which Matthew Broderick THINKS he’s playing a computer game, but has in fact hacked into NORAD’s computers and is about to start World War III by actually launching missiles at Russia. Watching these today, you’ll pay less attention to the story than to the now-hilariously antiquated computers (wait, does that one have a crank?).

6) Flashdance (1983) / Staying Alive (1983)
Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) is a welder by day, exotic dancer by night who only dreams of joining the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance. It’s a Cinderella story that’s as wafer thin as Beals’ acting and dancing ability (the heavily edited dance routines were in fact performed by as many as four people), and the fact that the movie is known primarily for a cut-up sweatshirt is fitting. Or ill-fitting. Whatever. Meanwhile, a buff, oiled-up, headband-sporting John Travolta reprised his role of Tony Manero (now a struggling Broadway dancer) in “Staying Alive,” a sequel to “Saturday Night Fever” written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. The movie is as shiny and overblown as its predecessor was gritty and believable, a perfect metaphor for ‘80s films compared to ‘70s.

5) Purple Rain (1984) / Xanadu (1980)
“Purple Rain” is the ultimate music video movie, a star vehicle for Prince in which the plot is so superfluous it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it is. All that matters is that the Purple One gets to strut, ride a motorcycle, fool around with Appolonia, dress like a pirate and perform a bunch of songs. What more do you need? The Olivia Newton John / Gene Kelly pop fairy tale, “Xanadu” hasn’t aged as well, primarily due to some elements that were dated even then and the fact that few people can spell “Terpsichore.” And yet, a Broadway adaptation is scheduled to begin next month, proving that there are fans of everything.

4) Road House (1989) / Cocktail (1988)
Widely considered the best worst movie ever made, “Road House,” with its cartoon character stereotypes, a muscled, mulleted Patrick Swayze, monster trucks, Jeff Healey and neon-zen-philosophizing, could only have been made in the ‘80s. Dalton, the ultimate bar bouncer may opine that “pain don’t hurt,” but your sides will ache after watching this cheesy chunk of machismo. In “Cocktail,” Tom Cruise plays one of his patented cocky ballcap grinners, an ex-GI / business school student / bartender who dreams of opening his own place called (seriously) Cocktails and Dreams. The movie is in its own way every bit as ridiculous as “Road House,” and is singularly to blame if you’ve ever had to put up with some jerky bartender exhibiting his shaker-tossing “flair” instead of just making your drink.

3) Wall Street (1987) / Risky Business (1983)
In the end, it didn’t matter that co-writer / director Oliver Stone meant “Wall Street” to be an indictment of that world’s money-grubbing moral vacuum. Tons of wannabe-yuppies only saw the trappings of wealth, slicking back their hair and embracing the mantra of Michael Douglas’ ruthless trader Gordon Gekko: “Greed is Good.” Another, unprintable slogan is at the heart of “Risky Business,” the story of how Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise again) goes from a timid, horny average nobody to a self-assured entrepreneur with a hot hooker girlfriend and an admission to Princeton. Both films are about wanting things beyond reach and the moral ambiguity surrounding the means to the ends. Oh, and suspenders and Ray-Bans.

Of the quadjillion teen comedies of the ‘80s, none better sum up that era than “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which crosses all cliques to present a look at teenagers that’s both funnier and uglier (hence more believable) than any John Hughes film. It’s a perfect time capsule that holds up so well due primarily to Cameron Crowe’s knowing screenplay. Crowe also penned and directed 1989’s “Say Anything,” starring John Cusack as everyman Lloyd Dobler, a nice guy who likes kickboxing and the Replacements and views high school graduation as his final shot at asking out the beautiful valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye). “Say Anything” has become a classic primarily because it eschews the usual teen stereotypes in favor of complex characters. There’s no simple jock or brain or rebel… everyone has layers to his or her personality that sometimes seem contradictory, but always feel right. A hopeful, yet ambiguous ending adds to the poignancy of perhaps the best ‘80s teen film.

1) Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) / Top Gun (1986)
“Rambo,” Sylvester Stallone’s first sequel to 1982’s “First Blood” dumps that film’s social commentary on the treatment of Vietnam vets in favor of a straight action film that finds the “pure fighting machine” single-handedly re-fighting the first war that America lost. There’s no moral ambiguity, no shades of gray, it’s Reagan’s right America vs. both those Godless commies and lily-livered liberals destroying our values. “Top Gun” has the same values, but under a sugary coating of romance for the ladies (and some men) and buddy action, set to a fist-pumpin’ soundtrack. If the characters in these films had worn neon spandex and purple mohawks, they would’ve been the perfect summation of the 1980s.

No doubt we left off some of your favorite ‘80s flicks (by the way, slasher films are something to which very few of us can actually RELATE, hence their absence). Honorable mention should go to the Cyndi Lauper vehicle, “Vibes,” the BMX love story, “Rad,” the awesome yet unsuper “Flash Gordon,” the Coreys’ “Dream a Little Dream” and Sly Stallone’s arm-wrestling movie, “Over the Top,” for which Sly is NOT developing a sequel… yet. But with the current mania for all things ‘80s, it’s only a matter of time.

10 most uninviting movie lodgings

In “Vacancy,” Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale play a couple who check into an isolated motel only to discover that they’re the latest guests slated to become unwilling stars in the motel’s series of homemade snuff films. Our guess is that it’s not rated well by AAA. But then again, in movies, there are tons of places that weary travelers should just pass by. Here’s our list of the top ten stops that are anything but restful.

10) The Peep-Show Hotel in “Garden State” (2004)
So much of Zach Braff’s directorial debut is wink-wink clever and Shins-soft that the scuzzy scene at the hotel in which creepy onanistic voyeurs spy on fornicating guests through holes in the wall from a back hallway seems even dirtier than Vincent Gallo’s skivvies. So remember, kids, if you happen to be passing through the Dirty Jerz, make sure you check your hotel wallpaper for peep holes!

9) The motel in “Identity” (2003)
Ten strangers get stranded at a run-down Nevada motel when a freak rainstorm washes out all the roads. It’s a motley crew: a has-been actress, her limo driver / ex-cop, a gambler, a hooker, a mean cop transporting a killer to jail, newlywed couple already having troubles and a seemingly innocuous nuclear family. The weird coincidence is that they all share the same birthday. Unease turns to distrust and paranoia when the reluctant guests start turning up murdered and fingers are pointed in every direction. But don’t worry… as the pretty good plot twist reveals, the chances of you ending up at this particular place of lodging are pretty slim.

8) The Dry Gulch Hotel in “Claws for Alarm” (1954)
In this hilariously violent and slightly disturbing Warner Bros. cartoon, traveling companions Porky Pig and Sylvester the cat spend the night at a hotel that’s deserted save for a group of homicidal rodents. Murderous mice try to hang, shoot, slash and scare the pants off the Looney duo. Oh, wait…. They don’t wear pants.

7) The Hotel Largo in “Key Largo” (1948)
The Florida Keys are fraught with danger: Bugs the size of your foot, painful stones instead of soft sand, feral six-toed cats lurking around every corner and overpriced everything. But those perils pale compared to what faces you if you check into your old army buddy’s seaside hotel after it’s been taken over by a group of violent gangsters. That’s what happens to Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) in John Huston’s noir-gangster film. Exiled gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) needs to get back to Cuba after delivering some counterfeit money, but a violent storm is holding him in Florida and putting him on edge, and he’s taking it out on everyone around him. When one of those people is ultimate tough guy Bogey, that’s not a good idea.

6) The seedy desert motel in “Touch of Evil” (1958)
Orson Welles’ corruption thriller features a number of bad choices. First, why do honeymooning cop Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his pretty wife Susie (Janet Leigh) choose to stop in the most violent, dangerous border town in Mexico? Second, when Mike gets mixed up in a local investigation involving drug-dealing gangs and murder, why would he check his wife into a seedy motel run by one of the gangs? As if the creepy, leery desk clerk (Dennis Weaver) weren’t enough of a warning sign! So it’s no surprise when Susie finds herself the victim of a most unpleasant housekeeping check. Oh, and the third bad choice: Having Charlton Heston play a Chicano!

5) The Motel Hello in “Motel Hell” (1980)
There’s rarely a vacancy at the Motel Hello, at least according to the sign outside the rural lodging run by Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida. The overall-clad siblings are also well known for their distinctively delicious smoked meats. The secret recipe? Capture passing motorists, slit their vocal cords, bury them up to their necks in the flesh garden out back until they’re ripe, then slaughter and cure accordingly. Hey, at least it’s not a bed and breakfast!

4) The Slovakian “Hostel” (2005)
Every year, thousands of young people toss a few belongings in a backpack and venture on horizon-expanding treks through foreign lands, relying on the cheap communal lodgings known as hostels for a place to lay their heads for the night. But we’re willing to be that the number of curiosity-seeking kids dwindled at least a little after Eli Roth’s “Hostel,” in which three ├╝ber-obnoxious dudes become the torture-toys for rich sadists. Then again, if you’re as stupid, misogynist and racist as the ugly Americans in “Hostel,” you DESERVE to be poked with a power drill.

3) the Overlook Hotel in “the Shining” (1980)
It’s too bad the winters can be so brutal in Denver. Otherwise the enormous, isolated Overlook Hotel could stay open for ski season and allow visitors year round access to its amenities, including the hedge maze, haunted ballroom, friendly dead twins and blood-gushing elevators! Stephen King may not have approved of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his best-seller, but for millions of moviegoers, Room 237 will always be off-limits!

2) The Hotel Earle in “Barton Fink” (1991)
Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a very serious New York playwright who finds himself lured to Hollywood to take a crack at screenwriting. But his first assignment, a wrestling movie, prompts a serious case of writer’s block. But Barton’s not working in the most inspiring surroundings. His room at the Hotel Earle is a dank, dark, stinking hot place, with peeling wallpaper, insects, mysterious dripping goo, the creakiest bed in the world and a bellicose neighbor (John Goodman) whose overly friendly nature belies the fact that he’s a serial killer. Oh, well, at least they shine your shoes for free!

1) The Bates Motel in “Psycho” (1960)
Obvious, yes, but is there any more iconic creepy lodging in the history of film? However, the hotel manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) seems like such a nice young man. He even offers to make you a sandwich and have a chat about taxidermy and mental institutions! And the place is nice and peaceful, considering nobody else seems to be checked in. And it’s been such a long, exhausting drive through the desert. You know what would be great? A nice, long, relaxing shower…

Later this summer, in addition to “Hostel: Part II,” John Cusack checks into the Dolphin Hotel’s haunted room “1408” and a remake of “Motel Hell” is slated to hit theaters by the holidays. So if you’re planning a trip, we’d suggest hitting those online discount reservation sites early, lest you end up stuck in some hell hole with no A/C and bleeding walls. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.