Billy Wilder Blogathon: The Lost Weekend

I’m stepping out of the format for this blog to participate in a blogathon for Once Upon a Screen. Aurora has invited us to post in any way we would like on a Billy Wilder film. I was lucky in that no one had yet selected Wilder’s first Oscar winning project, “The Lost Weekend”. Maybe the reason that it had not been chosen yet is that unlike “Double Indemnity” which came out the year before, “The Lost Weekend” has not aged well. It does not fit into a well loved genre like “Double Indemnity” and “Sunset Blvd.”, it is not a beloved comedy featuring another Jack Lemmon performance, and it is as straight forward a drama as you might expect from any other film maker rather than Wilder. There are some very nice elements to it but it but it is also over the top and melodramatic and it sells out at the end, these are not characteristics of a Wilder film.

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The previous film that Wilder wrote and directed was the film noir featuring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. At the end of that picture, both of the protagonists are dead and the film is bleak. In “The Lost Weekend” we are shown how miserable and devastating alcoholism can be. Ray Milland gets to act his ass off because there are sequences that are truly harrowing. When the end comes, and the gun is in his hand and the bullets are in the gun, Wilder pulls back and and gives us an exit from the bleakness. Maybe that’s how the book that this is based on ends, I don’t know, I never read it, but it sure feels like an ending that would come from studio notes rather than following naturally from what we spent the earlier hundred minutes contemplating. Continue reading

Rhinestone

Anton Ego said it best in “Ratatouille” : “We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”

Let’s hope so because the only fun you can have with this movie is mocking it. This is perhaps the worst movie I can remember seeing in years. It will certainly be the worst movie on this project of 1984 films. It is a disaster in conception, execution and experience. My guess is that everybody involved would be perfectly happy to have this removed from their filmography. It is a blight that will lower anyone’s esteem.

rhinestoneLet me start by saying that I am a fan of the two stars and the director of this movie. While my catalog of Dolly Parton songs does not go deep, I do remember when “Jolene” was a crossover hit in 1973. Top forty radio played all kinds of songs and country tunes slipped into the top forty on the pop charts regularly. Sylvester Stallone is “Rocky”, “Rambo” and a dozen others that I have happily watched in dozens of movies over the years. Bob Clark directed two terrific Christmas movies and “Porky”s” so I know his work. “Rhinestone is a sad reminder that talent can be wasted when bad ideas get funded.

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The Karate Kid

When movies that you have no expectations for, come out of no where and sweep you up in a moment, you know you have been blessed with a perfect storm of serendipity. No film from 1984 epitomizes this more that “The Karate Kid”. It had a title that sounded like a kids cartoon show, it starred no one that anyone had heard of except the guy who played Arnold on “Happy Days”. It turned into a smash, making over $90 Million and landing in the number five spot for the year. [By the way, those of you following the blog through the year, this is the ninth film released so far in 1984 to make the top ten. So by mid-June 9 out of 10 of the top financial successes of the year have come out.  All that is left is the film that will be number one and it is six months away.]

karate_kidA lot of people have compared “the Karate Kid” to “Rocky” and that is understandable. Both films feature an underdog, fighting against a superior opponent while at the same time developing a love interest and being mentored by an older father figure. Oh yeah, they were also both directed by John G. Avildsen. Those comparisons are important but they are also superficial. “the Karate Kid” has a love story, but the central love story is the mentor relationship. Both films are about finding who you are and challenging the odds, but I think “The Karate Kid” is a lot more relateable for most people because the issues faced by Daniel LaRusso are the same ones faced by kids everyday. Kids start new schools, they don’t know the culture they are plopped down in, they are bullied and they are humiliated and they all find different ways to cope. “Rocky” is the better picture but The Karate Kid’s lessons are something more people can connect with.

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Gremlins

Movie fans know that there is often a difference between that which we see as “the best” and that which we designate our “favorite”. This entry in the project fits into that category of “favorite” without necessarily being the highest quality or most distinctive of the year. That’s right, here we are, almost halfway through the year, and the Oscar bait pictures are still months from arriving, but we have arrived at my personal “favorite” film of the year. I took more pleasure from seeing this movie a half dozen times in the summer of 1984 than any other film I saw, and I have watched countless times since, and I continue to enjoy the spirit, and cleverness with which it was made. On the nostalgia front, this picture touches a lot of memories from 1984, that I also count as important.

gremlins_ver1Gremlins is mayhem unleashed, sweet turned to sour, and somewhat deconstructive of the horror movies it most resembles. Along with “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, “Gremlins is responsible for the PG-13 rating and is guilty of creating a shift in marketing that will effect films for the next thirty years.  Continue reading

Top Secret!

There is a little discrepancy between the Internet Movie Data Base and Box Office Mojo, as to when this film opened. IMDB lists it as June 8, but Box Office Mojo has the first weekend results coming in on June 22. I believe the Mojo has the right date but since I posted my original list based IMDB, I’ll stick to it and put this post up the same weekend that Gremlins and Ghostbusters opened. It was clearly a busy June whatever the actual date was.

top_secret_ver1If you grew up watching movies in the 1980s, you know the product of the ZAZ cooperative. David and Jerry Zucker and their friend Jim Abrams, wrote, produced, and directed together and separately a bucketload of comedies aimed at the juvenile in all of us. Their first film, “The Kentucky Fried Movie “ was based on their theater college group and was directed by John Landis (It is also the first movie I blogged on for my original movie project). Their follow up was”Airplane!”, pound for pound, the funniest movie ever made. It had more jokes per minute and more of those jokes hit than even a Mel Brooks film. Their films have a lot to laugh about but they suffer from  feeling like a parody pastiche rather than being complete stories. “Airplane II: The Sequel” was not their movie. “Top Secret!” was their next film and it had their trademark humor but also an unfocused story that makes it feel like what it really is, a series of sketches Continue reading

Ghostbusters

In 1984, I taught at Cal State Northridge, and I regularly discussed movies that I had seen or was looking forward to. One of my students engaged me in a conversation about the upcoming summer films and asked what I most wanted to see. I remember mentioning the “Indiana Jones” film and the new “Star Trek” movie as the ones I most wanted to see. When I asked him what he was looking forward to, without a moment of hesitation he said, “Ghostbusters”. I was a little surprised. I knew it was coming and I’d read about it in “Starlog” magazine, but I did not think there was that much “want to see” value there. Boy was I wrong. Opening weekend was huge, crowds were enthusiastic and the movie played like gangbusters (not ghostbusters).

ghostbusters_ver2The design on the poster is now iconic, the “universal no” symbol imposed on top of a cartoon ghost was graphic and funny but it looked a little childish to me so I had probably dismissed the picture a little. With my students enthusiastic thumbs up, I put this film on my list to see that summer and the rest is history. “Ghostbusters” was the number one film at the box office seven weeks in a row, the number two film for six weeks, and three other non-consecutive weekends returned to the number one position during the summer months. It was the biggest film of the summer and was the second biggest film of the year. For many of you it may be the one film from 1984 that you know well because it spawned a sequel, a cartoon series and incessant talk of a third episode for the last twenty-five years.  Continue reading

Streets of Fire

Some movies need a story to carry them, some need a star, others require special effects artists to make the movie worthwhile. “Streets of Fire” doesn’t really have any of those things but it does have the vision and willpower of it’s Director, Walter Hill. After the success of “48 Hours” he was bankable, in demand, and he had a vision. His dream was a Rock and Roll fable that included all of those things a movie lover might like to see in a story, flash, neon, explosions, weird characters, gunplay and rain on the asphalt. This movie gives it to us in spades and never tries to be more important than it is.

streets_of_fire_ver1This movie screams “1980s”. The bright colors, and wall to wall soundtrack along with the high concept are all indicators of the extravagances of of that decade. “Streets of Fire”  is a license to geek out on the kinds of cinematic visuals and aural richness that make us love movies. It’s not a great film, but its a great film to watch.

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