Friday, October 6, 2017

Rob's Movie Shames of 1986

by Rob DiCristino
Celebrating my 31st by catching up with some stuff I missed from my birth year.

9 1/2 Weeks (1986, dir. Adrian Lyne)
Well, that was naughty. 9 1/2 Weeks is one of those movies I’d always heard about in hushed tones but sort of forgot about by the time I was old enough to see it. At that point, it seemed quaint. Anyway, I watched the uncensored “international” version (because I’m an adult, mom, and I can do whatever I want), but now I’m really curious about the cut-down theatrical edit. I like Lyne’s composition and the understated chemistry between Rourke and Basinger so much that I’d love to see it without the goofy sex stuff. It’s fun (and it sells the movie), but Basinger’s great performance felt slightly undercut by all the mustache play and honey massages (the latter of which I couldn’t even get into because that goddamn refrigerator door was hanging open — wasting energy — the whole time). Then again, the sleazy stuff has that dream logic that sells us on Basinger’s state of mind — we have to see the way the relationship makes her feel in order to understand why she stays in it, and in that way, it feels thematically necessary. I love that she plays her descent into madness as equal parts bemusement, confusion, intrigue, and heartbreak, and that she does it all with very little dialogue. I generally like a little more plot in my erotic thrillers (because I’m the worst), but 9 1/2 Weeks is moody and trashy in the right ways.

Critters (1986, dir. Stephen Herek)
Sometimes, a filmmaker’s reach exceeds his or her grasp. Stephen Herek (who would go on to direct Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and Domonic Muir (who would go on to write Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong) seemed to have had a ton of ideas for their first feature, Critters. But while the film apes many of the familiar creature feature tropes from the likes of E.T. and Gremlins, I couldn’t help but feel that it lacked the energy and soul that propelled those titles into classics. The boxes are all checked, of course: Precocious adolescent lead? Check. Older sister I’d totally have had a crush on when I was thirteen? Check. Eccentric townspeople getting into mischief? Check. Dee Wallace as the mom? Check. But those elements felt perfunctory, as if the people who wanted to make a weird movie about enigmatic, shape-shifting bounty hunters from space got shouted down by the people who wanted to make a family blockbuster that grandma could enjoy. There’s no real fun in the human stuff, at least not as much as in “alien with a ray gun disguises himself as a hair metal star and assassinates a bowling alley.” Adam Riske assures me that Critters 2: The Main Course is the superior film, and (taking a shot completely in the dark) I’m willing to bet that’s because it takes more chances. Critters takes very few chances. It just sort of exists.

Maximum Overdrive (1986, dir. Stephen King)
Cocaine is one hell of a drug.

River’s Edge (1986, dir. Tim Hunter)
I’ll admit that I didn’t know director Tim Hunter by name when I started River’s Edge, but the further I got into the film, the more I recognized the stark, icy-cold style he would carry over into television projects like Twin Peaks, Mad Men, Homicide: Life on the Streets, and Deadwood. Hunter has a magnificent eye for alienation, a subtle knack for arranging groups of actors in such a way that they seem miles apart from each other. That staging perfectly fits the tone and performances in River’s Edge; while we often cite actors being “in their own movie” as a negative, the wildly different approaches taken by Glover, Hopper, Reeves, Skye, and the rest only add to the sticky discomfort we feel as things unfold. It’s as if Heathers and Stand By Me had some of that freaky 9 1/2 Weeks sex and dropped their manic lovechild directly into a dysfunctional family. That life is a miserable disaster is just a given to these kids — adults are fucked up and distracted to the point of being completely useless. That said, I’m eager to watch the movie again with special attention to the seminars on morality and radicalism from Mr. Burkewaite (Jim Metzler), whose very presence in the film feels like a break in the fourth wall. I bet there’s optimism hidden in all the hopeless cynicism. The more I reflect on River’s Edge, the more it creeps in on me. How cool is that?

True Stories (1986, dir. David Byrne)
Despite my barely being alive at the time, the Reagan ‘80s have always been very clear in my memory. There’s something about the aesthetics of the era (era) that triggers a strange nostalgia I can’t quite identify. You know how sometimes you’re not sure if you were actually present for an event or just remembering someone else’s story about it? Or how you create a memory based on a photograph of yourself even if you don’t remember the situation? That’s how it feels. Anyway, True Stories beautifully taps into that sensation of hazy, wistful memory. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne takes us to the fictional town of Virgil, Texas for their Sesquicentennial Celebration of Specialness. While the people of Virgil are excited by new advances in technology, industry, and economics, they’re struggling to get over that sinking heartsick loneliness so synonymous with the Modern World. As the kindly Louis Fyne (John Goodman) sings, “We don’t want freedom; We don’t want justice; We just want someone to love.” True Stories gave me so many things I didn’t know I wanted: Spalding Gray as an enterprising bureaucrat and Swoosie Kurtz as a woman so rich, she doesn’t need to leave her bed. Goodman is the standout, of course, playing a sweet man determined to find a woman with whom he can share the joys of marital monogamy. He's striking out — the women are too “wild,” the other men are more attractive — but he keeps at it. He’s dogged, relentless, and kind. Unashamed of himself. That’s True Stories, and it’s great.

What are your birth year movie shames? Leave them below.


  1. Replies
    1. And from 1982, my top shames are Gandhi, Conan the Barbarian, Tootsie, Fitzcarraldo and Tenebre, the last of which I intend to correct this month.

  2. 1985

    My top shames are:

    - Brazil (I tried watching this late at night but fell asleep. Still have yet to revisit it.)

    - The Color Purple (In my attempts to be a Spielberg completist, this one fell through the cracks. TCP and the BFG are the only Spielberg movies I have not seen. But I am more likely to watch either of these before Ready Player One. I can barely get through that trailer without cringing.)

    - To Live and Die in LA (I honestly had never heard about this movie until I was in my late 20’s. And it’s by William Friedkin! Of course I should watch this… what’s wrong with me?!)

    -Day of The Dead (No excuses here. On my ScaryMovieMonth watchlist.)

    -Clue (The fact that it had multiple endings intimidated me/turned me off for some reason. I was weird.)

  3. Happy Bday!


    2010, Dune, The Natural, and Purple Rain. Ashamed of that last one.

  4. For me it's 1992, and in no particular order:

    Unforgiven, The Last of the Mohicans, The Player, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Crying Game, Scent of a Woman, A River Runs Through It, Singles, Glengarry Glen Ross

  5. Replies
    1. I was thinking the same

      I was watching Xtro 4 years before he was even born

      Happy Birthday Young man

    2. You two should remake The Bucket List

  6. 1976, but looking quickly through an online list, there's nothing too glaring. Logan's Run, King Kong and Eaten Alive are the obvious ones. Of course, there are probably lots, but I'm just aware how good they are yet!

    Happy birthday, rob

    1. I had never heard if them, but Futureworld and The Man Who Fell To Earth looks like they'd be up my alley. Also All The President's Men deserves a rewatch.