Monday, February 26, 2018

48 Hours of Movies: 1989!

by Patrick Bromley
Kick of 1989 Week at F This Movie! with this epic marathon of movies from a classic year!

10 am - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (dir. Terry Gilliam)
While I don't think this movie is especially representative of 1989 in terms of what was coming out, I like the fact that this was the year that saw the release of one of Terry Gilliam's most ambitious and imaginative efforts (which, seeing as this is Terry Gilliam we're talking about, is saying a lot). Baron Munchausen feels like a holdover from earlier in the '80s, when big-budget fantasy films were more the norm. It's also probably the last movie Gilliam was able to get made based on goodwill from the success of Time Bandits -- especially when Brazil, while critically revered, was such a bad experience for almost everyone involved. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen seems like a fun way to kick off this epic marathon because it has such a fun Saturday morning matinee quality. It's a movie with the ability to capture the imaginations of children but which is really made to speak to adults.

12:15 pm - Great Balls of Fire! (dir. Jim McBride)
I know that Jim McBride's Jerry Lee Lewis biopic isn't especially well-regarded (or even remembered), but it's a movie for which I've always had a great deal of affection thanks to McBride's energetic direction and Dennis Quaid's lunatic performance as Lewis. A young Winona Ryder plays the 13-year old cousin that Lewis married, and the movie doesn't shy away from how fucked up that relationship was, albeit within the confines of a sanded-off PG-13 movie. I've always found Jim McBride to be an underrated director who didn't get enough opportunities to show what he could do, and while Great Balls of Fire! isn't his best film, I'm bummed we didn't get more movies like it.

2:15 pm - Dead Calm (dir. Phillip Noyce)
This was still a time in history when Hollywood made mid-budget thrillers for adults, and Dead Calm is one of the better ones. Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill go sailing to forget a tragedy, picking up a stranded Billy Zane along the way. Things go downhill. This is a movie that blew my mind when my parents rented in in 1989 because I didn't know any of these actors, which meant I carried no preconceived notions of what might happen to their characters or what they were capable of doing. Dead Calm is the definition of a sleeper.

4 pm - Chances Are (dir. Emile Ardolino)
This was still a time in history when Hollywood made mid-budget romantic comedies for adults. After a mixup in heaven, the soul of Cybil Shepherd's dead husband winds up in the body of a young Robert Downey Jr.; a romantic farce ensues. Ryan O'Neal plays the best friend of Shepherd's late husband, and Mary Stuart Masterson plays her daughter who takes an interest in Downey Jr. before he becomes her father, which complicates things later on. The movie is sweet and funny and has appealing performances across the board. Marathons like this are about changing up tones and genres enough to keep ourselves engaged and awake without giving us whiplash. I think this one fits nicely in this spot.

6 pm - Johnny Handsome (dir. Walter Hill)
There are a lot of my favorite things going on in this movie: it's a neo-noir, a revenge movie, a Walter Hill film, a movie starring an incredibly handsome and cool Mickey Rourke when he still gave a shit, a movie starring Ellen Barkin as a femme fatale. I probably don't need to continue because you should have been exciting three or four descriptors ago. We're not to primetime yet, but we're getting a little darker before our pizza comes. Actually, fuck it. Let's get our pizza during this super cool little crime picture. I want to include it because it's the movie that closes out my favorite decade for Walter Hill movies.

8 pm - Licence to Kill (dir. John Glen)
As many of the F This Movie! contributors who are smarter and better writers than me will point out during this week, 1989 was a huge year for big blockbuster movies. Licence to Kill, the second and final outing of the most underrated James Bond, doesn't often get talked about alongside the big movies like Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade because it's considered something of a disappointment -- the film that tried to bring Bond into the '80s and failed, ending Dalton's run prematurely and resulting in the longest-ever gap before a new James Bond movie would hit screens. And yet the movie grossed almost $160 million on a relatively low $35M budget, so I'm not sure why it's continually overlooked. I'm mixed on the movie myself; I like Dalton and I appreciate the attempt to update Bond, but it does make me miss the classical fun of The Living Daylights. This is a nasty, angry Bond. I think it will make for good primetime viewing, even if it's not among my favorite entries in a series I love.

10:30 pm - When Harry Met Sally... (dir. Rob Reiner)
I would normally never program a cute romantic comedy this late in the evening, but a) I do really love it and, more importantly, b) if we start it at 10:30 p.m., it the New Year's Eve scene should take place just around midnight. Maybe that sounds a little gimmicky, but I thought it sounded fun. This is one of my favorite romantic comedies and one of my favorite movies of 1989.

12:10 am - The Phantom of the Opera (dir. Dwight H. Little)
DHL represent! 1989 was not a great year for horror, as evidenced by the fact that it saw the releases of Halloween V, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Jason Takes Manhattan. I appreciate the attempt to update the classic Gaston Leroux story with the sensibilities of '80s horror and star Robert Englund is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a more dramatic, romantic role, but the demands of the genre at the time see to it that he's basically playing Freddy Krueger in 1890s France. Still, he's a lot of fun to watch, the gore is good, any movie with Jill Schoelen is worth watching, and you my boy, Dwight H. Little.

1:45 am - The Church (dir. Michele Soavi)
The good news about 1989 is that I'm still able to program some Italian horror in the Italian horror slot. Michele Soavi, a director who is just recently seeming to get his due respect, brings a good deal of style and goop to a movie that began life as Demons 3 before becoming its own thing. I've only seen this once and look forward to a late-night revisit, as I really only remember a subplot about a bride whose veil is caught in the church doors and slowly pulling her scalp away. It's the stuff of nightmares.

3:45 am - Society (dir. Brian Yuzna)
Let's keep things weird in the overnight section and program Brian Yuzna's insane body horror message movie Society, one of the most surrealist and least subtle horror films ever made. While the messages may be sledgehammer obvious, the satire is more relevant than ever and Screaming Mad George's insane makeup effects still have the power to disturb and gross out. Yes, the late '80s were a weird time for horror (and '89 most of all, as mentioned earlier), but a movie like Society could still get made and released. It's best that we watch this overnight, too, because we wouldn't want to watch the final third while trying to eat.

5:15 am - Meet the Feebles (dir. Peter Jackson)
Normally, I would make sure this insane puppet movie was programmed overnight, but I also kind of like the idea of screening in the same time slot that I used to wake up and watch reruns of Gigglesnort Hotel as a kid. Meet the Feebles works way better in this context than it does as just a regular movie. Also, it's pretty crazy to think that Peter Jackson went from this to the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the span of a decade.

7 am - Dream a Little Dream (dir. Marc Rocco)
I've been a fan of this movie since I first rented it on pay-per-view as a kid, when I recorded it onto a VHS and watched it a whole bunch of times. I know that so much of the movie is nonsense and makes up its body-swapping rules as it goes along, just as I know that it was made at a time when the Coreys were at the height of their powers and, as a result, can be a little insufferable. But it's also a teen comedy that's totally different from every other teen comedy of the period, especially in its elliptical and non-linear editing. There's a certain amount of confusing New Age nonsense that will lend itself nicely to the early morning slot, when the line between what's real and what's a dream is especially blurred. And if 1989 Meredith Salenger can't wake us up, nothing can.

9 am - Earth Girls are Easy (dir. Julien Temple)
As we roll into day 2 of our 48-hour marathon, we may need to give our brains a break. Earth Girls Are Easy is perfect for that: colorful and bubbly, silly and charming and two tons of fun, with a game cast consisting of Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Julie Brown. Like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, this is a very smart movie pretending to be a very stupid one. Also like Bill & Ted, it's goofing on a very specific type of West Coast culture in the late '80s. But this one stars Geena Davis, which makes it better than a movie that doesn't star Geena Davis.

10:40 am - Cohen and Tate (dir. Eric Red)
Still trying to switch up genres and tones, let's pivot to another underrated Neo noir courtesy of the great Eric Red, screenwriter of Near Dark and writer/director of the great Body Parts. Adam Baldwin and Roy Scheider play a pair of hitmen assigned to kidnap a kid, and while it can be tough to stomach any Adam Baldwin -- especially a hot-headed, showboat-y Adam Baldwin -- it's worth putting up with for Roy Scheider's quiet, measured, cold as fuck performance as a killer who's lived a lot of life and knows the score. It's a good little thriller and an even better character piece.

12:30 p.m. - How I Got Into College (dir. Savage Steve Holland)
The third entry in writer/director Savage Steve Holland's teen comedy trilogy (following Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer) suffers from a lack of John Cusack, but still manages to be a funny and occasionally even insightful look at the end of high school. Corey Parker fails to make much of an impression in the Cusack spot, but Lara Flynn Boyle is good as a perfectionist about to crack under the pressure of the college application process and Anthony Edwards shines as the movie's soul: an admissions counselor with a crisis of conscience. Above all, the movie is pleasant, and we're all going to be too tired to deal with anything especially challenging at this point.

2 pm - No Holds Barred (dir. Thomas J. Wright)
Speaking of not being challenging. This is, without question, the stupidest movie I'm programming into this marathon. It might just be the stupidest movie of 1989. But it's a movie I was looking forward to so much after the trailer premiered during WrestleMania V, as it was released at a time when I was way into the WWF and Hulk Hogan. Even as a kid, though, I knew it was bad when I finally saw it at my local second-run theater. It is brain-dead garbage in which Hulk Hogan plays a wrestler exactly like Hulk Hogan but who is somehow far less compelling than Hulk Hogan, wrestling for a league exactly like the WWF but somehow much cheaper and tackier than the WWF. It is yet another reminder that even in the 1980s, WWF owner Vince McMahon was a man of questionable taste and judgment and that Hulk Hogan fails to be a convincing actor even when playing himself. It's exactly what we need after lunch. Rip 'em!

3:45 pm - Red Scorpion (dir. Joseph Zito)
Way more competently made but not a great deal more intelligent is Red Scorpion, one of the first starring vehicles for Dolph Lundgren. He plays a Russian soldier fighting in Africa who is left for dead, goes on (in the words of Adam Thas) a vision quest, and joins forces with the African bushmen to fight back against the Russian army. Director Joe Zito knows his way around and action movie and the makeup/gore effects are done by Tom Savini, but it's the movie's politics and unusual setting (unusual setting for an action movie, that is) that set it apart from the countless action films made during the peak of #HeavyAction.

5:30 pm - Look Who's Talking (dir. Amy Heckerling)
As I've explained many times, I like to program big mainstream crowd pleasers during these prime slots, because in my imagination that's when people come over to join me for a movie and are maybe good enough to bring me some pizza, too. Look Who's Talking should be so, so stupid: a movie about a baby whose thoughts are voiced by Bruce Willis. It's to the credit of director Amy Heckerling and stars Kirstie Alley and John Travolta, however, that the movie is very funny and very charming. It's the rare monster success of a comedy that deserves its success.

7:15 pm - The Big Picture (dir. Christopher Guest)
Though not as well known or popular as Look Who's Talking, Christopher Guest's debut feature The Big Picture is every bit as crowd pleasing and a movie I watched a lot of times on HBO as a kid. Kevin Bacon plays a promising young filmmaker who gets swallowed up into the Hollywood system and sees his ideals quickly compromised. Not a new story, I know, but it's presented with a lot of intelligence and heart and features an insane ensemble cast that includes Teri Hatcher, Michael McKean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a very, very funny Martin Short as what I'm convinced is every agent who ever lived. I love this movie.

9 pm - Mystery Train (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Well we're not ready to get fully weird yet, this does feel like the right time to at least start getting eccentric. Few contemporary filmmakers are more eccentric than Jim Jarmusch, whose Mystery Train should provide a good bridge between the commercialism of the last few movies and the crazy shit to come. I'd be hard pressed to name my favorite Jarmusch movie, but this one ranks somewhere in the top 3 or 4; it's an anthology that focuses on the usual group of Jarmusch outsiders. Not only is this a movie that I love, but also a good reminder that 1989 brought us the first real stirrings of the indie scene that would define the next decade.

11 pm - Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (dir. J. Lee Thompson)
It's late enough in the night and late enough in our marathon to start getting really sleazy, and Kinjite is just the movie for the job. You've got Nicole Eggert as a teen prostitute, a Japanese businessman getting gropey on the subway, an openly unhappy Charles Bronson obsessing over his daughter's sexuality, kidnapping, child prostitution, blatant racism and so much more. Kinjite represents the waning days of Cannon Films, so it seems like they and director J. Lee Thompson tried to pack in as much of the studio's trademark sleaze and nastiness as they could into 90 minutes. It worked.

12:45 am - Pet Sematary (dir. Mary Lambert)
Sooner or later, I have to face my fears. Hopefully my resistance is so worn down after two straight days of movies that I can let the nightmare that is Zelda wash over me and just appreciate the weird mix of exploitative trash and genuine meditation on grief and loss that is Pet Sematary, not one of the classiest Stephen King adaptations but arguably still one of the most viscerally effective.

2:30 am - Edge of the Axe (dir. José Ramón Larraz)
I blew my overnight weirdness load on night one, so we're going to have to dig a little deeper to program the second overnight section of our 48-hour marathon. This is a Spanish slasher film I first heard about via a recommendation from Jackson Stewart, which means I absolutely have to watch it. My man J-Stew knows his shit. Too bad this one is really hard to track down.

4:15 am - Leviathan (dir. George P. Cosmatos)
1989 was the year of the underwater sci-fi film, with The Abyss reigning supreme given its budget and pedigree and a real Deep Impact/Armageddon situation between DeepStar Six and Leviathan, the better of the two aquatic Alien rip-offs. With over twice the budget of DeepStar Six and a much more high profile cast including Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Daniel Stern and Ernie Hudson, plus creature effects by Stan Winston, Leviathan is a B-movie made like a B+ movie. I wouldn't call it one of the best horror movies of 1989, but it's the one I most feel like revisiting at this time of morning and at this point in the marathon.

6 am - Gleaming the Cube (dir. Graeme Clifford)
I grew up with Gleaming the Cube mostly because I grew up with friends who fancied themselves skateboarders. I never got into it myself, but I was surrounded by enough of white suburban kids talking about Christian Hosoi and Steve Caballero that Gleaming the Cube was very much on my radar, especially with as much as it ran on HBO. Plus, I was an early adopter of Christian Slater, so that was my in. Putting Gleaming the Cube back to back with the next movie is a double feature worth watching even 40 hours into our marathon.

7:45 am - Heathers (dir. Michael Lehmann)
There are so many reasons I wanted to program Heathers last. This was one of the definitive movies of my childhood, exhibiting a sensibility and striking a tone that I hadn't seen other movies do at that point and which spoke directly to me. This is also the movie that more or less killed the teen movie genre that dominated the entirety of the 1980s. More than anything, though, I thought it appropriate to end these 48 hours with Jason Dean blowing himself up on the steps of Westerburg high (Replacements shout out!) and Veronica Sawyer lighting a cigarette off the explosion, donning Heather Chandler's bow and announcing there's a new sheriff in town. That's a beautiful kind of fuck-you rebirth on which to end a movie, a decade, and our marathon. Alas...

9:30 am - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (dir. Stephen Herek)
...I couldn't do it. Even a cynical, suicidal bastard like myself doesn't want to watch movies for 48 consecutive hours only to end on a pretty big down note. Instead, I want to end it with Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted Theodore Logan triumphantly taking the stage of San Dimas High School [San Dimas High School football rules] to the the kickass chords of Bricklin's "Walk Away" and making the world a better place. This was another movie I recorded off of cable (10 pm Friday night on TMC, to be specific; I had to ask my parents to stay up to start the tape) and watch again and again as a kid. It's a sweet, happy way to wrap up these 48 hours. Sure, we're bleary and exhausted, but we've learned a little about history. And maybe, just maybe, a little something about ourselves, too.

Party on, 1989 week. Party on.


  1. if i ever did a top 3 of my favorite movies ever, Baron Munchausen would be in it, so i completely agree with it starting the marathon

    i never heard of about half of the movies in this list, some of those look pretty interesting

  2. Fun fact: RED SCORPION was produced (and has co-story credit) by Jack Abramoff, who later became the corrupt Washington lobbyist played by Kevin Spacey in CASINO JACK.

  3. Can I just watch Bill and Ted for 24 straight hours?