Good Morning, Vietnam
1987, Touchstone, Rated R
Directed by Barry Levinson
Written by Mitch Markowitz
Books and articles have been written about how in the 1980s we finally came to terms with the Vietnam experience that had haunted the American psyche throughout the previous decade. We did it, some say, by reconstructing the conflict into a war that was both more conventional and acceptable. We didn't glorify it so much as sanitize our memory of it. Good Morning, Vietnam is a case in point. Robin Williams plays Adrian Cronauer, a glib disk jockey who becomes a hero of the grunts serving in Vietnam by enlivening Saigon's Armed Forces Radio station with Sixties rock 'n' roll and off-the-wall ad-libbing. Cronauer uses humor to shield himself from the unpleasant reality in which he finds himself, just as he uses it to make more palatable the circumstances of his listeners. His immediate superiors, including wannabe comedian Lieutenant Hauk (Bruno Kirby), don't appreciate it that Cronauer takes everything -- including regulations -- so lightly, but there's no denying his radio program is great for morale. His peers, chief among them Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker), come to see him as a hero of sorts. Unfortunately for Adrian, war has a way of breaking down facades, forcing a person to come to terms with his environment. Eventually he acknowledges the grim nature of the conflict, and learns, in the process of courting a beautiful Vietnamese woman, to put a human face on it.
A comedy with pathos, Good Morning, Vietnam showcases the manic genius of Robin Williams in a way few other of his films have done. His work in this movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. But to take this film as straight comedy is to miss the forest for the trees. It represents how, in the Eighties, we began to defang the demon of Vietnam.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $123.9 million
US release date: 12.23.87
"Ballad Of A Thin Man," The Grass Roots
"Beach Blanket Bingo," Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello
"California Sun," The Rivieras
"Don't Worry Baby," The Beach Boys
"I Got You (I Feel Good)," James Brown
"In The Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett
"What A Wonderful World," Louis Armstrong
Golden Globe Awards
Best Performance by an Actor (Robin Williams)
1988, Cannon/Phoenix, Rated R
Tommy Lee Jones
Written & Directed by Lloyd Fonvielle
This made-for-TV (Showtime) film is tagged "supernatural mystery...undying passion"; it has more of the latter than the former. Tommy Lee Jones plays down-on-his-luck gumshoe Eddie Mallard, who is hired by a wealthy widower. The client wants Mallard to get his dead wife, Rachel (Virginia Madsen), to stop haunting him. Of course, Eddie thinks the guy is nuts, but he's in dire need of the money the man is willing to pay him, so he takes the case. Eddie is the kind of private eye you'd think would be prepared for anything, but he's not prepared for what happens to him when he meets Rachel. He falls in love. (And who wouldn't? It's Virginia Madsen, after all.) Even when he finds out that she really is dead, it turns out to be extremely difficult for him to get over his feelings for her. As for Rachel, she's been haunting her husband because he violated her grave to relieve her corpse of a king's ransom in jewelry. She wants the baubles back. The husband schemes to deliver fakes through Eddie, but he's doomed to find out that it isn't smart to lie to the dead.
Intended as a modern-day film noir, Gotham (aka The Dead Can't Lie) has a couple of things going for it -- its stars, Jones and Madsen, and an interesting twist on the conventional private eye formula. It isn't everyday that a detective is hired to find a ghost, after all. Madsen, a blonde bombshell and leading candidate for the Marilyn Monroe of the Eighties label, had previously appeared in Class (1983), Creator (1985), Modern Girls (1986) and Slam Dance (1987), and fairly sizzles with sexuality (as always). There is plenty of chemistry between her and Jones; they are both perfectly cast. Fredric Forrest appears in a small and relatively useless part as a Russian Orthodox priest who tries to help Eddie come to terms with his love for a dead woman. There are some scary moments, but these are few and far between, and that's okay, since this is really a love story, not a horror flick. It's also a psychological thriller, as you watch Eddie begin to unravel, and you're left wondering if he is going to survive his affair with Rachel. Lloyd Fonvielle (who also directs), writes an intelligent, allegorical script laced with clever mythological allusions. The ending, however, is disappointingly perfunctory, and the movie itself is too different to appeal to a large audience. Still, both Jones and Madsen are worth watching regardless of the vehicle they're starring in.
The Eighties Club rating: ***
1986, Warner/Malpaso, Rated R
Mario Van Peebles
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by James Carabatsos
Produced and directed by its star, Heartbreak Ridge is a rousing action tale that perfectly expresses our newfound respect for the military in the 1980s. Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway is one of Eastwood's best creations -- a craggy, profane, hard-fisted veteran with 24 years of service, and he has numerous scars and a Congressional Medal of Honor to show for it. But he is also an insubordinate brawler in constant hot water with civilian authorities as well as his own superiors. According to his commanding officer, Major Powers (Everett McGill), Highway is a relic, an anachronism in the "new" Corps Powers feels that he,a pencil-pushing Annapolis grad, best represents. Highway's job is to whip a recon platoon of shirkers into shape. These men symbolize everything that is wrong with the post-Vietnam military. They lack discipline, training and pride in the uniform. And they only know how to lose. Highway changes all that -- he turns them into gung-ho fighting machines just in time for the 1983 Grenada invasion, in which they almost single-handedly defeat the Cuban forces located there and rescue American medical students whose safety is the mission's top priority. In the process Highway proves that it is Major Powers who is the anachronism in the 1980s version of our fighting forces. Once again we have a military that fights to win. And once again we can be proud of them. As Highway and his boys return from Grenada to cheering crowds and brass bands, Corporal Stitch Jones (Mario Van Peebles) surmises that Highway, the veteran of three tours in Vietnam, must be used to such a warm reception. "This is the first time," says Highway pensively.
Heartbreak Ridge was Eastwood's thirteenth film as director, and he shot it in eight weeks. It exemplifies his consummate skill at cinematic storytelling, blending action, romance and humor with a sure hand. He does not allow Highway's courtship of ex-wife Aggie (Marsha Mason) slow the pace too much; there are just enough scenes devoted to this subplot to round out the Highway character by revealing his vulnerability. Any more would have been tedious. Mario Van Peebles has perhaps his best role as Stitch Jones, an indifferent soldier who dreams of being a rock star (the "Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rollah") -- until Highway inspires him to make the Marines a career. There is a lot of profanity in the film, but screenwriter James Carabatsos (himself a vet) knew how soldiers can turn verbal abuse into something of an art form, and one comes away more amazed and amused than offended. Heartbreak Ridge is an action film, first and foremost, but it also conveys a clear message. No more Vietnams. No more Apocalypse Now. In the Eighties our soldiers could be proud again because their nation was once again proud of them.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $42.7 million
US release date: 12.5.86
Directed by Bob Giraldi
Joe Menosky & Jeff Rothberg
Jon Cryer stars as Andrew Morenski, a hustling yuppie stockbroker who's pegged to testify against a mob boss who engaged in some insider trader. But when the mob boss puts a hitman on his trail, Morenski heads to Jersey to hide out with his aunt and cousin (Keith Coogan). Then he gets the bright idea of disguising himself as a teen and going back to high school. Shaving his beard, coloring his hair, and taking the name of Maxwell Hauser, he quickly becomes a hero to many of his schoolmates and a reluctant candidate for class president. He also can't help falling in love with the pretty Ryan Campbell (Annabeth Gish). But even though he tries to keep a low profile -- with the collusion of the maintenance man, he resides in the high school basement -- the mob hitman tracks him down, and there's a final showdown in the auditorium.
The Eighties spawned an untold number of teen flicks set on college and high school campuses, and at least Hiding Out had the potential for being different from the rest -- the protagonist, after all, is a highly successful member of the "establishment" who, you might suspect, would have to loosen up to really fit in with a younger crowd. But Morenski becomes Hauser so effortlessly that one wonders whether he wasn't a high schooler masquerading as a stockbroker all along. Some critics cried foul over the concept of an adult romancing a teenager -- back in the 1980s age difference still meant something. And when the hitman starts waving a gun around in an auditorium full of kids you begin to wonder if you really ought to be rooting for a hero who would put all those teens at risk. In short, Hiding Out is a misbegotten film, with nothing new and interesting to offer its particular genre, and notable only for the deft, and even occasionally inspired, direction of Bob Giraldi, who previously was best known for the Pepsi commercial during which Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire. In retrospect, Hiding Out is perhaps best described as yet another mishap.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office:$7 million
US release date: November 1987
1988, 20th Century Fox, Rated R
Directed by Michael Seresin
Written by Mickey Rourke
After having proven himself an actor to be reckoned with in films like The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Angel Heart (1987) and A Prayer for the Dying (1987), Mickey Rourke turned his attention to the culmination of a decade-long project about a second-rate boxer befriended by a two-bit hood. Homeboy is the story of Johnny Walker, an itinerant, alcoholic cowboy/pugilist who falls in love with a carny girl (Debra Feuer) and pals around with a small-time criminal named Wesley Pendergass (Christopher Walken.) Walker isn't really much of a boxer, but he can take a lot of punishment. In fact, he's taken a little too much punishment; the doctors think if he takes another big blow to the head he might die. Wesley wants him to participate in a jewel heist, but Walker can't resist one last fight, this time against a real contender. He's not supposed to win. The problem is, Walker doesn't know when to quit.
Homeboy, directed by first-timer Michael Seresin is a visually intriguing film, and, as always, Rourke is a mesmerizing presence on the big screen. Walken, as is usually the case, proves to be an asset, and the fight scenes are well done. But there are fundamental flaws that consign this movie to mediocrity. The most devastating is a lack of character development. Why is Wesley so drawn to Walker? What does Walker's girlfriend see in him? And why is Walker the way he is? The viewer is left feeling like someone who has walked into a room in which three strangers are engaged in a moment-of-truth situation; it may be fascinating to watch but it's also impossible to be emotionally vested in the outcome. The fault may be Rourke's -- he wrote the screenplay. It's not that Homeboy was a complete waste of his time, but it certainly is a disappointment.
Eighties Club rating: **
Hot to Trot
1988, Warner Bros., Rated PG
Directed by Michael Dinner
Written by Charlie Peters
I suppose the intent of those responsible for making Hot to Trot was to follow in the great tradition of the TV series Mr. Ed and the films featuring Francis the Talking Mule. Anything with a talking horse in it has to be silly, to an extent, but as the vehicles featuring Mr. Ed and Francis had demonstrated, they could also be funny. Sadly, there isn't much fun in Hot to Trot. Bob Goldthwait stars as Fred P. Chaney, an amiable dunce who inherits a horse and half of a brokerage firm from his mother. He's about to sell his share of the business to his sleazy stepfather, Walter Sawyer (Dabney Coleman) for $525 when the other half of the inheritance, Don the Horse, calls him up with a tip that makes millions -- and turns Fred into a real Wall Street player, complete with penthouse suite and Mercedes Benz. Seems Don is a very special breed of horse, one of the chosen few that can communicate with humans (and dogs, and horseflies, and humpback whales, too.) Don (voice by John Candy), considers himself an equine James Dean, a hip, wisecracking, four-legged rebel, and he cons Fred into letting him stay in the penthouse -- until Fred loses everything on a brand of oats that has horses dropping like...well, like flies. But all is not lost; Don persuades Fred to enter him into a horse race, promising to beat Walter's prize thoroughbred so that Fred can win a bet that will turn the tables on his stepfather.
Bob Goldthwait parlayed appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and a comedy showcase hosted by Whoopi Goldberg into a role in Police Academy 2. He did two more Police Academy films as well as Scrooged, cut an album, made a few videos, and was something of an '80s comedy sensation due, we gather, from his manic shriek-and-stutter style of communication (if you want to call it that.) Viewers of Hot to Trot may be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was all about. Goldthwait is so unfunny that he's upstaged by Don, a horse talented enough to move its lips without wires and lift one hind leg and then the other to allow Fred's maid to vacuum under him. Beyond that, there isn't much to smile about here. One wonders how Dabney Coleman, an Emmy Award winner who had appeared in classics like 9 to 5 and Tootsie, was coerced into joining this venture. The same goes for Virginia Madsen; one only hopes she was well-paid for risking her career in such a bomb. Only kids six and under could find Hot to Trot amusing, but Warner Brothers was clearly aiming for a slightly older crowd, judging by all the off-color jokes. Their aim was way off. A shame, too -- Don the Horse deserved better.
Eighties Club rating: *
1983, MGM, Rated R
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by James Costigan, Ivan Davis & Michael Thomas from a novel by Whitley Strieber
Based on a novel by Whitley Streiber (who also had a hand in the screenplay), and directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II), who is the brother of Ridley Scott, The Hunger is a stylish vampire film and, deservedly, a cult classic. The beautiful Catherine Deneuve plays Miriam, an Egyptian vampire -- actually, in the novel, she's an alien creature who begins her long predatory career on Earth during the time of the Pharoahs -- who now lives in a stately New York City manor, from which she periodically ventures to prey on the denizens of the Big Apple's nightlife. Her current lover, John (David Bowie), is but one of a series of humans, both male and female, whom Miriam converts into vampires, and who live for several hundred years before, inexplicably, growing old. The price for this semi-immortality is that they never truly die, remaining conscious as their bodies slowly disintegrate. When this happens to John, Miriam stores him away in a coffin, along with her past lovers, and sets out to seduce and transform a new companion -- Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a doctor engaged in research on the aging process.
The Hunger is by no means your typical vampire movie; there are no fangs and crucifixes and hanging upside down from rafters here. Instead it is, if you will, a thinking person's horror flick, almost surreal in its cinematography, cerebral in its dense plotting, and gothic in its overall artistry. The vampires of The Hunger don't scale vertical walls or transform themselves into bats, but they are all the more terrifying for the subtlety of the threat they pose. And their curse, a melancholy, desperate isolation that spans centuries, becomes evident. Deneuve is perfect as the glacial, bisexual, sadistic Miriam, while Bowie and Sarandon are both engagingly effective in their roles. For all that, the film fails to reach its full potential, largely due to a confused ending which defies the logic of the plot. The soundtrack is a stunning mixture of gothic punk and classical music, and of course there's the famous lesbian love scene between Deneuve and Sarandon that raised more than a few eyebrows in 1983. Filled with unforgettable scenes, The Hunger is a horror film for those able to draw inferences from visual clues, who don't need everything spelled out for them. If you fit that bill, you're likely to appreciate Tony Scott's vision of the vampire world.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $6 million
US release date: 4.29.83
"Bela Lugosi Is Dead," Bauhaus
"Miserere," Gregorio Allegri
"Funtime," Iggy Pop