Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '85 - Mike Flynn ""

Monday, April 20, 2015

Underrated '85 - Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn is a journeyman of sorts. Writer, salesman, son, brother, film lover, karaoke wildman—he has quite the variety of talents. Holding a B.A. in Communication Arts with a writing focus from Ramapo College of New Jersey, he spends many a night watching awful action movies, some barely released theatrically or not at all. Above all, he is a smart, well-spoken man. He has many projects in the pipeline, but his most accessible at the moment is The Pleasuredome, a new blog where he writes not only about film but about the entire spectrum of pop culture. You can subscribe to him on Facebook at, or follow his Twitter feeds, @MikeDrewFlynn and @ElPleasuredome.
1985’s a great year for movies. You had big hits like Rambo and Back to the Future, a lot of great movies that achieved hit status, and even more that went wayward until the skyrocketing cable and home video markets immortalized them. To Live and Die in L.A. and After Hours are two of my all-time favorite films that top my ’85 list, I love them, they should be firm-minted classics, but I won’t have them here because there’s just too much to explore from the year.

These are the ones that slipped through the cracks, and even if they did, their obscurity or appreciation isn’t strong enough.

Explorers (dir. Joe Dante)
E.T. made friendly aliens a zeitgeist du jour for four-quadrant blockbusters, and while it remained king as a pop-culture touchstone and money maker, the residual trail of films in its footsteps, like Starman and Joe Dante’sGremlins followup, painted more mature or honest portrayals of our connection to intergalactic visitors.  Independent of the Amblin machine, Dante’s attempt to go full Spielberg is simultaneously more realistic and fantastical in how it portrays the imagination of its kid leads and the gamut of emotions they deal with. Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix are barely teenagers in this, and their sincerity in capturing Dante’s wonder is a testament to their future trajectory. Where moremainstream parallel would lose steam in the third act,Explorers submerges into the astounding and soul-opening with the same curiosity running through the film. Plus, when has Rob Bottin ever designed more benevolent visuals?

Paramount was unsure of how to position the film during the summer of 1985, when Back to the Future had started to devour anything in its wake a week prior, and the reason why that became an instant classic and Explorersis a grower is true and acceptable. Zemeckis went for the “Morning in America” jugular of Reagan and nostalgia. This sings to the introverts and the nerds, and it is, of my opinion, the superior family sci-fi offering of the summer.

Flesh + Blood (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
The Dark Ages. The Black Plague is cast over Europe. Soldiers want compensation. An arranged marriage is complicated. Because this is Paul Verhoeven, the title materializes itself in excess. Sex, violence, swords, sorcery, and Rutger Hauer ensue—and sometimes, all of those things intersect in one scene! Verhoeven’s American crossover doesn’t suffer fools, having the audience accept a fantasy world where white and black knights are firmly gray and totally fucked up. Hauer’s Martin pushes the “anti” in antihero and he commits horrible acts to preserve whatever chivalry he has left, but this is a movie with Brion James and Bruno Kirby as slimy pillagers and that makes Rutger as dashing as he was in Ladyhawke in comparison.

Flesh + Blood isn’t a pleasurable movie to watch—the unsettling meter is higher than any of Verhoeven’s subsequent bloodbaths, but it’s damn compelling.

Gotcha! (dir. Jeff Kanew)
You could never make this movie today without sanitizing the espionage aspect. Ever. If The Interview got America to throw the gloves off, then a college student who engages in paintball combat and ends up in deep with the Soviet Union would be the sort of thing that inadvertently starts World War III. In 1985, this sort of behavior was condonable as entertainment, and it’s effective, fun stuff. Anthony Edwards plays aloof but smooth. He realizes the danger he’s in, and if he can splatter orange paint on an unsuspecting peer, then surely he can hold a semi-automatic pistol on a KGB officer. It’s rated PG-13, and because it’s 1985, it can get away with nudity (in a rather dark scenario here) and a sizeable amount of violence and peril. The tone is comedic—Russians singing Randy Newman!—but as an action-comedy coming from the guy who made Revenge of the NerdsGotcha! is high concept at its most exciting.

Into the Night (dir. John Landis)
1985 gave us two terrific, dangerous black comedies turning the glamor of American cities into locales for lurid, surreal nightmares. After Hours got the critical acclaim, but I unabashedly love every scene, frame, and emotion thatInto the Night offers. From B.B. King’s theme song matched to the scrawled cursive credits to Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer’s evolving chemistry to its fearlessness to kill off safety nets of characters, Into the Night is a hypnotic experience. Going from midlife crisis drama to quirky romantic comedy to Charade on uppers isn’t something that should work, except Landis—who’d been stigmatized by his notorious, then-recent legal troubles—never makes the offbeat feel condescending and there’s a warmth and adventure feeling to every moment, and from the spurts of viciousness to the well-wishing cameos, it’s catharsis and atonement in an auteur setting.

And very few movies are like it. Try to name another movie where David Cronenberg plays a draconian office manager, or one where Bruce McGill plays a misanthropic Elvis impersonator, or a thriller that resolves with Jonathan Demme gunning down the villains (Louis Malle and Landis himself!) in an airport. Its spirit has been channeled by everything from Superbad to Drive, but nothing has ever quite been like it since.

FUN FACT: Writer Ron Koslow also wrote 1984’sFirstborn, a film that I’d put on a list for that year in terms of the underrated, an emotionally brutal family drama with a tyrannical, show-stopping performance from Peter Weller as the worst father figure this side of Jerry Blake.

Just One of the Guys (dir. Lisa Gottlieb)
John Hughes anchored the 80’s teen comedy, but he never had the most honest voice. It’s not to say he made bad movies, but compared to the films that orbited his teen material, they’re delusional fairy tales. Take Just One of the Guys, for example, a film that’s remembered for its—ahem—reveal than the fact that Terry Griffith is a better female character than Hughes ever dreamed up. Oh, don’t worry, there’s tacky gender-bending humor, but there’s a fascinating feminist message at the heart of it. Romance is peripheral to ambition and subversion as Terry goes the Method route of proving that men get priority in the halls of her school.

Joyce Hyser’s performance is terrific in this. Terry starts out with the dream life, but doubts it when she’s overlooked by her male journalism teacher for an internship. It leads to a crisis of identity, of whether the ideal young life of the older boyfriend and the in-crowd status is worth it. We believe her proto-Andrew Dice Clay shtick as a man because we see, through her, the preferential bias and what the hell hole known as high school expects of her peers. Her chemistry with clueless new friend Rick (the magically coiffed Clayton Rohner) is spot-on and Rick hits that sweet spot of coolness—he dresses for status but he doesn’t hide behind the nerdy vulnerability. It’s that kind of energy that sets it apart from fluff like Pretty in Pink, where Andie is designated dream girl and all the males are some different variation of a sociopath. Here, you just have William Zabka.

Just One of the Guys is a sly denouncement of chauvinism, a crazed idea you couldn’t do now but which has a sincerity and message that remains universal.

Silver Bullet (dir. Daniel Attias)
…okay, so just because we’re discussing “underrated” doesn’t excuse the fact that, eventually, there has to be a goof entry, and this is the one. Even more than MaximumOverdrive, personal friends deride me for enjoying Silver Bullet with the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old who just discovered Jolt. This is a serious-minded werewolf film, a Stephen King adaptation with the quotable versatility of such noted era comedies as Caddyshack and Road House, where the plot of the film is best described by a beer-gutted, possibly improvising Gary Busey—a couple years out from buffing out as everyone’s favorite albino jackrabbit—refusing to abide by his curious nephew (Corey Haim) playing “The Hardy Boys Meet the Reverend Werewolf.” Suspense, terror, and all of the things we expect from King just don’t exist in Silver Bullet. It’s a comedy clueless of its genre identity.

Look, Dino De Laurentiis gave us some great films, but what he lacked was the ability to keep is tongue to cheek. When the townsfolk impulsively plan to root out the lycanthrope, it plays out like an episode of South Park and TV veteran Daniel Attias—bless his contributions to some great shows over the years—plays everything straight. An intimidated man is asked by his wife, “Are you gonna make lemonade in your pants?” A dream sequence multiplies the Carlo Rambaldi werewolf suits by 120. The same grieving father says a variation of “My son was torn apart!” countless times. You have spectacular appearances from beloved characters like Terry O’Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, Bill Smitrovich, and the incomparable Everett McGill, whose bellowing of “YOU MEDDLING LITTLE SHIT!” to the Haimster later became my standby avatar on a frequented message board.

I have nothing to apologize for in loving this movie. I feel like a virgin on prom night when I talk about it!

Tuff Turf (dir. Fritz Kiersch)
“Don’t let them fool you. It’s the 80’s. Size does matter. I mean, not in bed. We’re all the same size in bed.”

Okay, I need a minute here. This is another one that, admittedly, is a bit of a screwball contribution to my list. MTV was starting to dominate pop culture in every facet by 1985. In the years prior, FlashdanceFootlooseStreets of Fire, and Electric Dreams could be considered the first real “MTV movies”—straightforward narratives padded out by extended music montages that furthered the plot through glorified music videos. (Not a strike!)

At 111 minutes, the film is exactly the same length asRebel Without a Cause, a film that this one makes its primary objective to recall the cultural impact of and update it for the edgier and infinitely more nihilistic generation of degenerates whose parents had actually grown up idolizing the exploits of James Dean. This film, however, is not the source of a cultural watershed but a product of it. Forget the term “classic,” however, Tuff Turfis an insane film. Literally and figuratively, it dances all over the place, relishing in an era of excess like the cinematic embodiment of a multi-millionaire with a Rolodex full of call girls.

We’re talking a sadomasochistic locker room attack on the same wavelength as the one in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

We’re talking guidance counselors who see profanity and malice as acceptable means of shaping our youth.

We’re talking its female lead (Kim Richards?!) being forced to lose her virginity to a boyfriend she’s fallen out of love with, which her father commemorates—in the moments before the act—by pouring a glass of champagne. Today, this would be an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

We’re talking a young Robert Downey Jr., before anyone could ever complete a game of Six Degrees of Iron Man in six steps or less to associate him with the role, let alone a Brat Pack member, as the drummer of a New Wave (or would it be considered “College Rock” by this point?) band, wearing nothing but a bow tie and black and red leather pants—a getup near-identical to that of the late professional wrestler “Ravishing” Rick Rude. (Did I mention that this summer’s most anticipated film is a reunion of Tuff Turf’s most famous stars?)

This escalates from a dark coming of age parable all the way to a climactic battle inside some kind of abandoned establishment. Tuff Turf  is like Road House or The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the kind of movie that can’t be explained and analyzed unless you’ve seen the nuts-be-gone occurrences, heard its one-liners, and realize who stars in it. It’s one of those ones that exists, whether you love or hate it.

Turk 182! (dir. Bob Clark)
Bob Clark had a filmography that couldn’t be merely described as bizarre. He makes two seminal 70’s horror films, transitions from a sleeper Animal House ripoff to the family Christmas film that became Gen X’s It’s a Wonderful Life, directs his era’s superstars in some of the biggest embarrassments of their careers. Seriously, the only reason Rhinestone gets off easy is because Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot happened, and Loose Cannons was forgiven, if not forgotten, because Gene Hackman is incapable of a bad performance and Dan Aykroyd followed up that film with one where he wore a phallic nose in addition to playing an articulate, adult-sized baby.

But I digress. Turk 182! is probably Clark’s best film and a weird mashup—effectively, it’s a cleaned-up take on transgressive art and the punk scene retrofitted as a mid-century crowdpleaser. It has a strong anti-establishment statement, but it does so in an inspiring and thoughtful way that never feels cynical. Timothy Hutton, who had played so many brooding roles in the early 80’s, reinvents himself here with the same angst but with the kind of likable charisma that Ron Howard got out of Keaton and Hanks. Hutton doesn’t quit with his performance—he talks fast, escalates his intentions to physically enormous proportions (that bridge stunt!), and has the urban-legend driving power of Batman. He’s outraged because his brother got shafted by the system and the medical bills are piling up, and as someone who’s had family in the health-care industry, it’s a cause that is all too relatable to countless people.

In today’s Obamacare-fearing society—where corporations and the government have denied health careand virtually held workers for ransom over their machinations and the Almighty Dollar—there’s still a potent relevance to “Zimmerman Flew, Tyler Knew, Turk 182.” By the end, you’ll wish we had more Jimmy Lynches and less Edward Snowdens in this world to prank society.

Year of the Dragon (dir. Michael Cimino)
Returning from his Heaven’s Gate exile, Michael Cimino was inflicted with even more vitriol for his follow-up. Critics accused him of misogyny, demonizing the Asian community, turning the Vietnam-vet experience he nurtured in The Deer Hunter into xenophobic exploitation, and miscasting a 33-year-old Mickey Rourke as a seasoned cop with (amazingly cool) graying hair. Year of the Dragon is a crackling action film with a nasty if alluring cultural spin that culminates in Cimino, who’d co-scriptedMagnum Force twelve years earlier, making his own breed of Dirty Harry film. The conservative values from Rourke’s Stanley White and the criminal ambition of John Lone’s Joey Tai are palpable. They feel like real people in an ugly, real world. Cimino takes strong cues from Peckinpah in blocking the film’s action sequences, realistically depicted in circumstances where safety is forbidden from the good, bad, and uninvolved. En masse civilian casualties have become a hot topic in recent blockbusters geared towards younger audiences, but in an adult-oriented film like this, Cimino doesn’t glamorize. The restaurant showdown is a master class in tension, from the suddenness of its onset to the desperation that White fights with in order to eliminate the threat. The conflict is fantasy, but the world is honest.

Young Sherlock Holmes (dir. Barry Levinson)
Where was the audience for this movie? Steven Spielberg’s name all over the marketing materials. Chris Columbus hot off Gremlins and The Goonies. A four-quadrant concept if there ever was one, and but audiences were too fixated on Rocky IV to take it seriously during the holiday rushIf this got done now as an aspiring young-adult juggernaut, we’d be looking at the cast getting locked in for three sequels. Here’s your recipe for success:

1. Young adult-skewing reimagining of an iconic character
2. State-of-the-art visual effects
3. Enormous action sequences
4. Eclectic world building
5. The last thing you would expect a director of small-scale, intricate character dramas to tackle
6. Impeccably cast unknowns with a chance to breakout
7. Clear establishment of a sequel…

Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t have assumed Holmes’ mantle if this got made now. It’s a modern blockbuster checklist, exactly what you expect every brand or franchise to do now, but the eccentric charm and its full-tilt hold on the PG-13 rating are way ahead of most contemporary curves. Who cares if the third act is a Temple of Doom rehash?

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