Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '86 - Sean Wicks ""

Friday, May 13, 2016

Underrated '86 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog ( which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (, tumblr ( facebook (, and letterboxd (

1986 was a very good year for me. I was still in elementary school and amongst my friend, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was all the rage – well that and Top Gun.

1986 was the year I dove full-on into my obsession with Star Trek – and yes, it was thanks to the one with the whales. I also discover the work of Oliver Stone thanks to Platoon, even though watching it I was a true guilty pleasure since it was R-rated, filled with F-bombs and my parents didn’t want me watching it. Who know that breaking a house rule would end up with a favorite director.

Here are some titles from that year that I love that in film conversations I have had, people have seemed to forgotten entirely. 1986 was 30 years ago, but somehow it still feels like it was yesterday.

1) HOOSIERS (Dir: David Anspaugh)
Before Rudy there was Hoosiers. They were both directed by David Anspaugh, both are centered around passionate underdogs and feature dramatic and emotionally rousing scores by Jerry Goldsmith.

Hoosiers (also known as Best Shotoverseas because Hoosiers didn’t really translate well…or at all really) is a sports movie through-and-through. It has an underdog team looking to win big, a coach looking for redemption (played by Gene Hackman) and a town that lives and dies by their basketball triumphs. They haven’t got much going on, but they do have their basketball, and these boys offer a future they wish they could have.
Hackman is a big city coach who after a complication with a player, is pretty much unemployable and finds himself in a small, Indiana town. The townspeople already don’t like him because he’s an outsider and doesn’t want to play by their rules. He’s good, and it shows and eventually he wins over the local citizens as well as redeems himself to…well…himself. Dennis Hopper is also on hand as the town drunk who Hackman takes under his wing. Hopper got a much deserved Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for this film in a year that also saw him in Blue Velvet and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

So yes, Hoosiers hits all the typical sport movie notes and clich├ęs. However, it also does so in a subtle way that gives the film a nuance that most other films in the genre don’t have. For instance, Hackman’s past looms over him and while discussed a couple of times, is handled in a way that it’s not hitting the audience over the head with “hey look, this guy is good but he screwed up and this could save him.”

There is however one moment that truly stands tall in Hoosiers, a moment so fleeting that if you blink you might miss it, but it defines what makes this movie so great. It comes at the end, which makes this a [SPOILER ALERT] (although given the genre, is it really?). The final game happens and our underdogs win. There is a quick cut to the other, big-city team after their defeat and one of the players is hunched on the ground crying as a coach tries to console him. That made this movie for me. The other team is never shown as bad guys, just a group of kids with the same aspirations and dreams as our heroes. There are no scenes where they taunt our protagonists, or call them hicks, or are painted as villains. They are just high schoolers whose future perhaps on winning this game. In fact, we never get to meet them one-on-one, they’re just another opponent – granted a much bigger one that plays in a much more state-of-the-art arena with a larger crowd. This movie could also be about them. It’s an extra level of heart that a lot of other sports movies lack. No matter who you are, the taste of defeat is bitter.

Oh and I know I mentioned him above but it’s worth mentioning Jerry Goldsmith’s score again. It is so fantastic, primarily synth music, but it really sells the heart and soul of this picture.

2) SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (Dir: Spike Lee)
One of Spike Lee’s first features feels like a student film, but has all the power and intensity of the later work that is to come.

It’s a gritty, sexy, beautiful and realistic story of Nola Darling, a woman who doesn’t want to get “owned” by any single man, so she does all the owning by carrying on relationships with three very different men at the same time. She has them so wrapped around her finger that they will pretty much do anything for her, even though they are fully aware of the other guys in her life.

Tracy Camilla Johns as Nola really carries this picture with a confidence and sexuality that is impossible to fake. She may not want to be “owned” but she sure owns this picture.
Spike Lee plays Mars, one of the suitors and according to IMDB there were no retakes, and the picture was shot in 12 days. It shows, yet plays in a way that a polished picture just couldn’t have matched in tone, realism or originality. I miss movies like this.
This was a picture I stumbled upon accidentally thanks to a Criterion Laserdisc I found in a bargain bin (and by bargain, I mean $25). I still have that disc, and really would love to see Criterion get the rights back so they can do this film justice on Blu-ray Disc.*

*MGM has put out a DVD, so it can be at least seen in a modern format.

3) GUNG HO (Dir: Ron Howard)
Following Night Shift, Splash and Cocoon, Ron Howard gave us Gung Ho, a picture that I tend to appreciate over the other titles I just mentioned (although I do like those as well).

Michael Keaton plays a corporate liaison given the task of juggling the needs of a gruff American work force set in their ways and a new Japanese owner who wants to overhaul things according to their culture, and well, these cultures they do clash.

You might think this is an indictment of the union system in the U.S., but I think it’s more about the inability of people to adapt within their jobs when they get comfortable within a culture. Keaton has his hands full keeping the beer guzzling factory workers focused on their quotas while making sure a more buttoned down Japanese management doesn’t shut down the plant or lay the workers off while trying to make them understand the people they now employ.

It’s a very funny picture that I feel still holds up well today, even if most of the ideas of Japanese culture or the American workforce within it may feel dated.

Keaton really holds this picture together, and his energy is unmatched.

4) PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (Dir: Francis Ford Coppola)
One of my schoolmates said it best back in the late ‘80s. Peggy Sue Got Married is Back to the Future for adults (not that BTTF isn’t for grownups, but you get what I mean).

Kathleen Turner is attending her high school reunion while in the midst of divorcing her long-time school sweetheart Nicolas Cage. She gets bumped in the head and wakes up back in school and essentially gets a do-over. It’s a picture that plays on the idea “if I knew then what I know now…”
I remember my school mate’s quote because back when I was a teen, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this picture, but as an adult I totally appreciate what it is presenting. One of the great moments is when she comes face-to-face with her now alive parents, and it’s a picture that thrives on the idea of how we take so much in life for granted, especially when we are young. Recently re-watching it, I went over exactly what I would do had I had the knowledge now while in high school. It’s a great concept, and a lovely picture that is accentuated by a gorgeous John Barry score (that is available as a limited edition CD from Varese Sarabande, and is totally worth getting if it is still available).

5) RUTHLESS PEOPLE (Dir: Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker)
From the directors who would eventually bring us the Naked Gun franchise comes a very funny picture that puts the laughs in being mean.

I loved this picture in ’86 and I love it now, and really would love it to end up on Blu-ray Disc (anyone out there with me?). Given that many of the Touchstone movies from the time period have been released by Mill Creek, perhaps this will one day hit shelves.

Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater play a nice couple that kidnap that very spirited Bette Midler, the wife of a vile businessman (Danny DeVito) who cheated them. DeVito doesn’t want Midler back, and while trying to make the police believe he’s on board with saving her, secretly tries to louse the whole thing up so she dies. The problem is that Slater and Reinhold just don’t have it in them to kill her, and in fact they end up befriending her! Also in on the action are Anita Morris and Bill Pullman, both looking to cash in on the situation. The irony that the kidnappers are the nicest people in the picture is not lost on the audience as everyone around them just want a piece of the action, and don’t care if Midler lives or dies. It’s also a movie that will have you looking at a dust buster in a whole new way (that is, if you remember what one of those were).

DeVito chews up the scenery the only way he knows how, as this is a character he knows how to play so well. He just knocks it out of the park with what seems to be little effort. He’s still tapping into this now with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. DeVito makes mean likeable!

Just before director Paul Mazursky died, I had revisited this movie on Netflix. It’s essentially a remake of Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), but the action transplanted from the confines of French Bourgeoisie and placed into the yuppie Beverly Hills of the late 1980s and packs quite a wallop, yet a subtle one.

Nick Nolte is a homeless man who tries to kill himself in a Beverly Hills pool when he loses his dog (in Boudu, the protagonist tries to drown himself in the Seine). He’s rescued by homeowner Richard Dreyfus who is a hardworking businessman obsessed with perfect teeth and is sleeping with the maid. He’s married to Bette Midler who is obsessed with yoga, aerobics and meditation and is overall extremely unhappy and uptight, exactly the opposite of what her extracurricular activities should be aiding her with. Their daughter (Jenny Whiteman) is suffering from eating disorders and their son (Evan Richards) is struggling with his sexuality. All-in-all this is one unhappy family who lives in a mansion and seemingly have it all, but who seem so disconnected from each other, it’s a shock that they manage to live together in the same household. Nolte manages to be the medicine they never knew they needed, waking something up in each of them while becoming a fixture in the household.

In Boudu, the comedy is more out-right slapstick while also being satirical, but here it’s more about 1980s culture and yuppies as a whole (a sect of people I will admit to being a big fan of). Beverly Hills is the perfect locale for this, and it’s a movie that easily holds up even though again, like Gung Ho, much of it could have dated badly given the 80s release.

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