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From the Hip (1987)
Directed by Bob Clark
From Bob Clark (A Christmas Story, Black Christmas), From the Hip combines legal melodrama with anarchic wit, without being sophomoric or vulgar. That, despite including one of the better dildo jokes of the last century. I learned a thing or two from Judd Nelson’s young lawyer character, Stormy Weathers, and my teachers probably didn’t appreciate it.
The ethical issues it explores are heavy and its characters feel real, even though the legal machinations are cartoonish. The cast includes Bob Clark-regulars like Darren McGavin, character greats like Ray Walston, a young and stunning Elizabeth Perkins, a fresh-faced David Allen Grier and the legendary John Hurt, hammering the screen with one of his best, most underrated performances.
Benji the Hunted (1987)
Directed by Joe Camp
Once upon a time, it was Disney’s job to mess kids up, and this is a good one from that era.
Joe Camp is known for his Benji movies, having produced little else, but it’s only in recent years that the iconic dog has really started to fade from the public consciousness. Benji doesn’t talk (there is almost no dialogue in the movie), he isn’t sassy, and he doesn’t wear clothes. And yet he’s one of the most sympathetic and moving animal characters in the history of film.
Benji the Hunted raises the stakes for the titular mutt, taking him away from humans and into the wild, where he faces some tough choices and accepts some brutal consequences. No . . . really.
Real Men (1987)
Directed by Dennis Feldman
Another underdog story, Real Men is a spy parody – a goofy, Cold War-era spoof with John Ritter and Jim Belushi, and all of the sophisticated humor you’d expect from them.
But it’s fun, because these guys are both charismatic comedians. Ritter plays a milquetoast suburbanite inexplicably recruited, against his will and against all logic, into manly man Belushi’s mission to establish first contact with aliens. The question is, what do we want from them: The Big Gun or The Good Package?
Sexy Russian agents, seductive librarians, deadly fingers and mid-’80s moralizing abound in this, the only film directed by Dennis Feldman, screenwriter of The Golden Child and Just One of the Guys.
Eat the Rich (1987)
Directed by Peter Richardson
This film . . . is not good. It is, however, a bizarre and energetic artifact of the time, with an impressive array of punk rock and British comedy cameos. Listing them here would diminish the fun; you can do your own roll call while you watch.
Nothing in the movie really works, from the hamfisted social commentary to the exceedingly broad humor, but that’s beside the point. The point is to be snotty, defiant, loud and abrasive. Mission accomplished.
The cast is led by Al Pillay, a pioneering transgender entertainer who packed the crowds in at cabarets once upon a time. The film is all campy flash and punk rock noise (in part thanks to the music and "acting" of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister), with nothing so bourgeois as subtlety. Bon appétit!
Street Trash (1987)
Directed by Jim Muro
Speaking of a complete lack subtlety, how about a movie about dissolving homeless people with poison malt liquor? It seems as if there’s a political point here, but really it’s about people melting into lumpy puddles of colorful goo.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a character in the film who wasn’t already just as gross before their transformation. These are ugly people doing all manner of ugly things, and their ugly, gloppy deaths offer the kind of guilty schadenfreude that only exploitation movies can deliver.
The director, Jim Muro, has gone on to work on Oscar-winning films as cinematographer, but this is the only film he ever directed. I can’t imagine why.
Personal Services (1987)
Directed by Terry Jones
Monty Python's Terry Jones directs the only movie of his career that he didn't write. The humor isn't Python-esque, except in brief glimpses, and it deals mostly in understatement. The point is to highlight the banality and harmlessness of the activities depicted. It's just sex.
The film is inspired by real-life madam Cynthia Payne, whose working-class brothel shocked British society in the 1980's. Personal Services takes direct aim at the hypocrisy of and the damage caused by that shock, all in a breezy, lighthearted way.
And it couldn't be more timely. There is a scene midway through the movie that dramatizes one of the hot-button issues of the last two years, and it is handled with honesty, simplicity and a brash humor that can't be denied (and yet just might scandalize modern audiences).