Here’s a reminder that I’ve been writing capsule reviews for my latest movie retrospective over on Letterboxd. Below are five of them, selected for movies that are either distinctive or in some way representative of the kind of entertainment I’ve been indulging during this project. These five won’t make my ultimate top ten, so I thought I’d give them a little extra attention here.
Dogs in Space (1986) – This is a punk movie that’s less about the music and more about what it felt like to need it. The restless but methodical camera tracks endlessly around the squalid house where much of the movie is set, finding its characters in various states of sex, drug use, and listlessness. As an unsentimental portrait of its world, this movie is excellent. But as it began shuffling toward tragedy, I started to see the wheels turning, not least in Michael Hutchence’s self-consciously mumbly performance. There are the usual socioeconomic troubles in this milieu, some generalized rage at the government, and a lot of satellite-induced anxiety that might be culturally specific in some way. The highlight of the film might be when a few guys destroy a TV that’s playing His Girl Friday — lousy philistines.
Hello Again (1987) – It just so happens I found most of this delightful, even though the elements that were probably intended to be highlights — from Shelley Long’s character’s klutziness to the quips about the fantasy premise — mostly fell flat for me. The stuff that can’t be made to fit in a trailer is what makes the movie: the careful exploration of the personal and social fallout from reappearing a year after one’s death. It’s the long setup that makes the collective scream in one scene such a hilarious moment (the biggest laugh I’ve had with a movie in at least a month). The nutty spiritualist sister played by Judith Ivey is a real hoot, and even the “other woman” subplot is handled with unusual nuance…at least until the whole thing collapses into the typical misunderstandings and betrayals. The movie really just goes through the motions with the Gabriel Byrne-Shelley Long romance, too. But purely as a comedy, I think it’s quite good.
Hiding Out (1987) – Let me see if I understand: the screenwriters figured they could get revenge for Watergate by dramatically un-rigging a high school class president election, only to have the voters realize moments later that the “real” winner is not actually a high school student? Confused though that may be, it allows the climactic chase to call back to both The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate, for what it’s worth. All this in the service of a paper-thin premise that’s warped by the main casting choice. Jon Cryer in his early twenties looks a lot more credible as a high school student than as a bearded stockbroker. Still, he’s appealing in the role. But the rest of the film isn’t self-aware enough to get away with being as pointless as it ultimately is.
Made in Heaven (1987) – I respect the unapologetic weirdness here most of all, the flair for throwing ideas at the screen. Segments take on a kind of nightmare logic, not threatening, just unpredictable. It’s just unfortunate that the narrative, which hints at so many strange possibilities, ultimately settles on the rather formless love story between Hutton and McGillis. The idea of them wandering through their second lives, with only a hint in the back of their minds of what they had in “heaven,” is a pretty great one too, but the character development is entirely superficial. Much more interesting are the supporting cast and cameos, none of which I would dare spoil. They all add up to an offbeat and always intriguing film.
Masters of the Universe (1987) – Yeah, you know, this was a childhood favorite, but it’s hard to imagine anyone over the age of nine being impressed by any of this. Between Lundgren struggling with his dialogue and the spectacularly overqualified Langella fuming impotently, no attempt is made to create a conflict deeper than one between literal action figures. In a way, I can respect the purity of that. It’s free of pretension, at least. Our heroes find themselves on Earth for no reason whatsoever, human characters with canned tragic backstories are introduced, and the whole thing becomes this galumphing fish-out-of-water “comedy.” At least James Tolkan arrives to lighten things up just a bit, but this movie is still a cheap ripoff of fantasy blockbusters going back a decade before it. And yet, the child in me will always, it seems, be irrationally pleased when He-Man gets his sword back at the end there. That’s pretty cool.