Christine VS 80’s: Round 3

1984 was a pretty big year for movies. Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Sixteen Candles, Temple of Doom, Footloose, The Karate Kid, Friday the 13th, and my beloved Beverly Hills Cop were all released that year. Since Stranger Things 2 is going to be set in the fall of ’84, I figured I had better brush up. Let’s get into two flicks that I’ve never seen before, Dune and Gremlins. 


I recently completed a master’s degree, which was difficult, but not as difficult as completing the audio book for Dune, Frank Herbert’s ~classic sci-fi novel~. Dune is the story of a young asshole named Paul aka Muad’dib who becomes even more of an asshole due to drug use and power. It’s basically Game of Thrones in space, which is not nearly as much fun as it even sounds.

David Lynch is a director whom I was aware of but had no real knowledge of. I figured I would try out his version of Dune, mostly because I was curious to see how anyone would approach adapting the book. I do not recommend Dune as an introduction to Lynch’s work, but if you’re up for it, it’s… something.

The road that Dune took to production is a lot to unpack, but the short version is that it was originally optioned to be adapted by OG cult director and noted crazy person Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on casting Salvatore Dali, Orson Welles, and Mick Jagger in key roles, as well as his own twleve-year-old son as the lead. Jean “Moebius” Giraud (who would later contribute to Alien) was set to handle production design, and the soundtrack was to be composed by Pink Floyd and Magma. If this sounds kind of insane to you, you’re not alone. The studios balked at Jodorowsky’s overly ambitious adaptation (it would have been over twelve hours long) and instead hired David Lynch.

Because Dune is such a long and dense story, there’s an almost impossible amount of exposition that needs to be conveyed in order for the film to work. Lynch attempts to accomplish this in two ways. The film begins with a straight-up five minute explanatory monologue by the Princess Irulan, who in the book serves as type of narrator through excerpts of her written historical works that begin each chapter. She briefs us on the planet Arrakis (aka Dune), the houses of Antreides and Harkonnen, and the Spice, the all important drug that makes space travel possible. In addition to the crash course, we hear the characters’ inner thoughts through voice-over to convey extra information. It’s not just the protagonists, it’s everyone, down to minor characters. This works in the novel because it’s a novel and that is how novels work. On screen, it kind of seems like everyone is just talking with their mouths closed for no reason.

Lynch adds his own weird touches of questionable narrative purpose, perhaps most notably the inclusion of a gigantic wrinkled worm thing floating in a tank. It’s supposed to be a Third Stage Guild navigator, which is something that isn’t in the first novel. Because this was not gross enough on its own, Lynch also includes many extended shots of the weird worm thing’s mouth flapping open and shut. Other fun touches include cat milking (not kidding) and the Baron Harkonnen drinking blood straight out of his servant’s chest.


The stoic director pictured with his weird worm thing. 

Some good points: Lynch smartly cast uber-likeable Kyle MacLachlan as Paul, who does a good job of making me not hate him. Patrick Stewart is a welcome familiar face as Paul’s right hand man. Beyond that I am mostly grossed out and confused by this movie.

There is one important element of this film that cannot escape my mention: the puppies. The opening sequence includes a horde of bulldogs, and characters tote around pugs in many key scenes. The image of Patrick Stewart charging into battle with a giant laser gun in one arm and a pug under the other is forever burned into my brain. I am neither kidding nor exaggerating.


Watchability: 2/5

80’s Ness: 4/5

The Takeaway: PUGS NOT (Spice) DRUGS




When I was a child, someone foolishly gave me a Furby, 1998’s hottest and most horrifying toy trend. My overactive six-year-old imagination had me fully convinced that the thing was going to murder me in my sleep. My parents mercifully removed the object from our home, but my fear endured.

Because I am to this day repelled by anything remotely resembling a Furby, I have been putting off watching 1984’s Gremlins. But I have done it for the sake of this series, and I think my courage should be commended. Produced by Steven Spielberg and written by future Harry Potter director Chris Columbus, it’s an 80’s touchstone that I would be amiss not to tackle.

Turns out the fluffy Furby-esque thing that I was afraid of is actually not a Gremlin, but a Mogwai. Small-town aspiring inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) steals one from an extremely sketchy Chinatown shop as a present for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). No one questions the existence of this creature. No one is impressed or even surprised that it can speak primitive English and reproduce by a form of water-induced mitosis. The Mogwai itself (named Gizmo) is actually rather cute, but I’m not holding my breath because much like Titanic, I know from the title that this situation is going to go south very quickly. Sure enough, although Randall was given clear instructions on the safe care and feeding of the Mogwai, all of the rules are promptly broken, creating an army of scaly and mischievous Gremlins from a single Mogwai. They are still less scary than Furbys.

The Gremlins of course wreak havoc on the town, ultimately taking over a movie theater where they enjoy a screening of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. I was kind of jealous of the Gremlins in this scene. I would love to watch a classic Disney movie on the big screen with all my buddies and unlimited snacks.


The funnest party ever. 

Director Joe Dante added lots of classic movie references to Gremlins which are cleverly chosen and fun to spot. The setting in the small town of Kingston Falls is a nod to Bedford Falls from Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which Billy’s mom is watching in the kitchen. Billy watches Invasion of the Body Snatchers, another film featuring monsters who incubate in cocoons. You can see posters for Road Warrior and the classic giant ant horror flick Them! in Billy’s room, and the town’s theater marquee features “Watch the Skies”, the original title for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Due to an abundance of monster gore and some really dark discussions between the teenaged characters, Gremlins is one of the films along with Temple of Doom that prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating that year at Spielberg’s suggestion.

Columbus’ original script for Gremlins was apparently was even darker and grosser than the version that got made, since he was just creating a writing sample that he didn’t expect to go to production. Spielberg was so impressed with its originality that he bought it despite knowing that it would have to be toned down drastically to be family-friendly enough to sell as a kid’s movie. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that the spirit of the original spec script comes through in the final product. It’s a work of pure imagination, motivated by a deep love of cinema.

Stray Observations:

  • Quentin Tarantino straight-up lifted the ending of Inglorious Basterds from this movie, right?
  • Turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed the Furby/Mogwai resemblence: Instead of suing, Warner Bros. struck a deal with Hasbro to produce a Gizmo Furby. It’s a huge improvement over the standard Furby. I would probably be ok with being in the same room as it.

Watchability: 4/5

80’s Ness: 5/5

The Takeaway: Gremlins just wanna have fun.

The Coen Project Part 2: Raising Arizona

After seeing Blood Simple, you’d be likely to peg Joel and Ethan Coen simply as promising writer-directors of drama. Three years later (1987), you’d be proven very wrong. When the brothers set out to make their second film, their primary goal was to create something as different from their debut as possible. Since Blood Simple was dark and realistic, the obvious choice of direction was a comedy. Enter Raising Arizona. 

At least in the context of film and television, the American Southwest often feels like blank slate where anything can happen. Maybe it’s the literal blankness of the desert, maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the sparseness of population. Could you imagine Breaking Bad taking place in, say, Boston? New Mexico and Arizona are places where you can believe a high school teacher getting away with selling meth, or a young couple stealing a baby to cope with infertility. It’s the perfect place to stage a comedy about crazy people doing crazy things.

With a bigger but still modest budget of $5 million to work with, Joel and Ethan don’t waste a single frame: an eleven-minute voice-over sequence packs in an entire act of narrative before the opening credits even roll. We’re introduced to convenience store robber H.I. “Hi” McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) who meets police officer Edwina (Holly Hunter) while having his mug shot taken. Over the course of several repeat offences, the pair fall for each other and marry after Hi gets out of jail and vows to keep on the straight and narrow. They decide that they should have a child, reasoning that “…every day we kept a child out of the world was a day he might later regret having missed.” Alas, Ed is infertile: “her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase,” laments Hi.

Devastated by their rejection from adoption agencies due to Hi’s delinquency, the unhappy couple hear an interesting news flash: local furniture mogul Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife Florence (Lynne Kitei)  have welcomed quintuplets. Hi and Ed figure that since five is a lot of children, the parents would not “overly” miss one. They head out to get them a baby, and the insanity that follows never lets up.

In my last post I talked a little bit about cartoons, and how they’re typically driven by characters rather than situations. The live-action comedies that I enjoy the most take a similar approach, turning a handful oddballs loose in some environment and seeing how they bounce off of each other.  Raising Arizona does this in a more literally cartoony way than a typical comedy. Many of the characters play on cartoon archetypes: Hi is a human Wile E. Coyote, disheveled and running around the desert, a constant victim of his own ineptitude. John Goodman and William Forsythe play Hi’s pals Gale and Evelle, a pair of prison escapees who aren’t far off from trouble-making cartoon duos like Ren and Stimpy or Pinky and the Brain, although Goodman comes off more Foghorn Leghorn than anything else. Hell, the baby quints even have cartoon names: Harry, Barry, Larry, Garry, and Nathan Jr (he’s an awful damn good one).

In stark contrast to Blood Simple’s naturalistic dialog, the characters all have eccentric ways of speaking, a mix of hick talk with solemnly biblical proclamations. The juxtaposition of lower-class criminals speaking in such a heightened manner drives much of the film’s humor. In an interview the Coens said that the dialog sprang from a mix of regional dialect and what they imagined these people would be reading, namely the newspaper and the Bible. 

Although little Nathan Jr. is the MacGuffin that drives the action, Raising Arizona’s central conflict isn’t really about a baby, it’s about Hi’s struggle between what he believes to be his innate criminal nature and his desire to become stable and respectable, motivated by his love of Ed. Maybe the funniest way this inner battle plays out is the scene where he expounds upon how he’s a changed man while simultaneously shoving several firearms into his pants. He just can’t help himself. 

It might be worth talking about why Hi and his menacing biker antagonist Leonard Smalls (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) share the same Woody Woodpecker tattoo. I’m wary about delving into speculation about certain symbols within the Coen Brothers’ films, mostly because from what I’ve read they tend not to put as much specific meaning into them as their fans would like to believe. That said, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Smalls is a manifestation of Hi’s criminal side. A lot of people online suggest that Smalls is actually Hi’s father or brother, but that kind of enters the realm of fan theory.  I just love the fact that it’s Woody Woodpecker, because it’s an explicit cartoon reference in a deliberately cartoony movie.


Stray Observations:

  • The Coens had originally planned to film The Hudsucker Proxy next, but the budget it would’ve required was too large for their studio. If you look closely at the jumpsuits worn at Hi’s job, you can see a “Hudsucker Industries” label.
  • I love the emergence of the Coen’s tendency to repeat a certain phrase or word over and over, like “sombitch” and Nathan Arizona’s incessant use of “butt”.
  • Is it just me, or is Gale and Evelle’s emergence from the mud outside of the prison eerily similar the spawning of the Uruk-hai in Lord of the Rings ?
  • Favorite moment: Ed feeling the need to blare her police siren while rushing to inform Hi that she’s “barren”.

Christine vs. 80’s: Round 2

After several abortive attempts at a second entry in this ~series~, I am back with two more 80’s flicks. Both are considered to be cult classics, both lived up to their reputations, and both are available to rent on iTunes. Again, I’ll be rating them in terms of how much I enjoyed watching them and in terms of their general 80’s-ness.



It’s a lady. It’s a hawk. It’s LadyHawke, the 1985 medieval comedy starring Matthew Broderick that you’ve never heard of. Full disclosure: I hate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I think it’s an insufferable ode to nihilism and entitlement. Despite this deep flaw in my character, I still love some adorable ‘lil young Broderick, especially in War Games, so I was excited to jump into Ladyhawke.

Our young protagonist, Gaston (Broderick), is a small-time thief and recent dungeon escapee who runs into a mysterious black-clad knight named Navarre who carries around a hawk. Turns out the hawk is actually the lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer). Here’s the deal: Navarre and Isabeau were in love, but a jealous, evil bishop cursed them. Isabeau becomes a hawk during the day, and Navarre turns into a wolf at night, preventing the pair from being together in human form. What’s even more of a bummer is that they don’t retain their human minds when they animorph, nor do they remember any of it, which totally defeats the purpose of turning into an animal. They have to go find the bishop to break the curse and end up enlisting the help of Gaston.

The tone isn’t as strictly comedic as, say, The Princess Bride, which is probably the first movie you think of when you think medieval comedy. There are times when you almost think you’re watching a semi-serious period piece, but then the heavily synth-laden soundtrack kicks in. It makes no sense, but it’s kind of amazing.

As I expected, Broderick is his absurdly charming self, and gets all the best one-liners. I was not expecting this movie to have such pervasive religious themes and references: Gaston is in constant dialog with God, bargaining, promising, and explaining. The main antagonist is a disloyal bishop who has aligned himself with Satan. The seal of confession is a major plot point. There’s a Lent joke. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a comedy that engages with Catholicism so sincerely. Both the drama and humor rely on religion, but it’s never the butt of the joke, nor is it portrayed as inherently bad, despite the rotten clergyman.

Watchability: 4/5
80’s-ness: 3/5 for the soundtrack alone

The takeaway: “The truth is, sir, I talk to God all the time, and no offense, but He never mentioned you.”


Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

Like everyone who saw it, I was completely mesmerized by Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s revisitation of his earlier action trilogy starring Mel Gibson. I have been meaning to check out the original movies, but the first Mad Max was released in 1979, so obviously I had to skip ahead to Mad Max 2: Road Warrior for the sake of this very important journalistic endeavour. This didn’t end up being a problem, since Road Warrior starts out with a nice recap of prior events, setting up how Max came to be a lone wolf in the parched Australian post-apocalypse.

Narrative-wise, Road Warrior is a textbook old-school western. A group of settlers must find a way to defend themselves from the cadre of bad guys who are about to to ransack their home. Max is the hardened mercenary who reconnects with his humanity by selflessly lending his services to the community. Just sub out the climactic gun fight for a car chase laced with explosions and gore.

The pacing is slower and the effects are obviously less sophisticated, but Road Warrior is more similar to Fury Road than I expected, in terms of both visuals and tone. The manipulation of frame rates to create jerky, surreal motion is already present. There’s plenty of weird, colorful characters, including a boomerang-toting feral child. Although the dialog-to-action ratio is higher, Max is very much the same steady and reticent hero. One big difference is the hair. Shampoo is apparently much more readily available in the 2015 version of the world.

Watchability: 4/5

80’s-ness: 2/5

The takeaway: Not all boomerangs can be caught. Also, why don’t I have my own mini helicopter?

Christine VS 80’s: Round 1

Like most of us, my new hobby is watching Stranger Things repeatedly until my eyes bleed. Among other things, the show has made me realize that the 1980’s is somewhat of a blind spot in my pop cultural education. Sure, I know the hits, but I want to delve deeper into the weird corners, both good and bad. Luckily, Netflix has no shortage of fodder for my investigation. I shall be rating these in terms of watchability and 80’s-ness for your movie night decision-making benefit.


The Burbs, 1989

Young Tom Hanks is a high-strung suburb-dweller spending his vacation from work snooping on his neighbors in what is essentially a goofy, late 80’s version of Rear Window. Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Rick Ducommun attempt to prove that their creepy neighbors are in a murder-cult while Carrie Fisher rolls her eyes. A teenaged Corey Feldman sits on his porch and comments on the action like a vaguely punk greek chorus.

This is the earliest Tom Hanks movie I’ve seen, and I’m really digging this era of his work. Highlights include Tom Hanks writhing furiously on the ground having been stung by a swarm of bees, Tom Hanks slowly chewing and swallowing a slimy sardine, and Tom Hanks sneezing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. If you are interested in seeing Tom Hanks do any of these things, this film is for you.

Watchability: 3/5     80’s-ness Rating: 4/5

The takeaway: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you.


Harry and the Hendersons, 1987

Like many #millenials, my first introduction to Harry and the Hendersons came in the form of the 30 Rock episode Goodbye, My Friend. Jack Donaghy views the film with the TGS writers and takes its message to heart, declaring to Liz Lemon: “That film has layers”.

Does it actually have layers? Kind of, just not terribly entertaining ones. Canonical 80’s Movie Dad John Lithgow plays George Henderson, a trigger-happy rifle enthusiast who has dragged his family on a camping trip, only to hit a large, ape-like creature with their station wagon multiple times on the way back. Presuming its death, the Hendersons tote the beast back to their suburban home, hoping to gain some cash off of the discovery. The animal is in fact very much alive. The rest of the plot is essentially E.T.

In a way, this movie is quite prescient. I think that at the time it was supposed to be about environmentalism, but small town Americans frantically buying guns to defend themselves from a strange, foreign, presumably dangerous something feels very 2016.

Stray observations:

Not to be pedantic, but since Harry was willing to eat a fish sandwich and not a cheeseburger he’s actually a pescatarian, not a vegetarian.

Watch out for a Ronald Reagan cameo during the obligatory 80’s weird-creature-is-fascinated-by-television sequence.
Watchability: 2/5     80’s-ness: 3/5

The takeaway: I know what America needs to solve its gun problem: Bigfoot.