Top Twenty Tuesdays, but on Wednesday, or maybe Thursday-Part 1:
I’m a man of my time. I was a boy of another time. Somewhere in between that space, I aged to imperfection. A coming of age that was imprecise, implausible, and at odds with many realities that truly existed in the world. I spent an unholy amount of time discovering, watching, and re-watching 80’s cinema. Thanks to my parents, the addition of Cable Television in the mid 80’s allowed me to learn a lot about the world, at least superficially. How much the films below informed my growth as a person is debatable. What is certain, is how well I loved and enjoyed all of these movies. They shaped my attitudes, thoughts, and ideas about a world that I would soon enter into after adolescence, for better or worse. Also, I came to learn that Jack was the name to have, next to Indiana and Han Solo.
I’m sure there are other titles that I left off, but I tried my best to keep it to a tight twenty. Normally, Tuesdays are “Top Ten Tuesdays,” but I had to take some liberties…
Forming an exaggerated image of what a man might be, if left to the devices of a boy’s imagination on steroids
1. CLOAK & DAGGER
Jack Flack from “Cloak & Dagger”
Jack Flack, from “Cloak & Dagger” was a clever character, in that it allowed Dabney Coleman the opportunity to play two roles. That of Jack Flack, and that of the Hal Osborne, the main character’s father. In retrospect, I truly appreciate how well they handled the idea of a single dad trying to make ends meet for his son to have a good life. It is through the movie that we learn that Davey Osborne’s father, Hal, is air pilot, and is often away from home. These absences give Davey much of his liberty, and has helped him to develop his intuitiveness, and large imagination. He eventually develops a fictional alter ego for his absent father, in Jack Flack. Jack Flack is an international spy in one of Davey’s RPG (Role-playing games), and always saves the day. Somehow, Davey gets inadvertently wrapped up in an actual spy ring, by coming into possession of a spy gadget by pure dumb luck. For me, this film still holds up, and really brings the tears, as Davey comes to the realization that his father was his hero all along. Jack Flack is Hal Osborne. Hal Osborne is Jack Flack. This film also included a cameo by William Forsythe as a video game sales clerk. An honorable mention to making the San Antonio River Walk mysterious enough to pull me there later in life. While they’re sharing a hotel room with friends, I jumped up out of bed in the middle of the night believing a prowler to be in the room with us. I came to realize it was just my projection of Jack Flack zipping up his special leather jacket. Hey, I was ready to pounce.
2. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
Ol’ Jack Burton from “Big Trouble in Little China”
There are so many things about this movie that speak to me. I love the portrayal of Chinatown. I love the idea of an underworld, and a world under that underworld. I love martial arts, and a quasi-ego-centric anti-hero that is zen enough to get in and out of situations on charm alone. To me, Jack Burton is a pre-cursor to The Dude, El Duderino, Jefferey Lebowski himself. Kurt Russell’s turn as Jack Burton, helped me aspire to rock a tank top with compelling masculinity. It should also be mentioned that this might have been the sweet spot of the mullet, as Kurt Russell’s mullet was understated, yet front and center. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did it. Along the way, Jack Burton finds out that there are forces that operate outside of our experience, and that they are navigable with a little help from your friends. In the modern world, Jack Burton is a relic, but it was sure nice hoping that someday you could be a decent citizen, benefit from a Six-demon Bag, and still come away with a girl with green eyes. David Lopan, Egg Shen, and the Three Furies round out the field. If you didn’t want to drive a tractor-trailer, wear a spaghetti strainer hat, or wear fringed boots, after watching this film, I think you should go straight to the hell of the dissatisfied customers. When in doubt, just remember, “it’s all in the reflexes.”
3. ROMANCING THE STONE
Jack T. Colton from “Romancing the Stone”
At this point in my life, I had no idea about Kathleen Turner, sexuality, or the possibility of Jessica Rabbit. “Body Heat” preceded this movie by three years, and although I was completely enamored of Kathleen Turner’s turn as Joan Wilder in this movie, the slightly gratuitous sex scene at the three-quarter mark of this film was really lost on a ten-year old mind. Perhaps, in international markets the film was called “Romancing the Map right out from underneath the Writing Woman”, I kid, I kid, he put it back. This film is accused of being Indiana Jones lite, but it carved itself out a place in my heart. Michael Douglas does a fantastic job of portraying, Jack T. Colton, an independent contractor searching the wilds of the Amazon for exotic birds. He happens upon a woman in need of a guide after she is stranded, and we come to realize that Colton is the personification of Joan Wilder’s fictional characters. Jack Colton’s dream is to sail off into the sunset on a sailboat, hence the accumulation of Amazonian birds for resale. Well, it becomes apparent to Jack when a map appears from Joan Wilder, that if they acquire the treasure the map implies, then they can use that to help Joan free her kidnapped sister (the pretense for her being in South America in the first place). I’m a sucker for maps. Anytime there is a map, I’m in. I’m hooked. In fact, I think I’ve just adopted a new narrative rule for my fiction: plot must center around map!!! When push comes to shove, Jack T. Colton delivers and stays true to his word. This seemed to be an unwritten rule for most of the 80’s male portrayals, staying true to your word at all costs, and defeating any feelings of moral ambiguity in making choices, as long as there is a happily ever after to be procured. Very Disney-princessesque. See, guys got to drink the Kool-aid too. Lastly, the subplot of marijuana drug-running weaved its way into the plot of this movie, and I was delighted by the possibility of throwing bricks of marijuana on a fire while eating cooked snake and drinking whiskey. Oh yeah, I also learned that I wanted to fall down a mudslide and land headfirst in between Joan Wilder’s legs.
“you mean that college isn’t actually like it is in the movies?” – C. Hickey-circa 1993
4. ANIMAL HOUSE
Delta Chi Fraternity
I didn’t pledge a fraternity when I enrolled as a freshman. Probably should have. I’ll never know if the Greek Life was for me. I wasn’t too much into groupthink, but I do enjoy fellowship. However, this movie probably more than most, instilled in me a certain “zest” for partying. I was Bluto Blutarski/Frank the Tank, squared. The only thing I was missing was a Delta Chi pledge pin. This movie taught me about the haves and have nots, and the importance of bringing balance to expectations. After twenty years, I finally obtained my Bachelor’s Degree. I drank a lot of beer along the way. I lampooned myself. I never met Pinto or Flounder, but over the years I met Peaches, Titmouse, Lefty, Domingo, Tony Peanut Butter, Flippah, Beehive, Sanctuary, Harpo, Blockhead, Ooklah, Cookie Monstah, Bottle Bill, Birdman, Franimal, Franzarelli, Kiko, Coconuts, Dudeman, Gibbah, Beepo, Ram-Man, Toggy, Pickle, Sausage, Cucka, Daffa, Tortoise, Muff, Cricket, Pigeon, Teentha, Jaybar, Laydog, Booga Bobby, Brother Lead, Dumpster Donna, Skinhead, Cakes, Black Billy, Magoo, Bobo, Smokey, Ibba, Pots, etc…
5 . REAL GENIUS
Lazlo, Chris & Mitch discussing the repercussions of being exploited
You mean they let some people go to college early when they are geniuses? Well, that’s not a problem I had. I took the more traditional route of gradually graduating into college enrollment at the tender age of 18. Real Genius was not only a showcase of Val Kilmer’s comedic talent, but another alluring example of the adult Utopia that seemed to exist past high school. The college life seemed alive and well, and robust with shenanigans, pranks, sexual tension, and its eventual release. The subplot of this film dealt with the possible consequences and conflicted morality of using high intelligence for nefarious purposes, even if done unknowingly. Perhaps the best part of the film, was that the characters Chris and Mitch had a mysterious guy living in the closet of their dorm room. Turns out the guy was named Lazlo, and he had been a student at the school in the 70’s. He learned that the work he was doing was being used to harm people and freaked out. He became a recluse and used his abilities to create a subterranean passage in which he existed. Which as you probably guessed was only accessible through the door room closet. This concept, and character of Lazlo was so impactful to my best friend, that he almost named one of his children Lazlo. Much to my chagrin, when I went to college there was no secret entrance to a subterranean passage in my dorm room. And, no Lazlo. Everybody wants to rule the world. Lasers are cool. Be careful that your intelligence isn’t used to cook giant containers of jiffy pop.
6. REVENGE OF THE NERDS
Lambda * Lambda * Lambda
Here’s a confession: I’m a nerd, and I’m pretty proud of it. My people, my tribe, my movie. I’m a Tri-Lamb all the way. I found a little piece of myself in each of the nerd stereotypes represented in this film. More pranks, tomfoolery, and laughs than you could shake a pocket protector at. This movie gave rise to the promise that social status, gratuitous sex, and success was all within reach if you just embraced yourself and beat the powers that be at their own game. My favorite scene in the movie is when the nerds go on a pantie raid and get chased out of the sorority house arm in arm giggling uncontrollably. So juvenile, so inappropriate by today’s standards, but it seemed like so much fun all those years ago. I never participated in a pantie raid, but I did meet a woman who disliked the words panties and pussy. I like to think she works for Hanes, and lives with many domesticated felines that she can only bring herself to call kitties. Robots ARE sexy, and whether many will admit it or not, we are currently living in the decline of our civilization. So feel free to send your thoughts about it to Poindexter.
Fantasy: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”
Alternate worlds, a cyclops, Fire Mares; who’s with me? How often will you find an 80’s film that has both a young Liam Neeson and a young Robbie Coltrane long before they were Schindler and Hagrid respectively? Not many. Decent visual effects, coupled with a mediocre story, helped to drive this movie forward. However, getting down to brass tacks: the coolest part of the movie was that the main character got to use an elegant weapon called a “Glaive”. It came in the form of a star and had retractable blades. The “Glaive” could be thrown like a boomerang and controlled by its master as an optimal projectile weapon. Think of a buzz-saw, without the table. I’m pretty sure this would be my second choice of preferred fictional weapon, behind only a lightsaber. Hell, why not possess both? I would. The only thing I’m uncertain about, is what the Christ is the film’s title referring to? Krull? Is that the world they are on? The name of the antagonist? Or simply the name for Calwyn’s hair or cod piece in this movie? I need to know. I think a good deal of survival in an alternate reality can come of not having to be close to your enemy to inflict damage. Gimmie the “Glaive” all day long.
8. THE LAST STARFIGHTER
You just might be the Last Starfighter if…
This movie blew me away. Let’s pretend for a second that there is a reality where aliens from other worlds, place video arcade games in our world as a test to find out if we have the right stuff. “The Last Starfighter” supposed this, and made believers of dreamers. I can’t imagine many kids that came up during this time period that would have balked at the chance to travel to the far reaches of our galaxy to defend our world against the potential destructions by alien invaders. The recurring theme of aliens invading seemed to pervade our subconscious, as well as the movie marquee. The Cold War had a funny way of making us all understand that there was an imminent threat, and it was large, and that we needed to be prepared in order to fight it off. Taking the technological advances in video gaming and coupling that with the hero’s narrative, had many young ones lining up to beat arcade games in hopes that they would be magically whisked away to be an actual hero. Great fantasy, great kitsch, and overall great fun. This movie is worth watching just to find out what the Death Blossom is. Re-ta, re-ta-nah!
“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
I could watch this movie over and over. My appreciation for David Lynch’s adaptation of a Frank Herbert Sci-Fi novel, was evident from an early age. Now when I go back to rewatch this film, I can add my affinity for David Lynch’s other body of work, and get more of a sense of how he handled Herbert’s classic. An all-star cast, a cool soundtrack featuring Toto, and a reclusive desert dwelling people who over time develop crazy blue eyes as a side-effect of breathing spice through the atmosphere. The glamour of being a Fremen Warrior waned slightly, when I realized that the Fremen stillsuits recycled waste in order to keep its inhabitants hydrated. Sting, Virginia Madsen, and Kyle MacLachlan were all kinds of 80’s sexy, but the diamond in this rough in this film, is Patrick Stewart playing Gurney Halleck. When he charged the Harkonnen Hoards with Duke Leto Atreides pet Pug in his arms, I had my King Henry the V moment, and realized I’d follow Patrick Stewart into battle any day. The originality of sci-fi gadgetry and nomenclature alone is worth the watch. It was nice to see the Bene Gesserits eat a shit sandwich when they realized that Paul Atreides was the Kwisatz Haderach. Let’s fold some space and lick spice mélange off of some Bene Gesserit Witch’s torso.
10. FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR
Interstellar robots love the Beach Boys
Imagine waking up one day to find out that the whole world has moved on without you. That time has passed, but you haven’t aged. This happened in “The Flight of the Navigator” A young boy is discovered after having been missing for years, he hasn’t aged a day since he went missing. While under observation at an army medical base, he is called out to by a strange presence, that invites him to come on an adventure. The ship in this movie is cool, the robot alien, somewhat annoying in a Pee-Wee Herman kind of way. However, the movie seems to work. As the narrative unfolds, we learn about the robot alien, and a bit about ourselves. The creatures penchant for the Beach Boys helps to move this movie along at the right points. We eventually see resolution as the creature figures out how to deliver the main character back to the very moment he disappeared. It was as if nothing happened. I wanted to cruise the landscapes using this technological wonder. Time travel wouldn’t be too bad either.