Monday, October 3, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: October 1986

25 Years Ago I was probably just beginning to learn my multiplication table in Mrs. Hansen's third grade class. I don't remember much else about what I learned that year. I remember studying European geography, learning the countries and possibly their capitals. Yugoslavia was still a unified country and I remember, even at age 8, that my classmates were immature in laughing at the name because it was like, "You go slav." The things that stick in our memories.

I certainly wasn't going to the movies so much, but I've seen a half dozen or so of the films that opened in October of 1986. There's little that's particularly notable. The list of releases contains the usual mix of prestige projects aiming for the awards season and popular fluff (action and comedy, mainly) to keep the investors happy.

The month begins with the release of Down by Law, Jim Jarmusch's follow-up to his 1984 indie classic Stranger Than Paradise. I'm a Jarmusch fan, but Down by Law remains unseen by me. Writing for the New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "an upper, though you probably won't realize this at first." That to me sums up Jarmusch's writing and directing style. No one makes movies that look or sound like Jarmusch's films. They're always a welcome relief from the dreck that comes out of Hollywood.

How's this for arcane trivia? Playing for Keeps is not only the (almost) film debut of Marisa Tomei (she had a bit part in The Flamingo Kid), but it's the only live-action film written and directed by the Weinstein brothers, those Hollywood moguls who founded Miramax and then the Weinstein Company. It's about three young people who buy a large house in a small town and turn it into a rock and roll hotel, where the kids rule. It sounds like Home Alone before Macaulay Culkin and without robbers. The New York Times' Caryn James said it probably should have gone direct to video. Ouch.

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas star in Tough Guys about two old-time gangsters who get released from prison and try to adjust to life in modern times. This is what happens when Hollywood no longer knows how to use typecast actors from 3 decades prior. This is the kind of crap we see Al Pacino and Robert De Niro doing now - embarrassing self-referential films that misunderstand and under-utilize their talents.

Children of a Lesser God opens and would earn William Hurt his second of three Best Actor nominations in a row, and Marlee Matlin the Academy Award for Best Actress at age 21, making her the youngest recipient of the award in history, a record that still stands today.

Both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola had new movies released in October 1986. Scorsese had The Color of Money, featuring the hot young actor Tom Cruise and the old pro Paul Newman. Their roles in the film were not dissimilar to those descriptions. Newman would go on to win a long overdue Best Actor Oscar for his part, one year after receiving a lifetime achievement award.

Coppola's film was Peggy Sue Got Married, which sort of marks the beginning of his downfall as a director. Okay, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish aren't masterpieces, but they're good. So is Peggy Sue, but it's much more forgettable.

The third big prestige picture is Roland Joffe's The Mission. It had already won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or earlier in the year, but didn't win the approval of the big papers.

She had bit parts in two films earlier in the year, but Kristy Swanson's real film debut, her first starring role, came in the Wes Craven-directed Deadly Friend about a boy who uses a computer microchip to reanimate the body of his dead next door neighbor. This modern-day Frankenstein story completely fails in its attempt to create any kind of complex moral dilemma. It's little more than a prurient curiosity at this point, memorable for Anne Ramsey's head exploding after Swanson wings a basketball at it.

Soul Man, starring C. Thomas Howell as a white man who poses as a black man to win a scholarship to Harvard Law School, could have been much more offensive than it was. And that's about the best compliment I can offer it. It sort of fails at any kind of real consciousness raising and instead goes for the odd cheap joke and steers clear of real drama, which the subject matter probably calls for.

Other goings-on this month included the centennial celebration of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on the 28th.

Mets and Red Sox fans will know what happened on the 27th when NY won game 7 of the World Series. Of course Boston was up 3 games to 2, poised to win it all when Bill Buckner famously bobbled a grounder off Mookie Wilson's bat which allowed the Mets to win game 6.

5th - Legendary film producer Hal B. Wallis at age 87. Nineteen-time nominee (with one win) in the Best Picture category at the Oscars and a two-time recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg award for producing. He was producer or executive producer on such films as The Maltese Falcon, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Sergeant York, and Casablanca

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