Thursday, December 8, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: December 1986

In December 1986 I was heavy into my obsession with G.I. Joe action figures and the cartoon series used to promote the Kenner line of toys, so with the approach of my ninth Christmas I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of several new figures and vehicles to complement my growing collection. As such I was hardly aware of, let alone interested in, any of the films released to cinemas that month, although three would become staple viewing on cable television during the following two years and one later became a preferred film during my young adolescence.

Anyone seen Witchboard, a horror film about a group of people terrorized and killed by evil spirits after summoning them with a Ouija board? I think my older sister, a scary movie junkie, rented this once. That's how I saw it. The only notable thing about it is that it stars Tawny Kitaen, an actress best remembered for having once been married to David Coverdale and being featured in his Whitesnake music videos.

Before Clint Eastwood became a perennial Academy darling with tailor-made films to please Oscar voters, he directed throwaway genre films like Heartbreak Ridge.

The Mosquito Coast from director Peter Weir and Crimes of the Heart by Bruce Beresford, two films I know virtually nothing about, were released this month in obvious bids for end-of-year Oscar notices. In the case of the latter it paid off with nominations for Sissy Spacek, Tess Harper and the screenplay.

"Feed me Seymour!" Little Shop of Horrors starring Rick Moranis, with Steve Martin in a minor role as the biker dentist who gets high on nitrous oxide and walk-on cameos by Bill Murray, John Candy, Jim Belushi and Christopher Guest, opened to some fairly strong critical reception and did modest box office, finishing 25th for the year with about $39M.

Three Amigos is a comedy I thoroughly enjoyed when I was about 10 years old and we used to quote it to each other in school. Looking back now I realize it's a terribly unfunny film that dares to believe it's sufficient to throw three star comedians (Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short) together to generate hilarity. It should come as no surprise to anyone that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay. Not even director John Landis could salvage this mess.

I found Oliver Stone's Platoon pretty damn harrowing when I was a child. I loved the fighting and action and blood, but I recall being mildly traumatized by the death of Willem Defoe's character and the callous way in which his own comrade-in-arms Tom Berenger left him to die. I recall the fear as Defoe's character crawls his way through an underground tunnel not knowing what's ahead, the nighttime firefights in the jungle that were absolute chaos with no sense of who's an enemy or a friend. It's a film that impacted me in all the ways it was probably intended to. It's been a while since I last saw it, so I wonder how well it holds up.

The Neil Simon adaptation Brighton Beach Memoirs is a movie I have fond memories of watching as a kid. I didn't know much about Jewish cultural heritage or even my own place in it, but something made me feel very connected to the story. Perhaps because it's a coming of age story more than it is about a Jewish teenager in Brooklyn. Jonathan Silverman would go on to a listless career afterward, but here he is great.

In other news:

At the same time Brighton Beach Memoirs was arriving in cinemas, Neil Simon's third part of the trilogy, Broadway Bound, was making its Broadway debut.

10th - Elie Wiesel accepts the Nobel Peace Prize.
14th - The first non-stop and non-refueled round-the-world flight, Voyager, takes off in California.
23rd - Voyager arrives home in California, completing its record-setting flight.


2nd - Desi Arnaz, ex-husband of Lucille Ball succumbs to lung cancer at 69.
26th - The bride of Frankenstein (or his monster) herself, Elsa Lanchester dies at age 84.
29th - Seminal Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky dies, also from lung cancer, at 54.
31st - Actor Lloyd Haynes, who almost had a career-defining role on the fledgling "Star Trek" TV series until Gene Roddenberry replaced him with Nichelle Nichols after the pilot, dies from lung cancer aged 52. He later went on to star in the James L. Brooks series "Room 222" as teacher Pete Dixon.

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