2019年5月23日 星期四

Some Other Movies From 1987

In 1987 I was in the sixth grade and on my way to the seventh.  I remember that time fondly.  I have many good memories of riding my bike around the Seattle suburbs, and of getting into various forms of trouble with my friends.

The top 5 movies for 1987 were Beverly Hills Cop II, Platoon, Fatal Attraction, The Untouchables and Three Men and a Baby.  Even as a kid I failed to understand the popularity of the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, and I'm sure I'd have a lot of trouble sitting through Three Men and a Baby today.  The other three blockbusters of 1987 were all good.

Aside from Platoon, other critical favorites of 1987 were The Last Emperor, Wall Street, Moonstruck and Good Morning, Vietnam.  These are all still great movies that have stood the test of time.

Other good movies of 1987 included Angel Heart, Evil Dead II, Raising Arizona, Predator, Spaceballs, Innerspace, Full Metal Jacket, Robocop, Hamburger Hill, The Princess Bride, Prince of Darkness, The Running Man, Eddie Murphy's Raw and Empire of the Sun.  In terms of overall quality, I think the movies of that year were above average.

For worst movie I declare a tie between Masters of the Universe and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.  The former came out too late for its intended audience, and the latter was something nobody ever wanted.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: British Edition

1. Withnail and I

"Why trust one drug and not the other?  That's politics, innit?"

Occasionally you see movies that are such perfect inversions of other movies that you wonder whether or not the directors/producers of the more recent movie weren't aware of the other, earlier movie that their later movie seems to reflect.  In Withnail and I, two British guys suffer through a shared weekend, all the while unconsciously exploring the boundaries of their shared relationship.  In many ways this movie perfectly inverts Hunter S. Thompson's book (and possibly also the Bill Murray adaptation), all the while remaining essentially British, and also without apologizing for that fact.  If you ever want to see Acting with a capital "A," I highly recommend Richard A. Grant as seen in this movie.

Gay, but Not Hitting You Over the Head with It

1. Maurice

Homoeroticism in the English upper class.  Hugh Grant and James Wilby star in this Merchant Ivory production.  In this present age of CGI and spectacle I rather enjoy a good Merchant Ivory film.  Indeed, I do.

Fun Fact: both Julian Sands (remember him?) and John Malkovich almost secured the two leads in this movie.

Some Good Ones

1. Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children)

French movie about life in a boarding school during World War II.  The director, Louis Malle, also directed Atlantic City, a movie that I enjoyed very much.  If you've already seen and enjoyed Malle's American films, this one is worth seeking out.

2. Barfly

Mickey Rourke stars as an alcoholic working his way through another bender.  Charles Bukowski wrote the screenplay, and it's fairly autobiographical.  I liked it, but it didn't blow me away or anything.  Leaving Las Vegas covered similar territory much better.

Fun Fact: Frank Stallone, brother of Sylvester Stallone, plays one of the bartenders in this movie.

3. Batteries Not Included

"This is the 80s, Mason!  Nobody likes reality anymore!"

Seeing Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy together brought back memories of Cocoon, another movie in which they appeared together.  In this one they star as two residents of a derelict apartment building saved by tiny robotic aliens.  It's not awesome, but it's very watchable in that early 80s Spielberg/Amblin kind of way.

Fun Fact: When the residents run into Times Square you can see an advertisement for David Cronenberg's The Fly above the theater.

4. Hollywood Shuffle

I doubt few would argue that 1993's Meteor Man wasn't a dud, but Robert Townsend is much, much better in Hollywood Shuffle.  In this movie he basically plays himself: a black man trying to climb his way up through the Hollywood hierarchy.  It's a very good film that isn't afraid to look at the contradictions inherent in being an aspiring minority actor in Tinseltown.  I only wish Meteor Man had been as adventurous.

Fun Fact: A lot of the Living Color/I'm Gonna Git You Sucka crowd are in this too.  Keenan Ivory Wayans co-wrote the screenplay.

5. Wall Street

If you want to know exactly what kind of world Donald Trump comes from this movie's for you.  This, and to a lesser extent American Psycho.  Narcissism, my friend.  It's all about narcissism.  Or "greed is good," as the movie says.

And whatever happened to Charlie Sheen?  Stop, stop, I know the answer to that question, but really - what happened?  By the late 80s he was sitting on top of the world, right up there with the best of 'em.

Wall Street is a rock solid film from back when Oliver Stone was much more relevant.  Both Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas are at the top of their game in this one, ruining lives with a phone call and always hungry for more.  This movie has also aged very well, given that its subject matter - the relative goodness or badness of greed - is always going to be present in our lives to some extent.  It asks a lot of hard questions and doesn't answer all of them.  I like that.

Fun Fact: the realtor's "Sean and Madonna" comment is a reference to Sean Penn and Madonna, who were married and living in New York at the time.  Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen were also both students at Santa Monica High School, where they made short films together.

6. Some Kind of Wonderful

John Hughes wrote and produced, Lea Thompson is in it, late 80s - so you know what time it is.  It's also the usual love triangle/quadrangle sort of thing.  So yeah it's predictable, but everyone involved in it is so good you'll probably like it anyway.

Fun Fact: Tommy Lee's ex-wife Pamela Anderson is in this movie... somewhere.

7. The Believers

I guess when Martin Sheen wasn't filming his scenes for Wall Street he was doing this.  In The Believers he plays a therapist who crosses paths with a group of Santeria practitioners.  I'm not sure if I'd call this a horror movie; it's more like a thriller.  Whatever it is, it's well paced and is much better than most of the other "horror" movies from that year.

Her Vagina Has Teeth.  Really.

1. Wicked City

Anime concerning a world where humans and demons coexist.  The animation is primitive, but this one gets weird enough to be interesting.  In some ways it's not as explicit as you might think, but there's plenty of weird sex involving weird creatures.

Fun Fact: There was a live-action Hong Kong remake of this movie in 1992.  I doubt any fanged vaginas were to be found in the remake.

Some Bad Ones

1. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

The ghost of prom's past returns to regain her crown.  It would be decent if it had more sex and more violence.  As it is, it borrows heavily from a number of other, better horror movies without offering the same kind of payoff.

Fun Fact: There were four films in the original Prom Night series, with a reboot of the first film in 2008.

2. Escape from Sobibor

Good times in a Nazi concentration camp.  Alan Arkin stars in this British made-for-TV movie, with Rutger Hauer costarring.  It starts out well, but after the big reveal involving the ovens this movie just crawls by.  Schindler's List it most definitely isn't.

3. Less Than Zero

So some guy pukes into a bucket and then a toilet for half a night.  Big deal.  That was one of my friend's twenty-first birthday party.  I've been there, and it's definitely NOT the worst that things can get.

The trouble with this movie is that if you're going to call a movie "Less Than Zero" then someone has to hit BOTTOM, and I mean a real low point, like the characters in the novel do.  As it is there's an unspoken morality at play here, rather than the nihilism present in Ellis' book.  Robert Downey Jr. gives it his all, but there's something missing from the beginning, and that something is the courage to go all the way into the rabbit hole, to a point where general audiences don't usually venture.

Fun Fact #1: Brad Pitt, Anthony Kiedis and Flea are all in this movie for a few seconds.

Fun Fact #2: Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader would later appear together (sort of) in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in 2015.  Spader and Andrew McCarthy, Downey Jr.'s costar in Less Than Zero, also appeared together in the hit movie Mannequin, also in 1987.

4. The Hidden

This one is pretty dumb.  Kyle MacLachlan stars as an FBI agent (sort of), with some other guy as his partner.  They chase an alien around in the most half-assed manner, and in the end - surprise! - the alien dies.  This movie has quite a cult following, but I'm just not seeing it.

5. The Red Spectacles

Arty Japanese movie about... I have no idea what.  All I know is it's set in the late 90s, and there's a guy who skulks around in a trench coat.  I got about 1/4 of the way through it and had to pull the plug.

Cheesy but in a Good Way

1. Steel Dawn

Patrick Swayze engages in swordplay with a dude who looks like he could be the bass player for Manowar.  Don't ask me about the plot.  I couldn't really tell you what's going on there.

Question: Was it necessary to travel all the way to Tunisia to film this?  Why not just do it in Death Valley?  I suspect money laundering!


1. Nuts

Barbra Streisand stars as a woman accused of murder, with Richard Dreyfuss as the lawyer charged with her defense.  It's a fairly by the numbers courtroom drama, and even though the details are convincing I'm just not buying Streisand as a high class prostitute.  I really have no idea why someone thought she could carry this film.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1989
The Other Movie Oscars: The 1990s
Some Other Movies From 1991
Superhero Movies from October 2018 Onward (6)

2019年5月14日 星期二

Some Other Movies From 1989

Back in the 80s!  I'm getting there...

As of this entry, I've watched about 510 movies.  Not sure how many hours that would be, but movies after 2000 tend to be 2 hours long, while movies before that year are usually 1.5 hours long.  Even if they were all 1.5 hours long, that would still be about 765 hours, or 32 days.  A month of movies - at least.

And what was I doing in 1989?  Well, half that year would have been my last semester of middle school, and the other half would have been my freshman year of high school.  Imagine if you will a shy, retiring kid with thick glasses.  He's obsessed with comic books and horror movies, and he doesn't know how to talk to girls.  He has friends, yes, but he spends way too much time playing video games and feeling alienated.  That kid you're imagining is me.

The top 5 movies of 1989 were Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Back to the Future Part II, Look Who's Talking (remember those?), and Dead Poets Society.  I always assumed that Batman was the biggest movie that year, but apparently Last Crusade somehow galloped to first place.  Of these movies I think Dead Poets Society is my favorite, and it's also one of Robin Williams' best films.

Some critical favorites of that year were Born on the Fourth of July, Driving Miss Daisy, the above-mentioned Dead Poets Society, The Fabulous Baker Boys and My Left Foot.  I still like all of these movies, though I think The Fabulous Baker Boys was a bit overrated.

Other good movies of 1989 were Lean On Me, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Leviathan, Heathers, Pet Sematary, Great Balls of Fire!, The Abyss, Casualties of War, Black Rain, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Tango and Cash.  My favorite of these is definitely The Abyss, which was definitely the best action /science fiction movie of that year.

1989 was also a big year for horror movie sequels.  This year saw the release of The Fly II, The Toxic Avenger Part II, Fright Night Part 2, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.  The most horrifying of these horror sequels, Police Academy 6: City Under Seige was, sadly, a critical and commercial flop.

My least favorite film of 1989 was definitely Dream a Little Dream, another Corey Haim/Corey Feldman production.  Even in 1989 Feldman's Michael Jackson impersonations were tired, and for both actors it was all downhill from there.

A Great One

1. My Left Foot

If you dropped Daniel Day-Lewis in some incredibly remote location and said "ACT your way back to civilization!" he could do it.  He would.  He'd probably even get there before you did.  You'd find him sitting in the local bar with a big smile on his face.

In My Left Foot he plays an artist with cerebral palsy.  He chews the scenery throughout, and one can only wonder how someone can have so many decades' worth of great performances in them.  He won the first of his three Oscars for Best Actor with this film, and the director of this movie, Jim Sheridan, is no slouch either.

Some Good Ones

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

In terms of practical visual effects, this is one of the most inventive movies I've ever seen.  In terms of creating tension, this movie fails miserably.  It was of course the fifth one, and by 1989 people were getting tired of Freddy, but given that this is the fifth entry in the franchise it's better than it has any right to be.

If you ask me, I think what this film series needed was a larger, more coherent mythos for Freddy to inhabit.  It's kind of the opposite problem from what hamstrings the Hellraiser movies, which have a great mythos but lack a single compelling character.  Combining the two franchises might have been a more interesting than simply crossing over the Nightmare on Elm Street movies with the Friday the 13th movies in Jason Vs. Freddy in 2003.

Actually, now that I think about it, the Friday the 13th franchise was already crossed over with the Evil Dead franchise in Jason Goes to Hell.  Using that as a point of entry, the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead movies could have also provided Freddy with a mythos to work from.  Of course the studio executives who greenlit Elm Street 5 into existence probably weren't thinking that hard, but maybe in the future a screenwriter and/or director with enough vision might do something like this.  Plenty of people still love Freddy, and it would be worth attempting.

Fun Fact: You might want to go back and watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.  There's "a frequent debate in gay pop culture circles" as to how "gay" that movie is.  The screenwriter says its "gayness" was intentional, while others dispute this claim.

2. Fat Man and Little Boy

Roland Joffe directed this movie about the development of the atomic bomb.  Paul Newman stars as the general in charge of the project, with Dwight Schultz as Robert Oppenheimer, and John Cusack as one of the scientists working under him.  It's one of the best performances of Newman's career, and even though it's a bit melodramatic it's still a well put together movie.  Critics were not fond of it, but I think it does a good job of telling a very complicated story.

Fun Fact: If you look REAL hard Clark Gregg (a.k.a. "Agent Coulson") is somewhere in this film.

1. An Innocent Man

You just know if Tom Selleck goes to prison he's gonna get them cheeks busted.

Selleck stars as an aircraft mechanic wrongly accused of dealing drugs.  An Innocent Man features some truly bad dialogue and feels very much like a TV movie, but it gets better after Selleck goes to prison.

Fun Fact: The guy that played Jigsaw in the Saw movies is in this for a few seconds.

2. The Package

It's not exactly The French Connection, but this political thriller steadily improves after Gene Hackman arrives in the States.  Hackman stars as a military man tasked with taking a prisoner (Tommy Lee Jones) back to a court martial on the eve of a big "nuclear deal" between the U.S. and Russia.  My biggest complaint is that the military details are unconvincing.  The weapons some of the characters choose, and the portrayal of military procedure, are obviously wrong in many respects.

3. Drugstore Cowboy

Matt Dillon stars as the leader of a gang that spends most of its time robbing pharmacies and hospitals.  It's good, but given the reputation preceding this Gus Van Sant-directed movie I thought it would be a lot better.  It shares a lot of the same themes as Van Sant's later My Own Private Idaho.

4. Steel Magnolias

I suppose there's something schizophrenic in the fact that I can genuinely enjoy both A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Steel Magnolias, but there you go.  If you're at all familiar with Hollywood tearjerkers, you'll see how this movie sets up its sacrificial lamb early on, but the cast is great and the performances are first-rate.  Julia Roberts starred in this the year before Pretty Woman, with Sally Field, Shirley Maclaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and Daryl Hannah in supporting roles.

5. Scandal

Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.  Whew.  I totally get why Val Kilmer wanted to "Kilmerize" her.  No idea what she looks like now, but back in the late 80s that woman was stunning.

In Scandal Whalley-Kilmer stars as a woman who does some swinging in early 60s London.  John Hurt costars as her confidante and erstwhile pimp.  This movie was filmed the year after Willow, when Whalley-Kilmer's career was still on the upswing.

6. Roger & Me

If you find yourself wondering why the hell Michael Moore is still famous, I suggest going back and watching Roger & Me.  It's still a great documentary about life in a small town after the local corporation has left.  Moore, with all his grandstanding and love of confrontation, has definitely rubbed me the wrong way before, but this movie offers a fairly balanced portrait of what was going on in Flint, Michigan in 1989.

One That's Either Not Very Good or Ahead of Its Time

1. Society

Opinions vary on this movie.  Critics point to the "humor," though it's debatable as to whether the humor is intentional or if it's a kind of absurdity based on metaphor.  For my part I liked it, and it's worth watching for the ending alone.  I'd like to share some details regarding the plot, but it's hard to do this without giving the ending away.  Let's just say that all is not as it seems for a high school student in Beverly Hills.  Brian Yuzna directed, and this movie is in some ways similar to the Re-Animator films he produced.

Fun Fact: the star of this movie, Billy Warlock, might be familiar as one of the lifeguards in the Baywatch TV show.

Some Bad Ones

1. Blaze

Hey it's Paul Newman again.  In this one he's playing the governor of Louisiana, a man enraptured with Blaze Starr.

And whatever happened to Lolita Davidovich?  And for that matter Robert Wuhl?  Wikipedia tells me that Davidovich and Wuhl are doing TV these days, their 80s glory days long behind them.

This movie starts out good, but the relationship between Newman and Davidovich isn't enough to sustain the whole thing.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first half hour - and Davidovich is just as beautiful as I remembered - but after that first 30 minutes this movie is dead in the water.

2. Chances Are

One of the corniest, most contrived things I've seen in a while.  Robert Downey Jr. stars in this latter day version of Heaven Can Wait, with Cybil Shepherd and Ryan O'Neal in supporting roles.  Critics liked it, but I found it excruciating.

3. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

I'm a little hazy on the geography here.  Apparently Crystal Lake was much larger than the first seven movies in this franchise suggested?  And apparently it's possible to travel from Crystal Lake to New York via boat?

The biggest problem with this movie is that it's boring.  Honestly, who gives a fuck about these high school kids and their boat trip?  Who gives a shit about their personal dramas?  People watch the Friday the 13th movies to watch these people get fucked and killed, and in this film there's precious little of that.

And the soundtrack - straight from the darkest heart of the 80s.  It really kills the horror vibe.  Not sure what they were thinking there, but maybe someone owed someone else a favor.

Fun Fact #1: Kelly Hu, who played Lady Deathstrike in the second X-Men movie, is also in this film.  This was her first movie.

Fun Fact #2: According to this movie, the sewers of New York flood with toxic waste every night.  Who knew?

4. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Mostly a lot of screaming and running around.  There's a little girl with some kind of psychic link to Michael Myers, but no one listens to her because she's a little girl and she's mute for most of the movie.  Then there's Donald Pleasence, who no one listens to either because he's a crazy old man who likes endangering children.  Everyone else in this movie?  They die in predictable ways.

So Bad It's Good

1. No Holds Barred

Long before Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was starring in blockbusters, WWF superstars like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan were trying to parlay their superstardom into movie careers.  I think Roddy Piper had a ton more onscreen charisma than Hogan, but you can't fault Hogan for trying.

In No Holds Barred Hogan stars as a wrestler courted by a big television network.  It was 89, so even though Hulkamania was on the wane Hogan was still a household name.  It made sense for "Shane Productions" (i.e. the WWF) to cast him as the lead in their first movie.

The strangest thing about this movie isn't Hogan's dialogue or the ridiculous action scenes (one in which Hogan takes on an armed robber with... pies), but rather the extreme behavior of the television executive who wants Hogan for his show.  Between The Emperor from the Star Wars films and this guy, I'm not sure who's more EVIL.

Related Entries:

The Other Movie Oscars: The 1990s
Some Other Movies From 1991
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (6)
Some Other Movies From 1993

2019年5月7日 星期二

"What Chinese Want" by Tom Doctoroff

"...digital technology has not transformed consumer behavior at an elemental level.  For all the savvy of youth and the broader awareness of the outside world, Chinese internet users' underlying conservatism is clear.

This book is in some ways very similar to the previously reviewed The End of Cheap China.  Both the author of this book and the author that book are businessmen with a stake in China, both are (at least to some extent) Westerners, and both have written books for Western business interests.  Author Shaun Rein operates a consulting firm, while Tom Doctoroff manages an advertising agency.

But thankfully that's where the similarities end, because where Shaun Rein wrote a more anecdotal, less objective account of China, Tom Doctoroff delivers a book simultaneously grounded in fact and sweeping in scope.  In his analysis of Chinese consumers he delves deep into historical, political and cultural trends, all the while maintaining a laser-like focus on the modern Chinese character and how it influences spending habits both within and without China.

Beyond that there's not much else to say.  More general readers will be put off by the first few chapters, which concentrate more on aspects of marketing to the Chinese consumer, but their perseverance will be rewarded by wider discussions Chinese society later on.  The author does repeat himself a few too many times, but on the whole What Chinese Want is an excellent book, with a lot to say about its subject.

Related Entries:

"The End of Cheap China" by Shaun Rein (2012)
"Elite China" by Pierre Xiao Lu (2008)
"China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (2010)
"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)

2019年5月2日 星期四

"The End of Cheap China" by Shaun Rein (2012)

"The real answer of [sic] how China's rise will affect the world will be far more nuanced than either camps [sic] will admit, and will probably fall somewhere between the dovish and hawkish arguments.  The philosophies of these two camps are largely shaped and perpetuated by people with very little on-the-ground knowledge of what China was and what it is becoming.  Only rational thinking, based on objective and legitimate data about China will ensure that corporations and countries properly understand how China's disruptive rise will affect them."

Shaun Rein is the Managing Director of the China Market Research Group.  He also writes a regular column for CNBC on business in China.  It's worth noting that he's at least part Chinese by ethnicity, that he calls himself a foreigner while clearly being able to pass for Chinese in China, and that his wife is related to some of the higher-ups in the CCP hierarchy.

The title of the book refers to the fact that wages in China are rising, and that as a result the cost of doing business there will also rise.  Companies wanting to remain competitive in that market will have to pursue a strategy of combining exports with domestic ventures.  The burgeoning Chinese middle class needs goods and services produced in-country, and businesses addressing this need face a bright future.

And before I get too critical, I want to say that I agree with the quote above, even if I question the author's motivations for saying so.  I think that competing ideologies have infected a lot of the U.S.-China debate, and we're at the point where positions are hardening beyond anything warranted by the evidence on either side.  In 2019, one wonders whether or not we might be entering a second Cold War, this time between the U.S. and China.  It will take open minds to avert such a freezing of relations, and this book goes some distance toward a softening of positions.

This said, my main problem with this book is its claim to objectivity.  This claim to objectivity is undermined by two things, namely: 1) the author is clearly compromised by his desire to drum up business for his consulting firm, and 2) his family relations would seem to imply a certain "holding back" when it comes to the true workings and responsibilities of the communist government in China.

And for another thing, it's ridiculous to say that the government of China has never overstepped its bounds.  This is not to pick on China, but simply to state a fact equally true of any government.  Every government oversteps its bounds.  Recent news of Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and historical incidents only support the fact that yes, the government of China has overreached itself on several occasions, and yes, the government of China really does oppress people.  Whether it does so more than the American government, or whether it oppresses its own people in their own collective interest is not an argument I want to get into here.

Secondly, it's a little to easy to glamorize the central government of China and blame everything else on "corruption," as if one thing wasn't causing - or at least allowing - the other.  Either the government is central to the operation of all its branches or it isn't.  If officials at the local level are corrupt then ALL of the government is, to some extent, corrupt.  I'll agree that all governments share corruption to some extent, but glamorizing the central government while demonizing the local governments is - fortunately - not the kind of doublethink I have (or want) to engage in.  The author's discussion of corruption is often like saying "Oh, that man's feet are gangrenous, but the rest of him is fine."

All of the above said, this is a thought-provoking book and I would recommend it.  I'm not sure that I agree with the author's ultimate conclusion, that engagement with China above all else will make the world a better place, but I definitely think that the nations of the world need to engage with China to some extent, and that this engagement should be informed by accurate information on either side.  There's really too much rhetoric floating around now, and it's clouding debate on both sides of the Pacific.

So is Shaun Rein a shill for China?  No, I don't think so.  Self-interested, definitely, but some of his criticisms of Chinese society are too pointed for him to be a simple shill.  He does venture into the usual "hurt feelings" notions of the communist leaders, but thankfully he doesn't remain there for long.

Oh and by the way, I completely understand the worries over food in China now.  If I ever go there - which I'm planning to do at some point - I'll remember the author's anecdotes relating to "Starway" and "swill oil."  In a word: Yikes.

Related Entries:

"Elite China" by Pierre Xiao Lu (2008)
"China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (2010)
"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)
"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)