Uncle Buck [1989)

Good one.

John Hughes.

It really started with National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Writer.

Chase.

Ramis was at the stick.

Egon from Ghostbusters.

Hughes really took off with Sixteen Candles.

He directed.

And that’s the first I saw of the big trilogy.

Those ’80s movies which transcend decade and genre:

Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.

The middle one is the best.

Hughes needed a dry run with Sixteen Candles.

The Breakfast Club was the home run.

The grand slam.

Which leaves some holes.

European Vaction [writer].

Weird Science [hasn’t aged well…unless you’re a horny boy].

By Pretty in Pink, Hughes had relinquished direction to Howard Deutch.

Bueller [director] hasn’t aged that well.

WarGames [piece on #QAnon in the works] is much, much better.

Some Kind of Wonderful is another Deutch-directed hole.

Crosses paths with Back to the Future [Lea Thompson].

All of which is to say that Uncle Buck pales in comparison the the true Candy/Hughes masterpiece:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles [sic].

No Oxford comma.

Holes.

She’s Having a Baby [director].

PTA [director] was his second great auteurist masterpiece after The Breakfast Club.

But in Hughes, auteur once again becomes AUTHOR [in the sense of writing].

Hughes was no camérastylo savant–no Orson Welles or Hitchcock of angle and mise-en-scène.

It’s the story that matters.

And yet…Judd Nelson’s neorealist performance in The Breakfast Club must have made Hughes the Rossellini of the ’80s…if for only a moment.

[and Nelson the its James Dean…briefly]

The Great Outdoors [writer] is worse than even Uncle Buck.

Which is to say, Uncle Buck is WAY better than The Great Outdoors.

But both pale in comparison to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Christmas Vacation was a comeback.

Jeremiah S. Chechik owes his career to Hughes [writer] and Randy Quaid [genius].

Hughes only directed once more after Uncle Buck.

Curly Sue.

Sad.

And his writing went strictly downhill after the rollercoaster pinnacle of Home Alone.

Money isn’t everything.

 

-PD

 

Romancing the Stone [1984)

This movie was very dear to me as a kid.

It’s one of those which came on TV all the time.

And it always pulled me in.

For me, nothing in this film beats the scene in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas huddle ’round a marijuana campfire in the fuselage of a crashed plane.

Taking strong belts of Jose Cuervo tequila.

Basically sitting in a giant bong 🙂

But the best part–the cutest part…is KT eating olives.

An old jar.  To be sure.

But they last awhile.

And liquor kills all germs, right?

Who cares if the dead pilot took a few swigs long ago 🙂

It’s such a cozy scene.

Perhaps it’s what the Danish mean by hygge.

And it’s an ambiance I’ve only seen approached in Vertigo (Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart by the fireplace in his apartment…after he rescues her from the waters of San Francisco Bay) and, surprisingly, The Pink Panther (David Niven and Claudia Cardinale by the fireplace…Claudia on the tiger-skin rug).

But Romancing the Stone, unlike those two films, is a full-on romcom.

Sure, there’s action…to entice the leery men 🙂

But there’s no denying that this is a romantic comedy.

And so I’m glad to join the ranks of romcom lovers.

Glad to christen a new category on my site with this fine film.

Some of it hasn’t aged so well (like Alan Silvestri’s sequenced electro-samba soundtrack), but most of it has…so kudos to director Robert Zemeckis.

Zach Norman plays a gay villain in such a way that one cannot help thinking of John Podesta.

Danny DeVito, who plays Norman’s cousin, is definitely the funniest thing in this film.

Neither Turner nor Douglas are particularly funny, but they are graceful and charming (respectively).

I would even add that Michael Douglas encapsulates a sort of masculinity which has been on the wane since the 1980s in America…UNTIL DONALD TRUMP WON THE FUCKING PRESIDENCY!

Yeah 🙂

It is trippy.

To watch this movie late at night.

To relive childhood memories.

And then to rouse oneself to one’s feet and think, “Is Donald Trump really the President? Is this not some kind of dream???” 🙂

I know for many it is a nightmare.

So I will just leave that train of thought there.  For now.

Actually, there is a more serious villain in this film:  Manuel Ojeda.

He is certainly a BAD HOMBRE 🙂

[sorry, can’t help it]

So yeah…

The bulk of the action takes place in Colombia.

It’s like William S. Burroughs, in search of yage, writing back to Allen Ginsberg.

Though the narrative becomes evermore-farfetched as it unfurls, it’s so much fun that we don’t much care 🙂

Buried treasure?  Check.

Wrestling crocodiles?  Check.

Mr. Dundee and The Goonies were from this same era 🙂

Alfonso Arau is here too…with his little “mule” 🙂

[I guess, on second thought, that is a drug-smuggling joke]

This was the performance which preceded Mr. Arau’s all-world turn as El Guapo in Three Amigos.

Yeah…the plot really gets ridiculous right after the waterfall 🙂

But this is a feel-good movie!

And we need this kind of stuff.

Sitting down to ENJOY a movie 🙂

What a concept!

 

-PD

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

里見八犬伝 [1983)

[LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI (1983)]

Woof.  I really got my years mixed up.  Not by much, but a few years in technological terms is quite meaningful nowadays.  And it started really exploding in the 80s.

In some respects we have Japan to thank.  And while we might think strictly of Atari when remembering the techno 80s there were other advances outside of home entertainment.

But yes.  I thought I was watching a movie from 1979.  I misread the box.

I missed the fine print (Made on Mars).

We have previously seen Sonny Chiba as an ass-kicking karate expert, but here the name of the game is swordplay.

Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Really, this film makes my recent proclamation of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as being a weird film almost completely meaningless.

THIS is a weird film!

It is weird even when it’s not weird, and when it’s actually weird?  This is some far-out David Icke kind of stuff.

But first a word about the atrocious title.

For all I know there may actually be a story of seven samurai in Japanese history, but the reference (and plot) to eight samurai is to Kurosawa what 14 Minute Abs would be to 15 Minute Abs.  Put differently, “If you liked The Seven Samurai, then you’ll LOVE The Eight Samurai.”  Or, “Purchase admission to Seven Samurai and receive an additional samurai at no extra cost.”

But wait…there’s more!

Director Kenji Fukasaku really had a dodgy band of art directors/set designers to work with.  It’s not that they don’t have the chops…it’s their taste which we question.  And the music supervisor should absolutely be made to sit in the corner and listen to John O’Banion for all eternity.

Plain and simple:  this film is as cheesy as a Velveeta milkshake.  Indeed.  Bottoms up.

And yet, for all of that maudlin naivete it still passes muster as not only a watchable film but (dare I say?) a good film.  Not great, good…

Why?  Mostly the acting.  Yes, amidst this candy store of sugary-sweet special effects and fantasy costumes there are moments of real, inspired acting with actual technical proficiency.

Hiroko Yakushimaru is really pretty good as the princess (always has to be a princess in these kinds of stories).

Hiroyuki Sanada plays what for perceptive Western audiences would be the Han Solo character (though Solo’s precedent is almost certainly in the older, classic samurai films).

Sadly, Sonny Chiba doesn’t really get a chance to shine here.  There are all sorts of ridiculous hand-weapon battles, but not much in the way of empty-fist war ballet.

As with the ubiquitous princess, we also have lots of crystals…glowing crystals.

If it seems I’m making fun of this film, that’s because I am.  But the truth is that I really liked it.

Would I watch it again?  Sober?  Probably not.

But am I disappointed to have sat through it?  Absolutely not.  It was entertaining and, in its own way, touchingly artful.

One last note.  Mari Natsuki is one bad bitch.  Ever wanted to see a smoking-hot undead person (reptilian?) bathe in a pool of blood before lasciviously kissing her grown son?  Me neither.  But I saw it.  And in some strange way my life is richer for having had that experience.  Happy viewing!

-PD