Greed, for Lack of a Better Word, is Good

Wall Street is the quintessential portrayal of 80’s greed. The 1980’s were known for money making schemes and giant brick phones. After the success of Platoon, director Oliver Stone chose an equally cutthroat battlefield to explore. Like Platoon, Stone drew inspiration from himself and his stockbroker father. I’m not the biggest Wall Street expert, but I understand how sleazy and underhanded it can get. Wall Street takes place in 1985 despite releasing in 1987 since insider trading was at an all time high at the time. Bud Fox is an aspiring New York City stockbroker who dreams of one day being as wealthy as businessman Gordon Gekko. Despite his reputation as a producer, Michael Douglas was born to play the unscrupulous corporate raider.

Gekko is a different kind of villain who establishes trust, then betrays you for financial gain. Douglas truly earned his Best Actor Academy Award win with his famous speech that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Wall Street inspired a generation of stockbrokers who lived by Gekko’s divisive motto. Though confusing at times, the passionate acting helped me understand stock trading better. Charlie Sheen is equally committed as Bud who becomes just as greedy as his mentor who exchanges insider information. Sheen is on the same acting level as his father Martin Sheen who represents the honest working class union. His father’s Bluestar airline is what leads to redemption for Bud.

Wall Street is filled with great performances from John C. McGinley, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, and James Spader, but there is one outlier. Daryl Hannah truly earned her Worst Supporting Actress Razzie win as Bud’s material obsessed girlfriend. Hannah was nowhere near as committed as Douglas and everyone knew it. Even her Blade Runner co-star Sean Young wanted her fired. She practically reads all of her lines with no character. Making Wall Street the only movie with an Oscar and a Razzie to its name. Fortunately the Oscar caliber work overshadows the minor miscast. When it comes to corporate greed, Wall Street has all the answers for how not to make a quick buck.

Wall Street

Bud Fox at the office with Gordon Gekko

Followed by: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

It’s Never Too Late

Scrooged is A Christmas Carol with a modern twist. Now the setting is 1988 New York City and the stingy old miser is young TV executive Frank Cross. Although I hadn’t seen many Christmas Carol adaptations at the time, my mom recommended Scrooged and I’ve had mixed thoughts ever since. Scrooged is a PG-13 Christmas movie that takes full advantage of the rating. There’s a cynical tone, sexual jokes, casual swearing, and surprisingly gruesome Oscar nominated ghost effects. Yet Scrooged is only the second most cynical Christmas movie Richard Donner directed after Lethal Weapon. The comedy film was meant to be a return performance for Bill Murray who took a break after the success of Ghostbusters. Murray’s improvised jokes are very hit or miss. Apparently he hated working on the movie and clashed with the writer. Cross is definitely a jerk who mistreats his staff, hates Christmas, and only cares about commercialism. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Frank says “Bah, Humbug,” but a live TV broadcast of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is playing in the background.

There are several fun cameos in ridiculous IBC shows and throughout the movie. All of Murray’s brothers play members of Frank’s family. James Cross is Frank’s well meaning brother who replaces nephew Fred. The role of Bob Cratchit is filled by two different characters. Tolerable comedian Bobcat Goldthwait is meek employee Eliot Loudermilk who becomes increasingly desperate throughout Christmas Eve. A very young Alfre Woodard plays Frank’s underappreciated secretary Grace who has a son who won’t speak. Calvin is a different kind of Tiny Tim who learns to say “God bless us, everyone” from the 1951 Scrooge. Robert Mitchum and John Glover also do well as sleazy executives. Instead of Jacob Marley, John Forsythe plays Frank’s deceased boss Lew Hayward as a disturbing rotting corpse. Scrooged is different than most adaptations, because the three spirits don’t arrive all at once. New York Dolls singer David Johansen plays the Ghost of Christmas Past as a dirty Taxi driver. We see Frank’s past obsession with television and his poor homelife where Brian Doyle-Murray plays his father.

Scrooged also emphasises the romance between Frank and Karen Allen as community outreach worker Claire. Although I cringe everytime she says “Lumpy,” it is nice to see a Scrooge-like character end up with a Belle-like character in the end. I’m less fond of Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Her interpretation is a sweet, but hostile fairy who continually beats up Frank. Sometimes it works, but the joke gets old after awhile. She shows him Grace’s poor homelife and his brother playing TV trivia. The Ghost of Christmas Future is a standard grim reaper with a TV screen for a face and wailing spirits inside. An elevator shows Frank a future where Calvin is institutionalized, Claire lost hope in people, and he dies of unknown causes. I think I bought Murray’s transformation into a decent man a lot more in Groundhog Day 5 years later. Frank kind of drones on and on in a live broadcast where he embraces Christmas. At least a joyful rendition of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” is enough to unite the audience. Scrooged is less than humbug, but not quite the Christmas classic it should be.

7. Scrooged

Frank Cross gets beat up by the Ghost of Christmas Present

God Bless Us, Everyone

A Christmas Carol (1984) is my personal favorite adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. I may even call it the definitive version since it’s very faithful to the original novella. A Christmas Carol is a story that everyone learns at a young age, but I didn’t truly understand the book until I read it in my 7th grade English class. We were shown the 1984 made-for-TV film and I’ve loved it ever since. American Academy Award winner George C. Scott shines as the English old miser Ebenezer Scrooge. Scott previously played Fagin in a 1982 made-for-TV adaptation of Oliver Twist. His take on Scrooge scoffs at Christmas and collects money at the exchange. Michael Gough plays one of the charity collectors that he turns down. Despite his nationality, Scott was born to say “Bah, Humbug!” Frank Finlay is an unsettling Jacob Marley who first approaches Scrooge in a haunted carriage.

The three spirits are all faithful to the book including the Ghost of Christmas Past played by an honest Angela Pleasence. She’s not exactly a living candle, but her candle extinguisher is incorporated. We see Scrooge’s lonely childhood as he was rescued by his sister Fan. Like the 1951 version, Fan is older and Scrooge is responsible for his mother’s death. There’s a bit more drama with Nigel Davenport as their father who sends him away to apprentice with the kindly old Fezziwig. The romance with Belle is short-lived as Scrooge is shown the life he could’ve had. Edward Woodward is a jolly Ghost of Christmas Present, but I like that he puts Scrooge in his place on more than one occasion. The Cratchit family are particularly loving and celebratory. David Warner is an optimistic Bob Cratchit and Susannah York is his opinionated wife.

Anthony Walters is a very small and sickly Tiny Tim who says his iconic line “God bless us, everyone” more than once. Roger Rees is narrator and a cheerful Fred who spends Christmas with his wife and friends. Scrooge is also shown a struggling homeless family in order to increase the impact of Ignorance & Want. The faceless Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is far more ominous with a piercing musical sting accompanying it. Scrooge denies every sign of his own death until he uncovers the name beneath the snow on his tombstone. His redemption is effective thanks to Scott’s natural energy and enthusiasm. The Cratchits get their prize turkey and Scrooge makes a heartfelt apology to his nephew. Endings may vary, but I do love seeing Scrooge embrace a healthy Tiny Tim as a second father. A Christmas Carol (1984) is so good, they should’ve shown it in theaters.

6. A Christmas Carol 1984

Ebenezer Scrooge takes a stroll

Past, Present, and Yet to Come

A Christmas Carol (1982) is the first feature-length animated adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol (1969), and the Academy Award winning A Christmas Carol (1971) were also animated, but they were all TV specials. A Christmas Carol (1982) was made in Australia by Burbank Animation Studios. They made several book adaptations including Oliver Twist (1982). The animation is simple and very 80’s. Ebenezer Scrooge is the most stylized with his pointy nose and chin. Australian actor Ron Haddrick is a crotchety old miser who says “Bah, Humbug! to Christmas.

Bob Cratchit, Fred, and the charity collectors are all about the same. The ghost of Jacob Marley is frightening with the added bonus of seeing his past play out before his death. Scrooge learns the error of his ways in a direct way kids will understand. The Ghost of Christmas Past is very different with what appears to be a young Greek boy taking the role. Scrooge’s past focuses on his lonely childhood saved by his sister Fan, joyful boss old Fezziwig, and lost love Belle who married someone else.

The Ghost of Christmas Present isn’t too different, but his giant appearance is more similar to Santa Claus with a red robe and white beard. He spreads cheer and shows Scrooge his nephew and the Cratchits as usual. A very sick looking Tiny Tim says “God bless of everyone.” The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is particularly spooky. The only difference is Scrooge seeing a more generous man in his place and never explicitly seeing the name on his tombstone. Scrooge becomes truly generous by the end and even brings presents to Fred’s home. A Christmas Carol (1982) is a simple cartoon with the same great message.

A Christmas Carol 1982

Ebenezer Scrooge takes a stroll

What is this, Hell Week?

Private Benjamin made a soldier out of Goldie Hawn. Judy Benjamin is your average blonde socialite who winds up joining the Army. Think Legally Blonde if law school was replaced by basic training. Private Benjamin was never on my radar, but my mom suggested it after I watched the similar Disney Channel movie Cadet Kelly. Though it is more adult with an R rating mostly for nudity. Private Benjamin was actually the first movie written by Oscar nominated female friendly filmmaker Nancy Meyers. The concept is simple, but the way to get there is unexpected.

Judy is so unlucky in love that her husband dies on their wedding day. She only joins the Army when a recruiter tricks her into thinking it’s like a resort. Everything at basic training is hilarious thanks to Goldie Hawn’s Oscar nominated “fish out of water” performance. Eileen Brennan also deserved her nomination for playing Captain Lewis who immediately dislikes Benjamin’s girly attitude. She was one of 2 cast members who returned for a TV spin-off. The cast is particularly good with roles of varying size for Albert Brooks, Harry Dean Stanton, Hal Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Kay Place, P. J. Soles, Robert Webber, and Armand Assante.

Though she complains at first, Private Benjamin decides to prove herself. She practically turns her fellow servicewomen into a sorority. Her fellow servicemen grow to respect her after she helps win the war games. Though she’s often underestimated, seeing Judy grow more confident is great to see. She only backslides after meeting her third potential husband Henri. His French ties to the Communist Party force her to choose between love and duty, but she ultimately chooses herself. Private Benjamin is an empowering unlikely hero’s journey.

Private Benjamin

Private Benjamin salutes

Stephen King Takes the Wheel

Maximum Overdrive is the first and thankfully only movie ever directed by Stephen King. The King of Horror should seriously stick to writing after this Razzie nominated stinker. Maximum Overdrive is based on King’s short story “Trucks” from the Night Shift collection. Admittedly the concept of technology becoming sentient and attacking humans has promise, but King goes for a bizarrely campy tone. Maximum Overdrive isn’t the least bit scary and the ACโšกDC soundtrack doesn’t help.

King only hired the band because he was a fan. Since the writer was either on drugs or drunk at the time, he vowed never to direct again. All of Earth’s machines come to life thanks to a comet that may or may not be caused by aliens. King himself cameos as a man that an ATM calls an a**hole. Pop machines, lawn mowers, arcades, and a ton of trucks all terrorize rednecks in a small town. Emilio Estevez plays the would-be hero Bill and Laura Harrington plays his hitchhiking love interest Brett.

Pat Hingle is the obnoxious truck stop owner Bubba. There’s also a little league player, a pair of newlyweds, and the usual overly hypocritical religious character. Pre-Lisa Simpson Yeardley Smith is particularly annoying with a Southern accent. Most of the trucks have no personality apart from a toy truck with a prominent Green Goblin head on it. Seeing the Spider-Man villain acknowledged in a 1986 horror movie is strange to say the least. Even stranger are the trucks deciding not to kill when they’re being fuelled up. Maximum Overdrive reaches maximum levels of stupidity.

Maximum Overdrive

The Green Goblin truck

A Messy Divorce

The War of the Roses is a cautionary tale about divorce. This was a much better use of Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito’s talent after The Jewel of Nile ended the Romancing the Stone franchise. The War of the Roses is named after a historic battle and a 1981 book of the same name. As a director, Danny DeVito is known for darkly comedic stories centered around flawed characters. So a movie about divorce was just right for him. It’s even set around Christmas. DeVito plays divorce lawyer Gavin d’Amato who tells a silent Homer Simpson all about the war of the Roses.

Dan Castellaneta is the man in the chair since The War of the Roses was a James L. Brooks produced Gracie Films production that premiered just 9 days before The Simpsons aired. It even came with a fitting Tracy Ullman short titled “Family Therapy.” Oliver and Barbara Rose seem like the perfect married couple at first. They have two kids, several expensive possessions, and a lavish house that they turned into a home. Then you start to notice the passive aggressive arguments and unusual behavior.

The German housekeeper Susan, their son Josh played by Sean Astin, and daughter Carolyn are all caught in the middle of it. Along with Oliver’s dog and Barbara’s cat. When Barbara asks for a divorce, Oliver refuses to leave. The War of the Roses is believable at first, but insults turn into full blown violence. Turning their beloved house into a battlefield. The ending is so over-the-top that you have to laugh at its absurdity. Especially when the Roses wind up hanging from the chandelier. The War of the Roses offers an important lesson in understanding ones spouse.

The War of the Roses

Barbara and Oliver Rose hang from the chandelier

Terror has No Shape

The Blob (1988) is a B movie with a big budget. The remake is another 80’s version of a 50’s monster movie. Much like The Thing (1982) or The Fly (1986), The Blob (1988) shows just how gory the concept can get. The remake retains the small town, teenage protagonists, non-believing police, and an unlucky old man finding the Blob falling to Earth in a meteor. Except this version has an 80’s appropriate cynical tone. The Blob is pinker, faster, more sentient, and able to grab people with tendrils. Deaths are horrifying with the dissolving process shown in graphic detail.

Its weakness to cold is the same, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few unexpected surprises. The stereotypical jock is made to seem like the hero until he dies almost immediately. Instead 80’s delinquent Brian is the unlikely hero. A young Kevin Dillon plays Brian and first time “scream queen” Shawnee Smith plays cheerleader Meg who starts to warm up to him. The Blob’s rampage racks up a high body count in familiar places like the movie theater and unfamiliar places like the sewer.

The biggest difference between the original and remake is the origin of the Blob. 50’s audiences accept an alien from outer space, but 80’s audiences need a conspiracy theory (or a reverend professising the end of the world). So the Blob is now a bioweapon gone wrong that the Government is trying to cover up. Men in hazmat suits are just as bad as the creature they created. The Blob (1988) may be in it for the kills, but there is a brain hidden under all that mayhem.

The Blob 1988

The Blob eats

Remake of: The Blob (1958)

Play the Game

The Dead Pool has nothing to do with Deadpool. It’s actually the last installment in the long-running Dirty Harry franchise. Clint Eastwood is too old to make more, but he was happy to return 5 years after Sudden Impact. This time Magnum Force stunt coordinator Buddy Van Horn is the director. It certainly feels that way, since The Dead Pool is the silliest film yet. Even the catchphrases, like the one about opinions being like a**holes, are a little silly. Inspector Harry Callahan is old, but he’s more famous than ever when he puts away a violent crime lord.

Callahan deals with the press including the morally grey, romantically interested journalist Samantha Walker. A young Patricia Clarkson plays the part along with early roles for Liam Neeson and even Jim Carrey. Neeson is British horror movie director Peter Swan who starts the titular dead pool of celebrities including Callahan. Carrey has done an Eastwood impression many times, but it’s still jarring to see him in one of his films. Johnny Squares is a rocker who OD’s in a dead pool inspired murder.

Other celebrities die while Callahan continues to stop petty crimes and other criminals. Inspector Al Quan is his latest unlucky Asian partner who unsurprisingly knows kung fu. The Dead Pool feels a bit disconnected with no role for Albert Popwell or gratuitous nude scenes. It’s violent, but in an over-the-top way. The murderer ends up being an obsessed horror fan who uses a remote controlled toy car to kill Callahan. I shouldn’t be surprised that a harpoon gun finishes the job in the end. The Dead Pool has an easy hour and a half runtime, but it failed to give Dirty Harry a proper send off.

5. The Dead Pool

Dirty Harry takes aim

Preceded by: Sudden Impact

Go Ahead, Make My Day

Sudden Impact left an impact four movies into the franchise. Even in the 80’s, Dirty Harry managed to become fresh again. Even though Inspector Harry Callahan stops a diner robbery similar to the first movie, his latest catchphrase “Go ahead, make my day” is just as, if not more iconic than the original. I never realized the line came so late in the franchise. Although The Enforcer was meant to be the end of a trilogy, Clint Eastwood returned with more creative control. Sudden Impact is the only sequel directed by Eastwood himself. Which is probably why it feels more atmospheric and well-shot.

That being said, Sudden Impact is too dark even for Dirty Harry. It’s more like a “rape revenge” film with Sondra Locke playing the victim of a brutal assault on her and her sister. Locke was a longtime collaborator and romantic partner of Eastwood who feels more like the star of the movie. Despite Locke’s advancing age, Jennifer Spencer is a young artist who kills her assailants one by one. There’s an unmistakable divide between her story and Harry. Callahan is taking out crime bosses, sinking cars, and engaging in bus chases.

He leaves San Francisco for San Paulo in order to investigate the murders. There are no partners unless you count his bulldog. Albert Popwell returns as a much more helpful weapons supplier. Callahan is mostly ignorant of Spencer as the killer when they have a love affair. Her assailants are all nasty individuals who get what they deserve. Graphic violence is expected along with one random nude scene. Although the plot is uncomfortably realistic, Callahan still has to kill the final bad guy on top of a roller coaster. Sudden Impact is messy, but it made my day.

4. Sudden Impact

Dirty Harry takes aim

Preceded by: The Enforcer & Followed by: The Dead Pool