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

Rescuing the Joan

The Jewel of the Nile couldn’t keep the adventure going. Lacking the charm that made Romancing the Stone so enjoyable. Since Robert Zemeckis was busy directing Back to the Future in 1985, Lewis Teague had to take over. The Jewel of the Nile was plagued with problems from the start. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were forced to return, and Turner hated the script. Douglas had to do rewrites, footage was lost, crewmembers died, and the new setting was unbearably hot.

The Jewel of the Nile now takes place in the desert. It’s just not the same as the jungle. Jack T. Colton and Joan Wilder are still together on the yacht that he bought at the end of the first movie. Of course they have relationship problems which brings us back to square one. Joan gets kidnapped by an Arab ruler named Omar under the guise of writing his life story. When he turns out to be a terrorist, Jack must rescue her with unlikely help from Ralph.

Aside from Holland Taylor as Joan’s publisher, Danny DeVito is sort of redeemed as the smuggler. It’s in the desert that the titular “Jewel of the Nile” is revealed to be a person. A holy man played by entertainer Avner the Eccentric. Aside from a grounded airplane attack, the sequel doesn’t do much to stand out. The Billy Ocean song “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” is the best thing to come out of it. Since The Crimson Eagle or Racing the Monsoon were cancelled, The War of the Roses is the closest thing to third installment. The Jewel of the Nile doesn’t shine nearly as bright.

The Jewel of the Nile

Jack and Joan in an African village

Preceded by: Romancing the Stone

The Quest for El Corazón

Romancing the Stone is an old fashioned adventure for the modern age. It’s basically Robert Zemeckis’ version of Indiana Jones. Bare in mind this was before Zemeckis was a beloved director. His previous failures made 20th Century Fox hesitant to accept his next project. Not only was Romancing the Stone his first hit film, it paved the way for Back to the Future and so many other modern classics. Romancing the Stone is a lot like an old adventure serial. Kathleen Turner is still very sexy in the role of romance author Joan Wilder. Wilder lives alone, but longs for the kind of man she writes about in her books.

She gets her wish when her sister Elaine is kidnapped by smugglers searching for a treasure map that she possesses. There are at least three separate parties who want the treasure. An untrustworthy Danny DeVito is the less violent antiquities smuggler Ralph. His cousin Ira is the one holding Elaine, but there’s someone worse than them. The murderous Colonel Zolo is a member of the secret police who hunts down Joan in Colombia with the intention of securing the treasure. Michael Douglas arrives later on as bird smuggling scoundrel Jack T. Colton.

Together Jack and Joan trek through the jungle, evade gunfire, and deadly crocodiles until they find El Corazón, which ends up being an emerald gem. Though it seems like Jack is simply romancing the stone from Joan, their passionate romance is helped by Douglas and Turner’s chemistry. Romancing the Stone is a 1984 film just like Temple of Doom with a hard PG that includes a steamy bedroom scene and a graphic dismemberment. The climax is so exciting that it gives Joan everything she needs to write her next book. Romancing the Stone has action, humor, and heart.

Romancing the Stone

Jack T. Colton and Joan Wilder at the waterfall

Followed by: The Jewel of the Nile

That’s a Knife

Crocodile Dundee II is basically the first movie in reverse. Rather than go from Australia to New York, Mick “Crocodile” Dundee and his girlfriend Sue Charlton go from New York to Australia. Except that it isn’t nearly as simple or easy going as the original. Although Paul Hogan made a name for himself with Crocodile Dundee, the sequel was all he did at first. Despite being married at the time, Hogan began dating his co-star Linda Kozlowski.

Despite the added controversy, Crocodile Dundee II wasn’t half the success the first movie was. The biggest problem is tone. Apart from rehashing old jokes like the knife scene, the sequel doesn’t even feel like a comedy. That becomes apparent when Mick talks down a suicide jumper and ends up dealing with a Columbian drug cartel. Sue’s ex-husband who photographed a powerful drug dealer is murdered and she ends up getting kidnapped. Leaving Mick as her only chance of rescue.

I know Mick was tough before, but seeing him swing into a building window is kind of ridiculous. It’s only after Sue is rescued that they decide to hideout back in Australia. John Meillon is the only noteworthy returning actor who played Mick’s mate Walter in the first movie. The movie goes full Rambo when Walter is held hostage and Mick is forced to hunt the cartel one by one. I say Rambo, but there’s barely a body count since the sequel is PG. Crocodile Dundee II fails at both being funny and having convincing action.

Crocodile Dundee II

Mick “Crocodile” Dundee and Sue in Australia

Preceded by: Crocodile Dundee & Followed by: Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles

That’s Not a Knife

Crocodile Dundee is a quintessential Australian movie. G’day mates! Crocodile Dundee was purposefully created by writer & star Paul Hogan to give Australia a mainstream hit. The movie ended up exceeding expectations by being one of the highest grossing films of 1986 and even receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Which is rare for a comedy, let alone one with such a simple premise. Crocodile Dundee begins in Australia with the tough, but friendly Mick “Crocodile” Dundee. Mick is a likeable bushman who introduces his customs to traveling American reporter Sue Charlton.

They explore the Outback, save a couple of Kangaroos, interact with Aboriginals, and enjoy some wildlife on the barbie. Hogan and Linda Kozlowski’s chemistry is so genuine that they ended up falling in love in real life. Ironically, Australia isn’t the most memorable part of the movie apart from Sue being attacked by a crocodile while wearing a sexy one-piece. Crocodile Dundee really works as a “fish out of water” story. Sue takes Mick to New York where he experiences life in the big city. Although it’s strange to treat an Australian like some kind of alien, the best jokes are Dundee’s reactions to the harsh modern world.

He encounters crossdressers, prostitutes, and cocaine for the first time. Yet he remains friendly with every new mate he encounters. Like his black chauffeur played by Reginald VelJohnson. His most iconic moments include stopping a purse snatcher with a soup can, controlling animals with his fingers, and scaring a punk with his knife. Since it’s the 80’s, of course Sue has a fianceé who’s clearly a jerk. A simple declaration of love is made even funnier when New Yorkers help them come together in a busy subway. Crocodile Dundee is a fresh take on a local Australian hero.

Crocodile Dundee

Mick “Crocodile” Dundee wrestles a crocodile

Followed by: Crocodile Dundee II

The Sensational Susie Diamond

The Fabulous Baker Boys is as fabulous as it is sensational. Writer and first time director Steve Kloves took a chance with an old fashioned low budget film about modern day piano players. The Fabulous Baker Boys did fail at the box-office, but it became one of the most beloved movies of 1989. The Fabulous Baker Boys is notable for two reasons. This was the first movie to feature real life acting brothers Jeff & Beau Bridges. It’s far from a gimmick since their natural chemistry is perfect for the Baker brothers. Beau is the older more responsible and optimistic Frank who runs the show, but continues to get them lousy gigs. Jeff is the younger more cynical and disillusioned Jack who’s no longer passionate about the job.

Frank has a family back home, but Jack has a crappy apartment, one night stands, a sick dog, and a lonely young girl who drops by from time to time. After 15 years it becomes clear that the piano players are in desperate need of a singer. A young Jennifer Tilly stands out as one of the terrible potential singers, but it’s Michelle Pfeffer who steals the show. The Fabulous Baker Boys was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. Best Cinematography for its dreamlike Seattle setting, Film Editing for its creative camera work, and Original Score for its infectious mix of jazz and pop standards. It could’ve won either award, but the most shocking loss was Pfeffer for Best Actress. Jessica Tandy winning for Driving Miss Daisy was more of a lifetime achievement award.

Meanwhile, Pfeffer won every other major award with the most mesmerizing performance of her career. Former escort turned lounge singer Susie Diamond is an icon thanks to Pfeffer’s beauty, spunky attitude, and sexy singing voice that she hadn’t done since Grease 2. Susie saves the Fabulous Baker Boys with several memorable performances. The sexiest, most iconic, and often imitated scene features Susie singing “Makin’ Whoopee” in a gorgeous red dress on top of Jack’s grand piano. Jack and Susie fall for each other until they end up making whoopee themselves. That of course breaks up the trio and Jack ends up ruining every meaningful relationship in his life. He apologizes to everyone, but the ending is left ambiguous. The Fabulous Baker Boys is a smooth examination of small time show business.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Susie Diamond sings “Makin’ Whoopee”

Let the River Run

Working Girl epitomizes the high powered businesswoman of the 1980’s. From big hair to shoulder pads. Working Girl earned high praise thanks to Oscar nominated director Mike Nichols and a dedicated A-list cast. Best Picture and Best Director went to fellow comedic drama Rain Man, but my mom recommended Working Girl just as much. Partly because it was a much better Best Actress nominated role for Melanie Griffith. Most of her previous work gave me the impression that she was just another sex symbol, but Tess McGill is so much more than that. She’s a New York secretary who just wants to be taken seriously in the workplace. Griffith has plenty of sexy scenes, but Tess has the brains to match. Though she was battling cocaine addiction at the time, Griffith gives the performance of her career.

The rest of the cast was either really big in the 80’s or just starting out. The former includes Philip Bosco as a business owner and Olympia Dukakis as a personal director. The latter includes Alec Baldwin as Tess’ sleazy boyfriend, Oliver Platt as her sleazy former boss, and Kevin Spacey as a sleazy potential boss. Ripley herself Sigourney Weaver is the perfect condescending female boss. Katherine Parker pretends to bond with Tess, but she outright steals her ideas before a freak skiing accident. Tess is only able to prove herself while pretending to be her boss. Joan Cusack plays the eccentric best friend who gives her a professional makeover.

Both Weaver and Cusack were also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but the men are just as notable. Indiana Jones himself Harrison Ford is the perfect kind hearted businessman. Jack Trainer was originally part of Tess’ business plan, but they wind up falling in love. Which complicates things when certain truths are revealed. I don’t fully understand Mergers & Acquisitions or most of the business talk, but it was great to see Tess tell Katherine off and get the respect she deserved. The only Oscar Working Girl won was a much deserved win for Best Original Song. “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon is a spirited tune that makes Working Girl worth celebrating.

Working Girl

Tess comes between Jack and Katherine

The Life of Puyi

The Last Emperor is the first western film aloud entry into the Forbidden City. A fact the movie takes advantage of by showcasing the beauty and mystique of the golden palace. I was always curious to see The Last Emperor, but like the Forbidden City itself, I remained totally blind to it. Though directed by the Italian Bernardo Bertolucci and filmed in English, The Last Emperor is the first predominantly Asian movie to win Best Picture. Unlike Gandhi, screen legend Peter O’Toole is the only major western actor in the movie. Something about him in a foreign land seems to attract awards attention. Not since Gigi has a movie won all 9 of its Academy Awards. Including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. Once again there were no acting nominations even though most of the Chinese cast deserved recognition.

John Lone plays Puyi, the titular last emperor of China who took the throne when he was just 2 years old. The film is framed with Puyi in prison, but nearly 3 hours are spent covering his entire life from emperor to citizen. As a toddler, Puyi is too childish to make his own decisions or appreciate the significance of his power. He wants to leave his sheltered life several times, but he does learn to accept his role later in life. As a child, Puyi tries to hold onto his youth, but it costs him his beloved wet nurse. The Last Emperor is actually the first PG-13 Best Picture winner. There’s one F bomb and some violence, but it’s mostly instances of brief nudity and sexual encounters. As a teenager, Puyi is given spectacles and his choice of an Empress.

Joan Chen plays his mostly content wife Wanrong who ultimately succumbs to opium addiction. Vivian Wu plays his unhappy secondary consort Wenxiu who ultimately leaves him. I know Puyi was probably harsher in real life, but the movie holds back a bit. Though he has many servants, Puyi’s most productive connection is with his English tutor Reginald Johnston played by O’Toole. Puyi learns a lot about western culture, but leaving the Forbidden City isn’t by choice. I don’t fully understand eastern politics, but I know Puyi ended up a puppet of the Japanese during the war when he reclaimed his title as Manchurian emperor. When the Red Army imprisons him, Ying Ruocheng plays the warden who reeducates him. When his sentence is up, the movie comes full circle when the elderly Puyi visits his former throne. The Last Emperor is a powerful story with humble beginnings.

The Last Emperor

Puyi sits on his throne