Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.

Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China. 20th Century Fox 1986.
Big Trouble in Little China. 20th Century Fox 1986.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve had this on my radar for a long time, but I never noticed the bad guy is a wizard until I read the description quite recently, even though now that I look there is clearly a wizard looming in the background on that poster.

A martial arts movie starring Kurt Russell isn’t terribly attractive to me, but bringing magic into the mix grabs my attention. I don’t have high hopes for it being respectful of Asian cultures, but I don’t think it will be a factor that ruins my enjoyment.

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Something Wild

Something Wild. Orion Pictures 1986.
Something Wild. Orion Pictures 1986.

Before watching the movie:

Here’s something lighter after the last couple of weeks. Jeff Daniels plays an office drone who gets kidnapped into an adventure by a woman with his polar opposite personality.

This was an automatic suggestion I’d never heard of before. Sometime I ought to just rifle through Jeff Daniels’ filmography, since I keep finding interesting stuff I never knew he was in.

The poster style makes me think it’s from earlier in the 80s than it is, but everything I can point to as to why could also apply to the early 90s.

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Crocodile Dundee

Crocodile Dundee. Paramount Pictures 1986.
Crocodile Dundee. Paramount Pictures 1986.

Before watching the movie:

Culture clash and Australian stereotypes. An icon in American perception of Australia. I’ve been waiting a long time to get access to this one.

For all the fame of this movie, the only thing I’ve seen that comes directly from it is the memetic “that’s not a knife”. The rest is a complete blank. Just a cartoonish expert of the Outback in somebody else’s world.

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Short Circuit

Short Circuit. Turman-Foster Company 1986.
Short Circuit. Turman-Foster Company 1986.

Before watching the movie:

I’m a bit surprised at the fact that I only heard of this movie in the last decade. An eighties comedy sci-fi(ish) adventure about a cute robot coming to life seems like the sort of thing I would have been watching once a week as a child. In fact, I only became aware of its existence and cult status after meeting the internet hivemind that loves this movie.

Now that I’m actually going to watch it, all I can think of is that lightning doing magical things to machines seems dated even for the 80s.

 

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Clockwise

Clockwise. Moment Films 1986.
Clockwise. Moment Films 1986.

Before watching the movie:

A downward spiral of comic misadventure concerning getting to an appointment on time. Pretty self-explanatory. Since John Cleese decided to be involved in it, I expect it won’t be entirely predictable, and he’ll at least turn in a funny performance.

Maybe it’s overkill to do two Python-adjacent movies in a row, but this has been kicking around on my list for a while and it attracted my interest this week.

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The Golden Child

The Golden Child. Paramount Pictures 1986.
The Golden Child. Paramount Pictures 1986.

Before watching the movie:

I first heard of this movie as the project that made Eddie Murphy back out of Star Trek IV. It was probably for the better, since the comedy of that movie comes from the serious characters being dumbfounded by the 20th century, and a wisecracking, street smart native would have made it more farcical.

Besides that, I know what the blurb says, about a social worker searching for a Tibetan boy destined to save the world, and I recall there being some kind of prop/replica in the quiet footpath with movie memorabilia at King’s Island before they replaced that area with something more interesting for their target clientele. Probably a gift shop, I don’t remember.

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The Best of Times

The Best of Times. Kings Road Entertainment 1986.

Before watching the movie:

This is an interesting approach to a nostalgic high school sports movie. Normally, such a movie would either actually have high school characters through whom the writers and audience can wax nostalgic, and the main stories I’ve seen where adult characters want to recapture their youth, either they just reconnect with old friends or time travel is involved. Here, a bunch of adults stage a rematch of The Big Game as adults, around fifteen years later.

They’d be in their late 20s/early 30s by my reckoning, so they should still be young enough to do it decently, but not as well as they used to. Before I did the numbers, I was expecting late 40s, old enough to be firmly in middle age and midlife crises. Not that I was a star athlete in high school, but I’m now realizing the ages I can expect to see are basically what’s coming up next for me. That’s a chilling thought to go into a comedy with.

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Highlander

Highlander.Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment 1986.

Before watching the movie:

While I know the basics of the Highlander series, I’ve never seen the television series or movies. I know the fact that there are movies plural is bad, but this is the good one.

I guess the plot is just a bad Immortal hunting a good Immortal, which as I understand it is pretty much the television show boiled down into a one-installment plot.

Sean Connery mentors the centuries-old main character, because he needs training for some reason.

It sounds like an excellent example of modern fantasy or magical realism, depending on how much the Immortals’ magic is involved.

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The Fly

The Fly. Brooksfilms 1986.

Before watching the movie:

Oh. Another horror film. Even though I’m not fond of horror. I’m more interested in this because it seems more like “creepy sci-fi” than horror, though. It’s hard to even place a good handle on what “horror” is, and that’s probably because I never get as scared as I’m told I’m supposed to by horror.

It occurs to me that Jeff Goldblum is an odd choice for horror. I thought for a while that he’d actually be rather good as a victim protagonist, but then he still has to act as the human/fly monster as well. So, it should be good to see him act out of type?

I really hope I get a good, safe scare out of this. But then, can a scare really be safe and still scary?

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