Movies of my Yesterdays: The Secret of My Success

I’m not sure how this evaded my first pass through the filmography of Michael J. Fox in middle school/high school when I discovered Back to the Future. Maybe it was because the library didn’t have it. This one, I found in a rummage sale. I feel like the idea of seeing his character get rich successful quick was an element that attracted me, but mostly it was just that I was a fan of his work.

The Secret of My Success. Rastar 1987.

I think there’s a reason I get a bit of a similar feeling to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in parts of this movie aside from the fact that they both use “Oh Yeah” by Yello, which I’m sure is the main link between them. Perhaps it’s a general 80s yuppie aesthetic.

Brantley Foster, fresh out of college from Kansas, arrives in New York with the promise of a job in big business and high hopes of growing an impressive career from it, only to find that the job evaporated the day he arrived. Stymied everywhere by entry level jobs demanding experience he hasn’t got, he seeks an audience with Howard Prescott, the CEO of Pemrose Corporation, with whom he has the sketchiest of family ties. Impressed by his brief moment with his “nephew”, Prescott begrudgingly gives him a job in the mailroom. Eager to make the most of this opportunity, Brantley uses his position in the mailroom to learn everything about Pemrose’s operations, and after answering a phone in a vacated office and making good executive decisions for the harried manager on the other end, Brantley hatches a plan to create a fictional executive named “Carlton Whitfield” from his vantage point in the mailroom and commandeer that vacant office to prove his worth to everyone who won’t give “Brantley from Kansas” a chance. Not only do “Whitfield’s” ideas shake up the status quo so much that Prescott worries that he’s a spy from the corporate raider trying to make a hostile takeover of Pemrose, they get him close to the beautiful executive of his dreams Christy Wills. However, his time in the mailroom also got him the attention of an executive’s wife seeking revenge on her cheating husband by having an affair of her own, the executive in question turning out to be Howard Prescott himself.

While the first few times I watched this movie I learned a lot about how hostile takeovers work and vaguely got the idea that the trendy but panicked cuts to expenditures would cause a panic in the market while bold expansion could strengthen the company’s value, what struck me this time is just how much inefficiency is in the upper levels of Pemrose. Of course, Brantley notes in his studies that there are departments with overlap that don’t talk to each other or do their job well, but for all the talk of cutting the company’s expenses to the bone, no mention is made of options like reducing executive salaries, putting the space taken by the company gym to better use, or not using the limousines from the motor pool to chauffeur around non-employees (though Prescott’s wife is technically the company owner). The Suits really do live comfortably on the backs of the trench workers they’re ready to turn out in the streets to raise stock prices a few cents.

The directorial choices often feel like a dream. There are multiple mopey montages set to sad power ballads. Flashbacks aren’t accompanied by any visual language identifying them as flashbacks, leaving it to the intelligence of the audience to work out that this already happened. There’s also one or two dreamy imagine spots just intercut with the scene like they’re supposed to be diegetic. The climax also feels a bit underwhelming. After spending so long frantically keeping all these plates spinning with some big, madcap close calls, Brantley gets outed relatively quietly.

This movie is the main source of my interest in mailroom work. I’ve also since gotten experience that translates well to a corporate mailroom, but mostly I always thought what I saw Brantley, or rather his slacker partner, doing in the mailroom, was work I could handle pretty well. Even that looks better than anything I’ve done until my latest job. And there are plenty of “worked their way out of the mailroom” stories, even if most didn’t do it with the flash of Brantley Foster.

When I first saw this movie I was a bit entranced by not only the elegance of the executive lifestyle, but also the raw independence of Brantley’s meager life on his own in a new city. Having lived through my own “starting out alone in a new city” and gotten jaded by the excesses of the wealthy, a lot of the shine has worn off this movie, but there’s still a kind of melancholy splendor to it. It’s a more mature movie than I could really appreciate at first.

Jane and the Lost City

Jane and the Lost City.
New World Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

The legend of the comic strip “Jane” is of a series of contrived pretenses to get the attractive young woman character to lose her clothes, especially around soldiers, drawn as a morale booster for British soldiers in WWII. When I was investigating the background of what this movie is based on, I couldn’t even get much more out of Wikipedia, because the legend is that pervasive. But that just made me even more curious how this pulp adventure-sounding story could relate to that beyond jamming an attractive girl named Jane whose clothes keep falling off into the plot.

I was able to find an article that traces a somewhat more comprehensive history (part 1 of 4, sequential parts are backward in the archive for some reason), where I was able to learn that it started as a high society satire/romance comic a bit like how I imagine early Blondie was before it fossilized around Dagwood’s suburban atomic family, and only later did the titillation creep in, and the war only took it over still later than that, but that reaches the end of the scope of the article, so while I have an impression that Jane was getting into war-related scrapes as an officer’s secretary, I still don’t have much of an idea of how that translates into a movie described as “Winston Churchill sends Jane on a mission to retrieve diamonds from a lost African city before the Nazis can get them.”

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Rewind: Adventures in Babysitting

Yesterday’s Movies began in December 2009. I’m marking ten years of … uh, zeitgeist hitting the fan, apparently, with a look back at the first movie I reviewed on a weekly update schedule.

Adventures in Babysitting.
Touchstone/Silver Screen Partners III 1987

I remember this movie positively, so I’m surprised how negative my review sounds. My topics still might not necessarily flow into each other, but I try to be coherent on at least the level of paragraphs. I’m pretty sure my original review is more jumbled than the movie seemed to me at the time.

While Thor is still a random character to be enamored with for the 80s, his film appearances in the last decade have certainly raised his relevancy now. In 2009, if I even knew that Marvel Studios was making a Thor movie, I was aghast and perplexed that someone thought he was a movie superhero. His first two solo movies didn’t do much to change my mind, but as an ensemble player and in Ragnarok, I enjoy him a lot now.

Chris’s boyfriend cancels on their anniversary dinner at the last minute, and Chris ends up agreeing to babysit Thor fan Sara and her older brother Brad, who has a freshman crush on Chris. When Chris’s friend Brenda spends all her money running away to the bus station downtown, Chris takes her charges into the city, along with Brad’s lecherous friend Daryl. A fast succession of misadventures soon causes them to be targeted by a murderous gang of car thieves.

It’s a lot easier to complain about movies than to discuss what’s good or analyze them. I still think Daryl’s initial portrayal is way over the top, but that comes from a combination of him being a kid who doesn’t know or care what’s not okay in a time when they didn’t know as well what wasn’t okay. Everyone’s characterizations as they’re introduced are a little heavy-handed, it’s just that Daryl’s really hasn’t aged well.

For a city as diverse as Chicago, it seems a little odd that the three different music venues visited are all into rhythm and blues. It’s good music, and the Babysitting Blues is a highlight of a scene, but I think it reveals where someone’s taste in music lay.

I think Sara’s love of Thor might be meant to draw a parallel between comic book adventures and the gang’s series of travails. Every time they get themselves out of trouble, they quickly land in a new kind of it. Also Thor may a bit of an odd choice, but he definitely is one of the easiest comic book superheroes to accidentally cosplay as, which leads to the most important Sara scene.

Looking back at what I was writing ten years ago, I think it’s easy to see how much I’ve grown into this. I don’t always feel like my writing makes sense, but I’ve developed a sensibility that I don’t think would let something that disjointed get published now. A good movie deserves better than a pile of disconnected complaints.

Masters of the Universe

Before watching the movie:

This is a movie based on a set of toys designed by adults trying to come up with what kind of story would feel most empowering to five year old boys in the 80s. That is the standard it should be held to.

I’m not directly familiar with the Masters of the Universe franchise. I mostly know it through osmosis, but apparently Eternia being a planet distinct from Earth is not a concept unique to this movie. I always considered MOTU a pure fantasy setting, but it seems to take whatever elements make exciting stories, and again, the core concept is for five year olds, so the mashup isn’t inappropriate. I’m still not fully comfortable with Skeletor being a spacefaring warlord subsuming planets into his empire, but this can’t go as poorly as Highlander 2 did.

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Predator

Predator. 20th Century Fox 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Survival sci-fi horror starring a ripped commando who shoots stuff. I’m not sure if the Predator franchise eventually blended with the Alien franchise just because they’re both survival sci-fi horror, but I think this is more action and less gore than Alien, at least that’s how it presents itself.

I like the angle of humans encountering a species more capable than themselves that is intentionally an intimate threat to them. Extraterrestrials are often threats in the form of invasions or mindless monsters, but the Predator is, I understand, a sapient being optimized biologically and technologically for hunting.

I suspect that there is less machine gun fire and more running and hiding than suggested by the poster.

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Can’t Buy Me Love

Can’t Buy me Love. Apollo Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Among “contrived reasons for two people who wouldn’t normally interact to be stuck together”, “I will pay you a thousand dollars to be my girlfriend” is a pretty contrived one. It looks like he’s not even lonely, he’s just trying to increase his social standing.

It looks like there’s a little inverse-Pygmalion happening, where he brings her into his life and she helps him fit in? That is probably not what happens, but if it is, that could be a pretty forward-thinking concept for late 80s Hollywood.

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Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon. Silver Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I get the idea that the original Lethal Weapon isn’t as popular as 3 and 4. I’m not familiar enough with the franchise to know why.

Certainly, the most important part of a buddy-cop movie is the character dynamics, making the plot a canvas upon which to apply banter. Which also makes it difficult to know what to expect from this movie, apart from how it seems to have done well.

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Innerspace

Innerspace. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t recall at the moment if this started as a direct remake/sequel to Fantastic Voyage, was merely inspired by it openly, or just has a similar concept, but I do know that I was first made aware of the existence of Innerspace when researching Voyage. I have dim recollections that it might be a “suggested by” treatment of the novel sequel to Voyage?

Anyway, I also just discovered it has Martin Short as the hapless fellow who doesn’t realize he’s got a tiny explorer inside him, which ramps up my interest in it. Also, the idea of cutting back to comedy sequences outside caused by what’s going on inside reminds me of Osmosis Jones, only with live action/VFX instead of cartoon animation.

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Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons. Amblin Entertainment 1987.
Harry and the Hendersons. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I get a sense this movie was conceived as a response to the success of E.T. Instead of an alien hiding in a suburban family’s home, it’s a sasquatch. This time around the entire family is in on the secret (and the dad seems to be the one taking point on how to handle hiding him), but there’s still government people looking for him and he can’t stay forever. Not a total knockoff like Mac and Me, and produced by the same companies, this might be more of a spiritual sequel.

I know nothing about what any of the family does other than John Lithgow, but I assume the kids play with Harry, do cute kid stuff with him, and are generally the main catalyst for sasquatch antics.

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Critical Condition

Critical Condition. Paramount Pictures 1987.
Critical Condition. Paramount Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I honestly didn’t know this movie existed five minutes before selecting it. It’s a Richard Pryor vehicle in which he apparently gets mistaken for a doctor while trying to escape the psych ward he faked a plea of insanity to get into.

It’s exciting going into a movie blind. I have generally a good impression of Richard Pryor, though I can only come up with two or three movies I’ve seen him in, and one was Superman III. I can’t think of another one that I’ve seen that didn’t show up here.

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