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.

The Final Days

The Final Days.
Multicom Entertainment Group 1989

Before watching the movie:

Long ago, in another time, a corruption scandal went all the way to the top and there were consequences. This is the story of what was happening in the White House as Nixon’s power and psyche crumbled.

As interesting as the intrepid reporting profiled in All The President’s Men was, it’s a story told from the outside. It’s a mystery, but one where every reader will know who did it, just not the path the sleuths took to figuring it out. As I watched that movie, and more so as I read the book, I was more interested in the legal and political processes that, as the story went on, seemed increasingly out of focus as Woodstein followed the money. So I was glad to find that their followup book was a reconstruction of what was happening in the Nixon White House as everything fell apart, put together from interviews with basically everyone involved except Nixon himself. The Happily Never After of the political fairy tale.

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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.

Loophole

Loophole.
Brent Walker Productions 1981.

Before watching the movie:

I think it was Martin Sheen leading the movie that caught my attention, but I’m interested in seeing his character accidentally fall into helping a crime gang, as well as Albert Finney as the mastermind.

I thought this was going to be more comic, but it seems to be listed as heist drama.

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The Monster Club

The Monster Club. Sword and Sorcery Productions 1981.

Before watching the movie:

This is three horror stories as framed by a vampire and the actual author of those stories going to a dance club. The packaged stories could be anything, but that frame sounds bonkers, and they seem to be positioning the rest of the movie as a bit of a spoof too.

It looks like a pretty minor cult classic that didn’t get much outside of the UK, but it features some pretty big names in monster movies, so I’m interested in seeing how this goes.

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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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