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.

The Beverly Hillbillies

The Beverly Hillbillies. 20th Century Fox 1993.
The Beverly Hillbillies. 20th Century Fox 1993.

Before watching the movie:

While it was never really a favorite, more of something not disagreeable between other shows I did like, I recall there was a period in my youth when I watched a lot of The Beverly Hillbillies. Boy, those yokels who don’t know how they’re supposed to use egregious amounts of wealth, right? Actually I recall it using both extremes to mock the other. The Clampetts may have been walking stereotypes, but they were also people of simple tastes who highlighted just how absurd the excesses of wealthy Southern California can be. They bought a mansion in a nice neighborhood, but they still lived simply. I recently spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with a massive windfall, and I think it’s smart not to change much about one’s habits simply because smoking cigars wrapped in hundred-dollars bills on a yacht becomes an option.

I don’t know what to expect from a reboot movie made 20 or 30 years later. The show was made in a media landscape that believed in a simpler world than what the 90s accepted. The plots that stick strongly in my mind are the time Jed decided that the “billiard room” was the place to have Thanksgiving dinner because it had the nicest table in the house, and if possible he should serve a “billyard” (a rhino, like the head mounted on the wall in that room) on it, or when their banker turned out to be the last descendent of a family feud inspired by the Hatfields and McCoys, until Granny found out and revealed she was from the other family. When I try to imagine the 90s equivalent, I see a lot of manic slapstick. “From the director of Wayne’s World” being a selling point does not sound promising.

Continue reading

Red Dawn

Red Dawn. Valkyrie Films 1984.
Red Dawn. Valkyrie Films 1984.

Before watching the movie:

Even in the 80s, as the cold war thawed, open warfare between the US and Soviet Union seemed likely. However, apparently it seemed plausible that a Soviet invasion could be resisted by guerrilla teens, so fear of the red menace was probably eroding.

I’m finding it interesting to track depictions of the Enemy over the decades. I know the 90s had trouble giving up the Soviets as stock villains, but I haven’t previously noticed a shift in how Russia was treated before the breakup. It’s often just a looming shadow of calamity, like an anvil held over one’s head with a fraying rope. Here, however, is a take on what happens when the rope snaps.

Continue reading