More of My Favorite Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)Posted: March 1, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I (re-)introduced the world to a few of my favorite movies that seem to have fallen by the wayside in pop culture. After giving it some thought, I realized there are a whole host of movies I’ve loved that aren’t even mentioned anymore, so I thought I’d dip back into the pool of memory and share a couple more gems with all of you. This time I’ll be dredging up some of the best (and worst) comedic fare I’ve ever known, from the most laughable decade I’ve lived through: the 1980s.
Trading Places (1983) – Before he started doing movies that suck like Bowfinger and Daddy Day Care, you could pretty much count on Eddie Murphy to be rock-solid comic gold. Dan Aykroyd already had a pretty solid resume including the amazing The Blues Brothers (the original, not the cash-cow abomination of a “sequel” he insisted on inflicting on us all). Put them both together with Jamie Lee Curtis and some other faces you’d know even if you wouldn’t recognize the names (Denholm Elliott, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche), and you have a guaranteed great movie. But that wasn’t enough. They went and put together one of the best “Prince and the Pauper” style stories ever, with hilarious twists and some of the wittiest dialogue I have ever witnessed. Murphy is at the top of his game in this film, Aykroyd plays his character’s entire ride to the hilt, and Bellamy and Ameche are so wickedly delightful I can’t help loving them. The theme of this movie has managed to hold up surprisingly well, and it is instantly relatable, unlike some other more serious films to come out of the Decade of Greed.
The Last Dragon (1985) – Lest you think I come to praise the 80s and all they have wrought, I bring you this delightfully polished turd. To this day I’m not sure what they were attempting with this film. If I had to venture a guess, I would say it was a satire of both cheap kung-fu and blaxsploitation films that were popular in the 1970s. Unfortunately the risk with any kind of parody is that you dance too close to the fire and fall into self-parody, becoming the thing you were attempting to mock. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe they really thought they had a great script with this one, which just makes it that much funnier. It’s the story of a young man obsessed with Bruce Lee whose name is Bruce Leroy (I’m not making this up), whose brother is obsessed with being “cool” and breakdancing (still not making this up), who has a rival named Sho’ Nuff (how could I make this up?), and is in pursuit of something called “the Glow” (why would I make this up?). This is all in the first fifteen minutes or so. There’s also an evil record producer and a singer-ingénue played by Vanity (don’t remember her? That’s okay, nobody does). The best part is this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “Rhythm of the Night” and two Razzies for Worst Original Song for “The Last Dragon” and “7th Heaven”. Like I said, it practically mocks itself.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) – Not all parody fails, and when it succeeds, it succeeds brilliantly. Before he started doing “serious” and “deep” roles, one of the great masters of parody was Steve Martin, and this movie may be his masterpiece. A perfect send-up of the film noir genre, directed by the legendary Carl Reiner, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid works on several levels. Like any great parody, it actually manages to serve (at least nominally) as a proper noir film, including a beautiful femme fatal and a sinister plot. That having been said, the bad (sometimes tasteless) jokes start early and come rapid-fire, with the unusual convention of weaving mini-scenes from actual film noir movies into the movie for the actors to respond and react to. The result is a study in how to do straight-faced comedy from one of the all-time masters of the art.
Stripes (1981) – What is it about SNL alums from the 80s? They make great comedy, then they get all serious. Bill Murray was great once… Ah, well. Years before anybody ever heard of a Ghostbuster, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis got together and made a scathingly witty send up of military culture and life. Along with a fantastic supporting cast including the legendary (and sadly missed) John Candy and brilliant John Larroquette, this film is somewhat like the Marx Brothers meets Band of Brothers. While the humor tends to be a bit juvenile and raunchy, it’s relatively tame by modern standards, and it’s almost always laugh out loud funny. Murray has already perfected his ability to convey nuance with a glance, but he still manages to bring more passion than many of his later roles. For those who only know Ramis from Ghostbusters, this will be a special treat, as it is a very different and more outgoing character for him. Highly recommended as a “history of comedy” must-see.