Better Off Dead

August 23, 1985

The success of movies like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and SIXTEEN CANDLES kicked off a wave of teen films in the ‘80s, but the ones that came out in the Summer of ’85 were not typical of the genre. Most of the season’s movies about high school kids involved some sort of fantastical element (BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE HEAVENLY KID, WEIRD SCIENCE, MY SCIENCE PROJECT – and I guess the younger GOONIES and EXPLORERS count too). The most straight ahead, down to earth teen movies were THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN and REAL GENIUS, neither of which were exactly standard issue.

And BETTER OFF DEAD is an even odder one. It has a pretty normal premise (high school kid gets depressed when his girlfriend dumps him for the captain of the ski team, thinks he can get her back by defeating said captain in a ski race), but it’s filtered through the distinct humor of first time writer/director Savage Steve Holland. Though I don’t personally hold it in nearly the same reverence, I think it has a little bit in common with PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, in that it’s a comedy with its own distinct tone and deadpan presentation of absurdity brought to us by a rookie whose ignorance about how to make a normal movie works as a strength. On a more superficial level, it uses little bits of animation (including stop motion), and jokingly applies thriller film techniques to silly things (for example, using horror movie synths and atmosphere whenever the paperboy shows up looking for his $2). Burton and Holland are also the same age, both went to CalArts, and both worked as animators before becoming live action directors (in Holland’s case creating the famous “Whammy” animations for the game show Press Your Luck).

Lane Myer (John Cusack, who had just starred in THE SURE THING in the Spring) is kind of an oblivious doofus who has been dating Beth (Amanda Wyss, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) for six months and is so enamored with the idea of her that he has a stalker-quality collection of photos of her on his wall. His entire walk-in closet of clothes hang on cutouts of her face. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that she’s not as attached to him – in fact she’s literally taking his photo out of a frame and replacing it with one of Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier, whose only other IMDb credit is an episode of Hail to the Chief that had aired in April), who she thinks is cute but hasn’t even met yet.

But at ski team tryouts Stalin – who looks old and cartoonishly handsome enough to be president of the bad guy fraternity in any college sex comedy – shamelessly hits on Beth and humiliates Lane, who ends up with no girlfriend and no place on the team.

More evidence that MPAA ratings were different in those days: this is a PG-rated film that mentions losing one’s virginity, condom breakage, and – because of his heartbreak – suicide. After Lane is dumped he repeatedly considers killing himself. I believe there are four scenes where he almost does it, but is interrupted. In the first and most darkly hilarious one he’s about to hang himself in the garage, and just as he decides not to do it his mother (Kim Darby, TRUE GRIT) opens the door while vacuuming and doesn’t notice that she knocks him off the step and he’s dangling, struggling to free himself from the noose. So fucking grim, and the hardest I laughed in the movie.

In at least one interview, Holland has said that was inspired by something that happened to him. He was contemplating hanging himself from a pipe, the garbage can he was standing on broke, but so did the pipe, spraying water everywhere, and his mom came in and yelled at him for breaking the pipe. So that scene is a little more real than you’d hope, but it fits in with the movie’s overall approach of using exaggeration to capture the heightened sense of drama that life can take on at that age. Lane’s feeling of inadequacy about being dumped is underlined by

1) walking in on his little brother (Scooter Stevens, CHiPs, Pryor’s Place, Diff’rent Strokes) surrounded by five adult women in lingerie

2) his math teacher (Vincent Schiavelli, THE GONG SHOW MOVIE) taking his ex out on a date. Both of these things are totally inappropriate if taken literally, but make perfect sense as a reflection of him feeling like a loser.

Holland takes a similar approach to non-relationship things like Lane feeling out of his league in math class. Not only is he lost while every single other person is smiling and laughing at the teacher’s jokes, but his feeling of being unprepared is shown by everyone else pulling out increasingly ridiculous computers and filing systems while he produces a folded up and slightly crumpled piece of notebook paper that says “Do HOMEWORK” and has a piece of gum stuck to it.

Because Beth likes that obvious bad guy and we don’t really see much of her personality, we can assume Lane’s infatuation is stupid and not based on any real connection. The one scene that imbues her with humanity is the flashback of them first meeting on the beach. One of them touches their nose – Lane I think – and they get caught in a feedback loop where each of them thinks the other is trying to signal that there’s a booger or something on their nose. Relatable self consciousness.

This movie does a good job with the thing where there’s another character who’s better for him but he doesn’t realize it for a while. I didn’t see it coming, because she starts out as another reoccurring gag. The neighbor lady, Mrs. Smith (Laura Waterbury, later in MAC AND ME), is hosting a French exchange student named Monique Junet (Diane Franklin, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION), who she and her nerd son Ricky (Dan Schneider, MAKING THE GRADE, HOT RESORT) treat as basically a mail order bride. The joke is that she doesn’t speak English and they think she’s in love with Ricky but we can see from her reactions (including bursting out in laughter at the Christmas gift of a framed portrait of Ricky) that she thinks they’re nuts.

But after she latches onto Lane outside of a school dance it’s revealed that of course she speaks English, but she thought pretending not to would prevent the Smiths from talking to her. She’s not the meek victim she initially appeared to be, and she has some unexpected character traits, including her delight at being involved in a drag race car crash, and her ability to repair the Camaro that Lane has given up on. I think “hot girl who can repair cars” has sort of become a cliche (or at least it’s in Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS), but I don’t think it was then, and her accomplishment is made better by him being stupid enough to ask, “What are you doing to my car? It’s already screwed up as it is.”

On the negative side, they get to know each other during a car repair montage set to a song called “Like To Get to Know You Well” by Howard Jones. On the positive side, we saw a saxophone in his room in the opening credits and then forgot about it by the time he pulled it out and started playing smooth jazz during a romantic dinner date. I consider that a win. She’s just cool because she’s so laid back about everything – asking him about his “dramatic death wish” with non-judgmental curiosity. She’s the one who pushes and coaches him into the ski race, even though in his mind it’s a way to “win back” his ex.

(Actually it works, too. Which reflects poorly on Beth.)

There are a few broad nerd caricatures, but I appreciate that most of the characters don’t exactly fit into your usual types. The alpha-jock is not a football player, but a fucking skiier? Lane and his friend Charles (Curtis Armstrong, REVENGE OF THE NERDS) are somewhere in between popular kids and outcasts. And they have these little unexplained quirks, like Lane is introduced showering with his (mismatched) socks on, then blow drying them. Is there a reason for that? If so, I’m okay with not getting it. Charles is obsessed with drugs, but can’t get any, so he’s always snorting non-drugs like Jello. And he often wears a top hat like he’s in a Charles Dickens adaptation.

I guess Charles is supposed to be a legit weirdo, but he carries it well by not caring what others think. One part that got me is when Stalin makes some homophobic joke about them at the dance and Charles laughs long and hard enough that it doesn’t even seem sarcastic anymore. And then finds him again later and continues laughing.

There’s a recurring gag about these two guys played by Seattle restauranteur/KARATE KID 2 villain Yuji Okimoto and Brian Imada (later a stuntman) who keep challenging Lane to drag race, and Okimoto taunts him over a loudspeaker by narrating in a Howard Cosell voice. I loved it when I thought it was just his weird way of fucking with him, but it’s still funny later when we hear that he learned English from watching Wide World of Sports.

The voice is dubbed by Rich Little. Okimoto had worked hard to do an accented version of a Howard Cosell imitation, and was disappointed they didn’t use his. I like that other than the unfortunate part where Lane refers to those two as “kamikaze pilots” they’re just treated us another couple of oddball characters in this town, not some racial stereotype I’m familiar with.

There are a bunch of good laugh out loud lines. The most famous is delivered by Steven Williams, the bounty hunter from JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY. But another one, to me, is when the paperboy (Demian Slade, RADIOACTIVE DREAMS) is holding onto the top the car and he heads for a car wash and the kid says “No, I can’t swim!” I couldn’t explain why that makes me laugh.

Reportedly the movie test screened extremely well, getting everybody’s hopes up for it to be a big hit, which it wasn’t. But I’m confused about the release, because according to both Box Office Mojo and The Numbers it opened on 13 screens and never went wider. At any rate, it was a low enough budget to be profitable even before it caught on on video, and today it’s definitely considered a cult classic and beloved growing-up favorite of many people of a certain age. I think it holds up well, and continues to stand out as a very funny and unique take on a teen breakup movie.


Summer of 1985 connections:

Amanda Wyss was in SILVERADO. David Ogden Stiers was in THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE. Yuji Okimoto was in REAL GENIUS. E.G. Daley was in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.

The climax involves Lane having to ski a steep slope with one ski missing, which also happened to James Bond in the opening of A VIEW TO A KILL. There’s a scene referencing the creation sequence from FRANKENSTEIN, as in WEIRD SCIENCE and THE BRIDE. Like in EXPLORERS, there’s a kid who builds his own working spaceship from junk (instead of instructions from aliens, he buys a book called How to Build Your Own Space Shuttle With Household Items).

Like BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE GOONIES and RETURN TO OZ, it has a poster painted by Drew Struzan.

Pop culture/time capsule stuff:

There are some era specific toys (Masters of the Universe Point Dread and the Talon Fighter, inflatable Twiggy from Buck Rogers, a Monchichi clown, a Cabbage Patch Kid). The Flintstones is on TV. A girl in the cafeteria is wearing a Thriller jacket. E.G. Daily plays herself, performing songs at the prom. Her debut album Wild Child came out that year, though I haven’t been able to find a specific date. She sings two original songs, “A Little Luck” and “One Way Love (Better Off Dead).”

Lane’s bedroom demonstrates only his obsession with Beth, not any sort of fandom. But he does have a Ferrari poster, which is very era-accurate.

In one of Lane’s daydreams a stop motion anthropomorphic hamburger lip syncs “Everybody Wants Some!!!” by Van Halen and plays a guitar modeled after Eddie Van Halen’s.

Also there’s alot of Tab soda seen in this one.


Dan Schneider (Ricky) became well known playing more likable nerd Dennis on the sitcom Head of the Class. He later started a production company that created many hit shows for Nickelodeon, including All That, and wrote its spin-off movie GOOD BURGER, eventually earning a lifetime achievement award at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards. But in 2018 the channel abruptly ended their contract with him, it was alleged that many staff members had complained of temper tantrums, and there were intimations that his numerous social media postings of young actresses’ feet were, uh… not good.

Curtis Armstrong (Charles) continued to be known for the REVENGE OF THE NERDS movies, but also added Moonlighting to the portfolio.

John Cusack (Lane) was still playing a high school kid in love four years later in SAY ANYTHING. He became a huge movie star and producer and now appears in all the DTV thrillers that are released.

Cusack and Armstrong also starred in Savage Steve Holland’s second movie, ONE CRAZY SUMMER. The night before filming began, Holland says he screened BETTER OFF DEAD (which hadn’t come out yet) for the cast. Cusack stormed out after 20 minutes.

“He was just really upset. And I said, ‘What happened?! What’s wrong?!’ And he just said that I sucked, and it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and that I had used him, and made a fool out of him, and all this other stuff.”

Some of the cast have confirmed that Cusack was no fun to work with on that movie. Holland had made the movie about a girl who broke his heart in high school, and then the guy sort of playing him in the movie broke his heart too.

His third film HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE (1989) was a for-hire gig, and after that his only feature length directing has been TV movies (MALIBU RESCUE) and DTV (LEGALLY BLONDES). But he’s directed many TV shows (V.I.P.) and was the creator and main writer of the sitcom The New Adventures of Beans Baxter (one season) and the cartoon Eek! The Cat (five seasons).

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91 Responses to “Better Off Dead”

  1. I guess I never realized how absolutely stacked with movies I loved the summer of 85 was. I didn’t catch this one until it was on HBO. But I taped it and must have watched that VHS tape of it 100 times. I was also a fan of One Crazy Summer, which wasn’t nearly as good but had Bobcat Goldthwaite in it at a time when I thought he was the funniest person alive (that shtick he did in those days was like crack to pre-teen boys at the time.)

  2. 13 screens must be inaccurate because I saw it theatrically and Annapolis was no exclusive market.

    As a kid I just took it as a straightforward movie which I liked. It wasn’t until I saw it as an adult that I understood how surreal it was, down to the class enamored with their boring teacher.

    One Crazy Summer is definitely lesser but still good. Wondering if the other Savage Steve Holland joints are worth checking out.

  3. Mojo is wrong, it was a wide release. They started it small, I believe. Then opened wide. It made ten million bucks, you can’t do that on 13 screens, not even in today’s dollars!

  4. Just when I thought we ran out of cult movies, that nobody knows in Germany…

    EEK THE CAT ruled. I really wanna rewatch it again.

  5. This is one of those cult movies that lives up to its reputation. Missed it as a kid but it’s one of my wife’s favorites so we watched it a couple years ago and I was just flabbergasted at how good it is, for all the reasons Vern pointed out. It’s on its own wavelength and it’s a testament to that wavelength’s cleverness & longevity that “I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS” is part of the vernacular all this time later. Hats off to Savage Steve Holland.

  6. Hi Vern, thank you as always for your entertaining and in-depth scholarship. I was gonna write a lot of rambles about the works of Clu Gulager and which 80s teenage party movies are enjoyably boring in the comments to your your last review, but didn’t want to write a lot of off-topic nonsense. That was a great review – I am always amazed by the depth and lack of deja-vu there is to your revisits. You are doing work that nobody else could.

    If you ever need a resource for record release timelines, the Google Books archive of Billboard magazine is very useful when the info on Wikipedia and Discogs is lacking. I wasn’t able to find an exact date, but it seems to have been a planned September release that was pushed back to January.


    E.G. Daily chronology is an important topic, she rules.

    I hadn’t known that about Stacey Q either!

    That video you retweeted of a guy dressed as The Batman Returns Penguin singing Bootsy to Bootsy made my week, I have probably watched it a dozen times so far. There are such good happy smiles in there. That is my new cheer-me-up video, something all the more useful and appreciated while things are so awful.

  7. What happened to John Cusack, by the way? Did he get blacklisted for being “difficult” or just semi-retired for easy paychecks? Up until 2013 he was able to get roles in blockbusters, Oscarbait, even the occasional acclaimed indie film, and then it’s like he woke up one day and his career was fucked. Usually there is at least a hint at such a career shift, like a bunch of expensive flops or maybe tax debt, but I can’t think of any other actor whose career had such a hard break.

  8. I remember seeing Holland’s HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE in ’89. It was kind of like the third movie in the trilogy, but with Corey Parker instead of Cusack as the lead.

    From his appearence and choice of movies lately I think Cusack is planning to become Nic Cage.

  9. Yeah Cusack is an odd duck in terms of his career…just aged out of being a leading man maybe?

    Although his career isn’t all bad since 2013…he’s in Gillian Flynn’s new show so that’s big. Was a lead in he acclaimed Love and Mercy. Drive Hard somehow got a decent theatrical release. He was in a Lucky McKee (I’m a fan) and a Spike Lee Joint. Was a co-star in a big budget Jackie Chan movie. Cell had a budget (not big enough) and was actually not too bad.

    I mean it’s not like it used to be where he was top notch, but that’s not a bad career. I think he just got too into doing quickie crap for fast money so that overshadows his other stuff. And boy does he do a LOT of crap.

  10. Not saying you are wrong, Muh, but outside of the Spike Lee one and Cronenberg’s MAP TO THE STARS, I haven’t heard of any of the movies he did since then. Not saying they are all bad (Haven’t seen and with Lucky McKee you can expect at least a certain amount of quality), but there was a time when you could constantly say “Hey, John Cusack” when you watched trailer or looked at posters, without having to dig too deep. He kinda disappeared from the public view.

    Good to see that he is now in a TV (streaming) show, but it’s from Amazon, so there is a 90% chance that nobody watches it and it gets cancelled while they shoot season 2.

  11. The weirdest thing is Cusack’s recent career is that he has a brief cameo in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 reprising his role from the first, but it was cut from the Theatrical Release.

  12. I can only wonder what the hell movie Cusack thought he was making. At least he didn’t let his weird bitterness about one of the only three or four movies he’ll be remembered for ruin ONE CRAZY SUMMER. “Guy who would rather be anywhere else but here” is exactly what that movie needed anyway, so being kind of a sullen dick was probably beneficial to the production in the long run.

    Although BOD is the cult classic, I gotta say OCS is my preferred Savage Steve joint. I love how laboriously they set up Bobcat stomping on that model town in the Godzilla suit. I respect any filmmaker that will lay down that much track in support of a dumb sight gag.

  13. From the “people who work on movies” rumor mill, I heard that Cusack likes to be treated like a literal king on set. They do that to American stars in Bulgaria. He probably still does the occasional indie as a health spa. Y’know, refocus, maybe do some some actual acting, that sort of thing.

  14. Okay, wow, I just tried to find this movie somewhere and it seriously does not exist in Germany! Its title here is LANNY TURNS UP (“Lanny dreht auf”), which is a title that I can’t remember ever hearing before, it’s not availble for streaming and it looks like there was a DVD release in 2004, but dat shit is OOP. It’s even more obscure than PEE-WEE!

  15. [i]I can only wonder what the hell movie Cusack thought he was making.[/i]

    I’ve heard that tale, and really, I can sort of see it from Cusack’s pov. Seeing yourself on a 20 foot high screen can make one a little understandably sensitive. And while you’re shooting a movie normal sized, you’re think you’re the lead, the hero, the cool guy, the guy the audience gets behind. Then suddenly, in the super-sized version you’re the rube, the cry-baby, the butt of every joke. The audience isn’t laughing with you out of sympathy, they are laughing at you as the fool. I can totally see myself having a meltdown in such circumstances. Being hurt, angry, embarrassed, etc. ESPECIALLY when I was like 22. So I’m not one to point a finger at ‘ol johnny.

    That said, I’ve heard PLENTY of tales of his assholish behavior since, and the lion’s share is baffling and inexcusable. But, that one tale: #teamcusack

  16. ARRGH!

    I can only wonder what the hell movie Cusack thought he was making.

  17. Now I had the EEK theme stuck in my head all day

  18. It’s weird how EEK THE CAT seems to have fallen into obscurity; no DVD Releases, almost never brought up in the endless 90s toon nostalgia conversations. At the time it seemed like one of the great crossover cartoons of that era. Maybe it’s because the Fox Kids stuff as a whole wasn’t as high profile of extensively merchandised as the WB\Nick\Cartoon Network?

    It did seem that there was a point about 10 years ago, around the time of THE RAVEN, that “we” suddenly decided that Cusack actually wasn’t so great after years of his greatness kind of being assumed. Sort of similar to how people turned against Cage in the late-00s.

  19. As Cusack’s finest moment on film – GROSSE POINT BLANK – showed, had he stuck to action he would still be one of the greats.

  20. I have never seen this movie but just watched a five minute compliation of all the paperboy’s scenes and holy shit, this is some genius level material here. Look up the director and not shocked to see how much animation work he’s done, not like Burton where he stopped after making movies. Wow this guy has had an amazing and varied career (the best kind).

  21. I mean this kid gets PUSHED OFF A RANDOM COME OUT OF NOWHERE CLIFF and throws out this weak little “aaahhhhhh.”

  22. In my research there was some inconsistency about what people thought Cusack’s complaint was. Sometimes they said he thought it was too weird, but I think the more believable story is that he thought it wasn’t as surreal or dark as he pictured it from the script. I think he saw it as a rebellious movie to make and then it turned out to be something dorkier.

    I forgot to get into critical reaction. Wikipedia quotes a good description of it from the Miami Herald reviewer: “the body of a tired teen comedy but the soul of an inspired student film.” I read about a crew member taping a positive review to Cusack’s door after his fit, but the reviews that are still accessible don’t seem to appreciate it at all. Its Metascore is 51, and that’s with the two most positive reviews being from AV Club and Film Threat (so, written decades later by people who saw it when they were young). Siskel Ebert absolutely hated it, and Gene went into an angry rant about the newspaper throwing not being funny:


  23. Man, I love this movie. It’s got so many quotable moments I use. Probably the most frequent is the riff on French foods – fronch fries, fronch dressing.

    I’m with Majestyk in being baffled at what movie Cusack thought he was making. I’ve also heard a couple stories about him being a weird dick to fans.

  24. So here’s something people may not have noticed…I wanted to see that laughing scene Vern mentioned so I looked it up. Which was hilarious. But noticed something that seemed out of place. Figured it out.

    The woman with the bully is Amanda Wyss, who is Freddy Kruger’s first onscreen murder. The guy standing right behind her is wearing a Freddy sweater.

  25. pegsman- great call on GROSSE POINTE BLANK! The absolute gold standard of action/romantic comedy hybridization. Great cast, great soundtrack, surprisingly decent action- it’s an under appreciated classic imo!

    I don’t have too much to say about BETTER OFF DEAD, though. I remember thinking it was pretty funny as a kid, but it never became a rewatch staple and I haven’t seen it in years and years.

  26. Weirdly, I saw GPB once back in the day, thought, “This extremely slight comedy is slightly more violent than I figured it would be,” and promptly never considered watching it again, despite the fact that slightly-more-violent-than-expected comedies are basically my bread-and-butter. I’ve even had it on (shitty, non-anamorphic) DVD for at least a decade but for some reason I never reach for it. I guess I put it in the same category with, like, ZERO EFFECT or A LIFE LESS ORDINARY: very 90s attempts to be hip and edgy that probably haven’t aged very well. Yet it seems to have amassed a minor cult. Maybe I should give it a spin some time to see what I’m missing.

  27. Mr. M, you should absolutely give GPB another shot (ha, ha). It really is a great movie, and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia talking. The cast is uniformly fantastic and nobody is phoning it in. I mean, it’s from the director of MIAMI BLUES, for pete’s sake. And the soundtrack is fantastic once you get past the song that opens the movie. Maybe that’s what soured you on the movie. I could see that.

    Speaking of Cusack’s last gasps as a movie star, I just re-watched 1408 the other day and not only does it still hold up, but I’d put it in the Top 5 Stephen King Adaptations. Easily. Just a great mind-fuck of a movie, and it’s totally Cusack’s show. I have no idea how Cusack went from that to DTV no-budget stuff unless he’s just REALLY hard to work with.

    I missed BOD, still haven’t seen it but ONE CRAZY SUMMER is fantastic. OF COURSE Savage Steve Holland created the Whammies. That’s the insight I love to get, Vern. Thanks, pally.

  28. I can confirm through my friend who bartends at a bar he frequents that Cusack is a dick.

    But he hates Trump and was one of those people protesting and getting hit by cops so he has some respect from me.

  29. Grosse Pointe Blank was directed by George Armitage of Miami Blues fame, and it follows a similar game-plan of some of the slapstick violence being surprisingly rough (though not nearly as rough as “Blues”). I left the theater thinking I had a perfectly nice time, but being familiar and a fan of Armitage’s earlier film, I thought it pulled it’s punches a little too much.

    I haven’t watched it since, so maybe my attitude will change with a more recent viewing. But I didn’t think it ever rose above ‘cute’, nor was it really trying.

  30. Did Savage Steve Holland direct Spy Hard? My research points to yes.
    Jason Dayhoff of Worthington Indiana asks: What did you do for the EEK STRAVAGANZA!! show???
    Savage Steve Holland (who created Eek the Cat and also “ghost-directed” “Spy Hard”) is a friend of mine, and he asked me to appear as myself (in cartoon form) in one of the Eek episodes. The storyline revolved around my capturing an interesting piece of evidence on camera while shooting my latest music video.
    Wil: Is Steve Holland continuing with animation now? Is that what he’s mainly doing?
    Curtis: For years I worked with him on an animated series that was on Saturday morning, a very funny show that was called “Eek, the Cat.”
    Wil: Right, I remember that.
    Curtis: And there was a spinoff from that called “The Terrible Thunder Lizards.” And I was a regular on “The Terrible Thunder Lizards.” I played one of the two cave men. So Steve had been doing “Eek” for at least four or five years and I worked on it for at least three years. And he did a couple of live action series. One was called “Encyclopedia Brown” and the other was called “The Adventures of Bean Baxter.” They were very sort of “Savage.” I mean, they were TV shows for kids in the “Savage” style. And we also worked together on a movie called “How I Got Into College” which was with Anthony Edwards. I did a cameo in that. And then I also did a cameo for him in “Spy Hard.”
    Wil: Oh, yeah. With Leslie Nielson…
    Curtis: Right. And we did another movie, just a couple of years ago, for the Disney Channel, called “Safety Patrol.” And Leslie Nielson does a cameo in that. So Steve is very good about sticking with people. He’s a very loyal man.

  31. I’m not sour on the movie at all. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think I did watch it at least one other time, and as far as I remember, I liked it just fine. I guess I’m just surprised people think it’s great. Like jojo, I thought it was a cute movie that didn’t pull its punches as much as I assumed it would but was still too lightweight to see as an actual action-comedy. It’s just a comedy with a little action in it, like something Seth Roger would make (which sounds like a diss but I didn’t mean it that way). Sort of how Vern just sees SHAUN OF THE DEAD as a straight comedy and not a horror-comedy. The balance is a little off for my tastes.

  32. This Cusack tale is from someone one degree of separation from me so I don’t mind repeating.

    For whatever reason, the High Fidelity production seemed to hire everybody I knew living in the city of Chicago in one capacity or another. One friend got hired as a set PA, and she’d been on the job a couple weeks when suddenly, Cusack, who had never acknowledged her existence before, walks up to her and begins chatting her up.

    She reciprocates, and for a minute there, maybe Don Juan Cusack would be a more fitting name. But then suddenly, the convo hits an awkward pause, to which my man John breaks by blurting out “Look, if you’re not going to give me a blowjob, I really have no interest in talking to you.”

    My friend, shocked, could think of no comeback other than “Fuck you.” To which, Cusack sighs loudly and says “Y’know you could have said that ten minutes ago” and walks away. For the next two-three days he won’t even look at her. Except, when she sees him speaking to her direct boss, then they’re both staring at her. The next morning she was demoted to like ‘Truck PA’ or something nowhere near the set, at $5 less a hour.

    So to those cops roughing him up: Hit harder

  33. It’s definitely not an absolutely straight-ahead action piece, but it’s got several memorable sequences- the shootout in the convenience store, the big finale in the house at the end, and, most especially, the hand-to-hand fight in the school hallway with the other hitman (who, by the way, is played by Benny The Jet!) all really stick out in my mind. It really utilizes Cusack’s typical sort of dead-eyed, sarcastic, over-it-all affect really well.

    I would definitely agree that it’s aiming for “cute” (with a side-order of black comedy), but it nails that goal so thoroughly and completely that it kind of rises above its own ambitions. Plus it’s got such fun side-character performances, especially Dan Aykroyd’s gleefully psychotic rival assassin, but also Alan Arkin’s increasingly-panicked therapist character and Joan Cusack’s likewise increasingly-panicked secretary character. I dunno, I’m clearly a big fan, but I think it’s a good one.

  34. jojo- Y I K E S

  35. Kugan – Yeah. There are stories I won’t repeat (due to them being a couple degrees removed) that are worse!

    But tl;dr: He’s a guy that gets off on throwing his weight around and being a jerk to people (esp. women)

  36. Oh god, I totally forgot that Holland directed SAFETY PATROL. I can’t vouch for this movie still holding up, but out of the very few Disney Channel Original Movies that I have seen, this one stands out by actually making teenage me laugh tears in its opening scene.

  37. I always thought of Grosse Point Break as a spiritual successor to Say Anything.

  38. I am legit almost in tears that Vern finally got around to reviewing this film that is sacred to me.

    Charles De Mar is my lord and savior. I was much more of a Lane Meyer as a teenager, so I am devoted to Charles’ teachings. The aforementioned scene where he responds to the bully’s attempted humiliation with off-putting hysterical laughter is a textbook teaching for how to treat your enemies. I also loved the early scene where the bully flirts with Beth and Charles behaves as if it was aimed at him.

    The “Do Homework” with gum on it is also one of my favorite jokes and I’m so glad it was singled out here.

    The specific quote uttered by Steven Williams need not be identified for us all to know what it is, but the authors of the DVD menu went above and beyond by naming that chapter “White Trash”.

  39. Also, I enormously respect the fact that (as of this writing) the list of links to related reviews includes THE PAPERBOY.

  40. This is a vastly superior film to One Crazy Summer (although the extended Godzilla/Bobcat sequence in OCS is truly inspired).

    I think this flick holds up amazingly well after 35 years; for example, I (46M) just watched it 6 months ago with my girlfriend (49F) and she almost passed out laughing. I mean, there are some EXQUISITE lines in this flick:

    “I’ve been in high school for SEVEN and a HALF years…I’m no dummy;”
    “This is pure snow. It’s everywhere! Have you any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”
    “She only speaks French, Roy. She doesn’t speak imbecile!”

    And the asian car racer stuff is sublime:

    “Truly a sight to behold.
    A man beaten.
    The once great champ, now, a study in mopishness.
    No longer the victory-hungry stallion we’ve raced so many times before, but a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion.”

    And: “GET OUT OF THE CAR…GET OUT OF THE CAR!” (Dude from Porky’s)

    This is easily a TOP 20 Comedy of all time IMO.

  41. I always assume that every celebrity is an asshole to some degree. Of course it hurts a bit to learn something bad about someone you like. But it doesn’t really affect my view of their work. Besides, it’s a very subjective thing how you view a person. In contrast, Jodie Foster says that Mel Gibson is one of the nicest people in showbiz.

  42. grimgrinningchris

    August 27th, 2020 at 4:04 am

    You know who’s not an asshole? Steven Williams.

    Met him at a con two years ago. Was outside the bar of the main hotel, having a smoke with a bud.
    Williams saunters up with all the swagger of Janes Brown, Mick Jagger and Prince combined.

    “Hey fellas, this the smoking area?”
    “Sure is, sir”
    “Cool… Anyone got a light? I’m Streven”
    “Oh we know exactly who you are, you’re Creightin Duke”
    “Ha Haaaaa… Yes, Yes, I am!”

    Then went on to chat with us for a good half hour. During which he very willingly granted our request to say the line being mentioned here.

    Fun, nice guy.

  43. grimgrinningchris

    August 27th, 2020 at 4:12 am

    Oh damn, the typos in that. I’m still not used to this new phone.

    Almost the exact same thing happened earlier this year, same spot, same initial inquiry… only it was Keith David.

    Of course the conversations were different.
    But just chit chatting… that voice directed at you. Man.

    Favorite part of the conversation.
    Me: Hey Keith, there’s an alley around the corner if you’ve got about 7 minutes to kill.
    David: Ooooh. Let’s wait til after the con. I’m afraid you’ll mess up my pretty face and I’ve still got all of these pictures to take.

  44. But it doesn’t really affect my view of their work.

    No, it’s not like I refuse to watch or enjoy anything with John Cusack. Guy’s an asshole, and a bit of a sadist… Takes all kinds. If anything I just find it humorous because he’s made a career out of playing the ‘nice guy’. The irony is strong with that one.

    And speaking of which, I have literally never heard one bad word about Mel Gibson “Chill, really cool, down to earth, unaffected, sweet, fun to work with” etc etc etc

  45. And besides, subjectivity is precisely the reason I’m fond of that tale, because it’s exactly the kind of story you can envision Cusack regaling his frat-bro buddies with, and them cracking up and giving him high-fives (“John, you are hilarious, bro! Broads, man… Amiright??”). Or even her boss (“you told the producer and star of this movie to fuck himself. What did you expect to happen?”).

  46. Well, I guess we should all be counting the minutes until Cusack’s Me Too moment. This one anecdote features him sexually harassing a co-worker and then having her professionally punished for refusing his advances. These are crimes, committed so casually you know he’s done it a million times before. Somebody who can do that, who feels that entitled to another human being’s orifices, there’s no way in hell this is the worst thing he’s done. There’s no doubt he’s got skeletons just waiting to come pouring out. If you want to wonder why Cusack’s career fell so far and so hard, maybe ponder whether his box office merited the kind of hush money a studio might have to pay out every time this asshole causes a potential PR nightmare every time he feels like getting his dick wet. If you do blockbuster business, you can expect the full circle-the-wagons treatment. You do mostly cult films that make memes but not bank and maybe they figure you’re more trouble than you’re worth.

    Also, if he prefers throwing his weight around to making good movies (which would explain most of his current oeuvre), I’m sure being the one marquee name in the low-budget realm is much more predator-friendly than being #6 on the call sheet in a major production. He could probably get every PA in Bulgaria fired for refusing to blow him and nobody would say a word.

    Yeah, I might just be like fuck John Cusack after this. That story was repellent. But it’s not like he’s been better than adequate in anything for two decades now so it’s no big loss.

  47. Plus one for that. Also, even now, are there individual actors (outside of major franchise vehicles) who can carry films anymore? Even the obvious candidates, like DiCaprio, depend heavily on the co-branding “event” of them teaming up with some great director. Honestly, I feel like the only individuals who can guarantee big box office consist of a handful of big directors, e.g., Nolan, Tarantino. You don’t have to be a me-too headline to age out of carrying a film and going DTV. Stallone, Travolta, Cage, even Schwarzenegger, DeNiro have all dabbled or crossed over completely, because they simply don’t sell tickets anymore (because people aren’t buying tickets anymore unless it’s AVENGERS vs. STAR WARS: DAWN OF FAST AND FURIOUS).

    Also, fuck John Cusack.

  48. Since at least 10 years there have been hundreds of “The age of the moviestar is dead” thinkpieces been written, and I don’t think that this is the truth.

    Yeah, modern studio filmmaking (and advertising) has become fully brandname driven, but in the end there is a reason why even the big superhero movies are still cast with big names and recognizable faces: Because they get that extra moviestar attention! I’m pretty sure even the producers of the FAST & FURIOUS movies would gladly safe a few million bucks and hire up and coming TV or stage actors, instead of adding Charlize Theron or Jason Statham to their ever expending franchise, but although the poster only has to say “FF” at this point, “Oscar winning actress and action star tapped to play villains in sequel” gives them the extra attention.

  49. I was really surprised Cusack didn’t get caught up in the #metoo deluge. But hey, she didn’t get demoted for refusing the producer/star’s advances, she got demoted for telling him to fuck himself, because she should have been a ‘sport’ and laughed it off.

    And that was seriously the prevailing attitude back then. Other women told her that!

  50. I’m sure it’s more or less the prevailing attitude now…until the headlines start.

    The only upside to this horrific story is that being a truck PA is about a thousand times cooler than being on the set. You go on runs, grab some lunch, beat up the petty cash, smoke weed with your truck partner, get that parking money, and never have to deal with the fucking talent. I know people that have been truck PAs for 30 years who have no desire to move up. You work it right and it’s a pretty solid gig.

  51. grimgrinningchris

    August 27th, 2020 at 11:34 am

    It depends on the project.

    If you are invested in a movie or project and believe in it and love it and think it is cool and in your wheelhouse, you WANT to actually be in the thick and actually on set and watching and interacting with your coworkers.

    If it’s some nonsense you don’t care about and know is garbage.. yeah, you want to stay in the AC and comfort of the truck drinking coffee and relaxing.

  52. I must have seen the last half of this movie as a kid when my older sister had it on. And for years, certain images stuck in my mind, especially the paperboy, but I never knew the name. It was like this strange fever dream that couldn’t possibly be real. I almost doubted the film even existed until I grew up, rediscovered it, and actually watched the whole thing front to back. And it really does live up to the hype.

    I love comedies that are a little more deadpan, and as weird as Better of Dead can get, it plays it off like this is just the world we live in. It reminds me weirdly of magical realism in that sense, where fantastical things happen, and they’re just a part of the quotidian. I tend to find comedies with a quiet confidence fare more rewatchable than those that seem desperate for a laugh.

  53. There was also this hot minute in the late ’90s early ’00s where a great deal of woman decided it was ‘feminist’ to act like Aaron Eckhart from In the Company of Men.

    Probably the most vulgar I’ve run into was this one boss I had who was constantly doing things like instructing every male in office to gather around the demure Turkish girl’s desk to check out he “ripe, juicy, Bombay melons” (again, she was Turkish). And that she “had some lotion in her purse in case you need any”

    One day she declared “do you want to see what a modern feminist looks like?” and pointed two thumbs towards herself. I told her she sure had a strange pronunciation of “pig”

  54. I disagree, CJ. The fact that these films still cast stars doesn’t mean that it’s rational to do so now. I’m not suggesting that being a marquee was never relevant or critical, just that the era of its relevance or criticality is over. A Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or Vin Diesel or Charlize Theron or Tom Hardy movie will not do business because it’s that actor. It will do business because of the specific movie franchise proposition to include the presence of other people. Tom Cruise in a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film will sell substantially more tickets than Tom Cruise in LIVE DIE REPEAT or whatever the hell, and it will sell substantially more than Jeremy Renner headlining a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film. Same holds for FF with vs. FF without Vin Diesel and vice versa. You’d just about need to hold a moviegoer at gunpoint to get them to watch a non-FF Vin Diesel movie, but you put him in an FF movie, and there’s a synergy there. Same for Stallone and CREED. Chadwick Bosemen in BLACK PANTHER vs in anything else. Did people go to see TWILIGHT because of Edward Pattinson mania? Will they got to see THE BATMAN because of Edward Pattison mania (same for Christian Bale and anything he’s done).

    More and more, people judge a film by its intrinsic appeal as an event, and the specific actor only adds ticket-selling value by way of nostalgia or gimmicks or both. Another Nicolas Cage NATIONAL TREASURE film may enjoy a reasonably wide release and do better than a NATIONAL TREASURE film without him, but it’s the combination of the two, and if you can only have one, you take the franchise/IP name ahead of the actor. Search your heart, you know it to be true… moohoohhaa.

  55. I think the time of a movie star being able to sell anything by being in it was never true in the first place. Maybe in the 40s or something, but even what we think of as the movie star era, no.

    Arnold and Will smith didn’t become Arnold and Will smith by doing just any projects. They picked specific projects that would do well. Will Smith chose projects that would make him a star. Arnold did the same. Same with Tom Cruise.

    Stallone? If it didn’t have Rocky or Rambo on it, no one cared. Look at the list of mega-bombs he left.

    DeNiro? YUUUGE star, but his huge hits are all genre pictures. He makes The Mission or a Marty movie with no guns, and they’re not big hits.

    Some stars get away with it to an extent, like Tom Hanks, but he also was committed to quality movies. The days of stars making crap and them hoping people show are over (although there’s still crap but that’s crap people like).

  56. I’m not suggesting that a star could ever pick crap and expect people to watch it only because they are in it, but that the star was the primary drawing power that was used to market the film and that did indeed bring in whatever audiences were brought in. People like Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, and Denzel absolutely had vehicles galore, dabbling across genres even, with considerable success. Some more successful than others, but a lot of them extremely successful and with the poster being a big picture of them with their name (often only their first or last name) right there at the top of the poster. The fact that Stallone made flops only underscores the point: he kept headlining big budget tentpole films on the strength of his persona alone for a solid 15 years, even with all the flops.

    How many comparable, last-name-atop-the-poster film headliners who didn’t have their breakout success in pre-existing widely beloved IP, have been minted in the last 15 years?

  57. Yeah the star might have been sort of the primary drawing power, but if Julia Roberts didn’t do a comedy or romantic movie it didn’t tend to make the dollars. As for the Stallone example, I think that had more to do with the small-mindedness of studio executives than anything else. If a movie star makes a movie and no one shows up, are they a star unless it’s one of a few series? That’s a “tree falls in the woods” question. But like Arnold went back and forth, he did awesome when he did a sci-fi type of movie. When he made a regular cop thriller…ehh. No one seemed to care. Arnold needed a James Cameron or John McTiernan or Verhoeven.

    But some of those guys…I don’t really see Bill Murray as hopping genres all that much, nor Eddie Murphy…I mean come on, Eddie? Every one he made was a comedy and when he strayed…fart. Too bad for you, Harlem Nights. So long, Vampire in Brooklyn (I love that movie though).

    New stars? I don’t know because the film business IS different…but Robert Pattinson I guess. Tom Hardy’s slightly over 15 years I guess. Margot Robbie, Kevin Hart. Jennifer Lawrence. Lupita Nyongo’s big breakout movie was a drama. Bradley Cooper’s been around in tv but really seemed to hit later. Mahershala Ali. Jennifer Lawrence.

    But it’s also hard to compare, because now instead of making Terminator, studios make big movies based on existing IP. TV has taken the place of the kinds of dramas someone like Denzel used to make. And big movies make stars. So it’s a gordian knot.

  58. It sounds more like we’re talking about the positive side of typecasting. Back in the days of John Wayne, Charles Bronson and Lee Van Cleef you always sort of knew what you were going to get. And everyone profited of that. People who are fans of “the big stars” are of course more customed to them hopping from genre to genre. But I think deep down the fans would have liked if they stuck more to what they loved about them in the first place. With guys like Scott Adkins and Jason Statham (even if he’s starting to stray) you sort of know what you will get, and I like that. Tom Cruise too seems to have figured out that people would much rather see him hanging on to an aeroplane than being romantic in a comedy.

  59. Yeah, I really think typecasting is basically it. I mean, since Julia Roberts was mentioned let’s look at her career in the ten years since she did Pretty Woman. You can basically put all of her movies into three categories. Romantic comedies, suspense thrillers your mother could watch, and a few classy dramas.

    But she wasn’t tested, there was no “the audience will follow her” challenge. She never made a martial arts movie or a weird sci-fi movie or a Scorsese gangster flick.

    And check out Bill Murray in his prime, let’s say 10 years after Caddyshack (and of course Meatballs was a year earlier). Every movie was a comedy except two adult drams, and mostly of a certain type of comedy. Weren’t his drams considered disappointments? Go another ten years and still mostly comedies of a certain type (smarter than average). And THEN his career started getting really all over the map and he just got choosy as hell. But that was his wheelhouse, he had star power as long as he stayed in his lane. Who knows what might have happened if he made a Charles Bronson kind of movie.

  60. Much like in Germany, this movie is most certainly not a cult thing here in Portugal. Actually, most of the 80s teen comedies seemed to have made no mark. I dunno why, but maybe there just wasn’t a big enough teen market, or the experience of being a teen was too different from the American one. In the 80s we were just coming out of 46 years of fascist dictatorship that had kept our country as, if I’m not mistaken, literally the poorest, most backwards corner of Europe – and if not the most, then close to it. I suspect most teens outside of like Lisbon and Porto and stuff couldn’t relate to either the material conditions or pop culture references or general life style of white middle-class teens in American movies.

    Come to think of it, even by the time I went to high-school (late 90s, early 00s), there was still a big difference between being a teenager in a small town in Portugal and the stuff I saw in American movies. The cliques, the whole popularity thing, the apparently rampant bullying (it’s a thing now, sadly, but back in my day I can think of like one, maybe two instances that could count as bullying, and it was not at all some systematic thing), the weird (for us) combination of very restrictive, moralistic parenting with great material independence.

    I think we related to movies like “American Pie” because despite its name it actually seemed like a more universal concept: teens are horny and they want to have sex, but they don’t really know how to go about it and there are a bunch of obstacles in the way.

  61. Oh, also, fuck John Cusack. Didn’t know this shit about him, but damn. Fuck that guy.

  62. Egon, from how things look, Portugal might be the ones that makes the teen comedies while America is looking forward to 46 years of the Trump Dynasty.

  63. Well, all these points about changes in the film industry and the types of films being made are part of the point. My point is not that we had better in my day but that it was simply a more star-driven strategy of development. The era of “vehicles.” All the names mentioned (Margot Robbie, J-Law, Bradley Cooper), are the same ones that come to mind, but I submit that none of these people even remotely approaches the level of star power as those names from the past I’ve mentioned. Bradley Cooper is no Denzel, by whatever metric, and same with Margot Robbie and Julia Roberts. I can think of two big Bradley Cooper films that come right to mind, and one of them is a Clint Eastwood-directed film (back to my “director as star” idea first surfaced above), and the other is a remake with Lady Gaga stunt casting.

    I think the big point is that there is really the power to create new stars, and that the director or the franchise is an even bigger star than the actor. STAR WARS and many of the Marvel films illustrate this extremely well. Arnold and Stallone and Julia Roberts built careers on the strength of their personas in original films. Many of the Marvel stars were created by the MCU films are are not big draws outside of them. Same with Daniel Craig. The pre-existing IP or the name director or the stunt event of an ensemble piece (EXPENDABLES, KNIVES OUT, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) drives a lot of it. You can create new quasi-stars at will – Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Pattinson, J. Law, and the massive platform of the IP is what gives you your ability to do so. Then, once the big tentpole/iconic character/IP has given them a place in the popular imagination (“Isn’t that Edward the vampire? Isn’t that Katniss? Isn’t that Thor?”), then that actor is differentiated as an “A-list star” and can carry that into other things. But the IP platform played a stronger role in making them the star than they played in making the IP platform, because the latter pre-dated and was already massively pre-sold big budget tentpole event. That was not so much a thing before the late aughts.

  64. I think another major thing is that there’s a whole new venue for becoming famous now in youtube and streaming. I think that’s the real new “star-driven” venue for success now, and even then “fame” as a concept is way more granular and contextual than it used to be. Once, the way you were famous (as in, being-recognized-on-the-street famous) was if you were on tv or movies, and that’s pretty much it, and the studios controlled who got to be there. Now there’s still that, but it’s also possible to fully get rich and famous on your own just on the internet.

  65. Yes, there’s just a ton more content, and it’s more differentiated. A 2000+ big screen engagement is reserved for certain types of things, most of the time. There are few things that have truly disappeared, they’ve just moved off of the big screen. Still, I just don’t see a lot of new stars emerging in the last 15 years. I don’t put Bradley Cooper up there with peak Denzel or J-Law with peak Julia Roberts, in terms of ability to carry an original film, year after year. There’s just not so much of a place for that. But one of the things this exposes, same with YouTube and SoundCloud and all of that, is that there are tons and tons and tons of extremely talented and magnetic personalities. The fact that we have more choices and we’re less apt to deify any one star is just different and probably a good thing. What matters in casting CAPTAIN AMERICA is not whether the guy is a known A-list star (if anything, that could be a minus). What matters is he fits the role and is talented. Of course, the flip side is that I think there are very few actors right now who are truly iconically irreplaceable. There was a point in time where I think Arnold or Julia Roberts or Denzel Washington felt irreplaceable. He was that guy. I’m just not sure there are many “that guys” these days. There are people who work well in roles in interesting and compelling stories.

  66. If I had to point to one performance over the past 15 years that I would consider truly iconic and the actor to be basically irreplaceable in the part, I’d say Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. I can’t think of anyone else who would have clicked with that role so completely and fully that he basically launched a sea change in the way Hollywood does blockbusters. But even then, his draw outside the specific alchemy of the Marvel franchise is much more limited (i.e your Sherlocks Holmes, or your Doctors Doolittle).

    Other than that maybe, what, Johnny Depp was the last person I can think of who was a draw in and of himself regardless of the project? And imo he squandered that reputation quite some time ago.

  67. I think some of it is age too…if you came of age with Denzel or Arnold of course they seem irreplaceable as “that guy.” I don’t know what younger people think as much of stars, if they have those or not, but I suspect they do. But yeah, things have definitely split off way more so it’s not the same.

    I still contend though, while there was a heyday of stars, they were only “that guy” if they made “that guy” movies. Sure Julia Roberts technically made a bunch of original movies, but they were basically the same couple of movies over and over and over…and a lot of those didn’t really do that well.

    Also, Bradley Cooper has a pretty good track record or bring home original movie box office bacon…American Sniper was a gigantic hit, A Star is Born, The Hangover movies, even dramas like the David O Russell stuff.

    But if anything I’m glad the time of the movie star is kind of done…I mean it was fun and it does exist, but it’s also nice not to see stars slumming it in some lazy crap and studios acting like we should care. Arnold, the days of you making Eraser are over!

  68. I think we probably agree more than we disagree. Take Arnold or Bruce Willis or Denzel. RUNNING MAN and COMMANDO and KINDERGARTEN COP are pretty distinct films. PRETTY WOMAN and SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY. Pretty eclectic set of films. TRAINING DAY, HURRICANE, DEJA VU. SIXTH SENSE, DIE HARD, WHOLE NINE YARDS. All star vehicles. All quite successful. none of them based on some big hot property or pre-iconic character. None of them remembered for established auteur directors (outside geeks who pay attention to who John McTiernan or Tony Scott is). Bradley Cooper is perhaps the heir to that, but never like those guys, where he’s just carrying film after film on his back. AMERICAN SNIPER is a Clint film at least as much if not more than it’s a Bradley Cooper film, and STAR IS BORN is a remake of an iconic film plus a Lady Gaga cross-over musical event. Respect to Bradley Cooper. He seems great. But I don’t think he’s anywhere near the level those guys were in ability to carry a film or its marketing on his back. He is about as close as you might get. Jonah Hill and Kevin Hart are a couple others.

    But a film like TWILIGHT or HARRY POTTER or BLACK PANTHER or 50 SHADES OF GREY or LORD OF THE RINGS can print money with a cast whose main claim to fame is being Harry Potter or Gandalf or Black Panther or whoever the fuck the guy is from 50 SHADES OF GREY.

  69. Well you’re not wrong…BUT. Let’s go back to Arnold. First of all, Kidnergarder Cop was one of the few outright comedies Arnold made, those were anomalies. And I don’t think Commando and Running Man are really that different from each other. Sure they have different TRAPPINGS. But they are both R-rated over the top gloriously violent movies where Arnold makes wisecracks as he kills people. Sure one’s in a sci-fi setting, but it’s not like one is Blade Runner either. And if you then look at more of his 80s output let’s see, we have Raw Deal, Red Heat, Terminator (almost an anomaly because Conan really put him on the map but that MADE him a star). Arnold does a few comedies, Total Recall has it’s own flavor but still fits R-rated over the top movie where Arnold kills people and makes wisecracks. Arnold starts faltering with Last Action Hero…TOO silly and PG-13, then gets saved again by R-rated over the top action movie where he makes wisecracks with True Lies. Arnold made a very narrow type of movie, and he was the got-damn KING of them too.

    And again, Pretty Woman and Sleeping with the Enemy are distinct, but like I said they fell right into the Julia Roberts wheelhouse where she had actual success…romantic comedies and mid-level suspense thrillers your mom would watch because they were classy and didn’t have too much violence. She has a lot of those movies.

    Now I will say Denzel has the most eclectic career out of all the ones you mention, because he was primarily a dramatic actor. But even then, he had a wheelhouse. Adult, usually R-rated dramas or thrillers. Maybe some action stuff like Richochet that was mostly a thriller, but he wasn’t doing Arnold style action. When he made a sci-fi movie is was a flopper. So yeah, HUGE star…but stayed in his safe zone.

    It would be interesting to think of who really was all over the place. I think Brad Pitt actually is. Really all I ascribe to him in a certain quality of style and intelligence, but you get a sense that’s his taste, not like Arnold engineering a career. Pitt did Seven and probably no one wanted him to. Pitt does a funny smaller role in a Coen movie cause why not? But he has his action movies. Romantic dramas, regular drams, all over the place, and consistently. I don’t think of Pitt as a “THIS TYPE OF ACTOR,” just an actor. Which is actually funny cause as an actor I think he’s sort of limited. But his choice of subject matter is so damn good and consistent.

    I do agree that all of those IP movies you mention would print money no matter what, and that is a big change for sure. I wish there were more interesting movies coming out, but then again when the movies were great, we got Sliders or VR.5 on tv and now we get all kinds of stuff so it all evens out…at least it does to me, ha ha too bad for you Mr. Majestyk!

  70. And I definitely agree with you, Muh. A film like TENET (even more so with DUNKIRK, perhaps) is sold based on the fact that Christopher Nolan will deliver the goods. His track record of ambition and successful execution is what sells the film. With MCU, it’s iconic characters and a rich, sentiment-saturated mythology, and an ensemble event. I like that a film doesn’t need a huge star to be an event. I like that a show like BARRY or a movie like IT part 1 or a show like STRANGER THINGS can be a big deal without a focus on big superstars. The general principle that you gotta bring the goods and that if you don’t there are plenty of other people waiting to do so. I like that. The market for dramatic narrative entertainment feels more contested and contestable. More choices. Groovy, baby. But then where does all that money go?

  71. Yeah Nolan is now like Hitchcock was…they can really sell it on his shoulders.

    Money? Well, I guess that’s why tv is so big because when they do well it’s time for those non-stars to do contract renegotiations!

    But also, I think this is the streaming effect, which is more of a television effect. Cause Stranger Things did NOT need stars to be hits…but tv never did. ER had no stars, Friends didn’t. All of the shows starring comedians no one had heard of. TV made them all stars, George Clooney was making Attack of the Killer Tomatoes a few years before he got the ER gig. And just being on Thursday Night tv essentially was the hand of God bestowing good luck upon them. While star driven shows, who knows…a lot of them went down in flames. And Marvel movies are just tv on a big screen, you’d better catch up to the last five episodes if you want to know why anyone cares about the glowing thing the talking rose bush is running around with.

  72. It strikes me that you’re straining awfully hard to make those actors’ wheelhouses expand to cover all those films.

    Brad Pitt seems like one who always based his choices on interest in the material and not on paycheck or the positioning of what it would do for his career. His filmography is pretty solid, and you never saw him do some shitty rom com or family comedy or big action tentpole for a paycheck. Closest was WWZ, but he actually produced that and I think believed in its potential to be something more thoughtful and interesting. Even with him, he’s always been strongest as a co-headliner or ensemble performer, I think.

  73. Yeah, I’ve lost the thread of who I’m arguing with or what I’m arguing for. I think the main point is that there is no shortage of talented people, and among the mega-stars, plenty of them are overrated in the sense of just being lucky. They are talented and have star power, but so do a lot of other people, and star status can be conferred newly upon others if the rest of the package is right. I think society has evolved past the idea that certain people are a guaranteed draw or that something is worth crazy money just because so and so is in it. Rarely is the marquee actor alone enough. There’s a lot more choices, so, you have to keep earning it afresh or, in the case of a Stallone or Downey Jr., keep going back to drink from familiar wells.

  74. I didn’t have to strain one bit to compare most of Arnold’s movies. Did you notice how they all follow the same description? Maybe Conana is a little different because it’s all the same “except in tights” but that’s about it. I always aaid Julia Roberts had two wheelhouses. I never said an actor makes exclusively one type of film their whole lives. But also look at Denzel’s box office by the way, the guy I said wasn’t as pidgeonholed. You know what else he didn’t have, is huge box office.

  75. I think to say the Arnold movies are so incredibly different is like saying “that Seagal movie was really different than the last five is because this time the guy he tortures for three minutes before murdering him is Rastafarian.”

  76. Please do enlighten me as to where I say up there that his films are “so incredibly different.” Good luck.

    The highlighting of the range of some of his hit films was just to underscore how marketable a stand-alone Arnold vehicle was in his heyday, which is also true of Julia Roberts. It’s to underscore that the plot is secondary to the star. It is, again, a vehicle. Films were sold on the basis of “That guy Arnold Schwarzenegger you love being Arnold Schwarzeneggery in a movie.” Even though Seagal stuck to a much narrower range of films is irrelevant, and he, too, is a great example of where the star is the franchise. Steven Seagal breaking rists and throwing dudes through plate glass windows and giving speeches is the franchise. Is this really a controversial point?

    Into maybe the early 2000s, there were stars who headlined and opened big deal films where the star was a huge deal and where a big deal star could elevate an original or little-known story. This was called a vehicle. The stars of the 80s and 90s did not need to be associated with a pre-existing iconic character in most all cases. Tom Hanks is not famous because he won the role of Forrest Gump. FORREST GUMP was a Tom Hanks vehicle. FORREST GUMP is iconic because of Tom Hanks’s portrayal of him. Can this be said of Harry Potter, Captain America, Thor, Batman, Superman and the most recent actors to play them?

  77. Quoth Skani: “RUNNING MAN and COMMANDO and KINDERGARTEN COP are pretty distinct films.” I interpret “pretty distinct as meaning, “different.” We can quibble about “incredibly.” But I don’t really see that much daylight between Commando and Running Man at all. Shall I say again? “R-rated over the top action movies where Arnold says one liners as he kills people.”

    We know a stand alone Arnold movie was marketable, but you seem to be forgetting what got us on this in the first place is you were saying you could pretty much throw one of these actors into anything and it would be a hit. And I’m saying, and still saying, that it ain’t like Arnold was starring in A Few Good Men.

    Forrest Gump was a Tom Hanks vehicle but it’s not like they said Oh Jesus we must bring this to the screen for Tom Hanks. They were trying to make it for a long time. Tom Hanks made Forrest Gump iconic because of his acting, absolutely, cause he’s a great actor. That’s what great actors do, step into a role and you think who else could have played him. A lot of people could have played Han Solo too, but Harrison Ford didn’t make Star Wars, Star Wars made him. Like right now a bunch of 20 year olds are crying about the death of Bozeman and what that means to Black Panther.

  78. And a little more about Gump: as much as the success belongs to Hanks, as much belongs to Zemeckis, who constantly spun gold with his technical achievements. Zemeckis didn’t need big stars to make Roger Rabbit a hit, he’s a Nolan level director.

    The feather got as much press as Tom Hanks did.

  79. “Pretty distinct” is hyperbolic light years from “incredibly different.” I don’t think it’s quibbling to request that you not caricature or nitpick my positions or impute to them all kinds of nonsense for the sake of arguing with them or dunking on them or whatever. Nowhere did I suggest that Tom Hanks is single-handedly responsible for all the technical merits or appeal of a film like FORREST GUMP, or that Arnold Schwarzenegger was not primarily an action star, or that there are virtually no millenial actors with name recognition.

    My point is about changes in the dominant trends in how these films are developed and marketed, and a shift from star vehicle-driven development and marketing and fandom to property-driven development and marketing and fandom. Previously, the star was the franchise (viz., the Tom Hanks Movie, the Julia Roberts Movie, the Paul Newman movie), now the franchise is the star (the MCU movie, the Batman movie, the Harry Potter world movie). Are there exceptions to this dominant trend? Sure. Do actors have wheelhouses? Of course. Is Robert Zemeckis an auteur in his own right? Absolutely.

    “The feather got as much press as Tom Hanks did.” What is that even supposed to mean? That the feather could have headlined BIG, won a number of Oscars, and gone on to headline SAVING PRIVATE RYAN? That, the feather could have starred in several other films besides FORREST GUMP that grossed ~$4.5B domestically?

    Congratulations, you have successfully trolled me.

  80. The documentary on GUMP definitively says that the movie was only greenlit to keep Hanks happy. The studio figured it was a write-off because the source material is weird and off-putting, but then it was tweaked to match Hanks’ persona and suddenly they had a hit on their hands. So yes, it is 100% a Tom Hanks vehicle that just happened to have an auteur behind the camera. If Hanks wasn’t interested, it never would have been made.

  81. Still, GUMP was a pretty groundbreaking special effect movie and that “the feather got as much press as Tom Hanks did” is true. Well, maybe not specifically the feather, but I remember a shit ton of featurettes and making ofs on TV, that hyped up the FX. Hanks shaking the real JFK’s hand was as big of a selling point than the dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK one year earlier.

  82. Coming a little late but Skani, get fucked.

  83. The documentary on GUMP definitively says that the movie was only greenlit to keep Hanks happy. The studio figured it was a write-off because the source material is weird and off-putting

    I guess this falls into a ‘many different perspectives’ anecdote, especially about successes, but I was just reading Friedkin’s auto-bio and he was talking about how he’s terrible at guessing what the audience would want to see. The example he gave towards that was when his wife, Sherry Lansing (who ran Paramount at that point) showed him the script for Forrest Gump, he thought it was a complete piece of shit. While she was dead certain that he may hate it, but audiences were going to fucking love it.

  84. pegsman, now that’s a grim thought. Considering how bad 2020 is turning out, I’m not sure I’d be able to handle “Ivanka 2024”, with a bunch of #resistance people turning around to praise her as some kind of successful modern woman or some shit.

  85. Circling back to the earlier discussion of John Cusack’s career and politics, this recent interview just turned up in my feed, for whoever’s interested. The article also briefly covers the various highlights of Cusack’s career, and perhaps unsurprisingly BETTER OFF DEAD is not mentioned.

  86. I was finally able to track this movie down and it instantly became one of my favourite movies ever. If any of the weird scripts that I wrote in my late teens/early 00s would’ve been produced, many people would’ve probably thought that this movie was a huge influence. It fits my sensibilities so perfectly, as soon as time machines are invented, I’m gonna send young me a VHS copy of it.

  87. Is this your coded way of calling for a Cusack-centric reboot? I actually like Cusack as a douchey villain for EXPENDABLE5. I might watch that.

    I did like Arnold in ESCAPE PLAN. One of his better roles. I remembered the film being only okay but maybe should check it out again. At very least, we should be able to get Cusack in ESC4PE PLAN. My one condition is that all Stallone scenes are him wearing the same flannel shirt eating a hoagie in a recliner but where the editing and film timeline leaving you no choice but to infer that he always sits in that chair wearing that shirt eating that hoagie when he holds meetings with a 50 Cent who obviously filmed his scenes asynchronously and elsewhere.

  88. CJ I’m so happy you got to watch this finally. I’m torn between being jealous you got to experience it for the first time and sad you haven’t spent decades quoting different parts. I think just the other day I listed the different “fronch” foods for some totally unnecessary reason.

  89. Ha ha, whoops. I moved it to the proper place.

  90. Thanks, Maggie. Now I just have to wait until ONE CRAZY SUMMER is available here again.

    One thing that I find fascinating about Savage Steve Holland is that for a guy who calls himself “Savage”, he seems to be pretty harmless. Sure, this movie has the whole suicide angle, but it never gets really dark. And for an 80s teen comedy, there isn’t really much “This hasn’t aged well” in it. Maybe the “Kamikaze pilots” line or when the cheerleader gets accidentally undressed, but the first falls more into the “Things we used to say without giving much of a thought” category, the second doesn’t play out as sexist “This movie needs tits!” moment and is meant as another “Well, our protagonist has some really bad luck” joke.

    And after his second movie, he went pretty much straight to kids TV. EEK THE CAT might have some of the typical 90s creator driven edge, but it’s not exactly “Why wasn’t this running on Adult Swim?” material. Most of his work seems to be for-hire tween show stuff. But I respect that. He surely would be able to get directing jobs for grown-up TV, so I guess that’s what he likes doing and I won’t judge him for that.

  91. I also really liked ONE CRAZY SUMMER when I saw it as a teen but I didn’t watch it as much as this one and I haven’t ever revisited it so I’m not sure it holds up.

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