Maybe it was another economic recession or maybe the still ongoing Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union, but moviegoers in 1984 seemed to relish escapist entertainment, as comedies or comedy hybrids beat out other, more serious fare for the top box-office spots that particular year. The Ivan Reitman-directed Ghostbusters beat out Beverly Hills Cop and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the box-office crown. Ghostbusters wasn’t alone, however, in the horror-comedy category. The Joe Dante-directed Gremlins finished in the fourth spot, ahead of The Karate Kid and Romancing the Stone. Police Academy, the first in a much-maligned comedy franchise, ended the year in the number six spot. It was Ghostbusters, however, that resonated the most with moviegoers, becoming a pop-culture and merchandizing phenomenon, including the super-catchy title song – a number 1 hit for singer Ray Parker, Jr.
Author Mel Valentin
For women in Saudi Arabia, the 21st century looks a great deal like the 19th or 18th centuries. Women can’t vote, they can’t drive, and they can’t show their faces in public. Despite international pressure, there’s little chance of change in Saudi Arabia. It was and will remain for the foreseeable future a regressive, reactionary country legally and socially governed by an authoritarian, patriarchal social order. It’s something of a minor miracle then, when Wadjda, a poignant, perceptive coming-of-age film written and directed by a Saudi Arabian woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, not to mention a film shot in a politically and socially repressive country like Saudi Arabia, sees the light of day, let alone a release in North America and Europe.
Both the literary world and popular culture lost a key figure in 20th-century American literature when J.D. Salinger, the writer best known for The Catcher in the Rye, the seminal 1951 novel of teen alienation, isolation, and rebellion, died three and a half years ago. His death wasn’t unexpected (he was 91), but his self-imposed silence at the height of his literary fame decades earlier certainly was. Salinger’s last story coincided with his departure in 1965 from New York, the epicenter of the literary scene, for New Hampshire where he lived until he passed away. Though Salinger or his representatives claimed he never stopped writing, decades passed without the publication of new fiction. Before he died, Salinger created a literary trust to handle his as yet unpublished work. The trust will publish five new works culled from that unpublished material – a perfect time then for the release of Shane Salerno’s documentary, Salinger. Unfortunately, it’s a major disappointment.
In mid-July, James Wan’s The Conjuring proved that throwback, old-school supernatural horror could still attract audiences in significant numbers while consistently engaging that audience with more than just shocks and scares (though both were present in overabundant supply). Roughly two months later, Wan is back with Insidious: Chapter 2, the follow-up to Wan and frequent collaborator Leigh Whannell’s low-budget, 2011 supernatural horror film, Insidious. For Wan, who’s since moved on to take over the Fast & Furious franchise from Justin Lin, Insidious: Chapter 2 marks the presumed end of his involvement with the horror genre. The genre and with it, the genre’s fans, will be the poorer for it. Unfortunately, Insidious: Chapter 2 fails to match the first entry in originality and ingenuity or The Conjuring’s combination of shocks and scares with strong storytelling and well-rounded characters.
Despite one major hit and another mega-hit just three years apart, Richard Donner’s early ’80s output fell off markedly, both in terms of quality and more importantly for a commercially oriented director like Donner, at the box office too. Repeated conflicts with Ilya and Alexander Salkind, Superman’s father-son producing duo, led to his abrupt dismissal from the sequel, Superman II (Richard Lester completed production, reshooting many scenes in order to receive sole directing credit), Donner floundered, attempting – and failing – to match the wide, mainstream success of Superman or The Omen. Donner’s subsequent films, Inside Moves (forgettable mediocrity), The Toy (profoundly misguided and execrably executed), and Ladyhawke (a valiant, if ultimately dull, fantasy-adventure), Donner desperately needed a hit. Enter Steven Spielberg, the most successful commercial director of the ’80s (and subsequent decades too), to give Donner one more opportunity to prove he was still a commercially viable director.
After four straight months of big-budget, Hollywood-financed spectacle, it’s a welcome relief when we can finally turn our attention to smaller scale, performance- and character-driven indie dramas like writer-director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, a deeply affecting, resonant and—at times—devastating drama. Cretton based Short Term 12 on his post-college experience working in a group foster home. He poured that experience into a screenplay that won the prestigious Nicholls Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences (a.k.a., the Oscars). He also shot a short version of Short Term 12 as a practice run before turning to an indie-financed, feature-length adaptation.
Moviegoers can be forgiven for assuming that You’re Next, a blackly comic, semi-subversive home-invasion thriller directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S 1-2, A Horrible Way to Die) and written by Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die, Dead Birds), is just another attempt by a Hollywood studio or distributor to piggyback on the unexpected box-office success just a few short months ago of the similarly premised The Purge. Given when You’re Next and The Purge were actually made, the influence probably goes in the other direction. You’re Next actually premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program to positive reviews and enthusiastic responses from fest goers. The merger between You’re Next’s distributor, Lionsgate, and Summit, pushed You’re Next to the backburner, where it sat for the better part of two years. As part of their marketing strategy, Lionsgate rolled out You’re Next to horror-friendly fests (SXSW, SFIFF) this past spring before giving it a proper, mainstream release. Few films are probably worth a two-year wait, but You’re Next definitely is.
After directing the hothouse melodrama The Paperboy and the near-camp Precious, Lee Daniels seemed like the least likely person to take on a period drama/prestige production squarely aimed at Oscar voters and mainstream audiences who think like Oscar voters, but Harvey Weinstein thought otherwise, handing Daniels the directing reins on Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Daniels’ name contractually added to the title after a naming dispute with Warner Bros.), a fictionalized biopic centered on a White House butler, Eugene Allen, who served under seven different administrations from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s, Republicans and Democrats alike. Lee Daniels’ The Butler changes Allen’s name to Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), the better to give Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong (Game Change) the relative freedom to elevate Gaines from mere historical observer to, on occasion, Forest Gump-like participant in key historical events.
When Liam Hemsworth, the younger brother of Chris “Thor” Hemsworth appeared on the set of Paranoia, the corporate-espionage thriller directed by Robert Luketic (Killers, 21, Legally Blonde) with minimal competency, Luketic and his producers must have surely thought a mistake had been made. They probably thought they had hired Chris, not Liam, and to make up for it, made sure to get Liam to go shirtless in a record number of scenes for a non-porno film. He’s either stepping out of the shower or stepping into the shower (cleanliness being next to godliness and all). Then again, Hemsworth seems to do his best thinking when he’s wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and flexing in front of a mirror (“thinking” is meant ironically here in case you’re wondering). Maybe it was the conscious effort needed to maintain an American accent or maybe the younger Hemsworth has only a fraction of his brother’s talent and charisma, but whatever the reason, Hemsworth delivers one of the most lifeless, lethargic performances in recent memory.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to believe it’s been 35 years since National Lampoon’s Animal House ushered in a new sub-genre, the gross-out, raunch-filled frat comedy. As with any successful genre or sub-genre, Animal House spawned its share of college-set imitators, none more popular than Revenge of the Nerds, a comedy released almost 30 years ago that took Animal House’s underlying rebellious, anti-authoritarian ethos and applied to another set of outcasts, “nerds.” Revenge of the Nerds became an improbable hit back then either because audiences simply loved an underdog story – albeit one filled with R-rated jokes and gags, including, but not limited to the gratuitous T&A typical of films of that time period – or because they loved nothing more than the feeling of superiority a comedy about low-status males gave them (or maybe even both).