Friday, April 29, 2011

Like, Totally Gab Me with a Spoon!

Wise: Hey there, Werth.

Werth: Oh, hi, Wise.

Wise: Why so glum?  

Werth: Because tonight is the last night of 1984, the fabled NYC 80’s dance party at The Pyramid where I spent many happy nights busting a move.  

Wise: Does this mean I can never break out the dance moves to Thriller ever again?  

Werth: Not unless you’ve installed a light-up dance floor in your apartment.  

Wise: I’ll work on that. 

Werth: I think the only way we can deal with this wrench thrown into our dancing machines is to gab about a movie from that more innocent, neon-colored time.

Wise: Let me slip into a pair of parachute pants.

Werth; Picture it—May 28—the opening of the 1984 Summer Movie Blockbuster Season. I’m still too young for braces, but old enough to want to see one of the most anticipated sequels of the time: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

Wise: Not Cannonball Run II?

Werth: I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and I couldn’t wait to see what exciting, whip-cracking archaeological adventures Han Solo—I mean Harrison Ford—would embark on.

Wise: Too bad Chewbacca got stuck at the university teaching a summer course.   

Werth: The film opens with Indy in glamorous 1935 Shanghai at a Busby Berkley-inspired dinner club. While chasing down a precious diamond and a poison cure at the same time, Indy makes the acquaintance of Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), nightclub singer, chronic whiner and future wife of Steven Spielberg. It isn’t long before they are joined on the run by Indy’s industrious, pint-sized sidekick, Short Round played with Oriental pluck by Jonathan Ke Quan. Something about Jonathan’s performance zeal spoke to me, so I put a poster of Short Round on the door in my closet.

Wise: There are so many things I could say here.

Werth: After foiling certain death by jumping out of a plane and skiing down the Himalayas in an inflatable raft, the intrepid crew comes upon a poverty-stricken village that implores the famous Dr. Jones to retrieve three rocks known as the Sankara Stones that will restore prosperity to their lives... oh and all the kids in the village have been kidnapped and taken to the Taj Mahal up the hill.

Wise: There’s a lot going on in this script.

Werth: That’s not the half of it! But that was the allure of the Indiana Jones films. Spielberg and George Lucas combined fantastic, retro action/adventure-packed stories with cutting-edge special effects to create non-stop cinematic thrill rides. In fact some of the sequences in Temple were considered too thrilling. The scenes of “traditional” Indian haute cuisine and hearts being ripped out of living human sacrifices caused some parents groups to rage that the film’s PG rating was not strong enough. So the MPAA invented the PG-13 rating, assuaging parents and helping blockbuster filmmakers find a comfortable box-office sweetspot between PG and R ratings.

Wise: Because who doesn’t love a theater packed with thirteen year old boys?  

Werth: Fans of the Indiana Jones Trilogy (no, I don't count that recent, stillborn cinematic blunder Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) frequently rate Temple of Doom as their least favorite—maligning Capshaw's spoiled princess character. However, I personally relate to Capshaw's non-adventuress. If I was trapped in a floor-to-ceiling, bug-covered room or dropped into the mouth of a live volcano by a skull-wearing nutjob, I'd be a little peevish too. And I think the choice to break away from Karen Allen’s brilliant “capable dame” performance in Raiders, if nothing else, provides some comic relief from the unrelenting pace. And Capshaw’s Chinese language version of "Anything Goes" is a hoot.

Wise: I often find myself humming along to Mandarin versions of Cole Porter tunes.  
Werth: Time goes by and new technologies have made movies faster, noisier and more like theme park rides than ever before, but nothing can ever really diminish that special pre-adolescent thrill that Temple inspired in this dorky kid from the Heartland. What 1984 flick inspired your dorkiness, Wise?

Wise: Based on Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel of the same name, The Natural recounts the story of nineteen-year-old baseball prodigy Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) who, while on his way to try out for the Chicago Cubs, strikes out a Babe Ruth-like ballplayer at a carnival and is subsequently shot by Harriet Byrd (Barbara Hershey), a madwoman who sees it as her mission to wipe out arrogant baseball players.  The film flashes ahead sixteen years to 1939, when an older, chastened Hobbs appears at tryouts for the fictional New York Knights.  After a rocky start, he eventually impresses the coaching staff, played with cuddly gruffness by Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth, and joins the team as a “middle aged rookie.” 

Werth: Baseball? Wise? Alan Wise?

Wise: Despite his age, Hobbs eventually becomes the star of the team which puts him in the bad graces of the club’s owner The Judge who has a financial stake in the Knights losing the pennant.  When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, The Judge sends Memo Paris (Kim Basinger) to seduce Hobbs and ruin his career, but a chance encounter with his childhood sweetheart Iris Gaines (Glenn Close) restores his faith in playing ball.  The Judge continues to up the ante, and Hobbs eventually must decide between his health and the game he loves.  

Werth: What’s next? Field of Dreams? Eight Men Out?... Major League II?!

Wise: A number of critics have pointed out how the movie romanticizes the bleakness of Malamud’s novel, but The Natural was clearly made as a star vehicle for Robert Redford and the liberties the producers took in their adaptation seem entirely appropriate to a Hollywood golden boy who was in the early stages of taking a more active role behind the camera.  Both Hobbs and Redford were sterling talents who learned to appreciate the quieter, more hard-won pleasures that come with maturity.  

Werth: Who are you?! Where is my Judy Garland, Oz-loving friend, Alan?! 

Wise: I should also mention how perfect the entire supporting cast is, especially Glenn Close’s Oscar nominated performance which breathed life and humanity into what could have been a merely symbolic role.  Also worthy of a mention is Randy Newman’s soaring yet deeply personal score as well as Caleb Deschanel’s dreamy cinematography.  Has our trip down 1984 memory lane made you feel less depressed about the closing of your favorite danceclub?

Werth: Yes, but now that you’ve exposed your masculine side, I want you to get to work on building that dancefloor.

Wise: Tune in next week for more Popping and Gabbing!

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