40 Movies For 40 Years: 1989

1989 was the year that I turned 12 years old. I was getting to be the age where I was all in on films. I drove my mom crazy when I begged her to buy me some magazine at the grocery store that cost $4 just because the cover briefly mentioned a movie that I was excited about. We didn’t have 50 websites giving us up-to-the-minute details behind the scenes like we do now. We got our news in spurts. So, if there was a tiny mention of something we were into, we had to be on it.

It wasn’t plausible to get my mom to buy every magazine on the rack at Food World. So, many Saturday afternoons saw me at the local convenience store, sitting in the floor next to the magazines and comics, reading what I could until old Mr. Smith told me to go home.

This is probably the hardest installment that I’ve had to write since I started this project. There are so many movies from 1989 that I love. And unlike a lot of the ones that I’ve written so far where my favorite movie from a given year wasn’t discovered until years later…1989 was the first year that I can remember falling in love with many of these films from the word “go”. Some of them I had to wait until the following year to see them on video because movie-going in my rural town was a pretty big outing and not something that we did every weekend.

Why is it so hard to pick a winner for 1989? Because I love so many of the titles that came out that year…especially in the summer. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Ghostbusters II, and even Look Who’s Talking.

See? See how hard that is to choose from? No? Well, then you’re not a dude that’s about to turn 40. Because if you were my age…that’s some Sophie’s Choice level stuff right there.

So…I asked myself which movie from that year has meant the most to me over the years. Did any of them shape the way that I watch movies? Did any of them affect the movies that I love now?

Yes, one of them did. Batman.

Batman starred Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance, and was directed by Tim Burton.

This wasn’t the first comic book movie ever made. Several of the Superman films had already beaten it to the punch. But it was the first one that came out when I was of an age to care about it. I became a regular viewer of Entertainment Tonight just hoping to get a glimpse of a costume or any breath about the production. When the Batmobile was first unveiled it was the greatest thing that I’d ever seen.

I wasn’t a huge consumer of comic books. I wasn’t the kid that went to the comic book store every weekend and bought an armload of the newest titles. I got an allowance of $3.50 a week. With that money, I went to the local convenience store and bought four things. A Snicker’s bar, a Sunkist soda, a copy of the latest Superman title…and Batman.

The only exposure that I’d had to an on-screen version of Batman up to that point had been the campy version from the 60s that starred Adam West and Burt Ward. It was entertaining as I watched it in reruns. But even as a kid I knew that Batman was supposed to be a darker character.

If you want to make a dark movie, Burton is the man for the job. Although, at that point in his career that might not be as widely known as it is now. At that time his claim to fain was directing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. You don’t remember the genius that movie was but you need to revisit it. It really was well done. But what he could do with the visuals of this film given what he had to work with at the time was incredible. There aren’t a lot of special effects here. We didn’t have CGI at the time so most of what you saw was practical. They used real cars. They used models. They built actual sets. And what we got was a very dark rendition of Gotham City that looked like a comic book page had sprung to life on the screen.

The film was out of time. It was assumed that it was set in present day (of the time) since Batman had a lot of advanced tech to work with. But the cars and the clothes looked like it was set sometime in the 30s. In this way Burton created a universe that became synonymous with the Batman franchise and was utilized in most of the later films. It inspired the animated series, which I argue is one of the best cartoons that has ever been on TV.

One thing that I love about this film is that it is not an origin story. So many times we’ve seen a film versions of comic book heroes come along and we get a long drawn out story about how the hero came to be. Sometimes we get that story over and over again in various films. But, Burton didn’t want to make a movie about how Bruce Wayne became Batman. He wanted to make a movie about Batman fighting the Joker. So, he took the origin that could have been a whole movie of its own and broke it down to a short flashback scene. It’s all that we needed. We got the whole story of Batman’s birth in that scene that took less than three minutes. It was brilliant and it’s something that I wish we could see more of today.

When Michael Keaton was announced as Batman, it went over my head. My 12-year-old self didn’t know enough about Hollywood to care who was playing the characters. I know now that it was a decision that was well hated by a lot of fans. He was a comedic actor for the most part. But I think that he did a good job in the part. He was an excellent Bruce Wayne. He was a little less excellent as Batman. But that black rubber suit that they built restricted his movement so I think he gave the same performance as Batman as anyone else would have.

Jack Nicholson played the Joker. His performance is legendary. He took the character that we knew from the comics and told us to forget all that. He played Joker as a 30s-style gangster that lost his mind. He still wore the colorful costumes and he still had a maniacal laugh, but he wasn’t jumping all over the place and acting cartoonish the way we’ve seen before. This version was much more along the lines of what we saw in The Killing Joke.

What we have today is a Hollywood that churns out comic book movies like it’s all they know how to make. And I’m not complaining about that. We get a lot of really good movies that way. The MCU hasn’t put out a bad movie yet. But something they all have in common is that they depend greatly on CGI to tell their stories. Batman didn’t have that problem. Burton proved that all you need is a good concept, a decent script, and a great cast and you can make a film that will be the template for a ton of others for decades.

And, it’s my favorite film from 1989.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1988

So I fell a little behind.

I promised two installments a week until my birthday and now I’m way behind the 8-ball. What can I say? Life happened. It’s been a busy and stressful year for yours truly and those around me. I moved out of that old trailer that was too small for us 15 years ago and now we’re living in a house in Leeds. I even have my own space in the house. A game room/family movie room/office that I like to call the Geek Cave.

I finally finished up all the work that I needed to do for last semester and I’m getting ready to start taking another class over the summer.

Wasn’t there something I was supposed to be doing?

Holy crap! I’ve still got 30 years worth of films to get through in my blog project before July 4! Well, two installments a week isn’t going to cut it now. This blog is going to just about have to be daily for the next few weeks in order to catch up. Oh well…I think I’m up for a challenge.

The summer of 1988 was a milestone of a year for me. I finished elementary school when I graduated out of Ms. Bouchet’s homeroom class. The following fall I would be a big kid and I’d start taking classes across town at the middle school. That’s right, in the south we don’t usually call it Jr. High…we call it “middle school”.

And my love of movies was just beginning to kick into full gear. I wasn’t just obsessed with the movies themselves anymore. I was quickly becoming enthralled in the production aspects as well. I know that year brought us the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. For a long time…that was it. I didn’t need anything else. A movie filled with live action AND cartoons? Yes! Please, yes!

I devoured magazine articles that told how all of the special effects were done. I was amazed at the lengths they went to in order to make a cartoon rabbit drink out of a real whiskey glass. It was amazing!

As I have grown I still have a fond appreciation for that film. I watch it every now and again to scratch that nostalgic itch. But there were several other films that came out in 1988 that I consider to be among my favorites as well. Tom Hanks was getting Big…Michael Keaton was grossing us out in Beetlejuice…and Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman had the classic Rain Man.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to grow an appetite for action movies. By the time that I was 15 or 16 I was hooked on films that had heart thumping  shootouts, car chases, people hanging from buildings, explosions and everything else you’d associate with brainless popcorn films. And one thing that I’ve noticed is that many of the action flicks that I loved as a teenager seem to be cut from a template. There is a pattern that most of them follow that lead to them becoming successful. It’s a quality that has only been done perfectly one time; in the film that created the cloth that all of the others are cut from.

Die Hard.

Die Hard stars Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, and Reginald VelJohnson. It was directed by John McTierman who was mostly known for the film he’d directed the year before… Predator.

Bruce Willis was a fairly well known person in 1988. He was in a pretty popular comedy/drama called Moolighting at the time. But, in my opinion, this movie solidified him a leading man in film.

Willis plays John McClane, a cop from New York who flies out to LA to spend Christmas with his family. His marriage has been on the rocks lately and he’s hoping to get back into his wife’s good graces. His wife is Holly McClane (Bedelia). She has recently taken a job as an executive for the Nakatomi Corporation. They are having their Christmas party when John arrives. He gets there and goes to the bathroom just in time for some terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Rickman), who want to steal the bearer bonds that the company has in their vault. They take the party goers hostage except for John. Now it is up to him to stop the terrorists from killing any innocent victims and save his wife.

Before I get into telling you what I think of the movie (love it), I want to give you a little bit of background info that I’ve always found interesting.

Die Hard was based on a novel by the name of Nothing Lasts Forever that was written by Roderick Thorpe in 1979. In the book the main character’s name is Joe Leland. He is a retired New York City cop. He flies out to visit his daughter who works for a big corporation and their having their Christmas party. The rest of it is pretty much the same. He even swings through the window just like Willis does in the film.

This is where it gets a little interesting. Nothing Lasts Forever was the sequel to another novel that Thorpe wrote in 1966 called The Detective. That book was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. He had in his contract that if they ever decided to make a sequel to that film that he would get the first opportunity to reprise his role. So, honoring the contract, Fox offered the lead role in Die Hard to Frank Sinatra. Can you imagine ol’ Blue Eyes, in his late sixties, crawling through the duct work in his undershirt and with his bleeding feet? It would have been something altogether different.

Luckily, Sinatra turned the role down and it was retooled into what we have now. Bruce Willis was chosen mainly because as a newbie to the movies he was a lot cheaper than some of the big stars that were eyeing the role.

The rest is history. Die Hard is the perfect action movie. It has the gunfire, explosions, and fight scenes that you’d expect. But this was one of the first times that I remember seeing humor so perfectly woven into a film in which the stakes were life and death. Willis had so many one-liners that it’s impossible to remember them all. And those little jokes did not detract from the tension. They actually made it feel more real. It made John McClane seem more like a real person. And that made the movie that much more intense.

And what can I say about Alan Rickman? He was one of my favorite actors. So many movies that I love he was a part of and just made them so much better just by doing what he does best. The slow, methodical way that he delivered his lines with just enough of an accent to make it seem more menacing was incredible. And this was the first movie that I ever remember seeing him in. If he had not been there I don’t think this film would be the classic that I think of it as being today.

I really can’t do anything but gush over this movie. I watch it at least once a year. It was so well received that they made another one a couple of years later that was very good as well. It wasn’t AS good as sequels usually aren’t. But it was strong and stood on its own.

The third one though…wow! We’ll have to see in a week or so but I think that one has a chance of making it on this list as well.

Then we get the stories of movies that were written to be Die Hard sequels and ended up becoming their own thing. You can see the origins coming from that original film. Under Siege (Die Hard on a ship). Speed (Die Hard on a bus). The list goes on.

And then there are the movies that were supposed to be other things and eventually were rewritten to put John McClane in them. Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard both suffer because of that.

But there was an a teenager that just happened to be in the room one night when his dad turned on the TV and started watching Die Hard…and that kid was hooked on stupid blow-em-up flicks ever since. 

13 Reasons Why: A Parental Review

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 As I walked by my daughter’s bedroom a couple of weeks ago I saw her staring intently at her phone. I could tell that she was enthralled in something and I figured she was catching up on some of her favorite shows.

“What are you watching?” I said, trying to be the dad that knows what his daughter is doing.

“It’s a new show on Netflix,” she replied. “It’s called 13 Reasons Why. Everybody at school is watching it.”

I thought nothing else about it. I very rarely condemn anything that my kids are watching unless I know that it is something extremely violent or raunchy. The title actually registered in my mind because I had seen the book on the shelf at the bookstore and online a few times. I knew it was a young adult title so I figured a Netflix show based on that should be alright. I mean, she’s seen The Hunger Games, right?

A couple of days later my wife tells me that she saw a few stories online about some kids that have committed suicide after watching the show. That sounds a little farfetched to me and I tell her that Gracie is watching that show. She doesn’t like the idea so I call Gracie in the room and tell her that we’d be more comfortable if she didn’t watch the rest of the show until we had done some more research. Of course she tells us that she’s already binged the whole thing. Guess what? There are only 13 episodes. Shocker.

So, I decide to do my due diligence as an active father and watch the whole thing myself. I have to know just what my daughter has been exposed to due to my shoulder-shrugging indifference. Maybe it was made for a younger audience and probably heavy with melodrama, but I needed to know what was in this show that I needed to talk with her about.

That is the story of how it came about that I watched the entire first season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. And now I’m going to tell you what I thought about what I saw. But first, a quick rundown of what the show is about.

Clay Jensen is a sophomore in high school. He’s not the most popular kid in his class but he has friends in all the school’s social cliques. One of his friends, Hannah Baker, recently committed suicide. The whole school seems to be reeling from the sudden loss of one of their own. But Clay begins to notice that a lot of the kids that are leaving signs and notes on her locker didn’t really have much of a relationship with Hannah when she was alive.

But Clay’s whole world changes when he comes home one night and discovers a package on his doorstep. When he opens it he finds that it contains seven cassette tapes. They’re all decorated and the box has drawings all over it. He finds a tape player and puts in the first tape. He instantly hears Hannah’s voice.

Hannah made 13 tapes, or sides to cassettes, detailing all of the reasons why she decided to take her own life. She set up an elaborate plan of who the tapes should go to and be passed along the line until everyone on her list has heard her story. She blames certain individuals in her life for leading her to make this decision and she wanted them to know exactly what they did that contributed to her death.

It’s a very morbid idea…and a very wrong on at that. I watched all 13 episodes of this show. With the exception of a couple of the kids on Hannah’s list, the kids that she blamed didn’t do anything that wasn’t normal teenager stuff. There was some bullying, some gossiping, and some cheating. But nothing that would warrant the punishment of feeling as though you’ve basically had your hands in a murder.

The guy that wrote the book is Jay Asher. I know that he was trying to shed a light on teenage suicide by showing that there are so many kids that have things happening to them that lead to such a terrible end. And that, in a way, by going on about our daily lives and not noticing what is going on with these kids, we call kind of contribute to the end result. The kids in Hannah’s school weren’t interested in what their bullying did to her, but the fact that it could lead to her death never crossed their minds.

I was a victim of bullying when I was a kid. I know firsthand what it is like to be psychologically tortured everyday for 7-8 hours. And I know what it is like to have school administration basically not do a thing about it. I also know what it’s like to wonder how bad everyone would feel if I just died. This show has Hannah go through those feelings and then actually do something about it.

Hannah needed help, and she didn’t get it. The school was too worried about legal ramifications. Her parents were too wrapped up in their financial problems. The friends that she did have didn’t realize that she was sad. So no one helped her.

But Hannah wasn’t innocent in all of this either. She punished the kids that had bullied her and done things to her in a way that will haunt them forever. That’s one of the things that I find very dangerous about this show. Hannah is using her suicide as a revenge…which makes me think that she has the whole thing fantasized. It’s almost as if she doesn’t realize that in order to pull this off she has to die. And when the story is over…she’s still going to be dead. Revenge is a very bad reason to die.

Overall, the show is decent. If you like most of the teenage drama stuff you find on CW then you’ll probably like it. It’s very dark compared to that stuff, though. The acting is very well done. The kids in this show definitely have bright futures ahead of them because some of the performances are very compelling.

But, it is also extremely intense. And truth be told…I wish that Gracie had not watched it. Not that I wouldn’t let her see it, because I think there is some excellent lessons to be learned here. But if I had a chance to go back, I would watch it with her. And after every episode we would talk about what had happened and what we can take from it. I’ve given her express directives that when season two drops next year that she’ll have to watch every episode with my wife and me.

If your kids have already seen it, have a talk with them. If they haven’t, then either watch it with them or don’t let them watch it. Because there are some things that you’d probably rather they didn’t see. For one thing, two episodes have some pretty graphic rape scenes. There isn’t any nudity, but there are some prolonged scenes in which you know exactly what is happening and it is uncomfortable.

And then there is the scene in which Hannah actually commits suicide. It is very graphic, very bloody, and very hard to watch.  It was a big change from the book where she simply swallowed some sleeping pills. In this version she gets into a bathtub and slices her wrists open with a razor blade…and you see every bit of it. And you see her parents finding her in that bloody water a little later. As a parent I literally choked when it happened. So be prepared for that. If you don’t think your kids can handle it, then I wouldn’t let them see it.

But the thing is…it’s out there. Our kids are going to see it if they want to see it whether we like it or not. You can take their phone and they’ll just watch it with their friends at school. I know it’s not what you want to hear. So…talk to them about it.  Find out if there is anything going on in their lives that they feel like no one cares about or that they haven’t gotten any help with. You would be surprised at the things that your kids have experienced that you know nothing about. And finding out that little bit of information could be the difference in life or death in some situations.

13 Reasons Why is available on Netflix.

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