Today in Movie History: August 10

I was tempted to start with Red Dawn here, because when you’re talking batshit crazy movies it should be at the top of the list. But I’m going to follow my heart and go with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension, one of the most absurdly marvelous things the 80s ever produced. It jump-starts its own comic-book universe and presents it to us the way most of us discovered comics back when there weren’t any movies not starring Christopher Reeve to give you a cheat sheet. You’d pick up issue #48 of whatever the line was, and had to figure out the characters and story thread midway through. It was baffling, fascinating and kind of wonderful… the same vibe that Buckaroo Banzai picks up without pause and carries to the finish line. It opened today in 1984, and there will always be a little joy in my heart because of it.

Yes, yes we’re getting to Red Dawn. Not the instantly forgotten reboot from a few years ago, but the gloriously deranged original, in which the dirty commies invade America’s heartland, forcing a gaggle of corn-fed teens to go all insurgent on their Lenin-quoting butts. The scenario requires a little hand-waving to fly, but director John Milius does find an interesting way of revealing how Americans might mount a guerilla war against a hypothetical invader, and the pervading sense of doom that creeps into the narrative sets it apart from other bits of flag-waving  jingoism from the era. Red Dawn also opened today in 1984.

We’ll close with something completely different: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a sweet, snarky and completely fabulous dramedy about a trio of drag queens (Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) on a journey across the Outback. Its pleasures are many, but I enjoy showing it to people just to watch them freak out at Agent Smith dressed up like a showgirl. It opened in the United States today in 1994.

 

Today in Movie History: March 7

Forget the horrible sequels and worse television spin-offs. The original Highlander earned its spurs as a batshit crazy, wildly original genre exercise that created a significant cult following, and remains one of the more unique products of 1980s cinema. It opened today in 1986.

In an attempt to update classic film noir tropes for the 1970s, Robert Altman created one of its strangest and most enduring updates with The Long Goodbye, which opened today in 1973. Elliott Gould plays a Philip Marlowe out of his time and place, wandering through a Los Angeles that has left him behind in search of a mystery that not even he can quite articulate. Among its other pleasures — including Altman’s inimitable improvisational style and a fine turn from Gould — it features a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his first onscreen roles.

Any Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is welcome here, and we’ve got one of the better ones for you: The Premature Burial, the tale of a man obsessed with being buried alive, and the general consternation that results. It’s interesting in part because it’s the only Corman Poe adaptation that doesn’t star Vincent Price. (Corman wanted him, but behind-the-scenes machinations prevented it from happening.) It opened today in 1962.