Today in Movie History: July 31

It’s big day for the 80s. We’ll start with The Lost Boys, Joel Schumacher’s teen vampire romp that became an indispensable shared experience for Generation X. I’ll be honest: it’s not great, especially when compared to Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant Near Dark which came out the same year. But Schumacher did find a dangerous vibe to a movie aimed squarely at adolescents… and he had a serious ace in the hole with Kiefer Sutherland. The sight of him striding down the Santa Carla boardwalk sizing up potential victims like fresh steak captures everything the film wants to say in a single youthful swagger. He and Jason Patric (as his heroic/romantic nemesis) give far more of a reason to tune in than the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman) who were then approaching the peak of their fame. (Haim’s tragic death takes a lot of the fun out of this flick.) Nevertheless, its shabbiness hide some flashes of brilliance, and for Gen-Xers, it remains an affectionate ode to our youth. It opened  today in 1987.

Also opening on the same day is The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton’s initial outing as 007 after Roger Moore finally hung up the PPK. I maintain that it’s one of the very best Bonds out there, returning the character to his grittier roots after Moore’s superspy romps had run their course. (The opening chase in Gibraltar remains a franchise highlight.) Dalton’s Bond probably comes the closest to the original Ian Fleming novels as any actor yet, and while his reign was brief, it remains an honorable chapter in the storied character’s life. The Living Daylights opened in 1987.

Closer to the present, it’s a little early to start canonizing the original Guardians of the Galaxy, and I confess that — while I like it a great deal so PLEASEFORTHELOVEOFGODSTOPHITTINGME — I don’t quite love it the way so many people do. But it does show how flexible and varied the MCU is becoming, and its snarky space opera vibe remains uniquely its own in a genre dominated by Star Wars clones. It opened today in 2014.

We’ll close with a mild bit of controversy. Before the TV show made him an icon, Joss Whedon wrote the script for a movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He subsequently disowned it, and by any account, the TV show is the superior version of the concept. But there’s still a reasonable amount of fun to be had in the movie: not only from Kristy Swanson as a plucky Buffy 1.0, but from Paul Reubens at his scene-stealing best as one of the villain’s undead minions. (And seriously, if nothing else, this movie gave Reubens work when he was an absolute pariah, and in the process delivered one of the most bizarrely hysterical deaths in movie history). Buffy the Vampire Slayer opened today in 1992.

Free Pee-Wee!


Today in Movie History: June 16

We’ll give Grease the nod for the pole position. It is the word after all, and while the film’s subtext remains troubling — basically saying that in order to get the man of your dreams, you have to change everything you are — it’s hard to stop the toes from tapping once those songs get going. And say what you will about John Travolta: the man knows how to dance. Grease opened today in 1978.

If that’s not your thing, there’s always Them! a better-than-average giant bug movie in which a colony of giant ants invades Los Angeles. The genre is, um, rather shabby, but if you’re in the mood, this one can be a lot of fun. It opened today in 1954.

Then there’s Batman Forever, a film regarded at the time as an effortless leap from Tim Burton’s vision to Joel Schumacher’s, but which stands today in only slightly higher regard than the maligned Batman and Robin. Overstuffed with too many characters, full of headache-inducing neon colors and eliciting the worst performance in Tommy Lee Jones’s career, it remains an embarrassing footnote in the long history of the character. It opened today — for better or worse — in 1995.

Finally, we’d be remiss is we did’t mention Finding Dory, Pixar’s delightful sequel to one of the most delightful movies they’ve ever made. It opened one year ago today, but we’re pretty high on its ability to stand the test of time…. provide its protagonist can remember.