24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The 1980's

Does '21 Jump Street' prove the '80s naysayers wrong?

March 19, 2012 | 10:29 am

'21 Jump Street' and the '80s renaissanceWith the 1980s renaissance now in full swing, the one pattern that's finally established itself is that there is no pattern.

Every time a movie puts a check mark in the pass column, another film comes along and, well, flunks out. “21 Jump Street,” Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s revival of the Fox network's school-set cop series, was a solid success this weekend with a $35-million opening and a surprisingly all-ages audience. But the results don’t really prove much.

Among the more high-profile 1980s properties released in theaters over the last couple of years, two have now been successes ("The Karate Kid" and "Jump Street") three have been disappointments ("The A-Team," "The Thing" and "Fright Night") and two have landed somewhere in the middle ("Footloose" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street").

Review: '21 Jump Street' has an endearing, punch-you-in-the-arm charm

That hardly offers a definitive argument in favor of the reboot (and, in fact, a split decision makes a sort of contrarian case, since the rationale for bringing back the 1980s in the first place was that properties from that era would be automatically advantaged).

Still, there’s at least an inference to be made about what’s worked within the subgenre — movies whose tone showed an awareness of the original, not to mention how much times have changed since. The new “Jump Street” took a goofy idea and treated it with irreverence; in fact, it didn't pay much attention to the conventions of the original at all.

On the other hand, the original “A-Team" was also silly, but Joe Carnahan took its explosions and escapes so seriously audiences could only laugh at the contrast.

Movie review: '21 Jump Street'

Even if another '80s movie never sees the light of day (and no such luck — “Red Dawn” is on its way later this year), the decade is coming back in other ways. You don't have to try too hard to see in "The Hunger Games" echoes of "The Running Man" and "Blade Runner. " And the upcoming  "American Reunion" will strike many as (an attempt at) a 21st century blend of the youth comedy of "Revenge of the Nerds" and the adult nostalgia of "The Big Chill." And so on.

In other words, those who are wondering what the results for new releases will mean for the 1980s renaissance need not waste their time: That renaissance is already here.


"21 Jump Street" is No. 1 with $35 million

"21 Jump Street:" Channing Tatum-Jonah Hill bromance disarms critics

Back to school with "21 Jump Street"

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The new film "21 Jump Street." Credit: Sony Pictures.

'Breakfast Club' reading: Jason Reitman heads to detention

October 19, 2011 |  2:40 pm


Angeleno fans of John Hughes’ 1980s coming-of-age favorite “The Breakfast Club” will have the opportunity to experience the tale a little differently Thursday night.

Filmmaker Jason Reitman (“Juno," “Up in the Air”) will direct a live reading of the screenplay for the movie as part of Film Independent at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new series, helping us wonder, once again, if Barry Manilow knows that Mr. Vernon raids his wardrobe.

Mindy Kaling, Patton Oswalt, Jennifer Garner and James Van Der Beek will be on hand to play the roles originated by Ally Sheedy's goth girl, Anthony Michael Hall's nerd, Molly Ringwald's popular chick and Emilio Estevez's jock, respectively, and give new life to the story of students bonding in the detention room at Shermer High. The actors will offer their interpretations on the classic lines, while Reitman will call out directions on the stage.

Reitman told 24 Frames that he was motivated to stage the unusual event because most filmgoers don't get a chance to see how actors arrive at their characters. “It's exciting to see a role developed from start to finish,” Reitman said.

And “The Breakfast Club,” he noted, particularly lends itself to the format. “It's almost a play — even characters saying these great lines. It's easy to imagine the scenes as you listen.”

LACMA's film program has attempted several novel initiatives under new chief Elvis Mitchell. The curator told The Times recently that he wanted to expand the definition of a film series beyond simple screenings. He has high hopes for Reitman’s live-reading concept. “I think in some way [it] will change the way people look at movies,” Mitchell said. (By Wednesday, the reading was listed as sold out.)

And Reitman? He wants to, well, buy another Saturday. The directo aims to organize script reads from other films, with different casts, at LACMA in the coming months. That is, assuming Thursday's idea succeeds. “I have no idea if it will work. It just seemed like a really interesting experiment," he said. "If it doesn’t, I guess we’ll be a one-hit wonder.”


Elvis Mitchell wants LACMA's film program to cater to all

Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson likely to go the Jason Reitman way

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Breakfast Club." Credit: Universal Pictures

'Footloose:' The '80's are dead. Long live the '80's.

October 17, 2011 |  8:00 am

The original "Footloose." Its 2011 remake pulled in $16.1 million at the box office.
Seasons, like paychecks and Republican presidential front-runners, come and go. But some things remain constant. Like '80s remakes. And, specifically, their power to make us yawn.

This weekend saw the moviegoing public shrug off two more retreads, a revival of a 1984 Kevin Bacon classic and a prequel of a 1982 John Carpenter cult hit. "Footloose," that Bacon revival, pulled in $16.1 million -- not a terrible number, but considering how heavily the movie was marketed, not exactly auspicious, either. Results for "The Thing" looked more grisly -- the movie eked out only $8.7 million.

The films join a long list of '80s reboots that have yielded lackluster results: "Fright Night," "Conan," "The A-Team," "Arthur."

But whilem any specific '80s titles have failed, the ethos of that decade actually remains alive in some of moviedom's most popular films.

In "Drive," the well-reviewed art-house piece that has established a loyal fan base, Nicolas Winding Refn channels the spirit of "Miami Vice" and other pastel-colored entertainment. Throwback action movies such as "The Expendables' and "Fast Five," meanwhile, have turned into the biggest hits of the last couple of years. "Footloose" may have struggled, but its spiritual descendants, the "Step Up" films, has blossomed into one of the hottest teen franchises of the last few years.

And this summer J.J Abrams looked to the movies of the 1980s, like "Stand by Me" and "The Goonies," in creating his coming-of-age adventure "Super 8." The film went on to become a huge global hit.

There are good reasons we're looking back to the movies of several decades ago: There were some storytelling values to that period, for one thing, and there are only have so many stories to tell.

Even a contemporary director such as Jason Reitman, one of the more original-minded filmmakers out there, said he felt the ghosts of decades past when he gets behind the camera. "In a strange way, I always feel like I'm doing a remake," he told 24 Frames in an interview last week. "I mean, 'Thank You for Smoking' was 'Jerry Maguire' if Jerry sold cigarettes."

In a new column, my colleague Patrick Goldstein takes a look at why so many producers these days choose to resurrect the past, offering the theory that platforms such as Netflix and YouTube make a new generation more willing to accept older stories. "With a century of culture just a click away on any computer, young consumers have become the ultimate archivists, just as willing to embrace familiarity as innovation," he said.

In that sense, Hollywood is giving us what we want with these throwback pieces -- films that remind us of stories we've heard before. It's just that we prefer they don't remind us so explicitly.


"Real Steel" shimmies past "Footloose" for No. 1

Has "Footloose" been given a conservative makeover?

Is Hollywood's mania for remakes spinning out of control?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The original "Footloose." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Was 'Tron: Legacy' more popular because audiences didn't think much of the original?

December 20, 2010 |  7:00 am


For years, film fans have been pointing out how little the "Tron" name meant to any but the most dedicated geeks. And yet somehow its sequel proved very popular this past weekend anyway.

No doubt the new "Tron's" $43.6 million of domestic box office was fueled by Disney's gargantuan marketing campaign, which made sure no waking human could go 10 minutes without being reminded of the film's existence. But given how infrequently most of us have thought of "Tron" since it came out 28 years ago, it's worth asking a counter-intuitive question: Could the lukewarm feelings for Steven Lisberger's original actually have helped the new film?

As Hollywood has gone reboot-crazy in recent years, particularly for all things '80s, the thinking has been that it's wise to play off a beloved name. That's how, the wisdom went, a studio can easily conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings and ensure a lot of the marketing work is done before it ever spends a dollar.

But as we get deeper into the 1980s revival, something curious is happening. We're embracing remakes of properties we didn't care for much the first time around -- and turning a cold shoulder to remakes of the movies and TV show we remember fondly.

This year, for instance, the resurrections that struggled were based on iconic properties: "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the original of which horror fans hold dear; "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," a sequel to an era-defining classic that performed decently but not great; and, most prominently, "The A-Team." The story of a crack commando unit sent to prison for a crime it didn't commit is one of the most appreciated of all '80s entertainment brands. But it struck out in 2010.

On the other hand, the '80s names that unleash a weaker stream of nostalgia have landed more forcefully. "Clash of the Titans," a movie that on its first go-round in 1981 was liked but hardly canonized by most film-goers, took in an eye-popping $163 million. And now "Tron: Legacy" -- which continued the story of a film most audiences barely remembered, let alone liked -- is on its way to becoming a hit.

Could it be that, even as most of us roll our eyes at '80s remakes, we're actually interested in them --  as long as what's being remade isn't sacrosanct? (The one exception is "The Karate Kid," the new version of which was able to overcome this skepticism with savvy casting and marketing.)

It's impossible to know if this upside-down rule of remakes will continue to hold as Hollywood proceeds in bringing back the '80s. But the evidence may now be sufficient to make the people behind the new "Ghostbusters" worried -- and those behind the new "Conan" excited.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Olivia Wilde in "Tron: Leagcy." Credit: Disney


"How Do You Know" flops; "Tron" doesn't

"Tron: Legacy" is a multi-platform bet for Disney

Hollywood falls for 'The Fall Guy': Lee Majors series is latest reboot candidate

July 1, 2010 |  7:55 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of 1980s action series (and Hollywood stuntmen), take heed. "The Fall Guy" is coming for you.

Hollywood uber-producer Walter Parkes and DreamWorks are working on a reboot of the 1980s action hit "The Fall Guy," say sources. It's early development, but look for a writer to come on board soon and devise a way to bring the action hero to the big screen.

"The Fall Guy," which was created by action maven Glen A. Larson and starred Lee Majors, aired from 1981 to 1986 on ABC. Fans of classic action shows — and those of us who grew up on '80s TV — will remember the conceit: Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman by day and bounty hunter by night. He often incorporated his stunts into his bounty-hunting, flying vehicles (his trademark large pickup especially) over large objects, jumping from impossibly high angles and doing other things '80s heroes did to nab the people they were chasing. Heather Thomas co-starred and often got into trouble with him.

Action series from the 1980s have been coming in waves to the movie world: "The Dukes of Hazard" hit six years ago, "The A-Team" just hit, "The Equalizer" is being developed for Russell Crowe as a possible starring vehicle, and MacGyver (the real one, not the satire) is moving forward apace. The producers of "Hardcastle & McCormick" must be chomping at the bit.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The Fall Guy. Credit: 20th Century Fox Home Video


With The Equalizer, Russell Crowe will look to set things right

Movie Review: The A-Team

Should studios continue bringing back the '80s?

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Should studios continue bringing back the '80s?

June 14, 2010 |  7:00 am


If this movie-going summer was to yield nothing else, it was at least bring us this: clarity about Hollywood's investment in reviving the 1980s.

And no weekend would throw more light on that question than this one, with its unlikely coincidence of two major '80s properties hitting the screen at the same time. All we needed to feel more like we were back in Reaganville were Billy Joel and Madonna solving a Rubik's Cube while "Knight Rider" and "The Cosby Show" played in the background.

And yet as the weekend wound down, we were left with little clarity at all. The verdict was as split as opinions on "Twin Peaks" -- one movie, "The Karate Kid," overachieved at the box office, and the other, "The A-Team," sputtered behind it ($30 million behind it).

That would seem to give no indication of anything, except for maybe Hollywood's go-to trope: The movie has to deliver, regardless of its era of origin. Conceived under the hand of could-his-stock-drop-any-faster Joe Carnahan, "The A-Team" was a fusillade of nonsensical noise, and audiences saw right through it. On the other hand, "The Karate Kid," while hardly representing a breakthrough in cinematic accomplishment (or a narrative or emotional triumph over the original), did what Hollywood arguably does best: produce a competent entertainment that offers few surprises but succeeds completely as a crowd-pleaser.

That all would seem to suggest little about what we can expect from future remakes, or yield any guidance about how much Hollywood should continue down its '80's path (with a new "Beverly Hills Cop,"  "Wall Street," etc.) But there is a lesson nestled beneath the split decision.

By chance, we happened to catch on cable this weekend two truly great pop classics from the '80s, "Field of Dreams" and "Back to the Future." (It's almost as if cable programmers, aware of how the '80s were being tortured on the big screen, decided to slip in a little reminder of how it's really done).

Obviously the Me Decade had more than its share of stinkers and mass-marketed schlock too. But what struck us from watching these two films, which existed not in the art house ghetto but as broad hits at the multiplex, is how different they feel from the current crop in one key respect: their fundamental grasp of storytelling, which in both films came off as effortless and intuitive in a way that few movies do these days. (We didn't watch the original "Karate Kid" again, but we saw that a few weeks ago too, and you can certainly add that to the list.)

Maybe in this sense the forces behind the new "Karate Kid" understood more than they appeared to. It's hard, they reasoned, to come up with a movie that contains true storytelling chops, let alone to get that movie green-lighted. So the least we could do, they said, is imitate a movie that had them. At least subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative, not just easy marketing. 

Of course, the better approach would be not to copy great storytelling but to come up with some new ones. (Right now, "Inception" director Chris Nolan seem to be the only filmmaker with the vision and clout to realize this.) But then, in a storytelling climate that's so barren, a few drops of rain are welcome, even if it's the rain of 25 years ago.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams." Credit: Universal Pictures

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Does the new 'Karate Kid' do the original justice?

June 10, 2010 |  3:10 pm

Few modern movies resonated quite like the 1984 pop classic "The Karate Kid.” With an appealing underdog story and numerous quotable lines, the John Avildsen film shaped a generation with its cheesy but strangely affecting uplift.

Sony releases a new "Karate Kid" Friday, with Ralph Macchio’s Daniel replaced by Jaden Smith’s Dre, and Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi replaced by Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han, as the action is transplanted from Southern California to China. The film’s plot tracks closely with the original, as audiences will get a chance to experience a movie that both reinvents and pays homage to the original (and not just with the trailer’s nod to Miyagi’s fly-killing technique, which has Han using a fly swatter instead of chopsticks).

Here’s a handy guide (warning: plot spoilers below -- though if you saw the first one, you pretty much know how a lot of this turns out anyway) to how Harald Zwart’s new film handles the touchstone scenes.

The Moment: The young hero is saved by an older man who fights off a pack of bullies a fraction of his age, then becomes the hero’s mentor.

The Original: Miyagi hops a fence to karate-chop, scissor kick and otherwise torment the private parts of bully Johnny and his buddies. The bad guys are dressed in Halloween skeleton costumes.

The Remake: Han steps into an alley to fight off a group of Chinese schoolchildren who are bullying Dre and, after a series of defensive moves, has the children smacking into each other Three Stooges-style. The bad guys are dressed in orange schoolboy uniforms.


The Moment: The young hero participates in a seemingly menial but in fact life-altering training exercise.

The Original: Miyagi instructs Daniel to wax his car dozens of times ("wax on, wax off"), to the consternation of the student, in the interest of developing muscle memory.

The Remake: Han instructs Dre to pick up, put on and remove his jacket dozens of times ("jacket on, jacket off"), to the consternation of the student, in the interest of teaching him discipline and the importance of not leaving your jacket on the floor.

The Moment: The young student is made aware that his mentor has suffered a great tragedy.

The Original: There’s a Greatest Generation poignancy as Miyagi reveals that his wife and son died in a World War II internment camp after Miyagi had become a war hero fighting the Nazis. An ode to the power of vanquishing evil dictators.

The Remake: Geopolitics are gone, replaced by martial-arts psychology, as Han reveals that his wife and son were killed in a car accident that happened when Han lost his temper and became distracted. An ode to the power of defensive driving.

The Moment: The uplifting musical montage when the hero, and audience, first believe a major upset is possible.

Continue reading »

License to Cry: Why Corey Haim's death matters (sort of)

March 12, 2010 |  8:00 am


The death of Corey Haim earlier this week didn't register high even on the meters of the celebrity- and tragedy-obsessed tabloid media. Corey Feldman appeared on "Larry King Live," a few commentators intoned a few serious-sounding things about the dangers of getting too famous too fast in Hollywood, and that was that.

But for a certain age group -- many of us in our thirties, and maybe a year or two in either direction -- the actor's apparent accidental overdose resonated more deeply. When the news first broke on Wednesday morning, there rippled across Twitter accounts and Facebook pages a sense of loss and even surprise.

It wasn't that Haim's death was, on most rational levels, a shock, or that we thought about him in life as much more than a passing trivia question -- ask us about him a day before he died and our eyes would have lit up with recognition while a quick joke about him and Feldman might have passed our lips, but that would have pretty much been it. Still, many of us were struck by the fact that we could be here again, watching someone we loved so unquestioningly as kids come to such a hard-bitten adult end. We saw in Haim, for all his campiness, his modest theatrical output and -- let's face it -- his less-than-abundant acting skills, a reflection of much that mattered to us back then, an era that seemed like one of such worldliness but in retrospect was, both for us and for celebrity-dom as a whole, one of such unadorned innocence.

I can't speak to what someone who came of age in the1960s or 1970s might have felt when experiencing the untimely end of someone famous from their youth. But it strikes me that before the mid-'80s (commenters and fans of "One Day at a Time," feel free to disagree) there was less blind affection for a personality simply because they were famous and because all of one's friends liked them, and so in turn less of a reflexive wince when hearing that personality had come upon hard times.

A new generation's interaction with youth-oriented celebrities, by the same token, also doesn't feel comparable. Young people these days have a different relationship with their pinup idols. They are just as preoccupied as we 30-somethings were with the youth-skewing stars of our day, perhaps more so. But they know these stars more intimately and hold fewer illusions about them. To be 18 and love a celebrity these days is to tear them down as much as it is to build them up, to engage in the complicated to-and-fro of love, hate and eye-rolling. If one of the current-day Hollywood bad-boys or bad-girls would tragically die, the reaction, while equally potent, would be far more emotionally guarded.

My generation's feeling for Corey Haim, on the other hand, was -- as it was with other personalities from the time -- simpler and, as a result, more permanent. Even if we were aware of the silliness of the whole enterprise, as we certainly were with Haim, we also relished and took seriously their every career development and on-screen role -- in Haim's case, the serious "Lucas," the darkly affecting "Lost Boys" (a kind of "Twilight" for young males of that time, only a lot better) and the freewheeling silliness of "License to Drive," which to this day I still can't believe was actually a hit).

We didn't really know much about Haim personally except that he was troubled (and even that came later). And so, at that age when one needs a sports or a movie star to identify with and there was no TMZ or US Weekly to warn us otherwise, Haim and his counterparts fit the bill nicely.

It's eerie that the actor's death came just three days after we were reminded of that period, not only of American pop culture but of our own lives, via the tribute to John Hughes at the Oscars. With roles like Ferris Bueller and John Bender, and in the lives of Molly Ringwald and Corey Haim, we first learned about a larger world even as it seemed these people were speaking directly to us. Most of us who grew up in that world of the 1980s indeed won't forget about them, not because their legend was that shiny, their mark that indelible or their work even that great, but because our affection for them was once so uncomplicated.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Poster of "License to Drive." Credit: 20th Century Fox


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