It’s the 50th episode of Pop Culture Affidavit! For this special episode, I take a look back twenty years to the year I graduated from high school. Along the way, I look at how senior year of high school is represented in movies. It includes stops at, among other things, American Pie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Paper Towns as well as a host of personal memories about my own senior year of high school (which ended on June 25, 1995). Was high school the best time of my life? Was it a waking nightmare? Was it a little bit of both? You’ll have to listen to find out.
As of my writing this, we’re about knee-deep in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. In fact, as I glance over to my television, the NBC Sports Network is showing a U.S.-North Korea women’s soccer match (it was either that or tennis). I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter, especially at how it has me watching and enjoying sports I would never watch otherwise (I went to lunch with some work friends the other day and we watched a water polo match that was on at the restaurant).
This love of the Olympics has its roots in my love of sports, of course, because if I didn’t like sports I wouldn’t care about the Olympics; however, I feel like sometimes I am the only guy who watches the games for the sheer pageantry of it all. Which is why, by the way, I kept tweeting out snarky bon mots throughout last Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies, pissing and moaning about how badly NBC was mangling their tape-delayed coverage. In fact, NBC’s fail on this part has been so epic this year it’s like a running joke among tweeters and bloggers, especially those who look forward to the games every four years.
But I’m not going to spend this entry complaining about NBC (that’s what Twitter is for). No, I thought it might be cool to sit down for a few moments and think about why I am so enthralled by the Olympic Games and why I will spend so much time watching them, even staying up until ungodly hours to watch women’s gymnastics prelims in the summer or a curling match in the winter. And thankfully it’s not a hard thing to figure out because the very first games I watched were I think the games that people my age think of the most when they think “Olympics.”
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be speaking for my entire generation but I think that the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics really did come to define “Olympics” for quite a number of Children of the 1980s.
I turned seven in 1984, which meant that this was the first Olympic Games that I actually remember. I’m sure that people who are even slightly older than me will tell me they have memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics, especially the “Miracle on Ice,” and to that I say that they’re seriously lucky. Being born in June 1977, I was all of 2-1/2 years old when the underdog U.S. hockey team beat the U.S.S.R. and then Finland to win the gold medal, so if I saw the game against the Russians (which I highly doubt), I don’t remember it at all. Had there not been a boycott of the Moscow games that same year, I may have seen the 1980 Summer Games, but that wasn’t to be.
The 1984 Summer Olympics soundtrack cassette. This is not available on CD or digitally, so I kind of regret not getting it back in the 1980s when I really wanted it.
So, the summer when I was seven years old and was allowed to stay up slightly later than usual, I saw some of the competition, but most importantly I caught quite a bit of the opening ceremonies. I don’t know if it was because my parents thought it was important for me to see it or if ABC aired it live instead of on tape delay (which may have been the case — a 3-hour time difference meant it might have aired live; then again, ABC tape delayed the U.S.-Soviet hockey game in 1980 so I wouldn’t put it past them), but I saw quite a bit, including parts of the Parade of Nations (or as my wife put it, “The Model U.N.”).
In my mind, I thought it was the most epic thing I had ever seen (which is saying a lot because I had been watching Star Wars every morning for the past two years). The audience all had cards on their seats and after a guy came flying in on a jet pack–yes, a JET PACK, which is awesome on so many levels–the PA announcer told them to hold up the cards and the entire stadium was then decorated in the flags of the participating countries. Plus, you had a theme composed by John Williams that to this day stands as one of my top five John Williams pieces (and next to his NBC News theme, one of his most underrated). In fact, I loved it so much that when I saw a copy of the soundtrack on cassette at TSS a few years later, I wanted it. In fact, I coveted that soundtrack so much that I actually took it out of the place where it had been placed and put it behind another cassette on another shelf where nobody but me would find it, not realizing that I probably wouldn’t ever get the money to buy it or that I didn’t have to hide it because it was 1988 and nobody but me was coveting the soundtrack (for the record, I never did get the tape).
For so many good movies, there are the unfortunate sequels. Oh sure, there are good sequels out there, but there’s also Predator 2, American Pie 2, or Eddie and The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. And I’ve seen all three of those, so I know.
Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, most of those sequels are pretty much forgotten, relegated to late night runs on random cable channels that cannot afford quality movies, and I don’t think I would have known there was a sequel to American Graffiti if it hadn’t been pointed out to me via Charles Champlain’s book, George Lucas: The Creative Impulse when it came out in 1992. While it doesn’t get the attention of Star Wars, Empire, Jedi, or the original American Graffiti, More American Graffiti is covered halfway decently. In reading about the movie online and watching it last week, however, I get the feeling that this one is ranked in the Lucas filmography as “At least it’s not Howard the Duck.”
Okay, that’s a little harsh, but it wasn’t a movie that I intended seeking out and had I not been showing American Graffiti in my advanced English class, I would have been fine with watching bits and pieces of it here and there throughout the years whenever I happened to come across a random showing on WPIX or on cable. Plus, when I looked it up on Netflix, it was available for instant viewing.
American Graffiti, Lucas’s 1973 classic, follows a group of friends on the last night of the summer. What Lucas and director Bill Norton do is set More American Graffiti on four consecutive New Year’s Eves, from 1964-1967. After an initial scene in 1964 where several characters from the original meet at a racetrack, the storylines go their separate ways: John Milner is drag racing cars in 1964; Terry “The Toad” is in Vietnam; Debbie is a hippie in 1966 San Francisco; and Steve and Laurie are a married couple in Modesto in 1967. (more…)
Being that I grew up without cable television and didn’t always get the chance to get to a video store, there were times in my formative years where I lived for a good movie on broadcast television. The local stations always seemed to comply with my wishes, too, because WPIX seemed to have one of the deepest film libraries imaginable, and even our local Fox affiliate would bust out something random when the network wasn’t running their primetime programming. And of course you had the ABC Sunday Night Movie, which is where I got most of my exposure to the Roger Moore-era Bond films as well as various versions of the first two Superman movies. The 1980s and early 1990s were a glorious period of movies on television, and are definitely directly responsible for my ongoing obsession of teen films, especially those of the two Johns: Hughes and Cusack.
Now, I think one day I will probably do an entire post on the edited-for-television version of The Breakfast Club because it has its own place in the “Children of the Eighties” museum, and how WPIX seemed to have all of the rights to all of John Cusack’s mid-1980s teen comedies, even Hot Pursuit, which is one of those “Someone greenlighted this?” films that only the most hardcore of teen movie buffs will sit through. I’ll even go into Better Off Dead, which was the start of my Cusack fandom (up until then, I’d recognized him as the older brother in Stand By Me and The Journey of Natty Gann, the latter of which made me bawl my eyes out when I first saw it), because I would rather focus on one of the films that is in my All-Time Desert Island Top Five Cusack films, and that is The Sure Thing (the others, in chronological order, are Better Off Dead, Say Anything …, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity).
Directed by Rob Reiner in 1985, The Sure Thing was his follow-up to the seminal This is Spinal Tap and has the most Eightiesness about his films from that decade, even though it does not look dated at all (except for maybe Nicolette Sheridan’s hair and the fact that her breasts are real, but we’ll get to that). I first saw the film in 1991 when it had its network broadcast premiere on Fox one summer evening. I was about to enter high school at the time and therefore the strict 8:00 bedtime my parents had maintained up until that point was starting to be eased, especially since it was the summer and I didn’t have school and rarely went out at night because I was either without rebellious friends or spending the summer recovering from some kind of facial surgery.
Anyway, I had heard of the film’s title because I had the easy-level sheet music to Rod Stewart’s “infatuation” in a movie themes book for the piano. Never played it, though because I didn’t like Rod Stewart very much and the only thing I remembered about that song was the black-and-white video where he’s being really pervy. The way the song is used in the film, by the way, is where I am sure that David Hasselhoff got his inspiration for about a hundred Baywatch montages, because it’s simply Nicolette Sheridan in a white bikini on a beach putting a blanket down, putting lotion on, and laying out while a very 1980s-looking title font rolls credits. And even though I don’t like the song, I give props to Reiner because it’s a damn near perfect introduction.
I stuck with the movie not because of Sheridan (although being that I was fourteen years old, I was definitely, shall we say, intrigued), but because I noticed Cusack’s name in the credits and I had just spent most of the summer watching my taped copies of Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer to the point where I had every line memorized and they were already wearing out. Rob Reiner was a director I was slightly familiar with too, having watched Stand By Me and The Princess Bride quite a bit. And the plot was simple enough to keep me going through Fox’s various commercial breaks that advertised the only thing it had going for it in the summer, which was the beach club episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 (I can never remember the name of the beach club, btw. I want to say Malibu Sands, but that was Saved By The Bell … ah, Stacy Carosi …): guy travels 3,000 miles to get laid.
Okay, that’s not the entire plot of the movie because the 3,000 miles to get laid part starts after the movie’s first act is over and that first act sets up the two major characters: Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) and Allison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga, who I definitely knew from Spaceballs). They’re attending college together at some ivy league-type school in the northeast (Gib tells his friend that he’s “never seen so much corduroy in one place”) and much like any good romantic comedy where opposites attract, they don’t really like each other after they first meet and by the time they wind up stuck together on the road trip to UCLA, where his friend Lance (a pre-Goose but nicely fratbro Anthony Edwards) has arranged a night with The Sure Thing; and her boyfriend Jason (Boyd Gaines) attends, they absolutely despise one another.
At this point, the film actually becomes a road movie and very much in the classic sense, which is what I think gives The Sure Thing its timelessness. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure hasn’t been attempted in the remake/reboot sense, and I have a feeling that if a remake was attempted it would fall completely flat because it would be more like Road Trip, which has its moments but also has diminishing returns on subsequent viewings. I’ve been watching The Sure Thing for twenty years—first on a pirated VHS copy and then on DVD—and to this day I laugh my ass off the entire way through. I think it has to do with how realistic the situations and characters actually are. A movie like Road Trip might be zany and crazy, but what happens to Allison and Gib while they’re on the road in The Sure Thing could very well still happen. Reiner and the screenwriters seemed to take a lot of care to make sure that the film felt organic and that comedic bits, such as Allison’s flashing a truck full of guys after Gib calls her repressed, aren’t forced.
The credit also goes to the entire cast, too. Cusack’s obviously the star (and it’s hard to believe that he was only 17 and actually had to be emancipated from his parents in order to shoot on location), and he nails every line and rant (his “if I fail English my life is ruined” bit is a classic). But it’s not a John Cusack showcase; Zuniga’s job is to elevate the comedy above that of stuff like Porky’s, and she plays Allison like a Mallory Keaton with a brain. Then, you have her on-screen boyfriend, Jason, who is the epitome of the “square” and should be a one note character, but Boyd Gaines delivers his lines so well that he almost steals certain scenes, especially when it becomes obvious that Allison is kind of over him. The line, “How about a good hot mug of China Black?” which should be a random line, is quite possibly one of the funniest lines in Eighties teen movies.
But I digress. I could very well sit down and talk for at least a couple of hours (or in our case, 1500 more words) about all of the little things that make this such a favorite of mine. I’m just honestly pleased that a film genre that is very so often disposable has produced a gem like this.
A couple of weeks ago, the final space shuttle mission launched, and by the end of this week, it will have landed, ending a 30-year era of space exploration for the United States. It goes without saying that this is the end of an era. The first space shuttle launched when I was 3-1/2 years old, and I (unfortunately) rank the Challenger Disaster as one of the most important moments of my childhood.
I wanted to post something about what I thought about the space shuttle saying farewell; however, I don’t know if I would have anything to say that hasn’t been said already, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep whatever I wrote within the confines of my “pop culture” subject matter. I thought of the Young Astronauts Challenger Commemorative Packet that I got when I was in the fourth grade and I also thought of writing about the time I put together one of those Revell space shuttle kits and got glue all over my hands, paint all over the place, and never got the decals to go on correctly (seriously, did anyone?). But then I thought of what nobody is probably talking about as far as the space shuttle is concerned, which is the biggest (and well … kind of only) space shuttle movie there is: SpaceCamp.
Starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Joaquin Phoenix (back when he was known as “Leaf”), Tate Donovan, and Larry B. Scott (a.k.a. Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds), SpaceCamp is one of the few science-fiction (although in a way, this is more “science” based) movies from the late 1970s and 1980s where aliens do not attack and lay waste to the Earth, nor do they mate with, possess, or disembowel anyone. In fact, SpaceCamp doesn’t have any aliens. Unfortunately, its tension is tepid enough for a teacher to show an elementary school class.
Capshaw (about a year or two removed from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) plays Andie Bergstrom, an astronaut who, when she sits on her family’s farm in 1961, sees John Glenn’s capsule fly through space and says proudly to her dog, “I’m goin’ up!” (a line delivered in the cheesiest manner possible, btw). More than two decades later, she has received the umpteenth notification that she will not fly on a shuttle mission–Atlantis, which is scheduled to launch within a couple of weeks. Her husband, Zach (Tom Skerritt, who would be Viper in Top Gun the same summer), then coaxes her into being an instructor at Space Camp, which for plot reasons is held at Cape Canaveral and not in Huntsville, Alabama (a Space Camp was opened in Florida in 1989, but this came out in 1986). She reluctantly takes on the “blue team” of Space Camp students, who are …
… a group of stock characters. Kevin (Donovan) is the arrogant screw-up guy and we know that because when we meet him, he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and rocking out in his new Jeep; Kathryn (Thompson) is an overachiever who is already a pilot, and we know this because she flies a WWI-era bi-plane to the parking lot; Tish (Preston) is a mall ditz who possesses the ability to memorize just about anything she reads, and we know this because she cinches her flight suit with a stylish red belt; Max (Phoenix) is the annoying kid genius who everyone will pick on, and we know this because everyone picks on him; and Rudy (Scott) is … well, the only one without any issues. (more…)
Instead, I felt like taking a look at a movie that I know that she doesn’t necessarily love but has probably seen as many times as some people have seen Star Wars, which is the 1993 rollerblading movie, Airborne.
Yes, in 1993 someone decided to make a teen/sports movie whose focus was rollerblading.
Now, in my wife’s defense I am sure she’s only sat through this entire movie a couple of times and it’s not her Star Wars by any means. However, I think that we both have lost count of the number of times that we’ve been flipping channels only to come across this movie, usually on one of the high-numbered random-assed movie channels that we get as part of our basic cable plan (like “FLIX”) or one of the assorted Disney-owned channels like ABC Family. You’d think that an 18-year-old movie about a niche sport that never really caught on would spend time wallowing in obscurity only to be occasionally retrieved from the bowels of Netflix instant streaming or one of the few remaining video stores throughout the land.
However, as we all know, there really aren’t any video stores left in the land (and certainly not many that have a VHS inventory or would have bought Airborne on DVD). Plus, this is not available on Netflix at all. And I’d like to say “Thankfully, it’s on cable all the time so I got the chance to tape and watch it,” but I can’t even do that because when I sat down to prep for this entry I couldn’t find it anywhere in my television listings. So I had to watch this movie “illegally” in a sense: in ten-minute increments on YouTube. No, really. I mean, I could have rented it from YouTube for $2.99 but it’s not worth that price (plus, isn’t that why I have a Netflix subscription) but someone took the time and the effort to break the movie into segments and post them in “parts” up on YouTube. It’s a little tedious and a couple of the parts are missing a few minutes but overall worth not having to pay for it.
The cover to An Amazin’ Era. The images were also used on the promo poster and the tape was also available in Betamax. Yes, Betamax.
When I decided to recount my memories of the Mets’ 1986 season, I thought that I would spend some time on various games I had either watched on television or attended and my experience of being a fan 25 years ago when the team won its last World Series. It seemed to be going all right, or at least I had some memory of the first home game of the season. But as I began to leaf through my ’86 Mets stuff, I began to realize that I actually don’t have a lot of memories of that year.
It’s not that I wasn’t a fan or didn’t watch the team on television. It’s just that I was nine years old and when I wasn’t spending my days playing with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys, I was watching maybe one or two cartoons each night before going to bed at 8:00. I got to stay up later on Friday nights, but that was probably until about 9:00 or 9:30, which meant that if Channel 9 was showing a Mets game, I’d only get a few innings in before I was sent off to bed. There were quite a few nights when I was rushed off to bed in the middle of the fourth with runners on base and Ed Lynch or Dough Sisk trying to get out of yet another jam (Doug Sisk, btw, was one of those pitchers you tried to imitate because he had this crazy overhand delivery … it was the polar opposite of Dan Quisenberry, and every time you tried to “Sisk” a pitch in baseball or wiffle ball, the ball landed a mile behind the catcher). Sure, there were Sunday games, but only if my mother wasn’t making me go outside and do something.
I did, however, have my fair share of Mets merchandise by this point, including a video that would prove as important as the 1985 pennant race in cementing my love for the team. An Amazin’ Era is a one-hour documentary created to commemorate 25 seasons of Mets baseball, telling the story of the team from its very humble beginnings in 1962 to the anticipated title run in 1986 (it took me a while to figure that out, by the way, because the 25th Anniversary logo said 1962-1986 and if you do the math, that’s 24 seasons but considering that there is no “season zero” that’s actually correct). It was released in early 1986 and I am pretty sure that I got it for my ninth birthday from either my parents or my Uncle Lou along with Donald Honig’s 25th Anniversary book and the Amazin’ Era poster that had been hanging in the video store and my dad had purchased and had mounted and framed (this poster, btw, would hang on the wall of my bedroom all the way up until the time I left home when I was 22 … it may be in my parents’ attic or basement, I’m not sure). (more…)
When I was a teenager, I spent a little too much time thinking about what my senior prom would be like. I wouldn’t call it an obsession, but I thought about the big end-of-high-school dance enough to keep my thoughts to myself as if they were some sort of dirty little secret. If I wasn’t writing about it, that is. Track down a copy of Collage, the Sayville High School literary magazine from 1995 and you’ll see a story called “Scenes from a High School Prom,” which is some sort of boy-finally-gets-the-girl story that only a lovesick teenager would write, or maybe even dream about (literally, in fact, because it’s based on a dream I once had). I even incorporated prom (specifically, that story) into a novel I wrote nearly a decade ago; although by then the message wasn’t so much about the fairytale of the perfect prom night but what happens the morning after and the baggage that comes with it.
In real life, I never had baggage concerning my senior prom experience. In fact, I had a great time mostly due to the fact that I went with someone very cool and avoided most of the bullshit drama that my particular group of friends was involved with at the time (at least for one night — certain friends of mine, if they’re reading this, know that there was drama that I definitely got sucked into during and after our senior year of high school). So I was never disappointed in my prom night, mainly because I was surprisingly well-adjusted coming out of high school (though I am the first to admit that I was both high-strung and immature … but enough about my issues). Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the prom fantasy definitely factored into my perception of what my prom would be like.
That fantasy, btw? The one featured in that short story I wrote in senior year creative writing? Well, boy takes friend on whom he has a crush to prom and at the last chance to finally do it, he tells her he loves her and she says she loves him and they kiss and everyone lives happily ever after. And where did I get the idea that this is what was going to happen at my prom because this is what happened at every prom? Usually I would have some long explanation regarding my unpopularity in high school coupled with my testimony of junior high dances being special, magical places; however, all I have to do is say three words: