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40 Year-Old-Critic: Goonies (1985)

The_GooniesIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

Tastes change through the ages. As a child I could not stand the bitterness of coffee, but now you wouldn’t want to engage me in conversation before my second cup. I also used to love maple sugar candy, a confection so sweet it made me gag when last I tasted it.

As it is with food and drink, so it is with movies.

Recently I attempted to watch The Goonies and I turned it off halfway through. It wasn’t the same.

But in 1985 I was a Goonie.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Superman’s Richard Donner, Goonies told the story of a group of pre-teen boys who lied to their parents, snuck out of the house, and saved the day. It was a film that continued a narrative Spielberg introduced in E.T.: a child outsmarting his parents and undertaking an adventure that would solve a family crisis and bring everyone closer together.

Surely every boy on the playgrounds of every school across America was the target audience for Donner’s film. Fat or thin, with or without braces, fast-talking or shy, there was a Goonie on screen with whom children and young teens could connect (Or at least every white child; the film lacked in diversity, with the only non-white child being an uncomfortable Asian stereotype).

Through a shared lack of oxygen Arnie identified with Astin's Goonie the most.

Through a shared lack of oxygen, I identified with Astin’s Goonie the most.

For me, just 10 years old, I looked at the screen and saw myself as Mikey, the lead Goonie. Both of us were prone to flights of fancy, both of us would come up with crazy plans that often ended with my friends and I getting grounded, both of us still believed in the fantastical, and, hey, we were both asthmatic.

I was thrilled as the Goonies dodged booby traps and slid down a waterfall. I rocked out to the soundtrack featuring pop stars like Cindi Lauper and The Bangles. I shuddered when Chunk was locked in a room with the monstrous Sloth, and then cheered when the two became best friends and saved the day. I was engrossed as I watched the Goonies not only outsmart their parents, but also overcome the criminal Fratelli family. Truly this was a kid-power film if ever there was one!

At the time I didn’t see the movie for what it was: Indiana Jones for the playground set. Just look at all the booby traps, the majority of The Goonies could have been filmed on remnants left over from Temple of Doom.

Instead, I just went with the Goonie kids on their wild adventure to find One-Eyed Willy, and left the theater feeling that children could do anything. Parents were but unnecessary obstacles that tried to downplay the magical nature of the world.

This was the message I learned from so many films, from E.T. to Explorers to Cloak and Dagger to The Last Starfighter; but it was Goonies that drove it home. My childhood friends and I started to have our own misadventures, including the time we tried to catch some teenage drug-dealers by the mall, or when we started investigating ghosts that may or may not have haunted my house (both of these stories ended in humiliation and ruin).

A couple years later my dream of Goonies 2 came true--but in a Nintendo game.  My script was better; it didn't have needless mermaids.

A couple years later my dream of Goonies 2 came true–but in a Nintendo game. My script was better; it didn’t have needless mermaids.

Even more though, if children could do anything, why couldn’t we actually be Goonies? By age 10 I was familiar with moviemaking — having watched many behind-the-scenes TV specials. I picked up movie magazines that had interviews and profiles with the actors and directors involved. The movie Clue, with its multiple, random endings, even started to give me ideas about marketing.

Not understanding the struggle child actors face trying to break into Hollywood, I was resentful of the Goonies casting and what I considered “Hollywood nepotism.” My Goonies Official Film Magazine made me realize all the Goonies were either actors who had been in other films (Corey Feldman and Jonathan Ke Quan) or children of famous people (Sean Astin and Josh Brolin). Obviously, boys from Springfield, Illinois, had no chance of being cast.

So I decided to make my own Goonies 2.

It had to happen — a 10-year-old boy obsessed with watching movies would surely turn into an 11-year-old who wanted to make movies. My parents had an 8mm film camera for family movies and, at age 8, I’d already filmed Star Wars 4: The Return of Darth Vader.

It’s a mostly ad-libbed, terribly embarrassing 10-minute-short that ended with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader playing together in a swimming pool.

But I was now older, wiser, and had dreams of filmmaking.

Over the span of a month I hammered out a script for Goonies 2. The plot was simple enough: the jewels were not enough to save the homes and the Goonies had to go out and find even more money. With my best friend Stuart’s help we cast our friends and family in various roles. A group of us even successfully recreated some of Data’s gadgets, including a spring-loaded, belt-worn dart gun.

I clearly was not alone in this dream. Earlier this year I saw an episode of the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs in which lead character Adam tried the exact same thing! As this show is loosely based off the real life experiences of showrunner Adam Goldberg, I do wonder how many other kids across the country were inspired to grab cameras and try filmmaking because of this Donner-Spielberg adventure.

I felt Good Enough to hang with The Goonies

I felt “Good Enough” to hang with The Goonies

Fortunately, we never shot a frame of Goonies 2 — I doubt I could survive such embarrassment. The props were repurposed into a sixth-grade class performance for Goonies Cereal (we got an A). The script, typed in Wordstar on a NEC APC III, was lost when the 5.25-inch floppy was bent. My only memory of the script is my sister Linda saying she had memorized her dialogue. She was cast as Mama Fratelli, and all she did was scream.

Rewatching The Goonies recently, I imagine my 10-year-old self really did tap into the core of that film, because it’s full of screaming, shouting, hollering, and various other loud noises.

As an adult it was just an assault on my senses.

The film is too sugar-fueled, too chaotic, and too… kiddie for me to enjoy. But I will always have those memories of being 10 and dreaming I could be a Goonie.

So, if this were an episode of Now Playing Podcast, would I recommend The Goonies? Being a film critic means more than just saying “I liked a film.” Everyone has opinions, but an opinion is not a critique. While personal judgments will always play into a review, more must be taken into account in order to properly judge any creative work. Not every film is made for mass appeal, and sometimes focusing on a niche audience is key to a movie’s success. The Goonies clearly struck a chord with its core audience, and I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

Tomorrow — 1986!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 15, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

40 Year-Old-Critic: Superman (1978)

Superman-Movie-PosterIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

I look at 1978 as the middle-child of movie years. Moviegoers were still wowed by 1977’s Star Wars, which was continuing to play on many screens in’78.  Lucas’ masterpiece had just set Hollywood on its own space race, but it took a couple of years for Lucas imitators and other sci-fi directors to get their films produced.  As such, many of the sci-fi films I grew up with and celebrate as seminal were not released until 1979. But what about the year in-between? It had Dawn of the Dead, a smart mix of social commentary and horror, and Grease, which is a fun sing-a-long romp that I’ve watched more times than I can count. Still, neither changed my life nor my view of film. And please don’t bring up Jaws 2, Animal House, or Every Which Way But Loose. No, in 1978 there are only two films that resonated with me. The first was Halloween, an annual must-watch for me that iterated the Texas Chain Saw Massacre formula and is the father of the 80s slasher film. But its impact pales in comparison to the single 1978 movie that made me believe a man could fly — Superman: The Movie. I was 4 years old when this superhero film was released, but my parents took me to see this in theaters despite my young age. In one viewing my focus changed.

No, I don't know why Superman is carrying Jaws

No, I don’t know why Superman is carrying Jaws

I’ve gone back and looked at family photo albums. From September ‘74 through November ‘78 all my photos were full of the usual childhood accouterments: I had PlaySkool’s wooden Sesame Street figures, clown items, Cookie Monster designs on my 4th birthday cake. You can see the changes after December ‘78. My clothes were no longer Big Bird T-Shirts, now they were superhero Underoos. Away went the baby PlaySkool toys and, in their place, was a collection of Mego Superheroes. And on my bedroom wall were two new posters: Lou Ferrigno as CBS’s The Incredible Hulk, and Christopher Reeve, arm pointing to the sky, advertising Superman: The Movie. Obviously, many films captured my imagination (and my parents’ dollars) as a child. That alone is not enough to warrant the title of Most Important Film of 1978. However, when I look at my life, and when I look at the hit movies of today, it’s impossible not to see the legacy of star Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner. In the mid-70s superheroes were seen as campy entertainment for children. Comic books had long been stigmatized as pulp trash, and that reputation was solidified by the 1960s Batman TV series. Early drafts of Superman reflected that attitude as well (you can hear all about that in the Now Playing Podcast Superman review). But with this Superman film Donner saw an opportunity to make a more serious superhero adventure. He gave A-list stars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman top billing, brought in state-of-the-art special effects, and allowed John Williams to create that emotional, rousing anthem for his hero. The result was a film that lived up to the promise on its poster, and as a 4-year-old I believed a man could fly. Admittedly, Superman did not completely abandon some campy scenes and performances; Ned Beatty’s Otis could have been teleported right from that 60s Batman series. Still, by taking the material as seriously as it did Donner and company created the first modern superhero film.

The less said the better

The less said the better

Is that a spider on the ceiling?

Is that a spider on the ceiling?

You can see the lineage: Superman begat 1989’s Batman, which begat The Crow five years later, which begat Blade in ‘98, which begat 2000’s X-Men (also produced by Donner), which begat 2002’s Spider-Man, which led to the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man in 2008, and The Avengers four years later. And those are just the game changers. More than 100 other big-budget, major motion pictures follow Superman’s example of treating the material with respect and casting big-name stars as iconic comic characters. To this very day, almost every single superhero film is still following the mold created by Donner. As the Now Playing Podcast reviews show, the Superman series went downhill very quickly.  Producers Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind fired Donner, and without his vision the series devolved into a Richard Pryor yuk-fest. It took Tim Burton’s Batman to remind Hollywood that audiences will turn out for a serious superhero film. Then, like Superman before it, the Batman series quickly collapsed when Burton moved on. It was finally Bryan Singer’s X-Men that ignited what has become the blockbuster movie genre of the 21st century. (Don’t get me started on what Singer did to Superman, you can hear my review of that travesty in the Now Playing Podcast archives.) As for me: seeing 1978’s Superman at such a young, impressionable age forever changed my world view. While I was never heavy into comic books, Superman turned me on to multimedia superheroes. My morning cartoons became filled with Batman and Spider-Man and Hulk, and every time there was a new comic-based television series or film I was in the audience.

Sometimes Superman gets bored of flying.

Sometimes Superman gets bored of flying.

I am forever chasing the sense of wonder I felt in 1978 when Clark Kent ripped open his shirt and I saw the bright red and yellow S. Better still, this is a good movie. Unlike Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I don’t enjoy but which fathered films I love, Superman: The Movie is always a joy to watch. While the pacing (especially in the director’s cut) may bore some people, I love the character exploration and world-building that Donner indulges. This love of superhero movies would be a direct catalyst for the creation of Now Playing Podcast, a show that’s been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. The idea for what would become Now Playing came to me as I was leaving a screening of the Marvel Comics movie Ghost Rider, and our first review was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. The excitement for Marvel’s The Avengers kicked off Now Playing’s longest retrospective series, and turned the podcast into a weekly show as we revisited every Marvel movie, starting with George Lucas’ Howard the Duck.

It is also Marvel’s Iron Man 2 that made me a serious collector of comic book-related merchandise. That led to the creation of the podcast Marvelicious Toys and my sizable Marvel collection, full of movie-based Hot Toys figures, quarter-scale statues, and even some one-of-a-kind production materials from Howard the Duck. And while my collecting focus has been the Marvel films, I do own one single collectible from the DC universe: a Hot Toys figure of Christopher Reeve from 1978’s Superman. I own it not as a collector, but as a fan, and I display it in my home theater as a reminder that I still believe a man can fly.

No, I don't have the figure, let alone the figure on card

No, I don’t have the figure, let alone the figure on card

Next — 1979!


Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 8, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Comic Books, Marvelicious Toys, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments