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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: The 80s are back, with a vengeance: should we be afraid?

The weekend box office estimates are in, and the final numbers — which we’ll get later today — can’t possibly change enough to alter the apparent fact that The Karate Kid, estimated to have earned $56 million, kicked the ass of The A-Team, estimated to have earned $26 million. But that still means that retreads from the 1980s collectively earned $82 million this past weekend.

Hampton Stevens in The Atlantic, in his “Curmudgeonly Guide to Summer Movies 2010,” suggests that we have Hollywood Gen Xers to blame:

This will go down as the Year Generation X took over Hollywood. Finally. As critic A.O. Scott noted, the first wave of Generation X-ers are hitting their late 40’s, aging on camera while moving into positions of power off it. The result is a kind of collective, cinematic midlife crisis. John Cusack, whose Lloyd Dobler and Layne Meyer personified Reagan-era suburban angst, has stooped to self-parody in Hot Tub Time Machine. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, arguably the best comic minds of their generation, have settled into the same kind of dull middle-age as the Shrek characters they keep milking Forever After. Once delightfully puerile, Adam Sandler keeps making movies about mortality, with last year’s Funny People, and this summer’s Grown Ups (see below) promising more of the same.

There is an upside to all this Gen-X navel-gazing. Namely, it means the Baby Boomers are finally losing their 40-year grip on Hollywood. Mercifully, the Summer of 2010 features precisely zero films about Vietnam, Woodstock, Nixon, JFK, Motown, or the Apollo space program. But while infinitely less self-congratulatory than their Boomer predecessors, Hollywood X’ers are seem just as fond of nostalgia and no more prone to original thought. The only difference is which decade is mined for material. Instead of remaking 60’s and 70’s favorites like The Beverly Hillbillies and Dragnet, studios now rehash ’80s favorites.

It’s hard not to agree with Stevens. But at least all those Boomer movies were about an era worth looking back on and wondering where we went wrong. Xers are mostly making sitcomish movies basd on old sitcoms. And if this is only the beginning of Xer power in Hollywood, then things can only get worse. Right?

The 80s are back, with a vengeance: should we be afraid?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Is there any chance we can bring the late 40s-early 50s back with a wave of film noir remakes?

  • pausner

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    (I’m on the list of remakes. so is my director’s catalogue)

  • Knightgee

    But at least all those Boomer movies were about an era worth looking back on and wondering where we went wrong.

    Well, yes they were about that era, but they didn’t do much actual reflection on the flaws in that era or much learning really. It seems for the most part that Boomers had nothing new, interesting or reflective to say about their era beyond “weren’t those days cool?”, which I don’t see changing with the GenXers either, as it seems people like to look back on the past fondly rather than critically. The 80s did have the re-adoption of laissez-faire economic policies and the subsequent economic crisis, the wars in the Middle East,the end of the Cold War, the crack epidemic and War on Drugs, the Challenger blowing up, the Exxon oil spill, the explosive growth of computers. Quite a lot of important things happened in the 80s that remains relevant today. The period has a lot to work with, but like with the boomers, it becomes a question of whether GenXers will do anything reflective with it.

  • RogerBW

    I’m inclined to agree with Stevens, and I see the same thing happening in SF – the ideas that are current in written SF become current in filmed/TV SF 30-40 years later, as the people who grew up with that stuff finally become powerful enough to be running film productions rather than knuckling under to their elders.

    I think there are two separate pressures, though: the “grab a recognisable name” and the “make nostalgic films about my youth”. I’d hoped the former would have abated after some of the high-profile disasters we’ve seen, but each time one of these films is a moderate success the feeling seems to flip back in their favour. What would the latter pressure do without the name-recognition anchor tied to it?

  • Keith

    Damn, Pausner, I was going to say that! The Fly, 1986, quote.

  • I wonder if they will start remaking all those old sit-coms. I remember I considered 1980s Thursday night line up “must see TV.” Cosby Show, Night Court, Family Ties, Different World, Cheers…

  • Orangutan

    I’m eagerly awaiting the now inevitable Manimal reboot.

  • I’m eagerly awaiting the now inevitable Manimal reboot.

    Hahahahaha! I’ll add Automan to that list.

  • What’s really shocking about this piece is that I never thought I’d see the day when MaryAnn would be dissing so many of her fellow Gen-Xers.

    But then it’s kinda hard to disagree with the argument that those Hollywood Gen-Xers who have made into power seem to be determined to blow off their creative potential the same way Pemex used to burn off natural gas.

    If it makes you feel better, MaryAnn, it should be remembered that the 1980s were hardly seen as a golden age by contemporary entertainment critics when they were actually still going on. And a lot of the stuff that received the most critical attention: Ordinary People, Miami Vice, Fatal Attraction, Mel Gibson movies, etc., hasn’t always aged well.

    And much of the best music from that era rarely got played on most mainstream radio stations because they were too busy playing already established artists like Van Halen and Phil Collins for the umpteenth time. Indeed, I remember often first hearing some of the more popular artists of that time–like Madonna–on urban contemporary stations long before they were “discovered” by mainstream stations.

    The more things change…

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