Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Orion Files: 1986

1986 was a major step up from the previous year. Financially, the studio did very well but critically, they knocked it out of the park with several award winning movies. They also partnered up with TV production house Metromedia and beefed up their TV division the following year.

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman reunite (along with Jack Weston and Ted Wass) as a quartet of losers who end up in debt to some gangsters after using some of their money to place a bet on a horse race. This was Orion's first release of 1986 and, well, January is generally considered a dump month for movies which should give you an idea of how funny this one is. Tim Conway is a funny guy most of the time but this is just sort of dull. It's the kind of thing your grandmother takes you to when she's got you for the day and there's no way in hell you're talking her into watching Return of the Jedi for the fifteenth time, and she's not sadistic enough to subject you to the Merchant-Ivory film she can't get Gramps to take her to.

I have no idea what that means, but it's about as funny as the movie. Love the poster though. Next!

First off in the cavalcade of quality is this really, really good thriller starring Australian actor Bryan Brown as a special effects artist who is enlisted by shady justice department agent Cliff DeYoung to fake the death of a noted mobster, played by Jerry Orbach. Things get complicated (as in Brown is framed for a real murder and gets big Brian Dennehy up his arse) and the end result is a modestly stunning, twisty, exciting little thriller. I really love this one.

Woody Allen knocked it out of the park creatively with this one. this comedy/drama about three sisters and their family and love lives netted Dianne Weist a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and a Best Supporting Actor one for Michael Caine (Which he was unable to receive in person because he was making Jaws: The Revenge. Well, at least he had a nice house to put the award in afterwards). Allen also snagged a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and I have to say that while I'm not the biggest fan of the film (if not for film school, I probably would never have seen it), it's still a good movie. If I had to take a Woody Allen movie with me to a deserted island, I'd at least consider it.

Another chick flick (let's be honest folks, for all the laughs it has, Hannah and Her Sisters is a frigging chick flick), this drama deals with two friends who have to deal with tragedy. Needless to say, it didn't do so hot and that's really all I got to say about it.

Two classic nutcases (though Walken has the decency to confine those tendencies to when he's on the clock) go at it in this tense crime drama based on a true story. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken play father and son, respectively, with Walken being a crime boss and Penn trying hard to not become like his old man. In spite of good reviews, this didn't make a lot of money.

Orion handled the US distribution for this British musical that flopped quite badly and caused its production company Goldcrest to collapse. It didn't do much better stateside either.

The surprise hit of the year was this funny Rodney Dangerfield film that stars the man as a self-made millionaire who goes back to college to make sure his son doesn't drop out. The expected hijinks ensue but Dangerfield gives the film his own sense of energy and timing while Sam Kinison turns in a funny bit part as a psychotic professor.

Bit of a dry spell here as we move through the middle of the year and there's good stuff to follow so let's plow through the dross.

A divorced couple is having trouble staying the hell away from each other. It's got Teri Garr so chances are if I did see it, I'd be annoyed...

Though not as annoyed as I am when I think that this was one of the first films I saw in a movie theater. Gene Wilder (R.I.P., man. You were awesome.) wrote, directed and starred in this rather bad horror comedy with Gilda Radner as a pair of radio announcers who decide to get married in a spooky old castle/mansion only for the blessed event to be tarnished by a rampaging werewolf and Dom DeLuise in drag. Sadly, this was the last thing Gilda did before she died.

Orion went the Cannon Films route for this exploitation action film. Tom Skerrit and Lisa Eichorn are two of the elite soldiers chosen to do some heavy duty training related to enduring a POW camp. The commander in charge of the camp is played by Anthony Zerbe (slimy as usual) and things quickly take a dark and nasty turn as the training gets a little too real for comfort. This didn't get much of a release and the reviews I've read are mixed. But that is one hell of a poster.

This is a British romantic comedy about a young man from India who comes to England, poses as a doctor and falls in love with a young woman there. Overly long (111 minutes for a romantic comedy?) and fairly drab, this sort of tells you why the British film industry was flailing in the late 80's.

The year for Orion ended with four terrific films, however. Well, three legit ones and one I love, though the critics sure as hell didn't.

First off was this charming comedy starring Jeff Daniels as a banker who falls in with a cute girl played by Melanie Griffith. The film follows their burgeoning romance which is jeopardized by Ray Liotta as Griffith's dangerous ex-con husband. The film got good reviews and has became a cult hit.

Gene Hackman delivers his usual solid performance in this classic sports film, loosely based on a true story. Hackman is the coach of an Indiana high school basketball team looking to win the state championship. This got good reviews and also netted Dennis Hopper a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, sealing the deal on his comeback.

Not too many critics liked this one, but I've always gotten a kick out of this goofy Western comedy from John Landis that sees Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase as silent film action stars who mistakenly end up defending a small Mexican village from real life bandits. Is it dumb? Oh yeah, really dumb! It's also very, very funny with great work from the three leads and Alfonso Arau as the bad guy El Guapo.

Orion ended the year, however, with another eventual Best Picture winner in Platoon. The end result of a good partnership with Hemdale Film Corporation (another studio I'll be checking out at some point, though with the redundancies it might be a one-shot deal), this Oliver Stone war film is a gripping drama about Vietnam, as seen through the eyes of a young soldier played by Charlie Sheen. Featuring a fantastic cast and a distinct lack of fun to the battle scenes (which heightens the reality and horror of war), this still stands as one of the best war movies of all time. It's tough to watch at times, but that's sort of the point.

1986 was probably the best year Orion ever had. When Oscar time came around they scored eighteen nominations with Platoon taking home the Best Picture trophy. It signaled, one would think, good times in the future. To be fair, there were, but I don't think it ever got this good again.

Next up, 1987.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.