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  • Pee-wee's Big Adventure

    Pee-wee's Big Adventure

    Tim Burton’s feature debut finds the young director and actor-writer Paul Reubens laying the foundation for Reubens’s iconic Saturday-morning TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, according to J. Hoberman “a fully realized private universe” and “a candy-colored world of sexual ambiguity and a realm of total anthropomorphism.” Eccentric manchild Pee-Wee Herman (Reubens) is devastated when his beloved ketchup-red bicycle is stolen, propelling him on a delirious nationwide search that takes him all the way to the Alamo. Much like the TV series…

  • True Stories

    True Stories

    The uncanniness of the suburban everyday is plumbed with aw-shucks gusto in the Talking Heads lead singer’s directorial debut. Byrne stars as a visitor to Virgil, Texas, a Reagan-era vision of utopia on the verge of its annual “Celebration of Specialness.” DP Ed Lachman’s cinematography throws the hyperrealism of the middle American landscape—littered with shopping malls and populated by a wealth of zany denizens (including memorable turns from John Goodman and Spalding Gray)—into sharp relief, and the Talking Heads’ soundtrack…

  • Back to the Future

    Back to the Future

    Hoberman describes Robert Zemeckis’s trilogy-launching classic as the quintessential example of a Hollywood film that “explicates the fantasy of Reaganland” by dramatizing an idealized dialogue between the fifties and the eighties: “No less than Disneyland or Reaganland, Back to the Future proposes the comforting past to improve the present and even frame the radiant future.” Michael J. Fox gives an iconic turn as eighties teen Marty McFly, “an American Oedipus” who travels back in time to 1955 and inadvertently disrupts…

  • Sudden Impact

    Sudden Impact

    “San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan was Clint Eastwood’s most enduring character—the personification of political reaction, the antidote to the permissive Sixties and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” writes J. Hoberman. “Harry—like Reagan—was a walking contradiction, the authoritarian who hates authority.” Returning from a hiatus during the Carter administration, Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was back for Reagan’s first term to track a serial killer—who is avenging her own rape—only to unwittingly become romantically involved with her. Sudden Impact notably marked the first…

  • Risky Business

    Risky Business

    Tom Cruise’s breakout role was in this epochal hit, which J. Hoberman calls a “paean to yuppie self-actualization . . . Risky Business was positioned as a raunchy youth comedy but, with its surplus of style—including a score by the avant-pop, techno-rock ensemble Tangerine Dream—was something odder, a parodic Spielberg idyll that was also a premonition of High Eighties movies like Blue Velvet and Something Wild.” Cruise’s appropriately named high school student Joel Goodson has his parents’ house all to…

  • Videodrome

    Videodrome

    David Cronenberg’s seminal head trip ranks among the great explorations into technology, the media, and the human body. Smut-peddling Toronto TV exec Max Renn (James Woods), always on the prowl for new, controversy-arousing programming, is recommended a mysterious broadcast by a colleague, apparently issuing from Malaysia, in which anonymous victims are tortured and murdered. Renn is instantly intrigued by the snuff show and begins putting it on air himself, exalting in the resultant public furor; but, just as quickly, his…

  • The King of Comedy

    The King of Comedy

    In Martin Scorsese’s iconic cringe comedy, Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a cheerful but deranged comic who aspires to get his big break on the late-night talk show hosted by Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Beneath his cockeyed smile and dorky suits are the creepy trappings of Travis Bickle, so make no mistake: Pupkin’s a psycho, albeit a hilarious one. Featuring superb supporting performances by Lewis and Sandra Bernhard, The King of Comedy remains one of the great films…

  • The Terminator

    The Terminator

    Released in the weeks immediately preceding Ronald Reagan’s reelection in the fall of 1984, The Terminator, writes J. Hoberman, imagines a “nocturnal downtown Los Angeles, a veritable free-fire zone that, with its near-constant car chases and massive construction sites, might have been designed by the machine-based performance artists of the Survival Research Laboratories.” In his starring role as the “hyper-macho humanoid machine” who travels back in time from a robot-ruled future to prevent the birth of the man who would…

  • Gremlins

    Gremlins

    When traveling inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) brings home Gizmo, a deceptively adorable creature purchased in a Chinatown shop as a Christmas gift for his son, he unwittingly unleashes over-the-top violence and gleefully anarchic chaos into his quiet family-oriented suburb. According to J. Hoberman, this classic perversion of the “Spielbergian fantasy of toys come to life,” directed by Joe Dante from a script by Chris Columbus, “created an ambience of cozy, All-American wholesomeness purely for the fun of staging an adolescent or—appropriate to the post-E.T. world—infantile desecration.”

    Playing on August 24 & September 1 in a 2-for-1 double feature with The Terminator.

  • Blow Out

    Blow Out

    One of Brian De Palma’s greatest films and one of the great American films of the 1980s, Blow Out finds De Palma mixing a variety of elements—the Kennedy assassination; Chappaquiddick; Antonioni’s Blow-Up; the slasher genre that was then in full flower; elements of Detective Bob Leuci’s experiences working undercover for the Knapp Commission; the harshness and sadness of American life; and, as ever, Hitchcock’s Vertigo—into a hallucinatory thriller that builds to a shattering conclusion. With John Travolta, in perhaps his…

  • Cutter's Way

    Cutter's Way

    An alleyway breakdown triggers a labyrinthine murder mystery in Ivan Passer’s atmospheric neonoir, a film maudit that wreaked internal havoc among United Artists execs, who saw it as resolutely uncommercial and effectively buried it upon release. Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) witnesses a curious dumping of something or other in the alley, and when the next day’s newspapers announce that a young girl has been found murdered in the same spot where Bone left his out-of-commission automobile, he enlists his friend…

  • First Blood

    First Blood

    According to J. Hoberman, “First Blood turned the assumptions of the returning vet films inside out . . . Rambo is everything: super-grunt, Green Beret, hippie protester, VC guerrilla, righteous outlaw, Hollywood Freedom Fight, total violence, the War itself. First Blood was a manifestation of the nation’s unresolved Vietnam trauma.” Fresh off his ascent to superstardom with the first two Rocky films, Sylvester Stallone stars in this franchise-launching action thriller as Vietnam vet John Rambo, who travels to Washington state…