The Goonies

January 24, 2011

Redrum? No, Goonies

During the end credits of Steven Spielberg’s 1941, we see a series of faces from earlier scenes in the movie, all engaged in various forms of shouting. At that point, you realize that the film has had one overriding, annoying characteristic: It’s very loud.

I was watching Spielberg’s new production, The Goonies, and trying to remember what it reminded me of, when that credit sequence flashed into my mind. The Goonies was exactly the same sort of experience: grating and noisy.

Aside from grating and noisy, the first thing that should be said about The Goonies is that it isn’t all Steven Spielberg’s fault. He co-produced and is credited with the idea for the movie, but his marvelous directorial touch is definitely absent. Spielberg chose veteran director Richard Donner (Superman, Ladyhawke) to helm. (The handsome exteriors were shot in Astoria and Cannon Beach, Ore.)

Somehow this just isn’t Donner’s kind of movie. The story—about a group of kids who stumble into an old-fashioned buried-treasure caper—calls for charm, wit, and high energy. It’s certainly got the latter, as the film follows the thrill-a-minute rhythms of a bad night in a haunted house. But when someone screams in horror every 30 seconds or so, it gets numbing after a while.

Spielberg’s idea was not a bad one. At least since Treasure Island, kids have dreamed of being lifted from humdrum reality into some exotic adventure, preferably one involving one-eyed pirates and treasure and pieces of eight. The Goonies begins with the kids (members of the titular society) discovering a crusty old map in an attic.

The map leads them to an abandoned lighthouse and the maze of catacombs (and the series of boobytraps) that snake underneath. Adding to the frenzy, and hot on the kids’ trail, is a trio of bloodthirsty criminals and their imbecile brother (played, under much freaky makeup, by John Matuzak, former head-basher for the Oakland Raiders—whose symbol is a one-eyed pirate).

The kids are drawn sketchily, with a reliance on type: There’s a fat one, an Asian one, a loudmouthed one. The only time a sense of wonder or innocence enters their adventure is toward the end, when they get closer to the treasure they are pursuing.

I would guess the cause of the film’s lack of distinctiveness is the distribution of authority; Donner may have been the director, but Spielberg was the head honcho, and worked closely with screenwriter Chris Columbus (who wrote Gremlins). Thus The Goonies has no particular sensibility behind it. It feels more like a movie made by a committee that thinks it knows what the young audience is going to want to see this summer.

They may be right; the preview audience I saw the film with seemed enthusiastic. But to me, The Goonies is strangely uningratiating—and a sense of ingratiation is exactly what the film needs the most.

First published in the Herald, June 1985

Millions loved it, and it ended up the #6 top-grossing film of 1985. If you were a kid, it seems to have been an important film, then and now. Just excruciating. Maybe, come to think of it, it actually is a Richard Donner kind of picture.


Dream a Little Dream

December 30, 2010

If you are older than 16, you may not be familiar with the phenomenon of The Two Coreys. The Two Coreys are a pair of young actors of a dewy age, midteen heartthrobs whose exploits are currently celebrated in such as magazines Tiger Beat. (Tiger Beat still exists, doesn’t it?)

Every now and then, The Two Coreys make a movie. Sometimes apart—Corey Haim starred in Lucas, Corey Feldman was one of the boys in Stand by Me—and often together, as in The Lost Boys and last year’s License to Drive. In the ads for their new film, Dream a Little Dream, telephone numbers are listed so that fans may call either Corey. Just two bucks a pop, and 45 cents for each additional minute. As the ads say, “Get Your Parents’ Permission.”

With all of this, does it really matter about the movie? Probably not, which is just as well: Dream a Little Dream is another personality-switch movie. An old guy (Jason Robards) figures out a way to move his spirit, which he thinks will bring happiness to him and his wife (Piper Laurie). Instead, his mind is transferred to a high-schooler (Corey Feldman), through whom he sees things anew.

Not all that much happens; the kid romances a gorgeous girl (Meredith Salenger), freaks out his puzzled parents, and startles Robards’ best friend (Harry Dean Stanton). There is some suggestion that the director, Marc Rocco, had in mind that the lessons of the film be a bit more complex than the usual teen-genre simplicity, but not much.

The movie has one remarkable sequence, the mind-transference routine. At night, Robards and Laurie stand in their backyard and perform some voodoo, while Feldman sprints through the cluster of alleys and yards and Salenger rides her bike through the streets, about to collide. On the soundtrack is Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and a dreamlike quality pervades. The scene is much too good for the rest of the movie, quite bizarre and out of place, but it suggests that this director might make an interesting film someday.

Oh yes, the other Corey. Haim plays Feldman’s best friend, and does yeoman’s service. For now, the twin dynasty continues, but I hope these boys remember the fates of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.

First published in the Herald, March 8, 1989

The mind-transference scene is an example of something I love about movies. I saw this movie when it came out (obviously), and haven’t seen it since. It’s not very good. But that scene continues to pop into my head from time to time—it plays around with moonlight, and dreaminess, and I think the wind is blowing through these small-town backyards (at least that’s the way it plays in my mind); plus Van Morrison’s great song does its magic thing. I also really love the spectacle of running when depicted in movies, and here that movement bespeaks youth, especially next to the age embodied by Jason Robards. And all this in a dumb movie with the Coreys.

Marc Rocco was indeed interested in things beyond this sort of film; he made Where the Day Takes You, which aspired to grittiness and seriousness, and Murder in the First. The adopted son of character actor Alex Rocco, he died in 2009, before he was 50. Corey Haim died in 2010, at age 38, having been broken many years earlier.

As for the title song, the best cinematic use I can think of right now for this great standard comes at the end of Dominik Moll’s Lemming, a movie I have a weakness for. There it fits just right; here, not so much.