July 24: Proof that Road House is the greatest movie ever?

Plus Dr. Mario, Good Burger, a Vanilla Ice biopic, and more

The Retro by 11 Points

Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia

July 24, 2020 • Issue 5

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This week in nostalgic history

July 24th

33 years ago, on July 24th, 1987 - Summer School hit theaters.

Summer School is an odd movie, in that it never quite decided what it was going to be at any point during the movie. Mostly, it feels like it was quilted together from pieces of the popular ‘80s movies that preceded it but never found its one unifying thread and, as a result, only really holds up today from a nostalgic standpoint. Is it a “reluctant teacher learns more from his students than they learn from him” movie? Is it a “group of underdog misfits rally to win in the end” movie? Is it a “jokey Breakfast Club”? Is it a classic ‘80s “sexy + hijinks = sexy hijinks” romp?

Maybe the script supervisor spent the entire movie shoot with Watkins in the bathroom.

  • Also on July 24th: The George Brett pine tar incident (1983)… Judas Priest was accused of sending subliminal messages in their music (1990)… Saving Private Ryan hit theaters (1998)

July 25th

23 years ago, on July 25th, 1997 - Good Burger hit theaters.

Good Burger is an accidentally decent movie. It’s not indisputably clear to me why it worked, but, unlike what I just wrote about Summer School, it’s possible Good Burger worked because it knew what it was. It was a buddy comedy, featuring your classic Pinky/Brain dynamic, with a pure underdog plot. (It was also, as I once wrote on my website, inadvertently the first anti-GMO movie.)

Good Burger also holds the unexpected distinction of being one of the first cult movies for millennials. That’s why it’s been featured in more than 14,000 Buzzfeed quizzes (don’t fact check that) and is on the short list of “movies that will be rebooted in the next decade.”

  • Also on July 25th: Microsoft became the first software company with $1 billion in sales in a year (1990)… Roseanne Barr infamously butchered the National Anthem (1990)… the summer Olympics opened in Barcelona, Spain (1992)… Air Force One hit theaters (1997)… Woodstock 99 ended disastrously (1999)

July 26th

29 years ago, on July 26th, 1991 - Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens was arrested for self-fornication in an adult movie theater.

It’s interesting to look back on where Paul Reubens’ career might have gone had (1) this arrest not happened or (2) this arrest happened in a different era. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was already in its late stages at the point of the arrest; an arrest for an incident which seems like Reubens cracking under the pressure of his career in flux.

Had this incident not happened, where might Reubens have gone? Most likely another Pee-Wee movie. Probably a pivot to a starring role in his own broadcast sitcom where he would’ve tried to prove he was more than Pee-Wee Herman by going a totally different direction. It would never have measured up to Pee-Wee, though, and most likely wouldn’t have lasted long. Then he would’ve laid low for a while and maybe has a career renaissance with movie roles. Today he’d be seen in the same light as, say, Paul Reiser or Arsenio Hall.

Had this happened in the modern era, where celebrity scandals (especially extraordinarily benign ones like this) happen constantly and then follow a standard playbook to redemption, I think we’d see pretty much the same path. Just substitute the broadcast sitcom for a Hulu sitcom and swap out Paul Reiser for Gilbert Gottfried and Arsenio Hall for Gallagher and we’d get there.

Instead, Reubens was a one-hit wonder whose potential, like the basement of the Alamo, remains unrealized.

  • Also on July 26th: National Lampoon’s European Vacation hit theaters (1985)… the Dream Team had their Olympics debut, which included Charles Barkley elbowing a player from Angola in the chest (1992)… Boyz II Men’s single I’ll Make Love to You was released (1994)… Kingpin hit theaters (1996)… OMC’s How Bizarre peaked at number 4 and Shawn Colvin’s Sunny Came Home peaked at number 7 (1997)

July 27th

30 years ago, on July 27th, 1990 - Dr. Mario was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In the late ‘80s, Nintendo made an out-of-character bet on Tetris. Nintendo then (and Nintendo to this day) has succeeded on the strength of its own intellectual property. So when they licensed Tetris and rocketed it to ubiquity by making it the pack-in game with the Game Boy in 1989, it was a surprising move — quite the push to give to a title they didn’t own. (And, indeed, that lack of ownership has negatively manifested itself in recent years, as Nintendo continues to try to cash in on nostalgia but can’t include Tetris in any of its mini retro consoles or downloadable game libraries.)

Dr. Mario was Nintendo almost instantly recognizing how uncomfortable they were with Tetris and attempting to undo their folly by creating a first-party “puzzle piece dropping” alternative. While Dr. Mario may not have the overall market penetration or slice of the zeitgeist pie of Tetris, it’s still definitely valid to say Nintendo’s long-term bet paid off.

They’ve continued to release various versions of Dr. Mario for many of their consoles — I know this because I’ve bought basically all of them — most recently releasing a mobile version of the game. Which I play every night and now have to keep away from my child because he became instantly obsessed on sight.

  • Also on July 27th: Purple Rain hit theaters (1984)… Mariah Carey’s single Dreamlover was released (1993)… Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis suddenly died on the court (1993)… a bomb exploded outside the Olympics in Atlanta (1996)… Destiny’s Child’s album The Writing’s on the Wall was released (1999)

July 28th

28 years ago, on July 28th, 1992 - The album Gordon by Barenaked Ladies was released.

We got Barenaked Ladies relatively early in Cleveland — they headed to the upper Midwest when they ventured out of Canada in the mid ‘90s — so I was well aware of the band before they had their real U.S. mainstream breakout in 1998. I can’t say I knew about them when Gordon was released in 1992, but I would say by 1995, If I Had $1,000,000 was all over my high school. In either 1996 or 1997 I even went to downtown Cleveland with some friends to see Barenaked Ladies play an outdoor concert. (One that featured pretty much every song from Gordon.)

This album, though not one I listen to regularly, works about as well as a time machine to the mid ‘90s for me as any album (save Weezer’s blue album and a tape of songs I recorded off the radio including a heavy dose of Color Me Badd). And, if nothing else, Gordon introduced me to lots of great Canadianisms, including referring to years in school as “grade __” and Kraft dinner.

  • Also on July 28th: IBM released its first desktop computer (1981)… Turner and Hooch hit theaters (1989)… Bobby Brown’s single Humpin’ Around was released (1992)… Waterworld and The Net both hit theaters (1995)… Win Ben Stein’s Money premiered (1997)… Barry Sanders retired from the NFL (1999)

July 29th

26 years ago, on July 29th, 1994 - The Mask hit theaters.

I’ve seen The Mask exactly one time, and I believe it opening night, so July 29th, 1994. I was a big fan of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective — it was the movie my friends and I watched over and over and over in the summer of 1994. The VHS came out on June 14th, 1994 and by July 29th, we’d probably watched it three or four dozen times. (We were too young to drive, didn’t drink, and didn’t know anyone throwing parties. Yes, in my recollection, we were the cool kids, why do you ask? Anyway, it was a lot of Ace Ventura that year.)

I don’t have a ton of memories of The Mask — the dance number to Cuban Pete weirdly sticks in my mind — but I remember it not living up to the expectations set by Ace Ventura. I’m not sure anything really could have. In fact, the biggest thing I remember from that night in the theater is when all of us were jaw-drop shocked as a surprise teaser for Ace Ventura 2 aired before The Mask. That trailer blunted the disappointment of The Mask; after all, we knew we had another Ace Ventura on the way. (We did not, at the time, know that would be an even bigger letdown than The Mask w/r/t Mr. Carrey.)

The Mask probably deserves a rewatch at this point. If I can view it now with the proper context —a building block of Jim Carrey’s career, not him stepping up to a whole new level — and a lack of unrealistic expectations, I’d expect an entirely different experience this time around.

  • Also on July 29th: Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married (1981)… Cocktail hit theaters (1988)… Carl Lewis won gold in the fourth straight Olympics (1996)

July 30th

41 years ago, on July 30th, 1979 - Apple began working on Lisa, the first computer with a graphical user interface.

I just had to restart my MacBook Pro for the second time today. It’s never been the same since I spilled nine drops of water on it. I wish I had a Lisa. That thing could double as a boat anchor and still keep working.

  • Also on July 30th: An Officer and a Gentleman hit theaters (1982)… Flight of the Navigator hit theaters (1986)… the MovieTime cable network rebranded as E! (1990)… Robin Hood: Men in Tights and So I Married an Axe Murderer both hit theaters (1993)

Everything old is new again

A look at the reboots, revivals, throwbacks, retro insights, and nostalgia in the news.

Throwbacks and recommendations

I published a new 11 Points list this morning, 11 Random Facts About the Number 11, if you want to read something that only talks about the ‘90s a few times, not in every sentence.

Thanks for reading!