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Two terribly good movies: Howard the Duck and Short Circuit

Updated on June 13, 2012

The anthem of the 1980s

A lot of friends say I have terrible taste in movies. Why? Because I can appreciate far-fetched, special effects laden summer blockbusters. God bless you Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. My so-called "film experts" or, as I like to refer to them "movie snobs" can say that these bombastic popcorn flicks such as Armageddon, Transformers, Con Air and every film based on comic book heros are terrible all they want. All I hear is how they are terribly AWESOME!.

How can anybody admit that they enjoy watching Howard the Duck and Short Circuit you may ask. Maybe it's because both films are just so totally 80s. The music, clothes, style, it's just rad. For those of you who were born after 1985, the word rad means gnarly ... wait, you probably don't know what gnarly means either. How about "bad," "righteous," " totally tubular," "bitchin'." OK, let's just go back to awesome.

The two things these films have in common is that they both star two of my teenage boy crushes: Lea Thompson and Ally Sheedy, Most people will remember Sheedy from the 80s classic "The Breakfast Club." I certainly will never forget about you, Ally, don't you forget about me.

Thompson seemed to be in every movie that came out during that decade, including Lucas, the Back to the Future trilogy, Red Dawn, All The Right Moves, SpaceCamp and Jaws 3 ... really? Jaws 3? I'll have to rewatch that.

So, brush off the dust on those VHS and Beta tapes, and laser discs (remember those goofy things?) and let's first take a gander at this out-of-this world duck.

Howard the Duck

Bringing the comic to the big screen

George Lucas. When word got out that Lucasfilms was bringing the comic book character Howard the Duck to the big screen, let’s just say expectations were high. This was George Lucas, the mastermind behind classics such as American Graffiti, the Indiana Jones franchise and the original Star Wars trilogy.

Jump into your hot tub time machine and let's go back a long time ago in a decade far, far away before thoughts of prequels and constant tinkering and remastering of timeless sci-fi classics lured Lucas to the dark side.

The $35,000,000 budgeted film was expected to be another blockbuster for Lucas, but it ruffled critics feathers and they panned it. Howard the Duck flopped like Luke Skywalker getting shot by forced lightning in Return of the Jedi.

I remember riding my bike down to the local one-plex one afternoon when I was a young lad and forked over $3 for a ticket to see Howard the Duck. Like any boy who grow up with Star Wars -- wanting to someday be Han Solo -- and owned every toy, action figure, toy ships, bedspreads, curtains ... you get the point, I was obsessed ... a new film from Jedi Master George Lucas was a must see.

And I enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun movie with some good laughs. Fast forward 26 years later, I still enjoy it but for a different reason. It’s 80s chic, dude, and I love it.

The plot: Howard is brought to Cleveland by a laser spectroscope experiment gone awry, which also summoned an evil alien, one of the Dark Overlords of the Universe, who intended to sacrifice all human life in order to free the others of its kind from their celestial prison.

Starring: Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and, as the voice of Howard, Chip Zien.

Best Howard the Duck quotes:

  • We've got a saying on my planet. If God intended us to fly, he wouldn't have taken away our wings.
  • Hey, if I had some place to go I certainly wouldn't be in 'Cleve-Land'.
  • No duck is an island. And if fate sent me here to save Earth, then Howard the Duck is ready to fight!
  • Yeah, I know why you want a toolbox - you got a screw loose.
  • Well, sex appeal. Some guys got it - and some guys don't.
  • That's it, no more Mr. Nice Duck.
  • It's not nice to fool with the dark overlords!

Critics were not so kind:
"Howard the Duck is the first clear sign that George Lucas, who exec produced this mess, ran out of pixie dust after wrapping 'Return of the Jedi.'" - Washington Times

"Howard the Duck is a turkey all right, no doubt about it." - Sci-Fi Movie Page

"Daffy Duck will be pleased to hear he didn't miss any career opportunities when he wasn't chosen to star in Howard the Duck, although producers certainly could have benefited from his talents." - Variety

"Choose the part that suits your taste, but this is a case where half a movie -- either half -- is apt to be better than the whole." - New York Times

"As bad as you've heard. Actually, it's worse." - Slate

Short Circuit

Johnny 5

Wall-E

At first glance you may say, “wow, I didn’t know that Wall-E was originally a live action 80s film.” I can understand the initial confusion since Johnny Five and Wall-E bear a striking resemblance. (Somebody at Pixar must have been a big Short Circuit fan.).

The film stars Brat Pack member Ally Sheedy, who departs from her socially isolated, basket case character from The Breakfast Club, to play a happy go lucky, gullible, naive girl-next-door who owns an ice cream truck. She's paired in the film with Police Academy's officer Carey Mahoney, more widely known as Steve Guttenberg, and predictably their characters end up falling in love by the end of the film.

Despite a cast of Hollywood heavyweights, the real star of this flick is Johnny Five, who conveys more acting range and emotional depth with a raising of a mechanical eyebrow than Kristen Stewart has shown in all those Twilight films.

If you're looking for a movie that you can really sink your teeth into, this isn't it. Short Circuit is pure cotton candy that kids will enjoy and adults will get a few laughs also.

The plot: Struck by lightning, an endearing little robot known only as "Number 5" escapes from an experimental electronics firm. Technician Newton Crosby and his indecipherable East Indian assistant, Ben Jabituya, set out to locate Number 5 before the military can go through with its plans to destroy the robot. Number 5 takes refuge with loopy Stephanie Speck, who is convinced that the mechanical man is an extraterrestrial. Hoping to teach the "alien" all about Earth, she fills Number 5's memory banks with reams of pop culture -- and then the real fun begins.

Starring: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens.

Best Johnny Five quotes:

  • Hey Laserlips. Your mama was a snowblower.
  • No shit. Where see shit?
  • Attractive! Nice software. (Upon seeing Stephanie in bathtub)
  • Well, if you gotta go, don't squeeze the Charmin.
  • Number 5 stupid name... want to be Kevin or Dave!
  • [on seeing the Sun] Oooooo! Beautiful. Light bulb.
  • Jerk of the world: Turkey, idiot, pain in the ass.
  • Kick ass? Donkey, mule, burrow.

Critics mixed on film:
"An affable yet forgettable effort..." - Reel Film Reviews

"The lack of a single malicious bone in this film ensures that its genuinely heartfelt approach never collapses to mere schtick." - Projection Booth

"Looking back at it today it's clear that Short Circuit is absolutely awful, and not just because of Ally Sheedy's haircut." - Filmcritic.com

"Goofy 80's fun. Wanna-be E.T. actually delivers the goods." - Juicy Cerebellum


Honorable mention for funniest movie from the 1980s. Heck, maybe of all time.

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