10 TriStar Films That I Love

A salute to 10 TriStar Pictures releases and their relation to my life.
October 01, 2009
Every year is an anniversary for various pop-cultural items, but some escape notice. For example, although I haven't seen much about it on any websites, this year is the 25th Anniversary of TriStar Pictures.

TriStar stands as probably one of my favorite studios for 80s movies. The studio hadn't been around as long as the majors, but from 1984 to 1989, they created a lot of very enjoyable movies. These 10 movies, chosen from the 105 or so films that the studio released between 1984 and 1989, have all impacted my pop-cultural tastes from my first viewings of them.

Let's start by going to New York City to meet with Kermit The Frog and his friends. Yes, I'm talking about the very enjoyable "The Muppets Take Manhattan".

This was the first movie I saw with the regular Muppets (I don't count "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird", because with the exception of Kermit The Frog, they're two entirely different sets of characters).

This stands as probably the most maligned Muppet movie from when Jim Henson was alive, and I wish it wouldn't get such short shrift. I'd been to New York several times before my Dad's death, and several times after. Once my Dad died, though, the visits no longer felt enjoyable. It was a cold and depressing place.

"The Muppets Take Manhattan" portrayed the city in a fairy-tale-like way, and as I've said several times, the movies provide me with an escape. When I watch Kermit and his crew trying to achieve their dreams of Broadway stardom, I like to pretend that I'm in the same area. I'm free of my personal issues, and having a great time.

Jim Henson was a master at creating pieces that could inspire you towards something greater, and for me, this movie was his crowning achievement with Kermit and the gang. I'll be talking about another Henson movie later, though.

The next movie on my list is a piece that was rather important to my history with DVDs. The movie is another maligned title, this time with a comic book twist.

I'm talking about "Supergirl".

One thing I kept on hearing about DVDs in the months leading up to the time I got my first DVD player is that they held extras. I read up on what those could include. Extras were defined as things like deleted scenes, documentaries, commentaries by the people involved in the movies, vintage promotional material...

I purchased the 2-Disc Anchor Bay Special Edition of this, and I was floored. The set was loaded with extras, and I loved it. It's interesting to learn what went on behind the camera as well as in front of it.

As for the movie itself, I think it was an enjoyable movie. Helen Slater looked stunning as the title character and Faye Dunaway was a very entertaining villain as the jealousy-filled Selena. The score was great, too...It wasn't like John Williams' work for the "Superman" series, but this was a little different from the "Superman" films. A lot of this film is played for laughs, whereas the first two "Superman" movies had a lot of dramatic elements. "Superman III" was half-and-half and quite enjoyable, but that was a Warner Brothers title, so let's save that for another day.

"Supergirl" was savaged by many critics at the time of its' release. Maybe the first two "Superman" movies impressed them so much that they were unwilling to see things go in a different direction. I believe that every movie should be taken on its' own terms. If you come into a movie based on preconceived notions from previous materials, then you may be disappointed. Just take it one step at a time.

Moving on to 1985, I really enjoyed the movie "The Last Dragon".

This is yet another one of those titles that was introduced to me through the local video store, all the way back in 1997. I looked at the box, never having seen the film before, so I decided to give it a go. It was a very enjoyable movie for me.

What I liked about the movie was its' collision of genres. 1/3 karate movie, 1/3 urban comedy, 1/3 fantasy, altogether enjoyable. Sho-Nuff (Julius Carey) was easily one of the most memorable villains in 80s cinema. "The meanest, prettiest, baddest mo-fo low-down round-town", this was a character who knew how to put on a show.

This leads me to wondering, though: Many people call movies like this "cheesy". Of course, if you read the dictionary, you would know that the word means "shabby" and "cheap". I left the word in the dust several years ago, but somebody raised a good point online. I forget what site it was, but the gist of it was this:

Most 80s culture is demeaned as "cheesy" and "corny", but what are the people who use these words using as a comparison? Are they using pre-or-post-80s culture as a demarcation point or is it a word they use for no reason?

I'd like to know people's opinions on these questions.

Now we move into 1986 with the movie "Labyrinth".

What I like about this movie is that while it's ostensibly a kid's movie, it proved that there was more to Jim Henson than kids' stuff.

I view Sarah's journey through the Labyrinth as a metaphor for her maturation. Look at it this way...She acts very petulant and whiny at the beginning of the movie, especially regarding his step-brother Toby (Toby Froud). When Jareth (David Bowie) takes him away, he may seem like the villain of the movie, but the tasks that Jareth puts throughout her trip help her realize that growing up is important, and growing up often means doing things you don't want to do, like taking care of a step-brother who you may not neccessarily feel a bond with. While Sarah does dance with the companions of her youth at the end of the movie, she has learned to grow up.

In a way, I think that's what most everyone needs to do. You can't remain the same way forever...As time changes, you need to do so also. Change is difficult, to be sure, but it can also be rewarding. I'm turning 27 in December (I plan on writing an article about that around that time), and I've gone through a lot. Sometimes I still feel like a child, and in all honesty, sometimes I still act like a child as well, but all the things I've gone through have helped to inform my life. Through negatives (my dad's death) and positives (holding down a steady job for over 7 years), I've come a long way. Sometimes, you need to go through the sour to reach the sweet.

Another favorite TriStar title also comes from 1986. The movie is "8 Million Ways To Die".

It's a tale of an alcoholic, disgraced detective named Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) who ends up in the middle of a complex case involving sex, drugs and lots of money.
For all the graphic content, I found myself enraptured by the look, style and women in the movie. The two main female characters are 2 hookers named Sarah (Rosanna Arquette) and Sunny (Alexandra Paul). I wrote about Paul in my 2008 article "Some Of My Fave 80s Women", and if I thought she was hot in "Christine", she was smoldering in "8 Million Ways To Die". She looked stunning when she was entirely naked and talking dirty. Seeing that scene made me wonder how far they could push the "R" rating back in the 80s.

Sarah was also a great character. She had this great combination of party girl sexuality and bitter cynicism that can come about when you're prostituting yourself (forgive the pun). She combined the idealized California girl with the reality of life out there on the West Coast.

The movie as a whole is a combination of fantastical looks and styles and deathly realistic human behavior. I've always wanted to spend some time out in California...So many of my favorite 80s movies were filmed there or animated there.

There's this one scene that sticks with me to this day. During the opening credits, we see cars on the freeway, but as the camera arcs above it all, it seems less like a traffic jam and more like a phalanx of cars ascending to the sky. A metaphor for wanting to escape, perhaps?

California and TriStar...The two go together so well, as we move into 1987 with the movie "Blind Date".

This is another movie I saw in my teens that made me look forward to adulthood. The movie is the tale of a corporate executive named Walter Davis (Bruce Willis) who is looking for a date for a dinner with a new client. His brother (Phil Hartman) matches him up with his wife's cousin, a red-haired babe named Nadia Gates (Kim Basinger). The thing that you need to know about her is that if she drinks even a little alcohol, all Hell will break loose. When David hears about her losing control when drinking, he assumes she'll want action. Instead, over the course of one night, everything he has falls apart. He still loves her, though, and to get her back, he'll have to get through her ex, a sleazoid named David (John Laroquette).

While it is an outrageous comedy, it also strikes me as sophisticated at the same time. There's wonderful fashions and a great look to the sets. I saw this back in my high school days. As I've said in several previous articles, from 10th through 12th grade, our classrooms were converted storage space. We were a school within a school...Only 5 rooms or so. It just seemed so constricting. "Blind Date", on the other hand, had scenes in a wide variety of places, from office buildings to restaurants to museums to mansions. When you're being driven to a school within a school, sometimes you feel like that's all you'll ever know. Once you're an adult, though, the world is your oyster. I don't know what wine would go with that, though. Still, movies can provide a wonderful escape, and this title is no different.

Sometimes movies can look forward and see something unpleasant. Such was the case with another TriStar release from 1987..."The Running Man".

Most of us are familiar with the story, so there's no need to recap it. Something I have noticed, though, is that the plot is realistic. "The Running Man" is all about death being broadcast on national television. It may seem unrealistic, but we've been witness to lots of death on television throughout the years. From the Challenger back in 1986 to the 9/11 attacks 15 years later, death is in our faces 24/7. "The Running Man" only dramatized reality.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a good drama, and "Light Of Day", my 3rd TriStar title from 1987, was a great example of 80s drama.

The movie is about 2 musician siblings named Joe and Patti Rasnick (Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett), and the ups and downs of their careers and personal lives. It's a simple plot, but it has good acting.

I think that Jett is the best part of the movie. Many people think that musicians can't be good actors, but Jett bought as much emotion to her performance as she does to her singing. While very raucous, Jett also proved herself to be good at quiet scenes, such as when she's comforting her dying mother Jeanette (Gena Rowlands). I'm just wondering why nobody thought of casting her in more big-studio movies. If "The Brave One" was filmed in 1987 instead of 2007, imagine what it would be like with her in Jodie Foster's role of Erica Bain.

Let's lighten things up with a TriStar title from 1988...A hilarious spoof called "Love At Stake".

The movie is the tale of a young minister during the Salem Witch Trials named Miles Campbell (Patrick Cassidy). The Witch Trials in this movie don't have anything to do with religion...Instead, people are being burned at the stake so the not-so-honorable Judge Samuel John (Stuart Pankin) and Mayor Upton (Dave Thomas) can grab land for building plans they have. Things get even more mixed up when an actual witch named Faith Stewart (Barbara Carerra) shows up in town.

To explain why I found this movie so funny, we must once again take a trip to my high school days. It seems that high school is the well from which my words flow.

It was either the 11th or 12th grade, I forget which, when we read the classic novel "The Scarlet Letter". It bored me, but then again, so did most of the books we were forced to read. After we finished reading it, we were "treated" to the Demi Moore version of the movie.

I couldn't take one single frame of this film seriously. I had heard bad things about it before we watched it, and they were all true. I made a list of things I thought were missing, like dance scenes and a cameo by Dr. Joyce Brothers. I then read about "Love At Stake" on a B-movie website, and my interest was piqued. When I saw it, it had all the things I listed in those not-so-dear and thankfully departed days.

Since I've often written about challenged people, I think it's best to cap off this article with a TriStar release from 1989 dealing with the idea of coping with disabilities.

The movie is "See No Evil, Hear No Evil".

I'm thankfully nowhere near as challenged as the main characters, the blind Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) and the deaf Wally Karue (Richard Pryor), but I can relate to their issues anyway. One of them is being stuck in a situation where your personal issues work against you. Dave and Wally are at the scene of a murder, and they end up in trouble because of it. Dave heard the murder while Wally saw it, and they're put into a difficult situation because of it, with both the police and the murderers out for them. They save the day and clear their names in the end, though.

When you're in a bad situation, you can then find your strength. Sometimes it comes through outer actions, and sometimes it comes from within. For example, I learned something recently. If you're having romantic troubles, it's all because of you. You need to love yourself before anyone else can be expected to love you. Right now, I don't even like myself, much less love myself, but I'm not going to whine over it. I'm seeing a psychologist, taking medication and just getting out there when I can, whether it's for karaoke or just a simple walk.


In summation, TriStar is another one of those entertainment outfits that has provided me with a respite from my personal issues. The pegasus that serves as the TriStar logo represents something to me...It represents easy access to fantasy, a quick escape from whatever's going on in my life.

I know that some of you will say "Where's 'Hook'?" or "How come T2 isn't on here?". Those are good movies, but they don't really speak to me the way these titles have.

So, with that, the floor is open for discussion:

What are your favorite TriStar titles? Do you agree with my choices? Would you have gone with different ones?
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