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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: The Goonies

Having devoured the second season of Stranger Things this month, I'm sure I'm not the only one who suddenly found themselves struck with a desire to revisit all things Eighties. The Goonies was a staple part of my childhood, and probably a formative viewing experience when it comes to my love of treasure hunts, child independence, and Ragtag Bunches of Misfits.
Watching it again years later, I was relieved to find that it holds up really well – not only in its practical effects, but its plot and characterization too. The script is tight, the group dynamics are fun, and there's so much foreshadowing and pay-off strewn throughout. More impressively, the jokes are still funny and the score is fantastic. Even now, the sound of those five descending notes sends shivers down my spine – you know the ones.
To be fair, some people hate this movie. I get where they're coming from and I won't pretend that the nostalgia filter hasn't an effect on my fondness for this movie, but you gotta admit Richard Donner and Stephen Spielburg struck gold with the film's basic premise: "kids hunt for pirate treasure." I'm sold just with that, but they also throw in two elements that raise the stakes exponentially: they need the money to save their homes from developers, and are pursued throughout by dangerous criminals.
There you have it, the ultimate in escapist kid adventures, and there's so much good stuff throughout that I'm going to forego my usual reviewing formatting and write a point-by-point commentary about all my favourite things in this movie...
1. The opening credits are a masterclass in Character Establishing Moments. Within a space of a few minutes we're introduced to the villains and the danger they pose, for as they orchestrate a jail-break for one of their own, the Fratellis are depicted as both ruthless and cunning.


The police chase that follows serves as the common thread that connects the rest of the characters. Each one appears in the background/foreground of the pursuit as it whizzes past them, each getting an introductory shot that provides a sense of each character: Andy as a popular cheerleader, Mouth as a wiseass, Data as a hapless inventor, Chunk as an easily overexcited klutz; even Rosalita as the movie's Chew Toy as she barely misses getting hit by the speeding vehicles.
2. The dynamic between the main group isn't as rosy as those in Stranger Things: everyone is pretty awful to Chunk and nobody seems to like Mouth all that much – it's only Mikey and Data who feel like actual friends that enjoy each other's company, but the film certainly captures the vibe that exists between preteens: a sense of camaraderie despite constant squabbling, the rapport that arises from being social outcasts, and the lack of self-consciousness when it comes to physical contact.
For instance: Brand grabbing his brother to put him in a headlock and Mikey staying sprawled on his lap afterwards, or Mikey and Data putting their arms around each other as they count footsteps, or the entire group instinctively huddling together whenever they're in danger. Regardless of how they talk to each other, their body language demonstrates their closeness.
That said, the emotional centre of the film isn't actually between the Goonies, but between brothers Mikey and Brand. Right from the start there's a warm rapport between them – one of their first scenes is the latter trying to comfort the other about the imminent destruction of their house – which is a nice subversion of what you'd think would be their arc: going from mutual dislike to trust and appreciation. In this case, it's there right from the beginning.
3. As a kid I think my favourite running gag (beyond the delight of watching kids swearing) was the perpetual mispronunciation of "booby traps" even though there's no discernable difference in the way the first person says it and the correction another person supplies.
4. Chunk's propensity for telling tall tales and crying wolf is established with a pretty funny gag: he excitedly tells the others about the police chase he's just witnessed and the others remind him of all the other ridiculous stories he's told them in the past. It serves two purposes: firstly that no one believes him when he finds the jeep with tell-tale bullet holes belonging to the Fratellis (allowing them to ignore his frantic warnings without looking stupid), and secondly that the sheriff has a credible reason for dismissing him when Chunk does the sensible thing and contacts the authorities the first chance he gets.
Another great example of how the film gets across a lot of information in an entertaining way is when Mrs Walsh asks Mouth to translate her instructions to the new Spanish housekeeper. The joke is that Mouth deliberately tells the poor woman a load of bull about the household, but the scenes also introduce a) the attic door where they'll find the treasure map, b) Mouth's fluency in Spanish, which he'll use to translate the clues on the map, and c) Rosalita as a Chekhov's Gunman who will eventually find the jewels in Mikey's marble bag but be unable to communicate it properly.  
There's not an ounce of fat in this script – everything is used to push the story forward.
5. Even though the storm seems to have passed mere minutes later, it's a nice reminder of how young they are that the boys get spooked by lightning when exploring the attic.
6. Another moment I've always liked is that while the boys are arguing in the background, Brand is silently flipping through an old book on pirates. It doesn't add anything but ambiance, especially since the illustrations are rather bloodthirsty.
7. One more cute character note: Mikey's inability to pronounce words properly (dictate instead of dilate, curly instead of curator, retropactum instead of retrospective), which he clearly inherits from his mother who says hyperventrilicating instead of hyperventilating and Hare Krishna instead of hara-kiri. It adds nothing but a sense of closeness between mother and son.
8. Corey Feldman's reading of the map in the attic is a great little performance: he starts by hamming it up in a pronounced Spanish accent, but as the words sink in he reverts back to his normal voice, now sounding more awed. Sean Astin also does a great job of retelling the story of One-Eyed Willy with enough reverence and excitement that his friends are momentarily caught up in it.
9. Chester Copperpot is an awesome name for a character in a pirate movie, especially one described as a "reclusive scavenger". And it's another great piece of foreshadowing considering they'll find his skeleton with several important clues on it later.
10. As villains go, Mr Perkins and his son Troy are pretty heavy-handed, but hey – they do their job. Mr Perkins's condescension and smarminess to the boys means his comeuppance is particularly satisfying.  
11. The scene of the boys coasting down the hill on their bikes to the sound of Cyndi Lauper's "Good Enough" is the quintessential image of my own childhood. It captures everything that pop-culture has recently realized it loves about the Eighties: the freedom that kids had, the agency that bikes afforded them, and that sense of utter exhilaration in riding around the neighbourhood, feeling like the whole world belonged to you and adventure was just around the corner.
12. Somewhat related to #7 is the fact that Mikey is acutely aware of the effect the foreclosure is having on his father – and in fact, all their families. As he says, if they found the treasure: "maybe [dad] could get some sleep at night, instead of sitting up trying to figure out a way for all of us to stay here" and: "what are we going to do about that country club, it's killing our parents."
I'm jumping way ahead of myself here, but it's a really nice detail that all these kids come from stable, loving homes – so much so that the Goonies are motivated not just by the desire to save their individual homes, but to rescue their collective parents from their financial woes. As we see in the final scene on the beach, all the kids' families are intact (no single parents, no divorcees or widowers) and they're all overjoyed to be reunited.
13. I've always loved the scene of Mikey matching up the three landmarks (the lighthouse, the rock and the restaurant) on the holes in the coin – though it does make me wonder just how old that restaurant is. Was it once a homestead before it was renovated into a summer restaurant and then abandoned?
14. Another potential plot-hole: is it really credible that nobody ever found the treasure before the Goonies? The map was clearly considered important enough to be put in a glass frame (which meant people knew about its existence) so are we really meant to believe that no one ever translated it and followed the clues before? If a bunch of kids can successfully figure out where it leads, surely an adult (other than Chester Copperpot) could have – especially as Brand specifically says: "everybody and their grandfathers went looking for that treasure".  
15. I'm also not sure why the Fratellis bothered humouring the boys for so long in the restaurant instead of just yelling: "we're closed" and kicking them out.
16. And while we're at it, wouldn't the hilly terrain of the Goon Docks make for a TERRIBLE golf course? (Obviously the answer to all these questions is: "plot").
17. This blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment always cracks me up: Chunk actually SEES the second body of the FBI agent getting carried to the fridge through the open window and reacts accordingly:
18. Mikey's near-psychic connection to One-Eyed Willy is another nice component: he not only keeps up a one-sided conversation with him over the course of the film, but there are plenty of other motifs that connect them, from their love of Rube Goldberg-esque inventions to Mikey's instinctive awareness that they shouldn't touch the gold in the balancing scales on Willy's table (the removal of which triggers the final booby trap).
Did anyone else think he might actually be a reincarnation or at least a descendant of the guy?
19. Every time I watch this movie I noticed something new, and this time around it was Mikey's reaction when Andy and Stef appear at outside the restaurant: while the others are complaining about the fright the girls have just given them, he gives Andy a long silent stare and takes a puff on his inhaler. Since he otherwise only does this when he's nervous or excited, it's a subtle indication of his crush on her.
20. Martha Plimpton has the funniest reaction faces – watch her when Andy tells Brand: "as long as you stay here with me." Still, I have to wonder what the point was of her losing and breaking her glasses. She doesn't seem to suffer from it, and it never figures into the plot in any way.
21. Jeez, I'd forgotten how many fat jokes poor Chunk was subject to. How did he even smell ice-cream through a refrigerator door anyway? In a similar vein, I'm not sure you'd get away with this movie's depiction of Sloth these days either. 
22. Given Brand's reluctance to continue on and the scepticism of everyone else in the existence of the treasure, the film finds a great way to handle the inevitability of their quest: after finding the body of the FBI agent and realizing the identities of the "restaurant owners", the kids hide from the Fratellis in the basement and are forced down the tunnels when they realize there's no other way to escape.
Which reminds, me I've always loved that quiet moment when Mikey whispers: "it all starts here." Still gives me shivers.
23. I appreciate the film's use of the Rule of Three: that the gang finds two fake treasures (the counterfeit money and the wishing well coins) before reaching the real thing.
24. I feel it's a quintessential Goonies moment that in trying to get someone to rescue them by banging on the water pipes, they only end up wreaking utter havoc. Also, when Chunk comes across the mess later on, he remarks: "yeah, Mikey's definitely been here," which echoes his earlier comment to him: "I don't want to go on another one of your crazy Goonie adventures," both of which do plenty to characterize Mikey outside of this particular story.
25. Another great Chekhov's Gun is when they find the skeleton of Chester Copperpot – it solves the mystery of his disappearance, but also provides them with more clues and equipment: not only the skeleton key/medallion, but also the candles. Only the audience can see that one of them is marked dynamite, and there are a couple of close calls until it's finally lit in the final cave.
26. Despite Chunk's cowardice in immediately giving away the location of his friends (though it's justified considering the Fratellis are threatening to slice off his fingers) I like that he yells a futile warning after the bats burst into the room: "Hey Mikey, if you can hear me – run! They're coming after ya!"
27. Mouth gets a nice moment of pathos when he takes back his coin from the bottom of the well and angrily states that his wish never came true. I've always wondered what it was.
28. The pivotal moment arrives when they all get the chance to escape up through the wishing well, but collectively agree to go on despite the danger. It's made all the sweeter by the fact that it was Troy who would have facilitated their escape. Could they have lived with themselves if they'd relied on him of all people to rescue them?
Also, it was hardly subtle when the coin Troy uses to wish for Andy is thrown back up to him, but immensely satisfying.
29. Mikey's famous "our time" speech! That it successfully convinces everyone is a testament to his passion and belief, and that it works on Andy is especially touching since she's the only one who has nothing to gain by staying – she doesn't live on the Goon Docks and so her house isn't at risk of being demolished (and if she had left at this point, the others would have never made it past the skeleton pipe-organ).  
30. All the booby traps are a lot of fun as the kids apply their lateral thinking skills to them, but the best is the one when they momentarily think Data has been killed. The film is good at creating a consistent sense of danger as well as fun, but in this moment their grief is treated as deadly serious.  
It makes for a funny GIF though.
31. I love the pull-back shot when we realize the passage they're all crouching in is actually the nose cavity of a giant skull. It's truly awesome in its foreboding, especially since (as with the dynamite) the audience knows more than the characters. Also, there's real fear in the foot-chase that follows.
32: Okay, let's talk about the girls. The Eighties were not particularly kind to female characters in adventure/fantasy films (as I briefly discuss here) but there's no point in getting agitated over creative decisions that were made over thirty years ago. In the case of The Goonies, Stef gets some great sardonic lines and a nice moment at the bottom of the well in which she points out they can't take other people's wishes, but otherwise contributes nothing of significance to the plot (unless you want to count her finding the wanted poster of the Fratellis...?)
But although some might be even more annoyed at Andy, who embodies some of the worst characteristics of The Chick (being helpless, getting hysterical, constantly screaming) I will passionately defend this creative decision. By presenting her as The Load who is more a hindrance than a help for most of the adventure, her heroism and importance becomes all the more impressive when the gang reaches the skeleton pipe-organ and realize she's the only one who can play the notes and secure their escape.
She has to be largely useless up until this point to make the utilization of an otherwise random skill all the more rewarding. And yet her finest moment isn't in successfully playing the right notes, but immediately afterwards in which she risks her life to double-back and grab the map, despite Francis Fratelli pointing a gun at her. That's the moment she becomes a true Goonie.
33. But can all agree that the skeleton pipe-organ is the film's best scene? It's perfect in all respects: the escalating tension of Andy struggling to play the right notes on top of the slow but steady advance of the Fratelli brothers, combined with a fantastically grotesque set-piece (play the right note and there's a triumphant blast as the drawbridge lowers; play the wrong one and there's a discordant blare, complete with a part of the floor falling out from under them), the threat of gunfire, the suspenseful ticking of the score, and everyone struggling to encourage Andy while simultaneously freaking out.
No matter how many times I watch it, I still end up holding my breath.
34. Who didn't love the hydro-slide part? And everyone's awestruck expression at the sight of the pirate ship?
35. Mikey's big moment with Willy's skeleton is cathartic, but also suitable creepy when he lifts his eyepatch to see solid bone underneath. Even without Sean Astin's face being in the shot, you can still see his reaction by the way his hand trembles.
36. That Stef and Andy are momentarily distracted from the danger the Fratellis pose in order to exclaim over each other's jewellery is a funny moment, I don't even care that it's typically "girly."
37. That Mouth's uncharacteristic silence gives him away because his mouth is filled with treasure is always a good gag, and credit to Mama Fratelli that she noticed it.
38. Brand and Andy finally get to kiss, though I can't say I care that much about them as a couple. Let's be real, would they have lasted beyond high school?
39. Chunk and Sloth get their big Cavalry arrival, though I always felt they go a bit overboard with Sloth's angelic personality. I mean, he knows that his mother and brothers are terrible people, but of course he goes back to save them from the cave in. Should we credit all those movies he watched while chained up in that dark room, or his two hour friendship with Chunk?
40. And now, the big finish. Where to start? There's the heartfelt reunion with everyone's parents, Andy asking for piano lessons, Rosalita throwing a blanket over Mikey, Chunk's mother bringing pizza, Data's father telling his son: "you're my greatest invention", Andy's pep-talk to Mikey, Mrs Walsh saying: "let her mother worry" when Brand kisses Andy, all the kids rushing to body-shield Sloth from the cops when the Fratellis appear, Chunk offering Sloth a home, Rosalita finding the (really fake-looking) jewels and Mouth's desperate attempt to translate before grabbing the pen out of Mr Walsh's hand and wiping it down Mr Perkin's front, and Mikey's dad tearing up the papers and throwing them into the air.
It's the best kind of pay-off you can get, with everything that happens tying up various loose ends and plot-points that were raised across the entirety of the film: the treasure is found, the Goon Docks are saved, the Fratellis are arrested, and the gang gets to stay together.
41. There are a couple of slightly inexplicable bits: the dialogue between Mouth and Stef in which the former thanks the latter for offering to save his life actually refers to a scene that was cut, in which Stef (a strong swimmer) tells Mouth she'll give him any oxygen she has left while they're on the plank of the pirate ship.
However, I've always laughed at Data telling the television crew that: "the octopus was very scary", something that also happened in a deleted scene – but which is funnier if you assume that regardless of everything they all went through, Data still feels the need to invent something completely random.
42. And of course, just as the sheriff steps forward to question their credibility, Willy's pirate ship appears on the horizon...
Wow, what a great movie. Aside from all the above points, I think what it does best is tap into that longing you had as a kid to stumble into a real adventure: secret tunnels, pirate treasure, hidden booby traps, as well as depicting the type of friendship that's summed up so well in that Stephen King quote: "'I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve." Friendship in your tween years isn't anything like the friendship you have when you're younger or older; it's intense and all-encompassing and filled with its own set of secret rules, ongoing squabbles, and heartfelt declarations.
Or as my mum pointed out after we watched it together: "It's quite a noisy movie." Me: "That's because they're always yelling at each other." Mum: "That's all they ever do." 

2 comments:

  1. What a coincidence - I just watched this for the first time! (Well, not that much of a coincidence - I was following Stranger Things too.)

    I found it fairly middle-of-the-road, possibly due to this being a little too early to hit the nostalgia spot for me. The kids ranged from genuinely lovely (Mikey, Data) to genuinely unbearable (Chunk), but the plot was solid enough. Enjoyed reading your list here - it highlighted some of the parts I liked best.

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    1. Yeah, I read a lot of reviews/comments on the movie before writing this, and the general consensus is that if you watched it as a kid you'll appreciate it MUCH more than if you saw it for the first time as an adult. Which I can totally understand.

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