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Review films of the 1980s here! - Page 3

post #61 of 256
The Stunt Man (1980), directed by Richard Rush.

A fugitive with a thousand-yard stare flees into an outdoor movie set and accidentally kills a stunt man. He is hired to replace the dead man. (You'll never get anywhere with this film worrying about plausibility). He knows he should get away, but stays because (1) he's in love with the lead actress, (2) he accepts the challenge of doing the dangerous job, (3) he is zapped by the movie magic world, and finally (4) he is fascinated by the possibly insane director: "I can't take my eyes off him." Fascination turns to dread when he comes to believe the director is going to kill him as part of the perfect stunt.

Before they clean up Steve Railsback we can't help but think of him as Charles Manson in Helter Skelter. This helps because we don't know why he's on the run until the end and are willing to suspect the worst.

As the eccentric director, Peter O'Toole is the best thing in the film and got an Oscar nomination. He says he based the character on David Lean, remembering his own experiences with him on Lawrence of Arabia.

The film has much to like: quite a lot of comedy, great stunt action sequences, and unexpected and jarring shifts between reality and movie making. Look closely and you see we have stunt men playing stunt men playing actors. I love how O'Toole keeps dropping out of the sky on his crane, like something from Terry Gilliam.

It also has a lameness factor. The repartee is not as funny as everyone involved pretends, and some of the dramatic bits are overwrought. It's odd because in the story the director complains about the anti-war film they are making: "We're shaking a finger at the audience when we need to slip in a message more subversively." In our film, any subversive message must be about the relation of fantasy and reality, but I'm not sure it ever emerges.

Brief passion and nudity. Some horrifically dismembered bodies, but they turn out to be makeup and stunts, so that's ok. Right? Theme song sung by Dusty Springfield.

Available on Blu-ray.

post #62 of 256
Heathers (1988)

Heathers is an amazing film containing witty dialogue. A disillusioned youth film for the ages there is perhaps no depiction of high school more accurate. It is very violent and that turns off some, but to me (like Fight Club and American Psycho) the best parts of the movie are not the violent scenes. The dialogue is so sharp and spot on that it does not seem dated like so many movies of the 80's. You may have to watch this one more than once to "get" it it but if you do not like what you see the first time a repeat viewing may be difficult.
post #63 of 256
Heavy Metal (1981), directed by Gerald Potterton and others.

A fairly bold animated anthology targeted at the young male fantasy/swords and sorcery audience. Abundant violence, large breasted naked women, real fantasy sex and a generally goofy perspective on the whole thing. The hand-drawn art is not as photo-real as today's efforts, but reflects the vision of the creators as adapted from their printed work. It has enough variety to make the whole mix fun.

I think some people misunderstand the title: it doesn't refer to the music (which is mostly common pop/rock) but to the magazine of the same name. I read it from time to time back then but it was too brutal and sexually perverse for me.

I'd forgotten some of the segments. The loosely connected major stories are:

Harry Canyon: Hardboiled cab driver. Luc Besson must have fallen asleep watching this while writing The Fifth Element.

Den: Nerdy kid ("It all started when I found the green meteorite") is transformed into a heroically endowed warrior on a strange world.

Captain Sternn: Silly courtroom comedy.

B-17: Eerie tale of a zombie bomber crew.

So Beautiful and So Dangerous: Stoner aliens and robot sex with an Earth woman.

Taarna: This one's different. It's fully one third of the whole film, has a more developed story and uses an orchestral score by Elmer Bernstein. The mute female warrior is respectable, not just a babe. She wears dominatrix leather goods (when wearing anything at all) and would kick the butt of any comic book nerd who crossed her. Strangely enough, this gives her a fan base. The animation was based on early motion capture from a human model.

Available on Blu-ray. Nudity and passion scenes.

I've always thought the original poster (on the left below) ugly and a poor representation of the subject.

post #64 of 256
The Name of the Rose was released on BD last month and is being offered by Amazon for less than $13. I bought a copy and was glad I did. The Name of the Rose is an atmospheric film, tells an intriguing tale, and is filled with fine performances. At base it is a murder mystery but its exotic setting in a remote monastery make it much more. This is a smart, wonderful looking and, given its age, surprisingly good sounding film.

I was particularly impressed by the work of the then 16 year old Christian Slater. Slater plays an apprentice, Adso, to a Sherlock Holmes like monk, Brother William, played by Sean Connery. Brother William with the help of the faithful Adso works to solve the mystery despite formidable obstructions placed in his path.

The Name of the Rose is thoughtful and bittersweet but in the end satisfying film. Highly recommended, 8 Stars out of 10
post #65 of 256
Sudden Impact (1983), directed by Clint Eastwood.

Dirty Harry #4 of 5, the only one directed by Eastwood. This is a comeback after the weakly comic The Enforcer. There is still a bit of silliness when Callahan commandeers a retirement home bus for low-speed pursuit, much to the delight of the passengers.

The main subplot is a rape and revenge story. Ten years after, a woman is finding and killing members of a gang who violated her and a sister. Her method is one bullet in the crotch and another in the head. This is everyone's favorite Eastwood protege, Sondra Locke. She plays it pretty well: not so much enraged as emotionally cold and dissociated, sad and on the edge of losing it. She's delivering justice. Harry agrees and, in the end, conceals her murders. That's never happened before.

Apart from this string of killings he also has to worry about some dumb punks and more serious mobsters, both groups after him. And the usual stickup jobs he always encounters. He shoots a boatload of people in this one. This is the origin of "Go ahead, make my day."

A problem with the rape gang is that they have to be made even more villainous to justify their punishment. This is done by giving them loud and excessively vulgar dialogue. Then it's ok to shoot them. The ringleader is shot, falls several stories and is impaled on a carousel unicorn's horn. Subtle. If I were a screenwriter I hope I could come up with better lines than "Get the bitch! The bitch is mine!"

Lalo Schifren score.

Available on Blu-ray. Richard Schickel provides an easy-going commentary track. He points out that there are shades of guilt and remorse in the rape gang: it's not all black and white, making the executions more ethically troubling. He also thinks the two plot tracks have tones that don't quite mesh: the standard Dirty Harry plot, often ironic, and the revenge plot, serious and somewhat psychotic.

Well, yes and no. This is definitely new territory for the series, and Harry goes where he hasn't gone before. But the two leads do share much in common: a sense of justice and the willingness to take direct action. Her technique is painfully funny (in a way), which is also true of his methods.

post #66 of 256
Halloween II (1981), directed by Rick Rosenthal.

This is not as well liked as the first film, but they do make an effort to create a seamless sequel, repeating the last few minutes of the previous film and continuing the same night with the same characters and actors. New director, but it's written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, who did the first film.

Inevitably, creating a mythology (first film) and then working within it (second film) are different types of creativity, and it is common for the excitement to slack off. We also have a problem with the threat of Michael Myers: how unkillable is he? Very unkillable! Ok, then. It's just a matter of waiting for him to appear again. And again.

According to the wikipedia article the Blu-ray is being boycotted by some because producer Moustapha Akkad's name has been removed from the credits. I'm not sure what that's about.

Brief nudity, lots of slashing.

Available on Blu-ray, but not at Netflix. The first film had daylight scenes but this one is entirely at night and there is less detail available in the darkness.

Terror in the Aisles (1984), directed by Andrew J. Kuehn.

This documentary is included on the Halloween II Blu-ray. Strangely enough it had theatrical release at the time. Hosted by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen, who each appear in more than one clip.

Lots of clips of scary films: you can see the list in the wikipedia article. All wider aspect ratios have been trimmed to 16:9.

The montage segments where bits of different films are pasted together are actually kind of fun. As the film proceeds the style drifts away from horror/thriller genre into police action (Nighthawks), crimes against women (Vice Squad), and rape-and-revenge (Ms 45; sadly, the DVD long out of print).

Some comedy bits, too. There is a framework of people watching the movies in a theater, but most of the time is spent on the clips themselves.

post #67 of 256
The Sacrifice (1986), written and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.


Every gift involves a sacrifice. If not, what kind of gift would it be?

I don't often venture into slow-moving European art film territory, but I saw this back when and have always had a soft spot for it. It takes time getting there, but builds to a powerfully moving finish.

Alexander is an old man with a young son. He and the rest of the family are staying at their country house on a Swedish island in the summer when twilight lasts practically all night long.

Nuclear war begins and it's holocaust elsewhere. Alexander has visions of city rubble and fleeing mobs, and a nightmare of his son running from him. He prays and makes a deal with God: undo this and I will give up everything I have, all my attachments, be separated from my family and never speak another word.

An eccentric postman wakes him up in the middle of the night and tells him that it can all be made right. Alexander must ride a bicycle around to the other side of the bay and lie with an Icelandic witch who has the power to undo it all.

Alexander takes some convincing but then finds himself on the bike on a twilight path, trying to decide: go ahead, or back?

I'll say no more, but the second half of the film justifies the long build up: scenes not to be missed.

The director died soon after completing the film. In many ways it is his tribute to Ingmar Bergman. Photographed by Sven Nykvist.

Many oblique biblical allusions. There is a Leonardo painting: sometimes you look at it, and sometimes it looks out at you. At the end it is not at all clear what just happened, or how many other stories we have glimpsed without understanding.

There are different musical streams: it opens and closes with meditative Bach. Alexander sleeps to recordings of a Japanese wooden flute. In many scenes there is a faint far-off calling, which at first I thought might be angels over by the horizon. In the end you realize it is herdsmen calling to the cattle.

Now, a caution. When I say it is slow starting: 5 minutes of credits, then 20 minutes with Alexander, son, and postman, just strolling on the grass and talking. Then 20 minutes in the household, visiting, pondering. Then the war starts and we have some psychodrama when the electricity fails. Then the story starts moving.

Available on Blu-ray, but not from Netflix. It has heavy edge enhancement and I see a lot of black crush.

Edited by wmcclain - 8/21/12 at 2:29pm
post #68 of 256
Dressed to Kill (1980), directed by Brian De Palma.

A housewife with a vivid sexual fantasy life visits her shrink, then stalks and is stalked by a stranger at the art museum. After sex in a cab and then in his hotel room, she is murdered in the elevator. A prostitute is both witness and suspect; she teams up with the woman's teenaged son to find the real killer.

It's stylish and involving, despite the gaping plot holes, mostly regarding how the killer knows where people are going to be. The murder weapon is a straight razor and the unrated cut is a bit more gruesome than I require.

Michael Caine wrote that this was his first good role after a series of flops. He took the role when a lot of actors wouldn't, worried about image problems.

Dennis Franz is a hoot as the police detective: "Now I want you to find your friend Ted from out of town and bring him in town and down town and in here..."

De Palma, Caine and Nancy Allen were all nominated for the "1st Golden Raspberry Award", which seems silly now. I can see being unhappy with Allen's line delivery, but I can also imagine a hooker talking like that. She got a Golden Globe nomination for the same role, so go figure.

Much nudity and passion, some of it rather steamy.

Available on Blu-ray, but not from Netflix.

This is the "unrated" cut, which I don't believe I've seen before. More explicit sex, violence and language. I don't recall 1980 non-porn films being as anatomically explicit as the opening shower scene here. A featurette demonstrates the differences between the unrated, R-rated, and network versions.

Angie Dickinson (age 49) has a body double for the shower scene but does some of her own nudity as well. Thanks to Nancy Allen (Mrs De Palma at the time) for her efforts in this area as well.

post #69 of 256
Great reviews; Halloween 2 agreed.
post #70 of 256
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Streets of Fire (1984), directed by Walter Hill.

When pop star Diane Lane is kidnapped by creepy motorcycle gang boss Willem Dafoe, her former flame and tough guy Michael Paré returns home to get her back. He acquires sidekick army girl Amy Madigan but has to put up with unusually snide manager Rick Moranis. He can get the girlfriend back, but does he want to keep her? And what happens when the gang comes around for revenge?

A western plot (the hero wears a duster and uses a lever-action rifle) in an alternative 1950s reality. Much comic snappy patter and brawling. I wish I had the exploding/burning car and motorcycle concession for this film.

It did poorly at the box office; maybe just bad timing. I don't know why it is so watchable but it's always been a favorite of mine. I don't particularly like 80s pop music but I like it here. The bluesy, heavy dobro score by Ry Cooder is very cool. Some Blasters tunes and Robert Townsend shows up with a doo-wop group.

The train and grubby under-the-El locations were shot in Chicago; looks just like it, too.

Walter Hill tends to deliver entertainment value. I'm fond of his Hard Times, Southern Comfort, and Last Man Standing. I'll have to revisit some of his other pictures. And note his projects as a producer: the Alien films, Deadwood. According the the IMDB his favorite directors are John Ford, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Raoul Walsh, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone. That makes perfect sense: all the hard men.

The DVD is 4:3 letterboxed. This was available as a Universal HD DVD but a Blu-ray has not yet appeared. I'd buy one.


I really wanted to get into this one, but couldn't quite do it. It did seem interesting and atmospheric enough, though. I think the soundtrack didn't do it for me. The actual story; I also remembered reading that it's very, very simple to the point of not being engaging. I'll probably give this a retry in the future since this was a late night viewing.
post #71 of 256
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Big Trouble in Little China (1986), directed by John Carpenter.

Blowhard truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), with a line of patter like the cheapest pulp fiction, stumbles into a Chinese martial arts fantasy with warring street gangs, magicians, demons and many hells. He has no idea what is going on, and having seen the film several times, neither do I, which makes me feel some camaraderie towards him. An ancient undead sorcerer, David Lo Pan (James Hong) will recover his mortality (?) if he sacrifices the correct green-eyed woman. Jack just wants his truck back. And to save the girls.

It's audacious and has many funny bits. The whole thing never really comes together and I think Russell was still trying to figure out his character. Some of the scenes look like rehearsals.

James Hong is great in all of his manifestations. I once saw a posting from someone who sat next him at a dinner and didn't know who he was. They were talking about some kids' show. But...but... (I spluttered) what about Blade Runner, what about Big Trouble in Little China and a few hundred other TV shows...

Available on Blu-ray.


This movie is still ahead of its times. There's nothing else like it. Its an anytime watcher. Thanks to John Carpenter.
post #72 of 256
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Flash Gordon (1980), directed by Mike Hodges.

Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.

I saw this in the theater. In the next row were two serious science fiction fans, very unhappy. I've always wanted serious SF in films too, but after a while you get tired of waiting and just want to have fun. Here they turn the Silly Dial up to 10. And sometimes to 11, which is too much: when the Hawkman says "they just winged me", or when they play the Wedding March for Ming's nuptials, I just wish they hadn't.

Still, you have to give them credit for achieving what they intended. No suspension of disbelief required, because there is no intended believable world. Time has made the production more than a bit clunky, but it still has an amount of grandeur. The music helps. There are moments when we glimpse a possibly more serious treatment.

Max von Sydow was born to play Ming the Merciless. All those years with Ingmar Bergman were just prelude. His Ming is more believable than his Jesus.

Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton: I admire those distinguished British actors who will do anything. Ornella Muti: yeow. The only other picture I remember her in was Swann in Love. Everyone else: good job. What happened to you afterwards?

Back then I wanted one of the space shuttles to be named War Rocket Ajax. Dear Dale Arden: how does doing a cartwheel improve your aim? I wondered the same thing in The Matrix. The woodbeast is kind of cool, as is the swamp spider thing. Some of the laser blast and energy field effects look like the video games popular at the time.

I counted the word "pleasure" used with lewd emphasis 7 times. It's a PG film.

Available on Blu-ray. I notice it was filmed with some sort of star filter in some scenes, most noticeable when there is a lot of sparkly jewelry. That can't help the fine detail.


I absolutely hate Flash Gordon. I've tried it twice. I finished it once through the first time, and the second I just had to shut it off. Another one that I wanted to like, but it was lacking atmosphere and the cheese + sci-fi in this visual manner just didn't reel me in at all. The movie already expects you to be a fan of Flash himself to get into his character because of the introduction and missing premise. The intro tune by Queen is the best thing about it.

Good stuff Bill!

May I suggest Brazil? It's easily one of the best Sci-fIs of the 80s. It's pretty timeless I'd say, too.
post #73 of 256
Blue Velvet (1986), written and directed by David Lynch.


I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert.

Take two themes that have been well-worn in movies for decades: (1) that wholesome and respectable society is just a facade concealing a corrupt and sordid underbelly, and (2) that of the amateur sleuth who investigates a mystery and gets in too deep.

David Lynch combines these using his usual intuitive and ghastly interpretation to produce something out of a nightmare. Almost literally, as when Frank Booth hypnotically repeats Roy Orbison's lyrics:


In dreams... I walk with you

In dreams... I talk to you

In dreams... You're mine

Dennis Hopper is demonically vile here. Just out of rehab, his first films were this, Hoosiers and The River's Edge, all great performances. He makes Frank evil, but also lets us see that he is in pain, and in love, which is not good for anyone around him.

Kyle MacLachlan is Jeffrey (like "Jeff" the voyeur in Rear Window) who is fascinated by the hidden secrets of his town and who enjoys the company of two women: Sandy (Laura Dern), the sunny and wholesome high school senior, and Dorothy, the older woman with a tragic story who offers unlimited sadomasochistic pleasures. Sandy gets his attention by helping with his investigation, while Dorothy is central to the whole dangerous business.

Jeffrey encounters people so bad, so out there, that we don't even understand what they are into.

I noticed more visual humor this time. As is often the case, Lynch believes in "little doorways" between realities and, in the end, gives us a glimpse of Heaven.

Score by Angelo Badalamenti. Seldom has a director been so fortunate in his composer. Contributions by Bobby Vinton, Roy Orbison, and Julee Cruise.

I did Frank Booth for Halloween once, went to a head shop for the inhaler. "Hey, neighbor, how about a ride? What kind of beer do you like?" I don't think anyone got it.

Nudity, passion, and abundant crazed violence. Has anyone asked Lynch why he likes brains so much? I don't think I'll be seeing Wild at Heart again.

Available on Blu-ray which includes 50 minutes of "lost scenes" as a separate title, not edited into the film itself. It also has Mysteries of Love, a 70 minute documentary from 2002. It's in standard definition and I think improperly flagged as 16:9 when it should be 4:3, giving it a stretch-o-vision aspect ratio. I haven't been able to find out if it's a problem with the disc or just me and my setup. None of the early reviews mention it. The documentary itself is very good.

post #74 of 256
Das Boot (1981), directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

A tremendous epic of life on a WW2 German U-boat. Cramped quarters, months of boredom, then sudden fighting, terror and an exhausting struggle to survive and get back into the war.

The mission: sink cargo ships then hide from the inevitable destroyer pounding. That was the Battle of the Atlantic, an attempt to starve Britain out of the war.

The war correspondent stands in for us here: initially excited, then dismayed at life in that tiny sub (48 men, 1 toilet), terrified during battle, but still unwilling to give it up. The sequence of his fear scenes is great: initially he is hazed by the other officers when they take the sub "too deep" for a test; later this happens for real more than once and now those who were kidding him are terrified as well.

You seldom see survival scenes that go on so long in such a bad situation: resting on the sea floor well below the limit of their depth gauge, running out of air, rivets popping, seams failing, battery acid leaking. They hold it together with lumber and their bare hands, and still come back.

The film-makers visited the U-505 in Chicago and took meticulous notes. It is the last remaining U-boat of its class. I toured it many years ago and thought it was the last place in the world I would want to be.

The open water scenes showing the sub surfacing or submerging was done with a 1/6 scale model. I always thought it looked rather good.

Available on Blu-ray with a commentary track by the director, Jurgen Prochnow, and others. I've lost track of the different cuts I've seen; this is the 3h28m version. Several of the German actors did their own dubbing on the English track.

They say the German critics disliked the film for it's sympathetic portrayal of the seamen. At that time German soldiers in German films had to be villains as part of the national expiation of war guilt. They brought the film to America and everyone loved it.

post #75 of 256
Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis (1984), directed by Fritz Lang.

That's the title on the disc case. The IMDB doesn't have an entry apart from the 1927 original. I reviewed the Kino Complete Metropolis here. See that for thoughts on the story.

This edition, also from Kino, is a shorter 83 minute cut, assembled from all the bits they could find at the time, with some stills inserted to help flesh out the story. The restoration is not as good as the Complete version, but it is quite watchable, if dark and lacking a lot of detail. As a first introduction for people who don't watch silent films, it might be the better choice. The shorter cut is a science fiction fable, where the longer one is a more diffuse narrative.

They replaced some intertitles with subtitles, applied tinting and rotoscoped color into a few scenes. All these techniques were commonly done to b&w films in the silent era, although not necessarily to Metropolis. The big change is the new techno-pop score, although the film has had other alternative scores in it's history.

You can argue with the choices. Pop music often has only ephemeral appeal, but I confess that that the nostalgia rush is strong in this one for me. I was barely aware of Moroder at the time. I knew he produced Donna Summers and figured he was some sort of disco synthesizer king. But he did much more, and as I wrote in my review of Cat People, for me his music is kind of a background theme for that era.

Compared to other modifications to films like chopping them up or altering the aspect ratio, providing new music to a silent film does not seem like a severe crime. Some silents had no score, but even for those that did, like Metropolis, the score does not seem "sacred" to me. I'm glad we have the original, but a lot of music has appeared since then that better fits the dystopian vision. Would you prefer other selections? Making a new soundtrack is a game anyone can play.

He adds some simple sound effects as well. It's amazing how much they enhance the imagery, adding space to the cityscape.

Available on Blu-ray. The disc includes The Fading Image (1984), a 17 minute documentary on the restoration effort and a plea for film preservation. Neither Netflix nor ClassicFlix have the DVD or Blu-ray.

In the thumbnails below I have tried not to have too much overlap with those used for the Kino Complete Metropolis review.

post #76 of 256
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Compared to other modifications to films like chopping them up or altering the aspect ratio, providing new music to a silent film does not seem like a severe crime. Some silents had no score, but even for those that did, like Metropolis, the score does not seem "sacred" to me. I'm glad we have the original, but a lot of music has appeared since then that better fits the dystopian vision.

I saw the new restoration last year with the Alloy Orchestra live. Their score is amazing, and makes the original sound positively sleepy in comparison. I wish Kino could have licensed it as an alternate track on the Blu-ray.
post #77 of 256
Originally Posted by Josh Z View Post

I saw the new restoration last year with the Alloy Orchestra live. Their score is amazing, and makes the original sound positively sleepy in comparison. I wish Kino could have licensed it as an alternate track on the Blu-ray.

I see the full-length soundtrack is available as an MP3-CD directly from the orchestra, meant to be synced with disc playback: http://www.alloyorchestra.com/order.html. $20, payment by check only.

Amazon has 3 songs available for download, but I don't see the whole album.

post #78 of 256
Dune (1984), directed by David Lynch.

I saw this a few times in the theater when it was new but not in the decades since. I tried to watch it with fresh eyes this time, forgetting the book and my previous viewings.

There are intimations of a good story here: Paul's premonitions that he will be inserted into an epic adventure and become a messiah (or perhaps, "Messenger"). And the sandworms are monstrously elegant.

Otherwise it's still ridiculous after all these years, awkwardly stiff and uncinematic throughout. The leads are particularly bland (although Kenneth McMillan is having a good time as the Baron) and tend to be overpowered by the secondary characters who just drop in for their episodic bits. All the characters speak in platitudes; even their thought-voice-overs are dull. The Harkonnen villains are ludicrous.

It has the double flaw of trying to stuff in too many details from the book, but still not presenting the story very well. In the theater, management handed out a printed glossary to try to help the audience keep up. As a filmmaker you really need to think about what you are trying to do here.

Beyond that, Lynch introduces elements which must be important to him but which make no sense and add nothing to the story. The Baron as a pustule-covered flying vampire? Heart plugs? Weirding modules? What's that all about?

The Fremen are the easiest to represent: we think of desert Arabs. The Atreides are properly shown as European nobility, although the court and retro-uniforms are more formal than I imagine, and they live in a museum. The Harkonnens on the other hand: good grief. I imagine the Baron as a sybaritic Roman senator. Here he lives in an industrial hallway and makes bloody shambles of minions with bad haircuts.

I don't know why Lynch was offered this, or why he accepted and stuck with it. I know he and most others regret it. The wikipedia article has a summary of the background.

Filmed in Mexico. Available on Blu-ray.

post #79 of 256
Excalibur (1981), produced and directed by John Boorman.

Boorman is an imaginative director trying to realize a specific vision, but it never comes into focus. We have dramatic visuals, but the characterizations are not very strong and the sweep of the Arthurian epic never really grabs me. Combining a fantasy approach (he really believes in "shining armor") with the blood and mud grittiness of the dark ages is jarring and keeps us off balance, which may be a good thing.

The story is presented in distinct acts:

Uther. From the Age when everyone bellowed their lines. There is a lusty scene of Uther in armor ravishing Igrayne (the director's daughter!) before the fire. That couldn't have been comfortable on either side.

Young Arthur. Pulls the sword from the stone and becomes King.

Lancelot and Guenevere. A slack episode. Maybe I had enough of this in the Lerner and Lowe musical.

The Grail Quest. The plot turns mystical: the quest has both internal and external aspects. This could be interesting, but it's never properly developed.

Mordred. Tie up some loose ends, have a bloody final battle, the End. As they enter the realm of legend everyone starts declaiming in formal speeches.

Throughout, "magic" is a forest-green light just offscreen, representing the force of the old nature-religion.

Nicol Williamson plays Merlin semi-comically, part mage part con-man. He had a feud with Helen Mirren over previous work and Boorman hoped this would amp up their conflict on screen.

We have many faces that became more familiar in later years, eg Patrick Stewart. First film for Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds.

Could I point out: even when knights wore armor in battle they didn't wear it while hanging around or sitting at table. It makes both the fantasy and realistic aspects of the story look ridiculous.

Like most Arthurian treatments they claim this to be an adaptation of Le Morte D'Arthur. I seriously doubt it. All I remember of Malory is hundreds of pages of repetitious jousting formulae, ably lampooned by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:


The truth is, Alisande, these archaics are a little too simple; the vocabulary is too limited, and so, by consequence, descriptions suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to level Saharas of fact, and not enough to picturesque detail; this throws about them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the fights are all alike: a couple of people come together with great random -- random is a good word, and so is exegesis, for that matter, and so is holocaust, and defalcation, and usufruct and a hundred others, but land! a body ought to discriminate -- they come together with great random, and a spear is brast, and one party brake his shield and the other one goes down, horse and man, over his horse-tail and brake his neck, and then the next candidate comes randoming in, and brast his spear, and the other man brast his shield, and down he goes, horse and man, over his horse-tail, and brake his neck, and then there's another elected, and another and another and still another, till the material is all used up...

Quite a lot of Wagner in the soundtrack. The main theme is Siegfried's funeral march. I think this was the first time I heard Orff's Carmina Burana, which became more popular thereafter.

Brief nudity and passion and some gore and hacked off limbs. Filmed in Ireland.

Available on Blu-ray. Boorman provides a light commentary track with anecdotes about the production. He has the sword Excalibur at home and the Holy Grail on his mantlepiece; not many people can say that.

Netflix doesn't have the Blu-ray.

post #80 of 256
I'll admit it, Excaliber is one of my guilty pleasures.

Among other things, it was the first film to make me really appreciate the OAR debate because when Arthur is run through with the pole arm by Mordred and the shot is from Mordred's viewpoint, you can only see the blade of the pole arm with chunks of meat hanging off of it in the OAR version.

AFA the complaint about the armor, actually plate armor didn't exist during what is considered to be the "Arthurian" period, so you should really complain about them having plate armor at all rather than complaining about when they wear it.

Personally, I was willing to overlook the armor issue because they were willing to show what a brutal hackfest that type of combat was like with those weapons.

It also helped a lot to able to identify characters in the battle scenes to be able to see the characters in their plate without their helms in other scenes. Plus, it's just great eye-candy. So in this case, I'll vote for the historical inaccuracies over seeing a bunch of guys in tights and robes most of the time.
post #81 of 256
The 80s were THE BEST for many things!!!


Back to the future 1,2 and 3 (3 is ok)
The Terminator 1,2 (3 kinda sucks)
Die Hard

And many more!! (I am thankful to have some of them ON VHS recorded in the 80s! (In pure analogue where the pic and sound IS THE BEST!!))
post #82 of 256
River's Edge (1986), directed by Tim Hunter.

A deranged high school kid murders his girlfriend for no reason. He doesn't care who knows or if he gets caught. Their circle of friends go down to the river bank to view the body but do nothing about it. They seem emotionally numb and have no moral foundation. The naked body is undiscovered for several days.

The story is bleak but not unredeemed. There is justice of a sort and the Bad recognizes and separates itself from the Worse. We have blossoming young love (sleeping bags in the park) and reconciliation with a vicious kid brother.

The plot is diffused by some secondary characters (the ex-radical teacher, Mom's boyfriend) but that shows what the kids put up with: nothing around them is worth a damn.

This made a big splash in my little circle back then but I never see it mentioned any more. My initial response was probably similar to what people felt when watching "juvenile delinquent" films of the 1950s: "Amoral little bastards. Wish someone would smack them around."

Many fine performances:

Keanu Reeves is very natural as the brooding, inarticulately yearning kid who is trying to grow a conscience without any examples to work from or vocabulary to talk about it.

Crispin Glover is the manic speed freak who is leader to a group who don't organize very well. I love his nervous giggle, his dramatic displays and his intense, if delusional, notions of loyalty.

Dennis Hopper is "Feck", a one-legged paranoid ex-biker who hands out dope to the kids. He committed a murder and has been hiding out for 20 years. He loves a sex doll but it's not what you think: "Ella" is a good girl and never grows old.

Feck is the outlaw wild man until he encounters the real psycho; we see him sobering up and becoming more grounded when exposed to something worse than himself. Hopper is great in the role; he did this about the same time as Blue Velvet.


Feck: I killed a girl, it was no accident. Put a gun to the back of her head and blew her brains right out the front. I was in love.

Samson: I strangled mine.

Feck: Did you love her?

Samson: She was okay.


Samson: Are you some kind of psycho?

Feck: No, I'm normal. Are you a psycho?

Samson: I must be. It's the only excuse for me.

The dialogue has plenty of dark humor:


Mom: Where did you get that dope?

Son: Don't worry, it's not yours.

[and later...]

Son: The only reason you stay here is so you can **** my mother and eat her food. Mother******! Food eater!

Nudity and brief passion. Netflix doesn't have the DVD.

post #83 of 256
The Bounty - (1984)
Oscar(s) winners* Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson lead a stellar cast that includes Sir Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson in this action-packed adventure bursting with sensational battles, raging storms, and an intensity as powerful as the mighty sea itself! Bristling with commanding performances, blazing dialogue and "superb action scenes" (Los Angeles Times), this "spectacular movie" (New York) is "everything a high-adventure fan could want" (Variety)! Hopkins delivers "a brilliant portrayal" (Boxoffice) as William Bligh, a real-life sea captain who, in 1787, steered The Bounty on a 27,000-mile voyage into danger, chaos and madness. After 31 days of battling severe sea squalls and Bligh's ever-increasing cruelty, the weary crew is relieved to finally land on a remote island. But soon their tyrannical captain wants tosail again, and the desperate men turn to first mate Fletcher Christian (Gibson) to help them take the ship by force or die trying.


no blu ray as of yet. just dvd
post #84 of 256
Moonstruck (1987), directed by Norman Jewison.

A superior romantic comedy with lots of heart. The Italian sector provides colorful ethnicity this time.

Great ensemble. I particularly like Danny Aiello as the sad sack fiance.

Cher was 40 when making this, Nicholas Cage 22. It's funny: his character is an opera fan who has molded his own life into an overblown tragic opera plot.

Parallel to the younger people we have Old Age in it's wisdom and foolishness, affairs of the heart and body both current and remembered. Lots of magic in that big multi-night full moon.

Available on Blu-ray. Netflix doesn't have it.

post #85 of 256
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Moonstruck (1987), directed by Norman Jewison.

A superior romantic comedy with lots of heart. The Italian sector provides colorful ethnicity this time.

Never liked this movie, and it's the over-the-top "colorful ethnicity" that really grated on my nerves. The characters are cartoonish stereotypes.

I have the same problem with My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
post #86 of 256
Originally Posted by Josh Z View Post

Never liked this movie, and it's the over-the-top "colorful ethnicity" that really grated on my nerves. The characters are cartoonish stereotypes.

Fiddler on the Roof? The Quiet Man? Brigadoon? Oklahoma!


I have the same problem with My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Yes, that was weak.

post #87 of 256
The Pirates of Penzance (1983), directed by Wilford Leach.

I was gratified when watching Topsy-Turvy to see Victorian theater audiences frantically paging through their librettos during a performance. Gilbert & Sullivan musicals are famous for their witty lyrics but I had never been able to understand any of the words, and apparently I wasn't the only one.

Now we have discs with subtitles, solving the problem. I can't say I am a G&S fan but I would like to see all the shows just to understand the references people make to them.

All feature bright and bouncy music, rapid-fire lyrics, and levels of extreme silliness that take us into Monty Python or Pee-wee Herman territory. You have been warned.

This one is about a young man raised by pirates who, coming of age, becomes a pirate-hunter. For romantic interest we have a bevy of daughters who spend the second half of the film in their nightgowns, which must have been saucy at the time.

It's a lush, colorful presentation, mostly done on large stage sets. Lots of comic business.

I only recognized three people in the cast: Kevin Kline is a remarkably athletic Pirate King. If nothing else is happening you can watch his comical expressions and postures. Linda Rondstadt is Mabel, the main love interest. She's sweet and has a great set of pipes, but it's just as well she has only two speaking lines. Angela Lansbury is the Nurse.

Tony Azito as the Sergeant has great loose-limbed rubber-man talents.

This started as a Central Park production, then moved to Broadway. There was an earlier made for TV version on DVD with Kline and Rondstadt, but this 1983 theatrical release is much preferred.

Netflix doesn't have the DVD.

post #88 of 256
The Pirates of Penzance (1983) is one of my all time favorite musicals. My wife and I saw it on Broadway, starring Maureen McGovern who had replaced Linda Ronstadt as Mabel. She was wonderful so the production didn't lose a step. Kevin Kline had also been replaced at that time. The rest of the principal players, though, were pretty much the same as seen in the film, including the great Tony Azito as the sergeant. Azito won the Tony for his performance. We were so blown away by the Broadway production of Pirates, we could hardly wait for the movie and weren't disappointed.

Like Bill, I love Topsy Turvy, the BD of which is included in my highly selective collection. Every Gilbert & Sullivan lover should have this disc.
post #89 of 256
Originally Posted by Josh Z View Post

I saw the new restoration last year with the Alloy Orchestra live.

What an amazing moment that must have been. I'm jealous!
post #90 of 256
Conan the Barbarian (1982), written and directed by John Milius.

I hadn't seen this for a long time and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It has famously cheesy aspects but can also -- if you revert to your adolescent male mind -- be involving and exciting.

The first half is episodic; in the second part we buckle down to Conan's vengeance quest, which becomes a sort of manly barbarian attack on hippiedom with a bit of gay-bashing. I don't remember the princess helping Conan in the final attack on the sorcerer; is this a different cut?

The good features:

Basil Poledouris's score is very fine; I still hum bits 30 years later.

It's a gritty fantasy with blood and grime. The combat physics are those of this world; today you'd need flying wire acts and impossible stunts. The landscape is real and pre-CGI, giving the adventure a certain earthy vitality.

This was the first time I remember seeing heavy sword combat techniques different from traditional Hollywood light fencing.

A favorite bit is a quietly elegant scene where Conan does sword exercises on the beach after his ordeal on the Tree.

The cheesiness:

Arnold Schwarzenegger was not a polished actor and his accent and enunciation are often a problem. His line delivery is sometimes unintentionally comic. He doesn't look like how I imagine Conan, not even the Frazetta illustrations. On the other hand this awkwardness is kind of endearing and his adventure situations are often moving. We wouldn't identify with him as much if he were perfectly deft.

The barbarian costumes and hair sometimes look a bit too dressed and styled. I wish I had the furrier concession for this film. The sorcerer's henchmen look like aging pouty rock stars. The cannibal stew obviously has dry ice to make it steam.

Other parts are matters of taste: lovely-legged Sandahl Bergman is a dancer and holds herself like one. Max von Sydow has only one scene and he's no Ming the Merciless. James Earl Jones doesn't hold back. Lots of comic dialogue and mugging avoids any risk of a more serious treatment.

Filmed in Spain. Brief passion and nudity. Much hacking and blood splatter.

Available on Blu-ray.

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