Some Good Ones
1. Missing in Action (?)
Is it good? Is it bad? Is it so bad it's good? I had a really tough time with this one. On the one hand it's a solidly put together action movie, on the other hand the Vietnamese characters are little more than cartoon villains. The fight choreography is definitely better than Forced Vengeance (another Chuck Norris movie I've seen recently), but then again the idea that Chuck Norris, with his dirty blonde hair, could somehow "go stealth" by wearing black clothes in the middle of Saigon is ridiculous.
One thing's for sure, this movie wasn't helping U.S.-Vietnam relations any. Having a Chinese American play the leader of the Vietnamese diplomatic contingent was especially insulting.
Yet while it doesn't quite pack the punch of First Blood Part II, it does exemplify a trend towards Vietnam-themed action movies in the 80s. For this reason alone it's worth seeking out.
Fun Fact: The similarities between this movie and First Blood Part II aren't accidental. Both movies were based on a story treatment submitted by James Cameron for the second Rambo film.
Fun (Non)Fact 2: Chuck Norris has counted to infinity. Twice.
Hollywood never met a good idea it didn't recycle. Dennis Quaid would later star in Innerspace, another movie where he invaded other people's personal space, and let us not forget The Cell in 2000, Vanilla Sky in 2001, and Inception in 2010 - all of which offered other takes on the concept of people visiting others' dreams. And yes, there's probably some other, earlier movie I've forgotten (or don't know about) that treads upon similar ground.
Just the same, Dreamscape is a good movie. Dennis Quaid was a great leading man, and it's too bad that so much of his career was derailed due to substance abuse.
3. Against All Odds
Bet you remember the Phil Collins' song better than the movie. "So take a look at me now...."
...but maybe it's not all Phil Collins' fault. This movie is good, but it's not as good as Taylor Hackford's previous effort, An Officer and a Gentleman. This one's more a genre picture, and feels less genuine than its predecessor. Especially that confrontation at the end of the movie - that one scene is so silly that it almost ruins the entire film.
Jeff Bridges stars as an ex-football player, Rachel Ward is the love interest, and James Woods appears as a shady "friend" of Bridges. In the same year Bridges starred in (excuse the pun) Starman, and the year before Woods starred in Videodrome. Both of those movies were way better than the more derivative Against All Odds.
4. A Passage to India
David Lean was still making movies in the 1980s? I had no idea. And that's Judy Davis? From The Ref? Apparently she's Australian! Who knew?
This movie is VERY slow to get going, but if you liked 1982's Gandhi I think you'll also find a lot to like in this movie. Where Gandhi was big and momentous, A Passage to India is small and intimate. It's full of the day-to-day misunderstandings: the little embarrassments that informed the rule of the British Raj. It's also more of an ensemble piece, whereas Gandhi was the story of one man.
Compare Maurice Jarre's orchestral score in A Passage to India to the synth-laden score he did for Dreamscape the same year. Could any two things be more different?
5. Beat Street
"You can keep your dreams, gentlemen. But get something to fall back on." Truer words were never spoken. 33 years later, and what happened to all those (slow) rappers, DJs, taggers, and breakers? For some, fortunes were won and lost, but for most it was probably a brief glimpse at fame, and then back to the day-to-day reality of living in the Bronx.
This movie's still surprisingly good. And yes, I owned my own pair of parachute pants, once upon a time.
6. Falling in Love
Not as bad as Scenes from a Marriage, not even as bad as Eyes Wide Shut, but definitely NOT a date movie. This tale of marital infidelity will have you (and your significant other) questioning the nature of your relationship long before the credits roll. While De Niro and Streep's previous movies were definitely better (The King of Comedy and Silkwood, respectively), this film has aged very well.
7. Red Dawn
Cold War paranoia at its finest, and also the one movie the NRA really wants you to see. It's very 80s in the same way that Missing in Action is very 80s, but the story's more coherent and the acting's better. Fun Fact #1: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, who both appear in this movie, would later star in Dirty Dancing together. Fun Fact #2: The script for this movie started out as an anti-war film, but the studio pushed the scriptwriter into making it more of a "teen Rambo" movie.
8. The Killing Fields
Having been to Cambodia, I can tell you that a) it's very beautiful, and b) it's very sad sometimes, too. For every Angkor Wat there's a troop of kids running after you saying: "Hello one dollar! Hello one dollar!" For every sign of (uneven) development, there's a TV channel right out of Orwell's 1984. Cambodia is, in other words, a very strange place, but if you haven't been I recommend it.
Sam Waterston stars in this story of the Khmer Rouge's rise to power. This movie won a lot of Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actor for Waterston's costar, Haing S. Ngor.
9. Love Streams
John Cassavetes kind of lost me with Gloria, but he was back in form again with Love Streams. If you think about certain plot elements it's somewhat ridiculous, but for me this just adds to the movie's charm. Felt like something John Waters might have attempted.
I'm talking about 1984 in this post, so of course I have to mention this movie! It's one of my favorite books, and they did a good job adapting it to film. For a particularly jarring experience, listen to the Van Halen album right after viewing the movie.
Some Bad Ones
1. Police Academy
This was funny in 1984? I guess you had to have been there. Actually I was there - but I was only 9 at the time. There's a somewhat funny gag involving a prostitute and a podium, but the rest of this movie feels like warmed-over Animal House.
2. The Hotel New Hampshire
Whatever happened to Beau Bridges? He used to be everywhere. Maybe he got tired of being a movie star?
The senior Bridges, Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster, and the dude who got melted and then hit by a car in Robocop star in this story of a New Hampshire family that opens a hotel. It's full of cringe-y dialogue and one of the most badly-timed rape scenes ever. One of the more annoyingly pretentious movies I've seen recently, but maybe the book was better?
Also the only film in which you'll hear Jodie Foster say something like, "Hey! Your balls are wet!"
3. Buckaroo Banzai
You know what this movie needed? More Jeff Goldblum. He's the only interesting thing in this entire thing.
You know what this movie also needed? More action. For what most would assume is an action movie, there's little going on for most of the Buckaroo Banzai's two hour runtime. Even the big fight at the end is anticlimactic. It's like a radio serial that fails to end with a cliffhanger, or a TV show without enough of a premise to keep the viewer invested.
This was Peter Weller's biggest movie before Robocop, and I can tell you he was much better used by Paul Verhoeven. To some extent I understand why this movie enjoys a cult following (its eccentricity), but come on, there are better movies to obsess over.
4. Paris, Texas
Something about two brothers, one of whom was missing for four years. God it's boring. Made it halfway through and had to tap out.
5. Nothing Lasts Forever
What a weird film. Was this supposed to be funny? The guy from Gremlins and some SNL alumni feature in this story about a young man who wants to become an artist in New York. Mostly black and white, with a dream sequence in color. It was never released theatrically or on home video, though it was later uploaded to the Internet.
Some That Are So Bad They're Good
1. Streets of Fire
Riding high on the success of 48 Hrs., writer/director Walter Hill offered this second, larger helping of macho bullshit.
Diane Lane (a.k.a. Superman's mom) is abducted by Willem Defoe and later saved by her old boyfriend Michael Pare. Inbetween there are a few good songs and a lot of bad ones. The dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, and certain plot points make absolutely no sense.
Watching this movie in 2017, I'm not sure if I feel more embarrassed for Willem Defoe, who spends most of the movie wearing silly leather fetish overalls; or for Amy Madigan, who has all the worst lines.
The bastard child of Beat Street and Flashdance, featuring a white girl who learns all about poppin' and lockin'. Where Beat Street is New York cold, Breakin' is sunny California. Where Beat Street is inner city, Breakin' is well-lit dance studios and beaches. Gotta love the evil dance instructor. Fun Fact: Ice T performs in this movie! Twice!
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