2019年6月24日 星期一

The Other Movie Oscars: The 1980s

Please keep in mind three things:

1. I'm only choosing Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.  Let's be honest and say that these are the only three categories most people care about.

2. I'm only choosing from the movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries.  This means that some of the movies I choose might actually be award-winners from that year.

3. The movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries were chosen because I hadn't seen them before, and/or because of their relative obscurity.  To put an even finer point on it, they were chosen half willfully and half randomly.  I tend to pick 7 or 8 movies featuring people I'm familiar with, and 7 or 8 movies featuring people unknown to me.

4. For fun I'm adding another category, something memorable from a film belonging to a given year.




1989

Best Picture: My Left Foot
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lews (My Left Foot)
Best Actress: Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (Scandal)
Most Memorable Movie: Society




1988

Best Picture: Frantic
Best Actor: Harrison Ford (Frantic)
Best Actress: Jodie Foster (The Accused)
Most Overlooked Movie: Patty Hearst




1987

Best Picture: Wall Street
Best Actor: Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I)
Best Actress: Faye Dunaway (Barfly)
Biggest Trainwreck: Nuts




1986

Best Picture: Manhunter
Best Actor: Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa)
Best Actress: Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God)
Most Gloriously Bad Movie: Never Too Young to Die




1985

Best Picture: Runaway Train (hands down)
Best Actor: Jon Voigt (Runaway Train)
Best Actress: Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams)
Most Disturbing Movie: Come and See




1984

Best Picture: A Passage to India
Best Actor: Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields)
Best Actress: Judy Davis (A Passage to India)
Cringiest Movie: The Hotel New Hampshire




1983

Best Picture: Blue Thunder (fuck it, why not?)
Best Actor: Roy Scheider (Blue Thunder)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Silkwood)
Cheesy 80s Goodness: tie between Xtro and Deathstalker




1982

Best Picture: Gandhi (how could it be otherwise?)
Best Actor: Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)
Best Actress: Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman)
Best B Movie: Basket Case




1981

Best Picture: Reds
Best Actor: Klaus Maria Brandauer (Mephisto)
Best Actress: Diane Keaton (Reds)
Most Hysterical: Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest)




1980

Best Picture: Atlantic City
Best Actor: Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People)
Best Actress: Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People)
So Bad It Demands Your Attention: Can't Stop the Music (a.k.a. "The Village People Movie")

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1981
Some Other Movies From 1983
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (7)
Some Other Movies From 1985

Some Other Movies From 1981

In 1981 I was six, and don't remember much from that year.  I can remember seeing Superman II and Time Bandits (which freaked me out) in the theater, so I saw at least a few movies from 1981 when they came out.

The biggest movies of 1981 were Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, Superman II, Arthur and Stripes.  All of these are still good movies, and Raiders might just be the best action movie of the decade.  I get in arguments about this, but really, Die Hard?  Not nearly as good as Raiders.

Critical favorites that year were Chariots of Fire (see below), Reds (see below), On Golden Pond and Arthur.  Dudley Moore's popularity is probably hard for most modern moviegoers to understand, but in the late 70s and early 80s he was a very big deal.

Other good movies of 1981 were An American Werewolf in London, The Cannonball Run (goofy fun), Carbon Copy, Clash of the Titans (worshiped it as a kid), The Decline of Western Civilization, Dragonslayer, Escape from New York, The Evil Dead (classic), Excalibur, For Your Eyes Only, Gallipoli, Heavy Metal, Nice Dreams, Polyester (John Waters' last great movie), Scanners, Taps (historic) and Thief.

Worst movie of 1981?  Critics despised Mommie Dearest (see below), but for me that movie's like an old friend.  Yes it's terrible, but I'd watch Faye Dunaway in anything.  For me John Belushi's Continental Divide was a more grievous insult, in that it's an attempt to turn Belushi into a kind of latter-day Humphrey Bogart.  I'm really not sure what they were thinking there.




Brilliant.

1. Reds

Warren Beatty, who also wrote and directed this movie, stars as a labor activist and communist sympathizer.  With Reds he was at the top of his game, and it's sad that Reds has faded from the public consciousness.  It's an impeccably constructed movie that focuses on an often misunderstood era in world history.

But the centerpiece of this movie is Diane Keaton.  Observing her character's moral gymnastics, one can only admire her unquestionable talent.  Like Beatty, she was also at the top of her game in 1981, and to me the fact that she's more closely identified with Woody Allen's most famous movie is a shame.

Beatty also won the Oscar for Best Director in 1981.  Reds was nominated for many other awards, but lost most of them to Chariots of Fire.  I think it should have won as many as the Academy was giving out.

Fun Fact #1: Beatty would do as many as 70 takes for some of the scenes in this movie.  Some of the cast members even began to question his sanity.

Fun Fact #2: Beatty and Keaton were dating up to that point, though their relationship deteriorated during the production of Reds.

2. Mephisto

Absorbing Hungarian film about an actor and ladies' man who collaborates with the Nazis.  Klaus Maria Brandauer might be less familiar to non-German speaking audiences, but his performance in this movie is captivating.  A sense of moral ambiguity is pervasive, and none of the characters escape compromise.




Some Good Ones

1. Chariots of Fire

It's good and all but I fell asleep halfway through.  And let's be honest here, without the Vangelis soundtrack it would have only been half as good.  As it is it's the story of two sprinters, one a Jew trying to climb his way to the top of the British caste system, the other other a Scot who runs for the sake of his religion.  I wanted to like this movie a lot more, but it was hard to get excited about a movie whose climax is bound to be a foot race.

2. The Four Seasons

Call me perverse, but while watching the opening sequence the first thought that popped into my head was "The Big Feast."  The Big Feast (La Grande Bouffe) is an obscure Italian movie about a group of friends who retire to a cottage in the countryside to eat and fuck themselves to death.

The Four Seasons is, of course, a horse of a different color, with Alan Alda and Carol Burnett leading a cast of lesser-knowns as they go on vacation together.  And no, no one eats or fucks themselves to death.

Alda also directed this one, and it's full of the kind of emotional self-exploration you'd expect given his filmography.  The people in this movie, in my opinion, all over-analyze their personal relationships.  They don't do so in the completely destructive, Scenes from a Marriage way mind you, but in a way that's definitely not healthy.  I guess it's just the human condition, and The Four Seasons does a good job of portraying this condition in all its frailty.

3. Blow Out

Excellent movie by Brian De Palma.  In some ways it resembles a latter-day version of The Conversation (and an earlier Italian movie I haven't yet seen), but it's still very much De Palma's creation, with his fingerprints evident throughout.  John Travolta stars as a sound engineer who accidentally records an assassination, with Nancy Allen as a young woman caught in a plot to cover this assassination up.

If you ask me, Travolta is sometimes his own worst enemy when it comes to his career.  He'll appear in something excellent like Blow Out or Primary Colors, and then go on to star in movies like Battlefield Earth and, more recently, Gotti.  When he chooses a film wisely he's one of the best, but when he picks a turd, well... he really knows how to pick a turd.

4. Body Heat

Noir picture featuring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.  Lawrence Kasdan directed, and the movie Double Indemnity was a strong influence.  It was Hurt's third film, and Turner's first.  It's very atmospheric and very suspenseful.

5. Friday the 13th Part 2

A surprisingly well-directed, well-acted, well-written movie.  I particularly liked the sound design, which is way better than it had any right to be.  This film, moreover, is the one that really set the tone for the series - even if the signature hockey mask is nowhere in evidence.  The first movie is undoubtedly historic, but this is the one all the sequels tried so hard to emulate.

Fun Fact: The original plan for this series was to have an anthology in which an original story based on a more generic "Friday the 13th" theme would be released every year.  As it happened Jason Voorhees really clicked with audiences, and this plan was quickly abandoned.

6. Outland

It's... OK.  Sean Connery stars as a sheriff assigned to one of Jupiter's moons.  It lumbers on in unremarkable fashion, leading to an ending that will surprise no one.  My question is, why set this movie in space at all?  Aside from a few exploding heads, what does the setting add to the movie?

7. Ms. 45

Kind of like The Brave One minus Jodie Foster, or Death Wish minus Charles Bronson, OR I Spit On Your Grave minus the rednecks.  In this one a young woman takes her revenge on several men after a brutal rape.  It was directed by Abel Ferrara, who would go on to direct the excellent King of New York, Bad Lieutenant and Body Snatchers in the early 90s.




So Bad It's Good?  So Good It's Good?

1. Mommie Dearest

Poor Joan Crawford.  Not only does she have to deal with getting older, losing her star status and losing her man, but she also has to deal with THESE DISOBEDIENT CHILDREN.  Oh how she tries and tries, but they never learn.  Lock them in the shed, Joan!  That'll teach them!  Throw away their toys!

Critics were not loving this in 1981.  But I think at least some of them might have been missing the point.  The point being that no one really knew when Joan Crawford was acting.  One of the characters in this movie even says as much.  In a way it's easy to deride the movie as melodrama, and scorn Faye Dunaway's performance, but you have to factor in the kind of movies Crawford starred in, and the erratic nature of her personality.  Mommie Dearest might seem cheesy, but it might have more depth than people give it credit for.  Not only this, but there's an added dimension to this movie post-Weinstein scandal.

Fun Fact: The tell-all that inspired this movie, written by the "abused" daughter, may have been a complete fabrication, written with the intent of gaining access to Joan Crawford's fortune.




Some Bad Ones

1. Condorman

The slapstick superhero spy movie that nobody wanted, and even fewer people went to see.  In a way it feels like it belongs in the late 70s, premiering in the presence of TV shows like Wonder Woman and Shazam.  In another way it seems as if it was trying to capitalize on the success of the Superman films, albeit with a superhero that no one was ever going to find interesting.  It would qualify for "so bad it's good" status if it wasn't so talky.

Fun Fact: This was a Disney movie, and there have been attempts to incorporate Condorman into the MCU.

2. Pennies from Heaven

Nope, nope and nope.  Steve Martin lip-syncs and dances to old songs from the 1930s.  Did I mention that I hate Steve Martin in almost every movie he's appeared in?  And did I also mention that I hate Bernadette Peters, who's also in this?

Fun Fact #1: Steve Martin has referred to people who don't like this movie as "ignorant scum."  He might have been joking.  Maybe he wasn't.

Fun Fact #2: Fred Astaire, who knew a thing or two about this type of film, despised it.

3. Hell Night

Featuring Linda Blair!  In this one a fraternity/sorority initiation goes wrong.  There's a lot of screaming and everyone in it is too dumb for words.

4. My Dinner with Andre

Bored the shit out of me.  Two artsy New York types discuss the theater and other topics over dinner.  I realize this movie has quite a following, but it was doing nothing for me.  I like some of director Louis Malle's other films - especially Atlantic City - but I couldn't bear this one.

5. Possession

Omen III not pretentious enough for you?  I give you Possession, a European horror film that's also a metaphor for sexual jealousy!  Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani soldier their way through some truly awkward dialogue, all for the sake of a movie that was never going to make anyone happy.  Just go see Antichrist if you've got the stomach for it.  That movie's way better than this one.




"What the Hell are You Watching?"


1. Quest for Fire

Cave people kill each other, fuck each other, and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to steal fire from each other.  I wanted to take this movie more seriously, but once the Evil Monkeypeople show up it infringes upon B movie territory.  The director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, has a good track record - and critics loved it at the time - but given our current understanding of human evolution it rings false.

Fun Fact #1: Rae Dawn Chong is in this.  She spends almost the entire film nude.

Fun Fact #2: Rae Dawn Chong is the daughter of actor-comedian Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame.

Fun Fact #3: Rae Dawn Chong was the person who "discovered" actor Chris Pratt waiting tables in Hawaii.  She cast him in the movie she was directing, and the rest is history.

Fun Fact #4: "Rae Dawn Chong" is a fun name to say.  Say it four or five times if you don't believe me.

Fun Fact #5: Ron Perlman is also in this.  It was his first movie, and the beginning of a long tenure in the makeup chair.

Fun Fact #6: Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, helped develop some of the cavemen's language for this movie.




So Bad It's Good

1. Inseminoid

NOT porn, though it sure does sound like it.  In this 1981 Alien rip-off a space explorer is impregnated by an alien... something.  Almost none of this movie makes sense, and it looks like it was made on a budget of $20 and a pack of cigarettes.

Fun Fact: You'll find a lengthy, shockingly academic review of this movie on its Wikipedia page.  Does it deserve that level of analysis?  I think not!

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1983
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (7)
Some Other Movies From 1985
Some Other Movies From 1987

2019年6月18日 星期二

"Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" by William Finnegan (2015)


"And so came that last wave.  The tide was dropping.  Bryan had already gone in.  The swell was also dropping.  The wind had clocked around and gone light northeast - onshore - making for messy conditions and a hard-looking, army-green surface that resembled Ventura more than it did the tropics."

William Finnegan is a staff writer at The New Yorker.  Aside from Barbarian Days he's also written several books on various socioeconomic topics.  He currently lives in New York.

In this memoir he recounts his years growing up in southern California, later years spent learning how to surf in Hawaii, and travels to several countries in search of the perfect wave.  All of this leads to the book's conclusion, which consists of his taking stock of previous travels, and the effect old age has had on his love of the sport.

This book is a lot longer than it needed to be, and the descriptions of surfing sessions grow incredibly repetitive.  I even went and asked various surfer friends about the book, and they shared my opinion.  After a certain point it dwells overmuch on the size of certain waves, the peril they represented, and the author's escapes from death.  This formula works in the beginning, but by the time he moves to Portugal it's tiresome in the extreme.

I can only assume that the author's clout as a staff writer for The New Yorker allowed him to avoid much of the editing process necessary to make this book much better.  His prose is at times pretentious, and the inclusion of every last surfing trip makes the book seem shallower (if you'll forgive the pun) than need be the case.

The highlight of this memoir is definitely the author's trip to Fiji, back before surfers were visiting it with any regularity.  In my opinion this trip should have taken up a much larger part of the book than it did, and descriptions of the cultures and individuals encountered there would have made for more interesting reading.  This approach would have been much better than listing off surfing trips in an encyclopedic fashion, and ending the book with the author's return from Fiji would have made for a more satisfying conclusion.  A little brooding on mortality would have been OK, but a little of that goes a long way.

If you surf, you'll find something to like in this book.  If you don't?  It's probably better not to bother with it.

Related Entries:

"April Fool's Day" by Bryce Courtenay (1993)
"Teacher Man" and "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt (2005 and 1996)
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac (1958)

2019年6月12日 星期三

Some Other Movies From 1983

In 1983 I turned eight.  I wonder if I would've liked the adult version of me, the one living in Taiwan now.  Maybe I would've been disappointed.  I hope not.

The biggest movies of 1983 were Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places and WarGames.  Of these movies WarGames remains my favorite, and not just because part of it's set in Seattle.  Octopussy, Mr. Mom and Risky Business were also hits that year, and I've seen those three movies more times than I can remember.

Critics in 1983 liked the above-mentioned Terms of Endearment, Tender Mercies, The Year of Living Dangerously and Educating Rita.  I've seen Terms of Endearment recently and it seemed pretty melodramatic to me.  I still like The Year of Living Dangerously, though I think Mel Gibson has been in way better films.

Other good movies of 1983 were Christine, The Dead Zone, The Keep, Krull, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, National Lampoon's Vacation, Never Cry Wolf, Never Say Never Again, Scarface, Star 80, Strange Brew, Superman III, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Videodrome.  To be sure, some of these qualify for "so bad it's good" status, but I was 8 at the time and didn't know any better.

The worst film of 1983?  The Golden Raspberry Awards would single out The Lonely Lady, which I have vague memories of watching on cable when I was little.  I'm not sure what movie I would pick, but I did see Liquid Sky not long ago and thought it was terrible.




Classic Early 80s Action

1. Blue Thunder

Seven things everyone needs to know about this movie:

a. Roy Scheider is awesome.  In his day he made so many average movies better.  Forget about Jaws, because that was all Spielberg.  I'm talking about movies like Jaws 2, 2010, and - to a lesser extent - this one.  If he hadn't been in Blue Thunder it would've only been half as good.

b. This movie is so manly it's invited itself into your living room, has its feet up on your living room table, and it's drinking your beer.  That's how manly it is.

c. Damn sexy, but that peeping Tom thing they do in the helicopter just wouldn't (if you'll excuse the pun) fly now.  They would be SO fired, so fast.

d. Malcolm McDowell, another actor who chews scenery like a m*&herfucker, is also in this.  Seeing him and Scheider trade insults is great.

e. This movie overtook Flashdance (see below) at the box office.  It's really hard not to view that development in sexual terms.  I'm even tempted to say "conquered" or "sexually dominated" in a cinematic context.

f. This movie followed Clint Eastwood's Firefox, another hit film featuring a unique piece of military hardware.  Blue Thunder is, however, much better than Firefox.

g. You should see this movie.  It'll make you happy.  For that matter watch Firefox, then watch Flashdance, and then watch Blue Thunder.  This threesome of films will be difficult not to view in sexual terms, but after your 4+ hour movie binge you'll understand the early 80s a lot better.




Classic Early 80s Horror

!. The Hunger

Not a big fan of the vampire genre, but this is probably the best vampire movie I've ever seen.  Tony Scott (brother of Ridley) directed this three years before Top Gun, and his frenetic style was well-suited to the story.  David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve (!) and Susan Sarandon starred.  Like Flashdance (see below) it's at times more music video than movie, and I half-expected Bowie to start singing "Let's Dance" during the opening credits.

Fun Fact #1: The last scene of this movie was added at the studios' insistence.  They were hoping for a hit, and Scott's original ending precluded the possibility of sequels.

Fun Fact #2: Susan Sarandon's ex-husband, Chris Sarandon, would appear as the villain in Fright Night two years later.



Some Good Ones

1. A Night in Heaven

Christopher Atkins (the guy from The Blue Lagoon) stars as a male stripper, with Lesley Ann Warren as a college professor in a troubled marriage.  Critics were not fond of this one, but I thought it was alright.  Sure, it meanders a bit, but it's not THAT bad.  It was directed by John G. Avildsen, the guy who did the first Rocky and the underrated Save the Tiger.

Fun Fact: Andy Garcia is in this movie.  It was his third.

2. Angst

German movie about a psychopath's weekend on the town after his release from prison.  It reminded me of a lot of movies: American Psycho, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and especially the 2012 Maniac remake.  The camerawork is experimental, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

3. The Day After

Nuclear holocaust comes to the Midwest.  The most famous people in it are probably Jason Robards, John Lithgow and Steve Guttenberg, who'd done Diner the year before, and who would do the first Police Academy the year after.  It was a made-for-TV production, but it's very well written and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

I think people nowadays forget what an omnipresent threat the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal was in the early 80s.  I can definitely remember it keeping me awake at night.  I suppose that in 2019 many of us worry more about terrorists or the ascendant Chinese, but back then we were more worried about the Soviets spoiling our party.

Heavy Metal Thunder: At the 55 minute mark mute the movie and put on Slayer's "Raining Blood."  I think you'll like the results.

4. Flashdance

Part extended music video, part feminine version of Rocky, part movie without an appreciable plot, Flashdance definitely hasn't aged as well as some of the other films in this entry.  You can tell they were trying their damnedest to work every damn "hit" they possibly could into the soundtrack, and the result seems incredibly forced at times.

But oh God Jennifer Beals is beautiful in this movie.  "Radiant" is the word.  She carries this entire movie on that fact alone.

Fun Fact #1: Director Adrian Lyne would go on to direct 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Jacob's Ladder.  His years in the spotlight would end with 1993's Indecent Proposal, which was also reviewed here recently.

Fun Fact #2: Adrian Lyne was only offered the job of director after David Cronenberg (of all people) turned it down.  This was around the time he directed both Videodrome and The Dead Zone.

Fun Fact #3: Gene Simmons (of all people) was initially offered the role of Jennifer Beals' love interest.  Kevin Costner was also almost cast for the part.

5. Educating Rita

Michael Caine stars as a world-weary professor tutoring a lower class student.  The synth soundtrack is a bit overbearing at times, but it's well acted and well thought-out.

6. Silkwood

Meryl Streep stars as Karen Silkwood, union activist and worker in a plant that produces nuclear fuel rods.  The first half is excellent, but the second half gets bogged down in Karen Silkwood's backstory.  I think it deserved the attention it got from the Academy that year, but in my opinion 1979's Norma Rae covered similar ground much better.

7. Rumble Fish

A young man confronts the return of his older, self-destructive brother.  This is probably the most experimental of Francis Ford Coppola's films, and like Coppola's The Outsiders it was adapted from a novel by S.E. Hinton.  The Matt Dillon-led cast includes Mickey Rourke, Nicolas Cage, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn and even Laurence Fishburne.  It's SLOW, but if you're in the right mood you'll like it.

Fun Fact: You might wonder what Nicolas Cage, at that time relatively unknown, was doing in a movie this big.  It may have helped his cause that he's Francis Ford Coppola's nephew.  The director's relationship with Cage's father, August Coppola, was also to some extent the inspiration for this movie.




Not Bad But Completely Forgettable

1. Valley Girl

A Hollywood boy (Nicolas Cage) falls in love with a girl from the valley.  You can probably guess how it ends.  There isn't much of a story to this one, but if you're a fan of 80s trivia you'll love it.  The soundtrack, the clothes, right down to the way people talk.  

"Techno Rock."  Was that really a thing?  Was it the same as New Wave?




Good?  Bad?  Can't Decide!

1. Project A

On the one hand it's great to see Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao in their prime, on the other hand I had a lot of trouble following the plot.  Something about catching pirates?  And Jackie Chan is in the navy, but then he's a cop?  And... grenades?




Some Bad Ones

1. Eddie and the Cruisers

Good time rock n' roll.  Except I hate good time rock n' roll.  To me good time rock n' roll sounds like repression, like everything the later 60s bands were rebelling against.  I know there's this tendency to wax nostalgic over car hops, greasers, and teenyboppers, but I think that if I'd been alive back then I would have preferred folk music or jazz.  Anything except good time rock n' roll.

So anyway, there's this band, Eddie and the Cruisers, and then Eddie dies or commits suicide.  Years later some reporter comes to the conclusion that Eddie faked his own death, and then there's some nonsense about a lost album that everyone's trying to track down.  Tom Berenger's in it, and also Ellen Barkin, and Michael Pare, but I had a difficult time caring about the lost album, or the reporter's story, or whether Eddie was still alive or not.  I'm fairly certain this movie has a cult following it doesn't deserve.

Fun Fact: Michael Pare would go on to tread similar waters in Streets of Fire, which was released the following year.

2. Psycho II

The sequel no one expected and nobody really wanted.  It even has the audacity to use the famous shower scene from the original.  This movie doesn't make a lot of sense from the outset, with several members of Norman Bates' community somehow unaware of what he's done, the proximity of his hotel to where they live, and the fact that he's just been released from a psychiatric facility.  If you've lived in any small town, you'll know that the people there would have been talking about this for decades.

This said, of course when you rip off Hitchcock you're ripping off the best.  The Australian guy who directed Psycho II clearly had a lot of love for the original, but when your meticulously constructed plot revolves around the implausible stupidity of one character (in this case the character played by Meg Tilly), then it doesn't matter how carefully you've avoided plot holes.




Low Budget Horror Goodness

1. Xtro

Gotta love that old New Line Cinema logo.  A whole lotta memories there.

The director of this movie, Harry Bromley Davenport, was apparently going for the John Carpenter triple crown.  He directed, wrote much of the screenplay, and also performed the soundtrack.  Does he succeed in classic John Carpenter fashion?  Nope, but there's more than enough going on to keep this movie interesting.

Oh, and by the way it's British.  An alien invades your average British family, gore ensues, and by the end you're still not quite sure what was going on.  What's more the director has - for whatever reason - a lifelong dedication to the concepts laid out in Xtro, and it's possible that one day we'll see an Xtro 4 - more than four decades after the original.

Fun Fact #1: Former Bond girl Maryam D'Abo appeared in this six years before The Living Daylights.  She has several nude scenes throughout the movie.

Suggestion: If you like this one you'll probably also like David Cronenberg's The Brood, which came out four years previous.  The two films have a lot in common.




So Bad Everyone Should See It

1. Deathstalker

Boobies & Swords & Sorcery.  Roger Corman produced this first of four movies about a dude and his ridiculously long sword.  It was filmed in Argentina and also features a lot of... puppetry?  Former Playboy model Barbi Benton appears as the princess, with some dude who doesn't even have his own Wikipedia entry as the Deathstalker.  It's wonderfully awful from start to finish.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (7)
Some Other Movies From 1985
Some Other Movies From 1987
Some Other Movies From 1989

2019年6月8日 星期六

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (7)

For reviews of older superhero movies click here and here.  It felt like time to get rid of the "baggage" those older entries carried, so I'm starting again from October 2018's Venom.

Oh and by the way, I think I'll stop reviewing these movies as a separate genre at the end of 2020.  Endgame has come and gone, the MCU is now an established brand, and to be honest I think most of the best superhero movies are behind us.  2020 seems like a good time to move on to movies as a whole, rather than focusing so much on whatever Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., or Sony are putting out.


Superhero Moves On The Way

Morbius, the Living Vampire (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, July 31, 2020 in the States)

Wonder Woman 1984 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, June 5, 2020 in the States)

The New Mutants (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, April 3, 2020 in the States)

Birds of Prey (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, February 7, 2020 in the States)

Joker (Comes Out in Taiwan October 3, 2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Comes Out in Taiwan July 3, 2019)


X-Men: Dark Phoenix


Got bored and saw it the other day.  It was blazing hot outside, and there wasn't much else to do.

What I Liked: For one thing it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the reviews would lead you to believe.  It's definitely NOT great, but if you were able to sit through Apocalypse you'll be able to sit through this one.  It's actually not bad up until Jean visits the house, though after that point...

What I Didn't Like: At times this movie just doesn't make sense.  WHY do the cops show up after Jean visits that house?  And WHY do the two mutant factions fight in New York?  And WHY do the aliens insist on boarding the train from the other end, when they're clearly walking all along its length, thus making it incredibly easy for the X-Men to fight them off?  

To make things worse, Sophie Turner really can't carry a movie.  Watching her interact with some of the other, more talented cast members is truly cringeworthy.  As bad as this movie is, it's still better than X3, and yet I found myself missing Famke Janssen throughout the film.

Most inexplicable of all is Magneto.  First he says revenge is wrong and that he's given up on it.  Then someone gets killed and he's all about revenge again.  Then he learns about the Phoenix Force and he's all about saving Jean.  This, and that magnetism/telekinesis battle between him and Jean is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I've seen in a long time.

Future/Sequels: As far as anyone knows, The New Mutants is still coming out next year.  After that it'll be a long wait before we see Marvel Studios' take on the same set of characters.


Avengers: Endgame


What I Liked: Everything.  This movie is awesome from beginning to end.

What I Didn't Like: Only two (very small) complaints: 1) Bruce and Nebula's explanation for their "heist" probably isn't going to satisfy anyone who bothers to think it through, and 2) the part at the end where all the "Marvel superheroines" line up and go into battle seems a bit too much like checking off an item on a checklist.

Future/Sequels: The next MCU offering is Spider-Man: Far From Home later this summer.  No other films have been given a release date as yet.  I think it's fair to say that Marvel will make a big announcement soon.


Hellboy


Wasn't interested.  I suppose I'll download it at some point.  Not in any hurry though.


Shazam!


What I Liked: Zachary Levi and Asher Angel are both examples of great casting, the story is well thought out, and the battle at the end takes some interesting twists and turns.  I consider Shazam! a vast improvement over Aquaman, which was trying to do too much in too short a time, and also Captain Marvel, which was in my opinion one hot mess of a movie.  Shazam! is much smaller-scale compared to those other two films, but its smallness works to its advantage.  It's very focused and to the point.

Mark Strong, who was wasted on Martin Campbell's Green Lantern, has much more to do in Shazam!  Even if his reasons for being "evil" aren't that well thought out, he's still a good (bad) villain.

What I Didn't Like: The battle at the end goes on a bit too long.  I think shortening it would have made for a better movie.  The introduction of the rest of the Marvel Family feels a bit rushed, even if it was gratifying to see them onscreen together.

Future/Sequels: No definite plans for any sequels as yet, but one of Shazam's other villains is introduced in a post-credits scene.  It's early to say, but I think this movie will be well received and I'd be surprised if a sequel isn't announced soon.


Captain Marvel


What I Liked: There's a part about halfway through, when Carol Danvers is reunited with an old friend.  In that part you can see Brie Larson's skill as an actress.

The fight on the spaceship near the end is oddly satisfying, but some of my satisfaction may have to do with 90s soundtrack, and the fact that I was a much younger guy when those songs were everywhere.  Nostalgia, in other words.

What I Didn't Like: Going back to the comic books, I never found Carol Danvers especially interesting, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  Really, what is her reason for doing anything in this film?  At what point does her character change or make any real kind of discovery?

She's also so much more powerful than anyone she comes up against in this movie.  There's no sense of threat when "danger" strikes.  Jude Law?  Nope.  The Skrulls?  Not really.  Ronan the Accuser?  Their confrontation is a non-event.

I've also got to say, the explanation given for Nick Fury losing his eye really bothered me.  It's always seemed like this event should be of crucial importance, but in the movie it's explained in such an offhand manner.  The randomness of this explanation diminished the entire film.

Future/Sequels: Strap yourself in because Avengers: Endgame is less than two months away.  After Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home Marvel has announced no other films, though if Captain Marvel does well I'm sure we'll see a sequel.  I've heard a lot of talk about an Eternals movie, but we'll see.

I think what's going to make or break a Captain Marvel sequel is the Asian market, especially China.  If it goes over big in Beijing and Shanghai (as Aquaman did) you can be sure there will be another one.  If, however, this movie fails to find an audience in such places, I imagine Kevin Feige will start vaguely alluding to "future adventures" without making any real commitment.




Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Does this one count?  Batman and the Justice League are in it.  It also features the newer and older versions of Aquaman.

What I Liked: It's a funny movie, though not as good as the first.  This said, it's not nearly as hyper as the first one, which might be a relief for those who found the first film slightly overwhelming.

What I Didn't Like: It does drag a bit toward the end.  It's weird to say, but I found myself having to really concentrate on Lego Movie 2.  There are SO many references, to so many things, that after the first hour my brain got tired.  

Future/Sequels: There might be a sequel to the Lego Batman movie, though there's no release date as yet.  There might also be The Billion Brick Race.




Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What I Liked: Everything.  In my opinion this movie's awesome from start to finish.  The characters, the plot, the animation, the soundtrack, all of it's great.  I suppose it depends on how it does financially, but Spider-Verse could be a real game-changer for CBMs.

For me the best part of the film was the Bill Sienkiewicz-inspired sequence halfway through.  I've been a huge fan of that guy for years, and seeing his art animated almost brought tears to my eyes.  That version of the Kingpin?  That's all Bill Sienkiewicz.

What I Didn't Like: Small complaint: no Spider-Woman.  I've always liked Spider-Woman more than Spider-Man, and it would've been wonderful to see Jessica Drew (finally) show up in this movie.

Future/Sequels: There's talk that Spider-Woman could feature in the sequel alongside Spider-Gwen and Silk, but such plans are tentative of course.  It's entirely possible that a sequel would feature Spider-Man 2099 instead.




Aquaman

What I Liked: Atlantis looks cool.  Amber Heard is easy on the eyes.  The battle in the end - aside from a ridiculous pause in the action for a predictably romantic moment - looks amazing.

What I Didn't Like: Weird moments of exposition.  Instead of showing the audience what's happening/has happened, the characters in this movie often feel the need to stop whatever they're doing and explain things.  The only part of this movie where the action flows seamlessly is when Aquaman and Black Manta have their big showdown halfway through.

The part in the beginning about Aquaman's parents could have been removed entirely.  It adds absolutely nothing to the story, and starting the movie from the adult Aquaman's first appearance would have made a lot more sense.

This movie gets dumber as it goes along.  By the end I was laughing at certain scenes and bits of dialogue, and I wasn't the only one.  And before someone chimes in with "at least it doesn't take itself so seriously," let's remember there's a difference between laughing WITH a movie and laughing AT a movie.

The small ray of hope being that it's not as terrible as Justice League.  Not that this is saying much.

Future/SequelsShazam!, also set in the DCEU, will be out in a few months.  After that it's a long wait until Wonder Woman 1984.  Aquaman 2?  It's kind of early to tell, but the movie's been doing well in China, and those wanting a completely brainless superhero romp will be all over this one.




Venom

What I Liked: After a really clunky beginning there are some great action sequences.  Everything after Venom shows up is much better than the 15 minutes that try (and fail) to set up the story.  The fight between Venom and Riot near the end is very good.

What I Didn't Like: That beginning part.  It feels like they weren't sure what kind of movie they were making.  Horror?  Action?  Science fiction?  Going more for the "body horror" elements would have improved the film, and the spaceship/alien invasion subplot could have been dispensed with altogether.

As clunky as the beginning is, the dialogue throughout the movie is by far the worst part.  None of the actors seem at ease with what they're saying, and a couple of lines are unintentionally hilarious.

Future/Sequels: There are plans for a sequel with Woody Harrelson's Carnage in a bigger role.  I think that after setting up the general premise, a sequel is bound to be better.  Harrelson would also make a great villain.  Last I heard, Sony's next comic-based movie will be Morbius the Living Vampire, with Jared Leto as Morbius.  There may be some crossover between Venom and Morbius.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1985
Some Other Movies From 1987
Some Other Movies From 1989
The Other Movie Oscars: The 1990s

2019年6月3日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1985

I turned ten years old in 1985.  I lived for arcade games, action figures, Japanese robots, cartoons, pizza, frosties at the local Wendy's, comic books, and who can remember what else.  Everyone I knew was happy... at least until we all grew up and started to overanalyze things.

Oh, and a word on this year and those even further back.  I think that as you go back to the pre-Internet days you'll find online movie reviews less and less reliable.  I've noticed this with the 80s.  The reviews you see on sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Wikipedia are often written by a generation of people who wouldn't have been able to see these movies in the theater, or view them with the kind of context those of us in our 40s have.  I'm not saying my opinions on these movies are "more correct," but there is a lot to be said for a knowledge of trends and daily life during that time.

This said, the top 5 movies of 1985 were Back to the Future, Rambo: First Blood Part II (possibly the most 80s movie ever), Rocky IV, The Color Purple and Out of Africa.  As you can see, it was a HUGE year for Stallone.

Out of Africa, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Cocoon and Prizzi's Honor were hits with the critics.  I'm not a huge fan of any of these movies, and I think Prizzi's Honor has aged especially badly.

Other good movies of 1985 were Brazil, Day of the Dead, Fright Night, The Last Dragon, Legend, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Mask, Pale Rider, Police Story, Ran, Re-Animator, To Live and Die in L.A., Weird Science and Witness.

Worst movie?  It's hard to say.  1985 was a long time ago, and I worry that I'm either forgetting a really terrible film or thinking that a terrible film was actually good because I was ten at the time and didn't know any better.  Just the same, I think Year of the Dragon was quite terrible, in that it caused me to reassess my feelings about both Michael Cimino and Mickey Rourke.




An Overlooked Gem

1. Runaway Train

Prison escape movie featuring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.  Parts of the beginning look very low-budget, but after the train picks up stream (both literally and figuratively) it's excellent.  Jon Voight has been great in a lot of movies, and this might be my favorite of his many performances.

Fun Fact: Akira Kurosawa wrote the original screenplay, but was unable to line up financing for the film in Japan.




Some Good Ones

1. Clue

Murder mystery based on the board game.  I'm not a fan of this type of movie (they usually seem contrived), but a lot of thought was put into it and it doesn't take itself too seriously.  Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan and many others star.

Fun Fact: A remake of this movie, starring Ryan Reynolds, is being discussed.

2. When Father Was Away On Business

Yugoslavian movie about life under Tito's regime.  It's very long, and certain parts are slow going, but if you break it into two sittings you'll probably like it.

Fun (?) Fact: After Tito's death in 1980 Yugoslavia experienced a steady decline, ending in its dissolution in 1992.  The "former Yugoslavia" is now more often referred to as the independent nations of Serbia and Montenegro.

3. The Breakfast Club

Yeah, I'd seen it already, but it was so long ago I couldn't remember anything about it.  I suppose you could call it John Hughes' Big Statement About High School, and how every high school kid is more than the role assigned to him or her by peers.  But then again we all figure that out anyway, given time.  This aside, The Breakfast Club is still a very watchable movie, even if it's a little obvious and less than believable.

Fun Fact: Robin Wright, Laura Dern and Jodie Foster were almost cast in Ally Sheedy's role.  Nicolas Cage and John Cusack were almost cast in Judd Nelson's role.

4. Sweet Dreams

Jessica Lange stars as Patsy Cline, with Ed Harris as her husband.  It's a movie that knows both its characters and what makes them interesting.  It also has A LOT in common with the earlier Coal Miner's Daughter, even beyond the fact that Patsy Cline appears in both movies.

Fun Fact: John Goodman's in this.  It was one of his earliest movies.

5. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (the fifth one)

Corey Feldman!  The same year he played Mouth in The Goonies!  He's only in this one for a few minutes, at the very beginning.

This installment in the long-running franchise is a surprisingly well photographed, well directed movie with enough "Is he?  Isn't he?" to keep the plot humming along up until the end.  I have no idea what Jason fans think of it, but in my opinion it's good.  Not great, mind you, but good.

6. Spies Like Us

John Landis directed Chevy Chase and Dan Ackroyd in this story of two lower-level intelligence agents tricked into working as decoys.  I'd seen it back in the day, but during a recent rewatch I was surprised by how funny it still is.  Sure, Chevy Chase does a lot of the same old gags, but this movie hits all the right notes regardless.  Critics at the time derided its lack of character development, but I think they were taking it way too seriously.

Fun Fact: One of the doctors in the tent is director Terry Gilliam.  If you look close you can also see Sam Raimi as a security guard.



A Rough Watch, But Worth It

1. Come and See

Russian film about Nazi atrocities in Belarus.  It gets DARK, but if you're in the right mood it's an excellent movie.  I'd heard about this one in a YouTube video on "disturbing movies," and I'd have to agree that yes, it's very disturbing.




Some Bad Ones

1. Creature

Low budget Alien(s) ripoff.  Klaus Kinski (!) shows up about halfway through.  There's a sprinkling of nudity and gore, but not enough to make it interesting.

Fun Fact: This movie is now in the public domain, so download away!

2. Krush Groove

The weirdest thing about this movie is that they somehow work a Sbarro commercial into the last fourth.  Aside from that, Run-D.M.C., Sheila E., Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys do a lot of... whatever it is they were famous for doing.  Blair Underwood does his best to keep this story of a record label dramatic, but the script wasn't doing anyone any favors.  According to Wikipedia, Krush Groove is really the story of Def Jam Recordings, but that little factoid doesn't make the movie any better.

3. My Beautiful Laundrette

An ambitious young man tries to rise within London's Pakistani community with the help of his non-Pakistani boyfriend.  None of the characters are particularly interesting, and you can tell that director Stephen Frears was still finding his way at that early stage in his career.  I get why both Frears and Daniel Day-Lewis scored a hit with this in the mid 80s, but it hasn't aged well.




Cheddary Goodness

1. American Ninja

Michael "the Dude" Dudikoff stars as an American G.I. trained in the ancient art of ninjutsu.  He spends a lot of time sulking around, and occasionally doing ninja stuff like deflecting arrows and kicking people in the face.  It helps his cause that the evil ninjas pursuing him are all dumb as a bag of rocks.

Lest we forget, ninjas were HUGE in the 80s.  1985 was the same year that Sho Kosugi's Pray for Death hit theaters.

2. Death Wish 3

Charles Bronson does his vigilante thing (again) in New York.  It features wall-to-wall bad acting, and bad guys that can't aim for shit.  Don't bother questioning the police captain's morals; it'll give you a headache.

Fun Fact #1: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page's soundtrack for Death Wish II was reused for this movie.

Fun Fact #2: Both Alex Winter (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) and Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation) are in this movie.  Sirtis, as it so happens, is raped to death by a group of thugs.

3. Red Sonja

Part Conan the Destroyer 2.0, part vehicle for Sylvester Stallone's then-girlfriend, Red Sonja owes more to the Marvel Comics character than the Robert E. Howard stories.  The director, Richard Fleischer, helmed a lot of important films in the 60s and 70s, but by the 80s his glory days were long behind him.

Fun Fact #1: The actress that plays the villain in this movie, Sandahl Bergman, was originally offered the lead.  She played Arnold Schwarzenegger's love interest in Conan the Barbarian, and also featured in (the excellent) All That Jazz.

Fun Fact #2: Ernie Reyes Jr., who plays Prince Tarn, was also the star of 1993's Surf Ninjas.




Porn!

1. New Wave Hookers

Traci Lords is in this.  I was always intrigued by her, though this is the first of her movies I've seen.  I THINK she was of legal age at the time.  I'm not sure.

But yeah, it's porn.  Various people bang each other in various ways.  It's the 80s, so the guys haven't discovered electrolysis yet.  And the breast implants aren't as overwhelming as what you'd see in the 90s.  Above all it's GRAINY.  It would take serious willpower to beat off to something like this, but then again it was the 80s and no one had a choice.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1987
Some Other Movies From 1989
The Other Movie Oscars: The 1990s
Some Other Movies From 1991