#1673 Frances (1982)

Other celebrity biographies well known in this side of the Atlantic ocean, while others, apparently well known in the stateside can remain relatively unknown here. The story and controversial life events of Frances Farmer falls at least to me in the latter category.

A sensation of her time, Farmer’s temperament and lack of respect for authority lead her to discord with Hollywood and a burnout that lead her to be arrested and put into a mental hospital where she was subjected to now-brutal methods of treatment.

As with many biographies, the 2-hour movie format is just too short to give a good treatment to a whole life of events, and the movie feels at many times rushing just to get the story told, and Frances as a character remains to the viewer quite distant and enigmatic.

80s-o-meter: 4%

Total: 60%

#1664 The Killing Fields (1984)

A  biographical drama film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, based on the experiences of journalists Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg, The Killing Fields may a British film taking place in Asia, but there are numerous things that make it interesting, and very much worth your time.

First of a all, it was nominated in seven categories in the 1985 Academy Awards, taking home awards for Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Actor in Supporting Role for Haing S. Ngor, for whom this was amazingly his first acting experience ever.

Secondly, it’s a good movie about an interesting historical events, told in a realistic – even nihilistic – way, but spiced up with interesting supporting characters we learn about, and soon learn to care for. Its story about journalistic integrity, human rights and inequality is every bit as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 87%

#1661 Mata Hari (1985)

After starring in Emmanuelle, Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel got typecast to movies of the similar nature, ie a sexually liberated young woman in seek of erotic moments, tied together by a very loose plot.

The value of these erotic movies in these days and times are close to zero, and Mata Hari is no exception. It is a shame since some real effort was done to put the movie together, and the locations, costume design and war scenes are pretty well done, considering how weak the movie is otherwise.

80s-o-meter: 13%

Total: 11%

#1470 Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986)

In the 1980 the comedian Richard Pryor famously set himself on fire while on a drug induced psychosis and sustained severe burns. It’s from this setup that Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, a semi-biographical movie of Pryor starts.

Directed and starring Pryor, he plays a stand-up comedian much like himself. While definitely boosted up in the 80s by the Pryor being a star everyone knew, the movie holds very little interest to anyone not aware nor fan of Pryor. There’s no real common thread running through the movie and I’m not sure why the movie was made, other than for some sort of personal self-examination.

Fans of Pryor likably will dig this one as well, others might want to steer clear.

80s-o-meter: 70%

Total: 22%

#1212 Bird (1988)

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, Bird is a biographical film about the life of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker.

The movie is super long for an 80s movie at whopping 161 minutes, and unfortunately it does not work for the movie’s advantage. Even for a person who’s interested in the character – both the movie character and the real musician – the movie seemed to come to full stop at times. Accompanied by dark, murky visuals the movie makes for a dream-like late night watching experience that is at times enchanting and at times enough to make you drowsy. From the current day’s perspective I suspect Bird being hard to follow movie for those that don’t have any previous knowledge of Parker, or jazz in general.

Bird’s performances in the movie are equally intensive and impressive; the saxophone for the sound was isolated from old tapes and brought to modern era by then re-recording all the accompanying instruments, which resulted Bird to win Oscar for its sound – very rightfully so.

80s-o-meter: 8%

Total: 70%

#982 The Long Riders (1980)

I’m usually not into westerns, but I found The Long Riders interesting and actually a pretty decent movie. It’s because it is in reality more of a biography that just happens to take place in wild west era rather than an actual western with all the tired clichés that go with the genre.

The movie documents the life of Jesse James and Cole Younger, and their outlaw gang that performed a number of robberies in Missouri and in the surrounding states. And it does so with just a little glamouring the criminal lifestyle and the imaginary code of honour that goes with it. The movie de-mythologizes the often told story and James, Younger and their brothers are depicted like they were, ranchers and farmers who had families and children, and who’d go do a robbery and later celebrate a successful heist in a bar enjoying whisky and prostitutes. Sure, the movie somewhat demonises the Pinkertons, but does it only to give some viewpoints why the general opinion and the books and movies might’ve been so sympathetic to the outlaw gang rather than taking the side of the detective agency.

One of the best known about aspects of the movie is how an actual sets of actor brothers are cast to portray the family members in the movie and as gimmicky as that sounds it actually works out beautifully and even without giving it any thought the connection between the brothers works on a deeper level than only the pictures can tell.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 85%

#929 Triumph of the Spirit (1989)

Based on a true story of a Greek olympic boxer surviving Auschwitz by taking part in boxing matches arranged by the nazi officers, Triumph of the Spirit tells another morbid view to the madness that took place during the german occupation.

If you have watched your fair share of WWII movies, you know what to expect here, and although some of the variables are different, the movie only a little new to the table to make it stand out of various similar movies. The biggest asset here is the setting. Shot on location in Auschwitz, Triumph of the Spirit absolutely manages to capture the grim and hopeless essence of the concentration camp during the gloomy and muddy winter months.

Triumph of the Spirit can’t hold up against the best of the genre, but anyone interested in the subject will likely find it an interesting watch.

80s-o-meter: 42%

Total: 71%

#927 Sweet Dreams (1985)

It would be difficult to do a justified review of Sweet Dreams without mentioning the wonderful Coal Miner’s Daughter. In fact, it would be almost impossible as that particular movie is actually mentioned by name on the Sweet Dreams’ official poster.

To recap, Coal Miner’s Daughter was a triumph of a movie that got me emotionally involved in the career and the life of a country star Loretta Lynn, a singer previously totally unknown to me. She later became friends with Patsy Cline, another young star on the rise and Sweet Dreams sets out to tell her story from a young housewife to the stardom, eventually leading to her untimely death.

But, Sweet Dreams isn’t the masterpiece that Coal Miner managed to be. This is a very different movie that somehow presents its characters and the events in a way that failed to get me hooked on, feeling much more like a Reader’s Digest’s abridged summary than a full fledged biographical movie. A lot of drama is thrown on the screen with the passionate love / hate relationship of Cline and her husband, but like the ultimate tragic events, none of the drama here is built in a way that it would really stir me.

80s-o-meter: 48%

Total: 38%

#810 Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Telling the story of the country music singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter wasn’t too interesting concept for me, not familiar with her work, but I soon found myself Not familiar with her work, it wasn’t the country singing fame part that sucked me into the movie, but its gritty and lifelike portrayal of the small coal town in Kentucky.

The director Michael Apted and the actors have managed to carve out remarkably well-rounded and realistic portrayals, making it easy to identify with and adapt to the characters. Sissy Spacek – who impressively did all the singing on her own – walked away with the academy award for best actress, and quite deservedly so. Tommy Lee Jones on the other hand makes for a memorable Oliver ’Doolittle’ Lynn, a contradictory character that in many ways culminates the essence of this movie.

Last but definitely not least Levon Helm in his feature film debut gives one the most honest and heartbreaking performances I’ve seen in a while as Lynn’s honest, hard working father. That railway station scene still gives me the chills.

Coal Miner’s Daughter is a triumph, although it does lose some of its momentum towards the end as the movie focuses on patching in the key points of her later career. The major breakdown that could’ve been build up to and surveyed with care is both presented and dealt with quite hastefully.

80s-o-meter: 33%

Total: 85%