#1460 Judgment in Berlin aka Judgement in Berlin (1988)

Before watching this movie I had no idea Sean Penn’s father Leo Penn was a director, known mostly from his work on TV. The reason I made the connection was seeing Sean in this movie a side role as one of the passengers of the plane hijacked from Poland to West-Germany.

And that’s what the movie is all about; an American judge (Martin Sheen) is called to arrange a trial for the defector behind the hijacking, under the pressure from both east and the west.

While the setup is interesting, everything else in the movie falls short, starting from the dreary Eastern Europe setting to the movie not really following though any of its plot lines in a meaningful way.

80s-o-meter: 65%

Total: 53%

#1344 Cuba Crossing (1980)

A bunch of rogue USA soldiers set out to assassinate the communist leader of Cuba in Cuba Crossing.

This would not be such an issue if the movie itself had something going on for it, but it’s unfortunately an outdated, inconsistent, uninteresting mess that remains stale most of the running time, and gets somewhat interesting only after the plot twist in the third act.

I try to steer away from talking about technical aspects of a movie, but with Cuba Crossing the lack of decent cinematography cannot be unaddressed. Not only is the shooting amateurish with over/under exposed scenes and overall bad cinematographic choices, the movie completely misses out of taking advantage of the tropical Key West landscapes and mostly looks dull as a dishwasher.

80s-o-meter: 45%

Total: 17%

#1199 Gorky Park (1983)

Gorky Park, a murder mystery taking place in Moscow always interested me. Not because of the location itself, but for starring William Hurt and Brian Dennehy, both big time favourites of mine.

There is another aspect to Gorky Park that kind of interested me as well. As the American movie crew didn’t get a permission to shoot behind the iron curtain, the location was changed to Helsinki – my home town.

Given the strong cast and the manuscript being based on a bestseller book, my expectations for the movie were sky high, but weren’t even nearly met. The dreary northern location felt all too unexciting and stale, and beneath taking place in the exotic location Gorky Park is nothing but a very average thriller.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 48%

#1150 Little Nikita (1988)

What would you do if your parents would turn out to be something completely different than you grew up believing? And furthermore, would you betray them to save them?

The set up of Little Nikita is certainly thought provoking and it seamlessly mixes up interesting aspects of family dynamics, betrayal, cold war and coming to age while realising nothing you’ve built your life upon so far might not actually be as they seem.

I found very little that I would like to change in Little Nikita and the concept felt refreshingly different while still maintaining good dramatic sense and all the basic building blocks of a solid thriller.

80s-o-meter: 91%

Total: 88%

#1145 No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

No Retreat, No Surrender takes a good portion of Karate Kid and mixes it up with Rocky – especially the fourth one – and manages to come up as a pretty fresh and entertaining competitive martial arts movie.

I always mistook the movie for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s vehicle, but instead he is seen portraying the role of a cocky baddie straight from USSR. The cold war aspect of the movie feels much, much more glued on than in Rocky IV, but in an 80s movie like this that’s just part of the fun, right?

The story itself concentrates on a young kid who practises karate and idolises Bruce Lee. After getting his ass handed to him by the bullies and running into clash with a syndicate and his father, he is visited by the spirit of Bruce Lee that teaches him the way of the Kung Fu.

The modern Bluray transfer reveals the shortcomings of the original film and the movie seems old beyond its years – not in a flattering way – so my recommendation is to hunt this one down as VHS instead.

80s-o-meter: 98%

Total: 87%

#1068 The Beast of War aka The Beast (1989)

I was initially put off by the appearance of The Beast of War; cinematography wise the movie looked dull with most of the events taking place in a tank that wonders across a canyon in desert. But as the story evolved, I soon found the movie to be one of the more interesting and multi-layered war movies of the era.

Looking back now, it’s interesting how the movie antagonises the Russian invaders and represents the Afghan rebels as heroes who bravely stand up against the superpower that tries to take over the land as all know how this narrative was soon changed after the events that started in 2001. Secondly, the tank crew is depicted without thick comical Russian accent, which is still unheard of in Hollywood movies. Instead, they talk with American accents which can be only read as a statement that the two superpowers and their foreign policies aren’t really that different and both are known to start unjust wars to drive their own international politics. As the crew finds themselves on the run with an enemy that’s much better accustomed to the area, it’s not hard to see the correspondence to the Vietnam war.

Thirdly, although the pressure that the tank crew has to endure with is external, it’s the well portrayed internal pressure that really makes the movie: The commander’s power tripping, panic, paranoid and betrayal that the crew goes through are all interestingly documented here.

While I’m not going to change my opinion about judging books by the cover since it’s been a pretty good measurement with 80s movies, The Beast of War is a good reminder that sometimes it’s good to give a movie a fair chance despite its modest covers.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 91%

#1047 Gotcha! (1985)

Like mentioned numerous times before, there was a hangup in the 80s to do movies based on Europe. Paris in particular was a popular location, due to its romantic and mysterious reputation to the US public, with many dreaming to travel there one day. Unfortunately the European locations rarely translated well to the American cinema and the endless number of films with out of the water US citizen involuntarily getting into all sorts of mishaps are often only tedious to sit through.

Gotcha! breaks this spell .. sort of. I don’t find the locations fascinating, but they do feel less distracting than usual. It’s an interesting little espionage story that manages to pull off something refreshingly different.

Young Anthony Edwards proves he can carry a full length feature film as the sole lead, most likely somewhat saving Gotcha from total oblivion.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 74%

#925 Red Heat (1988)

Towards the end of the eighties the Hollywood movies started to reach out to gap the bridge torn between the two nations by the Cold War. Red Heat joins up two sides of the same coin kind of detectives from the rivalling nations together in a buddy cop movie that gets some extra mileage out of its nonconventional setup.

Ivan Danko, the CCCP detective played by Schwarzenegger draws a strong resemblance with Ivan Drago, a big framed antagonist from Rocky IV that famously muttered out only 9 lines of dialogue during the whole movie that he starred in. Both of the characters’ emotionless, powerful and almost non human qualities seem to meet very well the movie going publics’ expectations of the Russians – personally I’ve yet to meet anyone from behind the iron curtain even closely resembling either one.

At the top of his career in 1988 Schwarzenegger could very well pick the movies he wanted to be in, and in that light Red Heat is a somewhat weird choice since the wooden acting style is a step back from his earlier movies towards, on par what’s seen in 1984 Terminator. The character Schwarzenegger plays is also atypical for him as it has many comical sidekick qualities to it and keeps on making one bad decision after another throughout the movie, getting beaten up, shot and getting multiple people killed along the way.

Guess the Hollywood wasn’t ready to for an actual Russian hero just quite yet.

The fish out of water backstory provides a good base to this action comedy but if this wasn’t a Schwarzenegger movie, Red Heat would be average at best.

80s-o-meter: 92%

Total: 77%

#923 The Day After (1983)

The Day After portrays a nuclear war between the two cold-war giants USA and Soviet Union, and the effects there after. The initial setup establishing a Kansas site of nuclear weapons works and the movie escalates in an interesting way to its nuclear holocaust peak, but the events after that – as horrid and graphic as they may seem – just feel much too staged and phoney.

Set design is pretty impressive for a made for TV movie and could’ve partially passed for an actual feature film. The same cannot be said about the special effects and the make-up where the lack of budget really shines through. There’s an impressive array of actors involved for a made for TV movie, but here they don’t really add up any additional value to the movie compared of going with some no name actors. The movie is also too long at 120 minutes of which a good 40 minutes could’ve been left in the cutting room floor to save us from many of the scenes that drag on for much too long.

The Day After is a movie made to touch and to shock, but its melodramatic, soap opera feel to it plain prevented me to get really emotionally involved in it. The grim and hopeless Testament, released the same year, portrays the devastating effects of a nuclear war in a more subtle but realistic and powerful way.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 46%

#863 Iron Eagle II (1988)

While the first movie in the series was a fresh take on the subject, Iron Eagle II – released two years after the original – takes much more notes from Top Gun by introducing a roster of outcast pilots ordered to perform a seek and destroy mission along with a fleet from the Soviet Union.

The sequel ditches the former lead Doug Masters by killing him during a firefight in the very first minutes of the movie, leaving us with Colonel Chappy – arguably the weaker half of the duo. Along with the Top Gun influence, the movie is built on the post cold war thematics with some Police Academy style of humour thrown in the mix.

Iron Eagle II is a tired follow up to the original that inexplicably went on to spawn two more sequels during the nineties, both of which apparently even weaker than this one.

80s-o-meter: 91%

Total: 58%

#814 Defense Play (1988)

Defense Play is a low budget, low weight action thriller that never made it to a DVD release. The movie follows a teen – obviously much too old for the role – witnessing a prototype military miniature helicopter crash and ending up in hacking computers and the helicopter in a race against russian spies who try to get a hold of the technology.

This synopsis also introduces the biggest problems with the movie: We’re forced to watch recurring scenes that tend to drag on for much too long. The programming and hacking attempts on a computer are mildly entertaining in a campy way, but it’s the endless amount of footage of the miniature helicopters that got the best of me in the end. In the age of quadcopters and top notch CGI there’s really not much entertainment to be had in watching RC helicopters duelling in the sky, with some kind of a weak laser gun effect superimposed to them.

It’s is a passable film, but composed of elements that never gave it a chance for greatness, and the overall pacing should’ve been a lot tighter to make Defense Play a real winner.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 58%