#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%