#1223 Daniel (1983)

Featuring one of the most interesting synopses along with the acting talent provided by Timothy Hutton, Daniel turns out disappointingly pointless exercise.

The movie aims to tell the fictive story of the two children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in US for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. But not only does the movie take liberties in its story (the names of the characters are completely changed), but manages to create a dull rendition of a super interesting piece of American history.

The movie assumes one to be aware of the incident, but still wades in lengthy flashbacks that do not really bring much information to explain what eventually took place or what were the motivations behind the accused acts. Even more disappointingly the movie weasels out and refuses to take any kind of stance on the events, leaving the viewer with pretty much a big pile of nothing.

80s-o-meter: 50%

Total: 21%

#1219 The Natural (1984)

Here’s a movie that presents us with a big mystery, but does very little in explaining that mystery to us.

Furthermore, the movie seems to solely concentrate on glorifying the saintlike, handsome and talented Robert Redford. While Redford is a totally cool dude in my books, the movie offers very little else than him a pedestal performing miracles, expecting for us to stand in awe in front of his greatness.

I thought I was going to see a biographical movie – usually the most interesting approach to what it comes to sports movies – but it isn’t. It isn’t much of a sports movie either; they could’ve picked anything else they wished as Roy Hobbs’ super power. Like knitting, horse riding or firefighting.

For The Natural they decided to go with the baseball.

80s-o-meter: 11%

Total: 43%

#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%

#1201 Five Corners (1987)

Another movie with a strong cast (Jodie Foster, John Turturro, Tim Robbins) but that has remained totally unknown to me – and presumably also for the wide audience.

Odds for finding a lost gold nugget with such a setup is usually slim to none, and such is the case also here. Based on the writer John Patrick Shanley’s experiences in growing up in Bronx during the sixties, the movie throws together a wide array of eccentric characters, out of which only few tie together in the end in a satisfactory way. The sixties does not provide any kind of additional story drivers nor elements, but serving only to provide a dose of nostalgia to certain audience segment.

Five Corners offers a few interesting insights to its quirky characters, but those characters and their real emotional drivers end up woefully hollow.

80s-o-meter: 15%

Total: 61%

#1197 A Soldier’s Story (1984)

The playwright Charles Fuller had a stroke of genius when he came up with the concept behind A Soldier’s Story: a murder mystery taking place deep south in segregated Louisiana and involving a African-American regiment looking forward to be shipped to serve in WWII.

A Soldier’s Story includes multiple intriguing themes: the struggle for equality, the mental stress while stuck in a limbo, and of course all the bigotry and racism that takes place in the army camp – but not the way you expected.

The movie is a triumph; its story is equally entertaining and thought provoking, directing solid, time period effortlessly established and the cast does not include one single weak link.

80s-o-meter: 2%

Total: 93%

#1130 Ladyhawke (1985)

Sad news hit us this week with the news of Rutger Hauer passing away at the age of 75.

To commemorate him I watched through Ladyhawke, a fictitious fantasy tale taking place in the 13th century. It was only too bad that pretty much the only interesting bit for the movie was Mr.Hauer himself, and I really didn’t find other aspects of the movie that interesting.

Shot in location in Italy, the damp and drafty atmosphere did not lure me in, and although I’m not a fan of sword and sorcery movies, I wished the movie had had some more interesting fantasy element to it than the dodgy shapeshifting to animals, like the landmark movies Willow or Legend did.

The movie does have a strong fan base that really seem to dig it, so if the genre interests you, you might still find something here to love.

80s-o-meter: 38%

Total: 51%

#1118 Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

When reviewing these movies I often talk about how the difference with good and bad movies is the directors’ ability to just sprinkle in that special movie magic into their creations. Francis Ford Coppola surely possesses that skill and Peggy Sue Got Married, his look what one would do differently if they could relive their past – and if they could help falling in love with the same person they’ve just divorced – is an exceptional

Kathleen Turner plays the leading role with grace and certain heavyheartedness that the part really calls for. I can see Debra Winger – originally cast for the role, but gave it up due to an injury – performing the role with flying colors. But it’s really Turner’s ability to bring in the role a layer of melancholy that’s almost translucent but still weighty like a bag of boulders that makes her seemingly impeccable fit for the role.

Peggy Sue Got Married is a delight of a movie to watch and only slightly held back by its ending that seems to cut the story short.

80s-o-meter: 67%

Total: 87%

#1056 The Hollywood Knights (1980)

The Hollywood Knights follows a gang high school fraternity of the post–World War II baby boom generation during one long halloween night of 1965 as they go around playing nasty pranks to teachers, policemen and fellow students.

Considering that the pranks aren’t particularly funny, nor creative – pissing to a punch bowl is as high brow as it gets – they are showcased far too much in the movie. The real human interest story of the young couple played by Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer is bypassed with a few quick shots and does not get the attention it deserves. Same goes for the story of Jimmy, one of the Hollywood Knights, who’s enlisted and heading to Vietnam unbeknownst of the horrors that await there. Although this part of the movie is better handled, I would’ve liked to see more even more emphasis on this side of the story.

What makes this movie is not its plot, characters nor even its humour, but the way it successfully invites the viewer to be a part of this one wild night as one of the Hollywood Knights.

80s-o-meter: 55%

Total: 68%

#1053 Volunteers (1985)

Tom Hanks and John Candy star as Peace Corps volunteers send to a small Thai village to build a bridge in Volunteers, an adventurous, never-quite-funny comedic take on The Bridge on the River Kwai, something of an odd target for a parody.

It takes quite a while for the Volunteers to find its tone of voice; it’s only towards the last 30 minutes of the movie that it starts to be enjoyable. Before that the movie feels much disoriented and shoddy and the bad camerawork where most subjects seem out of focus and oddly framed. It seems that the movie can’t really make up what it’d want to be, exactly; even the elements of crazy comedy are tried out at one point when the characters start reading the subtitles superimposed to the screen, which seems bit of a faux pas.

If I was to judge Volunteers only by its end part, it would rate nearer the 80 point mark as it manages to press many feel good buttons in the last minutes. But as a whole the movie can’t really be recommended, even if you’re a fan of the comedy of Hanks or Candy.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 61%

#1043 A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988)

A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon portrays an insignificant little story taking place during the 60s for no apparent reason, and does a pretty bad job at conveying the said period.

Often dubbed by the worst movie of River Phoenix by his fans, River himself wqs reportedly embarrassed having to play the part. And really, there is very little to be loved here. We’re forced to watch through the mishaps of a womanising brat trying to pass as an adult while betraying his best friend, cheating on his girlfriend, reciting bad poetry while trying to borrow enough money from someone to get a one way ticket to Hawaii.

A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon is an unfortunate smut in the solid lineup of movies River had before his untimely death in 1993.

80s-o-meter: 51%

Total: 16%

#1005 Missing Link (1988)

Missing Link depicts the journey of the last of his kind ape man through the landscape of the Africa after the ancestors of the modern man have murdered his tribe and his family.

The most of obvious problem here is that there’s not really enough stuff here for a feature length movie; the kindness and the tragic loss of the man ape are established right in the very first minutes to the film, and most of the actual run time of the movie is nothing more but a nature documentary with scenes of the missing link cut in.

But, there’s a certain power to the story and as the kind ape man finally makes his way to the oceanfront I did take a guilt trip on behalf of the violent mankind that caused the extinction of the missing link – whether true or not. Like Koyaanisqatsi, Missing Link is more of an experience than a movie and as such, it felt like a refreshingly different one.

80s-o-meter: 0%

Total: 64%

#998 Harlem Nights (1989)

48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child and Coming to America; for Eddie Murphy the 80s was a series of commercial and critical triumphs after another, and it was only his debut as the director and the writer of Harlem Nights that ended up that honeymoon with the critics.

But not with the broad audience, as Harlem Nights – Murphy’s last movie of the decade – was a box office success, even if not nearly as massive as his previous titles.

The movie itself is a pretty sloppy, Hollywood take on the 1930s gangster theme so clichéd it was obviously inspired by watching other movies rather than digging into the history books. If you get past the pastiche aspect as well as the somewhat uninspired periodical setting established only to justify the caricature-like characters, Harlem Nights becomes a somewhat tolerable scoundrel comedy, and even lands a rewarding feel good ending that succeeded to made the minutes put into watching the movie feel worth the while in the end.

80s-o-meter: 48%

Total: 63%

#919 Swing Shift (1984)

A war can be a big game changer when you are left on the home front as your husband enlists and gets shipped overseas. And more so if you’re one of the thousands of housewives who rolled in to the factories armed with a rivet gun to support the war effort.

The real treat in this wartime story is the well picked out cast consisting of Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti and Ed Harris, all of who do wonderfully 3-dimensional acting work with their characters.

Swing Shift never seeks for that Oscar like, bigger than life grandeur but instead tells its story of a wartime, separation, friendship and forgiveness with a certain, undeniable affection for each and every one of its characters, making it a triumph.

80s-o-meter: 42%

Total: 86%

#913 Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

I’ll never understand people’s fascination with the mob and the huge popularity and high rating of the gangster movies depicting the lifestyle of these crooks. In Once Upon a Time in America we get to see a gang of jewish delinquents who grow up mugging drunkards in early 20th century Manhattan, helping out smugglers and eventually getting involved in a kill and a stabbing of a police officer. Later we witness them running a speakeasy during the prohibition era, and while not involved in shady business, they steal diamonds in violent heists, murder people and just for the heck of it rape a few women along the way.

I couldn’t wait for them to get caught, but as you know this never happens in these movies that beg the viewers to side with the criminals.

The director Sergio Leone has set out to direct an epic movie and it really shows in the fabulous set and costume design that capture the look and feel of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in three different decades in a truly magnificent and cinematic way. I watched the 4-hour Extended Director’s Cut and don’t have any benchmark what the lengthy ’definitive’ cut of the movie adds the original theatrical cut but some tediously long scenes of endless dialogue and fading out lights.

I guess if the organised crime is your thing, you’ll be enjoying what Once Upon a Time in America for what it has to offer. Personally it seems like a totally wasted chance to tell a proper story with some actual human interest.

80s-o-meter: 32%

Total: 41%

#900 Racing with the Moon (1984)

There’s no way around it; Sean Pean is quite simply one terrific actor. In Racing with the Moon he plays a small town boy on the brink of getting drafted and shipped to WWII, portraying the role of a rough on the outside, poetic in the inside boy who likes to play the piano and is secretly destined to things bigger than this old town. And does all this remarkably well and without a slightest sign of pretentiousness or insincerity.

Nicolas Cage, playing the role of his best buddy with a knack of always getting him in ways of trouble performs also strongly here and makes for a memorable screwup who misses direction in his life.

I’m always more than a bit suspicious when watching a period picture not based on historical events as they tend to just ride on the nostalgia factor, presenting the past as them good old days. There’s a little of that also going on here, but it never requires one to feel any real affection to the era. Racing with the Moon keep its focus tightly on the personas instead and manages to deal with universal themes of coming to age that are still as relevant as they were in the 40s.

80s-o-meter: 54%

Total: 92%

#873 True Confessions (1981)

True Confessions is a interesting experience of having wide range elements mixed in (the catholic church and its game of power and money, a murder mystery, drama between the brothers and their personal redemption to name a few) but still ending up a slow and unsatisfying experience.

The movie can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s a murder thriller, a whodunnit, a conspiracy drama, character study or a religious statement. Especially the themes of catholic corruption and quilt failed to grab me and I can’t help but to think that if those elements were tuned down quite a bit, this could’ve been a somewhat decent crime movie.

The movie also misses one of those ’big’ scenes towards the culmination point that usually help to make these kind of movies memorable.

True Confessions features the talent of Robert Duvall and Robert DeNiro who both manage to make the very best out of their roles and remind us what an Oscar quality acting work looks like.

80s-o-meter: 23%

Total: 52%

#865 High Road to China (1983)

It’s a well known piece of movie trivia that Tom Selleck was the first choice to play Indiana Jones, but had to turn down the role due to his contractual obligations starring in the TV series Magnum, P.I. Indy’s huge success spawned a wave of adventure movies taking place in kind of an alternative pre WWII timeline, and seeing Selleck starring in one of these unofficial Indy spinoffs sort of completes the circle.

Having said all this it’s a shame High Road to China isn’t any better movie.

While it does get the sense of adventure right with the reluctant hero and the damsel in distress flying to multiple exotic locations, the events between the beautiful aviation shots mostly miss their mark. Prime example of this is the end when we are forced to watch through a showdown between two sides completely unknown to us from the former events of the movie.

I’m a sucker for adventure movies and there is admittedly some charm to High Road to China — but it’s mostly that of Selleck’s.

80s-o-meter: 38%

Total: 57%

#859 Winter People (1989)

I’m not too big on period pictures unless they’re based on actual historical events, and Winter People ends up yet another movie where the decision feels uninspired and glued on.

The director Ted Kotcheff who gave us the superb First Blood and Weekend at Bernie’s is at lost here. He gets a very limited mileage out of his actors, who all seem to perform well beyond their skill level. The most cringeworthy performance comes from Jeffrey Meek, whose performance as the sadistic, drunk father comes across cartoonish and artificial, and his rockstar like looks feel extremely out of place given the era.

Kurt Russell fares ok as the clockmaker single parent, but clearly Winter People wasn’t the right vehicle for him either.

80’s-o-meter: 37%

Total: 48%

#856 Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

I tend to dislike young or junior versions of already established franchises and it’s particularly because of this that I postponed watching Young Sherlock Holmes for so many years. Second reason is that I always mistook it for a british movie, thanks to the main character, location and the actors all being of british origin.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the movie carries a strong label of its executive producer Steven Spielberg. Although numerous – often somewhat clumsy – nods to the forthcoming Sherlock Holmes events are made throughout the movie, the end results resembles more of a Young Indiana Jones with big emphasis on effects, great set design and action and very slight emphasis on actual deduction and whodunnit.

The computer animations done by the wizards in ILM still fare amazingly well, outperforming much of the effects seen even in the 90s movies, and are alone a good enough reason to check out the movie.

80s-o-meter: 51%

Total: 72%

#848 Fat Man and Little Boy aka Shadow Makers (1989)

An awkwardly named Fat Man and Little Boy tells the story of the WW2 era scientists working in Manhattan Project, initialised to realise and build the world’s first atomic bomb.

It’s a tremendously well made movie with elements of the world’s brightest men working towards the common goal while battling against the tight schedule, technical breakthroughs, issues of personal life and perhaps the most interestingly, their conscience. It does make a few liberties with some historical details, but all for the benefit to the story and the end result is an interesting and suspenseful glimpse behind the events that changed the world as we know it overnight and kept me glued to the screen until the end credits rolled.

Despite the A-list actors, the big audience failed to discover Fat Man and Little Boy, which ended up a box office flop and led to the movie to be later introduced to other markets as Shadow Makers.

80s-o-meter: 68%

Total: 93%