#1108 To Be or Not to Be (1983)

A remake of the 1942 film of the same name, To Be or Not to Be is a delightful little WWII satire.

Taking place in nazi occupied Poland, the movie follows the crew of Warsaw theater company as they put up a show of their lifetime as they try to retrieve the leaked list containing the names of the members of the Polish resistance from the clutches of the third reich. The movie pokes delightfully fun of the quirky nazi officers who like to act grand but turn into shaky poodles when confronted by persons of higher rank.

To Be or Not to Be is the most well rounded up comedy ever to come out of Mel Brooks’ film factory. It provides the trademark zany visual comedy Brooks is so well known for, but manages to couple it with some very entertaining elements of drama, thriller, human interest and musical.

80s-o-meter: 42%

Total: 90%

#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%

#931 Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Directed with mastery by Stanley Kubrick Full Metal Jacket is a different kind of war movie consisting of individual segments all of which have been designed to stick. The barbershop opening scene, training bit, helicopter flight, tv interviews, getting pinned by the sniper all have became a part of pop culture imagery we now associate with Vietnam war.

As with any Vietnam War movie, the contemporary music plays a big part here as well, with tracks like The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black and The Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird. The ending scene as the soldiers march through the flaming ruins at the end, and join together in singing the Mickey Mouse club march, reminding us of the chilling of the end of an innocence.

A perfect movie in its own right, Full Metal Jacket is a flawless exercise in dark humour and sheer madness that is war.

80s-o-meter: 68%

Total: 100%

#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%

#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%

#922 Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988)

Falling somewhere between the first and second Missing in Action movies, the third part, dubbed Braddock: Missing in Action III follows Braddock going back to Vietnam to find his missing wife and son.

A total rehash of The Beginning, this last part of the trilogue and has some of the same strong suits in its action department, but I never really cared about the story line involving the boy. Despite the action the third part seems a little wishy-washy and Braddock tightropes somewhere between being totally unrealistic, but not nearly as iconic and over the top as the Rambo sequels.

If you really liked The Beginning, the third part offers more of the same, but in a watered down form.

80s-o-meter: 84%

Total: 59%

#921 Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

After reading about Missing in Action 2: The Beginning deemed to be a worse movie than its originally intended sequel and thus being delayed to be released one year later I was expecting a movie even worse than the previous one.

Not the case as The Beginning surprises by presenting a pretty solid post action pack.

Of course you know the drill; a rogue American soldier single handedly winning the Vietnam war, and there aren’t much of unexpected plot twists along the way, but its the presentation here that makes The Beginning a recommendable watch. The action is over the top as usual, with a nice martial arts showdown at the end, but compared to the previous movie Norris’ character here seems less of an invulnerable, omnipotent super human seen in the previous part.

The Beginning is by far the strongest one of the trilogy, and if you have to watch just one of the Missing in Action movies, let this one be it.

80s-o-meter: 83%

Total: 74%

#920 Missing in Action (1984)

A movie series tailor made as a vehicle for Chuck Norris, Missing in Action is known by its name to many, but still not the most prolific of the 80s POW movies. The first two movies of the trilogy were shot back to back, but after the production had ended, the powers that be decided that the sequel was a stronger movie of the two and was released first. Hence the odd order of movies.

Watching the movies now, 30 years after the original screening the decision feels unwise as the movies would make a bit more sense in the original order. My suggestion would be to watch The Beginning first like it was originally internded before moving onto this movie as you might get a bit better mileage out of it that way. Personally, I feel that Missing in Action is an insignificant mess that falls far behind of Norris’ best movies of the era.

The Italian style poster is cool though.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 55%

#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%

#845 Zone Troopers (1985)

A troop of American WWII soldiers wander off behind the nazi enemy lines to discover a crashed spaceship in Zone Troopers, a movie that has gained something of a cult following over the years.

I enjoyed the unique concept but neither the plot nor the execution live up to it — this is a movie with poor, made for TV like production quality to it. It’s not unintentionally funny kind of shoddiness either, but of the kind that always seems to just flatten the overall experience: The aliens look dodgy, nazi soldiers never quite pass as the real thing and camera cuts seem to be the only special effect used here.

Zone Troopers hasn’t been listed as a comedy, there are certainly some genuine attempts for humour – some of which aren’t even too bad.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 56%

#826 The Keep (1983)

Based on the F. Paul Wilson’s 1981 novel of the same name, The Keep mixes up some delicious ingredients to a somewhat uneven dish.

The real star here is the atmospheric mood The Keep achieves: The movie is always just a bit off in a charmingly fashion and that right kind of eerie feeling is constantly present when inside the citadel. The haunting soundtrack by Tangerine Dream no doubt plays a bit part in this.

The Keep is also a visually solid film with some genuinely well framed scenes.

Given all this it’s shame that The Keep isn’t a great movie and the end result fall short of the appetising premise and there’s just something unfinished and unfulfilled about it all, even during the movie’s best moments.

80s-o-meter: 58%

Total: 72%

#733 Birdy (1984)

Birdy (Matthew Modine) is a young boy obsessed with birds who befriends with Al (Nicolas Cage) who seems equally interested and frustrated with Birdy’s obsession. The film follows up them in two timelines, reminiscencing their past while following them later, broken mentally and physically by the Vietnam war, shut inside a mental institute.

Modine and Cage give good performances here, and both manage to capture their uncommon friendship convincingly. But similarly to Al, I also soon wore tired of Birdy’s single-minded obsession with the birds. As he doesn’t seem to be interested in nothing but the aviary world. it seems like there’s nothing else to the character, leaving him hard to grasp and paper thin.

The unchronological pacing of the movie works well at times, but the flashbacks fail to really reveal anything fundamental of how the characters really ended up where they are now, and thus Birdy – including its ending – leaves much too many open questions to be really a satisfying interpersonal drama.

80s-o-meter: 60%

Total: 64%

#700 WarGames (1983)

Visionary both in its thematics and the execution, WarGames was ahead of its time probably in much more ways than the team creating it could ever anticipate.

In the early 80s the video and co-op games were a huge craze and were featured in many movies, but the computers were still a rare subject in a movie, and very much remained to be so for a long time to come. WarGames was not only one of the first big budget film to feature home computing, but also presented us with one curious, relatable, mischievous youngster that spent his free time phreaking and hacking into remote computer systems. And made it all a huge, exciting adventure.

That adventure quickly gets way out of hand as he manages to hack his way into a computer wired to the thermonuclear arsenal of the United States and thus capable of launching a full scale nuclear assault. The themes of balance of terror and the fear of AI turning against the humankind presented here are just as topical now as they were back in 1983 – if not even more so.

As the movie makers really did their homework with the subject and presented the hacking in believable way – more than can be said about most Hollywood movies to date – WarGames just leaves very little to improve. The great production quality holds up throughout the movie, and the end showdown with Joshua playing Thermonuclear War on the big screen is truly one palm sweating scene, as well as a visual treat.

80s-o-meter: 96%

Total: 100%

#682 The Final Countdown (1980)

Taking place on an US aircraft carrier, The Final Countdown is a mystery movie of an entire ship getting warped back in the time all the way to the year 1941.

It’s the kind of concept that always been relevant to my interest, and there are certainly some very interesting elements here as well, like seeing the modern fighter aircrafts take on the Japanese WW2 era planes with ridiculous easiness.

The Final Countdown sets up a very intriguing situation of having to decide whether to interfere with the events of the past, but just as the situation is getting mouthwatering, the movie weasels itself out of having to make any actual decisions.

While I usually don’t bother with any technical details, it’s worth noting that there’s a constant noticeable blur in all the four corners of the movie that I did find distracting at times. The film is one of the rare 80s stereoscopic movies, and the effect could be related to the technic used to shoot it in 3D.

80s-o-meter: 52%

Total: 65%

#677 Revolution (1985)

Revolution is an interesting story, done with top notch set design, acted unevenly and told in an yawn-breakingly boring fashion.

This UK production’s biggest star Al Pacino is a mixed bag here. Somehow most of the time looking either lost or the odd one out as he runs across the hordes of people like some 19th century Rambo, Pacino’s acting chops are finally redeemed in the scenes together with his son he’s afraid to lose. These father-son moments are by far the most powerful aspect of the movie that could’ve made the movie much more interesting if explored even further.

Instead we get tons of epic scenes of grandeur one after another that somehow leave no lasting impact.

Revolution is nowhere nearly as terrible movie as most reviews suggest, but it’s clear that the vision was lost at some point of the production.

80s-o-meter: 31%

Total: 61%