#824 Caboblanco (1980)

Before I saw Caboblanco, it seemed on a quick look to me that the only good thing going for it was its exotic location. Unfortunately this turned out to be the case.

This early 1980s film is a whiff from the past, style wise strongly resembling movies of the 70s, and even the 60s, and certainly taking some cues from certain classic movies from the 1940s. Story-wise there seems to be a lot to love – sunken treasures, nazis and corrupted police chiefs – but the end result is bit of a mess where the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit together. This being said I don’t think it’s the actual story to be blamed here — had I picked up a worn out copy of the original paperback from some second hand store, I might’ve even enjoyed the plot.

My blame is on the uneven, often stuffy presentation that is somehow uninviting. The exotic port of Caboblanco would’ve been a great framing for a better movie.

80s-o-meter: 37%

Total: 52%

#823 Frantic (1988)

Part of the inexplicable 80s trend of travelling over to Paris to shoot a movie, Frantic at least makes an effort to masquerade it all as a necessary plot point. It does make sense in a way as it makes the sudden disappearance of a surgeon’s wife and the resulting helplessness more relatable.

The movie starts off strong with a certain Hitchcockian touch to it, but that initial energy gradually dissipates, and when the second half of the movie starts it’s very difficult to care much about what happens in the end.

Although I realise that the desired effect has been the opposite, the decision to shoot in Paris makes the movie feel mundane and dull. Harrison Ford does a decent job here, but it’s still a far cry from his numerous memorable performances of the 80s.

80s-o-meter: 58%

Total: 59%

#822 Beverly Hills Madam (1986)

Beverly Hills Madam raises somewhat interesting thematics, but is told in a way that never really caught my interest. Faye Dunaway leads the show without much passion, pretty much reprising her role from Mommie Dearest.

The production level is very much on par with made for tv movies. The themes dealt here – prostitution, being used, people getting killed – seem in conflict with the soap opera look and feel of the film.

80s-o-meter: 63%

Total: 47%

#821 Major League (1989)

A proof that the classic sports story of an underdog team raising to a champion is worth doing one more time, Major League follows the often seen formula, but adds so many delicious bits to the mix that make it irresistible.

The movie is not about the winning ultimately – as we all know where it’s going to end up – but about the road getting there. And in this case the journey is filled with various events of the very entertaining kind that make Major League a one of the top sports comedies of the 80s.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 89%

#820 Pennies from Heaven (1981)

Based on the BBC serie of the same name, Pennies from Heaven is a musical that is for some reason being served as drama, although its core concept of dancing and mouthing old hits from the golden era cannot be perceived as anything but comedic and silly.

The big gimmick of the movie, escaping the grim day-to-day life to a jolly song totally detached from reality – a concept used later successfully in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark – works well for a short time, until it gets repetitive and then finally gimmicky. Actually, it’s not the musical numbers but the actual movie bits that start to feel tiresome after awhile: Pennies from Heaven is the kind of period picture that relies far too heavily on just establishing the period for a cozy feeling, and if taken to the current time, the story just wouldn’t have much going for it.

The dance numbers themselves are fabulously constructed and clearly it’s taken a lot of practise for the actors to train for them. What’s distracting though is the way the original songs are being lip-synced instead of having the actors perform them. The real treat of the movie is Christopher Walken whose brief performance is nothing short of a breathtaking.

80s-o-meter: 45%

Total: 58%

#819 Nightmares (1983)

As usual I try not to read any info about the movie I’m going to watch to avoid any spoilers. In the case with Nightmares it might’ve been a good idea for I would’ve figured out I was watching an anthology instead of a horror movie with an exceptionally hard to follow plot. When it finally dawned to me, well — you can only imagine the amount of facepalms.

This anthology consists of four short stories, based on urban legends. The first one starts off strong with a great buildup towards the end payoff. Second one is my favorite, starring Emilio Estevez as the penny arcade wizard caught in a web of a mysterious co-op machine. From hereon it’s a slight downhill with the third episode involving a priest, a killer on a 4×4 and some magical holy water that’ll save the day. The last part of Nightmares features our favorite 80s self-absorbed company man Richard Masur as the head of the family getting a special kind of rat infestation. Too bad this is the part that drags far behind the others, relying much too heavily on subpar special effects lifted straight out of 50s monster scifi movies.

Probably one of the least known of all the 80s anthologies, Nightmares is very uneven like most movies of the genre, but still definitely one of the more interesting ones, largely thanks to its strong cast.

80s-o-meter: 79%

Total: 68%

#818 Promised Land (1987)

Apparently based on real life events that took place in some small town in the states, Promised Land is a movie about our dreams and expectations, and how they can sometimes turn to the proverbial shoe that just doesn’t fit anymore.

Following a few teenagers that grow into the adulthood, the movie is riddled with symbolism that often borderlines artsy: Ticking clocks, stolen watches, angel statues and gifted book with blank pages. The symbolism works the when its encapsulated in to the sceneries of the movie, showing Davey stuck as a sheriff in his home town, filled slush, and Danny cruising along the beautiful, vast landscapes of Nevada desert.

Although Promised Land misses some of the many notes it tries to hit, its courage to try out something a little off the beaten path is a valiant effort, and manages to leave some food for a thought.

80s-o-meter: 73%

Total: 70%

#817 Forced Vengeance (1982)

There are two kinds of Chuck Norris movies that are still worth one’s time: The ones that are just genuinely good, and those that are so outrageous that they make for a top notch guilty pleasure. Forced Vengeance doesn’t really fall into either one of these categories.

Taking place in Hong Kong, Norris plays a Casino hired hand who finds himself pinned as the prime suspect in the death of his boss and sets out to find the real killer. There are many fights along the way, which Norris plays out with his usual solid craftsmanship.

Excluding one flashy silhouetted fight scene shot in front of a gigantic neon sign, Forged Vengeance is your typical early 80s Chuck Norris movie with no real high or low points, and has a very limited redeeming value to it – unless you’re a die hard Norris fan.

80s-o-meter: 62%

Total: 58%

#816 My Name Is Bill W. (1989)

Part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series that began running already in 1951, My Name Is Bill W. is a dramatisation of the William Griffith Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Based on the real life events, the movie is an interesting look into the life of an addict, and still as topical as it was back in the 1920. Production quality wise the movie is definitely one of the better made for tv movies, and the era is well established. James Woods – whom I’ve really grown to like only recently – plays the lead convincingly, but remains a far too distant character to the viewer to adapt to. JoBeth Williams thankfully provides a much more natural object to identify with in her role as the loving, caring and mentally exhausted wife at the end of her tether.

Like the most made for tv movies, this is no roller coaster ride, but if the slow pacing doesn’t scare you, My Name Is Bill W. definitely rates as one of those rare watchable period pictures.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 62%

#816 Salsa (1988)

Well, this was a painful experience.

I had to check back to internet every fifteen minutes to check if Salsa’s origin of country would’ve magically changed to something else than USA, giving me an excuse to skip sitting through this atrocity. Alas, no. The director Boaz Davidson remained Israelian and the lead Robby Rosa and his sweat oozing curls remained firmly Puerto Rican.

The movie – the term has to be used very loosely here – is a collection of salsa music numbers and a thin plot that’s not able to tie them together to a comprehensible entity. Rico is an obnoxious character, often seen trying to run his baby sister’s life or twitching around in a theatrical manner filled with pain that is his life. The subplot of forbidden love between his best friend and his sister is a much more interesting story line, even if I’ve seen music videos with a stronger plot.

Salsa is without point, pretentious, melodramatic and seemingly clueless of all this – once again reminding me of everything I loathe about musicals.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 1%

#815 The Clairvoyant aka The Killing Hour (1982)

The high demand for thrillers and the constant competition along with the new wave of nordic thriller and the new renaissance of the TV has caused the genre coming quite a long way since the 80s, and it takes a pretty good thriller to wow someone one these days. The Clairvoyant, a somewhat insignificant entry even in the 80s scale hasn’t got what it takes to thrill the viewer.

The movie starts off strong with multiple gruesome and inventive kills involving a pair of handcuffs, suggesting there’s a serial killer on the loose. As the story shifts from the traditional detective work towards the young woman who foresees the killings by sketching them, the movie starts to lose its focus, and when the badly staged TV talk show portion is introduced, the movie just derails. Clairvoyant is not a visual treat either, having a distinctive look and feel of an dated movie – if I was to guess, I would’ve placed it to around the year 1976.

What saves the movie from being a complete train wreck is the end where the plot – as unconvincing as it is – actually comes together in a way that make sense.

80s-o-meter: 58%

Total: 47%

#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%

#813 Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

As is the case with every movie that was a part of the early 80s 3D fad – along with the likes of Friday the 13th Part III, Amityville 3-D and MetalstormSpacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is also best viewed in plain 2D as the 3D effect is really nothing to write to home about. When viewed in 2D the movie suffers from the usual soft transfer introduced by the stereo technology, but could very well pass as a real movie as it doesn’t push the obvious 3D scenes too hard.

This is the type of sci-fi movie that’s shot in a desert in Utah with some cars and motorcycles sloppily modified unrecognizable, and then tries to pass all this as some futuristic alien planet — a tired and lazy approach which I tend to loathe, and Spacehunter is no exception here. The set design follows the same design philosophy and although it seems a lot of work has been put in the setup, the end result is completely missing a clear vision and everything just looks like incomprehensive mess composed of random hanging wires and blinking lights.

Peter Strauss makes for a passable rogue – obviously straight out of the Han Solo mould – that may not be that memorable but still manages to outperformance the movie. Young Molly Ringwald is even more whinier than usually, but still very endearing as the feisty and mouthy orphan Niki.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 41%

#812 They All Laughed (1981)

Best known for being the notorious last movie for the young actress and Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, They All Laughed seems like an improvised movie made up on the spot as the filming went on.

The movie introduces a few gentlemen that work for some kind of a detective agency. This gives them a loose motive to follow some babes around in pointless scenes that seem drag on and on forever. As much as I enjoy watching NYC, observing someone tailgate someone other for twenty something minutes doesn’t really hold up my interest.

Their endeavors – that could in 2018 be described only as plain creepy – are here rewarded with them ending up making out with the models. Ben Gazzara plays the oldest wolf of the bunch who wanders around the city with beautiful women throwing themselves at his feet.

If there ever was a point to the movie, I completely missed it.

80s-o-meter: 57%

Total: 11%

#811 Running on Empty (1988)

There are two aspects that make Running on Empty stand out. Its synopsis is pretty unique; a family of four running away from the law while trying to provide as normal life as possible for their two sons, which does end up as contradictory as it sound. Secondly, the movie features River Phoenix in one of his last major roles before his untimely death. This no doubt contributed to the movie’s cult status.

The status is not completely unfound; Phoenix does a pretty solid work here as the young, highly wired kid on the brink of adulthood, torn between the loyalty to his family and his willingness to finally gain his independence. The routine of having to drop everything at a moment’s notice, including house, friends, clothes – even pet dogs – and move on once again to the unknown has become the second nature to him as it’s the only kind of life he’s even known.

Running on Empty makes the viewer go through emotions ranging from compassion to the anger against the parents for putting their kids through all this. This is when the movie surprises the viewer and shows how their unique situation has made them a tight-knit unit, and the moments of happiness they share are genuinely heart warming.

I wasn’t completely sold on the movie and to me the pacing always felt a little off throughout the movie. But it does great work in establishing the emotional tie to the characters well and will give you some food for a thought even after the end credits have rolled.

In this sense Running on Empty can be considered a success.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 81%

#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%

#809 Cavegirl (1985)

Running a blog about eighties movies, I always try to find something commendable about a title I review. Cavegirl is one of those occasions I just couldn’t find anything good to say no matter how hard I tried.

Not only is it exceptionally badly executed and tediously boring, but also has the rare quality of being extremely painful to watch, thanks to its endless stream of misfired slapstick, often composed of flatulence or other bodily functions.

Cavegirl is a movie completely without merits, and the faster you forget about ever hearing about it, the better.

80s-o-meter: 54%

Total: 0%

#808 First Monday in October (1981)

Like many Walter Matthau movies, First Monday in October isn’t particularly eighties in style, but more like a nice, cozy breeze from the past. Often typecast as the grumpy, stubborn character, Matthau does have plenty of that old world charm which he always manages to bring into his productions.

Same goes here; Matthau plays an uncompromising, liberal Associate Justice that finds himself in a verbal tug-of-war with the first female Associate Justice just appointed to the Supreme Court. The old men contra women workplace setup is a bit dated, but not at all something that wouldn’t resonate still today. The real highlight of the movie is the snappy, smartly written dialogue that Matthau and Clayburgh deliver in a delightful fashion as they go against each other, tooth and nail.

It’s also an interesting period piece from the time when landmark decisions on the adult video censorship were being made in the Supreme Court.

80s-o-meter: 62%

Total: 75%

#807 Perfect (1985)

I’m willing to admit it; I tend to judge a book by its cover, and a movie by its poster – and I was hating Perfect long before I pressed the play button.

It’s the poster’s combination of a sleazy tabloid cover with John Travolta paired with Jamie Lee Curtis in a aerobics leotard that gave me the association I was in for an eighties version of Saturday Night Fever, something I never imagined I’d have a stomach for. But, I was kind of wrong. There’s certainly a lot of eighties aerobics involved in the movie, but the movie is luckily not just about Travolta being tucked in a pair of tight spandex shorts performing gymnastic moves with a neon, sweat-soaked headband.

Instead, the movie follows Adam, a young, ruthless reporter for the Rolling Stone magazine who’s chasing after two stories, one of which will potentially hurt an aerobics instructor he has fallen in love with. It’s surely no Absence of Malice, but still there’s interesting aspects of a reporter having to weight in the ramifications of his actions while dealing with the issues like professional integrity and loyalty.

80s-o-meter: 86%

Total: 60%

#806 Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

A campy cult classic by design, Big Trouble in Little China is an outrageous action adventure comedy from John Carpenter, a living legend of the 80s cinema.

I really love the core concept of being able to just step to a side street in the middle of the busy urban San Francisco and get sucked into an ancient chinese adventure where none of your western rules apply anymore. I love how the all the protagonists, magicians, sorcerers, karate masters and their showdowns are pages ripped right out of a comic book, and how the movie plays around with every cliché it can think of. I love Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Jack Burton, a big-mouthed self-quoting wannabe hero who always ends up a little short in his heroic efforts. I love the set design, the effects, the poster and pretty much every still frame of the movie you can throw my way.

And herein lies my fundamental problem with the movie: I love all the small things in Big Trouble in Little China more than I like it as an actual movie. This is not to say that Big Trouble in Little China would be a bad film – I just enjoy the idea of it more than I enjoy actually sitting down and watching through it. Part of it has to do with the movie starting out with such a great setup, but then never quite being able to outdo its outrageous premise, and ends up recycling a lot of what was already seen during the first 30 minutes of the movie.

Given all this, Big Trouble in Little China is still a piece of 80s cult cinema that begs to be revisited every few years.

80s-o-meter: 84%

Total: 80%