#993 Dragonslayer (1981)

The eighties marked a huge evolutionary step for art of movie effects, that hadn’t really come that far from the stop motion used in the 1933 King Kong. And once that train started rolling we were presented throughout the decade with some absolutely mind blowing effects work pioneered and engineered by some very talented people, compared to which a plethora of the later cheap computerised effects have fared the test of time generally speaking much worse.

A great portion of this breakthrough is to be credited to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), founded in 1975 to create the effects for the Star Wars movie series. Dragonslayer was the first movie outside Lucasfilm Ltd using their services, and the results are so stunning that one could argue the creature seen here is still the best, lifelike dragon seen on the silver screen to date.

I did not care for the sorcery bits of Dragonslayer much, but they do give a good opportunity to showcase some of the nice effects. The movie would go on to get nominated for the Academy Award for best visual effects, only to lose to Raiders of the Lost Ark – another 1981 title featuring the effect wizardry of ILM.

80s-o-meter: 82%

Total: 71%

#992 Things Change (1988)

I was very suspicious as I started watching as movies about mob seem to get some weird extra scoring from the viewers and critics alike I’ve never quite understood. But, Things Change isn’t a mob movie, but a movie about a modest and honest shoeshine man named Gino who agrees to take a blame for a murder in exchange for a fishing boat on which to spend his remaining years.

The movie also pulls a sleight of hand as the it at first seems like we’re heading to one of those mistaken identity comedies where tons of annoying mishaps take place. If you think the plot is going nowhere fast, hang on as it really becomes worth your while towards the end.

Things Change is intelligent, well crafted and unique piece of comedy that has a huge heart – without being the least sappy.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 92%

#991 Baby Boom (1987)

A successful New York executive receives an unexpected baby that turns their lives around and derives comedy through awkward situations with clumsy baby handling until they finally fall in love with the little one? Wait a minute. Is Baby Boom just a single mother version of the Three Men and a Baby?

That’s the way it very much looks like until the movie takes a somewhat different route and moves the show to a small rural town. It’s too bad that at the same time the movie gears towards a more traditional romantic comedy and all the clichés that go with the genre.

Baby Boom is harmless little comedy that raises a few interesting questions about women trying to make both the career and the family happen. I just wished it had the director had the courage to leave out the formulaic romantic comedy part that feels very much an unnecessary third wheel here.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 61%

#990 In Country (1989)

In Country is a drama about a young girl who lost his father in the Vietnam war before she was born and who now on the verge of adulthood is set out to know more about his father through reading his old letters and trying to discuss with his former brothers in arms. Problem is, nobody wants to tear open the old wounds.

The movie never grasped me and the themes In Country tries to convey of coming to age mixed with shadows of the war and healing are obvious, but delivered in a way that is supposed to be touching, but end up indifferent. The big promised revelations of the plot never actually materialise and the powerful ending just does not speak to me.

Bruce Willis does a likeable, but very Bruce Willis like performance as the uncle suffering with PTSD, but his performance alone is not a good reason enough to warrant watching through the movie.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 51%

#989 The Devil and Max Devlin (1981)

A lousy landlord gets a second chance for life after he dies and makes a pact with devil to return to earth to sign in three souls for the eternal damnation in a stuffy old movie called The Devil and Max Devlin, starring Elliott Gould and Bill Cosby.

The landlord goes on to do a little magic mumbo jumbo along the way to help the victims get what they want, but later quite expectedly learns to be less self-centred and not to exchange others’ souls for his freedom. It’s a movie hard to stomach on its own right, but watching the Cosby play the machinating devil feels almost morbid given his recent sentence.

The Devil and Max Devlin is an odd move from The Walt Disney Studios; a misfire with really no apparent target audience to recommend it to.

80s-o-meter: 68%

Total: 17%

#988 The Executioner’s Song (1982)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in The Executioner’s Song, a solid made for TV movie documenting the life and ultimate death of Gary Gilmore who was executed in 1977 upon his own request.

Unlike many other crime movies, The Executioner’s Song doesn’t go out to glamourise the killer or the criminal life style and handles its subject in a way that seems semi-documentary at times. Gilmore is pictured as a complex, short-tempered man who often resorts in violence and even in the passing moments of regret he still maintains his ominous, possessive and obsessive presence.

Tommy Lee Jones makes the best out of the role, easily outperforming the movie itself.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 64%

#987 Tex (1982)

Unbeknownst to the young Tex McCormick his life is at a turning point and it’s up to the confused small town teen to figure out what to make out of his family, school, relationship, and ultimately the rest of his life.

The drama presented in Tex is subtle and believable, and Tex himself is an easy point of reference to the viewer. It’s this subtle approach that makes the drama much more impactful: We’re tightroping with him knowing that any small wrong step he takes could easily snowball out of control, leading his future life off to an awfully bad start.

The movie admittedly takes its sweet time to get going by the time that the end credits roll the movie will have you fully involved in Tex’s life. Young Matt Dillon has the natural grasp for the acting and Tex joins Drugstore Cowboy and The Outsiders as his prolific movies to date.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 85%

#986 Hammett (1982)

Directed by Wim Wenders, Hammett is a crime / mystery movie done in the style of the old film noir movies. Rest assured, this is not a neo-noir take of the genre, but a homage that really goes out its way to recreate the look and feel of the old 40s and 50s movies – only in full colour this time around.

The die hard fans of film noir will probably find something like about this recreation, but personally I really wasn’t that sold on the concept, and would’ve appreciated some sort of evolutionary step to make the concept feel less of a rehash of the oldies.

Purely as a film noir movie Hammett fares quite well, and as the mystery starts to unravel, the movie isn’t a chore at all to watch. But I was to choose a movie for a rainy Sunday, my pick would be one of the original black and white movies.

80s-o-meter: 8%

Total: 57%

#985 The Aftermath aka Zombie Aftermath (1982)

This movie really shouldn’t even be here. Shot already in 1978, but released four years later, The Aftermath is a stale relic from the past that wouldn’t have been much of a movie in the seventies, let alone in 1982.

A group of astronauts return to earth only to find it destroyed with only hoards of zombie mutants and rogue criminals roaming around. Don’t let the VHS cover pictured here fool you as there’s nothing even remotely as cool looking to be found in the movie, and while some of the matte shots are passable, the zombies themselves are the poorest papier-mâché masked eyesore ever recorded on film.

I’m usually a sucker for post-nuclear dystopian films, but The Aftermath just offers very little to love.

80s-o-meter: 33%

Total: 16%

#984 Lean on Me (1989)

Lean on Me is a movie about making a difference in a one of those inner city high school plagued with low test scores, gangs and drugs, but with an aspect that manages to make it actually interesting: It’s based on actual, controversial methods used by the principal Joe Louis Clark in order to restore the order to the rogue school.

And those methods are harsh; students are thrown out of the school and the teachers suspended as Clark leaves no stone unturned to make sure the majority of the students will pass the minimum basic skills test by the end of the semester. This setup leaves a lot of food for thought for the viewer who may not appreciate the methods, but can’t help but admire the results.

Lean on Me is not devoid of uninspired moments of holding hands and singing together typical to the sub-genre, but luckily does not wander off to the that cringeworthy valley where the street wise students would go on to teach the principle to rap or breakdance. True to the real life events, the Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of the principle remains a high authority, but also a father figure that many of the kids have very much lacked.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 83%

#983 Hoosiers (1986)

A coach with a checkered past is enrolled in to work as small rural town’s new high school basketball coach in Hoosiers, a nostalgic take on an Indiana team making it to the state championships.

It’s probably due to some heavy cutting demanded by the studio that many of the events in the movie feel rushed; the teams’ way to the ultimate victory seems to happen overnight, with just a few games on their way there. Similarly the big love affair of the movie just kind of happens without a real buildup, and is not followed through afterwards.

If you know the drill with the sports movies, Hoosiers follows that very same path from being an underdog to the ultimate triumph. But what makes Hoosiers special is the way it stays so small, concentrating on a two horse town where even the adequate success of their undersized team is a matter a notch above life and death for the town folk, school boards, students and the parents alike. And does is all in a very sympathetic way.

80s-o-meter: 62%

Total: 71%

#982 The Long Riders (1980)

I’m usually not into westerns, but I found The Long Riders interesting and actually a pretty decent movie. It’s because it is in reality more of a biography that just happens to take place in wild west era rather than an actual western with all the tired clichés that go with the genre.

The movie documents the life of Jesse James and Cole Younger, and their outlaw gang that performed a number of robberies in Missouri and in the surrounding states. And it does so with just a little glamouring the criminal lifestyle and the imaginary code of honour that goes with it. The movie de-mythologizes the often told story and James, Younger and their brothers are depicted like they were, ranchers and farmers who had families and children, and who’d go do a robbery and later celebrate a successful heist in a bar enjoying whisky and prostitutes. Sure, the movie somewhat demonises the Pinkertons, but does it only to give some viewpoints why the general opinion and the books and movies might’ve been so sympathetic to the outlaw gang rather than taking the side of the detective agency.

One of the best known about aspects of the movie is how an actual sets of actor brothers are cast to portray the family members in the movie and as gimmicky as that sounds it actually works out beautifully and even without giving it any thought the connection between the brothers works on a deeper level than only the pictures can tell.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 85%

#981 Freeway (1988)

Remember when you used to cable surf around the channels and came upon a late night thriller that wasn’t that good but decent enough to stop the surfing and just gaze upon until you feel drowsy enough to go to the bed? Freeway is definitely one of these thrillers.

A demented priest is cruising around Californian freeways, blasting away passengers in other cars. If you’re familiar with the Last Action Hero, this is that very same movie Los Angeles where you can shoot other people, explode their cars and hang around to gloat without no other passers by nor the police showing around to make things more complicated for the killer. This is not actually a complaint as I very much love this other movie world, but more of a notification to set the mood so that you know what you’re dealing with here.

Freeway is an atmospheric, highly implausible, somewhat entertaining, totally forgettable late 80s thriller whose only real sin is the way that it somehow manages to get very little mileage out of its antagonist, played by Billy Drago, one of the most iconic movie villains of the era.

80s-o-meter: 89%

Total: 62%

#980 Hot to Trot (1988)

Bobcat Goldthwait from the Police Academy fame stars in Hot to Trot, a horrific train wreck of a comedy and a sad, sad attempt at both movie making and humour.

Often one of the zaniest and funnies of side characters, it soon becomes painfully apparent that Bobcat just doesn’t have the comedic chops to carry a feature film in a leading role. In his defence he alone is not to blame for this disaster as the both the the manuscript and the concept of a talking horse are simply idiotic.

The biggest crime here is how the movie completely manages to waste the comedic chops of Dabney Coleman, who’s usually sidesplitting in his typecast ruthless middle-aged business executive roles. John Candy’s time as the talking horse is equally wasted here, but let’s face it; he probably canned the dubbing on a lunch break while shooting some actual comedy somewhere.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 2%

#979 Stealing Home (1988)

Stealing Home takes place on two timelines: The present where a washed-up baseball player is put in charge of the cremated remains of Katie, his long lost childhood love, and the in flashbacks from the past when she was still alive and he very much in love with her.

Mark Harmon doesn’t quite cut it as the disheartened alcoholic as he manages to look clean cut even with a stub and a bottle of whisky in his hand. I do applaud the movie in the way it handles the romance, lost love and death as a drama without being your typical marketing team driven chick flick (sic). This uncalculating approach is probably the reason why it didn’t fare that well at the box office.

Jodie Foster is always a treat to watch on the silver screen, and Stealing Home makes no exception. Her effortless and natural depiction of Katie manages to put a lot of flesh on the bone of the multi-layered, mysterious character that is no more. And I’m sure many of us viewers have no problem sharing the crush Billy has on her.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 77%

#978 Carbon Copy (1981)

You read it in poster: The white dude loses his job, his house, his family, even his car. And to add insult to an injury he finds his long lost son who turns out to be an African American.

Except that the movie doesn’t really play out like that at all. Walter is actually a good guy who acknowledges his responsibility as the father, but is made job- and houseless by his wife and his boss who don’t care for having ethnic minorities around.

As good willing as Carbon Copy turns out to be, I really don’t know what its function is. Clearly, it’s somehow about the racism, but it doesn’t really address it in any meaningful way. The whole plot is idiotic and has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, no matter how hard the film makers try to explain out the situation.

I do have to admit that I didn’t hate the movie as much as it probably deserved, and it does wrap up kind of satisfyingly in the end. Carbon Copy also features strong, but a bit unrefined Denzel Washington in his very first feature film role.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 61%

#977 Kidco (1984)

As I aim to steer away from family movies directed solely for kids, I set out to watch Kidco wishing it’d had something worth watching for the adults as well.

Not the case as Kidco turned out to be one of those inane, utterly annoying kids’ movies that take the lowest common denominator route: Precocious know-it-all kids and babbling idiots as the adults who just don’t get the kids, it’s all here!

Kidco is probably one of those movies that you’d have to see it as a kid to be able to appreciated it afterwards. For the others, the mileage you’ll get here will likely be slim to none.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 24%