Archive

1980s

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Written by Dale Launer and Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning
Directed by Frank Oz

dirty-rotten-scoundrels-di

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) has a good thing going. He lives in a beautiful mansion in Beaumont Sur Mer, on the French Riviera. He makes his money bilking foolish wealthy American women by convincing them he is exiled royalty from a fictional Eastern European country. Everything starts to fall apart when Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) comes to town. Freddy is a rude, loud, obnoxious con man who thinks he’s impressive getting a woman to buy him a dinner. Lawrence and Freddy face off to determine who is the better criminal and end up crossing paths with Janet Colgate, an unassuming American beauty (Glenne Headly).

Read More

The Revisit is a place for me to rewatch films I love but haven’t seen in years or films that didn’t click with me the first time. Through The Revisit, I reevaluate these movies and compare my original thoughts on them to how they feel in this more recent viewing.

Supergirl (1984)
Written by David Odell
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Helen-Slator_Supergirl

Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) lives in Argo City, a hidden haven for Kryptonians…under water…in another dimension? Um, okay. Well, she has a friend in the elderly artist Zoltar (Peter O’Toole) who has…stolen the city’s energy source? It’s called the Omegahedron, and he’s using it to make…art? Kara is playing around with, screws up and it goes hurtling out across space and time. As everyone panics at their impending doom with the Omegahedron missing, Kara launches herself out across a 2001-style psychedelic space tableau. Arriving on Earth, she mimics her famous cousin’s fashion style to become Supergirl and seek out the MacGuffin that can save her people.

Read More

popcult_twinpeaksmonth

The Elephant Man (1980, dir. David Lynch)

The-Elephant-Man-Movie-Still-the-elephant-man-11130936-800-362

Simply put, The Elephant Man is one the greatest films ever made. This is the last of David Lynch’s feature film work had to watch, something I’d put off for years because I didn’t want to run out of his work that could be new to me. But, with the impending return of Twin Peaks, I decided now was the time to complete his filmography. I can’t imagine picking a better film that both contrasts with so much of work, yet compliments it.

Read More

popcult_twinpeaksmonth

Quest for Fire (1981, dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud)

MSDQUFO EC007

Set approximately 80,000 years ago in the Paleolithic Era, Quest for Fire tells the story of the Ulam Tribe, early Homo Sapiens who struggle to master control of fire and improve their lives. Their camp is invaded by more primitive ape-like Wagabu and the Ulam’s flame is extinguished. Naoh (Everett McGill) is charged with finding fire somewhere in the world and bringing it back home. He’s accompanied by Amoukar (Ron Perlman wearing disturbingly little makeup to play primitive man) and Gaw (Nameer Al-Kadi). They cross treacherous mountains, confront ferocious saber-toothed tigers, combat the cannibalistic Kzamm tribe, and eventually encounter a group of humans who are progressing towards an advanced future.

Read More

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper)

tcm2

It’s been thirteen years since the events of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and stories still surface from time to time of bizarre killings and bodies found on the side of the road in pieces. The local police don’t seem to take the sensationalized version of this stories seriously though Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) believes. His niece and nephew were two of the young people slaughtered back in 1973, and he is on the hunt for the people who did it. Lefty’s path crosses with radio DJ Stretch who has a recording of a killing that occurred during a call-in on her show. This recording leads them into a direct confrontation with the Sawyer family in their new home, the amusement park Texas Battle Land.

Director Tobe Hooper was reportedly unhappy with how grim, and serious audiences took the original film when he personally saw a lot of dark humor woven throughout. This sequel was his reaction to that, and it most definitely shows. TCM2 is most definitely a horror-comedy, and I personally think it is a great one. When it comes to horror, I’m not a big fan of the slasher/gore sub-genre. So many times it just feels like an excuse to showcase a large number of special effects that, while impressive, don’t really scare me. And I feel the best horror is the kind that gets under your skin and leaves you unnerved. Hooper’s original plan was to make the sequel about an entire Texas small town full of cannibals running riot, but the producers opted for something a little smaller and readily achievable. That isn’t to say TCM2 is a subtle film, it is over the top crazy, particularly with Dennis Hopper’s character.

Hopper plays Lefty as a completely unhinged religious zealot, unhinged being something Hopper was great at. Early in the film he goes to purchase a chainsaw for his coming confrontation with the Sawyers and ends up getting one large saw, plus two smaller ones so he can duel wield. He tests them out on a log designed for this purpose outside the store. The scene reminded me of the weirder moments in Cabin Fever where you have no idea why characters are doing or saying what they are in this scene. It’s both funny and really effectively creepy. This is just one instance of how heightened all the characters are across the picture. Stretch is overly spunky, and her transformation that leads up to the ending is both hilarious and terrifying.

The Sawyer Family is played in a fascinating way, particularly in how Hooper undercuts a lot of their menace in the latter half of the film. Leatherface and The Cook are present in the first act but in the background. It’s not until the new addition to the family Chop Top’s arrival at the radio station one night that our protagonists are met with their enemies. Bill Moseley’s portrayal of Chop Top continues the scary and funny dynamic Hooper is attempting. The character is implied to be a Vietnam vet turned washed up hippie with a metal plate in his head courtesy of the Viet Cong. He wears a wig when he first appears and habitually lights the hook of a wire hanger and scratches the scabbed skin around the plate. If that wasn’t bad enough, he picks the skin off the hook and nibbles on it. The grotesque is heightened to that level of cartoon absurdity, and I think this was a better choice than the way the Michael Bay reboot franchise has gone completely grimdark.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not a film that is ever going to appeal to a mass audience. It’s way too gross for most moviegoers and way too silly for hardcore horror fans. It is definitely the work of its director and screenwriter, L.M. Kit Carson’s views on Texas and America in the 1980s. Instead of a quiet farmhouse, the Sawyer’s inhabit a grossly elaborate bone covered compound beneath the earth. Seeing the film, not as a pure horror experience, but a personal comment on a particular ideology of the time adds a lot to understanding what the filmmakers are doing and why they went in such a strange direction.

Come and See (1985, dir. Elem Klimov)

come-and-see-child

As we get older, we’re told our views on life will change. That is a somewhat accurate assessment I’ve found. However, as I was told by older people I would become more conservative in my thinking as I aged, I discovered the opposite to be true, at least in the sense they implied. One thing I have become very conservative about is the act of war, conservative in the sense I abhor it. I find people who have a war hawkishness about them to be very liberal about the deployment of soldiers and the dropping of bombs. I am thankful that I have never had to personally experience war and have great sympathy for those who have taken lives and had lives taken from them. I cannot fathom the trauma a person carries with them in the wake of that experience. Come and See is possibly the best war film ever made in my opinion because it is directly about that trauma.

Read More

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, dir. Stephen Frears)

laundrette8_original

Omar Ali (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Londoner adrift. He’s dropped out of school and spends his time caring for his father Hussein, bed-ridden and increasingly inclined to drink since the suicide of his wife the previous year. Hussein realizes his son needs to expand his horizons, so he sends Omar to Uncle Nasser who sets him to work washing cars in a parking garage before handing over his failing laundrette. Omar envisions this facility becoming a place the reinvigorates the neighborhood and beginning his fortune. Through circumstance, he reunites with Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), an old schoolmate who got caught up in the right-wing nationalist movement. Johnny breaks away from his mates but struggles. He and Omar have romantic feelings for each other but exist in two very different communities in their city.

Laundrette is a film very much of its time. Within minutes, the hardships brought by Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister are felt. London is run down, slum lords rule the roost, and anyone who can’t find a job is tossed out on their ass. The Pakistani community is not feeling the purse strings tighten as much and are seeking out fairly non-glamorous avenues to keep the money rolling in. Omar’s father is a socialist and journalist, two things that stand in contrast to the other highlighted members of his community’s ideals. While Hussein rails against Thatcher to Omar, Nasser talks with delight about how he has benefitted from her policies. Many Pakistani characters admit they feel torn between two homes, but Nasser bluntly states that as Pakistan became increasingly theocratic, it was obvious that people like him who enjoyed Western values had to leave.

However, these ideas are never really explored in depth. This is because Laundrette is a film so stuffed with ideas and wanting to say so much about them it never gets the opportunity to say much about anything. It intends to be a slightly light slice of life type film, but also a commentary on contemporary politics, but also a love story, but also a movie about Anglo-Pakistani identity. I kept thinking the picture had all the potential to be a fantastic mini-series, a Pakistani Shameless, about communities in the poor neighborhood in conflict. The romance between Omar and Johnny is meant to be the core of the film based on promotions but I felt it was secondary to the exploration of racial identity in Thatcher’s England.

When the film comes up in conversation, it is often to highlight the breakout performance of Daniel Day Lewis. I found him to be a little dull and nothing spectacular. He wasn’t terrible, the film just didn’t have the time to develop his character to become anything interesting. Omar, the protagonist of the movie, is more interesting but I never felt the deep struggle between his love for Johnny and his community in the way I believe Frears intended. The romance is never something the characters suddenly begin confronting their family about. It’s left a little ambiguous as to where they go from here. The third act shows that life isn’t going to run smoothly for the couple. When the film ends the story doesn’t. You can feel that life will continue for these people and it won’t go smoothly. But in times of government austerity life is a struggle that only those we love can help us through.