Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Written by Lawrence Kasdan Directed by Steven Spielberg
It’s interesting watching these movies and seeing them juxtaposed, realizing the gap in quality between what Disney was putting out in 1981 and Paramount in the same year. Raider of the Lost Ark came on June 12, putting it up against Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part 1 and Clash of the Titans. Both of these are delightful films but compared to Raiders, I just don’t think they can hold a candle. The script here is tightly written with some of the best set pieces in an adventure-action movie to date. However, as I have revisited films during my flashback series, sometimes I discover a beloved classic has many more flaws than I remembered, and that can reshape how I feel about the movie.
The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) Written by Mary Rodgers Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
This Disney film began life in 1973 as a concept developed at Hammer Films. It was going to be called The Fairytale Prince and star Vincent Price as a dead actor who collects children’s souls for The Devil. Now that would have been a movie. Instead, we got this uneven, poorly written & directed embarrassment. By the 1980s, Disney was not in a good spot. Changes in leadership since the death of Walt led to a company that seemed to lack a clear identity. They produced live-action movies like Escape From Witch Mountain or Freaky Friday, which performed poorly at the box office. Their animated fare (The Rescuers, The Fox and The Hound) weren’t doing too well either. But even those look good compared to this one.
Time Bandits (1981) Written by Terry Gilliam & Michael Palin Directed by Terry Gilliam
Over the last 20 odd years, I’ve held varying opinions on the work of Terry Gilliam and Monty Python. I can’t say I was ever a superfan of either, but I certainly have enjoyed pieces of their work. For a long time, I counted Brazil as one of my favorite films ever. The more I rewatched it, the more I cooled on that opinion, and I still regard it as one of the best movies to come out in the 1980s. I think the problem I have with Gilliam is the inconsistency of his work, especially within a single film. There will be moments of sheer brilliance followed by sloppy, amateurish content. I always feel like I am on the precipice of greatness watching his pictures, only to walk away with the sense that some vital component was missing. I first saw Time Bandits on television when I was a child, and it left an impression on me to the point that specific images were seared onto my brain after a single viewing. Revisiting the movie, I found it once again had great ideas but poor execution.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981) Written by Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl, and Jack Rose Directed by Jim Henson
By 1981, the Muppets were a scorchingly hot media franchise. Puppeteer Jim Henson had been growing a collective of fellow puppet enthusiasts since the 1950s. In the late 1960s, he was a major creative force in developing Sesame Street. Throughout the 1970s, Henson pitched the Muppets with a series of television specials. American networks weren’t interested in developing the concept into a television series; however, a British producer was. The Muppet Show debuted in 1978 on ITV and was later aired in first-run syndication on CBS. This led to the Muppet Movie in 1979, and it was clear a sequel would be in the works. Jim Henson had great ambition not just for these characters but the art form of puppetry.
Crisis On Infinite Earths Part 1 (of 9) Reviewing stories found in DC Comics Presents #78, Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, All-Star Squadron #50-52, Fury of Firestorm #41, Infinity Inc. #18, and Green Lantern #194 Written by Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Dann Thomas, and Steve Englehart Art by Curt Swan, George Perez, Mike Clark, Arvell Jones, Rafael Kayanan, Todd McFarlane, and Joe Staton
Worlds lived. Worlds died. And nothing was ever the same again. It began with The Flash #123 (Sept. 1961) when Barry Allen discovered another Earth vibrating at a slightly different frequency than his own. This was labeled Earth-2, and here he met Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Garrick had become the Flash in the 1940s; historically, he was the first to bear the name. However, Garrick was a fictional comic book character in Allen’s world, the character he took his name from. This team-up would lead to an annual event in the pages of Justice League of America where the team would cross worlds and help out their allies in the Justice Society combatting their mutual villains.
June is set to be a busy month for us. We’re waiting for the announcement from the European Union on Americans entering the region so we can arrange a move date (likely in July). This month I turn 40, which means I have some special blog series coming. Starting tomorrow, I will be doing a Flashback to 1981, rewatching and reviewing movies that came out the year of my birth. Starting on the 21st, my birthday, I will be doing a four-part “My 40 Favorite Movies” series. This was pretty difficult because my first draft of the list had over 200 films on it, so I had to spend May paring that down to the top 40.
This last month saw us take a look at many science fiction classics but there are so many I’d previously reviewed and wanted to highlight them here. Below are excerpts from my reviews with links the full write-up. Much like the Horror Masterworks series, I have more films on the list for Science Fiction in a future second series.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
From my review: It’s an understatement to point out what a technical achievement 2001 represents. Even today, almost every special effect and model stands up. This is a gorgeous piece of cinema that makes sure to communicate the scale and scope of man, his constructions, and the celestial bodies. Kubrick also understands the connection between outer space and our perception of the divine. The planets and moons are presented in a quasi-religious fashion with a soundtrack of meticulously chosen classical pieces that convey that awe. My particular favorite is Gayane’s Adagio by Aram Khachaturian used when the audience first sees Discovery One. I absolutely love the lonely lamenting tone of the piece, matching the distance Bowman & Poole are from their homeworld, adrift in the quiet darkness of space.
Hemingway (2021) Directed by Ken Burns & Lynne Novick
In college, I was assigned some Hemingway to read for the first time. If I remember correctly, the first piece I read was “Soldier’s Home” and then “Hills Like White Elephants.” It was explained to me by an English professor that one divided among academics & students was Hemingway vs. Faulkner. I always felt a greater affinity to Hemingway. I can’t say I read much beyond his short stories or knew much about him as a person. There was a consistent viewpoint that he was a misogynist, but I found his stories haunting & heart-aching. Two decades later, I watched this documentary and learned how complex he truly was.
This episode it’s a conversation about Top 5 Movies from Our Childhoods with Ariana. She goes with movies that awakened her bisexuality I go with films that inspired me to love the medium. We follow that up with a review of Clifford (1990) and a conversation about the late Charles Grodin and his films.
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