Sunday, January 7, 2018

1980 Week: A Glimpse at 1981—Part Two of Four

Continuing from yesterday’s post . . .
6. Escape from New York. On a personal note, John Carpenter’s sci-fi action/thriller is one of my favorite movies of all time, simply because of its attitude and style. I’ve watched it dozens of times, and it never gets old for me. The fuck-you swagger of Kurt Russell’s performance as soldier-turned-thief-turned-convict-turned-savior Snake Plissken. The ethereal waves of Carpenter’s and Alan Howarth’s synth-driven score. The inspired notion of a future Manhattan transformed into a maximum-security prison—trust me, if you visited New York City around 1980, that didn’t seem like a stretch. The wild supporting cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef. The larky plot about Air Force One crashing in New York and prisoners taking the president hostage. If you’ve got any criticisms about Escape from New York, they may be legit, but I don’t want to hear ’em.
7. The Final Conflict. Subsequently rechristened Omen III: The Final Conflict to cement is association with the ’70s movies about a youthful antichrist, this franchise-killer jumps ahead in time to imagine Damien Thorne as an adult poised for the presidency. Featuring scenes that border on the ridiculous, such as Damien delivering a monologue to the statue of Christ he keeps in his attic, the big-budget shocker also includes several memorably gruesome death scenes. One involves a very messy suicide, and another involves an iron—the kind one uses to press clothes—making contact with a victim’s face. Even babies get butchered in The Final Conflict, and there’s a trope of kinky sex just for good measure. Although leading man Sam Neill is good as a charismatic devil, the movie falters by taking itself seriously. Still, it’s memorably extreme.
8. For Your Eyes Only. James Bond enters the ’80s with what should have been a return to form after the sci-fi silliness of 1979’s Moonraker, but the combination of a rapidly aging leading man (Roger Moore) and a turgid storyline make for one of 007’s least interesting adventures. As for the leading ladies, exquisitely beautiful Frenchwoman Carole Bouquet is better seen than heard in this film, while crass American Lynn Holly Johnson is better neither seen nor heard. Only the first 10 minutes, featuring a great stunt sequence and the sole onscreen performance of a 007 theme song during the opening credits—hey there, breathtaking Scottish thrush Sheena Easton!—have license to thrill.
9. Heavy Metal. Launched in 1977, Heavy Metal was a stoner mag with a twist, featuring adult-oriented fantasy/sci-fi stories in comic-book form. Ironically, the movie based upon the magazine is as much a corporate product as it is a counterculture artifact. Produced by Ivan Reitman, the animated movie features several trippy short films, some comedic and some dramatic, in tandem with a barrage of rock songs. Therefore, even as the bizarre onscreen content reflects druggy excess and nerdy wet dreams (cartoon nude scenes?!!), tunes by Cheap Trick, Sammy Hagar, Stevie Nicks and others blast through the speakers in order to sell copies of the soundtrack album. That’s the sad story of the ’70s giving way to the ’80s—the revolution will be monetized.
10. History of the World, Part I. “It’s good to be the king.” “Virgins, put on your ‘no entry’ signs!” “I give you these 15 . . . 10 Commandments!” So many gags in Mel Brooks’ anthology comedy about various historical periods connect that it’s easy to forget the movie is wildly uneven. Eschewing the straight-through narratives of his previous spoofs, Brooks opts for sketches, and he suffers for the lack of an emotional hook. Still, some of Brooks’ best actors are here (Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman) and dancer-turned-actor Gregory Hines—also wonderful in the 1981 lycanthropy flick Wolfen—is effortlessly charming. History of the World Part I contains many of Brooks’ lamest jokes, as evidenced by a predilection for cheap scatological one-liners, but it also contains one of his most sublime sequences: “The Inquisition, what a show!”
11-12. Neighbors & Stripes. One of these movies is justifiably forgotten, and the other is justifiably beloved. What they share is a link to Saturday Night Live, and a passing of the torch from the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players to their generations of successors. Neighbors was John Belushi’s last—and worst—movie, inexplicably casting the heavyset wild man as a straight-laced suburbanite and his regular screen partner, Dan Aykroyd, in a zany role more suited to Belushi’s talents. The story imagines a middle-class nightmare, with a lunatic taking residence next door to an everyman, and virtually nothing in the movie works. Conversely, even the dumbest stuff in Stripes plays like gangbusters, which is why the movie helped transform second-wave SNL cast member Bill Murray into a movie star. Playing a sarcastic slacker who joins the military, Murray leads a comedic charge alongside John Candy, Warren Oates, and Harold Ramis. Non sequitur gags—such as suggesting that an ice-cream scoop can be used as a sex toy—explain why Murray was, is, and always will be the quintessential postmodern smartass.
13. One from the Heart. The rollercoaster that is Francis Ford Coppola’s career went off the tracks with this extravagant flop, which has its admirers despite being laughably pretentious. An overwrought musical about dreamy losers, the picture stars Frederick Forrest, Teri Garr, and a luminous Nastassja Kinski, although the real main attraction is the visual wizardry that Coppola conjures with cinematographers Ronald Victor Garcia and Vittorio Storaro. Shooting entirely on soundstages—and directing by remote from his video-wired trailer, dubbed the “Silverfish”—Coppola revels in elaborate lighting, sweeping camera moves, and tunes croaked by eccentric balladeer Tom Waits. The epitome of misguided directorial excess, it’s a tiny movie made on a gigantic scale. Like another needlessly downbeat and ornate musical, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977), One from the Heart helped staunch the largesse afforded New Hollywood auteurs.
14. Polyester. After spending the ’70s exploring the outer reaches of bad taste in a series of X-rated comedies with gleefully disgusting content, Baltimore indie filmmaker John Waters began his slow creep toward the mainstream with this comparatively restrained satire of suburban values. Yet he hadn’t totally lost his edge, because Polyester stars Waters’ favorite leading actor—300-pound drag queen Divine—and the picture was released in “Odoroama,” meaning viewers were given scratch-and-sniff cards matching cue numbers that appeared onscreen. Even if he’d moved beyond actually showing excrement onscreen, Waters contented himself by making theatergoers inhale fabricated flatulence.
15. Raiders of the Lost Ark. When this project was announced, the notion of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teaming up to make an action-adventure movie was like hearing about the formation of a rock-music supergroup. Expectations were huge, so the risk of disappointing fans was even bigger. Amazingly, the filmmakers gene-spliced old archetypes to create an instantly iconic character, swashbuckling archaeologist Indiana Jones, and with the help of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, they conjured one of the most entertaining films ever made. From its breathtaking action sequences to its warm comedy, Raiders is pure cinematic pleasure. Additionally, the picture gave Harrison Ford his ideal role, putting the roguish charm he brought to Star Wars (1977) front and center. Best of all, Raiders feels totally genuine because it’s powered by boyish enthusiasm.
“A Glimpse at 1981” continues tomorrow . . .


cosmo kidd said...

actually I'd like a full-fledged "Every '80s Movie" blog, now that you're probably running out of 70s movies.

pete doree said...

I concur, and also agree totally about Escape From New York, the best comic book movie ever not actually based on a comic book.

top_cat_james said...

It's worth mentioning that Heavy Metal was at the forefront of the "second wave" of animated features designed for teen/adult audiences, in the wake of the success of Fritz the Cat almost ten years prior. The trend lasted a few years with such offerings as American Pop, Hey Good Lookin', Twice Upon a Time, Fire & Ice, Plague Dogs, and Rock & Rule before eventually petering out. It took Who Framed Roger Rabbit toward the decade's end to usher in a "third wave" of sorts.

Unknown said...

I rewatched Neighbors recently and it was weak. You want it to be good and it just isn't. And Bill Conti's goofy score made everything that much worse.