Archive for ‘1980s’

July 18, 2012

Maniac Cop (1988 – Blu-Ray)

“You always take a leak with a gun in your hand? That’s a good way to blow your balls off!”

I wanted to see 1988’s ‘Maniac Cop’ since it featured on the back-page ads of Judge Dredd The Megazine back when I was a kid. The impact of the title, the cracking tagline “You have the right to remain silent… forever!” and the totally trashy, garish and scary looking poster had my young mind excited by a film that my parents would never possibly allow me to see.  I was hoping for one of those “It’s soooo bad it’s good” experiences. For the most part it was… but a few elements like the hideously clunky wedges of exposition were just genuinely bad (It’s a fine line folks). Of course the casting of B-movie maestro Bruce Campbell gives it instant trash glamour but the woefully miscast Laurene Landon as his pneumatic love interest is simply awful. However the towering presence ofthe 6’2″ Robert ‘The Chin’ Z’Dar as the title character brings real power.

The thrilling action car-chase climax is the sort of thing they sadly don’t make anymore. The modern movie producers’ reasoning seems go thusly: Why spend pence on crashing real cars together in a thrilling, exploding, clash of metal when you can spend millions on a high concept fake-looking CGI showdown?  Sadly Arrow Videos presentation of ‘Maniac Cop’ is the sanitised UK theatre cut instead of the full blooded US X-rated version. However Arrow’s restoration of the print is lovely and overall ‘Maniac Cop’ is a schlocky blast.

May 27, 2012

Outland (1981 – DVD)

“If you’re looking for sterling character you’re in the wrong place”

A week ahead of the exciting release of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ prequel ‘Prometheus’ I cast around for a similar slice of sci-fi to slake my impatient thirst.  I found the perfect film in Peter Hyams’ ‘Outland’ which was greenlit and released in the wake of ‘Alien’ (To which it owes a stylistic debt), it was also filmed in the UK, it also featured a chilly score by Jerry Goldsmith, it also was about a crew of space miners, it also had a novelisation by Alan Dean Foster and it was also produced by The Ladd Company… who would next be involved with Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.  All those things combined with the whole gothic horror feel of the movie leaves you with the fun idea that it could easily exist in the same imagined universe as ‘Alien’.

Sean Connery plays a newly appointed Marshal in a corrupt mining town on the moon of Io.  Something is causing the miners to commit suicide but finding out who knows about it and how high up the corruption goes could cost him everything.  The tone lurches from melancholia to violent action with superb performances from all.  The compositing effects show their age a little but nothing too distracting.  I had fun spotting the familiar faces from 1980s/1990s UK sitcoms and dramas although it does feature a strong performance from American Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon from The Wire).  I felt that the admittedly action packed climax was a slight let down to the creeping tension that had built up during the rest of the movie but ‘Outland’ is still a fine piece of 80s Sci-Fi.

May 13, 2012

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension (1984 – DVD)

“He’ll come, I know his type. Take her to the pit. Go Bigbooté! Use more honey, find out what she knows”

I was only three when Director W. D. Richter’s ‘The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension’ came out so I was totally unaware of this box-office disaster and cult sci-fi treat until this week. The (Intentionally) crazy plot was probably why it bombed but it’s also what intrigued me. I’ll have a go at explaining it; Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a half American/half Japanese world-famous Neurosurgeon, who is also a dashing test pilot, martial arts expert, fashion icon, comic book character, government agent, inventor and Rock star who fronts a band called ‘Buckaroo Banzai & The Hong Kong Cavaliers’ (Who are also his gun-toting super crew).

Buckaroo and a cast of wacky characters become entangled in a plot by some evil aliens called Red Lectroids (Who are all called John!) who arrived on earth at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey in 1938 as documented in Orson Welles apparently factual ‘War Of The Worlds’ broadcast. To put it simply, this madcap 80’s adventure is like the three-way bastard child of ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Buck Rogers’ and of course ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ (Which W. D. Richter co-wrote).  The cast and crew obviously had a blast making this film and had their tongues firmly in cheek, so if you are prepared to go along with the ‘Weirder the better’ attitude  you’ll have a blast too.

In a side note, I observed that Matt Smith’s costume for Dr Who strikes a noticeable resemblance to Dr Banzai’s wardrobe. My two favourite bits of this movie  are firstly when the heroine tries to shoot herself when Buckaroo sings a ballad for her and secondly when Jeff Goldblum’s character pauses mid-suspenseful-chase to ask “Why is there a watermelon there?” and gets the weary reply “I’ll tell you later!”.  Sadly due to the film losing six million of its studio’s money, a sequel trailed in the end credits called ‘Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League’ was never made.

May 6, 2012

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (1984 – Blu-Ray)

“I got a girlfriend that’s better than this, but you don’t remember at all, as we get older and stop making sense, you won’t find her waiting long”

I’ve read a quote describing 1984’s ‘Stop Making Sense’ as “The Citizen Kane of the concert movies”.  Indeed Talking Heads front man David Byrne and Academy Award winning Director Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence Of The Lambs’) conceived the film as no mere live document but a unique artistic statement.  BAFTA award-winning Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (‘Blade Runner’), acclaimed Graphic Designer Pablo Ferro (‘Dr. Strangelove’) and several members of Parliament-Funkadelic round out the impressive artistic rostra.

Some of the teams ideas included painting most of the equipment matt-black so it wouldn’t stand out on camera, only using white light, using muted tones for the ‘costumes’ so as not to distract from the action, shooting each song in a different style, using almost no audience shots and most striking of all, building the setup as the concert goes on.  So the movie opens with Byrne walking out all on his own with a guitar and a boom-box, onto a completely empty stage to perform ‘Psycho Killer’.  Then song by song, the road crew role out a new piece of equipment and one more member of the band arrives, until your watching a nine piece Punk-Funk supergroup, backed by huge projection screens.  The energy on display gets more frenetic as each song goes by, featuring the whole band jogging on the spot and Byrne doing laps of the stage and dancing with a lamp.  It all reaches a crescendo with a 12 minute double whammy of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ and the Talking Head’s classic ‘Crosseyed & Painless’.

This Blu-Ray transfer is a great improvement on my DVD with detail so sharp that you can see every bead of sweat flying through the air.  The extras are beefed up too with bonus songs, storyboards and interviews (See below).  The audio is also fantastic, featuring two different DTS-HD Master 5.1 mixes and a fascinating commentary to choose from.  This release seriously challenges ‘Queen Rock Montreal’ as the best music Blu-Ray I own.

You can watch a low quality video of the concert via YouTube here:

Check out this ‘David Byrne interviewing David Byrne’ clip featured on the Bu-Ray:

April 27, 2012

The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985 – DVD)

“I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything”

As soon as I read about the plot of Woody Allen’s 1985 film ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ I had to see it.  The story is set in the depression and follows an absent-minded waitress called Cecilia (Mia Farrow) who spends the little money her boorish husband doesn’t waste on booze and dice, on going to the movies.  Her local cinema shows a film a week and this week it’s called ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’, a film-within-a-film featuring an archaeologist character called Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels).  As her grim real life falls apart she retreats into the world of the film, viewing it every night after work, until one evening Tom Baxter literally steps out of the screen and takes her out on the town.

Interestingly Woody Allen treats this incident as no mere flight of fantasy but as a freak real life occurrence.  So we get to see what farcical things would happen if a movie character really did come to life, leading to some hilarious scenes.  Allen and his two stars play the tender romance to perfection bringing to mind the captivating magic of films like ‘Life Is Beautiful’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.  If you played ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ alongside ‘Nuevo Cinema Paradiso’, you’d have powerful double bill about the transporting power of cinema.

Here’s a brief clip of Jeff Daniels talking about the film at the BFI:

April 11, 2012

Chariots Of Fire (1981 – DVD)

“I’ve known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win”

Released in cinemas a month before I was born, I’ve never actually seen Hugh Hudson’s famous film ‘Chariots Of Fire’. In a perhaps ill-judged move I gave up my long wait for it to be restored on Blu-Ray a mere two months before a promised London-2012-Olympics cash-in Blu-Ray edition arrives.  I’m glad I watched this magnificent film but I’m sad I didn’t wait for the new version as the DVD transfer I’ve just watched was frankly awful!

The film is about the many athletic triumphs that Britain had at the 1924 Paris Olympics immediately following The Great War.  The first thing that hits you is the power and celestial beauty of Vangelis’ heart pumping synthesiser score.  This is fully matched by the soaring poetry of the screenplay, talking as much about faith in God and belief in one’s self as it does about running.  Colin Welland’s script focus on the twin struggles of Christian Scotsman Eric Liddell and Jewish Englishman Harold Abrahams in the leadup to the games.  The genius of his script has these two men neck and neck for your affections right up ’til the end.  But at that end, for these two runners, it becomes less about beating the other and more about reaching the high ideals by which they hold themselves.

As the credits roll ‘Chariots Of Fire’ does have you swelling with patriotic pride as the words of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ flow from the soundtrack “Bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, o clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire” (Billy Bragg has it so right, ‘Jerusalem’ should be our national anthem!).  Roll on the Blu-Ray!

April 8, 2012

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986 – Blu-Ray)

“For man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death”

After renting the first ‘Karate Kid’ Blu-Ray from LoveFilm and finding it every bit as great as I remembered I thought I’d go for the sequel. However it wasn’t quite the same faultless experience. The original had the benefit of a very simple story “Bullied boy is taught karate by surrogate father figure” where as this sequel’s plot is a little harder to pin down.  Daniel (The titular Karate Kid) is essentially sidelined as we follow Mr Miyagi back to his home village in Okinawa where he must face an old enemy, fall in love with an old flame, save the village and if he’s got time teach Daniel some new moves by shaking a rattle.  Daniel must also face an enemy, fall in love and help save the village but these struggles just feel tacked on by the script writers to give him something to do while they tell the much more powerful story of Mr Miyagi.

All those problems stem from the script but the film still boasts the same two magical performances that made the first film work and it’s a delight to have more screen time for the late great Pat Morita.  The young Ralph Macchio as Daniel is once again a luminously charismatic screen presence demonstrating the acting chops he first showed in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Outsiders’.  The filmmakers pains to accurately show the ancient rituals of Japanese culture are wonderful, particularly when filming the tender and sensual beauty of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  I’ll have to give part 3 a go next to complete my trilogy experience.

March 24, 2012

The Long Good Friday (1980 – Blu-Ray)

“You’d have noticed wouldn’t you? I mean, a geezer nailed to the floor.  A man of your education would definitely have spotted that wouldn’t he?”

I was perusing the BFI official list of the top 100 British films and realised I’d only seen about half.  So I’ve decided to make an effort to view them all and 1980’s ‘The Long Good Friday’ is one that I’m new to.  What you expect to get is a gritty “Laaarndan” set Gangster flick but I wasn’t expecting the prescient political dimensions of the story.  The film follows the turbulent day of Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) an old-school Gang land boss whose empire is under attack just as he is trying to setup a lucrative property deal with a the US mob. Harry’s idea is to redevelop the London Docklands for a future Olympic games (Sound familiar people of 2012?!?), an idea that has the coming decades’ ‘Thatcherism’ written all over it.  Hoskins gives a bravura performance radiating pent-up anger that only fully spills out in a shocking scene towards the end.  Harry’s two closest confidants are Helen Mirren’s intelligent Gangster’s-Moll and his number two played by Derek Thompson of ‘Charlie from Casualty’ fame (Back when his acting consisted of much more than staring off into the distance!).  Someone has betrayed Harry, could it being either of them?

Francis Monkman’s pulsating Synthesiser score is magnificent bringing to mind Giorgio Moroder’s score for ‘Scarface’.  Considering that celebrated film’s similar subject matter the fact that it came 3 years after ‘The Long Good Friday’ shows the influence this film had.  The Blu-Ray transfer is wonderful combining a pinstripe-suit like sharpness while preserving the earthy realism of the cinematography.  The disc is also stuffed with superb extras about the making of the film.

Harry’s final angry speech to his timid American cousins seals the film’s classic British status by being both fiercely patriotic and a little bit laughable (See below):

March 24, 2012

Ran (1985 – Blu-Ray)

“Don’t cry, its how the world is made. Men prefer sorrow over joy, suffering over peace”

I’ve been meaning to see Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 film ‘Ran’ for some time, in fact since I saw his previous film 1980’s ‘Kagemusha’ a good few years ago.  They are very much companion pieces, both are epic tales of political intrigues and bloody wars between feuding Daimyo and their Samurai retainers during Japan’s Edo period.  Also they both boast the brooding screen presence of Tatsuya Nakadai in the lead roles, who I’ve recently seen starring in Eureka! Film’s eye-popping restoration of  Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 Chanbara film ‘Harakiri’ (If you haven’t already, go get a copy so you can see what Blu-Ray is truly capable of!).  The title ‘Ran’ roughly translates as ‘Turmoil’ or ‘Chaos’ (Both political and mental), as it chronicles how a great clan is torn apart when it’s aging patriarch Hidetora relinqishes his command to his three sons.  Two of his sons scheme and betray him while he banishes his third and only loyal son, a series of events that lead him to madness.  This is of course inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ just as Kurosawa’s 1957 film ‘Throne Of Blood’ had been inspired by Macbeth.

The Blu-Ray transfer is nice but not as striking as I imagine it could be, lacking detail and clarity, but this is made up for by a wealth of extras.   Including  Documentaries about Kurosawa and a featurette about Samurai including a reverential demonstration of a Katana being forged.  The greatest aspect of ‘Ran’ is the cinematography and design with the three warring factions armours rendered in the three primary colours.  This use of colour is used to stunning effect in the first battle scene as nearly all the colour is drained from the faces of the Samurai making them look like cadaverous walking dead  This then magnifies the garish red rivers of blood staining the battlefield which is made even more harrowing by Kurosawa’s choice to play it silent save for Tōru Takemitsu haunting score.  Mieko Harada steals the show as the deadly Lady Kaede who’s ruthless quest for vengeance drives the film.  Of all the Kurosawa films I’ve seen so far (And I’ve only seen about third of his filmography) ‘Ran’ is his masterpiece, which the great Director himself described as “A series of human events viewed from heaven”.

February 29, 2012

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988 – DVD)

Whatever you end up doing, love it… the way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt”

Somehow I just managed to pick up ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’ in a super-deluxe four-disc boxset featuring two cuts of the film, an extras stuffed bonus disc and even the soundtrack… for £4!  I elected to view the 174 Minute director’s cut of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 film. It’s a movie about growing up, growing old, love, death, community and of course the joy of cinema itself.  The movie feels down-to-earth and honest but also filled with magical moments like only celluloid can capture.  It reminded me most of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon A Time In America’, although this is a much warmer film, it does share a similar flashback time structure. Like that film, the score is by the master Ennio Morricone and is of course exquisite and heartbreakingly emotional.  Finally I can see what all the fuss has been about, I want to go straight back and spend another 3 hours in the company of this beautiful movie.