Cherry 2000

Year: 1987

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

Stars: Melanie Griffith, Tim Thomerson, David Andrews, Pamela Gidley

Another view of the future. The year? 2017…..

In the US, you live in a city if you’re lucky, or out in the wastelands if you’re not. Sam is lucky, I guess. He lives in a nice automated apartment with his comforts, which include Cherry, a 2000-series Gynoid – artificial, female, gorgeous, and fulfilling every role a beautiful, dutiful wife would.

When Cherry short-circuits during sex, Sam manages to salvage Cherry’s memory disk and heads off out of the city in search of a replacement unit. Knowing he can’t go alone, he hires reluctant tracker Edith to help with locating the unit and as additional protection. Their destination is Zone 7, a manufacturing area ruled by wasteland overlord Lester, and where the Cherry 2000 models were made.

Sam is captured by Lester’s gang, and after witnessing his brutality, he escapes with Edith. They finally reach the factory, with Lester and the gang in pursuit, and find a Cherry 2000 unit, but having spent so much time together, Sam and Edith don’t feel the same way about each other now…

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Having watched other futuristic, post-apocalyptic movies recently, this one is a welcome change. Its backdrop is the open spaces of North America rather than the hippy domes of Logan’s Run, and the characters are brutally real rather than the insipid automatons in THX 1138. It has far more of the Mad Max feel than any of the glossy futures offered by other movies.

Melanie Griffith is fun as the feisty, opinionated Edith, always coming across as just about keeping her emotions in check. Tim Thomerson is playing a role he was made for as the maniacal Lester, and the rest of the cast, whilst not shining, perform with application and effort that helps the movie zip along.

I think that on the whole, I prefer this kind of future to the clinical blandness that the 70s offered us. It would certainly be less comfortable and secure, but it’d also be a whole lot more fun…

Without A Clue

Year: 1988

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Stars: Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman

In Victorian London, everyone is fascinated by the exploits of that greatest of detectives, Mr Sherlock Holmes. They read about him in The Strand magazine, and everybody wants to meet him. There’s just one problem : he doesn’t exist.

Holmes was invented by Dr John Watson, to fictionalise his own brilliance as a criminologist. And when the need to unveil Holmes becomes too great, he hires an actor, Reginald Kincaid, to play the role.

Kincaid / Holmes is a smash hit. Unfortunately, he’s also a drunkard, a womaniser, and a gambler. And Watson has created a monster that he can’t get rid of

When the printing plates for the five pound note are stolen from the Royal Mint, Watson realises that it’s not the simple theft that the police believe. He sees the start of an ingenious trail that will ultimately lead to his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

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Without A Clue is an excellent, funny spoof on the Sherlock Holmes genre. Swapping the skills of Holmes and Watson is a clever twist, and provides much of the humour as the two try to maintain the facade whilst investigating the case. Michael Caine (Holmes) and Ben Kingsley (Watson) have a wonderful rapport that carries the film at a cracking pace. Aided by Mrs Hudson and the Irregulars (a group of street kids), and abetted by Moriarty and his cronies, the pair hunt through both London and the Scottish Highlands for clues. Their ability to frustrate and annoy Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard (played wonderfully deadpan by Jeffrey Jones) adds a fun element, and of course it wouldn’t be an 80s British movie without a role for the always lovely Lysette Anthony, would it?

Overall, this is one of the better Holmes movies, not just because it’s different, not just because it’s funny, but because it’s a very well acted, very well cast piece of cinema.

Swamp Thing

 

Year: 1982

Director: Wes Craven

Stars: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, David Hess

An early Troma-style superhero movie, Swamp Thing tells a tale of power, violence, revenge and love amongst the bayou.

Whilst Alec Holland works in the Louisiana swamps on a top secret bio-engineering project, a paramilitary outfit led by the evil Dr Arcane swoops in, kills everyone they meet, and tries to steal the recently perfected formula. They make two errors, however. They attack shortly after government agent Alice Cable arrives to take up a security post, and in the battle, Alec is covered in chemicals and runs off into the swamp trailing fire – and they assume he died.

Alec survives, although he’s transformed into a hideous, enormously strong mutated plant creature. When he learns that Alice survived and the formula is still missing, he battles Arcane’s men to protect both Alice and the formula.

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Swamp Thing doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be. Under Wes Craven’s directorship, you’d expect it to be violent and gory. As a Troma-style movie, you’d expect plenty of gratuitous nudity and corny dialogue. And as a DC Comics superhero movie, you’d expect action and adventure. In truth, you get very little of any of this (especially in the US, where two minutes of a topless Adrienne Barbeau were cut from the theatrical release) and the movie just kind of bumbles along to a fairly tame climax.

It’s cheesy, it’s fairly tame, and – if you are watching it hoping for a connection with any of the franchises listed above – it’ll be a little disappointing.

Dune

Year: 1984

Director: David Lynch

Stars: Kyle Maclachlan, Jurgen Prochnow, Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Sean Young, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Patrick Stewart, Sian Phillips, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Virginia Madsen

It is the year 10,191. The Universe is ruled by the Emperor, coveted by the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen, but run by the Spacing Guild. And the Spacing Guild has but one interest: the continuing and protected mining of the spice Melange, which enables safe, instantaneous travel between stars due to it’s properties, which allow users to ‘fold’ space and thereby travel anywhere without actually moving.

Melange is found on a single planet in the universe: The desert planet of Arrakis – also known as Dune. And when the Emperor plots to rid the universe of the House of Atreides (whom he feels are building an army to overthrow him) by pitching them into all-out war with the Harkonnens on Arrakis, spice production is put at risk.

The Harkonnens, through a highly-placed traitor, kill Duke Leto and abandon his concubine, the Lady Jessica and their son Paul in the deep desert. Against the odds, Paul and Jessica survive and join with the blue-on-blue eyed Fremen, Arrakis’ indigenous race.

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What the Emperor and the Harkonnens fail to realise is that Paul is the one the Fremen have been waiting for – the Kwisatz Haderach, the universe’s supreme being. His mother is a Bene Gesserit witch, and is herself the result of a breeding program stretching back centuries. As Paul’s powers and influence grows, as he realises his future and challenges his destiny by taking the ‘water of life’, and as the spice begins to take hold, the scene is set for the confrontation.

And that is Dune. A series of books by author Frank Herbert, visioned by David Lynch and Dino di Laurentiis, and played out large on screen. And despite mainly negative reviews by critics at the time, it does have value.

For one, the soundtrack soars, and matches the sweeping scenery perfectly. From the smallest detail to the widest vista, the music never appears at odds with the imagery. Add to this a great mix of characters, from the serious, dedicated Fremen to the wildly, wonderfully outrageous Baron Harkonnen and his nephews, the sadistic Rabban and the arrogant Feyd-Rautha. The fight scenes are well managed, and the technology a mixture of steam-punk and practicality.

The key thing is the characterisations. Every character has their dark side, but only the good guys have a light side. Herbert’s story, and Lynch’s interpretation, shows no redeeming features whatsoever amongst the villains – no remorse, no pity, and no humanity. As such, we get a grim, dark vision of the future, but still one where the line between good and evil remains apparent throughout.

Dune is a movie that was, perhaps, ahead of its time. At a point where successful movies were more frothy, light-hearted affairs, Dune struck across the grain. An original flop at the box office, it’s since become one of those movies that gets better with age…

Radio Days

Year: 1987

Director: Woody Allen

Stars: Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Diane Wiest, Wallace Shawn, Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Seth Green

 

It’s a confusing time for Joe. Not only has he just hit his teens, but he lives in a stereotypical extended Jewish household in what appears to be a New York City suburb mainly populated with gentiles, and World War II has just broken out.

Radio Days tells the story of Joe’s observations. His parents have a marriage where their affection for each other rarely surfaces, his grandparents are always there, his aunts and uncles appear to be as disfunctional as everybody else, and there’s the burgeoning hormone issue to deal with.

The one thing that connects every character in the movie is the radio. Everyone has their favourite show, whether it’s dance music, sports broadcasts, radio plays, big bands, or entertainment shows – the radio is always on.

Now I’m a big Woody Allen fan, and as the narrator, he describes the on screen activity with particular emphasis on the character’s thoughts and motivations.

My issue is that there’s very little binding this all together.

It’s clearly a very well crafted movie, but it comes across as an exercise in the film maker’s craft more than something to be engaged with, entertained by, or enchanted by. There are so many ‘main’ characters, you rarely get to see any of them in enough depth to have any real empathy or connection with them. The closest I came was with Mia Farrow’s role as sally, a would-be actress and radio star, who initially gets stuck in a dead-end job as a cigarette girl in a club, and whose big break comes along after the realisation that her voice is whiny and gratingly ‘New Yoick’.

Woody Allen has made many films that I return to regularly. I doubt this one will get a return viewing very soon.

Electric Dreams

Year: 1984

Director: Steve Barron

Stars: Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, Bud Cort

Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen) is a bit of a nerd. In fact he’s the quintessential 80s nerd, an over-intelligent architect who is trying to invent ‘The Earthquake-Proof Brick’. A smart guy…

Well, almost. He’s not great with computers. He’s not really great at life, as it happens. So when one of his colleagues convinces him he needs ‘organizing’, he buys himself a computer, connects it to all the gadgets in his house, and like all wannabe computer geeks, sets about running his entire house from the comfort of his swivel chair.

All goes well, until he accidentally overloads the computer with data from his office mainframe. Trying to put out the fire, he spills champagne over the keyboard. There’s some violent interaction between bubbles and circuitry, and, when he switches the system back after drying it out, Edgar (the computer, voiced by Bud Cort) comes strangely to life.

After a few initial doubts, Miles is fine with this and indeed comes to like it. That is, until cello player Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves into the apartment upstairs.

Things begin to get out of hand when Miles falls in love with Madeline. Edgar, left alone in the apartment during the work day soon follows suit and seduces Madeline by accompanying her cello practice. Miles gets Edgar to write a love song for Madeline, in which Edgar pours out his silicon heart. In surely the strangest love triangle ever made, Madeline believes that her wonderful musical muse is Miles, whilst we all know better. A jealous clash is brewing. How can Miles win Madeline from a competitor she doesn’t know is there? What will Edgar do next to try to get the edge over Miles?

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If you haven’t seen the movie, then all this probably sounds rather pitiful. And it would be, were it not for fine performances from the under-rated Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen. The emphasis here is definitely on ‘heart’ and ‘style’ and this magical urban fairy tale is laced with some of the best pop music ever written for a movie. It’s also very well photographed and a bit surreal in places. A bit like a long pop video, which I’m sure is what mean-spirited critics would say about it.

There are also many little details that the scriptwriters used in the movie, which pre-dates the Personal Computer era, but cleverly predicts the hassles man would have with his silicon friends. An example is when Miles mis-types his name as ‘Moles’ during an initial setup screen and Edgar, the computer, refers to him by that name for the rest of the movie! (not much has changed since, in computer setup software, it would seem!).

I remember seeing this movie in London when it first came out, when computers were still unusual and fascinatingly, big clunky boxes with built in keyboards, and when Bill Gates was still just some guy with glasses in Connecticut or somewhere… Well, ok, Bill was actually already in there, but he wasn’t the household name that he is today.

The Apple II, Commodore 64 and TRS80 were still being sold through specialist outlets, running with their own versions of DOS and memory measured in a few K, not GigaBytes.

This movie was good on several levels, the love story was well crafted, the soundtrack is superb (Giorgio Moroder at his best) and Virginia Madsen looked marvellous (very much like a friend of mine years later – when I first met her, she reminded me of this movie immediately). The technology obviously dates the movie, but the ideas on how to expand the use of computers are still valid today. If you can, catch the movie whenever it’s on.

High Road To China

Director: Brian G Hutton

Year: 1983

Stars: Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilfred Brimley, Brian Blessed, Robert Morley

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Imagine Indiana Jones with a big old moustache, flying goggles and a drink problem. In fact, imagine Tom Selleck in the role. Because that’s what we nearly got, until they realised that Selleck’s commitments to shooting Magnum PI got in the way. Harrison Ford picked up the role, and the rest is history.

History sometimes shows us what we missed out on though, and this is where High Road To China comes in. Some people say that this movie was given to Selleck as consolation for missing out before, and in the way he plays Patrick O’Malley, you can kind of see how his Indy would have turned out.

The basic story is as follows: it’s the early part of the 20th Century. and there’s these two businessmen, one an inventing genius (Bradley Tozer) and one a big money man (Bentik). Tozer goes missing when out in the Far East, and Bentik sees an opportunity to grab their company and all the cash by having his partner declared legally dead. To prevent this, Tozer’s society-girl daughter Evie needs to find him and get him before a British court before the end of the month. The only way she can get there is by hiring O’Malley, a former Air Force pilot and current flying instructor whose skills are legendary with plane and with the ladies – when he can stay sober, that is.

As Evie, O’Malley and engineer Struts journey from Paris to China, they have to battle natives, German fighter pilots, and chinese warlords on the long journey, where hopefully they will find Evie’s father still alive and willing to help them.

Selleck is actually pretty good in the role of the drunken Irish-American hero, and his growing relationship with Evie as they fly along works well due to his obstinance and her feisty attitude. The supporting actors are a key part of the charm, with Robert Morley as the slimy Bentik, and Brian Blessed as the native chief Suleman Khan the stand outs.

There were a number of Indy impersonators around at the time, and this one is the best of the bunch. Probably because only the hawaiian shirt and Ferrari kept him away from the fedora in the first place.

Ghostbusters

Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, when there’s something weird and it don’t look good, an invisible man sleeping in your bed, when you’re seeing things running through your head, who ya gonna call?

That’s right, the source of one of movie history’s most bizarrely successful franchises: Ghostbusters!

In 1984, the franchising world was overtaken by Ghostbusters fever, with the theme song by Ray Parker Jr hitting the top of the charts the world over, and images and toys emerged on the market that are still being peddled to this day.

The movie itself is fun and original. Murray, Ackroyd and Ramis play three parapsychologists (that’s ‘ghosthunters’ to you and I) who are in the gig for different reasons: Whilst Egon Spengler (Ramis) is deadly serious, Ray Stantz (Ackroyd) loves the university life just as much as the kooky science, and Peter Venkman (Murray) knows it’s a great way to get girls, safe in the knowledge that there’s no such thing as ghosts.

Then a real, spooky, actual ghost appears at the public library….

Just as they get their breakthrough, they are kicked off campus and are forced to set up in business doing all they find themselves qualified for – ghost hunting. After they catch a spook in a New York hotel, they become instant stars, recruit a fourth employee called Winston (Hudson) to help with the workload, and are called in by Dana Barrett (Weaver) after she sees strange things in her apartment.

Egon and Ray discover that the plans for her building include metalwork that somehow acts as an ‘antenna’ to attract the spirits of ancient Sumerian spirits, but before they can get to the building they are thrown in jail, apparently for contravening ‘Environmental Safety’ regulations. The moronic ESA guy shuts the power to the Ghost Containment field, which releases scores of captured spooks into the city.

Meanwhile, Dana and her geeky neighbour (Moranis) have been possessed by the Sumerian Spirits and are on the verge of releasing the evil Gozer, when our heroes arrive in the nick of time to save the day….

Ghostbusters quickly became one of the 80s’ box office success stories, making it’s $30 million budget back in a little over a week. The stars of the show are brilliant, each bringing elements of their own flawed characters to the roles. Murray in particular comes across as very much improvising much of his mannerisms and speech, drawing on his Saturday Night Live experience to the full.

The effects are cool, the script funny, the supporting cast (which at some points seem to include most of the New York public) throw themselves in with gusto, and in hindsight it’s not hard to see why the franchise movement took off as it did.

Overall, Ghostbusters marks a milestone in movie history. Pretty much everyone has seen it. for those who have not, waddya waitin’ for?

Johnny Dangerously!

Year: 1984
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Michael Keaton, Marilu Henner, Joe Piscopo, Griffin Dunne, Peter Boyle, Danny Devito, Maureen Stapleton

It’s the 1930’s and we find kind-hearted, good-natured Johnny Kelly (Keaton) at work in his pet shop. Johnny is a bit like Dr Doolittle: he talks to the animals, feeds them regularly, and above all, tries to turn an honest dollar.

One day, he catches a kid trying to steal a puppy, and as punishment the kid is forced to sit and listen to Johnny’s tale – a tale of crime, glamour, and adventure…..

Turns out that Johnny’s mother (Stapleton) is a typical irish washerwoman, who also happens to be a hypochondriac. She’s always needing money to pay for the treatment she feels she needs and so, while his studious brother Tommy (Dunne) studies law, Johnny goes out to work. He gets caught up with local gang boss Jock Dundee (Boyle) when needing a few extra bucks for his mother. Tagging along on a raid on a rival casino, he manages to snatch the raid from the jaws of failure and turn it into a glorious success. His future is secured – but not as honest Johnny Kelly, but under his new name – Johnny Dangerously!

Time progresses and whilst Johnny makes enemies, such as the slimy Danny Vermin (Piscopo), he also makes friends, especially Lil (Henner) a singer in Dundee’s club who is curvier than a very, very curvy thing. Stars, flowers, rainbows, and soon they are married and living in magnificent splendour. Johnny always stays one step ahead of the law and his family – a task that becomes even harder when brother Tommy becomes District Attorney after turning in his boss the DA (Devito) for fraud and embezzlement. Johnny can’t let his family know what he does for a living, despite the close attentions of Tommy, the new DA – it would kill his mother.

When Jock Dundee is nearly killed by a booby-trap bomb in his toilet, Johnny takes over the gang, and tries hard to turn them all legit. But this is not enough for Danny Vermin, who shops Johnny to his brother the DA, and takes over the gang whilst Johnny is sent to death row, framed for murder.

Will Johnny escape in time to foil Danny Vermin’s plot to kill Tommy and rule the city by fear? Only watching the end of the movie will tell!

Johnny Dangerously! is undoubtably one for watching whilst wearing a corset. There are sight gags from start to finish, the strangest situations and incredible dialogue that really should be locked away, never to be quoted again! It’s very much along the lines of the Police Squad/Airplane/Top Secret type of movie and this is helped by some great performances, particularly by Joe Piscopo as the extremely nasty Danny Vermin. Danny DeVito is also very good in a cameo role and look out for Dom DeLuise as the Pope.

It’s a laugh a minute, and then some. If you like sight gags, then this is the movie for you.

No Way Out

Year:1987
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, Howard Duff

Lt. Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) is a career Navy man, whose heroic rescue of a colleague aboard a stricken ship earns him a position at the Pentagon, working for Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman).

At a presidential dinner he meets Susan Atwell (Young) and they begin an affair. It is only when love has blossomed that he discovers that Susan is also the mistress of his boss, Brice. When Brice discovers that Susan is seeing someone else, he flies into a jealous rage. During the ensuing struggle, Susan falls to her death.

To cover his tracks, Brice and his ‘devoted’ aide (Patton) create a cover story about a suspected KGB ‘mole’ working within the Pentagon, and appoint Farrell to head up the official hunt for the man, who Brice asserts had been the man Susan had been seeing, and who is responsible for her murder.

This, of course puts Farrell in a terrible situation – he needs to work on uncovering the ‘mole’, whilst hiding all traces of his feelings for Susan and his grief at her death. Indeed, you’d think that his situation couldn’t get any worse…

And then a damaged Polaroid negative is found by the CIA investigators in Susan’s apartment. They believe that computer enhancement will reveal the face of the KGB fugitive. Farrell knows that sooner or later, it’s his face that will be revealed on the negative!

So begins a race against time for Farrell. There is (as the title suggests) ‘no way out’ other than to expose one of the most powerful men in Washington as a murderer. Whilst the CIA get closer to Farrell, Farrell gets closer and closer to the truth about Susan’s death. And all the time in the lab, the computer enhancement of the photo gets less and less blurred…

No Way Out is a very tense thriller. I first saw this movie in 1988, whilst waiting for a flight. It’s one of those movies that slowly draws you in and then you find you have to carry on till the surprisingly effective end.

Costner is good in this, probably because he didn’t direct it and therefore his ‘artistic visions’ do not affect the action. Hackman is excellent as always and Young is her usual OK self. The highlight, however, is the very strong cast of minor actors, who combine to create a very real and very realistic backdrop to the main action.

Krull

Year: 1983
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Brenard Bresslaw, Francesca Annis, Liam Neeson, Todd Carty, David Battley, Robbie Coltrane


Krull – a beautiful world, but one damaged by hostilities between nations. All of the conflict was forgotten when the Slayers arrived, led by the indescribable monster that lived in The Black Fortress.

In order to combat this new threat, an alliance is reached, and will be sealed by the marriage of Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) and Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall). The wedding is almost complete, when the castle is attacked by the Slayers and despite desperate fighting, they manage to kidnap Princess Lyssa and carry her off to the Black Fortress. Colwyn vows to trek to The Black Fortress, find her and rescue her.

Now this could be a problem.

You see, the Black Fortress moves overnight. It just vanishes and reappears somewhere else. So, in order to know the location of the fortress, Colwyn has to first gain the foresight of the Seer. In this, he is fortunate to have the guidance of Ynyr (Freddie Jones) who accompanies him on his quest. Before they can find the Seer, they first need two other things: more men (for they will certainly meet the Slayers again in combat); and the Glave, a weapon that’s kind of like a five-bladed throwing star, that Colwyn will need to defeat the monster. The Glave is in a high cave on top of a mountain, sat in a pool of molten rock. Tough as that sounds, the men are even more difficult to gather together.

There’s Ergo The Magnificent (“short in stature, tall in power, wide of vision, and narrow of purpose”, played by David Battley, who many will remember as the rather slimy school-teacher in Willy Wonka); Bernard Bresslaw as Rell, a Cyclops who is cursed by knowing the date of his death and therefore keeps his own company but is always around when you really need him, and a group of bandits that Colwyn manages to enlist. These include cameos from Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, and Todd Carty, who UK readers will know from EastEnders and as Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill.

After an arduous trek through the forest they find the Seer, who gives them the location of the Black Fortress, and then leads them towards it. Following a brush with Francesca Annis as the Widow of the Web (a spider-woman with a taste for male flesh) the group come face to face with The Slayers, and battle commences.

Finally, after evading The Slayer forces, they arrive at the Fortress. They have to get inside before dark, else it will leave them behind and their quest is finished forever. This they manage to do, but only at the expense of Rell, who manages to force open a crack in the rocks and holds it open long enough for the others to enter, but then is crushed.

Inside, the monster tries many tricks to separate the gang, but they finally arrive in the centre of the Fortress for the final showdown. Colwyn must kill the monster, find Princess Lyssa and get out of the Fortress before it is destroyed…

Many of the reviewers of this movie at IMDB are polarised about this typically 80s swords and sorcery offering – they are either totally for the movie, or totally against it, with one even suggesting that Krull is a great cure for insomnia! I kind of fall between the two – it’s a good movie, where the performances are generally adequate, the music score is standard fare and the location shooting is much better than the studio stuff (and it’s easy to tell the two apart – much easier than it should be).

However, this approach ignores the strengths that the movie does possess – a better than average story, and some of the performances are great, particularly from David Battley as Ergo the Magnificent. He plays the simple country magician extremely well, refusing to allow the fact that he’s a poor magician to stand in the way of his desire to impress people. Bernard Bresslaw is never stretched in the role of Rell the cyclops, but it’s good to see him playing a straighter role than he ever got in a Carry On movie. The movie also contains small roles for a host of actors that have gone on to bigger and better things – Liam Neeson (Schindlers List, Michael Collins, Rob Roy, and a small thing called Phantom…. something or other); Robbie Coltrane (The Pope Must Die, Nuns On The Run, several Bond flicks and something about a boy wizard – now what was his name?); and Todd Carty (very well known in the UK for his roles as Mark Fowler in Eastenders and the unforgettable Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill)

As for the leading players, Ken Marshall saw too many heroic movies before playing this one, Lysette Anthony is beautiful and sexy, but as far as acting goes, rumours of her talent have been greatly overstated. Freddie Jones is good, but is limited to a few wise words and knowing glances as he guides Marshall through the maze.

Overall, it’s an OK flick. If you get the chance to watch it again, do try. But don’t be too upset if you miss it.

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Year: 1987
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, Laila Robins, Dylan Baker, Carol Bruce, Olivia Burnette

 

Within the movie industry, people generally had only a single thought about John Candy – a fat, funny guy. And let’s face it, he was never going to get the lead role in Die Hard or Enter The Dragon. But as the viewing public knew, he shouldn’t have been so easily written off, either.

Planes Trains and Automobiles is initially about one man, Neal Page (Steve Martin) who has cut it just a little fine to catch his flight back home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. In his haste, he loses cab after cab on the streets of New York, and finally gets to the airport in time to see the flight being delayed – but that is just the start of the nightmare. He gets bumped down to coach, and sits next to Del Griffith (John Candy), the most talkative shower-curtain-ring salesman it’s possible to find. Loud, rude, and painfully blunt, Neal thinks that things can’t get worse – but they do. Oh, do they get worse.

First, the plane is diverted to Witchita due to snow in Chicago. Then he can’t get a room and has to share room, bathroom and bed with Del. Then the train they catch (after a sub-zero ride in the back of a pick-up with a snarling dog for company) breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Then the bus only gets them to St Louis. Then the car rental people gives him keys to a car that has been stolen. Then he accepts a ride from Del, only to have a wrecked and burned out vehicle finally impounded by the police. Finally, it looks like the truck driver will get them back to Chicago. But what will happen when they get there?

Steve Martin’s role here is very reminiscent of his role in later movies, such as LA Story – much more restrained and on the whole better for it. It’s down to John Candy to display the manic humour and emotional vulnerability that is normally Martin’s forte. And he displays a depth of ability that belies his industry reputation. He died far too early. This is a great performance from a superb actor. Look out also for the lady behind the Car Rental desk – it’s the school secretary from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, using language that certainly would have landed her in detention, in reaction to the one moment that Martin really lets rip.

This is one of my favorite movies. You also don’t know what could possibly go wrong next. And although much of the credit goes to the two stars, hats off also to John Hughes, for writing, producing, and directing a comedic masterpiece.

The Sure Thing

Year: 1985
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Nicolette Sheridan, Tim Robbins

Walter ‘Gib’ Gibson and his best friend Lance are at a turning point in their lives. The end of high school, and the start of college. Lance is off to California, whereas Gib is moving to New England. Both have just one thing on their minds, however. As they are teenage boys, it’s not difficult to work out that they are preoccupied by sex – not just the small amounts they might be getting, but the major excesses they believe they are missing out on.

One day, after a particularly unsuccessful attempt to hit on a fellow student, Gib gets a call from Lance. His friend, it appears, has set up Gib with that Holy Grail of sexual encounters: a Sure Thing. A beautiful girl that loves sex, with no strings attached, no questions asked, no guilt involved. All Gib has to do is get there by December 23rd.

Gib immediately checks out the car-share board and snags a ride straight to Los Angeles. When he gets in the car, however, the reality sinks in. Not only is the car driven by two of the nerdiest students ever (imagine six days of constant show-tunes) but his fellow back-seat passenger is Alison – the classmate he recently hit on so unsuccessfully.

Their antagonism and arguments eventually lead to their being abandoned by the side of the road with no money, no shelter and an extreme dislike for each other, meaning they have to hitch their way across country – Alison to see her uptight, wannabe lawyer boyfriend, and Gib to have the night of his young life. But there’s a lot of time and distance before they reach LA, and when they get there, will they still feel the same about life, themselves, and each other?

If you are a fan of John Cusack, this is a film to be missed at your peril. Cusack was still a freshman in the movie business when The Sure Thing was released. His previous roles had all been as a support to more established stars, and The Sure Thing was his first starring role as lead. In Gib he creates a character that is often outrageous and flirts with both obnoxious and mouthy, but Gib is never less than likeable, and as such even when acting to excess, you always warm to him.

There’s a concept that this movie could almost have been a typical 80s Matthew Broderick vehicle, but where Broderick would have played Gib as a Ferris Beuller clone (happy go lucky, water off a duck’s back style) Cusack brings a harder, more world-weary and cynical edge. The movie certainly benefits from it and the actors work very well together, especially Cusack and Zuniga. Rob Reiner brings the best out of these two young actors, making this quite different from most other road movies.

Night Shift

Year: 1982
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, Gina Hecht, Jaid Barrymore

Chuck Lumley (Winkler) is one of those guys who appear to have found their perfect job.

In Chuck’s case, he’s a morgue attendant. Now Chuck appears only to have marginally more life in him than the stiffs he’s looking after. As a result, he gets shunted back to the night shift, where his pleasant routine (feed the plants, tidy the paperwork, listen to classical music, no excitement allowed) is shattered when he finds himself teamed up with an obnoxious, outrageous partner, Bill Blazejowski (Keaton), who is always dreaming of success and ways to make money.

Bill is loud, crude and always out for a fast buck. He claims credit for most of the major inventions of the late 20th Century (“Oh yeah. Wash-and-Dries. Did I ever tell you I had the idea for them first?”). Bill longs for his “one great idea” for success.

Chuck’s life takes a bizarre turn when a neighbour, Belinda Keaton (Long), complains about the loss of her pimp. Bill, upon hearing the situation, suggests that they fill that opening themselves using the morgue at night as their brothel…

Against Chuck’s better judgement, he gets talked into the idea, only to find that keeping their new business line from their boss is going to be tougher than he thought.

In the end, it’s more than his boss that has objections…

Night Shift was one of Ron Howard’s earliest director roles and is probably his most successful attempt at all-out comedy. He’s honed his cinematic skills with movies like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, but to see the genius behind the effects, you would do a lot worse than to catch Night Shift.

OK – on to the performances. Michael Keaton is at his manic, Beetlejuice best. He’s completely off the wall as Bill, and he plays the role as if he doesn’t really want to give the others much screen-time. This fits in so well with the character, it’s brilliant. And where with Keaton we get what we expect, Henry Winkler is a revelation. We were all used to him as The Fonz, with Ron Howard as the nerdy sidekick to the brash, confident Arthur Fonzarelli. The reversal of role for Winkler works so well, it’s like watching another actor.  Shelley Long plays the ‘lead hooker’ and although there was a question at the time about how she could play the role (she’s SOOO nice in Cheers!) Long gives the role a depth that surprised a lot of critics.

There were a few cameo roles for up-coming actors, such as Kevin Costner and Shannen Doherty, as well as a fleeting glimpse of Ron Howard, who at the time couldn’t quite relinquish his place in front of the camera.

All in all, Night Shift is a fun, wacky, entertaining movie that will surprise a few and appeal to many.

Tron

Year: 1982

Director: Steven Lisberger

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes

Disney’s vision of the new electronic age is presented in full technicolor, pixel-sharp glory in the wonderful 1982 movie, Tron. Giving a mixture of live action and computer generated imagery, the landscape of Tron is instantly recognisable, and has remained fresh and vibrant throughout the thirty years since the movie was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. Most reviewers were hugely positive about the movie, and even those who found fault were critical largely of the plot, rather than the effects or the cinematography.

Let’s start, however, by setting the way-back machine for… oh, a few years ago.

Ed Dillinger (Warner) is now Senior Executive VP at ENCOM, a position of power he has only attained through deception and theft. Three years before, he stole the code for some new video games from Flynn (Bridges) and promptly fired the young computer genius to cover his tracks. Under Dillinger’s less-than-honest guidance, ENCOM’s all-powerful Master Control Program is busy accessing and appropriating any system it can gain access to, despite Flynn’s attempts to hack in and find the evidence of Dillinger’s crime.

Flynn eventually gains access to ENCOM’s offices courtesy of his friends Alan (Boxleitner) and Lora (Morgan), Flynn’s old girlfriend. As Flynn starts searching for the evidence, the MCP stops him the only way he could – by digitising him with a laser, and bringing him into the computer system itself.

Flynn discovers a world populated by programs ruled by the MCP as a virtual police state, where rogue programs, and those ‘religious freaks’ who still profess a belief in ‘users’ are rounded up and forced to play for their existence on the Game Grid, until they either renounce their faith or die playing.

Flynn teams up with programs Tron (Boxleitner) and Yori (Morgan)  in their quest to defeat the evil Sark (Warner) and destroy the MCP, which they hope will bring freedom back to the system, and will also release the information Flynn so desperately needs in his battle with Dillinger.

There’s no doubt that the main strength and appeal of Tron is its visual impact. Highlighted by a very good musical score, we are introduced to the Light Cycles, the Identidy Discs, the Recognisers, Solar Sailer ships, and many other items that go to create a stunningly vivid landscape. Against this we have the battle of good vs evil, right vs wrong, and the struggle against absolute authority in a world that is different, but still very familiar to us all.

Tron‘s lasting ‘legacy’ is shown in the long-overdue sequel made in 2010, where the effects are sympathetically updated and the story is handled well. To see how well it could have been made, however, you need to go way back to where it all began, thirty years ago….

Uncle Buck

Year: 1989

Director: John Hughes

Stars: John Candy, Amy Madigan, Macauley Culkin, Laurie Metcalf, Gaby Hoffman, Jean Louisa Kelly

Buck Russell (John Candy) is the Brother-In-Law from hell. He’s loud, rude, clumsy, uneducated, lazy and you suspect has a hankering for some really intense personal hygiene issues. But he’s all they have….

Uncle Buck has to be just about the greatest movie John Candy ever made. You know when some actors get roles that seem written just for them? Ferris Beuller for Matthew Broderick. Jim Kirk for William Shatner. Han Solo for Harrison Ford. Anyone blonde and ditzy for Meg Ryan. Well, This is such a role for John Candy. Anyway – first off, here’s a quick plot summary…

Bob Russell and his wife Cindy are sleeping one night, when they get a call to say that Cindy’s father has had a heart attack. They need to go to Indianapolis quickly, but what about the kids? Miles (yet another early role for Macauley Culkin) and Maisie (Hoffmann) are far too young to take care of themselves and the elder daughter Tia (Kelly)… well let’s just say she needs keeping an eye on. But their friends are unavalable and the only family member they could call is Bob’s brother Buck. Even in her hour of greatest need, Cindy still needs convincing, but there is no other choice, so call they do.

Buck leaves his place (just the sort of place you’d think he would live in), gets in the car and smokes his way out to the suburbs – and I mean smokes. The engine is so shot, a single backfire clears the ground for acres around the car.

Now, it’s a while since Cindy last invited him out (they have moved since then, so he couldn’t just drop in) and so he spends five minutes pounding on the wrong door at three in the morning before they finally call him over. In the morning, the kids awake to find this strange big guy murdering all the food in the house and calling it ‘Breakfast’. Introductions are made, but whilst the two youngest think Uncle Buck is swell, Tia is less impressed and begins a running battle to be independently obnoxious, even to the point of telling Buck’s girlfriend Chanice (Amy Madigan) false rumours about Buck and the over-amorous neighbour Marcie (Laurie Metcalf). This causes Chanice to drive out for a confrontation that of course never happens and meanwhile Buck is getting increasingly concerned about Tia’s boyfriend ‘Bug’, who he immediately recognises as a fellow sleaze-bag. Tia is only with him because it obviously upsets her mother so much.

Cue some solid head-to-head stuff, including Buck driving Tia to school each morning, Buck going into Maisie’s school and tearing a strip off her way-too-serious Principal and Buck taking the kids Bowling, where one of his terrible friends tried (very, very unsuccessfully) to hit on Tia. Then there’s the visit to the party…..

Ultimately Buck’s persistence pays off and the kids all love him by the time their parents get back. Tia now thinks he’s wonderful, especially as he has managed to grant her retribution on the now ex-sleazebag boyfriend Bug (with a five-iron and some well-aimed golfballs) and even improve the relationship she has with her mother

It is impossible to say anything bad about John Candy or his performance. Whether he is sparring verbally with Macauley Culkin or physically with Tia’s boyfriend ‘Bug’, all of his lines and all of his scenes are smooth as a very smooth thing that doesn’t need ironing.

The rest of the cast seem to revolve around him and whilst they are very good in their own way, it must have been so easy for them to act alongside a comic genius at the height of his powers. Culkin is so much more relaxed than in Home Alone, it’s almost possible to like him. Gaby Hoffmann went on to do Sleepless In Seattle and is just small, cute and mercifully quiet. Jean Louisa Kelly shines in her first acting role and was to go on to appear in the acclaimed Mr Hollands Opus alongside Richard Dreyfuss.

The other actors had smaller roles, although mention should be given to Amy Madigan as Chanice and Laurie Metcalf, who effectively played a similar role to the one in Roseanne (Roseanne’s single, sex-starved sister).

I could go on for ages, but it’d take a long time for the page to load. You’ve all seen the movie. Go see it again. And if you haven’t – what are you waiting for????

Real Genius

Year: 1985
Director: Martha Coolidge
Stars: Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, John Gries, Robert Prescott, Mark Kamiyama

All of the best minds have to start somewhere. In Real Genius, they start at Pacific Tech, the setting for our trip down movie memory lane today.

Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a 15 year old child prodigy, recruited from high school by Professor Jerry Hathaway (Atherton) to work on his project team at Pacific Tech. He’s working with Chris Knight (Kilmer), a freshman genius turned senior slacker, on a new high-powered laser emitter. To the students it’s a cool project, but unknown to them, for Hathaway and the CIA it’s the basis of a new weapons platform, capable of ‘neutralizing targets’ from space with pinpoint precision. They have the targetting mechanism and mirror, they just need a laser capable of pushing 5 megawatts out the front end.

Now this is the 80s, and the 80s didn’t really do college movies that weren’t ‘feel-good’ flicks, and so you know they will discover the real purpose and that they will take their revenge in the most spectacular way. There are no real surprises, but the journey and the characters are everything in this movie.

The students at Pacific Tech include the hyperkinetic Jordan (Meyrink), for whom Mitch forms an immediate attraction. There’s Kent (Prescott), the slimiest, snidest, most dislikeable guy you ever ended up feeling real sorry for. There’s ‘Ick’ (Kamiyama), always looking for new ways to experiment, including covering the entire dorm corridor with ice just to see if he could do it. There’s also Lazlo Holyfield (Gries) the mysterious man in the closet. Holyfield, it turns out, used to be the hot-shot at Pacific Tech, but snapped one day, and has been living a reclusive life deep in the bowels of the building’s service tunnels ever since.

Real Genius is a college movie, a science movie, a good-guy, bad-guy movie, all rolled into one. It’ll never win any awards for acting or cinematography, but it provides fun, quotable lines, improbable scenes such as the complete disassembly and reassembly of a car in a dorm-room, and loads of iconic 80s tunes, heading to the end credits that roll over Tears For Fears’ brilliant “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”.

It’s a little slice of the 80s, packaged for you in a neat little DVD case and waiting to transport you back in time to a world inhabited by happy little clever kids and a few old meanies. What’s not to like?

The Blues Brothers

Year: 1980

Director: John Landis

Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, James Brown, Cab Calloway, John Candy, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson

Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi) is having a good day – he’s finally being released from prison.

He collects his stuff (“One Timex digital watch, broken. One unused prophylactic. One soiled…”) and steps out into the sunshine, to be met by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) driving a new car – an Illinois Mount Prospect Police Patrol car! The old Bluesmobile it ain’t, but it’s got something….

Together they go back to the Chicago orphanage they grew up in, where they find out that the building is being repossessed – unless they can come up with enough money in time.

Under Cab Calloway’s guidance, they stop off at church to hear the Reverend Clepohus James (James Brown) where the brothers are hit with a revelation – their mission is to put the band back together for a benefit gig.

Thereby follows a riotous journey across country, gathering the band members together.  But there are two main issues – firstly the guys all have lives now; jobs, wives, responsibilities.

But that’s nothing compared to issue #2: the brothers are being pursued by just about everyone they meet, including a group of white supremist Nazi’s, Jake’s ex-fiancee (Carrie Fisher), the ‘Good Old Boys’, a country and western band that the brothers rip off in a big way, and last but not least the entire Illinois State Police Department.

Cue the biggest car chase and pileup in movie history, and loads and loads of laughs and great music along the way.

The Blues Brothers is the comedy musical of the 1980s. Sure there were others, and some great movies, but none hit quite the right note that The Blues Brothers did. There are great performances by established stars, and the mix of good music, great lines, and ‘just-right’ acting is great.

After all, many of the lines have passed into the English language, and this IS just about the most quoted movie of all time. After all, who hasn’t said “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses…. Hit it!”

Dragnet

Year: 1987
Director: Tom Mankiewicz
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, Christopher Plummer, Alexandra Paul, Harry Morgan, Jack O’Halloran, Elizabeth Ashley, Dabney Coleman, Kathleen Freeman

After two very successful TV incarnations back in the Fifties and the Sixties, the Eighties bought the story of the honest men and women of the Los Angeles Law Enforcement Agency to the big screen.

Joe Friday is a ‘by the book’ cop – able to quote regulations and read felons their rights with all the panache and control of his father before him. But when he is teamed up with an undercover ‘street’ cop by the name of Pep Streebeck, his sense of fair play and sober suits is challenged to the extreme. Not only does he need to clean up the city, his partner could use a bath as well.

The pair are put on the ‘P.A.G.A.N’ case, investigating a mysterious outfit seemingly intent on ruling the city. Their first target is the Ceasar Organisation, publishers of various soft-core skin mags such as Bait Magazine. When the 25th Anniversary issue is destroyed by fire, publisher Jerry Caesar calls in the police. And under the watchful eyes of the new Police Commissioner and the moral crusader Revd. Johnathan Whirley, the boys have to get to the bottom of the organisation. But not everyone is as they seem….

Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks make a great double act in this movie, with Hanks being the wild and crazy Pep Streebeck who slowly finds himself conforming to rule, regulation, and dress code, whilst Aykroyd is the straight-laced, straight down the line career cop who learns to ‘bend’ the rules when called for. And by doing so, he becomes irresistable to the ‘virgin’ Connie Swales (played demurely by ex-Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul). Christopher Plummer is suitably slimy as the Revd. Whirley, and the support cast ably push things along, most notably Jack O’Halloran as Emil Muzz.

Cheese? Yes, undoubtably.

Fun? Most certainly!

Streets Of Fire

Year: 1984
Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Richard Lawson, Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Mykelti Williamson, Robert Townsend, E.G. Daily, Lynne Thigpen, Ed Begley Jr

Streets Of Fire is a rare thing indeed. It has some of the best music ever to grace the big screen. It is full to the brim of guns, bikes, explosions, fast cars, tough women, and even tougher men. It has a hero that you’d love to hate, and a bad guy who you’d want to take home to Mom. And most surprisingly, it coaxes a good performance from Rick Moranis. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a lovely guy (and you can tell his libel lawyers that if you meet them) but 10 minutes of Honey I Shrank My Brain is about a quarter hour too much for me. But in this, he’s not too bad.

Anyhoo, back to the movie…

Kids of all ages are streaming into the local theater for the return performance of Ellen Aim, the local girl who hit the big time with her band, The Attackers. The place is stomping. and the first song in the set is huge. In the wings, Ellen’s manager / boyfriend Billy Fish is cursing his decision to come back to this ‘two-bit neighborhood’. And his fears are proved right. There’s a surge from the rear of the hall, and The Bombers, a biker gang of immense numbers, storm the stage and carry off Ellen. It seems that Raven, the leader of the Bombers, has taken a shine to Ellen and this is the ideal opportunity, as he later says, to ‘have you love me for a week or two’. The Bombers trash the hall and beat up anyone who tries to resist them, before riding off into the night.

Reva, the owner of a local coffee shop, is the only one who seems to know what to do – call for Tom Cody. Her brother Tom and Ellen were an item for years, until her career took her away. Reva figures he’s the only one who would get her back. And so he arrives back in town, and almost immediately gets into a fight with some young punks who turn up after the excitement has ended looking for some action of their own. Tom gives them a good kicking, and they run off, leaving their car behind. Tom ‘appropriates’ the car, and sets off for a drink. In the bar, he meets McCoy, an ex-soldier who ran out of wars. She’s looking for a way to make some cash and a bed for the night. Tom provides both, when he agrees to go get Ellen back for Billy Fish, in return for $10,000.

But getting her back isn’t that easy, as they need to break into the Bomber’s clubhouse, a noisy, crowded drinking hole called Torchy’s, deep in The Battery, a dark, industrial complex full of mad bikers with guns. Cue many more explosions, much more great music, and some of the best one-liners ever quoted in a movie. Just as they are about to leave, Tom and Raven eyeball each other, and they know that whilst it doesn’t end here, it will end soon. Then Tom walks off, and their escape from The Battery is almost as eventful as their journey in, involving a meeting with the local police, a close-harmony group called The Sorels who were on route to a gig, and some kind of wierd 1980’s neon scene where everyone is dressed in garish parodies of fifties clothing. Bizarre.

But eventually they get back. And cue the only real poor bit of the movie, when Tom refuses to take Billy Fish’s money, and prompts a reunion with Ellen. But this moment of predictable sloppiness is cut short when the Bombers reappear, and the showdown begins. As the police chief says when his small force is faced down by around two hundred Bombers with guns: “Well Tom Cody, my plan went to shit. Lets see how you do. Kick his ass!“. The showdown involves a baying crowd, two real hard men, and ice-picks.

Nice.

The performances in the movie are superb, from Michael Paré (Tom Cody) and Willem Defoe (Raven) in particular, but also from Diane Lane and Amy Madigan as Ellen Aim and McCoy. There are some great minor roles for established stars such as Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton and Ed Begley Jr., but it’s Rick Moranis that’s the revelation. Like I said, he’s actually good in this. And I can’t say that about many of his movies – Little Shop Of Horrors and My Blue Heaven are the only others I can really stand to watch.

But this movie isn’t about stars. It’s about the music, the moment, the action, and the feel. Catch it whenever you can.

 

 

The Man With One Red Shoe

Year: 1985
Director: Stan Dragoti
Stars: Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, James Belushi, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Lori Singer, Edward Herrmann, Irving Metzman, Tom Noonan, Gerrit Graham, David L. Lander, Mitch Brinkley, Frank Hamilton, Dortha Duckworth, David Ogden Stiers

Tom Hanks made a load of movies in the 1980s. This was, of course, before he got all ‘serious Hollywood’ and got into the kind of ‘quality drama’ he’s burdening us with these days. Personally, I prefer the old Hanks, as seen in gems such as The Money Pit, The ‘Burbs, Volunteers, and this one, The Man With One Red Shoe.

The plot is simple enough, if the usual 1980s contrived plots are ever simple. Hanks plays Richard Drew, a failed child prodigy violinist and now lazy good-for-nothing music teacher. His world revolves around his friendship with Morris (James Belushi) and his secretly rather more intimate relationship with Morris’ wife Paula (Carrie Fisher). He dreams of writing his Grand Opus, and spends so much time working on this that he often tunes out the world around him.

One day, when arriving back home from a trip, he’s randomly picked out of the crowd at the airport by CIA agents. They are working for CIA Director Ross (Charles Durning) who is in a power-struggle with his deputy, Cooper (Dabney Coleman). Ross is being framed for a fake drugs bust, set up by Cooper, and Ross needs to throw him off the scent a little whilst he prepares his defence for the upcoming trial. And so he orders his men to go ‘create’ a key witness, which turns out to be Drew, simply because when first spotted, he is wearing odd shoes, one of them red.

Cooper falls for the scam, and puts his best agents on the case, including the beautiful Maddy (Lori Singer), who he is secretly knocking off……

Things all fall flat for him though when Maddy, despite her best efforts to stay professional, starts to fall for Drew. As the incompetent agents cause mayhem all around, how long will Drew remain utterly oblivious to the real world? And will the plan work in Ross’ favour?

All the principals are pretty good in this one, giving their all to a script which is weak in places but gives the actors plenty to get their teeth into, and it races along at a fine pace, which helps cover some of the more glaring plot holes. Highlights from the supporting cast include Belushi chasing an ambulance when he believes that his wife is inside making love with some other guy, the constant battles between Ross and Cooper’s agents to try and outwit each other, and a certain, slinky and very revealing dress worn by Lori Singer – let’s just say there’s backless, and then there’s backless….

But this movie is basically a Tom Hanks 1980s vehicle, and like all those movies from 25 years ago, their charm is immediately evident and their star, even in the double-chinned 21st century, continues to rise.

Some Kind Of Wonderful

Year: 1987
Director: Howard Deutch
Stars: Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Craig Sheffer, John Ashton, Elias Koteas

The undisputed 1980s King of the Teen Movie was John Hughes. Any movie that had his name on the credits, be it writing, producing, or directing, was a near guarantee of hitting the mood just right. And as he wrote and produced this movie, you know that you’re in for a treat.

First off, it’s not the usual Hughes fare. There are much less obvious laughs here than you will find in Pretty In Pink, or Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. There are deeper characters, as well – Eric Stolz as Keith, the quiet, artistic boy who is content to love from afar; Lea Thompson as Amanda, the object of his affection who herself is trying to fit in with the ‘rich-kid’ set despite her own family’s more humble situation; Mary Stuart Masterson as Keith’s best friend Watts, suffering from an intolerable home life and an equally frustrating crush on Keith; Craig Sheffer as Hardy Jenns, Amanda’s boyfriend and a real slime-ball, who is convinced that anyone with less money than he has is less of a person.

But it’s not just these four. There’s also Keith’s family, led by John Ashton as his father Cliff, who despite wanting the best for his kids always seems to miss the mark. There’s also Duncan, the school skin-head played exceptionally well by Elias Koteas. Duncan has issues, but there’s so much more to him than his manner or his appearance.

The main plot revolves around Amanda finally dumping Hardy, and falling into accepting a rebound date with Keith. This distresses Watts, who hides it by ‘helping’ Keith prepare for the date, even to the extent of offering to drive for them. All the time Hardy is suffering from a bruised pride, and is looking for revenge. When Keith’s obnoxious sister Laura overhears the plan to lure Keith and Amanda to a party where he will be pounded, Keith has a choice – stay home and stay safe, or be a man and play the game.

Every character in this movie is well-scripted and well-performed. There’s always more than is on the surface. For me, this is one of John Hughes’ stronger movies, despite some critics judgement that this is just Pretty In Pink with gender-reversal. It’s far more than that. If anything, this is the maturation of the original idea. It is, for me, a far better movie, and is one that I gladly list on my Guilty Pleasures list. because whilst it’s probably not in everybody’s top ten, it heads mine.

Oh – and it also has what I consider, in mainstream movies at least, the most believable kiss you’ll see on screen, between Watts and Keith. The actors both portray exactly the characters that they are playing, exactly right. Go on. Look it up on YouTube. Watch it. You’ve been told….

The Secret Of My Success

Year: 1987
Director: Herbert Ross
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan, Margaret Whitton, John Pankow, Christopher Murney, Gerry Bamman, Fred Gwynne, Drew Snyder, Susan Kellerman, Mercedes Ruehl

Brantley Foster comes from a small town you’ve definitely never heard of somewhere in Kansas. But small-town living isn’t for him, so he leaves for New York to find fame and fortune. When he gets there, it’s tougher than he thought, so when he is reminded of a distant uncle who runs a multi-million dollar company, he pulls a few strings and gets his break – a job in the mailroom.

But delivering Uncle Howard’s mail isn’t enough, especially when he meets the girl of his dreams, Christy Wills. So armed only with his access to company information and his winning smile, Brantley blags his way into senior management by posing as a new, thrusting executive called Carlton Whitfield.

His efforts to win over Christy and earn his fortune are somewhat hampered by his need to stay one step ahead of his uncle, two steps ahead of his mail-room boss, and at least three steps ahead of Auntie Vera, who made her plans for him very clear indeed…..

The Secret Of My Success is, on the surface, a typical American 80s movie. But it stands out from the crowd for a number of reasons. Firstly, Michael J Fox is perfect for the role of Brantley Foster. His role seems a natural progression from the high-school kids he played in Back To The Future and Teen Wolf into a young adult setting out in the big world of business. Secondly the supporting cast make his job simple, because whilst this movie is definately a vehicle for Fox, actors such as Richard Jordan, Helen Slater and the superb Margaret Whitton as Aunt Vera more than make their mark. And thirdly, the script is full of twists and turns as the tactics Brantley employs to pursue Christy (whilst avoiding Uncle Howard and Aunt Vera) get more and more desperate, culminating in a scene at their country mansion that’s pure West End farce.

And even the difficulties director Herbert Ross encountered were overcome so cleanly you hardly notice them (such as the height difference between Fox and Slater that meant difficult shooting angles – or boxes, one would guess…)

Overall? If you like movies from the 1980s, you’ll love this. It’s quirky, fast-paced and fun, whilst retaining a great deal of familiarity.

Gregory’s Girl

Year: 1981
Director: Bill Forsyth
Stars: John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan, Chic Murray, Jake D’Arcy, Robert Buchanan, Billy Greenlees, Alan Love, Caroline Guthrie, Carol Macartney, Douglas Sannachan, Allison Forster, Alex Norton, John Bett, Dave Anderson, Billy Feeley, Maeve Watt, Muriel Romanes, Patrick Lewsley, Ronald Girvin

Gregory is a typical 1980’s teenager – shy around girls, clumsy to the point of embarrassment, growing faster than his mind or his clothes are happy with, and above all desperate to fall in love.

His close friends are all the same and have varying degrees of success with the ‘love thang’.

Then along comes Dorothy, who is everything he always dreamed of – beautiful, happy, charming, and a better football player than all of the school team combined. She soon wins a place in the football team (who now start to win!) and ultimately, after many aborted attempts and deep soul-searching with his younger sister Madeleine, asks her on a date.

To his surprise, she accepts.

Gregory is overjoyed, and arrives early, at the agreed meeting place, only to find…. no Dorothy.

However, there are a string of other girls who lead Gregory through a maze of pretense with the ultimate goal being… not Dorothy, but Susan, who has had a secret crush on Gregory for a while and arranged with Dorothy and the others to lure him into accepting a “sort of date”.

The other boys from the school are amazed to see Gregory with a string of girls that night and resolve to do something about it themselves…

Now this is such a gentle movie. Bill Forsyth’s direction wonderfully allows the film to show boys growing up in a very honest, open way.

They are jerks. They are obsessed with football and girls, girls and football. They are terminally clumsy, riddled with teeth and acne, forever trying to look cool, and always absolutely convinced that the One True Love is just around the next corner.

John Gordon Sinclair is great as Gregory, who highlights all of this awkwardness wonderfully. Clare Grogan’s Susan is the female equivalent of Gregory, just as anxious and just as desperate, but as girls tend to do, she handles it in a much more thoughtful, much less embarrassing way. as always, Grogan  is very cute whilst remaining completely streetwise. Dee Hepburn has maybe the smallest role as Dorothy and is never really stretched. The rest of the cast support the principals well, especially allison forster as Maddie, Gregory’s far more mature 10 year old sister.

There are many fun scenes, including one that is never fully explained: several times you see a kid dressed as a Penguin, waddling around school. Someone always calls them back and directs them to another room in the building. And that’s it. No explanation at all, which makes it so much fun for me!

The Princess Bride

Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, Mel Smith, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Peter Falk, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Carol Kane, Peter Cook, Fred Savage

The Princess Bride is not just your ordinary, every-day, run-of-the-mill, average fantasy – it’s much more than that. It’s the secret world that we all inhabit in our mind’s eye, where we overcome hideous odds, prove ourselves the best swordsman, tactician and intellect, and where not even death can stand between our true love and ourselves.

Now that’s quite a boast for a movie.

But in The Princess Bride, those dreams really do come true. And the color that is portrayed in each and every character is superbly painted by Rob Reiner.

Presented in a rather unique way (grandfather Peter Falk reading the story to his sick grandson, Fred Savage) the plot revolves around the love between a beautiful young girl, Buttercup (Robin Wright) and the handsome farm-boy, Westley (Cary Elwes). A slowly evolving realisation of love is seemingly destroyed when, whilst seeking the fortune he needs to marry her, he is apparently captured and killed by that scourge of the seas, the Dread Pirate Roberts. After five years of grief and misery, her despair is complete when the evil Prince Humperdinck chooses her for his new bride, which is his right as heir to the throne. Buttercup has no choice but to marry him, but her new status gives her new opportunities, and to assuage her grief, she uses the freedom now provided her to go riding alone across the fields, as often as possible.

On one of these rides, she is kidnapped by the most unlikely trio – Fezzik, a slow-witted giant of a man; Inigo Montoya, the greatest swordsman who ever lived; and Vizzini, whose intellect is only surpassed by his ego. It’s all part of a plot to start a war between the two kingdoms of Florin and Guilder, but you just know that they won’t get away with it. And sure enough, soon the chase is on, with the kidnappers being pursued by the mysterious Man In Black, who in turn is followed by Prince Humperdinck and his right hand man, the slimy Count Rugen.

We see the most amazing swordfight in cinematic history, the battle of brawn over brains, and a battle of wits that contains the most classic line ever – ‘You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

And then, once more, it’s Westley and Buttercup against the world, fire swamps, Rodents of Unusual Size, death, and fate – until Inigo Montoya and Fezzik switch sides and join forces with our heroes against the cruel Prince Humperdinck, the vile and greasy six-fingered Count Rugen, and time itself, as they need to defeat the bad guys and rescue Buttercup before the wedding ceremony is completed by the very impressive Priest (one of Peter Cook’s finest roles).

This movie is wonderfully scripted, has some great characters, excellently cheesy performances, and really gets you going from the start. Rightly well-placed at #90 on the Internet Movie Database’s all-time list, it’s just got to be seen.

Volunteers

Year: 1985
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: Tom Hanks, John Candy, Rita Wilson, Tim Thomerson, Gedde Watanabe, George Plimpton, Ernest Harada, Allan Arbus, Xander Berkeley, Ji-Tu Cumbuka

It’s the early Sixties. All over America, idealistic kids are leaving college and joining the Peace Corps. Flying off to foreign shores to spread the message of peace, harmony, and The All-American Dream.

Lawrence Bourne III is not one of these idealistic kids. He’s a pampered blueblood, preferring to spend his time drinking, gambling and dating sorority girls than studying.

His gambling catches up with him on the day of his graduation, and for once, his father won’t bail him out this time. So after a mad dash across country with the Harlem Mafia hot on his heels, he finds escape on a Peace Corps flight to Thailand, in place of a college friend who for once is happy to swap idealism for capitalism in the shape of a sports car and a girl.

On the flight, he meets Beth Wexler, a medical student, and the infamous Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, an engineer and psychology major. Making the obvious choice, he sits by Beth, and starts making his move……

When they get to Thailand, they are taken by helicopter to a remove village, where they are left to settle in by Reynolds, the local Peace Corps guy, before starting work on a bridge across the river. During the next few days, Lawrence’s cover is exposed, and whilst both Tom and Beth ignore him, he makes a friend in the ‘americanized’ local, At Toon.

Then one day, the truth is revealed. Reynolds is working with a local warlord who wants the bridge to open up more territory for his drug trade. Tom Tuttle is captured by the local Communist army, who want the bridge to give access to more land to conquer. And stuck in the middle is the tiny village, for which Lawrence and Beth are gaining a strong affection…….

Tom Hanks is given a slightly different role here as Lawrence Bourne III. Instead of the usual hapless incompetent victim he played so well in most of the 1980s movies, he’s given a different challenge here, playing Lawrence as clever, sophisticated, and superior. He does well, as do the rest of the cast. John Candy is excellent, and for me steals the movie as Tom Tuttle, swinging his performance between the over-enthusiastic go-getter and the brainwashed Communist Activist well. Rita Wilson is maybe the weakest of the three principals, but there’s enough there to see why she was cast, and as she very soon became Mrs Hanks, he obviously saw plenty in her as well.

On the periphery, Gedde Watanabe is fun as At Toon, Tim Thomerson plays the slimy Reynolds with a nicely psychotic bent, and the rest of the supporting cast provide the impetus for the stars to shine.

When Harry Met Sally

Year: 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby

Back in the early days of cinema, one thing that they knew how to make was a good old-fashioned romantic comedy. The number of classic double acts roll from the tongue – Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant and anyone – we all have our favorites. But during the ‘liberated’ sixties the emphasis changed, and what we saw was a more overtly stated sexual element appear. The result of this is that there were almost no good romantic comedies made during the seventies and early eighties, the focus being either on romance OR comedy, but rarely both. When Harry Met Sally changed all that.

The premise of the movie is simple: Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) graduate from college at the same time, and share a ride into New York. Along the way, they find out that they have very few things in common, the main difference being that Sally completely disagrees with Harry’s assertion that “Men and women can’t be friends, because sex always gets in the way“. It seems that Harry’s whole life is built around this premise. I have to break now and post the conversation where they discuss this, because to be honest, I can’t say it anywhere near as well as they do:

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally: Why not?
Harry: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: You only think you do.
Sally: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
Sally: They do not!
Harry: Do too.
Sally: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sally: How do you know?
Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.
Sally: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sally: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.
Harry: I guess not.
Sally: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

See?

When they get to New York they part company, only to then continue meeting up every few years, by coincidence at crisis points such as just after Harry gets divorced. Slowly they begin to break Harry’s code, and become best friends, calling each other in the middle of the night to discuss Casablanca, and whether Sally would have left Bogart as Bacall did. They even try to fix the other up with their best pals (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby) but this backfires when the two friends fall for each other, leaving Harry and Sally together again.

Eventually, the big mistake happens – Sally breaks up with a boyfriend, Harry goes round to comfort her, and pretty soon she doesn’t need to fake orgasms any more. And then the problem starts. Whilst Sally smiles herself to sleep, Harry doesn’t know what to do, so he leaves. Sally then doesn’t know what to feel about this, so she feels nothing. She starts hating Harry for going, thinking that he doesn’t care – but Harry does care. Far too much to just let it go. And then suddenly it’s New Years Eve, and Harry has to do something about it……..

Many people only know the infamous faked orgasm scene in the middle of the diner. I’ve deliberately not really mentioned this, because the movie is so much more than one scene. It truly is a classic, with probably the best performances ever from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Rob Reiner’s direction of a superb script makes this a movie to revisit time and again. It’s just a great flick that you will both laugh and cry watching. A rare thing indeed these days.

The Breakfast Club

First posted on www.thespinningimage.co.uk

Year: 1985

Director: John Hughes

Stars: Judd Nelson, Emilio Esteves, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Paul Gleason, Kohn Kapelos

Genre: Drama

The eighties brought us some great movies. It gave us Die Hard, and for a while we all thought that wearing a dirty vest was way cool. We had the purely indulgent romance of When Harry Met Sally. We cried for E.T. and laughed at The Man With Two Brains. And through all of this greatness, we had a bunch of movies that tried to put us into the heads of the American Teenager. Many of these movies were mere fluff, with one exception – those movies written, directed, or produced by John Hughes. And the greatest of these?

Popular opinion has it that this accolade goes to The Breakfast Club. Five kids (“a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal”) locked in the school for Saturday detention for various infringements, overseen by a teacher who believes his own press cuttings and visited by a janitor who knows where the real power in the school lies. And that’s it. Doesn’t sound like much, but John Hughes is great at weaving a compelling story from the thinnest of threads.

The first character is Brian Johnson, the Brain. Brian is an academic achiever, is a member of several clubs (chess, physics, math) and is terrified to be in the same room as some of his fellow students this morning. Secondly we have Andrew Clarke, the Athlete. Star on the school wrestling team, his clique is the sporty types who can get themselves any college education they like by being the best at whichever sport they select. Allison Reynolds is the Basket Case. Silent, she sits at the back of the room, black make-up under black hair combed down to her black clothes, she makes no noises at all, and then will shock everyone by saying something outrageous. Claire Standish is the Princess, complete with rich parents, nice house, clean clothes, sushi for lunch, and no individuality at all. Finally we have the Criminal, John Bender. He’s a bit of a headcase, a tough guy whose home life is violent and foul-mouthed, and who is constantly on the lookout for something new to rebel against.

For each of these we see a journey unfolding during their eight hours together. At the beginning, they are as far apart as ever, and arguments, violence, and accusations fly. However, as they are forced to spend more time together, they begin the slow, often painful journey towards understanding. The common enemy of Mr Vernon helps, because the one thing they agree on is that they shouldn’t have to answer to the likes of him. And as they turn against him, they line up as the most unlikely friends you’d see. Claire and Allison begin poles apart, and come to realise that they aren’t so different after all. Both crave attention, and both yearn to be accepted for themselves. But whilst one has conformed, the other has rebelled, and we see the acceptance that one has for the other come through. Andrew and Brian would normally never speak throughout their school lives, but the realisation that they are both under pressure to achieve – one scholastically and one athletically – provides a common ground from which to move forwards. And as each of them realise that there are more, bigger issues than their small worlds, they all appreciate that Bender has just as much right to be happy as they do, and maybe an even greater need for acceptance than any of them.

So the day rolls on – complete with trips out of the library to fetch Bender’s stash of dope from his locker (whilst Mr Vernon is off raiding the school’s confidential files), fights, pick-pocketing, astonishment over the variety of their packed lunches, spells in solitary confinement, and the revelations as to why each of them found themselves in detention that particular weekend.

At the end of the day, strange alliances had been forged, and it would be interesting to see the school on Monday morning, to discover how much of the talk was real and how much just bullshit.

The movie has fine performances from its stars, and a superb soundtrack which includes the Movie Anthem of the Decade, Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds. It’s a movie unlike any other, and has to be in anyone’s collection.