1983

Krull (1983, Peter Yates)

From the director of Breaking Away and one of the many fine writers of the Adam West “Batman” TV show….

Krull is just as unwatchable now as it was the last time I tried to watch it, some eleven years ago.

As a kid—assuming kids are the best audience for the film—Krull never registered as something I might want to watch. Finding anything to say about it is difficult. It’s an object lesson, I suppose, in how not to direct for Panavision. Yates is about as incapable of directing an action sequence as one would imagine Woody Allen would be directing one. The opening alone is painful.

It’s unclear what successful fantasy film the makers were trying to capitalize on—it’s not a Star Wars knockoff, for example. Wait… it’s knights with laser-swords versus some kind of Stormtrooper stand-ins. But these Stormtroopers don’t have a Death Star, they have a big rock. Krull might have actually kicked off the eighties fantasy genre—I fairly sure that genre produced anything of any value. At least not the straight, non-comedy influenced genre pictures.

Also amusing is James Horner’s score, which is entirely—well, maybe not entirely, but heavily influenced by his Star Trek II and III scores. Actually, Star Trek III came out the following year so maybe Horner just reused the Krull bits in it.

Oddly, given the film’s incompetence, the outer space effects are solid.

Krull’s a punchline masquerading as a two-hour fantasy epic.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; written by Stanford Sherman; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by James Horner; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Ron Silverman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ken Marshall (Colwyn), Lysette Anthony (Lyssa), Freddie Jones (Ynyr), Francesca Annis (Widow of the Web), Alun Armstrong (Torquil), David Battley (Ergo), Bernard Bresslaw (Cyclops), Liam Neeson (Kegan) and Robbie Coltrane (Rhun).


Blue Thunder (1983, John Badham)

Blue Thunder is astoundingly dumb. It’s not exactly bad, as there are some fantastic effects and some of the script has shockingly sublime moments, but it’s astoundingly dumb.

It starts off strong, with a decent enough first act. Daniel Stern is new to the Astro division of the LAPD and, through him, the film introduces Roy Scheider’s on the edge cop. Thunder is just an on the edge cop movie, only with helicopters. Their first night out stuff is fine.

When Candy Clark shows up as Scheider’s comically unstable girlfriend, things get shaky. Then Malcolm McDowell shows up as the British villain (working for the U.S. Government, however) and Thunder bellyflops. It recovers somewhat for the last thirty minutes, with the helicopter in action over LA stuff, but not entirely.

It’s a fun finale, but accepting its stupidity is one of the requirements for enjoying it. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby have this conspiracy subplot and they mangle it. It, and McDowell’s terrible performance, go far in dragging Thunder down.

The occasional sublime moments–there’s a great scene of Clark looking for Scheider–are memorable enough to leave a better impression than Thunder deserves.

Scheider’s good, Stern’s mediocre (but still likable).

It’s technically masterful. Badham can’t make a good movie, but he can shoot Panavision action well. He’s got great help from cinematographer John A. Alonzo and editors Edward M. Abroms and Frank Morriss.

Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is repetitive but catchy.

Blue Thunder‘s often entertaining, but entirely stupid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Frank Morriss and Edward M. Abroms; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Sydney Z. Litwack; produced by Gordon Carroll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Officer Frank Murphy), Daniel Stern (Officer Richard Lymangood), Malcolm McDowell (Col. F.E. Cochrane), Warren Oates (Capt. Jack Braddock), Candy Clark (Kate), Paul Roebling (Icelan), David Sheiner (Fletcher), Joe Santos (Montoya), James Murtaugh (Alf Hewitt) and Jason Bernard as The Mayor.


Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

Superman III–deservedly–gets a lot of flak, but it’s actually the most faithful to the comics in a lot of ways. It plays out like a late sixties, early seventies Superman comic–“The Man Who Killed Superman,” turning out to be a bumbling, generally well-meaning guy like Richard Pryor, or “Superman Versus the Ultimate Computer.”

Superman III is also Superman versus the neo-cons (one has to wonder if, while the computer hijinks influenced Office Space, the oil plotting influenced Dick Cheney). The film’s villains are constantly weak, with Robert Vaughn (whose character has some great lines) and Annie Ross turning in dreadful performances.

But it didn’t have to be bad, which is what’s so upsetting about it. The stuff in Smallville with Clark Kent meeting up with his high school crush is often fantastic–it lets Christopher Reeve add a facet to the performance and Annette O’Toole’s great as the love interest. Even better is when she gets to Metropolis–it’s only one scene (she wasn’t back in IV) but the dynamic with her and Margot Kidder seems like it would have been outstanding.

Poor Marc McClure gets a lot of screen time at the beginning… then disappears. But the same goes for Reeve. Once Superman turns into evil Superman, he’s in the movie even less.

Pryor’s good. His dialogue’s weak, but his performance isn’t.

Lester’s direction is mostly good, though the slapstick fails–cinematographer Robert Paynter is a disaster.

But then, disaster is Superman III‘s keyword.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by David Newman and Leslie Newman, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang), Annie Ross (Vera), Pamela Stephenson (Lorelei), Robert Vaughn (Ross Webster), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gavan O’Herlihy (Brad) and Nancy Roberts (Unemployment Clerk).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)

I don’t get A Christmas Story‘s continued success. I mean, I get its initial success (I grew up with it, on video, and remember my friends talking about it before I got to see it and the film living up to expectations), but it’s hard to believe people still like it. I mean, what do they like about it? What does someone who thinks Wild Hogs is comedic genius get out of this film?

Anyway, this viewing–it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and I think I always forget how the opening titles play–I realized just what a precious object Clark is making here. Since the last time I watched it, I’ve listened to some Jean Shepherd radio programs and A Christmas Story is remarkably tame (I also notice Peter Billingsley is played as a bit of a doofus for a protagonist, until the end when it’s clear Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin are the real leads).

There are some issues with Clark’s object here–well, some issues with how Reginald H. Morris photographs it. There are about six shots where the lighting is just off, like the film got developed wrong. It hurts the flow. Luckily the excellent soundtrack and Clark’s directorial abilities (has anyone ever commented on how the Chinese restaurant sequence is one magnificent shot–someone should have), make up for any bumps.

It’s amazing how little Christmas itself has to do with the film itself. It could have been called practically anything else.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark, based on a novel by Shepherd; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer; production designer, Reuben Freed; produced by Clark and René Dupont; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker), Darren McGavin (The Old Man), Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker), Ian Petrella (Randy Parker), Scott Schwartz (Flick), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Jeff Gillen (Santa Claus).


Risky Business (1983, Paul Brickman), the director’s cut

There are three things I want to discuss about Risky Business (there isn’t room to cover the fourth, why Tom Cruise is so excellent in this film then mostly terrible for the next twelve years). The subjects are director’s cuts, teen movies and this film’s portrayal of women. All three are somewhat interconnected and maybe the director’s cut of the film is the best place to start.

Risky Business has no official director’s cut. One would have to make it for him or herself. It’s worth figuring out how to do. The original version of Risky Business, for those who don’t know, ends with Tom Cruise–an upper-middle class, three point one GPA white high school student–getting into Princeton because he’s running a brothel when the admissions interviewer shows up. It’s a slam dunk for American capitalism and, famously, not the ending director Paul Brickman originally went with. I think Leonard Maltin even mentions it in his capsule review….

I sat waiting for it, having heard about it for eleven plus years, knowing what was coming next… only for it never to arrive. Something else happens instead, something wonderful.

It’s hard to pick an adjective to describe the film’s portrayal of women–particularly Rebecca De Mornay’s late teens call girl (it’s always implied she’s only a little bit older than Cruise’s high school senior). The film objectifies her initially, then defames her as a con artist. Neither are really positive. The first makes sense for a movie about a teenager who ends up running a brothel with his classmates as customers. The second moves the story along. Where Risky Business is singular among the popular teen movies of the 1980s (it’s telling Business came just before the onslaught of John Hughes’s pictures, which demolished the genre in its infancy) is in the contradiction. That first sense, the objectification sense, it’s a sham. De Mornay’s character is slowly revealed to be a vulnerable, intelligent, frightened young woman. Cruise discovers these things at the same rate the viewer does and the film’s perspective changes as he does. Risky Business has lots of narration and Cruise has to sell it all. He succeeds.

The film takes responsibility for its characters and their complex relationships–both implied and on screen–with their peers and their parents. It’s never cheap, which is what sets it so far apart from the decade’s subsequent teen films. I’m not sure if I can think, past Risky Business and Rebel Without a Cause of a “teen” picture so maturely told. But the director’s cut is what puts Business in this too small class.

IMDb sort of spoils the director’s cut ending for anyone interested, but only slightly. It’s impossible to communicate the scene and the effect in words, if only because Brickman–for a first time director–not only knows how to compose a shot and how to direct actors, he also knows how to pick music. The Tangerine Dream score in Risky Business does much of the film’s stylistic heavy lifting. Brickman does a handful of a snazzy moves–some with editing, some with the narration, some with lighting and slowing down the film (nothing ostentatious, but certainly a little different from the rest of his approach)–and the score tempers it. The snazzy moves seem more natural because the score’s already come in and prepared the viewer. It’s a beautiful fit.

The acting–not just Cruise and De Mornay, who are both fantastic and have a great chemistry (even though her career’s had a far different trajectory than his, they really ought to do another film together)–is great. Brickman assembles an amazing supporting cast. Joe Pantaliano has one of the flashier roles as Guido the Killer Pimp, who enjoys honey in his tea (Brickman’s deft touches are another joy). Bronson Pinchot’s actually really good, as is Curtis Armstrong (but less surprise with him). Bruce A. Young and Nicholas Pryor are also great in small roles.

I first saw Risky Business about twelve years ago. It impressed the hell out of me. I’ve seen it in between then and now and the last time, it didn’t. I’m not sure how the theatrical version would sit with me today–it’s hard to believe I’d think much less of it, given that amazing sequence (both filmmaking and acting) when Cruise heads into the city to find De Mornay–but the director’s cut is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Brickman; directors of photography, Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Richard Chew; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, William J. Cassidy; produced by Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch; released by the Geffen Company.

Starring Tom Cruise (Joel Goodsen), Rebecca De Mornay (Lana), Joe Pantoliano (Guido), Richard Masur (Rutherford), Bronson Pinchot (Barry), Curtis Armstrong (Miles), Nicholas Pryor (Joel’s Father), Janet Carroll (Joel’s Mother), Shera Danese (Vicki), Raphael Sbarge (Glenn) and Bruce A. Young (Jackie).


Baby It’s You (1983, John Sayles)

Baby It’s You is a John Sayles film I never expected to see… it’s John Sayles for hire. Sayles has had a lucrative career as a ghostwriter of blockbusters (Apollo 13 famously had his name on one poster… but not after the WGA got done). But Baby It’s You is the first of his films as a director I’ve encountered where Sayles struggled to find something to amuse himself. This film’s producer and credited story writer, Amy Robinson, shares a lot with the protagonist played by Rosanna Arquette and the film feels an awfully lot like an “inspired by a true story.” Sayles does well with that genre, except Baby It’s You isn’t just subpar for Sayles… it’s a thoughtfully produced television movie.

With Sayles’s direction–he doesn’t really get going until the third act in a lot of ways, his earlier moments of accomplishment are just his knowledge of making a film work on a small budget. How do you show you’re in a busy schoolyard without a big budget? Sound. The first three-quarters of the film is Sayles using his filmmaking skills to make the 1967 setting work flawlessly. In the end, he finally gets some moments of actual human interaction, instead of superficial movie ones, and–even with Arquette–it works.

Baby It’s You starts with Sayles’s name and some anachronistic use of Bruce Springsteen (for Vincent Spano’s big scenes, which is an artistically interesting move but distracting and unsuccessful). It feels like it might be Sayles, but then it gradually becomes clear it is not. Sayles knows what to do with Arquette’s character and the moments with her group of friends in high school reveal where the film could have gone… but with Spano, Sayles is lost.

The film concerns Arquette’s relationship with high school oddball (not quite thug, not quite not) Spano as she leaves working class New Jersey for Sarah Lawrence. The acting is a big problem, but not the film’s biggest. Sayles really doesn’t know what to do with Spano… maybe because the character remains opaque to the viewer until the third act, but maybe because the story just isn’t interesting. I lost count of how many times I wondered why these characters’ experiences were worth my hundred minutes. Not a concern I tend to have with Sayles, who can take it from one end of the spectrum to the other. Baby It’s You doesn’t really participate in that spectrum. It’s in a whole different one–the one where Rosanna Arquette shows up in a movie.

Matthew Modine has a small role in Baby It’s You. At this point in Modine’s career, he was a young Hollywood actor on his way up (he got washed away by the Brat Pack). It’s a John Sayles movie with Hollywood politicking. Sayles doesn’t do well with it.

Actually, Modine’s good, probably giving the second best performance–Tracy Pollan’s quite good as one of Arquette’s college classmates. Bill Raymond’s also good in a small role.

Spano isn’t terrible, but he’s visibly out of his depth. Sayles’s script asks him for the impossible–the character’s just too vague. Arquette either gets a little better at the end or she’d just killed enough of my brain cells I didn’t care anymore.

I’ve been wanting to see Baby It’s You for about twelve years.

I could have waited.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Sayles; screenplay by Sayles, based on a story by Amy Robinson; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Sonya Polonsky; production designer, Jeffrey Townsend; produced by Griffin Dunne and Robinson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rosanna Arquette (Jill Rosen), Vincent Spano (Sheik), Joanna Merlin (Mrs. Rosen), Jack Davidson (Dr. Rosen), Nick Ferrari (Mr. Capadilupo), Dolores Messina (Mrs. Capadilupo), Leora Dana (Miss Vernon, Teacher), Bill Raymond (Mr. Ripeppi), Sam McMurray (Mr. McManus, Teacher), Liane Alexandra Curtis (Jody, High School Girl), Claudia Sherman (Beth, High School Girl), Marta Kober (Debra, High School Girl), Tracy Pollan (Leslie, College Girl), Rachel Dretzin (Shelly, College Girl), Susan Derendorf (Chris, College Girl), Frank Vincent (Vinnie), Robin Johnson (Joann), Gary McCleery (Rat) and Matthew Modine (Steve).


The Osterman Weekend (1983, Sam Peckinpah)

Very few filmmakers have a good last film. Kubrick was incredibly lucky. Hitchcock was not. In general, directors tend to wane in their later careers–Clint Eastwood’s blossoming into such an artist aside–and, depending on their popularity and influence, they live into the era they inspired and no one wants to listen to them anymore. Orson Welles once accepted an award for Citizen Kane and told his granters he loved getting an award when he couldn’t get money to make a new film. Peckinpah’s producers on The Osterman Weekend took it away from him in editing, while Peckinpah was hospitalized no less. Still, there was nothing for Peckinpah to fix.

I’ve actually read the novel by Robert Ludlum–in eighth grade or something–and Ludlum writes big books. The weekend of the title doesn’t even start until forty minutes into the film, after a lengthy setup and a car chase. Peckinpah had lost the touch, recycling his Wild Bunch style for the chase scene. It’s still somehow effective in a few parts–the slow motion and the regular speed sound–but it’s a desperate attempt to thrill and it doesn’t work. The slow motion comes back in the end, during a fight scene between Rutger Hauer and Craig T. Nelson. Craig T. Nelson knows kung fu in The Osterman Weekend. Unbelievably, Nelson turns in the second best performance in the film too. Hauer made an excellent leading man, even if he didn’t have his accent totally smoothed out in this film.

I didn’t get interested in Osterman for Peckinpah though–his work, starting in the mid-1970s, gets pretty terrible (though The Osterman Weekend is better than Cross of Iron). I got interested because of the writer, Alan Sharp, who wrote Night Moves. The dialogue is adequate, the scenes are dull. Combined with the direction, it’s like watching a TV movie–one you can’t believe you’re still watching. However, nothing–not the script, not the sad attempt at action (woefully lacking the content Peckinpah infused to such success)–could survive the producers. The Osterman Weekend looks cheap. It looks cheap in the main house set, it looks cheap in the CIA headquarters (where poor Burt Lancaster embarrasses himself), and it looks really cheap in John Hurt’s CIA techno-van. The two clowns producing it went on to do Highlander and condemn the viewing public to Christopher Lambert.

A few scenes in Osterman did look familiar, like someone saw the film. In particular, the drive-in scene from Heat has an obvious precursor here, if only the location. I think there was another one, I just can’t remember. So people did keep watching Peckinpah, but it’s shocking how little he had to say by the end of his career.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Alan Sharp, adaptation by Ian Masters, based on the book by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, John Coquillon; edited by Edward Abroms and David Rawlins; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Rutger Hauer (John Tanner), John Hurt (Lawrence Fassett), Craig T. Nelson (Bernard Osterman), Dennis Hopper (Richard Tremayne), Chris Sarandon (Joseph Cardone), Meg Foster (Ali Tanner), Helen Shaver (Virginia Tremayne), Cassie Yates (Betty Cardone), Sandy McPeak (Stennings), Christopher Starr (Steve Tanner) and Burt Lancaster (Maxwell Danforth).


Danton (1983, Andrzej Wajda)

Period pieces and biopics tend to fail, at least ones made since 1950. I was just reading something about the growing audience want for realism in movies–this movement growing in the 1960s and 1970s (though the location shooting of the late 1940s is certainly a precursor)–that want made period pictures and biopics difficult… there needed to be reality. You couldn’t have Henry Frankenstein wearing a 1930s robe in late 18th century wherever (they never really specified in Bride of Frankenstein, did they?). Some films, obviously, managed to get around these difficulties. Kubrick embraced it fully–Barry Lyndon had a special lens adapted to shoot scenes by candlelight–while others ignored it and were ridiculed. I’m not sure how historically accurate Danton is, but it’s allegiances are to film, not to history. I’m pretty sure when the French Revolution was going bad, there wasn’t foreboding music in the background.

The film juxtaposes Danton and Robespierre, positing them as alter egos. It’s been a while since I read any French Revolution history, but I remember it both from undergrad and earlier and the Terror was not a particularly happy time and Robespierre never got a positive review. More recently I’ve watched Gance’s Napoleon and his Robespierre is insidious. I think Robespierre’s speech in that film was the scene where Gance swung the camera at him on a trapeze. Danton opines a different Robespierre, a sad one who’s just as upset as Danton about the Revolution going bad.

Danton is not a history lesson. Besides the one subtitle about the year, there’s none of the common exposition to inform the audience. I’ve found that exposition is only common in American films. Danton drops the viewer into a situation about a bunch of leading politicians and tells a story. The film’s present action is maybe two weeks, not longer. It gradually builds, introducing its large cast of characters (since it’s not a biopic, it takes the time to tell its story in scenes, not summary). While Gérard Depardieu appears in the first scene, he doesn’t do anything for the first twenty minutes or so. Depardieu is excellent as Danton, charming and resigned at the same time. Wojciech Pszoniak is better (which is hard, Depardieu’s real good) as Robespierre. The rest of the cast is fine, but since the film’s about those two men, they leave the impression.

I brought up Kubrick earlier because the director seems to have seen a few of his films, particularly Paths of Glory. Danton is good throughout, but it becomes excellent at the end, when it becomes fully filmic. Previously, the viewer could see right and wrong being done (by both the bad guys and the good), but at the end, director Wajda goes all out. There are hints something is going on earlier, a scene at the Convention when Robespierre speaks (no trapeze though) gets quiet when it should get loud. Reality takes a backseat for cinematic storytelling. The end of the film, however, embraces the medium to an extent I didn’t think possible in the film. In the last fifteen minutes, Wajda goes beyond–in terms of quality storytelling–what he’d set up in the previous 115 minutes. The end is devastating.

My fiancée said a history professor of ours said it was the finest film about the French Revolution. He’s probably right (I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen any other films about the French Revolution). In the American critical expectation, there seems to be the need for a film about the French Revolution to teach the audience something about said Revolution. Danton didn’t teach me much (except to check out more of Wajda’s films and Pszoniak’s too). It was concerned with being a fine film, not being a teaching experience… and it worked out really well for it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrzej Wajda; screenplay by Jean-Claude Carrière, Wajda, Boleslaw Michalek, Agnieszka Holland and Jacek Gasiorowski, based on a play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska; director of photography, Igor Luther; edited by Halina Prugar-Ketling; music by Jean Prodromides; produced by Margaret Menegoz; released by Gaumont.

Starring Gérard Depardieu (Danton), Wojciech Pszoniak (Robespierre), Anne Alvaro (Eleonore Duplay), Roland Blanche (Lacroix), Patrice Chereau (Camille Desmoulins), Emmanuelle Debever (Louison Danton), Krzysztof Globisz (Amar), Ronald Guttman (Herman), Gerard Hardy (Tallien), Tadeusz Huk (Couthon), Stephane Jobert (Panis), Marian Kociniak (Lindet), Marek Kondrat (Barere de Vieuzac) and Boguslaw Linda (Saint Just).


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