Merry Christmas to those who follow this blog! Now that we are reaching the end of 2017, it’s that time of year I share my annual new-to-me discoveries. Notice there are three blaxploitation movies, because I decided to do a summer marathon of those 70s films. Besides that, I also watched a fair amount of comedy. Also included, thrillers, dramas, action, a musical, and a documentary. There’s no order or ranking on this list except all are films with at least an 8/10 rating, sometimes higher.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
Drama. Meryl Streep as Sarah does mysterious well, so the audience wants to get to know her. She is complex and difficult to understand, and that’s what makes her fascinating. Charles (Jeremy Irons) is convincing as her bewildered pursuer and their journey is the most compelling aspect of the film. The perspective of the servant life is given its due, and in some ways it’s a story designed for us to empathize with their hardship. Charles’ servant Sam is frustrated by the uncertainty of his job and other servants are not able to live a happy life because of strict, bullying employers such as Mrs. Poulteney. The jumps between eras was confusing (on first watch) and the modern narrative less effective.
The film-within-a-film reminded me of Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), only The French Lieutenant’s Woman is more emotionally involving. Truffaut’s film on the other hand does a better job of showcasing the compromises, difficulties and everyday life of shooting a film.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Held my attention throughout, there was never a dull moment. Probably one of the most entertaining and realistic high school movies I’ve seen.
The awkward teenage situations have aged well despite the film released 35 years ago. Also quite funny in places, such as Led Zeppelin in the car, and the small people sitting in restaurant with big menus. Many future stars can be seen in supporting roles, Sean Penn has some of the most quotable lines.
Highlights on the soundtrack include We Got The Beat by The Go-Go’s (from the opening), Sleeping Angel by Stevie Nicks played when they are trying to solve a problem that arises, and Moving in Stereo by the Cars when Brad (Judge Reinhold) is fantasizing about Linda (Phoebe Cates) in the red swimsuit.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Probably the funniest Coen brothers comedy I’ve seen. Very quotable too.
“Cochroches like popcorn”
“What was he wearing? A dinner jacket! Wuddya think, he was wearing his damn jammies!”
Not as original as Arnie’s other 80s work, but entertaining, quotable, and with non-stop action. Especially the opening hour surprises with its action sequences, while the final 30 minutes are weaker and too formulaic for the genre.
I still consider Commando a quintessential Schwarzenegger actioner, and superior to the movies he’s made in recent times. The 92 minutes just fly by and has great pacing, even if the acting and silly one-liners tend towards so-bad-it’s-good territory. The cheesiness is part of the fun of it.
Sällskapsresan – eller finns det svenskt kaffe på grisfesten? (1980)
Caught this one on TV. A light-hearted comedy, easy to watch. The most commercially successful movie in Swedish cinema history, though not widely known outside of Scandinavia. This is the original and the characters are likeable. The awkward lead, Stig Helmer, would go on to star in five sequels.
Hilarious scenes, especially in the first half, involving juice on a flight and the missing baggage office. The second half is a tad weaker, but Ole’s dance-off is amusing and so is the Spanish guy’s domineering mother. The events take place during a package holiday to the warmer climate of Gran Canaria during December. Could be labelled a Christmas movie, but also a satirical comedy about Swedes abroad.
The Mack (1973)
The message is a bit murky, and the glorification of pimping is unsettling despite the rich giving back to the poor angle. That said, it’s a strong, ambitious story, and among the best blaxploitation movies I’ve seen so far. Quite a few memorable characters, especially the lead and the two supporting actors who play white cops are easily remembered. A minor weakness is Richard Pryor, his character is quite amusing but he sadly doesn’t have much to do. As with Across 110th Street (see below) and other blaxploitation, it’s a gangster/crime drama. The dialogue is quotable and above average, with lines such as: “You breathe too deep, you blink once too often, I’m gonna make you look like an ad for swiss cheese, ok?”
Across 110th Street (1972)
Opens with a messy robbery and the remainder is about the consequences and police investigation. A step up from Superfly. Again, set in New York, a bigger budget, less reliant on music to fill the gaps.
Full of powerful scenes. Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn play the good cop/bad cop, working towards finding the criminals.
The critically praised title song Across 110th Street from the opening credits, written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson, was a No. 19 hit on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart in 1973, and was later featured in Tarantino’s 1997 blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown.
The Harder They Come (1972)
As with Superfly (1972), the soundtrack is iconic and a character in itself. The Harder They Come and You Can Get It If You Really Want are reggae classics of the 1970s.
The main character is someone I liked and disliked. I felt pity for him when he can’t find work, then disgust when a confrontation happens involving a bike. He seemed like a nice guy who lost his way and got corrupted by the big city and a false idea of what is important.
I don’t know much about singer/actor Jimmy Cliff who played the lead. The soundtrack was a nice introduction to his reggae. The film was a sensation in Jamaica due to its naturalistic portrayal of black Jamaicans in real locations and its use of local dialect. The latter was often hard to decipher, though I did get the gist of the story, about a talented musician (Cliff) trying to make it and the difficulties he encounters.
Not a true Blaxploitation, but fits in that category quite well . Does seem to glorify crime, but you sense the supporting characters are critical of his behaviour.
There’s a harsh critique of the record industry and also the newspapers, in how they take people’s dreams and problems and turn it into profit. Yet he wanted to live on the edge so he knowingly created his own trouble and headlines. The real “villain” and “hero” is open to interpretation, as there’s also a nod to the violent spaghetti western the character may have been inspired by.
Based on the life of Roy L. “Rocky” Dennis, strong acting by Eric Stoltz, Laura Dern and Cher, and a number of sweet moments. I remember watching a small part of the film years ago and was freaked out by the main character’s deformed face. Now, I can see past that and appreciate the story. A coming of age drama about struggling to fit in due to being different, and also focuses on the relationships he has to family/friends.
What made the 80s different to today’s cinema were the life lessons sprinkled into the screenplays, and there are a few of those here. Like John Hurt in 1980’s The Elephant Man, Eric Stoltz is unrecognizable in the lead role. These type of films sometimes depict the deformed character as an angel, but I think it works here by juxtapositioning the teenage son with his troubled mother (Cher). I cared about these people and it’s one of those films that stays with you.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Sillier than Back to the Future. The filmmakers probably stole the phone booth idea from Doctor Who, but the ”excellent” quote with air guitar is iconic, and is repeated many times in the movie. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are believable as high school friends. I liked the story included what these historical figures would do in our modern world, although some of them were too easy to kidnap. The house cleaning scene is laugh out loud. While superficial and basically a kid’s movie, it is funny and crowd-pleasing, and could inspire you to look deeper into the history.
The 80s soundtrack has some lesser known gems, especially I Can’t Break Away by Big Pig from the intro. Father Time by Shark Island & Dancing With A Gypsy by Tora Tora are entertaining hard rock songs. Play With Me by Extreme even samples Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, in reference to the film character.
One False Move (1992)
An effective neo noir crime thriller. Cops (including Bill Paxton) are hunting down a group of dangerous criminals (Billy Bob Thornton and others) on the run.
Tonally changeable, with violent moments, and unpredictable twists. Also tackles interracial love.
Probably the best scene involves two LAPD detectives belittling the ambitions of small town police chief (Paxton), claiming amongst themselves he wouldn’t last two minutes in the big city. Paxton’s character Dale “Hurricane” Dixon happens to hear this which causes an awkward situation. It’s interesting he has that nickname. Better than average independent film.
Bread and Tulips (2000)
A light comedy from Italy. Very sweet. Licia Maglietta’s charming lead performance makes me want to look up what other films she’s done. If you are stuck in familiar routines, a story that could inspire you. About a housewife who takes a spontaneous holiday to Venice. I feel this film should be better known. The Bruno Ganz scene with the tulip petals falling off is unforgettable, although I’m not too sure why bread is in the title? Won several Italian film awards.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s black comedy debut feature. Sweet, funny, dark and visually imaginative. You can’t tell what year the film is made, the dystopian future has a timelessness. The ”musical number” made up of rhythms and sounds in the building is pretty hilarious. Julie and Louison are a cute couple.
I never understood why the Troglodistes stayed so long, nor did I understand why the bathroom was filled with water? They should make a prequel with the main character as a circus clown.
New York, New York (1977)
Actually better than I expected. Considered second-tier Scorsese, but even his weaker films are as good as a lot of top tier stuff released today.
The opening ball sequence is my favorite part of the film, which is both technically impressive, and Robert de Niro’s stalking women is amusing to watch. Robert de Niro was convincing as a saxophonist, although I’m not a jazz expert. New York, New York is among the greatest songs of the 70s and the jazz music was given enough space to make an impression.
La La Land was heavily inspired by this Scoresese film, especially two leads as creative people in love in the entertainment business. In Scorsese’s film I cared about them, in La La Land I did not.
The Beguiled (1971)
Set during the Civil War, about a wounded Yankee soldier (Clint Eastwood) who seeks refuge in an isolated girls school in the South. Based on a 1966 Southern Gothic novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan, originally titled A Painted Devil.
A slow build-up in which you become acquainted with the characters. Especially the last 45 minutes are memorable and surprising. Early on in the film there’s a controversial kiss which will disturb some viewers.
Sofia Coppola’s remake I have not seen, and from what I’ve read from bloggers at Cinematic Corner and epilepticmoondancer the story is too tame/dull. Although the 2017 film does have a positive 78% score on Rotten Tomatoes so in Coppola’s defense there are critics who liked her new version.
Swimming Pool (2003)
The pacing is a bit slow, but a thriller you have to finish to find out what happens. The ending is very clever. A visually driven, voyeuristic, puzzle of a film which lingers in the mind. Ludivine Sagnier definitely sizzles and Rampling is always interesting to watch.
City Zero (1988)
Recommended to me by Mr Bobinsky at indiescifi451. Included in his top 10 Soviet sci-fi films.
My thoughts. The tone of the film is very specific, a sort of absurd kafkaesque deadpan comedy/mystery. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread. In Kafka’s world, you cannot get an answer to your questions from the authorities and absurd misunderstandings and accusations occur. The bureaucratic powers are incompetent. The mood of City Zero has a bit of that.
The restaurant scene is particularly surprising and funny. Amusing the museum is in the middle of nowhere and something decidedly odd is going on with the museum exhibits. I probably didn’t get the full impact, as the Russian history and politics went over my head, but I was still able to enjoy the film nonetheless. It’s unclear what is going on in the town. Perhaps the townspeople have created a scam. I could be wrong, my theory is the they wanted Varakin to replace the chef.
Could be viewed as an allegory for governmental control and freedom of the individual, something that was an issue behind the iron curtain in the 80s. Open to more than one interpretation. An unpredictable story that I couldn’t stop watching.
The Fear of 13 (2015) (documentary)
True crime death row documentary. A man (Nick Yarris) telling us his life story, the ups and downs. He is a great storyteller. A riveting and affecting watch.
What do you think. Any favorites? Have I encouraged you to check out a film? As always, comments are welcome