TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 1981

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Honorable Mentions:
-Chariots of Fire
-Clash of the Titans
-Dragonslayer
-Escape from New York
-For Your Eyes Only
-The Fox and the Hound
-Gallipoli
-Halloween 2
-Inseminoid
-The Omen 3
-On Golden Pond
-Reds
-Scanners
-Time Bandits

10. THE HOWLING
The Howling (1981 film) poster.jpg
The second solo directorial effort by Joe Dante (Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, Amazon Women on the Moon, The Burbs, Looney Toons, Back in Action) after he did Roger Corman’s Piranha is one of the best werewolf films of all time. It’s a genuinely scary werewolf film that’s paced well, goes between tense horror and exploitation b-movie levels perfectly. Dee Wallace (ET, Cujo) gives a great performance as the lead with the rest of the cast doing well. Dante’s direction is perfect for the two tones the film snakes between thanks to writers Terence H Winkless (Director of The Nest) and John Sayles (Piranha, Alligator, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Passion Fish, Lone Star) with a tone that goes between Taxi Driver and Jaws. But ultimately a werewolf film needs to be judged by its monster and the werewolves/werewolf effects are amazing. They’re expertly shot and characterized within the world and have effects done by the master Rob Bottin (Piranha, The Thing, Legend, Total Recall, Se7en, Mission Impossible, Mimic, Fight Club) whose werewolf effects are 2nd only to the classic American Werewolf in London. Horror/Werewolf buffs must see this.

9. MY BLOODY VALENTINE
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This slasher is one of the best underrated ones of the era. Specifically in regards to the fixed re-release when the less than stellar 3D remake came out in 2009. My Bloody Valentine is a slasher that works and works wonders: a great set up, really phenomenal execution when you break it down and the right mix of horror, tragedy and fun. While its creative team didn’t go on to make anything more of note, this film just works like gangbusters. Its use of tension, visuals and kills are extremely inventive and add up to a gory fun time. Its original release had a lot of the gore cut out, but a new version released on DVD cuts back in all the gore and its amazing. And for those considering the 3D remake, don’t. It’s only somewhat good with the 3D, but it lacks a lot of the charm and do cliché changes to the story. I cannot recommend this more. Plus for all you  Valentine’s Day haters-here’s a killer you can relate to.

8. STRIPES
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You know there was that Family Guy joke about how long it takes this movie to get to the army. Watching the extended cut (2 hours) it only take about 20 minutes to get there, because we’re building the 2 main characters…like a proper comedy would. This is the thing that bothers me, people claim “oh the 80’s were the best” and then complain about their less frenetic pacing, character development and focus on cultural background. Stripes is funny, really funny thanks to director Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Twins) and its stellar cast including Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters), John Candy (Uncle Buck), Sean Young (Blade Runner), PJ Soles (The Devil’s Rejects) and Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch). The film’s human and humorous tone runs throughout and its characterisations are why I love this so much. Bill Murray as the main heartthrob scoundrel is rather endearing and better than some of the other 80’s comedy heroes. The rest of the cast add so much, even the characters not designed to be endearing, funny or that important. My personal favourite scenes are with the failing Captain (especially the mortar range), when the main duo go AWOL, the mud wrestling scene and the resonant underdog sequence. Although even small bits of them marching or guys flirting is great, plus the main theme and music in general by Elmer Bernstein (Animal House, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape, Ghostbusters, The Black Cauldron) is near phenomenal. It’s a classic for a reason so check it out if you’ve not seen it in a while or haven’t.

7. THE EVIL DEAD
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This classic indie horror masterpiece has been discussed at length by the horror community. Between its near Lovecraftian horror background, slapstick era Three Stooges style of comedy, practical effects and Bruce Campbell’s Ash as an icon of horror/action hero cinema. Sam Raimi’s (along with many other’s) vision and passion makes The Evil Dead one of those horror films whose minor flaws are overlooked because the raw product works so well. A mix of terrifyingly and horrific scenes combined with an old school comedic self awareness that ultimately renders the film as the horror icon it is. The legacy of Evil Dead is so strong that despite the mild controversy (which made it a box office success) it ultimately made Raimi a director of many successes of Darkman, The Evil Dead franchise, the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, his stylistic revival in Drag Me To Hell, his classic film love envisioned with Oz: the Great and the Powerful, and his production efforts on the likes of Don’t Breathe and Crawl. His raw talent and effort combined with a game cast and production team make this and all his other endeavours work. Every cinephile has seen this, so if you’ve not-now’s your chance.

Further Viewing:

6. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
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Without much competition, the best Werewolf movie of all time. Created by John Landis (director of Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Spies Like Us, Coming to America, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and whose ass of a son the industry should throw away) the film was considered simultaneously too funny and too scary for either genres by those involved. The film works as a horror film, a horror comedy, a fish out of water scenario and a fun monster movie. The opening act I think is really great, the characters work wonders and the various story developments and scares are perfectly well done. But of course this movie has one of the best werewolves and werewolf transformation scenes in history. The effects were handled by Rick baker who had a hand in everything from The Exorcist, Star Wars, Videodrome, Wolf, Ed Wood, Men in Black, Hellboy, Tropic Thunder, The Wolfman and Maleficent and they hold up so well today it’s a testament to practical effects. We also have another amazing score by Elmer Bernstein of Stripes and some truly amazing cinematography by Robert Paynter (The Mechanic, Superman 2, Little Shop of Horrors). The film holds it place in cinema as a horror classic for a reason and easily the best horror film of 1981.

5. DAS BOOT
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There should be a mass re-appraisal of Wolfgang Petersen and Hollywood should bring him back for their biggest and best films. As the director behind blockbuster classics like: Troy, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, Outbreak and The Neverending Story (who even made a Batman V Superman film and Paprika remake) we really should bring him back. But when you’ve got a career track record like that and your best film is Das Boot-I’m sure he’s proud. Das Boot is one of the best war films in history, probably the best Submarine film and an absolute masterwork of filmmaking. Das Boot follows World War 2 German submarine operators and their emotional struggle in this war. It’s an epic war drama that Hollywood wasn’t doing as much in favor of smaller war film like Platoon, but it’s full force here. The acting is impeccable, the visuals captured by Jost Vacano (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) are astounding, but its the sound design that deserves the most praise. Das Boot’s sound design was pretty much all done in post due to the camera and sound gear making it impossible on set. Usually sound done entirely in post is done for animation, but to need it for live action and it being seamless is a testament to sound teams. It’s a marvel of film, an undisputed classic and something any film buff needs to see.

Further Viewing:

4. EXCALIBUR
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Excalibur is one of my favourite pieces of cinema on a purely visual level, feeling like the closest to a mature version of Legend-while also being my favourite piece of Arthurian legend on film. The film was handled by the divisive John Boorman (Good: Deliverance. Bad: Zardoz) and is one of the visually best films of the 80’s-rivalling Legend, Blade Runner, Manhunter, Akira and The Abyss. Most of that’s due to cinematographer Alex Thomson (Legend, Labyrinth, Leviathan, Alien 3, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Executive Decision, Hamlet) who was nominated for an Oscar for this film-crafting beautiful and atmospheric shots with lighting, angles to build a tone and mood perfectly. Seriously, I mostly love this film for its visuals and atmosphere as they carry this film immensely. It’s music by Trevor Jones (Thirteen Days, Cliffhanger, The Last of the Mohicans, Arachnophobia, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal) is hauntingly beautiful with an epic fantasy feel. Its story follows a darkened and matured version of the classic Arthurian tale and I appreciate it for that, with great supporting performances by Patrick Stewart (X-Men), Gabriel Byrne (Hereditary), Nicol Williamson (Spawn), Helen Mirren (Red) and Liam Neeson (Taken) even if our Arthur is kind of a bore. I just love this film so much, and it disappoints me I saw less interesting Arthurian films before discovering this one. You absolutley need to see this.

3. THIEF
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Ah, the feature directorial debut of one of my favourite directors-Michael Mann. Having success off his work on the Miami Vice tv series, Thief was a critically successful box office sleeper that nonetheless showed his talent. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) the film is one of the true 80’s heist films-with the post modern neo noir atmosphere matches with neon visuals and a synth-scape score to match. The closest modern equivalent is Drive as both films are neo-noir thrillers that lean as dramas about violent men trying to go clean, getting involved in a heist, a friend’s murder at a car place and the neo noir style. James Caan (The Godfather, Misery) plays the stunning lead in this film and he kills it as a morally grey and violent thief. The heist sequences in this film are great and showcase Mann’s talent for stylised realism that he’d continue to this day in filmmaking and execution of the story. The film just works like gangbusters in its acting, performances, narrative, themes, score, visuals and tense scenes of action and thievery. Considering Mann is most famous for Heat and Collateral-it’s not surprising this was his start.

2. INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
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Yes, the undeniable classic ends up here. Indiana Jones is a modern cultural touchstone. Taking the moulds like Allan Quartermain and James Bond, and making a modern hero by which all other adventurer characters are judged (Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Rick O’Connell, Benjamin Franklin Gates etc). Steven Spielberg’s and George Lucas’s gambit to both restore a studio’s faith in Spielberg and for Spielberg to essentially make the James Bond film he was denied-the film was a fast and cheap production that…well if you’ve lived in pop-culture long enough (Sequels, Homages, Parodies, References) you know the results. It’s a critically acclaimed, fairly edgy fun blockbuster that is considered one of the greatest action films and films in general with a winning performance by Harrison Ford. The action is great, performances solid, visuals and tone match the fun and energy while having enough dark material to feel unique, the score is classic and has memorable moments from the opening, to the snake pit, to the chase in the city and the final memorable climax.

Now are there problems? Yeah, Indiana is kind of a colonialist graverobber that feels only he should have say over the place of artefacts and there’s the REALLY uncomfortable math/interview that pretty much proves Indiana pursued Marion Ravenwood before she was of age and the time behind it trying to blame her for it is…ew. It’s like the whole Back to the Future “Your mom is trying to bang you” note that is more uncomfortable the more you think about it and the further we get away from it.

Regardless, I think due to just how well the film was made and how it continues to be an influence, cultural touchstone and benchmark for action adventure stories (especially with how bad Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got lashed) I believe the film still works and will continue to be a classic in cinema forever.

1. BLOW OUT
The poster has a squeezed, black-and-white image of John Travolta screaming, with the tagline below reading "Murder has a sound all of its own".
So Blow Out was a seminal film for me. I’d been in college for about half a year and we were now watching films our teacher would put on for us. Now I had expectations for this film and afterwards vocalised my displeasure for some parts until my teacher gave me an epiphany as a filmmaker/audience member which was “recognise what the filmmaker was trying to say” and thus I was awoken to the art of auteur theory and birthed the next part of my mentality as a filmmaker.

Blow Out is a minor miracle of filmmaking, one of those technical achievements like Mission Impossible Fallout or Mad Max Fury Road, but on a small neo noir scale that would make Alfred Hitchcock blush in admiration, Brain De Palma was of course a massive Hitchcock fan and this was his best utilization of those techniques. As the director of Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible-this is easily De Palma’s best film. Its cinematography by the late Vilmos Zsigmond (Deliverance, The Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third King, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, The Ghost and the Darkness) is nothing short of astounding in creating De Palma’s Hitchcockian intent flow with all his usual tricks (especially the split diopter shots). Its editing by Paul Hirsch (Star Wars, Carrie, Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Falling Down, Mission Impossible, Lake Placid, Ray, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Warcraft) is near perfection. And massive credit must go to the entire sound team of this film: Randall Coleman, Lowell Mate, Michael Moyse, Dan Sable, James M Tanenbaum, Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, Brian L McCarty and Carl Pagano because the sound work in this film is nothing short of the best sound in cinema.

The plot of the film is that John Travolta is a sound recordist on a low budget slasher (which has one of the best opening long takes in history) and while recording one night-hears a car crash, but believes that there was more to this “tire blow out”. It leads into a conspiracy that feels reminiscent of films like 3 Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men (commentating on the Watergate scandal) but in the end is a closer comparison to the neo-noir masterpiece Klute from a decade earlier. The film’s set piece moments are the moments where we follow John Travolta listening to the audio of that night as it happens, then the repeats-with the audio and visuals some of the best non dialogue storytelling you’ll ever see/hear. It’s somewhat similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in examining the art and importance of sound, however this one takes it to the extreme and has a haunting meta-textual and thematic resolution. The film ultimately subverts the conspiracy story proper for a more intimate story and while I initially disliked it, I realise that is why this film is amazing and truly the best film of 1981.

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A Deep Dive Review – KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

King Arthur wears a leather jacket in front of a pink sky and faces the viewer, his sword held by both hands downward in front of his chest.

2 years ago Warner Brothers and Guy Ritchie released the culmination of 13 of planning. After 2004’s tepid King Arthur directed by Antoine Fuqua (a film that tried to copy Gladiator to a fault), many productions were considered including a Excalibur remake by Bryan Singer (no thank you) and a King Arthur + Lancelot feature. But Warner Brothers finally settled on a plan for the modern era-a cinematic universe using of the Arthurian Legend that borrowed from the tone and style of their successful Dark Knight trilogy and it was to be made by popular British filmmaker Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver, Sherlock Holmes, Aladdin remake). Starring Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), Djimon Honsou (Shazam!), Eric Bana (Hulk) and David Beckham (Yes, the football star), it would cost $175 Million (Plus $100 Million in marketing) and set up 7 movies.

…and it failed. King Arthur was a financial failure: failing to open number 1 at the box office in America or China in May (Losing to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien Covenant , Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Dangal and WB’s own Wonder Woman). Against its total $275 Million dollar cost (That might’ve been larger) it only ended up making $150 Million and lost Warner Brothers about that much (The same year Justice League, Geostorm, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Blade Runner 2049, CHiPs failed to draw in the necessary profits) while Wonder Woman, It, Annabelle Creation, Dunkirk, Kong: Skull Island, The Lego Batman Movie did very well for them. It also got fairly well mauled by critics who complained about the story, direction and intent at a big universe.

And to be honest, I think attempting a cinematic universe with the rather basic Arthurian Legend was bad was something Warner Brother must’ve realised as production was going on. The film shot in 2015, but was pushed back from its 2016 release a few times to the eventual 2017 May release. And considering the editing, lack of enthusiasm for sequels-it feels like WB really did regret committing to this film as a franchise starter (considering it was “a Frankenstein’s monster style screenplay” where they borrowed every King Arthur idea lying around) and just wanted to make a viewable product for audiences (much the same way they handled Justice League that same year).

So it’s 2019 now: Guy Ritchie’s newest film is the remake of Disney’s Aladdin coming soon, no one really talks about this movie-so why am I doing it? Well for whatever reason-the film has been stuck in my head along with the positive review by Lucy Jane Patterson (https://twitter.com/popcorn_and_pnm) (https://popcornandpnm.weebly.com/home/my-lucy). Plus this trailer is pretty fun to re-watch.

So: what’s my thoughts on the film? Well first I wanna talk about my relationship to Guy Ritchie and Arthurian Legend as cinema.

I discovered Guy Ritchie through his continued style referencing in online media (particularly in film reviews and FilmRiot’s “Guy Ritchie text” video) and didn’t fully watch one his films until I acquired Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows on Blu-Ray. A gradually discovered more and more of his work (only not seeing Rocknrolla yet) and in terms of rankings
-Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels [Pretty good, hasn’t fully grown on me]
-Snatch [Really enjoy]
-Swept Away [Trash]
-Revolver [Really enjoy despite the negative press]
-Sherlock Holmes [Kind of weak]
-Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [Pretty good]
-The Man from U.N.C.L.E [Mixed]
So I was curious of his attempt at a King Arthur and especially his Aladdin film. His trademark is his visuals, cockney comedic attitudes and mixture of editing to playful storytelling. He’s worked with many great actors including Jason Statham, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt, Tom Hardy, Idris Elba and Robert Downey Jnr and even his lesser films have something interesting to them…except Swept Away-that’s his worst film. And as a director…he needs a good script, he’s often written his own-but a bad script can botch up the project. He needs to be in tune with the vision, goal, style and story of the film to be on point. Sometimes studios cut him down (like Man from Uncle) and sometimes it’s his own fault, but I think one day he’ll make a film to equal the success and critical darling of Snatch. But for reference, Revolver is my favourite film of his.

Now in terms of Arthurian Legend on screen-Excalibur is my favourite film in that canon thanks to Boorman’s darker take on the material, plus it looks great. I like Disney’s Sword in the Stone, Quest for Camelot is a fun nostalgia piece, I liked Monty Python and the Holy Grail and I want to see The Kid Who Would Be King. That’s about it really, Arthurian Legend is more interesting when it’s used as a reference point or stuff like Excalibur is just around (like in Soul Eater) and I’d have to say the best lasting Arthurian take in cinema is Star Wars as Luke is clearly an Arthur analog (Obi Wan is Merlin, Darth Vader the evil wizard and such) and The Last Jedi using the tragic dark parts of Arthurian legend was great. Overall though, Arthurian legends really are something to take inspiration from as direct adaptation attempts rarely work. Personally, I’m writing my own deconstructionist take on King Arthur and the story is intended to remove the halo that Arthur has as a character and legend in the goal of asking people to re-evaluate their heroes. King Arthur has a lot that storytellers, filmmakers and artists can use in creativity-the right approach is always the key.

So, that brings us to my opinion of the film itself.

It’s fine, nowhere near as bad as the critics claimed. It’s easily better than the likes of The Mummy, Robin Hood, Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and the Beauty and the Beast remake. But in terms of 2017 epic genre reworkings-I do prefer The Great Wall, Kong Skull Island, Thor: Ragnarok and even Transformers: The Last Knight. The film for me is 50% good and 50% not quite as good. It’s similar to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in that it feels like each part of the film has a good and bad side.

The acting is a mix really good performances and sometimes unconvincing lines and reactions. The visuals are a mix between genuinely inspired and sometimes rather muddy and uninteresting. The cinematography is sometimes outstanding and sometimes lazy, ill-fitting or just not helping. Sometimes the music is spot on, sometimes it’s tonally inappropriate or annoying. Sometimes the editing and montages work like a charm and sometimes they’re downright confusing. The action goes between amazing epic scale fights that inspire, and sometimes they’re just kind of bland. And the film doesn’t always balance its epic fun fantasy film with dark realism. About the best thing this movie has going for it is its production values, sets and visual effects.

But first, we need to discuss the story-from script, to adaptation, to the behind the studio cinematic universe plans. Story and tone wise, the film starts like Snow White and the Huntsman, goes into 2010’s Robin Hood by way of Snatch, then feels like an Assassin’s Creed/Aladdin film, then becomes a little bit like The Dark Knight/Man of Steel and finally ends like Conan the Barbarian or Beowful. It bounces between fun fantasy, epic dark fantasy, comedic crime story, fun superhero film and dark superhero film. And it almost nails this…but not quite. The story and script is credited to Guy Ritchie, David Dobkin (Director of Shanghai Knights and Wedding Crashers), Joby Harold (Director/Writer of Awake) and Lionel Wigram (Producer/Writer of  Sherlock Holmes and The Man from Uncle) and feels like the semi-awkward slicing that might come from them taking a bunch of ideas and trying to make an origin story for a cinematic universe…and then having to cut down your probably 3/2.5 hour movie into a solo installment with your world building and Merlin build up removed a lot.

Yeah, this is a King Arthur movie where Merlin is this behind the scenes player and they ‘promised’ to show and tell him in the next film-which will never happen. See a big problem is that starting a production with the intent of setting up a universe and only at the editing hurdle decided to cross off the idea leads to an odd film. Because we’ve got all this exposition and set up and characters to build, but the editing appears to have neutered much of the film from a big sprawl 3 hour epic into a complacent 2 hour film with off editing. Now, any time Ritchie pulls his classic “tell a story, play with the time” montage-it often works and it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it keeps happening for random and unnecessary spots because the film feels like the studio kept wanting to rush to the next big scene, but the creative team told them they needed more clear set up to make sense and so they’ll just play a scene sometimes and explain it during or after the fact. And that montage trick doesn’t always work, there’s one montage that feels like it was supposed to be a fairly lengthy scene of monster fighting tension…and it feel really truncated because it does not work as a montage.

Then there’s Ritchie’s directing choices. Ritchie clearly had a lot of say on executing this film, but there’s this very big tone problem wherein the film wants to have the darkness, weight and gravity of a Game of Thrones universe. But Ritchie is still tied to his cheeky, semi-juvenile crime chops, while also making a pure fun style fantasy film. It doesn’t fully work and shows how the studio didn’t exactly know what they wanted either, except really hoping this would be another constant franchise for them. There are some very dark moments (hence why this isn’t a typically rated blockbuster and is for mature audiences by Australian film ratings) but the film seems to consistently want to be a regular fun blockbuster. It feels like the creatives involved kept bouncing between a hardcore mature blockbuster and a more typical one and couldn’t pick. It’d be like if Thor Ragnarok wanted to try and be like 2019’s Hellboy for a few moments. Then again, maybe Ritchie wanted to test out some new filmmaking techniques-especially CGI shots and go-pro Snorri-cam for action scenes, along with more interesting visuals. Now it’s not the headache some people claim, but it doesn’t add much aside from trying to make “a gritty and realistic experience” where one action scene is executed more like Black Hawk Down than a fantasy/medieval film.

Warner Brothers was clearly and constantly trying to recapture The Dark Knight with this film. They’ve been doing it ever since that film’s success became their biggest calling card (to the point other franchises like James Bond have been trying to copy it too) but here it doesn’t work. See The Dark Knight is a fairly deconstructionist re-working of Batman, while still being a fairly fun Batman film. Legend of the Sword doesn’t fit that as King Arthur is never treated the same as Christopher Nolan’s Batman, and instead they just went with an overall darker vibe, desaturated look and superhero style arch. Hell, there’s even a scene that’s VERY reminiscent of one from Man of Steel and it comes off as Warner Brothers begging audiences to please repeat the Dark Knight’s success.

For the record: John Mathieson’s cinematography feels its strongest when helped by the CGI team or Ritchie’s desire for Michael Bay-esque experimentation with different cameras, but lackluster when there’s none of that. It’s very similar to his filmmaking career:
Good-Gladiator, Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven, X-Men: First Class, Logan
Bad-The Phantom of the Opera, Robin Hood, 47 Ronin, Pan

The music sometimes has a really nice kick for the action and montages (I especially love the song: Devil and the Huntsman by Sam Lee and Daniel Pemberton) with composer Daniel Pemberton clearly having a difficult task. Daniel has done some great compositions including Steve Jobs, All the Money in the World and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.  However his only other collaboration with Ritchie was on The Man from Uncle and they don’t feel fully synchronised and the score (sound design in general) feels like it goes between epic dark fantasy to comedic British crime feature. Imagine if the score bounced between sound like Game of Thrones and well…a Guy Ritchie film from 2000. It doesn’t quite mesh and sometimes feels tonally at odds with the intent-especially one edit early on that almost feels comical. Plus there’s a particular sound design choice to sometimes focus on the breathing quite a bit that…feels like it had a purpose, but plays more like someone needed to fill the often lacking sound space.

As for the action, sometimes it’s really cool (especially the few moments Excalibur is busted out) but other times it feels like an after thought and without much imagination. It’s not until the 3rd act kicks in that it starts to full weave into the perfect mix of action, story and visuals.

As for the acting: Charlie Hunnam does a great job as King Arthur in my opinion as the low raised “born to be king” with a dark origin. I do think the arch of his character ultimately works…but is very little in terms of its narrative function and information. Most of the supporting cast does ok. Jude Law occasionally feels like he wants to go Jeremy Irons from Dungeons and Dragons levels of cheese, but was asked to play it seriously. Some of Arthur’s friends from early on in the film are fun and play their parts well, but the allies he makes in the second act don’t always work and there’s a particular scene where Djimon Honsou’s delivery is really off. And Astrid Berges-Frisby’s Guinevere as Merlin’s mage understudy (instead of King Arthur’s love interest) feels like she’s WAY too serious, especially when Arthur’s around. I’m not saying she needed to be a damsel in distress-but seeing as she’s the largest female role in the film…it’s a little disappointing the film just makes her a stone face expository deus ex machina vehicle to channel what Merlin would’ve been.

Other minor stuff is the title credits are weirdly small and thin for my taste, the prostitutes who raised King Arthur should’ve had more part than motivational bodies, the 1st act is way to much in a hurry to get to the 2nd and lags just as it gets there and some of the best shots from the trailer are in the film for maybe a few frames.

But I did often have fun with the film: the opening with giant Kaiju elephants was great, King Arthur’s cheeky antics in the first act and late 2nd act with his chums are the stuff the film should’ve been built around, when it’s intentionally funny-it is, some of the visuals/visual ideas are really fun, the effects are great, Excalibur is a really fun weapon and Charlie Hunnam does a good job with the role. Overall, the film fully comes together in the final act when King Arthur begins to question what he’s doing and the Lady of the Lake has to bring him back to the hero’s journey. When the final 3rd act is a big sword battle, a giant snake ripping people apart and King Arthur fighting a Dark Souls boss-it’s fun and I wish more of the film had been that way. It’s just a shame it wasn’t.

In the end, it’s not a poorly made insane production nightmare like The Snowman or Justice League, not incompetent like 2017’s The Mummy or M. Night’s The Last Airbender and more or less feels like Warner Brothers wanting a King Arthur film to be both The Dark Knight and Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong guys-I love some films that are absolutely hated by critics: Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, the Jurassic World films, The Predator, Blair Witch, Hellboy and Serenity from this year, Venom, Sucker Punch and Michael Bay’s Transformers. So when I say King Arthur is a bit of a mess, but a rather fun mess that unpacking is kind of fun as well-I mean it. Granted I did just write a giant editorial about why this film is only just fine, but if there’s this much for me to discuss and still mostly enjoy the film-there’s definitely a lot to look out. I recommend seeking it out cheap or if it’s on a streaming service and you want a bit of dumb fun that you might want to discuss later.

 

If I did a Harry Potter/Wizarding World Movie

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

So how many of you saw that Crimes of Grindelwald movie last year? How many of you liked or remembered it? Probably not as much if I asked about any of the main series Harry Potter films about 10 years earlier (then again I checked out around Order of the Phoenix).

Regardless, JK Rowling’s cinematic return to her one successful franchise hasn’t been great in that these prequels largely serve more as random fan service excuses or JK to get obsessed with her own lore that doesn’t really do anything. And then there’s her current really bad trend of “I’ll tweet out character details that would be more interesting to read than to find out on Twitter, but I’m either too scared to write it or am trying for woke points” errors. Like she tweeted that young Dumbledore and Grindelwald has an intense sexual relationship, yet that’s in no book or film so it’s just dumb. It’s not even Nicolas Winding Refn or Denis Villeneuve on Only God Forgives and Enemy respectively wherein they explain the meanings of two abstract films, or even Ridley Scott revealing the answer to “Is Deckard a Replicant or not?” for Blade Runner. It’d be like James Gunn saying Rocket Raccoon and Groot had a gay romance before we meet them in Guardians of the Galaxy-it just adds nothing but “are you a try-hard?” questions to the intent.

The main issue is JK Rowling is rich enough and powerful enough that Warner Brothers can’t make a film without her explicit approval and Rowling is clearly far more interested in elaborate world building/exploration than characters, themes or stories. It’s the same reason George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels failed, background to a world we already know with details we don’t really care about. Prometheus and Alien Covenant might’ve enraged fans, but I find their thematic retooling and lack of caring in answering the Xenomorph origin story is a better move than a scientific breakdown of who, when, where and why. The Fantastic Beasts (who have very little to do in these movies) series doesn’t aim to re-contextualise or shift the Wizarding World, it’s just Wikipedia background notes.

So I asked myself a question, if I was given complete creative control: what story would I tell in this universe? Now, I already stated that Rowling has a universal grasp on the property from books, to stage and cinema. My set up would exist in the realm of if JK somehow didn’t have say over this because I’m pretty sure if I pitched this to Warner Brothers and it went through her-she’d either deny it or make changes so that the continuity fits in with events of the series, with tons of cameos and Voldemort being behind it. I’m ignoring any kind of limitation except on reasonable budgets and story length.

 

THE STORY:
So what would the story be? It’d be an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt film. Originally Fantastic Beasts was supposed to be that, but it just turned into “Posh people walk around the city”. My story would have fantastic jungles, various cities and an ancient temple with a tomb in it. It’d allow for more diverse environmental visuals (along with the colour pallet being freed up), and there would be no Hogwarts or old timey London or anything like that. All new places, people and story. Maybe there’d be a line or background detail hinting at something or someone, but it’s mostly its own story.

The story would be about a rogue good Wizard around the 1940’s (Indiana Jones Nazi punching era) who is hiding out in the Amazon jungles and helping local villagers. He’s tracked down by a no nonsense Witch who wants his expertise in helping find a supposed magic relic in the jungle. He declines as he hates the Wizard bureaucracy and elitist treatment toward Muggles (because I’m sick of it), being the reason he dropped out of Wizarding school. She only convinces him by telling him there’s an evil Nazi spy whose team are looking for it an it could endanger everyone.

They go through the jungle, fighting off some interesting monster beasties until finding the tomb. The item however has been stolen, instead there is a Wizard insignia of who took it. The wizard recognises the marking and knows where to go, but they can only escape by getting into a battle with the Nazi team tailing them. They escape, but one of the Nazi underlings recognises the mark too.

The Wizard and Witch go to a Casino in Monte Carlo owned and protected by a powerful old Wizard who loves gambling. The Wizard challenges the owner to a magic free poker challenge for the relic, where if the Wizard loses-he owes 20 years of servitude. The Wizard wins by secretly cheating, but is caught moments later and the old Wizard sells the Wizard and Relic to the Nazis as the Witch escapes.

While in the Sahara desert, the Witch breaks out the Wizard as she summons a Hungarian Horntail Dragon (Come on, that’ll be fun) to their aid. She helps the Wizard and she reveals she used her own magic to place the relic with a homing spell. The Nazis and her had figured out the Relic is really a key, map and warning of an evil locked up in the middle of the Congo.

And pause because I’m going to say that the final act and next part is especially blasphemous for Harry Potter fans because it has a mythology/rules that JK didn’t invent. A problem with most mythologies is how that singular mythology is the only one in the entire world, even though the real world has many nations, faiths, cultures, languages and is always changing. So what I’m about to suggest might offend anyone truly invested in the lore and won’t allow for the change.

So the Nazis open the tomb and it reveals the seemingly dead body of a giant armoured warrior. But when someone cuts themselves on the armour-it awakens the being. The being turns out to be a demi-god of an ancient race (who have nothing to with ANY of the Wizarding World mythos) who guarded civilisations (They’d be called Sentinels). But this one became an immortal mad titan and the other Sentinels had to seal him alive in a tomb, one of them being tasked with hiding the key far from the tomb and it only to be opened when one could defeat him. Unfortunately the Sentinels and myth evaporated from history. Now he’s awake and killing humans, with the smart Nazi underlying revealed to be an evil Wizard who wants to use their magic to control the Titan.

Unfortunately…magic doesn’t work. At all. Yes, this will be the other big change-the heroes who have been using their magic to solve problems now can’t because he’s immune. I imagine this will anger many people who dedicate themselves to knowing the spells and such, but that’s how you make something more challenging-you remove the cheat function and cliché win state. So the heroes try everything, even attempting to bury the Titan again-but the Titan breaks free. So the Wizard and Witch have to use a mix jungle smarts and magical trickery to force the Titan  to decapitate itself (yes it’s The Incredibles gambit). And that’s the main conflict end.

The story would mostly centre on the Wizard and Witch with their differing backgrounds and ideologies clashing and molding each other. The Wizard starts as someone who doesn’t care about Magic and lost faith in it or anyone being good, but she shows him the good he didn’t see and gives him faith in his gift again.  She starts out as a smug, elitist who despises Muggles and anything to do with him, but he shows her that there’s no reason for that attitude and that basic smarts are as valuable as magic. There’d be small examples of this in action, they’d talk about their feelings and backgrounds more and develop a romance-so fan artists have more concrete references.

 

Doesn’t that sound fun? An adventure, simple plotting, lots of room for characters, nuance and details-plus being really different. I know many fans would dislike it for not tonally, stylistically or “canonically” fitting in, but who says you can’t learn to like new characters or that the Wizarding World should be exclusive to Rowling’s version? You could easily make horror films, monster films, pure noir and plenty of other genres out of the material. The MCU didn’t maintain its success by making each film/sub-franchise the same, it allowed different creators to develop the stories and characters how they fit. Thor didn’t work as a straight serious fantasy and thus the Sci-Fi Comedy version was the best. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more of a Jason Bourne style spy thriller while Ant-Man is more akin to Flubber and Doctor Strange is a mind bending wizard film. It’s why the Order of the Phoenix and beyond lost me, because the films were so interchangeable I couldn’t remember which one introduced the luck potion or something. It’d just me throwing my theoretical, freed from the creative laws of this franchise to make my own film.

I doubt JK or Warner Brothers sees this (Because the last thing they want to read is Harry Potter fanfics) but I might take this story and make it as its own story as a screenplay to sell. Would love to hear your thoughts on this: positive or negative-the criticism is fine.

Movie Review: HELLBOY (2019)

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Hellboy (2019) theatrical poster.png

I had fun. That’s what matters.

So critics seem to be really aggro about this film saying things like “unpleasant” and “worst comic book film ever” and I’m feeling like those statements are a little too harsh. The movie is a lot of fun in that dumb 80’s anime or Cannon films way.

Now, no-this isn’t better than the Guillermo Del Toro/Ron Perlman adaptations of the character and comic. Those two films are underrated classics, while this is more a fun mini-blockbuster. Yes, it’s unfair Del Toro never finished his trilogy-but it’s not worth hating on this film for existing. The intent was to differentiate Del Toro’s personal earnest Lovecraftian/Fantasy adventure adaptation of the comic for a direct adaptation that leans into the gore and horror angle. I’ve never read the comics, but I can say this different tone and style felt very much like a comic book, old school anime or 80’s action b film. That’s what I’m thinking-if this film was done as an anime or an 80’s Cannon or Full Moon Studio production: would it have a better response? Because I feel it might have.

So the premise is the usual: David Harbour’s Hellboy feels out of place and has to save the world from something world ending. The threat being Milla Jovovich’s Blood Queen and so Hellboy along with his dad and some other fun characters has to stop her. Originally I though the film (by the trailers) would be a Thor Ragnarok style fantasy film with a Deadpool edge and there’s bits of that-but it’s more akin to Venom or Sin City with a larger scope. The story I liked because while it replaces the father and loner angle of Hellboy, it does so differently. Hellboy has a strained relationship with his father and his outsider attitude feels like a subtle immigrant metaphor (considering this was made after Brexit was planned). I liked the narrative, even if it was occasionally clunky, the opening expository scene was semi-sloppy and the film takes a while to find its pacing. But Hellboy’s ultimate character destination really worked for me.

As for the cast, I liked David Harbour as Hellboy. He’s less like Ron Perlman’s boy into man arc over the Del Toro films and more akin to a mix of an edgy kid and alcoholic grown up son with issues. He’s funny, badass and I like how he gets the tar beaten out of him enough that he feels human instead of godly. Superheroes have been lacking that a bit lately. Milla is have a ball playing up her camp and the rest of the cast does very well-even if I feel the Del Toro film’s cast worked better and wish that cast size was in here.

The film was directed by Neil Marshall and because of his filmography: Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion and the Battle of Blackwater Bay from Game of Thrones-I’m not surprised of the result. It’s a well made junky fantasy/action/horror/monster/superhero film with some lovely visuals, great designs and some fun sequences. The film was shot by Italian cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore who shoots this material a lot (Boa V.S Python, Lake Placid 2, Spiders 3D) and he brings the film to life really well in his best looking film to date. I know some people say the CGI is bad and…yeah sometimes it is-but it’s not a bother for me. If Black Panther’s occasional green screen mess ups won’t detract it for me-these won’t either.

In terms of my favourite stuff in the film: the Hellboy fight with the Giants was a lot of fun, the pig monster character grew on me a lot, the character of Alice I liked, Hellboy’s “…you’re fucking nuts” line was funny, the final showdown was great (with a sequence that felt right out of the Blood C anime). It was just a lot of fun with some of the gross monsters, unique designs, visual execution, the blood and gore-it was fun.

Not sure if we’ll get a sequel if the reviews hurt the box office: but I’m still happy with the product.

 

Movie Review: US

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Us (2019) theatrical poster.png

Go see. Just go see it. Us is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while and easily the best film of 2019. No spoilers, just my opinion and some digressions.

Jordan Peele stunned the world 2 years ago when Get Out was released and was an immediate box office, critical and culture hit. I thought the movie was good, but lacked a few genuine scares-but it was really good. Now expecting a lesser movie, Jordan Peele decided to create a bigger and bolder horror film that’s easily one of my new favorites of the horror genre. Us is not just a triumph of cinema, it’s one of those rare horror films with everything one needs to enjoy a horror.

The story is that Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke (both from Black Panther) are middle class parents on holiday, when suddenly they’re attacked by doppelgangers. It’s one of the better set ups in a horror movie that didn’t need to wait until the end to reveal its up front conflict and the story gets weirder than there. To save spoilers, the film’s characters, universe and themes all fit together perfectly in the that many bigger films fail to achieve. The actors giving dual roles is really great to see out and you never question if it’s motion control rig cameras, scene doubles or split screening. The doppelgangers are terrifying in the uncanny Body Snatchers way and the fact they’re exaggerated homunculi of the characters works wonders.

Let it be said Jordan Peele is not the star of the film but Lupita Nyong’o. She’s been underutilized in recent blockbusters after her debut in 12 Years A Slave, but here she’s tasked to play a sympathetic hero mother and an unnerving villain. This isn’t so much as one actor playing Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, but like if Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs were played by the same actor. It’s a powerhouse performance and Lupita NEEDS to win best actress and the next Golden Globes and Academy Awards, if not-the industry failed her. Lupita proves herself a nuanced, deep and emotionally resonant actor who should have all the acclaim and leeway in Hollywood. I know there’s some criticism regarded her villain voice as possibly an offensive disabled person’s voice but…I don’t think so. Her voice sounds more in line with classic raspy villains/monsters, so I really don’t buy that. Besides, the story and performances are too amazing to get hung up on it. Everyone else does a great job, but this is Lupita’s show. Seriously, I think she might be the new greatest actress.

Now, what it immediately noticeable about Jordan Peele is his film tastes. Get Out and Us both come from the 70’s school of horror: social commentary, not always scary, themes and nightmare imagery over pure logic and interesting scopes. Get Out was clearly a Stepford Wives throwback while Us…is a bit more complicated. About the closest comparison I had was Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there’s so much more than that and I love how new it is. There’s clearly themes and ideas referring to American ideals/personalities, self destruction and duality. There’s also many literary/cultural allusions to works like Alice in Wonderland, Jaws, Hamlet, Home Alone, The Bible and more for this really well told story. Political commentary and referential material aside, the world and themes creating are some of the most fascinating I’ve seen. I can see many people trying to over analyse and nitpick and…no-don’t Just go with it. Groove with what the film is trying to suggest in its world. It’s not the most unbelievable thing and it’s fun.

And how does it work as a horror film? Really well. Get Out rarely scared, but Us did get me very tense and scared. Most of the horror is a pair of home invasion sequences and creeping tension with nightmare imagery from your childhood. The experience somewhat feels like The Strangers and Funny Games, but with more going on. It’s also just really well made with Jordan Peele proving his strengths as a director and storyteller (pulling from Brian De Palm levels of directing), bolstered by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Split, Glass) using the language of the camera perfectly. The score is really well done and there’s a particular sequence that shows a masterclass of editing by Nicolas Monsour who hasn’t the longest track record (his most notable film being Key and Peele’s Keanu), but proves their talents here.

And the overall effect of the ending and thinking on the film, its universe and themes is one of my favourite things about it. Films like this shouldn’t be seen and forgotten: they need to be mulled over, processed for ages to come. It’s why I can’t give this film a stronger recommendation. You 100% must see this.

TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 1982

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Honorable Mentions:
-48 Hrs
-Cat People
-E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
-Fitzcarraldo
-Ghandi
-Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
-Koyannisqatsi
-Q
-The Secret of NIMH
-Sophie’s Choice
-Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan
-Tron
-The Year of Living Dangerously

10. EVIL UNDER THE SUN
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While not an outright classic like Agatha Christie’s Poirot adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun is another enjoyable murder mystery with the Belgian mastermind (Who might as well be the original John McClane). Following from the usual “Hercule Poirot supposed to be on holiday when a murder happens” story set-up at a resort-the film works just as well as Christie’s other mysteries. Credit goes to Peter Ustinov (Topkapi, Spartacus, Jesus of Nazareth, Logan’s Run) as the detective in a bewildered state, Maggie Smith (Harry Potter) who is always charming and James Mason (20’000 Leagues Under the Sea, North by Northwest, Lolita) in a rather subdued performance. The visuals are great thanks to director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger) and the score is nice, the only minor issue is the film has sometimes a pace that’s too relaxed as opposed to the tension in other adaptations of this character.

9. FIREFOX
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What happens if you make a grittier James Bond movie and put Clint Eastwood in it? You get Firefox and Firefox is pretty kick-ass. I was surprised considering the film isn’t/wasn’t well liked by critics-but I found it a really enjoyable old-school spy film. Clint Eastwood (who directs and produces his 9th directorial effort) is a Vietnam War vet who is asked to infiltrate Russia and steal a high tech jet. It’s a simple plot that allows for nuance political discussions, a great arc for Clint’s character, some more unique visuals in his subdued style, some fun action and feels like a 70’s spy film like Marathon Man, All the President’s Men or Three Day of the Condor (You know, the era/genre everyone praised when Winter Soldier became a hit). You likely have never heard or seen this movie, but I highly recommend it.

8. FIRST BLOOD
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The first Rambo movie is pretty great. While the sequels went into whatever over the top action was popular at the time (And I suspect the next one will be bad) the original was more akin to a survival thriller. John Rambo plays a disheveled Vietnam War vet (which was and still is a popular character) who is wrongfully treated by a small town Sherriff and crew-leading to him being stuck on a mountain with people wanting his head. The right mix between a bombastic action film, intense thriller and emotionally resonant political point-the film is a classic for a reason and one of the reason’s Stallone is so famous. It’s also the best known work of Canadian director Ted Kotcheff who I also love for the comedy Weekend at Burnie’s and Aussie horror flick Wake in Fright (both of which you should check out).

7. CONAN THE BARBARIAN
A man, wearing nothing but a loincloth and a horned helm, strides forth, holding a sword aloft in his left hand. A blond woman kneels in front of him, holding a curved blade with both hands.
Directed by John Mulius (who wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote/directed Red Dawn) who wrote this alongside Oliver Stone (writer of Midnight Express and Scarface, director of Platoon and JFK) this is the quintessential pulpy fantasy story that dominated books in the earlier 20th century and is perfectly realized here. Yes, it’s problematic in terms of depicting male and female relationships, but it’s still a good classic revenge story based on one of the most famous examples of that story. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the title character who wants a lifetime’s worth of revenge after a cult leader (played by James Earl Jones and in a funny counter to Star Wars-his eyes are the cause of fear and introduction) for the death of his tribe and family. It’s an epic, unabashed fantasy epic with snake fights, sexy ladies and an epic showdown. While I can’t guarantee everyone will love this (and same may enjoy this in a bad way) I can say I appreciate it and it’s something worth watching.

6. POLTERGEIST
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Depending on who you ask-this is either a directorial effort by the late and great Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce) with Steve Spielberg assisting…or Spielberg just using Tobe Hooper as a ghost director. Regardless, it’s a fun, scary and entertaining horror movie ride that holds up (especially considering the remake sucked massively). The simple horror premise, the likeable and human characters, the great practical effects work and use of horror-it’s a household classic for a reason. My only minor gripe is the construction works perving on the teenage daughter which is…yeah just a little creepy at best.

5. THE DARK CRYSTAL
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Frank Oz’s and Jim Henson’s fantasy near masterpiece that should be seen by every storyteller, filmmaker or lover of film. A family will with edge akin to Legend, Labyrinth or Jurassic Park-The Dark Crystal is the classic fantasy world with a big universe, chosen on and hero’s journey that does it correctly. It’s visual and animatronics are astounding (but what else do you expect), the story simple but with enough nuance, great villains and it just overall one of those 80’s movies that shows you could have a typical Star Wars style product with artistic creativity. It’s a must see.

4. MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR
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I know this film is often praised as one of the best action films of all time and I think that’s at least mostly true. Fury Road did kind of blow this one out of the water in terms of budget, theme, scope and storytelling. But Mad Max 2 was a small, scrappy, fun and epic Australian action ride with Mad Max and Happy Feet creator George Miller leading with the original mad Max Mel Gibson. The film works on its own terms, works wonders as an action vehicle, has a great use of storytelling and helped invent the popularised post-apocalyptic vision we’ve seen in everything. Really what more do I have to say? It’s awesome. Go watch it.

3. THE LAST UNICORN
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This sweet, seemingly childish animated film is genuinely one of the most beautiful films with an astounding stories I’ve seen. An 80’s equivalent to Your Name in the form of a Tolkien-esque universe about the titular Last Unicorn realised in stunning 2-D animation. With a fairly well known cast including: Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby), Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings), Alan Arkin (Argo), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) and Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) the film is a triumph of visual storytelling, subtle thematic plays and genuine wonder. It’s easily one of the best 2-D non-Disney animated features and you should absolutely watch it.

2. THE THING
= A human silhouette wearing a thick coat and hood stands against a white background. Beams of white emanate from the hood opening, obscuring its identity.
John Carpenter’s masterpiece. A suspenseful, violent, visual effects masterwork of horror that was poorly received at the time…but is now the bar by which all claustrophobic sci-fi thriller/horror films are judged. It’s cast led by Kurt Russel (Big Trouble in Little China, Furious 7) and Keith David (They Live, The Princess and the Frog) is a wonderful use of older actors to avoid the basic teen horror route. The cinematography by Dean Cundey (Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jurassic Park), score by Ennio Morricone (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Hateful 8, Orca) and practical effects by Rob Bottin (The Howling, Robocop, Se7en) are all perfectly created to add to the horror, dread and tension. The film is a masterwork in building suspense and tension through all the team at play, meaning the explosive horror/gore/monster scenes feel earned and more terrifying than the 2011 prequel that rushed to it. The titular Thing is easily one of the scariest monsters in cinema and is just spectacular work studio horror films won’t go for anymore. There’s also the various themes that could be attached from disease/aids (like The Fly) or communism/alternative political infiltrators (like Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and it’s all great-leading to one of the most debated endings in horror cinema. Just watch this, and for the record-the director of the first film “The Thing from Another World” (adapted from the short Novella Who Goes There) bashed this film…even though his is often forgotten and this is a more faithful adaptation of the book.

1. BLADE RUNNER [THE FINAL CUT]
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This is one of the best films of all time. Ridley Scott’s meditative genre masterpiece that was bullied by studios to the point the true definitive edition wasn’t available until 2007 with The Final Cut…Blade Runner is amazing. It and its sequel stand as two of the greatest piece of science fiction and noir cinema/media. Anyone who argues otherwise needs to properly examine the films. Ridley Scott was perfect in this film with his use of experimental formalism that allowed him to develop the film to a more pure and less manufactured vision by continually building the film’s world and themes on the fly. The film is one of the best looking pieces of cinema of all time (akin to its sequel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Fall and Enter the Void) primarily thanks to its design team and legendary cinematography Jordan Cronenweth (Rolling Thunder, Altered States, State of Grace, Peggy Sue Got Married and father to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth who shot Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). The score by Vangelis (who also composed Chariots of Fire) is one of the best pieces of music in history. The cast of Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Sean Young (Stripes), Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins), M. Emmett Walsh (Blood Simple), Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill) and James Hong (Kung Fu Panda) is all amazing and under Scott’s direction-continue to push the films themes.

While there’s continuously been debate over the question of whether or not Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is a robot/replicant in a sci-fi heterotopia where they’re executed. But I feel that misses the point over the film’s full diagnosis and examination of identity on multiple levels, exploitation, classicism and social evolution. The film isn’t too dense to understand: you just need to look and feel what the film has to say on itself, the world and its own world through the characters. Besides, whether Deckard is human or not was answered by Ridley in an interview which you should watch (and the Final Cut answers this clearly through visuals).

My advice is to 100% watch this. Find the Final Cut on Blu-Ray or rent on YouTube movies and enjoy one of the best films ever made.

Further Watching:

TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 1983

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Honorable Mentions:
-Blue Thunder
-A Christmas Story
-Cujo
-The Dead Zone
-Golgo 13: The Professional
-The King of Comedy
-Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
-The Right Stuff
-Risky Business
-Sleepaway Camp
-The Twilight Zone: The Movie
-Urusei Yatsura: Only You

10. THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW
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This often forgotten slasher might has taken a lot of influence from Friday the 13th (as most 80’s slashers did) but the result is still an engaging and somewhat nuanced watch. The premise of a group of college students being murdered after accidentally killing their crotchety Sorority House in a prank does raise the question of “do we root for the killer or victims?” better than most slasher. I think it’s a really well made film for its low budget and considering its lead creative team weren’t going to become horror icons. Director Mark Rosman would go on to direct child friendly productions like Life-Size, A Cinderella Story and Lizzie McGuire, and cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt would shoot films like Teen Wolf, Wedding Singer, Office Space, Idiocracy, Little Miss Sunshine, 17 Again and Get Hard. The kills are inventive, the setting claustrophobic and like I said-it’s a more nuanced slasher film than you might think. Basically smash Black Christmas and Friday the 13th into one and you have this. Also don’t watch the 2009 remake-this is better

9. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION
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An 80’s classic, Vacation is one of the better 80’s comedies whose jokes do hold up. Chevy Chase and the rest of the cast do great, Harold Ramis in his second directorial effort does a good job and the concept of a road trip gone wrong does a good job of a comedic set up with emotion, comedy and dark humor. Granted the film’s lack of self-introspection leads it to mild racist jokes, classist jokes at lesser people and a mildly entitled nature that comes from the humor made by and aimed at middle class Caucasian males in the Regan-era. Whether it’s uncomfortable, offensive, in poor taste or just “from another era” is entirely up to the audience, but scenes like the dog/sandwich jokes, the driving while sleeping and Chase’s mental snap are quite hilarious.

Need any more: watch this

8. WARGAMES
Wargames.jpg
A cold war era thriller where a gamer and computer nerd accidentally begins to initiate a game with the USA’s defense computer is a radical and pretty fun concept. The cold opening does a lot in establishing the concept’s of winning, losing, human error and more and the rest of the film does a good job at exploring these ideas within the concepts of technology, consequences and games. It never gets into the ideological questions which means the film has a more timeless quality as it’s probably targeted at teens, rather than adults. Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Lion King) does great as the lead for his young age and the rest of the cast follows well too. The directing by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Blue Thunder, Short Circuit, Drop Zone) is really spectacular considering its lower budget and low bar-so its great that effort was put in. But it’s the clever story and human dialogue from the screenwriters Lawrence Lasker (Sneakers) and Walter Parkes (Producer of Gladiator and Men in Black) that really sell this story. Plus being shot by cinematographer William A Fraker (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Tombstone) helps as well. There was a terrible sequel to this that was nothing more than a cheap direct to DVD film that lost all sense of the original and a remake is in planning. My idea for the remake would be to have a more trimmed down and tense version, or a full on epic Roland Emmerich version (so either increase or decrease the balance of the original).

7. CHRISTINE
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This John Carpenter adaptation of a Stephen King book is easily one of his better movies. The simple premise of a killer car (where you don’t know if it’s a sentient car or car obsessed weirdo) is one of those fun and simple 80’s ideas that made it a fun buckshot era for horror. It’s got a great cast with the late Harry Dean Stanton giving a marvelous performance for a small time detective and the relationships characters have with each other feels real. Carpenter didn’t use a lot of gore like his last film The Thing (mostly the mature content comes from everyone’s foul mouths) but the horror, tension and set piece moments are all great. It’s just a fun horror film that doesn’t feel the need to be a harrowing depressing film and I’d say the changes from the book are for the better. And considering for most of the era following two decades-Stephen King adaptations would be childish horror spectacles or 3 hour drags of miniseries, it’s great to see one as good as this.

6. KRULL
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What happens when you combine Star Wars, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Dune, Arthurian Legend and every other pre-1983 fantasy and sci-fi fiction into one film? You get Krull, a cult film that was wildly disliked upon release, but has an enthusiastic following and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. I like the world, the simple story, the inventive effects, the score by the amazing James Horner (Aliens, Titanic, Avatar), the dark enough tone but right amount of earnest heart with honest humor, great cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (The Empire Strikes Back, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises), I love how despite the princess being a kidnapped damsel (eg. Mario, Legend of Zelda) she has a lot of agency, the action is campy but fun, the spider sequence is really great, the solid acting all around and yes the film’s signature weapon The Glaive is a lot of fun. Personally I mostly love the look, the fantastical score and the bad guys-because fantasy/sci-fi deserves more villains like The Beast and his army. I Just dig this film, plus it’s not made by a hack, it’s made by Peter Yates who directed Bullit and The Deep. So yeah, check Krull out.

5. STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI
. This poster shows a montage of characters from the movie. In the background, Darth Vader stands tall and dark in front of a reconstructed Death Star; before him stands Luke Skywalker wielding a light saber, Han Solo aiming a blaster, and Princess Leia wearing a slave outfit. To the right are an Ewok and Lando Calrissian, while miscellaneous villains fill out the left.
And now from a Star Wars attempt to an actual Star Wars film. Return of the Jedi while the weakest of the original Star Wars trilogy largely due to an unnecessary first act, a re-tread of the Death Star and the reveal of Leia as Luke’s sister feels like needless retconning. And I’ll admit that I would have preferred to see the version David Lynch might’ve made. That being said, it’s still a fun and well crafted film. The opening might be pointless, but it’s fun to see Jabba, The Rancor and the Sarlacc Pit. The further character development works for the most part, the visual inviting and exciting, and that final 3 way battle that cuts between The Death Star, Endor and The Emperor is great. Everyone cemented their role very nicely and it just works, even if I think it’s one of the typical “3rd film in a trilogy is the weakest” tradition.

4. OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN
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Starring Peter Weller (Robocop, Buckaroo Banzai, Leviathan, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and directed by George P Cosmatos (Escape to Athena, Rambo: First Blood Part 2,  Cobra, Leviathan, Tombstone and father to director Panos Cosmatos who directed Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy) the film is the simple idea of a man’s apartment under siege by a rat. What I like is the film’s simple nature in saying the rat is just a fairly big, highly aggressive rat and there’s no radioactive, mutant or supernatural element at play. It’s not necessarily scary (unless you’re scared of rats) in the pure nightmare/horror sense, really its about creeping tension and seeing the madness/scares play out when they need. The plot is more or less a metaphor on how this Regan-era dad who is proud of his self-built capitalist lifestyle and values that needs to eventually learn to destroy that trash. It’s one of the great rules of horror cinema where the horror entity can be a metaphor for the main character to grow. The best horror films that last over time do that, while those that don’t clearly languish. I think this is one of the more underrated horror films of the 80’s and any horror buff should watch it.

Plus this is just be thinking about it, but the idea of a female rat breeding and being a “homewrecker” that angers this guy might be a subtle hidden narrative of maybe something he did? Maybe he had a mistress and she shows up when his family is gone and is “wrecking” his home and he’s frustrated and he won’t be happy unless she’s dead? And you can’t show that as a human equivalent because it makes Weller’s character too unlikeable so that made them a rat? I don’t know, but it sounds interesting and the reason movies like this hold up so well.

Further Viewing:

3. RUMBLE FISH
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This is a small neo noir films by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) that more people should know about. The film about a group of street youths questioning their existence in the world of small time criminals and their relationships is largely why this seemingly quaint film is largely so compelling. It’s visually stunning and reflects much of the film’s ideas about character relationships to time and place, much of that being thanks to cinematography Stephen H. Burum (The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes) who beautiful crafts the films black and white noir look. The score by the drummer of The Police is haunting and great. The great cast includes Matt Dillon (There’s Something About Mary), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Diane Lane (Man of Steel), Dennis Hopper (Speed), Nicolas Cage (National Treasure) and Lawrence Fishburne (The Matrix) who all do great work, but it’s Mickey Rourke that steal the show. Mostly I think this film’s depiction of youths feeling lost in relation to time is a fairly timeless and universe one like Clerks, Kids, Assassination Nation or other similar feature. I really think younger audience would find this speaks to them really well. Check it out.

2. VIDEODROME
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One of the best films by David Cronenberg, it feels like a soft remake of his better known Scanners and makes it better-with one of the best arguments about violence/sex in media and the influence on the human mind. Written and directed by Cronenberg (The Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence), shot by Mark Irwin (The Dead Zone, 10 Things I Hate About You, Scream, Passenger 57) and scored by Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) the film is a masterwork of body horror. What seemingly starts out as “hey doesn’t sex and violence mess your brain up?” fear mongering slowly develops into a more nuanced take and an eventual discussion into corporations manipulating humans and implanting (literally) ideas and orders into human brains-somewhat like They Live. This is one of Cronenberg’s gifts as a director, he knows how to use the body as a storytelling and thematic conduit. Unlike say Eli Roth who just thinks gore=scares=win, Cronenberg knows how to make bodies feel real and knows how to make us feel they hurt. For all the thematic plays the film has (often exposing character hypocrisies regarding the idea of sex or violence as wrong) the film’s greatest aspects are the moments when bodies get messed up. but that’s the best part about movies like these: you’ll get your gory horror mess AND a thematically potent story that makes this still relevant today. Just go see it. LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!

1. SCARFACE
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What else was going to top 1983 in cinema? Scarface is such a beloved classic of cinema that pretty much every critic and audience member loves it and it’s a pop-culture icon thanks to “Say hello to my little friend”. The film works like gangbusters to the point it’s one of those films you forget is a remake of another film, making me curious how that forever in development modern remake will turn out.

So Scarface is one of the classic crime films of cinema: the endlessly told tale of a lowly criminal who becomes a crime lord and loses it all. But there’s many things Scarface has that gives it a more righteous edge and everlasting appeal. Firstly the cast is great with Michelle Pfeiffer having a really underrated performance alongside Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the female supporting roles in a male dominated film, but of course Al Pacino is the reason this film is amazing. Pacino had already established himself with films like Serpico, the first two Godfather films and Dog Day Afternoon at this point-but Scarface is his legendary role. Sure he’s amazing in Scent of a Woman, Heat, Donnie Brasco, Devil’s Advocate and Insomnia, but Scarface is how we know him. Al Pacino as Tony “Scarface” Montana is the classic gangster with humble beginnings, big aspirations, a snarky attitude and doesn’t take trash from anyone. The relationships he has with his friends, family and colleageus is a spectacle to behold.

Directed by the legendary Brian De Palma (Carrie, Blow Out, The Untouchables, Mission Impossible) and shot by the late cinematographer John A. Alonzo (Vanishing Point, Chinatown, Blue Thunder, Cool World) the film is perfectly crafted for the seemingly pulpy crime premise and it elevates it. There will always be that argument to whether Brian De Palma was merely inspired by or purely ripped off Alfred Hitchcock, but the results always bring to life a type of cinema missing in modern day. Can a major studio bring De Palma back for something? But most of the underrated nature of the film comes from its screenwriter Oliver Stone. At this point in his career, Stone was fairly unknown as a filmmaker with two less than known horror films as director under him and his most known works being the screenplays behind Conan the Barbarian and Midnight Express (which also dealt with drugs). After this he’d direct Salvador, Platoon and Wall Street to cement himself, but Scarface was a deeply personal film to him. At the time, Stone was working through his post Vietnam War cocaine addiction and that comes clear through the film. The film is often considered too violent and vulgar to have any real message aside from “crime doesn’t pay”, but ultimately it’s an argument against addiction-drugs or power. By the end, you see that fairly clearly and its great. It’s also a reason for what appears to be an issue upon initial watching where Tony Montana geos from low to high instantly in the crime world…because he’s literally high. I just think it’s a well told story.

But if we’re talking the visceral audience specific reasons, here’s the key stuff:
-The swearing/humor works as showing the 80’s vibe and more human nature than the grizzled and gritty attitude the genre often has.
-The song “Push it to the Limit” along with the rest of the music helps the vibe.
-The early deal gone wrong scene feels right out of the exploitation era De Palma began in (feeling like a direct homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
-The final shootout with the “Say hello to my little friend” line is an all time classic of shootouts alongside De Palma’s great Untouchables shootout too.

In short, the film is a blast and still 100% holds up. It’s a classic, the best film of 1983 and you should absolutely see it.