There's something about watching '80s movies during the summer time that I find incredibly alluring-perhaps because a lot of the best '80s entertainments were summer movies themselves when they came out, and because that term was so new, they possessed a certain--innocence.
Of late I've been seeing quite a few films from that decade I hadn't seen before. My brief thoughts:
The Years of Living Dangerously. This is a Peter Weir movie, which means, among other things, that it's an expertly made film that dazzles in the way it delivers equally stunning loud and quiet moments and balances them such that issues of tone never become a problem (new Lone Ranger movie, take note). Great performances all around, especially from a young Mel Gibson and, more famously, Linda Hunt as a complex male photographer. This a great wartime drama with echoes of Casablanca and a lost Graham Greene story.
The Blues Brothers. This was great fun. I still think Dan Aykroyd is overrated, but John Belushi is amazingly funny (and surprisingly low key when he needs to be) in his final major appearance. A lot of the action scenes I loved, especially the mall scene, but the final twenty minutes are overblown. And was the nazi subplot really necessary?
The Manhattan Project. These types of fun thrillers featuring teenage geniuses really rose to prominence in the 80s (see WarGames) in part because the advance of technology really gave these kids something to work with. This one's about a boy who steals a vial of plutonium from a government lab and constructs his own atomic bomb for a science fair. He's obnoxious and pretty unlikable, but the movie as a whole is entertaining and smart, though if it's a cautionary tale, what is it warning of except boy geniuses breaking into top-secret facilities and making dangerous bombs?
Twins. This was a disappointment. Ivan Reitman directed it, but he's working with a team of four writers, and they all seemed pretty lost on how to handle a movie where Danny DeVitto and Arnold Schwarzenegger played twins. The film is funny for about twenty minutes, but it gets too sentimental too early and by the end feels more like a drama than a comedy.
Animal House. I know it came out in 1979, but it counts in my book anyway. I've never been particularly eager to see this, but it's so famous that there was no way I'd pass it up. The Belushi moments are great, but the rest is mediocre, and the big finale was more mean-spirited than funny.
Gremlins. This was great, a funny and surprisingly dark PG kids movie with all the great sentiment and warmth of a Chris Columbus film and the gross-out, smart special effects in the vein of John Carpenter. A great summer movie and a great Christmas movie.
Diner. The best movie Barry Levinson ever made was also his first. Diner is amazing. I'd take it over Animal House any day. Levinson is great with dialogue (he wrote the script and earned an Oscar nomination) and he understands that nostalgia has to be coupled with truth to be effective. Also, has Kevin Bacon ever been so lovable?
Dirty Dancing. Dreadful and predictable with some really disappointing song choices, but it's also breezy and entertaining. The major problem is that nothing here seems real, like it did in, say, Diner. I understand this is major movie comfort food for a lot of people, but there's so much else out there that's also comfort food and also cares about good writing. Just focus on the dialogue for a few scenes and you'll realize this movie has major issues.
Tootsie. It's amazing the kind of turn this movie takes. The first twenty minutes are good, then when Hoffman dons the wig it suddenly becomes awful only to slowly work its way into being hilarious and legitimately moving. Fantastic stuff, stands alongside Jeremiah Johnson as Sydney Pollock's best work.
Near Dark. One of Kathryn Bigelow's early films, but like Michael Mann, it doesn't show. This is a technically brilliant, exciting, albeit predictable vampire movie. If you want a real vampire picture, here you go.