Sunday, March 02, 2008

Quality 80s? Part V

In a search to find timeless, non-quirky 80s films (inspired by my viewing of The Accidental Tourist) I have begun my movie viewing. Here are some 1980s films I've just watched for the first time and my thoughts on whether they're any good 20-or-so years post-release.

Also check out: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

The Color Purple (1985)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Recommended by Oscar (11 noms, 0 wins), Fox, Will, and jeremy.

This movie is good, yet very depressing. I found the adaptation of Alice Walkers story to make for a more interesting screenplay than Spielburg's Empire of the Sun. Yet, at the same time the story of Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg) and the other characters who make up this story, are sad and depressing tales, especially at over 2 and a half hours long. The amount of sexual abuse and confusion that Celie goes through is incredibly horrific. This movie's dealing with rape, incest, domestic sexual, verbal, and physical abuse and same-gender sexual interest makes for a challenging film where you can definitely do with out the popcorn.

It's a lot of fun to see Oprah Winfrey play the role as the strong willed Sofia! She certainly was worthy of her Oscar nominations (as were Goldberg and Margaret Avery). This movie certainly stands apart from many of the "quirky" 80s films, but as discussed previously, as a period piece it has that advantage. Spielburg is great at making "important" films, but many of those "important" films, simply are the type that you only need watch once. This is one of those.

The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Directed by Peter Weir
Recommended by Jeremy R.

This film could have been good. The story of a Utopian dreamer-inventor who uproots his family to central America to rough it and carve out a new life is incredibly interesting. Combining elements of Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies, Apocolypse Now, and Nutty Professor, it all just doesn't collide together quiet right. I don't blame it on the premise, but I do blame it on the screenplay.

Harrison Ford does an exceptional job as the crazy father, and he has some great lines. But at the same time, the story to me lost a lot of believability in the over-emphasis of the father-son relationship between Harrison Ford and River Phoenix. Ford's film wife played by Helen Mirren, really gets one of the most under developed main character roles I've seen. When Ford decides on a whim to move the family to Honduras, Mirren simply looks at the pile of dishes in the sink, shrugs her shoulders and goes along for the ride. Yet, later in the film she is ready to leave the jungle, but in her devotion to her husband feel unable to, she has some cinematic weeping and screaming moments, but that come out of no development.

I wish this film were better, like many of Weir's films they lend themselves to discussion, and I wish this film was better so that I could recommend it, watch it and discuss it with others. It contains topics of Americanism, utopianism, world development, religion, freedom, family, world trade, and commercialism. Yet the film lacks a completeness that keeps it from being great, all the pieces are there...yet the film is not. It's a shame.

Raising Arizona (1987)
Directed by Joel (and Ethan) Coen
Recommended by Will, and Kat.

I'd seen so many clips from this film, but have failed to ever sit down and watch it from start to finish. Similar to Moonstruck, Nicolas Cage again is forced to have a bad 80s hair cut (all in the name of comedy...or perhaps this is a Coen brother secret that was again used on Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men). Like many other Coen films, the foiled kidnapping plot is perfect ground for comedy, fantastical scenes, and hilarious character monologues from various social classes. I think Holly Hunter is a great comic actress as well, and would love to see her reappear in another Coen film.

20 years later, Raising Arizona, quirky to the 'nth degree, managers to rises above the status of quirky-80s films, and becomes a part of the story of American cinema.


Adam Ross said...

I remember liking "Mosquito Coast" in the 80s, but had the same feelings you did after revisiting it recently. The best parts are easily when the family first gets to the jungle, but it loses me when he builds the A/C machine that seems to rewrite the book on thermodynamics before burning it.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the haircut parallel between Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men, there was also the reference to the 'Last Rider of the Apocalypse' when Bardem blasts the critter as he crosses the bridge.

Jeff Reed said...

Weir films would never lend itself to a win... I don't know any director who has gone through more "quality" films without less recommendation. The films are too International in style, and never were really appreciated by American audiences (maybe too intellectual?)

Mosquito Coast is actually one of my least favorite of Weirs...

Anonymous said...

For me, Whoopy Goldberg deserves the Oscar in "The color Purple" instead "Ghost". Fantastic film with powerful performances.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for viewing one of my recommendations even if you didn't like it. I mostly loved it for Ford's performance, I thought this along with his other Weir film "Witness" were some of his strongest work. By the way Holly Hunter was in anther Coen Brothers movie. He was George Clooney's wife in "O Brother Where Art Thou?". It wasn't a big part but I thought she was funny. "You ain't Bonofide."

Terence Towles Canote said...

I think it helped that Raising Arizona was directed by the Coen Brothers. Rarely have they gone wrong.

Anonymous said...

I love Raising Arizona! So bizarre and the very definition of quirky. John Goodman cracks me up in that movie.

Another Peter Weir to check out from the 80's is Gallipoli. Its about a disastrous Australian WWI mission in Turkey and stars a young Mel Gibson.

RC said...

@adam r., how does that ice machine work anyways???

@joseph, you're absolutly right, i rememnber that scene in NCFOM, and you're dead on.

@jeff, i think mosquito coast will probably be my least favorite wier film as well (although Master & Commander is sort of slow) I want to see Weir get out at least one more project before the end of the decade.

@ anon, i've heard other's share your sentiment on Goldberg (Color Purple) over Page (trip to bountiful)

@ jeremy, thanks for the recommendation...i'm glad i watched mosquito coast (and i've already seen witness, so it's won't be a part of this series)...i do like O Brother Where art Thou a lot!

@lifeofando...i'm definitly on it, trying to get my hands on Gallipoli!

general125 said...

The other thing that is great about those early Cohen Bros. movies is that Barry Sonnenfeld was the Director of Photography on Raising Arizona along with Miller's Crossing. These two films look nothing alike. Raising Arizona uses a lot of zoom in close-ups and wacky angles, while Miller's Crossing seems to exclusively use wide angle lenses, even in closeups. The cinematography adds an element of enjoyment to these movies along with the fine scripts and acting.

RJ said...

Check out Crimes and Misdemeanors if you haven't already

Out Of Jersey said...

I hate to admit I still haven't seen Raising Arizona yet.