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Movie Reviews – 1980

From the Vault #18: STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from May 4th, 2015, as we close in on Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Nobody anticipated the success of the first Star Wars movie. George Lucas’ paean to the adventure serials he grew up loving as a boy, daring tales of dashing heroes fighting evil empires in fantastical worlds, was to a cynical, gloomy late 1970’s anathema, certainly to studio heads reared by Godfather’s & French Connection’s, and indeed to many of Lucas’ illustrious luminaries, the American ‘New Wave’, making such legendary pictures. The people thought otherwise.

A New Hope was an instant success, and triggered a new age not just of science-fiction filmmaking but helped shape the modern blockbuster. A sequel was inevitable and by this point, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, was being considered as the middle point of an epic trilogy telling the story not just of Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi Knight, but his connection to Darth Vader.

Such a decision helped shape the key iconic moment everyone remembers from Empire, helped fashion the second film into, many have come to agree, not just the best Star Wars film to date but one of the finest pieces of science-fiction, adventure cinema of all time.

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From the Vault #5: THE SHINING (1980)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from October 31st, 2012, revisited with Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep just around the corner…

I’m going to throw out there a statement that is controversial when you say it about any movie: The Shining is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. There, I said it. That’s right out there and I’m standing by it.

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s well-known psychological horror is a remarkable piece of work, operating on an incredible amount of levels. It’s the most chilling movie I have honestly ever watched; other movies have made me jump more, or squirm, but The Shining every time gets inside my bones, gets inside my head, and refuses to go anywhere. The sign of a truly great movie is one that won’t leave you when the credits roll, and Kubrick’s tale sits in a very select group of films that have done that to me, and continue to on repeat viewing.

Blu-Ray Review: THE DOGS OF WAR (1980)

Adaptations of Frederick Forsyth novels quite possibly peaked too soon with 1975’s The Day of the Jackal, arguably the thriller writer’s most renowned work, far more so than The Dogs of War.

In some ways it feels unfair to compare the two, given they tread different geopolitical waters, but you always know what you’re getting with a Forsyth story. A global travelogue, international espionage and intrigue, a shady hero (or anti-hero) and lots of old, powerful men plotting conspiracies behind closed doors. John Irvin’s adaptation of The Dogs of War is right in that wheelhouse and does exactly what it says on the Forsyth tin, often indeed in a rather formulaic and forgettable way. Even the initial Shakespearean allusions and a flicker of post-The Deer Hunter psychological trauma for Christopher Walken’s central mercenary James Shannon isn’t really sustained as The Dogs of War descends into the muck and mire of shadowy corruption.

Ultimately, The Dogs of War as a piece doesn’t quite warrant the pedigree of those who have assembled before it in front of and behind the camera.

Blu-Ray Review: Used Cars (1980)

Used Cars epitomises both the end of a depressed, cynical 1970’s for America and the birth of a gaudy, loud, colourful 1980’s.

The used car salesman is one of the almost cliched examples of textbook hucksterism in the Western world, we are almost programmed to distrust the line of fast-talking, buddy buddy technique exuded here by Kurt Russell’s salesman Rudy Russo. Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale rely on that textual assumption on the audience’s part to sell Used Cars, which pits Rudy’s aspirational salesman and his ageing, low-fi boss Luke against their rival, over the road, slick car sales operation led by Luke’s loud and nasty twin brother, Roy L. Fuchs (both parts being played by veteran character actor Jack Warden). It’s a traditional high concept comedic set up, with the audience designed to root for Rudy’s crooked underdog as he tries to stick it to an even more crooked Man.

Used Cars, in that respect, works as a piece both then and indeed now. We are not short of salesmanship and crooked hucksterism in our modern age, and Rudy’s aspirations to run for state Senate and combine his penchant for selling dodgy cars with a political bent feel particularly acute given the White House is currently home to the biggest con man in modern history. Released during the Carter Administration, the short period of a lesser-known President who inherited the shock of Nixon’s disgrace and a subsequent economic downturn, Used Cars has one eye on the glitzy rhetoric and showmanship of the coming Ronald Reagan, whose neoliberal approach mixed with a halcyon yearning for a simpler, greater America, ushered in an era in which the Rudy Russo’s of the world would profit while millions still suffer the consequences today.

While a comedy of its time, and one which has lost some punch over time, Used Cars still makes sense, when it could have ended up lost to the ages.