BOP 50 of the '80s: Selections 45-41
45) The Legend of the Suram Fortress
Filmed after its director’s release from imprisonment by Soviet authorities, The Legend of Suram Fortress uses a Georgian folk tale centered on the crumbling walls of a remote palace to tell an allegorical tale of color and power. Steeped in the tradition of the Byzantine, filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov uses an array of formal flourishes to weave a multifaceted narrative that tells its own story - as well as that of its maker. The fairly simple plot revolves around a soothsayer who is sought out by a young emissary from the fortress to answer the question of what to do about the palace's constantly collapsing walls; but when he turns out to be the progeny of a man who once rejected her, she cruelly tells him that the only solution is to have himself entombed inside the wall.. A complex and visually sumptuous film that resonates with meaning both overt and deeply hidden, The Legend of Suram Fortress is an interesting celluloid document that stands out as one of the decade’s most unique cinema offerings. (Chris Hyde/BOP)
44) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
"Just a damn minute."
The introduction of casual swearing into the lexicon of an emotionless creature of logic sounds like an act of desperation. Oddly enough, it's this sort of brazen attempt at forcing humor into the realm of nerdly science fiction that makes the fourth Star Trek film the second best of the bunch as well as one of the most enjoyable movies of the decade.
Starting at the exact moment the third Trek film ended, Star Trek IV decides to literally and figuratively take a different route from the other films in the franchise. Captain James T. Kirk accidentally plays the role of terrible travel agent for his crew. They find themselves transported back in time to 1986. What follows is an adventure that perfectly mirrors the fledgling sensibilities of the mid-1980s. The crew need not worry about the Vulcans, the Romulans, the Remans (**shudder**) or the Borg. Instead, they must simply fulfill the task of any good hippy...save the whales.
Star Trek IV deflates the egos of both the captain and the crew of the Enterprise while also taking a few good-natured jabs at the intense folks who call themselves Trekkies or Trekkers or Virgins or whatever the PC term is these days. People admire the cleverness of 1989's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but what is often lost in the discussion is this: The film that introduced the world to Keanu Reeves (now you know who to blame) was cribbing off the paper of A Voyage Home scribes Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer. And for good reason. (David Mumpower/BOP)
The Voyage Home is notable for several reasons: It marked the emergence of Leonard Nimoy as a director of some talent, it solidified the odd-number Trek film curse - Final Frontier set it in stone - and it demonstrated for the general moviegoing public just how adept the TOS cast was at flat-out comedy. Of course, this was something with which Trek fans were already familiar, but it was nice to see it up on the big screen, especially after the heavy events of Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock. And as was the case with many TOS episodes, Voyage Home contained a message directed towards present-day audiences from the perspective of the future two centuries hence; namely, that while we blithely destroy various species to the point of extinction and often beyond, we just might be killing off ourselves, too. But as was the case with the best TOS episodes, the audience isn't beaten over the head with the message; it is a vital part of the story, to be sure, but told in an entertaining manner and with minimal preaching. And the penultimate scene in the Paramount parking lot that had been turned into a substitute for San Francisco Bay is a joy for Trek fans everywhere. While not quite the equal of Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home is a pleasing romp for fans and non-fans alike, and stands the test of time as a treasured part of a decade of quality movies. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
Once upon a time, Michael Keaton was a highly successful box-office draw, and Beetlejuice was one of the major factors in his status. One of 11(!) films Keaton made in the '80s, Beetlejuice took his fast-talking screen persona to the next level. The self-proclaimed bio-exterminator called on to help a ghost couple chase the humans from their beloved house was nearly as stream-of-consciousness as your average Robin Williams monologue, and almost as over-the-top as your typical glam-rock band. But Keaton held it all together, making Beetlejuice the ghost with the most when it came to the comedy of dying. Of course, Keaton's co-stars weren't chopped liver, either: Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin starred as the married ghosts, Winona Ryder plays the "strange and unusual" daughter of the family who takes over our hapless dead couple's house, and Catherine O'Hara and Jeffrey Jones play Step-Mom and Dad. There are also interesting cameos from Dick Cavett and Robert Goulet, but it's Keaton and the special effects that steal the show, placing Beetlejuice near the top of the paranormal-comedy list. (Stephanie Star
After the surprising success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, director Tim Burton carefully selected his follow-up project. Before Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Big Fish, he created the bizarre world embodied in the quirky comedy known as Beetlejuice. Back in the days when Alec Baldwin was still likeable and Winona Ryder had yet to date the entire musical industry, the film's cast was fairly modest. Of course, the big breakthrough was Michael Keaton, whose basically supporting role as Betelgeuse eventually was leveraged into an opportunity to play the superhero part of a lifetime. It's both a great example of Keaton's great comedic talent and a sweet story about what it means to be completely misunderstood and unappreciated. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
42) The Road Warrior
"Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me."
On the surface, The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2 as I know it) could pass for just another low budget exploitation/action film. A little known director, a little known star, and the best known clichés of one genre (in this case the Western) were transposed to the flavor-of-the-month (Science Fiction was on a post-Star Wars high), peppered with larger-than-life characters from the campy to the downright disturbing, and then the gas pedal was hit. However, what we ended up with was one of those rare films that are greater than the sum of their parts.
George Miller's spectacular kinetic direction, Dean Semler's masterful outdoor cinematography and Mel Gibson's charismatic laconic tough-guy/loser all had a part to play in elevating potential bargain bin trash to a fast and furious gem of an action film. The final epic set-piece, a chase scene to end all chase scenes, is an incredible piece of film making, especially considering the budget, and holds up surprisingly well 20 years on. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)
41) The Evil Dead II
This film also appeared on our list of favorite horror films a couple of years ago, and is especially significant today for showing Sam Raimi's development as a director. Years before he would have budgets in excess of $100 million to create the Spider-Man universe, he was doing schlocky spatter with a great sense of humor. Looking back at the film now, it's easy to see a lot of trademark Raimi gimmicks at work.
The Evil Dead II is also one of those sequels that holds up magnificently even after following a superlative original film. Many people even feel that it surpasses the first Evil Dead, noting the increased use of humor and maturation of the director (admittedly, I prefer the first film to either sequel). In the end, though, it's the tour de force performance from Bruce Campbell that is central to the film's success - so much so that he continues even today to be associated primarily with Ash, the character who is the protagonist throughout the Evil Dead franchise. And really, any film where the hero has to do battle with his own hand kind of has to set the standard, doesn't it? (Kim Hollis/BOP)
The second in the Evil Dead series that put Sam Raimi on the directing map, Evil Dead II not only offers more scares, but also a fair bit of intentional laughter, along with improved special effects. Bruce Campbell is back as Ash Williams, the unfortunate camper who was the sole survivor of the first Evil Dead film. And what an E-ticket ride Raimi has in store for him, and the audience. There are revivified girlfriends, possessed hands, possessed power tools, flying eyeballs, and enough stage blood and severed body parts to satisfy even the most voracious of gore-hounds. But what stands out about Evil Dead II is how effectively Raimi managed to blend humor with horror, and how he was ably abetted by Campbell. Not only did Evil Dead II improve on its progenitor, but it set the stage perfectly for what would be the culmination of the trilogy, which itself improved upon both its predecessors.
But that's another list. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
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