A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.
Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1980.
5. The Big Red One
“I still got my cock… I STILL GOT MY COCK!”
Before Saving Private Ryan and all the other fair-weather bandwagon mid-90’s WWII movies, The Big Red One painted a somewhat mesmeric picture of War. Entirely unrelenting and brutally depicted, it lacks the polish and the set-play wow-factor of Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach assault, but lends far more to the viewer than a WWII highlight reel.
The story follows the Sergeant (Lee Marvin) and his patrol of 4 Horsemen (yet more comparison to Private Ryan) through a multitude of WWII theatres of war, which adds to the desperation felt during the film. Just as the protagonists survive one mission, they’re immediately sent to another and seemingly there is no light at the end of the tunnel for these men.
The film is crammed with snappy dialogue, much more than you see in many of the mid-90’s WWII efforts and life is expended with much more abandon, perhaps making it a somewhat messier depiction of the war than it’s more recent points of comparison but more than likely a more realistic one.
The movie is best summed up in a single scene, whereby the troupe liberates a Sicilian village being used as an Artillery battery by Axis forces. As the troops take downtime, a young girl presents the Sergeant with a florally decorated helmet and there is a brief moment of escape from the madness of war, however just as the Sergeant kisses the girl goodbye she is shot by an Axis sniper and dies in his arms. It’s fleeting moments of rest followed by wave and wave of cruelty.
Mark Hamill also stars in the 1st of 2 of my choices in 1980 as a hotshot yet gun-shy trooper, but ultimately he brings little other than the big name draw to this film, it’s Lee Marvin who steals the show here.
“It happened, and I gotta tell ya.. I want it to happen again”
Not being afraid to pull any punches in my line-up I decided to think outside the box for my next choice. Taboo is a monumental piece of adult-cinema, not only for pushing the boundaries of taste in its subject matter, but it arguably was the debut of the now very mainstream ‘MILF’ genre.
The story revolves around Barbara (Kay Parker) whose husband walks out on her at the beginning of the movie for being too boring in bed. The plot explores her quest to become more sexualized and her attempts at dating other men, which fall spectacularly array as she refuses to sleep with them at the first date.
Eventually she is invited to an orgy, attends but does not participate but this seemingly unlocks Pandora’s box and she begins to have feelings for her son, Paul… and as the title would suggest, they cross the line during the movie (twice!).
Taboo is a delightful film in many senses, you feel equally as awkward enjoying it as the characters likely did in their self-indulgence. The beauty of the movie is the impending curiosity it enforces on the viewer, you really need to know if they can go through with it. It’s one of the first adult movies that couples would enjoy together in a theatre, almost breaching that mainstream line yet not quite relinquishing the shame factor.
If you’re looking for a movie to provide a lasting legacy, it affectively created a sub-genre and spawned 22 sequels, however none of them come close to the impact of the original on the industry.
“I am serious! And don’t call me Shirley!”
Airplane is one of those special movies that has you smiling from ear to ear for the full duration. From the intro-scene with the Airplane tail-wing spoofing the Jaws shark fin, you get a good idea of what you’re in for, 80 minutes of silliness.
There is a love story at the heart of the movie, but generally speaking it plays almost zero significance, the title’s main protagonists have the least impact in terms of humour. That is saved for the brilliant Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges who serve up a tri-fector of witty jokes and clever innuendo.
It must be said that Airplane stands the test of time. There are few movies that at 32 years old can still make me laugh as much as this. It’s a perfectly sized portion of laughter at just 80mins long, it’s over long before it could ever get dull and remains enjoyable time and time again.
If you like your jokes dead-pan, straight faced and somewhat ridiculous, this is a must-see for you!
2. Shogun Assassin
“They will pay with rivers of blood”
I stumbled upon Shogun Assassin many years after it’s release. Back in the day I was a massive Hip-Hop fan and got my introduction to the movie via a number of cuts of the movie’s intro inserted into the GZA’s(Wu Tang Clan) 1995 album ‘Liquid Swords’.
It stirred enough of my curiosity to find the source and thus started a bit of a love-affair with modern Jidaigeki movies such as ‘Ninja Scroll’ and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi. The movie even shares connections to the 60’s Zatoichi movie series with the lead actor Tomisaburo Wakayama whose brother produces the movie and was the original Zatoichi.
The movie follows the story of ‘Lone Wolf’ who is the head executioner for the paranoid Shogun who eventually orders his death. However they strike down his wife and thus begins a bloody rampage of revenge as the Lone Wolf and his son become vagabonds walking the plains of feudal Japan in search of the Shogun.
It’s easy to see why this movie is such an inspiration for the Samurai worship in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the kill scenes are often unceremonious and death is handed out nonchalantly yet with elegance, it’s not killing for killing’s sake.
There is also purity to the Lone Wolf character that demands respect, this is best demonstrated in a very stirring scene in which the Lone Wolf saves a female Assassin from a burning boat and then proceeds to strip her against her will. Just when you think he will breach his code and rape the woman he draws her close to him and his son for the three to keep warm after jumping from the burning boat, it is a very powerful scene and reveals a human element aside from the killing-machine that Lone Wolf is portrayed.
Shogun Assassin could be considered a messy edit of 6 classic Japanese ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ movies, but I hold a special place for this movie amongst my collection, it’s one of few dubbed foreign movies I can tolerate. The dub somewhat adds to the reverence, it’s dramatic and offers something more to the grandiose nature of the entire movie.
If you enjoy movies with lots of blood, subtle swordplay and Japanese tradition, you’ll go absolutely crazy for Shogun Assassin.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
“Join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son”
The original Star Wars might have been the defining movie of a generation, but it’s this episode that cements the mythology of the Star Wars universe. I’m not actually a big ‘Star Wars’ fan and as blasphemous as this my sound, I actually saw ‘Empire’ before I saw ‘A New Hope’ as a child. I think with that, the original could never hold up to the special place that ‘Empire’ has in my heart.
TESB takes the winning formula of the original Star Wars and amplifies it, ten-fold! The action sequences are bigger, bolder and more flashy than anything in the original, the lightsabre fight scenes are much more dramatic and satisfying and there is a real sense of despair in the film as the Empire unleashes it’s full force on the tiny rebellion.
The film is of course responsible for one of the most iconic scenes of the 80’s, the Dark Vader revelation is cinematic gold, no matter how many times you see it, it always delivers impact. But it’s the character development in ‘Empire’ that makes utterly unforgettable. The love story between Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) provides entertainment throughout, the emerging power of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) demands more respect from the viewer than the somewhat wet characterisation in ‘A New Hope’.
However, it is Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prose) that stands out as the iconic image of the movie, a much more menacing and darker figure than in the previous film, he solidifies himself as one of the all time great movie bad-guys!