Chronicling the 80s - November

Do you remember when I was going to take the most popular 80’s movies from Letterboxd and watch them “all” this calendar year of 2018? I do. I also remember failing at it, quite badly.

It started out well enough, even with a bit of misstep. I watched a couple of films that I thought were on the list but weren’t, then quickly jumping in with an incredible film in Nausicaa. My optimism for the project remained high, as I cherry picked films, popped that popcorn and took in movies week after week. I believe – without doing any check here – that I was on track to watch eight or nine of these eighties films every month, which would put me on track to complete the full 180 titles. Yes, I was cheating a bit by giving myself a head start in checking off movies I had seen previously but that just meant the list could be larger and more robust with 180 entries instead of something more attainable, like 90.

You may even recall the notion of a monthly post providing a quick review of each title. It would serve as a mechanism to present more content on the site, and personally, help me back into writing on a more frequent basis. Perhaps the first catalyst for failure happened here.

Chronicling the '80s - Month One

As January winds to a close, I feel compelled to provide you - the faithful reader - an update on my 2018 project to chronicle the most popular movies of the 1980's. Let's dive right in, shall we?

It all started on a quiet Friday evening; the air outside was cold, but the heat was on and I had two little warmers by my side in the form of my cats. I took the time to make popcorn on the stove top, a recently discovered favourite of mine, that blows away your traditional microwave variety. It is a bit time consuming, but paired with a cold soda and a blanket, it's well worth it. I spent the previous week acquiring various movies for the project, and had a couple of false starts, but this time I knew the movie was on the list, and I was ready to ceremoniously begin the Chronicle. 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Yes, this would be perfect, with original Japanese audio, thereby forcing my attention to read subtitles throughout the duration. I'm not sure it mattered though, as this movie had me engrossed from the very beginning. It's so beautiful, from start to finish, that anything I could really say about it would be amateur-ish in the world of film critique. Everything about the movie, and the setting in my apartment was perfect that night, and I truly felt as though I had just watched the first five star movie of what should be many; although, I did knock it down half a star simply because I reserve those perfect scores for movies I've seen multiple times. For a movie that is ranked number 69 on this list of films, I figure the quality of the others must be astounding, and this project will be an absolute breeze.

Chronicling the '80s

It's not like me to put together New Years Resolutions, but this year - being inspired by other movie-lovers - I have decided to try one out. It had to be movie-related of course; something feasible that can be arduous yet achievable. Something that would be fun; something that would expose me to cinema I may not look for on my own. With the rash of eighties movies I have thoroughly been enjoying the past little while, I had my focus and my plan sprung into place rather quickly: I would assemble a list of the most popular films of the 1980's and watch all of them.

Utilizing my go-to, Letterboxd, I was able to sort each individual year by popularity; for numbers sake, I took the top 18 of each year and put them into one large list, resulting in a hefty 180 titles. That many movies in one year is difficult, but definitely possible (I regularly clear 200 now). The issue is that: there wouldn't be room for other movies. Fortunately, Letterboxd saves the day again in the form of my watch history, and in the list, I can quickly see that I've already seen 46% of these movies, leaving me with just over 90 films to take in to fulfill this project. 

Some may be quick to point out that it doesn't count if I don't watch all 180 in one year, but let's be realistic for a moment. And if I did accept that angle, I could easily knock it in half to be the top nine from each year, effectively halving my intake and making this that much easier. But I wanted to branch past the top ten of each year, which would expose me to some lesser known material. It's also important to note that this is Letterboxd's most popular: not necessarily the highest rated, or most successful, but the most popular.

A link to the list can be found here:

I would encourage you to take browse through the list, and even create your own Letterboxd account (it's free, you don't need to go 'pro' to mark movies watched) and see how many in this list you've watched. Add me as a friend as well!

Stay tuned for month-by-month updates of my progress through this list, with some commentary on the films and the journey.

Friday the 13th: Part III

As I work my way through a few different classic series, I stumble upon the third in a franchise and always forget one important trope from the '80s: the third movie MUST be in 3D.

Of course, I don't have the 3D version of Friday the 13th Part III, but the effect is obvious and quite frankly, distracting. Instead of panning across suburban street with kids playing baseball, the camera focuses on the child holding the baseball bat directly at the camera for a few seconds before moving on. We've got a yo-yo scene (which goes on for seconds too long), juggling, brooms and of course, lots of stabby weapons, including both ends of a pitchfork. This may seem like nipticking and it really is. I just can't help but think of all the scene setup and extra seconds here and there "wasted" on the 3D visuals, but on the other hand I would be really interested to see what these effects looked like in theatres back in the '80s, having only really experienced modern, Avatar-type 3D over the past few years myself.

Part III adheres to the formula of the first two, albeit with mediocre characters. I saw another review that noted that all the women look identical and it's true: it was tough telling them apart. We have a group of locals who cause trouble for our teens in a "subplot" that feels exaggerated and over the top but serves the purpose of adding more to the film's body count. Our camp friends aren't that much better, and some are just downright awful.

I must say that I was not expecting Jason's iconic mask to be so humdrum in origin; if anything, it was a bit disappointing but I was happy to see it happen organically, at least.

It's a fairly negative review but I did enjoy the movie for what it was; being just the third one in and coming off the one-two punch of greatness, it's inevitable that the series takes a turn for the worse, and I suspect that it gets much, much worse than this.

King Arthur

This movie is seemingly receiving much more hate than I think it deserves. While it's not without problems, it certainly fulfilled the exact requirements I had for a Tuesday night popcorn film, but with an added panache that only Guy Ritchie could provide.

That's right: I was digging the editing, the heavy music and crunchy visual effects. I had shivers whenever Arthur grasped the sword with both hands, as Ritchie and his effects crew conveyed to me the sheer, brute magical force that this weapon conveys. Then he shows it off in a couple of action sequences later that left me satisfied: we don't float down the 300 slow-mo river too far, although we skipped dangerously close.

My favourite rendition of Arthurian legend lies in the epic book series 'A Dream of Eagles' by Jack Whyte. It takes a very grounded, realistic look at the legend of Arthur, his bloodline and the creation of Camelot. Whyte goes to great lengths to explain the more "extra-natural" elements of the legend, such as the magic of Merlin, and the unique qualities of Excalibur. So it can be refreshing for to take in a full fantasy-driven approach that lets my inner child live vicariously through the adrenaline-injected on-screen action.

At the very least, this is a superior alternative to much of the sequel-driven dribble we've been subjected to for the past while.

Rated a respectable 4 / 5 stars; check it out and enjoy!

The New York Ripper

As I delve deeper into the world of horror movies of the 70s and 80s, I often skip across the surface of these famous Italian directors and producers. I was really impressed with Inferno and Pieces, and with that, I probably saw The New York Ripper on a list and managed to get my hands on it. I feel so dirty now. Gore is definitely a major factor in these films, but Ripper takes it a step further. The director, Lucio Fulci, takes New York and allows the city to breathe its dirty eighties breathe all over, not unlike what William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac. I thought it interesting that Maniac takes place, for the majority, in the dark, while Ripper embraces the daytime. They both showcase everyday places that you would find yourself and cranks the horror and gore to untold levels. This lit approach to the film leaves nothing to the imagination; it leaves nothing for you to hide yourself behind. You have no choice but to look away, as each murder escalates in intensity and terror.

While I was fascinated by Maniac from the get-go, I was mostly turned off and bored throughout most of this film. If I had a theory, it would be that most of the film is a bit of a mystery that centers around Jack Hedley's detective slowly attempting to crack the case. Maniac focuses on the killer: his state of mind is up front and center, while our killer here remains a mystery. I see many reviews that say the identity of the killer is obvious, but I must admit I was a bit too involved in my phone, or pacing back and forth searching the cupboards for a quick satisfying snack to bother putting anything together. I can't help but think now that the sleazy feel of this film forced me out of my seat all too often. The most cringe-worthy, violent scenes made me uncomfortable in a way that other movies haven't, which may in fact be praise when that's the director's intention. 

And with that, I can't imagine this particular film staying with me to the extent that others have. But it is definitely bringing me into a new light of a niche of cinema that has remain largely unexplored. In an era where I can't find anything original at the cineplex, I don't have far to go to find films like this. 

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself is the history behind it; banned in the UK for decades, it "recently" came out on DVD (early aughts, that is) and was quickly gobbled up, as the film was able to amass a truly cult following for those who managed to get their hands on a copy. Now we're being treated to original releases of these films, cleaned up a bit and released in high definition by a variety of boutique distributors. 

I gave this a two-star rating on Letterboxd, bumping up a half star after I read more about the release of the film and where it stands in (and introducing me to) the world of giallo film.

Cape Fear

Finally sitting down to take in Cape Fear was a bit of a cathartic experience; we had the VHS kicking around the basement when I was younger, and I had vague memories of the film itself, although truth be told, most of those memories were probably formed by the smartly done Simpson's parody episode. The chilling music is something that would pop into my head on an alarmingly regular basis, but actually watching the film somehow slipped my priority until recently, and I'm quite taken aback with the idea of having seeing this as I was younger: it was quite a bit more disturbing, in both content and style, than I was prepared for.

Assassin's Creed

Tackling Hollywood’s latest video game adaptation was always going to be an interesting exercise. It’s a wonder that any of these become made; even in the face of an abysmal track record, producers will always make an attempt at adaptation when some semblance of a built-in audience is already around. Indeed, I got right into the video game when it first came out, and eagerly played the second (which was even better). I played the hell out of the third title, Brotherhood, and got burnt out on the fourth: Revelations. I believe there have been eight or nine main entries in the series to date.

With that many titles in the series, there’s a lot of story to pull from, and it’s easy to see the variety of ways that you could adapt these scenarios into compelling action and drama on the big screen. The base concept is interesting enough: it’s the story of two groups - the Templars and the Assassins - waging war for centuries in the hunt for pieces of eden, which apparently when combined, would allow for the control of the entire human race. Conveniently enough, the technology assists that allows an individual to relive the memories of their ancestors. In this case, Desmond is a modern-day man who comes from a long line of Assassin’s, which allows us - as gamers - to wreak havoc and see events unfold in a number of timelines.

You can see how the concept is well suited for a series of games: each game could take place in a different time, with one continuing story in the present to string it all together. THis is, of course, exactly what they do, as we start the series in the Third Crusade, then advance through history (and all over the world) with each iteration. It seems straightforward, then, to adapt the exact same premise into a movie franchise. It can’t be that simple though, right? Of course not.


Firewatch puts you in the shoes of Henry, a forty year old man working as a lookout in the US national forest of Shoshone in the year 1989. It’s your job - a Henry - to keep, well, a lookout, for local fires, and act to assist in preventing them. You’re not really a firefighter, but more of a watcher and warden of the park; indeed, on your first day your supervisor, Delilah, spots fireworks coming from a nearby lake, and it’s your duty to stop the park’s visitors from setting them off, which could spark a forest fire. The position isn’t glamourous, and shouldn’t be too exciting, but Henry finds mysterious occurrences in the woods, that require some investigation. You’re in near-constant contact with Delilah through a walkie-talkie; she’s miles off and can see your own tower, and is also responsible for maintaining contact with the other lookouts in different sectors.

Your first day is abnormally packed with activity. Upon investigating the source of the fireworks, you fight with two young women, and on your way back a mysterious figure shines a flashlight on you and promptly disappears into the woods. You discover a locked cave, and soon after, you discover your tower has been broken into and various belongings either trashed or straight up stolen. Not a good way to start your summer job, right?  The next day, you’re set on a task to find the suspect campers and to investigate a broken communication line. You become acquainted with the park and the various trails all while developing a relationship with Delilah who is, in effect, the only other person you can expect to talk to (and not even see) for the duration of your position.


Ah yes, it’s November, which means we’re due for our psychological science fiction film of the year. Now that the summer is over and the memory of those action movies masquerading as scifi is over (re: any movie with more special effects - especially robots and spaceships - than character) we can get onto the heavier stuff. A couple of Novembers ago, we were treated to Interstellar; now, we’re in the presence of Arrival, a slow moving yet highly anticipated movie about humanity’s first contact with alien life.

The initial trailers had me hooked right away, as it turns out I’m kind of into “first contact” movies. Is that even a thing? Yeah, I love my scifi and this is right up my alley, so we’ll roll with it for the time being. There wasn’t much revealed in those first teases, save for an introduction to our characters, the general structure of the film and perhaps most importantly: the atmosphere of the film. What I didn’t know beforehand is the films director, one Denis Villeneuve; having not disappointed yet, Denis’ filmography is setting him up to be a modern master of cinema, and perhaps being more aware of his duties on the film, my expectations could have been altered. Just a tad though. Not enough to make a difference here; I mean, you can’t go from Prisoners to Enemy and expect me to have the faintest idea where his next movie would go.

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