Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The Directors (Part 8 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

When discussing the 1980s no director stands out more prominently than does Steven Spielberg. Just looking at his repertoire of films from the decade and we can see his artistry was ever-expanding. He had blockbusters in the Indiana Jones trilogy and also with the incredibly sensitive and heart-felt E.T. He also started to venture into uncharted territory. I truly admire directors who are always looking to change to make a departure so to speak, and Spielberg was always willing to do that. Even while E.T. was a success he had Poltergeist in general release, which was a supernatural horror film. It was E.T. that did it for him. It was his biggest hit to date and it allowed him to create his own production company, Amblin Entertainment.


After his second Indy film he started work on his first drama and it’s one of his better efforts called The Color Purple. There was much critical uproar over Spielberg handling a story about African-Americans. Regardless of that it’s a great film that works beautifully and like most of his films has a triumphant theme. His next film was also a drama but here we saw World War II from a difficult angle. In Empire of the Sun Spielberg beautifully documents the travails of a lost British child. This is Spielberg’s first wartime opus and the war is less involved in the events of this film than in other films and it works fantastically. The film received much critical praise including in the international media, which called this his most European film. After the third and final Indy film, for the time being, he did a remake called Always. Spielberg would continue to change from film to film doing whatever he wanted. He then went on to the much maligned but absolutely magical Hook in ’91. Then came Jurassic Park, which was in all likelihood what helped him start up DreamWorks.


Steven Spielberg was the ideal director for the 1980s. Most of the films I’ve talked about were Amblin Productions. Spielberg was producer of Young Sherlock Holmes, The Money Pit, An American Tail, Harry and the Hendersons, Innerspace, *batteries not included and Back to the Future Part II amongst others. All of these films are adventurous, family-oriented and fantastical in some way or another. Steven Spielberg’s worked has only improved and multiplied in the 90s. He was also the standard setter in the 80s whereas everyone was trying to emulate his style but none really could.

Beetlejuice (1988, Warner Bros.)

Lucas’ impact has already been noted with the Star Wars films and co-authoring the Indiana Jones series but stylistically few directors were more noticeable than Tim Burton. His first break into the big time was directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a quirky film about a child-like adult’s search for his lost bike. The film surprised everyone and spawned a Saturday morning program. Burton’s flair for the quirky and unusual and his visual sensitivity got even more free-range in his next project, Beetlejuice. Not only is this one of the most original films I’ve seen but the cinematography, particularly in the after-world sequences with the sandworms, is fantastic. In Beetlejuice we follow the tale of a couple that has recently died and they try to scare the new residents of their house out. Michael Keaton delivers one of his best performances as the gross and irreverent title character and this film too was spun-off into a cartoon.

Wall Street (1987, Columbia/Tri Star)

Oliver Stone is one of the best directors out there right now [as of this writing]. He’s very different from most directors at any point in time because he’s more willing to be political than most American directors. The film that put him on the map was Salvador, which deals with Panama at a time when Reagan looked upon all of South and Central America as his toys. He then had his two anti-Vietnam films being Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, which are powerful and stirring accounts. I do believe that every good director has a bit of good fortune in their timing every once in a while. Spielberg released Minority Report when privacy and surveillance are big issues, and Oliver Stone came out with Wall Street a year after Ivan Boesky and Dennis Levine plead guilty of insider trading and just a few months after the stock market crash of 1987. Daryl Hannah’s pathetic performance aside, this one of his best films and it’s the most emblematic of the 80s, in a negative Oliver Stone-like way. Money leads to these characters downfall and it practically tears a family apart. We get Michael Douglas playing one of his most memorable characters, Gordon Gekko, delivering that fabulous speech, which Stone seems to know how to write, starting off “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gordon Gekko is the 80s captain of industry. Combine him and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and you have the ultimate cold-hearted capitalist.


The 1980s was more a decade of individual films than of directors. There weren’t a bunch of auteurs walking around but there were plenty of movies coming from all over the place. There were but a handful of powerful filmmakers, these were the foremost.

Work Cited and Footnotes: Otavio Frias Filho “Spielberg” pp. 214-220. Folha Conta 100 Anos de Cinema. Ed. Amir Labaki. Imago Editora: Rio de Janeiro, 1995.

-“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” had probably the best set design I’ve seen on television.

-Despite the quality of the film, Beetlejuice, the cartoon series is one of the worst piece of junk I ever saw all the jokes were in pun form, who wrote that?

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Review- Prometheus

I spent a good amount of time getting caught up on my reviewing. There’s no logical explanation as to why I get back-logged save for procrastination, but having said that I knew that I needed to have Prometheus last. Now, just the fact that I felt the need to stew on the film a bit longer is proof that there is a bit more to it than other films that just flat-out didn’t work at all. So in that regard, I do have to give it a grudging amount of respect, however, that was already there by the implication of its plot and the trappings. It’s not the aims of Prometheus that are so bothersome, but rather how it goes about trying to achieve said aims and fails.

As soon as you get aboard the Prometheus, the eponymous ship, you’re introduced to a rather different aim than in Alien, this is not strictly a cargo ship but a mission with a loftier goal, seeking the alien race that theoretically populated the earth. Essentially, seeking what we’ve come to call God. This is intimated visually with an archeological site, but we as an audience discover this when Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) memory is read. Granted this gives us some insight into both David (Michael Fassbender) and her but it’s an extremely clumsy way to introduce her theological views, especially when she’s not necessarily shy about sharing them with any and all who ask.

If a film wants to be a precursor to another film, inhabit its universe but not really have any drastic ties that bind it to the original film chronologically, I have no problem with that. I have been, on multiple occasions been surprised by a prequel or a remake, even when I saw the original product first, however, what confounds me about Prometheus is that it sets some pretty different aims in the beginning and then seems to spend much of the first and into the second act of the film doing a pale, sterilized impersonation of Alien, which makes you think maybe the God plot is a MacGuffin and you’re really going to get a rehash. It’s not the fact that it’s misdirection that bothers me, clearly films need to misdirect audiences for certain payoffs but it’s the amount of time dedicated to and the certain lack of follow-through and dispelling the other track that really gets to me.

There are more than a few rehashed tropes from the initial series of films that really don’t add that much drama or significance to this film. One of the most annoying ones is the character of David and his nature. This was a pretty huge reveal in the first film to both audience and characters involved, yet here it’s played blatantly and everyone knows. Well, why does an earlier crew know something a later crew doesn’t? Is it the nature of the manifest or something else?

I recognize that certain mysteries and certain tricks are harder to pull on multiple occasions, but it does sort of make you wonder why certain elements are even being reintroduced. If you’re wiping the slate clean, wipe it all the way clean. This way all the plot twists have impact. Instead, there are multiple sequences in this film that are just utterly hollow because I can already tell where a particular plot is going and there’s no real drama in its outcome. One of the more effective prequels in recent memory was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, simply because they rewound so far back in the narrative there was really no telling how you’d get from point A to B to C.

So there’s a major portion of the film that’s really just Alien Lite or Alien for Dummies, if you prefer but then there’s the part where something new is trying to be accomplished and the focus completely drifts away from it for rather significant stretches and when the film’s focus drifts what hope do we as an audience have or caring?

Is there more to this story than I’m giving credit for? Yes. However, part of the impetus for me (or almost anyone) to plunder the deeper depths of the film for meaning is a willingness to dig. What makes one willing to dig? Having something to latch onto in the first place, and there’s nothing that really gives you a handhold here. I’ve seen some commentary and read some reviews around that were rather interesting. Once cited Contact as a good double feature. The seeking some sort of greater meaning in the far reaches of the universe theme is there, but despite the surprise ending, the through-line of Contact is rather clear and never clouded. Many people disliked it for what it was or because of what they considered to be a deus ex machina in the story-line, but I’ve never seen anyone cite that it was confused about what it wanted to be. Relating back to the digging deeper comment I made above, A.O. Scott makes a fascinating comparison between the David of this film and the David in Artificial Intelligence: A.I., even as seemingly perplexed as I was walking out of that film for the first time there was something there I knew I liked it a lot, I just couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve read some things and come to realize some things about Prometheus since I’ve seen it but none of it has illuminated it in my mind. It’s not a sense of revelation like I had after I walked out of The Turin Horse, it’s kind of like finding the occasional diamond in a pile of garbage; sure you have a diamond but you still feel dirty. The revelations do nothing because they’re not big enough and granted some films can get too grandiose, especially when failure is the more likely outcome but after a certain point there’s just an emotional flatline in this film that could’ve been at least jostled slightly by something pertaining to the purported point of this endeavor that could’ve helped.

Those are the more technical, narrative aspects. On the visceral front those shortcomings proved to make this my most boring moviegoing experience since Cowboys and Aliens. Note, I did not and will not say it’s that bad. This film does have a lot more going for it than that did, which I’ll get too but it’s by no stretch of the imagination enjoyable.

The film is unquestionably beautiful to look at, the effects work is pretty bullet-proof and while 3D isn’t amongst the very best I’ve seen it’s quite good and doesn’t distract or interfere with the experience at all. For more detail on the 3D from someone who appreciated that aspect a lot more than I did I refer you to CinemaBlend.

Most of the actors do what they can with the limited, usually one note characters they are given to work with. I wish Charlize Theron was given more range to work with, as her coldness in this does get a bit trite and it seems like she and Rapace are fighting over who gets to squeeze into the Weaver mold next. The slight power struggle is a bit enjoyable, but also a bit repetitive. However, some of the performances do fall a bit flat also namely Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris and Rafe Spall.

Sadly, Prometheus is an unmitigated mess. Some messy films can end up being lovely regardless of that fact, but this film never really has that chance. It’s pulled in different directions and slapped together with glue and scotch tape, as refined and brilliant as some of the images are, the construction and handling of the narrative is equally inelegant.

3/10

Review- You Again

You Again is now available to stream on Netflix.

You Again is a film that ultimately sinks or swims on the strength of its actors’ performances and due to them it manages to stay afloat.

While the concept is not shockingly original what it did promise was the comedic possibilities of the mirrored stories of high school torment as experienced by both mother and daughter which are to be relived through coincidence brought to their attention by an upcoming family wedding. Where the film falls just a bit flat is that there could’ve been more balance between the disparate rivalries but ultimately it is overwhelmingly about younger set, which makes sense but there are a few issues there.

Now all that is not to say it isn’t funny. It does have its share of laughs. Certainly more than last weekend’s other offering, The Virginity Hit, it’s just matter of some squandered potential.

In terms of performances the four leading ladies certainly deserve their mention. Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver both play to their strengths from start to finish in roles seemingly tailor made for them. Curtis excels in her enthusiastic, slightly goofy and affable role and is a perfect foil to Weaver’s sophisticated, high society businesswoman who puts on airs. Their interaction is why you want more of them. Kristen Bell and Odette Yustman both do very well with their parts even if at the end the truthfulness and motivation of Yustman’s character is somewhat suspect.

The now seemingly standard Betty White appearance was as expected rather funny even with the gag at the end which was a bit much. However, the glue that holds the film together and in fact helps this film be more relatable to a male audience are Mark (Victor Garber) and Ben (Billy Unger). Not that I think that the label “chick flick” is completely apropos as these struggles in high school could just as easily be about men with some slight variations but the target is women. However, with Garber’s character, as Gail’s (Curtis’s) husband, who tries to but can’t quite grasp the situation and Ben, Gail’s son and Marni’s (Bell’s) younger brother, who lampoons the situation brilliantly stealing quite a few scenes along the way, it allows men to find characters with which the identify and ultimately it can bring a wider audience into the story as these characters get involved in the conflicts.

With a film of this type there is the almost mandatory scene where things all come tumbling down for the protagonist. However, I feel that the apparent defeat here is a bit undermined by the toast right before what Marni actually does orchestrate. Things play out such that she could’ve actually escaped with less of the blame and she came out looking better and less conniving than she would have and was intended. Had the start of the Third Act played out differently it might’ve had more impact.

You Again is a funny piece of escapist cinema that could’ve been a little bit more if only a few things had been different. Having said that there is still a good time to be had.

6/10

Review- Paul

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Paul (Universal)

The first thing that needs saying about Paul is that it’s the first comedy I’ve seen in a while that struck me as one that will likely get better upon being re-viewed. However, unlike Pegg and Frost’s previous films, those which were pairings with Edgar Wright this film is more homage than homage/parody. There isn’t really that delightful and subtle transition that occurred in the initial installments of the Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy to elevate this one but it does not stop this film from being very funny indeed.

The lack of subtlety translates a bit to the humor of this film as well. Not that it ever really hits a discordant note comedically but it doesn’t have the well-hidden jokes or the built-in verve that the earlier films do. What it does have is a tremendous spirit and a genuine love for all things in the overarching genre that can best be called Fanboy. Whether it sci-fi, comics or anything else you can find at Comic Con this film loves it an embraces it.

It’s that spirit that really propels the film. There are a few things that become a bit too present like the mysterious boss, who is seeking to capture the alien (the eponymous Paul voiced by Seth Rogen), which is just an overly elaborate set-up to a short-lived cameo by Sigourney Weaver which has already been spoiled by the marketing department- see it does factor in sometimes.

Then there are the dueling chasers: the underling Agent Zoil (played by Jason Bateman, and yes there’s a great joke made about the name) and his subordinates Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Trugio) who are kept in the dark to an extent about what this chase it really about. As if that subplot wasn’t enough the chase becomes even more cluttered adding Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) whose daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig) ran off with them, to the mix.

That is not to say that these things don’t fit, aren’t funny and don’t add something to the mix but they remain a bit separate and don’t represent a realistic threat until very late so most of the time it’s additional comedy added and more time allotted than is maybe needed. These elements aren’t folded in as neatly as they could be.

In this day and age when any animated character that exists is automatically endangered when there isn’t a name attached to play the role the concept of invisibility is very important, which if you haven’t read an animated review of mine before means the ability of the actor to blend into the film and become his character such that we don’t think of his face when we hear his voice. This was a huge hurdle for Despicable Me that was eventually cleared and in this film it was one of its greater struggles. Rogen’s voice is not only very distinctive but also rather inflexible such that until the character builds sufficiently it’s hard to not think of him.

The CG does help pull it through, however, as always it seems to be the case that when there is only one major project that the animators need to deal there seems to be greater attention to detail paid. Paul looks quite real some of the time and perhaps more importantly blends in with his surroundings very well.

The cast overall does an outstanding job. In the end Rogen does manage to make Paul rather an endearing if different extra-terrestrial than those we’ve come to know. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg show that they are the world’s premiere comedic duo at the moment and show no signs of slowing down. Kristen Wiig adds just the right amount of zaniness to the mix and be prepared to be surprised but an important, moving and hilarious supporting turn by Blythe Danner.

What is always very apparent with films that involve Pegg and Frost as both writers and performers is that you know their material comes from a place of genuine affection despite the spoofing and jokes. As a film fan it will remind you some of your very favorite films but also tell a tale of its own which is very worthy of your time.

8/10