Friday, March 3, 2023

Notes on Film: Headed Back to 1983

 by Anthony King

What a feeling!

Happy 1983 week, everybody! I hope you've all been enjoying some entertainment from the year that gave us the cell phone and Adam Devine. Leading up to F This Movie Fest tomorrow I've been enjoying almost exclusively 1983 movies all week, and I'd like to share what I've been watching.

I unofficially kicked off my 1983 week last Thursday with Jeff Kanew's Eddie Macon's Run starring John Schneider as the titular Edward, an escaped convict, and Kirk Douglas as a truant officer called Buster Marzack. While the movie is fine and entertaining, what's most impressive is the cast of character actors that keep showing up, from Lee Purcell as a rich girl slumming it with the common folk, to Jay O. Sanders and Tom Noonan as Deliverance-esque hillbillies who kidnap Eddie. There's also brief appearances from John Goodman, J.C. Quinn, Matthew Cowles, J.T. Walsh, and Mark Margolis. Eddie escapes prison for a second time with plans to meet his wife and son at the Mexican border. As the story unfolds, about a third of it is told in flashbacks in order to learn why Eddie's in prison and why Marzack is so hellbent on catching him. The other thing that makes this movie memorable is the fact that Kirk Douglas is in a completely different movie than what's unfolding before us. We're watching a southern-fried man-on-the-run movie while Douglas is acting like it's a 1940s noir. It's a bizarre movie that is totally worth your time.
Friday night Bobbie and I watched Carl Reiner's The Man with Two Brains, which was grating to say the least (sorry, Patrick, but I'll be passing on the secret seventh movie of the fest this year). Saturdays and Sundays I'm lucky enough to have a part time job where I literally do nothing but watch movies. Saturday's foursome kicked off with Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and as it turns out, the only Monty Python movie I like is Holy Grail (although the birthing scene was hysterical). Film number 2 brightened things a bit but was still just fine. Michael Mann's The Keep is an oddly disappointing followup to such a strong effort like Thief (1981). I'm glad I watched The Keep, and I thought Scott Glenn's and Ian McKellen's performances were fascinating and memorable (one good, one questionable), but ultimately it's lower tier Mann. But then I watched a movie that I'll be shocked if it doesn't end up on my year end discoveries list. Bruce Beresford's Tender Mercies stars Robert Duvall as a former country singer who is recently sober and starting a new life. He begins working at a roadside motel cleaning rooms and pumping gas, and eventually falls in love with the owner. Along with the bride comes her young son, turning the movie into a beautiful family drama on top of a man searching for inspiration to create while at the same time trying to run from his calling. Every single performance floored me, including the young boy played by Allan Hubbard in his only movie role. Supported by Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, Ellen Barkin, and Michael Crabtree, Robert Duvall delivers the greatest performance of his long and storied career.
I ended my Saturday mini with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung's Project A. It's Jackie and Sammo doing their thing, which I loved, but in a colonial period setting, which I didn't love. It's still fun. Sunday began with a movie I'd constantly see bits and pieces of on TV growing up. I remembered the end of Ted Kotcheff's Uncommon Valor being quite sad but I didn't realize the entire second act was jovial in nature. It's like the funner version of Costa-Gavras's Missing (1982). Ten years after the Vietnam war has ended, Gene Hackman decides to put together a volunteer group of former soldiers to go back to Vietnam and rescue his son and other POWs. Funded by another parent of a POW played by Robert Stack, the rescue team includes Fred Ward, Patrick Swayze, Randall 'Tex' Cobb, Tim Thomerson, and Reb Brown, among others. Maybe it was because my mom studied the Vietnam War incessantly when I was a kid, but I'm a sucker for movies dealing in the subject. I followed that with Ruggero Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis, which started promising but unsurprisingly turned to dog shit. I ended my weekend of “work” with Lews Teague's Cujo, which has been my only re-watch of 1983 week. I always forget that while the main plot is about the rabid dog and mom and son stuck in the car, the co-plot (not even sub-plot) is about mom having an affair with the local artisan/handyman. While Dee Wallace and Pintauro are really great as the trapped mother/son, the screaming powered by both of their mighty lungs really started to get under my skin this time. For better or worse, I'm still debating. I wrapped up the weekend with Twilight Zone: The Movie, of which I'd only seen the opening segment as a child and turned off immediately because it scared me terribly. Again, this was a fine movie. Quick segment ranking: 1. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (George Miller); 2. It's a Good Life (Joe Dante); Time Out (John Landis); Kick the Can (Steven Spielberg).
To wrap up my 1983 week, I watched a remake that it seems most people prefer over the original (maybe I'm wrong, but that seems to be the consensus lately). Jim McBride's Breathless starring Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky was very good. I think people are crazy for preferring it to the original, but I can't control crazy. I will say, though, dirtbag Gere is my favorite Gere. And I'm wondering if he was McBride's first choice for JLL in Great Balls of Fire (1989) because I think he would've been very good in that role. I agree with everything Patrick said on this week's episode about the dragging in the middle and the uneven performance of Kaprisky, and I agree that this movie kicks all sorts of ass. Finally, I'd like to contribute my own Top 10 of 1983. Some caveats up front: I haven't seen The Outsiders for 30 years so I felt it unfair to include it on this list (we're watching it Friday for Family Movie Night, though). A few other blindspots that might have ended up on the list are as follows: The Right Stuff, Star 80, Silkwood, Bad Boys, and Under Fire.

A Christmas Story (dir. Bob Clark)
Valley Girl (dir. Martha Coolidge)
National Lampoon's Vacation (dir. Harold Ramis)
Risky Business (dir. Paul Brickman)
Mr. Mom (dir. Stan Dragoti)
The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan)
Return of the Jedi (dir. Richard Marquand)
Sleepaway Camp (dir. Robert Hiltzik)
Tender Mercies (dir. Bruce Beresford)
Psycho II (dir. Richard Franklin)


  1. I liked The Keep when i watched it a couple of years ago. I guess my liking it was helped by the fact that i read about Mann disowning it, so i was expecting the worse. It's no Heat or Thief, but there's something there for me.

  2. Yeah it’s definitely an interesting movie. Totally worth watching. And I understand why Mann might disown because it’s such an outlier in his oeuvre. But it IS such an outlier that I think people should see it.