Stephen reviews: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

800621_1Arcadia of My Youth [わが青春のアルカディア Waga Seishun no Arcadia] (1982)
AKA Vengeance of the Space Pirates, My Youth in Arcadia

Starring Makio Inoue, Kei Tomiyama, Reiko Muto, Reiko Tajima, Shuuichi Ikeda, Tarô Ishida, Shuuichiroo Moriyama, Hitoshi Takagi, Takeshi Aono, Yuriko Yamamoto, Yuujiro Ishihara

Directed by Katsumata Tomoharu


Leiji Matsumoto’s most prominent character is certainly the aloof Captain Harlock, so it would be nice to get an origin story for him. Well, that’s exactly what this film does. If you’re old enough, you may have even seen it in the ’80s when it was drastically edited for an English release called Vengeance of the Space Pirate. It’s also notable for having a small role by Yuujiro Ishihara, one of Japan’s most popular actors from the 20th century. During the film’s opening, he plays Phantom F. Harlock I, one of Captain Harlock’s ancient ancestors. Not only is this his only animated film credit, but it was also the final performance of his career, so Japanese cinema buffs may find it interesting on that note.

The film chronicles Harlock’s transition from a ship’s captain in the Earth’s military to his role of wandering space pirate. If you’re curious as to how he got that eye patch, or met some of his more important crew members, this is the movie for you. It does not reveal how he came by his trademark scar, though. That tale has never been told, you’ll just have to come up with your own theories. But you will get to see how Emeraldas came by hers. Or at least one of the ways. Other stories give her a different origin. Leiji Matsumoto is not known for his consistency, and if you’re interested in his works, then you just have to accept that continuity is not the goal here.

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White Dog (1982)

whitedog_1Starring Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives, Jameson Parker, Parley Baer

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


Racism is a learned behavior, but the interesting thing about the racism presented in White Dog is that dogs don’t see color lines. Late one night on a dark road, Julie (Kristy McNichol) hits a white dog with her car and takes it in. She falls in love with it, but soon she learns that the seemingly sweet dog is actually a “white dog,” trained specifically to attack black people. Fuller explored different aspects of racism throughout his career, and in White Dog, Fuller distills racism down to its core, vicious elements. There is no thought or human element involved in the dog’s decisions, he represents racism itself manifested as man’s best friend. But dogs are known for their capacity to learn, so the main drive of White Dog is whether or not this dog can be re-trained to accept black people as non-threatening.

If the core idea of White Dog seems somewhat outlandish and exaggerated, it is. Fuller uses melodrama and symbolism to skillfully tell his story, eliciting deep moments of thought and visceral response amidst what could also be described as a slasher film with a racist dog as the slasher. This bouillabaisse will definitely turn some people off, but for those willing to brave its depths, White Dog proves itself to be highly cinematic and deeply affecting. Fuller was always interested in pushing boundaries and confronting the audience with the harsh realities of the world that surrounded them, and the extreme moments of melodrama work perfectly to convey the stark themes of White Dog.

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Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, Franco Columbu, Leslie Foldvary

Directed by John Milius

Expectations: Extremely high.

fourstar


Conan the Barbarian opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A far better actor than many give him credit for, Conan the Barbarian provided Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance at destiny. The films leading him to the role of Conan were of varying quality, but the fires of Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story tested, trained and forged the steel of his resolve like the steel of the sword that is forged during Conan‘s opening credits. These experiences shaped Arnold into the hulking beast of a man awaiting his rightful place in the spotlight of Hollywood’s explosive action films. He seized this opportunity like a champion, delivering a muscular, vengeful performance that continues to resonate over 30 years later. Conan the Barbarian is a stunning achievement, and one of my favorite films.

Conan the Barbarian tells a very simple tale, but like all great fantasy stories, there is a focus on grand adventure that sets Conan apart from other films of its vintage. Watching it this time, it reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman, in that it takes a story that many would have made into a trashy genre film and treats it with respect and verisimilitude. Conan is not a B-Movie with swords, it’s an epic journey of revenge across the wide plains of Hyboria.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fasttimes_5Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Expectations: Moderate.

fourstar


It could just be my age, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a transcendent experience. It would seem that anyone who lived through the ’80s would have already seen this one, but I was too young to catch it initially, and my parents were just about 30 when this came out, so they were perhaps too old for its charms. In any case, I never saw it growing up, and I’ve always kind of indirectly avoided it because of its reputation. I figured there was no way for it to live up to the hype, similar to my experience watching Valley Girl for the first time a couple of years ago.

But lo and behold, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film with strength enough to withstand the test of time. What sets it apart from other high school movies, a genre I generally don’t care one way or the other for, is that it is timeless yet also expertly evocative of the time it was made. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the early ’80s, but even still the film dredged up all kinds of nostalgic thoughts and feelings of my youth. But you can’t simply hang four stars on nostalgia alone, and that’s where the timeless part comes in.

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Forbidden Zone (1982)

forbiddenzoneStarring Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Jan Stuart Schwartz, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Phil Gordon, Virginia Rose, Gene Cunningham, Hyman Diamond, Matthew Bright, Danny Elfman, Viva, Joe Spinell

Directed by Richard Elfman

Expectations: Moderate. I remember enjoying this quite a lot, but I’m not sure it’ll hold up on re-watch.


A lot of people throw out the term “cult movie” while talking about various films. Stuff like Escape from New York or The Princess Bride come up a fair amount, but while those films definitely cater to a specific audience I think it’s a stretch to call them cult movies. But Forbidden Zone? That shit is the real deal, Daddio, and an unsuspecting viewer would be lucky to make it past the first scene. To me, that’s the definition of a cult movie, and Forbidden Zone is one of the cultiest cult movies ever made.

So imagine a movie that opens with some introductory text about a heroin dealer mistakenly entering the 6th Dimension through a door in his basement. Upon his return, he sells the house and the Hercules family moves in. To say they’re dysfunctional is the understatement of the century. Also imagine the film’s child hero, Flash Hercules, is played by an old man in a boy scout’s uniform. As an aside, I have to wonder if Richard Elfman got this idea from watching Spanish-language comedy shows where old men regularly wear sailor suits and act like children. Anyway, one day Flash’s sister Frenchy hazards a peek into the forbidden 6th Dimension, but instead falls right into it! Flash and Grampa Hercules to the rescue!

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Blade Runner (1982)

Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong

Directed by Ridley Scott

Expectations: High. This is my third time through, so I expect to like it more.


Blade Runner is not a film that I get overjoyed with while watching. I don’t even think it’s all that good. But it is unique, and it is well made, and I do like it quite a bit. I don’t expect that to make sense to anyone but me, but that’s just the way it is. I have tons of issues with this film, but regardless I continue to come back to it. If I say nothing more, that alone should tell you that Blade Runner is an interesting piece of cinema. For the record, I watched the 2007 Final Cut this time. I first saw the film about fifteen years ago when I watched a VHS of the International Cut. Roughly seven or eight years later, I watched the 1992 Director’s Cut on DVD.

After three viewings over the last fifteen years and reading the book around the second time I watched it, I still have a hard time following this movie. That could be interpreted as the movie and I just not connecting, or you could take it as the movie being poorly paced and just not telling its story very well. I’m willing to admit my fault when it’s due, but I have to be honest: I think it’s the movie’s fault this time. No amount of tinkering or re-editing can change it, Blade Runner is just a damn slow movie. I like it immensely more now than I did upon first seeing it, but I still think it’s wildly overrated.

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The Thing (1982)

Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Joel Polis, T.K. Carter, Richard Dysart, Thomas G. Waites, Peter Maloney

Directed by John Carpenter

Expectations: High. Seen this a few times, but it’s been about eight years or so since the last time.


As I mentioned in my review of Cigarette Burns, John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors. Before I had really ventured into the depths of horror filmmaking, Carpenter was there to introduce me to the genre proper. Sure, I had seen Universal monster movies and a few honest horror flicks as a kid, but it was this film and Prince of Darkness that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of horror. I was first exposed to his brand of cinema a few years earlier still, when trolling around the local video store during my elementary school years and my eyes fell upon the VHS box for Big Trouble in Little China. I instantly loved the movie just based on that art. I begged and pleaded to take it home and eventually wore my parents down. I was not let down by that film and I watched it a few times over the next couple of years. I never forgot the name that came up prior to the title, announcing that the film you were watching was the vision of a singular character, this mysterious figure named John Carpenter. Flash forward a few years to when I noticed that same name on The Thing and Prince of Darkness and I’ve never looked back. Carpenter is the first director I remember obsessing over, and he’s still got a very special place in my heart.

The Thing follows a research group stationed in Antarctica, opening with grand landscape shots and a helicopter tracking a dog across the vast snow fields. When a man leans out of the chopper and fires at the dog, we know some foul shit is afoot. The Thing is brilliant in its plotting, cutting out any extraneous bullshit and getting right down to the interesting stuff. As this opening scene unfolds we are introduced to our main group of characters, including Kurt Russell, Keith David and the Quaker Oats man himself, Wilford Brimley. The Thing is easily one of Carpenter’s best films, coming at a creative high after four fantastic films (Assault on Precinct 13 thru Escape From New York). The Thing succeeds because it is a very classically made picture, evoking the slow, careful pacing of an older generation, and thus requiring a different type of investment than your standard horror/sci-fi fare. The Thing is a slow-burn but incredibly rewarding, dishing out intense scenes and killer special FX.

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