The Empire Strikes Back

Released in 1980, and now known as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but back then just The Empire Strikes Back, this was the second film of George Lucas’s seminal trilogy.

It opens with our heroes regrouping on an icy planet in the Hoth system. Truth be told they have been on the receiving end of a bit of a kicking from the Empire in the years since the destruction of the Death Star at the end of 1977’s Star Wars (now known as Episode IV: A New Hope).

Of course, they can’t hang around there forever, so eventually, Luke takes R2-D2 and heads off to the planet Dagobah to train to become a Jedi under the Jedi Master, Yoda.

Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3P0 are eventually captured by the duplicitous Lando Calrissian and handed over to Darth Vader who promptly has Han encased in carbonite before handing them all over to Jabba the Hut, via Boba Fett, with the intention that this will lure Luke out of hiding to rescue his friends… and so it goes on.

Kramer Vs Kramer

Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is an advertising executive for whom work definitely comes before his family.  The final straw for his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) is his appointment to a new and very large account.   At this point, she takes the decision to leave him.

Ted now has to come to terms with his new role as housekeeper and carer for himself and their young son Billy (Justin Henry).  In addition to all of the practical issues, Ted and Billy have to learn to get along with each other.  There is resentment from Ted that he has been forced effectively to give up work; resentment from Billy that Ted is not Joanna.  However, this passes as the two develop a mutual bond of trust and love.

Fifteen months after she departed, Joanna resurfaces and she wants Billy back. Ted has no intention of giving him up though so a court battle ensues, obviously listed as Kramer vs Kramer…

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Our hero, Brian Cohen, is born in a stable at Christmas, right next to You Know Who (no, not Voldemort). Wise men appear and begin to distribute gifts.  Then the star moves on a little, so they have to take it all back and move on.  Already we see how Brian’s life is going to pan out.

Looking for release from the Romans, Spiritual and political decay, the Jews are constantly seeking signs and one group decides Brian is the Messiah.  Despite his and his Mother’s (“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.”) very best efforts, he cannot convince them he is not.  He joins the Peoples’ Front of Judea, one of several dozen separatist groups who don’t actually do anything, but really, really hate each other, never mind the Romans.  Whilst the film is not about Jesus, it is about those who didn’t have the time, or more pertinently, the interest to listen to his message.

There are many political and social comments made in the film, but as usual, opinions became divided and polarised to the extent that it was seen by many, and criticised on that basis, as a satire on the life of Christ.

Flash Gordon

Music by Queen; mania by Brian Blessed; menace by Max von Sydow; cardboard by Sam J. Jones.

In this update of the 1930s comic strip, Flash Gordon (Jones) is a football hero hijacked and then skyjacked by bonkers scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (perfectly played by Topol) on his rocketship along with beautiful Dale Arden (Melody Anderson).

The threesome is drawn into the influence of the planet Mongo, controlled by Ming the Merciless (von Sydow).  Ming has already been testing the Earth with unnatural disasters – only Zarkov has spotted this, and inadvertently ensured that Ming would deem it a threat to his rule and therefore want to destroy it.  Never mind all that, he also intends to take Dale as his concubine.

Flash on the other hand must avoid the amorous attentions of Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) and unite the warring kingdoms of Mongo in order to rescue Dale and save our world.  After all, they really do ‘only have fourteen hours to save the Earth.’

Airplane!

In common with all the films from the Police Squad stable, Airplane! is complete nonsense from start to finish.  But I defy you not to laugh.  Just sit back and let yourself go.

The story centres on traumatised ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and his fear of flying.  As part of his therapy / in order to regain the love of his life* he buys a ticket on a flight from LA to Chicago.  However, this is not some random plane journey.  Elaine (Julie Hagerty) is a stewardess and will be working on the flight.  The path of true love never did run smooth though, and she rebuffs his attempts at reconcilliation.

After dinner, many of the passengers become ill.  Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) is quick to conclude that one of the meal options must have given them food poisoning.  Then the stewards discover that the flying crew, including Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) and Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), also had the offending menu item.  Consequently, there is no one on board to fly the plane.

Elaine is instructed by the Chicago control tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) to activate the plane’s autopilot a large blow-up doll, “Otto” which will pilot them to Chicago but will not be able to land the plane. Step forward our reluctant hero, Striker.  Riding in a plane is one thing though, actually having to fly it is a totally different matter.

Will our hero land the plane or will he bottle it completely…

* delete as applicable

10

In this honest look at middle-aged male sexuality, we are introduced to popular songwriter George Webber (Dudley Moore) on his forty-second birthday as he begins to exhibit many of the symptoms of a middle-age crisis.

Over the next few weeks he finds himself continually ogling young girls on the street and, what is more, begins to envy (and spy on) his high-living neighbour whose life appears to be one endless orgy.

George’s behaviour causes great concern to his lover, singing star Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews), and also to his writing partner Hugh (Robert Webber) who has, it seems, avoided George’s dilemma by being gay. On his way home one afternoon, George spots Jenny (Bo Derek), a stunning young beauty en route to her wedding.  He regards her as “the most beautiful girl [he’s] ever seen” and follows her to the church.  He later learns her name and discovers that she and her husband will honeymoon in Mexico.

Uncontrollably driven by the impulse to see her again, George follows the happy couple to Mexico and checks into their hotel…

Any Which Way You Can

Clint Eastwood made some great films.  This, the sequel to Every Which Way But Loose isn’t one of them.

In Any Which Way You Can (AWWYC) we find our hero, Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) on the road with orang-utan companion Clyde in tow, making his way as a bare-knuckle fighter. The action begins with Philo punching out a new victim as Clyde relieves himself on the seat of a police car.  Thus the tone is set.

Philo and Clyde return home, where Philo, still living with his Ma (Ruth Gordon), is offered a contest with Jack Wilson (William Smith), the Mafia-sponsored East Coast bare-knuckle champ.  Philo inadvertently saves Wilson’s life, but then the Mafia kidnaps his girlfriend (Sondra Locke) to force him to go ahead with a fight.  Philo and Wilson then team up to battle the Mob, but somehow, someway they end up fighting anyway in a gruelling climactic sequence.

Never mind the orang-utan.  The film has country music, bikers, the Mafia, an orang-utan, pick-up trucks, defecation jokes, fighting and of course drinking and swearing.  It was one of the top-grossing films of 1980 in the UK, but this must surely have been based upon the box office pull of Clint Eastwood plus the success of Every Which Way But Loose rather than any good reviews it received. It’s the sort of film that you’d put on to fall asleep to after a night on the ale perhaps, good but not indispensable.

“Right turn Clyde!”

The Elephant Man

Starring John Hurt in the role of John Merrick, with an extremely strong supporting cast, The Elephant Man was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Although it didn’t manage to win a single one (it was a very strong year) the film transcends the prejudices of a set of film industry insiders.  It is brilliantly shot in black and white by director David Lynch.  A real case of less is more.

You will no doubt be aware of the story.  A deformed Victorian man, Merrick is a virtual slave to Freddie Jones’s Bytes the carnival barker, in his way equally grotesque.  Fortunately, he is rescued by Anthony Hopkins’s character Frederick Treves, a London surgeon.  It is intended that he will be cared for indefinitely – even Queen Victoria has become involved.

However, Merrick is recaptured by Bytes and taken to Europe before escaping and returning to the care of the hospital.  Following his attendance at an evening of Musical theatre, Merrick returns again to his rooms in the hospital where he dies peacefully, consoled by a vision of his dead mother.

Rocky II

Rocky II is the sequel to the very successful film Rocky.  In doing my research for this article, I noted that although the film was released in the US in June 1979, it received a 1980 release in the UK. So apologies if you think that this film was not a 1980 release – in the UK it was.

In the original, our hero, Rocky Balboa lost narrowly to the Heavyweight World Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  Now unemployed and with Adrian pregnant, Rocky is in no position to refuse when Creed offers him a big-money rematch.

A rematch ostensibly to prove that it was a fluke that Rocky could have got so close to defeating him in their original match.  Creed is determined to knock Rocky out inside two rounds, but Rocky has other ideas.

The fight goes to the full fifteen rounds and of course, Creed is ahead on points, but conceitedly insisting that he will knock Rocky out, he trades blows with Rocky in the final round.  It is quite the shock then when Rocky lands the biggest punch of his career.  Not content with this, however, the ending of the fight is just a little contrived.  I won’t spoil it for you. 😉