We’re already in the first week of July in the longest year in recent memory, and things are not getting better yet. The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, and I’ve mostly been avoiding the news in a self-defense, fighting to not feel sad and overwhelmed. A good form of escapism for me has been to watch three films that I love, two of which were made in the 80s, and one of which was made in 2011 but is set in the 80s, with an aesthetic that brings back so many films of the past that we all know and love.
It’s not accurate to assume that everything was great in the 80s, because it wasn’t – there have always been issues in our world, but I feel that these three movies might bring you an undeniable sense of nostalgia and a good feeling that we had better times before, and, more importantly, that better times are coming.
So let’s get to it!
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Available on Disney+
Starring: Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
I can’t get enough of this movie. For as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” because it’s an almost perfect film. The film is goofy without being campy, it’s outlandish without being unbelievable, and it’s edgy without being dark. The mix of tones and genres is masterfully handled by director Robert Zemeckis, who, if you didn’t know, made many of your favorite movies (look him up, if you’re unfamiliar with his filmography, but I really hope you’re not). He hasn’t made a good movie in a while, though, which is a shame because he’s one of the best directors in Hollywood.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (oddly written without a question mark) is a traditional detective story that remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only film to feature animated characters of both Disney and Warner Bros, which brings in a very broad feeling of vastness to the film that is set in a world where cartoons walk among us. This setting, while difficult to pull off, works seamlessly with the story being told, and all characters perfectly fit into the drama that unfolds in the film.
Above all, the film stands out because it’s a relic of a world that seems to be long gone, where children’s movies were not afraid of being slightly scary and have a complicated plot that is just as appealing for adults as it is for kids. There’s a line that the movie navigates and it never strays off its course, knowing full well the kind of story that it is and not hesitating before taking narrative and visual risks.
I would hope that this won’t be your first time watching this film, but if it is, you’re in for a treat. I consciously tried not to spoil too much about the plot here, but it’s sufficient to say that it’s a hell of a film that you won’t regret checking out.
Super 8 (2011)
Available on Hulu
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
“Super 8” is a beautiful film in many, many ways. Visually and aesthetically, it directly borrows from our favorite movies of the 80s (sharing even a lot of beats with “Stranger Things”, but having charm to spare on its own) and combines them with J.J. Abrams’s artistic sensibilities and depth.
This might seem controversial for some people that haven’t liked his most recent films, but I really like J.J.’s style. He’s fantastic on character work and he’s particularly gifted in making the interactions between friends compelling and relatable. J.J. tells the story of “Super 8” through the eyes of a group of charismatic and fun children, and he does not waste any moments to make them interesting characters. I would’ve loved to see more of them in a sequel to this film, but it’s also great that we did not get one because it makes “Super 8” feel all the more meaningful.
With an undeniable amount of heart, “Super 8” is a story about coming of age, first love, friendship, but also about the hardships of loss and the difficulties of moving on and letting go. Joe Lamb, the main character, is a child whose life was marked by tragedy but who’s on a path to find meaning and realizing it’s ok to move forward now that he’s finding new challenges and interests in his life. Along with these themes, the film also features a monster, and it all works really well together.
If you haven’t yet watched “Super 8”, go watch it. You’ll have a lot of fun and you’ll also feel connected to the movie when you remember how we all have gone through moments like those portrayed therein. There’s so much to see here and I hope this film has not been forgotten by, especially, J.J. Abrams, who seems to have steered away from directing original stories and has recently mostly made franchise films. If I could say something to him, I would say: “Don’t forget, J.J., you have the talent to tell these stories, and I can’t wait to watch more of them”.
Available on Disney+
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley
I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen “Willow” in around 20 years, which is a tragedy, because it’s really a great film. With a visual aesthetic that might remind you of videogames like “The Legend of Zelda” or movies like “The Lord of the Rings”, “Willow” is set in a fantastical world filled with exotic creatures and magic. In many ways, this film is a more child-friendly predecessor to modern fantasy classics.
There have been several films set in fantastical worlds that have struggled with a sense of transportation to a new environment while keeping the audience’s suspension of disbelief (for some reason, “Eragon” is coming to mind, but there are many others). “Willow” is very good at this because it features some great cinematography and costume design. It’s also great to see Warwick Davis in any role, and he’s the main character in this one, which is fantastic.
The clever story was written by George Lucas, if you can believe it (yes, he did other things besides “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones”), and it was pretty good. He has many talents, but, in my opinion, he often struggled with structuring films to make them compelling throughout the runtime and with making interesting and complex characters (both of which are, perhaps, the biggest flaw in the “Star Wars” prequels). This time, the final screenplay is credited to Bob Dolman, who I suspect helped Lucas flesh out the story to make it compelling, and while “Willow” did not (and will not) go down in history for its complexity, it has characters that are fun enough for the audience to relate and cheer for them.
All in all, “Willow” is an undeniably cheesy affair that is just plain fun to watch for its immediate charm and, above all, unpretentiousness – something lacking in most of our modern cinema. It is because of this style of filmmaking that we hold the 80s to such a high esteem. I definitely recommend watching (or rewatching) “Willow”.