Category Archives: 1983

Movies released in 1983.

Review: WarGames

Director: John Badham
Year: 1983
Score: 8/10

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick's face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick’s face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

This sci-fi(ish) thriller could very easily have not stood the test of time given how reliant it is on computer technologies that are supposed to seem futuristic. However, it still holds up, primarily because it’s really good fun, with a perfect tone and the right balance of humour and techno-thrills.

Young Matthew Broderick (several years before he was Ferris Bueller) is a great asset, nailing the role of David Lightman, the bright high school student hacker who’s quickly in over his head but manages to pull MacGyver-esque stunts to get out of any fix and solve problems his seniors just don’t understand. Other members of the cast are also good, especially Dabney Coleman, who rarely disappoints. Also look for John Spencer (The West Wing) and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) as the pair of missile launchers in the prologue.

A few minor criticisms: despite being one of the first mainstream movies to feature a hacker as a protagonist (a step forward in the fight for equality for nerds and geeks!), it nonetheless perpetuates stereotypes about computer nerds (Exhibit A: the scene featuring two of David’s nerdier hacker friends); David’s parents’ lack of concern about (or knowledge of) his activities, even once he’s been effectively taken into custody by government agents, is hard to believe; and there’s a bit where the love interest played by Ally Sheedy has a moment of stupidity that seems jarringly out of character, seriously asking David whether his detention by the authorities was “because of what you did with my grade?” despite already knowing that his hacking had caused a temporary military crisis. Just ignore these minor quibbles and enjoy the ride as I did.

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Review: Zelig

Director: Woody Allen
Year: 1983
Score: 6.5/10

Fascinating Woody Allen film is one of the earliest mockumentaries (preceding This Is Spinal Tap by a year). The premise is ripe for satire and comedy: Allen is a human chameleon who takes on the physical properties of people around him as a psychological disorder borne out of an intense desire to fit in and be liked. While it’s very funny at times, somehow it feels like a missed opportunity given the richness of the premise. It also feels overlong despite being only 79 minutes; perhaps it would have worked better as a short film rather than a feature (the trivia section on IMDb claims Allen’s first cut ran only 45 minutes and he added more to fill up the time; this doesn’t surprise me, and I’d rather have watched the 45 minute version).

Review: Terms of Endearment

Director: James L. Brooks
Year: 1983
Score: 8/10

This movie kicked me square in the nuts; in fact, I think you’d have to be completely heartless not to be moved by the final half hour or so. There are so many enjoyable moments throughout, and some excellent work from Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels and John Lithgow. Shirley MacLaine is also very good, but I spent much of the movie hating her character so much that it was hard to appreciate the performance. At times the story seems to meander, but by the end you feel every moment with these characters was necessary and worth it. (The exception is Danny DeVito, whose character seems entirely superfluous.) Well worth a watch, but have some tissues handy.

Review: The Right Stuff

Director: Philip Kaufman
Year: 1983
Score: 6/10

The Right Stuff

This can only mean Dennis Quaid’s character is a liar.

Long, interesting movie with some really solid parts but a major flaw that, in my view, prevents it from fully succeeding dramatically or narratively: it attempts to weave together (or tell as parallel stories) the tale of the Mercury Seven astronauts and the tale of test pilot Chuck Yeager, but the two threads never seem well enough connected, nor do they improve each other by being told together like this. The cast does well, particularly Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Sam Shepard. I found myself generally more interested in the Mercury Seven half of the movie than the Chuck Yeager half (which at times seems to aspire to be almost a western, an aspiration it doesn’t meet), but as it wore on even the Mercury Seven stuff gradually lost some of its shine, perhaps because the movie tries to cover every event rather than focusing on the more narratively interesting ones. There’s a sequence set in Australia, with a token kangaroo and some stereotypically ‘mystical’ Aboriginal characters, that’s laughably bad. Some aspects of the movie appear to have been included as comic relief (such as Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer appearing as a bumbling pair of recruiters), which struck me as a misfire. An interesting piece of trivia: Annie Glenn is played by Mary Jo Deschanel and the cinematographer is Caleb Deschanel; they’re the parents of Emily and Zooey.

Review: A Christmas Story

Director: Bob Clark
Year: 1983
Score: 5.5/10

Family Christmas movie doesn’t really hold up, but has a certain easy-to-watch quality that perhaps explains why it’s apparently a US television staple every Christmas (though I wonder how the unfortunate racist scene at the end is received by TV audiences these days). It has some sweet vignettes, though very little laugh-out-loud material. A strong and justified sense of nostalgia pervades it all. It’s narrated by Jean Shepherd and is based on stories from his own childhood, and I really struggled to work out where I know his voice from. I’ve done some reading about him and still can’t figure it out. There’s a chance that something like The Simpsons did a parody of A Christmas Story with a very good impersonation of Shepherd’s voice, or a slimmer chance that I’m remembering his voice work in the ‘Carousel of Progress’ ride at Walt Disney World; or perhaps I’m just thinking of some of Adam West’s work on Family Guy. If anyone has any other ideas, let me know! It’s still bugging me.