Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Orion Files: 1984

1984 was actually a relatively decent year for the company in terms of reviews, though their films were still not making a lot of money. Some hidden gems, one or two legit greats and a lot of stuff in between ranging from Oscar bait to stuff that would be better off as fish bait.

Robert Hays is an investigative reporter in England who is drawn into a farcical web of espionage, lies, murder and deceit with the fun twist being he's aware of the con the entire time even as he's being conned. Hays is fun in the lead and John Gielgud has a great time hamming it up as an old con man. Pamela Stephenson is also good as Gielgud's niece and partner in crime. The plot gets relatively convoluted and loses some of its fun spirit as Hays is accused of his wife's murder but for the most part, this is a light comedy that is quite entertaining and easy on the brain.

Woody Allen directs and stars in this very enjoyable comedy as a hapless talent agent who tries to help a washed up singer he used to represent make a comeback and ends up being targeted by a gangster whose ex-girlfriend (Mia Farrow) is the singer's mistress (the gangster thinks she's with Allen's character though thanks to a funny mix-up). Allen concocts his usual quality script with a good cast (I also like the touch of shooting it in black and white given that the story is told in flashback by a bunch of comics at a deli in New York) and a nice, easygoing pace. I'm not the biggest fan of the guy's films but this one is pretty damn good.

Paul Newman starred in, co-wrote, co-produced and directed this drama about a father and son relationship that got bad reviews.

The poster is probably the best thing about this offbeat comedy/drama based on a novel by John Irving. It tells the tale of an eccentric, dysfunctional family that ends up owning and running a hotel while living through all sorts of personal disasters ranging from rape to sudden death to suicide, told in a very loose fashion. The cast is solid but honestly, when the mere synopsis of the film has me imagining a better movie... Sharp tonal shifts and excessively wacky characters do not make for a good time.

Another entry in the 80's teen comedy sub genre, this stars Tim Matheson as a college student who is in his twelfth year (and he's not a grad student either) who teams with three other misfit students to participatre in a high stakes whitewater rafting competition put on by the obligatory stern dean (John Hillerman in this case, on break from Magnum P.I. for one scene). This film is one of, if not the last production from old school B-movie house Arkoff International Pictures and it is a thoroughly typical snobs vs. slobs comedy with the requisite crass humor; lewd gags and occasional funny moment.

Next up for the company was this fantastic version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Anthony Hopkins gives a richly layered, intelligent reading of Captain Bligh while Mel Gibson makes for a quite good Fletcher Christian. The film is well directed and shot with the entire cast turning in good work (though Hopkins really steals the show, as he tends to) and the end result is one damn fine movie.

Drama about the breakdancing/hip-hop scene in New York that ended up being overshadowed by Cannon's own breakdancing film Breakin'. That was probably a pretty major shot to the collective ego of the studio heads.

Here's an odd one. The director of the second and third Howling films (to be fair, apart from the first film those are the two of the best in that franchise) gives us a drama about protecting the bald eagle starring Rutger Hauer, Donald Pleasence, Kathleen Turner and Powers Boothe.

Cheech and Chong star in this spoof of the Alexandre Dumas novel and it's... Well, the poster kind of says it all. This is pretty much the last thing the duo did together. They tried to move away from pot humor but as it turns out, that was pretty much all they had.

Gene Wilder directs and stars in this comedy about a married man who falls for an incredibly sexy woman played by Kelly LeBrock. A remake of a French comedy (we generally know that's a sign for disaster), this garnered publicity for LeBrock (who is quite easy on the eyes) and little else.

The first of several Best Picture winners from Orion, Amadeus is perfect Oscar bait that also happens to be a legit terrific movie. Tom Hulce is great as Mozart, giving the man a distinct rebel rocker persona (in a way, this plays out like your standard rock and roll biopic except it's set in Vienna in the late 1700's with classical music)and F. Murray Abraham earned a well deserved Best Actor award for his turn as Salieri. The film also benefits from nimble direction from Milos Forman who tells a good dramatic story and also gives the viewer some nicely funny bits to balance out the drama.

This is an obscure drama about a struggling artist, his friend and their romance problems. I think I'd rather watch a blank screen for 98 minutes than this.

What else can one say about this one that hasn't already been covered? One of the best action films of the 80's, this was a sleeper hit for Orion who ended up losing the home video rights to Hemdale in the early 90's and its huge success on home video is another blemish on their record as Thorn EMI/HBO Video ended up getting most of the stateside profits. They probably could have done just fine financially just based on the VHS sales of this alone.

Lastly is this costly Francis Ford Coppola flop that honestly, I'd love to see because it did get some decent notices. A well cast flick about the jazz club in Harlem in the 30's, this was beset by production issues ranging from script rewrites to missed deadlines.

1984 was not the most profitable one for Orion but it did yield some decent to great movies as noted in the intro. The next year, however, would be a near-disaster.

Coming soon: Orion in 1985

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.