Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brain Backer, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates (and also Nicholas Cage for all of 5 seconds)

We follow the escapades of a group of high school students over the course of a year, including romance, jobs, studies and general teenagery-ness.

Fast Times is a bit of a cult classic, lesser known than some of the other 1980s high school student flicks, but feels like one of the more authentic or realistic ones. Indeed, the story is based on the experiences of film-maker Cameron Crowe, who spent a year undercover as a high school student and wrote a book on his experiences. The events feel a lot more like stuff that would actually happen to regular teenagers, rather than far-fetched hijinks, and I think it definitely adds to the enjoyability of the film if you can look back and reminisce on some of your own high school experiences.

Not all the stories are totally connected and the links between the characters or individual plots can be a bit tenuous, so from a standard film-viewing perspective it might seem a little unstructured or random. However, this also adds to the realism, so we can mostly forgive that. I would also warn that not all the scenes would probably get past a film classification board today, so might be a little odd for modern audiences (mainly the underage sex). It’s not one I’d watch with my parents…

This is definitely a must-see for 80s fans, especially as it’s up there in the genre of “golden-age” classics such as The Breakfast ClubBack to the Future or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s certainly not appropriate for younger audiences (I think it’s rated 18 here in the UK), but is a good dose of nostalgia for adults.

3 stars

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket

Director: Stanley Kubrick Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harwood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross

A group of young recruits scrape through a tough bootcamp before heading off to Vietnam to join the war. Stanley Kubrick adds his take on a brutal and traumatic war that has left its scar on the American national consciousness.

I find this period of history fascinating (the Cold War), and I loved Apocalypse Now. Plus I can’t recommend enough the last Kubrick film I watched, Dr Strangelove. However, Full Metal Jacket didn’t really grab me. The film kind of feels like it’s actually two different films stuck together: we start off following the new recruits at a training camp on American soil, which I thought was simply setting the scene- until we were an hour into the film and still there. Then they get shipped out to Vietnam and it becomes a film about the war. The two parts are obviously linked, but it feels like the film can’t really decide if it’s about the traumatic training process or the traumatic war (either way, traumatic is the key theme here).

Don’t get me wrong, both halves of the film are enjoyable (probably not the right word) to watch and Kubrick clearly makes his points about the military lifestyle and the pointlessness of the Vietnam War. However, while the training camp part has a storyline that progresses, the war half doesn’t really have much of a plot; stuff just kind of happens. Maybe that’s a point that Kubrick is trying to make- I just found that the film was a bit random from a viewer’s perspective.

The film is violent and distressing so certainly not for family viewing. As I say, I find this period of history interesting, and it is certainly a must-see for those who have enjoyed war films in the past and know that they enjoy the genre. However I tend to find that war movies don’t prove particularly popular with those who don’t have an active interest in the historical aspect in question, so it won’t be a winner for everyone. If you haven’t enjoyed war films particularly in the past, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one in order to change your mind.

3 stars

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Breakfast Club

Director: John Hughes Cast: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

Peak 1980s and peak teen movie merge in this story about five very different high school students who end up in Saturday detention together.

I guarantee that 99% of people will enjoy this film. While it’s a teen movie, it has quite a lot of depth and isn’t just about irrelevant issues like making the agonising life choice between playing basketball and singing in musicals (not that I’m thinking of anything in particular). The movie delves into some pretty heavy stuff, and things that audience members will relate to.

The best part of the film is seeing how each of the characters isn’t how they appear on the surface and what prompts them to reveal their real selves. Everyone will be able to pick out one character who they were or are most like, which makes it relatable- and not just on the surface but deeper down too (and, by the way, I would most definitely be Brian).

With its classic 80s soundtrack, amusing fashion choices, thoughtful dialogues and dry humour, this film ticks all the boxes. However, I cannot let it get away without this serious criticism: the ending is total balls. Without ruining it, basically what happens would not happen. For a film that does so well to actually portray teenagers (mostly) realistically, the ending is a serious let-down. That. Would. Not. Happen. And for that serious sin, it will lose one whole star for its rating. It’s that stupid.

(Do watch it though.)

4 stars

Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot

Director: Wolfgang Peterson Cast: Jurgen Prochnow, Klaus Wenneman, Herbert Gronemeyer, Hubertus Bengsch, jaunty pineapples

A German U-boat during the Second World War is sent out into the North Atlantic. The film follows the crew as they look for British targets, while at the same time also trying to avoid being noticed by British destroyers.

While it is understandable to be skeptical about a film which portrays supposed Nazis as its heroes, it is actually easy to sympathise with the main characters without awkwardly feeling that you’re supporting the regime. In fact, the vast majority of the main characters seem to be resentful about what they’ve been tasked to do, and are not out-and-out Nazi supporters (there’s only one central character that is, and even then I found him to be quite a sympathetic character). The film shows that your average Joe in the Navy wasn’t a fascist, and that thousands of young men were sent on hopeless missions that the commanding classes probably knew they wouldn’t come back from. They were also in a way victims of a regime that was hell-bent on taking over the world.

Subject matter aside, this film is unbearably tense at times. Most of the film is set in the submarine, which is unsurprisingly claustrophobic, and the film set successfully depicts the cramped, dirty, dark and I imagine extremely smelly conditions. There’s not loads of dialogue, but rather lots of nervous expressions and anxious looks between the crew members. At one point, the U-boat is spotted by a British destroyer which starts using sonar to find its exact location, and all you can hear is the “blip…blip…blip…” as we wait to see if they’ll be found. (At which point my dad shouts “turn up the volume so I can hear the silence!” which strangely, in context, makes sense.)

I don’t think you would have ever read the sentence “juxtaposition of pineapples and impending death”. Well watch Das Boot and you’ll see what I mean. After stopping off in Spain for supplies, the sub tries to get through the Straits of Gibraltar and ends up crashing to the bottom of the sea. While the crew contemplate whether they’ll ever get out alive, I couldn’t help but notice the pineapples they had picked up in Spain, jauntily placed hanging from bunks and tied to pipes. You’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether this is poignant or if we’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity of it.

Das Boot is not a light watch, but I think for those who aren’t usually a fan of war movies this would be a good compromise, as it is thoughtful and not over-packed with action. It’s a long’un but certainly worth getting to the end to the movie’s excellently (but also tragically) ironic final scene.

4 stars