The Color Purple (1985)


The story of Celie, a woman in the rural American south who’s married off to an obnoxious farmer and loses touch with her beloved sister…

Seen before? Once, a long time ago.

Best performance: There are terrific performances all round, but Whoopi Goldberg stands out.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The crosscutting between Celie reading letters from her sister and her sister’s life in Africa is very deftly handled.

Review: Spielberg’s first attempt at a ‘serious’, ‘grown-up’ film. It might be melodrama, but it’s melodrama made by very talented people. I was especially impressed by how the passage of time was conveyed – the story takes place between 1909 and 1937, and make-up, production design and especially actors’ performances help dramatise this progression very well indeed. (You’d swear Oprah Winfrey actually ages 20 years.)

Eight cutthroat razors out of 10.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)


On the run from Shanghai mobsters, archaeologist Indiana Jones, young pal Short Round and nightclub singer Willie Scott end up in India, where a new maharaja has kidnapped the local children…

Seen before? Loads.

Best performance: Harrison Ford again.

Best scene/moment/sequence: After much consideration, I’m plumping for what was always my favourite bit as a kid – the sensational roller-coaster-style mine-cart sequence. The model work and back-projection may have dated perhaps, but it’s still thrilling stuff. And it’s helped tremendously by an absence of incidental music – as great as John Williams’s score is, it’s been continuous for a long time when we get to the mine chase, so when it drops out it raises the tension brilliantly. Other moments I considered for this category: the opening musical number in the club (with its surreal Busby Berkeley interlude); the madcap, full-of-gags fight that follows, with both Indy and Willie desperately trying to find things in the melee; Willie’s “No one’s flying the plane!”; Short Round’s “You call him Dr Jones, doll!”; Indy, Willie and Short Round jumping out of the plane in a dingy; Willie getting hysterical with fear in the jungle as Indy and Short Round nonchalantly play cards; the macabre dinner scene (“Snake surprise!”), which again has Willie freaking out hilariously while Indy takes it in his stride; the creepy-crawly-infested catacombs; the sacrifice scene (terrifying when I was a child, still scary now); Indy being turned by the bad guys, then winking to Short Round to let him know it’s an act; Indy, Willie and Short Round freeing the slaves; and of course the famous rope-bridge stunt.

Review: Another terrifically enjoyable adventure movie. The action scenes – and there are a lot of them – are constantly inventive and always character-specific. The interplay between the three leads is simply fantastic. And yet… As wonderful as it is, there’s something that means Temple of Doom is just a little bit less extraordinary than Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m not sure why this is. Is it the lack of a charismatic villain? Is it the weak, wet, irritatingly old-fashioned Willie Scott (who, to give her her due, is often very funny)? The fact there are no Nazis? No Marcus and Sallah? The way we stumble into the story rather than having a specific quest? Spielberg himself has said he thinks it was too dark – which might be true in part, but is balanced by lots and lots of comedy. I’m talking blemishes, though. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this again. By any standard, it’s one of the highlights of the genre.

Nine chilled monkey brains out of 10.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)


In Steven Spielberg’s segment of this anthology film, a group of OAPs are encouraged to have fun again by a mysterious resident at their care home, and soon literally become children again…

Seen before? Nope.

Best performance: The young versions of the characters are well matched to the older actors.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The kick-the-can scene.

Review: Spielberg’s contribution is the sweetest (schmaltziest, actually) in the film. It’s a diverting enough piece of whimsy. The movie’s other segments are: a fun dialogue scene with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks, which serves as a prologue; a story about a racist (Vic Morrow) forced to experience persecution, which is pretty shallow stuff; a creepy and inventive story about a woman meeting a batshit-crazy family being controlled by their cartoon-obsessed son; and a remake of the famous Twilight Zone episode where an airline passenger (John Lithgow in this instance) sees a monster on the plane’s wing. On the whole, it’s a strange film. Four directors (Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller), five stories, various lurches of tone… I’m not sure it’s all that satisfying, but there was enough in it to keep me interested.

Six Creedence Clearwater Revival songs out of 10.