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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 1980s

Aliens (1986)

Aliens are pretty scary, but humans can be even worse.

After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team. Upon arriving at LV-426, the marines find only one survivor, a nine year old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). And while no one on-board really knows who Newt exactly is, or why she was all by herself on this huge ship, Ripley takes a liking to her and trusts her with all her might. Little does she, nor everyone else know, that there’s literally a huge colony of aliens waiting to get rid of them all and it’s up to these rough and tough soldiers to step up, stand together, and get rid of the threat, because lord knows that if they don’t get rid of it in space, it may just come closer to hitting Earth and causing way more problems than they could have ever expected.

Say what you will about James Cameron, his scripts, his cheesiness, and his knack for going over-the-top, but the man can direct a freakin’ action movie, for gosh sakes. I mean, literally, there’s not a minute in Aliens that isn’t packed with some sort of fun, or intensity, or excitement in the air; it’s literally two-and-a-half-hours of pure, unabashed adrenaline, mixed in with some speed for even better times. While some movies like to pride themselves on being a piece of absolute energy from start-to-finish, very few of them actually are and it’s why Aliens, all of these years later, still reigns supreme as one of the best action movies of all-time.

Okay, so yeah, Jimmy Cameron clearly recycled some ideas.

That said? Is it stupid? Hell yeah, but with James Cameron, it works. See, whereas Alien was much more of a slow-burning horror-thriller, Aliens is way more of a slam-bang action-thriller, where instead of taking our time, feeling the mood, it’s a pure straight-shot from the get-go. While that may sound bad and a downgrade from the original, it actually works in the movie’s favor; we still get to feel the mood, we still get to know some of these characters, and yeah, we still get thrown on the edge of our seats. All the stuff that made the original so great are here still, but they’re just heightened to a point of where they seemed to have been replaced by something far better.

It’s like something we didn’t even know we needed.

But that’s why James Cameron is such a master at his craft – he knows what a movie-going audience wants and absolutely delivers on it all. Sure, he hasn’t met a cheesy one-liner he didn’t like, nor does he seem to stray away from macho-posturing, but it really doesn’t matter, because it’s so fun to watch and listen as these goofy characters all talk, scream, and pose their muscles. In other words, Aliens is the perfect movie for a nerd to enjoy and not feel threatened by, but also for the jocks to enjoy and not feel like they’re losing their reputation as one of the cool guys.

In other words, everyone can find something here to love and enjoy and at the end of the day, even get along.

See what I mean?

Now, isn’t that what movies were made for in the first place? Not just entertaining people, but bringing them together, no matter how different they may be from one another? To me, that’s what movies are about and it’s why Aliens, while definitely not the heartfelt, sentimental flick I’m making it out to be, is just a near-masterpiece. It’s got some stupid moments and Paul Reiser’s character, more often than not, feels like an unfortunate villain that the movie just falls back on for unnecessary conflict, but for the most part, every bit of it works.

And mostly, it all comes circling back to Sigourney Weaver in the title-role of Lt. Ripley. See, in the original, while Ripley was still a strong character, she wasn’t quite given nearly as much as she’s given to do here and it’s why Weaver’s performance tops everyone else’s here; she’s got presence and seems like she’s as tough as she makes herself out to be. But she’s also the kind of character that isn’t asking for us to love, adore, and praise her – she’s just a rough and rugged S.O.B. that isn’t afraid to stand up to those around her and speak her mind.

In other words, she’s the perfect woman. But also a little scary.

But that’s fine, because Weaver is great at these kinds of characters. After all, she’s practically made a career out of them and it seemed to have started with Ripley. While yes, even those on the side of her like Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, and the late, always amazing Bill Paxton are great to watch and have here, it’s Ripley’s show the whole way through. She reminds us not why strong female characters matter first and foremost, but why strong characters matter in general.

Especially in something that is basically an alien shoot-em-up.

Consensus: While undeniably cheesy and over-the-top, Aliens is also undeniably fun, exciting, compelling, and perfectly directed by James Cameron, that you almost forget how great Weaver is in the lead role.

9.5 / 10

Move aside, fellas!

Photos Courtesy of: Horror Freak News

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Married to the Mob (1988)

Sometimes, the ladies have to do the wackin’.

Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) is fed up with her gangster husband’s (Alec Baldwin) line of work and wants no part of the crime world. Which is why when said husband is killed for having an affair with the mistress of mob boss Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell), she and her son head out for New York City where they will hopefully not just get away from the life they once knew, but start a new one, far, far away from the blood and violence of the mob. Unfortunately, Tony can’t allow for Angela to get out of his sights and makes it his mission to track her down and get rid of her, in hopes that she doesn’t go off squealing to the feds. Sure, Angela would never do it, because she is done with that part of her life, but she ends up meeting a young handsome fella named Mike (Matthew Modine), who, unfortunately, for her, also happens to be an FBI agent. And it’s Mike’s job to make sure that no harm happens to Angela, but at the same time, he can’t help but fall for her, wondering what could happen if he didn’t have the job title and the badge and could, you know, be a normal, everyday person.

Is Alec Baldwin 30 here, or 16? Can’t quite figure it out.

Was Married to the Mob the first, or better yet, the last stab Hollywood took at tackling the mobster-comedy? Not at all, but it’s definitely been a genre long dead by now, only because there seems to be so much you can do with it. The jokes have been made, the wise guys have been made into caricatures, and yeah, every convention has been spoofed. It’s hard to imagine a world where one of these was coming out a year, let alone, in the golden days of film, almost every week, and it’s also hard to imagine one actually nailing its mark in the days of 1988.

But that’s why Married to the Mob is such a lovely movie, all of these many years later.

For one, it’s the true sign of director Jonathan Demme knowing what to do with silly material and not forgetting to lose his sight of what matters, what works, and what doesn’t. Much like in the same vein of Something Wild, Demme takes a pretty conventional story, and somehow, turns it completely on its ear, with a crazy-mad bit of energy that hardly ever seems to let up, with jokes, puns, and wit to be found, without ever getting past the fact that there’s a story at the center. And like that movie, Married to the Mob does eventually get darker and far more serious, but still, somehow retains its screwball roots – it’s the kind of movie a lot of parody directors try to make work, but just never hit the mark with. Demme did that so often, that you almost hardly noticed and it’s why Married to the Mob, while maybe not his best film, at least shows what sort of magic the guy could bring to silly material such as this, without ever seeming like he was trying too hard.

So serious. Yet, so retro. So it’s cool, right?

And of course, yes, there’s also a lot of praise to the ensemble, too, all of whom, make the best of this fun, light material that makes everyone seem like they’re having the times of their lives. It’s hard to imagine a world where Michelle Pfeiffer wasn’t a bonafide star, but back in ’88, right before Married to the Mob came out, she was struggling to make her name known for the whole world to take notice to. And that’s why it’s no surprise that her lead role as Angela de Marco made her into that star that we all know and love so much now. It’s the perfect role for Pfeiffer, in that she gets to be sweet, a little ditsy, but also absolutely charming and fun to watch, maintaining a crazy great deal of sexuality, as well as vulnerable. In a way, she’s a bit better than the fluffy material, but still, she makes it work by seeming like she’s in on the joke, while also not forgetting that there’s strides to be made with a character such as this.

Same goes for Dean Stockwell, having a great time as Tony “the Tiger” Russo. Is this a caricature? Most definitely, but Stockwell hams up every aspect of this character that it’s a joy to watch, because you never know when he’s going to snap and lose his cool, calm, and collected demeanor. Mercedes Ruehl plays his wife who is a lot more unhinged and crazy, but also gets some of the biggest and best laughs. Meanwhile, Matthew Modine is good as a romantic-lead who has a nice bit of chemistry with Pfeiffer, and Oliver Platt, in one of his first big roles, plays his partner, nailing that comedic-timing we all know and adore.

Basically, everyone is doing a great job here, having some fun, and yeah, also realizing that what they’re playing with may be a little bit more serious. But Demme doesn’t push it too much, so, neither do they.

Man. What a director.

Consensus: Light and a little fluffy, Married to the Mob isn’t exactly as serious as it may end up getting towards the end, but through it all, remains funny, charming, and surprisingly smart for a typical screwball mobster comedy.

8 / 10

Can’t blame ya, Dean. It’s Michelle.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDBRoger EbertRoweReviews

Johnny Handsome (1989)

It kills to look so good.

Due to a disfigured face, John (Mickey Rourke) has spent most of his life either being ridiculed, or never understood. The only thing that he really knows to do in life is set up heists and have them to according to plan. And for his latest one, everything works out perfectly, with all of the money being taken, and very little casualties, until, well, he gets double-crossed and left to be arrested by the cops. John is soon taken into custody where a doctor who specializes in facial-reconstruction surgery (Forest Whitaker) wants to test something out on John and see, if at all possible, he can get him to look like a normal person. It works, but of course, John himself has a lot to get used to, with people not staring at him any longer. And then, sooner than later, John’s out of jail, back on the streets, and ready to be an everyday, law abiding citizen. But before he does any of that, he wants to get revenge on the two criminals, Sunny Boyd (Ellen Barkin) and Rafe Garrett (Lance Henriksen), who screwed him over in the first place.

Eric Stoltz?

Johnny Handsome is an odd movie because, as is the case with most of Hill’s movies, it seems like it wants to be two different one simultaneously. There’s one aspect that wants to be this goofy, high-concept heist-thriller with guns, action, violence, drugs, booze, and cursing, but then there’s this other, that wants to be a thoughtful, quiet and small character-study about this guy Johnny and how he learns to get along with life after finding a new lease on it. By no means has Hill ever been considered the most perfect director for heart-warming tales of humanity, so obviously, the later story doesn’t quite work out for him.

But at least the former does.

And yes, that’s exactly where Johnny Handsome works, in the grit and the action of the tale. As is usually the case, Hill knows how to craft a solid action-sequence, whether it’s a heist scene, or a brawl between two characters, and it just goes to show you what the guy can do, when the material is there for him to play around with. Sure, has he had better action movies on his plate than this one here? Sure, but it also helps that Hill gets a chance to revel in the sleeze that this tale sometimes promises getting to the nitty gritty of. Of course, it doesn’t quite go as far as it should with that, but it gets close enough to make it feel like a worthwhile effort, on the part of Hill’s.

It’s just that, once again, the movie also wants to be something of a stern, serious character-study that, at the center, does have something interesting to say about Johnny himself. But of course, it’s trapped in this wild and rather wacky B-movie that knows what it is, when it’s doing its thing, but when it’s getting away from that, it feels weird. It’s as if Hill knew that there was some true dramatic promise with this premise and did want to develop it a tad bit more, but also didn’t want to scare too many others away from how melodramatic he was able and willing to get.

It’s an odd mix-and-match Hill has to work with here and honestly, in the hands of a much better director, it probably would have worked. Not to say that Hill isn’t a good director, but you can tell his specialties do heavily lie on action, not drama.

I’d hang with them. Maybe not rob a bank, but definitely hang.

But hey, at least the cast is pretty great.

Mickey Rourke, in what would probably be one of the last performances for awhile where he actually seemed to give a crap, does a solid job as Johnny, even though, like I’ve said before, he may be in a tad bit of a different movie. He’s doing his usual cool, calm and collected brooding thing we’ve seen from him before, which may seem a tad dull, but makes sense in the general sense of the story and just who this character is. It would have been nice to see him play this character in a less messier movie, but hey, at least Rourke’s good here.

The real fun from the cast comes from the supporting side. Lance Henriksen is evil and detestable as one of the baddies who rip-off Johnny; Morgan Freeman plays a cop who is on Johnny’s ass from the get-go and seems to push him way too far at times; Elizabeth McGovern is very much playing it serious like Rourke, but is interesting enough to watch; Forest Whitaker plays his doctor character a little creepy, which works; and Ellen Barkin, well, steals the show as Sunny Boyd. As Boyd, Barkin gets to let loose, showing that she can be beautiful, sexy, and a little bit dangerous, never allowing you to fully trust her, but also kind of love her, too. She clearly came ready to play and it’s why her performance is the one worth remembering when all is said and done.

Consensus: Even despite the mess it eventually becomes, Johnny Handsome still gets by on its thrills and excitement given by its talented ensemble.

6 / 10

Oh, there’s the Mickey we all know, love and recognize. Basically, right before he started boxing, for some reason.

Photos Courtesy of: The Film Connoisseur

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

It’s the small towns you’ve got to worry about the most.

Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) is a Texas Ranger who has taken a very different path than his childhood buddy, Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a ruthless drug lord, who stumbles back into town, looking to cause all sorts of havoc in the area and most importantly, for Jack himself. Though both men are very different in terms of their careers, their lives, and what sides of the law they each stand on, they do have one aspect in common: They’re both in love with Sarita Cisneros (Maria Conchita Alonso), who has been involved with both men, but chooses to stay with Jack, even though they constantly seem to fight all of the time. The tension between these two begins to escalate over the next few days, and to make matters worse, there’s a group of rag-tag veterans who are staging some sort of mission. But what is it? What is there purpose for being in this small town? And hell, are they dangerous?

“You….”

Extreme Prejudice is clearly Walter Hill’s ode/homage to the Dirty Dozen that it almost goes without saying. It’s a western, without seeming like an old-school western that relies on the same old tropes, but instead, uses some neat tricks with its story to make it seem way more modern. Cause after all, Hill already made a out-and-true western with the Long Riders, so it’s basically like he doesn’t have much else to prove in that genre, except to show that he can use it as a stepping-stone for going out into his usual crazy barrage of guns, violence, blood, and oh yeah, a whole lot of cursing.

But for a Walter Hill movie, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It helps that Hill knows what he’s doing, when the material’s there to work with and have fun with. Both Deric Washburn and Fred Rexer wrote the screenplay and know not to make this story too difficult, or even all that meaningful – just give us a few bad guys, a good guy, some conflict, and lots and lots of guns. The rest, in Hill’s hands, is history.

Which is why the final-act of Extreme Prejudice, as well as the few other action set-pieces spread-out across, are all exciting, fun, and downright electric. They feel perfectly thought-out and constantly keep on surprising, what with where the violence goes and how. Hill isn’t considered a master at his craft by any means and he sure as hell will never be called an “artist”, but the man knows how to craft a solid, compelling, and fun action-scene, which in today’s day, that means a whole lot.

Basically, we could use a whole lot more of Walter Hill in our life and while we do still get his movies, they just aren’t the same anymore.

Shame, too.

“Me….”

But anyway, the reason why I’m going on and on about the action so much is because, well, there’s a bit of a problem with the story, in that there may be a little too much. Or, at least, let me put it this way: There’s essentially two different plots going on here, with both being mildly interesting, but also pretty different from one another. For instance, there’s Nolte’s Jack who is feuding with Powers Boothe’s Cash, which doesn’t start cooking-up until the end and seems like a lot of talking and not much else, whereas the other plot, involving Michael Ironside’s group of bad-ass veterans, is fast-paced, interesting and, well, unique. It’s as if Washburn wrote one part of the movie, Rexer wrote the other, and they tried to combine it all together in one, seamless package.

But that’s what’s odd, because it doesn’t quite fully come together in that sense. Jack’s tale is far more dramatic and, as a result, slower, whereas Ironside’s is quicker and a whole lot more exciting to watch, even if we know it seems to be happening in almost entirely different movie. Hill works well with both stories, however, which is why the movie isn’t totally destroyed by this uneven thread, but still, it’s a bit choppy, to say the least.

And yes, it also helps that Ironside’s performance is pretty great here where he, once again, gets to play a bit of a nutty psycho who, somehow, has everything ready to go according to plan. In fact, almost everyone here is playing very much with their type; Nolte is stern and serious, Boothe is cold and dark, Rip Torn is fun and light, William Forsythe is crazy, and Alonso is, well, very attractive, but unfortunately, doesn’t get to be much else. Hill knows how to let his actors let loose when they need to and because of that, it helps a lot of the boring characters, work a bit better.

If only for the company they keep.

Consensus: While uneven, Extreme Prejudice is still a solid bit of action-thriller from the reliable hands of Walter Hill, who’s clearly enjoying what he’s doing here.

7 / 10

“Let’s tango.”

Photos Courtesy of: Radiator Heaven

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Stay married and happy, men. You never know what’s out there.

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a successful business man who has a nice job, lovely wife (Anne Archer), cute kid, and quaint little house in the suburbs. However, that all starts to change once he gets involved with Alex (Glenn Close), another successful business woman who falls head over heels for the guy. And for awhile, he thinks the same. Until he doesn’t and that’s when it all gets a little crazy.

Fatal Attraction calls for the kind of crazy and wacky treatment that director Adrian Lyne so deservedly gives it. It’s clear he’s having a lot of fun, knows that this material can sometimes be so ridiculous, but also does approach it with a certain bit of seriousness, as well, not forgetting that at the heart of this story, real issues and problems are being addressed. For one, it’s not a horror movie – or at least, not in the expected sense.

Yup. Totally normal.

Yup. Totally normal.

While Lyne loves playing around with those certain conventions, as if we were watching a horror movie, instead, what we’re watching a real life horror flick, with real life people, making real, incredibly terrible choices. It’s the kind of movie that studios prefer to stay away from, but Lyne does a solid job of reminding us that, at some points, this material can be pretty crazy, but when you get right down to it, isn’t much of a laughing-matter, either. Sure, it helps that he films each and every of the sex scenes with a foggy bit of eyes, but it also helps that he doesn’t forget what’s really going on underneath all of the hot, sweaty, steamy and naked sex.

Or, at least I assumed they’d be naked, right?

But by the same token, it’s sort of hard to really care for Michael Douglas at all here. Just to clarify some things so that we’re all on the same page: The guy is human, the guy is married, and he wants to have a little bit of playtime when his wife is away. Makes sense. But then, when his wife comes back and he’s back in the swing of things, we’re supposed to act like that never happened and even worse, we’re supposed to actually care about him and all of the stuff that he goes through when he just decides to throw this girl away like garbage? It’s hard to care what really happens to this guy, because as much as he may want to forgive and forget, it’s hard for us to do the same.

Nothing wrong with a little slam-bang action in dirty hallways.

Nothing wrong with a little slam-bang action in dirty hallways.

But maybe that’s the point? I don’t know.

Douglas is good here because he doesn’t ham the role up in the slightest, but it also makes him feel a tad bit more dull than he probably should. Anne Archer plays his wife and she’s got a few nice moments, to show not why she would love someone like him, but why he’d be making such a bad decision in the first place. It’s not a very showy role, but it’s a nice one that reminds us what she can do.

But really, it’s Glenn Close who, as you may have heard by now, absolutely steals the show as Alex Forrest, or basically, every married-man’s worst nightmare. Close is so amazing here as Forrest not only because she can play normal and switch it off into full-on crazy mode so well, but because there’s just something about her that you sympathize with from the very start, regardless of how sadistic or creepy she gets. A good portion of this credit goes to Lyne for not painting her as a total villain, but as a sad, lonely and rather kooky lady woman who had a brief spat with love and affection, couldn’t get enough of it, and then, all of a sudden, had to put up with the fact that it was going to be gone from her life, just like that.

Now, who’s the one we sympathize with more, I ask? Regardless, Close is great in this role, never letting us forget that she lingers in every scene – even those that she’s not in – and also has us questioning what her next move or motive’s going to be. After all, the movie never makes it totally clear just what she’s up to, or why she is the way she is, making her dangerous, scary and yes, so very, very compelling. In a way, she makes Fatal Attraction a better movie by just owning the screen every chance she gets, but yeah.

She does.

Consensus: Fatal Attraction runs into the usual problems that come with a wild plot like this, but due to an amazing performance from Close and a smart, relatively sensitive direction from Lyne, it works better than it should.

8 / 10

Yeah, we've all been in this situation once or twice. Or never.

Yeah, we’ve all been in this situation once or twice. Or never.

Photos Courtesy of: Old Films and Me

My Life as a Dog (1985)

For Laika, obviously.

It’s the late 50’s in Sweden and well, 12 year-old Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) isn’t having the best time of his life. He and his brother are constantly fighting, his mother is slowly, but most surely dying of a terminal disease, and it seems like no one really cares if he’s around, except for his lovely little dog that accompanies just about everywhere he goes. Eventually, after much tension and turmoil, Ingemar’s mom sends him and his brother away; the later to the grand-parents, the former, to the aunt and uncle. And while Ingemar is against leaving his mother, brother and most importantly, dog, he ends up settling in quite nice with his aunt and uncle; they respect as him as a little kid, let him have a certain amount of freedom, and also allow him to have fun, just as a 12-year-old his age should be doing. But after awhile, Ingemar starts to grow more and more attached to the people living around him and finds himself happy to be with them, but also sad about his mom, his brother, and like I said before, his dog, who he thinks is still alive, well, and waiting for him back home in some lovely, spacious kennel, when in reality, that’s probably not at all near the truth. Poor Ingemar’s going to have to grow up some time soon and unfortunately, it’s going to hurt pretty hard.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

It’s interesting to watch My Life as a Dog and compare it to the other flicks that director/co-writer Lasse Hallström would approach – while mostly all of his films following are safe, sometimes conventional, but always syrupy, saccharine pieces of melodrama that aren’t always perfect, My Life as a Dog is anything but. If anything, it’s a pretty down-to-Earth, honest and raw look at growing up, coming-of-age, and realizing that, yeah, death sucks, but you know what’s worse than death? Not realizing it’s a fact of life and moving on from it.

Okay, maybe not that cynical, but you get my drift. What I’m trying to get across is that the movie’s interesting to look at, many of these years later, if especially because Hallström himself seemed to “sell-out”, so to speak, and forget about his indie, artistic-ambitions. While his movies would still continue to garner praise from audiences, critics, and major award nominations (like Best Picture for, of all things, Chocolat), My Life as a Dog still hangs around as one of his best, if only because it showed us where he got his start and gave us all some hope, for some amount of time.

And yeah, it’s worthy of all this praise, too, because My Life as a Dog is a smart movie that doesn’t necessarily break down any barriers for the coming-of-age genre, but it doesn’t necessarily make it seem conventional, either.

The best element behind My Life as a Dog that sets it aside from the other crowded bunch of familiar movies is that while it’s nostalgic on looking back at a very precious time in a kid’s life, it is no way, a kids movie. It’s interesting, too, because Ingemar is the kind of kid character you’d expect the Disney-crowd to automatically reach out towards, however, a lot of what he deals with, sees, and has to experience, is pretty damn adult-like, to where it feels like a movie kids themselves probably should see, but at the same time, probably won’t.

It's love, no matter who it's with.

It’s love, no matter who it’s with.

Which is to say that the movie doesn’t hold any certain amount of b.s. when it comes to growing up and realizing how much of a pain that can be, when you’re in as a terrible situation as little Ingemar is in here. The movie doesn’t hold back and for that, it’s refreshing – it’s sweet and nice in the right ways, but never reaches over to being sentimental. It’s the kind of movie that any adult could get a little something out of, if only because it reminds them of the time they were growing up, with all the same feelings felt.

It may be a little embarrassing, but hey, the truth itself can sometimes be awfully so.

But it’s nice that the movie does try and make Ingemar more than just our mannequin for whom we express our own feelings, thoughts and memories through – there’s something to him that makes him still feel like a real, complex kid, just learning how to develop and grow in a crazy, sometimes cruel world. While it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t seem like the rest of his career has turned out to be much, Anton Glanzelius still puts in a very good performance here, even so at such a young age. He feels like a kid in that he isn’t precocious, or way too big for his own britches – he’s a kid who thinks he knows a lot about the world, but really doesn’t, and instead, much more wants to spend time imagining things about the outside world around him, or what’s going on up there in space. And yes, these are all thoughts we hear from him, but believe it or not, they all work and are pretty interesting, always feeling as if they are coming from a sweet, delicate 12-year-old who knows a little thing or two.

You know, like we all thought we were at 12 years old.

Come on, admit it.

Consensus: Without pulling any silly punches, My Life as a Dog works as a smart, yet sweet and tender piece of coming-of-age drama that showed us the promise that Hallström and unfortunately, didn’t do much with.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Photos Courtesy of: Perspective of a Writer, A Film Log, LARK

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

Memphis, Tennessee is known for a lot of things. Most importantly, the hotbed for a lot of early rock ‘n roll, featuring the one and only Elvis Presley himself. Over the course of one day, a bunch of random people will navigate through the city and do things their own way. There’s the kitsch-obsessed Japanese couple (Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh), who seem to love one another a whole lot, but the language barrier keeps them away from fully attaching themselves to Memphis fully. Then, there’s a trio of amateur robbers (Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi) who take one night to roam free and act wild, crazy and drunk like they’ve never done before. And an Italian immigrant (Nicoletta Braschi), who has no clue of where she actually is, tries to survive Memphis for this one night only. Meanwhile, there’s a somewhat eccentric and creepy night clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) at a hotel who seems to have a lot more to do with these folks than you’d think.

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch likes to take his time with his movies. That’s a known fact and in certain ways, it can make his movies feel like boring slugs, than actual slam-bang, fun and compelling thrill-rides. Those who expect the later, probably know not to go to a Jarmusch flick, whereas those who expect more time, consideration and care given, know exactly what they’re getting into with Jarmusch and it’s why so many people love and adore him.

That said, Mystery Train definitely shows Jarmusch taking as good a time as ever to tell anything resembling a story that, sometimes picks up its speed, sometimes lingers around, and other times, seems to meander without any sort of sense of direction that you wonder just where the movie’s going, or what the hell it’s even getting at. Yet, that’s also what’s kind of compelling about it – the movie literally could go anywhere, at any time, and while Jarmusch is never known for his shocking bits of violence, the way he makes Memphis out to be here, other than a pretty cool place to live, is that it can be somewhat dangerous and capable of taking down any person, at any time. Of course, Jarmusch wasn’t just focusing on the violence aspect of the whole story, but there’s that sense and feeling that makes however many small, quiet moments, still feel somewhat tense.

At the same time, though, Jarmusch is also taking his time with developing this story, which can sometimes make it an interesting watch, if not always fully satisfying picture altogether.

I'd hang with them for a night. And then some more.

I’d hang with them for a night. And then some more.

If anything, Mystery Train shows that Jarmusch can toy with his audience just as much as the next auteur, but sometimes, it can’t help but feel like he’s taking an odd detour for the sake of doing it. For instance, every chance it seems like he’s going to go somewhere with a clear plot-point, he switches things up, brings something random and cryptic into the picture, has us scratching our heads, and wondering just what it’s all about. It’s the same thing that Haneke does, but whereas his movies have a point for their sometimes sheer randomness and unpredictability, for Jarmusch, it can’t help but feel like he’s bored.

The only bit of this movie that feels like Jarmusch with a clear head on his shoulders, no tricks to be found whatsoever, is the final subplot involving the three buddies who go on something of a drunken crime-spree. Of course, this is the closest resembling Down by Law, so it’s obviously going to work in Jarmusch’s favor, but it also shows Jarmusch not pulling any punches and telling us a clear, concise, and rather straightforward story, with the occasional detour into goofiness.

But the goofiness doesn’t overtake the subplot, which is why it works best.

The rest of Mystery Train, unfortunately, runs into this problem. There’s a lot to like for sure, as the movie’s funny, interesting to see how it all connects, and well-acted by virtually everyone involved, however, it’s not asking all that much to expect a movie to follow some sort of pattern/rhythm, especially when said pattern/rhythm seems to actually be working for itself. Maybe I’m just not nearly as much as an indie-kid as I make myself out to be, but sometimes, I don’t mind convention and formula.

Oh well. Sue me.

Consensus: Even with his usual brand of goofiness and oddball charm, Jarmusch’s Mystery Train can sometimes detour too far into crazy town, losing sight of the sometimes very strong narrative it’s working with.

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

Down by Law (1986)

lawposterSome of your best friend’s are found in prison. Not high school.

Zack (Tom Waits) is driving out late one night on the town when all of a sudden, he gets pulled over by the cops and brought in on a bunch of drugs. They weren’t his, but the cops don’t want to hear it, so they book him and now he’s forced to spend a certain amount of time in the clink. Same goes for Jack (John Lurie), who was also set-up by someone he thought he could trust. Now, he’s sharing a cell with Zack and while it takes some time for them to get used to one another, they eventually become good cell-buddies, joking around, relating and whatnot. Then, in walks foreigner Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who got arrested for a way different charge: Murder. However, Zack and Jack eventually take to Roberto and altogether, they forge a plan to get the hell out of jail and hopefully, on with the rest of their lives. The only issue is that getting out of jail is the easy part – it’s not getting caught and thrown back in the slammer that’s the hardest.

"Sing something."

“Sing something.”

What’s perhaps so interesting about Down by Law is that while it’s definitely a movie about a bunch of inmates, in prison, and trying to escape, the movie is actually not all that about the escape itself. There’s not all that much planning of where someone has to be at an exact point, who’s going to help out on the inside, the outside, and just how every part of the plan is going to go down. Most movies dealing with inmates breaking out detail this at great-length, but for writer/director Jim Jarmusch, it doesn’t really seem to matter.

In fact, it’s the inmates themselves who provide the most interesting story in the first place and it’s through them, that we get to learn a little bit more about the way Jarmusch sees the world. The one thing that there’s no denying about most of Jarmusch’s movies, is that they’re definitely quirky, sometimes, to a fault, but here, he seems to have dumbed that down a bit; Roberto can get a little silly at times, but that’s mostly because Benigni is such a clown, it’s hard not to, at the very least, chuckle at this character. Nope, interestingly enough, Jarmusch gives us a smart, compelling and sensitive character-study about three odd-balls, meeting up in the worst places of them all, and yeah, making something out of it.

In a way, ensuring to us, the rest of the world, that there is some hope for those inmates out there.

Still though, the movie isn’t trying to preach in the slightest; if anything, it’s just giving us a better glimpse into lives of three individuals, who we either don’t always see get their stories told, or when we do, they’re usually filled with drugs, violence and a whole lot of rape. Down by Law is a very different beast in the subgenre of prison movies, but it’s still a compelling one, even if the movie never does take us out of the one single cell that these guys live in. It’s not suffocating, though and it easily could have been – Jarmusch is working with some larger-than-life characters and cast-members that it helps make his movie pop and excite, rather than just drown in its sorrow and misery.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

Something that Jarmusch will do in the future for sure, but thankfully, not here.

And yes, with Waits, Lurie, and Benigni, Jarmusch showed his knack for assembling a very odd cast, putting them together, and seeing what sort of odd magic happened. Luckily for him, and especially us, the three all have great chemistry and are more than willing to have us believe in some sort of budding relationship between the three of them. Aside from being together, they’re all very good, too – Waits is cool and bluesy, Lurie is a bit brooding, and Benigni’s as vibrant and wacky as you’d expect him to be, but he is still grounded, so that you do believe in him, as a person, not just another one of his characters.

That said, Down by Law does take a sort of different turn in the last-act and it works, and sort of doesn’t. The movie doesn’t go the conventional route out in ending itself, but by doing that, may have been too subtle for its own good. Jarmusch’s films always seem to have this problem, in that he himself seems to afraid to show any real, big emotion with his characters, that when it comes time for the emotional-button pushing, he backs away. He’d much rather take a hand-shake or high-five, than a hug or kiss, and honestly, sometimes we need that hug or kiss.

Only sometimes.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and some of Jarmusch’s snappiest writing, Down by Law is a smart take on the prison movie subgenre, aiming more for character-development, than plot-mechanics.

8 / 10

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don't know.

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Generation Film!

The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has been out of the hustlin’ game for quite some time. Nowadays, he spends most of his time, jumping from town-to-town, checking out all of the local pool-halls and seeing what new, exciting and unknown talent lurks in the sometimes seedy underworld. One day, he ends up catching Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) playing and realizes that the kid’s not just cocky and brash, but he can also play a pretty mean game of pool, too. However, Eddie feels like it can still be worked on in ways, so he decides to take Vincent under his wing, where the two will go from town-to-town, playing all sorts of talented and colorful characters, sometimes for money and other times, just for plain and simple respect. Vincent wants to learn from Eddie, but he’s also got a chip on his shoulder, making Eddie feel like he has to try harder to teach the kid a thing or two. And of course, the relationship only gets more complicated once Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), comes along for the trip, catching the eye of Eddie.

Old school....

Old school….

The Color of Money, as a movie all by itself, is okay. In a way, it’s a perfectly serviceable sports movie, in which we get to see a certain side of society that we don’t often get to see, with a story that’s conventional, and some pretty good performances. But when you also take into consideration that the Color of Money isn’t just a 25-year-late sequel to the Hustler and directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, well then, it takes on a whole new life.

If anything, it feels like a total disappointment.

Which isn’t to state that the Color of Money is a bad movie in the slightest, but it doesn’t feel like anything particularly fun, exciting or ground-breaking as it probably should have been. Did we really need a sequel to the Hustler? Probably not, but the idea here is promising and the fact that the movie was able to get Newman back in the iconic role of Eddie Felson, makes matters all the better. That’s why, while watching the Color of Money, it’s not hard to sit and imagine, “How could something with so much working for it and with so many damn talented people involved, turn out to be so ‘meh’?”

Honestly, I don’t have the answer. The only person who probably does is Scorsese himself as, as much as it pains me to say, seems like he was doing this for nothing more than just a paycheck. Sure, there’s brief, fleeting moments of the same kind of energetic inspiration we’re so used to seeing from him and his movies, but for the most part, the movie’s slow, the momentum barely ever picks up, and the times where it seems like there’s going to be some real stakes and/or emotional tension in the air, the movie suddenly backs off and continues on some path that we aren’t totally interested in.

It’s odd, too, because like I’ve stated before, the performances are quite good here, it’s just that they’re not playing with all that much.

It’s nice that Newman won the Oscar for this, but it’s also a shame, too. The reason being is because out of all the other 8 times that he was nominated, the one time that he won had to be for his least-compelling role to-date, not to mention an inferior take on a character he already played to perfection over two decades before. That’s not taking anything away from Newman, because he’s one of the absolute greats of cinema in general, but it goes without saying that it’s a little bit disheartening when someone who is so talented, so amazing and so compelling to watch, wins the highest prize an actor could win, for a role that shows him not doing much but just coasting along like we’ve seen him do before.

...meet new school!

…meet new school!

Because most of the movie is actually spent on Cruise and his character, who also seems like doesn’t have enough to really work with. Cruise does a nice job with the super-hyper, super-cocky Vincent, but also gets to be a tad annoying, mostly due to his character just being boring. We’ve seen this kind of character before a hundred million times, we know he’s got talent, we know he’s going to put it to good use, and we know he’s going to be successful, but we also know that he’s got a huge ego and will most likely make a terrible decision that not just hurts him, but all of those around him.

Sound familiar yet?

Surprisingly, the one who actually leaves the biggest mark is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Carmen, who not only feels like the voice of reason here, but in a totally different movie altogether. Mastrantonio’s best skills as an actress has always been that she was the cool girl in the corner, who always had something to say, but didn’t mind keeping it to herself – here, she plays that role and is perfect with it. The chemistry she has with Newman is actually pretty electric, making it all the more clear that the movie should have probably been more about them, and less about the mentor-student relationship that’s overdone with Cruise and Newman.

Oh well, at least Newman got that Oscar. We can all walk away happy from this knowing that fun fact.

Consensus: Even with the talented cast, Scorsese being the camera, and promising material leftover from the original, the Color of Money unfortunately still feels conventional and tired, like the sports genre itself.

5.5 / 10

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in Gemini 

Cocoon (1985)

Want to live forever? Or, just be an alien?

When you get old, in most cases, you just get ready and wait to die. For a few folks at a senior citizens resort in Florida, they want to do more with their golden years. Instead of just withering away, remembering the past and dying peacefully, they want to go down loving the hell out of life and enjoying every second of it, as if they were just a bunch of young, ambitious 20-year-olds again. So by doing so, they discover a local pool that, for one reason or another, has a bunch of rocks at the bottom of it. What are they? And what do they exactly represent? Well, the fellas don’t really know, nor do they care. The only thing that they actually do know is that each and every time after getting out of the Cocoon, they disocver that they’ve got new and improved skills to them, where they’re able to move around like they once were able to and, of course, pleasure the ladies like they were still young whipper-snappers. It’s almost too good to be true for the guys and it turns out, that’s exactly the case when they discover that inside the rocks may hold something weird, or even sinister.

Party on, fellas!

Party on, fellas!

What’s nice about Cocoon is that it features an interesting look at age and the idea of growing old, that we don’t too often see in films, especially mainstream ones. While Cocoon is, essentially, a movie about growing old and eventually dying, it’s also a film about living life to its fullest, no matter what age. While that all sounds incredibly corny and schmaltzy (which at times, it can be), director Ron Howard still handles it all perfectly because, well, it’s a movie about old people, with actual old people in it.

Crazy, right?

So often do movies make elderly folks out to be bed-ridden, or wheelchair-ridden old geezers who always have something clever to say for laughs. With Cocoon, all of the elderly characters are given personalities and allowed to be as alive as any other younger person in a movie would get the chance to do. Howard is smart in that he always shows a certain admiration for these characters and never condescends to these older-folks; instead of showing them as old people who need to get on with the times and accept it all for what it is, he shows that they are just like us in ways, and that they need a little bit of spice in their lives to make them feel fully free and that anything can happen.

And as the older-folks, Howard assembled a pretty solid cast. Everyone’s pretty good, with classic-names like Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maurren Stapleton, Don Amece, and, in my opinion, the standout, Wilford Brimley. Now, of course, Amece won the Oscar for his role here and while nothing against him and his fun, spirited performance, it’s really Brimley who’s the heart and soul of this thing. There’s one key scene he has with his character’s grandson, where they talk about life and death, and what it all means, and it’s all just so beautiful to listen to. Brimley handles what could have been a very awkward moment, with such tender, love and care, that it almost makes us wish that there was a whole movie just about him and his character.

Guess they didn't read the sign that clearly specified, "no large rock-things in the pool".

Guess they didn’t read the sign that clearly specified, “no large rock-things in the pool”.

That said, the whole entire Cocoon is about the old folks and their lives, which is basically where it all falls apart.

Sure, it makes sense that in order for Cocoon to succeed and be financially succesful to all audiences, and not just the old folks, that it would have a bunch of other characters, subplots, and yes, even some young, attractive faces and names to attract all of the youngsters to the cineplexes. In this case, one of the big, young and attractive faces was Steve Guttenberg and while he’s fine, if a bit hammy, he still doesn’t bring much to the movie that felt necessary, as was the case with Brian Dennehy’s alien character. It makes sense to have the sci-fi subplot to go along with everything else and help make sense of all the crazy stuff, but at the same time, Cocoon loses its step when it loses its sight of what it wants to be about.

It wants to be about older people, growing old and accepting the life for what they’ve had, but at the same time, it also wants to be this weird, spooky sci-fi flick about two races and kinds of people accepting one another for what they are, a la Close Encounters. It’s just a weird dynamic that never fully comes together and, if anything, takes away from the older folks and their stories, because, after all, their stories are where the real heart and meat of the movie comes from. Without them, the movie would fail, but with them, then they save the movie.

Next time, more old folks. Screw the sci-fi babble.

Consensus: Even if it’s messy and unnecessarily overstuffed, Cocoon still benefits from a talented cast and an appreciation and understanding of age and life that’s hardly ever seen in movies.

7 / 10

"Yeah. Go fish glowy guy."

“Yeah. Go fish glowy guy.”

Photos Courtesy of: Cinematic Reactions, Indiewire

Splash (1984)

What happens when you get so desperate and hit up M-Date.

After having a brief bout with death when he was just a little kid, Allen (Tom Hanks) has always been a little afraid of life. Mostly though, he’s afraid of the water, in that he almost drowned but thankfully, and miraculously, was saved by a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). Yes, an actual mermaid. While Allen’s friends and family don’t believe him, it’s a truth that he believes in so much, that nearly 20 years later, he meets the mermaid, who is all grown-up and walking on land and in need of some American culture. Allen is more than able to help her out with it all and better yet, maybe even fall in love with her, too. While it’s something that Allen has a problem with, he feels as if he can get past it for Madison’s sake. However, poor Allen himself has no clue that Madison is in fact a mermaid. Obviously, this wouldn’t bode well for any human being, let alone a guy like Allen, who always seems to pick an excuse for not tying the knot and settling down, even when he’s got the greatest girl by his side.

Get it? She's hot!

Get it? She’s hot!

Actual, good romantic-comedies are a dime-a-dozen nowadays that whenever an actual good one does come around, it’s a nice little surprise. It doesn’t mean that the movie is perfect, doesn’t have flaws, and surely doesn’t have all the same predictable issues that usual rom-coms have, because they do – it just means that they’re better than the herd and because of that, are worthy of being watched. That’s why a movie like Splash, as predicatble, conventional, and as imperfect as it may be, it’s still actually good and a whole lot better than what else kind of rom-com schluck that one could be watching.

Does that make it the greatest thing since sliced-bread? Of course not. But hey, it’s a start.

One of the main reasons for Splash working as well as it does is because the script doesn’t take itself all too seriously. It knows that it’s dealing with a fantasy and because of that, it doesn’t try to break any new ground, deliving some hard, honest thoughts and opinions about love, heartbreak, and all of the sadness, as well as happiness that can come with it all – it’s more about some d-bag of a guy, growing up, learning some values, and giving life itself a chance and not just turning his tail whenever tension or something serious may be standing in his way. While having three writers (Babaloo Mandel, Lowell Ganz, Bruce Jay Friedman) for a rom-com about a dude and a mermaid, may seem a bit excessive, it still works, because whatever missteps they make in the process, director Ron Howard is there to pick up the pieces and ensure that whatever mistakes are made, he’ll clean up the mess.

And clean up is what he does. Howard’s a good director – no doubt about that. But what he does well here is that he does keep the energy going along, even when it seems like a worser movie would pay attention to the stupid, silly details of the story. It’s literally a fish-out-of-water story, and while we do get a few jokes using that as a backbone, the movie doesn’t wholly rely on it; it instead focuses on the aspect of the real world and how society would look at someone/something as Madison, and judge her instantly. The movie doesn’t try to say anything about the human-condition, but it comes pretty close and it works.

Every man needs a best friend like John Candy.

Every man needs a best friend like John Candy.

Oh, and yeah, the movie’s funny, too.

The script is good for sure, but it’s honestly the performances that really make it work, what with a solid ensemble to help this material, even when it goes through some choppy areas. Splash is obviously well-known for being the movie that made Tom Hanks into a bonafide star and regardless of all that, it’s still a great performance from Hanks. He’s the typical male protagonist in a rom-com that’s all about him, his life, and his ways, but Hanks has fun with it; he enjoys making this guy look like a bit of an a-hole, as well as an endearing dude who may have actually found the love of his life for once and is finally ready to settle down. It could have been a throwaway role for anyone, but Hanks is better than that.

Daryl Hannah is pretty good, too, as Madison, but a good part of her role does have to deal with, unfortunately, a lot of her looking long, tall, blonde and, yes, naked. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but there are a few good times during the movie where it made me wonder what the joke was, only to then realize that it was about Hannah’s butt or boobs. Thankfully, John Candy and Eugene Levy show up, showing off their brand for oddball humor, even in something that may seem so straight and ordinary as this mainstream rom-com. Candy definitely gets the bigger role of the two, playing Allen’s best friend, who gets to be goofy, but also sort of the heart and soul to the story. It shows us just what kind of great things Candy could do with the form of comedy, even if he never got to fully capitalize on all of it.

Or, at least, not nearly as much as everyone else here got to in the future and after Splash.

Consensus: Even if it is predictable and conventional to a fault, Splash still works because it’s funny, romantic, well-acted, and yes, even a little sweet.

7.5 / 10

Woah. Tom.

Woah. Tom.

Photos Courtesy of: 30 Years On

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

CVS, you better look out the next time I come through that front-door.

Bob (Matt Dillon), his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch), Rich (James Le Gros) and Nadine (Heather Graham) are all a bunch of junkies who survive by robbing pharmacies in Portland, Oregon, in 1971. The natural leader of the gang, Bob, decides that it’s time to leave town after many, many scraps with the law and because of that, it brings about more and more problems with him, as well as with the rest of the group.

Writer/director Gus Van Sant has never really been a favorite of mine. Sometimes the guy does it for me (Good Will Hunting), sometimes he doesn’t (Paranoid Park), and other times, the performances are just so good that I don’t give a crap about his direction (My Own Private Idaho). This is one of those films that I’m sort of in the middle with – it’s not all that crazy or experimental, nor is it all that accessible, either. It’s somewhere between the two beasts we’ve come to know and expect from Van Sant and it’s why Drugstore Cowboy, as zany as it may get, is, at the very least, an interesting watch.

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Not perfect, but hey, that’s fine, right? Life isn’t, so why should a movie be?

What’s perhaps so interesting about what Van Sant seems to be doing here is that he cobbles up together a mixture of all these different sub-genres and moods. There’s a heist movie, a crime movie, a romance, a anti-drug message, and also, a very dark drama that seems to have some dark comedic moments in there as well. Sounds like it could have been a total and absolute mess, which it sort of is, but it works; the movie is about a bunch of drug addicts who don’t ever seem to have their lives together, so why should a movie about their trials and tribulations be any different?

Van Sant does a smart job by getting in these character’s heads and mind-sets, while also never judging them for the decisions and actions that they choose to make throughout the whole movie, as questionable as they may be at points. But really, what Van Sant does show about these characters is just how sad and miserable their existences actually are, despite all of the fun and wild times that they may be having when they’re high off their rockers. Van Sant definitely enjoys sitting around and watching as these characters try to live their lives in normal ways, but he also can’t get past the fact that they’re realities are pretty screwed-up.

But at the same time, Van Sant doesn’t get too down in the dumps, as he actually shows that there’s maybe a little more to these characters and their lives, as well as their drug habits.

In a way, yes, Drugstore Cowboy is definitely an anti-drug flick in that it shows no matter how deep down in drug addiction you may be able to get, you can still get out of it, but don’t think that for one second, it won’t come back and bite you in your ass eventually. All of these characters either need their fix, or they just need to get away from the fuzz, but either way, they’re going through some very, fast-changing lives that get shaken up at just about every second and this film shows you that the lifestyle may be able to change. It’s not an easy change, though, and that’s where the harsh truth of drug-addiction and the message of Drugstore Cowboy comes into play.

It’s not happy, but it’s as real as you can possibly get.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what's so wrong with that.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what’s so wrong with that?

These harsh truths also go all the way back to the characters because, for the most part, they’re all just about as unlikable and unsympathetic as you can get. But the actors in the roles are so good that it’s hard to get too upset about. Matt Dillon gives a wonderful performance as the main junkie, Bob, and it’s one of those performances where Dillon relishes in being a total a-hole, but also likes to show a bit of a human side to him. If there was anybody in this flick that I actually liked or even came close to giving my heart to, it was Dillon’s character just because the guy starts to show some humanity by the end and never really loses that edge to him that made him so cool in the first place.

His wife is played by Kelly Lynch, who is pretty good in this role, showing off her feminine beauty, as well as her own knack for making us think that we could fall in love with her as well. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but I guess it sounds pretty cool, which is what most of this film goes for as well. James Remar is also here totally chewing the scenery as the bored cop who seems like he has it all out for Bob and his junkie friends, but you soon start to realize that the guy cares more about him than you may suspect and it’s actually a nice touch. So often these kinds of movies like to get down on cops and law-enforcement for being a bunch of party-poopers who are such sticklers that they can’t help but lighten up a little and let people have their fun, but mostly, the reality is that these cops, aside from doing their job, just really want to make the world a better place and ensure that no more people succumb to the addiction that is drugs.

Sure, not all cops think that way, but there’s a solid majority that do and it helps put Drugstore Cowboy into perspective a whole lot more.

Consensus: Though Van Sant may stuck between his artistic side and actually telling a story, Drugstore Cowboy works for its unflinching, painful look at the world of drug-addiction, while also giving a heartfelt message that’s less corny than it sounds.

8 / 10

Trust me, Will knows.

Trust me, Will knows.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Laundromats were invented to bring people closer together.

In a seedy corner of London, where the tourists aren’t quite encouraged to travel out to see and witness, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young Pakistani, is given a run-down laundromat by his uncle (Saeed Jaffrey). His uncle hopes for it to be as successful as every other business idea he has made in this great land of opportunity, which leads Omar to do whatever he can to make sure all goes smoothly and according to plan. But soon after, Omar is attacked by a group of racist punks, leading him to question whether or not he wants to give this job a shot in the first place. All issues go out the window, though, when he realizes their leader is his former lover, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). The men decide that it’s best to work together and see what they can make of this laundromat, while also trying to continue their relationship. However, certain social issues arise, when people start to find out that they’re more than just business-partners and are, in fact, get ready for it, in love.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

My Beautiful Laundrette feels and acts a tad like a student film. While Stephen Frears was no slouch by the time this movie was made and released, there’s still that feeling that he may be rushing things a tad too much. After all, making a movie and getting it out to the general public is difficult as is, so might as well get all that you can, out there for everyone to see, right?

That’s why, while watching Laundrette, I couldn’t help but wonder why Frears himself wouldn’t slow things down a bit. Granted, it does keep a story like this interesting, just by moving at an efficient pace, but it also makes us lose out on some of the smaller, more intricate details of the plot and the characters that would make a movie like this so rich and pure. It’s almost as if the script was much, much longer, so Frears himself decided to hit all of the bullet-points and just expect the audience to fall in line with everything that he showed and left it at that.

It doesn’t quite work, but that isn’t to say that Hanif Kureishi’s script isn’t good, because it is.

What Kureishi does best is that he balances out the actual heart and humanity of these characters, with the certain social-issues that surround them. However, Kureishi doesn’t make these social-issues and concerns the sole factor in determining who these characters are; it’s something that they represent, but they’re much more than just their points and opinions about society and politics. For instance, a great example of this is Saeed Jaffrey’s Nasser – he’s the uncle of the family who came over to England at a very young age and, metaphorically speaking, took the bull by the horns. He saw a land, rich with opportunity, and he decided to go for it, becoming successful, but also opening up the doors for those others just like him who are looking to make a break in a foreign land.

But what’s interesting about the script is how it shows that this can also be something of his demise; in a way, it’s made him more pompous and forget exactly who he is, where he comes from, and who he’s supposed to love. Jaffrey’s performance is wonderful and it helps make Nasser the most interesting character of the bunch, because we know what he’s supposed to represent, but the script is too smart to get bogged down by all of this and just focus on this one, in particular detail. Same goes for the gay love-angle – for a movie from 1985, Laundrette is surprisingly modern and not all that dated when it comes to two men falling in love and having sex. Sure, it’s not graphic by any means, but the movie doesn’t shy away from their little love affair either, and while I wouldn’t be saying it was a brave move in today’s day and age of cinema, back then, it must have broken down barriers.

Look out, world.

This is England?

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I myself wasn’t even a thought by that point.

But even when the direction fails them, the performances from the cast are quite solid, too. Aside from Jaffrey, Daniel Day-Lewis really does shine as Johnny, the punk-turned-legitimate-businessman, showing both sides of his anger, as well as his compassion for the world around him. Though Day-Lewis was young and not quite the powerhouse he would come to be known as, you still get inklings of things to come, whenever the opportunity presents itself here.

As for Gordon Warnecke, he’s pretty good, too. Together, the two share a sensual and sweet chemistry that doesn’t feel phony. Had the movie been solely about their love and compassion for one another, amidst all of this tension, turmoil and prejudice, it probably would have been a lot stronger and gotten rid of some of the messier-portions of the flick; however, as is, the movie still works because Warnecke and Day-Lewis seem believable in their love for one another. It kind of comes out of nowhere, honestly, but the look in their eyes when they see each other is true and it helps carry the movie through some of its murkier waters.

Consensus: Frears’ direction may be a little amateurish, but thankfully, My Beautiful Laundrette benefits from a great script and even better performances from the solid cast.

7 / 10

It's true love, people. Get used to it.

It’s true love, people. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Criterion, Londonist

New York Stories (1989)

Now that I think about it, New York’s kind of lame.

New York is chock full of interesting little lives and stories that are just waiting to be heard and seen. One concerns a passionate, but confused painter (Nick Nolte), who is struggling to come up with new and interesting ideas, none of which are made any easier when his girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette), walks back into his life without promising to be everything that he needs. Another concerns Zoë (Heather McComb), a little schoolgirl who lives in a luxury hotel and constantly dreams about her father (Giancarlo Giannini) and mother (Talia Shire) getting back together, once and for all. And lastly, one concerns a New York lawyer named Sheldon Mills (Woody Allen), who thinks he’s finally met the love of his life (Mia Farrow), even if his overbearing mother (Mae Questel), doesn’t think so. This brings Sheldon to wishing that she’d just go away once and for all; his dream eventually does come true, except not in the way that he wanted, nor did he ever expect.

Paint it black, please.

Paint it black, please.

The biggest issue with anthology films is that you always run the risk of one portion being way better than all of the rest. In the case of New York Stories, given the talent on-board, it’s honestly a shock that none of the segments are really all that good; there’s one that’s more tolerable than the rest, but honestly, it’s sort of like grasping at straws. And yes, just in case any of you were wondering, New York Stories is an anthology flick featuring three, 35-40 minute segments from Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen, respectively.

Let me repeat them all one more time.

Martin Scorsese.

Francis Ford Coppola.

And Woody Allen.

So, why the heck on Earth is this movie incredibly lame? Honestly, from what it looks like on the outside, all three directors had been wanting to do something together for quite some time, however, just never had the right time, or package to do so. Then, a hot-shot, studio exec thought of a grand idea, in having them all contribute to a three-part anthology flick, where people would all get drawn in by the fact that these three directing legends are somehow, slightly coming together on a project for the whole world to see.

Except that this was all happening in the late-80’s, and not the mid-to-late-70’s, when they were all at the top of their game. And also, rather than waiting for them to all have something worthy of filming and throwing into the movie, it appears that each director picked up whatever script they had lying on the ground, had an obligation, was forced to direct something, and just decided to roll with that. Sure, I’m speculating here, but after seeing the final product, I couldn’t imagine New York Stories coming together or being put-together in any other way.

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

For one, Scorsese’s bit is “meh”, at the very best. He gets a lot of mileage out of a neat soundtrack that seems to intentionally ram “A Winter Shade of Pale” down our throats, but honestly, there’s no meat to whatever story was supposed to take place here. Apparently, Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette’s characters are supposed to have some sort of sexy, fiery and ruthless relationship, but they don’t have any sex, and then Steve Buscemi shows up, and uh, yeah, I don’t know. Nick Nolte paints a lot and that’s about it. It’s boring, nonsensical, and most of all, uninteresting.

Words I never thought I’d describe something of Scorsese’s, but hey, such is the case.

Then again, Scorsese’s segment isn’t nearly as terrible as Coppola’s.

Yes, Coppola’s segment is notorious for possibly being the worst thing he’s ever directed in his life and, well, I can’t argue with that. It’s really bad, in the sense that it seems like Coppola had no clue of what to film, or actually do with the time and money given to him, so he just decided to make a movie for his kids. Sure, the character of Zoe is cute, but it’s placed in the middle of two, very adult segments that really, it serves no purpose or place in this movie altogether. Why anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place, is totally beyond me.

Heck, I don’t even think Coppola knows what to make of it still to this very day.

But thankfully, the smartest decision of New York Stories is to allow for Woody Allen’s segment to be the very last because, well, it’s the best. Once again, that’s not saying much, but it works because it’s quintessential Woody – light, breezy, simple, funny, and most of all, entertaining. The other two segments, despite appearing as if they were fun to film, don’t really come off as such; Woody, working with a really silly, almost cheeseball-ish plot-line, gets a lot of mileage out of looking like he’s enjoying his time filming this goofy story.

Does it save the movie?

Sort of. But if there was ever a reason to not feel optimistic of any anthology feature, regardless of talent involved, it’s New York Stories.

Consensus: Despite Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese each having something to do with the final product, New York Stories sort of begins on a whim, continues with a snore, and ends on a somewhat likable whimper.

5 / 10

Every Jewish man's dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Every Jewish man’s dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Blow Out (1981)

Sound guys never get the respect they deserve.

Jack Terry (John Travolta) is a sound-effects technician for movies who, while recording sounds for a low-budget slasher film, mistakenly captures audio evidence of an assassination involving a presidential hopeful. While Jack feels as if he may be a bit paranoid, especially from what everyone around him says, he still believes it to be true and makes it his mission to stop this assassination at once. Along the way, he meets Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen), a young lady who befriends Jack and gives him a second chance at life, even if looming under the horizon is someone looking to kill both of them.

No matter what Brian De Palma does as a director, he will always been known as one of the more successful Alfred Hitchcock impersonators, but you have to think about it: Any director that laces themselves into a dark and twisted tale of suspense and paranoia, is essentially doing Hitchcock, right? Well, yes, and kinda no. De Palma is obviously channeling Hitchcock here, but he lets it all work out on his own just by having an underlining sense of dread and tension throughout. Right from the goofy first-shot to the painfully depressing last one, we are immersed in this story as we have no idea how everything is going to turn out.

Who's worse to work with? Celebrities, or owls?

Who’s worse to work with? Celebrities, or owls?

You could say that’s how Hitchcock movies are, but by the same token, so are De Palma’s movies, too.

In fact, it’s the great ones that really keep you on-edge, which Blow Out definitely is.

Instead of just letting the story tell itself off, De Palma allows himself to bring out some real tricks up his sleeve. The camera is constantly moving around in this film to give us this frantic feel that Jack is going through but even when it isn’t, it still had me on the tip-of-my-toes, because there’s still an air of tension. Scenes like when Jack is deconstructing the film to match the sounds with the images is a surprisingly neat scene because of how much detail De Palma layered this scene and to also show easily manipulated film and audio can be, just at the switch of a button. But other times when the camera is moving, it really messes with your head like one scene where the camera is going around on a 360 axis in Jack’s studio as he is frantically looking around for his lost footage that seems to have been replaced, or taken from him. It’s a cool scene that shows you what De Palma can and could do with the most generic plots, just by tilting the camera one way or another.

And sure, you could call them “gimmicks”, but they really do help keep this unpredictable story moving, even when it seems like De Palma himself wants to take some time out of the mystery and build characters. Which wouldn’t have been a problem so much had the characters been all the neat in the first place; like, say, for instance, Nancy Allen’s Sally. Trust me, I know why she’s in this movie and why De Palma feels the endless need to have her role mean something in the greater-scheme, but really, her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold character is stale and Allen, at times at least, wasn’t always the best actress to call on for these sorts of things.

That Brian De Palma: A true American.

That Brian De Palma: A true American.

But of course, with one bad performance, comes one, very good one and this is where John Travolta comes in.

Travolta does a great job letting us feel the type of paranoia and craziness that’s going inside of his head throughout this whole mystery, however, what really makes this character and performance work is how they treat him. When you usually have a hero-like character in these films, they are treated like latter-day Saints that can almost do no wrong whatsoever and always fight the good battle. The difference here is that this character, no matter how much evidence he proves or no matter what he says, he’s always looked at as a bit of a conspiracy-nut just because he’s a little strange. Never has a film really made us look at a hero, the same way as everybody else did in the film, quite like this before and it works in making us realize that maybe we can’t be too sure that he’ll eventually come out on top after all. And if he does, at what cost? It’s a great piece of character development that De Palma proves he can do very well, and Travolta gives off his best performance of the whole 80’s decade, his career almost died in.

Thankfully though, thirteen years later, he was saved.

Also, bonus points for being in Philly and featuring a kick-ass villainous performance from John Lithgow. Honestly, you can’t have enough movies set in Philly, nor can you have enough of John Lithgow just being a scary and sinister human specimen that we definitely know he’s capable of being.

Consensus: Despite the usual missteps found in some of De Palma’s work, Blow Out is an intense, unpredictable, weird and downright bleak conspiracy-thriller that never clues you in on what to think or believe, but for all of the right reasons.

8.5 / 10

John was still very confused in 1981.

John was still very confused in 1981.

Photos Courtesy of: Criterion, One Perfect Shot

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Seeing is believing and so is hearing, too. I guess.

Speech teacher James Leeds (William Hurt) runs his class the way he wants to and the kids love him for that. However, his world one day is all mixed up when he meets a deaf custodian, Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin), and takes his world by storm, allowing for him to not just find love unlike ever before, but hope and happiness, too. As well, of course, anger, too.

It’s hard to do a movie about people with disabilities, as you can sometimes tell when a writer/director is sneering at those less fortunate then them. At the same time, however, it’s also hard to do them justice without ever making people with disabilities seem as if they are ungodly-like saints that Christ himself would have christened, had he the chance to do so. After all, they’re just like you or I, normal people, trying to get by and live in a world that, unfortunately, they need some assistance with.

Swim away, Marlee! Swim far, far away!

Swim away, Marlee! Swim far, far away!

That’s why it’s nice to director Randa Haines work well with the material and show people with disabilities, with a little bit of both. They’re not made out to be walking, talking pity parties, nor are they made out to be later-day saints – they’re just people.

 

But the movie is less focused, it seems, on actually trying harder and harder to delve into the deaf community and those affected by it, and just tell another romantic story, but this time, with more deaf people and sign language. Sure, it’s an interesting avenue that you can do a lot with, if you choose to do so, but for some odd reason, Haines feels perfectly content with just letting the romance play-out throughout the whole flick and leaving it at that. Hardly any shocks, surprises, or ground-breaking moments to be found here – nope, Children of a Lesser God is just your typical piece of romance, but engineered in a way to make you think it’s more than just that.

If anything, it’s a relationship with a “meaning”, or better yet, a “purpose”.

But as it’s easy to predict, the relationship that these two protagonist have with one another starts to fall out of control and they both start to realize that their needs and wants may never be satisfied with one another, regardless of how much time and effort they put into it. That would have been a fine attitude to take about a relationship between a guy who can speak and a girl who can’t, but the film treats it in such a melodramatic and sappy way that it was eye-rolling at points. There is of course the one infamous scene where they’re fighting one second, and the next, they’re on the floor, ripping each other’s clothes off, ready to make a baby or something, that comes out of nowhere, but with good reason. Maybe the movie’s trying to say that “love can, often times, be so destructive, that you will go from doing one bad thing, to doing something great the next?”

That, or the movie’s just trying to say, “Hey, yeah. These two hot, attractive people want to bone, so why not let them do it, right?”

Is nobody else unsettled?

Is nobody else unsettled?

Yeah, I think that’s what it is.

Either way, William Hurt is good here, and he constantly had me wondering about him and his screen-appeal. In the 80’s, he was a big draw for some reason, as he wasn’t particularly good-looking, nor was he all that of a likable screen-presence; granted, that’s one of the things that drew me to him, but it’s interesting to see the trajectory of his career from where everyone was loving him, even if he wasn’t always playing the nice guy. Cause yeah, the guy’s a bit of a creep, he’s rough on the edges, and he seems to be a very honest person with all of the roles that he takes, and that’s why it seemed a bit strange for him to be in the lead role as James Leeds, a guy who appears to be the polar-opposite of that. That’s not to say that Hurt doesn’t do a good job, because he does a very good one of handling his own and getting down all of the right sign-language, but there was something about this character that didn’t really interest me, or even feel right to me. Instead, I sort of just wanted him to leave this poor girl alone and move on with his life since she seemed so settled and happy way, way before he came into it.

Speaking of that poor girl, if there is any reason why I’m giving this film a recommendation at all, it’s only because of Marlee Matlin and how amazing she is in this lead role as Sarah Norman. Yes, Matlin is deaf, but the girl does a better job in this lead role, than I could have ever imagined coming from any Hollywood prissy. Matlin does a nice job conveying all the different types of emotions that go through a deaf person’s mind whenever they want to be treated as an equal and it’s even better to watch as her character realizes a lot of things about life that she wouldn’t have normally noticed, if it hadn’t been for Leeds. This makes her a hell of a lot more interesting character than him and it’s just amazing to watch Matlin work the sign language perfectly, make some compelling facial expressions that never come off as campy or cartoonish, but instead, show us just how one person can be loved by another, even if those words are never uttered. We get a sense of who she is, even despite the fact that she can’t speak well, or be heard from everyone around her and it’s why she’s the heart and soul of the story.

If only someone would have told the creators that.

Consensus: Matlin is great in the lead role, but unfortunately, she’s let-down by a, at times, conventional and odd romance within Children of a Lesser God – a movie that may or may not have something interesting to say.

5 / 10

Yes, Marlee. You are number one, girl.

Yes, Marlee. You are number one, girl.

Photos Courtesy of: Acesspedia

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Buddy cop movies: Yeah, we’re too old for that s**t.

Following the death of his wife, Los Angeles police detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) seems to have lost his mind a whole lot and gone totally off the deep end. While he is still working cases to the best of his abilities, he’s also become reckless, to the point of where he’s not only putting his own life in the line of danger, but those around him as well. However, when he’s reassigned and partnered with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), he can’t help but clash with the older, by-the-books guy. Murtaugh is much more of a straight and narrow family man, whereas Riggs is a wild card who can’t be tamed, nor tied down and automatically, the two find stuff to bicker and banter about, even if none of it really matters to the job. But one fateful day, together, they uncover a massive drug-trafficking ring. Now, they have something to investigate and go after, which also means that they both have to learn how to trust one another and makes sure that they’ve both got the other’s back, even as dangerous as the situations can sometimes be.

Uh oh, everybody. Mel's about to snap. Look out!

Uh oh, everybody. Mel’s about to snap. Look out!

Lethal Weapon is a difficult movie to review all of these years later, because of how far, wide and weird the buddy-cop genre has gotten. There’s been many iterations over the years and while you definitely can’t say that Lethal Weapon invented it by any means, you can definitely make the argument that it helped popularize it and bring it back to the mainstream masses. After all, it showed that it didn’t matter odd your two buddies were – as long as they had a nice bit of chemistry and the movie itself was fun, then guess what? They can be as much of polar opposites as you want them to be!

And yes, Lethal Weapon definitely benefits from the great duo of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson – neither of whom were huge names by this point, but were slowly making their presences known to the audience out there. For some reason, they just gel so perfectly together like a solidly put-together sandwich of peanut butter and jelly on white; Glover is hard-as-nails and all about doing it the old school way, whereas Gibson is all about being a wild child no matter where he goes. It’s kind of corny, but because it’s Shane Black writing the script, believe me, it’s far from it.

Okay, maybe it is corny, but that’s sort of the point.

You can tell that Black has an affinity for these characters and this genre of action that, whenever he gets the chance to let his creative genius fly, he can’t help but let loose. So many conventions and cliches that writers would get attacked and put on a stick for, somehow, Black doesn’t have to go through; mostly, it’s due to the fact that his writing is two different things at the same time. One, it’s a homage to the kinds of movies he loves, but on the other hand, it’s also the same kind of movie that he’s creating and parodying, in and of itself. Anybody will tell you the best parody movies are the kinds that take on a serious route as they run on along and quite making wisecracks about stuff that always happen; Black never stops with the wisecracks, but it’s always fun to watch and listen to, even when, yet again, it feels like this has all been done before.

But that’s sort of the blessing and the curse of being released in 1987. For one, it was the heyday of action movies and right before they all took off the map to become the supreme juggernauts that they still continue to be until this very day, but it’s also placed in such a spot in movie history, that it’s hard to judge and base it on what’s considered “hip”, “cool”, and “in” nowadays. Black has clearly gone on to create better stuff in the years since, but Lethal Weapon will always and forever be his baby; it has his stamp all over it, to the point where it makes you wonder if anyone else could have written this and been as successful as he was.

Yup. He says it.

Yup. He says it.

But none of that jabbering matters.

What does matter in a movie such as this that the humor delivers, the action kicks all the right butt, and the characters are at least somewhat likable. Gibson and Glover are so immensely talented that they could have been playing pet rocks for all we knew – they’d still fire on all cylinders. It’s especially great to see the one role that really sent Gibson over into the American mainstream, where he portrays a wild fire, who may be a bit of a bad boy, but also the kind that saves the day at the end of everything. It’s a mixture of both sides that always kept Gibson interesting and mysterious, but especially so here.

And yeah, Glover’s great, too. He has the great line of the movie, obviously, but even the scenes with his family feel honest and pertinent to creating a bigger picture of who this character is. The dinner-scene between Murtaugh’s family and Riggs is entertaining, but also interesting in that it gives us a breather right slap dab in the middle, but doesn’t feel like it’s wasting anyone’s time or money. It’s just settling down so that we get to know these characters and their talented performers. No problem with that, as long as the bullets go flying and the cars do explode.

Which they do.

Plenty. Of. Times.

Consensus: Lethal Weapon will forever stand the test of time for being solidly entertaining buddy-cop flick, even if its been awfully duplicated over the years.

8 / 10

It's Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

It’s Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

Photos Courtesy of: Last Road Reviews

Roger & Me (1989)

Won’t be stopping by Flint any time soon. Or anywhere in Detroit, for that matter.

In the late 80’s corporate America is taking over and beginning to start a crack down of sorts on industrial inefficiencies. Meaning that some of the first casualties is the American factory worker, who live and breathe off of these factory jobs. Most importantly though, Flint, Michigan, where its residents would literally go to work at General Motors, build cars, bring home a paycheck and spend their earnings on food, rent and all the other expenses that people use in everyday life. However, it all began to change when General Motors decided that they could get more parts, and for cheaper labor, in other parts of the world like Mexico, which meant that they took themselves out of America and decided that it was time to close the factories down. This means that a lot of people lost their jobs, as well as their houses, and the city of Flint, overall, began to take a turn for the worse where the poor get poorer and the rich, when they aren’t having their Great Gatsby parties, are getting richer. While this is all happening, General Motors CEO Roger Smith is being praised by investors for helping out the bottom line, which is a point that Michael Moore does not stand by one bit.

Pictured: The devil.

Pictured: The devil.

Michael Moore clearly loves America and there is no problem with this. He’s one of the very rare people who will stand by his country, make generalizations about other countries, and all the while, still question his own country about what it is that makes us so wonderful. Is it our democracy? Is it our ability to do whatever we want, at any time, as long as they stay within the legal parameters? Or, is it that we brought places like Burger King and McDonalds to the world for everyone to enjoy and grow morbidly obese from? No matter what the question, nor the answer may be, Michael Moore will never stop loving America and while a lot of people would feel better off without having someone like him representing our country, it’s still nice to see someone still as patriotic as he is.

At the same time though, Michael Moore is very preachy and it’s one of the main reasons why most of his documentaries work, most importantly, Roger & Me.

Roger & Me is the first instance in which people found out about Moore, what he could do, and just what he was all about. This was way before all of his recent documentaries came out and shook up the world – nobody knew of his radical left stances, his overly melodramatic narrations, his constant hammering of random subjects, his wild antics just to get a hard subject for an interview, etc. Nobody knew what to expect and in a way, it’s nice to look at the movie as some sort of time capsule of the beginning where Moore’s voice came out for the whole world to hear.

And while there’s a lot to Moore’s style that can be considered “annoying”, there’s no denying that he makes entertaining movies and knows how to frame a story to where, no matter where he goes, you’re following him just about the whole way through. With Roger & Me, it’s interesting to see how Moore uses Flint as a fill-in for the rest of America, where everyone is equal and able to do what they want, but at the same time, are still being tied down and ruined by the richer of society. The picture that’s painted of America, and especially Flint, is a very sad and depressed one, however, Moore himself tries to focus on more than just the sad aspects of life and more or less, remind everybody about some of the joys of life.

At the same time though, it’s hard not to feel a slight bit of uneasiness when watching Roger & Me because, all of these years later, we know that nothing’s changed in Flint, or in America and, for the most part, has gotten worse.

That’s why, when Moore focuses on random people in the movie like a rabbit herder, a former policeman who now evicts people from their homes, 1988’s Miss America, the dirty and surprisingly perverted Bob Eubanks, and countless others, it’s hard not to feel sad. Of course, Moore is using a lot of these interviews as strictly comedy and to point the finger at some people for their sheer stupidity, but there’s an underlying sense of seriousness that makes it all the more shocking. We know that Moore doesn’t know what to make of the whole situation with Flint, or with America and because of that, the answers never seem to come easy, or ever around. Instead, there’s just a lot of beating around the bush of the question and times where it seems like Moore’s mind gets taken elsewhere.

Pictured: Hell.

Pictured: Hell.

This is all fine, of course, because where Moore takes us and how, can sometimes be exciting than anything anybody has to say here. For instance, there’s a small glimpse into the lives of the very rich people of Flint where, when they aren’t holding fancy, over-the-top Great Gatsby balls, they’re paying $100 to stay in the new, state-of-the-art jail. It’s actually quite shocking to see that people like this still exist, but at the same time, have absolutely no clue of what’s going on around them and it’ll make you wish that they’d just give their money away to either people who need it, or that they don’t have it at all.

Still though, Roger & Me always comes back to Michael Moore, which isn’t a huge surprise, but it also shows that he has a point with his movie. What Moore wants to say is that while the big companies may try to tear the American working-class down, it’s up to everybody in the world to not just depend on themselves, but find anyway that they can to survive and still make a profit. Sometimes, this can take one person down a very scary, almost immoral alleyway, but it’s the only way a person can survive.

It doesn’t have to be fine, it just has to be.

Consensus: As is usually the case with Michael Moore’s documentaries, most of them have an angle from the very beginning, but nonetheless, Roger & Me is still an entertaining, compelling and sometimes upsetting look inside Flint and most importantly, America, what makes it work, what makes it tick, and what makes it sometimes so sad to live in.

8 / 10

Pictured: A true patriotic nut.

Pictured: A true patriotic nut.

Photos Courtesy of: Pyxurz

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Apparently, we needed more fluffy creatures.

After he lost his hand and found out just exactly who his daddy is, Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewie (Peter Mayhew), and of course, the rest of the gang get together in hopes of saving the now-frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the lair of notorious crime boss Jabba the Hutt, who now has him set-up as a set decoration of sorts. Mostly though, what the gang is looking to achieve here is that they’re able to get the Rebel Alliance all back together so that they can make one final push to take down the Empire once and for all. Issue is, the Sith is stronger than ever and, for the moment, seems as if they’re not afraid of a challenge. However, because Luke feels as if the force is strongest with him than ever before, he’s extra determined to take on the Sith, even if that does also mean he’ll have to take down his own father – someone he’s trying to connect with and change back to the bright side, but also knows that it may be a lost cause.

Meanwhile, Ewoks show up.

A goner, he is.

A goner, he is.

One of the main issues with finales in a series, is that they tend not to live up to everybody’s expectations. This is especially true in the case of Return of the Jedi, which, not only had the huge expectation of being a Star Wars movie, but also had to follow up both A New Hope, as well as the Empire Strikes Back. If anything, the odds were totally stacked against Return of the Jedi and well, needless to say, the wall sort of came tumbling down on it.

For one, Lucas’ writing, if anything, seems lazy here. Perhaps for the first half-hour or so, we spend watching what happens in Jabba’s little club of sorts and instead of feeling like a necessary bit of scenery that’s interesting to see, it just feels over-done, drawn-out, and most importantly, an excuse for Lucas to give us more odd-looking creatures that kiddies can soon buy the toys of not too long after watching. Of course, Jabba is a terribly disgusting and vile creature, but Lucas only seems interested in just how dirty he is, and that’s about it. The first sequence of this flick could have easily been chopped-down to at least 15 minutes, but instead, Lucas continues to go on and on with this and it seems to suck out a good portion of the movie’s energy.

Then, in come the Ewoks.

Granted, when I was younger, watching the Ewoks waddle around, speak in their funny gibberish, and be so fluffy and hairy that you wonder how they look on your wall, that I couldn’t help but love them. Nowadays, I still feel the same, but at the same time, realize that they’re what does in Return of the Jedi. If anything, the Ewoks are, tonally, out-of-place; they’re cute, goofy, and perfect for little kids to point at and adore. However, the rest of the movie, as it seems to be, is actually pretty dark and epic, therefore, the movie as a whole feels like a bit of a mess. One second, we’ll be watching the Ewoks tie clones up in the house-sized nets, the next, we’ll be watching as Luke and Vader battle one another.

Clearly, Lucas was solely trying to sell merchandise here, and while there’s no problem with that in the long run of things, it helps to make people wonder just where his head was for this final flick? Was he trying to close everything up in a neat, little bow-tie? Or, was he just trying to wait around and see when the paycheck comes in? Whatever the truth may be, either way, something still doesn’t sit right for about a good portion of this movie and it’s all the more disappointing that, for mostly everybody at the time, this was the ultimate flick to end the original franchise.

Fathers: Can't trust 'em for anything.

Fathers: Can’t trust ’em for anything.

After this, there was supposed to be nothing else. So why go out on such a tame note?

Either way, Return of the Jedi isn’t as bad as people make it out to be – but at the same time, it still doesn’t feel like a whole lot of effort on Lucas’ part was given. The final battle between Luke and Vader is pretty awesome, the speeder chase scene still works, and yeah, watching as Han takes out baddies, is more than welcome by this point, but still, there’s something missing here that made it all work to begin with. There’s not enough heart and soul with this story, these characters, or just what this universe means. We know that the Death Star is bad, but really, that’s all we need to know and/or get to know.

And of course, everyone in Return of the Jedi feels as if they’re going through the motions again, but also don’t really benefit from a worthwhile script make them work harder and harder. Hamill’s Luke is a bit too serious now; Leia is nothing more than a sexy, objectified object for everyone to point and stare at; Solo doesn’t have much of anything witty or fun to say, so he just sort of coasts around this movie; and yeah, of course Vader is still freaky and evil.

But really, when was he not?

If anything, what Return of the Jedi proves perhaps best about Lucas is that, when push doesn’t come to shove, he could really care less. He’s happy to write anything down, give it a try and wait till the movie’s themselves all hit number 1. Not bad for a businessman, but this is the same guy most people trust with their childhood.

And how dare he let them down.

Consensus: By far the weakest of the original franchise, Return of the Jedi finds Lucas in too much of a comfort-zone and keeps the final installment, from being the most epic, memorable and exciting.

5.5 / 10

The gang's back together and clearly more bored than ever!

The gang’s back together and clearly more bored than ever!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Everyone’s got daddy issues.

After a few years have passed, we pick up back in the Galaxy that is still, yes, far, far away, and now has Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) along with the rest of the Dark Side searching far and wide for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and and the rest of the motley crew Luke has been aligning himself with. Which means, yes, people like Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) are all still together, joined up with the rebels and trying to fight the good cause. However, everything turns South for the Rebel Alliance and everyone involved finds themselves left heading for the hills and looking for any refuge. Meanwhile, Luke gets stuck in a dirty, disgusting and grimy swamp that just so happens to have a little green friend of his that he may not know he needs, but will soon start to learn and understand just about everything a Jedi should know by him.

Yeah, I’m talking about Yoda (Frank Oz), in case I didn’t make that a bit clear by now.

Empire1

“Something holding you down, you feel?”

The Empire Strikes Back is where everything in the Star Wars universe gets very, very real. And is the case with most sequels, all the Empire Strikes Back has to do here is keep the story moving on, but never really feel the need to tie-up any loose-ends, either – in other words, everyone involved had a pretty easy task to just keep the story moving in a fun, entertaining manner for all of the fans to go crazy for. However, there’s a little something here.

For one, this movie’s just chock full of darkness that you hardly see coming. While with A New Hope, there were a few surprises in the way of emotionally-compelling moments, here, everything feels as if it was made to test out just how much you felt for these characters, the galaxy in which they live in, and realized just the kind of circumstances that were being fought for here. Which is to say that yes, it’s very hard not to get wrapped-up all in what the Empire Strikes Back does; even though he didn’t direct it, George Lucas’ inspiration is still felt through just about each and every frame.

Sure, we still get the little witty lines in between the havoc and violence, but they’re more or less pushed to the side here so that we can get more duking it out between skilled-fighters and tense moments that put the audience in a tail-spin of not knowing what to expect. You could say that maybe it’s a bit ridiculous to think that Lucas would have such the guts to kill-off a major character of this series in only the second movie, but honestly, while watching it, you’ll hardly ever think about that. You’ll just have that feeling that anything can happen because, well, Lucas’ universe says so.

That’s perhaps what’s missing from each and every other Star Wars flick, and it’s what keeps the Empire Strikes Back exciting.

But like I said, there’s of course more going on here than just a bunch of wild and crazy fun – there’s actually a solid amount of heart here that makes it hit harder. All of the scenes including Yoda and Luke, while getting off to a bit of a shaky start, work perfectly together as they’re not just a tad goofy and playful, but also, honest and sincere. In order for Luke to man up and become something of a better Jedi, he has to make his own self more disciplined and smarter, and to see how Yoda teaches him all of these tricks of the trade, is still an interesting watch. “The force”, in and of itself, may be made-up of total and absolute crap, but watching Yoda teach Luke on that subject is hard to look past.

Not to mention that Hamill’s acting gets a bit better here, as mostly everybody’s does. However, what mostly helps everybody out here is the fact that the script is more centered around what’s going on with them, how they feel, and less about where the plot’s heading towards and what type of cool action’s going to come up next. Granted, the movie still does both later options, which aren’t bad, but they don’t get in the way of the meat of this story and help remind us that, first and foremost, Star Wars is about its characters.

See? Luke's a bit more bad-ass now.

See? Luke’s a bit more bad-ass now.

Like I said, Yoda is great here and there’s no way to mince words about that fact. Frank Oz could do voices for days and it’s just great to see how much time and effort he put into making a strange creature like Yoda actually work. And yeah, while I’m on the subject of newcomers, Billy Dee Williams is a welcome-addition as Lando Calrissian, who is as fly as a spaceman as they come. Williams adds a nice level of cool charm to this character that makes him likable, but also not trustworthy enough and it’s what helps us put us in the same situation that Han has to go through.

Speaking of Han, Harrison Ford continues to kill it as everybody’s favorite anti-hero. However, what guides Ford this time around, is the fact that he and Fisher truly do have a bit of fun and fiery chemistry together that, honestly, you just want them to both drop the B.S., rip each other’s clothes off, and get it on like Donkey Kong. While this is a kids movie and we clearly know that’s not feasible in the PG-world, still, it’s an idea that’s hard to get out of your head once it’s in.

That’s because Ford and Fisher (who, oddly enough, got rid of her British accent), are so good together that, through it all, you want to see them together at the end. But of course, for most of us who know, the ending of this flick leaves us in two cliffhangers, both of which I won’t bother to speak about, but will say that they’re effective.

And that’s it.

Consensus: As a sequel, the Empire Strikes Back is not only heartfelt and exciting, but emotional to sit by, even if you know there’s one more movie left to go.

9 / 10

'Nuff said.

‘Nuff said.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire