Saturday, March 28, 2009

Big (1988) [PG] ****

Josh Baskin is a twelve-year-old boy living in a New Jersey suburb of New York City. He and his best friend Billy Kopecki are just discovering girls, and Josh has his first crush on the older Cynthia Benson. Josh tries to impress Cynthia at a local carnival, but when he can't get on the roller coaster because he's too small, his frustration leads him to the mysterious Zoltar arcade game, where he makes a wish to be BIG.

The following morning, Josh (Tom Hanks) discovers that his wish has been granted, and he now inhabits the body of a thirty-year-old. After frightening his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), Josh runs away from home. He and Billy then begin a quest to find the Zoltar game so Josh can reverse his wish. Before long Josh has a job working as a computer operator at a toy company in NYC, but when CEO MacMillan (Robert Loggia) meets Josh at the FAO Schwarz toy store, and recognizes Josh's unique perspective on children's toys, he promotes him to VP, where Josh soon comes to the attention of Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) a marketing manager at the company. Susan begins to fall in love with Josh because he is a grown up, and in the process she rediscovers her own youth and innocence, transforming from a cool professional to a doe-eyed ingénue.

Tom Hanks does a wonderful job portraying a twelve-year-old boy trapped in the body of a thirty-year-old man, who gradually becomes so comfortable in his adult body that he nearly forgets he is a child, until Billy reminds him. Hanks has great romantic chemistry with Elizabeth Perkins, while Robert Loggia is wonderfully sympathetic as a father figure. The film asks each of us to consider what we would wish for if we had a Zoltar game, and how our choice would change our life and the lives of our family and friends. I recommend the 130 minute extended cut, rather than the 105 minute theatrical version; the additional 25 minutes definitely increases the depth and continuity of the film.

To paraphrase screenwriter Robert McKee: At the film's pivotal point, Josh (Tom Hanks) faces a decision; he can choose an adult life with a fulfilling career and the woman he loves, or he can choose to have a fulfilling adolescence. He makes the mature choice to have his adolescence, expressing with a fine irony that he at last became big. For he senses, as we do, that the key to maturity is to have had a complete childhood. But because life has short-changed so many of us in our youth, we live, to one degree or another, with a false sense of maturity. Big is a very wise film.

Labels: comedy, drama, family, fantasy, mother- son, romance, space-time
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 70/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=79, viewers=70)
Blu-ray

Bull Durham (1988) [R] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli for ReelViews.net, on July 25, 2009.

If one was to make a list of the best baseball-themed movies of all time, Bull Durham would have to be in consideration. Alongside the likes of The Natural and Field of Dreams, it remains one of the best-loved hardball titles. Filmmakers like the diamond and its surroundings as a motion picture setting because of the game's mystique and flexibility. It can be used as an opportunity to plumb the depths of nostalgia, as in The Natural, or as a metaphor for ideas like redemption and renewal. The goal in Bull Durham is a little different: verisimilitude. This is about showing what it's like for athletes who play for the love of the game and not the expectation of multi-million dollar contracts. It's about the men who toil far from the spotlight and whose daily concern is not whether they will be promoted to The Show but whether their stats will allow them to bat another day.

The action focuses upon a season with the high-A Carolina (minor) League Durham Bulls. For the most part, the Bulls are comprised of more suspects than prospects - a motley crew of minor league lifers who would rather play for the meager paychecks the Bulls offer than work at Sears. There is an exception - young fireballer Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a star in the Bulls' major league affiliate's firmament. However, while LaLoosh can get his fastball up to about 100 mph, he rarely knows where it's going. In his Bulls debut, he strikes out 18 (a new league record) but also walks 18 (another new league record). In order to help LaLoosh along, the Bulls purchase the contract of veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) so Crash can act as an on-field mentor. The pitcher also gets some off-field lessons from Bulls fan Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who selects one player each season to be her special project. This year, it's LaLoosh, whom she nicknames Nuke. When it comes to Annie, all Nuke is interested in is sex, but Annie has other plans. In addition to bedroom tactics, those involve broadening his mind. On one occasion, she ties him to the bed then reads to him from a volume of verse by Walt Whitman. Stormy seas occur, however, when it turns out that the chemistry between Crash and Annie is stronger than what exists between Nuke and Annie.


Crash and Annie are meant to have the kind of rich life experience that can rub off on an unrefined prospect like Nuke. Annie's life philosophy goes something like this:


I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones... I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring... which makes it like sex. There's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate... You see, there's a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds... I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty.


Crash also has a monologue in which he encapsulates in terms both profane and poetic the way he looks at the world:


I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. (Irony note: Costner would go on to play Jim Garrison in Oliver Stone's JFK - a man who most definitely did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.)


Although the movie is structured around the education of Nuke LaLoosh and the romantic triangle that develops featuring Crash, Nuke, and Annie, one of the pleasures associated with Bull Durham comes from how it reveals inside knowledge, such as what is said in a mound conference and how a catcher motivates a pitcher. Some of what's in the screenplay almost seems too offbeat to have a real-life analog, but writer/director Ron Shelton, who came up through the minors, has stated in numerous interviews that all of the seemingly unlikely incidents are recreations of actual events he witnessed during his baseball tenure, including the unorthodox method in which a rainout is engineered.


Bull Durham was the first step toward Shelton earning the unofficial moniker of the sports movie guy. Between 1988, when Bull Durham was released, and 2003, when Shelton left feature films for television, he was involved in eight sports-related movies as a director and/or writer. And it wasn't just baseball - boxing, basketball, football, and golf were all represented. Bull Durham was Shelton's directorial debut and it earned him his only Oscar nomination to-date: Best Original Screenplay. He lost to Rain Man, which proved to have long coattails at the early 1989 ceremony.


None of the leads - Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins - were first choices, but all proved more than capable of handling their roles. For Costner, this represented the first of three baseball movies in which he would appear (the other two: Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game), plus he would also star in Shelton's golf movie, Tin Cup. At the time when Bull Durham came out, Costner was at the apex of his career, having skyrocketed from obscurity to fame with The UntouchablesBull Durham gave Costner an opportunity to emote - something he was largely denied when playing the straight-arrow Elliot Ness, and the role of Crash showed that this actor could get down-and-dirty and cuss with the best of them.


Bull Durham brought together Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and they have been an off-screen couple ever since. Sarandon is older than both her co-stars (at the time of filming, she was 41, Costner was 32, and Robbins was 29), and this is a rare instance in which an over-40 actress is allowed the opportunity to function as a sex symbol. Although chemistry is evident in the pairing of Sarandon and Robbins, it is perhaps surprising that more vivid sparks fly between her and Costner. It's a good triangle, though, with plenty of sexual tension to amp things up and not much melodrama to bring them down.


As sports movies go, this one is unconventional, dealing more with the minutia that provides the foundation of life in the minor leagues than with the actual games. The genre formula calls for the film to end with a big game, but that doesn't happen here. Instead, Nuke is promoted to the majors, Annie and Crash light the blue touch paper, and Crash (his job done) is released. There is no championship game, no-hitter, or similar contrivance. Those who complain that Bull Durham is anti-climactic are missing the point. The qualities that distinguish Bull Durham from so many other baseball movies are its low-key humor (in contrast to the overt jokiness of Major League and The Naked Gun), the smartness of the dialogue (see that above monologues), and its true-to-life depiction of what it's like to be an A-ball player. Bull Durham put the Durham Bulls on the map, but it also reminded baseball-loving movie-goers that not every film has to end with a home run to be a home run. [Berardinelli's rating: *** 1/2 out of 4]


Labels: baseball, comedy, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 73/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=79, viewers=68)
Blu-ray1
Blu-ray2 

placeholder


placeholder

placeholder


Dirty Dancing (1987) [PG-13] ****



Set in the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's Resort in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, it's the story of Frances Baby Houseman (Jennifer Grey), an idealistic teenager who dreams of working in the Peace Corps. Over the course of that magical summer, Baby grows up; she discovers her love of dancing, falls in love with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a dance instructor at the resort, loses her innocence, gains some wisdom, and earns the respect of her father and the admiration of her mother and older sister.

The dance choreography is brilliant and the music is nostalgic and evocative. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze are perfectly matched on the dance floor, and the romantic chemistry between them is sizzling. The screenplay is inspired, with some memorable dialog, and there are fine supporting performances from Jerry Orbach as Baby's father Dr. Houseman, and Jack Weston as resort owner and manager Max Kellerman.

If you're from the Sixties, or even if you just enjoy films set in that era, films with romance, passion, music and dancing, films like American GraffitiBack to the FutureGreasePeggy Sue Got Married, Pleasantville, A Summer Place and That Thing You Do!, then you will treasure Dirty Dancing.

The surprising popularity of this beautiful film inspired screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein to adapt her script for the stage. Performed worldwide, the stage musical has been an incredible success and has broken all attendance records for musical stage productions at London West End theaters. You can find out more about Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage by going to DirtyDancingOnStage. And don't forget to check out the rich collection of extras on the 20th Anniversary DVD, including recent interviews with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

Labels: dance, drama, father-daughter, romance, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 65/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=60, viewers=74)
Blu-ray1     
Blu-ray2     
Blu-ray3

The Time of My Life (1)
The Time of my Life (2)
Time of my Life (Final Dance)

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) [PG-13] ****




What if a talented, artistic, but socially inept high school boy was obsessed with an unattainable, social climbing co-ed? And what if, at the same time, he had an attractive, rebellious, drum-playing female friend who loved him, and would do anything for him, although he was completely oblivious to her?

Keith (Eric Stolz) is the artist, obsessed with beautiful but clueless Amanda (Lea Thompson). Although Keith's desire drives the action, the core of the film around which Keith and Amanda revolve, is Watts, the rebellious drummer, played radiantly by Mary Stuart Masterson. Watts is frustrated by Keith's inability to see how much she loves him, and how right she is for him, blinded as he is by his fascination with Amanda.

Keith and Watts have great chemistry together, especially the scene in which she gives him practice kissing, to prepare for his big date with Amanda. This film is much better than some recent teen romance titles such as Can't Hardly WaitDown To You, and She's All That. You can see in Masterson's portrayal of Watts, the acting ability she would bring to her later films such as Fried Green Tomatoes, as well as two of my personal favorites: Bed of Roses with Christian Slater, and Chances Are with Robert Downey, Jr.

Labels: comedy, drama, high school, romance, teenager

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 55/100
Tomatometer (critics=80, viewers=81)

placeholder

Roxanne (1987) [PG] *****

A film review by Roger Ebert, June 19, 1987.

Roxanne is a gentle, whimsical comedy starring Steve Martin as a man who knows he has the love of the whole town, because he is such a nice guy, but fears he will never have the love of a woman, because his nose is too big. His nose is pretty big, all right; he doesn't sniff wine, he inhales it.

The movie is based on Cyrano de Bergerac, a play that was written in 1890 but still strikes some kind of universal note, maybe because for all of us there is some attribute or appendage we secretly fear people will ridicule. Inside every adult is a second-grader still terrified of being laughed at.

In Roxanne, the famous nose belongs to C.D. Bales, a small-town fire chief, who daydreams of a time when the local citizens will have enough confidence in his department to actually call it when there's a fire.

In despair at the incompetence of his firemen, he hires a firefighting expert (Rick Rossovich) to train them. The expert arrives in town almost simultaneously with a tall, beautiful blond (Daryl Hannah), who is an astronomer in search of an elusive comet.

Both men fall instantly in love with the woman. At first she has eyes for Rossovich, who is tall, dark and handsome. But he is totally incapable of talking to a woman about anything but her body, and after he grosses her out, who can she turn to except Martin, the gentle, intelligent, poetic fire chief?

Martin is afraid to declare his love. He thinks she'll laugh at his nose. He assumes the role of a coach, prompting Rossovich, writing love letters for him, giving him advice. In the movie's funniest scene, Martin radios dialogue to Rossovich, who wears a hat with earflaps to conceal the earphone.

What makes Roxanne so wonderful is not this fairly straightforward comedy, however, but the way the movie creates a certain ineffable spirit. Martin plays a man with a smile on his face and a broken heart inside - a man who laughs that he may not cry. He has learned to turn his handicap into comedy, and when a man insults him in a bar, he counterattacks with 20 more insults, all of them funnier than the original. He knows how to deal with his nose, but he has never learned how to feel about it.

Hannah provides a sweet, gentle foil to the romantic fantasies of Martin and Rossovich. She has come to their small town because the air is clear and she can get a good view of the comet with her telescope. She isn't really looking for romance, and although she thinks Rossovich is cute, she's turned off by lines about her body. She likes his letters, though, and when she finds out the letters are really from Martin, she is able to accept him for his heart and not for his nose, which is the whole point, so to speak, of Cyrano.

All of the corners of this movie have been filled with small, funny moments. Michael J. Pollard, the getaway driver in Bonnie and Clyde twenty years ago, is back as a weird little fireman. Fred Willard is the pompous local mayor. Shelley Duvall, as the owner of the local cafe, does double-takes at the strangeness of ordinary life. And Martin proceeds manfully ahead, rescuing cats from trees, helping strangers, fighting fires and trying to still the beating of his heart. [Ebert's rating: *** 1/2 out of 4]

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=88, viewers=62)
Blu-ray

placeholder


placeholder


Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) [PG-13] ****


Peggy Sue is forty-three years old wife and mother, living in the small California town in which she grew up. She has two teenage children and a cheating husband from whom she's getting a divorce. Peggy Sue is going through a mid-life passage, and she looks back on her life with some regrets. She thinks: If I'd known then, what I know now, I would have done things differently. Then, while attending her 25th high school reunion her heart stops, she steps through a time portal and awakens twenty-five years earlier as a high school senior in the year 1960, but with all of her life memories and dreams intact.

As Peggy Sue reconnects with her friends, her parents and sister, and her long-deceased grandparents, she gains a new appreciation of the value of family and friends. However, she also experiences how difficult and frustrating it is to make meaningful changes in her life. The value for all of us, regardless of our age, is to ask ourselves: If I'd known when I graduated from high school that this is how my life would turn out, would I have been satisfied?

Peggy Sue Got Married is a bit like a time capsule, because we are able to enjoy the early work of many young actors and actresses who have gone on to outstanding careers in the film and television industry, including Kathleen Turner (Peggy Sue Kelcher), Nicolas Cage (her husband Charlie Bodell), Barry Miller (classmate Richard Norvik), Jim Carrey (classmate Walter Getz), Helen Hunt (daughter Beth Bodell), Joan Allen (girlfriend Maddy Nagle), Catherine Hicks (girlfriend Carol Heath), Sofia Coppola (sister Nancy Kelcher), Kevin J. O'Connor (classmate Michael Fitzsimmons), Wil Shriner (classmate Arthur Nagle), Don Stark (classmate Doug Snell), Lucinda Jenny (classmate Rosalie Testa) and Lisa Jane Persky (classmate Delores Dodge).

The supporting cast also includes Peggy's mother and father (Barbara Harris and Don Murray), and her grandparents (Maureen O'Sullivan and Leon Ames). If you enjoy romantic dramas and comedies in which Time itself, plays a significant role - films like The Family Man, Forever Young, The Lake House, Pleasantville and Somewhere in Time - then you will really enjoy Peggy Sue Got Married. 

Labels: comedy, drama, fantasy, father-daughter, Fifties, high school, mother-daughter, romance, space-time, teenager     
Internet Movie Database     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=68, viewers=60)
Blu-ray

The Boy Who Could Fly (1986) [PG] ****



A film review by Roger Ebert, September 26, 1986.


Here is a sweet and innocent parable about a boy who could fly - and about a girl who could fly, too, when the boy held her hand. The lesson the girl learns in this film is that anything is possible, if only you have faith. The movie could have been directed 50 years ago by Frank Capra, except that in the Capra version, the boy wouldn't have been autistic and the girl wouldn't have been grieving because of the recent suicide of her father, who was dying of cancer. Parables have harder edges these days.

The movie takes place in a small town with picket fences, shade trees and mean boys who won't let little kids ride their tricycles around the block. Into a run-down house on one of these streets, a small family moves: a mother, teenage daughter and little brother. The girl looks out her bedroom window to the house next door, and there she sees, poised on the roof, a teenage boy with his arms outstretched, poised to fly.


She learns his story. When he was 5, his parents died in an airplane crash. At the exact moment of the crash, he started to try to fly, as if he could have saved them. But can he really fly? The boy lives with an alcoholic uncle, who swears he has seen the kid fly. But the uncle sees a lot of things, not all of them real.


The Boy Who Could Fly surrounds this situation with small stories of everyday life. The mother (Bonnie Bedelia) goes back to her old job in the insurance industry and discovers she has to learn to use a computer. Her daughter (Lucy Deakins) goes to high school and makes friends with an understanding teacher (Colleen Dewhurst). The little brother (a small, fierce tyke named Fred Savage) plots to overcome the bullies who live around the corner. And next door, the strange boy (Jay Underwood) lives in his world of dreams and silence.


Can anything break through to him? Yes, as it turns out, one power on Earth is strong enough to penetrate his autism, and that power is adolescent love.


He gets a crush on his new neighbor. She cares for him. One day, he saves her life. She believes he can really fly, but nobody else does, and then the kid is taken away from his drunken uncle and placed in an institution, which could crush his spirit.


The movie develops along lines that we can more or less anticipate, and it ends on a note of high sentimentality. What's good about it are the performances, especially Deakins, a warm and empathetic teenager; Savage, a plucky little kid who could play Dennis the Menace, and Bedelia, a widow still mourning her husband.


Movies like this can be insufferable if they lay it on too thick. The Boy Who Can Fly finds just about the right balance between its sunny message and the heartbreak that's always threatening to prevail.

Labels: family, fantasy, mother-daughter, mother-son, teenager

Internet Movie Database  
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=61, viewers=66) 

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) [PG-13] ****

A film review by Roger Ebert, June 11, 1986.

Here is one of the most innocent movies in a long time, a sweet, warm-hearted comedy about a teenager who skips school so he can help his best friend win some self-respect. The therapy he has in mind includes a day's visit to Chicago, and after we've seen the Sears Tower, the Art Institute, the Board of Trade, a parade down Dearborn Street, architectural landmarks, a Gold Coast lunch and a game at Wrigley Field, we have to concede that the city and state film offices have done their jobs: If Ferris Bueller's Day Off fails on every other level, at least it works as a travelogue.

It does, however, work on at least a few other levels. The movie stars Matthew Broderick as Ferris, a bright high school senior from the North Shore who fakes an illness so he can spend a day in town with his girlfriend, Sloane (the astonishingly beautiful Mia Sara) and his best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck).

At first, it seems as if skipping school is all he has in mind - especially after he talks Cameron into borrowing his dad's restored red Ferrari, a car the father loves more than Cameron himself.

The body of the movie is a lighthearted excursion through the Loop, including a German-American Day parade in which Ferris leaps aboard a float, grabs a microphone and starts singing Twist and Shout while the marching band backs him up. The teens fake their way into a fancy restaurant for lunch, spend some time gawking at the masterpieces in the Art Institute, and then go out to Wrigley Field, where, of course, they are late and have to take box seats far back in the left-field corner. (The movie gets that detail right; it would be too much to hope that they could arrive in the third inning and find seats in the bleachers.) There is one great, dizzying moment when the teens visit the top of the Sears Tower and lean forward and press their foreheads against the glass, and look straight down at the tiny cars and little specks of life far below, and begin to talk about their lives. And that introduces, subtly, the buried theme of the movie, which is that Ferris wants to help Cameron gain self-respect in the face of his father's materialism.

Ferris is, in fact, a bit of a preacher. Life goes by so fast, he says, that if you don't stop and look around, you might miss it. He's sensitive to the hurt inside his friend's heart, as Cameron explains how his dad has cherished and restored the red Ferrari and given it a place of honor in his life - a place denied to Cameron.

Ferris Bueller was directed by John Hughes, the philosopher of adolescence, whose credits include 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. In all of his films, adults are strange, distant creatures who love their teenagers, but fail completely to understand them. That's the case here, all right: All of the adults, including a bumbling high-school dean (Jeffrey Jones), are dim-witted and one-dimensional. And the movie's solutions to Cameron's problems are pretty simplistic. But the film's heart is in the right place, and Ferris Bueller is slight, whimsical and sweet.

Labels: comedy, drama, father-son, high school, mother-son, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 60/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=77, viewers=76)
Blu-ray1
Blu-ray2
Blu-ray3

Top Gun (1986) [PG] ****


Lt. Pete Maverick Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is a brash, fearless, young naval aviator... in the words of his air wing commander, he’s a hell of an instinctive pilot, maybe too good. While stationed somewhere in the Indian Ocean on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Maverick and his RIO Goose (Anthony Edwards) fly a dangerous intercept mission and have a daring encounter with a MIG-28, after which Maverick risks their lives and their low-on-fuel F-14 Tomcat to guide his traumatized wingman back to their carrier. As a reward for his bravery, Maverick and Goose are selected to attend TOP GUN the Fighter Weapons School in Miramar, California, where the very best pilots are trained to be even better, to fly their aircraft right to the edge of the performance envelope.

While at TOP GUN Maverick meets and falls for Charlotte Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an astrophysicist and civilian contractor. Unfortunately, his reckless bravado also involves him in a fatal aircraft accident, which reconnects him with the pain and loss he felt when his father died in an F-4 Phantom in Vietnam, when Maverick was only a child. Deciding to quit TOP GUN, Maverick first seeks the advice of the school commander, Commander Mike Viper Metcalf (Tom Skerritt).

In a pivotal scene Maverick acknowledges that he flies the way he does because he's trying to clear his father's name. While details of his father's death were classified because of where the aerial dogfight had occurred, the rumor was that he had failed, and a cloud had hung over Maverick all his life. As Viper and Maverick gently slide into the roles of father and son, Viper reveals that he had been in the air with Maverick's father that day, and that the pilot was really a hero. This knowledge allows Maverick to let his father go, to step into adulthood, and to fulfill his potential as a naval aviator.

Top Gun can be enjoyed as a young man's rite-of-passage, as a naval aviation recruiting film, or as a romantic drama. While there are credible performances from Cruise, McGillis, Skerritt and Edwards, and from the supporting cast, especially Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich and Meg Ryan, there is virtually no romantic chemistry between Cruise and McGillis. Featuring a powerful, soundtrack and interesting aerial combat sequences, Top Gun remains an iconic 1980s action film.

Labels: action, drama, father-son, flying, romance, tragedy

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=70)
Blu-ray

Top Gun soundtrack:

You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling



Every Time We Say Goodbye (1986) [PG-13] **



David Bradley (Tom Hanks) is a minister's son from Montana who volunteered to fly fighters for the British Royal Air Force in North Africa, early in WWII before America entered the war. Wounded in action, he's recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital. Through his British pilot friend Peter, and Peter's fiancée Victoria, David meets Sarah (Cristina Marsillach), a lovely young Sephardic Jewish girl with a large, tightly-knit, religious family. David and Sarah are immediately attracted to one another, although Sarah tries to deny her feelings. Their romance blossoms slowly, during a family dinner, Peter and Victoria's wedding, and several long strolls. Sarah is barely eighteen, and this is her first love affair. She cannot hide her youthful yearnings for David, nor can she ignore her duty to honor the family traditions by marrying within the Sephardic community. Her protective family observes Sarah's growing love for David with anxiety and, because he's American, a Gentile, and is wearing the uniform of the British rulers of Palestine, her parents and brothers try, forcefully but unsuccessfully, to keep the lovers apart.

Hanks and Marsillach have passionate but restrained chemistry, and the movie has a soft, period feeling to it, as though the viewer really had been transported to the Jerusalem of 1942. The movie is an Israeli production with mediocre production values, as observed in the sets, costumes and soundtrack. Hanks gives a good performance, with the possible criticism that he displays too much fresh-faced innocence, and not enough of the cocky but war-weary cynicism one would expect to find in a fighter pilot facing death every day in the skies over North Africa. However, these flaws will be forgiven by forgiving fans of Hanks who enjoyed his early work in films like Big, The ‘Burbs, The Money Pit, Sleepless in Seattle and Splash, and by lovers of low-key WWII romantic dramas such as Casablanca, Yanks and Hanover Street.

Labels: drama, romance, war

Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=NA,viewers=30)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) [PG] *****



It’s the late 23rd century, and Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew are in exile on the planet Vulcan, readying a captured Klingon spaceship for the voyage home to Earth, knowing that upon their arrival they will be charged with conspiracy and other high crimes. Regardless, they embark on their journey, and as they approach Earth they hear a planet-wide distress signal. An alien probe is attempting to communicate with a marine intelligence, and, in the process, its high-energy transmission is vaporizing Earth's oceans.

Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) deduces that the probe is attempting to communicate with humpback whales, a species that had been hunted to extinction over two hundred years earlier. With no alternative, Kirk and his crew decide to attempt time warp, in order to return to the Earth of the late 20th century, find a pair of humpback whales to bring forward in time to the 23rd century, so they can respond to the alien probe, save Earth and repopulate themselves.


The film's save-the-whales environmental theme, its sympathetic story line, and its setting in the late 1970s San Francisco Bay Area insured that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home would be hugely popular when it was released in 1986. The familiar supporting cast includes Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Communications Officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Navigator Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and is amended by the lovable Catherine Hicks, who plays Dr. Gillian Taylor, a biologist at the Cetacean Institute in Sausalito, CA, which just happens to have two humpback whales in captivity.


There are a number of humorous bits in the film, as well as some memorable dialogue, and despite the film's dated appearance it is easy to understand why Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has remained a sentimental favorite of Trekkies over a quarter of a century after its theatrical release.


Labels: adventure, comedy, father-son, sci-fi, space-time

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=69,viewers=70)
Blu-ray

Barbra Streisand: One Voice (1986) [UR] ****

If you love Barbra Streisand's voice and musical styling, and you'd like to take a trip down memory lane, this is a concert not to be missed. Barbra sings a selection of timeless, evocative songs, from Over the Rainbow and People to The Way We Were. Robin Williams does the introduction, and midway through the concert Barbra is joined by Barry Gibb for a duet.

The concert, held at Barbra's home in September, 1986, was a benefit for her foundation, supporting charitable causes in the areas of nuclear disarmament, environmental protection, civil rights and human rights. Attending the concert were a number of celebrities and politicians, giving us a nostalgic glimpse of what they all looked like back in the 1980s... including Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hahn and Kurt Russell.


Label: music
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=NA, viewers=50)

Barbra - Send In The Clowns


A Room with a View (1986) [R] *****

Delicately combine Edwardian-era English reserve, the pastoral springtime countryside of Tuscany, the beauty of Florence and Puccini's stirring music, and you will have one of the most romantic films ever made.

George Emerson (Julian Sands) is the unique young man who falls in love with the passionate but repressed Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). George awakens in Lucy the desire to live as she really wants to live, not as other people expect her to live. His love liberates her from her own inner fears, and her awakening is as delicate and beautiful as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

The message in this wonderful film is simply: Don't go for what you know you can get... go for what you really want. If you enjoy Helena Bonham Carter, and you like period romantic dramas set in Europe, films like Enchanted April or Wings of the Dove, then you'll love A Room with a View.

Labels: drama, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 80/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=85, viewers=78)
Blu-ray

About Last Night... (1986) [R] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli, June 22, 2009.

A marriage between the creative talents of playwright David Mamet and director Edward Zwick might seem to be an unlikely union but, in the case of 1986 feature About Last Night..., it is surprisingly effective. Zwick, best known for the emotional resonance he brings to his screen endeavors, is almost the tonal antithesis of Mamet, whose writing is often unsparing. This was Zwick's feature directorial debut (he had a few TV credits on his resume at the time) and it was the first of Mamet's stage shows to be adapted. At the time, the playwright was arguably better-known in Hollywood than Zwick - he had written screenplays for movies starring Jack Nicholson (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and Paul Newman (The Verdict). Nevertheless, he [Mamet] was not involved in the scripting process of About Last Night... That was left to Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue.

Love is easy. Relationships are hard. This simple truth, which nearly every seasoned adult understands first-hand, forms the production's framework. In general, Hollywood doesn't like extending the story beyond the point at which the male and female leads confess their love for one another. Usually, that moment is the cue for the end credits to start. Movies sell fantasy, and the most popular fantasy in romance is the happy ending. Although About Last Night... ultimately concludes on a hopeful note, it doesn't stop at the end of the romance's first act. Instead, it moves beyond that point, chronicling the ups and downs of a post-honeymoon stage relationship - one that ends not with a wedding ring and children, but with heartbreak. Very little that happens in About Last Night… is unexpected, but that's a good thing. The emotional honesty at the film's core demands that it touch on universally familiar experiences. The banality of what happens between the central characters is what makes this movie feel less like a soap opera and more like the page from someone's diary.


For Chicagoans Danny (Rob Lowe) and Debbie (Demi Moore), it's love - or at least attraction - at first sight. They meet at a softball game and end up having a one-night stand. Ultimately, however, one night isn't enough, and it isn't long before Danny's womanizing best friend, Bernie (James Belushi), and Debbie's roommate, Joan (Elizabeth Perkins), are feeling neglected. Then, with little premeditation and less consideration, Danny and Debbie decide to move in together. Bernie and Joan are aghast, but nothing they say dissuades the happy couple. But the concept of living together is a far different thing from the reality, as they quickly discover. The transition from friends and lovers to a couple is filled with deadfalls, and Danny and Debbie fall prey to more than one. Despite the undeniable highs of the arrangement, it soon becomes apparent that the mushrooming difficulties are threatening to choke out the happiness and optimism that brought them together in the first place.


The strength of About Last Night... is its perceptiveness. The film tracks the relationship with uncanny precision: the heady, lust-filled early days; the precipitous decision to leap headfirst into the next step without proper thought; and the slow erosion as the foundation begins to crumble. No long-term relationship survives and thrives without a profound commitment on the parts of both members of the couple; in this film, neither Danny nor Debbie is emotionally secure enough to make that commitment. Their relationship fails not because they are incompatible (indeed, their love is genuine), but because they are immature and not yet comfortable enough in their own skins to be able to merge their lives.


Bernie and Joan are the devils that sit on their shoulders and whisper nasty things into their ears. It isn't that these two see the danger inherent in Danny and Debbie’s rash decision. Rather, they are against the match for selfish reasons. Neither wants to lose their best single friend. There's also the familiar element of jealousy that some unattached people feel when one of their own finds someone else. Yet, although Bernie and Joan represent corrosive elements, their interference only hastens the demise of a relationship that could not have stood the test of time.


The ending is something of a cheat. It's the only part of the movie that doesn't ring true; a reminder that downbeat doesn't play well at the multiplex. About Last Night... should have closed on a somber note, with Danny and Debbie moving forward with their lives separately, the way it happens with most couples that split. Instead, because this is a movie and it's still selling a form of fantasy, we are left to believe there will be a happy ending for these two after all. Having emerged through the furnace of failure, they are now ready for success.


Most of the time, when David Mamet is involved on any level in the writing of a movie, even if someone else is adapting his play, the snap of the dialogue is unmistakable. About Last Night... is a rare exception. The only time it's possible to truly hear Mamet is during the opening sequence, in which Bernie tells Danny about a bizarre sexual tryst. (Was she a pro?) For the rest of the movie, Mamet's words have been softened and shaped in such a manner that the distinctive aspect of his voice is dulled.


For the most part, Zwick's efforts are workmanlike. This represents a solid proving ground; Glory would never have been as powerful had the director not cut his teeth here. The most evident flaw in Zwick's approach is his decision to use not one or two but four musical montages. A narrative shortcut set to a pop song, the montage is often employed in romantic comedies and dramas, but Zwick's overuse of it cheapens the dramatic arc. The songs that accompany the montages are forgettable - odd, considering the contributions of well-known performers like Sheena Easton, John Waite, and Bob Seger.


As Danny, bad boy Rob Lowe is cast against type as a guy with a good heart who's insecure around women. In 1986, Lowe was at the peak of his popularity and his being cast in the film virtually assured that it would achieve some degree of box office success. His co-star is Demi Moore who, despite having appeared opposite Lowe a year earlier in St. Elmo's Fire, was considerably less known. At the time, Moore was several years away from becoming a major star (that happened in 1990 with Ghost) and was arguably better known for her stint on General Hospital than for her small body of movie titles. She and Lowe inhabit their characters fully - they are believable and likeable. Their passion rings true, the sex scenes are erotic, and there's real pain in their escalating arguments. (Moore, incidentally, is on record as having been uncomfortable with the nudity. Her attitude obviously changed over the next decade - in 1996, she had no qualms about baring all for Striptease.) James Belushi, who appeared in the stage version of the play, is a force of nature as Bernie, providing sufficient humor to counterbalance the overall seriousness of the material. Elizabeth Perkins, making her debut, is the weakest of the principals, but that's more the fault of the writing than an indictment of her performance. On the supporting side, the script is less concerned with Joan than it is with Bernie.


For its release, About Last Night... received a title change. Originally, it was supposed to bear the moniker of its source play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but TriStar chickened out when there were rumors that the phrase sexual perversity might impact newspaper advertising. The new name was vanilla enough to ensure there were no advertising boycotts, and the film proved to be lucrative. It performed extraordinarily well for an R-rated movie, due in part to Lowe's participation and in part because of strong word-of-mouth. The only area in which the movie underperformed was its ability to sell soundtracks. It is therefore somewhat ironic that the only award captured by the film was a BMI Music Award for composer Miles Goodman.


More than two decades after its release, About Last Night... is more of a curiosity than a classic. It stands up well enough to be worth watching but not well enough to demand being sought out. In some ways, it's more interesting as a retrospective of the attitudes and social climate of the era, and as a look at the early days of men and women with long, fruitful careers ahead of them. The core of honesty that distinguishes the production remains unchanged by time, ensuring that, no matter how many years have passed, About Last Night... still works on an emotional level.



Labels: comedy, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=63, viewers=64)
Blu-ray1
Blu-ray2
Blu-ray3





Children of a Lesser God (1986) [R] ****

A film review by Roger Ebert, October 3, 1986.


I suppose this sounds like the complaint of a crank, but I would have admired Children of a Lesser God more if some of its scenes had been played without the benefit of a soundtrack. If a story is about the battle of two people over the common ground on which they will communicate, it's not fair to make the whole movie on the terms of only one of them.

The movie is a love story, a romance between a young woman who is deaf and a rebellious teacher who believes she should learn to read lips and speak phonetically. She doesn't think so. She's been using sign language all of her life, and her argument is simple: If he loves her, he will enter her world of silence.

Although this disagreement is at the heart of Children of a Lesser God, the movie makes a deliberate decision to exist in the world of the hearing. I know why they made this decision. It was dictated by the box office, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. There is a certain cynicism at work here: Most of the people who see this movie will be able to hear, and although they may welcome the challenge of a movie about a deaf person, they aren't so interested that they want to experience deafness.

The movie uses a strategy that works well - if you accept the basic premise, which is that everything said on the screen must be heard on the soundtrack. Marlee Matlin, who plays the deaf woman, signs all of her dialogue, and William Hurt, who plays the teacher, then repeats it aloud, as if to himself. I like to hear the sound of my own voice, he says at one point, and indeed he does such a smooth and natural job of translation that the strategy works.

But think for a minute: Hurt can hear and can read sign language; Matlin cannot hear or (she claims) read lips, and can only communicate by signing. In many movies about two major characters, there are scenes from two points of view. In Children of a Lesser God, the scenes between the two of them are from Hurt's point of view, and none of them are played without sound.

I'm not suggesting silent scenes where we have to guess what the sign language means. But how about a few silent scenes in which the signs are translated by subtitles, giving us something of the same experience that deaf people have (they see the signs, and then the subtitles, so to speak, are supplied by their intelligence).

The feeling of seeing Hurt and not hearing him, of looking out at him from a silent world, would have underlined the true subject of this movie, which is communication between two people who speak differently.

By telling the whole story from Hurt's point of view, the movie makes the woman into the stubborn object, the challenge, the problem, which is the very process it wants to object to.

This objection aside, Children of a Lesser God is a good but not a great movie. The subject matter is new and challenging, and I was interested in everything the movie had to tell me about deafness.

Unfortunately, the love story is a fairly predictable series of obligatory scenes, made different only by the ways the characters talk to one another. I kept waiting for scenes in which Hurt and Matlin would discuss honestly the problems inherent in their relationship: If she refuses to learn to lip-read, she will be able to exist freely only at the deaf school, which means she is asking him to sacrifice great areas of his own life. Has she thought this through? We don't know.

I also don't know why the movie ignores all of the other ways the deaf have found to communicate. I am writing this review, for example, on a 4-pound, battery-powered portable computer, and I know that for many deaf people these machines represent an excellent substitute for the telephone.

Children of a Lesser God is not a movie about deafness, but a love story in which deafness is used as a poignant gimmick. I was reminded of such movies as Love Story, with its dying heroine; The Other Side of the Mountain, with its paraplegic heroine, and various other movies in which one of the lovers was blind, lame or from another planet. Most of the movies in this genre seem to treat the handicap as sort of a bonus, conferring greater moral authenticity on the handicapped character. This is a form of subtle condescension.

Despite my argument with the method of Children of a Lesser God, I found a lot to admire, especially in the acting. The performances are strong and wonderful - not only by Hurt, one of the best actors of his generation, but also by Matlin, a deaf actress who is appearing in her first movie. She holds her own against the powerhouse she's acting with, carrying scenes with a passion and almost painful fear of being rejected and hurt, which is really what her rebellion is about.

Among the supporting characters, Piper Laurie does a good job with a thankless role as Matlin's mother. And I enjoyed the studied cynicism that Philip Bosco put into the role of the old pro who runs the school for the deaf.

Children of a Lesser God is a competent, professional docudrama. It could have been more. Film is the medium of the visual and should be ideally suited to a story about a person who cannot hear, but only if the movie invites us inside that world and invites - even forces - us to an act of empathy. Making a sound movie about the deaf is a little like making a silent movie about the blind. It may be well-made, but doesn't it evade the point? [Ebert's rating: *** out of 4]

Labels: drama, high school, mother-daughter, romance
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=72, viewers=72)
Wikipedia page


placeholder


placeholder


placeholder

placeholder

Out of Africa (1985) [PG] ****

With John Barry's beautiful theme music playing in the background, Karen Blixen begins her story: I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

This is a wonderful, epic romance, sweeping in scope, and yet focused in its loving treatment of the individual characters: Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), her lover Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), her husband Baron Bror von Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), and her close friend Berkeley Cole (Michael Kitchen). You will feel the sense of wonder they felt, journeying to Kenya, East Africa from faraway England and Europe to build new lives there in the first decades of the twentieth century. You will get a sense of the sacrifices they made in order to make a living in that harsh land... whether trading ivory, herding cattle, growing coffee, farming or guiding safaris... in a country that continually wanted to go wild, to erase every mark of civilization. And lastly, you will feel the passion, the tenderness, the love they felt as they grew to be part of Africa, to call her their home... her mountains and plains, her people and wildlife.

The screenplay, the direction by Sydney Pollack, the cinematography, the soundtrack, costumes and sets, and the incredible performances by Streep, Redford, Brandauer, Kitchen and the others clearly mark Out of Africa as an Oscar-worthy film, and a highlight in their individual film careers. If Africa fascinates you, if you've ever thought about going on safari, or if you just enjoy classic filmmaking at its best, don't miss Out of Africa.

Labels: biography, drama, flying, romance, tragedy, wedding
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=65, viewers=74)
Blu-ray

Wikipedia - Karen Blixen
Wikipedia - Denys Finch Hatton

Cocoon (1985) PG-13 ****

A film review by Andre Dursin, April 13, 2010.

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about how certain films remain in circulation and are still the occasional center of discussion years after their original release. Back to the Future is a case in point -- a movie that came out of nowhere and became the breakthrough hit of the summer of '85, and continues to be an enduring fan favorite.

Trailing behind in box-office dollars, but still one of the highest-grossers of that same year, was CocoonRon Howard's gentle sci-fi fantasy garnered all kinds of critical acclaim and became a financial triumph as well (earning Don Ameche a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the process), yet some 25-plus years after its original release, Cocoon has become something of a forgotten film. Sure, it's shown on TV from time to time, yet the fact that it took until 2004 for the film to receive a proper DVD release shows you that the movie hasn't remained in the public consciousness, despite the success of Howard as a filmmaker in the years since its debut.

That being said, I found that Cocoon has held up pretty well since its original release. Its heartwarming tale of aliens and Florida retirees managed to cross all demographics, pleasing both adult viewers and younger audiences into genre fantasies of the era. The movie benefits enormously from a cast of Hollywood veterans (Ameche, Hume CronynWilford BrimleyJessica TandyJack Gilford among them), playing those residents of a Florida retirement complex who improbably find themselves rejuvenated, thanks to aliens (Brian DennehyTahnee Welch) who arrive to retrieve the cocoons of their brethren deep on Atlantic Ocean floor with the help of fishing boat captain Steve Guttenberg.

Sure, some of the movie's humor is cliché (not unlike an episode of The Golden Girls), but the performances are still winning across the board, while James Horner's score keeps everything glued together. When the cast and Horner returned for the inevitable (and wholly unnecessary) 1988 flop sequel Cocoon: The Return, the magic was gone, though the goodwill of the performances (sans Dennehy, who only appeared in a brief cameo) managed to make the sequel watchable in spite of its hackneyed script.

Label: sci-fi

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=62, viewers=62)
Blu-ray

Back to the Future (1985) [PG] *****

A film review by James Berardinelli, May 20, 2009.

Had Back to the Future come to life as originally envisioned by the purse string-holders at Universal Pictures (which owned the rights to Bob Gale's screenplay), it might have been a very different project, with Eric Stoltz in the lead role. Stoltz, however, bowed out early during filming due to that ever-popular reason: creative differences, opening the door for Michael J. Fox (or, as nearly everyone knew him at the time, Alex P. Keaton). Would Back to the Future have become a modern classic with a different lead actor? That's as much of an unknown as what Casablanca would have been like with Ronald Reagan asking Sam to play As Time Goes By. What is known, however, is that the version of Back to the Future produced by Robert Zemeckis remains one of the mid-'80s most enduring and enjoyable confections: an infectious mix of comedy, fantasy, satire, excitement, and nostalgia.

In 1985, Marty McFly (Fox) is an average high school teenager with a pretty girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), and a lousy home life. His father, George (Crispin Glover), is a spineless toady who can't so no to his overbearing boss, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), and his mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is a nagger. Marty spends as much time away from home as possible, often stopping by the house of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), the local mad inventor. But Doc Brown's latest invention - in function if not appearance - is anything but laughable. It's a DeLorean converted into a time machine. When Marty inadvertently ends up in the driver's seat, he is sent back 30 years to 1955. His appearance in an era before he was born forces him to seek out a younger version of Doc Brown, but also has unintended consequences. When a teenage Lorraine become infatuated with him, she loses all interest in other boys and this puts the future, and Marty's existence, in jeopardy.

Back to the Future is played neither entirely seriously nor entirely for laughs, and therein lies the nature of its success. It's funny and breezy but doesn't descend to a level where the characters are little more than props for jokes. We believe in Marty, like him, and root for him to succeed. Part of the reason for that is Michael J. Fox, whose unforced screen charisma had already made him a huge television success. (He was the #1 reason Family Ties was a Sunday night staple.) Fox brought a lion's share of that aw, shucks affability to Marty, and Back to the Future launched Fox's big-screen career. In order to appear in Back to the Future (once he had agreed to replace Stoltz), Fox had to go virtually without sleep. During the day on weekdays, he would film Family Ties episodes. At nights and on weekends, he made Back to the Future.

Like Crocodile Dundee one year later, Back to the Future is at its heart a fish out of water story, about a 1980s boy being trapped in a 1950s small town. His mother is smitten with him, the local bully doesn't like him, his dad is a wimp, and he doesn't fully understand the customs and lingo of the period in which he has become stranded. Plus, there are the twin difficulties of repairing a state-of-the-art 1980s time machine using 1950s technology and patching the damage his presence has caused to the time continuum. Zemeckis plays much of this with a light touch, but when there are opportunities for some excitement (as when Marty has a deadline to get to the finish line or risk not getting to 1986 until he's middle-aged), he milks it for all it's worth. Back to the Future leaves viewers a little breathless, but not drained - exhilarated and smiling.

Nostalgia plays a role in Back to the Future's success. For kids in the 1980s, it suggested the 1950s of Leave it to Beaver and other black-and-white sit-coms that were in UHF re-runs around the time Back to the Future opened. For 40-somethings, the movie provided a glimpse of their past through rose-colored glasses (always the best way to remember high school). When the film is watched today, some 25 years after its release, the nostalgia is double-barreled. Now, the 1980s scenes are as evocative as the 1950s material.

Back to the Future represented a career resuscitation for Christopher Lloyd, whose popularity had nosedived after the cancelation of Taxi, where he spent six years playing Reverend Jim. Roles in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Buckaroo Banzai enabled him to avoid obscurity, but it was his wacky turn as Doc Brown that defined his movie career. He plays the Doc like a stereotypical mad scientist - as brilliant as he is forgetful, a combination of Einstein and Doctor Who. Lea Thompson, a popular choice of the era to play high school sweethearts (see also All the Right Moves and Some Kind of Wonderful), shows that Lorraine is less prim-and-proper than her middle-aged self might indicate. (How many of us, I wonder, would be surprised if given an opportunity to interact with our parents when they were teenagers?) Crispin Glover, who has always marched to his own beat (as in his infamous appearance on David Letterman's talk show in 1987), is wonderful as the quavering, self-doubting George. For Glover, this may have been the most mainstream role he ever accepted (and he quickly distanced himself from it after the movie was released). Thomas F. Wilson provides a deliciously cartoonish sense of menace in his portrayal of the film's thuggish villain, Biff.

If there's a problem with Back to the Future, it's the film's ending, which left open the expectation that there would be more chapters to come. In fact, the movie was originally designed as a one-off project, with the final scene being a quirky way to wrap up things rather than a teaser for another installment. However, when Back to the Future topped the 1985 box office and public sentiment was high in wanting to know what the problem was with Marty and Jennifer's kids, Zemeckis went to work on Back to the Future Part II and III, which were filmed back-to-back and took four years to reach the screen. In retrospect, it might have been better if they had died in development. Rarely have sequels underwhelmed to this degree, with Part II seeming forced and awkward and Part III tired and unnecessary. As a movie, Back to the Future is tremendous fun, but the series is memorable only for what started it.

The 1980s were a dark and cynical decade, remembered by most for excesses of consumption and greed. Back to the Future is unapologetically lighthearted and upbeat - a tonic for a weary movie-going society. Even its theme song (Huey LewisThe Power of Love) brought a smile to the face on its way up the charts to the #1 position. For Zemeckis, this represented an opportunity to join his buddy Steven Spielberg on the A-list - his next film would be Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Forrest Gump was less than a decade away. Like Spielberg, Zemeckis has a keen understanding of how to blend diverse elements of comedy, action, adventure, and drama into concoctions that win over audiences. Marty's story could easily have been suspenseful, purely comedic, or a three-hankie melodrama, but Zemeckis found the balance and employed it. Back to the Future is a success because of a compelling premise, terrific casting, and exemplary execution. It's the kind of alchemy that, on those rare occasions when it materializes, cannot be replicated - as the filmmakers discovered when they re-assembled for Back to the Future Part II. The magic lasted for one film, and that's the one to re-visit.

Labels: adventure, comedy, father-son, Fifties, mother-son, sci-fi, space-time, teenager
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=87, viewers=76)
Blu-ray1
Blu-ray2
Blu-ray3
Blu-ray4