Saturday, March 28, 2009

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
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=74, viewers=62)

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, Fifties, high school, romance, space-time, teenager     
Internet Movie Database     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=68, viewers=60)

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, 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.

The Ferrari featured in the film is 1962 250 GT California.

Labels: comedy, drama, Ferrari, high school, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 60/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=77, viewers=76)

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, flying, romance, tragedy

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

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, WWII

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA,viewers=62)

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, sci-fi, space-time

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

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
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA, viewers=NA)

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)

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)

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, romance
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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, war, wedding
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Wikipedia - Karen Blixen

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
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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, Fifties, sci-fi, space-time, teenager
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RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=87, viewers=76)

Starman (1984) [PG] ****

Starman is a love story wrapped in a science-fiction fantasy. An alien visitor's spacecraft is shot down over Wisconsin. Needing a physical body, as well as human help, to survive on Earth, the alien creates a clone of deceased Scott Hayden (Jeff Bridges). Scott's young widow Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) watches, both terrified and fascinated. Then, to reach his rendezvous point in Arizona before he dies, Starman forces Jenny to drive him cross-country. At first she tries to escape from him, but he has powers she doesn't understand, as well as Scott's physical features and mannerisms, which draw her to him. During their three-day journey Jenny's initial fear turns to affection, and she falls deeply and passionately in love with Starman.

This is a film about growth and transformation. Starman experiences a universe of new sensations and emotions as he grows accustomed to his earthly body. Jenny experiences her reborn husband Scott as a wise and compassionate, almost Christ-like being. The third act of the film is especially powerful. Jenny gives Starman her trust and her love, and in return he gives her a miraculous gift. The final scene, when they embrace one another, must surely be one of the most poignant, heart-wrenching goodbye scenes ever filmed.

Starman is a many-layered story. It is a tender love story between two very different people. It's also a commentary on the problems that men and women often experience in communicating with one another, because they seem to speak different languages and come from different worlds. And in a global sense, the film holds a mirror up to us all, showing us how our fearful, intolerant and violent nature has the potential to destroy us and our beautiful blue planet, while the tenderness, love and affection we display toward one another are the qualities that could ultimately save us.

Labels: adventure, drama, romance, sci-fi

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The Last Starfighter (1984) [PG] ****

A film review by Roger Ebert, January 1, 1984.

The way to get rich, they say, is to invent something that's cheap and habit-forming, and get a patent on it. I guess video games would qualify. Kids pump quarters into them by the hour, turning into video junkies as they watch gorillas climbing little electronic ladders. Are the games educational? Sure, if you want to grow up to be a professional video game player.

Those arcade video games had to come from somewhere, and The Last Starfighter has an interesting theory to explain why they seemed to pop up all over the world, almost overnight. They came from outer space. Just as I've always suspected. That's right, they were put on Earth by representatives of the Star League, who use them as testing devices. If you break a record on a video game, they come and get you and turn you into an intergalactic fighter pilot. Meanwhile, your place on Earth is taken by a robot.

The Last Starfighter starts in a trailer camp in California. We know it's in California because all the residents are fugitives from mainstream life-styles. A kid (Lance Guest) lives in the camp and sets a record on a Starfighter game, and a Star League recruiter (Robert Preston) whisks him into outer space to join the battle against the evil race of Ko-Dan. At first the kid is a little reluctant. He'd rather stay on Earth and neck with his girlfriend. But he's persuaded that he's all that stands between the Ko-Dan and intergalactic civilization as we know it. So he agrees to become a Starfighter, and is tutored by a wise old lizard-warrior named Grig, who is played by Dan O'Herlihy in makeup inspired by the heartbreak of psoriasis.

The Last Starfighter is not a terrifically original movie. The video game concept seems inspired by Walt Disney's TRON, and the battles in space are such close copies of the Star Wars movies that George Lucas might have a lawsuit. For example, when Grig gives the kid lessons in how to fire from the cockpit of his rocket, the cockpit's swivel chair looks directly inspired by the original Star Wars. If the movie isn't original in its special effects, it tries to make up for that in the trailer camp scenes. A large gallery of eccentric supporting actors is trotted onscreen, all with a few colorful lines to say, and there's a subplot about the love affair between the kid's girlfriend and the robot who has replaced the kid (every time the girl tries to lick his ear, he gets a short circuit).

This is all pretty lame material. The Last Starfighter is a well-made movie. The special effects are competent. The acting is good, and I enjoyed Robert Preston's fast-talking Music Man reprise (we've got trouble, right here in the galaxy) and the gentle wit of Dan O'Herlihy's extraterrestrial. But the final spark was missing, the final burst of inspiration that might have pulled all these concepts and inspirations and retreads together into a good movie.

Labels: action, adventure, family, sci-fi, teenager
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