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Best Film in the Franchise!
When Alien was released in 1979, it was a monumental success. The horror film garnered high praise as its often, rightfully so, regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. 20th Century Fox took a long time to even think about producing a sequel because they felt the first film did not rake in the cash despite the accolades. We should all be saying a prayer of thanks they finally came to their senses because 1986's Aliens is bigger, better, and more intense. While Alien was a slow-moving film that builds up horror, it is successor is a brutal action/horror hybrid with a soul-sucking last hour due to its intensity. The film focuses more on the terror rather than the horror and it absolutely works. Aliens is one of those rare sequels that is better than the original, and it also happens to be one of my favorite all-time films. One that received the extremely rare perfect score from me.

The film took a long time to get into production. The studio executives honestly could care less for any sequel. Under new management, interest was finally revived. Producer David Giler one day was sent the script of James Cameron's The Terminator. Cameron's debut feature hasn't filmed yet, but the producers were on board with him directing the sequel as long as The Terminator was a success. Indeed, it was a success and Cameron and producing partner Gale Anne Hurd were given the greenlight to direct the film. Cameron absolutely did everything right. He wasn't given much of a timeframe to direct the movie which caused problems in the editing room and for James Horner's scoring, but he managed to make it work.

Cameron is considered to be at the forefront when the best action directors are discussed. If you were impressed with what he did in The Terminator, he takes it to an entire newer level in Aliens. Instead of one alien, there were hundreds of them and that big, bad Alien Queen, which Cameron designed himself. The final hour of the movie is bursting with such intensity, as we see aliens racing through the overhead ducts or one even operating an elevator. These aliens are the epitome of evil and they were certainly a handful for our humans with heavy firepower. Cameron compared the film to the Vietnam War- a vastly superior army sent to a foreign land where their tactics had little to no success. I found that to be an interesting analogy. It certainly worked well visually.

Signourey Weaver almost did not return to the sequel after a contract dispute with the studio, but Cameron refused to write her out of his script, so the studio had to pay her. Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the only person who survived the attacks on the Nostromo. She awakens 57 years later to find out everyone she knows had died. She is not given a warm welcome because no one believed that the alien attack happened. She also learned the moon where they initially made contact with the alien species is now a colony formed by The Company. A squadron of Marines are sent over to discover why the colony stopped making contact. Ripley's concerns are now valid. Aliens most certainly do exist, and they are hungry!

Signourey Weaver is the glue that holds the team together. She kicks plenty of butt and I love her motherly instinct for the girl, Newt (Carrie Henn) who survived such unspeakable terror. Weaver actually earned an Academy Award nomination which was surprising considering the Academy does not recognize genre filmmaking. Well-deserved nomination! I really loved this team and their different personalities; Jeannette Goldstein as the extremely brave Private Vasquez, Bill Paxton as the narcissistic, but cowardly Private Hudson, Michael Biehn as the mild-mannered and exemplary leader Corporal Hicks, Paul Reiser as the slimy Burke, and Lance Henriksen as the friendly droid Bishop. The chemistry from the team is utterly fantastic. Great one-liners, great teamwork, and ready to kick some alien butt!

When it comes to visuals and sound effects, Cameron makes sure he uses the best technology available and even invents stuff if need be. The production design and the lighting will blow your mind. I loved the designs of the aliens and especially the queen. In today's world of films, it is incredible that I am being wowed by special effects from a film that is 34 years old. Crazy! Horner's score is appropriately tense and suspenseful. Horner and Cameron butted heads throughout the scoring process due to time constraints, but Horner managed to put together a great score after only four days of work.

I love Aliens. I really do. Many action/sci-fi/horror hybrids are not able to reach the levels of James Cameron's masterpiece. If people thought The Terminator was a fluke, he proved everyone wrong here. He is the master of action; whether it is those aliens killing everyone despite heavy firepower or having Newt in the center of everything causing intensity overloads, he really knows his way around a film. If Alien was the slow-paced horror film, Aliens is the nonstop action, guns-out, aliens-heavy superior sequel. The best film in the franchise!

My Grade: A+

Big Trouble in Little China

A Fun and Enjoyable Action Romp!
John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China is a campy thrill ride that is bound to please fans of genre B-filmmaking. Yeah, it is not the greatest film of all time, but it is an hour-and-a-half romp with cool king fu moves, an interesting mythical background story, and a wisecracking Kurt Russell. The visual effects and stuntwork are excellent and well-choreographed. The story itself is interesting enough to hold my attention as I love all things fantasy and mysticism, but it could have been better developed. In other words, this is your quintessential summer blockbuster action movie.

Preproduction did not get off to the best start. The original draft of the screenplay was written by first-time screenplay writers Gary Goldman and David Weinstein. Their draft was considered so bad that it was unreadable despite having interesting ideas. 20th Century Fox hired veteran script doctor W.D Richter to overhaul the script. The original writers got into a tussle with the studio over credit and the WGA needed to get involved. One thing for sure is that the screenplay is not the film's best attribute. Although it does deliver some really memorable lines of dialogue.

John Carpenter was hired to direct the movie because of his ability to work quickly. There was a similar movie being released the same year starring Eddie Murphy, so time was of essence. Carpenter had success working in big-budget, special-effects driven movies such as The Thing and Escape from New York. His previous feature Starman was a beautiful drama, so I was ready to see what's next from him. Although Carpenter is proud of the final result, he became an independent filmmaker because he could not take working with the Hollywood system no more. He did not have a good time making the movie under the pressure of the Hollywood studio. I felt that small cracks could be seen, and his use of special effects threaten to overshadow the movie, but I believe Carpenter did a good job. As with most of his films, he created the score. He did away with the chop suey score one would expect and instead created a fusion of traditional synth and rock'n'roll, which I believe was an excellent choice!

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a truck driver who just arrived in San Francisco's Chinatown. He meets his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and they head to the airport to pick up Wang's new fiancé, Miao Yin. Miao has green eyes, which is rare for a Chinese person and is important to the overall story. At the airport, she is kidnapped by a street gang. They learn that this gang is associated with David Lo Pan (James Hong), an evil sorcerer who is under a two-thousand-year-old curse. He needs to marry a woman with green eyes to break the curse. They team up with lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), a lawyer with green eyes herself. They head underground to fight magic.

Kurt Russell was considered a rising star and Carpenter quickly casted him in the lead role. His character is a mixture of John Wayne and Indiana Jones. I like how he is really confident in his abilities to be a hero when all he really is the bumbling sidekick. His friend, the guy with the awesome martial art skills, is the real hero. I found many of Russell's lines and his delivery to be amusing in his cocky sort of way. He ain't no Indiana Jones, but I guess it does not hurt to try.

Big Trouble in Little China is a fun cult classic. It bombed at the box office when it was released mainly because it was released in the shadow of Aliens. Plus, the cast was mainly all Asian outside of Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall. Still, it's a solid movie with an interesting story. The fighting sequences are worth watching and I liked the twist regarding Russell's status as a hero. Most of the movie is one giant chase sequence after the first ten minutes so be prepared for that. It is an effects-heavy movie so be prepared for some story to be sacrificed. Being a John Carpenter film, I still found it worthy of his name.

My Grade: B

iZombie: Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?
Episode 2, Season 1

Blaine's Fiery Introduction!
In "Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?," we finally get to meet Liv's antagonist and the dude who turned her into a zombie, Blaine DeBeers. On the outside, Blaine seems like a pleasant enough person. Do not be fooled. Blaine is gonna be hard work for episodes and seasons to come. David Anders truly knocked it out of the park. Playing a bad person can be so much fun! I loved the introduction where he comes to the morgue and silently lies on the table hoping to catch Liv off guard. This episode expands on the pilot and explains everything in more detail. Watching Liv as a zombie in a human world is so much fun.

In this episode, Liv finally meets Blaine but there is more than what meets the eye. He may be involved with the drug Utopium which may be why Liv is now a zombie rather than a human. He also seduced a woman across town, turned her into a zombie, and now is blackmailing her for brains. Ravi might want to second-guess using him as a study project. For the case of the week, Liv and Clive try to solve the murder of a well-respected painter, Javier. He was having an affair and his wife Lola could be the jealous type.

Overall, this is another solid episode. I am really liking the show's style and its quirks. The cases are straightforward and entertaining even if they are not other-worldly cases. Plus, they give Liv a chance to show off her personalities around people outside of Clive. Ravi is delightful at her new artistic talents and Major is confused when she has a newfound love for jazz in which Major claimed she hated. I got news for you, Major. She ain't human no more. This episode properly introduced Liv's foe and I am ready to see what is next. The acting is fantastic all around! I am still skeptical of Major, but Buckley can deliver the quibs so there is that.

My Grade: A-

iZombie: Pilot
Episode 1, Season 1

A Spicy Start!
If you believe that iZombie is the next Walking Dead, guess again! The show is basically a police procedural with the spiciness of zombies....and I am all here for it. The series was created by Diane Ruggiero-Wright and Rob Thomas whom created the very popular Veronica Mars. The show has a nice blend of humor, action, and drama. I really enjoy the dialogue. It seems like the head of the morgue department, Ravi will be given some juicy lines over the course of the show. The pilot episode, although it packs a lot of information, is a blast ands the proper introduction of this CW series. Zombies in the media was a mania, so I am not exactly sure if it was needed. Well, I changed my tune based on this wonderful, fun episode.

Olivia Moore (Rose McIver) had the perfect life. She was a driven doctor-to-be with the perfect boyfriend, Major Lilywhite (yes, real name and played by Robert Buckley). Everything was sailing smoothly...until she was bitten by a zombie at a boat party. Her life was changed. She dumped Major (who stays in her life) and quit her job to become a morgue assistant where she has access to brains. Her boss, Ravi (Rahul Kohli) walks in to see her eating a brain. Instead of horror, he is absolutely delighted. He is inquisitive and promises to find a cure. After eating a brain, she has these visions from the person whose brain she ate, and she also receives that person's personality.

And that brings us into the show's premise. Upon receiving her first vision, rookie detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) runs into her and believes that she is a psychic. Together, they partner up to solve cases. This week's case involves a Romanian escort who was a kleptomaniac. So that means Liv is able to speak Romanian and cannot help but steal things. Standard case, but good enough to introduce our characters to us.

The acting is really good for the most part. Rose McIver is an absolute delight. With her character displaying new personalities on a weekly basis, her acting range will be tested. Rahul Kohli will be given some killer lines and he plays off McIver very well. I am on the fence about Robert Buckley. Is his character just going to be one of those hunky guys with nothing to do? I am very interested in David Anders who plays a zombie named Blaine. He is going to be a big part of this show. Aly Michalka plays her nagging roommate, Peyton.

Overall, I really liked what I saw. The zombie situation was explained well. The zombies even have "full-on zombie mode." The case of week sounds like the perfect way to tell this story. I am not fully immersed into Liv's family and ex-finance plotlines yet, but this is a well-done pilot.

My Grade: A-

A Streetcar Named Desire

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh Are Explosive Talents!
Before director Elia Kazan and superstar Marlon Brando teamed up for the unforgettable On the Waterfront, they worked together on the brilliant film based off Tennessee William's award-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire. When the film was released, people branded it as vulgar and immoral along with similar adjectives. The film was heightened due to its sexual tension and dark characters. The move was censored by the Production Code. Kazan valiantly fought to keep his cut intact but ultimately failed. His version was not restored until 1993. This is the kind of film that people were not accustomed to. There is hardly any niceness within our characters. If anything, this is a movie that touches the subjects of domestic abuse and mental illness-two things that were overlooked or not worried about in the 1950's. This film is a great character study and a powerful film with an ending you shall never forget.

Tennessee Williams wrote the screenplay based on his own play. In the play, he confined the story to a single apartment, but he expanded it to include scenery from New Orleans's French Quarter among other places. Elia Kazan was originally hesitant to direct the film because he felt the story has already been told properly in the play, but Williams was able to convince him to sign into the film. It is a good thing too because Kazan directorial prowess is nothing short of awesome. Plus, it gave him a chance to work with Marlon Brando and those two would have another film together.

In addition to the themes of mental illness and domestic abuse, hyper-masculinity is another theme that is explored. Marlon Brando and his method style of acting roared to superstardom after his portrayal. His character is vulgar, coarse, and physically abuses women as a sign of the dominant male. His shirt allows his muscles and sweat to shine through. Women went gaga over his "hotness," but his type of character is hard to watch. Critics at the time called the portrayal realistic. Maybe nowadays it seems a little showy, but this is how men acted to be "cool" during this time. Brando's style allowed actors like Montgomery Clift and Jack Nicholson to follow in his footsteps.

On the side of mental illness, now we turn to Vivien Leigh who turned heads in 1939's Gone with the Wind. Here she plays an older woman desperately seeking love. Her character has a fragile mental state at the beginning, but it worsens over the course of the film. She is a compulsive liar and even though she truly wants love, she is abound with sexual energy. Never forget the sexual tension between her and Brando when they first meet. Ultimately, Brando is the one to finally cause her to lose her mind.

Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is an English teacher who decided to move in with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter) after she is displaced from her home. She knows nothing about Stella's husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando) or their lifestyle. She is shocked to see they live in a rundown apartment. Stanley is very suspicious of Blanche. He believes that she is putting on an act and actually sold her place without Stella getting her dues. He decides to wring out the truth no matter what he has to do. Blanche is trying to find love and maybe she finally does so when she meets Mitch (Karl Malden), one of Stanley's good friends.

The performances are incredible. I already talked about Leigh and Brando. Tennessee Williams went on to say that Leigh really embodied the character he thought he created in his mind. She would go on to win the Academy Award. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden won the supporting Academy Awards for their respective performances. These characters were more sympathetic. All they really wanted is what was best for each person.

The film received plenty of censorship when it was released in 1951. The sexual tension between Brando and Leigh upon their meeting for the first time was taken out. Dialogue that implies Blanche's husband was gay and committed suicide was released. The famous rape scene between Brando and Leigh was shortened. One of the memorable lines is from Brando when he screams "Stella!". Those lines of dialogue were also changed. Despite these changes, audiences were shocked and thrilled by what was created.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a shocking, powerful drama about a family falling apart. The ending is explosive and unforgettable. The cast did an excellent job with Brando and Leigh as my standouts. This movie explores domestic abuse and mental illness in a way many films did not do prior to 1951. Makes it all the more powerful.

My Grade: A-

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

My Personal Favorite Film from John Hughes!
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it." Ah, wise words from our new young friend, Ferris Bueller. In John Hughes's 1986 film, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, all Ferris wants to do is take a day and have fun. That is the most simplistic theme the movie has. You can go deeper, but the main takeaway is that it is okay to have fun. That is a motto I have taken to heart. I really loved the film. People consider The Breakfast Club to be Hughes's best and most important movie. That's a fine statement to make, but I would personally rank the film number two behind this particular one. The teen characters are instantly relatable, it has a memorable antagonist for the children, and this is basically a thirty-year-old travel guide for Chicago. Just how Woody Allen creates his movies as love letters for New York, this is applicable for John Hughes. A Chicago love letter!

Like all of his films, Hughes wrote his own script. Due to possible picketing from the writer's guild, Hughes wrote a basic first draft that had a beginning and an ending. The middle would be made up as production ensued. The first cut of the film was nearly three hours long, so the rest of the screenplay would be completed in the editing room if that made sense. Hughes, always the adolescent philosopher, wrote a very familiar screenplay. Teens that are relatable and one-dimensional adults who do not believe in the word "fun." Somehow, these adult antagonists seem to make the history books as the roles to remember. Just as I remember Paul Gleason's principal role in The Breakfast Club, I certainly remember Jeffrey Jones's dim-witted Ed Rooney here. Hughes takes time to develop his characters which should come as no surprise.

I guess if you were going to commit truancy, you would want to follow in the footsteps of our main hero, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). All he wanted to do was take a day off from school. He enlists his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) to steal his father's red Ferrari. The duo, along with Ferris's girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), head into Chicago for a day to check out the sites; the architectural landmarks, the art museum, the fancy restaurant, Wrigley Field, and an American-German parade where "Danke Schoen" and "Twist and Shout" might be key songs to remember. Meanwhile, Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is hellbent in capturing Ferris. He might have an ally in Ferris's moody but really pretty sister Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey).

Hughes always wanted Matthew Broderick as Ferris. Broderick possesses a charm that is not seen in many modern actors. After watching the film, you could obviously see why Broderick and only him was cast in the lead role. Broderick had a close friendship with Alan Ruck which led to great chemistry between the actors. Despite being 29, Ruck did make a believable high school student. He was excellent and captured the true feelings of a high school student not wanting to go to school. Mia Sara is beautiful, but she wasn't given much to do. Molly Ringwald wanted to play this role, but Hughes cautioned her for good reason apparently. Yes, Ed Rooney is a one-dimensional, child-hating character but my gosh is Jeffrey Jones ever memorable. I love the scene where the dogs sic him and is forced to ride a bus. Hehe. Jennifer Grey is fantastic! Finally, a shoutout goes to Ben Stein and his monotonous lecture on economics.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a wholesome, incredibly fun film. There is nothing mean-spirited to see. It is all about teens wanting to have a good time. If I were to be truant, this is how I would want my day to go. The other theme is Ferris wanting to lift the spirits of his best friend from his materialistic father. A more subtle theme, but I appreciate it. This is one of those movies that is wholesome, but also incredibly funny. I laughed too many times to count and that is a rarity. Great performances and great fun add up to John Hughes's best film. Yes, I rank it higher than The Breakfast Club.

My Grade: A

Top Gun

A "Danger Zone" for Coolness!
Even though 1986's Top Gun received mixed reviews from critics upon release, it is one of those feel-good movies that is fun, fun, and even more fun. Imagine it is 2010 and you are in the midst of watching a Michael Bay movie. A movie with striking cinematography, expertly crafted action scenes, but middling human character development. Yeah, this film is one of the precursors to Bay-directed movies, but this film definitely works. Some people may complain about the film's machismo or pro-military stance, but I always been told it is one of those required viewings for any male. It definitely was in my household. Even though the characters are middling and not fully developed, they are really memorable. After all, the film launched Tom Cruise's Hollywood career. The action sequences, more specifically, the aerial dogfights are incredible. They are expertly shot, and it made you feel like you were a part of the action.

The film received its humble beginning from a magazine article in a 1983 edition of California, which was written by Ehud Yonay. His article went into detail about the life of fighter pilots on a Naval Air Base in San Diego. Producing partners Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson were very interested in the content, which featured some outstanding aerial views. They hired Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. to write the first draft. They hired Tony Scott as the film's director. Yes, that is Ridley's younger brother. Scott impressed the producers with his commercial featuring a turbo racing a fighter jet. It is impressive that the producers made this big-budget film Scott's first film. In terms of action, Scott definitely delivered.

Pete Mitchell codenamed "Maverick" (Tom Cruise) is a very talented pilot who is accepted in the nation's top school, known as "Top Gun." Maverick has to compete with the best of the very best in order to earn top honors. He meets a possible romantic partner in his astrophysics professor, Charlie (Kelly McGillis). Also, he meets his rival from the get-go, the intelligent and studious Iceman (Val Kilmer). Also dealing with the people associated with his school, he is also haunted by his father's death and legend, which may or may not seem as heroic. Maverick wants to be the very best. Will he reach that status?

The film is at its best when the jets are in the air. But we cannot forget the film does have human characters. The screenplay does not give much time to develop the characters. The relationships with one another are paper thin. Do not get me started on the relationship between Maverick and Charlie. It was ludicrous. With all that said...I had a great time watching these characters because the performances are solid. Cruise has always been great playing the cocky womanizer and continues that sort of character here. Too bad he couldn't show much chemistry with Kelly McGillis who previously exceled with Harrison Ford in 1985's Witness. I did like the chemistry between Cruise and best friend, Goose (played by Anthony Edwards). Val Kilmer as Iceman makes a great antagonist for Cruise. I did like Tom Skerritt who played Viper, a father figure for Cruise.

The soundtrack! I really enjoyed it. Kenny Loggins contributed with his rendition of "Danger Zone", a high-octane song! The song that won the Oscar was Berlin's "Take My Breath Away." That song introduced them to the music world and it really is a good song. Those two songs are some of the reasons why I enjoyed this movie. Alas, we cannot forget the scene where Maverick and Goose sings the Righteous Brothers.

Personally, I found Top Gun to be excellent entertainment. I know some people think the film is hot garbage because it does not have a credible script and the characters are poorly developed. But come on, there is an awesome volleyball scene! That has to count for something, right? Despite the characters, at least the performances were on point. The aerial sequences were something else. When the airplanes are in the air, that is when to keep your eyes peeled. The studio shelled thousands of dollars to use these planes so they made it worth the high bill. The movie was the highest grossing film of 1986. It gave people new reasons to be "cool."

My Grade: B+

West Side Story

An Excellent Musical Retelling of "Romeo and Juliet!"
How on earth did I miss the juggernaut of a musical, West Side Story? As soon as the aerial footage of New York City came on the screen, I was drawn in and captured by the magic of this excellent musical. Funnily enough, I knew a majority of the songs (such as "I Feel Pretty") but I never associated them with this production of course. At two-and-a-half hours, the movie flew by because it has a fast tempo. I became enamored with the characters on both sides of the rival gang war and I felt for them despite their differences. The music is fantastic! You cannot have a great musical without excellent songs and dance!

The film was adapted to the screen by the great screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Prior to the film, the story was a bestselling novel from Arthur Laurents and was a huge success on Broadway thanks to the talents of Jerome Robbins. Robert Wise, a much-respected studio veteran, came on to direct this adaptation. Because he lacked the skills and experience in this genre, he hired Robbins as a co-director. Wise would direct the dramatic scenes and Robbins was in charge of the music and choreography. Robbins was eventually fired because he could not stop directing which resulted in a ballooning budget. Wise still kept in touch and relied upon him in the editing room. The choreography is the best thing about the movie, along with the music and expert editing. The music was not used to move the plot. The songs and dance seemed like their own ambience. A different story within the same story. That is what makes the editing so good. The scene where Maria and Tony meet each other for the first time? Check that sequence out if you want a masterclass in editing and lighting techniques.

As a NYC resident, I happily recognized many of the shooting locations (present day Lincoln Center). Perhaps another reason why I felt so close to the movie. This story is a version of the tragic Shakespeare story, Romeo & Juliet. Some changes were made, but the basic idea is present. If you are familiar with this tale, then you will understand why the emotions are flooding when the credits roll. The feuding families are now the Sharks and the Jets. The European-based Jets led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn) versus the Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo (George Chakiris). The two rival gangs hate each other to the point where they are willing to spill blood for control of the streets. That cannot stop Riff's best friend Tony (Richard Beymer) falling in love with Bernardo's sister Maria (Natalie Wood). Also, an undeniable force is Bernardo's lover Anita (Rita Moreno).

Some people I associate with say the movie is boring because all it is people snapping their fingers and walking down the street. I felt it added to the musical flow of the performances. Speaking of which, solid to excellent performances all around. Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were good in their respective roles and showed they had excellent chemistry. The winners are Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, both of whom won Academy Awards for their roles. Their chemistry was absolute fire! Just watch their sequence during the song "America." I do wish the roles of the Sharks were given to authentic Puerto Ricans, but this film was released in 1961 so keep that in mind.

As sung in the aforementioned song, "America," the film holds itself to a high degree of relevance in today's world. Just like fifty years ago, the Latinos or any non-white group want a better life for themselves. They were promised a world of freedom when compared to their home countries and came to America to search for it. Whether or not they found it is a whole different story. That song really stuck out to me. All of the songs are excellent and choreographed perfectly.

Overall, West Side Story is an excellent musical thanks to the song and dance routines from Jerome Robbins. The dialogue itself is decent, but not up to par with the usual standard from Ernest Lehman. The film won ten Academy Awards and cemented itself in the canons of best musicals ever made. Robert Wise and Ernest Lehman would team up several years later to produce The Sound of Music. I implore film fans to watch this if you have not done so already. It is not only an excellent musical, but an intellectual one.

My Grade: A-


Your Standard Fantasy Film (Outside of Curry's Darkness)!
I am a sucker for any fantasy movie. I can even be drawn in to watch the horrible ones and still find some joy. So, when I discovered that the visionary director behind Alien and Blade Runner directed a fantasy film reminiscent of the tales of King Arthur and Lord of the Rings, I made it my mission to seek the film out. There are multiple versions of the film, so I am reviewing the American version which came out in 1986. The production design and the makeup are true works of art and the visual eye candy really stands out. That said, I wish I could have said the same thing about the story itself. The performances are fine, but the script is mediocre. Thankfully this is a Ridley Scott film, or I am afraid this film would have been utter dreck.

There are multiple versions of the movie. As I said, the American version was released in April 1986 to unflattering reviews. Trivia fact time! The film was released in the UK in 1985 with a slightly longer version. The film was cut for American audiences because Scott reasoned that European audiences were more sophisticated. Can you fault him for that? The music was also changed. The UK version has an orchestral (and rather excellent) score that was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. The American version had a more techno score from Tangerine Dream. I though that score was also good if you left it alone, but Goldsmith's score is clearly superior. The director's cut was released in 2002 and both Scott and lead actor Tom Cruise disowned the American version.

When it comes to directing, Ridley Scott is a perfectionist. He is extremely detailed-oriented. That works for the movie and against the movie. The visuals are eye-popping. From the fields where we meet the unicorns to the evil underground lair of Darkness, everything looked well thought out. The design of the forest was incredible. Scott wanted to film at Yosemite, but instead moved to a studio backlot. Very impressive. The use of practical effects and makeup was fantastic. In fact, Tim Curry's makeup is an iconic vision that will forever be associated with the fantasy genre. Curry spent five-and-a-half hours in makeup every day to achieve his look. Such patience! With most of the effort placed into the look of the film, not much was left in the way of story. I considered the film to be joyless at points and I felt the villain had no motivation for his deeds other than the sake of being evil. I still had interest in the story but nothing like it could have been.

This is the typical fantasy which features a plethora of magical beings such as elves, demons, unicorns, and the list goes on. The main hero of the story is a human named Jack (Tom Cruise). Jack is in love with the Princess Lili (Mia Sara). Lili was abducted by a monster known as Darkness (Tim Curry). He wants to turn Lili to the evil side and make her his wife. He also wants to rid the world of the Sun, light, and unicorns by turning the place into an everlasting darkness. Can Jack defeat Darkness, save the girl, and be a true hero?

I will say that the actors gave committed performances. That should not be a surprise considering Tom Cruise always 100% gives his best. In the scenes where he dove and swam, that was him doing the action. This may not be his best role, but he does what he can with it. Tim Curry looked like he was having a blast. Despite his character not being well planned out in terms of motivation, it was fun watching Curry playing an evil character under all that makeup. Mia Sara did a really nice job. She was chosen because of her theatrical background and it showed here. I read somewhere that Mickey Rooney could have been hired but he did not look short enough next to Cruise who is a pretty small guy himself.

Anyhow, Legend is what it is. You most likely know about it or heard about it because of Curry's iconic villain. Other than that, it is your standard, by-the-books fantasy film. Not awful, but not the best film. If you like this genre, you will find some enjoyment out of this fairy tale (at least the American film). I did hear better things about the UK version.

My Grade: B-

Gung Ho

Movie Needed A Better Script!
Ron Howard's Gung Ho sounded like a promising film. It is a movie about a culture and economical clash; about a Japanese firm taking over a small-town Pennsylvania auto factory. The man who directed Splash and Cocoon reteaming with Michael Keaton? Yeah, that really sounds promising. The only thing this movie needed...was a competent script. The script, which was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, was horrendous. The portrayal of the Japanese was stereotypical and one-dimensional. In reality, the Japanese were insulted. Yes, they are extremely hard workers, but nothing to the extent depicted here. In fact, the Japanese use this film to show their workers how not to behave. Is that not ironic or what?

When Howard signed up to direct the film, maybe there should have been a clause where he needed to rewrite the screenplay. It really is not a good one. In addition to the portrayal of Japanese management, the American assembly line workers are one-note. George Wendt, who played an assembly line worker and got demoted to janitor, seems to do nothing but wave his mop in the air. The main protagonist, played by Michael Keaton, is given a girlfriend that holds no relevance to the story. So, the film is filled with pointless characters and plot movements. Even though the screenplay is not great, the film is not entirely awful. The performances are decent, and Howard managed to save the film from the deepest parts of the gutter. Too bad he could not save it from obscurity.

The movie takes place a number of months after a small Pennsylvania town's auto factory was shut down. The town is going through some tough economic times. Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) travels to Tokyo to see if a Japanese firm would be interested in taking over the assembly line. He thought his proposal failed because of their slack-jawed response. To his surprise, they accepted it and now the factory is back in business. The only problem here is that there is a culture clash between the Americans and Japanese and no one is happy. Hunt works with the Japanese plant manager Oishi Kazihiro (Gedde Watanabe) who is fed up with his bosses as well. Hunt is at a crossroad here. He is either loyal to the Americans or to the Japanese.

Thankfully, the performances are more than up to the task to save the movie from utter drivel. Michael Keaton previously worked with Ron Howard is the director's debut film, The Night Shift. He once again brings forth a manic energy. People seem to forget that Keaton was a fine comedian in the 1980's and this is one of those performances. He showed some excellent chemistry with Gedde Watanabe. If the name sounds familiar, you may recognize him from his thankless role in the teen comedy Sixteen Candles. Thankfully, his role here is better developed and not as insulting. Despite playing poorly-developed characters, the supporting cast did the best they can. George Wendt, John Turturro, and Mimi Rogers are faces to watch.

Overall, I did not connect well with Gung Ho. It is not a horrible film, but I am sure Ron Howard does not want to be remembered for this film. Luckily, most people do not know about it. I never even heard of it until I combed through Howard's filmography. The main issue is the dated, insulting, and one-dimensional screenplay. It takes a good idea and ruins it. Sadly, it is not the funny film I expected. Despite that, the film receives a passing grade because the performances save the film. Ain't Michael Keaton a hero? I still cannot get that they believe the Japanese workers are forced to do exercises like jumping jacks before their shifts. That really is crazy.

My Grade: C

Halt and Catch Fire: 1984
Episode 10, Season 1

A More Reflective Finale!
The back half of this season has been excellent. Watching the group finish the PC in time "for the computer to be on shelves by Christmas" has been nothing but entertaining. The season finale, "1984" while still entertaining, ends the season on a little whimper. This episode is all about the characters drifting off into their own thing. Maybe there were a few big speeches, but no crazy surprise was in store for us. I was surprised because the episode does not take the normal route that finales usually do. Instead, we have a more quiet, introspective episode.

The GIANT was an immediate success. Computerland purchased the computer for an enormous amount of money. Joe and Gordon are now rich. They become owners of Cardiff Electric. With Gordon as the master engineer and making the big bucks, he still is not entirely happy. He even shaves his noteworthy beard to add an intimidation factor to his looks (not sure if it really worked). Joe realizes that his baby will only be a footnote in computer's history. Donna and Gordon plan to move Joe out, but they might not have to. Donna gets fired from TI and her future is murky. Cameron, still irked by Joe's betrayal, takes Cardiff's engineers and forms her new company. A company based on network gaming, called Mutiny.

I still thought the episode was decent, but I did not get the bang I hoped for. I am happy Donna and Gordon are still together. The first episodes portrayed her as the killjoy wife, but she really proved herself. Her scene where she was stoned and was dismayed at all the cookies being gone was cute. Joe spent most of the episode wandering around, not really what I wanted. I guess a relationship between Joe and Cameron are off the tables now.

This first season worked much better than I could have hoped. A show about making computers does not sound enticing, but AMC pulled it off. It is all about the characters! The show did not go crazy with ratings, but at least we got several quality seasons from Halt and Catch Fire.

My Grade: B

Halt and Catch Fire: Up Helly Aa
Episode 9, Season 1

Very Amusing Episode!
"Up Helly Aa" is the penultimate episode of Halt and Catch Fire's first season, and it is a beautiful episode. The main theme is "betrayal." Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Cameron's vision for the Giant has been compromised by both Joe and Gordon, which will undoubtedly lead to an interesting future for the three characters. The final scene is amazing and rather crushing. Donna played a bigger role here and Kerry Bishe did an excellent job. The scenes were Gordon chewed her out and her reactions are great. This episode is funny, moving, and entertaining from start to finish.

Joe sold his sports car for $11,000 and the gang hope that is enough money to promote the Giant at COMDEX in Las Vegas. They arrived in Gordon's station wagon. With the bad publicity Cardiff Electric received over the embezzlement scheme, Joe hopes to use it to his advantage. With the usage of smoke and mirrors, they should be able to get by. Still, the computer had trouble booting so they had to quickly think on their feet to make it work. There is one huge problem, however. Donna's former boss and Gordon's former coworker teamed up to create Slingshot, a smaller, more portable version of the Giant. Shades of Macintosh versus Apple, anyone?

I liked the episode's title. Apparently, the name comes from a Viking festival. Anyhow, great episode! When the computer struggled to properly load, I love how Joe and Cameron uses shrimp and a party to keep investors waiting as Gordon and Donna worked out the kinks. Perhaps the most amusing sequence of the entire episode.

My Grade: A

The Gold Rush

Charlie Chaplin At His Best!
When Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush was initially released in 1925, the director exclaimed, "This is the film I want to be remembered for!" Well Mr. Chaplin, we definitely remember you for this film. Even though he made many excellent films after this film's release, pundits consider this his greatest achievement. I was enamored with the film myself. For a silent film, it had a character-driven narrative and did not solely rely upon Chaplin's familiar humor, which remains excellent as always.

There are two versions that the public is aware about; the 1925 silent version and a version edited by Chaplin in 1942 made for the audience that has grown accustomed to sound. He added a score and he made tweaks including changing the ending. Personally, I think the original version is the best because I really do adore the ending. Apparently, the ending was shot in terms of how Chaplin's love life was at the time. Both versions are incredible, but my preferable version was released in 1925.

Chaplin, who also wrote the script, attempted to shoot the film on location in California. He eventually had to abandon those plans and shot the film on the studio's backlot. This movie features some well known comedy acts that you always hear about especially if you're taking a film class. We have the boot-eating scene, the roll dance, and the cabin in the storm sequence. These scenes were shot very well. Because of Chaplin's famous obsessive-compulsive disorder, it took more than 60 takes to shoot the shoe-eating segment. Yes, Chaplin wanted perfection and he often got it! This film happened to be the most expensive and longest comedy film at the time. 95 minutes does not sound much, but it was definitely new for those folks. Fortunately, the film became a box-office smash and is one of the silent film's most profitable pictures.

The Little Tramp, or the Lone Prospector (Charlie Chaplin) is on his way to the Klondike to search for some gold. Conditions are brutal and there is little in the way of food or gold. He goes to the cabin where he meets Big Jim McKay and Black Larsen (who is wanted by the authorities). With no food available, Thanksgiving dinner consists only of a boot. When the Little Tramp finally reaches town, he meets Georgia (Georgia Hale). He falls in love with her, but he seems to have some competition for her heart. Can the Tramp strike it rich and win over Georgia's heart?

Chaplin is Chaplin and he does his thing very well. Watching his performance, one can easily see why he is one of the best comedians and performers to grace this planet. No words express his comedic genius here. It's all about body movement and facial expressions that make us laugh. In today's age, that is beyond impressive. I was laughing and smiling throughout. That is how amazing Chaplin is. As for the supporting performances, they are excellent. Georgia Hale, who admired Chaplin for an incredibly long time, gives Chaplin an excellent female pairing.

Let's say you have never seen a Chaplin film and you wanted a recommendation. I would not hesitate to allow myself to choose this film. It's funny and features all the legendary comedy Chaplin would be famous for. That said, it has a character-driven narrative that is dramatic and emotional, and Chaplin pulls it off very well. The Gold Rush is Chaplin at his best and it is not hard to see why you can call this a classic.

My Grade: A

Pretty in Pink

Not the Most Original Hughes Film, But Still Enjoyable!
Yep, another teen romance from John Hughes featuring members of the Brat Pack! In terms of teen romances and comedies, John Hughes ruled the 1980's. Unlike other films, he did not direct it but was rather the soul and mind. He produced and wrote the script with newcomer Howard Deutch taking over directorial duties. Like most of his scripts, Hughes's Pretty in Pink is a very sweet film. Anyone who was once 16 could relate to the film as it authentically tackles class/social division within a school background. Like any of his films, Hughes made his characters relatable whether you like them or not. I genuinely thought this film is sweet and I enjoyed it very much, but there are some issues.

As I said, the script itself is sweet. Hughes took his story from a tale that is old as the beginning of time. We have seen this story play itself out countless numbers of time. The poor girl falling for the rich guy who has snobbish friends. And the poor girl does not want to show the world who she lives with or where she lives. Thankfully, the performances do elevate the material but unfortunately very few points could be given for originality. I also had issues with the ending. The original ending would have been something I would have related with, but the producers fear it could have been considered classist. No outright spoilers here! With all that in mind, the rest of the movie worked well.

Duckie (Jon Cryer) is a very unpopular boy who is consistently getting laughed at. He also has a major crush on his best friend, the likewise unpopular Andie (Molly Ringwald). Andie has some inconsistent wardrobe choices and heralds from a poor background. Her mother left years prior and her father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton) is often drunk and unemployed. Now, Duckie wants to tell her his true feelings, but cannot seem to do so. While he contemplates his feelings, Andie falls for the rich Blaine (Andrew McCarthy). He seems to genuinely like her as well, but his snobbish friends keep getting in the way, particularly Steff (James Spader). With prom on the horizon, what will happen to these teenagers and their feelings?

The performances are really solid as you would expect with a Brat Pack film. What is Brat Pack? Essentially, it is a term that was given to such teen films from the 1980's and are associated with one or more of Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Andrew McCarthy, etc. So, you could include films such as The Breakfast Club. Back to this film, Ringwald worked well with Hughes as he recommended her in the lead role. She delivered once again! Some people found Jon Cryer annoying as Duckie, but can you resist his lip synch to that Otis Redding song? McCarthy and Spader were solid, but Spader definitely looked too old to be a high school student. Also, I must include Annie Potts who played Andie's record store boss, Iona. I liked her words of wisdom and her style choices.

The soundtrack is considered to be one of the best of the 1980's and I can agree. Deutch originally wanted to include theme music, but Hughes convinced him otherwise. Most of the songs are from the new wave genre. In fact, the film's title comes from the hit song sung by the Psychadelic Furs. This soundtrack is a staple when you consider films from the 1980's.

Pretty in Pink may not be the best or the most original of films associated with John Hughes. The story has been told a billion times over, but thankfully we got good performances out of the script. I liked the dynamic between Andie and her father and between Andie and Duckie. The chemistry is there between the actors. Too bad the film ended the way it did. It could have been a more satisfying film. Still, this was still a relatable, enjoyable flick.

My Grade: B

Hannah and Her Sisters

Funny, Sharp, and Poignant!
Along with Annie Hall, Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters ranks among the writer-director's best films. The movie manages to be complex and nuanced without going overboard. It is not a comedy, but there are big laughs within the family dynamics. In a sense, you could also view the film as a near-tragedy. The film is viewed through the eyes of Woody Allen's character, Mickey. Mickey is one of those characters who is hypochondriac or a person who believes he has some unchecked major disease and is about to die. He wants a sense of belonging within the web of characters. That alone makes the film have tragic moments. The film on a whole works because of Allen's sprawling, but tight (if that makes sense) narrative that interweaves dozens of characters within one another. It's funny, sad, poignant, and emotional.

Woody Allen originally imagined the film to be a simple one about a husband falling in love with his wife's sister. Then he started getting ideas to make his film more complex. His lover at the time, Mia Farrow actually criticized his script and suggested changes. She felt the characters, especially the sisters, were too indulgent and narcistic. With the film already in pre-production, there was little that Allen could do. In the end, the script is seen as one of Allen's best. Although, it could be problematic hinting at his later years and the drama it came with it. Allen, being a New Yorker himself, gets the idea of the characteristics of a typical New Yorker; always busy, bustling, and moving fast. There is no such thing as slowing down and thinking ahead. That idea is portrayed very well in his script and from the performances.

The film has a zillion characters it seems and that means a large cast. Usually a large cast has the propensity to dull a film, but Allen managed his cast very well. Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest), and Lee (Barbara Hershey) are sisters from a family that runs in the show business. Their mother, Norma (Maureen O'Sullivan) is married to Evan (Lloyd Nolan), a constant cheater. Hannah is the glue that holds the family together and is married to an accountant, Elliot (Michael Caine). Her first marriage was to Mickey (Woody Allen), a TV executive who believes he will die. She keeps him around the family, however. Holly is the insecure sister who starts a catering business with her friend, April (Carrie Fisher). She is the typical Manhattanite. Lee is the more emotional sister. She lives with an older artist, Frederick (Max von Sydow) who is out of touch with reality. If this does not sound complicated already, hold on to your seat! Elliot figures out he has feelings for Lee, who may not being romantically satisfied enough herself with Frederick.

As the plot description outlines, there is a big cast! In addition to the aforementioned actors, there are cameos/small performances from Sam Waterston, Julia Louis-Drefyus, John Turturro, J.T Walsh, Daniel Stern, Julie Kavner, Richard Jenkins, and the list goes on. Yeah, told you so! The best performance comes from Michael Caine. His performance is more subtle compared to other roles, but it works very well. Dianne Wiest is hilarious and ultimately very human. These two won the Academy Awards for their supporting performances which is the right move considering how awesome they are. Woody Allen's character is a headcase, a neurotic guy who does not believe in the afterlife and figures he will die soon and wants redemption. Funny and touching performance. Farrow was solid and Hershey's role was just right for her. This is an actor-driven film that highlights a plethora of excellent performances. You can say Allen told this story in a series of vignettes that highlight individual characters.

Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen at his finest. It allows him to mix his style of filmmaking without going overly complicated or sentimental. His characters are humanized and are involved in situations that could be relatable to most of us. I enjoyed the style in which the dialogue is used. Despite a sophisticated complex of characters, the story is simple to follow. Allen definitely grew as a filmmaker and it is not a surprise this film is one of his finest. My only concerns are about very brief situations in which tied Allen up with his later personal life. That said, the film is a definite recommend.

My Grade: A-

Halt and Catch Fire: The 214s
Episode 8, Season 1

Full of Excitement!
"The 214s" is no doubt the best episode in Halt and Catch Fire's interesting first season. A lot of action took place. Gordon becomes sane and acts like a leader! John Bosworth makes the change from angry boss to tragic hero with a knack for inspirational speeches...and a father figure. Donna has a decision to make because after all, her neighbor and former coworker of Gordon's "knows what she is up to." The episode, written with excellent character moments from Dahvi Waller and Zack Whedon, is an excellent, tense watch. And for the first time in a long time, the gang is back together! Breathing in the same room as one another. Wooooooow!!

John Bosworth is hauled away in handcuffs when it comes to light (with Cameron's help) that he embezzled money from the company to keep the project afloat. Nathan Cardiff delivers a stop work order for the PC, now known as "The Giant." The PC was going to be displayed at COMDEX, but those plans are in jeopardy. Joe visits his father at IBM and his father offers to take him back. Gordon decides to take charge from this new change and steals the PC. He gets Joe and Cameron to join him as they decide to hit the road to the computer convention. Donna has a decision to make about her marriage. Perhaps a revelation in her garage will lead her down the correct path.

This is an excellent episode and my favorite one of the season. Everything was at stake here; the project, marriage, careers, etc. Gordon had to plead with Joe to not go back to IBM and throw everything away. I felt his character change seemed a bit abrupt compared to his quirky, drunken, and depressed attitude from previous episodes. Anything to rid ourselves of Donna's flirtations with her boss also helps!

My Grade: A

Halt and Catch Fire: Giant
Episode 7, Season 1

Gordon Keeps Falling Down the Rabbit Hole!
Gordon, the Cardiff's team working man, is falling apart...and quickly. That is one of the biggest storylines we see in "Giant." In the previous episode, Gordon gave Cameron's idea backlash about giving the computer a personality type. This week, his gives even more backlash...this time to Joe regarding the computer's aesthetics. We learn that Joe had a secret lover who is now dying of AIDS, and he works as a design artist. Simon Church, played brilliantly and emotionally by D.B Woodside, shows up with his input for the PC's design. That storyline felt a bit superficial and contrived. It did not feel as developed despite the strong individual performances. However, the "Gordon falling apart" storyline and the storyline about Cardiff's financial ruin held my interest.

With COMDEX looming, the next step in the PC's creation is its design. Gordon believes the PC is good as is and any changes to the design means loss in function. Joe swings that thought aside and brings in his former lover to help add design and flavor to the box. This alienates both Cameron and Gordon. Cameron is jealous because she thinks she has feelings for Joe, and Gordon continually is ignored. Donna goes on a business trip with her boss and her boss may have the wrong intentions. So, Gordon stays home and parents his children in his own drunken way. He tells the girls a bedtime story about a fake fossil and P.T Barnum. This story leads him to do something that will worry Donna out of her mind. Meanwhile, Cardiff has run out of money thanks to the PC project. John Bosworth does not tell the group and decides to find last minute financial backing to keep them afloat at least until COMDEX.

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Joe's storyline was interesting, but a little weak. I am getting frustrated at Donna and her boss's flirtation that seems to be nonstop. Luckily, the rest of the stories are up to the challenge of keeping my interest. I really liked the ending as it proves just how far down the rabbit hole Gordon went. The episode was directed by Jon Amiel who proved himself with some solid Hollywood features.

My Grade: B+


Your Standard Action Movie...with A Unique Premise!
What does F/X mean? No, it is not a complicated math equation. It is actually a short abbreviation for special effects which are obviously used in film and television, such as 1986's F/X. This is a film that is the product of its time. It is an 80's flick with slick action sequences and your usual action movie shootouts. Unlike many action flicks, this is actually an adept psychological thriller that will pull strings and confuse your mind if you are not paying attention. There are so many twists that it is hard to keep count which will cause some haywire. Ironically enough, the film is not laden with special effects. Instead, Academy Award winner John Stears was able to integrate them into the characters and the plot.

The film was written by two novice writers, a documentarian named Robert Megginson and actor Gregory Fleeman. The original plan for the script was to be made into a low-budget television movie. When the producers read the script, they decided it would work better as a cinematic film, which obviously is the better choice given the material. They were against hiring an action director and instead wanted to focus on someone who can develop characters. Robert Mandel was their first choice. As an off-Broadway director, he developed an artsy reputation and wanted to rid himself of that. Despite his experience (or lack thereof) of working with action, he proved himself capable. They do not blow you out of the water or anything, but they were staged well and came across as professional. This could also be attributed to the tight editing and good use of special effects.

The film's premise is unique and that gives it a sense of freshness. Rolland Taylor (Bryan Brown) is a special effects artist who made a name for himself working with special effects in horror or slasher films. The federal government wants to see for themselves. The mastermind behind this entire plot is Lipton (Cliff De Young) who wants to use Taylor's skill to stage the murder of a gangster informant Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach). Eventually, Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy) an NYPD cop gets involved and is confused why the FBI is acting strange. So many questions are asked. Is DeFranco really dead? Who can Taylor trust? Who wants Taylor dead?

The performances are solid all the way through. I did not find a poor performance anywhere. My personal standout is Brian Dennehy as the cop. He has a commanding screen presence. Watching him trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together was fun. Bryan Brown also gave a solid, professional performance and he really made it seem like he was a special effects wiz. I also cannot forget Diane Venora who plays Taylor's ill-fated girlfriend in typical fashion.

Overall, F/X is a good time at the movies. It is your typical 80's action flick that is slightly elevated by its unique premise. Instead of being straight action, Mandel incorporated some psychological thriller elements. Perhaps too much of them. The film also benefits from strong technical work such as its editing and production design. As a television movie, it probably would have been garbage. At least we got a fun little action movie. This is one that no one knows about, so if you like these kind of flicks, check this out.

My Grade: B

Down and Out in Beverly Hills

At Least the Dog is Good!
Paul Mazursky's Down and Out in Beverly Hills definitely had reason to pique my interest. I enjoyed Mazursky's previous drama Moscow on the Hudson which was a thematically important story. He tackled a different but still relevant theme regarding poor vs. rich ageless debate. He is working with a trio of great actors in Nick Nolte, Bette Midler, and Richard Dreyfuss. He is tackling this film as a drama and the topic is bound for a few laughs. Plus, there is Little Richard! Annnnnnd he is going to contribute to the soundtrack? As one of the well-known films to greet 1986, it is bound to be decent, right? Well...uh...let's discuss.

When the dog is funnier than the human characters, you know you are in trouble. The Whiteman family's dog, Mike is the movie's MVP. That adorable creature had me laughing every single time he showed up. If the movie was about him, I might have been okay. Instead, Paul Mazursky's script focused on some extremely unlikeable characters. Maybe it's the fact that Mazursky had no Robin Williams at his disposal, who is always likable. I definitely liked the concept, but it could have used better characters. Barbara and Dave Whiteman spent the entire movie giving each other grief in such a mean-spirited way. And the way they treat their children too! Or perhaps I wasn't in a good mood the day I watched the movie and I took it out on the characters?

Barbara (Bette Midler) and Dave (Richard Dreyfuss) Whiteman are a rich, spoiled couple. They are also really unhappy with their lives. Dave works very hard in the hanger business and wants his son to follow in his footsteps. Nothing excites Barbara except for yoga and aerobics. Dave also cheats on his wife with the family maid, Carmen (Elizabeth Pena). Their son is a sexually confused person and their daughter is really anorexic. The family's lives are changed with the homeless tramp Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) shows up. His dog leaves him and makes him not want to live no more, so he decides to drown himself in the Whiteman's pool. Dave rescues him and that sets off some complicated adventures.

I found it hard to judge the performances when I found the characters despicable. In that notion, I guess the actors did a good job? Hmmmmm. Nick Nolte definitely sold the homeless part well. He never intentionally became homeless, but he just ended up being a wanderer. Dreyfuss and Midler are excellent actors, but I think they deserved a better script. The scene towards the end where Dreyfuss chases Nolte around the house is pretty funny I suppose. Little Richard, in addition to providing some excellent music, is great as the neighbor. And of course, the dog! There should be a sequel with only the dog!

Mazursky based his script off the French play "Boudo Saved from Drowning." He just took that play and moved it into Beverly Hills. I found it rather interesting that Mazursky shot the film just a block away from his own place. Judging from the characters, is he trying to say that people are unhappy with the California city's lifestyle? Does being rich mean not being happy? I liked that he tackled this concept, but the script is really lackluster. The daughter turning into a political radical out of nowhere it seems does not fit the film well. Yeah, it's a farce but not developed well enough.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills is not void of any interesting moments, just interesting characters. There are some cool scenes such as the house chase. Nolte does his best. The dog definitely won my heart, so that counts for something. It's a fast-paced comedy that some people will enjoy and others will won't. Sadly, I am one of those.

My Grade: C

Halt and Catch Fire: Landfall
Episode 6, Season 1

A Solid, Character-Driven Episode!
"Landfall" is an episode that has a hurricane swirling around the background and is used as the episode's main focal point to tell its story. In terms of character development, they are pushed forward with some explanations and some actions we least expect from them. The main plot is put on the backburner for now, but this episode is more character-oriented. It's funny, but also sad considering what happens as Hurricane Alicia rages on.

This episode happens as Hurricane Alicia strikes the Gulf Coast. Despite the tempest, excitement is in the air as their PC nears completion. That said, Cameron wants to make the user interface more friendly which means Gordon needs to do some extra engineering work which he does not want to do. Joe, however, seems to be on board. Cameron and Joe, whom been having a sexual relationship, break up with each other. Cameron and Bosworth have a heart-to-heart with Bosworth giving her some important advice. For some reason, Gordon invites Joe over to dinner...during a hurricane. Before he can come home, Gordon searches for a mega-popular "Cabbage Patch Kid." Despite Donna's stern insistence, Joe seems to charm her and her kids, making him actually seem human for once.

Once again, this is another good episode. Director Larysa Kondracki shot some striking sequences within the hurricane. The scene where Gordon finds that dead person on the road is one that you are unlikely to forget. For once, it was nice to see Joe lose his manipulative ego and bond with Gordon's and Donna's children, all while Gordon is struggling to maintain his work and home balance. Solid episode especially in terms of character development!

My Grade: A-

Halt and Catch Fire: Adventure
Episode 5, Season 1

An Adventure for Our Characters!
"Adventure" is definitely an adventure for our protagonists in this episode of Halt and Catch Fire. The writing is beginning to catch up with our characters. In other words, the show has some excellent character development. The episode also shows where Joe got his manipulative streak from- his own father, Joe Sr. played wonderfully by John Getz. In fact, this entire episode is about trying to find a father figure. Joe with his own father, Cameron with Joe's father (until she realizes what a jerk he is), and Gordon with his intimidating father-in-law. Gordon becomes more developed here. The pilot introduced him as an alcoholic man with some high stage of depression-and that was not really shown until this episode. He had a very amusing sequence where alcohol causes him to insult Japanese businessmen.

The episode seemed to skip some weeks into the future. The article from Wall Street Quarterly was released and Cameron finally finished her BIOS code. Joe sent her away on vacation, but she was really sent away so a software engineer team could be hired without her interference. She comes back and is friendly with the majority of them but not the immediate supervisor. She takes charge during a late-night coup and a video game battle. Joe's father comes to town which sparks Joe's forward thinking. Gordon has an idea about how to handle the PC's weight issues when he realizes LED screens exist. He has his father-in-law set up a meeting with Japanese executives. His alcoholism could be a mighty factor though, but luckily Joe decided to sit in the dinner with them. Donna is improving her relationship with her own boss at Texas Instruments which could signal the future for Gordon. Finally, after giving Joe a beatdown, Bosworth realizes he may actually need Joe as he is underprepared for an important meeting.

Overall, this is a solid episode. There are some humorous moments mainly during Cameron's video-game contest and the end results. Cheaters and non-cheaters will be distinguished in an amusing way. This episode introduces the always lovable Cooper Andrews as one of the programmers, YoYo. Annette O'Toole shows up as Gordon's motherly figure and although is not given much to do, she has a solid presence. Yeah, Joe still has that temper it seems. Poor Japanese car!

My Grade: A-

Enemy Mine

One of the 1980's "Forgotten" Sci-Fi Films!
To be frank, I did not think 1985's Enemy Mine would be anything special. Based on the trailer, it looked like to be one of those forgettable 80's sci-fi flicks with cheesy special effects and no story. Ironically, the movie is nearly forgotten as time pass, but it really is not that bad of a film. I think the movie is a little dated (in terms of special effects), but the message behind the film is not. Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. carry the film as two completely opposite beings as enemies but eventually form a bond with one another.

The film had a long production road- a costly one that nearly got the film shuttered by 20th Century Fox. The film was originally helmed by Richard Loncraine. His work on the film was received negatively. It was so bad, he actually got fired. His shooting in Iceland looked nothing remotely science-fiction and Gossett's makeup was atrocious. With the negative dailies received, the executives needed to do something. They hired Wolfgang Petersen to reshoot the film. Petersen, who was known for his 1981 film Das Boot, did not like science fiction in the vein of Star Wars. However, he did enjoy Ed Khmara's script and found it more than a "shoot-em-up" picture set in space. From scratch, he started the film anew; the version as we know it today.

Based on a series of novellas, this film takes place in the far distant future. The galaxy is being colonized. Humans and a species called Dracs are at war with one another, over control of planets. During one fated space battle, Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) a space pilot, crashes into the volcanic planet of Fryine IV. A Drac named Jeriba or "Jerry" (Louis Gossett Jr) likewise crashes on the planet. Enemies at first, the two of them must put their differences aside if they will have any opportunity to survive. In time, they may be able to form a special friendship.

As the two main characters who share most of the screentime, it is important for Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. to deliver strong performances. On that end, they succeeded. The chemistry they have with one another is excellent. Regarding their characters, they could have been developed more but that is no fault of the performers. I have never been high on Quaid as an actor but give credit to where it is due. He made his stranded character believable.

The story itself is the weakest link. With the direction change and script rewrites, the story itself seems muddled. The message itself is very clear; that people with completely different backgrounds can form special friendships. I just needed more character development. There were some interesting ideas explored such as the Dracs are a species that are both male and female, thus allowing the Dracs to become pregnant.

Petersen was definitely a better fit when compared to Loncraine. The production design is outstanding. I felt like I was on this volcanic planet. The makeup and prosthetics used for the Dracs is downright scary and I appreciate that. Yeah, the visual effects are dated and a bit cheesy. Well, it is 1985 after all. Still, there was some fun action scenes to be had.

Overall, Enemy Mine is not the disaster it could have been. It was a financial disaster for the studio, but the quality is sufficient. It's one of those films that is not talked about all these years later as it has been deemed "forgotten." If you want to see a science fiction movie anchored by Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr, well here ya go. It could have used a better script, but we cannot have everything I suppose.

My Grade: B

Out of Africa

If You Survive the Slow Pacing, You May Find Much to Enjoy!
Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa is a very interesting case study. On paper, it has the makings of an amazing film; an old-fashioned, lengthy drama that mimics epics of old, an excellent director in Pollack, and two leading stars with high pedigree: Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Sadly, the finished product does not reach the dazzling heights it could have been. I did thoroughly enjoy the film, but one couldn't help expressing disappointment. Looking back, how on earth did this film win Best Picture over the likes of The Color Purple or Witness? It does not even have a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Even though I mostly liked it, I can completely sympathize and understand why people would not.

Let's focus on the positives first. Sydney Pollack previously worked with Robert Redford in the excellent 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson. Together, they continued a strong collaboration. Pollack's direction is sure-handed and competent. Redford, who played a character that is supposed to be British, delivered a good performance despite the material given to him. Meryl Streep is fantastic as Karen Blixen, the Danish woman who wanted to find love. She almost did not get the role since Pollack believed she did not have enough sex appeal, but being the amazing actress she is, Streep did all she can to earn the role.

There are more good things. Actually, I will talk about things that stands the test of time; mainly the cinematography and score. David Watkin captured the essence and soul of the Kenyan landscape. No matter where our characters are at, it was like I was there in person with them. The scenery is lush and just amazing. And John Barry's score! His score is considered one of the best scores in recent memory. The love theme is something that you will not want out of your mind anytime soon.

Sadly, we need to talk about why the film does not meet expectations. First, the film is nearly three hours long and the pacing is excruciating glacial. Although, I believe that was intentional on Pollack's part. The film is based off Blixen's book and it was the same way. But that was a mistake because the film constantly simmers but never reaches a boil. The story and characters are paper thin. Kurt Luedtke's screenplay could have spent more time developing the characters, especially Redford's. The performance itself is good, but the character is rote and dry. Instead of turning the story into an "epic romance story," they could have turned it into something that involves the Kenyan culture, in which Blixen's book was about in the first place.

The film is based of Karen Blixen's (Meryl Streep) time in Kenya. She marries a friend named Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and they move to the African country where she takes over the role of Baroness. Bror himself is a nice enough man but has infidelity issues and is never home. She assumes control of the house but has had enough of her husband-especially after he gave her syphilis. She becomes friendly with this one man named Denys (Robert Redford), whom she met on her first day in Africa. He takes her on a safari, and she falls in love with him. Denys is his own individual person and is gone for months at a time to do his own thing. Is this a relationship that can be preserved?

For the most part, I did enjoy Out of Africa. Any movie with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford will definitely earn some points. They did well with the script that was given to them. I did like the old-fashioned feeling as it gave me shades of Lawrence of Arabia but with lesser quality. Despite the horribly slow pace, the lush, sweeping scenery gave our eyes a feast. Our ears were treated to a feast with Barry's tremendous score. Despite all the talent involved, the film did deserve better. In my book, it is NOT the best film of 1985 as the Academy said. Solid movie to watch though, but patience will be needed.

My Grade: B-

The Color Purple

A Powerful, Emotional Gut Punch!
Steven Spielberg is probably the world's most gifted storyteller. As children, he enlightened our minds and made us feel emotions in gems like E.T and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He terrified our souls with that one shark film we all know as Jaws. Up until 1985, Spielberg used science-fiction or fantasy to develop his incredible gift of storytelling. Just like any excellent filmmaker would, he made us cry tears of sadness and tears of laughter. With his first attempt at serious filmmaking, he does the same thing except within the framework of a serious topic. This movie had me grinning and bawling my eyes out. With eleven Oscar nominations (and sadly no wins) it shows that Spielberg has a hand for this kind of material. I was not expecting much, but Spielberg delivered an amazing film.

The film, written by Menno Meyjes, is based off the literary classic by Alice Walker. Many people thought the story, about a young black girl suffering from men most of her life in rural Georgia, was unfilmable. The book was a series of letters from the main character, Celie. She would write to different people, but most importantly God. The book is darker than the film depicted. The movie also notches down the idea of lesbians to a simple kiss in which Spielberg defended as trying to keep his movie PG-13. Unfortunately, that does make sense. Some people complained that Spielberg and his trademark sentimental ways of storytelling made the film a happier place and time. To me, I think all that did was add heart. The film could have been utterly depressing, but Spielberg made sure there were moments of joy mixed in with all of the ugliness. On top of that, it gave the film a more of an epic scope. Those feelings mixed with the excellent cinematography skills of Allen Daviau and Quincy Jones's score gave the film that feeling.

Given the subject matter, the film is an important story to tell. Even in today's society, it remains relevant and timely. Spielberg has received some backlash from people claiming, as a white man, Spielberg is not the right man to tell an African-American story. In 2020, I do not think he would touch this project. But in 1985, he treated the story with respect and with grace, and I believe that is one of the main reasons why the film continues to get amazing reviews. As director Oliver Stone mentions, Spielberg was probably the only one who could have gotten the film made. The film could have been more confusing in any other director's hands, but we all know the gift of storytelling the auteur has.

The film takes place over a span of thirty years. Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg) is a tortured young woman who hasn't seen much love over the span of her young life, outside of her sister Nettie. Her incestuous father (Adolph Caesar) kept getting his daughter pregnant and giving the babies away. He eventually marries her off to the evil farmhand, Albert (Danny Glover) or "Mister" according to Celie. Albert abuses Celie in a horrible fashion. The turning point in Celie's life is when she meets Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), Albert's lover. Shug considers Celie really ugly at first, but she becomes more attracted to Celie as they get to know each other more. Through Shug, Celie may find that there are reasons to smile.

For her screen debut, Whoopi Goldberg nailed her scenes. What a juicy role to begin your career with and she was even nominated for an Academy Award. Her character was a tortured soul, and Goldberg really pulled that off. Margaret Avery is also incredible, although I needed to warm up to her character. Danny Glover can play jerks very well as we see twice in 1985 with first Witness, now this film. Also, Oprah Winfrey! Yes, that Oprah! She plays a soul who seems to get everything she wants but goes through a complete personality change after standing up to a local white mayor. Oprah is definitely a presence!

Despite some sentimental presence, prepare yourself for some heartbreak. The biggest scene to me is when Celie and Nettie are ripped apart from each other. Gosh, it felt like my soul was being shredded. The way that they have their hand games is very touching. I felt really bad for Celie with everything she has been through, but she will earn her strength. The name of the film/book comes from the beautiful purple fields and flowers. Daviau did an amazing job capturing those poignant scenes. Despite the mental torture and the beatings, there is no senseless revenge acts. This is a movie that attempts to find joy within the ugliness.

The Color Purple is a straightforward drama that packs many emotional punches. This is Spielberg's most mature film. Despite the serious subject matter, we can see his trademarks. Fun trivia fact. This is one of the few films he directed that is not composed by John Williams. Anyhow, the subject matter is prevalent. Black women are often mistreated by black men, as this film shows. It's not so much of a film about race as it is about the treatment of each other within one race. This is a powerful and a must-watch.

My Grade: A


Inside Terry Gilliam's Weird, Dystopian World!
Terry Gilliam, the creative genius behind Monty Python, is back with a very weird dystopian drama, Brazil. The film is clever, visually creative, and did I mention weird? Yeah, the film is really weird which is normal for Gilliam. Still, the film is an effective retelling of George Orwell's 1984. Gilliam created a film about a failing society that operates under bureaucratic nonsense. The film could have been super serious, but Gilliam uses dark comedy and his style of strangeness to elevate the story. It is not to everyone's taste I need to warn. Some people may think the film goes nowhere or would not understand what is going on. Not even I am sure if I fully understand what was happening, but I was down for it.

The film had a checkered past. The studio Universal was very hesitant to release the movie the way Gilliam wanted. The film ended on a dark note, but the studio wanted to give it a happy ending to make it more accessible for consumers a la Blade Runner. Gilliam created a public battle to keep his film the way it is. He showed his cut to local critics and friends. Once the film began to receive award recognition, Universal relented and released the film Gilliam intended. Sadly, the box office goals were not reached. It did receive nearly unanimous critical support and was nominated for two Academy Awards, so that meant something. This isn't my favorite Gilliam film, but I am happy it received some support.

The film gathered some recognition thanks to its visual style. The way the film was shot-with extreme wide angles-was something that is rarely used. Gilliam and cinematographer Roger Pratt worked together to create something unique. They also worked on some interesting lighting techniques. If the way the film is shot seemed so familiar, it inspired future films. One film that comes to mind is Tim Burton's 1989 superhero flick, Batman. The film also used some visual effects to its advantage. The film was intended to be in a world much like our own, but more destructive and counterproductive. I think Gilliam achieved his goal with the use of special effects. And the way some of the characters looked! Katherine Helmond comes to mind with her unique character design.

In the not-so-distant future, the world is ran by an extremely bureaucratic government that uses its computer system to track down terrorists. Like all computer systems, they can be prone to "bugs." A bug is the reasoning that Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a known terrorist was mixed up with a man named Buttle. Due to the mixup, Buttle died from heart issues. A government employee, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is called in to investigate this error. Buttle's neighbor, Jill Layton (Kim Greist) is trying to report the mistake to the government but fails because of the insane amount of paperwork that needs to be processed (bureaucracy problems, eh). Sam has these fantasies and many of them are about Jill. Because of his fantasies, it is a matter of time before the government deems Sam counterproductive.

Many of the performances are all delightful...and strange in their own way. Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the "average" Sam. He provided moments of levity when needed. The scene where he watches old TV shows when the boss's back is turned comes to mind. I could not quite buy his relationship with Jill Layton, played by Kim Greist. Unfortunately, those were some weak moments within Gilliam's script. The rest of the cast is basically glorified cameos, and all were excellent. In particular, Robert De Niro stole the show. Never would I believe that playing with wires would make for some good scenes, but here we are. Keep an eye out for characters played by Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, and Jim Broadbent.

I definitely liked the hard dystopian edge Gilliam gave the film. People are leading lives under circumstances of control and paranoia. The police are shown coming through the ceiling and beating down any opposition. In other words, life is grim and the furthest thing away from happy. This is Gilliam's version of an Orwellian world and through the use of his production design, cinematography, and Michael Kamen's score, it really shines. Luckily, there is some humor and weirdness to make you at least chuckle at some point.

There is no denying that Brazil is a strange film. But that is what happens when Terry Gilliam is in charge of a picture. It may not have done bonkers box office or won a boatload of awards, but people do consider it one of his best films. Perhaps not me, but I still found much to enjoy in all its weirdness. The script could have used more tightening, but that's just me. I enjoyed the film for what it is and I can recommend it.

My Grade: B+

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