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My Favorite Movies – The Shining (1980)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Whether you find Stephen King’s book “The Shining” scary or not, you have to admit the story involving the character of Jack Torrance is a fascinating albeit tragic one. Here’s a guy looking to redeem himself after his alcohol addiction severely hurt his son, and now he’s alone with his son and wife to look after a secluded hotel for the winter season. Something in the hotel feeds his inner psyche and causes him to go insane. What saves his soul and his family’s life is one last act of redemption that puts a stop to the haunting, but even that has a horrific tragedy to it.

And you could say the 1997 miniseries adapted from the book (by King himself) captured that very well. But when it comes to scares, we all remember the excellent 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation, “The Shining”…because it was scary as hell!

But first, let me address the two huge elephants in the room. One is the horrid directing tactics Kubrick was known for, particularly when it came to directing Shelley Duvall, who plays Jack’s vulnerable wife Wendy. If you watch the making-of documentary (directed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian), you get a taste of just how cruel Kubrick was to Duvall and how exhausted Duvall was as a result. (Kubrick was a master director, but if you looked up more about him, you’d realize…he was kind of an ass too. You can’t get away with this stuff today.)

And the other is…King hated the movie. He’s warmed up to it a little since then, but in adapting his novel, King felt betrayed by the different vision Kubrick had come up with. He referred to it as “like a big, beautiful cadillac with no engine inside it.”

One of his biggest problems with the movie was the character of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson. He felt that Jack was crazy from the moment he entered the film and got crazier as the film continued.

And that, to me, is what I find interesting about this version of “The Shining.” Whereas the novel and the miniseries are more stories about redemption, the film is a straight-up horror story about a psychopath who has a chance at redemption and, instead of taking it, ultimately loses himself to the madness. He IS crazy from the moment he takes the job at the hotel, and we do hear of the incident in which he hurt his son Danny which caused him to quit drinking. We can sense that he’s hurting inside and it’s a different kind of withdrawal process, different from the original story, that is causing him to want to break out of his shell. The hotel uses THAT against him, acting as a poison working through Jack’s defenses until he has nothing left to shield himself from them and he fulfills what feels like his destiny. And Jack has no chance of saving himself by the time things go from bad to worse.

At least, that’s how I see it. There are a lot of intriguing theories people have come up with after seeing this film countless times. (I wonder if any of those people were the ones who hated it originally because it didn’t explain everything that was on its mind…)

The film looks great. It’s the kind of otherworldly feel that only a master like Stanley Kubrick could bring to the screen. The cinematography is top-notch and the production design is utterly impressive. And it feels cold–so cold that you feel uncomfortable all throughout the film and yet you keep watching because it’s so effective. It especially works because the real fear is open to interpretation. Nothing is spelled out for the audience.

Oh, did I mention that Kubrick and Duvall for nominated for Razzie Awards for this film? As if you needed another reason to not take the Razzies seriously!

Critics didn’t quite know what to make of “The Shining” when it was first released. Audiences were even more confused. But since then, it’s gotten people talking about how strange and metaphorical it is, and now it’s considered a classic in the horror genre. And every time, I watch it, I get chills running up and down my spine.

I think much of the reasoning as to why has to do with the final shot: a photograph that says much and yet says nothing at the same time. What does it mean??

The moment that gets under my skin each time I watch it is late in the film when Wendy discovers what Jack’s been writing this whole time. You think he’s been working hard on his new novel, but instead…it’s just this line repeated on hundreds of pages: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” That doesn’t merely cement Jack’s “crazy” status…instead, it shows us how long he’s been going crazy! (“How do you like it?” “AAHH!!”)

On its own, “The Shining” is a masterpiece regardless of its source material. It takes you on a bizarre trip into madness and forces us to observe as someone slowly but surely loses what was left of his sanity. In the process, we get many scary details, such as creepy ghost twin girls, axe murders, and a chase through a snowy hedge maze…

“REDRUM!” “Here’s Johnny!” “Come play with us, Danny. Forever…and ever…and ever.”

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

18 Jun

By Tanner Smith

What is the greatest sequel of all time? “The Godfather Part II” or “The Empire Strikes Back?” Well…it’s easy to say either one, but I’ll go with The Empire Strikes Back simply because it had more to prove.

I mean, “The Godfather Part II” had a lot to follow up with too, since its predecessor was a Best Picture winner. But “The Empire Strikes Back” had more to lose (and…yeah, I guess it did lose people upon initial theatrical release, but I’ll get to that in a bit) because it was a sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time and it had to bring in both the kids and the adults. The first movie already entertained the kids highly–simple themes, black-and-white aspects, nothing but adventure, and so on–and it helped bring in older audiences because of its added simplicity. But with the sequel, they needed to show that they weren’t here for the moment–they were here to stay. Audiences needed to be entertained, but they needed to leave this film wanting more and thinking even more about what they already saw.

What resulted was one of the greatest films of all time. (I should apologize for the hyperbole, but…I won’t.)

“The Empire Strikes Back” is entertaining, for sure. The battle against the Imperial Walkers, the chase into the asteroid belt, the lightsaber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, among other sequences, are just as thrilling as anything in “A New Hope.” But there’s something else to this movie too. Under the guidance and teachings of wise Jedi master Yoda (which is still the greatest muppet work I’ve ever seen in any movie–the way it’s able to communicate even nonverbally is outstanding!), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has to learn more about what it truly means to master the arts of the Jedi. In any other movie, he’d go through some tough scrapes, then go in to fight the villain at the end, and come out victorious…but not in this movie.

“The Empire Strikes Back” does not end happily. The heroes are beaten and defeated (and one of them is captured), the villains are more powerful, and we now know more about the connection between Luke and Vader than what we ever could have expected (with what is still probably the greatest twist in any movie)…and audiences had to wait three years before learning what would happen next in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”

And that’s where audiences were split on the film in 1980. Many people weren’t especially happy that they didn’t get the “Star Wars” movie they wanted. (Oh, how times haven’t changed.)

Quick side-note: I like to think the emotional responses left from audiences match the ones I went through as an audience member for 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” (At least we only had to wait one year for that film’s conclusion.)

But other people knew back then that what they just saw in “The Empire Strikes Back” took a lot of guts and left them thinking and discussing with others about everything. And in the years since, people have come back to it with a better mindset. It’s the darkest “Star Wars” movie we’ve gotten and it’s also the greatest–and it’s one of my top 30 favorite films of all time.

Now, about Star Wars Episode Vi: Return of the Jedi–I love parts of it, but other parts of it could’ve been cut out or expanded upon or simplified or whatever. It’s still an entertaining film for what it is and I still like it, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

There are two other “Star Wars” movies that I’ll talk about in this series in the future because I can’t help but place them in my personal top 400-500 favorite movies (and yes, that is as far as the list goes–I’m not sorry, I love movies so much)–but I had to start with the two “Star Wars” movies in my top 100: “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” both of which the Force is still strong with.

Ordinary People (1980)

19 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I don’t want to talk about the “controversy” (and by “controversy,” I mean cinephiles complaining too damn much) of Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People” taking home the Best Picture AND Best Director Oscar awards over Martin Scorsese and his masterpiece “Raging Bull.” I just want to talk about “Ordinary People” and its own merits. If you’re looking for the elephant in the room, I’m sure you can find another review post-Oscars-1981. There’s a lot of them.

Truth is, “Ordinary People” is a fine film; a solid, effective, powerfully-acted family drama about three well-defined characters: an upper-middle-class young man coping with survivor’s guilt after the accidental death of his older brother, his conceited mother who can’t think of anything but how her son’s lack of interest in anything affects how people see the family, and his father who just wants peace between the two and within himself.

The son is teenage Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton). His life is a wreck ever since a tragic sailing accident resulting in the drowning of his older brother Bucky, the prince of the family. He survived with utmost guilt and tried to kill himself. Now that he’s out of psychiatric care, he’s back to live with his parents, returns to school, sees a therapist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), and tries to put his life back on track. That’s easier said than done. He has no interest in former activities, such as swimming for the school team, and his friends aren’t on the same level as him. He wanders through life in a constant state of confusion, anger, and self-hatred. But surely, his parents would be able to help…

Well, his father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), is a sad case. He wants to be there for his son, and he wants to help him, and at least he tries to make an effort to get through to him…which is more than I can say for Conrad’s mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore). How can I put this delicately? She’s very cold, one of the most realistic WASP characters I’ve ever seen in a movie, and utterly detestable. She’s withdrawn and wants to maintain the illusion that she’s the matriarch of a typical all-American suburban household with no issues at all, least of all a son who quits any and all activities and about whom her husband feels fine talking about in regards to his seeing a therapist. One of the most telling scenes is when she snaps at her son, saying how patients may act in psychiatric hospital won’t be tolerated in her household—Conrad snaps back, reminding her that she never visited him in the hospital and she might have visited Buck if he were in psychiatric care: she responds, “Buck never would’ve been in the hospital!” I hate this woman, but it’s interesting to try and understand why she feels this way. It’s like she desperately wants everything to remain status quo, so much so that she either can’t tell when something is more wrong than it seems or she just won’t acknowledge it.

“Ordinary People” is the directing debut from actor Robert Redford, and it’s adapted from by Alvin Sargent from the novel by Judith Guest. Both the novel and the film capture effectively what it’s like for a family in conflict, with compelling characters with different issues to follow—guilt, sorrow, confusion, etc. Communication between director and actor helps, of course. Redford not only captures the feel of what it’s like underneath the image of upper-middle-class suburbia, but he gets outstanding performances from each of his actors.

Speaking of whom, the film belongs to Timothy Hutton, since it’s his character’s story that’s being told. He has the right amount of intensity for a role like this, which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (even though it was hardly a supporting performance—but I won’t get into that either). Mary Tyler Moore, also nominated, helps us to see humanity buried deep within a superficial character—something about the way she tries to maintain control throughout all of this is just fascinating. Donald Sutherland (for some reason, not nominated) plays the kind of guy you just want to reach out and comfort and say everything’s going to be OK sooner or later. And Judd Hirsch, whom Hutton beat for the Oscar in the same category, has a few terrific scenes as the therapist, comedic before taking effective, darker turns. The acting practically makes the film, which otherwise is just a well-made, well-written social drama about a family trying (or not trying) to reconnect.

OK fine, I’ll go into a little bit about why I think “Ordinary People” took home high honors at the Oscars instead of Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”—it came out at just the right time. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, mainstream films were coming around to showing the truer sides of the Dysfunctional American Family and addressing issues that are faced every day. The previous Best Picture winner, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” focused on family coping with divorce, so it made sense that the sentimental Academy decided to give the trophy to a family drama about coping with tragedy. That’s the best explanation I can think of. Yes, obviously, “Raging Bull” is a masterwork from one of our greatest directors, and it didn’t win the Oscar—does that really mean we’re not going to love it any more than we do? “Ordinary People” is a fine film, and I’ll recognize it as a fine film—it’s well-directed, very well-written, and powerfully-acted…but I won’t consider it the best film of 1980.

I Spit On Your Grave (1980)

7 Feb


No Smith’s Verdict rating

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If it weren’t for the works of the late beloved film critic Roger Ebert, I wouldn’t be writing in this blog today. It rarely happens when a person’s impression on a film leaves its own impression on me; but Ebert’s no-nonsense trademark style of writing inspired me as a youngster to write my own film reviews and try to leave my own impression on readers. (Have I succeeded since then? Well…local Arkansas film-folks appreciated my Little Rock Film Festival reviews, if that counts.) Even when I disagreed with him about certain films (particularly “Jack,” “The Hitcher,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” among others), I could still understand why he felt the things he felt in stating his opinions.

With that said…Ebert, if you’re watching me from heaven, I hope you can understand why I’m writing about the movie you called the absolute worst in your whole lifetime of watching/reviewing movies: “I Spit On Your Grave.”

Meir Zarchi’s “I Spit On Your Grave” (originally released in 1978 under the title “Day of the Woman”) is a horrifying rape-revenge story as simple as this: a woman is brutally raped by four men (which is an understatement of the whole horror genre but I’ll get to that later), but she survives and exacts revenge on them by being far more brutal. That’s about it…

“I Spit On Your Grave” is not a film I hold in high regard. It’s not a film that makes me feel easy. It’s not even a film I would watch again anytime soon. But it’s not the worst movie ever made—it’s competently made, it took many chances and risks, and it’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, in the way that it was intended to be. It may be the film Roger Ebert hated the most, but it’s not the absolute worst.

That doesn’t mean I recommend it, especially to those with a weak stomach. But slamming it because it’s “disturbing,” which is what it was always meant to be, is not something I want to do.

Around the time this film got a wide release in 1980, there was a long wave of slasher & exploitation films that involved “women in danger,” which made Ebert and fellow film-critic Gene Siskel so mad they dedicated an entire episode of their TV show, “Sneak Previews,” to the “epidemic.” They both felt that these films (such as “Friday the 13th,” “Silent Scream,” and especially “I Spit On Your Grave”) were misogynistic messages against independent, free-spirited women; they do their own thing and are punished severely for it…by death. (When “Halloween,” which they say started that “trend,” did that sort of thing, it was a cautionary message for people who needed to make their priorities higher than sexual.) Here, in “I Spit On Your Grave,” we have a woman going through the most horrifying rape scene in film history. Did I say “scene?” My mistake. It’s an entire half-hour long sequence that begins with the woman (Camille Keaton) sunbathing in a canoe on the river and is suddenly interrupted by two rowdy men who come along in a motorboat, tie her and drag her to land, corner her to two other men, one of whom rapes her. Does it stop there? Nope. She runs into the woods, the guys catch up, and she’s beaten and raped again. Does it stop there? Nope! She staggers back to her cabin nearby, attempts to call for help via telephone, but the guys are already there waiting and they beat her and rape her again. It’s one of the most unpleasant, horrifying sequences ever put on film, regardless of the time it was made and released.

(Fun fact: According to IMDb, one crew member quit during filming of the second rape scene, and the film’s makeup artist quit the film halfway through, because she had been gang-raped before and this felt all too real for her.)

The rape scenes go on too long, but I think the reason for that was to make the viewer more uncomfortable and to show the gravity of the horrific situation. I’m not sure it was meant to be tedious, but the point still comes across in showing us why this woman would go through such extreme measures to get back at these brutes. Speaking of which…

Two weeks after the attack (and after the woman was left for dead) is when the woman decides to exact deadly revenge against the four men (one of whom is an otherwise mild-mannered mentally-retarded man constantly egged on by the three brutes). She hangs one, mutilates another, plunges an axe into another’s back, and mangles the last one with a boat motor. It’s all pretty graphic and disturbing, and if it wasn’t for the extremities of the extended rape scenes, it would seem all too gratuitous rather than comprehensible.

There’s an important scene in which the ringleader of the four men, Johnny (Eron Tabor), is held at gunpoint by the woman. He tries to defend his and his friends’ actions by saying things like “you were asking for it!” and “any man would’ve done the same thing!” And when the woman is threatening him to take off his clothes, Johnny retorts, “I don’t like women giving me orders!” And what happens to this guy? She fools him into taking a bath with her, and…well, never mind what she does to him. The point is, while Siskel and Ebert may have used this film to further campaign against the “women in danger” films of the era, the real target of “I Spit On Your Grave” is the chauvinist, violent nature. And nowhere is that clearer than when Johnny, who has a family, is fine with being disloyal and brutal toward women without thinking of the consequences. He sounds pathetic in justifying his actions to this woman who was just minding her own business before, especially when he thinks he’s speaking for the entire male gender. And the consequences he experiences are extreme to say the absolute least.

When the woman has her revenge, she shows no mercy. She even kills Matthew (Richard Pace), the mentally-slow one of the bunch. Harsh, yes. But it’s to show consequences in following peer pressure.

“I Spit On Your Grave” knows what it wants to do, and it’s not meant to appeal to everyone. The whole film feels raw, like we’re not watching a movie and it’s actually happening (well…with the exception of some bad, noticeable ADR in some spots). The camerawork is simple and the editing isn’t too flashy. Also, there’s no music soundtrack; it’s all diegetic sound, which works to the film’s advantage. It actually helps make the disturbing scenes all the more disturbing because it feels real. There’s a tense moment when the woman thinks she got away from the rapists, only to hear the sound of a harmonica playing; the closer she goes, the louder it gets, to be revealed that it’s one of the rapists sitting on a rock and playing the instrument.

Now, let’s look at Ebert’s review: He called the film “a vile bag of garbage” and stated that “attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.” Well, it didn’t make me feel happy, that’s for sure—but then again, when a violent film as raw as this shows the fringes of such violence, that can make anyone feel uneasy. He slams the “moronic simplicity” of the story and the technical mistakes, such as the “poorly recorded” sound. Understandable. And…wait a minute here—he says the violence is “interrupted only by an unbelievably grotesque and inappropriate scene in which [the woman] enters a church and asks forgiveness for the murders she plans to commit.” […] Roger, I’m trying to understand what you were trying to say there, because that scene seemed to me like she was going against her conscience by stooping to the level of the rapists (or below that level) and is hesitant about going through with it at first, hence why she begs forgiveness. Would you have preferred if she just went ahead and murdered them?

But then he goes from criticizing the film to criticizing the audience he saw it with, who were apparently rude, offensive, and vocal in their enjoyment of the film. He repeats some of their comments like “That was a good one!,” “That’ll show her!,” and “Cut him up, sister!” I don’t think he made any of this up, as there are some audience members who get a kick out of movie violence, but just after writing about this, he mentions how he left the theater “feeling unclean, ashamed, and depressed.” What he doesn’t express is whether or not that was the cause of the movie itself or the audience with which he saw it. But maybe it was both.

He concluded his review by calling the film “a geek show” and “an expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures.” I know he’s trying to say that as a mark against the film, but he ultimately described the film itself. (There’s even an exact quote excerpt of the latter statement seen on the back of the DVD box.) There have been many films that explored more deeply “the most diseased and perverted darker human natures,” the best of which came long since this film. It causes viewers to squirm, others to protest, and the rest to try and interpret why it is the way it is.

“I Spit On Your Grave” is disturbing, and it’s meant to be. To make a film with a message against over-the-top violence is to actually show over-the-top violence in great detail. Did it entertain me? No, but I don’t think it was supposed to. Did it make me think? Yes, hence the length of this entire review. Will I see it again? Well…no, probably not. Do I recommend it? Eh…only if you really want to check it out.

I’m not giving the film a Smith’s Verdict rating, but I’m not praising it or slamming it either. It is what it is, and I just reviewed it as such.

Note: If you’re wondering what film I hate the most, it’s Tom Green’s “Freddy Got Fingered.” I won’t even waste time in reviewing that thing.

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

24 Nov


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you make a sequel to a largely successful film, you have to take it in new directions. Bring back the characters if you must, but take them somewhere new and raise the stakes in their shared situations. After the surprise success of “Star Wars,” George Lucas was determined to create two following chapters to complete a trilogy as a whole, knowing that millions of people will see the sequel and will most likely see a third one. With Lucas’ story brought to life by new writers (Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett) and a new director (Irvin Kershner), “The Empire Strikes Back” (which Lucas called “Episode V” when he saw potential in telling three additional episodes as back-story, which would come years later) removes the joyfulness of the original “Star Wars” and takes the series in a dark, thought-provoking direction.

And boy, what a direction it took! Who doesn’t know the identity of Luke Skywalker’s father by now? It was the most shocking twist in not just the history of science-fiction but also film in general (arguably), and many people had to tell their friends and family either about the twist or to see the movie for themselves. (And they also quote it…or misquote it: “Luke, I am your father,” instead of “No. I am your father.”) To add on to the darkness, when you think there may be hope for good to triumph in this one, evil gets the upper hand and things have gotten even worse for our heroes. That was not the case in “Star Wars”—will it be the case in “Return of the Jedi,” the trilogy’s end?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film is set a while after the Death Star has been destroyed and Luke (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) have been with the Rebellion, whose base is on the ice planet of Hoth. But when an Imperial Probe Droid arrives, the Rebels must evacuate before it’s too late. But before long, the planet is invaded, as Darth Vader (David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) is certain his adversary, Luke, is present. Luke gets a vision from the spirit of his late advisor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and so he escapes with his faithful droid, R2-D2, to the planet of Degobah to learn the ways of the Jedi from wise Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile, Han, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han’s first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and worried droid C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) are having problems of their own, going through an asteroid field, barely escaping a strange gigantic creature, and dealing with a bounty hunter named Boba Fett, who is hunting Han for Jabba the Hutt (who Han owes money) and is in cahoots with Darth Vader.

The film cuts back-and-forth between these two stories, and it was a smart move to show both sides go through so much and bring more to this universe that we’re still learning about. They’re both intriguing in their own way. For Luke’s side, it’s learning to stretch all emotions in order to conquer his nemesis and not let his anger get the best of him. Yoda tries his best to teach him, but Luke is too aggressive and impatient to concentrate on the tasks at hand. For Han and Leia, it’s getting from one dangerous situation to another. So we have one story that’s psychological and another that’s action-packed. They intersect at the end, when both sides of the story come into place with a race to save companions and a lightsaber battle with Darth Vader. By the end, evil has almost triumphed, but there’s a ray of hope as Luke reunites with at least most of his friends, as they set off to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt and find some answers to new questions.

The aforementioned twist is the defining moment in the film. It occurs near the end of the film, after Luke nearly gets himself killed fighting Darth Vader, having fallen into a trap which used his friends in danger to lure him in. it’s no secret now, with the prequel trilogy showing how it came to be, but back in 1980, audiences gasped and were shocked. Even today, it’s a tragic moment when Luke realizes who Darth Vader is and would rather die than join him. It’s the most complex, compelling scene of any “Star Wars” film.

All the actors do fine work, having grown into their roles (and Billy Dee Williams, as a conflicted friend of Han’s named Lando Calrissian, is a welcome addition). But I can’t get through this review without talking about Yoda. This character is a masterpiece of state-of-the-art puppetry. I can tell this thing is Muppet-like, but at heart, I see Yoda as a real character—it even appears like his facial expressions change when they need to. Frank Oz’s Grover-like voice he lends to the role really helps a lot as well.

I also can’t let the review end without even a mention of John Williams’ fantastic score (which I, like an idiot, neglected to mention in my original “Star Wars” review). Williams’ score provides one of the best movie soundtracks of all time—rousing, dark, exciting, etc. This is also the first appearance of his infamous “Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme that brings the film to a darker, more operatic level.

And of course, the visual effects still hold up, with the exception of one—when Luke is falling through a tube, it doesn’t look convincing by today’s standards. But that’s one little nitpick I found in an excellent film. “The Empire Strikes Back” is easily the best film in the “Star Wars” franchise and one of the best, most rousing, brilliant science-fiction films ever to grace the screen. And so, Lucas has opened a door to another sequel that would provide the answers we’ve been waiting for, which would be released three years later (a long time to wait but better late than never). How would “Return of the Jedi” turn out? Join me in the next review.

My Bodyguard (1980)

4 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“My Bodyguard” is an enjoyable, appealing high-school comedy-drama with quite the engaging premise: a short teenage boy is bullied by a group of thugs at his new high school, so he hires the biggest kid in the class to be his bodyguard. That itself sounds like an appealing idea for a teen movie, but “My Bodyguard” has the heart and soul to progress it even further by adding an interesting development in the friendship that the boy and his “bodyguard” form with each other. This movie could have been just a pleasant comedy; it’s more than that.

The hero of “My Bodyguard” is fifteen-year-old Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace), a regular kid. He’s shy, small for his age, and normal…which doesn’t make him very popular at his new high school. On his first day, he is immediately the target of the campus wise-guy, Moody (Matt Dillon), and his cohorts who threaten students for a dollar each day. Moody puts it this way—one dollar each day gives them reason to protect them from the dreaded Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), the school’s hulking, most whispered-about, feared kid who is said to have raped a teacher, killed a cop, poked out some guy’s eyes, etc. Clifford sees right through the bull, and refuses to pay. Thus, the bullies make school miserable for him.

Once Clifford notices that Moody is actually intimidated by Linderman himself, Clifford gets the idea to pay him some money to be his bodyguard. After more torture from the bullies, Linderman finally shows some sympathy and, in one of the film’s best scenes, humiliates Moody with the mere presence of him and Clifford standing together, in front of all their classmates.

You could call that the end of Movie 1. In Movie 2, we see more of Clifford and Linderman as they develop a nice friendship together. At first, Linderman just wants the kid to go away and leave him alone. But Clifford wants to know more about the guy and why he’s so closed off from everybody else in school. Eventually though, they do become friends as they hang out together and talk about some past experiences. They even find the missing part Linderman needed for his broken-down motorcycle, after a year of searching (and they ride through the city of New York together). There is a tragic incident dangling in the background, however, as Clifford learns that the death of Linderman’s younger brother may or may not have been his fault. Either way, he learns this is why he alienates himself from everybody, and because of his appearance, his peers like to share horror stories about him (“I heard…” etc.). And Linderman himself, as it turns out, isn’t much good in a fight. Later in the movie, Moody hires his own bodyguard who is about the size of Linderman, and Linderman actually chickens out. We get more character development and room for further story details as the movie continues.

But in the end, you know the drill—the two “bodyguards” will finally square off against each other in a fistfight, and so will Clifford and Moody. It’s pretty easy to predict the outcome, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy seeing the bullies get their comeuppance.

If there’s one thing about “My Bodyguard” that really doesn’t work, and practically kills the movie for a good few minutes every time it appears, it’s every scene set in the hotel where Clifford lives and where his dad (Martin Mull) works as a manager. And it’s also where we get the most unnecessary character in the movie—Clifford’s wild, young-for-her-age grandmother (Ruth Gordon) who constantly hits on younger men, gets drunk, delivers one-liners, and pretty much annoyed me every time she showed up. Why is she in this movie? She adds nothing to the story, except teaching Linderman and Clifford “palm-reading” which has no payoff except they can show their friends how to do it.

With the exception of that constant distraction, “My Bodyguard” gets his pleasurable moments from the scenes involving the kids. The kids and their high-school adventures are appealing and fun to watch, with sharp writing and good acting. Chris Makepeace is very likeable; Adam Baldwin is solid as Linderman; Matt Dillon is suitably creepy; and there’s also Paul Quandt as Clifford’s rumor-spewing classroom buddy and Joan Cusack as braces-sporting nice-girl Shelly. They all do very good work here.

“My Bodyguard” is a lighthearted, pleasant comedy that has only one troublesome distraction. I’m serious—take out the Ruth Gordon character, and you’ve got a great movie. For the most part, it’s fun, enjoyable, and amusing.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

8 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If you can get past the strange concept that allows the possibility of time travel in “Somewhere in Time,” you’d be watching an admittedly cute movie about how one man falls in love…but only 68 years in the past.

Christopher Reeve, the likable star of the “Superman” movies, plays the man, named Richard Collier. He’s a playwright who is celebrating his first play when he’s approached by an elderly woman who hands him a gold pocket watch and simply says, “Come back to me” before leaving. Who is this woman? Richard finds that out eight years later as he stays at the Grand Hotel, after getting over a breakup and while suffering writer’s block. He sees a picture of a beautiful young actress, becomes enthralled, looks up her biography, and finds the latest picture of her, revealing herself to be the woman who gave him the pocket watch, which he still carries around with him.

Richard becomes obsessed with the idea of traveling backward through time, after discovering that the woman has read a book about the subject of time travel. The book was written by one of Richard’s old college professors, so he asks him how he can go back to the year 1912 and see that actress, named Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).

And so, because this method of self-hypnosis could work for him, and because the movie doesn’t want any past/present misunderstandings, Richard buys an early 20th century suit, cuts his hair for the appropriate time setting, and rids himself of any modern conveniences. He goes to sleep, forcing himself to actually believe he’s no longer in his own time—he’s in the year 1912. It works, and he’s well dressed for the period. Now it’s time to find Elisa and win her affections.

So I guess the idea of this time travel method is that you have to record yourself saying that you’re where you want to be and if you have to keep anything modern out of sight (so you keep the recorder under your bed), or it won’t work. That may sound ridiculous, even confusing (for example, if it’s a dream, then how is there an effect in Richard’s present? Apparently, it’s not a dream, in that case), but getting down to it, it’s more noble than creating a time machine. It’s power of the mind, to say the least.

Eventually, Richard does meet Elisa and they fall in love, as Richard decides to stay in a time not his own just to stay with her. The developing relationship between these two is nicely done, especially considering the possibility that she’s been waiting for him to come along. The chemistry is there between these two actors—Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour—and you root for their characters to be together. Both actors are good. In particular, Christopher Reeve shows more range here than in “Superman,” and he’s still as likable.

There is a villain in this movie—Elisa’s manager William Robinson (Christopher Plummer). He’s been keeping track of Elisa’s career since she was a teenager and keeps her isolated in order to keep her career going. He resents the arrival of Richard from the moment he sees him, believing that he’ll be the one to take her away from stardom to love. What doesn’t work about his character is that there are hints are to whether or not he knew about Richard’s real presence, but are never addressed. He’s either a time lord or a man obsessed with his managing job.

I should also credit the set and costume design by Jean-Pierre Dorleac for creating the feeling that we have indeed traveled back to 1912.

“Somewhere in Time” isn’t a great movie—aside from somewhat confusing time travel elements and a too-mysterious villain, I didn’t buy the ending very well—but it’s intriguing and sweet enough to win me over.

The Shining (1980)

17 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Who can be truly trusted in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining?” There are three central characters taking up the screen most of the time and they all seem to be going crazy, even though two of them end up running from another one who is wielding an axe. Those two aren’t exploited as possibly losing their sanities but when the movie is over, you really have to think about it. Did we see what we really saw? Did we hear what we really heard? Did we rely on the right central character?

“The Shining” could be considered a ghost story. It features a creepy hotel that appears to be haunted. We get glimpses of ghostly twin sisters and a whole party in the hotel bar that was supposed to be closed for the winter. I wouldn’t call it a ghost story because of what is never quite explained. But there are many elements of a ghost story within “The Shining,” and a lot more to it than that so that I wouldn’t call it a ghost story. What it is, however, is downright frightening.

Who else but Stanley Kubrick would want to make this movie? He always wants to take chances and with “The Shining,” he takes the chance of changing King’s original novel into a story with no reliable narrator and that really makes wonder. But his biggest strength is his direction, which is great here. We get long hallways inside this hotel, long panning shots in which the camera follows one character from one room to another seemingly from the wall rather than behind the character, nicely done steadycam shots (the best of which features a little boy named Danny riding a tricycle through a long hallway—that scene alone is creepy, especially when he goes around corners because we think he might see something disturbing around that particular corner or the next one, and also when the wheels make a rumbling sound on the hardwood floor but is muffled when riding on a carpet), and a great sense of isolation. This is a hotel high up in the mountains. It is closed for the winter. Novelist Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is hired as the caretaker while it is closed. He brings along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and five-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd).

The first scene of “The Shining,” in which Jack is interviewed, recalls some great formality in the dialogue. Jack and his employer make some small talk but then unexpectedly, the employer tells Jack about the original caretaker of the same hotel—he went insane with cabin fever and chopped his family into little pieces. Jack takes this rather well, “That’s not going to happen to me.”

We then learn that Jack is a recovering alcoholic and seems like a nice enough person to his wife and son. Wendy is rather meek and follows her husband wherever. Danny, on the other hand, is a special case. He has an imaginary friend named Tony, who is described by Danny as “the little boy who lives in my mouth.” Is Tony real? Well, even when Danny is alone, he uses his finger for Tony to talk. And Tony shows Danny visions of what could happen at the hotel. These visions are terrifying, one of which features what appears to be blood filling up an entire hallway. The most disturbing is a shot of two men huddled together near the end of a bed (one of which is wearing a bear suit—huh???) Later on, those visions prove accurate…

There is another person that shares Danny’s gift called “shining.” This character is probably the only trustworthy character in the movie—the hotel’s original cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). He is away from the hotel but there are small scenes in which he grows concerned about the family being all alone in that hotel.

He has reason to be concerned. Things go wrong as the family spends months at the hotel. Jack starts to get grumpy and Danny is seeing terrifying visions of ghosts and past events. Wendy is just trying to adjust and keep the family together but when she notices Jack’s odd behavior, she can’t help but be concerned. What can she do to help? Later through the movie, Jack’s grumpiness turns to insanity as he talks to ghosts in the hotel bar. The cabin fever has certainly gotten the better of him. Much later, it becomes clear that Wendy and Danny’s lives are in jeopardy, beginning in the movie’s most shocking revelation in which Wendy discovers how long Jack has been going crazy—by finding out what he’s written, as a novelist, in the past few months they’ve been at the hotel (I will not give it away). But when you think about what these characters are seeing, you start to wonder if Wendy and Danny are going crazy as well. If that’s the case, who can we rely on in this story? There’s a revealing twist at the end that I would dare to give away but it really made me question the entire movie, which is very frightening.

Jack Nicholson is one of the best actors…period. He is phenomenal as Jack, calm with his assuring voice, grumpy when possible, and absolutely crazy and powerful in the second half of the movie. Shelley Duvall is doing what she is supposed to be doing—sane in the first half, hysteric in the second. I believed her when she was scared practically to death.

I believe I should also mention the long hedge maze near the hotel. The way Kubrick directs characters walking through this giant maze is fantastic, really giving us fear and a sense of entrapment.

“The Shining” needs to be watched and then interpreted. Take every plot element piece by piece and try to come up with your own analysis. I can’t say I “enjoyed” “The Shining.” But I definitely can’t forget it either.

Friday the 13th (1980)

15 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Friday the 13th” started a ridiculously popular series of deplorable slasher films, neither of which I can recommend. Did this film deserve a sequel to lead to more sequels? Well, no. In fact, I really don’t understand why the film was so popular with the horror-movie crowd. It’s poorly made, slow moving, and, to be honest, not very memorable, save for a few creepy moments.

It is, however, another example of a slasher film in which teenagers, mostly women, are alive at the beginning, and then dead by the end. Ever since the iconic “Halloween,” there have been so many of these going around. Heck, the filmmakers actually make a note that their intention for “Friday the 13th” was to “rip off ‘Halloween’”—class act. All that was missing was the tension, excitement, and suspense—instead, we just have pretty, poorly-developed young people as characters waiting to be hacked off one by one.

The story pretty much sets them up for it. It’s about a closed-down summer camp that is finally about to be reopened years after supposed deaths. There is rumors spread by the nearest town’s loony that it has a “death curse,” and the locals refer to it as “Camp Blood.” But the new owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) decides to get finally get things up and running again. The movie takes place in a day and night at the camp in which six counselors get everything prepared for campers. But someone is watching them from afar…

Many people know the killer Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series—the husky, silent killer in the hockey goalie mask that never stops killing and never dies permanently (he always comes back). But wait a minute—Jason isn’t the killer in this movie. In fact, he doesn’t even appear until the very end of the movie, and that’s just Jason as a little boy, in a dream. And I have to point that that dream sequence in which little Jason suddenly pops out of the river, grabs the Final Girl, and pulls her under (then she wakes up) is a shocker, although I think the better credit for that should go to the music accompanying it.

Speaking of which, Harry Manfredini’s music score for “Friday the 13th” is simple but effective, and it really ups the creepiness when the killer is around and something is about to happen. I don’t normally like it when the music sets up something big to happen, but the music here is something that gives “Friday the 13th” some merit.

And there are times when “Friday the 13th” is atmospheric, using the outdoors as the wide-open space that it is, where there are many places to run, but not always to hide.

The characters are paper-thin, and there are only three that are memorable for unfair reasons. One is Jack, played by Kevin Bacon—the reason he’s memorable is because…he’s played by Kevin Bacon, who went on to bigger and better things long since this movie. Another is Ned, played by Mark Nelson—he’s memorable because…he’s annoying as hell. And then there’s Alice (Adrienne King). She has no personality, but we’re supposed to follow her because she’s the film’s obligatory Final Girl who fights off the killer in the final act. Only one character seemed kind of interesting—an independent young woman named Annie (Robbi Morgan), the camp’s hired cook, who is hitchhiking to get to the camp…and gets murdered for it. I liked her; she had an appealing presence and before they could develop her character, they killed her off after a few scenes.

Another problem with “Friday the 13th” is its terribly slow pacing. The scene just goes on and on with many characters, individually, until the killer finally kills them off. We’re just stuck waiting and waiting for the person to die, without any sense of nail-biting tension. This is the movie that people are afraid of? I can’t imagine an audience being on the edge of their seats during this movie.

The final twenty minutes of the film is where the action picks up, as Alice is forced to fight against the killer after learning the killer’s identity. I won’t mind giving away the “big secret” because a lot of other people have. The killer isn’t Jason—it’s his mother Megan Voorhees. She’s played by Betsy Palmer, in a Razzie-worthy performance; her role and her motive is laughably absurd and her wide-eyed imitation of her son saying, “Kill her Mommy! Kill her!” is just embarrassing.

“Friday the 13th” is unremarkable. It’s a deplorable, weak rip-off of “Halloween” (and no, that’s not a compliment to the filmmakers). It was just another one of those unnecessary movies that led to unnecessary sequels and you can’t believe it got this popular status.

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

30 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Of all of the lame, obnoxious teenage sex movies, I have to give credit to “The Blue Lagoon” for one thing—it is probably the best-looking of the sort. Not only do the central young actors look like they stepped out of magazine covers (and their bodies are fully tanned), but the setting is a tropical island in the South Pacific.

That, and the cinematography is lovely.

And I should give it credit for not taking place in the suburbs, where most of these films take place (to try and give it a realistic, identifiable feel).

But “The Blue Lagoon” is one of the absolute worst. It made my skin crawl. It may have tried something new, but it didn’t impress me and it didn’t make me care—it just made me want to turn the movie off. (And trust me—I really could have turned the DVD off, if I didn’t endure the rest of the movie to review it.)

The film stars Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins as two young, attractive teenagers marooned on a deserted island since they were little. They spend their days fishing, swimming, and playing in their handmade hut. Of course, they have the intelligence of seven-year-olds, which makes their life together difficult once they reach puberty. They experience many changes to their bodies, and they also fall in love with each other. Later in the film, they are naked in the jungle and they experience sexual intercourse.

By the way, am I the only one who simply can’t believe that these dumb kids have lived on this island for years without anything seriously bad happening to them?

And on top of that, isn’t it established early in the film that these two young people are cousins? They either don’t know it, or don’t know just sick their deeds are, being cousins. Either way, it just makes the whole film…icky. And I know that the sex scenes are supposed to be erotic, but all I’m thinking about is whether or not Randal Kleiser was actually intending to create a big-budget teenage porno. Well, probably not. There’s a subplot to make sure of that, and to try and make sure that there is conflict on the island—it’s a mysterious ghost tribe in the middle of the island that the kids are forbidden by their late caretaker (Leo McKern) to go to, and there’s an idol that they praise, which the kids believe is God. What is the purpose of this subplot? To distract us from all the exoticness, or lack thereof? There’s never a resolution; there’s not even a scene where the tribe sees the kids as a threat, or where they put them in danger. They never even meet. Oh, I should also note the distracting shots of the sea turtles having sex. I guess this isn’t a teenage porno after all. But who cares?

The movie really hits a new low when the girl gets pregnant, and she has a baby. They spend long months wondering what is going on inside the girl’s stomach, and why there’s a baby now. They try to feed the baby fresh fruit before discovering the act of breast-feeding.

Also, I have to say that both young actors who take up most of the screen together are equally bland. These kids may be attractive, but they need better acting coaches. And no, this has nothing to do with my resentment towards the decision to see all of Christopher Atkins, and not all of Brooke Shields, since her long hair was so carefully draped to her breasts (even her body double doesn’t bare all).

“The Blue Lagoon” absolutely makes me cringe. It’s a horrid, misguided, irresponsible teenage sex movie…but it looks nice.