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Gregory’s Girl (1982)

27 Sep

GREGORY'S GIRL 1981 film still

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the early 1980s, there was a trend in the movies called “teenage-sex movies.” Ever since “Porky’s” was released in 1982 and became a huge box-office hit, studios have tried to cash in on its success by simply making comedies about horny teenagers, usually boys, looking to “get lucky” with the opposite sex. They claim to be about growing up and becoming a man, when really, they’re really about unlikable jackasses who would nothing better than to have sex. They’re not looking for love or friendship with a member of the opposite sex; they see them as mysterious creatures or objects to obtain or hunt (or jump). So few movies about teenagers at the time were about real teenagers with real relationships and problems and so on—one in particular I can think of at the top of my head is “Tex,” which is one of my favorite movies; that film wasn’t about sex, but it was about coming of age and becoming a man.

Another film released around this time, and undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for critics and audiences looking for that type of film, was a Scottish film called “Gregory’s Girl,” made by Bill Forsyth. This is a film about an awkward, weird, not particularly handsome young man, named Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair), and his misadventures through life and through love. He’s curious about the girl he likes, but just wants to get to know her better, unlike his friends who would just do anything to get girls to notice them, even if it’s not particularly charming topics of conversation. (We all had friends like that in high school, didn’t we? My friend would often quote “Austin Powers” to try and impress a girl. Don’t try that, by the way. But I digress.)

Gregory is on the soccer team (though, it’s actually known as “football” there, of course), but his lack of skill and coordination on the field puts him down to the position of goalie. Taking his place is Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), an attractive, athletic girl who is a very talented soccer player. No one can believe how well “a girl” can play, especially the coach, but Gregory notices it as “modern” and sees her true athletic skills. But also, he immediately falls in love with her. He can’t stop thinking about her, he likes the way she plays, he likes the way she smells, he likes everything about her. He even likes her scars—there’s one scene in which Gregory and Dorothy show each other scars and injuries from their pasts. That’s a great scene—the chemistry is perfect, the body language is accurate, and you can really get a sense of what these two feel towards each other, as they’re polite during certain feelings they go through in this sequence.

So, we know that Gregory likes Dorothy a whole lot, but how does Dorothy feel about Gregory? Well, truth be told, I’m not sure. You can tell she likes him a little, and she knows he likes her, and she’s not above flirting with him while also making friendly conversation. You’re not quite sure of what she feels, but you know what? I was never sure how any girl in high school really felt; there’s hardly a way of knowing for us guys. Despite the title “Gregory’s Girl,” the film is not necessarily about Dorothy, but more about how Gregory reacts to these feelings he has now developed and how he works up the courage to ultimately ask her out on a date. The last 20 minutes of the film, in which he does have the courage to ask out Dorothy and what happens after he does, do not go in the way you’d expect it to be, but without giving too much away, you do feel Gregory’s confusion that slowly but surely turns into happiness.

Now, to be sure, this isn’t a complete success. Sometimes, it can be a little too cute in its humor and sometimes tries a bit too hard, particularly whenever Gordon John Sinclair does some bizarre improvisations (like mimicking a cat’s meow repeatedly) to make us laugh at him. And there’s also a disturbing subplot that sneaks its way in later in the film and is never made of anything again—is it me or did it seem like the soccer coach was flirting with Dorothy?

When “Gregory’s Girl” focuses on the mixed, messed-up emotions that real adolescents have in their lives, it works as comedy and drama, with gentle goofiness and a sense of sincerity. There are funny moments to be sure, but there are more sweet moments. I didn’t even mention the conversations Gregory has with his precocious 10-year-old sister, who herself is oblivious to boys (there is one, however, that does pine for her). They add to the charm and humor of this nicely-done film.

The Last American Virgin (1982)

19 Jul


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Well, I can’t exactly write about “The Last American Virgin” without bringing up some trivial background. This came out in the year 1982, when the “Teenage Sex Movies” craze of the 1980s was making itself known. When “Porky’s” was a big hit with audiences, producers thought to cash in on its success by making their own films that involve horny teenagers (mostly teenage boys who hope to get laid) and a lot of teenage sex. “The Last American Virgin” was released shortly after “Porky’s,” and then came “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (which, mind you, is less crude and more insightful than the other such movies) and then the class of such films began, a great deal of them ranging from mediocre to godawful. How does “The Last American Virgin” fit into the range? Well…a part of me wants people to avoid it at all costs, because a large portion of the movie is either painful or predictable (or painfully predictable or predictably painful). The other part of me…well, I’ll get to that later.

The story: Gary (Lawrence Monoson) is a typical, average high school kid who scopes every pretty girl he spots and pretty much wants to get laid. (And to be fair, despite the title “The Last American Virgin,” the movie isn’t about a desperate attempt for Gary to have sex.) His friends are hunky jerk Rick (Steve Antin) and portly Belushi-esque David (Joe Rubbo), who have more luck than him; Gary usually gets the wrong end of the stick when the boys attempt to get laid. This leads to many comedic moments that are more predictable and groan-worthy than funny and laugh-worthy. First, the boys pick up three girls and bring them to Gary’s house when his parents aren’t home. This exploit leads to embarrassing moments involving bare breasts, a misunderstanding, and, wouldn’t you know it, the surprised arrival of Gary’s parents.

Even more misadventures come as the movie continues. The boys borrow a nerdy friend’s car to make out at a makeout point, and—wouldn’t you know it—the car winds up in the lake. Gary delivers a pizza (he’s a delivery boy) to a sex-crazed woman who promises he’ll get lucky if he comes back, and so he brings Rick and David next time; Rick and David have their time with her, but—wouldn’t you know it—before Gary has his chance, her husband comes home and chases them away. And so on. I can see a lot of “Porky’s” here, and I can see where some of these other “Teenage Sex Movies” gained their inspiration for “comedic highlights.” I won’t even mention the prostitute the boys come across and what that leads to because once you notice a certain shot, you’ll know right away what the punchline is.

Actually, you know what? I don’t want to do that to you, so I’ll just give it away right here. They all have sex with her and they get crabs. That’s it.

These moments are scattered all over “The Last American Virgin” and the bigger problem is that they’re dull and predictable. Every time the punchline came around, I had to say to myself, “Of course.” They’re not very funny; they’re just painful for the most part.

Gary’s crush is a pretty transfer student named Karen (Diane Franklin) whom he tries to get to go out with him. She likes him as a friend, and only has her eyes set on loathsome, studly Rick. Later in the movie, she and Rick have sex, which breaks Gary’s heart. But later, Karen is pregnant and Rick just ignores her and shuts her out because she irritates him. So Gary comes to the aid of poor Karen and pays for an abortion and offers her a place to stay for a while (his grandparents’ house).

Then it seems as if you know how this is going to end, with Gary and Karen winding up together because that’s what we want, after we’ve seen how much Gary genuinely cares for Karen and Karen is starting to like him. At no point can we predict the ending of “The Last American Virgin.” And that’s the main distinction you can get from this otherwise-trashy movie: the ending. You think Gary and Karen are going to be together because that’s how we like our movies to end, and this ending comes along like a punch in the gut. Gary is invited to Karen’s birthday party and he buys her a nice necklace as a gift. He goes to the party, asks David where Karen is, David says she’s in the kitchen, and Gary opens the kitchen door and…Karen is making out with Rick. That’s right—despite what Rick has done and what he put her through, Karen took him back. Gary’s dreams of having a romance with her are shattered, his heart is broken, and he doesn’t even say a word—he just leaves the party, drives home alone in tears, and…the end-credits roll. That’s seriously how “The Last American Virgin” ends: with a downbeat, depressing, true-to-life ending.

Sheesh! Did this movie have test-screenings? I wouldn’t think audiences would have appreciated this before it was released! Even “Tex,” the most credible “teen film” among the group, had an ending more upbeat than this.

If there’s anything can be taken from this movie, it’s that ending. Not the nudity, not the failed comedy, not the poor acting (I’ve seen Lawrence Monoson do a better acting job as the best friend in “Mask,” but here, he lacks strong emotion—and no one else is any better), not even the early-‘80s soundtrack (by the way, they play the same songs over and over again to create “themes”; it’s pretty distracting). It’s the ending. That’s the only thing I can take from this movie, which is otherwise deplorable and ineffective. I think that’s why I give it a two-star rating instead of a one. The film did try and bring some solidness and honesty to the mix, and I give the filmmakers credit for that because “Porky’s” was too focused on nudity, crudeness, sex, and hi-jinks to care for anything else. “The Last American Virgin” is not a film I recommend, but it is a film I can respect in certain cases.


The Thing (1982)

20 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What can I say about “The Thing?” On one hand, it’s an effective, well-made science-fiction/horror movie with a sense of atmosphere and ultimately nifty, well-crafted special effects with elements that I hadn’t seen before. On the other hand, there is a lot of gore and disgusting imagery involving the hostile creatures in this movie, most of which I’m not sure I would even want to see again. It’s an uneasy movie to watch, but it is well-executed—I guess that makes it a reason to recommend the movie as a critic.

“The Thing” centers around a U.S. Antarctic expeditionary crew who follows their routine one day until a dog appears on their outpost, followed by a Norwegian chopper in pursuit. With the Norwegians dead, the dog stays at the post as the people go to figure out what’s going on. They find the Norwegian’s base and find all sorts of secret documents and videotapes, containing information about some thing that was frozen underground and unthawed. No prizes for those who guess that the thing is a spaceship.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out the dog wasn’t the innocent victim of a hunting game. It was actually an alien creature that was buried in the ship long ago and revived by the Norwegians. (How? I don’t know—they didn’t explain it very well.) It turns out this dangerous creature has the ability to digest anything it comes in contact with and then turn into them after it kills them. By the time the crew realizes what’s exactly going on, the peril intensifies. Since this “thing” can transform into anything it touches, no one knows who’s a human and who’s an alien.

Most of what “The Thing” has to offer are the creature effects, which compose of some of the most shocking, slimy, nauseating sights you’ll ever see in a movie. As the dog opens its mouth, it turns itself inside out to reveal a creature head, grows many spider-like legs, and sprouts a lot of twitching tentacles to reach out and grab things, including the other wolves in the pen. Then, there’s a scene in which a dead person, killed by the thing, is operated on and then his stomach suddenly opens up and grows a set of large fanged teeth (yes, teeth), bites the operator’s hands off, and grows beanstalks from his neck, which decapitates him. And then the head grows more tentacles and walks around like a spider! And there’s more. Many more. They’re all convincing, but that’s what makes them most revolting.

One other problem with “The Thing” is its poor characterization. The characters are either poorly developed or not developed at all. As I check the cast list, most of the many victims are played by seemingly popular character actors. But aside from Kurt Russell as the film’s tough hero, no one in this movie stands out. Unfortunately, this means I didn’t care much for who all lived and died, and that’s a key element for a horror movie.

Why can I recommend “The Thing” if I tell people that they might be revolted by its disgusting imagery and lack of character development? Well, the effects are well-done and if you’re in the right mind set, they are fun to watch. I like the creativity that came with these special effects—there are some unique monsters here. I also liked Kurt Russell as the hero, because Russell at least made an effort to do something with his character. And there’s a real sense of atmosphere in this movie—the director John Carpenter, who made great atmosphere out of the suburbs in the creepy “Halloween,” makes use of his surroundings and effectively recreates the Antarctic. It looks real and feels real, so the action and terror surrounding it makes for some good tense moments. So don’t say I’m going soft on “The Thing,” because if I was, then…maybe I’m a Thing. (Mwahahaha!)

Poltergeist (1982)

6 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Steven Spielberg had this to say about “E.T.,” which he directed, and “Poltergeist,” which he produced (both were released within the same year): “If ‘E.T.’ was a whisper, ‘Poltergeist’ was a scream.” Right you are, sir. While “E.T.” is a sensational family entertainment, “Poltergeist” is a scarefest that will most likely cause nightmares for any child under the age of ten. This is a movie in which almost every special effect Industrial Lights and Magic could create for two movies is squeezed into this one movie. We get killer trees, glowing ghosts, goo oozing from a doorknob, a portal appears in a closet, and more. All of these strange and scary events take place in a house inhabited by a family of five…and something else. This house is in suburbia, where every house looks the same. One of the reasons “Poltergeist” works as an effective thriller is having the horror occur in this typical, comfortable home is effective enough.

One of the best things about “Poltergeist” is that everything is seen through the eyes of the family that lives in the house. We don’t fully understand why these strange events occur and why these spirits are here. But neither do the family. We get a nice couple (Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams) and their three kids. The youngest child of the family—a little girl named Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke)—is the first to notice that something strange is happening. In the opening scene, she walks down the stairs and over to the TV just to say “hello.” She then tells her family, who are standing by and watching, that “they’re here.”

Who’s here? “The TV people.” How does she know they’re here? Um…

It seems like there are spirits living on a blank TV channel and they really are there too. They use parlor tricks to get their attention first. They stack chairs and propel little Carol Anne from one side of a room to the other. But soon, things get really dangerous and the spirits kidnap that little girl and take her to their realm. The doorway to their world is in her closet. So the couple need outside help to get their daughter back.

This is where even stranger events happen. A tree comes to life and tries to eat the middle child. A young doctor hallucinates himself tearing the skin off his face. Ghosts walk down the stairs. A clown doll tries to strangle one of the kids. A swimming pool has a life of its own. If there’s one explanation as to why this is all happening, it’s that the same villains in “Poltergeist” are the same villains in “Jaws.” They’re the town authorities. Instead of telling people it’s safe to go back in the water again, this time they’re telling people it’s OK to build houses on top of a cemetery.

All of this gains our attention because “Poltergeist” works as an effective thriller and as a scary thrill ride. The cast does well and the special effects are indeed special. Steven Spielberg is an executive producer for this movie and I should also mention that the director of “Poltergeist” also directed “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” What a good team. Spielberg works with effectiveness along with his special effects and Hooper specializes in realistic violence. But strangely enough, the movie is rated PG and it is definitely not for younger kids. Also strange is that for a horror film, nobody is killed or brutally hurt (the flesh-ripping is just a hallucination). But that’s not a criticism. “Poltergeist” is a little ridiculous but its reason for being is to scare us and make fear for this family. And it works at doing that. This is the haunted-house movie that “The Amityville Horror” wanted to be.

First Blood (1982)

4 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“First Blood” is a movie about a Vietnam vet/war hero who fights in a new war—this time, in the woods outside a small town against its police force. That premise alone sounds like it’d make an intriguing action film while also making for some legitimate drama, and for the most part, “First Blood” succeeds. Sure, there’s implausibility in many of its stunts and tactics, but they work mainly because Sylvester Stallone, acting as the hero, makes it work. Already making his mark as the physical-type title role in “Rocky,” Stallone also made his mark as one of the great physical actors. In “First Blood,” we can believe that he can escape an entire police force in their station simply because he wills it. That leads to the chase outside of town, into the woods, and into a situation he shouldn’t be able to escape. Even that, no matter how implausible it is, seems believable enough because that’s how Stallone plays it.

Stallone is easy to catch our attention in “First Blood”—he owns the screen. He plays John Rambo, a drifter who is also a returned Vietnam veteran that we learn later has experience in survival. He’s just passing through a small town, hoping to meet one of the people from his troop only to discover that he died of cancer. Realizing he’s the lone veteran in his troop, he walks sullenly through town. However, the local sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) is suspicious of him. He stops Rambo and gives him a ride to the town limits, hoping he’ll go away and non-subtly hinting that “his kind” aren’t welcome in this town. But Rambo doesn’t want to leave just yet without getting something to eat, and Teasle places him under arrest.

This is where things get pretty intense. Rambo’s interrogation is not handled well and the cops’ behavior evokes painful memories from his experiences in Vietnam, so Rambo escapes and makes his way outside the town and into the forest, with the police force in pursuit. However, what they didn’t count in was Rambo’s resourcefulness. He’s able to make things miserable for these people, and he does this because they deserve what they get coming to them. He wasn’t even a threat to them before, and yet they treat him as such. Even when Rambo unintentionally kills one of them and tries to give himself up so no one else will die, they continue to open fire at him. Sheriff Teasle will not let it go, but Rambo’s skills turn out to be too much for his men. And so, the military arrives, led by Rambo’s former commanding officer in Vietnam, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna).

The first half of “First Blood,” in which Rambo lives off the land and uses his skills to nab the hunting police, is well-done. We feel sympathy for Rambo and anger for Teasle and his men. We want Rambo to give it to these jackasses. There are many ways Rambo is able to outsmart them—even by camouflaging himself (in a hurry, I’d guess) in the green so he can strike and then sink back into invisibility.

But the second half has its problems. For one thing, the action isn’t as intense or even as interesting as two other main elements it has to it. One of those two elements is the character of Trautman, whose loyalties are in question. He wants to help the man he trained into this fighting machine, but at the same time, he’s in charge of those looking to bring him down as Rambo starts his own war with them. This is intriguing irony and makes for some good moments. The other element that I felt was very strong was Rambo’s final speech to Trautman about how he’s haunted by his nightmares of Vietnam, but will never survive in this society because of what he was taught. He feels like he belongs in a world of war, not in a peaceful society. That’s a powerful speech, but it was followed by an action sequence that wasn’t particularly well-done as Rambo finally raises all hell on the town. It’s not that it isn’t shot right or anything, but it’s that it’s mainly just executed as a bore, especially compared to the stimulating first half.

Mostly though, “First Blood” is a good movie. It’s not merely about an action hero walking around, kicking ass. It’s about something more than you’d expect from hearing about it—how one chooses to live through one society after the nightmares conveyed by the past. It’s treated with more intelligence than you’d expect. Stallone’s great, but also, Richard Crenna is strong and Brian Dennehy plays the sheriff character as so hateful that you anticipate his comeuppance. “First Blood” is a well-acted, well-paced action film.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

24 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is a vulgar comedy with different stories featuring different high school teenagers, but it’s a little more honest than most “teensplotation” films in the 1980s. You know the type—the vile and nasty movies featuring horny teenagers as subjects of immature sex jokes and a lot of nudity (“Porky’s” is the prime example). “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” differs from most elements of those films, though not all. There are sex jokes and a lot of nudity, but the teenage characters are written with a little more drive. This is a character-based teen film, and some of the characters are quite likable.

We have the shy freshman girl—Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—who has decided to lose her virginity this year. Then, we have Stacy’s older—and more experienced—best friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), who has a long-distance relationship. Then, we have Stacy’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold), who is spending his senior year working at fast-food places and keeps getting fired for going just outside the book. Then, we have the smooth-talking Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who thinks he knows it all when it comes to sex. Then, we have Damone’s friend Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), a virgin who has eyes for Stacy.

Each of these characters has his/her own misadventure through sex. Stacy loses her virginity to an older guy and wonders if sex will be better the second time around. She gets advice from Linda, who is also the subject of Brad’s sexual fantasies. Mark has a crush on Stacy, and asks Damone for advice. But little does he know that Damone is all talk—that’s especially true in the scene in which Damone and Stacy do it together and Damone asks, “Did you feel it?”

But my favorite character—and also, the more standoutish character—is the “surfer dude” Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn). Spicoli is a surfer and a slacker, always a nuisance in his history teacher’s eyes. His history teacher is the uptight Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). Throughout the film, Mr. Hand and Spicoli continue to have a feud and this leads to many memorable confrontations, each funny and an indication as to the matter of Mr. Hand being the one to give Spicoli a reality check.

All of the young actors are fantastic. In particular, Sean Penn is absolutely perfect as the afore-mentioned dude who is rumored to have been “stoned since the third grade.” And Jennifer Jason Leigh shows freshness and a credible innocence that her character is supposed to go through—she’s great in this movie. But she is also subject to most of the nudity in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”—this film came close to an NC-17 rating, but got an R. Also, there’s a scene featuring a topless Phoebe Cates is sure to be the subject of many male sexual fantasies.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” doesn’t have a consistent tone, however. It’s hard to tell whether the film is trying to be up or down about the sex scenes. Sometimes, it’s also hard to watch Leigh, who looks so innocent throughout the film, go through some heavy stuff, like getting an abortion after Damone “knocks her up.” There’s a better movie to be made with all the actors, but “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” isn’t a total failure.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

13 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was released in cinemas in 1979, audiences—particularly fans of the original TV series “Star Trek”—were either glad to see the familiar characters again or upset that the movie tried to pass off a sci-fi “experience” rather than an adventure. “Star Trek” was never intended to be an out-of-body experience, like “2001: A Space Odyssey” was, but “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” seemed to forget that “Star Trek” was mainly about ideas, characters, and creativity—not stunning visuals.

Luckily, the following “Star Trek” movie, subtitled “The Wrath of Khan,” put “Star Trek” back to the status quo. The result is not just a satisfying “Star Trek” movie, but in my opinion, one of the best science-fiction films. Period.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” gave “Star Trek” the certain gusto it needed after the slow pacing of the first movie. The elements that made “Star Trek” special are back, and they’re even updated—the Enterprise looks great this time around, the special effects are better, and the occasional drama is even somewhat heavier. The result is a strong piece of work. And of course, the “Star Trek” characters—the crew of the Starship USS Enterprise—are back and still as likable as they were on the show. We have the egotistical but likable Capt. James T. Kirk (now promoted to “Admiral”), his loyal half-Vulcan (and half-human) friend Spock (Leonard Nimoy), skeptical and arrogant Dr. Bones McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the four memorable flight crew members—Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Chekov (Walter Goenig), Sulu (George Takei), and Scott (James Doohan).

I understand that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is necessarily a sequel to a first season episode of the show (“Space Seed,” unseen by me). It features the villainous Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who long ago was marooned on a desert planet by Kirk. Since then, his brilliant mind has crossed with insanity. He and his leftover crew members/followers have found a way to escape, and all that’s on his mind is revenge. He hijacks a Federation starship, tortures newly appointed crew member Chekov and his captain Terrell (Paul Winfield), and steals a new project called Genesis, created by Kirk’s ex-lover Carol (Bibi Besch) and David (Merritt Butrick), the son Kirk hasn’t met yet. Genesis was created as a way of creating new life on barren planets, though if proven wrong, it could be used as a doomsday weapon. With Khan in possession of it, it’s up to the Enterprise crew to save the day.

There’s a lot of creativity flowing through the storyline of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” In particular, the Genesis device is quite intriguing in the way it can be used for either regeneration or Armageddon, there’s a frightening subplot involving parasitic creatures that Khan uses to torture Chekov and Terrell, and there’s an epic space battle near the end that’s very enjoyable.

Ricardo Montalban creates a terrific villain as Khan—an intelligent person driven to madness and crime by isolation and betrayal. He wants to kill Kirk, but more terrifyingly, he realizes that when Kirk and his crew may be stranded somewhere, it’s actually better to make them suffer as he and his own crew did. Characterization aside, Montalban has a unique, slimy delivery that helps make Khan a strong and chilling villain.

The conversations/bantering between the Enterprise crew is fun, and leads to some nice character development, such as how Spock is becoming more human and how Kirk goes through a middle-age crisis. William Shatner is strong in the role of Kirk, mixing gallantry with vulnerability. DeForest Kelley as McCoy still has winning sardonic one-liners, and Leonard Nimoy is comfortable in the role of Spock—Nimoy really sells an important scene near the end, and the less said about that, the better. A surprise in the cast of heroes for this movie—Kirstie Alley, of TV’s “Cheers,” acquits herself nicely in the new role of Vulcan recruit Saavik. She has a handful of scenes to steal.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is a well-executed, wonderful adventure that not only would delight fans of the original series, but also people who aren’t affiliated and would just appreciate an entertaining sci-fi film. The heroes are appealing, the villain is intriguing, the imagination is existent, the story moves quickly, and we’re met with real tension along the way.

Porky’s (1982)

6 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Vulgarity can be funny in movies. For example, “National Lampoon’s Animal House” was merciless in vulgar, offensive, and stupid moments—one after another—and was funny as a result because the characters were likable, despite what they did or went through. Now, we have “Porky’s,” a comedy with jokes about sex, violence, Trojans, nudity (male and female), vomit, killer overweight female gym coaches, and voyeurism. But the characters are unappealing and uninteresting. Those characters are high school teenagers.

This movie represents close to the worst of teenagers. They pull pranks on each other when they’re not obsessing about women’s reproductive organs. There is not one moment when they seem like real teenagers—just nonstop obsession and crudeness. And what’s worse—the actors do not act, sound, or even look like high school teenagers. They seem like they were left back a few times. That wouldn’t surprise me, considering their intelligence levels that you might be able to guess.

“Porky’s” is a really lame movie that not only believes that teenagers are cynical snobs all the time, but also hates women. I mentioned there was a “killer overweight female gym coach” in “Porky’s.” Her name is Ms. Balbricker. All she is used for is being the butt of a lot of jokes (one in particular, I did laugh at, despite myself—it’s the scene where she tries to convince the principal to inspect…well never mind) and there is no way that her character is established, so the result is not very funny or insightful, but somewhat sick. And all the other women in this movie are treated the same way (although they’re skinnier). They are feared and seen by the main characters as aliens from another planet. No attempt is made to strike up friendships with these women.

But it’s not like the women in this movie are given reason for that anyway—one attractive gym coach, in one scene, howls like a dog during sex (OK, I laughed at that scene too).

When you hear the main teenager Pee Wee constantly saying he needs to have sex, you realize exactly how he feels about these women, which is nothing special. Pee Wee is supposed to be the one to care for. How could I, or anybody, possibly show any sympathy with this kid? Pee Wee is also the character you see in these kinds of movies that has a scene where he is embarrassed. In “Porky’s,” he has been forced to strip naked (actually, he does it voluntarily because he believes he’ll “get lucky”), is chased into the street at night, pulled over by the cops, and dropped off to his friends at the local hamburger stand.

To director Bob Clark’s credit, he knows how to direct actors into descending into their characters for long shots so that they talk and then after a while, something happens that brings the story up a little bit. Too bad these characters bring the movie to a halt while trying to carry the whole thing. Clark takes the blame for that, especially the infamous peephole scene in which three of the boys (yes, including Pee Wee) watch the girls shower at school by looking through small holes in the wall of the showers. This scene is directed, written, and acted with smarm—it’s not funny, it’s just sick.

In fact, “Porky’s” itself is sick and has too many things going on with it. I guess I should mention that one of the kids is a racist and gives this nice Jewish kid a hard time until they form a sort-of friendship. I also should mention that the title refers to a redneck strip joint run by an overweight man named Porky, who embarrasses the boys to the point where one of the kids (I can’t remember his name and he’s the only one to gain any kind of sympathy in this movie) tries to get revenge and gets his friends to help him at the end of the movie.

There is so much that happens in this movie that I’m exhausted in a movie that I really didn’t like. It’s mind-numbingly witless and crude.

Tex (1982)

29 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When American audiences feel that all a movie really needs in order to satisfy them is a crime caper and a chase scene, it’s rare for the 1980s that a movie like “Tex” comes along. This is a movie about real people in realistic situations and the whole movie is just about a few weeks in their lives. What’s even more surprising and great about this movie is that most of these people are teenagers. They’re some of the most engaging group of teenagers I’ve seen in any movie. They’re the characters of “Tex,” adapted from a young adult novel by S.E. Hinton. S.E. Hinton is an author who clearly understands teenage talk, problems, and behavior (she also proved that with “The Outsiders,” one of my favorite books). “Tex” is faithful to the novel and even more alert towards its teenage characters.

The main focuses among these teenagers are two brothers named Tex and Mason McCormick. Tex (Matt Dillon) is a simple-minded yet engaging fifteen-year-old and Mason (Jim Metzler) is a cynical, basketball-playing eighteen-year-old. They live alone in Bixby, Oklahoma. Their mother is long dead and their father is a rodeo cowboy who hardly ever comes home and forgets to send the boys money at times. So the boys have to raise themselves (well actually, it’s Mason raising Tex) and they do a good job of it. But they need money, food, and heat. So Mason is forced to sell Tex’s beloved horse and that brings Tex in a world of emotions and partial hatred towards his brother.

We meet their friends—Tex’s motorcycle-riding best friend Johnny (Emilio Estevez) and Johnny’s smart aleck feminist of a sister named Jamie (Meg Tilly) whom Tex has a crush on. Their father (Ben Johnson) is a strict man who doesn’t want Tex and Mason associating with his kids—at one point, he even commands Johnny to promise not to be Tex’s best friend anymore. What he doesn’t see (or doesn’t even want to believe) is that his kids are just as unpredictable as Tex and Mason. We also meet another kid named Lem (Phil Brock) who got a girl pregnant, married her, and moved to Tulsa in order to care for his new wife and the newborn baby. But he also deals drugs. Tex doesn’t realize this, but Mason has known it a long time, even when he seems very happy that his baby is born. This situation leads to a violent scene in which Lem and Tex, who is basically looking for trouble, are caught up in a jam with one of Lem’s customers.

The story includes a lot of conflict, conversations amongst the characters, and more. This is a movie about events in these kids’ everyday lives and because we believe in these kids, we stay focused on their story. How the story develops in “Tex” is more to the point than actually what happens when it develops.

“Tex” is very well-acted. Matt Dillon is appealing as this simple-minded central character named Tex, and Jim Metzler is great as his knowing-well older brother Mason. Actually, I believe Metzler has the more complicated role than Dillon’s, because he has to play surrogate father to his stubborn younger brother and constantly keep him in line. I truly believed in these characters so much that I didn’t really care much for the plot. They’re realistic teenagers given room to learn and grow and I was interested in watching them do just those.

“Tex” is a movie that seems like true events are occurring, and I think that was what S.E. Hinton was originally shooting for when she wrote the novel it was based upon. “Tex” is a great movie, though it’s sadly overlooked by many. I hope more people seek this out and admire what this movie has to offer.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

24 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Don Bluth’s animated movie “The Secret of NIMH” recalls the joy of some of the earlier Disney features. In fact, I think Walt Disney himself would’ve been impressed by the chances this animated movie takes and how unusually thought-provoking it is.

If you think the NIMH in the title is the acronym for the National Institute of Mental Health, you’re right. We learn that a group of NIMH laboratory rats and mice were injected with a secret serum that made them smarter. They could read, reason, and became so smart that they escaped from the lab and made their own secret home and society in the backyard of a farmhouse. They were able to create lights, electricity, and other mystical elements that the movie doesn’t explain, but to be fair, I’m not sure the altered rats themselves can explain them either.

That’s the secret of NIMH that the title suggests, discovered by the story’s heroine on her own adventure. This is Mrs. Brisby (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman), a field mouse/widowed mother who has a deeper connection to the rats of NIMH than she thinks.

Mrs. Brisby is an unusual leading character for a movie like this. Usually, it’s the plucky young children (like Brisby’s own children) who go out and embark on the incredible journey (in fact, in most Disney movies, parents end up either dead or separated). But not here—Mrs. Brisby also isn’t a wisecracking action hero that races to save the day. She’s a concerned mother with a real bravery to her that forces her to go out and do what she does in order to protect her family. She’s kind and likable, and serves as an appealing heroine.

Mrs. Brisby’s ill child is sick of pneumonia, as a mouse named Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet) declares, and must stay in bed for about three weeks. But “moving day” is approaching fast, meaning that a tractor will come along and plow the field. Mrs. Brisby can’t take her child away from home and risk him dying, so she must venture into the farm for answers.

After an encounter with a visionary, intimidating Great Owl (John Carradine), Mrs. Brisby finds the home of the NIMH rats, meets their wise old leader Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi), discovers their secret, and enlists their help to move her home to safe location. At the same time, the rats are trapped with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to keep stealing supplies from the humans or to move out into the wilderness to set up a new society for themselves.

For that matter, what is needed for the rats of NIMH to continue to survive together? Is it discovery? Is it science? Is it logic? Is it intelligence? Maybe it’s all of those choices. This helps make “The Secret of NIMH” into a deeper social commentary. What all do we need to survive in this world, when you really think about it?

“The Secret of NIMH” has a complicated but intriguing story that is distracted only by the unnecessary antics of an annoying talking crow named Jeremy (Dom DeLuise). Kids may enjoy this character, as he is constantly mumbling nervously and acting clumsily, but he really did nothing for me. He doesn’t really have a payoff either—he doesn’t wind up helping to save the day (he returns too late)—so the only reason he’s there is so Mrs. Brisby can ask him to look after her children while she’s gone, and the kids tie him up and torture him.

The animation from Don Bluth and his followers is nicely done. Body language is expressed for the characters, the animals range from cute to frightening, the backgrounds are interesting, and the settings are good-looking. There’s a real sense of depth here.

“The Secret of NIMH” moves at a brisk pace, is delightfully drawn, and carefully constructed. It’s a well-done family film that will entertain adults as well as kids, because they can probably see more than just cute little mice and an inviting look. They can see something deeper within the story.