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Superman III (1983)

2 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you cast a likable comedian like Richard Pryor in a movie, you better have good use of him. Write a good character for him and give him room to breathe more than what the script limits him to, so he’ll feel comfortable. If all that’s done, then there shouldn’t be a problem. And at first, there seems to be promise. There’s a funny opening scene in “Superman III” in which Pryor—playing a down-on-his-luck dishwasher named Gus—faces the unemployment line, and it seems like this could be something special.

Then came the Rube-Goldberg-esque chain of accidents that goes through the opening credits (or is it the opening credits going through the chain of accidents?), and Superman must finally come in to save the day. Look at the credit-sequence and look back at Pryor’s introduction—would you connect these to a Superman movie?

So it seems like “Superman III” is going more for comedy this time around, hence the appearance of Richard Pryor. There isn’t a real sense of human interest that we felt in the previous “Superman” movies. Actually, this could be described as what the first Superman movie could have been—the first Superman movie and its sequel “Superman II” had real charms by mixing this fantasy with reality and without becoming shallow and silly. That was saved for this third entry, apparently.

There’s not only more comedy, but also more action. There are more action sequences and special effects to be found here, and they’re not put to good use. They don’t seem all that exciting and just feel like they’re stretched out. The one exception is a scene midway through the film in which for reasons too complicated to explain, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) ends up fighting his own alter-ego Superman. This is actually kind of interesting because it does show Clark Kent confronting his demons in this expressive way and it has us wondering what Superman would (or could) have been like without Clark Kent’s humanity. And speaking of human interest, there’s a new romance introduced here. Since Lois Lane is off on vacation and Clark has gone back to Smallville for his high school reunion, a romance develops between him and a former pal named Lana (Annette O’Toole). It’s sweet, but not as interesting as the previous film’s relationship with Superman and Lois.

The villains aren’t as interesting or as memorable as Lex Luthor and his minions. Here, Robert Vaughn plays a mad billionaire who wants to use satellites to control the Earth’s crops and become even richer. And in case you’re wondering, I did use that description from Roger Ebert’s review of the film. I needed help because I couldn’t remember a darn thing about Vaughn or his scheme.

But back to what I was saying about Richard Pryor. When you get past the opening scene aforementioned and see his character Gus more and more, you realize that he doesn’t create a character to care about. Maybe that’s because this role wasn’t meant for Pryor. Gus is trying to play a likable schmoe to play off the villains (his character is forced to help the Vaughn character with his new-found computer skills) and he just comes across as a man/actor/comedian searching for a laugh. I don’t know whether to place the blame on the writer, the director, or even going on an unfair note to blame Pryor, but Gus just isn’t funny, nor does Pryor make the best attempts. Maybe if he really was despicable and less innocuous, it could somehow make things better and more interesting for Pryor. The strange thing is, it seems like Pryor has as much time on screen as Superman, if not more time on screen.

“Superman III” is just a muddled mess of a movie, trying to jam many things into one movie and not making the best effort. And to think I got through this review in just one page.

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The Big Chill (1983)

2 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’m not entirely sure why I love “The Big Chill” enough to give it a four-star rating, so I’m going out on a limb trying to explain why. It’s a film about a reunion of old friends and…that’s about it. We’re basically just in the company of these people as they reminisce their past and consider their present selves. The screenplay is entirely in dialogue for these conversations to take up the whole film. There’s hardly any payoff to be had. And it seems more like an exercise than an actual mainstream drama—an exercise in writing and directing a movie with eight of the brightest up-and-coming actors at the time.

But the exercise worked. I found myself invested in the goings-on of these people. I liked watching them and listening to them.

The friends, veterans of the activist 1960s, reunite briefly in 1983 to attend the funeral of their friend who has committed suicide. They’re all between laughter and tears. The men, especially, crack jokes at their deceased friend’s expense and one of them takes notice of this and asks, “Are we afraid to express our feelings?” Well apparently, they’re not afraid to express their feelings, since they acknowledge that they are survivors of the 1960s and their lives have indeed changed in their 30s.

The friends are suitably diverse—Sam (Tom Berenger) is a TV star and a nice guy; Karen (JoBeth Williams) is a housewife bored by her husband Richard’s (Don Galloway) devotion; Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a toady journalist who previously wanted to be a novelist; Meg (Mary Kay Place) was once a dedicated public defender who abandoned her lesser clients to succeed further as a lawyer. The ones who fare better than the rest are Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close)—they married, live a suburban lifestyle, and have good paying jobs (he’s a shoe-retailer; she’s a physician). The most complicated of the group is Nick (William Hurt), a drug addict who was a radio psychologist, and a Vietnam veteran. His life has no ambition.

Completing this group is a newcomer to the group—their deceased friend’s girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly). She’s pretty (and about a decade younger than the rest), but she’s not very big-picture. The death of her lover hardly phases her—there’s one scene in the beginning where she tells Karen that Alex’s death caused a real mess, but Chloe assuredly states “It’s OK—we cleaned it up.” There’s another funny bit in which she says she’s disappointed to ride from the funeral in an ordinary car instead of a limousine. She’s unconcerned about the passing of time that the others are concerned about, and when everyone is eating at Harold and Sarah’s dinner table and feeling bad for their loss, notice that she’s the only one that’s eating.

Oh, and she also exercises quite often. Call me immature, but…her flexibility does it for me.

All of these actors do great jobs and they all share a convincing camaraderie that comes through to their characters. In particular, the actors that stand out the most are Tom Berenger as this nice guy embarrassed by his starring role in a TV show, William Hurt as the aimless (and impotent) Vietnam vet, and Meg Tilly who has fun as this dizzy broad, who when you really think about it is actually the narrative’s center (she’s the observer and reactor to the others).

“The Big Chill” also has a very funny screenplay. To keep the drama from being monotonous, there are many great one-liners for everyone in the cast to deliver. One of my favorites is the funeral’s reception, in which Michael states, “They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.” (I’m sorry to say I used that line at my own grandfather’s funeral. Very sorry.) These jokes come across as pretty frank, too. It’s like the humor that these people give from the screenplay are reflecting their emotions between laughter and tears, like I mentioned before.

Actually, this is why I love “The Big Chill” the way I do. It’s not just a drama about the reunion of a group of friends who talk about their past and present; it’s a comedy as well. The laughs are there to serve as comic relief, keeping the film from what could have been monotonous. I cared about these people, the actors are perfect, the screenplay is great, and by the end of the movie, I feel like I was in the company of people I’ve gotten to know, and I’m not as bored as I, or you, might think.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

31 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Twilight Zone” took television viewers where no one else ever imagined being before. Even though it was a TV show, we felt like it really took us through another dimension. Now many years later, here is the attempt to suck us in again with “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” This movie contains four short segments as long as the original “Twilight Zone” episodes, directed by four different directors—John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller. But the surprise is that the best known of those four—Steven Spielberg—has made the worst segment in the movie.

There are two bad segments, one good third segment, and one great last segment. So as a whole, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” is only worth recommending for the second half, which doesn’t make for a positive recommendation as a whole.

The movie opens with a nicely-done prologue (also written and directed by John Landis) in which Dan Aykroyd is a hitchhiker and Albert Brooks is the driver that picked him up. They sing many well-known TV show themes before the unexpected (and very frightening) occurs. That’s a great opening scene that lets us know that we’re in another dimension. But then with the two segments that follow, the movie starts to falter.

The first segment features a racist man, played by Vic Morrow, who is taught a lesson the hard way when he finds himself in Nazi Germany and Vietnam. This one is so predictable and unsurprising that it’s weak. At one point, he finds himself at a Ku Klux Klan rally—what is trying to be said here? It also doesn’t help that we know that Morrow died in a helicopter accident during filming.

The second segment is directed by Steven Spielberg. This really brings the movie down. This segment is so whimsical and full of its whimsicality that it becomes…not very whimsical and more condescending. It stars Scatman Crothers as a mysterious old man who visits a nursing home and grants them the feeling of being young again. This segment looks great and its message is good (one lifetime is enough), but it’s just full of itself.

Then we come to the third segment by Joe Dante. The movie redeems itself after the bad segment that came before this. Kathleen Quinlan plays a schoolteacher making her way through a small town when she almost hits a young boy. This boy may look cute, harmless, and heartfelt, but he holds a secret in his house that brings the woman into another dimension where cartoon characters come to life and the boy’s wishes come true…for better or worse. This segment is so weird and offbeat but it’s also very inventive and great-looking. The special effects and the art direction are especially good when the most surreal events happen in this house.

And then at last, we arrive at the segment that is the real reason to see this movie—a remade version of the original “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 5,000 Feet.” This segment stands above the others. Made by George Miller, it’s well-made and powerfully-acted and also, very scary. This segment really gets into the “Twilight Zone” tradition—it really makes us feel like we’re in another dimension. John Lithgow is phenomenal as a man who has a phobia for flying and sees a monster on the wing of the airplane he’s traveling on—or does he?

The two last segments (especially the very last one) makes “Twilight Zone: The Movie” worth seeing. If you want a truly frightening modern-“Twilight Zone” type of experience, skip ahead to about 45 minutes. You won’t miss a thing and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the movie a whole lot more. I just can’t believe that Steven Spielberg would make the worst segment in the movie—maybe he should have watched some more episodes of the original “Twilight Zone.”

Rumble Fish (1983)

14 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There is a clock in each shot. Trickery is used for pivotal sequences. The film is in black-and-white, save for certain random things in color…or are they random? And here we have “Rumble Fish,” the self-proclaimed “art film for young people.” It’s an arty piece of work full of stunning cinematography, unique visual effects, and a lot of symbolism. It’s based on a novel by S.E. Hinton, which apparently no one thought could be filmable except for Francis Ford Coppola, one of the most inventive filmmakers around. But he found a way—the result is not an entertaining film, but a fascinating one nonetheless.

This is Coppola’s second collaboration with Hinton after “The Outsiders.” Apparently right after Coppola and his crew were through with production on “The Outsiders,” Coppola decided to go another round (this time, co-writing “Rumble Fish” along with Hinton, adapting her own novel). Why not?

Like most of Hinton’s stories, “Rumble Fish” is about a band of tough, hard-luck teenagers who get by in their own ways, for better or worse. This one is centered around two brothers—one who can’t live up to the other’s reputation, and the other who can’t live it down. Rusty-James (Matt Dillon) is a hothead who acts tough, but doesn’t have a real gang to follow him or even a real battle to fight. He’s not bright enough to be a leader, but dumb enough to get himself into trouble. He’s no different than Biff Wilcox (Glenn Withrow), a similarly pathetic thug who calls Rusty-James out.

Rusty-James’ brother is a heroic figure simply regarded as the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). He’s a born leader and a trouper of gang warfare. He’s also very clever and intelligent—everything Rusty-James isn’t. After being gone for a few months, he has returned to give Rusty-James some life lessons. And he better, because their father, a lazy drunk (Dennis Hopper), is of no help at all. In and out of Rusty-James’ life are his sometimes-girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane); his nervous best friend Steve (Vincent Spano); a “Messenger of the Gods” type nicknamed Midget (Laurence Fishburne); and his unreliable friend Smokey (Nicholas Cage) who believes he could be a gang leader. That’s about as much of a story as we get, with the tired and self-reformed Motorcycle Boy here with one simple purpose—to show Rusty-James what he’s constantly getting himself into.

Symbolism in “Rumble Fish” includes clocks in nearly every scene (including two characters standing in front of a giant clock-face) and fast-moving billowy clouds (whether they be in straight shots or in reflections). This is obviously supposed to symbolize that time for Rusty-James is running out before he develops as big a reputation as the troubled Motorcycle Boy. It’s also great to look out—the exaggerated imagery actually amounts to something, rather than giving us something pretty to look at with no substance in the story. Here, I actually felt there was something being said within the imagery. There are also red and blue fish (the only objects shown in color throughout the film) that are supposed to represent the relationship between the two brothers. How the Motorcycle Boy explains what they represent is thought-provoking.

That’s not to say this form doesn’t have its flaws. Sometimes, the symbolism can be a little too obvious, while other times it comes off as pretty distracting. But for the most part, it does work effectively.

There’s one great effects sequence in which Rusty-James has an out-of-body experience after getting hit in the head. He levitates in the air as he literally watches his life drift by. However the filmmakers did that effect that made Matt Dillon float in the air is outstanding work on their part. Watch the scene, and tell me if you see any wires.

As an art film, the imagery and cinematography seems to overshadow the actors, but they hold up on their own. Matt Dillon has played dumb tough kids for quite some time (“Over the Edge,” “My Bodyguard,” and other Hinton film adaptations, “Tex” and “The Outsiders”), but he’s still pretty strong in the role that requires him to change from tough to weak. However, if there’s one actor that stands out among the rest, it’s definitely Mickey Rourke, who is just excellent as the Motorcycle Boy. He has such quiet authority in a role that could’ve been thankless, but he makes it into a sensible, intelligent, intriguing individual. He’s like a veteran actor who suddenly got tired of the fame that his past has brought him, and would rather live it down. Rourke is outstanding in this movie.

“Rumble Fish” is a showcase of allegory, dilemma, and emotion. It’s quite different from “Tex” and “The Outsiders” in that way, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating. It’s original, it moves, and somewhat to my surprise I found myself more invested in the tales of the reigning Motorcycle Boy.

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

13 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Eddie and the Cruisers” is a movie about members of a rock band from almost 20 years ago who look back on how they got together, how they became famous, and what led to their end. They were called Eddie and the Cruisers—not a real band (a fictional one), but they seem like one in this movie. They reached their end when the band’s frontman Eddie Wilson disappeared—his car was found in a lake, but his body was never recovered. Some believe he is dead and others believe he is still alive. But if he’s dead, then what happened to the missing songs that were recorded by him? Surely, none of the other band members took them. A reporter (Ellen Barkin) is attempting to create the biggest story of her career by finding out what happened to those missing tapes. So she visits the band’s keyboardist and songwriter Frank (Tom Berenger), who is now a high school teacher.

We get many flashbacks in between the scenes in which Frank meets up again with other former Cruisers. We see how Frank wound up into the band—he suggests some poems for lyrics which were unappreciated at first but accepted eventually, being affectionately dubbed “the wordman.” He himself is unappreciated, as he realizes when Eddie (Michael Pare) shouts out every band member—including bassist Sal Amato (Matthew Laurence), band manager Doc (Joe Pantoliano), and Eddie’s beautiful girlfriend Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider)—except him. But soon, Eddie reconciles with Frank, saying they “need each other.”

It’s fun to see the Cruisers look back on the good old days after all these years. Doc is a DJ who is trying so hard to get the band known again but he’s in over his head. Sal is still in the music business, with a new lineup of Cruisers. Joann also can’t let go of the past and when she meets Frank, she tells him that Eddie is still alive but not showing himself—he’s performing signals he taught her years ago. But is Eddie still alive? And did he take those tapes? Everything builds up to an ending that is probably not an ending you would expect. Not many viewers will even accept it, but I bought it, at least.

Michael Pare is convincing as a rock star performing onstage, Tom Berenger is effective in the lead role as the “wordman” and the soundtrack is terrific. Also, the drama works in “Eddie and the Cruisers,” especially in the scene in which Eddie is thinking about ending it all because the band is not great. He questions the point of having a band if they’re not great. That scene really moved me in such a way that maybe I didn’t need a better ending, but I can make do with what I have right in front of me. “Eddie and the Cruisers” is a good movie—well-acted with a great soundtrack and a sense of biography. I feel like I knew Eddie and the Cruisers right when the movie ended.

Christine (1983)

7 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

John Carpenter’s “Christine” is a nicely-crafted horror film about a teenage boy and his car. The boy is a high school nerd named Arnie who wears thick glasses, is very insecure, and is constantly picked on by the school thugs. The car is a ‘50s Plymouth dubbed “Christine” that Arnie finds rusting in a junkyard. He doesn’t care that its original owner killed himself in the car or that some folks around it have died tragically back in the day—he’s just entranced by the car. He buys it, rebuilds it, and develops a certain bond with it.

Of course, teenagers develop a bond with their first car. It becomes a part of them—they look out for their cars, they make sure not one part of it is scratched, and they even talk to their cars at times. But in Arnie’s case, it’s different. Not only does having this new car affect his social life (in that he actually develops one, finally) and boost his self-esteem (like talking back to people, including his overbearing parents), but it also turns out that Christine—the car—has a mind of its own. It moves on its own and even repairs itself after the bullies trash it to junk.

And so, Christine uses its willpower, without a driver, to chase after Arnie’s enemies and run them down—there’s a great scene in which it forces its way through a narrow alley to get to one of the bullies, and another in which another bully is desperately running down the street trying to outrun the car (set ablaze this time—the guy doesn’t have a prayer). But there’s a bigger issue in its “mind,” I should say—Arnie is dating the prettiest girl in school, which makes Christine so jealous that it takes many measures to try and run her down as well. Arnie himself develops into a real scuzzy personality, letting Christine’s power over him take what’s left of his meekness and replace it with a blend of super-coolness and madness.

It’s a nice work of fantasy and horror—the idea of a guy getting his first car that turns out to be alive is an exciting one. That it goes after its owner’s girlfriend may make the movie sound ridiculous, and it is. But I enjoyed it because with John Carpenter’s direction, the movie wants to play how it would occur if it were plausible. Carpenter also does a good job with the three central young actors—Keith Gordon as Arnie, Alexandra Paul as Arnie’s girlfriend, and John Stockwell as Arnie’s best friend, a likable jock that tries to pull Arnie out of Christine’s spell.

I also liked the use of old songs in the score. When someone tries to break into the garage where Christine is kept, its radio plays “Keep-a Knockin’ But You Can’t Come In” as a warning. And whenever Arnie is alone in the car, the radio plays old love songs. See, the radio only plays songs from the 1950s, since that’s when it was created and uses these songs to speak its mind. That’s a clever idea.

“Christine” is an ambitious, well-acted, well-executed horror movie that takes teenage fantasy as a deal with the devil. Yeah, the story is out there, and there are some things that don’t work (see NOTE), but there are many other moments that had me grinning and invested, right down to the final climax where it’s the ‘50s Plymouth Fury “Christine” versus a bulldozer.

NOTE: I’ve read a few posts on “Christine’s” IMDb message board and one of which, not caring much for the movie, said that there could be a remake that was closer to the original Stephen King novel it was based on. I’ve never read the novel, so I don’t know how close this movie adapts it. However, there are certain clichés that can be found in Stephen King stories and they are found here. One main clichéd element—everyone except for the main characters is a one-dimensional jackass. The bullies are the knife-wielding bores, the parents don’t listen (the mother, in particular, is over the top in authority), and the man who runs the body shop (played by Robert Prosky) is a suspicious old fart (though to his credit, he has a good reason to be suspicious of Arnie and his car). So I don’t know—maybe certain parts of the story were left out of the movie.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

6 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

For every life, there lives a desire. For every desire, there is a wish. For every wish, there is a price. That saying alone will let you know what you’re in for when you watch “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a supernatural thriller that tells a story so compelling you can’t believe the Disney Studios would make a movie as frightening. Maybe they hope the two 12-year-old characters will lighten the mood. But the problem is, terrible events happen to these two kids—spiders surround them, an entire parade searches for them (with kid-sized coffins), and they become involved in a plot to grant people their dreams but take away their lives. This may frighten younger viewers but will probably delight older ones, especially adults because of the darker theme involving one of the kids’ fathers.

The film, based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, begins with a great shot of a train coming towards the camera in the dark. That shot alone tells us that we’re in for something that I don’t think the Disney Studios would want to make again. It lets us know that this is no family film. The film takes place in a small Midwestern town where the two boys—timid, sensitive Will (Vidal Peterson) and the more-outgoing Jim (Shawn Carson)—live. There are many other people in the town, including a cigar store owner who dreams of being rich, a barber who dreams of a thousand gorgeous woman coming to town and being with him, a one-armed, one-legged barman who dreams of playing football, and an old crone who dreams of being beautiful again. Then there’s Will’s father Charles (Jason Robards), who only dreams of being much younger. Will doesn’t particularly like living with an old father. Charles is unsure he can even live with himself.

The mysterious Darks Pandemonium Carnival comes to town and all of these characters (except Charles) arrive. The cigar store owner, the barber, the barman, and the old crone are fortunate enough to meet the Dust Witch (Pam Grier), who knows their dreams and tells their fortunes. It seems that the carnival’s biggest attraction is temptation and these people may be falling into a trap as they are tempted by the Dust Witch to give up something for their dreams come true. They get what they’ve been wishing for but there is a price that must be given—for example, the old crone becomes beautiful but she loses her eyesight. Then, I guess, they become slaves to the force that surrounds the carnival.

Only young Will and Jim realize that something creepy is happening. They run afoul of Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), the tall, mysterious carnival owner who seems to be the ruler of this strange force. He has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and many carnival attractions that are interesting with special effects—including a merry-go-round that can spin backwards through time. He seems to will the ways of the devil, in the way that he can tempt people and then feed on their souls. When Mr. Dark declares that the boys have seen too much, he sends his forces of darkness after them.

It all comes down to the ending in which Charles is finally falling into Mr. Dark’s trap and he must fight it in order to save himself and the boys. Mr. Dark knows Charles’ wish and would make it come true and the temptation is too strong…

“Something Wicked this Way Comes” is a powerful horror film with the right mood of the original novel (although loosely based on the novel) and great performances, especially from Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. The young actors are just OK (sometimes, they seem to be a bit too precocious to the point of annoyance). There are some parts where the boys seem older, especially in the scene where they’re surrounded by hundreds of spiders—probably because of post-production reshoots. But it’s really Jason Robards that steals the show. He’s got that amazing voice that makes you want to listen to him and believe in him. Also, I love how the carnival’s being isn’t fully explained—there are some tidbits of explanation but not enough so that there’s exposition. Actually, I’d rather not know. Then there are the heartfelt conversations Charles and Will have in the middle of the night occasionally, which feel very real. That relationship between father and son pays off well.

There are times when it seems like the movie doesn’t know which way to go, especially in the final half, but this is a most unsettling movie with a terrifying atmosphere and a grim feel. It’s unlikely that the Disney Studios would want to make a movie like this again—this is not for younger children. If they see this movie, there’s a good chance they’ll have nightmares for quite a while.