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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

5 May


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Indiana Jones could be considered a James Bond type, in that he goes through a series of improbable adventures that are great, deadly fun for audiences. He proved that first in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which became a huge hit because of its style, taste for adventure, and a new hero named Indiana Jones. Then because of its success, it was inevitable in that there would be a sequel—“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” delivers gripping action, suspense, and great fun and Steven Spielberg never shies away from creating a movie with a series of climactic battles and daring adventures, rescues, and escapes. This movie features a temple, human sacrifice, magical stones, a mine-car roller-coaster, and much more. I heard in an interview with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg that they used everything they couldn’t use in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to bring “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” to life. I can only imagine what a movie with all of those elements in both films would be like.

In an opening scene, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is caught in a trap in a night club in Shanghai and flees with his enemy’s girlfriend—an American singer named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), whose main purpose in this movie is to accompany the hero in his adventure and mainly just scream a lot (and that’s exactly what she does—boy, can she scream). Indy, along with Willie and his energetic, pint-sized partner Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), are forced to jump out of a plane (on a life raft) and wind up in India, where they come across a ruined village. The children from this village and a magic rock that keeps the village safe are missing and the elders believe that an evil tribe called the Thuggee Cult is responsible for this.

And so, Indy, with Short Round and Willie (really not thrilled about this adventure) in tow, sets out to Pankot Palace to try to piece together this puzzle. This leads them to the discovery of the underground Temple of Doom, in which the Thuggee Cult sacrifices nonbelievers to their evil deity into a fiery pit. As is the case for movies like this, it’s the hero’s job to sneak in, grab the treasure, and sneak out without being seen. But it’s not going to be easy here. The second half of this movie, which involves the heroes in the Temple of Doom and trying to get out, delivers a great deal of suspense, danger, adventure, terror, and an excellent chase sequence in a mine. They are always inches away from certain death.

“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” delivers just what you ask for. You accept what you can get from this movie—I accepted it, therefore I give it four stars. This is just as much fun as any of the earlier Sean Connery-James Bond pictures. It’s interesting how the first half is about explanation, wonders, and weirdness—especially a dinner scene, in which chilled monkey brains and soup with eyeballs floating to the top are served—and how the second half pays them off with a breathtaking series of adventures.

The set design for the Temple of Doom is just outstanding. It looks almost like how hell could be pictured, with all the fire and caves. This set alone is arguably more impressive than any set piece in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

I loved “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” for what it is—a great thrill ride. Like I said, there’s nothing more or less within its own storytelling and its characters—Willie stays whiny, Short Round stays energetic—but it’s a fun, escapist movie that is a strong sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

NOTE: I should also mention that it is darker than the predecessor, much like how “The Empire Strikes Back” was darker than “Star Wars.” This is PG, but it shows children being abused and used as slaves in that Temple and hearts being ripped out of people’s bodies. This is not for small children.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

12 Apr

A Nightmare On Elm Street 1

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you…3, 4, better lock your door…5, 6, grab your crucifix…7, 8, gonna stay up late…9, 10, never sleep again…”

There’s a true boogeyman haunting the dreams of young people, and his name is Freddy—Fred Krueger, to be exact. With a horribly burned face and sporting a dirty red-and-green sweater, a Fedora, and gloves with knives for fingers, he’s the man of your (bad) dreams. But if he kills you in your dream, he actually kills you in reality, which pits the kids who dream about him into real danger. That’s the basic idea for Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” a surprisingly-effective slasher film with the most intriguing premise of the lot and more to offer than such films as “Friday the 13th.”

The movie is about a group of typical teenagers whose dreams are invaded by the supernatural boogeyman, Freddy (Robert Englund). It begins as Tina (Amanda Wyss) wakes up from one of these shockers only to find evidence that…maybe it wasn’t a dream.


Tina tells her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) about the dream, only to discover that she too dreamed about the same “creep.” (And one look on Nancy’s boyfriend Glen’s face indicates that he had the same dream as well.) That night, as she enjoys a rousing night of pleasure with her boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri), she then falls victim to Freddy and is ripped to shreds. (This is yet another example of how sex leads to death in horror movies.) Rod is sent to jail on a murder charge, although Nancy doesn’t quite believe he did it, as her nightmares only get worse and worse. She becomes convinced that Freddy is responsible for her friend’s death, and finds that she, Glen (Johnny Depp, in his first big-screen role), or Rod may be next. So the best way to stay alive is not to fall asleep.

The “nightmare” gimmick is usually not an effective element for a horror film because you see very often a scene in which a character dreams of certain doom and then wakes up in a cold sweat. Come on, who are they trying to fool, especially when it usually occurs early in the movie? It’s a tired, predictable, overdone gimmick that just doesn’t work anymore. But “A Nightmare on Elm Street” centers an entire movie around that element, in that even though you know for sure (and the characters know for sure) that there are many dream sequences, that is where the terror happens: in the notion that the doom in the nightmare becomes the doom in reality. But also, there are some parts (especially in the final act) in which no one, particularly the audience, surely knows what is real and what isn’t. The movie walks that fine line between fantasy and reality mostly, and that’s where the chills come from—uncertainty, suspense, and toying with expectations.

There are enough necessary (sometimes unnecessary) jolts and chills to make horror-film buffs tense, but it’s also a story that makes you really think about the situation. There’s a lot that people can read in the psychology of this idea (such as the notion that Craven based this idea from children who died in their sleep), and also how the gimmick can work in this movie. That way, audiences are attentive and interpreting.

The horribly-scarred Freddy Krueger has of course grown to become an iconic figure in the horror-film genre, thanks to his taking center-stage in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels. Unlike “Halloween’s” Michael Myers/The Shape or “Friday the 13th’s” Jason Voorhees, Freddy does not wear a mask and is not silent. He has a sick, twisted personality that goes with his sick psychoticism. This is a truly an iconic horror-movie villain. But he’s not the center of this original “Nightmare on Elm Street” film, necessarily—he’s just more like the looming demon waiting to strike. We get part of a backstory, but that’s all we know about him in this movie. This makes it more effective, but the less we know about the killer that was Freddy Krueger, the more creepy he is. (The sequels, however, go into more detail stating more of his story and why he’s able to haunt dreams, which doesn’t make him scarier.)

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is more about Nancy and how she tries to figure out how to save herself, even if it means trying to stay awake. Her police lieutenant father, Donald (John Saxon), is too much of a hardass to pay attention because he’s more concerned about keeping the small community, where they all live, safe from danger. Little does he know that his own daughter’s subconscious is the greater danger. But Nancy’s mother (Ronee Blakley) actually does know something about Freddy and eventually tells her what happened to him and why he’s after certain young targets. Nancy decides to fight back and find a way to bring Freddy out of the dream world and into the real world so he can be stopped.

There are some effectively chilling sequences that occur in these nightmares (one of the most memorable involves a bathtub transforming into a bottomless pit), and like just about every good horror film, the terror is present thanks to a good deal of attention to atmosphere. The lighting is effectively done whenever the dream calls for a certain way. The special effects are good. And the music score is efficiently eerie for the movie.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is an effective horror film. The ideas are interesting, the tension is existent, and Nancy as a heroine is not a dumb, screaming idiot (she’s smart and resourceful), therefore able for us to like and root for her. I’m not quite sure I follow the ending, but I guess the point is to leave things open for interpretation. Craven does the material well, as it really seems he gets the genre and knows what his audience wants while also giving them something more in return. It’s a nicely-done chiller.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

11 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It would just be one thing to make a documentary about a rock band with a few issues. It’s quite another to make a mock-documentary about a fictional rock band with more than a few issues.

“This is Spinal Tap” is a mock-“rockumentary” about a British band called Spinal Tap who, according to an introduction, has been pretty famous back in the day because they’re the loudest band on earth. But now back on tour for their newest album, they are just loud. How are they the loudest band on earth? Well, when most bands crank their amps’ volumes up to 10, they take it up to 11.

Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) explains the amp to filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner, the film’s director). “Most amps go to 10?” “Exactly.” “Does that mean it’s louder?” “Well, it’s one louder, right?”

“Why don’t you just make 10 louder, and make 10 be the top number, and make that a little louder?”

Baffled by that notion, Nigel just replies by restating, “These go to 11.”

Nigel’s ideas aren’t logical and DiBergi realizes that a little too late. Nigel obviously lives in a world of his own.

“This is Spinal Tap” is one of the funniest, original, and most intelligent movies ever made. Spinal Tap does not exist, although the actors playing the band wrote and performed their own songs for the fictional band. But it could. While on tour in America, their career is heading downhill. Back in the day, the arenas were packed. But now, not many people care. Some may have forgotten about them. But who’s to blame for the reason that Spinal Tap is a bad rock-n-roll band?

Director DiBergi narrates throughout the documentary. He likes Spinal Tap’s music and follows the group on tour, asking them questions about themselves. I was chuckling when they explained what happened to their old drummer (“He choked on vomit…but it wasn’t his own vomit.”). But I was laughing when I found out that that drummer wasn’t the only Spinal Tap drummer who died. Apparently, they have a new and clever way of killing off all of their drummers. Maybe the other guys don’t kill him—maybe it’s a “drummer curse” that occurs when a new drummer is brought to the band, which means that the current drummer in this movie is not going to last very long.

Bad luck happens with the band when rhythm guitarist/lead singer David’s (Michael McKean) girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) arrives to join the tour. Gigs are cancelled, the lady and the band’s manager Ian (Tony Hendra) have an argument which results in him quitting, the cover for the new album stinks, and a gig at a military base is a disaster with all of the planes roaring off outside. The events that occur in this movie—even the quiet moments, such as when the group visits Elvis’ tombstone—are funny and original; even more funny is that they’re all played naturally.

Other funny scenes—the band gets lost on a gig on their way to the stage (not to the place but to the stage); bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) is trapped in a womblike stage prop but keeps his cool while the others perform and a stage crew member tries to get him out; a set designer is assigned to create an 18-foot replica of a Stonehenge element but instead creates an 18-inch replica that the band is forced bring out dramatically…and embarrassingly.

That last scene mentioned is very funny because the band members don’t know what the thing will look like and when they see it finally, on stage, their surprised reactions are hilarious.

“This is Spinal Tap” is a great, funny movie not just because of the really funny scenes but because Spinal Tap aren’t mean-spirited, and the way that they are going about this film is not cruel. The appeal of this movie is how it shares the pleasure of just being themselves. They love to rock, they love to entertain—they probably go out there every performance just to hear and feel the beat.

American comic actors Christopher Guest and Michael McKean give respectable British accents and heartfelt performances. Guest, McKean, Shearer, and Reiner co-wrote the script themselves—they went through improvisational stages and wrote the Spinal Tap songs (most memorable are “Sex Farm” and “Hellhole”). “This is Spinal Tap” is also Rob Reiner’s directorial debut. I love the way he puts background information and glimpses of style into almost each frame of the film.

You could call “This is Spinal Tap” a spoof. But the laughs aren’t coming from sight gags such as “Airplane!” or “Top Secret.” But it’s more of a satire in the way that this movie feels like a real documentary with the dumb questions and the ridiculously funny answers. This is a really rare, specific type of satirical comedy to do. It’s a brilliant satire on documentaries, stage decorations, rock music, and troubles with rock bands. “This is Spinal Tap” rocks!

Night of the Comet (1984)

10 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Night of the Comet” is a B-movie about the end of the world. Sure, logic is thrown out the window. Yes, there are many silly moments in the story. But in the end, “Night of the Comet” is just a good-natured, highly-enjoyable B-movie. I could call it a guilty pleasure, but I hold no guilt on this. I had fun, and chances are other viewers will have fun too.

The film’s hokey narration explains that a comet is hurtling toward Earth around Christmastime—this is the same comet that wiped out the dinosaurs and caused their extinction. In Southern California, we see that people are throwing a midnight comet-party, expecting a light show to bring jolliness to this holiday. But it winds up disintegrating almost the entire Earth population.

Why does the electricity stay on? Why do the cars still work? Why do survivors evolve into zombie-like monsters to eat the other survivors? Your guess is as good as mine. Through the course of the movie, we follow two valley girls—sisters Reggie (Catherine Mary Stuart) and Sam (Kelli Maroney)—as they realize that they’re one of very few people still around after the comet has struck. There’s one good guy named Hector (Robert Beltran), whom the sisters rival over, but everyone else is either a violent zombie or a sadistic looter. There are other people, who are part of a think tank to figure out what to do with the survivors and find a cure for the “infected,” but are they to be trusted?

This movie, like most B-movies, doesn’t care about logic or even humanity at large. But like the appealing ones, it simple takes joy in sharing the adventure of the heroes with us. I liked these protagonists and I liked the way they speak; it’s the typical valley-girl speak spoken with pluck. An example is when Sam is being attacked by gunmen in a supposedly-abandoned shopping mall, mocking these “wimps” saying they can’t shoot anything.

“Night of the Comet” has a nice comic touch that makes it enjoyable. The actors are fun, the dialogue is suitably corny and funny, and I appreciate the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even its final climax in which the characters race to thwart the think tank’s plans has its good moments. It’s an entertaining B-movie.

Electric Dreams (1984)

6 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Electric Dreams” takes a story about as old and as predictable as a romance could get and adds new twists to create a delightful movie. You know that old story of how boy meets girl, boy gets help from his buddy to impress her, and buddy becomes jealous to see how well the boy and girl are getting along? What if the buddy was a computer? Yes, there’s a love triangle in this movie in which the third wheel is a computer.

The computer falls in love. Now, that’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Not only does the computer fall in love, but it also gets jealous—jealous enough to try everything it can to get its owner out of the picture so it can have the girl to itself.

The owner is a shy nerdy guy named Miles, played by Lenny von Dohlen in a likable performance. He buys himself a home computer to get things organized for him, since everyone else has their own pocket organizers. It’s tough trying to get it to work at first, but he soon gets the gist of it…or so he thinks.

Enter the woman who moves into Miles’ apartment building—a fetching cellist, played by Virginia Madsen. Miles feels something for her, and the feeling is mutual. They go out a few times. But what neither of them realize is that the woman thinks that Miles can create great music. You see, earlier in the movie, as the computer gains its “brain” (whatever), it eavesdrops on the woman’s cello practice through a ventilation duct and plays musical notes by itself to follow along, in a duet that is easily the movie’s best scene.

But Miles realizes that the computer talks and has a mind of its own and asks it to create a love song for his new girlfriend. After wrongfully guessing what it sees on TV is appropriate for lyrics and rhythm, Miles helps it out with his own feelings. The result is a beautiful song that Miles takes the credit for, which makes the computer jealous because the computer has fallen in love.

Just thinking about the plotline makes me smile and the movie is just as winning, although maybe a little silly in most eyes, as it goes along. There’s an MTV-style as it goes with its song sequences (particularly with the duet, the love song, and the title song at the end) that gives the movie its energy, but what really makes “Electric Dreams” a nice movie are the central elements, like the actors and the computer. Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen are great together and separate. Von Dohlen does a good job as this wimpy nerd, and Madsen plays her character as attractive, but not shallow.

But credit should also be given to how well the filmmakers did with the computer. With wonderful voice acting by Bud Cort as the computer’s voice, this is a self-learning computer with a personality of its own. It not only makes for effective comedy, but also for really touching moments, particularly in the final act of the movie.

“Electric Dreams” has an innocence and charm within its characters, the direction, and that wonderful computer that gives me reason to recommend it to those who could use a nice-enough love story. I mean, how often do you come across the rivalry between a man and a machine over the woman they both love?

All of Me (1984)

4 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Steve Martin continued to show his skill as a highly acceptable comic actor in 1984’s “All of Me.” “All of Me” has a risky idea—having Lily Tomlin possess the right side of Steve Martin’s body while he controls his left side. The reason that is risky is because Lily Tomlin is a great comedienne and Steve Martin hadn’t been fully appreciated at the time this was made. And since Lily Tomlin is mainly inside Steve Martin, we see more of Martin than we want to, right? In this case, wrong. Lily Tomlin (whose voice is heard a lot) does show up when Steve Martin looks in the mirror and they have their own conversations. But in the meantime, Steve Martin is such a great presence that we love watching him control his own body.

Steve Martin learned to relax a little bit this time, since his over-the-top goofiness in “The Jerk” (directed from the same man who directed “All of Me”—Carl Reiner). Here, he plays Roger Cobb, a hotshot attorney who is unhappy because he is reaching middle-age. Roger will do anything to get a promotion (although bringing his dog to work shouldn’t help, it almost does in the case of his boss). But then he meets Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin), a dying rich woman who wants to live forever (or rather, have a new better life). Roger is to get her affairs in order but he thinks that she’s crazy. She, on the other hand, is confident enough to shun lesser people down.

Edwina hires a guru of transmigration (Richard Libertini) to put her soul into the body of a young, attractive British woman Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant). But during the process, something goes wrong and Edwina accidentally winds up in Roger’s body. But she doesn’t control his whole body. Roger is still alive and he controls his left side while Edwina controls the right. This brings a series of misunderstandings, confusion, goofiness, and big laughs. In the scene where it has happened, Roger and Edwina fight for control over Roger’s body as if playing a game of tug-of-war. That’s a very funny scene.

As Roger and Edwina figure a way out of this mess, there are many other great scenes. Some of them may be obligatory but they’re still funny—for example, when Roger has to go to the bathroom, he needs Edwina to help him. Many other scenes showcase Steve Martin’s wonderful physical comic talent. We believe he really is fighting for control over his body—watch that scene I mentioned in the above paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. Steve Martin is great in this movie. He doesn’t go for the obvious physical jokes either (and neither does the script, which is funny and sweet at the same time)—he has learned to control himself a little more, so to speak.

Lily Tomlin is still with us—we just don’t see her as much. We hear her voice most of the time and we see her whenever Roger looks into a mirror and sees her instead of his own reflection. It’s fun to watch them mimic each other’s moves. Also, when Martin is alone, we never feel that Tomlin has left us.

The writing is very good. By the end of the movie, we have laughed and now we feel something for the characters. There are big laughs and genuine sweetness by the time the movie is over. What I also liked were the members of the supporting cast of characters—especially the guru who is learning how to get by in America. His scenes are hilarious and get even better with he’s with Martin, who is desperately trying to communicate with him while the guru is trying to comprehend. I also liked the character of Ty (Jason Bernard), who is a black, blind musician and Martin’s friend and partner.

“All of Me” is a very good comedy—funny, charming, sweet, and fantastic.

Up the Creek (1984)

3 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Up the Creek” is among the “slob comedies” that has been around since 1978’s “Animal House” introduced a group of slobs who got laughs just for being what they were. It even features actors from some of those said “slob comedies”—Tim Matheson and Stephen Furst from “Animal House,” Dan Monahan from “Porky’s,” and Sandy Helberg from “History of the World: Part 1.” The film borrows elements from “Animal House,” “Porky’s,” and maybe even “Meatballs”—we have competition between colleges, booze, parties, bare-chested women, casual sex, and psychopathic enemies. So basically, “Up the Creek” has all the ingredients of a “slob comedy” but the surprise is that it’s still funny and I liked it. It’s not up there with “Animal House,” but it’s much better than “Porky’s.” It’s stupid, but a likable kind of stupid.

In the movie, four students of Lepetomane University (which is said to be “the single worst educational institution in the country”) are chosen by the dean to race in an intercollegiate whitewater rafting race. These four are told that if they win, they are granted a degree of their choice.

These central characters are the usual types—the Relaxed but Wisecracking Leader (Tim Matheson), the Overweight Eating Slob (Stephen Furst), the Horny Ladykiller (Dan Monahan—don’t worry; he’s more likable here than in “Porky’s”), and the Nervous Nerd (Sandy Helberg). The opening scenes aren’t particularly subtle. They each try to shoot a morning crow with different weapons only to hit other things (and people) and in another scene, when the fat guy throws his sandwich out the car window, it hits a motorcyclist and causes him to lose control and fall off the road. But hey, that’s supposed to happen in movies like these, right?

Even though these guys are types, they are quite likable and play their parts with a good deal of enthusiasm. Tim Matheson, in particular, keeps his charm from “Animal House” and has a nice relationship with the Blonde Babe (Jennifer Runyon)…or as nice as a relationship can be in a movie like this.

The rivals of the race are the defending champions from a military academy, who is later disqualified after a terrible sabotage attempt (I love how it goes wrong—the Leader of the good guys throws the grenade back at the thrower saying, “Hey you dropped this”). So they go through ridiculous lengths just to throw off the good guys as revenge for…not being sabotaged? I dunno. Another rival group is from the Ivy League, who of course are blond and everyone’s favorite.

The race is amusing and fun to watch—real effort was put into the filming of the protagonists going through some tough whitewater rapids. Tricky photography and cinematography was used to make those scenes seem real. The amusing bits are when the rival teams are trying their hardest to throw off the protagonists—the Ivy League even has torpedoes. But it wouldn’t be a positive slob comedy if the slobs didn’t find their way back up, now would it?

Uh-oh! I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention the best character in the movie—a smart dog named Chuck, played by Jake (he deserves credit). He understands human emotions and may even be smarter than anyone else in the movie. The movie’s best scene is when the military academy team kidnaps one of the heroes and Chuck has to play charades to tell the others where he is. I loved that scene, I liked “Up the Creek.” It’s silly, goofy, idiotic, and predictable, but it’s still quite funny.

Reckless (1984)

25 Mar

aidan reckless

Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Reckless” is about a bad boy and a good girl who are attracted to one another, and it’s not as much a ripoff of “The Wild One” or “Rebel Without a Cause,” because really this sort of youth melodrama is its own genre. While “Reckless” deserves credit for its proficient acting and occasionally complex drama, and it’s certainly a step up from the awful “Tuff Turf” (a similarly-themed teen film released the same year as this one), It’s not as dramatically satisfying or revealing as we would like it to be.

Aidan Quinn stars in his film debut as Johnny Rourke, a high school teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. His fellow students think he’s weird because he mostly keeps to himself and likes to ride around on his motorcycle. Oh, and he’s a deadringer in every way for James Dean’s “rebel without a cause.” He’s handsome, he’s moody, he speaks in a soft monotone, and loves to mope around.

It’s the intention that Quinn resemble James Dean, and the truth is, Quinn completely pulls it off. This could easily have been a pale imitation, but Quinn plays it with enough authenticity and conviction that really makes the role of Rourke his own. He makes us feel for his pain and angst. He’s more the rebel with a cause—he has something difficult (if uncomfortable) to deal with, and the time he spends to himself makes him more comfortable. That’s my take on the character, anyway.

Rourke has to put up with his irresponsible, lazy, drunken father, as well as working at the steel mill, being blamed for something that isn’t entirely his fault (but because he looks rough, he’s immediately to blame), and being stared upon by his fellow students who refer to themselves as “normal” compared to him. But one day at a school party, he is paired up with the girlfriend of one of the football jocks, and they share a fun dance to new wave music. This is Tracey (Daryl Hannah, very good), a good girl who, after the dance with Rourke, realizes that he is everything she is not. She has never taken chances and is the “model girl.” Rourke’s recklessness attracts her, and they spend some time together causing trouble—breaking into the school, trashing the principal’s office and classrooms, and sharing an explicit sex scene in the boiler room to 80s rock music.

That sex scene is actually one of the more original parts of the movie, which is mostly utterly predictable. We can tell where this relationship is going to go, and we know they’re going to spend some time apart before ultimately getting back together after much convincingness. I wouldn’t mind so much except that the supporting characters don’t have dimensions of their own, so we’re pretty much stuck with these two characters who feel like they’ve got no direction—well, we certainly know where this is going, for sure. Rourke’s father (Kenneth McMillan) only has a couple scenes that give us the point—and he has only one note: drunken. The football coach (Cliff de Young) is too much of a hard-case. And Tracey’s boyfriend (Adam Baldwin) is too much of a stereotypical jerky boyfriend that he is just plain boring.

It’s not enough that we have two likable characters if we can tell where the story is going and they (or rather, the screenwriter) constantly kid us with it.

I liked Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah as the two central star-crossed lovers. And the cinematography and direction is well-done. But “Reckless” needed more work done on its screenplay if it was going to be as special as a film about a bad boy and a good girl can be.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

24 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Here’s another risqué comedy about young people who break the rules and often talk vulgarly. When done right (like “Animal House” and to a lighter extent, “Risky Business”), it can be less raunchy than it sounds. But when done wrong (“Porky’s,” “Porky’s II,” “Where the Boys Are 84”—I could go on and on, but I won’t for space), they can be real scuzz-pits. Then you have “Revenge of the Nerds”—that’s a clever title for a movie and a clever idea. This is a raunchy comedy that doesn’t focus on the slobs or the jocks, but the nerds—the geeky, twerpy guys who are smart but socially awkward. This film does not take place in the real world—this is a movie in which all jocks are stereotypical jerks who, of course, are the most-loved ones on college campus, and also know nerds when they see them wearing glasses or sporting pocket protectors on their shirt pockets. Oh, and most of the “nerds” are freshmen, which makes it hard to believe. No introduction necessary—they just shout “nerd” at you and make your life miserable. It doesn’t matter what you do; you will always be a nerd to them.

Just describing that one detail of “Revenge of the Nerds” makes it seem ridiculously stupid. But this is a surprise—yes, it features stereotypical jocks (and nerds, for that matter) and quite a lot of female nudity from the sexiest sorority girls. But it also features enough laughs and enough likable lead characters (the nerds) that I’m recommending the film. It’s stupid, but it’s playfully stupid.

So anyway, the trouble starts when the jocks’ idiotic behavior burns their frat house to the ground and the jocks invade the freshmen’s dorms, forcing the “nerds” to sleep in the gym. Then, when the nerds (I hate to call them this) have an opportunity to make into the only fraternity that’s left for them—an all-African-American fraternity called Lambda—those dumb jocks ruin their chances by crashing their party and humiliating them. This will not do. It’s time to stand up and retaliate. Led by Louis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards), the nerds panty-raid the jocks’ favorite sorority house, install hidden cameras in their dorm rooms, and put “liquid heat” in the jocks’ jockstraps. And if they win the Homecoming decathlon at school, they can take over the jock fraternity.

At that point, the film is predictable, but it’s honest and displays the message that nerds are people too. Some of the nerds are types—we have the slob, the horny Asian, the gay African-American, and the weak nerd—but the two leads, Louis and Gilbert, seem like real people and do earn our sympathies. The jocks—this includes the football coach, played over-the-top by John Goodman—are types, like I said. But in this case, they deserve their comeuppance. I know I smiled when seeing them in pain after the nerds put liquid heat in their jockstraps.

Some of “Revenge of the Nerds” is funny and some of it is heroic. That’s a good enough mix for me to recommend the film without going too crazy over it.

Birdy (1984)

21 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There’s a beautiful movie surrounding Alan Parker’s fantasy-drama “Birdy,” and it just needs to be found. But as it is, it’s still intriguing, strange, and surprisingly moving, given its subject matter. It’s about two friends from South Philadelphia who have served in the Vietnam War—one of them, Al (Nicolas Cage), is called to a mental institution to try and reach his best friend, nicknamed “Birdy” (Matthew Modine), who is trapped inside of his own mind. If Birdy is proven mentally unstable, he will be taken away.

There’s nothing new to be said about the Vietnam War here, but that isn’t important. What is important is the friendship between these two friends who wind up serving in it. They both arrive back, scarred—one physically (Al has disfigured his face, so he keeps bandages covering most of it), the other mentally. Most of their story is told in flashback sequences as we see what led to this. The boys grew up in South Philadelphia. Al is a smooth guy with self-confidence and a natural ability to pick up women. Birdy is a different story—he’s an oddball who is weirdly fascinated with birds and dreams of flying himself. He has a pet canary, he has a pigeon suit to try and capture pigeons (while hanging upside down from elevated tracks), creates an ornithopter (a small flying device), and even some homemade wings to try out in hopes of flying.

Al and Birdy become great friends, as we see in the flashbacks. Although, they become somewhat separated by their pursuits for different things—for Al, it’s more women; for Birdy, it’s a further obsession with flying. But they’re still good friends with each other and share some unique adventures together.

In the present time, however, Birdy has apparently been pushed over the edge, presumably because of his experience in the war. He’s at the point where he actually thinks he’s a caged bird, with his cell as his cage. He looks sideways, looks longingly at the window to see birds fly free, has his head cocked to the side, and doesn’t even say a word. Al is trying to reach him by making him remember the good times they had together and make sure he’s not crazy, but he is not sure what he’s thinking, or even if he’s thinking.

“Birdy” is successful in its storytelling, as it doesn’t tell the story in chronological order, rather than let us figure out for ourselves in what order these events—past and present—happened so we can understand a certain thing about the other. It’s fascinating that way. We also get some deeply effective moments that go deep into Birdy’s perception. We can understand how much he wants to fly, and notice his “transformation” as it continues to develop. We realize his love for birds, as well as his hopes of being free to fly out of this miserable world he lives in, what with a difficult mother and other people (including a girl Al pushes him into dating) calling him weird. This Birdy is quite a terrific character, and played so well by Matthew Modine. I’m surprised his performance wasn’t nominated for an Oscar—I really think it’s an Oscar-caliber performance.

I get the feeling there was a lot more to “Birdy” than what was ultimately released to cinemas and home media. There are many parts of the movie that either feel rushed or not developed at all. For example, in an early flashback scene showing when the two boys first meet, it’s a misunderstanding and then a bit of confusion. Then, we get a montage of the two boys hanging out together, as if all of a sudden, they’re just best friends now. We never saw what made them really connect with each other in the first place. So in that way it is somewhat hard to believe that Al would hang out with Birdy all this time, despite his odd obsession with birds and flying. I also could have used more of Al teaching Birdy to be more sociable in high school. And I also would have loved to see how these two reacted to serving in Vietnam—we only get just a few brief scenes, and that’s not particularly good enough. And the ending is just too ambiguous—it was as if I was reliving my thoughts on the anticlimactic ending for “An American Werewolf in London.” What I’m saying is I could have used a lot more of this material, and that’s saying something, especially considering that this movie is two hours long. I would have watched an extra half-hour if they had something to deliver.