1987 Movie Review: THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987


THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht, Duncan Regehr
Review by Sarah Evans

SYNOPSIS:

A couple of neighborhood kids set up a club dedicated to everything that has to do with monsters. However, their obsession with monsters turns into real life when Dracula and other legendary monsters return to rule the world. Together, The Monster Squad must device a plan to save humanity in battle between good versus evil.

REVIEW:

Let’s all think back to the days of our childhood, where anything from comic books to chronic nose bleeds automatically got transformed into some sort of club. This was what was evoked from my memory after watching “The Monster Squad” except with a way cool tree house and what ends up being a true purpose for their monster inspired club.

You can’t save the world with a club dedicated to processed meat sandwiches. If you have a coin club, maybe you have a better chance.

In this harmonious blend of comedy, horror and dare I say…family? You might think, “Wait, is this The Goonies?”, but trust me, it’s not. Although, “The Monster Squad” features a similar group of ratty outsider kids, their adventures are on a different path. Sean, the leader of the club and played by Andre Gower, receives a Van Helsing book that his mom found at a garage sale. At that point, everything starts going wrong. Mom and dad hate each other, that stupid Van Helsing book is in German, and suddenly there’s word of monsters creeping the streets. What do they do? Luckily, the creepy German guy down the street is able to translate the books secrets whilst easing their nerves with joy-flavoured pie. At this point they discover that the only thing protecting them from the forces of the undead are an amulet, a discount find of Van Helsing’s secret diary, and a virgin.

The film is played by a number of actors whose existence is unknown, with exception to Michael Faustino starring as one of the youngest Monster Squad members, Eugene. Also pairing with the post Married With Children star was Jason Hervey as E.J. the Bully. If you don’t remember who Jason Hervey is, just remember him as the same furrow browed meat head in The Wonder Years. Regardless of whom these actors are, or what they’re doing now, they all seamlessly come together with such afoul-mouthed twelve year old childhood innocence. Alongside Sean, the leader of the pack, and Eugene the youngster wannabe, are also other great characters that come to their aid. Patrick, his trusty neurotic sidekick is accompanied by Horace aka “Fat Kid” (Brent Chalem), who plays the lovable pudge everyone overestimates. Then there’s Rudy (Ryan Lambert), the squad bad ass who has a knack for artillery weapons and a future in nude photography. Last but not least, there’s poor little Phoebe who desperately wants to be in her brother’s club and struggles to prove that girls know just as much about monsters as boys do. The combination of nervous kids and whiney sisters leads to some pretty hilarious one-liners, not to mention an intricate plan that seems to get executed under twenty-four hours of a gigantic crisis. I guess kids really are little miracles. The best part is seeing all their nerdy qualities coming together like an intricate puzzle and then seeing that puzzle kick ass!

It’s hard to hate a story that has a bunch of outsiders having evil eat pavement but most of all; it’s hard to hate a story that has amazing monsters. We actually get to see the monsters we know and love team up for an incredible comeback, which includes Dracula (Duncan Regehr), The Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr.), Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), The Mummy (Michael Reid Mackay) and last but not least, Frankenstein (Tom Noonan). If you were to walk into a bar one day, are these not the same characters you would want to see sitting together with a pitcher of beer laughing and Dracula saying “You guys go ahead with the appetizers, I had a truck driver on the way. He was a real juicy one.” Amazing! However, this is not the scenario in the movie but I think it’s safe to say that the most memorable monster in the movie is Frankenstein, who much like Horace, is an underestimated force with his monster friends. Instead he becomes the “cool” slang talking monster and Phoebe’s new playmate.

Although I’ve already hinted at a comparison with this film and “The Goonies”, but for some reason I also feel a connection with “Little Monsters”. Perhaps it could be that familiar event of a monster crossing over to the “good side” and helping prevail over evil. Or maybe it’s the Fred Savage/Jason Hervey connection throwing me off… I mean whatever. Both show a bunch of kids banding together to prove the impossible.

There are several things that highlight this film, so without giving any spoilers, I’ll only hint at a few. Be prepared for a Horace’s hilarious comment regarding Wolf Man’s nether regions and his shining moment in the hour of panic. Also, pay close attention to things going on in the background, especially the kitchen blackboard in Sean’s kitchen. And I beg you to watch the credits, if not out of interest for the crew involved with the film but for what sounds like a last minute soundtrack to the film. Enjoy!

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1987 Movie Review: THE LOST BOYS, 1987

THE LOST BOYS, MOVIE POSTERTHE LOST BOYS, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Jamie Gertz, Corey Feldman, Dianne Wiest, Edward Hermann and Barnard Hughes
Review by Sean McDonald

SYNOPSIS:

A recent divorcee and her two sons move to a coastal town in California, where they end up fighting a gang of teenage vampires.

REVIEW:

Years before Stephanie Meyer had even an inkling of the teen vampire genre, Joel Schumacher created his own homage to classic vampire lore, setting the action in coastal California. Under the watchful eye of producer Richard Donner – who left the directing reins to focus on Lethal Weapon – the film honed in on the MTV generation and subsequently created one of the most recognised flicks of the 1980s.

From the opening credits, the film is immediately beguiling – as we soar effortlessly over the Santa Carla fairground in orchestration to the theme song, Cry Little Sister. We follow the ever reliable Dianne Wiest and her two sons as they move in with her father in Santa Carla – an area burdened with motorbike gangs and unexplained disappearances (in reference to the film’s title and J.M. Barrie’s fictional characters). One evening at a concert, the oldest son, Michael (played with aplomb by Jason Patric) falls for the endearing Jami Gertz, who hangs around with a group of ‘youthful’ vampires – led by a brash alpha-male, Kiefer Sutherland. Naturally, Michael is ‘initiated’ into the gang and wakes up the next morning, disorientated and sensitive to sunlight…

For the most part, the film concentrates on Patric (with a stylish leather jacket and ray-ban sunglasses) as he tries (and fails) to hide his involuntary transformation into a half-vampire. At the same time, his younger brother (Corey Haim) befriends a cocky pair of vampire-slaying brothers (including Corey Feldman) who offer their expertise and solutions to the problem: a stake through the heart. Refusing to do it, Haim and the brothers settle on an alternative method– identify and kill the head vampire in Santa Carla before Michael succumbs to the thirst. Uh-oh.

The young Patric and Sutherland bring appeal to their roles with the latter, quite literally, chewing on the badboy/antagonist stereotype. The two Coreys, then at the height of their success, handle their parts with swift enthusiasm whilst the Oscar-winning Wiest is criminally underused; though her seemingly minor story arc becomes an important part of the film’s denouement. Heavyweight actor, Barnard Hughes handles his short but eccentric screen time with memorable repercussions and Alex Winter (forever adorned as Bill S. Preston Esq.) shows up as one of Sutherland’s gang members.

Like the original vampire yarns, the film uses plenty of exposition to remind us of the “rules” when it comes to tackling the bloodthirsty undead. The classics such as sunlight, garlic, reflections, etc., are present and implemented to great effect without letting the film fall into satire. The union of horror and comedy also manages to work well: a scene involving Haim singing in a bubble bath while his bloodthirsty brother creeps up the stairs is executed perfectly. Though not as scary or gory as it could have been, Schumacher doesn’t shy away from amping the violence and horror when necessary – take the shocking campfire attack as an undiluted example of the excellent makeup prosthetics.

Albeit, the movie has its share of problems. Jamie Gertz struggles to transcend a manufactured romantic role and the end mano-a-mano showdown comes across as a little camp by today’s standards (unless you’ve seen 2006’s The Covenant). It is also difficult to believe that Dianne Wiest and her family seem to completely overlook the various ‘missing people’ posters that flypaper the streets of the sinister town. However, these faults are minor and like Schumacher’s previous effort, St Elmo’s Fire, the film is effortlessly nostalgic with an amazing soundtrack and eerie score by Thomas Newman (American Beauty).

At the heart of the film, there is no denying its original script and witty dialogue – “As a matter of fact, we’re almost certain that ghouls and werewolves occupy high positions at city hall.” It also offers some innovative visuals such as the dizzying aerial shots, POV camerawork and startling locations (the old hotel hangout and foggy railroad.) The film also sports an array of dreamlike sequences, from Michael’s hazy consumption of the wine and the timeless motorcycle race through the beach. And who can forget the final, if slightly predictable, twist and quotable closing line?

Though not as tongue-in-cheek as Fright Night or as serious as Near Dark, The Lost Boys pulls away as the most memorable with its clever deconstruction of the vampiric mould and adventurous storyline. It just beggars belief that Schumacher would go on to direct Batman and Robin.

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1987 Movie Review: THE LIVING DAYLIGHT, 1987

The Living Daylights, MOVIE POSTERTHE LIVING DAYLIGHT, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by John Glen
Starring Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbe and Robert Brown.
Review by Jesse Ryder Hughes

SYNOPSIS:

New Bond Dalton jumps in full force investigating why spy’s are getting killed. He goes on a mission to help Russian defector Koskov (Krabbe) escape getting killed by a sniper. Bond succeeds and then Koskov is kidnapped by Necros outside London. As the story unfolds Bond finds Koskov isn’t what he seems and Bond finds himself traveling from Vienna to Afghanistan getting himself into all sorts of death defying trouble.

REVIEW:

I love Dalton. He is either loved or hated as Bond I find. He is the angry, dark but honest Bond with hints of happiness. He has a no bullshit attitude and doesn’t deal with stupidity all that well. He is hard edged and dangerous. A highly underrated portrayal of Bond. I give Dalton my props for stepping up to the challenge and risking to play Bond in his own way.

The movie itself is exciting and full of twists and has a sense of not knowing who to trust. The story is much improved from the last two installments. This feels like the Bond that realizes the decade of the 80’s the most, with its new techno Bond score and music by a-ha. The themes are well done with a Russian, Koskov, and an American, Whitaker, an arms dealer and war enthusiast, teaming up and exploiting there own countries for their own selfish gains. They take advantage of the war in Afghanistan. with Russian involvement. which was a big ordeal at the time.

All in all The Living Daylights was a great reboot with a classic car chase scene in the snows of Bratislava and a great final battle between Bond and Necros way up in the sky on an army cargo plane. It keeps the classic elements of Bond, but adds an edge to the series never before felt since early Connery. It shows a dark side to the Bond franchise, which is very exciting and often uncomfortable and takes pride in it. Dalton doesn’t use seduction like Moore did to get information, he blatantly kicks ass and forces the information out of his victims. I think this is partly why Dalton isn’t liked as much, because he doesn’t emanate the charm and charisma that Connery and Moore naturally had, but if you think about it Bond doesn’t have time to be charming. Dalton plays Bond as an unlikeable guy, but he throws in hints of joy, which is good. He is criticized that he added no humor to his role, but he actually does, he just has a darker approach to it than the other guys did.

A great Bond film to start off Dalton, it’s too bad he only got to do two films to grow with the character, but they are both good Bond films. Great bad guys, a good Bond girl, an Aston Martin and a lot of hair raising stunts with an interesting plot that aids to the villains and social issues present with the film.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHT, 1987

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1987 Movie Review: LETHAL WEAPON, 1987

LETHAL WEAPON MOVIE POSTERLETHAL WEAPON, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Richard Donner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitch Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe
Review by Andrew Kosarko

SYNOPSIS:

Two tough Los Angeles cops, one who carries a lethal weapon (Glover) and the other who is one (Gibson), are teamed as partners in a highly unusual case involving a massive international ring which has its roots in Vietnam – a place they are both all too familiar with. This film, with its fresh, energetic combination of comedy, drama and action, has managed to spawn three highly successful sequels.

REVIEW:

I had never seen the Lethal Weapon films prior to reviewing them this week. Which, as I understand it, is grounds for having my man card revoked. Nevertheless, of course I enjoyed the films, but it’s not without it’s criticisms.

The Story: The film hits the reset button on the “buddy cop” genre, if not creating it all together. The odd couple dynamic is the focus for the first hour of the film, with little coming out of the plot to actually have an overall effect on the outcome. Basically it’s 50 minutes of the film telling us “Riggs is crazy” and “Murtaugh is “too old for this shit.” It’s only once the film gets to an hour into it does it start going anywhere. That’s my biggest criticism of the film. Usually, character driven films are what everyone wants, and don’t misunderstand me, the creation of these characters is what makes the film great and the franchise sustainable. But there are better ways to go about it. Now once it gets into the actual plot, it becomes extremely interesting. The ties to these characters back stories and their draw to see it through becomes deeply routed in the audience’s desire. That, mixed with the great characterization and explosions is how you make a entertaining film.

Acting: It’s really Mel Gibson’s movie to steal. And he does. It’s always the offbeat character that everyone loves the most. But Glover provides a sturdy straight man (in terms of characterization – not sexual orientation…just to be clear.) The lack of problem here is while Gary Busey is menacing, he’s somewhat underused in this film and doesn’t get much play. While it did reinvigorate his career, there’s really not a whole lot going on there. In the end, it’s Riggs that keeps the movie going when it starts to lull in the action.

Directing: Richard Donner does a great job for what it’s worth. He made a successful film that launched a franchise. However, he is guilty of 80’s stylistic value. Ain’t no dodging that one.

Cinematography: While it doesn’t have the soft focus of the 80’s style (thank the Lord above) it does have the same old fog machine look on occasion. Some of the action scenes are shot a little too tight for my taste, but they work. And again, there is some guilty 80’s moments with the slo-motion shot to death scenes.

Production Design: 1986. Again…not a whole lot more to be said there.

Editing: Here’s, once again, where my criticism lies. There’s too much character setup in the first hour. It becomes filler to be honest. We could deal with one or two short situations that establish Riggs is crazy and Murtaugh is too old. But we get it drawn out in several long scenes that just cover fill up time. It could have been tighter.

Score: Now while most of the action scenes are scored with the stereotypical 80’s classical score (no synthesizers thank the Lord yet again haha) the drama and comedy are scored with this saxophone type style. Which works very much for the buddy-cop tone of the film and is repeated in the sequels. It establishes an overall character to the franchise itself. A smart move on the part of the film makers that paid off for the long run.

Special Effects: it’s the 80’s….stuff blows up….it really blew up. Haha. Simple as that.

In closing: In my honest opinion, the film is dated and overrated. Does that mean it doesn’t stand well on it’s own feet? Not at all. It’s an enjoyable movie. But there could have been so much more going on. It was fresh for it’s time and that’s why it’s so highly rated. So now that we’ve spent one hour on characters and one hour on a plot, let’s see how the sequel fares up….

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lethalweapon1

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1987 Movie Review: THE LAST EMPEROR, 1987

  MOVIE POSTERTHE LAST EMPEROR, 1987 
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole

Review by Travis Seppala

SYNOPSIS:

A dramatic true history of Puyi, the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People’s Republic of China.

REVIEW

A few weeks ago I reviewed “Gandhi”, a Hollywood made historical biopic that was a fantastic film and deserving of its win of the Oscar for Best Picture. Now I’m reviewing “The Last Emperor”, a Hollywood made historical biopic that was a fantastic film and deserving of its win of the Oscar for Best Picture. Why couldn’t they have shown us these Oscar winning historical films in high school history class instead of those boring documentaries that were mostly just photographs zooming in and out while some old guy narrated? I’m sure a lot less of us would have fallen asleep (although, to be fair, I’m sure there would be some people falling asleep as this movie is nearly 3 hours long)!

“The Last Emperor” is not told in sequential chronological order. Instead, it bounces back and forth in time from Puyi as an adult in a POW camp to his history from birth until adulthood giving us two splintered time lines of the same persons life (each flashback is in chronological order, and each“present” scene is also in chronological order).

A big deal was made of Puyi’s birth as he was next in line to be Emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty of China. He lived a life of absolute luxury and became Emperor at the age of 2 and reined until just after his 6th birthday. During that time, he was still breastfed and treated so lavishly he didn’t know how “normal” people lived. All that changed once he and his family were forced to leave their palace in the Forbidden City and he was exiled.

Years later, once the Japanese had invaded China, Puyi was seated on the thrown in Manchukuo as a puppet ruler- he was Emperor, but everything he did or said for Manchukuo was the will of the Japanese forces. He met a woman and fell in love only to have that love falter and die before being hauled off to a be a prisoner of war.

After years as a prisoner of the Japanese (and being forced to go through Communist rehabilitation) Puyi was released as a “reformed citizen” and began working as a gardener. He got to see his Communist re-education teacher suffer during the anti-revolutionary parade as a political prisoner and later, at the end of his life get to return to the Forbidden City to see his former thrown, now as a simple tourist.

To go into much greater detail than that of the happenings of “The Last Emperor” would make this review much too long as it’s a nearly 3 hour movie which portrays a very VERY detailed representation of the life of Puyi, the last Qing Emperor. Just know that there is much MUCH more to the movie that what I’ve outlined here.

In some movies where the time line is shifted all around like it is here, the story can get hard to understand as you try to remember where in history each aspect occurs. In “The Last Emperor”, however, the transitioning from one segment of Puyi’s life to another is flawless and flows so perfectly that there almost doesn’t feel like flashbacks and fast forwards. It plays out like one story unfolding normally.

The acting is unbelievable. The costumes are stunning. The use of vibrant colors is jaw-dropping and the interesting camera work is… well… interesting! Every member of the cast and crew of “The Last Emperor” did their job exceedingly well and the director brought their talents together to make this movie flow like a will tuned piece of machinery… a detailed work of art.

“The Last Emperor” is a beautiful and enticing film to behold as well as being an interesting history lesson on the fall of Imperial China and the invasion of Communist Japan during both world wars in their sequence. It’s a little on the long side, I agree, but everything in the film is absolutely necessary and could not be cut. So make sure you get comfy and have your snacks and drinks handy and whatever else you need to sit still for 3 hours, because “The Last Emperor” is definitely worth your time!

 the last emperor

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1987 Movie Review: THE JETSONS MEET THE FLINTSTONES, 1987

  MOVIE POSTERTHE JETSONS MEET THE FLINTSTONES, 1987 
Movie Reviews

Director: Don Lusk

Starring: Mel Blanc, George O’Hanlon, Henry Cordon and Penny Singleton.

Review by Joseph Paul John McCarthy

SYNOPSIS:

From the 1980’s comes one of the most famous crossovers in history. Elroy Jetson is working on a time machine which the family wish to use to holiday in the 25th century, but an accident sends them hurtling into the distant past where they meet up with the Flintstones.

REVIEW:

From the 1980’s comes one of the most famous crossovers in history. Elroy Jetson is working on a time machine which the family wish to use to holiday in the 25th century, but an accident sends them hurtling into the distant past where they meet up with the Flintstones.

This was one of those inevitable crossovers that just had to happen otherwise, the individual franchises would have to have come up with a new idea. Just like ‘Alien vs Predator’ or ‘Freddie vs Jason’ or even ‘Archie Meets the Punisher’ (which did happen, look it up!) there are some positives and some negatives to this crossover.

Admittedly this film isn’t one of those childhood cartoon films that we all remember, it is probably less memorable than even ‘The Jetsons: The Movie’. But it’s still a good children’s film and you should show it to your kids.

Being a Hanna-Barbera production the animation is pretty damn good, as is the storyline and dialogue. Technically this is a fairly flawless film; there are a few goofs here and there, but nothing worse than most other straight-to-video cartoon films. However being technically flawless does not make a children’s film great.

The plot is great in its simplicity, Elroy Jetson is building a time machine for a school science project, whilst the rest of the family have their own problems, George is fed up with Mr. Spacely telling him what to do and Judy Jetson is upset because she has just broken up with her rock star boyfriend. So the family decides to use the time machine to go on a vacation to the 25th century.

Meanwhile (for want of a better term) in the distant prehistoric past and in a little town called Bedrock; Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble are trying to convince Fred and Barney to take them on a vacation to Honolourock. Fred and Barney plan to go on an even better vacation after they win a game of poker. This back fires of course when not only do they lose their money to their boss; they also wind up getting fired.

The Flintstones and Rubbles now have to vacation in the middle of nowhere at the “same” “time” as the Jetsons are just about to travel in time. Just as the Jetsons are set to take off, Astros tail knocks a lever, changing the setting on the time machine from ‘Past’ to ‘Future’. Fred and Barney are setting up the camp just as the Jetsons appear in their time machine.

After some initial mistaking each other for aliens, the two groups become fast friends and even end up working together. The majority of the film then deals with the Flintstones and Jetsons swapping places in time, Fred becoming famous in the future for being a caveman and George being useful in the past with all his futuristic machines.

There are a lot of family style laughs and it generally is an enjoyable film, but it doesn’t really stand up to the test of time. Really young children would like it but it doesn’t hold the same kind of nostalgic love screen up in front of your eyes that other 80’s cartoon movies seem to have.

THE JETSONS MEET THE FLINTSTONES, 1987

1987 Movie Review: HELLRAISER, 1987

HELLRAISER, MOVIE POSTERHELLRAISER, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Oliver Smith, Robert Hines, Sean Chapman, Frank Baker
Review by Melanie Tighe

SYNOPSIS:

A man finds he is given more than he bargains for when he solves the puzzle of the Lament Configuration – a doorway to hell. But his ex-lover has found a way of bringing him back, and his niece, Kirsty Lawrence, finds herself bargaining with the Cenobites, angels to some, demons to others, whose greatest pleasure is the greatest pain.

REVIEW:

Clive Barker’s first feature-length film is a visually stunning exercise in visceral horror.

Kirsty, her father Larry and his partner, Julia, move into an old house previously owned by Larry’s mother.

The house is jointly owned by Larry’s estranged brother Larry, who’s pureed remains fester beneath the floorboards in the attic.

Frank and Julia were once lovers.

Julia finds evidence in the attic that Frank had been engaging in sex acts and reminisces about their passionate affair.

Sex was not enough for Frank and he went to great lengths to track down a mysterious puzzle box in search of the ultimate thrill.

Sadly for him, he is torn to pieces and his soul dragged to hell by S&M deities, The Cenobites.

The Cenobites are highly skilled in the art of administering a mixture of pleasure and pain (evidently more of the latter), incorporating chains, hooks and skewers. Their own bodies’ are testament to the journeys they themselves once took.

A rusty nail, a few drops of Larry’s blood later and Franks glistening, skinless corpse is talking Julia into murdering strangers in order to restore his body and the lover she once knew.

Kirsty finds Frank and the puzzle box and accidentally summons the Cenobites but they spare her from hell when she explains that Frank has escaped them and promises to show them where he is.

Frank is reclaimed (not before stealing his brother’s skin) and the Cenobites come after Kirsty.

Like all typically resourceful Final Girls, Kirsty sends them packing and the puzzle box finds a new owner.

Andrew Robinson’s role as serial killer, Scorpio, in Dirty Harry (1971) is a great contrast to that of drippy Larry. Our expectations are challenged and we are invited to anticipate the progression of his character. We are rewarded when Frank claims Larry’s skin; creepy Frank is also briefly played by Robinson.

The Cenobites were instant horror icons, with stunning costumes and make-up showing much skill and imagination, they are appalling and charismatic works of art, decorated with lacerations and mutilations.

The odd camera angles (born out of necessity due to the film being shot in a real house) and the eerie atmosphere that Barker creates succeed in isolating the family from the world outside of the house.

Added to this accomplished make-up, special effects and solid performances from the cast (save perhaps Kirsty and her boyfriend); Hellraiser raised the bar for future horror films.

It is entirely possible that the premise of a woman led to murder by remnants of her ex-lover, and the Cenobites pleasure and pain doctrines could have seemed too bizarre. The themes are so well-executed; however, that not only do these revolting things seem plausible, they make Kirsty’s “normal” relationship with her boyfriend seem positively boring.

Groundbreaking.

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HELLRAISER, 1987

1987 Movie Review: FULL METAL JACKET, 1987

FULL METAL JACKET MOVIEFULL METAL JACKET, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ed O’Ross, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, John Terry

Review by Surinder Singh

SYNOPSIS:

A two-segment look at the effect of the military mindset and war itself on Vietnam era Marines. The first half follows a group of recruits in basic training under the command of the punishing Sgt. Hartman. The second half shows one of those recruits, Joker, covering the war as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes, focusing on the Tet offensive.

REVIEW:

There have been many classic movies made about the Vietnam War: The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979). And when Stanley Kubrick decided to take on the challenge of adding to this already impressive milieu, it was clear that cinema audiences were in for a real treat! Full Metal Jacket was not made during the powerhouse decade of cinema (also known as the 1970s) and when the war itself was most prominent in popular culture. This allowed Kubrick adequate time to reflect on the subject, the themes and the ideas he wanted to explore. His legendary pre-productions always ensured that he never made a rash film and that every one of his films was flawlessly designed in style and substance.

The structure of the movie is quite brilliant. Like a documentary we follow in perfect chronology the journey of these young Americans. Kubrick shows us the intensive training and conditioning that transforms boys into Marines or rather “killing machines”. The training sequences in Full Metal Jacket are now amongst the top all-time classic scenes in modern American cinema. Kubrick has never forgotten the importance of acting in his movies. He has never fallen prey to the tendency that some directors have of being distracted by the practical side of production, forgetting the need for believable performances.

A prime example is the powerhouse performance of Drill Sergeant Hartman delivered with perfection by R. Lee Ermey. Even though Hartman is not the central character he commands your attention and pulls you into the movie with his unrelenting barrage of sadistic yet hilarious jibes to instate his authority over the young boys: “I bet you’re the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around!” Kubrick uses the performance to entertain, thrill and inform us with total believability that this man can turn mere boys into the toughest soldiers in the world. How could they not be ready for war if they can endure him?

Private Joker is quick to make a name for himself and is promoted to squad leader after impressively showing he was brave enough to reject the Virgin Mary directly to his deeply Christian Drill Sergeant. Joker is from the very start following his own moral compass and isn’t afraid to stand by it. Many directors would not be brave enough to have such a seemingly amoral central character in their movie (out of fear of loosing the audience). But the effect Joker has on the audience is one of wonder. He isn’t the usual boring, all-American son going into the savagery of war, rather he’s a complex character with an interest in killing. While we may not agree with Joker we still want to see what happens to him when he does end up in the thick of war and this keeps us immersed: “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.”

The other outstanding performance is that given by Vincent D’Onofrio as the unforgettable Private Pyle! Never before or since has there been such a harrowing portrait of the demoralizing nature of war. Pyle never even makes it into the conflict but in his eyes is a war, a war within himself. Private Pyle enters training as nothing more than just a big, innocent baby. But he finishes training as a terrifying tower of insanity! With the grueling training, the Drill Sergeant constantly on his back and his lack of focus, Pyle eventually cracks and becomes a completely different person. In the US Marine Core’s strive to create Killing Machines they were bound to be some unfortunate accidents. While many of the other notable Vietnam movies were all to eager to get straight into the war, with the training section Kubrick hit upon an area of exploration that other filmmakers tackling the subject missed.

While it’s important to show the horrific acts of violence Americans bestowed on the Vietcong and Vietnamese people, it is also important to show the violence that Americans bestowed upon other Americans. Private Pyle symbolizes the failure of the US Vietnam War effort on the American people and while films like Born on the Fourth of July (1989) also tackled this, the idea was best realized in that final training sequence when Private Pyle (sat on the toilet) loads the full metal jacket. There are many harrowing images in pop culture about Vietnam, so creating something memorable in any medium is a tall order. Alas, the sight of Private Pyle reciting the US Marine Corp’s Rifle Creed and then shooting both himself and his Drill Sergeant is definitely one of the most important and lasting Vietnam War images in any medium.

After this the movie changes gears and starts to resemble some of the other Vietnam War movies of the past. The most notable similarity is the way the director balances humor, exhilaration and tragedy within each scene. While Kubrick cares about people on both sides of the conflict, he does realize that some things about the experience of war are funny. The truth is that even in the face of death young men will continue to goof around, indulge themselves in playful banter and whatever entertainment is available. In war you can be larking around one minute and be shot dead the next so… why not have a laugh?

In all the praise showered over Kubrick’s directing, his skill in directing comedy is always left out. While Full Metal Jacket is no M*A*S*H (1970) it does have some brilliant comedy sequences in it. Take the scene with the Vietnamese hooker (Leanne Hong) trying to entice Private Joker: “Me love you long time!” Another classic movie quote, providing the perfect distraction for thief (Nguyen Hue Phong) to steal Joker’s camera and make a getaway, not before performing a hilarious martial arts routine to rub his nose in it! The scene is funny even on repeat viewings thanks to Kubrick’s great understanding of comedy.

The climax of Full Metal Jacket is perhaps the greatest action set piece in any War movie. Kubrick subtly conducts a symphony of shockingly sudden impacts of violence with beautifully staged slow motion shots that show the effect of this violence. The scene is loaded to the brim with nail biting suspense that pushes you to the edge of the edge of your seat for every second of its duration. Kubrick shows us everything: the pain, the excitement, the loss and the beauty of warfare. And like all great filmmakers how does he end the sequence? With a revelation that raises the film to an even higher artist level! We see that the deadly sniper (Ngoc Le) is just a lonely, scared, young girl trying to protect herself from danger.

Full Metal Jacket is one of the best war movies ever made and is compulsive viewing for anyone interested in the Vietnam War and the fine works of modern cinema.

By Surinder Singh – Apr 2010


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FULL METAL JACKET, 1987

1987 Movie Review: EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987

EMPIRE OF THE SUN MOVIE POSTER
EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano
Review by Matthew Lohr

SYNOPSIS:

A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.

Nominated for 6 OSCARS – Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Music, Best Costume Design

REVIEW:

After years of being pigeonholed as simply an entertainer, a populist producer of popcorn frivolity, Steven Spielberg has finally won acceptance as a serious filmmaker. His “Schindler’s List” won awards and acclaim and was cited as a milestone in historical cinema, while “Saving Private Ryan” has grown in the public mind into much more than a mere film; indeed, it more or less served the role of a de facto World War II veterans’ monument until the federal government actually got around to building a real one. Even when the public does not embrace his forays into serious cinema quite so fervently, as with the acclaimed but financially underperforming “Amistad” and “Munich”, Spielberg no longer has to fight for respect and the right to be regarded as a cinematic “artiste”.

Such was not the case when “Empire of the Sun” was first released in 1987. Though Spielberg’s previous film, 1985’s deep-Southern drama “The Color Purple”, had won him some acclaim and a Director’s Guild award, many critics charged that the picture prettified human suffering, turning true experience into mere pageantry. It was still hard for audiences to find the artist inside the entertainer, and they responded to “Empire of the Sun” in kind, greeting it with both mixed reviews and lukewarm box office. It would take a few more crowd-pleasers (another Indiana Jones picture, “Jurassic Park”) before Spielberg finally got his due with “Schindler’s List”. “Empire of the Sun” provides an interesting contrast to that film, presenting a vaguely similar subject with all of the Hollywood gloss and glamour that the later film eschews…and ultimately suffering for it.

Adapted from J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, “Empire” tells the story of young Jim Graham (a pre-teen Christian Bale), a pampered son of wealthy English parents living in 1940s Shanghai. Jim is obsessed with planes, and dreams of someday joining the mighty Japanese air force. One day, however, the dreams stop when the Japanese take the city and Jim is separated from his parents. Drifting through a series of increasingly harrowing adventures, he eventually finds himself in a Japanese internment camp, where the once-arrogant son of privilege is forced to get down in the muck and learn how to survive.

It’s grand material for a cinematic treatment, but Tom Stoppard’s screenplay does not take it far enough. We never really get a clear sense of exactly what Jim learns from his experiences. Sure, he finds out that life’s not as easy as he thought it was, and that the Japanese army he so idolized is indeed vulnerable, but these lessons are never clearly articulated by the script’s events, and we’re left to piece it together later in our heads (I think this is where the playwright in Stoppard comes through; film scripts often don’t bear up to such abstraction). Jim’s plane fixation likewise seems meant to hold a metaphorical weight that it never truly assumes. What’s more, when Jim is finally delivered from his predicament, we get no scenes showing us his life after his ordeal. How can we really know how he’s changed, what he’s learned, if we don’t get to see the new Jim in action? Spielberg and Stoppard don’t bother to provide any answers, and the film becomes too remote as a result.

Bale, admittedly, makes even this truncated Jim a compelling and fascinating character. The actor holds the screen with utter command; it’s not a stretch for us to follow him anywhere. He’s equally convincing as the snobby, snide boy of early scenes and as the haggard, battle-hardened survivor of the later camp sequences. Spielberg has always been one of our best directors of children, and Bale’s performance here is some of the best work he’s ever solicited from a young actor.

The supporting cast, while impressive, is unfortunately hamstrung by insufficiently defined roles. Miranda Richardson and Peter Gale have some nice moments as Jim’s surrogate prison-camp parents, and Nigel Havers makes us wish we saw more of his dedicated camp doctor. Masato Ibu is also commanding as the cold-eyed Japanese commandant, and Emily Richard has a few moments of chilling power as Jim’s mom. Still, these characters are never given much to do by the story, and merely seem to be around to react to Jim’s actions. The only truly vividly drawn supporting player is Basie (John Malkovich), a former merchant sailor and full-time survivor who teaches Jim the hard facts of camp living while plotting an escape and a new life as a river pirate. He’s a complex and interesting character, both a pragmatist and a dreamer, and Malkovich invests him with hard-bitten smarts and a surprising soulfulness that makes his every scene compelling.

This being a Steven Spielberg picture, naturally, everything looks just great. The cinematography by Allen Daviau is gorgeous, and the production designers craft an always-convincing facsimile of World War II China. John Williams’ score is undistinguished, but the soundtrack makes use of a haunting Welsh lullaby that stayed in my head for days. And, of course, there’s plenty of Spielbergian set pieces: the harrowing moment where Jim loses his mother, a tense sequence where a Japanese gunman stalks the boy through a field of weeds, Jim saluting a band of Japanese kamikaze pilots, and a well-staged air attack on the camp, with Jim cheering wildly for the planes about to destroy him.

Still, should a film like this even HAVE set pieces? “Schindler’s List” had memorable moments, to be sure, but none of them seemed to be there just so the director could show off; everything emerged naturally from the events of the story, and thus became organic parts of a whole, not “big scenes”. “Empire of the Sun” gave Spielberg a serious subject matter and a broad canvas to explore, but the populist was still too much at play. It would take a few years and a few more films, but Spielberg finally got it right, proving that even the most financially successful director of all time can learn a few new tricks every now and again.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.

The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.

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EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987

1987 Movie Review: DOLLS, 1987

DOLLS MOVIE POSTER
DOLLS, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring: Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Stephen Lee
Review by Melissa R. Mendelson

SYNOPSIS:

A group of people stop by a mansion during a storm and discover two magical toy makers, and their haunted collection of dolls

REVIEW:

As the night closes in, lights dim, glowing from corners of the room. Bedtime stories are read before a kiss good-night. There is nothing to fear in the dark is gently assured, and there are no monsters hiding under the bed or in the closet. But do we tell the children this, so we can sleep in peace? Are we too afraid of what lies within the dark?

As a child, I never feared the creatures lying in wait under my bed. I worried more about what hid within the closet. As my eyes began to close, I could have sworn that my dolls were now facing me, and their eyes watched my every breath. Would they play at night when I was fast asleep? Would they tiptoe down the stairs and wreak havoc on anyone that crossed their path? Will they return to their shelves before the sunrise?

As I grew older, I packed my toys, my dolls, and stuffed animals into boxes and carted them off to the basement. Over time, they moved to the donation bin for another child to find and cherish them. Only one or two boxes remain now, and a child I am no longer. But I never forgot them, and I wonder if they never forgot me.

Our fascination with dolls and toys has led to movies such as Child’s Play, Puppet Master, and Dolls. Carved into life, their eyes open to the world, but does something live beneath its surface? If we stay a child, would the doll remain loyal, protecting us from those with cruelty in their hearts, or would they betray us to become alive?

In the movie, Dolls, a child’s summer vacation is derailed in the midst of a wicked storm. Her father and step-mother struggle to free their car from the mud, but it’s no use. They’re stuck, and the only shelter from the wailing winds and rain is an old house nearby. But as they make their way inside, they have no idea what they are about to find.

And as the storm continues to grow fierce, three more strangers enter the house, seeking shelter and are welcomed in by a seemingly innocent elderly couple. They are led through the house, passing by rooms and rooms filled with dolls. Once shown to their bedrooms, they settle in for the longest night of their lives.

Through the eyes and heart of a child, we journey to the center of fascination and fear. Curiosity will open doors that may lead to salvation, but stains of murder will paint the floor. And in the darkest of night will terror reign and the dolls run wild, and the wicked will fall. Dolls is a classic tale of terror, one warning to never give up the child that lies within.

DOLLS, 1987