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Old 06-05-2015, 12:30 PM
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Time to demand a Blu-ray! Or perhaps insist on a correct aspect ratio DVD.

I don't know who owns this one. Lorimar was one of the producers; might Warner now have it? If so, maybe their Archive line could do it. Are music rights an issue?

Or any boutique label, please.

You don't see many reviews, and even fewer with appreciative notes. Here's one: Underrated 80’s Thriller: “Mary Lambert’s Siesta” (1987).

-Bill
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Old 06-05-2015, 03:39 PM
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Back in the day (a brief day perhaps, but boy was it a sunny, warm, memorable day), Ellen Barkin was your go-to sexpot, bedroom eyes, husky voice vamp. And boy did she deliver. She brought it for lunch, and you stayed for dinner if you were smart. The Big Easy, Siesta, others. There were some notorious Barkin flicks, and you didn't go see them for the set design.


Still has those eyes, I see (from Google Image search). Viva Ellen!
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Old 06-14-2015, 05:05 AM
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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), directed by W.D. Richter.

Quote:

Mission Control: Buckaroo, The White House wants to know is everything ok with the alien space craft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?

Buckaroo Banzai: Tell him yes on one and no on two.

Mission Control: Which one was yes, go ahead and destroy Russia... or number 2?
When human experimentation releases moronic Red Lectroids trapped in the 8th Dimension, the rasta-like Black Lectroids of Planet 10 aren't having it. The always heavily armed Team Banzai has just a few hours to frustrate the plans of Dr. Emilio Lizardo -- who is possessed by Lord John Whorfin -- or it's curtains for the entire Earth.

And you know: it's always one damn thing after another. Super-genius Buckaroo Banzai has just discovered the twin sister of his dead wife, previously murdered by the head of the World Crime League. Love blooms again. Rescue her, save the Earth and get the band on the road again.

We were nuts about this when it was in the theater and have been quoting it ever since. The reviews were kind but somewhat befuddled about being dropped into an adventure with a huge backstory and no explanation, requiring the viewer to hit the ground running.

Well, yeah.

This was "meta" before it was cool. Superheroes who are actually pretty normal apart from intelligence, skills and warm loyalty to each other. They produce their own Buckaroo Banzai comic books and have a tour bus for their band which doubles as the World Watch One command center.

The conceit is attractive: these people come from truck stops and cheap lounges scattered across Nowhere USA. Any sincere viewer might imagine themselves as a Blue Blazer Irregular and part of the family. The plot summary sounds silly but is actually engaging, compared to something like Flash Gordon (1980), which is all silliness.

Great cast and abundant goofy charm. Ellen Barkin again: I'm on a binge.

Special effects and set dressing are pretty much hand-made and lots of fun to watch.

One criticism would be that the political satire with the President and his staff goes on too long.

(An aside: what is with the initials "P.P." for female sidekicks in fantasy adventure films? Barkin is Penny Priddy and her sister was Peggy Priddy. Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films and was Polly Perkins in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).

The old special edition DVD has a lot of nice extras, but the video quality needs an upgrade. I see some Blu-ray imports are available, and a new Arrow Blu-ray appears in the UK in July 2015.

A commentary track on the DVD has the director with writer Earl Mac Rauch pretending that this is a filmed docu-drama of real events, with actors portraying their real counterparts. Rauch is supposed to be the real "Reno".



-Bill
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Old 06-14-2015, 08:32 AM
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Thanks for the review but as many times as I've watched this movie I can't warm to it. I know several people who love Buckaroo Banzai. Interesting that it has a big backstory that helps explain what's going on. Flash Gordon on the other hand is steeped in tradition and needs no explanation. It's dorky fun.

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Old 07-19-2015, 03:13 PM
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Krull (1983), directed by Peter Yates.

The interplanetary Slayers arrive on Planet Krull and kidnap the Princess. The Beast of the Black Fortress -- inexplicably -- wants to mate with her and make her ruler of this planet and others.

Her Prince picks up an Obi-wan type wizard and assorted outlaws and comic relief characters and sets out to rescue her. This takes time because the Quest always needs one more damned thing before they can get down to the real rescuing business.

I remembered nothing about this apart from the Princess gliding about in white. She picked up a sword once and I thought she might fight, but no: she threw it to a soldier who was instantly killed. She does a plot twist at the beginning, arguing for a political marriage, her father being against it. Usually it's the other way around.

We must be missing some backstory because the epilogue says her son will rule many planets; absence of a spaceship is not a problem somehow.

After Star Wars (1977) everyone wanted medieval-themed science fiction adventure/romances. This one is harmed by cheezy effects, poor dialogue, inconsistent tone and general silliness. Some of the mountain locations are very impressive and the large set designs are eerie and imaginative.

Early work for Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson, who often played hulking brutes in those days. They are among the good outlaws here.

James Horner score emphasizing John Williams motifs. The giant spider cavern sounds more like Bernard Herrmann.

Available on Blu-ray from Mill Creek. No subtitles.



-Bill
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Old 08-01-2015, 05:15 AM
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Scandal (1989), directed by Michael Caton-Jones.

A society doctor takes in a 17-year-old dancer and promotes her "career", which is partying with the rich and famous. He's not her pimp or her lover, just a friend whose pleasure comes from knowing and mixing with the elite set, doing them favors and getting favors in return.

A pair of inconvenient alliances draws attention from the authorities: she's been sleeping with both the Secretary for War and a Russian military attaché, probably a spy. Oops. That's a security problem.

This is the Profumo affair, the British political sex scandal by which all others are measured. Outraged, the establishment lashed out at the doctor and tried him for profiting from sex work. Which probably wasn't true, but it was an ugly proceeding. He committed suicide the last day of the trial and the Government resigned the next year, exhausted by scandal.

The film poster is adapted from a famous glamor pose by Christine Keeler, the key figure in the scandal:



This is not a thriller, either criminal or sexual or even political. It's more of a tragic romance, driven by fine performances from John Hurt and Joanne Whalley. It's a meditation on the nature of sex work: on those who provide the services, those who consume them, and those who facilitate.

Keeler is not actually a full-time prostitute, she just gets the society and some expenses. She doesn't mind the sex work, although we catch her yawning in bed with the Minister. The old story: in a man's world she gets plenty of sex, but needs something beyond that.

The early 1960s period detail is nicely done, and we constantly boggle at the orgiastic excess of the upper crust. What brought down Profumo was not his infidelity, but that he lied about it in Parliament. That was the unforgivable sin.

Quite a lot of nudity and passion from both Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda. I think Whalley, last seen in Willow (1988) and Kill Me Again (1989), is one of the most beautiful actresses of those years.

Ian McKellen is the hapless Profumo. The historically accurate balding pattern makes him look like a timid samurai.

I watched this again because of something I read in an obituary of Mandy Rice-Davies, the roommate played by Bridget Fonda in the film. After he resigned in disgrace, Profumo went to the poor part of town and volunteered cleaning toilets and doing other quiet good works for the rest of his life. He did not speak another word in public for 40 years. His wife, actress Valerie Hobson (The Rocking Horse Winner (1949), Contraband (1940)), stuck with him.

Folks: that's how you show contrition. Contrast with the modern "I take full responsibility" -- and nothing happens.



-Bill
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Old 08-04-2015, 02:32 PM
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Imagine my pleasure when one of my favorite films from the '80s, The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), showed up on one of the Cinemax channels. It's still just as good as I remembered, filled with wonderful music and fine performances from all three of its stars, the Bridges brothers and Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer was a revelation. Not only did she turn in a fine dramatic performance, it turns out that she could sing too. She was nominated for an Oscar. Highly recommended, 8 Stars out of 10. If anybody is interested, it will be shown again on 5MAX at 12:10 PM on August 16.
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Old 08-04-2015, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by gwsat View Post
Imagine my pleasure when one of my favorite films from the '80s, The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), showed up on one of the Cinemax channels. It's still just as good as I remembered, filled with wonderful music and fine performances from all three of its stars, the Bridges brothers and Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer was a revelation. Not only did she turn in a fine dramatic performance, it turns out that she could sing too. She was nominated for an Oscar. Highly recommended, 8 Stars out of 10. If anybody is interested, it will be shown again on 5MAX at 12:10 PM on August 16.

Or buy the Blu-ray release from Twilight Time.

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Old 09-04-2015, 01:27 PM
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The Razor's Edge (1984), directed by John Byrum.

Shaken by his experience as an ambulance driver in WW1, a man leaves his conventional life and becomes a seeker. After finding his enlightenment in India he returns and tries to repair the damaged lives of his friends.

This was made before as The Razor's Edge (1946). Neither version is entirely satisfactory. The strongest part of this one is in the final third, with Theresa Russell's heartrending portrayal of doomed Sophie, drunken and prostituting herself after the death of her husband and child. It's a dilemma without a solution: how do you save someone from themselves? Sometimes you don't.

Bill Murray had been all comedy before this. Like John Cleese and Phil Hartman he is so good at the comic mugging of seriousness that we don't quite know how to take him in a dramatic role. And yet: why can't "Larry Darrell" be a funny guy? Class clowns hurt, too. In the 1946 version he was played by a swashbuckling actor. Which is the more common type of character in the real world?

Murray has done more serious roles since then, perhaps making it easier to accept him in this one now.

I always kept a look out for Theresa Russell in those days. A beautiful woman doing dangerous things; she had a whole series of edgy, experimental roles. This was aided by her work with sometime husband and director Nicholas Roeg.

The dialogue is often cumbersome and Denholm Elliott's talent is wasted. Murray is our hero but he's no superhero and can't save the day. This gives the whole production a despairing tone.

It was a critical and commercial flop. The deal with the studio was that Murray could make this in exchange for appearing in Ghostbusters.

Available on DVD.



-Bill

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Old 10-03-2015, 01:16 PM
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Edge of Darkness (1985), directed by Martin Campbell.

Quote:
It was the time of the preacher
in the year of oh-one
Now the preachin' is over
and the lesson's begun

--Willie Nelson
When a police detective's daughter is murdered in front of him, he goes deep into the rabbit hole to find out "why?" He never really comes out again. The "easy" mysteries are solved: is that a happy ending?

This is the best TV miniseries I know. Mysterious, intelligent and heartfelt, with every act it expands into larger circles of unexpected story, with strong mythical components:

  • First, the murder mystery. Was Craven the target and did Emma just get in the way?
  • But it seems she was into something dangerous. When going through her things he finds not only her teddy bear and vibrator, but a pistol and a radiation detector.
  • Spies begin contacting him. Wheels within wheels, everyone using each other.
  • Craven becomes aware of a vast secret plutonium economy, which is dangerous knowledge.
  • The supernatural intrudes, with the ghost of Emma visiting her father, trying to comfort him. Maybe she's just a delusion, but that's ok. And yet: a freshwater spring has appeared at the place where she died.
  • Hints in the end that the Gaia earth goddess is taking slow, decisive steps to correct the human infestation of the planet.
  • The largest circle of all: Craven's grief for Emma. From the beginning to the end, it is the foundation of the whole story, the engine driving everything.

I say the story goes in "unexpected" directions, because although it seems to villainize everything the 1980s BBC hates -- industrialists, nuclear power, Thatcher, Reagan, America in general and the CIA in particular -- it also trips up those motifs and surprises us. It must have been hard to admit that left activists could be police informants and Green organizations actually CIA fronts.

The greatest delight is Joe Don Baker, outstanding as Darius Jedburgh, CIA wild man from Texas, bigger than life and twice as complicated. Turns out he is the only one Craven can trust. They make a good team because neither gives a damn about the established order anymore and will pull it all down.

Bob Peck was never a big star, but I always enjoyed seeing him whenever he turned up. Because of him, Craven and his pain stay with us for a long time.

Joanne Whalley, age 24, so beautiful it kind of hurts. Her film career took off just after this.

Score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton with the latter on mournful blues guitar.

The director did a lot of UK TV before moving on to Zorro and James Bond films. He remade Edge of Darkness as a 2010 feature film with Mel Gibson; I haven't seen it yet.

Available on DVD. I originally imported a PAL edition but it is available on North American NTSC DVD now.



-Bill

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Old 10-04-2015, 08:40 AM
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Have never seen. Title sounded familiar and I see it was remade with Martin Campbell directing again but this time with Mel Gibson.

Fortunately my library has a copy of the BBC version. Will give it a look. Thanks for review.
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Old 11-09-2015, 03:39 AM
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Tin Men (1987), written and directed by Barry Levinson.

A mostly comic tale of rivalry between two hard-working aluminum siding salesmen in 1963 Baltimore. A fender-bender escalates into all-out war. Danny DeVito has a wife (Barbara Hershey) he doesn't deserve. Richard Dreyfuss can steal her away in revenge, but what if he wants to keep her? He's not used to this "feelings" business. And what is she going to do when she discovers his original motivation?

Aluminum siding was a scam business back then. It is a tribute to the film that by the end we like the scamsters more than the regulators who are putting them out of business. I used to do tech support for salesmen, and they all loved this picture. It spoke to their grit and comic appreciation of the human condition.

What's in store for our heroes at the end? BB has been talking about a dealership for those new VW Bugs, and we seen a Golden Arch rising on the skyline. The age of franchising looms...

Great ensemble cast and a fine time capsule look at the period. The second of the director's Baltimore series, with Diner (1982), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999).

Fine Young Cannibals provide several tunes and appear as a club band. Did they pick out the other classic songs, too? I've been meaning to pick up some Jo Stafford: which boxed set?

Available on DVD with an edited commentary track with cast and crew. It seems to have been a happy, creative experience. Levinson insisted on no rehearsals or line readings: everything is fresh for the camera. I suspect that wouldn't work in a lot of projects, but it looks great here.



-Bill
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Old 11-23-2015, 12:49 PM
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The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott.

Ah, to be rich, beautiful and immortal, living languid lives practicing chamber music, going out to clubs at night to find young victims, taking them to a hotel for some sex play, then heartlessly killing them and drinking their blood. Dispose of their bodies at home in a big furnace in the basement. Perfect.

Except: only the icy woman seems truly immortal, with memories stretching back to ancient Egypt. Her companions don't last as long; about 200 years in the most recent case. They age and became cadaverous in hours. But they don't die. They can't. They lie in boxes in the attic and just wait. She grieves and then quickly moves on to recruit another companion, man or woman.

Would everyone agree to that in advance? Anyone?

Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are nicely suited as the vampire couple. She because she is like an ice queen, he because he looks carnivorous and slightly inhuman.

Impressive work by makeup artist Dick Smith, both in an aging scene for Bowie, and for the vampire cadavers at the end. The final transformation scene is remarkably horrific, but also dry. Terror does not require goo.

That's an unsettling sequence where Bowie ages decades in the clinic waiting room. A real horror metaphor for life: it flies by while you wait in boredom, doing nothing.

We have a hot sex scene with Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, also disturbing because it is about infection and vampire recruitment. Sarandon does her own nudity but Deneuve is clearly using a body double.

Scott's first feature film. For influences he cites Nicolas Roeg (particularly Performance (1970)), Kubrick, Polanski and brother Ridley.

The film was slammed from all directions, critics calling it arty, self-indulgent, esoteric. "True," said Scott, "but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting film." I recall someone describing it as looking like a 97m perfume ad, which is pretty bitchy, but you see the point. The brothers Scott did thousands of commercials and music videos and brought that visual styling to the screen, in this case with blowing curtains and flapping doves. We became used to the look later, but it was new back then.

Scott didn't get another film for four years: Top Gun.

My little circle liked this one quite a bit when we saw it in the theater. When we were young we were fascinated by youth, life extension and immortality. Oddly enough, now that I'm old I no longer care.

When we came out of the theater we told the manager how much we liked it and he did a double-take: "I've never had so many people walk out and ask for their money back".

Yes: too arty, too much chamber music, slow, nothing really explained, glimpses of gruesomeness but no proper action scenes. For general audiences it's a problem.

The intro was hard to see in the theater and is more visible on Blu-ray. At first I couldn't tell it was a vampire film; I thought they might be cannibalistically devouring their victims. The goth band in the intro is Bauhaus, doing "Bela Lugosi's Dead".

Set in New York but filmed in London to save money. A small part for Dan Hedaya as a police detective, and early glimpses of Willem Dafoe and Sophie Ward.

Available on Blu-ray with an edited commentary track by the director and Sarandon, carried over from the DVD. Scott's part must have been recorded around 2004: he mentions just finishing Man on Fire.

He says the scope ratio of the film is in the tradition of Barry Lyndon (1975). That must be an inside joke with his brother, because the earlier film isn't scope.

Regarding the lesbian sex, Sarandon says: "It certainly changed my fan base".

I'm not sure of the logic of the ending and she confirms: the studio insisted on mucking it up, perhaps thinking of a sequel.



-Bill

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Old 11-24-2015, 01:51 PM
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The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott.
Also of note: The film is based on a novel by Whitley Strieber (the 'Communion' alien abduction nutbag) which goes into a lot more detail about the Miriam character's backstory, with long flashbacks to ancient Egypt. The movie strips all that stuff to a bare minimum.

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Old 12-09-2015, 05:27 PM
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Witness (1985), directed by Peter Weir.

When an Amish boy witnesses a murder, a wounded big city police detective has to get him out of town and hides out with him among his own people in the country. They don't believe in violence. He does. You can't hide forever.

I'd forgotten how good is the visual composition in this one. Still, you can see Peter Weir making the transition to big-title Hollywood director. The experimental risk-taking of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Last Wave (1977) fade into the past.

The plot flows smoothly. Predictably? I can't remember what I was expecting when I saw this in the theater. The one sour note is when Harrison Ford beats up some rude yahoos. Yes, he is upset that his partner has been murdered, but the point of the incident is to show how much more satisfying revenge is than nonviolence. At the time I recall the film was shown to some Amish and that was the only scene they really objected to: he shouldn't behave that way when wearing those clothes.

Notes:

  • Non-violent resolution has only a 1/3 success rate in this story.
  • Laugh at them if you must, but the Amish have a little bit of paradise for those who can live it.
  • Kelly McGillis fan club.
  • Lukas Haas is age 9 here and performs very well. Those enormous eyes!
  • I was gratified that the Daniel character (dancer Alexander Godunov) did not turn out to be a bad guy, spurned lover or no.
  • Young Viggo Mortensen has a couple of lines as Amishman "Moses Hochleitner".
  • The setup is similar the John Wayne western Angel and the Badman (1947).

Maurice Jarre synthesizer score. Ah, the 80s.

Available on bare-bones Blu-ray (with about two dozen subtitle languages) and the result is disappointing. I hope the lab used up its black crush quota for this disc so that others don't suffer. So many Amish coats with so little detail. The package says 152 minutes, but they mean 1h52m.



-Bill

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Old 12-13-2015, 07:47 AM
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Review films of the 1980s here!

Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post
The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott.







Saw this at USC film school's 466 class with Scott as the guest. He looked very unhappy, perhaps the bad taste of studio meddling fresh in his mouth. Knowing his brother's work, I had high expectations. Tony Scott's films have disappointed me ever since.

All of my circle agreed, boffo opening with the Bauhaus song, club scene, sex, murder,then it spiraled into a very different, sedate, Barry Lyndon, soporific vibe. What happened to the movie we were watching? Pffft. Still, some very appealing actors on screen, giving it their best shot. And a monkey, if memory serves.....

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Old 01-02-2016, 06:42 AM
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Black Widow (1987), directed by Bob Rafelson.

A smooth, no-mystery thriller of two strong women: a femme fatale who marries and murders rich men, and the federal agent who is on to her.

Debra Winger and Theresa Russell are both fine and when they get to Hawaii, Conrad L. Hall's photography makes lovely work of lithe, swim-suited bodies. Brief nudity by Russell: just enough for an R rating.

Russell (last seen in The Razor's Edge (1984)) is good at her work: the planning, seduction, invisible murder and cashing out. But she is not superhuman: we see her nervousness when her story is being checked out, and her screaming rages when she is frustrated. She cries after every death and probably loved each husband in her own way -- but she loved the money more: "Being rich is a problem. You never feel you are quite there".

Winger (last seen in Cannery Row (1982)) is not as glamorous but she has her own appeal and we are hoping she can take charge of her life. She doesn't date and seems a bit nervous about sexual matters. Late in the story she gets laid and becomes more confident.

With two powerful female antagonists and all that scuba diving, sexual tension between them seems inevitable in a "neo-noir" thriller. Neither has satisfactory love lives. Why not engage with each other? You can see them thinking about it, but neither is willing to pretend there is no problem. Both know the truth and know the other knows, and neither is going to give in.

It's all about the duel. I think audiences wanted more action, of some sort.

Rich set of supporting actors: Dennis Hopper, Nicol Williamson, Terry O'Quinn, James Hong, Diane Ladd, Mary Woronov (the scuba instructor; I didn't recognize her).

Rafelson had been away for several years before this, as had cinematographer Hall.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, and pretty good looking. Commentary track by the usual pair: Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. I've become quite fond of their work.

They point out that just as 1970s film had a fascination for the Great Depression, the 1980s "neo-noir" genre moved on to mimicking the 1940s.

They also suggest that "real" sex in film faded out after this period. Later it became more cinematic presentations of slamming people up against the wall and performing erotically aerobic exertions on them.



-Bill
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Old 03-04-2016, 03:39 AM
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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), directed by Nicholas Meyer.

Hysterically happy opening night audience. This was more like it! Better uniforms, great villain, tie-in to the original series, and even some humor.

This begins a three-film story arc. I forget what happens after that. Something about diplomats and God.

The Enterprise is exceptionally military in this one. There is some precedent, but I think it is too much.

Ricardo Montalban just lives the role. Probably the most experienced actor and the one who would actually take direction, dialing it back to make a better, more sinister performance. Shatner on the other hand: you just had to wear him down until he was too tired to over-act.

Notes:

  • Introducing Kirstie Alley. I remember some back story that Saavik was supposed to be part Romulan.
  • Khan's crew look ridiculous, like they wandered in from the beach.
  • The space battles are a worthy example of just how much damage such things would do...
  • ... but Scotty's emotion over the death of a trainee is out of place. Deleted scenes had the kid as his nephew or something.
  • A young woman of my acquaintance complained about Carol Marcus's comment on the edenic Genesis results: "Can I cook, or can't I?" She said: "That's sexist". I explained the advanced film concept of "humor" to her.
  • What was that deadly plasma-fountain thing Spock stuck his face in when rescuing the ship? One of the worst features of Star Trek is the constant invention of Engineering Dept infrastructure.
  • James Horner score, building on previous themes. Meyer told him: "Don't try to compete with Jerry Goldsmith".
  • "Amazing Grace" isn't right for Spock's funeral. I'm not sure what I would use.
  • A Tale of Two Cities is a small book. Maybe that was the large print, illustrated edition.
  • Notice Khan had two copies of Paradise Lost on his shelf? That's right...

Available on Blu-ray with two commentaries by the director.

His comments are a bit disconcerting. I'm sure he knows his craft, although he hasn't done that many films and this was only his second. He wasn't a science fiction guy and thought this would be best done as a submarine movie in space.

He had never seen any Star Trek and was astonished to find the entire studio crew weeping at Spock's death scene.

He apologizes for the Genesis planet matte paintings and for the decor in Spock's quarters.



-Bill

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Old 04-21-2016, 04:13 AM
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The Last Metro (1980), produced and directed by François Truffaut.

During the German occupation of Paris, a Jewish theater owner hides out in the cellar while his beautiful wife runs the business and acts in his plays. He listens in via a furnace grate and gives secret rehearsal notes.

In tone this sits in a curious middle ground: it's not too heavy, but neither is it an out-and-out comedy. Partly political, partly back-stage romance and drama. Truffaut said: "For me, who was an adolescent at the time, the image of France cut in two, divided into Germans and Resistance fighters, is false. I see a much calmer France."

As always, reality is more complicated than history or the myths.

Notes:

  • The street scenes are setup like a stage.
  • See the German soldier pat the little boy on the head? A minute later watch the boy's mother vigorously scrubbing his hair. That happened to Truffaut when he was 10.
  • The women always wear their fur coats because they are cold: fuel is rationed.
  • We have lovely Catherine Deneuve again. She is not only expert at running the theater and acting in the play, but after a full day she cooks her husband dinner and sometimes stays with him overnight.
  • She's "Marion" again, one of the director's favorite names.
  • Despite the war and everyone's problems: the show must go on.
  • The play they are doing looks dull, but is "Nordic", meaning not Jewish, and therefore is safe material.
  • We have gay men and women and not much made of it. Because it's French, because it's the theater, or is Truffaut a kindly memoirist?
  • The actor playing the director looks a lot like Truffaut himself.
  • The German invaders are there, but his anger is directed at the French collaborators: the theater censor and anti-semitic journalists. The French were more of threat to the French than the Germans.
  • Many little wartime bits: shopping in the black market, scrambling between multiple jobs to make ends meet, joining the Resistance.
  • Any story set backstage at the theater or movie studio is going to contrast and confuse the realities, where the fantasy becomes real and the reality becomes more like a play. The final segment hits that hard here, with more of a comic effect. The newsreels become funny and the play more tender.
  • RED is the color theme this time.
  • The title refers to the nightly curfew: everyone had to take care not to miss the last train.

Criterion Blu-ray with a lovely natural image, both dark and warm, but I suspect that was the nature of the original.

The commentary track has valuable notes by a Truffaut scholar who also worked as his translator. She says:

  • Truffaut always "felt Jewish", but not until the late 1960s did he discover that his biological father really was a Jew.
  • He and Catherine Deneuve had an affair during Mississippi Mermaid (1969). He was in bad shape after she ended it, but they were obviously friends again before this film.
  • He was a leg man.
  • Gérard Depardieu worked with Deneuve in several later films. He said he admired "the man in her". Likewise, any successful actor has to have a feminine side.
  • The scene where the actor beats up the fascist film critic: really happened.
  • This was Truffaut's most commercially successful film.



-Bill

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Old 04-30-2016, 03:54 PM
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Aria (1987).

Ten directors provide ten short music videos set to opera music. Three are from Verdi.

I don't know much opera but wish I did, so I depend on anthologies like this for culture exposure. I figure: ten selections in 1h28m, how painful can any one be, right?

I won't describe them all; you can see the details in the wikpedia article.

I saw this back when and the one that stunned me was Ken Russell's surreal dream fantasy of a woman being dressed in gems for strange gods:



...who we come to see are the operating room staff after her car accident.

The music is Puccini's "Nessun dorma" from Turandot. I first heard that done by Pavarotti in his movie Yes, Giorgio (1982). Dopey film, but the closing opera segment just floored me. "Nessun dorma" became much more famous later, beaten to death by the Three Tenors and others.

I suppose that happens to all good opera tunes eventually; you heard the "Flower Duet" from Lakmé everywhere a few years ago.

Several of the directors make free use of the casual nudity common in 1980s film. It's artistic!

Other memorable segments:

  • Nicolas Roeg directs his wife Theresa Russell dressed as a man: King Zog of Albania who shot back at some assassins.
  • Jean-Luc Godard has lovely nude women admiring body builders who ignore them.
  • Buck Henry and Beverly D'Angelo have an XTC-enhanced visit to a fantasy hotel.
  • Robert Altman has loonies from the asylum attending a 1734 opera.

We have first film credits for Bridget Fonda and Elizabeth Hurley, both in their birthday suits.

John Hurt provides the framing story of a singer preparing for his performance, the last segment.

The anthology is not very well-liked. Leonard Maltin (TM) says:

Quote:

BOMB (0/4). Godawful collection of short films, each one supposedly inspired by an operatic aria. Precious few make sense, or even seem to match the music; some are downright embarrassing. A pitiful waste of talent.
Available on DVD.



-Bill

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Old 05-11-2016, 08:17 AM
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Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), directed by Nagisa Ôshima.

At a POW camp in 1942 Java, the British and Dutch prisoners are getting the usual bad treatment. Col. Lawrence (Tom Conti) tries to be a mediator between the Japanese and their prisoners, both sides uncomprehending the other in a brutal clash of cultures. He lived in Japan, speaks the language, understands the Japanese and likes them. They find him useful and he tries to smooth things over between prisoners and their guards.

Upsetting everything: the arrival of Maj. Jack 'Strafer' Celliers (David Bowie) a commando and "soldier's soldier" who gets under commandant Yonoi's (Ryûichi Sakamoto) skin. The Japanese officer has a sort of erotic fixation on the Major, and his men fear the Brit is an evil spirit bewitching their commander.

(Note: with Bowie vs Sakamoto we have dueling pop stars. Sakamoto also wrote the score, which often sounds like Javanese pop gamelen).

Sexual themes recur: for example a Korean guard is forced to commit seppuku after buggering a Dutch prisoner, the latter a "marked man" afterwards.

I saw this back then and remembered almost nothing about it. It is loosely structured and the plot strands don't knit together very well. We have a bit about whether Celliers will take over as commander of prisoners, and a long segment about school days with his little brother, neither of which go anywhere.

Bowie does well, eccentric in the way that commandos really are, without seeming like a glam-rock pop star at all. His character can't sing.

The title is taken from lines by Sgt Hara, alternately vicious and friendly, who was very drunk one Christmas.

Criterion Blu-ray. There are subtitles for the Japanese dialogue, but not for spoken English. That's a problem: the Japanese are hard to understand when speaking English and I couldn't follow the plot in several places.



-Bill

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Old 05-21-2016, 10:09 AM
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Insignificance (1985), directed by Nicolas Roeg.

Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Senator Joe McCarthy check into a hotel...

That's the irresistible setup, although we call these characters the Professor, the Actress, the Ballplayer, and the Senator. What to do with them? That's a different problem. Roeg doesn't determine meanings for his audience, that's our job. So the film itself may seem erratic and diffuse in message. Often funny, sometimes not.

I suspect most viewers will ponder the meaning of celebrity: all of these people are famous and significant in certain ways, but insignificant in others.

Our cast:

  • Lovely Theresa Russell is the Actress, fed up after hours of having her skirt blown up while making a famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955). At first she stays in character from that film, with her breathy, dreamy delivery, but it fades out over the course of a long night. She shows up at Einstein's hotel room to demonstrate to him -- using toy trains, flashlights and balloons -- that she understands his Special Theory of Relativity. Which, to his delight, she does! Her flashbacks: torment by the other girls at the orphanage, getting into modeling more or less by sex work, and an acting career not far removed from sex work.
  • Michael Emil -- who I don't remember seeing before -- is the Professor, harassed by the Senator and haunted by Hiroshima and his part in creating the atomic bomb (which, honestly, was only a small part, but one he regretted). He is so eccentric that he is hard to muscle politically. His flashbacks: thinking about watches and "time" as a child, fishing from his boat, later destroyed by nazis, and the horrible aftermath of the Bomb in Japan.
  • Gary Busey is the Ballplayer, jealous and hunting for his wife; they won't be married much longer. Of the four, these are the only two who actually met in history: they really were married. His flashback: his demanding father.
  • Tony Curtis is the sweaty, vulgar Senator, an unsympathetic role. A different sort of connection: Curtis worked with the real Marilyn Monroe, starring with her in Some Like It Hot (1959). His one brief flashback: something to do with a priest when he was a boy.

It ends with NYC blown up by the Bomb, and the Actress burning for what seems like an excessively long time. Then it is undone and all is well. Moral: don't start a nuclear war because that would mean killing Marilyn Monroe.

She reassures the Professor that the war won't happen because: "The guys with their finger on the button also own everything. Why would they blow it up? Unless someone invents a bomb that kills people without wrecking the stuff". This last is a glancing reference to the Neutron Bomb, a big deal at the time.

Theresa Russell gets the most screen time, which is fine. She and the director were married and he obviously likes photographing her.

Finally, we have Will Sampson -- last seen in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)-- as the mysterious Elevator Attendant, a uniformed Cherokee in the city. The Professor: "I heard that a Cherokee believe that wherever he is, that's the center of the universe." Elevator Attendant: "You're the Cherokee". Then up to the roof to greet the new day.

Criterion Blu-ray.



-Bill

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Old 06-11-2016, 12:01 PM
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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), directed by Leonard Nimoy.

This middle episode of an unplanned trilogy doesn't seem to get a lot of love from Trek fans, but has nostalgia value for me as the first film I owned on home video. In SuperBetamax!

Is it any good otherwise? It has points in its favor:

  • Rather than something gradiose like preventing the spectacular crash of galaxies, it is about loyalty and friendship, giving us a chance to love the characters, not just their adventures.
  • Kirk's deep grief is a new, affecting side to him. His voice-over personal log at the beginning of the film is unlike anything we've heard from him before.
  • The humor comes along nicely. In my favorite bit, Kirk and crew have hijacked the Enterprise:

    Quote:

    Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding and I intend to recommend you all for promotion... in whatever fleet we end up serving.
  • The Spock and McCoy bickering always seemed like good-natured joshing and chafing to me, but perhaps there was deeper enmity underneath it. That gets healed here.
  • They effectively mine the original series, bringing back Mark Lenard as Sarek and remembering the auto-destruct procedure.
  • The Klingons begin to develop their own plot stream.
  • The unexpected destruction of the NCC-1701 is an emotional jolt the first time you see it. That was pretty bold.
  • James Horner continues his vivid music from the previous film.

Not so good:

  • This must be a record for most strained plot contrivance.
  • The sound-stage planet is hard to believe (on the other hand: that's real Star Trek).
  • Christopher Lloyd tears it up as the Klingon commander, but I can't help but see him as a comic actor. Same for John Larroquette, although his makeup is so elaborate I know him only by his voice.
  • The broken down jalopy sound effects for the sabotaged Excelsior: ouch, that hurt. Transwarp drive never recovered.
  • Judith Anderson is the least convincing Vulcan wise woman I have ever seen.

Spot young Miguel Ferrer as First Officer of the Excelsior. Grace Lee Whitney has a cameo as an observer when the damaged Enterprise returns to space dock, but is not credited as Janice Rand.

Available on Blu-ray with two interesting commentary tracks.

The first is an edited commentary with Leonard Nimoy and others. He says:

  • It is not true that he insisted on dying in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and had it written in his contract. Michael Eisner believed it for a long time and kept him from directing.
  • His instructions were to make the film theatrical and grandly operatic. He is happy with the results, given the severe budget constraints.
  • He has nothing but praise for Shatner, Horner, Lloyd and many others. He says Lloyd gave an overpowering audition with chameleon-like flexibility. On using a comic actor for this role: "Type casting? Don't talk to me about type casting."
  • He also praises writer Harve Bennett: "The franchise was a beached whale after Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979); Bennett got it floating again."

The second commentary is an excited, happy track by fans-turned-pro Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor. They think the film deserves more credit and point out its overlooked strong points.

They say something interesting about Shatner: his performance has always been like a little boy's dream of a starship captain. As such, no one can do it better.



-Bill

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Old 06-12-2016, 07:03 AM
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Review films of the 1980s here!

Shatner's always been a better actor than Trek and many other vehicles (remember Kingdom of the Spiders?) have allowed him to be. He did a TV movie with ... Cybil Shepherd ? ... About a married man and a prostitute, my mom (a stage actress) noted he did a lot of internal work in his scenes. ST III let him do that, of course having an old acting pal directing opened the door.

The mind meld scene with Mark Lenard is a benchmark by which all the Trek movies can be measured against. Deep, intimate emotional resonance, a character in agony, a stoic Vulcan showing muted sensitivity and compassion. Never fails to make me hold my breath.

Trivia tip: the Romulans were the race who painted a bird of prey on their starships. The "Klingon bird of prey" was hijacked from the Romulans in a cut scene in the screenplay, hence the paint job, cloaking device, etc.

Another: Takei didn't like the "don't call me Tiny" quip. Fought it. But after filming, after screening, got the gag. The whole prison break scene was a rare opportunity for Sulu to have his own (until ST VI).

Nimoy gets a cameo as the voice of a Excelsior turbo lift that Scotty tells off ("up your shaft!").

The USS Grissom was clearly named after Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gus Grissom. Nice touch. He was maligned in The Right Stuff, he was actually a dedicated engineer. His contributions to the Gemini capsule pilot controls were so innovative the capsules were nicknamed "The Gusmobile."

On initial viewing, I liked that Nimoy and the production designers returned the communicators, phasers, and tricorders to their TV series forms. It was a hook that Trekkies could latch on to.

Destroying NCC-1701 was a jolt that shows audacity in storytelling. Don't treat any tropes or symbols as sacred, the audience won't care. They want a great story, not "things."


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Old 06-29-2016, 11:02 AM
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Diva (1981), directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix

A lot of plot in this stylish French thriller:

  • The Diva (American Soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez in her only feature film) will not allow recordings of her voice...
  • ...but Taiwanese record pirates are willing to do a lot to issue a disc...
  • ...and the Diva's number one fan and polite stalker, Jules the postman on a moped, has made a bootleg tape with professional equipment...
  • ...while corrupt police running a prostitution ring...
  • ...are desperately searching for an incriminating tape made by Mr Big's Polish mistress...
  • ...who they murdered after she slipped the tape into Jules' saddlebag...
  • ...while he seeks the aid of a mysterious Zen-like guy who has surprising criminal knowledge and talents...
  • ...and who is aided by Alba, his Vietnamese... protégé? ward? underage lover? These people are too cool to tell. She's a handful, whatever her role.

My movie-going gang saw this several times in the theater. We were nuts about the industrial furnishing of the loft apartments and the ambient music -- very big back then -- that Zen-guy Gorodish used while assembling his massive jigsaw puzzle. I suppose we envied his mysterious harmony and deadly know-how. This becomes a little excessive toward the end when his powers become almost Jedi-like.

Pausing the thriller action, the pace slows now and then and becomes meditative; lovely score and photography. There is something especially atmospheric about good 80s films, how they evoke the night life and somehow bring the surroundings to the viewer.

Bad-guy Dominique Pinon is 26 here. His oddly-shaped head was featured on posters for the film. Later he became one of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's regular actors.

Available in several DVD versions. See DVDBeaver for details. My thumbnails are from the Anchor Bay disc, said to have the best image, although Studio Canal has more extras. The one from Fox is not anamorphic.



-Bill

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Old 07-13-2016, 02:12 PM
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Say Anything... (1989), written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

I suspect most people's experience with First Love is that you don't get out with dignity. Only after a wretched period of tears and begging do you resolve: "I'm not going through this again. Next time: just say ok and walk".

That's almost Lloyd and Diane's story: brave and good-hearted as they are, love humbles them. That they actually seem to make it in the end, that their First Love is True Love Forever: a Hollywood ending. I suppose it really happens.

In my high school there was no social ease between boys and girls, and the different cliques were always at war. That doesn't happen here, and I'm jealous. The school celebrates its freakdom at graduation and hard-working, fellowship-winning Diane finally gets a social life at the wild all-night party. Where she is accepted. She was too busy before.

It's great that Lloyd Dobler, who at first seems like an unmotivated slacker (though a good brother and uncle) who is enthusiastic only about (a) kickboxing, the sport of the future, and (b) getting a date with unobtainable valedictorian Diane, turns out to be well-respected by a wide community. At the party he is the designated responsible adult holding a big bag of car keys and judging sobriety.

A favorite bit at the party: drunken Mark (Jeremy Piven) tackles the Keymaster:

Quote:
Mark: Give me my Firebird keys!

Lloyd: You must chill! You must chill! I have hidden your keys! Chill!

Mark: I love you, man!
What I don't get: the guidance counselor shows up and throws her keys in the bag. Really?

Lloyd turns out to be the perfect escort, a gentleman protective without being smothering. He's actually a good role model for lesser mortals who are not top of the class, team captain, etc.

John Cusack is Lloyd and Ione Skye, last seen in River's Edge (1986), her first film, is Diane.

Joan Cusack fanclub!

Photographed by László Kovács.

Available on Blu-ray, but my thumbnails are from the DVD.

The chatty commentary track with the director (his first film), Cusack and Skye is not very information-dense, but has good stories and details. They do a lot of shout-outs to supporting actors.

The iconic image of Cusack holding the boom-box was shot on the last day, last scene, last minute of the daylight. The music: "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel.



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Old 07-18-2016, 02:07 AM
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I remember watching Rainman. It was an awesome movie
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Old 08-02-2016, 07:42 AM
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From Beyond (1986), directed by Stuart Gordon.

This begins like it's going to be a nice, cozy horror film, with the good lighting and sets and serious-looking Jeffrey Combs in a wooly sweater. It gets right to business: the buckets of slime, general gooeyness and huge creature effects take it out of my cozy zone, but I had the same criticism of Carpenter's The Thing (1982).

And yet: the emphasis is still on fun rather than terror. I think it holds its own against Cronenberg and Carpenter creature features of the period, has more laughs and is sexier.

The sexiness is due to Barbara Crampton, who gets to be the flawed central character, a scientist tempted by the unknown and losing control when it comes for her. She's both lovable and scary, making her extra-appealing, and is great at showing the sexual excitement blowing from extra-dimensional winds. She wears the bondage gear like a pro dominatrix: "So much to learn!"

How did she feel about the role? It was the best she ever had, and she is still enthusiastic in the commentary track.

I must not have paid much attention to her French braid hair style before, because when I first saw this I found it extra creepy, well-suited to a horror film with its strange inward-directed anatomy.

In a character switch, Jeffrey Combs gets to be the sensible, cautious scientist. Ken Foree, last seen in Dawn of the Dead (1978), is the policeman representing the audience: shoot that damn thing why don't you and let's get out of here.

The "Resonator" is a nice, scary invention. People know about vibrations: you can hear them and feel them. We also have that crowd-pleasing plot device where the shrink has a reversal of fortune and winds up at the mental hospital being prepped for electro-shock.

The MPAA said the film had "ten times too much of everything", but with judicious cuts they got it down to an R. Some were sexual matters (keep hands above the waist, please) and others just for general bloody disgustingness. These have all been restored for home video and it really is excessive: munching brains from a waste bucket, sucking out an eyeball, and a snake/penis-like pineal gland breaking out through the forehead.

Available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Lovely detail and natural color (when it is lit that way).

The first commentary is a happy yet informative rewatch with the director, producer and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. They yell at the screen and scream at the disgusting bits.

They hoot at the plot when Katherine reappears after escaping from the mental hospital, freshly dressed and carrying a handy dynamite bomb. Where did that come from? They talked about a scene where she breaks into a construction site but never filmed it. So where did she get the digital timer? Was the lumberyard out of voice anunciators so we could have a nice audio countdown?

Funny story: they filmed in Rome to save money. Everyone loved that. Italian cinema is almost always done without live sound, and one day a stagehand was hammering nails during filming.

Quote:

Director: Would you mind not doing that? We need silence during filming.

Stagehand: Fellini lets me hammer.

Director: Well, I'm not Fellini.

Stagehand: That's for sure.
The second commentary is by the screenwriter, who doesn't have much to say. I could have skipped it.



-Bill
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Old 08-11-2016, 09:54 PM
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I seem to recall a flying pair of panties and an offscreen hand in the unrated version. Ms Crampton had some similar hijinks (for a brief second or two) in THE REANIMATOR. What a trooper.

Combs went on to do incredible work on various Star Treks and THE FRIGHTENERS.

“Hey, Jenny Slater. Hey, Jenny Slater. HEY, Jenny Slater.
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Trancers (1984), produced and directed by Charles Band.

Quote:

Jack Deth (flipping through TV channels): "What kind of name is Peter Gunn?"

Leena: "What kind of name is Jack Deth?"
Ok, it's the 80s and you're a filmmaker without much money. How to ride the Blade Runner (1982) and Terminator (1984) wave? Time travel, non-human invaders disguised as real people... At least you're already in LA...

What if time travelers from the future temporarily inject their consciousness into an ancestor (which is a clever idea) and hard-boiled cop Jack Deth from 2247 arrives in 1985 pursuing a zombie-master who has also fled from the future, determined to change history. Make it fun, exciting: that could work. There were five sequels.

It's one of those kind-of-stupid but also fun projects from those years. The cast have to make it work and here they do. You must excuse the budget or you'll never enjoy this stuff. I remember it from cable back when and wanted to see it again.

Helen Hunt (age 20) is the gal-pal, action sidekick and romantic interest. Tim Thomerson was 38, the dog. Because his consciousness keeps getting yanked into the future he keeps missing sex with the babe (while conscious). His trench-coated detective from the future is a 1940s sort of guy.

Only 76m long. Dreadful synth score.

Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon, with a happy, uncensored commentary track by Thomerson and Charles Band made 30 years later. The actor has an amazing recall of details, the director not so much. As of 2016 he's produced 271 titles, directed 51 and written a bunch of them, so I guess that's understandable.



-Bill

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