By Marc S. Sanders

Everyone remembers Anthony Hopkins’ memorable turn as the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of Lambs.  He was “Hannibal The Cannibal;” a renowned and brilliant psychiatrist who was eventually captured for being the one who ate his victims with sophisticated glee.  The real attraction, though, is how director Jonathan Demme delivers the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best selling novel through a lens that only finds one strong heroine amid a sea of intimidating men.  The heroine is the intuitive, but petite Clarice Starling.  The men are nearly everyone else cast in the film, and I mean everyone all the way down to the extras; the extras, here, are a perfect example how necessary they are towards any film’s palette.

Ever since the film was released in 1991, the dialogue of Ted Tally’s script is worthy of repeating and mimicking in social circles.  Lecter remains spoofed in nearly every pop culture medium.  Hopkins’ character is unforgettable and he’s been ranked among the greatest film villains of all time with the likes of Darth Vader and Harry Lyme.  It’s a worthy honor.  His timing is subtle and mischievous while he remains silently dangerous.  You can’t take your eyes off the actor and you can’t erase the devilishly fun and evil character from your sub conscious.  Opposite this performance though is Jodie Foster in a top billing role as an FBI trainee named Clarice Starling, assigned to interview and maybe study Lecter as a means to a solid lead in finding a serial killer that has been identified in the media as “Buffalo Bill.”  Bill has been skinning and killing girls with large physicalities, around the east to mid-west portion of the United States.

So, there is a detective story at play here as Hannibal aids Clarice in her search for the killer, but only under his rules.  Demme paints the film with Clarice ably performing her job no matter the towering strength or perverted fantasies found in nearly any man.  An outstanding image early on shows her small frame entering an elevator.  She has been summoned to her supervisor’s office from the outdoor obstacle course.  She is sweaty, and looking tired.  The elevator is full of a dozen men in red uniform polo shirts that hug every muscle; they are strong, fit and healthy.  Clarice stands front and center and she has no reluctance to stand among this exclusive group.  Later in the film, Clarice is invited by her supervisor, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn in a deservedly dark and quiet performance), to investigate one of Bill’s victims that turned up in the swampy waters of West Virginia.  The coroner’s examination room is filled to the max with sheriffs who believe they serve a purpose to stay there to witness what’s uncovered.  The strength of Clarice is really shown here as she shoos them away.  The men’s facial expressions tell us they don’t care for this request, but Clarice isn’t going to allow them to remain.  Most importantly are her encounters with the head of the Baltimore psychiatric ward that houses Lecter.  He is known as Dr. Chilton played by Anthony Heald.  Chilton – a great character name that clearly colors in the twisted perversion of this guy.  Chilton is happy to boast of his prized attraction, Lecter, as if he’s a rare tiger and he has no reluctance to hit on Clarice when she comes to visit with Lecter.  Always, Clarice will not allow herself to be succumbed, patronized or victimized by any of these towering figures of masculinity in what is unfairly regarded as a man’s world in law enforcement, crime or psychiatry.  Starling easily reminds Chilton that she was a student at the University of West Virginia, not a charm school.  With Tally’s script, Jodie Foster uses these deflective techniques of her character without effort.  Her methods of fencing with these men are a natural ability.  Even when she’s in film transition periods of training at the Academy, Clarice can maintain her stance against a hard-hitting male boxer pounding away at her boxing shield.  She just won’t fall over. As well, she doesn’t wince as the male students give her a glance from behind when she’s jogging on the grounds. 

Demme is an outstanding director who uses these interpretations of this woman to drive his film.  This very same year, 1991, Ridley Scott directed Thelma & Louise.  In that film, the title characters had to realize that they didn’t have to take any shit from a man.  They started out weak, though, and had no choice but to eventually get stronger.  Here, it’s already part of the woman’s instinctive nature. 

Hannibal Lecter is shown to be well versed in the finer things of art, literature, music and, forgive me, cuisine.  At one point, Demme focuses on a picture Lecter has sketched depicting Clarice in an almost angelic nature.  I’ve never forgotten that image.  Nearly all of the settings in The Silence Of The Lambs include stairways that always lead us in the down direction, to an assortment of various hells.  Clarice, the pure angel with nary a fault beyond limited experience as an FBI agent peels the onion away on her quest for a killer by entering into the treacherous depths beneath her; pits of hells.  The opening shot of the film has Clarice pulling herself up with a rope on an obstacle course as if she is ready to enter the heavens, ready to stand above everything, but then she is summoned to Crawford’s office located at the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI.  She has to take an elevator down and then various stairways further down into a labyrinth of claustrophobic offices with no windows, surrounded by cinderblock and populated with men in uncharacteristic suits that don’t appear warm or cuddly.  Crawford may seem like her ally, but really, he’s using her as a sacrificial pawn on a chess board putting her in an arena with psychotically dangerous prisoners, in particular, the worst of them all, Hannibal The Cannibal. 

When Clarice goes to visit Hannibal, she is escorted by Dr. Chilton, who relishes in describing how careful he handles his prized thing, and willingly shows what this monster is truly capable of by providing an unwelcome photograph of how Lecter brutalized a female nurse.  This conversation is played upon a much more frightening descent of unlimited stairways and bars that clang loudly and are painted red and rusted, eventually leading to a stone walled dungeon for these unimaginable beings of death and perversion.  Clarice is left all alone to navigate her way down a long corridor until she reaches Lecter’s cell.

Yet, an even more frightening third descent into hell occurs in the final act as Clarice’s pursuit leads to Buffalo Bill.  Bill’s home is dark, lurid, filthy and maze like; but always seeming to go down further and further into one doorway after another and down one staircase after another, including a deep well where his latest victim is kept.  Like the other descents, Clarice uses her femineity as a tool of strength to survive.  I can claim without any hesitation that Clarice Starling is one of the greatest heroines in the history of film. 

The one man who rattles her, and weakens her, though is Hannibal Lecter.  Watch their tete a tete when they meet for the first time.  Starling demonstrates some overconfidence against Lecter’s seemingly polite demeanor.  With her white trash Virginia dialect, she even gets a little smarmy with the Doctor, but then he disarms her immediately with a comeback that shakes her very core.  Demme’s reliance on close ups for both characters serve this scene and others so well.  Clarice’s encounters with Hannibal are the most important and vital moments in the film because they are the only opportunities for Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally to show the main character’s weakness.  Every hero has to have a weakness if they are to remain compelling.  Clarice is not, in fact, undefeatable. 

The film could have simply worked as a basic detective story.  Put up the clues and the narration of the picture will eventually assemble all together for a resolution where the bad guy is captured.  Yet, Thomas Harris’ character creation uses Hannibal as a defiant obstacle blocking the path for Clarice.  Hannibal lacks much stimulation in a cold, specially designed prison cell.  He’s maybe only honored with impenetrable plexiglass to contain him as opposed to traditional bars.  He needs to be enthralled.  On the surface, Clarice appears as a frail prey that he can take his time munching on.  He’s happy to help Clarice catch Buffalo Bill with the case files she provides, but in exchange he wants to uncover what haunts her psyche.  Such a strong character Clarice is, but she has to be willing to weaken and expose herself to desperately find a dangerous killer.  Can she do it?  She’s never allowed herself to do that before.  And thus, we come to comprehend the obscure title of this film and the book it stems from.  (Anthony Hopkins actually thought it was a children’s fantasy when he was sent the script to read over.)

This write up is not necessarily a review, but a means to honor the careful film and storytelling technique that Jonathan Demme strives for with The Silence Of The Lambs.  You might say, yeah, there’s a lot of walking in this picture, but pay attention to the direction of the walking.  Always going down, somewhat reminiscent as Little Red Riding Hood entering a dark and spooky forest and encountering the biggest and baddest wolf.  Jodie Foster might be in a company of men here, but the film works as a dual of femineity vs masculinity.  It’s strange to believe that Demme actually had Michelle Pfeiffer in mind for the Starling role initially, a more than capable actress, but one who at the time was more glamourous (The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Witches Of Eastwick).  Beyond the silly Disney films, Foster was known for lurid pieces like Taxi Driver and her first Oscar winning role as a rape victim in The Accused.  Clarice Starling is a character beyond a pop culture appearance of the time, and Jodie Foster emanates that portrayal.

The writing of The Silence Of The Lambs is so intelligent.  There’s a witty, yet deliberately poor taste, of sarcasm to Hannibal Lecter as he thrives off his superior intellect over Jack Crawford and the FBI.  It’s only enhanced when he’s dealt a lowly, formally white trash female student to play with.  Ted Tally offers precise timing in the dialogue with Clarice and Hannibal.  Thomas Harris’ drive to further a cameo appearance of Lecter in a prior novel (Red Dragon) with this book is a gift to readers and eventually movie watchers.  The Silence Of The Lambs doesn’t follow formula with a Law & Order technique of ballistics and witness interviews.  It drives into other directions to feed its development. 

Jonathan Demme’s film is pioneering.  I recall seeing it in theatres with other high school friends.  I was not enthused to see it.  The title was too odd.  The picture was primarily a talking piece.  There were gross and unwelcome images within the film.  It’s very ugly at times.  I was frankly accustomed to the likes of Dirty Harry and Lethal Weapon films for my cops pursuing the robbers ideals.  I recall not even liking the film when we left, and I couldn’t comprehend its appeal that followed for the remainder of nearly an entire year, all the way up to when it was awarded the five main categories of Oscar wins (Actress, Actor, Screenplay, Director and Picture).  I definitely wasn’t accustomed to a strong character like Clarice.  Later that year, I saw Thelma & Louise and fell in love with their eventual triumph.  I needed to be spoon-fed their initial weaknesses at first.  Who was this Clarice in this picture, though?  I could not identify her strength that displayed right from the get go.  I wasn’t even 18 years old at the time and now I can say I just wasn’t mature enough for this film back in 1991.  Now, it’s thankfully clearer, though I still appreciate its subtlety so much. Jonathan Demme had such a clear vision of where he was taking this film and because it’s not dated, The Silence Of The Lambs stands as thriller, and an intelligent thought provoking piece that stays with you for a long time after each viewing.


By Marc S. Sanders

Okay!  Let’s get the comparison out of the way first.  Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of West Side Story far exceeds the original 1961 version from Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins that won the Best Picture Academy Award.  I strongly encourage you to see this new film in theatres before it’s gone.  If you miss it, be sure that when you watch it at home, you have the highest upgraded flatscreen with the most enhanced sound system imaginable.  West Side Story of 2021 is a gift of sight and sound.

What Spielberg accomplishes with an updated and outstanding script from Tony Kushner is a more fleshed out, grittier and honest account of territorial entitlement and heated prejudice when the west side of New York City was on the brink of catering to a wealthy white populace and the Puerto Rican community had become established as Americans, even if they were never considered equals.  )The best promise the Puerto Ricans have here for a life is to live as doormen and housekeepers.)  The music and lyrics are more meaningful than ever before.  The characters are given more depth.  The settings become characters themselves.

West Side Story is another example of solid evidence that Steven Spielberg is our greatest modern director.  He not only focuses on the positions his characters hold, allowing them to act with passion and humor and heartache and despair, but he also takes advantage of the props and settings allowed to him beyond limits.  To watch classic numbers come alive not just with the outstanding vocals and dancing, but to see everything in the frame serve a purpose is so gratifying. 

When the Jets strut and ballet down the city streets claiming their elite status in song, Spielberg makes sure these guys literally stop traffic.  Unlike the mundane placement of the winning song “Officer Krupke,” in the original film which only happens on a sidewalk, Spielberg place the boys in the police station where the props of papers and office supplies along with the furniture pieces serve to lampoon the city judge, the cops, the psychiatrists and even themselves.  Maria (20-year-old sensation, Rachel Zegler) owns her rendition of “I Feel Pretty” while the picture enhances the performance with a run through the dress department of Gimbell’s.  Clothes and accessories fly off the racks to send Maria’s enthusiasm of love and happiness into the heavens.  Kushner and Spielberg make a very wise modification to have “Cool” performed by the romantic lead Tony (Ansel Elgort) as a means to calm down his buddy, Riff – leader of the Jets (Mike Faist), before going into a head-to-head rumble with Maria’s brother, Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican gang known as the Sharks. Spielberg places these guys on a rickety old dock complete with wide gaps in the floor for the boys to leap over along with smooth planks to slide around on while tossing a gun around like it’s a football.  These characters teetering on manhood beautifully display their recklessness for danger and pride.

Rita Moreno is the significant attraction early on as she fills the Doc mentor role in the local drug store.  Wise & Robbins’ film never made Doc into much of a mentor.  Moreno fills that void.  She portrays a new character named Valentina, the widow of Doc, and the film’s tool of sensibility during these troubled times.  Kushner creates a fleshed-out character who explains that while she married a Gringo, she remains a Puerto Rican and there’s no room for bloodshed.  She has learned to live with others, and now Tony and Bernardo and Riff and the rest need to do so as well.  In another writer’s hands, this might come off preachy.  Not with Kushner’s dialogue though.  The background of Valentina is paved out early on and her elderly physicality can only do so much.  She can’t disarm the toughies, but she won’t stand for their stupidity either.  It’s Moreno’s presence that brings the chaos to a halt even if she knows it’ll never end the senseless war.  She is sure to get an Oscar nomination and like her win as Anita in the original film, she’s likely to win the award here as well.  (The only Hispanic woman to win an Oscar since 1961, and she’s likely to repeat that accomplishment again.)

Another fleshed out character that I really appreciated is that of Chino (Josh Andres Rivera), the nerdy student and best friend to Bernardo.  He’s studying accounting and calculator repair, but Chino wants to join the Sharks and fight for their cause. Bernardo, the tough guy boxer, wants none of that for his friend.  He wants Chino to date Maria.  There’s multi dimension to Chino now that I never saw before, and it is so very necessary.  The character puts a heartbreaking seal on the end of the film or play, whichever you are watching.  With Spielberg’s film, we get more of Chino’s motivation.  We now can understand why it is Chino that really delivers the final punch of the show.

Ariana DeBose plays Anita, Bernardo’s wife, and she’s spectacular as well.  I could watch her lead “America” through the colorful, daylight city streets over and over again.  In her yellow dress, with red lace underneath, and her magnificent energy, she’s a powerhouse of magnetism.  She leads a company of dancers with such a drive.  Again, Spielberg uses the environment of these characters to build them up and Anita dueling with Bernardo during this song in broad daylight (as opposed to just an evening rooftop from the original) is sensational.  Clotheslines and soft fabrics of pink, yellow and blue even sway to the pounding drum of the number from Leonard Bernstein, along with Stephen Sondheim’s original lyrics.

Having seen this film twice, I now recall when I watched it the first time how inappropriate it really was to have Natalie Wood cast as Maria in Robert Wise’s film.  Beyond the fact that she was never an accomplished singer or dancer, she is certainly not the correct ethnicity.  Her skin complexion was actually bronzed for the role and she lip synched her dialogue and singing.  Obviously, she was a marquee name at the time and the bills had to be paid while profits were collected.  Still, what an insult to point of the piece.  West Side Story’s conflicts hinge on racial and ethnic divides.  With Spielberg’s film, he went so far as to not even include subtitles for the Spanish dialogue.  I don’t speak Spanish, and yet while I can not translate, I could understand the emotions and motivations among the Puerto Rican populace.  Why should subtitles be provided?  Why should whites play Hispanics?  It’s a disgrace to consider, especially in a film that relies on ethnic identity.  Often, the Puerto Ricans are reminded by the cops or among themselves to speak in English.  Yet they continue on with the primary language.  Bravo.  Just because the soon to be famed Lincoln Center will be erected on these grounds doesn’t erase a heritage.  You can not whitewash a culture within a melting pot, and you cannot change a mentality that really doesn’t need to be altered.  Puerto Rico is America and Puerto Rico, within the confines of this film’s New York is here to stay.  Spielberg, the Jewish, typically non-musical director, ensures an equal playing field among the divided cast.

The chemistry among the cast has to be celebrated.  The Jets and Sharks work in pitch perfect precision with one another.  You only need to watch the high school dance to recognize that.  Moreover, look at the balletic fight scenes among the Jets in blue and the Sharks in red.  Elgort and the physically much shorter Zegler work beautifully as a couple forbidden to love, much less talk with one another.  Spielberg makes up the odd height differential by placing Tony on a ladder below Maria, who stands assuredly on a balcony or simply by seating Tony while Maria stands, thereby allowing their duets to work nicely in sync as they beautifully gaze upon one another.

2021’s version of West Side Story is an absolute masterpiece.  It is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films.  It’s entertaining, funny, celebratory and authentically heartbreaking. It’s the film I never, ever realized was needed to be conceived again.  West Side Story was the very first stage musical – Broadway musical – I ever saw and it always remained my favorite.  Yet, until I finally saw what Steven Spielberg could do with West Side Story, I actually never realized I hadn’t seen all of West Side Story.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper
My Rating: 7/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 92% Certified Fresh

PLOT: The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.

You know that old saying, “You’ll either love it or hate it”?  I’m afraid that doesn’t apply to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Licorice Pizza.  At least not for me.

The plot: Gary, an impossibly precocious and business-savvy 15-year-old child actor, still in high school (the movie opens with him getting his yearbook pictures taken), develops a crush on Alana, a 25-year-old production assistant, and pursues her – and pursues her and pursues her – while she wrestles with her own emotions and the fact that, dude, he’s fifteen years old.  He calls a shaky truce on his emotions so they can remain friends, and in the process they…let me see if I can remember it all…go on several auditions, help Gary’s mom with her public relations business, open their own business selling waterbeds, fly to Texas (?) and back, fall in and out of “like” with each other several times by attempting to form physical relationships with people their own age, meet an actor who is clearly meant to be William Holden, and by the end of the movie they finally seem to be mutually in love with each other.  Sort of.  Maybe.  It depends on your point of view.  But moving on…

For all its faults, Licorice Pizza did keep me grinning for virtually all of its longish running time, and it also made me laugh out loud many times.  Only in a Paul Thomas Anderson – or maybe also a Tarantino movie – could you have a scene where a mixed-race couple (white husband/Asian wife) have a conversation in which the white husband speaks the most atrociously absurd, cringeworthy pidgin Japanese to his wife, and it gets an earned laugh for the sheer audacity of the scene.  Is it offensive?  Certainly, if this happened in real life, the husband would be cancelled faster than an all-Latino sitcom.  (Ba-ZING.)  But I’ve gotta be honest, that was one of the great belly-laughs in the film.  I found it funny in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface in Tropic Thunder was funny, in that the people committing the offenses are clearly dumber than sacks of sand and so have absolutely no idea they’re being morons.  But I’ll leave the Theory-of-Comedy discussion for another review…

In true P.T. Anderson fashion, the dialogue is as sharply written as anything by Sorkin or Mamet.  Not a second is wasted on unnecessary exposition or explanation.  (Although, to be fair, a LITTLE more explanation would have been preferred…more on that later.)  Each scene gets to the point, either directly or indirectly, with surgical precision.

There are some editing jumps that will keep a viewer on their toes.  The movie shows a scene of Gary testing a waterbed for the first time, then jumps to him hawking them at a “Teen Fair”, then suddenly he has his own storefront, sales reps, and a bank of telephone operators.  We can only assume that he had the capital, the licenses, and the business logistics to not only make this happen but to clearly be successful at it, at least for a while.  I mean, he is fifteen years old, so why wouldn’t he know how to do all this, right?

[Actually, now that I think about it, there IS a precedent for this plot: Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s 1998 film about another precocious 15-year-old boy who falls in love with a much older woman and spends most of the rest of the film attempting to woo her while she wrestles with her emotions and her desire for a relationship with someone who was born in the same decade as she was.  Do with that information what you will.]

When the age gap between Gary and Alana was explained very clearly at the beginning of the film, I was pretty sure the two of them could never be in a relationship, and I was taken out of the movie a little.  However, as the movie progressed, the film’s charm and effortless wit made me forget how far apart they were.  Gary behaves in such a way that I forgot just young he’s supposed to be, and I forgot just how old Alana is supposed to be.  The film expertly took me by the hand and got me rooting for them to be together, despite how – let’s not mince words – illegal it would be for them to be together.



So the movie does its job, that I’ll grant you.  But when the film ends, and Gary and Alana kiss and go running off screen together, and Alana finally says, “I love you, Gary”, and the credits started rolling…I stared at the screen, raised my arms in supplication to the scrolling credits, and said, “Say WHAT…?”  Because it was at that point, after the abrupt ending, that I started to have questions.  Lots and lots and LOTS of questions.

If Gary is a high school student – and he is a high school student – when did he ever go to class?  The film never shows us.  One could make the case of, well, you have to ASSUME he’s going to class.  Okay…but when?  In between auditions and plane flights to a live taping of a musical number in front of a live audience and opening not one but two small businesses where his employees seem to be composed entirely of his school-age buddies?  And one of these businesses involves him buying a large quantity of pinball machines to start an arcade.  Where is this money coming from?!  His acting paychecks?  He’s not a major star.  He’s a minor bit player, at best.  And yet, not only can he finance two small businesses on his own (he has a mother, but we only meet her twice), but the maître d’ at a local restaurant knows him by name and treats him like Hollywood royalty – he even has his own table at this place.

And let’s talk about that ending.  She says, “I love you, Gary”, and they run off screen.  What does this mean?  Does this mean she’s about to embark on a physical relationship with an underage boy?  One could say, “Well, of COURSE she’s not going to start going steady with him or anything.  She’s twenty-five and he’s fifteen!  The idea’s absurd and icky!  No, there’s no way anything like that can happen between the two of them, so this ending is just her affirming her love for him in a platonic way because that’s all they will ever be able to be to each other: devoted friends.”

Yeah, but…are we just supposed to make that assumption out of thin air?  The entire movie has been working on getting these two characters together, and it ends (quite suddenly) with that happening, and…we’re just supposed to think, “Yeah, but they’re not TOGETHER-together”?  If that’s the case, I feel there should have been a little more information to make that clearer.

I’m reminded of something I read where a college professor is teaching film students about Hal Ashby’s prescient film Being There.  MORE SPOILER ALERTS, kind of unavoidable here…but the film ends with a humble gardener with an IQ in the double-digits walking serenely out onto the surface of a lake.  The professor asks his students what this final scene means.  And the students say, well, there’s a sunken pier just out of sight under the water, or the water is quite shallow, or they even theorize that the scene isn’t really happening, it’s just in the gardener’s mind.

The professor pounds on his desk and says, “No, no, NO!  What you see is what you get.  The guy is literally walking on water.  Nothing in the film mentions a sunken pier or low water levels, and we’ve never seen any of his dreams before now.  Any explanations you’re giving for why he’s walking on water, aside from his ability to actually do it, is just you bringing something the scene that isn’t there.

That’s what I think about the ending of Licorice Pizza.  It’s problematic because, to me, it doesn’t matter what I think happens at the end when she proclaims her love and they run off.  The movie is clearly indicating they DO wind up in a relationship.  We can infer all we want about what may have happened after the cameras cut, but we are left with what the film has presented to us.  And that left me feeling weirdly uncomfortable.

To be sure, there are movies out there, acknowledged masterpieces, that depend heavily on the viewer doing some heavy lifting.  The one that comes to mind the most for me is 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film whose ending is suitably awesome and beautiful…but what in the Sam Hill does it MEAN?  Do enough reading and analysis and there are conclusions to be made that make sense and which elevate that film.

But Licorice Pizza is no 2001.  This is just not the kind of movie that lends itself to that kind of theoretical dissection.  If there are buried truths to be discovered, fair enough, but how much digging am I expected to do?  As the great man once said, “If you have to ask what something symbolizes, it doesn’t.”

First impressions are very important. And my first impression of Licorice Pizza is that, while it’s solidly acted and directed, and the dialogue is pitch perfect, the story itself leaves something to be desired.

[P.S.  A friend of mine said that if you were to switch the genders in this movie, it would never have been made.  I might agree, were it not for the fact that there have already been several films already made about that very topic, that is, an adult man in an inappropriate relationship with a much younger or underage woman.  American Beauty, Lolita, Lost in Translation, etcetera.  Maybe Lost in Translation is not the best example, as both characters are legal adults, but you get my point.  Frankly, I thought the gender switching in Licorice Pizza was kinda refreshing…up to a point.]


By Marc S. Sanders

Can you ever imagine topping your pizza with licorice?  Seems weird, odd and just…well…no!  That’s the message of Paul Thomas Anderson’s winning film Licorice Pizza.

As I watched the picture, I knew that many would not get the point.  They may become bored or even think this is a weird movie.  That’s what I thought when I first saw Anderson’s 1999 film, Magnolia.  I loved that film, but that ending is…yeah…waaaaaay out there. 

Anderson’s script centers on a 15-year-old boy named Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman; son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the girl-SCRATCH THAT-woman, I mean, that he becomes enamored with named Alana (Alana Haim).  Gary approaches Alana at his high school where he is about to have his class picture taken.  She’s there working in a dead-end assistant position with the photographer.  Fast dialogue takes place in this opening scene where Alana can’t take this kid seriously even though he’s a seasoned child actor, known throughout the San Fernando/Encino, California landscape among known casting directors and agents.  Eventually, the relationship blossoms as Alana serves as an adult escort for Gary who has to go on a television program.  (Mom was not available to accompany underage Gary; hence the word escort.)  Soon after, it’s established that though Gary seems more mature than a typical 15-year-old because he’s had a career during most of his young life, Alana is in a limbo of not reaching adulthood yet, despite the number of her age.

Gary’s worth as an actor is expiring as he’s not the cute precocious kid that Hollywood is looking for anymore, and so he’s on his way to his next venture, never allowing himself to be set back.  Why not sell the newest innovation of the early 1970’s?  Waterbeds!  Meanwhile, Alana does her best to move on to her next life changing chapter by dating an actor her age.  However, things don’t work out.  He was born Jewish, like her family, but he defiantly announces he’s an atheist over Shabbat dinner and will not recite the kiddush prayers. 

The contrast in Gary and Alana’s progress through life in 1973 couldn’t be further separated from one another.  Anderson writes these two characters as they are going in opposite directions.  They are 10 years in age apart from one another.  Gary doesn’t allow himself to be defeated when one business venture after another doesn’t pan out.  Alana is short tempered and easily stuck in a rut, however, when things don’t go her way.  This is the running theme of Licorice Pizza.

Other folks that I’ve discussed this film with find it weird that a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman are hanging together and drawn to one another.  Yeah, it’s weird, but it happens.  Out there, there are unusual relationships or friendships.  Spend a month working in a community theatre like I have and then tell me weird relationships don’t happen.  Forget about whether they are legal or not.  Forget about if it’s perverted.  (Though, truly it really isn’t depicted in a perverted manner in Anderson’s film.) There’s a relationship between Alana and Gary where romance and attractiveness are certainly tested, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever consummated. 

The fact that the relationship between the two characters is difficult on them and the audience is the point of Licorice Pizza.  Anderson is a brilliant writer/director here because he has an ongoing visual theme happening.  Often during the film, both characters are filmed running towards something.  They are either running towards one another or something else or they are running away from each other.  Gary and Alana seemingly know that this relationship could never come to an intimate, loving, romantic relationship.  After all, he’s fifteen!  She’s twenty-five!  Yet, what Paul Thomas Anderson demonstrates is that no matter how physically fast you can run or how far you can run, these two characters will never, ever catch up to one another. 

Gary yearns for Alana because lust interferes in most boys at age fifteen.  Alana needs Gary, however.  She tries and tries new opportunities to stimulate her daily lifestyle beyond Gary, like volunteering on a politician’s campaign or attempting to get in the good graces of a well-known Hollywood actor (a brief, yet memorable appearance from Sean Penn).  Dating a man closer to her age also doesn’t work out.  She’s outgrowing her Jewish home life that she’s still stuck in as well.  Alas, it doesn’t ever work out for her. 

The actress, Alana Haim, who takes on the role is surprisingly skillful.  She’s tough and sad and lost.  Anderson may have written the character, but Haim evokes the emotions that progress her listless story arc.  Each time, something happens to Alana, I couldn’t help but feel such despair for her.  I’ve been there.  When I graduated high school!  When I graduated college!  When I broke up with a girl!  When I had to move into an apartment!  When I became a father!  How many of us truly go on to the next plateau knowing exactly what to do?  Some folks like Gary, can do that.  Others like Alana just can’t.  I think more people have been in her spot than they care to admit.  Paul Thomas Anderson is brave enough to not present Alana’s triumph so easily or quickly.  Movies don’t always have to show the happily ever after ending.

Gary moves from one chapter to another as well.  Because he’s a well-known kid actor of yesteryear, he’s granted more resources than Alana, even though he’s ten years younger.  He always gets a table at the local restaurant.  He knows all the casting directors.  He knows how to get around and get things started.  Audiences are smarter and likely know that whether Gary is selling waterbeds in a run-down business shop or later turning the place into a pinball arcade (now that pinball machines are legalized; which I never knew they were illegal to begin with), he won’t become such a successful entrepreneur.  Yet, that never fazes Gary.  This is just the next big thing that occurs to Gary.  So, he’ll just give it a go.  The confidence Alana lacks in herself, Anderson gifts with the Gary character.  Cooper Hoffman makes a grand debut with Anderson’s direction and character foresight.  He’s definitely not performing in his father’s shadow here.

Licorice Pizza carries so much symbolism in the point to the story that you might not even realize how apparent it is until later when you reflect back on the film. Obviously, Paul Thomas Anderson is very careful to insist how far apart these two people are, not just in age, but in how they carry themselves and their lifestyles.  However, he does not stop with just the two main leads.  A side gag has a guy who’s the owner of a Japanese restaurant discuss an advertising campaign with Gary’s mother.  A suggestion is proposed by Gary’s mom.  The man then “translates” to the woman simply by repeating the same thing in English with a terribly awful Japanese accent and then the Japanese woman sitting next to the man speaks in her native tongue.  The man carries himself as if he understands the woman and translates back to Gary’s mom in his own Americanized dialect.  It’s shockingly funny how wrong and insulting this guy is.  This guy knows nothing about Japanese cuisine or culture or what they say or what interests them and yet he’s trying to make a business venture out of it.  It’s wrong and highly inappropriate (which makes the scene very funny), but it exists. It’s garish to watch this behavior, but there are thousands of insensitive people doing thousands of insensitive things every day; people who couldn’t be further apart from practicing what they truly were not destined to preach.  If you stop and think for a second, you can’t deny that this is one more weird thing out there in the world that’s odd and yet probably exists somewhere down the street or in another state or another time.  This guy has a connected with a Japanese woman without any concept of understanding or appreciation.

The title of Anderson’s film is never literally addressed.  (Later, I read that Licorice Pizza was actually the name of a popular record store in California way back when.)  Yet, my mind periodically went to its significance while watching the movie.  Try eating pizza with a thick, doughy crust and topped with tough, taffy texture like licorice topped on it.  I’ve never done it, but I’d imagine it’s hard, very hard, to swallow.  So, while Alana and Gary are certainly friends, the hormones of a fifteen-year-old boy and the lonely, lost nature of a twenty-five-year-old woman becoming involved with one another are hard to digest as well.  No matter how Gary and Alana approach their connection to one another it just does not work.  Alana falls off a motorcycle at one point. Gary runs to her.  We see that all the time in movies.  But what’s he going to do when he reaches her to offer aid?  What more can Gary do except to say “Are you okay?”  Gary gets arrested during another time in the film.  Alana runs after the police car Gary is handcuffed in, and tells him it’s going to be okay.  Yet, what is she really going to do?  She doesn’t know anybody like a lawyer or an adult that can help.  She doesn’t have the capability of helping him.

Run as fast as you want.  Run as far as you want.  Gary and Alana can never, and will never, catch up to one another.  They’ll never meet at an appropriate age, always living a decade apart.  They’ll never share a commonality with each other that promises a loving and intimate relationship.  So, while Licorice Pizza has a silly, comedic name, it’s truly a tragic story of impossible love. 

Licorice Pizza is definitely one of the best, most inventive and sensitive films of the year.


By Marc S. Sanders

The Spy Who Loved Me remains as my most favorite movie going experience ever. It was the first Bond film I saw in a movie theatre. I was 5, accompanying mom and dad to a dinner party. Upon leaving the party close to midnight, dad says to mom “Linda, let’s go see James Bond.” Mom’s reply was “Walter, it’s midnight and we have Marc with us.” Dad won the argument by simply saying “C’mon Linda!” So he pulled into The Forum movie theatre located off Route 4 in Paramus, NJ.

At the time, my youth didn’t allow me to comprehend really what was going on, but I clearly remember being thrilled during the pre title sequence as Bond (Roger Moore) dons his yellow snow suit to evade KGB agents trying to kill him off while skiing in Austria. I’ll never forget the ski jump/parachute ski dive off the mountain to close out the scene. Still one of the greatest stunts ever performed in a Bond film.

Beyond that, I cherish the memory of mom covering my eyes each time the vicious henchman Jaws bared his metal teeth and the maze running through the Egyptian construction site. 007 in his tuxedo with Russian Agent Triple X (Barbara Bach, one the best Bond girls) in her navy evening gown. Bach was gorgeous, intelligent and perfect in the role.

The Spy Who Loved Me is superb in so many ways. It returns to the Cold War threats that a megalomaniac takes pleasure in. This time it’s Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) who manages to apprehend nuclear armed submarines from Russia, Great Britain and eventually the United States. His plan is to destroy the world and start a new civilization beneath the sea. Honestly, I think that might take a little more effort than the capabilities of three submarines.

Triple X must now form an alliance with 007, only she has vengeance on her mind following the loss of her lover during the earlier ski pursuit. Bond must survive Stromberg and Jaws, as well as his Russian partner.

There’s so much that Director Lewis Gilbert, with Producer Albert Broccoli (first time working without Harry Saltzman) offers here. Bond drives a Lotus Esprit turned submarine, while also outrunning helicopters, motorcycles and Jaws who seems invincible. He also gets a cool new gadget vehicle to play with-a put it together yourself Jet Ski. Who woulda thunk it?

Jaws (Richard Kiel) is menacing but he’s also a great running gag, almost like the Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes. Throw him off a train, drop a building on him or fly his car off a mountain and he’ll come out of it with just a dust off of his shoulders.

Gilbert gets great scenic footage of Cairo, Egypt, Sardinia, and the snowy mountains of Austria. Stromberg’s ocean base is really cool to see too. Just avoid the elevators if you can.

Again, The Spy Who Loved Me has some of the best of everything-Bond Girl, a terrific soundtrack from Marvin Hamlisch as well as his musical accompaniment on the film’s Oscar nominated song from Carly Simon (“Nobody Does It Better”), Jaws, and it’s arguably Roger Moore’s best work in the role.

I could watch The Spy Who Loved Me a hundred times and never get tired of it.

Nobody Does It Better.


By Marc S. Sanders

Bond. James Bond going Mano y Mano against Francisco Scaramenga, also known as The Man With The Golden Gun.

Regarded as one of the least successful films in the franchise, Roger Moore’s second outing as 007, with Guy Hamilton directing his fourth installment, is really fun and devious.

Scaramenga (Christopher Lee) is former KGB who lives on his own island where he takes pleasure in carrying out gun duels with anyone up to the challenge. Professionally though, he works independently charging a million dollars to anyone requesting an assassination by means of his golden gun with accompanying golden bullets. Though it seems now the expert marksman is reaching out to Bond as a worthy competitor.

Bond doesn’t even know what Scaramenga looks like. So he jets off to Beirut, then Thailand, Hong Kong and eventually the villain’s own private island located in the seas off the coast of China. Also there is Scaramenga’s latest toy, consisting of unlimited solar energy, a device he could sell to world powers globally for the highest bid while also bankrupting the oil industry.

Bond has encounters with a quirky henchman again. This time it’s a deadly midget named Nick Nack (Herve Villacaize, Fantasy Island). He’s a lot of fun as he teases both Bond and his boss, Scaramenga, in a fun house obstacle course as they carry out their best efforts to survive.

Two Bond girls (Maud Adams and Britt Eckland) allow Moore to balance the ladies in a hiding game within his hotel room while trying to keep them from running into each other. It’s light farce.

The Man With The Golden Gun also features one of the greatest automobile stunts ever captured on film, an alleyoop flip over a ravine with a broken bridge. Needs to be seen to be believed.

What keeps this film from highest of regard though is the return of Clifton Davis as Louisiana Sheriff JW Pepper for some cheap laughs that didn’t work when we saw him the first time in Live And Let Die. He’s a pest who’s contrived to show up in Hong Kong of all places and coincidentally run into Bond again. Really? Seriously? There’s no reason for this annoyance to be here.

Still there’s lots of good moments including Bond vs two sumo wrestlers as well as fighting his way out of a deadly dojo with the assistance of some karate skilled school girls. Then there’s Scaramenga’s flying car which is extra cool.

007 embarks on an adventure that still holds up. Christopher Lee is loving his villainy and Roger Moore continues with the part well. He’s a sharp guy.

The Man With The Golden Gun is a film worth revisiting.


By Marc S. Sanders

Goodfellas is my favorite film by Martin Scorsese. It’s a fast-paced roller coaster narrative of Irish street kid Henry Hill’s experience in the mob, dramatized from his real life as part of the Gambino crime family of New York.

“How am I funny?,” the Lufthansa heist, Spider takes it in the foot and then in the chest, Morrie’s Wigs, the piano montage from Derrick And The Dominos, Billy Batt’s demise followed by an early morning breakfast stopover at mom’s, and Henry’s helicopter paranoia. All of these elements are assembled to depict the perceived glamour and undoing of street level hoods, proud to steal and dress in the finest threads while bedding dames behind their wives’ backs.

Scorsese along with Nicholas Pileggi uncovered something special when they adapted Wiseguy (Pileggi’s book) for the screen. I think they struck a nerve because they showed these guys as men doing a routine living. There was a process to their deeds. Give a cut of your theft to the man above and keep the rest for yourself. Above all else, stay off the fucking phone. Get out of line and get whacked, unless you’re a “made guy.” This is all code, normal to Henry and his cohorts (Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway; Joe Pesci as Tommy DiSimone).

Moreover, the wives understood this behavior as well. Henry’s wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) knew these guys were not 9 to 5 husbands and the more it occurred, the more normal it all seemed. Including when the FBI presented a warrant to search the premises. Just let them in and go back to rocking the baby to sleep while watching Al Jolson on the box.

Scorsese took the best approach by not judging the actions of these raw criminals. They dressed well, but they weren’t reluctant to draw blood if an insult was tossed their way. Pesci, in an Oscar winning best performance, represents that philosophy. Scorsese, with his regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, are not shy about the violence. Watch how Jimmy and Tommy beat up a “made guy.” DeNiro just stomps his dress shoes into the guy’s face over and over. Pesci pistol whips him, but before he can shoot him, he breaks the gun…on the guy’s face. The romance of gangster life quickly undoes itself in moments like this. As Henry notes, your friends come at you with smiles before they whack you.

Ray Liotta is Henry, the primary narrator and centerpiece of the film. Most of the story is from his perspective. I’m sorry that Liotta didn’t get much award recognition. He really deserved it. His voiceover narration is superb. It gives a feeling like I’m talking to Henry in a bar with his tales of Mafia code and life in the criminal underworld. His voiceover is conversational. He’s also got great expressions of disregard, anger, and intense, raging fear on screen. When Henry is at his worst, his eyes are dry red, and his skin is pale and craggily. None of that is just makeup at work. That’s Ray Liotta performing with an exhausted energy in character. Watch the scene following his 3rd act incarceration where he argues with Karen over the last of their drug supply being flushed down the toilet. It’s not so much a party anymore. The manic response couldn’t feel more real as he slams his hand against the wall and then crouches up into a weeping ball of helplessness in the corner, on the floor.

Liotta and Bracco have sensational chemistry together in scenes of their courting nature when they first meet, followed by the ongoing, bickering abuse that enters their married life. There’s a great hysteria to them. Bracco got a nomination for her role. She deserved it.

Scorsese is a master at filming basic gestures as well to show the nature of these mob guys and their crimes. A key folded in a paper is then inserted into a knob and a stash is walked off with. A blood-soaked revolver is placed in a tin box and then Schoonmaker cuts over to the customary stomping of a glass at a Jewish wedding. Every prop and detail are connected.

Even better is Martin Scorsese depicting the wise guys’ incarceration midway through the film. Watch how the head mob boss Pauly (Paul Sorvino) slices onion with a razor for dinner complete with steaks broiling, pork sauce bubbling and even lobster ready to be boiled. Scorsese and Pileggi found it important to depict how attractive this life could be, despite a stretch in the joint or the violence that might come. Pay off the right guys and you could live like kings.

The master director doesn’t stop there. His selection of doo wop and rock period music paints the historical palette of the 50s through 80s. Music was being played and life was happening all the while an underhanded way of crime and violence occurred.

One of the best blends of film and song occurs during the classic one-shot steady cam where Henry escorts Karen through the back way of the famed nightclub, Copacabana. It’s one of the greatest scenes ever in movies. The walk journeys downstairs, through the kitchen, past wait staff, cooks, bouncers, people necking and to a front and center table to see Henny Youngman’s stand-up routine. The sequence is accompanied by the song “And Then He Kissed Me.” It’s a great character description to display a young guy, proud of his gangster image, with a whole world ahead of him and everyone offering their respects while he hands out twenty-dollar bills like gift coupons. This young guy had power, and the girl holding his hand couldn’t be more impressed.

Goodfellas is one of the greatest mob movies ever made. It’s one of my favorite films. It’s genuine in its grit and language. Every F-word uttered is necessary to translate the regard for code, or the blatant disregard for the law, loyalty within a crew, or even the ethics of marriage. It astounds me that it didn’t win Best Picture in 1990, losing to Dances With Wolves. Perhaps it got cancelled out with fellow mob nominee The Godfather Part III.

Regardless, the film struck a chord and pioneered a new way of showing criminals in celebration of themselves while sometimes encountering the inconvenience of the law or the women in their lives or worse, the betrayals among themselves. At any given moment you might rat on your friend and not keep your mouth shut.

Without Goodfellas, The Sopranos might not have been as welcomed into the pop culture lexicon. Maybe even the films of Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie or Paul Thomas Anderson, or even other Scorsese projects yet to come.

Goodfellas is an electrifying film of unabashed humor, realistic and shocking violence, and authentic culture within a well established crime syndicate.

Goodfellas is a must see film.


By Marc S. Sanders

The Tuesday Before Thanksgiving Tradition blazes on for another year as Steve Martin and John Candy travel from New York City to Wichita, Kansas and then who knows where all while trying to reach their final destination of Chicago, Illinois in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Despite the fact that Planes, Trains & Automobiles was made in 1987 before the age of cell phones, personal navigation systems, Priceline .com and Ubers, it remains a timeless classic of inadvertent comedy. Travel is still as frustrating, maybe more so now, and family kinship is still treasured.

Martin plays Marketing Executive Neil Page, forced to succumb to the unwanted company of Shower Curtain Ring Salesman Del Griffeth (Candy). One inconvenience after another delays Neil from getting home to his family for the holiday. Del wants to be helpful, yet he is anything but.

The roles are perfectly cast. One of the best on screen couples of all time. I imagine had John Candy not passed away so young, he would have been paired up with Steve Martin at least one more time.

Writer/Director John Hughes is a master at taking simple circumstances (detention on a Saturday, skipping school, traveling) and blossoming it into episodes of relatability amplified in both comedy and drama. His knack for dialogue is a huge factor in his scenes. Consider the best scene in the film between Martin and favorite character actor Edie McClurg where 19 F- bombs are tossed over the mix up of a rental car. It happens all the time to any one of us, and Hughes took advantage of the frustration and built comedy that comes from it. Its not funny when you are in the moment. It’s funny when you recall the moment later on. It’s a brilliant scene.

Nut grabbing, taxi races, ride hitching in 1 degree weather, bed sharing with what you think are pillows, burning cars, wrong way driving, encounters with death and the devil, “The Canadian Mounted,” and a perfect excuse to use Ray Charles’ rockin’ “Mess Around” all point to a reason for a climax that arguably (on the first time any of us saw the film) we never expected or considered. If you don’t choke up, you have no soul.

Hughes was all too familiar with the meaning of Thanksgiving when he wrote Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I like to think those that see the film are even better for having watched it.

It’s a very funny movie, but it’s very special movie as well. Give thanks, offer what you can, when you can, and Happy Thanksgiving. 


By Marc S. Sanders

Richard Donner, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover successfully triumphed in 1989’s summer of sequels with Lethal Weapon 2. It was a big box office smash thanks to the pairing of the two leading men making a memorable team with Donner expounding on the beloved humor that the first film provided.

The story is ho hum; South African drug dealers with diplomatic immunity. The top henchman, nick named “Adolf,” has a mysterious connection to kamikaze cop Martin Riggs (Gibson). Nothing so shocking though, and somewhat contrived.

The big star addition here is Joe Pesci as Leo Getz, the sleazy accountant who has embezzled half a billion dollars from the South Africans. Pesci is such a rare talent and he comes up with his own routine of comedy. He is as unique as any of the great comics like Milton Berle or Jackie Gleason or Jerry Lewis. Mind you this film was released before Home Alone and Goodfellas, and after Raging Bull. So, his addition to the franchise was a great surprise.

Getz is a fast talking material witness that Riggs with his partner Roger Murtaugh (Glover) are assigned to protect. However, with the cops’ nose for constant action, it’s not easy protecting the little guy when he won’t shut up or sit still.

“Lethal Weapon 2” is more an assemblage of fun set ups with run on gags. There’s Murtaugh’s daughter appearing in a condom commercial, much to his chagrin. There’s his wife’s new station wagon that is progressively getting wrecked thanks in part to Riggs’ crazy ways. Then there is Roger stuck on a bomb rigged toilet as another reason to damage his family’s home. The Three Stooges would be proud of this material.

There’s nothing new here really, but what makes it entertaining is the ongoing chemistry between Gibson and Glover, with Pesci. It’s apparent that these guys had to go off script at times from a screenplay by Jeffrey Boam, based on the characters created by Shane Black.

Donner does as expected with some great action scenes like a car chase to open the film and a careening tow truck that has Riggs hanging from the fender. There’s shootouts galore, as well.

The beautiful Patsy Kensit has a small romantic storyline with Gibson. It wouldn’t have been missed if it didn’t make the final cut, but it’s here and it’s serviceable.

Yeah, there are some contrived elements to Lethal Weapon 2 and the villains are not the greatest, but the heroes hold the film together, like a fun party on a Saturday night at your best pal’s place.


By Marc S. Sanders

The opening scene to Richard Donner’s 1987 film, Lethal Weapon, always intrigues me. Following an opening credit flyover of Los Angeles at night played to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock,” a beautiful young, topless woman snorts some cocaine, steps out on a balcony and leaps to her death. It was a great hook for the beginning of a script written by Shane Black. How does a random suicide jump connect to heavily armed mercenaries with an interest in heroin shipments? Two cops at odds with one another will find out.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover hit the payload of a new and long lasting cinematic franchise playing suicidal cop Martin Riggs and by the book family man Roger Murtaugh; one of the very best on screen pairings since Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Riggs is ready to die at any given moment following the loss of his loving wife. There’s an effective dramatic moment where Gibson plays a very drunk Riggs, and loads a bullet into the chamber of his Baretta. Donner gets one unsettling take of a man in despair biting down on the weapon, holding it to his forehead and under his chin. It’s pretty frightening. Gibson is great in this moment, red faced and uncontrollably tearful.

The first of the four films remains the best as Black’s story is continuously pealing back layer after layer. There’s something new to the main plot in nearly every scene. A banker is involved. A nightclub as well, and a prostitute’s house is detonated and of course there’s the girl who dove off her balcony. Shane Black seamlessly connects all the dots.

More so, there’s something to the cops relationship in nearly every scene. We see Riggs & Murtaugh begin with a major divide in working together. Riggs has a cavalier attitude of nothing to lose. Murtaugh is content with turning 50, but might not get to enjoy his new year at the expense of his new partner’s reckless behavior. How does Riggs rescue a suicide jumper? Not the way you’d expect I imagine. Efficiently, a trust is built among the two men with Donner doing a fine job of escaping the main storyline for a nice family meal. It’s humorous and charming but necessary to really appreciate these characters. Then the ribbing among the two guys happens. Jokes about Roger’s wife’s cooking and a contest of target practice at the shooting range allow the audience to feel like they just made two new best friends.

On the other side are two worthy villains played by Mitchell Ryan, and more prominently Gary Busey. They play ruthless shadow company soldiers from the Vietnam era ready to eliminate anyone who interferes with their drug dealing venture. Busey is especially good and ruthless. It’s a shame that gossip magazines and a crazy lifestyle have mostly dominated his public life over the years. He’s so good in this role. He had already been an Oscar nominee by the time this film was released. You have to wonder why did it all go so wrong for him. Gary Busey might have been a top billing movie star.

Richard Donner had already been a well established director with Superman The Movie, The Goonies, and The Omen. His action film was even more a testament to his skills. Action scenes are so well filmed in “Lethal Weapon” whether they take place in a Christmas tree lot, a desert outskirt, a nightclub or on Hollywood Boulevard. Credit should also go to Michael Kamen’s music, adventurously dramatic with an air of mystery at times. He works in accompaniment with Eric Clapton too.

I take one issue with Lethal Weapon. The final scene, a jiu jitsu fight between Gibson and Busey in front of the entire police force abandons the story. Nothing new is left to happen. Ever since I saw the film in theaters I asked myself why is this here. Two tough guys just punching the hell out of each other. There’s no development here. There’s no way a moment like this would ever occur. In addition, the editing is choppy at times and I can’t tell who is hitting who. It’s not a terrible violation, but it’s not all that interesting either.

Barring this ending scene, Lethal Weapon is just a well assembled film of action, humor, drama, suspense, and story. At the time, Shane Black was paid a record sum for his script. I still believe it was worth every penny.