By Marc S. Sanders

It’s an action picture.  What’s common?  Sylvester Stallone, the MacGuffin is money, and the villain has a European accent.  What’s uncommon?  The setting is a Colorado snow covered mountain. 

The movie is Cliffhanger directed by Renny Harlin.

This film deserves much praise for the photography it offers of Stallone and his sidekicks (Michael Rooker, Janine Turner) scaling steep rock formations while trying to evade brutal, but moronic, thieves who have foolishly lost their booty in midair. Now the bad guys must recover the stolen Federal Reserve bills which are scattered in three different locations within the mountain range.  When their plane crashes they force the heroes into leading them on an expedition to locate the money before they will surely kill them.  John Lithgow leads the villains.  Thanks to his slithery English dialect, he’s not bad in the part.

For a pinch of character depth, Gabe (Stallone) is haunted by the opening scene of the film where he failed to rescue the girlfriend of his buddy, Hal (Rooker).  Gabe and Hal will be awarded the opportunity to make amends thanks to this unexpected adventure.  Cliffhanger is not just a thriller.  It’s also a chick flick for guys. 

On a modern flat screen TV, it is quite discernable to recognize the CGI and handcrafted sets that make up much of the scenes.  However, the thrill of it all still holds up and as noted before, the overhead shots really look spectacular.  Stallone really is hanging from these bottomless heights with just one hand; at least that’s what it looks like.  If there is an illusion at play, then there are moments where I can’t tell if I’m being deceived.

The opening scene is the highlight of the picture as Gabe must zip line himself upside down over a wide crevice while attempting to save a hapless climber whose harness has given out.  It’s impossible not to sit still during a well edited and directed moment like this.  This is a masterful scene of terror and suspense.  Renny Harlin is certainly an undervalued director in the action genre.  (I wonder what he’s been up to these days.)

The bad guys are quite hapless though, as they freely bicker among themselves and give away how they’ll happily kill the heroes quickly, allowing one to warn the others.  They are dumb right from the start by killing the pilot of the plane they’re on before fully completing their mission and idiotically losing the money at play.  Then again, as my Unpaid Critic colleague would say, “Then there’d be no movie.”  True Mig!  Very true.

Still, the atmosphere of Cliffhanger is what works.  Blustery snow and wind come off convincingly as Gabe is forced to freeze and shiver with no layers to keep him warm while executing some daring escapes.  Rescue helicopter stunts and collisions are sensational.  There are obligatory shootouts and bloody slashes of skin from climbing tools.  There’s even a bat cave, with no superhero in sight, but it will give you the willies.

I’m hot and cold on many of Sylvester Stallone’s films.  Don’t get me started on Assassins with Antonio Banderas or The Specialist with Sharon Stone.  Those movies required some nuanced acting that the action star just wasn’t offering.  However, here the adventure makes the piece thanks to the director, and Stallone fits right into this environment where the role demands strength, stamina, and outdoor intuition.  Renny Harlin is the top hero here, allowing the marquee actor to look really good on screen.


By Marc S. Sanders

Jessica Chastain is an aggressive actress. The talent is on par with Meryl Streep or Katherine Hepburn for sure, and the Oscar trophy she won earlier this year is evident of that. Actually, she’s worthy of more than just one. My question, though, is if she is too aggressive. Films like Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game, and Miss Sloane, put her in characters that never stop to react and smell the roses. That wears me out. Could you just slow down Jessica, so I can take this all in, please? You’re talking faster than I can think.

In Miss Sloane, Chastain portrays an impenetrable lobbyist. Nothing gets past this woman and despite her shortcomings, nothing will harm her either. Elizabeth Sloane will always be one step ahead of the game. This is a fierce chess player in the political arena. She’s omnipotent and admits to hardly ever sleeping. Maybe the pill popping helps with that. Like the Faye Dunaway character from Network, she also has no time for personal relationships or sensitive sex. So, she’s a high paying client for a male escort who will wait for her to come home to satisfy her fix.

Elizabeth is first employed with a wealthy private law firm who wants her to head up a bill in favor of the gun lobby. She declines, walks out the door with one long speech, a way over the top laugh (this is where there’s too much Jessica in my morning coffee) and over half her staff. She goes to the other side of the aisle to lobby aggressively against the gun bill.

From there it’s one aggressive maneuver after another and Elizabeth more than proves that she’s got the balls for this game. Only thing is, as Elizabeth proceeds to countermeasure and attack from her side, is she losing sight of the subject at play? Will her soul swim to the surface showing any sense of morality?

The film begins where Elizabeth is being questioned at a hearing headed by a state Senator (John Lithgow, always a pleasure to see). Then it moves on to show us how Elizabeth finds herself at that hearing.

Miss Sloane has no limits to what she’ll do to protect the integrity of a client’s argument for the bill even if it means embarrassing a traitorous teammate, putting another teammate in an unwelcome limelight of political journalism or maybe even employing a cockroach of the sort to use as a listening device. Miss Sloane won’t hesitate to take risks for the lobby she’s been hired to pursue, even if it risks someone’s life or their reputation.

A twist presents itself at the end and yeah, it could work assuming you believe Elizabeth Sloane, the brilliant lobbyist, can telegraph about fifty different actions that could take place amounting to that one moment. The math adds up, but were the numbers fudged to allow the arithmetic to work? That’s why a film like Miss Sloane is hard for me to swallow.

Does this woman have ESP? The final card she plays would require not only her own personal endurance, but that of a colleague as well. A lot of factors all have to be in sync to make this story work out the way it does. So my suspension of disbelief was really tested with this film.

I go back to Jessica Chastain. Zero Dark Thirty remains my favorite of hers. She was a great underdog against a male oriented governing body in the pursuit of Bin Laden. After that, Miss Sloane released a few years later and Chastain got bit by the Aaron Sorkin bug, I think. Endless talking works as an intellect that’s hard to challenge. Problem is, I’m the viewer and I’m wondering for the first thirty minutes what in the hell you’re talking about. Miss Sloane isn’t an Aaron Sorkin film, but Jessica Chastain will have you convinced she wants it to be.

Fortunately, writer Jonathan Perera with director John Madden ease up on the brakes allowing much more realistic and human characters to invade the film including Lithgow, Alison Pill and an especially riveting performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw (recently seen by me with a subpar script called The Whole Truth) who becomes Elizabeth’s trusted sidekick both behind and in front of the cameras for political jockeying. This is an actress ready for some lead roles.

I described Miss Sloane as omnipotent earlier and that’s a problem for the first act of the film. This character never shuts up early on. There’s next to no impact on anyone around her. She just talks and talks and talks and she convinces me that she’s the smartest one in the room, but she also makes me want to turn the movie off. The film saves itself with the able supporting cast eventually.

To watch Miss Sloane is not to take any position on gun lobbying especially seriously. I’m not sure the filmmakers have a stance to play. I’m not sure the filmmakers know whether to even regard the titled character as a hero or villain. Actually, I just think the purpose of the film is to show corner cutting and how aggressive a made-up lobbyist can actually be, devoid of any determining factors. We are privileged to see how far a woman with stiletto heels, a cinched up red head ponytail and a tight business suit will go to win at any cost. It’s intriguing, but I guess I just felt unfulfilled by the end. It was all there. It just seemed to work itself all out too conveniently by the end. 


By Marc S. Sanders

Tulane Law Student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) is unbelievably lucky. She can find herself being pursued by one white guy in a suit after another over the course of a two hour movie and will be fortunate enough to escape every threat by sheer chance. It’s only to her benefit when she is being chased by two assassins in a creepy downtown parking garage that someone left an angry doberman in a car to startle the killers. As well, it’s really a blessing that Darby has caught on that if an engine sputters when turning the ignition it can only mean one thing – car bomb! GET OUT!!!!!

Darby is the main protagonist of The Pelican Brief directed by Alan J Pakula, adapted from John Grisham’s best-selling novel. When the eldest and the youngest Supreme Court justices are murdered, Darby conceives of an outrageous conspiracy stretching all the way to the President and documents the whole rundown in the so-called Pelican Brief. She shares the document with her law professor who shares it with his government friend who shares with the CIA who shares it with…and so on and so on.

Pakula is an under celebrated director when you consider his better thrillers like Presumed Innocent, Klute, and especially All The Presidents Men. Here though, I think he got a little lazy with his screenplay and direction. The Pelican Brief is a little too paint by numbers.

Sure, the film has suspense. I think Grisham’s story has some convincing weight to it where wealth and government won’t stand for the platforms of environmental causes and therefore people have to die. Still, while the meat of that story eventually surfaces, we are left with A LOT of buildup before Darby gets involved. Just a lot of white guys in different office buildings walking down hallways, entering doorways and talking on the phone. Every so often we come across a DC crack reporter, Grey Grantham (Denzel Washington) who gets a phone call from a potential informant. When that guy gets scared and hangs up, thank goodness Darby just happens to call two seconds later regarding the same story. Good on you Grey for being by that telephone.

That’s my problem here. Pakula just works in the lucky conveniences to keep Grey and Darby on the trail. Neither of them ever truly escape a bind on their own. Neither of them ever truly dig the hole any deeper without something COMING UPON THEM to help them along at just the right moment.

We learn a safe deposit box belonging to a dead character exists. Darby just strolls into the bank and posing as the widow, who is not a signer on the box, is just asked for her address and phone number. No proper identification necessary. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it’s that easy? Folks, hide your valuables because I’m gonna be robbing you blind.

Pakula will even set up a good scenario where Darby thinks she’ll be meeting someone who can help but it’s an assassin ready to kill, only suddenly the assassin is killed while holding Darby’s hand in a crowded courtyard. Wow!!! Lucky again, Darby. I’m still fuzzy on who actually killed the guy. That didn’t concern Pakula though. It’s explained in a quick throwaway line before the credits roll. Pakula only had to get Darby out of danger again. So let’s see he’s got the barking doberman for something else, the engine sputter will be used later on. Hmmmm??? Meh!!! we’ll just have someone randomly kill this guy. Now run, Darby. RUN!!!

Notice I haven’t talked about performances. Well, there’s not much to them. The Pelican Brief boasts an impressive cast of character actors like Sam Shepherd, Anthony Heald, John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci, Robert Culp and John Heard. Yet, these guys, along with Roberts and Washington are flat. Just reciting their lines when the cues call for them. There’s nothing very exciting to any of them really. Very monotone. Roberts is beautiful yet depressing even before she gets caught up in the mystery. Washington, while handsome, does not seem to have the gusto that Pakula’s reporters did when he directed Hoffman & Redford. Grey is too neat, physically fit and tailored for an always on the job, aggressive reporter looking for a scent.

There was a better movie to be made here, thanks to some convincing motivations that were started with Grisham’s novel. Unfortunately, Pakula just didn’t devote enough respect to the original author’s imagination.


By Marc S. Sanders

In A Civil Action, writer/director Steve Zaillian allows John Travolta to demonstrate the workings of a remorseless ambulance chasing lawyer with a pride for the finest in men’s wear and the title of one of the most eligible bachelors in Boston, Massachusetts.  Then, all of that crumbles apart when a self-effacing acknowledgment breaks through. 

Travolta portrays real-life attorney Jan Schlictmann, who heads a small personal injury law practice with three partners (Tony Shalhoub, William H Macy and Zeljko Ivanec).  They go after the cases that promise large settlements from hospitals, insurance companies and multi-million-dollar corporations.  The best cases are where the mid-30’s breadwinning male of the household has suffered irreparable damages.  The victim is not deceased, but permanently handicapped, unable to work and provide for his family.  A dead victim is not as theatrically attractive.   Better to put the poor soul in the wheelchair on stage for the winning cash settlement. 

When Jan is boxed into a corner to meet with the residents of a small New England town, he dismisses their case as an unwinnable nuisance.  The townsfolk believe that their children have taken ill, with some not surviving, due to locally contaminated drinking water.  Kathleen Quinlan is one mother who wants an apology and explanation from whoever is responsible.  An apology holds no tangible value for Jan though, until he observes who the primary suspects are likely to be; two large corporations that own well known brands like Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Tropicana Orange Juice, and Samonsite Luggage.  Now the pockets to collect from could go on forever, and Jan does not realize until it’s too late how much of a personal gamble he is undertaking with himself and his partners in tow.

A Civil Action has always left me thinking on so many different levels since I first saw it in theaters.  The value of a life, especially a child’s life, is not very significant when corporate America profits on dollar bills.  The priority of environmental protection and its most precious resource, water, is just as minimal, maybe more.  Zaillian uncovered a fantastic character arc from a very frighteningly sad and true story.   Jan Schlictmann proudly dons an appearance of false care for victims of botched surgeries and car accidents to advance his ego and materialistic nature.  However, then he found a conscience, as he realized that money doesn’t win cases for his clients.  Instead, the acceptance of responsibility triumphs.  That surrendering admittance, though, is not expected to come from these companies.  Not when the burden of proof only comes from a measly platoon of four small town attorneys, who could never bear the expenses of proving such gross negligence and wrong doing.  This is a David & Goliath confrontation. 

Beyond a cast of recognizable faces, there are scenes in this film that just stay with you.  Most especially for me is the unforgiving nature of Quinlan’s suffering maternal character.  She no longer has any care in the world for whatever sacrifices are made by the lawyers to reveal the truth of what happened.  I didn’t think that was fair of her, frankly.  Zaillian demonstrates what these four guys endure as the case prolongs itself.  However, people are unfair.  Sometimes they are unreasonable because they have been pushed down to a bottom they’ll never climb up from.  This movie and the circumstances at play are not here to please me and make me feel good with a tidy ending wrapped in a bow, however.  The script is brutally honest in its characterizations.

What’s also disturbing about this case is simply water.  Countless times, Steve Zaillian gets close up shots of glasses and pitchers of clear, crisp water.  Children are drinking water.  Water is spilled on tables.  Jan’s enemies in trial will indulge in a refreshing gulp from a glass as they finish a scene with him.  The movie reminds you time and again that water is the silent killer.

Robert Duvall is the shining talent on the other side of the aisle from Travolta as an attorney in a fifty-dollar suit with a beat up fifty-dollar briefcase representing one of the large companies that is being sued.  Duvall makes his shark of an attorney appear effortless.  He falls asleep in court.  He tucks away in a corner to listen to the Red Sox play on his transistor radio.  Yet, he’s wise enough to know how to derail an opposing counsel’s case with just his quiet, unspoken presence at the table.  He isn’t even so much a villain or an antagonist as he allows the hero of the film ample opportunity to settle rather than charge on.  His urgencies don’t work however because Jan has changed.  Where he once saw money, he now sees something much more valuable that is beyond any variance of negotiation.  The scenes shared between the handsome, fit and well-dressed John Travolta against the older, short, hunched yet astute Robert Duvall play beautifully here.  There is top notch stage performance work happening here.

It amazes me that A Civil Action is not available on Blu Ray or 4K.  Look at this cast and its direction.  It’s magnificent.  Zaillian’s film moves with a fast pace of easy-to-follow courtroom theatrics.  Additional performances from Sydney Pollack, James Gandolfini, Dan Hedaya, and John Lithgow are so engrossing.  William H Macy is very good too, as the desperate man trying to keep Jan’s cause afloat.  Why is this film not being granted the accessibility it deserves?  I actually had to pay for a streaming rental watch.  No matter, it was worth it.  For like Jan Schlictmann, money is not the most important commodity known to man.  Morality and decency will stretch further than money that’s been spent, never to be replenished.  A noble and most human thing you can do is to experience Steve Zaillian’s film, A Civil Action. Then you will understand what an unjust world any one of us could fall victim to.  Then maybe you will understand the loss a loving mother endures far outweighs any financial liability from a grocery food company.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Nisha Ganatra
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
My Rating: 7/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 79% Certified Fresh

PLOT: After being accused of hating women, the female host (Thompson) of a popular late-night talk show makes a “diversity hire” for the writer’s room: Molly Patel (Kaling), whose straight-talking instincts put her at odds with her boss and co-writers.

On the whole, Late Night is like the best movie Judd Apatow hasn’t made yet.  It’s funny (not explosively funny, but pointedly funny), smart, and actually has something relevant to say about a host of topics, but mostly it’s about women: women in the workplace, in Hollywood, in positions of power, in traditionally male-dominated industries, even women and sexual indiscretions.

Mindy Kaling (who also wrote the screenplay) plays Molly Patel, a chemical plant worker who lands an interview for a writing job at one of the most popular (fictional) late-night shows on television, and also the only one hosted by a woman: Katherine Newbury, played with style and wit by Emma Thompson.

(For the record, I could watch Emma Thompson read the phone book, and I would say that was also done with style and wit, and I’d probably be right.  But moving on…)

Molly’s interview is perfectly timed, because Katherine desperately needs a “diversity hire” after she is accused of hating women.  The fact that her writer’s room consists of all white men does not help her case, so Molly is hired more or less on the spot.  IMDb tells me that Mindy Kaling once interned for the Conan show, so I personally have no idea how accurate the characterizations are of these writers, but I got the feeling they were pretty spot on.  For example, when she’s first introduced to the room, a couple of the guys immediately ask her for sandwiches and coffee.  In another twist, she uses the ladies room, only to discover that, since there are so few women employed there, all the male writers use the ladies room as well…but only when “duty” calls. (…he said as he chuckled to himself.)

We have the makings of what could have been a great comedy.  As it is, we have a pretty good comedy.

My issues are at the screenplay level.  The story is awesome, the characters are awesome, and the screenplay does make some sharp criticisms of the current status quo.  (The best and funniest scene occurs when Katherine takes to the streets, a la Conan or Jimmy Fallon, and does a “White Savior” bit; it sounds terribly racist when I write it out like that, but I assure you, it’s hilarious and not a bit racist.)  But…there were times when I thought the screenplay was pulling its punches.

For example, there’s a moment when Katherine decides to deliver a politically charged joke in her monologue (it’s a doozy, by the way).  Given the plot developments by that time, I thought there would be more of that kind of material later on.  But there isn’t.  Alas.

There are lots of moments like that, when the screenplay felt like it was building to some kind of climactic, powerfully-written dialogue or monologue that would really lay into the characters and the audience, like an Aaron Sorkin script, or even like a comedy from earlier this year, Long Shot.  But it never QUITE happens.

(Okay, there IS one scene that does deliver a great payoff…it’s played out on an empty stage between two of the main characters, and it has as much heartfelt emotion and drama as any Merchant Ivory film.)

I liked this movie.  I felt like there was MORE that could have been said and done with this material that could have elevated it even more. But it is ultimately a feel-good movie that has some very funny scenes and has a lot to say. 


By Marc S. Sanders

Mindy Kaling is a terrific writer. I first discovered her on The Office, where she scripted many of the best episodes as well as performed in front of the camera. She’s hilarious. She wrote and produced the film Late Night from 2019, and while I think it’s incredibly smart with ideas on prominent female identities and the status quo of race and gender within a fictional late night television industry, it does not forgive itself for wrapping up its ending in a pretty, pink bow.

Emma Thompson is fierce as Katherine Newberry, a late night network tv host approaching 30 years in the business. She’s become a staple for the 11:30 slot, even if she hasn’t kept up with the times of Twitter and You Tube. The network is ready to cut ties with her as she has become too outdated with her material, the guests she has on, and whatever semblance of a routine she’s awarded from her team of writers, that are all white males that might not have outgrown their fraternity years but only now complain about their miserable married or single lives. It’s brought to Katherine’s attention that she doesn’t like women. To mix it up, she demands her office manager hire a woman, any woman, immediately.

Enter Mindy Kaling, as Molly Patel, with zero experience in writing or television who leaves her job at a chemical plant. Like all office films that always seem to take place in New York, the new person does not get on great with the boss, endures some humiliation, cries, but then gets a brave epiphany that catches the boss’ attention out of nowhere. Molly writes a funny pro choice/anti Republican joke for Katherine’s monologue. It eventually goes over swimmingly.

A well acted side story occurs when we get to see some pains that Katherine has while living with her loving husband, Walter, played by John Lithgow, who has Parkinson’s disease. They have some outstanding scenes together. So while the Katherine Newberry with the tough exterior works her writing team to the bone to save her reputation and show, she is also dealing with a terribly sad domestic life. Unfortunately, a one time affair that she had with a writer unnecessarily creeps its way into the film. When it becomes material for public tabloid, her show is all but dead. Now by and large, Late Night is a comedy, so how do you think this film will end? Happily of course.

I don’t take issue with a happy ending. I love them, and it’s often why I go to the movies to escape. However, this is the cutthroat business of television. Shows get cancelled frequently. Kaling’s script even demonstrates that with the network president. As well, Katherine’s demeanor demonstrates this when she fires a writer simply for asking for a raise and to spend more time with his kid. Throw in a couple of lines, however, give a monologue from the heart for your audience and suddenly the show is saved! I wish it would work this way but I doubt it really does.

Another angle the film explores is Molly as an Indian American woman intruding upon a white male dominated occupation. The story had me convinced that she overcomes these demographic obstacles. I bought it. What was hard to accept was the “one year later” epilogue where the show’s staff is made up of every variation of gender and race demographic imaginable with Thompson’s character doing a quick walk through the office to the studio. Every desk is occupied by a different looking person. How touching…and unconvincing. Again, I wish it was that easy to flip a perspective on an office staff, in just one year. Yet I don’t think it’s all that simple. This is where Kaling’s script is pandering way too much.

The performances are excellent. Kaling and Thompson have great scenes together. Lithgow with Thompson as well. Following the reveal of the affair, there’s a magnificent scene between them where they come to a resolve. Only, I think this moment belongs in another film. The affair storyline is not correlated enough to the rest of the picture. I would have abandoned it altogether and simply focus on Katherine, Molly and Walter’s struggles; surviving the business, entering the business and living with illness. The affair intrudes on the last act of the film and as soon as it bleeds, Kaling’s script patches it up too neatly. Thus, we get a happy ending that just doesn’t feel very authentic.

Mindy Kaling needs to work even further. I think she’s one of the brightest writers I know of today. She writes what she knows; about working in television and being an Indian American woman thereby bringing those facts about her background as new strengths for storylines. She only now has to be careful about not patching up the conflicts she masterfully creates with simply a cherry on top. She might turn the APPLAUSE sign on for her audiences, but that is not necessarily going to get the crowd on their feet and clapping.


By Marc S. Sanders

Acclaimed television writer James L Brooks’ first feature film was the 1983 Best Picture Winner Terms of Endearment.  The movie succeeds in more ways than one because of its varied relationships among the characters.  You have Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger).  There’s Emma and her husband Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels).  There’s Aurora and Flap, and then there is Aurora and her neighbor Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).  Sounds like a lot to take in for a two hour picture, and yet Brooks manages to adapt a script from Larry McMurtry’s novel that smoothly covers realistic depth and dimension among these characters, and how they connect with one another.  Brooks is at least an incredibly efficient writer/director.  Honestly, I’m not complimenting him nearly enough.

Shirley MacLaine provides one of the best female performances to ever grace the silver screen.  She doesn’t have to utter a word of dialogue to say so much about how Aurora feels.  One of her greatest facial expressions is when she is addressed by her grandson as “Grandma!”  This moment is so utterly hilarious that the studio selected it to close out the original theatrical trailer.  If anything is going to get you in the seat at the theatre it’s this moment.  Aurora is a widow who can be difficult to please, judgmental and always conscious of her part in the world-even while she is hosting multiple gentlemen suitors in her Houston, Texas home.  This character is so powerful that it is hard to understand why Hollywood really never followed suit with presenting more films focused on the middle age woman or man.  There are still interesting things to be found in being a widow and dealing with ageism, motherhood and a resurrection of sexuality.  Think about The Golden Girls which dominated television sets on Saturday nights for most of the decade.

Aurora disapproves of Emma marrying Flap.  Flap has no imagination or drive and is as devoid of affection as his name suggests.  Best he can do for Emma and their three children is find whatever college professor job he can muster and uproot his family from one mid-western state to another.  Emma knows of her mother’s disdain for Flap, and can’t disagree with her.  She knows Flap is a loser, but if it means aggravating her mother then it is worth it at least to marry him.  Early in the film it amuses Emma to frustrate her mother a little more and a little more.  Contrary to Aurora’s instincts, Emma is naively unaware that life settles in soon enough and the happy nuptials fade away.

Still, Aurora and Emma have a strong mother/daughter relationship where numerous phone calls each day happen between them.  These conversations consist of Emma reluctantly telling her mother that she may be pregnant, yet again, or that Aurora is proud to let her guard down and approach the boorish, drinking next door neighbor astronaut, Garrett, played with a devil may care seductiveness from Jack Nicholson.  Aurora’s serene peacefulness in her beautiful backyard garden and home is always disrupted by Garrett’s loud bellow before diving into his swimming pool.  Still, she can’t help but be attracted to him while putting on a façade of disapproval in his presence.  The first lunch date that Aurora and Garrett share must be one of the best dates ever depicted on film.  The scene might have been written and staged by Brooks, but it is thankfully hijacked by Nicholson and MacLaine.  One of the funniest moments to ever come out of 1980s cinema for sure.  There’s much reason that MacLaine won Best Actress and Nicholson won Best Supporting Actor.  These actors easily stage a scene of realistic comedic chemistry while later expressing deep rooted drama and affection with one another.  Not easy to do all in one film.

Brooks masterfully writes these characters with such authenticity that you find yourself legitimately laughing at a scene or a piece of dialogue, while the person sitting next to you might embrace the dramatic element of the very same moment.  Both responses to random moments in Terms Of Endearment allow varied reactions like that.  When Emma suspects Flap of committing adultery, pay attention to the dialogue and the performance from Winger and Daniels.  Emma allows Flap to dodge a lie he’s about to tell by warning him that he may have just lost his senses, but if he continues down a wrong path, then he will end up worth less than he already is.  He doesn’t fight her on that observation.  Hard to explain here but listen to the vocabulary Brooks applies to Emma’s dialogue and watch how Winger traps Daniels.  You may nod with a smirk, or you may feel frightened for Emma and her marriage. 

I always say Terms Of Endearment is a comedy first and a drama second.  The film steers towards a frightening fate for the Aurora and Emma.  However, before that third act sequence there is so much to treasure, love and laugh at in the film.  When a cloud of imminent loss feels like it may approach, that is when the dramatic elements step forward.  To truly feel loss, you had to treasure wonderful moments with a loved one or a friend.  You had to value something important in your heart and soul to feel so terribly frightened and mad and hysterical when days might seemingly appear numbered.  James L Brooks and Larry McMurtry remind us of that.  Every person on the planet is destined for this feeling at one point or another.  What happens when the inevitable arrives is what sustains Terms Of Endearment to it’s satisfying end.  A character may appear on a hotel staircase to reconnect with support.  A hug goes a little longer than expected, and for the first time the one who normally lets go first actually tries to keep the moment frozen in time.  A gift from long ago is recovered to touch someone emotionally.  Brooks includes all of these moments in his film and that’s what I embrace most importantly.  Cinematically speaking, these points in the film are heightened by a memorable soundtrack of quirkiness and passage of life from composer Michael Gore.  His music is so effective that it has been used countless times over to enhance trailers for other films marketed at audiences that this picture was catered for.

Yes, after numerous viewings, Terms Of Endearment never fails to me put me in tears.  Like ugly crying!  I prefer to watch it alone actually, because I connect with the characters differently than most people I know, including my wife.  It’s a very personal film for me.  It reminds me of loss that I have felt and experienced.  More importantly though, it reminds me of all I’ve had, and all I continue to hold on to.  Terms Of Endearment is one of my favorite films.