By Marc S. Sanders

A trifecta of talent was widely received when Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman came on the Hollywood scene. With films like Meatballs and Animal House, they were toeing the line of B movie T&A material. Audiences, however, responded to the wisdom in the comedic potential of disregarding the authoritative party. That is especially true in their R rated army romp from 1981, Stripes.

Stripes is arguably not their most memorable film of any of their careers, but for me it is probably my favorite; more than Caddyshack or Ghostbusters. The comedy was spot on, and the timing was perfect. When John Winger and Russell Zisky (Murray & Ramis) decide to enlist in the army on a spur of the moment, their basic training experience is actually believable. It could happen. I could relate. If I was as big a guy as John Candy, playing the lovable “Ox,” and I was running the obstacle course, yeah…I might run off course uncontrollably into the outer woods. All these guys are completely out of shape. There’s no way we were ever gonna see Rambo here.

Bill Murray might be the leader of this rag tag gang of miscreants, but his own material is just very, very funny. Few comedies have such a hilarious opening scene as he does while he escorts a snobby woman to the airport in his cab. He has enough of her, and so everything is put out on the table. The Three Stooges would have smacked a pie in this woman’s face. John Winger decides to terrify her with some action photos while he drives. To date, no one has ever come close to duplicating this scene.

Winger continues with his rebellion against his Drill Sargent played by Warren Oates who is terrific in his own right. Oates convincingly comes off as straight army material amid all of these nitwits. He can give a facial expression that says a thousand words.

John Candy is a huge highlight in perhaps his breakthrough cinematic performance. Ramis and Reitman wrote a great character in Ox. I think it’s hilarious that a fat guy thinks the most ideal way to lose weight is to join the army because it’s free with a six to eight week work program. We all love to see that it eventually occurs to Ox that basic training in the Army is not exactly a weight watchers program. A major highlight is when Winger rushes Ox into a mud wrestling ring at an adult club. Pure slapstick fun. You can’t help but laugh.

I’m surprised to see that many took issue with the film’s second half. I loved it as the platoon has to pursue Winger and Ziskey who have a special puke green colored RV that the army has engineered with more weaponry than a James Bond car. Eventually, this leads to a ridiculous rescue within a Russian occupied Czechoslovakian outpost. It’s a great blend of action and comedy that holds up nearly 40 years later. What’s not to like?

I’ll be honest. I saw Stripes when I was 10 or 11, and it actually gave me an education on the current life of what it’s like to be in the Army. Having never enlisted, I’m nevertheless convinced that Warren Oates was an accurate interpretation of what a hard driven Drill Sargeant was like. Because it seemed so genuine. It seemed only fitting that a great comedy could be drawn from resisting that kind of authority. The material in Stripes didn’t come off silly or Looney Tunes like. It all seemed natural. The jokes just came alive amid the challenges of entering the Army life.

Stripes remains a favorite comedy of mine.


By Marc S. Sanders

David Cronenberg’s Scanners, from 1981, is part of the Criterion DVD collection. So is Michael Bay’s Armageddon from 1998. Why? Beats the hell outta me, but what does that truly say about Criterion?

Scanners tells the story of people who are capable of mind controlling others. Some use this ability so powerfully that they can actually make a person’s head explode into what looks like what can happen when you leave a hot dog in the microwave too long. It’s likely how they achieved this visual effect, actually.

Well known cinematic henchman (with the cool voice) Michael Ironside plays a nasty scanner named Revok. In 1981, the best and most cheap way to display “scanning” was for Ironside to distort his face, roll his tongue back as well as his eyes and shake like he’s having a seizure or contending with intolerable constipation. Maybe in 1981, this would amaze and terrify me. In 2020, I wanna say “Michael, knock it off. Pick your toys up off the floor, and brush your teeth.”

There’s also Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a good guy scanner. He does the same kind of weird contortions though not as spastic as Revok. He’s been hired by some soft spoken scientist, Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) – no, not THAT Dr. Ruth – to stop Revok from, I think, taking over the world. McGoohan, plays the role of mentor like he’s failing miserably at his audition for Obi Wan Kenobi.

A scan causes faces to convulse and squirt out blood that looks like Kool Aid. Maybe even your hands would catch fire. That’s about all Cronenberg offers here. Just a lot of schlocky, hamburger meat gore centered around Vale catching up to Revok. Eventually, we learn how a scanner became a scanner. It’s not very eye opening. The final frame does offer a twist but the credits roll too quickly thereafter to really relish that moment.

I can only envision that Scanners was one of those cheapie, mindless, B movie horror flicks on USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear, during the late ‘80s & ‘90s.

Certainly mindless at least, and that’s the irony. A film about performing mind control and yet it doesn’t have a brain cell in its mix.


By Marc S. Sanders

I would love to be friends with Arthur Bach. Sure I’d be wined and dined, living a lifestyle where money is no object, toy trains are at my disposal, and drinks on a serving platter are brought to me constantly. Arthur has got it all. Well, not all of it. He’s never been in love. He hates his cold hearted father and he only has one friend, his dependable butler, Hobson.

Dudley Moore’s greatest role is Arthur from 1981. The best protagonists in comedy are the ones who go against the order. Arthur is a spoiled kid in an adult’s body. He lives to smile and laugh and drink and play and drink some more and more. It’s easy when you are sitting on three quarters of a billion-dollar fortune. Imagine though if you could lose all of that money. The only way to hold on to wealth is to marry a woman named Susan (Jill Eikenberry) that you are not in love with, simply to merge two wealthy families together for even more industrial power. Arthur is made to be a pawn by his own unloving father, as well as Susan’s ruthless father (Stephen Elliott) who is proud to share how he killed a man when he was eleven years old. No matter. Arthur will just marry Susan and cheat on her, as his elderly grandmother Martha (Geraldine Fitzgerald) suggests.

All seems easy until Arthur becomes over the moon in love with a woman named Linda (Liza Minnelli) who is caught shoplifting a tie in Bergdorf’s in New York City. Arthur can’t stop thinking about Linda but the family would never approve. Linda is a waitress dreaming to become an actress, but lives a poor life with her unemployed father (Barney Martin).

Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli have one of the best on screen chemistries ever in film. They look like they belong with one another, and their timing is perfectly solid. When they share moments together their on-screen laughter shows up naturally and intermittently. I imagine no matter how many times they rehearsed their scenes together it was never the same way twice.

As an individual performance, Moore works like a great stand up comic having the best show of his life. His drunkenness is hilarious with his slurs and infectious non stop giggles and outrageously loud laughter. He gives The Joker a run for his money in the laughter department.

Early on, he escorts a prostitute to dinner at The Plaza Hotel and his interactions with family members and those of the wealthy social circle are a great contrast in comedy. Throughout the film, Dudley Moore will use every prop he can get his hand on to make his inebriated state all the more funny from simply a telephone to a mounted moose head. Moore is also a helluva piano player.

The most special relationship though is Arthur’s connection to Hobson (beautifully played with blue blood dryness by Sir John Gielgud). A man like Hobson is not one you’d expect to associate with a man as immature and childish as Arthur, but you find a nurturing dimension to Hobson’s character. He’s Arthur’s surrogate father. He teaches Arthur to be practical about his good fortune. At the same time, he doesn’t dismiss Arthur’s happiness. Gielgud is at times surprising and positively touching. He also has some of the best lines in the film. After agreeing to run Arthur’s bath, he retorts with “Perhaps you’d like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit!” His impression of Linda: “Normally one would have to go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”

As Hobson becomes ill, so must Arthur finally learn to grow up. The moment I lost my mother eight years ago, the very first thing that occurred to me was that I am no longer a child. I actually got my first grey hairs immediately after mom unexpectedly passed. No longer was there the protective guidance to make decisions and therefore as Hobson continues to deteriorate, Arthur becomes aware of tough decisions he must make regarding sobriety, wealth and most importantly love. With Hobson by his side, Arthur Bach is a beautiful character arc of comedy and sadness. As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, Arthur Bach was one of the first to demonstrate the change in a character’s arc for me. I really started to recognize depth and dimension; different angles and perspectives that a well written character faces.

The film is over 40 years old, but still has its magic to make you laugh and cry. Arthur is just an enormously touching comedy.


By Marc S. Sanders

Raiders Of The Lost Ark remains as one of the greatest films of all time. There’s nothing not to like about it and the accolades go to Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams, along with a sensational cast of still unknown actors that owned their roles with absolute authenticity.

Ford became a great action film star due to Indiana Jones and Han Solo. This film is an example of his best work. He’s the best at facial expression during high action moments. Watch the truck chase during the second half of the film. As he is careening a truck through the sand streets of Cairo, he winces in pain, evokes anger and dons a toothy grin as he shakes Nazis off the vehicle, and throws them through windshields.

He’s got the perfect delivery of lines as he love/hate banters with Karen Allen as tough broad Marion Ravenwood (Jones’ best gal pal of the series). Their chemistry is great because they are two loudmouths who work off insulting and shouting at one another. They are one of my favorite on screen couples; like two Oscar Madisons who belong together.

Recently Ford said no one else can play the role; the role dies with him. He couldn’t be more right. Indiana Jones is not an interchangeable part like James Bond or Batman. Those roles change with the times and technology. Jones remains in history with a trusty whip, a sign of the times fedora hat and a drive to uncover the great unknown. None of these films work unless Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones.

John Williams also needs recognition. Who isn’t familiar with the famous build up horns calling for adventure? His composition just puts a smile on your face. Dialogue isn’t at play much during one of Spielberg’s well orchestrated action scenes. So we rely on the march of Williams’ efforts to relish in the fun of a foot chase through a Cairo marketplace or to thrill at a fast rolling boulder chasing the famed archeologist after he snatches his prized booty.

Spielberg and Lucas always get praise for their brilliant imagination. I venture to guess how many people were aware of the occupation of archeologist before the film’s original release in 1981. Sure, this isn’t what the job realistically entails, but the film opens your mind to what is out there and what we can learn more about from our past.

A great moment in cinematic exposition is when Jones explains the power of the famed biblical Ark of the Covenant. The dialogue works great here, thanks to a winning script from the great Lawrence Kasdan, and it has the audacity to convince an audience that some MaGuffin we read about in Sunday school could actually make Hitler’s Nazi regime invincible. Seriously? What?!?!? When you blend Spielberg and Lucas’ bravado, Williams’ eerily quiet thinking music, and Ford’s professor obsessed role with Kasdan’s efficiency for description all in one scene…yeah…you believe this could be a very, very real threat.

Every scene is different. Snakes, truck chases, spiders, foot chases, bottomless pits, bar shootouts, Nazis, the power of God, and a wide variety of antagonists all used to build the structure of two of the best hours in a film. It’s all brilliantly weaved together with transitioning red lines across a traveling map on screen. This is great editing, people.

Nothing has ever come close to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Nothing ever will. It is a perfect film.

“Trust me.”


By Marc S. Sanders

The 12th James Bond film in the EON Productions series, For Your Eyes Only, opens with 007 visiting the grave of his late wife, Teresa, followed by a priest offering a blessing before the super spy departs in a doomed helicopter hijacked by Blofeld with remote control. The pre credit sequence sends multiple messages. Albert R. Broccoli is ready to get a little more serious (at least with this one film), and say goodbye for good to his franchise’s past adventures. There are other villains besides Blofeld and SPECTRE. In actuality, copyright lawsuits would force this decision. Broccoli, though, happily dropped his bald, cat loving nemesis down a smokestack anyway.

This time Bond is on the trail of recovering Britain’s ATAC system after it sunk with its crew somewhere on the Greek ocean floor. ATAC, in the wrong hands, like the Russians, could order Britain’s submarines to fire upon their own country.

Bond encounters two potential suspects behind the plot, Kristatos (Julian Glover) and Columbo (no…not Peter Falk and his wrinkled trench coat; I’m talking about the one and only Fiddler on the Roof, Topol). The daughter of the designer of the ATAC, Melina Havolock (Carole Bouquet) makes things complicated with her crossbow as she is on a mission of vengeance for the death of her parents.

Lots of action and grounded Cold War politics make this a solid entry in the series. A ski chase in Cortina, Italy is fantastic. Director John Glen (formerly an editor of prior films) manages to maintain realistic speed keeping up with motorcycles in pursuit of Bond. One of my favorite scenes during the Moore era of films.

Greece is beautiful too. Both on land and underwater where some footage occurred, even if some camerawork was manufactured at the legendary Pinewood Studios in London.

It’s funny to watch one recover the identity of a bad guy known as “The Dove” on an “Identigraph” a big, clunky machine in Q’s lab. Today’s Bond would need only use his iPhone or wristwatch.

The once revealed villain is no one exciting or unusual, but Glen in the director’s chair offers up a grittier story apart from the sci fi silliness of Moonraker. The opening scene high above London is really great stuff, along with the already mentioned ski chase, a hockey brawl, a shootout along a Greek sea port and a pretty suspenseful mountain climb for Bond to covertly sneak upon a hidden hideout.

A minor, uninteresting distraction comes from young and immature Lynn Holly Johnson pining for Bond’s affection. She’s as useful as Sheriff JW Pepper from prior films.

Oddly enough, as serious as this one gets at times (Bond tosses a bad a helpless bad guy off a cliff) it closes out by mocking a Margaret Thatcher lookalike mistaking a parrot for 007. I liked it, but rumor had it that Roger Moore hated this bit.

All in all, For Your Eyes Only is Moore’s second best film behind The Spy Who Loved Me.


By Marc S. Sanders

Maybe more often than not, the films I see about journalism seem to convey the reporters as heroes seeking the truth despite the threats and the strict laws of the first Amendment and so on.  They meet informants in dark garages and outrun speeding cars trying to run them down before the story hits the papers.  They accept being held in contempt of court to avoid revealing a source.  They’re heroes!!!! It’s movie stuff, right?  We’ve seen it all before.  What about films where the newspaper writer gets it wrong from the start, and then sees the ramifications of the recklessness committed?  Absence of Malice, from 1981, is that kind of picture.

Sally Field is a hungry thirty something reporter named Megan Carter with connections in the Miami prosecutor’s office.  When she gets a whiff of a story that implies a man named Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) is the prime suspect in the disappearance of union head, she runs with it and her editor is happy to make it front page news.  However, just because Mr. Gallagher is the son of a deceased and reputed bootlegger with mob connections doesn’t make him guilty of anything.  Also, has an investigation into his affairs even begun to happen yet?  Just because it walks like a duck, well….

Sydney Pollack goes pretty light on a serious subject matter here.  It’s just awful to see a film legend like Newman be a cold blooded killer.  Worse, it’s beyond reason to see Sally Field as a woman without scruples.  They’re too likable.  So, Pollack with Kurt Luedtke’s Oscar nominated screenplay, play it safe.  Forty years ago, when this film came out, I might have accepted what’s on the surface with Absence of Malice.  Today, however, I appreciate the conundrum, but the residual effects offered up by the film never seem to carry much weight.  The stress doesn’t show enough on Newman and Field.  A suicide of another pertinent character hardly seems monumental to either of them.  Heck, there’s even time for romance between the two leads despite the slander committed by one against the other.  Another film by Pollack, Three Days Of The Condor, committed this same mistake.  It’s hard to accept a romantic angle when the characters barely know each other and what they do know of one another is hardly favorable for each of them.  I can imagine the marketing campaign for this ahead of the film’s release.  If you got “Blue Eyes” and “The Flying Nun” in a film together, well then, they gotta hook up and never, ever make them ruthless.  Audiences would hate that!!!!

The film reserves the shiftiness of the situation for other actors in the film like Bob Balaban.  He certainly plays the part well as a manipulator in search of a guilty party, even if it means indicting an innocent person.  The best surprise is the appearance of Wilford Brimley in the big close out scene who sums what has occurred and then lays out who is responsible for what and who is not responsible.  It’s the best written role in the film and it reminds me what a shame it is that Brimley did not get any Oscar recognition during his career.  (I still say he was one of the greatest unsung villains in film for his turn in Pollack’s The Firm.)

Even the soundtrack music from Dave Grusin feels inappropriate here.  It’s too energetic and full of life with piano and trumpets.  When you consider the term “absence of malice” and what it means to a reporter questioning her journalistic integrity, and then furthermore what significance it has to a newspaper article’s bystander, it seems to hold a lot of weight with disastrous repercussions.  Grusin’s music says otherwise.

It’s always a pleasure to go back and watch Paul Newman, and Sally Field in her early career.  These are great actors.  They do fine here, but the material is not sharp enough for what they can do.  They’re too relaxed.  On the other hand, the subject matter is perfect for heightened movie drama.  I can only imagine what Sidney Lumet would have done with this picture, considering films like Network, Serpico and The Verdict.  The execution of Pollack’s film simply does not live up to the terrible dilemma of an innocent man being publicly smeared.  Think about it.  At the end of Absence of Malice, I don’t think the intent is to wish and hope and yearn for Paul Newman and Sally Field to sail away on his beautiful boat into the sunset.  Yet, that’s what Pollack and Luedtke seem to have left us with.


By Marc S. Sanders

The 1981 Academy Award Best Picture winner was Chariots Of Fire directed by Hugh Hudson. However, because of that honor I’m not going to pretend that this was a marvelous film viewing experience. This may be one of a select few movies where the soundtrack is far superior to the film itself. That memorable score that gets your pulse racing belongs to Vangelis, and if the soundtrack to Raiders Of The Lost Ark from John Williams should lose the Oscar, it’s not a surprise if it was to the soundtrack from Chariots Of Fire. For me, the two compared against one another though? Well, we might have an argument there, my dear reader.

The film centers particularly on two outstanding runners, maybe the fastest in the world, who compete in the 1924 Olympics for Great Britain. One runner is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a Jewish Cambridge student who is frowned upon for his religion while he is well aware that his heritage is not valued for anything amongst the Christian Anglo Saxon community. It’s all the more challenging when he agrees to private coaching from Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm in an Oscar nominated performance) of Italian and Arab descent.

The other runner is Eric Liddle (Ian Charleson) who loves the exhilaration of running, though his sister prefers he devote his time to the church. He is devout in his Christian beliefs, nonetheless, and he is tested when he learns that one of his competitions is scheduled on a Sunday, the day he observes Sabbath. Despite the Olympic team’s firm position that he compete, Eric’s stance is not to participate in the race.

I don’t want to say that I was bored with Chariots Of Fire, and yet I was bored. The effort to stay with the picture informs me of the value a film can have with marquee names in its cast. As the screenplay moves from one character’s storyline to the next, it was hard to gather where things had left off. Other runners are covered as well though just not as in depth. Most of this cast, I must admit I’m not so familiar with. Sometimes they all seemed to be cut from similar molds in costume, hair color and the like. With known names in a cast, it’s much more easy to put a face with a name and follow along. Here, it was challenging to stay focused with each character. They didn’t seem distinguishable enough for me.

I know! This is not a fair argument. However, this turned out to be my experience with the film.

The technical production of Chariots Of Fire is outstanding, though. Everything from the cobblestone streets of Cambridge to the Olympic stadium in France and the hilltops of Scotland are spectacular to look at. Absolutely immersive.

I did take issue with the film’s beginning. The first ten minutes opens with Abrahams’ funeral in London, 1978, then jumps to 1924 as a student writes in his journal recalling the team’s experience and so then the narrative moves back to 1919, only to wrap up with the funeral again before the closing credits. Why so much work with these albeit brief time jumps? They carried no impact. Why not simply begin in 1919 and move forward through time?

Chariots Of Fire has always been on my bucket list to catch. It’s a necessary film to see for devoted film buffs due to its accomplishments in technicality and score plus art direction. As well, it is an educational experience in British history, despite the liberties the film takes.

I recommend the picture, but I also forewarn to have patience and strict attention to its narrative. There’s a lot of dialogue and information contained within, Hudson is passionate with slow edits of running scenes and hurdle jumps, for his method of dramatic impact and excitement. All I suggest is to be prepared to sit for what will feel like a good long while. Try to avoid any interruptions (turn your phone off). You’ll need to pay attention where the film carries you from one scene and storyline to the next.