ALIENS: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT

By Marc S. Sanders

James Cameron’s Aliens is deliberately morose in its storytelling and cinematic look.  It’s ugly and nightmarish.  It’s nerve-wracking at times.  It’s dark and somber too.  It’s also one of the best action films ever made.  For me, this is Cameron’s best film and it’s not only because I’m a sci-fi blockbuster nerd of sorts. 

Serving as a sequel to Ridley Scott’s monster movie, Alien from 1979, Aliens works on its own independence while still adhering to the storyline qualities of the original.  Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley.  The story begins 57 years later where Ripley’s lifeboat ship from the end of the first film is found in deep space.  She reports back to the conglomerate company of the terrifying happenings she experienced with her crew mates who didn’t survive when an unrecognizable creature terrorized them aboard their vessel.  The company is less than apt to believe her account though. 

One of the company men, Burke (Paul Reiser), requests that Ripley accompany him and a squad of tough Marines on a mission to the planet, LV-426, where her crew discovered an immense crop of eggs and took back an alien aboard their ship.  In Ripley’s absence, a colony of over a hundred families was set up on the planet to establish habitable real estate.  However, the colony has lost contact, and the company is sending in the military to assess the situation to see what’s going on. Ripley is supposed to only serve as an advisor.

James Cameron’s script and direction takes its time to build up suspense and explore what’s unknown to these soldiers.  Upon arrival on the planet, much of what they find is left in wreckage and no one is to be found anywhere.  At best, Ripley can only see what was likely the remains of alien attacks with acid burns within the steel structures.  Yet to Ripley and viewers familiar with the first film, it is still a mystery as to what truly occurred.  Naturally, more will eventually be uncovered and then this arriving crew will have their hands full.

James Cameron has an imagination that bursts with colorful and amazing ideas.  The Terminator films were astonishing in its own apocalyptic future that haunts a present time period.  Titanic was a film mired in much expense and technical setbacks. Though, no one ever expected just how accomplished the award-winning blockbuster turned out to be.  Avatar is wonderous on a planetary level.  However, James Cameron is not necessarily a celebrated script writer.  Often his dialogue is very cheesy and unnatural.  Aliens is the exception though.

The script acknowledges that these gung-ho marines are “grunts.”  Thankfully, they talk like grunts.  I know that many fans adore Bill Paxton as the cut-up member of the troupe known as Hudson, who has brilliant one liners.  It’s actually a well fleshed out character.  Before Hudson knows what he’s up against, this new mission is just a lame “bug hunt” and he happily screams out as their spacecraft makes the quick drop into the planet’s atmosphere.  When he eventually comes to face to face with the monsters, terrifying, cry baby like fear overtakes him.  He’s giving his one liners like “Game over, Man,” and “We’re  fucked!”  Yet, the dread and anxiety are completely relatable.  There’s something out there waiting to tear me apart and eat me, and there’s hardly anyone left to help and rescue me.  I’m in the middle of nowhere.  Cameron wrote a good under the radar kind of character, and we feel for this guy’s dilemma as if it’s our own.  Paxton’s performance made it better and awarded it with adrenalized highs…and these aliens, with teeth and tails and acid for blood, are most definitely scary as hell.

I no longer watch the original theatrical cut of Aliens.  I turn to the Director’s Cut that Cameron always envisioned.  Particularly, it triumphs because the Ripley character is much more fleshed out with necessary dimension for the film.  Early on, a cut scene, now restored, tells us that Ripley’s daughter died from cancer while she was lost in deep space.  The daughter lived to the age of 66, even though Ripley didn’t age a bit.  Awakening from her cryo sleep, only introduces heartache for Ripley.  What I like about this information is that it serves a relationship later found in Aliens.  A little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) is found by the marines and appears to be the sole survivor of the alien attacks.  Ripley steps in as a surrogate mother towards Newt as all of the characters work tirelessly to survive and somehow get off the planet.  The Director’s Cut gives some value to Ripley and purpose beyond just violently slaughtering aliens as a means of revenge or fulfillment.  It allows Aliens to work on an effective emotional level and Sigourney Weaver earned her Oscar nomination because of it.

Cameron introduces traitors as well into the story, which are likely not so surprising but make the film all the more challenging for the heroes of the picture.  Michael Biehn is the sex symbol, a cool and quiet tough guy.  Jenette Goldstein is a Hispanic marine who gives off good imagery as one of the few female squad members who enters the areas first with the largest gun in the troupe.  Lance Henrikson is memorable as an android that Ripley is apprehensive to trust – perhaps he’s the “Mr. Spock” of this sci-fi entry.

Technically speaking, Aliens is so unbelievably atmospheric in its bleak, futuristic setting.  Barring a few moments where the spaceships clearly look like miniatures, the interiors look organically formed.  I can’t compliment the set pieces enough in that respect.  When the Marines enter a large cavern, it is enormously shell like that it looks like an animal’s nest.  Cameron hides his various monsters perfectly.  So that when they slowly unravel their tales and skeletal forms, it looks as if the darkness within the frames begin to move.  The stillness of what surrounds our main characters awaken with life that maybe we don’t want to see. 

Aliens works independent of Ridley Scott’s prior picture because it’s a war movie; one that is set on an outer space planet.  We witness how the surviving squad troops strategize with what little they have left.  Thereafter, we see how they face enemies who may have the upper hand in battles to come.  I love how Cameron builds suspense with a sensor device the troops use.  It begins to ring as a life form closes in on their proximity.  The monitor fills with glowing blurs as more life forms nearby build up.  A nervous and great moment occurs when they can not understand how the aliens could be so close and yet none of them can see what is so nearby.  The surprise is unexpected and worthy of a scream. 

Cameron’s script doesn’t give his heroes a break.  Aliens thrives on the characters simply playing keep away, while one member of the party is working against what little they have left.  I like that.  While Aliens may be intentionally dreary the fact that there’s no easy out for these folks is what keeps the pulse of the film racing with nonstop suspense and action.

Aliens is an absolutely solid picture promising a future for this franchise. Sadly, it really never excelled above what was accomplished in these first two films from Ridley Scott, and now James Cameron.  Years later, Scott returned to the franchise with some interesting prequel films that colored in some of the elements that were only talked about before, like the company that puts all these people within the peril of the aliens.  Yet to date, that all still remains unfinished.  James Cameron just set the bar so high with his movie that the few that followed never amounted to what he created.

You may not feel all warm and fuzzy after watching Aliens, but at least you’ll feel incredibly excited with its construction from a director in the early years of his profession.  James Cameron brought about a solid script and unbelievable effects that say so much on a visual level.  If Aliens makes you nervous, fearful and especially terrified, then James Cameron has done his job.

AT CLOSE RANGE

By Marc S. Sanders

Sean Penn has been a gifted actor from the very beginning of his career.  Whoever thought the kid who played surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High would go on to evoke such intensity in future roles afterwards?  Other actors who did that kind of sophomoric material went on to be in Police Academy movies.  Penn would never shake that surfer image, but he would at least equally receive accolades for his dramatic turns. In James Foley’s At Close Range the high stakes drama could not be more apparent. 

Penn portrays Brad Whitefore, Jr. in this film based on a true story taking place in a small, rural Pennsylvania town in 1978.  Brad Jr.  is going nowhere and that’s fine with him.  He’d rather be an intimidating, fearless kid who will defy his step father so he and his brother (Chris Penn, Sean’s real-life sibling) can get drunk and high.  When Brad opts to go live at his father’s, Brad Sr., house, he hopes that he will learn the ropes of becoming a career criminal like his dad.  Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken) specializes in ripping off tractors, farm equipment, cars, wealthy property owners, and safes carrying large amounts of cash.  He happily welcomes his son into his home with his misfit gang and his new young wife.  Dad will also express love to his son by giving him a car and support, while also welcoming in Jr’s new girlfriend Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson). 

There is a code among these criminals however, and it stretches to flesh and blood as well.  No one is to talk about what they do or how they do it.  Shortly after dad allows his son join in on a job, Brad Jr. learns of the consequences if anyone talks about their handiwork, especially if you are seen chatting with local law enforcement.

At Close Range came out in 1986.  Even by then, I don’t think it would be challenging to forecast where the story is heading.  What’s most interesting about the film are the cast performances from Penn, Walken, and Masterson.  James Foley sets up good scenes where loving trust works at one point, but when that is shattered, what is the detritus left over afterwards?  Christopher Walken plays a guy with no limits to upholding his code, and as I reflect on that motivation, I can’t help but think how relevant Madonna’s eerie ballad Live To Tell (from her True Blue album) is so very important to the picture.  The song should have received an Oscar nomination based on its significance alone.  I’ve only now just seen the movie for the first time.  Yet, I’ve been familiar with the song for nearly forty years.  It carries much more meaning now.

James Foley’s film could’ve been better, however.  The first hour is incredibly slow moving and doesn’t seem to offer much direction or exposition for what the film is truly going to be about.  At some points it is a boy meets girl storyline with Penn and Masterson.  They have good scenes together, but were they all necessary?  Couldn’t some of this material ended up on the cutting room floor?  Then in other areas it is a father/son coming of age piece where pals from both of their respective backgrounds get drunk together on any given night.  Brad Sr. is emulated for his leadership, the gun he carries, the money he flashes and the high-end muscle cars he steals, even gifting one to his son.  Brad Jr. is looked upon as the cool rebel (maybe a more aggressive modern James Dean) for not surrendering to intimidation from anybody. 

The movie also ends kind of abruptly.  It’s clearly understood what’s going to come of the father and son’s relationship.  Sean Penn and Christopher Walken stage a nail biting, very intense showdown in the kitchen.  However, what happens to them individually?  The final scene actually ends right in the middle of what could have been some good dramatic work, but it all goes to black.  Had I been in a movie theatre, I might have thought the projector broke down.  Business must have interfered behind the scenes.  A producer must have stepped in and pulled the plug.  It’s the best excuse I can think of, because the end credits intruded way too soon.  If the film was being edited for length, then there was much material to chop out of the first hour.  The filmmakers basically cut off the wrong leg.

At Close Range is not a steady trajectory of a movie.  It moves in too many sideways directions to stay focused on what it wants to be considered.  Is it a more genuine Rebel Without A Cause?  Is it a rural, backwoods interpretation with inspiration from Mean Streets?  Thankfully, what saved me from turning it off or falling asleep are the assembled cast performances.  At the very least, it got me interested to read up on the real story the film is based on.

TOP GUN

By Marc S. Sanders

For a movie that focuses a lot on showers, men’s locker rooms and bare chested sweaty and chiseled volleyball players, it’s a wonder that it is called Top Gun.  Maybe the title has another indirect meaning to it, other than a moniker for a Navy fighter pilot school of the elite.  Maybe these guys are elite for a different reason.

The Tony Scott film that is supposedly about the top one percent, the best of the best, American fighter pilots in the Navy is arguably the most important film in Tom Cruise’s career.  It launched the actor into a superstar sensation that has hardly faltered since the movie’s release all the way back in 1986.  But is it a good movie?  Well, yes and no.

I’ve always loved Tony Scott’s filmmaking technique.  Sure, his sun-soaked film shots are constantly repeated.  He always relishes in enhancing the beaded glow of sweat drenching his actor’s faces, arms and chests.  It’s seen in nearly every moment of Top Gun, as well as other celebrated pictures like Crimson Tide, Beverly Hills Cop II and True Romance.  Orange sunlight blankets palm trees and beach lined streets.  Bar saloons and military headquarters are lit in sexy blues and greens.  It may lack originality after seeing a few of his films, but it just makes the movie all the more sexy. 

Tony Scott is also a well-versed director in action sequences.  He’ll get your pulse racing and Top Gun is the best example.  The fighter jet sequences in this film are masterful in editing, sound and speed.  It’s fantastic to see how the planes will twirl around and then shoot themselves straight up into a vertical trajectory in the sky and finally cut in on actors Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer for a “WOO!” moment in the cockpit.  This stuff still holds up.

Yet, unlike other modern-day films that focus on cadets or students in our armed forces, Top Gun doesn’t concern itself with the discipline of what it takes to serve in the Navy.  This is the informal, class clown version of An Officer And A Gentleman.  You only need look as far as Tom Cruise’s character’s pilot call name, Maverick.  The name itself is a one-word thematic description of what you are watching.  So, the kid who learned to say “what the fuck” in Risky Business, went on to do daredevil flybys while disobeying orders.

Maverick’s real name is Pete Mitchell.  He has no family except that of his co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  The disappearance of his Navy pilot father remains a mystery…because it is sexy and cool to have a mystery for your handsome hero in a film like this.  Call it DRAMATIC HEFT!!!! 

When Maverick and Goose get the opportunity to attend “Top Gun” – a fighter school specializing in training the best pilots in the world in aerial dog fighting – they are intent on getting their names on the plaque for the best of the best of THE BEST.  Competition comes in the other prettiest of the pretty boys with Iceman (Val Kilmer).  These are all great likable characters.  Yet, even when I saw this film at sleepaway camp at age 13, I couldn’t help but notice how distracted it gets with the abundance of erotic machoism on display here.  What would serve as dramatic dialogue in another film is presented in a steam room area allowing opportunity to see the male cast wrapped in towels around their waists with wet spiky blond and black hair.  It truly doesn’t matter what they are talking about in this scene.  When you are watching it, all that you are hearing is the sound of Charlie Brown’s unseen and indecipherable school teacher.  “Waa waa.  Waa waa waa waa!”

That’s not enough though.  The infamous volleyball scene keeps you awake.  I don’t care if you are hetero or homo or bi or pan or plus, the beach volleyball scene keeps you alert as one of Kenny Loggins’ many movie songs plays in accordance.  Tony Scott doesn’t just go for tossing the ball around.  Slow mo captions are offered of each guy just posing with their chiseled arms and chests.  You may not take your eyes off of it, but oh my…what does this have to do with the discipline of attending Navy fighter pilot school training?????

The romance is second to none.  Truly!  These days, people talk about Jack and Rose in Titanic or Ross and Rachel on Friends.  For me, it’s Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis).  Cruise and McGillis really light up their scenes together.  It’s an absolute perfect pairing of sex appeal and it is really when Top Gun performs at its smartest level.  The dialogue is strongest during their scenes.  The romance isn’t rushed but nicely flirted with, and when tragedy strikes within the thin storyline of the overall film, the relationship goes in another supportive and appreciated direction.  When I was a kid, with hormones being discovered for the first time, my buddies and I would elbow each other during the midnight blue sex scene between McGillis and Cruise with the Oscar winning song “Take My Breath Away” from Berlin playing.  I look at this scene now and it is modern romance at a beautiful best.  A fantastic scene from Tony Scott. 

Charlie is the unexpected, well-versed contractor for the Navy giving counsel to the pilot students on how best to operate the jets.  In the 1980s, action blockbusters normally held the women as the barely dressed damsels to be rescued, and nothing more.  The female characters didn’t have brains and the only brawn to go around was saved for Princess Leia or Marion Ravenwood (Raiders).  Charlie is an exception though.  McGillis plays the character as someone who is aware that these testosterone-filled guys will regard her as a piece of meat, until they realize otherwise.  The irony of Top Gun is that the nearly all male cast, Cruise included, are the pieces of meat.  The one main female role is actually the brains of the whole operation.  McGillis was a marvelous actress back in the day.  Go look at Witness and The Accused to see what I mean.  With her help, Cruise elevates above the hokey dialogue of the Top Gun script. Kelly McGillis really could act well in almost anything.  I wish her career went further, honestly. 

Top Gun remains a mainstay in 1980s pop culture.  If the VH1 channel is doing a documentary on the decade of Madonna, Michael Jackson, parachute pants and neon pastels, Top Gun is also brought up in the mix with a close up of Tom Cruise’s toothy grin and his aviator sunglasses.  We were never watching Oscar winning material here, but somehow the film that introduced all of us to Tom Cruise still feels like a day at the beach with the twenty something boy toy in his tight jeans and leather bomber jacket riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle at top speed or breaking the sound barrier in his fighter jet with his shiny navy-blue helmet on his head.  Top Gun and Tom Cruise demonstrated that it’s a party to serve in the Navy.  Why not?  Vietnam was behind us and the decade was not embroiled in war.  Join the Navy!!!!  It’s fun and you get to shower with the best-looking guys in the world.  You’ll even get to play volleyball with them and date your sexy flight instructor.

A lot of the dialogue and the storyline may sound like an adult, military interpretation of Saved By The Bell, but you can’t break away from the sexy allure of what Tony Scott with Cruise, Kilmer, McGillis and Edwards put on the screen.  It’s always been there and somehow a sequel was never made. 

Wait a second!  WHAT??????

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME

By Marc S. Sanders

We owe a lot to H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine.  Without Wells, Marty McFly would not become familiarized with a souped-up DeLorean, and Earth as we know it would be decimated by the year 2286 because a probe, in the shape of a Ring Ding pastry, from the far reaches of space could not find its humpback whale friends to say hello to.  If Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is not the best of the film series, it is certainly the most fun and delightful.  (For the record, my personal favorite is Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan but sometimes I switch to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)

Kirk, McCoy (William Shatner, DeForest Kelley) and company have managed to resurrect their comrade Spock (Leonard Nimoy, also returning to the directing chair). Now, they are enroute from the planet Vulcan to Earth awaiting trial for the crimes and violations they committed in the prior film.  However, they must follow a detour back in time to the year 1986 and pick up a pair of humpback whales.  The sea mammals are the only creatures that can speak with an alien probe and salvage the Earth from becoming destroyed.  The probe isn’t an enemy.  Its arrival is simply unsettling the planet’s oceans and core because it can’t communicate with whale life, that is now extinct by the time 2286 has arrived.

So, in a Klingon Bird of Prey that they took command of and dubbed the HMS Bounty, our favorite Federation crew, arrive in late 20th century San Francisco.  Problems lay ahead though.  Their dilithium crystals (fuel) are depleted, they are unfamiliar with the daily activities of life during this period, and just how are they to find a pair of mammoth whales by walking around the city?  As well, Spock is not exactly himself since his rebirth.  His knowledge is there, but his common sense that stems from his human half is lacking.  This leads to some funny engagements with the city folk as he develops a habit for some colorful language not commonly used in the 23rd century.  A scene on a city bus with a punk rocker is a terrific highlight. 

Well, within the film’s two-hour time frame a pair of whales is located at The Cetacean Institute and they are overseen by a spunky and emotionally caring guide named Gillian portrayed by Catherine Hicks.  Now the gang has just gotta get home to their time before it’s too late.

The script for The Voyage Home is really quite brilliant and such a pleasant surprise.  All of the characters have their own moments for humor to occur.  The best being that Chekhov and Uhura (Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols) have to find a nuclear power source to make up for the lack of dilithium crystals.  Imagine, during the time of Reagan/Gorbachev Cold War politics, a man with a heavy Russian accent politely asking a motorcycle cop where he may find the “nuclear wessels…NUCLEAR… WESSELS.” It’s also inspiring to place a cynically cranky Dr. McCoy in a city hospital only to question how medical practices were ever tolerated at this time. “Is this the dark ages?”

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy make such a sincere pair of friends as Kirk and Spock.  Shatner is especially good in the Star Trek films because he performs with a way of sarcasm and whimsy.  He works like Errol Flynn, unreserved while he swings into the danger.  Yet, he’s also so sincere.  There’s a flirtatiousness to him that’s impossible not to like.  He’s just so personable.  You also feel for his Kirk when he wishes his old friend, Spock, would just return to the way he once was and simply address him as “Jim,” not Admiral.  I couldn’t help but relate to it as someone who may wish that with a relative suffering from dementia.  The loved one is still there, and yet he/she is not there.  That’s how Shatner touchingly approaches this relationship.  The chemistry between Shatner and Nimoy is unparallel.  The recasting of the roles in later years has not matched up.  The original actors just read each other’s timing perfectly like Laurel & Hardy or Felix & Oscar.  There’s Newman & Redford.  There’s Lemmon & Mathau.  There’s Shatner & Nimoy.

I always had my facts mixed up.  I was always under the impression that this film was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar.  It in fact wasn’t.  Yet, it really should have been.   The Voyage Home has a message on the importance of preservation of life and an urge to hold on to the integrity of our environment.  Thankfully, it’s not preachy.  There’s a combination of science fiction, adventure and humor at play here that I don’t think has ever worked better in what I’ve seen of the Star Trek universe of films and TV series. This is just a very, very smart film with good, insightful direction from Leonard Nimoy. 

Nearly forty years later and this picture still holds up.  So many of our planet’s species remain endangered.  Many are suspected to be extinct by the hands of man.  The Voyage Home touches upon these facts.  It still feels so up to date that you even get a lump in your throat at the top of the film when a dedication is made to the memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew.  The makers of this Star Trek installment really presented a timeless film with the help of time travel, and you don’t have to be a Trek fan to appreciate its merits.

PRETTY IN PINK

By Marc S. Sanders

Director Howard Deutch directs John Hughes script, Pretty In Pink, by adhering to the familiar themes quickly recognized as Hughes’ signature touch from prior films. Deutch and Hughes maintain a vibe of alternative rock music amid a Chicago public high school community that could never be possible. Did I have this much independence in high school like Molly Ringwald as Andie, her adoring rich boy crush Blaine (Andrew McCarthy), or weirdly annoying (and lovable at the same time) Duckie played by Jon Cryer? And, oh yeah, a high school senior asshole named Steph played by asshole character perfectionist James Spader with his long cigarettes, Italian suits and barely buttoned shirts would never exist in an institution of education. So, there’s that too.

The kids at this school are divided among two different sides of a track-poor (Andie & Duckie) and rich (Blaine & Steph). Never meant to socialize or get along, the conflict of the film occurs when Andie and Blaine fall for one another.

This is Molly Ringwald’s 3rd Hughes film and looking back maybe it was a mistake for her career as she was outgrowing the roles she was getting pigeonholed for. Still, who else could you envision in the role of the aspiring dress designer who is responsible for her schlub of a father she lives with (Harry Dean Stanton), and friends with a weirdly eccentric, 80s punk/alt dressed co-worker played by Annie Potts?

Hughes’ is quite serious here, though the setup is not acceptably realistic, even back in 1986. These characters are competitive with one another for status in a high school setting. What other environment could the outline for Pretty In Pink take place in, though? Prom is on the minds of these “adults.”

Pretty In Pink was never a perfect movie. It has a perfect soundtrack, and I like the cast a lot as well as Hughes’ characterizations. Its glaring imperfection, however, is that these characters fit like a circle in the square setting of high school. The elements clash big time.

Still, I’ve always had an unusual affection for the film. I guess it is because I look past its inaccuracies and accept a playing field and the positions that Hughes and Deutch defiantly assign to the four characters. How does the intrusion of background and status overcome an affection between two people, and can this ever be happily resolved?

The ending was supposed to be different, very different. Yes. I should agree with the original conclusion because the math of the story adds up to that point. However, Reader…I am as defiant a viewer as Hughes and Deutch were as filmmakers. It’s wrong!!!! Nevertheless, I loved the ending that was eventually tacked on. So don’t judge me.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

By Marc S. Sanders

I’ve said before how John Hughes had an instinct for making interesting stories out of the mundane. Sure he might broadly exaggerate, but the storylines stem from relatable anecdotes like cross country traveling, forgotten birthdays or school detention. Thankfully he also explored a day in the life of faking illness and skipping school with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Matthew Broderick memorably plays the title character with an answer for everything and the means to outsmart his naive parents, his pesky sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), as well as the dim witted victim of staged slapstick, school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). Hughes teams Ferris up with his beautiful girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his troubled best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) for a romp through downtown Chicago.

Ferris Bueller… is simply a party to watch. The tempo of its comedy thankfully gets very familiar, very quickly. There’s gag after gag to celebrate the inventiveness of Ferris. With Cameron, he manages to get Sloane out of school, alter his absent days in the school system, arrange for a high-end fancy lunch thanks to the “Sausage King of Chicago” and actually pilot Cameron’s father’s prized, rare Ferrari convertible. There’s nothing Ferris can’t do, nor won’t do. There’s nothing Ferris can’t get away with. The guy can even hop on a downtown parade float to get the entire city engaged in a rousing rendition of “Twist & Shout,” arguably one of the most fun scenes to ever be filmed. Hundreds of extras crowd the streets to remind any one of us how fun life can be. What a joyous pleasure life is.

As expected with most of Hughes’ films though, this picture has a heart. Life should always be celebrated, but that does not mean we don’t have episodes where we suffer. Alan Ruck as Cameron is not well with his home life. Parental discourse and the lack of a loving home weighs upon him. The storyline is embraced very sensitively. A touching moment occurs as Cameron tours the Art Institute of Chicago and maintains an engrossed stare with the painting called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Cameron is a product of loneliness lacking the ability to cry for help unlike the child in the painting. It’s another one of those treasured moments in film where dialogue is not needed to describe a character’s pain.

Jeffrey Jones makes for a good foil in a Three Stooges style storyline as he attempts over and over again to catch Ferris in the act. It never works well for him and leads to hilarious moments with the house dog and every other unfortunate circumstance imaginable such as getting his car towed and his foot stuck in the mud. Hughes pieces these cheap gags together to make them really feel much more valuable than they should be.

Lastly, John Hughes creates good inside gags within his setting. The city of Chicago works as a character concerned with Ferris’ supposed illness, including well wishes from his classmates, to the faculty, and even the police department much to the chagrin of his sister.

Let’s just say it’s imperative we all do our part to Save Ferris!

STAND BY ME

By Marc S. Sanders

I’m not embarrassed to say it.  I’ve experienced a mid-life crisis.  Last night, I watched Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, and I absolutely broke down in tears when it finished.  As I approach age 50 later this year, the most recent viewing of this film alerted me that my childhood memories are further away than I ever realized before. 

Reiner lifts this coming-of-age story from Stephen King’s novella entitled The Body. Four boys spend the long and hot dog days of summer in Castle Rock, Oregon (it was Maine in King’s story) in their tree house smoking cigarettes and discussing important topics like Annette Funnicello’s breast size on The Mickey Mouse Club and the recent disappearance of a twelve-year-old kid.  Yackety Yak and Lollipop play on their transistor radio in the background.  The wimpiest one of the pack, Vern (Jerry O’Connell), overhears the location of the kid’s body is off the side of the railroad tracks, about twenty miles away.  Teddy (Corey Feldman), along with best friends Chris (River Phoenix) and Gordon (Wil Wheaton) decide to embark on the search for the body and get their picture in the paper, labeled as heroes.  It’ll take them the Labor Day weekend to carry out their quest.

During their long journey across the railroad tracks into the woods, the four boys will discover what concerns them, like figuring out if Goofy is a dog and who could win in a fight; Superman or Mighty Mouse.  As well, they’ll uncover what gives them anxiety ahead of their entry into adulthood.  Gordon lives with being unloved by his parents both before and following the accidental death of his older brother (John Cusack).  Chris lives with being unfairly labeled as a young hoodlum.  Teddy endures the aftermath of an abusive military father currently living in the looney bin.  Vern suffers from a hesitancy to live for adventure and risk due to ongoing fear. These boys had a future that awaited, but for some it seemed like there was no escaping the destiny the locals of their small town had already mapped out for them. 

In the last few years, I reconnected with a childhood friend by means of social media.  Visiting New York City annually over a three-year period, I got to see Scott in person and recollect on our times together.  It had been over thirty years since we had seen or spoken with one another.  We reminisced about tormenting the substitute teachers, and our first crushes.  We reflected on favorite movie scenes that we acted out in between classes.  We are different now, though.  Nowhere near the same as we were at age 12.  We have families and careers and responsibilities.  Yet, our memories of trading comic books, talking dirty, going to movies, and acting out cops and robbers shoot outs in the backyard all remain. 

When Stand By Me opens, a present day adult (Richard Dreyfuss) is shown reflecting in the distance following reading an article about a lawyer who was killed in a restaurant.  This narrator then flashes us back to the year 1959 when this adventure between him and his three friends occurred.  One of those friends was the lawyer who was killed.  A piece of his history has ceased to live and continue on.  That terrifies me personally.  Friends, and family, and people I’ve encountered over my half century will leave my presence, never to be seen or spoken to again.  I’ll never get the opportunity to reflect with them again, much less make new memories.  I’m now living in an age where Facebook comments seem to weekly consist of saying “very sorry for your loss.”  Friends are losing their parents.  Some are passing away themselves.

Stand By Me might not be altogether realistic.  The boys are getting overpowered by a sinister Kiefer Sutherland, who’s not afraid to use a switch blade and cut one of the kids’ throats.  King’s story also feels like an elevated Hardy Boys or Tom Sawyer kind of adventure.  I don’t know of anyone who went looking for a mutilated corpse during my summer days living in Wyckoff, New Jersey.  The adventure conceived by Stephen King serves as a thrill that you imagine as you read it off of the page.  My upbringing consisted of play dates and sleepovers with Scott, Star Wars toys and Saturday morning cartoons.  Yet, the connections that thread the main story together are what’s to treasure in Rob Reiner’s film.  The friends we make in grade school before becoming interested in high school, alcohol, sex, and career planning, are the most important people we know and first encounter in our lifetimes.  It’s impossible to forget them or the impact they had on our lives.  Scott certainly had an impact on my life.  I credit my sense of humor to him, and his carefree attitude to the ugliness of this world.  Sometimes that’s all we have to survive.

King and Reiner use the body that is being sought as a device to drive the characters.  What’s going to bring these boys together with no outside influence?  How can young Gordon deliver his revered sense of imagination as the writer he’s to become?  The best way is to put the boys around a camp fire.  Gordon can then entertain his pals with the story of an incredibly fat kid who got his revenge on the locals during a pie eating contest that results in a massive “Barforama.”  It’s silly and sophomoric and childish fun, but for 12-year-olds, it’s the best thing imaginable.  Teddy dreams of being an army hero storming the beaches of Normandy like his father was rumored to have done.  His sleeping bag is his machine gun mowing down an oncoming train.  Vern’s favorite food?  Watch the movie to find out.  Chris might be regarded as the outlaw, but he’s also the most mature, and perhaps the mentor to Gordon who suffers from the loss of the brother he loved, as much as he suffers from the neglect of his mother and father.  At age 12, in 1959, Chris was all that Gordon had.  I may have had more than Gordon at that age, but whenever I was with Scott, he’s all that I had.

Ultimately, Stand By Me is not an adventure or a silly comedy about boys being boys.  It’s a character study of kids just outside of their formative years.  It’s a film that captures a single moment before friendships inevitably expire.  It’s a reminder to embrace those you’ve treasured over your lifetime, because we cannot be twelve years old forever.

A VIEW TO A KILL

By Marc S. Sanders

A View To A Kill marks Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond 007, and it’s more or less a near complete failure. Quite possibly my least favorite film of the entire series, regardless of an awesome song, compliments of Duran Duran and composer John Barry.

The inspiration for invention is expired in this film. Action set pieces rely on outside elements that do nothing to spice up the scenes. Bond manages to surf away along the snow covered Swiss Alps, in place for Siberia, while evading the Russians. The surfing is one thing, but when accompanied with a lame cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” you earn every right to roll your eyes and shake your head.

An unnecessary sequence involves Bond dangling from the ladder of a fire truck while the San Francisco police are pursuing him. It’s slapstick, but it’s not funny slapstick. You just wanna yell at the screen “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????”

A View To A Kill plays like a poor remake of What’s Up Doc? with Barbra Streisand & Ryan O’Neil. Bond eventually partners up with a former “Charlie’s Angel” and hijinx ensue. Tanya Roberts plays the Bond girl this time and her dialogue mainly consists of screaming “James!” as if she is in terrible, helpless fear. She hangs and runs and screams and stands and sits while keeping her flimsy white dress and heels spotless. There’s nothing adoring, funny or attractive about her. She lends nothing to the film but dead weight. A scene involving an elevator fire had me wishing Bond would leave her to perish. The term “dumb blond” must have been coined when Tanya Roberts came on the Hollywood scene. Her character, Stacy Sutton, appears unaware of any of her surroundings and more importantly Roberts, the actress seems to be that way as well.

Roger Moore carries almost no chemistry with any of the fellow actors, certainly not with Roberts, and I think it’s because he gave up trying by the time he got to his seventh Bond film. He moves slow. He looks out of breath as he climbs the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. His delivery carries little wit. He is found hanging from the the Golden Gate Bridge and utters the line “There’s never a cab around when you need one.” Moore seems to show that even he doesn’t think any of this is fun anymore.

Perhaps the one redeeming quality goes to Christopher Walken as the psychotic Max Zorin. It’s funny to watch Walken play this part all these years later as he shows qualities that movie goers would love in his later films like True Romance, The Rundown, and even Catch Me If You Can. Walken deserved better material than this (especially following his recent Oscar winning status at the time). Instead, he’s given a well-toned Grace Jones as an accomplice who falls nowhere near the ranks of Oddjob or Jaws.

Richard Maibum wrote the unclear script involving Zorin’s desire to wipe out Silicon Valley, and monopolize on the micro chip industry. At least that’s what I think the film was about. The story mires itself in an overlong side story involving drugging race horses snd I could never make the connection. Bond is given the opportunity to photograph various suspects involved with Zorin and then later in quick conversation they’re all explained of their purpose. Yet, I was just more confused and unsure of what was going on and how it’s all bridged together. I don’t think the plot was complex or confusing. Rather, I think the film was cursed with plot holes and little regard for coherence.

Roger Moore notoriously regretted doing this film. He had overstayed his welcome in the franchise by 1986 with A View To A Kill. Albert Broccoli with his new producing partner, Michael G. Wilson (his stepson and a co-writer) were getting stale with the series. At this point the Bond series was no longer relying on crafty, well edited and witty filmmaking.

Moore’s last film was just processed for another buck at the box office with little respect for the franchise.

007 was due for a change.

THE DELTA FORCE

By Marc S. Sanders

In the 1980s, a small production company named Cannon Films was started by an Israeli named Menachem Golan.  It churned out at least a dozen Charles Bronsan cheapy crime dramas and gave longevity to his Death Wish series of films.  Cannon also provided another franchise called American Ninja with action star Michael Dudikoff.  Dudikoff, nor any of his films won an Oscar, much less a Golden Globe or even an MTV Movie Award.  The poor guy with twenty bottles of mousse in his hair didn’t even get turned into an action figure. 

While I did see Death Wish 3, ahem…five times in the movie theatres (I mean there’s an outstanding final thirty minutes of a wall to wall shootout action in that film, and it was all a 13 year old boy yearned for at the time), Golan’s best product that I have at least seen to date is The Delta Force, featuring Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin and a host of stars most recently having been featured in every disaster film to crank out of the 1970s; Shelly Winters from The Poseidon Adventure, Robert Vaughn from The Towering Inferno and George Kennedy from every Airport movie under the sun.

Golan directed this film that was inspired by the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight heading for Athens, Greece and he pretty much directed two different kinds of films in one.  The first hour focuses on the Libyan hijackers, led by an unrecognizable and terrifying Robert Forester, and their hostages.  A plane carrying mostly Americans is taken captive in midair and is diverted to Beirut.  Like the real-life event, a German born American stewardess is forced to select the Jewish passengers (Winters, Lanie Kazan, Joey Bishop and Martin Balsam) and separate them for an unknown fate.  An American Navy serviceman is also brutally tormented and later, an airline pilot (Bo Svenson) is interviewed by the media from the open window of the grounded plane’s cockpit, complete with a gun to his head.  All of this happened during that harrowing event.  Golan does a very good job of capturing these moments with heartbreak, fear and genuine terror.  The Jewish selection process is a scene that I take very personally, and it is not overdramatized as it glaringly hearkens back to the atrocities of the Nazis who sent millions of Jews to certain death, torture and concentration camps.  Remember, this film was released only 40 years after those terrible events.  Golan’s filmmaking makes certain the Holocaust is never forgotten.

Sprinkled throughout these first hour scenes are bits and pieces of the American strike team known as The Delta Force, led with gruff command by Lee Marvin and silent but deadly Chuck Norris.  These guys gear up, dress in black uniforms, load their aircraft carrier with motorcycles and armed dune buggies, listen to Marvin’s instructions and wait and wait and wait.  There’s something to appreciate in the wait of these skilled snipers and specialists.  Golan doesn’t rush the action.  Material is depicted showing Marvin, Norris and company exploring the options they have for taking out the terrorists and rescuing the hostages.  This is not a typical Rambo movie of destroying the village just to save it.  However, once the action starts, it doesn’t stop and Golan lets Norris do all the things he’s known for while arguably inspiring how POWERFUL Chuck Norris is compared to…well…anything else.  Don’t forget!  Inside Chuck Norris’ chin is ANOTHER FIST!  Also, Superman wears Chuck Norris underoos!  Chuck Norris can unscramble an egg!  Chuck Norris made a snowman out of rain!  It’s hard not to deny these claims when the film boasts a strike team consisting of 20-30 members, but Norris seems to do all the work and heavy lifting. 

It’s hard not to get caught up in The Delta Force.  You wanna see these terrorists get blown up real good.  You also wanna see Chuck Norris ride an agile moped equipped with an endless supply of missiles and ammunition ready to overturn enemy vehicles and bloody up a bad guy until he screams and turns on one foot before dropping dead with his eyes opened.  You also may get a jolt of energy from Alan Silvestri’s rah rah theme music that quickly stays embedded in your subconscious.  I read that his music was used for a time when the Indy 500 would air on TV.  That does not surprise me at all.  Its symphonic themes are as memorable as the Monday Night Football tune.

Unlike, other Norris films this crowd pleaser doesn’t just rely on him and his roundhouse kicks.  There’s a little bit of that schtick for the fans, but I gotta say I was truly touched by the cast as whole.  Lee Marvin (in his final film) echoes George C Scott’s portrayal of Patton.  The collective hostage cast are not overdramatized here.  Golan managed to capture a history to them.  While I thought Shelley Winters was a such joke for fodder in Poseidon, here she is truly sorrowful as she is separated from her husband played by Balsam.  Kazan and Bishop are equally touching.  Reader, this Jewish guy originally from New Jersey, who attended ten years of Yeshiva education, recognizes these folks when they are spirited vacationers early on, and then later tormented prisoners who’ve faced horrors like this before.

I know that Cannon Films also produced another favorite called Runaway Train with an Oscar nominated performance from Jon Voight.  As I write this column, I’ve yet to see that film.  It’s on my radar.  That being said, I have to wonder if Golan and company had stayed on this trajectory of genuine drama like he mustered in portions of The Delta Force, what powerfully impactful films might he also had up his sleeve.  Unfortunately, we were left with too much excess like American Ninja, I’m afraid.

Still, after watching The Delta Force you’ll absolutely believe that Chuck Norris can see things that don’t exist and that he counted to infinity…twice!

UNDER THE CHERRY MOON

By Marc S. Sanders

Prince!  The vanity on this guy!!!!!  Watching his second film, Under The Cherry Moon, is to indulge in Prince’s pride, Prince’s ego, Prince’s conceit, Prince’s vanity.  The Purple One, of which I’m an admitted fan of his music, directs his own picture here in beautiful black and white cinematography, compliments of Michael Ballhaus.  That is where the accolades end though.

The film is set along The French Riviera.  Prince never speaks French in the film, nor does anyone else.  So why are we in France again?  He plays a kid named Christopher and along with his best pal, Tricky (musician Jerome Benton) spend their days glorifying Christopher (or Prince as Christopher) and swindling wealthy heiresses as they continue to live a life decadence in outrageous outfits, high heels and a modicum of makeup to especially keep Prince-I’m sorry-Christopher looking gloriously sexy, pretty and handsome.  At night, while putting on music acts in various drinking establishments, they seek out their female prey. 

When Christopher notices Mary (Kristin Scott Thomas, in her feature film debut), he and Tricky go to work.  Somehow Tricky falls instantly in love with Mary.  (I think.  The two hardly have a scene alone together.  Prince monopolizes most of the space.)  Chris plays the “Prince Adonis” with teasing flirtations, ridiculous get ups and so on.  Later, he will fall in love with Mary.  We are supposed to believe Mary falls in love with Chris too.  But let’s come down to reality here, please.  Tricky grows angry and blah blah blah.  You’ve seen this tripe in better fare from the minds of Looney Toons shorts.  A side story character is Mary’s wealthy possessive father, Isaac (Steven Berkoff, playing the same kind of villain he did in Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop).  What do you think he’s here for?  Right!!!!!  He disapproves of Christopher and refuses to let Mary see him.

Beyond the terrible acting of this piece with vomit inducing kissing scenes involving Prince and Thomas, the film is an annoying, pesky love letter from Prince to Prince.  It’d be impossible for me to count how many close ups he does of himself.  Prince is a poet and a brilliant lyricist as well.  However, the script is littered with expressions and slang that feels like they popped into Prince’s head at one time or another.  He must have jotted it down on napkins, and then he passed it all on to the credited screenwriter, Becky Johnston,  instructing her to work this stuff into the dialogue.  Things are uttered out of nowhere, for no reason.  Conversations don’t make sense at times.  Certain words feel like the have a good rhyme.  So, make it work Becky! Mmmkay!

On other occasions, Prince and Kristin Scott Thomas will share scenes together just sitting there with nothing to say, as if it is a director’s (Prince’s) own artistic choice.  Prince is no Terrance Malick.  The gaze and the pose (of Prince!) says it all.  Calvin Klein commercials have more depth.  A phone call scene between the two goes on for a good three minutes.  They never speak into the phone.  They just hold it to their ears.  The edit goes back and forth on them and again…they don’t speak!  Prince makes it exciting by chewing on a cracker.  In another film, this would’ve been cutting room floor material.  You would think this is behind the scenes stuff and the actors were waiting for the sticks to snap and “Action!” to be called out.

Samples of Prince’s music are peppered throughout the movie.  The sounds are good for the most part, but that’s all they are.  Just random sounds.  Most of the music is not complete and seem like samples that were experimented on in a kid’s garage.  The music does not cue up anything.  None of it heightens any developments or drama or comedy.  At times the tunes will obnoxiously interrupt a scene, much like a mariachi band may intrude on an intimate dinner at a quiet restaurant.  Prince loves his music though.  So, he wakes up and tells his film/sound editors to put this and this and this into the film.  Context man.  Context!!!!!!!  What about the context?????

Under The Cherry Moon is an immature film, made by an immature filmmaker with a very mature photographer (Ballhaus).  It’s tripe of the most shamelessly vain kind.  It’s been three days since I saw the picture, and I have yet to think of another film more ridiculously conceited and egotistical.  My Cinephile colleague, Anthony, is a proud Prince fan.  He has a wealth of knowledge on the famed musician.  He’s learned to be forgiving of this film’s shortcomings.  I assured him when we sat down to watch this that I was going in with an open mind, especially when the gorgeous black and white shows up on the screen.  When the movie was over, however, I explained that this might have become something with an admirable B movie cult following, had Prince at least agreed to welcome another director to oversee the picture.  Someone needed to be watching the one in charge and humble the poor guy because if I want to look at various captions of Prince, all I need to do is lay out his album covers on my bed and pick up a Rolling Stone magazine.  I did not have to subject myself to Under The Cherry Moon.