RISKY BUSINESS

By Marc S. Sanders

It’s telling of how happily cash rich people were all to proud to carry themselves in the 1980s Reagan era.  It was not a time to focus on emotions and sensitivity.  War was over.  Shopping malls were all over the place.  Credit cards were easy to get and use.  Forget about what happens later.  Heck even the music was happy and fun with acts from Wham! The Go Go’s and Katrina And The Waves.  Maybe it was not as apparent, compared to today’s “Me Too”/”Black Lives Matter” themes, to focus on the minorities or even basic charity.  Free enterprise was the theme.  Profits and prestige were the goals.  It was even taught to be that way in high school.  Love was not important.  Making money was the all rage.  Making money and spending money-including your savings bonds from grandma and grandpa.  Paul Brickman’s Risky Business was evidence of that mentality.  Long before, it ever became transparent that well to do parents could buy their kid’s Ivy League education for a promising future, just the idea of mounting pressure to get into a school like Princeton University was a terrible ordeal for a 17 year old kid.

Tom Cruise’s breakout role of Joel Goodson, with his sock covered feet, pink polo shirt and BVD white underpants faced this issue, and yet it was not Joel’s most important problem to contend with.  Risky Business showed us the first couch that Cruise jumped up and down on with help from Bob Seger.  Cruise’s career was never the same ever since this 1983 film.  It only got sexier and better and outrageously more successful following this film.

Brickman’s script which he directed was one of the first commercially successful 80’s teen flicks to adopt the concept of the parents are out of town, so let’s party approach.  Only thing is beyond joyriding in dad’s Porsche, Joel is not as obsessed with popular jock/cheerleader parties, as he is with getting laid. He dreams of gorgeous naked girls in the shower and on his bed, or who is on the other end of the line when he calls an escort personal ad.  Yet, paranoia takes over for Joel.  His WASP parents seemed to have instilled Joel with fear of a S.W.A.T team nightmare if he even dares to make out with a strange and exotic woman in their beautiful suburban home. Through a set of circumstances that disrupts Joel’s comfortable fantasies and strait-laced activities, a high priced and ravishing call girl named Lana (Rebecca DeMornay) enters Joel’s life and his dad’s Porche, and his house and then, doesn’t leave. Joel gets his cherry popped, but things go awry like in most 80s teen comedies.  The Porsche needs to be towed out of Lake Michigan, his mother’s precious crystal egg needs to be recovered from Lana’s pimp (Joe Pantoliano), and Joel has to remember to interview well on Friday night with a Princeton admissions advisor. 

All of this sounds familiar.  These themes have been copied countless times over.  Yet Paul Brickman goes in an extraordinary direction that remains original nearly 40 years later.  His characters of Joel and Lana are smart.  They are portrayed with great instinct by Cruise and DeMornay, who are never playing for laughs and allow the gradual situations of the script to deliver the humor.  Joel is the student.  Lana is the teacher.  By the end, they’ll likely be on an even playing field. 

SPOILER ALERT:  The third act is the true highlight, as the world’s oldest profession becomes a business of free enterprise to make Lana money and rescue Joel from impending doom on a hundred different angles.

As I’ve written before, I love character arcs in all kinds of stories.  Brickman writes Joel as a rigid and by the book kind of kid with his shirt neatly tucked in, a preppy chestnut brown haircut, docksiders and well pressed jeans and khakis.  This kid will not even get a speeding ticket, regardless of the Porsche’s horsepower.  Only after experiencing sex and the possibility of going outside the lines like Lana demonstrates, does Joel realize the value of throwing caution to the wind; more specifically, as the script proudly reminds us “Sometimes you just have to say What The Fuck!”

To sidestep for a moment, when I finally saw James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, all I walked away with was a very cool looking guy with a red jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans.  Not much dimension there.  Pretty flat if you ask me.  Then, I’m reminded of Risky Business.  Here is a hallmark film of teen angst.  Joel’s episodes in one week, while mom and dad are away, are not likely to happen in real life.  Yet, Brickman doesn’t aim for farce.  The laughs come in clashing the sons of Chicago white suburbia WASP culture with the nightlife these boys only dream about. 

With Tangerine Dream offering up a cool dreamlike soundtrack, Risky Business is exotic and sexy and dangerous and then it’s funny.  Very, very funny.

MARATHON MAN

By Marc S. Sanders

John Schlesinger contributed to the long line of political paranoid thrillers that came out in the 1970s with Marathon Man, with a screenplay by William Goldman based upon his own novel.  Most films are not constructed this way any longer.  Here is a picture that, albeit may have large plot holes, leaves you curious as to what it all means while you are watching it for the first time.  Don’t belabor yourself with watching it again as a way to piece it altogether with logic and sense.  You’ll only be keeping yourself up at night.

Marathon Man begins with several different incidents occurring at different parts of globe.  A man is tirelessly running through Central Park.  In Manhattan, two elderly men get into a heated road rage argument that leaves them dead in a massive explosion.  A box of band aids is taken out of a safe deposit box and later smuggled beneath a box of chocolates.  In Paris, an explosion occurs after a sharp dressed man gets into a car.  A little later, that man is violently attacked in his hotel room, leaving a very bloody mess.  A couple is mugged, only the hoodlums are dressed in business suits.  Another man is found with his throat slashed in the balcony of an opera house.  A white haired man hiding out in South America starts to shave his head.  What does it all mean?  How are all of these occurrences connected?

As long as vague moments like these don’t carry on too long, I’m likely to be hooked because I consider myself a curious fellow.  Thankfully, Goldman’s script pieces the characters together with a few hair raising twists that I didn’t see coming.

Without giving too much away, Dustin Hoffman plays a marathon runner/Columbia University history major with a bleak family background.  Beyond his comprehension, he is connected or will find himself connected to each one of these early moments in the film.  Once a person very close to him turns up dead in his apartment, the hysteria sets in.  Hoffman plays this quite well as he is always trying to catch his breath while soaked in sweat and remaining the lightest of sleepers.  Schlesinger creates a terrifying moment with a bathroom door that Hoffman is trying to hide behind.  It reminded me of Kubrick’s use of an axe with a bathroom door that would come out four years after this picture, with The Shining.

Laurence Olivier is a mysterious elderly man who has arrived in New York, eventually coming face to face with Hoffman. Thus, leading to one of the most uncomfortable torture scenes in film history.  Cancel any upcoming dental appointments that are scheduled soon after watching Marathon Man.  You’ll thank me for it.

The set up and players are eventually explained, albeit at breakneck speed when the tension is very high.  Put it this way. It’s a challenge to sum up exposition when it’s being dictated in a high-speed car chase.  So, on the first viewing, you might miss a few details here and there.  Nevertheless, I knew who the good guys were, I knew who the bad guys were and simply hearing the word “Nazi” in any given line of dialogue is enough for me to know how sinister this all is.

I can’t deny the ending feels a little hokey as it takes place in a Central Park reservoir system with platform stairwells and waterfalls all around.  Yet the tension remains as a young Dustin Hoffman (a hot commodity of 1970s actors) pairs up with the legendary performer, Laurence Olivier.  As I came to understand, Olivier was suffering from a terrible cancer diagnosis while making this picture.  Unbelievably, he never shows his illness, as his performance is electric with a well-deserved Oscar nomination.  Hoffman was striving for method by exhausting himself personally.  I know about the legendary story where Olivier suggested he simply “try acting.”  Hoffman later clarified that conversation and explained it had more to do with a personal divorce he was going through and late night drinking at Studio 54.  Whatever!!!  The ailments these great actors were experiencing at the time lends perfectly to the paranoia. 

I try to avoid movie trailers these days.  They give away much too much.  I had not seen one trailer or commercial for Marathon Man, prior to experiencing it for myself.  All I was aware of was the infamous dental torture scene with the famous line “Is it safe?”  Out of context, I found it to give me goosebumps.  Within the framework of the film, it’s utterly disturbing and it only heightens the suspense that Schlesinger and Goldman were striving for. 

RAIN MAN

By Marc S. Sanders

It may surprise some people that I don’t find Dustin Hoffman’s performance of autistic savant Raymond Babbitt to be the best feature in Barry Levinson’s Rain Man.  On the contrary, the best thing about the film is Tom Cruise’s cynical, hyper active portrayal of Raymond’s younger brother Charlie.  I’m not knocking Hoffman.  He’s absolutely memorable, authentic and brilliant.  It’s so brilliant though, that it overshadows what Cruise accomplished with his part. 

Those of you who have read some of my reviews before, may recall how much I praise the best character arcs to be found in stories.  The character starts out one way and by the time the conclusion arrives, this person is completely different; practically unrecognizable.  Hoffman did this in Kramer Vs Kramer and Tootsie, Al Pacino did this in The Godfather.  Bryan Cranston used five seasons of television to do this in Breaking Bad.

Before I ever saw Rain Man for the first time, many years ago, I never knew what autism was.  I don’t even think I ever heard the word autistic before this film arrived.  I guess I was wrapped in my naïve bubble.  Now watching it years later, I see the special talents that autism can present for a person living with it, as well as the challenges that come with a person nearby who cannot comprehend the diagnosis, and carries no patience for it. 

Screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Blass are wise to show an odd pairing of brothers in this film.  The movie begins when Charlie, deep in debt with his high-performance sports car dealership, learns that his estranged father has passed away.  Dad only leaves him with a gorgeous 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible.  A $3 million estate is awarded to a trust fund meant to support Raymond; the autistic brother Charlie does not recall ever having.  Charlie’s arrogance and desperation to cover his insurmountable debts drive him to yank Raymond out of his care facility and embark on a cross country road trip back home where he intends to settle the estate by how he thinks he deservedly sees it.  During the course of the trip, Charlie gets a quick education about himself and Raymond’s condition. 

Tom Cruise might look like late 1980’s cool and stylish in his linen suits and button up silk shirts with sunglasses, but his glamour does not overshadow how bitter of a guy Charlie really is.  That’s what I embrace in his performance here.  It should have been nominated for an Oscar; definitely a glaring oversight by the Academy.  Charlie looks like a guy always moving at super speed, about to collide with a wall.  He bosses around his assistant salesman with outbursts and disruptive clapping hands.  Levinson is good at showing close edits of that.  He gives no attention to his girlfriend, Sussana (Valerie Golino), even when she is trying her best to have him stop for a second and realize the special condition and attention that Raymond needs.  As Charlie’s journey continues down the back wood roads of western America, he has no choice but to uncover a realization in his own hyperactivity, and even recognize a different kind of hyperactivity that Raymond possesses. 

Raymond is the autistic person whose mental capacity must follow strict guidelines of watching The People’s Court and Jeopardy.  He has to have to certain meals on certain days.  He can not ride in a car when it is raining.  He can not fly on airlines that carry historical statistics of crashing.  Fire alarms and hot faucet water are violently upsetting.  There is a rigid, uncompromising pattern to Raymond’s behavior and lifestyle.  Because he can’t compromise, Rain Man carries some humorous and outrageous scenes where Charlie must adjust to Raymond’s limitations.  I still feel sorry for the woman who has no choice but to surrender her television and living room in the middle of day so that Raymond can watch his program, while her children are deprived of their cartoons.

Hoffman is great in focus and concentration.  Much like when he adopted the persona of a woman in Tootsie, you never see him sway from the performance of severe autism in his Raymond character.  Because he is so straight down the line here from beginning to end, I have to really admire Cruise’s change in character over all.  Rain Man really is a story about Charlie Babbitt.  Not so much Raymond Babbitt. Charlie changes during the course of the film.  Raymond does not. 

There are a lot of eye-opening moments in Levinson’s film.  You get an education in what autism really is, or at least the unique case that Raymond possesses.  He can memorize a phone book in one night or count the number of tooth picks that have fallen on the floor with simply a glance.  Complex multiplication can instantly be done in his head.  It’s fascinating.  Charlie even discovers a way for Raymond to resolve his financial crisis, thereby leading to an energetically satisfying jaunt in Las Vegas. 

Barry Levinson has assembled two fantastic actors for an engaging film that avoids preachiness and sorrow.  Yet, Rain Man is rewardingly sensitive.  Levinson says a million words with simply a close up moment of Hoffman gently leaning his head on Cruise’s temple.  Quiet moments like that which arrive following scatter brained moments earlier make for a range of emotions I treasure in a picture like this.

I look at Rain Man or Magnolia or Born On The Fourth Of July, and I wish Tom Cruise would take a break from the endless Mission: Impossible films.  Heck, there’s even another Top Gun film on its way!  Why doesn’t he focus on the roles that welcome his skills as a very effective actor?  (American Made was a recently oddly different kind of character for him. Great film by the way!)  I have an affection for most of his films, regardless of the category. I really do.  If only his action pictures could take a rest for a change, and allow the acting scenes to come back into play. 

MAD MAX

By Marc S. Sanders

What is the fascination with George Miller’s original 1979 film, Mad Max?  I don’t get it.  I know this film shot in the Australian outback was made a on budget less valuable than even a shoestring.  The fast-paced camera shots of cars careening down long stretches of highway are high octane (pun, most certainly intended) and the crashes are completely in your face.  Yet, I need more than this. 

When the film pauses for albeit very brief moments of storytelling such as a motorcycle gang apparently out for revenge against dystopian future cop Max (Mel Gibson’s breakout role), how is this ever even learned among the characters?  When Max opts to resign from the police force and take his wife and young son on holiday, how does this motorcycle gang led by a savage named The Toecutter (great name) catch up with them, and then after a narrow escape, how do they catch up yet again with one another, while making a sudden appearance on the back of these noisy motorcycles?  Miller’s film never goes from A to B to C.  Rather it goes from W to S to Q and then Z.  It’s a mixed up mess.

I’m all for throwing logic out the window when watching a thrilling action piece…if it’s thrilling.  When it’s not, well then, I’m asking for the logic.  Miller’s film feels like a bunch of want ads cut out of old newspapers, and then scotch taped together into a film reel.  I’d be curious to see an original script.  I can only imagine it being no more than three pages long. 

The appeal in 1979 and the years thereafter when the Max character blossomed into a franchise must have come from Gibson on film.  Yes, the stunts in this film with quick edit action pieces are daring.  I still think so forty years later.  This wasn’t CGI after all.  This was all the crunched up metal, rubber tires and flames that Miller could muster.  Still, the one artistic achievement had to be Mel Gibson’s image.  He wears the costume well.  A blue t-shirt enhancing his blue eyes under all black leather with a sawed off shotgun in his right hand while driving a souped up black Pursuit Special automobile with the engine sticking out of the hood.  Just writing that out reminds me of how iconic that image is, and this is before the similar looking Terminator that came along a few years later. Still, that’s where George Miller’s inventiveness stops. 

There is nary a character to consider.  The villains are nothing more than leather clad with bleached hair and dark mascara under the eyes riding Kawasaki bikes.  I know this was made with next to no money.  These guys don’t have to look like Darth Vader, but could they at least offer up something interesting to say?  Max has a couple of partners in the police squad.  They have no camaraderie.  One of them gets burned to a crisp.  Max takes a look at him in the hospital.  Why should I care though?  It’s not like I saw these guys share a Coke together.  Max is married.  They lie side by side each other in bed and their toddler sits on the floor nearby.  So?  Anything else?  Could one of them start a pillow fight or kiss or something, please?  A shoestring budget can still allow relationships to happen.  Miller doesn’t care about that though.  John Woo may show a nonstop bloodbath in any of his films with next to no story.  His films can work however, because he won’t get sidetracked with showing two people in their bedroom doing nothing.  He’ll remain focused on the mayhem.  Miller is not doing that here.  He shows a house with a bedroom.  Yet he doesn’t show the story in that bedroom that’s in that house.  That’s the difference.

I know the subsequent films in the franchise vastly improve upon the original Mad Max.  I’m just amazed they ever saw the light of day.  I’m more amazed that this became one of the most profitable films in worldwide history.  How did 1979’s Mad Max have the legs…no…the wheels…to maintain this ongoing velocity of interest?  What do I know?  I guess I’m a Debbie Downer for wanting people to talk to one another before handcuffing them to a gas guzzling fiery wreckage.  Is it too much to ask for a little sensitivity?

BEVERLY HILLS COP II

By Marc S. Sanders

I know. I know. I SHOULDN’T like this movie, but I do.

Beverly Hills Cop II is a sequel that is really an opportunity to see a wide variety of close ups of an Eddie Murphy who was well in his ‘80s prime, releasing one #1 movie after another. Here the viewer is treated to Murphy’s Axel Foley blowing a kiss to himself in the mirror, laughing to himself, tucking his crotch in his tailor made suit, flipping sunglasses on and off, driving a Ferrari, and shamelessly plugging the Detroit Lions all while trying to stop an “Alphabet Bandit” criminal in Beverly Hills, CA.

So there’s really not much here when all the vanity is on Murphy. Well, then what’s to like?

Considering I’m a fan of director Tony Scott, who uses great cinematography in all of his films with quick, tension filled editing, it’s hard to resist.  Most especially here Scott’s film is accompanied with an exceedingly cool and dangerous soundtrack from Harold Faltermeyer. Just the opening scene alone (without Murphy in it) belongs in a better movie. A robbery at a City Deposit bank and then later at a horse track are so well edited that you might tuck your knees into your chest and chew on your thumbnail. Great stuff from Tony Scott that would eventually carry over in films like Crimson Tide, Enemy Of The State, and one of my very favorites True Romance.

There are other good moments in Beverly Hills Cop II, especially a great scene with Gilbert Gottfried, and a few with Paul Reiser as well as a smirk inducing scene with Hugh Hefner.

I shouldn’t like this movie but sue me. It’s a guilty pleasure for me. However, watch the far superior first installment over this one any day of the week.

BEVERLY HILLS COP

By Marc S. Sanders

Who actually wrote the Oscar nominated script to Beverly Hills Cop? Daniel Petrie Jr and Danio Bach, or Eddie Murphy?

Murphy’s lines are delivered so fast and so naturally that it seems impossible they could ever rest on a page. Eddie Murphy is an enormous talent of word play and delivery. I miss this Eddie Murphy. I’m reluctant to welcome the Eddie Murphy of PG related fare of recent years. He just doesn’t look comfortable in that garb.

One of the first R rated films I ever saw in theatres (not THE first, as that honor belongs to the Clint Eastwood classic, Sudden Impact) still holds with its hilarity, and the credit does not belong to just Murphy but the whole cast including John Ashton, Judge Reinhold, Ronnie Cox and even early in career appearances from Jonathan Banks, Bronson Pinchot, and Damon Wayans.

I still haven’t forgotten this theatre experience when I joined my older brother, Brian and his friend Nick at the movie theatre in Ridgewood NJ. Never had I heard an entire packed room of people in the dark on a Saturday night laugh so hard together. It’s likely a moment that impressed my love for movies going forward. Movies could bring all sorts of joy and happiness and escape. Beverly Hills Cop was altogether another thing entirely.

Yes!!!! A foul mouthed cop from Detroit who becomes a stranger in a strange land while visiting Beverly Hills to solve his friend’s murder. That’s a film that’s had a great impact on me. As a writer, director Martin Brest’s film (later to do Midnight Run and Scent Of A Woman) offers a very simple blue print to allow Murphy to run wild. It cuts out a lot of complicated red herrings to just stay on a straight resolution. As Murphy’s Detective Axel Foley (great character name) comes across another development, in walks another great set up.

I compare the frame of Beverly Hills Cop and Eddie Murphy to the first Mission: Impossible film with Tom Cruise. The Cruise film makes a huge oversight. Early on it introduces a huge array of characters for an M:I team and then eliminates them all to hardly be used. It was wall to wall Tom Cruise. He was a producer on that film with much creative control and it felt to me as if he insisted on owning every scene, every line, every moment. It turned me off a little.

Murphy on the other hand plays along with his ensemble. Ashton and Reinhold have great moments all to themselves. I still die laughing out loud as Reinhold tries to subdue a situation by ordering an army of machine gun toting bad guys to lay down their weapons only to be silenced with another round of gunfire. The banana in the tailpipe! Ashton working with Murphy to stop a random robbery at strip joint, and then helping to save him later on from arrest. What about Ashton trying to climb a wall during a shootout?

Then there’s Murphy and Pinchot discussing a weird art piece (“Get the fuck outta here!”). Couldn’t you envision Pinchot and Murphy in another film together?  A shame it hasn’t happened.  (No, I won’t count the dreadful reunion in Beverly Hills Cop III.)

Brest provides great showpieces accompanied by one of the best film soundtracks ever. I will never not listen to “Neutron Dance” by the Pointer Sisters on Sirius XM’s 80s on 8 while recalling this film’s opening scene double rig truck chase. Brest directs a symphonic high energy blend of sight and sound. Plays like an awesome music video. Same goes for Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.” If I ever get an opportunity to visit Detroit, that’s what will be playing in my head.

Orchestrator Harold Faltermeyer’s electronic keyboard deserves much credit as well. His covert, sneaky 5 note tune shaped the Axel Foley character. Faltermeyer only made Murphy even cooler during the heyday of “Miami Vice MTV Cops.”

Beverly Hills Cop remains one of the best films with the longest staying power of the 1980s. It’s a comedy. It’s an action picture. It’s music filled fun with great characters. It’ll always be Eddie Murphy’s best film. I can watch it again and again. I’ll never tire of it.

PALE RIDER

By Marc S. Sanders

Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider is more or less a simple western film with a storyline you’ve seen countless times before.  It’s an old west tale that has the The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai) feel, but this might as well be called The Magnificent One, perhaps.

Pale Rider is nothing special in its assemblage to be another Hollywood western.  However, it’s delivery from Producer/Director Clint Eastwood is what kept me engaged.  Seeing it for the first time, nearly forty years following its theatrical release, I took great pleasure in recognizing the tough and intimidating persona that Eastwood became famous for in his spaghetti westerns and tough cop films.  The scowl and squint across his chiseled face are here along with his imposing height, with his black hat resting perfectly atop his head.  Eastwood knows how to capture himself on camera better than most any other actor/directors.  He capitalizes on his foreboding and intimidating presence.  He does it very well in Pale Rider when he points his camera at a distance down the dirt road where he’s saddled perfectly still upon his steed.  He does a shot like this as well in his Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact, where he positions his silhouette against bright carnival lights in the background with his loaded gun held at his side.  This guy makes himself scarier than Freddy Krueger in moments like these, and in film history, the images are iconic.

Again, Pale Rider has all the trappings of what audiences used to love in Hollywood Westerns.  It has reminders of Shane and High Noon.  Yet, it’s a bit more brutal, because 1980’s cinema allowed that, and this film falls in the tradition of Eastwood’s continuous violent work at the time.  Still, that’s not why you watch an updated picture like this.  You take in Pale Rider as a Clint Eastwood vehicle.  The familiarity of Eastwood’s unnamed dangerous man that bad guys should’ve walked away from was treasured long before he thankfully segued into his anti-violent themes of films yet to come (Unforgiven, A Perfect World).  The point is that I recommend the film because…well…I’ll never tire of that scowl and squint.

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

By Marc S. Sanders


Okay.  I’m gonna give this a shot.  Granted Escape from Alcatraz came out over a decade prior to that other famous prison movie with Morgan Freeman, but how do you not avoid a comparison?

Clint Eastwood is Alcatraz inmate Frank Morris who believes he’s uncovered a way to break out of the most inescapable prison located on an island that’s at least a mile away by San Francisco Bay sea water from civilization.  The film is directed by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) who depicts the true life inspired events that occur in the early 1960s.

Even before Morris begins to plot his steps to freedom with three other inmates, Siegel shows the brutal life of living in the Federal Government’s most notoriously secure prison.  The Warden assures Frank that escape is impossible.  Others who have tried were either shot or drowned in the ice cold waters of the bay.  Still, Frank Morris, who has accomplished prison escapes in the past, is certain that he’s found a way.

“Escape from Alcatraz” isn’t just about digging through walls with a makeshift tool combo of a nail file and spoon.  Siegel shows what occurs in a day in the life in the cafeteria, out in the yard and in the work shop.  Prison guards patrol with rifles.  The black prisoners have their spot on the bleachers.  An old guy paints portraits to occupy himself.  There’s even a library.  Look!!! There’s Danny Glover accepting a book from Clint. 

Actually, it comes off pretty tame all these years later when compared to many other prison films.  Frank is bullied by one bruiser, but also remember this is Clint Eastwood.  So this big guy doesn’t have a chance in a bare knuckle brawl.

The prison escape is calculated and you see step by step of how the guys climb through piping and vents and over fences and down walls.  Frankly, it looks a little too easy.  As Frank digs, all he has to do is turn off his light in his cell and the guards never catch a glimpse of what he’s up to in the dark.  Same could be said with the papier mâché dummy heads he and his cohorts make up to lie in bed.  The guards just don’t catch on.

“Escape from Alcatraz” doesn’t give me all the feels like “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile.”  It’s simply another easy go-to watch of many of Eastwood’s 1970s tough guy flicks.  I did find it interesting, however, that this is based on a true story and when the conclusion arrives, I’m informed how in real life the result of the escape remained open and uncertain of what happened after the events of the film.  So I appreciate that the story kept me curious.  That’s saying something, and therefore I’m glad I watched the film.

A GHOST STORY (2017)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
My Rating: 9/10
PLOT: A white-sheeted ghost…on second thought, I’d better not say.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

SPOILER ALERT…

There is no way to discuss or review this movie without giving away certain key plot points that are more effective when you don’t know they’re coming, so please, if you have any intentions of seeking this movie out, ignore this or ANY other review until after you’ve seen the movie.

All good?  Okay, let’s begin.

A Ghost Story is more like a meditation on its subject than any movie I’ve seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Like Kubrick’s sci-fi epic, A Ghost Story contains long, VERY long stretches of film that involve little or no dialogue.  Sometimes there are stationary shots that simply sit and regard a scene and just…wait for something to happen.  One shot especially struck me, where a character just sits on the kitchen floor and eats some pie.  No dialogue, just eating.  For four minutes.  That’s a LOT of screen time for a film that clocks in at 92 minutes, WITH credits.

So what’s going on here?  On the surface, I’ve just described the most boring film ever made.  But in this case, director David Lowery’s method of storytelling is vital to what the movie’s really about.

[Here’s where the spoilers really start, last chance to bail.]

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a young couple who live in a small house in what appears to be Texas or some other Midwestern state.  Tragedy strikes early on when Casey Affleck’s character (listed in the credits only as “C”) is killed in a car crash.  After Rooney Mara’s character (“M”) identifies his body at the morgue, we’re treated to the first of several long takes as the camera watches her leave but stays with C’s body covered in white cloth.  The seconds tick…tick…tick by, and by this time we’re wondering why we’re still here.  Rather than boring me, this had the effect of moving me to the edge of my seat.  I was pretty sure I knew what was about to happen, but as more and more time elapsed, my certainty ebbed away and I became galvanized.  What IS going to happen?

Well, whatever it is happens, and C is now a ghost covered in a white sheet with two eye holes, looking for all the world like someone wearing a Charlie Brown Halloween costume.  (“I got a rock.”)  After apparently declining the opportunity to “move on”, he returns to his house, and here’s where the movie got to me.  C’s ghost is now a mute witness to his wife’s grieving.  We’re not quite sure what his purpose is, at least not right away.  There’s no mystery to solve, no unfinished business to deal with.  He just watches her.  (She obviously can’t see him.)

During this segment of the movie, I was mesmerized.  It’s hard for me to describe or even understand what gripped me so much in scenes where very little is happening.  I found myself empathizing, not with the wife, but with the ghost.  It’s one of those “what-if” questions that you pose to your friends.  If you COULD come back, would you?  “C” made his decision, and here he is, but his presence is bittersweet.  He can see her, but she can’t see him.  I felt the longing that is only apparent onscreen.  Maybe this part of the movie is a Rorschach test.  We see what we want to see, which makes us feel what we expect to feel.  I don’t know.  But I can’t deny the effect these scenes had on me personally.

As the movie progresses, we are also treated to sudden jumps forward in time.  Rather than the usual fades or segues, months or years suddenly go by in a single hard cut.  Time behaves differently for the ghost.  He’s got nothing BUT time.  Like many literary and movie ghosts, he’s rooted to one physical location, unable to leave, while the living get on with living, year after year, decade after decade.  This made me empathize with him even more.  How sad it must be for a spirit to bear witness to decades, even centuries passing by him, with no way to interact with the living.  Oh sure, he can make light bulbs flicker and he’ll have the occasional tantrum with broken plates and floating cups.  But nobody can talk to him.

Well, that’s not quite true.  He has one companion.  One day, through the window, he spots another ghost in the house next door.  This ghost is also covered in a bedsheet with holes cut out for the eyes.  They seem to communicate by, I guess, telepathy, because we don’t hear their voices, but subtitles tell us they are indeed having a conversation.  In one of the saddest moments of the film, the other ghost tells C that he or she is waiting for someone…but he/she can no longer remember who it is.

If there was ever a case to be made for someone to “head toward the light” rather than remaining on Earth, that’s it.  Far better, in my opinion, to complete the journey to “the other side”, whatever it may be, rather than endure an eternity of waiting for…what?

Look at me.  Philosophy.  That’s the effect this movie had on me.  It got me to really THINKING about the kinds of topics that I normally avoid thinking about.  The inevitability of death.  The efforts we make to keep our memories alive after we’ve gone.  Remembering those who are no longer with us.  Heavy, man.

After some time, “C” eventually does find a reason to stay, beyond attachment to his wife.  I won’t reveal what it is, but it’s organic, and it’s something I would certainly be invested in if I were in the ghost’s place.  His attempts to fulfill his goal are poignant, and constantly being frustrated.

The final reel is where the movie may potentially lose a lot of viewers.  It even lost me a little bit while I was watching it, but upon reflection, I can see where it’s going.  After all, any movie made about the afterlife is pure speculation anyway, so who am I to say their concept makes no sense?  There is a certain sad logic to it, after all.

There’s that word again, “sad.”  This is definitely not a popcorn movie, that’s for sure.  This is a thought-provoking film designed to inspire introspection and reflection.  AND it’s entertaining, make no mistake.  But, yes, sadness is a big part of the film.  I didn’t tear up or anything, but it is filled with overwhelming heartbreak.

And yet, with that final shot, there’s a kind of triumph to the whole thing.  Not the kind of triumph like at the end of Rocky or your average Spielberg movie, but a sense of completion, of sudden realization.  It won’t please everyone, but it works.

A Ghost Story will mean many things to many different people.  If there’s a better definition of effective “art”, I don’t know what it is.

GOLDFINGER

By Marc S. Sanders

If From Russia With Love offered a promising future for James Bond, Guy Hamilton’s direction of Goldfinger solidified it. This is Sean Connery’s best representation of 007, and yet the only triumphant thing the character does is win a golf match against the title character, Goldfinger played by Gert Frobe.

As good as the film is, ironically Bond does not succeed in any effort to thwart the diabolical plans of Auric Goldfinger, who intends to invade the gold depository located at Fort Knox. Bond doesn’t deactivate the bomb. He doesn’t successfully get his CIA allies on the right track. He doesn’t even do away with Mr. Goldfinger. Everything happens to occur circumstantially. James Bond just got lucky this time.

So then why is the third entry considered by many to be the best in the series?

Well, the movie is immense in its charm, and it pioneers the flavor of nearly ever Bond film released from here on out, at least until the coming of the blunt, brooding instrument of Daniel Craig.

The vile henchman, Oddjob, with his razor bowler hat introduced a staple needed for a winning film. Every bad guy had to have an unusual trait. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) set a more defined precedent for the Bond Girl. Even Shirley Bassey’s dangerously pounding title song carried a threat of the most threatening villains to come.

Plus the gadgets are exceedingly fun. How do I know? Because time and again Bond returns toward using his classic Astin Martin DB5 with tricked out machine guns, oil slick and (I wouldn’t joke about this) ejector seat. 007’s moment with Q became a necessary ingredient in every Bond film following “Goldfinger.” Actually, I think Q is only missing from 2 or 3 films following this entry.

The tongue in cheek theme couldn’t be more apparent in this film thanks to Sean Connery. “Manners Oddjob. I thought you always took your hat off to a lady.” His casual response to any threat or following subduing a bad guy is such fun. What else would you say after you’ve electrocuted a guy in a bath tub?

“Shocking. Positively shocking.”