By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Mandel’s adaptation of a story from Dick Wolf might be regarded nearly 30 years later as the film with the next generation of up-and-coming brat packers, but School Ties remains an underrated and topically important film nonetheless.  Just as it is still a problem of today, victimized by ignorance and unfounded bigotry, anti-Semitism was an issue that spread like a social disease within the confines of a prep school New England community in the 1950’s.

Brendan Fraser is David Greene, a high school senior awarded a scholarship at the school in order to usher in a championship football season as their quarterback.  David is well aware of his ultimate purpose for his scholarship and he brushes that aside as just one year of attendance will ultimately lead to acceptance at an Ivy League school.  He’s just like any other handsome boy attending the school, and he’s immediately accepted among the masses.  He’s hilarious at mischievous horseplay with the French teacher.  The beautiful girl (Amy Locane) at the nearby girls’ school is taken with him.  His football skills are applauded.  It may be a little surprising that he stems from the blue-collar town of Scranton, Pennsylvania and he buses the tables at dinner time, but David is an all-around okay guy who can knock over a linebacker while passing exceptional touchdown passes.  Amid this environment of different Christian denominations and WASP culture, however, David knows that he will stand apart if he reveals he is Jewish.  Therefore, he tolerates the casual jokes and accepts that it’s best to hide his Star of David necklace. 

The most important relationship occurs between David and his back up quarterback, Charlie (Matt Damon, before he became a superstar, but already looks like he’ll be a superstar).  Charlie begrudgingly accepts that David got to cut in line to be the star player.  As David becomes more of the celebrity on campus, Charlie is proud to be by his side.  Yet, Charlie has his own pressures to live up to as the fifth in line of his esteemed family who must carry on the legacy at the school followed by attending Harvard the following year. 

The roadmap of School Ties is easy to navigate.  You know when each note of the script is about to be played.  There will be a swastika that will shockingly appear.  Fist fights will happen.  The blue blood parents and faculty will interfere preaching their own “codes of honor” and the school’s storied 193 year history.  Yet, the film works very, very effectively.  The dialogue isn’t hokey and nothing feels like what could have been an after school special. 

No debate among the viewers.  Anti-Semitism is evil and thoughtless without merit or justification.  Questions appear where is it right to ask if David should have hidden his Jewishness or was he even lying about being Jewish, when in fact he just wasn’t even asked.  Is it right that David confronts his problems with his fists first?  Yet, Wolf’s script, apparently based on personal experience, delves further into the mounting pressures of these prep school kids who are primed from birth to be the latest model churned out from the respective family lineage for greatness in academics and athleticism.  Much of the material is devoted to the horror of actually not acing a class, and I appreciate that it’s not diminished to a standard line of “my parents are going to kill me.”  Raw emotion and stress are legitimized among these students.

The third act comes with no foreshadowing as a cheating scandal is suddenly introduced. Collectively the boys must debate who is the guilty party and why are they the guilty party.  Is it because one is Jewish, or is it because one actually cheated?  Good dialogue, good debate, but this also may be where the standard stuff spills over a little too much.  As such, the ending hinges on the third act, when it should have embraced more of the film as a whole.

The cast is made up of, at the time, soon to be superstars like Fraser, Damon, Chris O’Donnell, and Ben Affleck.  School Ties should be regarded as a winning audition for these guys’ careers that were only just on the horizon.  Their respective performances here are just as good as any of their most well-known roles, and they are happy to hide in the background as extras or step up for a camera shot.


By Marc S. Sanders

Recently, I watched The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen and it reminded me how much I enjoy a good poker movie, and I don’t even play cards.  Shortly thereafter, I took it upon myself to watch Rounders directed by John Dahl.  A few things occurred to me.  Poker movies do not acknowledge an organization called Gamblers Anonymous.  I guess to do so would be too much of a downer when the real suspense lies in the close ups of these talented players trying to read and outplay one another across the table.  Addictions become all too real and movies are not about reality but rather enhanced reality.

Rounders explores a seedy underground world of poker in modern day New York City.  Its community is made up of guys with names like Teddy KGB (aka The Mad Russian with ties to the mob), Joey “Knish,” and Worm.  There’s also a heavy who conveniently comes in to collect debts, and his affectionate name is Gramma.  These guys are portrayed by an outstanding cast of actors; respectively John Malkovich, John Turturro and Edward Norton.  Gramma is Michael Rispoli looking squat but all muscle under a derby hat while residing in his brothel of hookers who work for him.  All of these characters couldn’t be any more different.  The only thing they have in common is the game.  Gramma is the destiny that follows you after the game.  The other thing they have in common is the storytelling device of mentor, both good and bad. 

Knish maintains a conservative career approach to poker that allows him to pay his bills and alimony, and has groomed a baby faced “rounder” known as Mike McDermott.  He doesn’t look like he belongs with these shadowy figures but maybe that’s why he’s so good at the table.  KGB is the devil that’s not in disguise.  He’s the Oreo chomping Russian psycho with an appropriate, yet overly laid on Bolshevik accent. Worm is Mike’s pal who won’t let up to entice his childhood friend to keep the juice going because poker, honest or more importantly shady, is all that matters. 

Matt Damon is Mike in one of his most underappreciated roles.  Mike looks like a law student with a promising career.  I said he looks like that.  The film however shows that Mike is not a law student at all.  At least he shouldn’t be.  Early on in the film, Mike’s britches get too big for him and he loses everything such as his tuition money and rent and anything else he’d been saving up for.  Knish offers to help him get back in the game, but Mike swears off poker like someone who perhaps would swear off fatty foods.  I guess it’s not an addiction that is taking over his livelihood such as with his devoted law school student  girlfriend Jo, played by Gretchen Mol.  In Rounders, law school and love are the inconvenience.  Not poker.

Nine months go by and Mike picks up his childhood best friend, Worm, played with exceptional sleaze by Edward Norton.  Mike resists Worm’s advances to get back in the neighborhood games where they were masters at the hustle.  Worm is desperate and eager to play because it’s all he wants to do and he has an acknowledged drive to simply self-destruct in endless debt.  Mike’s devotion to Worm is tough for him to compromise and pretty soon his personal vouch for his friend gets them both into trouble where binge gaming is their only option.

The step-by-step play of the story is predictable here.  We know there’ll be one big game at the end with a monster win.  Mike will face set backs along the way.  He’ll have mentor moments and arguments with Jo.  But so what.  Look at the actors this film has to offer, and follow along with a great script of dialogue too. 

Rounders came out in 1998 when Matt Damon was surprising the world with his original script Good Will Hunting.  This movie is one of the first films where he got top billing and his name above the title.  He has so many good scenes because many of them play like duets.  Damon vs Malkovich.  Damon with Turturro.  Damon with, and sometimes against, Norton. 

My favorite pairings are the scenes he shares with Martin Landau who plays Mike’s law professor, Abe Petrovsky.  Landau personally touched me as the son of Jewish immigrants where each generation went on to Rabbinical school.  Petrovsky describes for his law student, Mike, that through his own personal experience that our destiny chooses us.  Often, we don’t choose what we have to become.  The Petrovsky character was raised in the Jewish orthodox community where I also had experience while attending Yeshiva for ten years.  I knew this man that Landau so accurately portrays.   Beyond my review, I have to share that this character spoke to me and reunited me with the Rabbis who taught me in elementary school. Personally, Petrovsky assured me that it was okay that I did not follow in the footsteps of my teachings at Yeshiva.  It wasn’t for me, much like law school is not for Mike.  Mike has a talent for something else.  Still, it’s a very risky talent.  Rounders would like to tell you that everything in life is worth taking risks.

I’m not sure I agree with the philosophy of Rounders.  Gambling can easily turn into a terrible addiction.  My father played all the games at the casinos on occasion, but he never stayed very long and he only went infrequently like when he was on a business trip.  He always told me that he would not be sure he’d be able to stop if he took up the game.  I knew exactly what he was talking about which is why I never even opted to learn.  I know my limitations.  Rounders doesn’t focus on limitations, though.  Limitations are for nerds, I guess.  Rounders is all about searching for strategy to improve your game.  It’s movie money.  So, there’s only pretend risk as Mike aspires to beat the best of the underground, come out alive from the violations of his pal and then move on to Vegas where he’ll give it a shot at the World Series of Poker.

There’s one other aspect I admire about Dahl’s film.  I looked for it on this most recent viewing and I’m telling you I couldn’t see it anywhere.  Dahl never, ever shows you the full hands of the players.  Either you see only a part of the river of a Texas Hold ‘Em game or you see the pair of cards the players hold, but never both in any round of the various card playing.  Dahl’s approach like the Mike’s philosophy is not so much playing the cards as it is to show the players play against each other.  The ticks and expressions they give like how they smoke or drink or even how they eat Oreo cookies out of their poker chip rack.  It’s very effective compared to other poker scenes in films like The Sting or even Casino Royale.  With a fine tuned script by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, it is fair to say that anyone knows what hand beats a flush or two pair or whatever.  More importantly, what matters is what read is ultimately gonna win you the table.  Rounders is all about winning the table, not the hand.

STAR TREK (2009)

By Marc S. Sanders

Well Batman did it, and James Bond did it.  So why can’t Star Trek do it too? 

JJ Abrams adopted another franchise to direct when he rebooted the outer space western originally conceived by Gene Rodenberry over 50 years ago.  He did well with it too, if you are willing to dismiss the final polish to the look of the picture that Abrams couldn’t resist.  Not so much a polish as it is a tarnish, unfortunately.

I was late to the party of realizing that Abrams has a terrible habit of using “lens flares” on many of his films.  Now that I’m attuned, I can’t help but notice.  I typically get quite entertained by his pictures.  Mission: Impossible III is still the best of the series as far I’m concerned.  The Force Awakens thankfully carried the original trilogy tradition of the Star Wars franchise.  His one original film that he directed, Super 8, is criminally underrated.  However, those films were spared the over saturated and very unwelcome lens flare that dominates his first Star Trek film.  The film opens with an outstanding special effects battle as a Federation starship is being overwon by a Romulan war ship.  The sets of the bridge and decks of the ship are slanted to emote chaos.  There are sparks of fire falling all over the place.  Crew members are being sucked into space, and falling over each other.  And there’s lens flares aplenty which are not so distracting within all the hysteria depicted.  The scene climaxes with the birth of one of the two most celebrated franchise characters, James T Kirk.  It’s a spectacular opening sequence that seems to uphold the traditions of Star Trek while feeling fresh with outstanding visual effects.

Afterwards, the visual effects stay on course with the updated technology that Hollywood now relies upon.  Nothing here looks CGI.  It all feels tangible, hot, and operationally functional.  Abrams accomplished a great looking science fiction film, but then he and his cinematographer spray painted a graffiti of light streaks that never end.  Crew members will be walking down a hallway – there’s a lens flare.  A character gets abandoned on a deserted snow planet – there are more lens flares.  A bar fight occurs, only to be blinded by lens flares.  Every time a guy throws a punch, it’s literally followed with a lens flare.  A hearing in an assembly room takes place.  Why do we need streaks of light in here of all places?  If I were on vacation and taking in the sights of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco within this future, my pictures would be terrible.  Apparently, lens flares have taken over the state of California.  (I guess I should be thankful knowing the state did not in fact eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean.)

The rebooted story line is fine, yet simple.  A Romulan terrorist named Nero (Eric Bana) from a further distant future is obsessed with exacting revenge on Spock.  Next to that plot, this film serves more as opportunity for production company Paramount Pictures to reintroduce the beloved seven main characters of the original series of television and films with new actors.  Chris Pine is one of the best casting selections.  His Captain Kirk is his own performance and yet when he finally sits in that captain’s chair on the bridge, I could recognize the stature and expressions of William Shatner.  He gives a nice salute to the character and the original actor who played him.  Zachary Quinto is also good as Spock, though this character is distant cry from the original Leonard Nimoy portrayal.  I found it interesting.  This Spock has greater challenges with emotions harbored in the human side of his brain.  Karl Urban is fantastic at taking over the reigns of DeForrest Kelley as “Bones” McCoy, the Enterprise’s eventual resident doctor.  Urban is given the opportunity to be hilariously cynical upon his entrance into the film.

While the visual effects and sets are at the top of their game with Abrams and crew sparing no expense, it is a little eye opening to see the sexuality of the characters take a step forward.  Abrams is not shy about showing Zoe Saldana as Uhura disrobe into her under garments with Kirk standing on the other side of the bedroom.  I’m not offended or prudish about this material but was it really necessary to go with the Porky’s angle?  It doesn’t have to be a requirement to take some of the most beautiful actors in the world and get them to strip to uphold a film.  Star Trek always had much more to offer than that.  Scenes like this come off like a cheap shot.  Pine and Saldana are better actors, worthy of favored franchise fare (DC and Marvel films) than just material like this. 

There are some surprises in this reboot for both the casual and obsessed fans.  It’s kind of welcome actually as it takes the familiar universe of Roddenberry’s conception and turns it on its head.  Certain well known locations and characters arrive at unexpected fates.  Though, unfortunately, the alternate timeline motif pushes its way through the middle of the picture.  I fear for these kinds of stories.  All they do, time and again, is open up unanswered and (forgive me for the pun) illogical answers.  Marvel and DC films are on their way to doing this with their upcoming films following the year 2021 and I can see the whole thing unraveling at the seams.  Was it necessary here, though?  I really didn’t think so.  Abrams had an opportunity to win back an appearance of an actor from the original series and it seemed forced into the film like a square trying to fit into a circle.  The older installments had their moment in the sun.  Let that go.  Focus on this new cast and this new vision.

Again, this Star Trek is a gorgeous looking film full of color and clean looking set designs all around.  The bridge of the Enterprise is something that I’d love to see in person.  The cast is actually quite perfect filling the shoes of their respective roles.  However, JJ Abrams tried too hard I think with a couple of plot developments, and an extremely distracting and very unwelcome LENS FLARE.  I KNOW I’M REPEATING MYSELF.  YET I’M NOT BEING ANY MORE REDUNDANT THAN ABRAMS WAS WITH THE STUPID BLINDING PIECE OF LIGHT. 

Maybe the next time I watch this picture, I’ll wear my sunglasses.


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.


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. 


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. 


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?


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.


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.


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.