Archive for 1986

Stand By Me * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Drama with tags on September 22, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Rob Reiner.
Screenplay: Raynold Gideon, Bruce A. Evans.
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, Bradley Gregg, Gary Riley, Jason Oliver, John Cusack, Marshall Bell, Frances Lee McCain, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Kirby, Andy Lindberg.

Predominantly known for his horror stories, writer Stephen King released a book in 1982 called “Different Seasons“. It contained four novellas, three of which, went on to become successful Hollywood movies which were very far from most other adaptations of his work. One was Bryan Singer’s “Apt Pupil” another was Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption” and the third – originally entitled “The Body” – became Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me“.

Four young friends, Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Vern (Jerry O’Connell) and Teddy (Corey Feldman) go on an adventure together to find the dead body of a local boy who was supposedly hit by a train. By following the tracks, the friends’ journey becomes more about them and their personal struggles and soon, the boyish adventure becomes about their experiences of entering adulthood.

Delivered with a wonderfully nostalgic narration by Richard Dreyfuss and a good feel for 1950’s Americana, this inviting and honest, coming-of-age, tale captures the spirit of youth like very few others. Reiner’s feel for the time and the material is pitched so perfectly that you are completely transported back to this era. It’s imbued with a sublimely evocative soundtrack of classic 1950’s songs, ranging from; Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” through Buddy Holly’s “Everyday“, The Chordettes’ “Lollipop” and, of course, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me“. It’s this very attention to detail that truly brings this affectionate and sentimental film to life, while completely involving you in the trials and tribulations of the four, endearing, youths at it’s centre. The four youths in question are embodied with charm and nuance by Wheaton, Feldman, O’Connell and, especially, Phoenix. They are so natural in their deliveries that the failed careers they would go on to have didn’t merit the performances delivered here. Phoenix was the only one of the four who would receive critical praise, but sadly his life was cut short at the tender age of 23, making his performance all the more poignant.
Rarely has a film captured the innocence and growing pains of young boys on the road to manhood and rarely do you ever get such a rich and heartfelt delivery. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t experience the 1950’s; stepped foot on an Americana front porch or played mailbox baseball. What matters, is that you identify with the characters’ rite of passage and that it still perpetuates it’s relevance.

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A wonderfully rustic and nostalgic gem, that’s still as inviting and honest as it was on it’s release. This is one of those timeless cult-classic’s that will always find an audience to resonate with.

Mark Walker

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Big Trouble In Little China * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70’s & 80’s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouth, wise-cracking truck driver, who, while helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find his kidnapped girlfriend, is drawn into a world of centuries old Chinese mythology. Not before long, he’s battling evil spirits and two thousand year old sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) intent on lifting an ancient curse and ruling the universe.

When released in 1986, Big Trouble In Little China received a very poor reception amongst cinema goers. It was a box-office bomb which greatly harmed the reputation of Carpenter (he went back to making independent films after this) and, to some extent, it’s star Russell. The fault of this doesn’t lie at their feet, though, but actually at the feet of the studio who simply didn’t know how to market it. In some ways, this is understandable as the film refuses to be pigeonholed. In the same breath, it can classed as a Kung Fu movie, a Western, a Fantasy, a Horror and a Romance. In essence, it’s all of these things and it’s also not without moments of Comedy. Carpenter delivers an unashamed homage to B-movie filmmaking and incorporates everything he possibly can. This may not work for some but over the years, this has gained a strong cult following, of which, I’m proud to say I’m a member. It has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek and it’s aided immeasurably by Kurt Russell’s riotously entertaining surrogate of John Wayne. His performances have rarely been pitched better or his lines as endlessly quotable. Russell’s embodiment of Jack Burton has to be one of the most enjoyable and buffoonish characters that cinema has to offer and had the studio had their way, it would have been Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson in the role. Thankfully though, it wasn’t, as Russell absolutely nails it – in a style not unlike both of the aforementioned actors – and he and Carpenter skilfully orchestrate their gags on the cultural differences between the East and the West. Burton is very much like Indiana Jones (minus the intellect), as he battles his way through an underworld of the fantastical and the magical where he crosses paths with demonic and monstrous adversaries. If the film sounds over-the-top, that’s because it is, but it’s also a highly imaginative and energetic crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully witty and adventurous, and one that sees Carpenter at his most gleefully entertaining. He crafts just the right balance of humour and action and his abilities to turn on the horror aren’t amiss either.

Mark Walker

Labyrinth * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jim Henson.
Screenplay: Terry Jones.
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker.

Imaginative fantasies have become commonplace of recent times with the release of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” films etc. This has been made possible with the technology we have now, helping to bring fantastical imagery to a new level. However, this 1986 film preceeded those using old-fashioned puppetry from “The Muppets” creator Jim Henson and based on an original story by Terry Jones from “Monty Python” fame.

When her baby brother is stolen by the Goblin King (David Bowie), young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) must mount a rescue operation. A plan made doubly tricky by the fact he has hidden his castle in the middle of a treacherous labyrinth populated with the weird and the wonderful.

This being a childhood favourite of mine, it was nice to visit it again recently. It also serves as a reminder as to how good Jim Henson and his puppets were. With most movies now relying on computer generated special effects, it’s refreshing to know that a more inventive approach was once used. However, some scenes do show up the limitations (and strings) and some stunted dialogue and amature acting don’t help matters. Despite this though, it’s the sheer imagination, fantastical otherworld and it’s eclectic inhabitants that capture your attention in a way that children’s films don’t quite do anymore. When I was young, I wholly entered into Henson’s world and upon a recent rewatch, was reminded how easy that was to do. It’s still effective now and with a shared enthusiasm from my CGI exposed young daughter, it’s testiment that a young audience today can still be captivated by it. Not so long ago, special effects had an integrity about them and Jim Henson and his puppet company were one of the best in the business. Henson was still honing his skills before his untimely death a few years after this. Ironically he died in the same week he was going to sell him company to one of the modern computer generated giants of today. A little known company called… ‘Disney’.

A fantastical, family friendly classic that I much loved as a youngster and have the pleasure to relive with my own children. It has aged fairly well. Although, I often wonder if Bowie actually had that excessively ridiculous codpiece written into his contract. Dear oh dear, David. Have you no shame?

Mark Walker

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The Color Of Money * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on January 10, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Richard Price.
Starring: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John Turturro, Helen Shaver, Bill Cobbs, Bruce A. Young, Richard Price, Iggy Pop, Forest Whitaker.

It’s a salivating inducing prospect for any film fan to have old hands Martin Scorsese and Paul Newman and new hand Tom Cruise combine, to follow on the story of pool shark ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson from Robert Rossen’s classic 1961 film “The Hustler”. Attempting a sequel to that great film may seem like blashpemy but if anyone can pull it off, these three can.

Aged pool hustler ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson (Newman) discovers a younger version of himself in small-time hotshot Vincent Lauria (Cruise), who’s bubbling with talent and attitude and decides to mould him into a hustler just like he used to be. But Vincent’s mouthy lack of restraint begins to spoil a perfect partnership and Eddie considers another shot at the big time himself.

Scorsese crafts a film that compounds most peoples expectations and first off, it seems like a waste of time and talent. However, on repeat veiwings this stands alone as a very fine loose sequel and a great film in it’s own right. Newman as ever is absolutely superb (finally grabbing that elusive Oscar Award) as the embittered and disillusioned hustler, now working a living from seedy pool hall to seedy pool hall. Scorsese brings his usual professional approach to what is an unusual choice of film for him. His cracking of the pool balls, tobacco filled halls and fast talking cons are spot on and helped by some rich and inventive camerawork by Michael Ballhaus. Despite these veterans impressively plying their trade though, they are almost upstaged by the cocksure vibrancy of Cruise. His performance is alive, energetic, and overall what he’s supposed to be…an irritating little shit. It’s a fabulous turn from him and love him or loathe him, it’s a reminder of how good an actor he can be. Shake this up with a few supporting turns from the likes of John Turturro and Forest Whitaker and the ingredients are all there. What it just about lacks though, is the finished article. The film heads along the path of an inevitable showdown between teacher and student and then frustratingly doesn’t deliver. Maybe this is the correct choice from Scorsese, maybe he wanted to avoid the cliched ending but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed in not seeing it happen.

The anti-climactic ending threatens to undo the whole film but the talent involved shines through, in what is a richly textured drama with sharp dialogue and two magnificent lead performances.

Mark Walker

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