From The Northerner, the student newspaper of NKU. (I attended NKU as an undergrad from 1986~7, then as a grad student from 2002~4, by the way.)
I have an opinion on this matter, of course. The best Cincinnati films to date are Traffic (2000), and Fresh Horses (1988).
Rain Man (1988), which tends to get the most attention, left me cold, even though I’ve liked most movies with Tom Cruise or Dustin Hoffman.
Traffic, though, is a multilayered, engrossing story about the narcotics underworld. I recently saw it for the second time, and it’s held up well over the past two decades.
Fresh Horses is a coming-of-age movie starring Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy. This movie is a little dated, and a bit uneven in places; but it isn’t bad for 30-year-old teen movie from the late Reagan era.
Also, one scene in Fresh Horses features the University of Cincinnati lecture hall where I took organic chemistry in 1987, after I transferred to UC from NKU.
A quick movie review for you today. I recently watched Jobs (2013), starring Ashton Kutcher. I liked this movie much better than the subsequent Steve Jobs (2015), which starred Michael Fassbender.
Say what you will about him, but Ashton Kutcher is a skilled actor. In this movie, Kutcher pulled off one of the most difficult acting feats: He believably stepped into the shoes of a recently deceased figure who is still very much a part of our collective, living memory.
Jobs covers Steve Jobs’s long up-and-down journey from college dropout in the mid-1970s, to personal computing wunderkind of the early 1980s, to corporate exile of the early 1990s. And, of course, his triumphant return to Apple later in that decade.
I’m something of a Steve Jobs fanboy, and I’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man, published shortly after Jobs’s death. The movie is largely accurate, based on my reading of the Isaacson biography.
Steve Jobs died at the relatively young age of 56, but he packed a lot—and I mean, a lot—into that short life. You’ll probably get more out of the movie if you can manage to read the Isaacson biography first.
Jobs is over two hours long. Despite that length, the film necessarily truncates a large portion of its subject’s life—namely, the years Jobs spent in relative obscurity at NeXT.
The abridgment of the NeXt years is understandable. I would, however, have liked to have seen a bit more detail about how Jobs rescued his old company from near bankruptcy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The new iMac, the iPhone, the iPod….There is a lot to cover there.
The movie does touch on these events. Jony Ives (played by Giles Matthey) makes a brief appearance. But viewers who haven’t read the Isaacson biography will likely miss a lot of this.
I acknowledge the counterargument, though: A full coverage of this final stage of Steve Jobs’s career—and life– would have added another full hour to the movie. The creators of Jobs probably determined (and probably correctly) that this would have been simply too long for the attention spans of twenty-first century moviegoers, no matter how fascinating the subject matter.
I can still remember the first time I saw Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War epic, Platoon, in a cinema in South Carolina during the summer of 1986.
At that time, the men who had served in the war were still mostly in their late thirties and early forties. The Vietnam War was as recent to the present as the first term of George H.W. Bush, and the US-led invasion of Iraq, are recent to us today.
I was only a few weeks away from turning eighteen when I watched Platoon that afternoon. Born in 1968, I was too young to recall the Vietnam War, but I had grown up in its shadow. The Vietnam War was a constant cultural reference point—kind of like the war in Iraq is now.
Platoon was not the first movie to feature the Vietnam War; but most of the previous efforts in this regard had turned out badly. Apocalypse Now (1979) was simply weird, and completely lacking realism. The Deer Hunter (1978) was depressing and nihilistic.
Platoon was the first major film that addressed the Vietnam War in a manner that was realistic and artistically engaging. This movie didn’t flinch from the dark side of the conflict; but this was no self-indulgent wallow in the gloom. There are characters in this movie worth knowing, and the film ends on a redemptive note.
I found the movie powerful in 1986, but I wasn’t quite sure why. At the age of eighteen, I really had no idea of the difficult choices that the real world requires of us all: between right and wrong, idealism and pragmatism, serving others and serving oneself.
This theme is present throughout the film, but it’s encapsulated in the above scene, “I am Reality”. That famous line from Sgt. Barnes:
“There’s the way it oughta be, and there’s the way it is.”
This line went over my head on that teenage summer afternoon almost thirty-four years ago. All teens see the world, and themselves, in absolute, black-and-white terms. I was no exception.
I rewatched the movie a few nights ago. At the age of fifty-one, I understand the significance of Sgt. Barnes’s line, and how the real world is many shades of gray.
And this—to me, at least—is what the movie is all about. This is why Platoon will continue to be a classic, long after the Vietnam War generation (and we, their children), have passed into history.
There’s another Amityville movie out. This one, like Amityville 2: the Possession (1982), is a prequel of sorts. It depicts the murders that occurred in this infamous suburban Long Island home in November 1974.
I watched Amityville 2 back in the 1980s. Amityville 2 was only loosely based on the murders. (For example, the family was named Montelli, and not DeFeo.) This newest movie, however, appears to be aiming for more of a biopic. The characters correspond to the actual members of the DeFeo family.
I’ll have to get around to watching this and reviewing it here. I saw that Diane Franklin is in it. Her performance in Amityville 2, as the family’s doomed elder daughter, was riveting. In this version, Franklin plays Louise DeFeo, the mother of the family.
I have mixed feelings about all these Amityville Horror movies. On one hand, I recognize that this is an almost irresistible topic for horror filmmakers—kind of like the Nazi era is for the makers of historical documentaries.
On the other hand, though, I also feel that the original tragedy, in which six people lost their lives, has been exploited somewhat. Perhaps it’s time to let the dead of Amityville rest in peace, and move on to other topics.
Nevertheless, I do want to see this one—if for Diane Franklin, if nothing else. She’s one of my favorite actresses from the 1980s, and she seems to be a genuinely nice person, based on what I’ve seen of her in interviews.
I can still remember the first time I saw The Evil Dead—sometime back in the 1980s, on VHS. (I don’t believe this 1981 film had a long run at the theaters—it wasn’t exactly date night stuff.)
The Evil Dead wasn’t like The Exorcist, in the sense that it would send your imagination running and keep you awake at night. Rather, The Evil Dead was one long series of endless jump scares.
The movie started intense, and it just never stopped.
The Evil Dead was also Sam Raimi’s best work. There was a certain dark humor in the film. But Raimi didn’t overplay the humor element—as he would in subsequent installments of the franchise, and later movies like Drag Me to Hell (2009).
The setup was simple: A group of people spend the night in a remote cabin. They play a recording that summons evil spirits from the bowels of the earth.
One by one, they are turned into homicidal zombies. The End.
And yet—maybe horror tales (whether on the page or on the screen) are best when they have simple, readily accessible plots. I remember reading Dan Simmons’s overlong Carrion Comfort and thinking, man this is just too much plot for a horror novel.
The Evil Dead was good storytelling. The special effects are primitive, by today’s standards. But the movie is still quite unnerving to watch.
The Fast & Furious franchise, now nearly 20 years old, is the franchise that has no end, apparently. Hobbs & Shaw is a F&F spin-off, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
This is the setup: A shadowy terrorist organization called Eteon has gained control of a super-virus that can wipe out all human life on earth. Two reluctant agents who don’t get along (Johnson and Statham) decide to put their differences aside and track down the bad guys.
You’ve seen various versions of this movie before. There is nothing new, here, plot-wise. But perhaps originality is overrated.
As for the acting: Dwayne Johnson is, as usual, the big, likable tough guy. Jason Statham is, as usual, the snide hero whom you can’t quite bring yourself to like. (Statham projects the same personality, more or less, in every one of his movies.)
This is a visually spectacular film. The special effects and chase scenes are really something. The climactic scene, involving a string of vehicles and a helicopter, will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The script, however, is written toward the same 13 year-old audience that flocked to Deadpool. Although it’s billed as an action thriller, Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t take itself seriously. There is a constant laugh track, and the jokes are only occasionally funny. (For example, there’s an extended dialogue between Johnson and Statham, in which one compares the other’s company to “dragging balls (yes, testicles) across broken glass”).
If this is your idea of fun, then you’ll probably enjoy Hobbs & Shaw. Likewise, you’ll enjoy this if you’ve enjoyed previous installments in the Fast & Furious franchise. If you’re in the mood for something fun and fast and not very challenging, then Hobbs & Shaw might be your ticket.
Hobbs & Shaw is not exactly a bad movie, but it isn’t exactly a good one, either. I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Okay–maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. But I watched this (final?) installment in the Rambo franchise a few days ago, and I was favorably impressed.
First, let me explain something to you: I’m from the 1980s. I’ve been a fan of Rambo ever since First Blood (’82), and yes, I’m old enough to remember when that film was new. Since then, I’ve watched Rambo bring down thunder and whoop-ass in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Burma.
I’m also a Stallone fan. I liked the Rocky movies, too.
So that’s where I’m coming from. If you’re looking for a politically correct, hoity-toity movie review, visit The Guardian. They have plenty of them over there.
Rambo: Last Blood follows a very basic revenge plot. As the movie opens, the 70-something Rambo has found a home, of sorts, with a few members of his extended family in Arizona. One of the members of the household is his college-aged niece, Gabriela (played by Yvette Monreal).
When Gabriela is kidnapped by sex traffickers south of the border in Mexico, Rambo goes into action.
I can’t tell you much more without going into spoilers, but that’s the setup, in a nutshell. Again, it’s simple. This isn’t Game of Thrones.
The movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stallone is not the young man he was in 1982, when the first Rambo movie came out, or even the late-middle age man he was in 2008, when Rambo was released. Early in the movie Rambo is seen taking meds, presumably for hypertension, or some other age-related condition.
Stallone (who has always had a creative hand in his films) also has the ego-restraint not to portray himself as the romantic interest of women young enough to be his daughters or granddaughters. In this film, he’s in a strictly protective, patriarchal role. (But then, Rambo never had much time for the ladies, did he?)
There is a lot of action in this movie, and a few surprisingly tender emotional moments. (If any Rambo movie will bring a tear to your eye, this one is it.)
My only (minor) quibble is the extreme, graphic nature of the violence. I mean, everyone expects a Rambo movie to be violent, but this one is over-the-top, borderline grotesque in a few places.
The grotesqueness does add to the primeval nature of the revenge plot. But this factor also makes the movie a bad choice for some younger and more squeamish viewers who might have otherwise enjoyed it.
I’ll give Rambo: Last Blood 4.5 out of 5 stars. This movie does what it sets out to do, in a very entertaining manner.
Clint Eastwood is one of the few actors for whose work I am a completist—meaning that I have made it my mission to watch everything the actor ever made.
My favorite Clint Eastwood movies are the more recent ones: Gran Torino and The Mule. But if you’re in the mood for something cheesier, you might give Every Which Way But Loose (1978) a try.
Every Which Way But Loose is a movie about a guy, Philo, who drives a truck and bare-knuckle boxes for extra money.
Oh, and Philo has an orangutan as a sidekick. And a human sidekick. And a foul-mouthed mother.
The movie takes place at various locations in the American West. But it begins in Southern California. Philo falls for pretty but dodgy lounge singer, Lynne (Sondra Locke). She takes off, and he pursues her to Colorado.
That’s the main plot—sort of. But Philo also makes enemies of two vengeful police officers, and a neo-Nazi gang called the Black Widows.
If this sounds a tad ridiculous, well—it is. Nevertheless, Every Which Way But Loose is an oddly entertaining movie. From what I’ve read (I was alive in 1978, but too young to have watched the film), this movie was roundly panned by the critics, but it was a commercial success.
It just goes to show: Never trust professional critics.
Watching Taxi Driver (1976) had been on my to-do list for quite some time, and tonight I finally checked it off.
This was, first of all, a very dark film about the psychological and social malaise of post-Vietnam America during the Sickie Seventies. The film is set in New York, which—by all accounts—was truly a hellhole during that era.
Robert DeNiro stars as 26 year-old Travis Bickle, a troubled Vietnam vet with obvious psychological issues. Travis takes a job as a nighttime taxi driver as an antidote to his persistent insomnia.
Early in the movie, Travis meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Betsy is a volunteer for the campaign of Charles Palantine, a surging candidate for President of the United States. Travis’s approach is a bit odd. But Betsy admires his spunk, and agrees to join him for coffee and pie.
At first it seems that Travis may find happiness with Betsy. But when he takes her out for a movie, his choice is very…inappropriate second-date fare. Disturbed by the date, Betsy stops taking his calls.
Disillusioned with Betsy, New York, and the human condition, Travis hatches a bizarre plan to assassinate Charles Palantine–though his plans take a surprise turn.
Travis also befriends Iris (Jodie Foster), 12 year-old prostitute. (Yes, really.) Although he has an opportunity to sexually exploit her, Travis only wants to save Iris from her life on the streets and her manipulative pimp.
How does it all shake out? I’m not going to tell you—just in case you haven’t yet seen the movie.
Taxi Driver is a good movie, but it’s a dark and depressing ride through nearly two hours of mid-1970s social decay, and the mind of an extremely disturbed young man. This is no John Wayne movie. Travis is an antihero; but there is enough good in him to maintain him as a sympathetic character.
Taxi Driver is also a film that would never get made today. The content in this movie would generate a long list of twenty-first century trigger warnings and speech code violations. Most shocking to present-day viewers (and this was even a boundary-pusher for me) was the blatant depiction of child prostitution. There is no underage nudity or sex scenes between adults and minors. Nevertheless, Jodie Foster would have been about thirteen when this movie was made. Though all the really bad stuff is merely implied, it would be a bit too close for comfort for today’s moviegoers. One can only imagine the outcry on Twitter.
Anyone who was alive in 1981 will know the historical significance of Taxi Driver. This was the movie that stoked John Hinckley Jr’s obsession with Jodie Foster, and gave him the idea of assassinating a president in order to impress her.
Hinckley originally planned to assassinate Jimmy Carter. But Carter left office before Hinckley could make a serious attempt. So Hinckley shot Reagan in Washington D.C. on March 30, 1981. (I can still remember hearing the news from a childhood friend’s mother; but that’s another story for another time.)
By all means, watch Taxi Driver; but realize that it will give you a mental hangover for a few hours. Although the ending is not entirely unhappy, this is not an uplifting movie.
But sometimes dark films can be worth watching, too. I believe this is one such case.
In 1966, the war in Vietnam was already a major concern for most Americans in real life. The tumultuous year of 1968 (also the year of your humble correspondent’s birth) was fast approaching. The golden, innocent era of postwar America was drawing inexorably to a close.
But Hollywood was still cranking out westerns. The Great American Western, too, would be killed by the societal upheavals of the 1960s. After that decade, American audiences were no longer as willing to embrace the straightforward notions of good and evil, heroes and villains, that typified the western movie. Make of that what you will.
But Hollywood was still cranking out these movies in 1966. In that year, Nevada Smith, starring Steve McQueen, hit the theaters. (The movie hit my cable box last night, fifty-three years later.)
Nevada Smith employs a classic revenge plot. Max Sand (aka Nevada Smith) is the son of a white father and a Native American mother. During his youth, both of his parents were brutally murdered in a crime with vaguely racial overtones. Now an adult, Max sets out to track down the killers and avenge his parents.
This is an entertaining film. The main character goes on a long quest to fulfill his aims, and that presents numerous opportunities for plot twists, and a colorful array of secondary characters. I suspect, though, that at 128 minutes (a little more than two hours), Nevada Smith would have to be cut down for twenty-first century moviegoers, who are now so accustomed to peripatetic superhero flicks.
If anything detracted from Nevada Smith, it was the film’s lack of realism, which was simply taken for granted by moviemakers and moviegoers alike prior to the 1970s. To cite one example: when characters are shot, they simply grab their chests and keel over. This may have spared 1960s audiences blood and gore, but it also required a lot more suspension of disbelief.
Nineteen sixty-six was not a “woke” year (no one back then would have even known the term), nor is Nevada Smith a “woke” movie. That said, the film’s portrayal of Native Americans, and various mixed race people, is sympathetic and respectful. (I have no doubt, though, that today’s PC crowd would watch the film and find something to carp about. Don’t they always?)
Steve McQueen died in 1980 at the age of 50. Nevada Smith represents one of his better performances. Worth a watch if you like classic westerns.
Several of the best Vietnam War movies ever made were made during the 1980s: namely Platoon (1986) (the best one ever, IMO), and the dark and surrealistic Full Metal Jacket (1987).
Then there was Hamburger Hill, also made in 1987.
While Platoon and Full Metal Jacket are classics, Hamburger Hill is a Reagan-era movie about Vietnam that simply doesn’t age well. (I don’t know how good it was in 1987, all things considered. I saw it for the first time last night.)
For starters, this movie contains every possible cliche about the Vietnam War.
The Procol Harum song “A Whiter Shade of Pale”? Check!
Vietnamese prostitutes who promise to “love you long time”? Check!
Hackneyed and tortured portrayals of racial tensions in the ranks? Check!
The action, moreover, is uneven. And there is not a single scene in which actor Dylan McDermott doesn’t have perfectly arranged hair.
Hamburger Hill isn’t a horrible movie, but there are far better options in the Vietnam War movie genre, including the more recent We Were Soldiers (2002), starring Mel Gibson.
I’m watching The Pacific on HBO. This series is a significant investment in time, but well worth it.
There haven’t been nearly enough films and novels about the Pacific war. World War II movies and fiction tend to gravitate to the war in Europe.
Perhaps that’s to be expected. The war in Europe took place in the middle of Western Civilization, in countries that everyone is familiar with: France, Germany, Russia, etc.
And, of course: Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Probably half the documentaries on the History Channel are about the Third Reich.
Much of the war in the Pacific (the part that we were involved in, anyway), was fought on thinly populated, remote islands. While the ideology of the Third Reich is well known to anyone with even basic historical literacy, few Americans grasp the essentials of the Japanese Empire, and its major players.
Those are among the reasons why the war in the Pacific has been such a challenge to storytellers, and–as a result–often neglected by them. But this HBO series does a great job of bringing “the other World War II” to life.
I’m presently rewatching the original Fright Night.
I saw this movie at the cinema in 1985, and I figured that after 34 years, I owed it another viewing. I enjoyed the movie the first time, after all.
Fright Night is a fun movie. This isn’t cutting-edge horror. And unless you’re of an extremely sensitive bent, it won’t give you nightmares or keep you awake at night.
I usually don’t like comedy-horror. The modern comedy-horror zombie movies are too often just gross, and/or in extremely bad taste.
Fright Night, on the other hand, is clever, and the main characters are people you like, and want to see survive their horror movie ordeal.
(When I watched Woody Harrelson in Zombieland—big mistake on my part!–I found myself rooting for the zombies…Anything to shut up Harrelson’s annoying protagonist. But I digress.)
Fright Night has just enough horror to maintain the sense of dread, and just enough humor to keep things light. The opposing forces of horror and comedy are difficult to balance, but they’re balanced here. Almost perfectly.
Yes, I know that there is a 2011 Fright Night remake that stars Colin Farrell. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ve seen the previews, and it looks promising. I’ve added that one to my “to-watch” list.
A New Jersey teenager named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) moves to Southern California with his single mom. But Los Angeles isn’t the dreamland he’d been told it was.
For one thing, California is full of bullies. And they all seem to know karate.
Not all is dismal in California, however. Daniel meets a promising young California blonde, Ali (Elizabeth Shue). But one of the karate bullies just happens to be her very jealous ex-boyfriend. And he isn’t going to take no for an answer.
Will Daniel walk away from the girl, or he will he resign himself to being beaten to a pulp every day?
But maybe there’s a third choice. Daniel is befriended by the mysterious Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), the maintenance man of the rundown apartment building where he and his mother live. Mr. Miyagi might just be able to help him with that whole self-defense thing.
This is the setup for the first Karate Kid movie of 1984. The Karate Kid wasn’t the most wildly successful 1980s film franchise, but it did spawn three sequels and one remake, the most recent one in 2010.
This was one of those movies from my youth (I turned sixteen in 1984), that I never got around to watching when it was current. The Karate Kid was playing on cable the other day, so I decided to watch it, 35 years after everyone else in my peer group.
There is a lot about this movie to love. Stories about mentorship and standing up to bullies have a timeless appeal, and for good reason.
This film also has some lessons about the importance of hard work and sticking to a process. Consider the scene in which Daniel thinks he’s beginning his karate lessons, but Mr. Miyagi tells him to wash and wax all those old cars. As we learn later in the film, there was a method behind Mr. Miyagi’s seeming madness.
No complaints with the acting. Pat Morita (1932-2005) was a perfect choice for the stern but compassionate mentor, Mr. Miyagi. The other members of the cast are at least adequate in their roles.
Certain elements of the script, however, seemed a bit dated…or maybe the standards of filmmaking have just changed too much. Or maybe I’ve aged to the point where I can no longer fully appreciate a movie made for a teen audience–even the teen audience that I was once a member of.
The character of Daniel comes across as flippant, and some of the actions he takes are just a bit too silly and self-destructive to be believed. Likewise, Ali’s sudden and dogged attachment to the new loser in school isn’t completely credible.
In some of the scenes, I found myself saying: I don’t remember teens acting like this in the 1980s. This is an idealized version of how teens behaved and interacted in…the 1950s, maybe?
But then, it’s important to remember that John G. Avildsen, who directed The Karate Kid, was born in 1935. Robert Mark Kamen, a Baby Boomer born in 1947, wrote the script.
And herein lies the problem. If I were to make a movie about contemporary teenagers, my teens would all talk and behave like teenagers from the 1980s–because that’s what I know. (I’m about the same age today that John G. Avildsen was in 1984.)
Adults can never fully understand contemporary teenagers, perhaps; but adults are the ones who direct movies and write screenplays. I can only wonder what today’s teens think of the movies made for them and about them, by writers and directors of my generation. They no doubt shake their heads in irony, like I inadvertently did while watching some parts of The Karate Kid.