1984

C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

The only name I recognized during C.H.U.D.’s opening titles—after the more obvious names in the cast—was casting director Bonnie Timmermann. Timmermann’s an A tier casting director; C.H.U.D. is a B movie with a lower A movie cast (I mean, John Heard and Daniel Stern are both capable of fine work and they would’ve been at near career highs at the time of this one). But it doesn’t seem to know it’s got a better cast than the material, which isn’t a surprise as the script is bad and the directing is bad. Also bad is the cinematography, by Peter Stein, though it’s not like director Cheek would’ve known what to do with better photography. C.H.U.D. manages to be shot on location in New York City, but look like it was shot in Toronto with some second unit establishing work done in New York. And then the sewer stuff is obviously sets and lots of them, but quantity over quality.

So it’s mostly director Cheek’s fault. Sure, Parnell Hall’s script has terrible dialogue, silly characters, contradictory exposition, and an absence of suspense but it still contains those elements. Better direction could’ve at least fixed the lack of suspense and made the silly characters amusing. But Cheek really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. He sabotages his actors, usually with these terrible two shots, which doesn’t help de facto lead Christopher Curry (as a police captain whose wife has gone missing in the rash of recent disappearances). Curry’s… not great and seems out of his depth in a lead role, but at least he’s not hamming it up like Daniel Stern or sleepwalking like John Heard.

Heard’s a fashion photographer who wants to do important work, like photographing people experiencing homelessness but not for journalism’s sake, rather… his own self-aggrandizement? It’s confused and an example of the contradictory exposition. Though it seems like Heard’s decisions are mostly for girlfriend (or wife, it’s unclear) Kim Greist, who’s a callous fashion model and wants him to be famous for the serious photography while still doing all her photo shoots too. The film opens with Heard (who’s top-billed). He’s there to establish the people living underground in the old tunnels—so, C.H.U.D.’s extravagant underground tunnels and giant spaces don’t seem to have anything to do with the sewer or the subway. The film doesn’t acknowledge there are working tunnels under the city. It’s very weird. And inevitable. I spent at least ten minutes waiting for the big underground reveal scene as Curry and Stern—more on them in a moment—either find the legion of scientists doing secret work or at least a good shot of the subterranean mutants’ lair. But no. Same sets as before.

Heard doesn’t do much in the second act; he comes back for the third, but second is Stern and Curry. Less Heard (and Greist, who gives an exceptionally flat performance) isn’t a bad thing. Though Stern and Curry aren’t a good thing.

So Stern is a street preacher who runs a soup kitchen. He and Curry have history; Curry busted him for something five years before, which he drops as exposition. Curry’s too busy memorizing old cases to react to his wife being missing and presumed… eaten. Pretty soon Stern is able to convince Curry there’s something going on and so then they try to fight city hall only for city hall (a regretful looking Eddie Jones, who seems to understand the state of the production better than any other cast member) to tell him absurdly corrupt government official George Martin is in charge. Martin becomes the film’s heavy, which is… not why you want to watch a movie about underground mutants attacking the surface world.

The underground mutants don’t actually look bad either. They’re budget constrained but they might be effective if Cheek could direct. Some of it is definitely Stein’s photography. It’s like he’s trying to showcase the rubber in the costume instead of obscure it.

Lots of familiar faces in the supporting cast—including John Goodman at one point—but most of them are bad. Sam McMurray’s a beat cop who doesn’t care about the people dying, especially if they’re living on the street (or under it). He’s bad. Graham Beckel’s in it for a scene or two. He’s not good, but he’s not bad. Cordis Heard (sister of John) is really bad in a small part as one of Curry’s cops, but it’s obviously Cheek’s direction. C.H.U.D. would be instructional if only any of Cheek’s directorial decisions made sense because then future generations would know what not to do except they’re so weird and obviously not working, they seem hard to classify.

Ruth Maleczech and Bill Raymond are a pair of older siblings living underground who Heard knows; they’re both way too good for the movie, like they thought they were guest-starring on a good TV show or something. J.C. Quinn plays a freelance reporter trying to crack the story, which mostly consists of bad expository scenes with John Heard. He’s not good. But seems like he should be. Then isn’t.

Outside how Timmermann conned a set of solid, working actors into appearing in what should be a low budget exploitation film but isn’t, there’s nothing to C.H.U.D.. A C.H.U.D. is a dud pun doesn’t even work because there’s nothing to suggest it ever could work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Cheek; screenplay by Parnell Hall, based on a story by Shepard Abbott; director of photography, Peter Stein; edited by Claire Simpson; music by David A. Hughes; production designer, William Bilowit; costume designer, Jennifer Lax; produced by Andrew Bonime; released by New World Pictures.

Starring John Heard (George Cooper), Daniel Stern (A.J. Shepherd), Christopher Curry (Captain Bosch), Kim Greist (Lauren Daniels), George Martin (Wilson), J.C. Quinn (Murphy), Ruth Maleczech (Mrs. Monroe), Bill Raymond (Victor), Graham Beckel (Val), Cordis Heard (Officer Sanderson), Sam McMurray (Officer Crespi), and Eddie Jones (Chief O’Brien).


It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984, Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes)

It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown has to be seen to be believed… but also doesn’t need to be seen at all. The special is a Peanuts-riff on… Flashdance. Like, Snoopy saw Flashdance and has become inspired to go out dancing until dawn every night. Meanwhile the Peanuts kids are into dancing now too. Though their dancing is themed–i.e. Peppermint Patty leads an aerobics dance, which makes sense, Charlie Brown leads a hoedown, which doesn’t, Lucy does a “Lucy Says” directional song… set to Hey Ricky. It’s all very, very, very weird.

But also not particularly good. There are a few funny bits–but there’s not a lot of story; the kids have a dance party and Snoopy and Woodstock are messing around with the punch. Only Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) sees what’s happening. It’s funny. It’s also nowhere near enough to make Flashbeagle anything more than an oddity.

Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes’s direction is fine. On the non-musical number parts, it’s downright good. And while the musical numbers are extravagantly produced and well-animated, they don’t dazzle. The original songs are synth-poppy, which gets annoying fast. I suppose the special’s also of interest because it shows a lot of adults (out clubbing, before they step aside so Snoopy can get down to his theme song… which kids listen to on boomboxes at one point).

It’s weird. Flashbeagle is very weird.

Not weird enough to be worth a look though. The acting is fine. Johnson’s not particularly impressive as Charlie Brown, but Fergie’s good as Sally. Gini Holtzman is an all right Peppermint Patty, even if her song is astoundingly obnoxious.

Somehow Fleshbeagle itself isn’t obnoxious. Just… strange.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley, Chuck McCann, and Richard C. Allen; music by Desirée Goyette and Ed Bogas; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Fergie (Sally Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


The Brother from Another Planet (1984, John Sayles)

Despite being about an alien who crash lands on Earth and finds himself stranded in New York City, The Brother from Another Planet takes its time getting to being a fish out of water story. Even when it does, it’s more like a fish being carefully transported in a cup of water to maybe some more water story. Writer-director-editor Sayles and star Joe Morton create this perfect point of entry–the alien (Morton) who crash lands and discovers New York–and then they entirely ignore that possiblity. Morton’s alien can’t speak. The viewer has his backstory, but no understanding.

So when Morton’s moving into a location, even though the viewer is meeting new characters simultaneous to Morton, it’s flipped because the humans are trying to figure him out just like the viewer. Sayles balances it perfectly. Morton’s calm, silent, which gives Sayles room to fill the soundtrack with conversation and sound and music. As the viewer finds their footing in how Sayles is telling this story, the style changes as the story develops. Brother has an incredibly peculiar structure.

Morton’s in New York, looks human besides his feet, and has magic fixing things (technical and biological) powers. He’s a Black man and he’s in Harlem. He goes to a bar, meets its regulars, and Sayles sets up almost half the movie. Brother’s present action is short–seems like around a week–and Sayles doesn’t pace it evenly. All the setup is also important because the characters all recur. Because in the middle of the first half, where Morton’s a fish out of water but not having that experience (he’s being treated as a human in need, not a marooned space alien), Sayles reveals Morton’s on the run.

He’s on the run from Sayles. And–wait for it–David Strathairn. They’re credited simply “Men in Black.” And they’re aliens too. Only they can talk and screech like angry cats when they get excited. And they run like morons. They’re hilarious. Because Brother’s a comedy. It’s occasionally serious, it’s occasionally scary, but it’s a comedy.

Except when it’s not. Because in the second half, it becomes this gentle romance and also this gritty crime procedural. Only, in the case of the latter, it’s out of nowhere because the viewer isn’t privy to Morton’s thoughts. It’s all guesses. Sayles doesn’t fetishize the mystery either. It’s just part of Morton’s character; despite being the lead, the film isn’t from his perspective. He’s always the lead, but only sometimes the protagonist.

Morton’s phenomenal. He’s got to let the audience in, but never the cast. He actually doesn’t get much to do at the beginning, once opening set piece is done. He gets more to do in the second half and it’s an abrupt, graceful transition. Sayles’s plotting of the film is exquisite. He’s got this big cast and everyone gets a lot to do. They don’t get it all at once, they’re never fighting for room, they just–eventually–all get a lot to do. It does mean sometimes a great supporting performance doesn’t get much more material, but it also means sometimes the great performance comes later in the role. It’s uneven, but graceful. Morton, Sayles, composers Martin Brody and Mason Daring, they all keep the moments consistent, even if there’s a big style change.

Sayles indulges without ever losing track of the story or Morton. His editing is great. The rhythm he creates, once Morton steps into the bar, has so much depth, it fits the supporting cast. And the supporting cast is big and excellent.

The bar guys are Daryl Edwards, Steve James, Leonard Jackson, and Bill Cobbs. They’re great. Tom Wright and Maggie Renzi are social workers. They’re great. Wright is playing the hero of a stranded space alien story, but doesn’t know it and Sayles isn’t interested in doing that story. Wright’s just the more traditional protagonist.

Caroline Aaron, Rosetta LeNoire; great. Jaime Tirelli… awesome. Fisher Stevens, awesome. Then there’s Dee Dee Bridgewater who sets off a completely different rhythm and type of storytelling. It’s like the first act of Bridgewater’s movie got dropped into the second act of Brother. But it works because Sayles has established the irregular pace.

Bridgewater’s great. Of course she’s great.

Good photography from Ernest R. Dickerson. Sayles’s composition is pragmatic and tied into Morton’s narrative distance and the script. Dickerson help makes it seem ambitious.

It’s great. The Brother from Another Planet is another one of those great movies where I just say “great” a lot because I think the repetition, despite employing the same adjective over and over, is also accurate. It’s great. Things are great about it. It’s a masterful delight.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Ernest R. Dickerson; music by Martin Brody and Mason Daring; production designer, Nora Chavooshian; produced by Peggy Rajski and Maggie Renzi; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Joe Morton (The Brother), Dee Dee Bridgewater (Malverne Davis), Steve James (Odell), Bill Cobbs (Walter), Leonard Jackson (Smokey), Daryl Edwards (Fly), Tom Wright (Sam), Caroline Aaron (Randy Sue Carter), Herb Newsome (Little Earl), Jaime Tirelli (Hector), Maggie Renzi (Noreen), John Sayles (Man In Black), David Strathairn (Man In Black), and Rosetta LeNoire (Mama).


Sheena (1984, John Guillermin)

Deconstructing Sheena could probably be its own intellectual pursuit. The film’s so many terrible perfect things in one. It’s inverted misogyny, it’s colonial racism, it’s misapplied camp. It’s bad acting from actors with no business in film so it’s this example of bad Hollywood trends. It’s also a notorious box office bomb, so there’s taking its rejection into account. Especially with acknowledgment of the era, politically and culturally. But it’s probably not worthwhile to fully deconstruct Sheena. After all, you leave the film on a positive note.

It didn’t go on one more minute. It stopped when it did. Its fourth or fifth ending, each more insulting–both morally and narratively–than the last, eventually ended and it stopped. Ted Wass stopped being onscreen and Tanya Roberts stopped talking. Because Sheena isn’t just a terrible movie with extremely bad acting and writing, it’s also exhausting. Sheena knows it’s too late. It knows it’s a bad idea. Yet it keeps going, because apparently someone thought pacing out Roberts’s topless scenes for maximum effect was a good idea in a PG-rated action movie ostensibly for a female audience. I mean, Roberts is the lead, right? She gets to be the white savior.

Oh, right. No. She doesn’t. Because Wass, who’s a sports reporter in search of his breakthrough to Dan Rather, doesn’t just save the day, he saves the world. The movie opens with Sheena as a child–a prologue running roughly twenty minutes of just awkward badness in 1984, and some lousy photography from Pasqualino De Santis (which is surprising as the crew is otherwise excellent)–and it’s about her dad saving the world. Except it’s going to be Ted Wass, who actually gives worse of a performance than Roberts. Wass doesn’t try. He just acts badly. The script is bad, his character is bad, his sidekick–Donovan Scott–is even worse in every way, but Wass also is completely inept. He can’t even sell not being able to light a Zippo.

And Roberts is running around almost naked, frequently doused in sweat, made to be docile to Wass even though she’s been Queen of the Jungle–meaning she has to run behind him–riding a zebra or an elephant, doing bit work with chimps, standing in front of an African village and pretending to be their spiritual leader? Roberts is not good. She’s not good once. She does try sometimes. But this movie puts her through awful plot developments.

Then there’s the political intrigue, involving pro football player and African prince (Trevor Thomas) plotting to assassinate his brother, the king. France Zobda plays the woman they both want. It ties into Wass curing cancer.

Thomas even has a Great White Hunter for a mercenary, played by John Forgeham, who’d have the movie’s one good line delivery but director Guillermin wasn’t paying attention. Because director Guillermin really isn’t paying attention to much in Sheena. There’s some decent direction, but none of the action works. Ray Lovejoy’s editing is fantastic in everything except the action scenes. Guillermin gets more than enough footage everywhere else, but the action’s rushed and weak.

Maybe because Sheena’s supposed to have this army of awesome animal sidekicks helping out but they get no personality. They occasionally have a moment, but it’s like no one wanted to shoot any scenes with the animals. Sheena’s not for kids, after all, it’s for twelve year-old boys who want to see Roberts’s multiple bathing scenes. But Guillermin isn’t enthusiastic about it. De Santis is, however.

Guillermin’s enthusiastic about the Kenyan location shooting and he’s sort of enthusiastic about Elizabeth of Toro as Roberts’s adoptive mother and mentor. It’d be nice if he’d been enthusiastic enough to get her a name better than just “Shaman.” Sheena is written campy, acted badly, directed for location, and produced for gaze. It’s a mess and it’s awful.

Okay music from Richard Hartley–which almost gives Guillermin the one great action sequence of the film, before he chokes on it–excellent editing from Lovejoy, fine production design from Peter Murton.

But Sheena’s a crappy movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by David Newman and Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on a story by Newman and Leslie Stevens and on a comic book created by Jerry Iger; director of photography, Pasqualino De Santis; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Paul Aratow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tanya Roberts (Sheena), Ted Wass (Vic Casey), Donovan Scott (Fletcher), Elizabeth of Toro (Shaman), France Zobda (Countess Zanda), Trevor Thomas (Prince Otwani), Clifton Jones (King Jabalani), and John Forgeham (Jorgensen).


The Last Starfighter (1984, Nick Castle)

The Last Starfighter gets a long way on affability. Lead Lance Guest is nothing if not affable. Robert Preston plays an affable alien grifter. Dan O’Herlihy, completely covered in makeup, is affable as Guest’s alien co-pilot. And the whole concept of the thing–video game wunderkind Guest gets transported to outer space to fight a galactic war–is affable.

And Starfighter needs that affability. It’s a long movie without any good villains (Norman Snow tries to chew scenery but director Castle is too busy trying to keep the questionable plot going) and without any engaging special effects sequences. The Last Starfighter’s special effects are almost entirely CGI. Weak CGI. They don’t mix with the live action, appearing–at best–to be cartoonish. At worst, they’re laughable. Ron Cobb’s production design never scores when the film’s up in space. Arguably the earthbound stuff, set in a trailer park, is fine. At least the trailer park has a natural flow; the space stuff is just big, relatively empty sets and a bunch of nonsense.

Because of the CGI, there’s no way to make Starfighter any better. The special effects are an albatross. Actually, when they do practical on Preston’s (idiotically conceived) “star car”–it’s a car, it’s a space ship–it looks terrible. Castle doesn’t have a knack for special effects direction. He does better on solid ground and so does cinematographer King Baggot. Baggot’s photography is perfectly fine, but once he gets into outer space and can’t do anything with the silly sets or to match the CGI sequences… well, it pales in comparison to the Earth stuff.

Craig Safan’s music is enthusiastic more than anything else. It’s occasionally effective too.

As far as the acting goes, Preston’s easily the best. He’s got a silly, fun character and he sells it. Guest is okay in the lead. He’s likable, which is most important, and sympathetic, which Castle wants to be important. Starfighter, with real special effects, might have some dramatic heft. Without, it doesn’t. But Guest still does more than all right.

O’Herlihy has a good time, which goes a long way. The alien stuff is thinly written and badly designed, so there was only going to be so far he could take it. He’s a goof, just covered in makeup. Preston’s got no makeup and, therefore, is much more expressive and successful in his goofiness.

As the girlfriend, Catherine Mary Stewart is usually likable. She’s not good, but she’s usually likable. Her part could be a lot better too. Chris Hebert is effective as Guest’s annoying little brother; he gets some of the nice comedy scenes opposite Guest. Barbara Bosson is completely wasted as Guest’s mother.

The Last Starfighter is a bit of a chore. But an affable one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Castle; written by Jonathan R. Betuel; director of photography, King Baggot; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Craig Safan; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Gary Adelson and Edward O. Denault; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lance Guest (Alex Rogan), Dan O’Herlihy (Grig), Catherine Mary Stewart (Maggie Gordon), Chris Hebert (Louis Rogan), Barbara Bosson (Jane Rogan), Norman Snow (Xur) and Robert Preston (Centauri).


The NeverEnding Story (1984, Wolfgang Petersen), the international version

For most of The NeverEnding Story, director Petersen’s ability, the special effects, and active lead Noah Hathaway keep the whole thing going. It’s a gorgeous looking film, with great photography from Jost Vacano and exceptional editing from Jane Seitz. Hathaway’s character, a boy warrior, gets a fantastic characterization–simultaneously sensitive and brave–he’s a fantastic protagonist.

Except he’s not the protagonist. The protagonist is Barret Oliver’s similarly aged character (the passive lead). He’s locked up reading the book, The NeverEnding Story, and experiencing the book’s events as they unfold for the viewer too. The only way Petersen and co-screenwriters Herman Weigel and Robert Easton come up with to integrate the two concurrent narratives is cutting to Oliver reacting to the book. Sure, Seitz cuts the scenes beautifully and the “real world” parts of the film are arguably the best directed, but Oliver’s a weak protagonist. He’s a weaker lead. Everything strong about the way Hathaway gets characterized is ignored when it comes to Oliver. He’s bullied–both by classmates and his jerk father (Gerald McRaney)–he’s mourning the death of his mother, but he’s got no depth. It ought to be fine because he’s not part of The NeverEnding Story.

Until the film ties the two narratives together, ingloriously shucking Hathaway, and generally collapsing under its own import. The film had already forecasted a shaky mythology regarding reading but hadn’t run out of goodwill at that point. It burns through it in the final act, with Petersen trying real hard but unable to pull it off. Not even the booming, sweeping score from Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder can save the finale. Probably shouldn’t be a surprise The NeverEnding Story can’t figure out a way to end well.

Some of the performances are wonderful, but there aren’t a lot of supporting parts. Hathaway just goes from person to person (or troll to troll) and has a scene or two, then moves on. Sydney Bromley and Patricia Hayes are great as a bickering gnome couple. Alan Oppenheimer voices most of the animatronic creatures, including the flying dragon. He’s great.

The special effects–and the fantasy scenery–are the real accomplishment of The NeverEnding Story. The composite shots are often awesome, same with the sets, same with the animatronics.

The NeverEnding Story disappoints. Petersen needed to be stronger when directing Oliver, needed to come up with a better finish. Both those elements were essential, both don’t work out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, Herman Weigel, and Robert Easton, based on the novel by Michael Ende; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Jane Seitz; music by Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Rolf Zehetbauer; produced by Bernd Eichinger and Dieter Geissler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Barret Oliver (Bastian), Noah Hathaway (Atreyu), Tami Stronach (The Empress), Moses Gunn (Cairon), Sydney Bromley (Engywook), Patricia Hayes (Urgl), Deep Roy (Teeny Weeny), Tilo Prückner (Night Hob), Gerald McRaney (Bastian’s Father), Thomas Hill (Carl Conrad Coreander) and Alan Oppenheimer (Falkor).


A man on a medical table looks up at his doctor

Dreamscape (1984, Joseph Ruben)

Dreamscape has a lot of subplots. The main plot barely gets any more time during the second act than the subplots. But I’m getting ahead of myself because I wanted to talk about the first act, which has Dennis Quaid getting reacquainted with mentor Max von Sydow. The film opens with this fast, fun action sequence with psychic Quaid winning big at the track and having to outsmart some goons. It perfectly utilizes Quaid’s charm and director Ruben has a fantastic pace. Richard Halsey’s editing on Dreamscape is strong, he just doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to excel after the open.

Then von Sydow gets Quaid to do the dream experiments–going into other people’s dreams, which he needs to train to do and it does give the film a natural structure for a while but there’s all those subplots. Time to talk about the subplots. There’s Christopher Plummer’s government guy who wants them to dream fix the President (an exhausted Eddie Albert). There’s Quaid’s rivalry with David Patrick Kelly’s fellow dream psychic. There’s Quaid’s romance of Kate Capshaw. There’s Quaid’s friendship with young nightmare sufferer, Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers (yes, he’s Tina’s big brother). Finally, there’s Quaid and George Wendt, who’s investigating the whole project. von Sydow and Quaid actually do have something approaching character development in their scenes, which I’ll lump into the main plot.

The script–from original story writer David Loughery, Chuck Russell, and director Ruben–lacks any connective tissue between the subplots. It’s like they each took a few, wrote them, then lined up the scenes. Even though it’s an exceptionally limited setting–a college campus where shadowy government stuff goes on and there are barely any students–these characters have no relationships with anyone outside the person they’re opposite. Capshaw and von Sydow, for example, have absolutely no relationship outside of exposition and direction, even though they’ve been working together for years. Same goes for Kelly and Capshaw. And Kelly and von Sydow. And Capshaw and Plummer. And everyone and Wendt. It’s very strange and very poorly done. The writing is often fine–Plummer’s got a lot of scenery to chew, Kelly’s part is awesome, von Sydow’s fantastic–but it doesn’t have a narrative flow. It’s almost like Dreamscape was made to be watched with commercial breaks.

Quaid’s solid in the lead. He doesn’t get much to do–his romance with Capshaw, while ostensibly steamy, isn’t enough–and he’s just a passenger in the rest of his subplots. He and von Sydow are great together, however. As well as Quaid and Kelly. They’re great nemeses. Capshaw’s not terrible. She’s not good, but she’s not terrible. She gets a weak part and can’t do anything with it; Dreamscape is a movie where the actors need to be able to do something with their weak parts. As scripted, Plummer’s barely two dimensional, yet Plummer is able to at least make the part into something. Capshaw can’t. Partially her fault, mostly the script’s fault, partially Ruben’s fault.

And Maurice Jarre doesn’t help anyone with his music. He makes Dreamscape weirder in a way completely contrary to what Ruben’s doing.

There are some great special effects and some solid sequences, but the third act’s a mess and the denouement is somewhat worse.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Ruben; screenplay by David Loughery, Chuck Russell, and Joseph Ruben, based on a story by Loughery; director of photography, Brian Tufano; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by Bruce Cohn Curtis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Alex Gardner), Max von Sydow (Doctor Paul Novotny), Christopher Plummer (Bob Blair), Eddie Albert (The President), Kate Capshaw (Jane DeVries), David Patrick Kelly (Tommy Ray Glatman), George Wendt (Charlie Prince) and Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers (Buddy).


Electric Dreams (1984, Steve Barron)

Electric Dreams is a very strange film. And not just because it’s about a computer brought to life by champagne and electric fire. Not even because said computer has the voice of Bud Cort. It’s strange because it has no interest in having a conventional narrative structure, both in terms of the screenplay and the direction.

Lenny von Dohlen plays the lead. He’s a young architect in San Francisco who wants to create an earthquake-proof brick. The whole first act concerns this ambition, along with him meeting his fetching new neighbor. Virginia Madsen plays the neighbor. She’s a young cellist who’s just started with the symphony. Will Electric Dreams have anything to do with her ambitions or von Dohlen’s super-brick?

Nope.

Rusty Lemorande’s script even sets up various opportunities for these plot threads to return or pick up and he just leaves them. Director Barron seems more than comfortable with avoiding them because they don’t figure into what he enjoys doing in the film. He likes having scenes of von Dohlen and Madsen’s sometimes problematic courtship, usually set to music, or scenes with von Dohlen trying to deal with his newly self-aware computer. The computer even has to do with the two subplots–super-brick and symphony success–and Electric Dreams just skips it in favor of a far more audio-visual experience.

Barron’s direction is peculiar without being particularly ambitious. He maintains the awkward narrative tone, filling Electric Dreams not just with interludes between von Dohlen and Madsen, but in its fantastic montage sequences as well. Electric Dreams has spectacular cinematography, just in how Alex Thomson is able to get the camera swinging around the set. Barron loves crane shots and Thomson nails every one of them. Lots of tight focus on close-ups, which Thomson shots perfectly, and Peter Honess edits beautifully. Electric Dreams, even when it’s not trying to be a computer generated imagery spectacular, is always dynamic to watch. Until the end, when Barron’s music video direction instincts go too wild with the last montage.

Except he’s still got Honess’s editing and the fantastic New Wave soundtrack to get it through.

Von Dohlen’s a likable lead; the film doesn’t task him much. There’s an air of unreality to the whole thing–a San Francisco computerized fairy tale–and maybe Madsen weathers it better. Her part is easier; even though she has her own subplot for a while, she’s really just in the girlfriend part. She does get the film’s loveliest sequence though, when she’s playing a duet with the computer.

As the computer, Cort’s fine. Lemorande–and the film–don’t ask many big questions about existence; Cort’s just got to have personality and sympathy. He does both well.

Electric Dreams is a marvelously well-made film. It’s also quite a bit of fun to boot.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Barron; written by Rusty Lemorande; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Peter Honess; music by Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Larry DeWaay and Lemorande; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lenny von Dohlen (Miles Harding), Virginia Madsen (Madeline Robistat) and Bud Cort (Me).


Firestarter (1984, Mark L. Lester)

If I tried really hard, would I be able to think of something nice to say about Firestarter? I was going to complement some of Tangerine Dream’s score–not all of it, but some of it–but it turns out it’s not so much a score as a selection of otherwise unreleased Tangerine Dream tracks director Lester picked out. It makes sense a lot of the music doesn’t work knowing that situation, because no way Lester is going to make any significantly good choices for the film.

The film simply has nothing going for it. There are no good performances; watching Firestarter, which is exceptionally boring in addition to being stupid, I wondered more what possessed certain actors to sign on. What the heck is Art Carney doing in this film, much less married to Louise Fletcher? There’s a sixteen year age difference and it looks like about ten more. Carney looks ancient, Fletcher looks great. How did they meet? Why does he complain to strangers she wasn’t able to bear him daughters? Why is so much of Firestarter about old men–Art Carney, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen–fixating on Drew Barrymore? She’s not even energetic enough to be obnoxious. Sure, Lester directs her terribly, but she’s still bored. She can be shooting fireballs out of her face and be bored in Firestarter.

As Barrymore’s father, Brian Keith tries but doesn’t succeed at anything. Stanley Mann’s script is too lousy, the story beats are just terrible, the dialogue’s weak, the characters are weak. But it fits for the film, which doesn’t have anything going for it technically either. Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s cinematography is weak. Lester shoots the film Panavision for eventual pan-and-scan cropping. There’s constant empty space and Ruzzolini’s not lighting anything interesting in it. Firestarter is not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s dumb.

And the real problem is George C. Scott. He’s George C. Scott and he’s humiliating himself. Scott probably gives Firestarter’s worst performance. It’s this weird, terrible macho role and someone should’ve told him no. Or maybe he got himself an awesome swimming pool with the paycheck, but it’s terrible acting. He’s not even hamming it up–Sheen at least bites at some of the scenery–Scott just plays it badly and without enthusiasm.

Firestarter’s dumb and it’s bad. And it’s long. The special effects aren’t even good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by David Rawlins and Ronald Sanders; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Frank Capra Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Keith (Andy), Drew Barrymore (Charlie), George C. Scott (Rainbird), Martin Sheen (Hollister), Moses Gunn (Doctor Pynchot), Art Carney (Irv Manders), Louise Fletcher (Norma Manders) and Freddie Jones (Doctor Wanless).


The Ewok Adventure (1984, John Korty)

There’s a strange effectiveness to The Ewok Adventure during Burl Ives’s narration. With his voice, with the lameness of the script, Ewok Adventure feels like a storybook come to life. Much of the movie is exquisitely produced, whether Peter Bernstein’s score, director Korty’s lovely photography or John Nutt’s editing, there’s a definite precision to the film. And some fabulous effects sequences.

But most of the film isn’t Ives narrating the quaint lives of Ewoks and their madcap, gentle misadventures. Most of the film features annoying kid Eric Walker, who learns important lessons from the Ewoks. Not metaphorical lessons, but really obvious ones. Ewok Adventure is obnoxiously didactic. It’s a very strange mix of quest picture–with some of it even feeling like a Western–and children’s film. Then the end rolls around and it’s something else entirely. Still adventure, I suppose, but a lot more annoying.

Korty isn’t good with the kids. He’s not much better with the parents, but with Walker and Aubree Miller, Korty just doesn’t care. There are so many bad deliveries, so many scenes obviously not working… Ewok Adventure has “it’s good enough for kids” stamped all over it.

But the special effects are phenomenal. It’s rather good looking for a TV movie, even if it does feature a stupid giant at the end. It also features a “giggle” fairy, which is an amazingly manipulative scene–it’s just Miller and Walker laughing. Along with Warwick Davis’s Ewok sidekick, of course, but it’s like someone told the filmmakers kids respond well to scenes of kids laughing.

And the Ewok performers are all good.

The big action finale with the giant is awful though. It hurts the picture. It’s technically fine, but it really doesn’t work. There’s not room for giant monsters. Maybe if the effects on it were better, but it’s just a giant.

So with a better finish, a lot less of Walker and a little bit less of Miller (and a lot more Ives narration), Ewok Adventure might be something. The production values are outstanding and Korty does do well with the costumed performers.

It’s just way too tedious to wait for Walker to get through his scenes. He’s bad, his character’s obnoxious and he’s inexplicably the star of the Adventure.

1/4

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by John Korty; teleplay by Bob Carrau, based on a story by George Lucas; edited by John Nutt; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Joe Johnston; produced by Thomas G. Smith; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eric Walker (Mace), Aubree Miller (Cindel), Warwick Davis (Wicket), Daniel Frishman (Deej), Kevin Thompson (Chukha-Trok), Fionnula Flanagan (Catarine) and Guy Boyd (Jeremitt); narrated by Burl Ives.


Scroll to Top