1989 – Born on the Fourth of July

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Born on the Fourth of July – 1989

This was a better movie than I was expecting.  I didn’t really have any idea of what the film was about, except that it was probably going to have something to do with patriotism.  In this, I was both right and wrong.  The film was the second movie in what has unofficially been called director Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War Trilogy.  First, there was 1986’s Platoon, then Born on the Fourth of July, and lastly, 1993’s Heaven & Earth.

The movie is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam War veteran who started life as a boy who believed in patriotism and serving his country as a soldier.  He believed in the absolute authority of the United States government, believing everything he was told concerning the rightness of the war in Vietnam and the threat of communism changing his beloved way of life.  But his experiences in Vietnam change him into a man who questions his superiors, not understanding why he is made to do what he considers to be abhorrent, like murdering women and babies, and yet is not listened to when he tries to confess to killing a fellow American soldier by mistake.

Then, he is severely wounded, paralyzed from the waist down, and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Not only does he have to deal with the memory of the horrors of the War and the reality of his handicap, but he has to deal with the prevailing attitudes of his friends and family who had not fought in the war.  When he returns home, he is not rejected, though he is certainly not welcomed.  To so many people, the war just didn’t make sense.  Nobody knew why we were involved, why so many American boys had to fight and die for a cause that had nothing to do with them.

So he drinks, he becomes angry, and he starts to fight back against the lies that he had been told before joining the Marines.  He fights back against people who attack him for being part of the war.  He eventually fights back against his own depression and self-destructive behavior.  In particular, the scene in which he comes home and begins throwing out accusations at his parents, drunkenly blaming them and the government for ruining his life, was the moment that really defined the character’s transformation from naiveté to maturity.

The movie stars Tom Cruise in a role that seemed to cement his career as a Hollywood super-star.  His efforts earned him his first Academy Award nomination, which he did not win.  But it also gained him a reputation as an accomplished and serious dramatic actor.  He did a good job, and really went out of his way to do the part justice.  The real Ron Kovic was on the filming set for most of the shooting, giving Tom pointers and advice on how to play certain scenes.  In fact, Kovic also worked very closely with his friend Oliver Stone to write the script in the first place.

The bulk of the film was really about Ron’s struggle to survive, both physically and emotionally, in the wake of his injuries.  Cruise had to learn to be proficient in using a wheelchair.  He worked with the makeup artist to give him a look that very closely resembled the real Ron Kovic.  Cruise really turned in a powerful performance.  He was very committed to the part.  But I think that it is par for the course for Cruise.  Sure, Tom cruise has been in the news and has a reputation for being a little crazy at times, but there is no denying that he is a pretty good actor.  You always believe his performances, and this movie was no exception.

There were also some other pretty competent performances in the film.  Raymond J. Barry and Caroline Kava played Ron’s parents Eli and Patricia.  His high-school sweetheart Donna, was played by Kyra Sedgwick.  His best childhood friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Timmy, was played by Frank Whaley.  And another familiar name, Willem Dafoe, played Charlie, another paralyzed war veteran he meets when he runs from his problems to Mexico.

The film reminded me, somewhat, of the 1978 Best Picture nominee, Coming Home.  It had some similar themes that dealt with the treatment of Vietnam War veterans after their return home, though each film looked at the issue from a different perspective.  It was a good movie that was worth watching.  The script was good, the acting was good, and the drama was good.  Well done, Tom and Oliver.

1988 – Working Girl

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Working Girl – 1988

Um… OK.  This was a dumb movie.  The plot could have been passably cute, but it just wasn’t.  The casting was fine, except for the lead.  The plot was predictable, and awfully unrealistic, but they tried to pass it all off as serious.  And it had a great song that ran throughout the movie: “Let the River Run” by Carley Simon.  It starred Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver.  But unfortunately, Griffith can’t act.  She was terrible.  I’m not sure if I can cover all the ways she ruined the film.  But I’ll try.

Griffith plays Tess McGill, a secretary who is supposed to be very intelligent, but nobody ever sees it because they are too focused on her physical beauty.  She gets a job working for Katharine Parker, played by Weaver.  When Katharine breaks her leg skiing, Tess takes over her job.  In an effort to get credit for her own merger idea that Katharine stole, she successfully passes herself off as having Katharine’s job.  She begins business dealings with the other company, working with Jack Trainer, played by Ford.  The merger begins to happen and Jack and Tess end up in bed together.  Katherine learns of Tess’s deceptions and exposes her as a fraud.  Jack takes Tess’s side and threatens to leave the deal if she is not included.  Jack’s boss likes Tess’s gumption so much that he fires Katharine and gives Tess a high-power job with her own office.  The end.

There were so many things about the plot that were unrealistic and, consequently, unbelievable.  If they had just made the film a true farce, it might have been acceptable.  But the movie’s main theme is female self-empowerment.  It is supposed to be about a woman who has been getting the short end of every stick, and how, through strength of will and intelligence, she takes control of her own life, gets the validation and recognition she deserves, and becomes a stronger woman.

But Melanie Griffith ruined it.  She was the film’s main protagonist, and I didn’t buy her performance for a second.  Now, I’ll admit that there were certain scenes in which she did look very pretty.  But then she began to speak.  She had a soft voice that didn’t have an ounce of authority or confidence in it.  She delivered her lines slowly and deliberately, almost like she was reading them from a book and was just learning to read.  Even when she said something that was supposed to show how smart the character was, she just didn’t sound intelligent.  Instead, she sounded like a teenage air-head bimbo who is trying way too hard to sound brainy.

And she often had a vacant look in her eyes, making her look like she didn’t really understand what she was saying, like she had memorized the dialogue, but had no clue what it meant.  And there were far too many scenes showing Griffith in her underwear or just naked.  If you are trying to get the audience to focus on her brains and personality, stop showing them her boobs.

But I have to place just as much blame on the ridiculous script.  There were so many things that were a serious law-suit or even criminal proceedings just waiting to happen.  For example, early in the film, Kevin Spacey has a little cameo in which he plays Bob Speck, an executive that invites Tess on a business outing with him, luring her into his limo with promises of a promotion or better job.  She is trying to talk business, while Bob is snorting cocaine.  Then he offers to play a training video for her and starts playing a porn video.  OK, that is a serious law suit right there!  I know it was the 1980s, but even back then, that kind of sexual harassment would at best get Bob fired, at worst, get him slapped with criminal charges.

And the whole plot of the movie, in which Tess lies, steals, and cheats her way into the merger deal is preposterous.  Once her many lies are exposed, the deal would fall through, pending a criminal investigation into Tess and the business practices of the company she works for.  As Tess’s boss, Katharine would also probably be investigated.  Tess would not be rewarded for her dishonesty and her grossly questionable ethics.  No, she would be fired, plain and simple.

But though their characters were caricatures, Weaver and Ford did good enough jobs with their own parts.  I don’t blame them as much as I blame Mike Nichols and Kevin Wade, the film’s director and script writer.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t blame the 80s, too!  The gigantic 80s hairstyles worn by Griffith and her friend Cynthia, played by Joan Cusack, were like clown wigs.  Very distracting.

1988 – Mississippi Burning

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Mississippi Burning – 1988

This was an interesting film that kept my attention and was entertaining, but as I read about its history, I have to look at it under a slightly different light.  It was still good, but I have to take it with a grain of salt.  It was supposed to be based on true events, but when it was released, it was heavily criticized by people who had lived through the events as being mostly untrue.  Not only was the movie accused of being racist because it portrayed black people only as scared victims, it told the story from a completely white point of view, using the Civil Rights Movement as a vehicle to make the film’s white protagonists the heroes.

In the very first scene, we see several police officers chase down and murder three young men, two white and one black, in cold blood.  The main body of the film followed two white FBI agents, Alan Ward, played by Willem Dafoe, and Rupert Anderson, played by Gene Hackman, as they travel to the fictional town of Jessup County, Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of the three Civil Rights Activists.

And the movie was pretty consistent in its use of bad stereotypes.  As I already mentioned, all the black people were portrayed as cowed and frightened victims who would rather stay silent than fight back about the inhuman injustices being perpetrated against them.  All the white folks who were Mississippi natives were racists who thought of all black people as dirty animals.  They hated all colored people with a passion.  And those who were involved with the KKK were portrayed as not simply evil, but stupid, because they were all unashamedly vocal about their hatred of anyone who was not white.

According to the film, the two FBI agents go to Jessup County and start asking questions.  They meet with heavy resistance and uncooperation from the local authorities, and silence from the colored residents.  Agent Ward tries to question a black man in public, and the local KKK members beat him up, though he refused to talk.  After that, Ward calls in more agents.  Then, when an anonymous tip leads them to the missing activists’ car, an army of agents is called in.

Ward and Anderson each have different styles of investigating.  Ward is by the book, and Anderson is more personal and passionate.  Ward goes straight to questions while Anderson talks to a person to make them more at ease before hinting at his questions.  And when the violence begins and quickly escalates to lynching and more murder, Anderson fights back with violence and intimidation tactics.  And eventually, things get so bad that Ward agrees to try things Anderson’s way to solve the case.

Anderson also befriends the wife of one of the guilty officers, Mrs. Pell, played by Francis McDormand.  He puts her off her guard and cleverly seduces her until she rats out her racist husband, Deputy Sheriff Clinton Pell, played by Brad Dourif.  In retaliation, the deputy beats his wife badly enough to put her in the hospital.

But in the end, Anderson’s violent and underhanded tactics get the bad guys to start fighting each other, and in the process, expose themselves for the murderers they are.  The black people meekly grieve for their losses and sing a spiritual to lament their persecution.  Really… not very realistic.  Black people were angry and many of them fought back, some meeting violence with violence, murder for murder.  It was a dangerous place and time in history.

True, some of the performances were praised.  Both Defoe and Hackman can rarely be faulted as actors, but McDormand’s performance was also wonderful.  And I was also impressed with Dourif and some of his fellow KKK members and extreme racists, Gailard Satrain, R. Lee Ermey, Michael Rooker, and Stephen Tobolowsky.  And lest I forget, I have to mention a good performance from another actor I know, Kevin Dunn, as agent Ward’s chief assistant, Agent Bird.  Strangely enough, there were no notable black characters in this whitewashed film. So don’t go into the movie expecting a true historical depiction of either the Civil Rights movement, or an account of the real events that took place in Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1964.  Just know that it a fictionalized account of real events that are only loosely based on reality.

2001 – A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence – 2001

Spoiler Alert

This was a phenomenal movie, one of those films that was so sweet and beautiful that there are parts that I can’t ever watch without crying.  The movie was about the moral implications of creating artificial intelligence with the ability to mimic real emotions.  To do this, it used the fairy tale of Pinocchio as a plot device, the main thrust of the movie’s story arch.  Just like the wooden boy in the old story wanted to become a real boy, so too did the metal boy in A.I.

And it did it in such a beautiful and meaningful way.  The film starts out explaining that the story takes place in a world where Global warming has caused the sea levels to rise, submerging all the major coastal cities of the world, including New York.  The offices of one of the most prominent robotics companies is based in the drowned city.

The film is intelligent and makes you think about what you are watching and listening to.  Because of the global warming, the earth’s population has been drastically reduced.  As a result, many of the needs of society are fulfilled by mecha, robots who can simulate human appearance, behavior, and emotion.  Right off the bat, when the character of Professor Hobby, one of the leading robotics scientists, played by William Hurt, suggests that a mecha can be programmed with real human emotions, one of his fellow scientists asks the big question.  If we create a machine that can feel emotions, what is our responsibility to that machine?

It is recognized as a moral question, and if you think about it, it is a monumentally important question.  We create a mecha that can love.  That mecha will outlast us.  That machine will never grow old, never die.  Thus, the love that it feels will never fade or diminish.  Just as a parent is responsible for a human child, would we not then be responsible for our artificial creations?  What happens to them after we are gone?

And even on a smaller level, if we create a machine that loves us, what happens if our own emotions shift.  What happens to that mecha’s love when a newer model is created or even if our own fluid emotions change?  The machine’s emotions cannot change.  Well, in the story, that is pretty much what happens.

Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor play Henry and Monica Swinton.  Their son, Martin, played by Jake Thomas, has been placed in suspended animation until a cure for his rare and fatal disease can be found.  In order to help Monica let go of her son, who medical science cannot help, a mecha child is created.  Thus David, masterfully played by Haley Joel Osment, is introduced.

Osment’s performance was nothing short of genius.  The child actor had already proven himself in other dramatic films such as 1991’s The Sixth Sense, and 2000’s Pay it Forward.  He was a phenomenon!  He was an amazing actor, a wonderful and rare thing in a child.  At 12 or 13 years old when A.I. was filmed, his performance was more impressive than many established adult actors.  I cannot say enough good things about his incredible sense of emotional gravitas, his perfect sense of dramatic timing, and his ability to create a fully developed character.

The drama of the film comes in when a cure is discovered for Martin’s illness and he comes home.  David now has a child-like, pure love for Monica.  When a sibling rivalry develops between the organic child and the mechanical, both of them vying for love and attention, Monica, understandably chooses her own child over David.  Granted, it is much more complicated than that, but the emotional content is inherently powerful.

The scene where Monica, unwilling to take David back to the factory that made him, abandons him in the wilderness and tells him to run.  It was at this point that David exceeded his programing and came up with a way to make Monica love him as much as she loved Martin.  Inspired by the fairy tale of Pinocchio, David goes on a quest to find the fabled Blue Fairy so that she can turn him into a real boy.

By this point in the movie, my eyes are already tearing up.  And I’m sure that everybody has their own moments of emotional intensity.  Mine comes at a very specific moment.  Here’s the set-up.  David is joined on his quest by two companions.  First is a super-toy that David had received from Monica, an android teddy-bear named Teddy, voiced by Jack Angel.  The other is a male prostitute mecha named Gigolo Joe, played by Jude Law.  They each help David in their own ways.

After surviving a dark and gruesome experience at a flesh fair, a place where humans revel in the horrible destruction of mecha, saying that they are abominations against humanity, David and Joe become friends.  Joe learns that David is searching for a woman called Blue Fairy.  Believing that he knows all there is to know about women, and that the best place to find them is in a Las Vegas kind of place called Rouge City, they hitch a ride to the city of sin.  While there, they visit Dr. Know, voiced by Robin Williams.  It is a fun and whimsical mechanical character that gives answers in an almost comical way.  They use all their money to ask the computerized questioning service to learn the nature and whereabouts of the Blue Fairy, not understanding that she isn’t real.

Actually, understanding is the wrong word.  David knows, intellectually, that she is a myth.  But his love for Monica is so great that he chooses to believe that the Blue Fairy is real.  So powerful is his love that he desperately clings to the impossible idea that he can be made into a real boy so that Monica will love him.  He refuses to believe that he cannot be made real.  As Joe and David question Dr. Know, it becomes clear that the Blue Fairy is not real and cannot be found, until Joe figures out the right question to ask.

He tells Dr. Know to combine “Flat Fact” and “Fairy Tale.”  Then David carefully asks, “How can the Blue Fairy make a robot into a real live boy?”  Suddenly, the lights go dark and a low and ominous hum can be heard in the background.  All signs of the whimsical Dr. Know vanish and the following text begins to scroll up in front of David and Joe, as serious as a catharsis.  Robin Williams was brilliant as he read:

“Come away O human child

To the waters and the wild

With a fairy hand in hand

For the world’s more full of weeping

Than you can understand.

Your quest will be perilous

Yet the reward is beyond price.

In his book,


Professor ALLEN HOBBY writes

of the power which

will transform Mecha into Orga.”

David asks, “Will you tell me how to find her?”  The voice replies, “Discovery is quite possible.  Our Blue Fairy does exist in one place and one place only: at the end of the world where the lions weep.  Here is the place dreams are born.”  And Joe chimes in ominously “Many a mecha has gone to the end of the world, never to come back.”  Oh my God!  I don’t know why this little scene hits me so hard emotionally, but here is where the tears really start to flow!

And I can’t discuss the emotional content of the movie without mentioning the music.  John Williams does it again, turning in a score that encapsulated the beauty and purity of David’s love for Monica.  It was peaceful and calming, slightly melancholy, almost sad, but always intimate and happy.  Parts of the soundtrack featured two notable artists, Lara Fabian, and Josh Groban.  It was simply beautiful in its own right, but powerful when underscoring the beauty of the movie.  Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Now, I have to admit that the ending of the movie was a little hard to understand.  The first time I watched this movie, when it first came out in 2001, I didn’t get it.  David and Joe journey to the partially submerged New York.  There, David meets Professor Hobby and learns that he is not unique.  He was a prototype that was being crafted for mass production.  In a fit of depression, he attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself into the water.

Joe saves him, though they are separated forever.  But while he is under the water, David sees a vision of the Blue Fairy, renewing his belief in the fairy tale.  He uses a submersible vehicle to approach her.  It is the drowned ruins of Coney Island, displaying a Pinocchio attraction.  Unfortunately, David, along with Teddy, become trapped under a collapsing Ferris Wheel.  There David beseeches the statue of the Blue Fairy to turn him into a real boy.  He continues making his wish as years and years go by.

The earth freezes under another ice age, and still David continues his prayer, until his internal power source drains away.  Eventually, he is discovered by strange alien-like beings, and here is where I originally got lost.  I thought they actually were aliens.  I didn’t get that they were actually what the world’s mecha evolved into after the humans had died away.  They revive David and try to give him what he desires.

Using a lock of Monica’s hair, which Teddy had saved, the advanced mecha are able to revive Monica, but only for a single day.  David is allowed to spend that one perfect day with her, but once it is over, the simulated Monica would go to sleep and never wake up.  And the process could never be repeated.

It is the best day in David’s life, the best day he could ever have.

But again, the ending was beautiful and I can’t watch it without some serious tears.  Before Monica closes her eyes for the last time, she tells David that she loves him, which is all he ever wanted to hear.  The final narration bears repeating: “That was the everlasting moment he had been waiting for.  And the moment had passed for Monica was sound asleep.  More than merely asleep.  Should he shake her, she would never rouse.  So David went to sleep, too.  And for the first time in his life, he went to that place where dreams are born.”  In other words, happy, content, and finally fulfilled, David turns himself off forever and dies.

The film’s director, Stephen Spielberg really seemed to outdo himself in the creation of this film.  The sensitivity he expresses, the purity of child-like wonder and belief, the intellectual and moral issues that are explored, and the technical expertise with which the special effects were crafted, was all so amazing.  The story was captivating and engaging.  The characters were fantastic.  The visuals were spellbinding.  And the acting was first-rate.  Some have called it Spielberg’s masterpiece, and I’m almost apt to agree.

Almost.  Spielberg has put out a lot of pretty amazing movies.  It is hard to choose just one.

1988 – Dangerous Liaisons

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Dangerous Liaisons – 1988

This was a wonderful example of a period drama.  It is a vicious story about people who use sex as manipulation in order to achieve cruel goals like revenge, personal conquests, and wanton, careless destruction, all taking place in Paris, in 1781.  Glenn Close and John Malkovich are the clear villains, who, through their love of cruelty and vanity, destroy not only their own lives, but the lives of three other innocent people.

Close plays Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil, a woman who takes pleasure hurting other people and ruining their lives, yet always keeping the appearance of innocence.  Her friend Vicomte de Valmont, played by Malkovich, is a vain and charming gigolo who is always looking for his next sexual conquest.  The harder the challenge, the greater his pleasure.

The Marquise wants revenge against her former lover who spurned her, so she tries to hire Valmont to seduce and deflower his bride to be, Cecile de Volanges, played by a very young Uma Thurman.  Valmont refuses on the grounds that Cecile is too easy a target.  There is no challenge.  Valmont has his sights set on a very pious, and very married, Madame Marie de Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.  After Valmont’s refusal, the Marquise strikes a bargain with him.  If he is able to win his prize, and obtain written proof of his conquest, he can have one night of passion with her, a trophy he has never been able to obtain, yet has long sought.

Still wanting Cecile to be spoiled before being married, the Marquise brings in a young music teacher to do the job.  A young Keanu Reeves, playing Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny, is brought in, yet he fails miserably to bed Cecile.  The webs of deception and manipulation are too twisted and complex to go into, but they are many and varied, and ostensibly mean-spirited.

Suffice to say, Valmont eventually makes Madame Tourvel fall in love with him, but actually fall in love with her at the same time.  But in order to win the Marquise, he spurns her.  When the Marquise refuses him because he never got written proof that he bedded Madame Tourvel, he becomes incensed.  Madame Tourvel dies from grief and shame, Danceny kills Valmont in a duel because of his sexual involvement with Cecile, and the Marquise’s depravities are made public, for which she is vehemently shunned by society.

The casting was all perfect with the exception of Keanu Reeves.  I’m sorry, but he was never a good actor, a fact which has become painfully obvious to the world in recent years.  Sure, he has had a very successful career, but only because he is smart enough to choose roles like Neo in the Matrix franchise, because he is not required to do much acting.  In Dangerous Liaisons, he seemed very out of place, especially when put next to such great actors as Close, Malkovich, and Pfeiffer.

The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, and it won 3.  For me, the most obvious win was James Acheson for Best Costume Design.  The costumes were incredible, especially those worn by the Marquise.  The attention to detail was obsessive and spectacular.  Even the hair styles, from what I have read, were period-specific and gorgeous.  The beautiful and bright brocade fabrics, the opulent adornments, and the marvelous jewelry, all made for an incredibly realistic and captivating look for the film.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the music.  The score, written by George Fenton, was heavily influenced by baroque and classical styles.  Fenton wrote plenty of original music for the film, but the score also featured music composed by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, and Gluck, though it is interesting to note that none of these composers were French.  A standout piece of music was the countertenor Paulo Abel Do Nascimento’s performance of Ombra mai fu, by Handel.  Just wonderful!

This was a very good movie.  It was engaging, easy to follow, and yet complex, with an intensity that is inherent in the twisted plot.  The characters were well-written and believable, and the verbose dialogue was spot-on.  All in all a great movie.  It lost the Best Picture Oscar to Rain Man, but I don’t know.  It must have been a close race.

1988 – The Accidental Tourist

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The Accidental Tourist – 1988

This movie was a strange one.  It was depressing as all get out, with characters that were difficult to like or identify with.  The film is listed as a comedy/drama, but I really beg to differ.  There was no comedy in it at all.  This was pure drama, or maybe romantic drama, though even the romance itself was heavily dramatic.  The biggest thing that stood out to me was the solemn and melancholy score by legendary composer John Williams, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.  It really set the tone for the entire film, ensuring that it was sad and depressing.

The biggest problem with the movie was that nearly every character is emotionally crippled.  Some of them are so severely emotionally stunted that they can barely function in society.  The worst of the lot is the lead character played by William Hurt, Macon Leary.  He is an author who writes boring travel guides for businessmen who hate to travel.  He hates his job.

He is depressed and is either disdainful or possibly terrified of most human interaction.  He only feels comfortable in the presence of his wife Sarah, played by Kathleen Turner, or his three siblings, Porter, Charles, and Rose, played by David Ogden Stiers, Ed Begely Jr., and Amy Wright.  He can barely tolerate his publisher Julian, played by Bill Pullman.

Within the first few minutes of the movie, two horrifying plot points are revealed.  First, Macon and Sarah’s child had been murdered during an armed robbery.  Second, Sarah has decided to leave Macon.  She believes that he was incapable of consoling her through her grief and depression over the incident.  Actually, she was right, but only because he was too lost in his own grief to help her.

Macon grows even more depressed and moves back into the house in which he grew up to be with his brothers and sister.  As he must travel for his job, he has to board his dog.  Geena Davis is a single woman named Muriel Pritchett, who works at the pet boarding business.  When the two meet, Muriel begins to persistently pursue Macon.  She helps him through his depression, despite her own troubles.  She was an interesting character who always seemed to be making an effort to stay positive, despite her own troubles.  Not only was she a poor, single mother, but her son was weak and allergic to nearly everything.  Davis won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the roll.

Eventually Macon begins to open up to her and through her persistence, he falls in love with her.  But he is so emotionally damaged that he has incredible difficulty acknowledging his feelings in any meaningful way.  But Muriel eventually gets him to promise that he will not leave her.  But when his sister Rose, socially crippled and emotionally timid as she is, marries the chronically lonely Julian, he runs into Sarah at the wedding.  He leaves Muriel to try to patch things up with his wife.  But eventually he realizes that he does not love Sarah.  He loves Muriel.

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t like the movie.  It was a good movie.  Just don’t expect a comedy.  It was deep drama, and nothing more.  And as for that, the film’s biggest source of tension was not the love triangle between Sarah, Macon, and Muriel.  It was Macon’s inability to get over his son’s death.  Most of his real emotional problems stemmed from that.  The somber film score, the depressing screenplay, and William Hurt’s deadpan and restrained performance combined to create scenes that were actually difficult to watch.

I kept thinking that Macon would have benefited from seeing a therapist, except that would have required him to endure social interaction.  Still, I was reminded of the 1980 Best Picture winner, Ordinary People, in which Judd Hirsch played a psychologist who helped Timothy Hutton get over the death of his brother in a powerful and cathartic therapy session.  I wanted to see Macon have a catharsis.

But in the end, his healing only began when he realized that he wanted to be with Muriel because she had been the one to help him through his own pain.  It was a subtle change, but I recognized the significance of the movie’s final shot.  As Macon is riding away in a cab, he sees Muriel trying to hail a taxi.  He tells his driver to stop for her.  When their eyes meet, she smiles at him.  He smiles back, and it is the only time in the entire film where we see Macon happily smile.

1987 – Moonstruck

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Moonstruck – 1987

I’d seen this movie before, but had forgotten how good a film it was.  It was a romantic comedy, which normally puts me on my guard.  The romance was quick, easy, and yet not forced.  The comedy, while mild, was easy and organic, and even had a few moments that made me chuckle out loud.  But it was the sweet and clever script that really caught my attention.

The movie starred Cher and Nicholas Cage in the leads.  I like Cher, but when it comes to Cage, I have to fight against my biases.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the actor.  It’s his face.  He has a face that always looked to me like he is about to fall asleep.  His features are so droopy.  His normal, relaxed expression leaves his mouth hanging open, and his eyes drooping, as if with exhaustion.  To me, he always seems incredibly sleepy, phenomenally stoned, or just moronically empty-headed.  But I know this isn’t his fault.  It is just the way his features are, and has no bearing on his skills as an actor.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t buy Nicholas Cage as the romantic lead.  I guess that the movie was trying to imply that Cher’s character was so physically attracted to him that she forgot all about her brand new fiancée to jump into bed with a droopy-faced man who could barely speak without shouting in anger.  Ah well.  Suspension of disbelief, right?

So Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a young widow living in Brooklyn Heights.  She believes her first marriage was cursed with bad luck.  So she accepts, though she does not love him, the proposal of Johnny Cammareri, a man who must go to his dying mother in Sicily.  Upon Johnny’s request, Loretta contacts his brother Ronny with whom he has been estranged for the last 5 years, played by Cage, to invite him to the wedding.  Upon meeting the tortured Ronny, tortured because of the loss of one of his hands, which in turn had led to his abandonment by his then fiancée, Loretta falls in love with him, though she tries to deny her feelings.

The romance that follows is swift and not very well fleshed out, though it was certainly sweet.  But aside from their star-crossed relationship, it is revealed that Loretta’s father, Cosmo, played by Vincent Gardenia, is cheating on her mother Rose, played by Olympia Dukakis.  Rose knows of Cosmo’s infidelity, which is paralleled by Loretta’s infidelity from her engagement.

But all is made right in the end.  Rose confronts Cosmo and makes him promise to stop seeing his mistress.  And upon Johnny’s return from Sicily, he announces that because his mother did not die, he cannot marry Loretta, clearing the way for her to marry Ronny instead.  And it was that cleverly written script that really made the movie enjoyable.  That, and Cher.

Really, Cher stole the show.  She was bright and funny.  She looked fantastic and brought an energy to the film that was fun and infectious.  Deservedly so, she took home the Oscar for Best Actress.  Dukakis, who also did a fantastic job, won the award for Best Supporting Actress.  And as a side-note, John Patrick Shanley took home the award for Best Original Screenplay.  Not a bad haul for a romantic comedy.

And I have to spend a moment explaining why the script deserved such attention.  It was a neat and tidy little story.  It had a period of set-up, a little development, a clear conflict, the crisis of consequences, and a clever, but believable ending, an ending that said several things.  First, never give up on love because it is never too late to find it.  Second, true love is stronger than safety and comfort.  And third, magic still exists in the world.

And that magic came in the form of Cosmo’s moon.  As a plot device, Loretta’s uncle Raymond Cappomaggi, played by Louis Guss, describes a dream he’d once had where a large and bright moon, a romantic moon, had stood over Cosmo when he had been courting Rose, demonstrating his love for her.  That same moon hung over Ronny as he courted Loretta, inspiring their love.  It was a cute and very romantic way to explain their remarkably insistent love for each other.  Quite simply, it made me smile.

1987 – Hope and Glory

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Hope and Glory – 1987

This movie was pretty average.  As a drama, it wasn’t overly dramatic.  As a comedy, it wasn’t overly funny.  And it had such potential to be both.  It was actually a coming of age film set against the backdrop of World War II, a subject that is incredibly dramatic and intense, and not at all humorous.  But I think the screenwriter dropped the ball.  The film looked at the war through the eyes of a child who didn’t really understand it.  It white-washed the horrors of the war.  Sure, a few bad things happened, but they were few and far between, and seemed to have very little effect on the main character.

Child actor Sebastian Rice-Edwards played Billy Rohan, a young boy living in a suburb of London.  He lives with his mother Grace, played by Sarah Miles, his father Clive, played by David Hayman, his older sister Dawn, played by Sammi Davis, and his little sister Sue, played by Geraldine Muir.  The family is happy, living their quiet lives, until the war begins.  Grace cannot bear to be parted from her children, and does not send them out of the country.  But then the air raid sirens begin to blare.  Soon after that, the bombs start falling.  Clive enlists to fight in the war and leaves.

But here is where the drama of the story fell flat.  No bombs destroy their house.  Nobody dies.  Nobody is even wounded.  Clive comes home for Christmas and informs his family that he has been deemed too old for combat duty.  He is given the job of a clerk.  Dawn starts dating a soldier and gets pregnant.  But the father of her child does not die.  He goes AWOL and returns to marry her.  Grace must deal with caring for her family without her husband, but she manages just fine.  Sure, half the neighborhood is a pile of rubble, and a neighbor’s mother is killed, but nothing really bad happens to Billy.

Even when their house is burned down, it isn’t because of an air raid.  It is a common fire that might have happened even if there was no war.  And even then, they have a safe place to go.  They move in with Grace’s cantankerous father George, played by Ian Bannen.  He lives in a beautiful house in the country.  They no longer have to deal with any of the dangers of the war.  Dawn has a safe place to give birth to her child.  Everybody is safe and happy, despite going through one of the darkest events in our planet’s history.

How much more dramatic might the film have been if Clive had been killed in action?  Or worse yet, what if Grace had been killed in an air raid, and the children, now orphaned, had nowhere to go.  What kind of perspective would Billy have had on the war then?  The slow pace of the film might have meant something.  The drama might have been gripping.  Or if they wanted the film to be a comedy, what kind of dark or absurdist humor might have been contrived against the real terrors of war and tragedy?

No, the film was just average, and barely interesting.  There was nothing special or unique about the plot.  The sets and costumes were appropriate, but again, nothing out of the ordinary.  So I have to ask, why was the movie nominated for Best Picture of the year?  And that’s the problem.  I don’t have an answer.  As I mentioned, the pace was slow.  The story, which had the potential to be intense, was just bland.

But there was one aspect of the film that was somewhat interesting.  Film critic Pauline Kale said it nicely when she wrote, “The war frees the Rohans from the dismal monotony of their pinched white-collar lives… The war has its horrors, but it also destroys much of what the genteel poor like Grace Rohan, have barely been able to acknowledge they wanted destroyed.”  In other words, the Rohans weren’t really happy with their lives after all.  And from the young Billy’s perspective, the war made a boring existence interesting.

And maybe that was the point of the movie.  Maybe it wasn’t trying to be dramatic.  It was trying to be quietly profound.  Maybe I was just expecting too much drama from a coming of age film that wasn’t really trying to be powerful or dramatic.  But then, I still come back to the question.  Why was such a quaint and subtle movie nominated for Best Picture?  I don’t know.

1987 – Fatal Attraction

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Fatal Attraction – 1987

Finally, a good suspense thriller.  I was glad to see the Academy could nominate more than dramas, which seems to be, with a few odd exceptions, the only genre that has been considered for Best Picture in the 80s.  The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, but unfortunately didn’t win a single one, a strange fact for the film that was the year’s biggest money maker.  The main stars, Michael Douglas and Glenn Close both did a fantastic job, as did Anne Archer.

Douglas played Dan Gallagher, a successful lawyer.  He has a beautiful wife named Beth, played by Archer, and a lovely daughter, Ellen, played by child actress, Ellen Hamilton Latzen.  He seems to have the perfect life.  But he foolishly risks it all when he meets Alexandra Forrest, played by Close.  She seems predatory as she seduces Dan into a weekend of sexual depravity.  Dan expects to have his fun, and then casually go back to his domestic paradise

But Dan gets more than he bargained for.  Alex has severe emotional problems and is portrayed as a psychopath.  When Dan attempts to go back to his own life, she hounds him and manipulates him into spending more time with her.  At first, he gives in, but it quickly becomes apparent that Alex has her own ideas.  When he tries to go back to his home, she slits her wrists in an attempt to get him to stay.  She has fallen completely in love with him.

After he helps her past her crisis and leaves, she becomes insanely obsessed with him.  She calls him over and over again.  She begins to harass his wife, and eventually begins stalking him and his family.  Things get completely out of hand, culminating in Alex’s slaughter of Ellen’s pet rabbit.  Dan realizes that he has to confess his affair to his wife, if for no other reason than her own safety.  His marriage is damaged, but the harassment continues.  Alex even goes so far as to kidnap Ellen for an afternoon.  Fortunately she does not harm the little girl.  But when Dan nearly kills her for the stunt, she loses her mind and tries to murder Beth.  She and Dan fight each other for their lives until Beth shoots Alex in the chest, ending the ordeal.

Director Adrian Lyne really did a fantastic job of building the tension slowly without letting his audience get bored.  And the great screenplay, written by James Dearden, was wonderfully executed.  The characters were so well-written and realistic.  Apparently Glenn Close, in preparing for the role, conducted interviews with three different psychologists, asking if an emotionally sick woman was capable of such behavior.  She was assured that under the right circumstances, the answer was definitely yes.

I found it interesting, that when Close was interviewed about her part in the film, she was quoted as saying that she never considered Alex Forrest to be a villain.  She always thought of her as a sick woman that needed help, not a simple psychopath.  Nowhere is this point made more clearly than in the original ending to the film.  After Dan nearly kills Alex for kidnaping his daughter, she tries to stab him with a kitchen knife.  Dan wrests the knife from her grasp and leaves it in her apartment.  In the original ending, Alex commits suicide by cutting her own throat.

Since Dan’s fingerprints are on the knife, he is accused of her murder and arrested.  Fortunately, Beth finds evidence that gets him off the hook.  This ending was more in line with the character, paralleling a running theme in the film, the Puccini opera Madam Butterfly, in which the title character commits suicide when her lover leaves her.  That original ending portrays Alex as mentally ill, and not just evil and homicidal.  But it didn’t play well with test audiences.  They wanted to see her as a villain.  And I have to admit that after seeing both endings, I agree.  Though the suicide was creepier, the fight with Beth and Alex’s death by gunshot was more satisfying.  I wanted to see Alex go down in a violent blaze of glory, not quietly, alone on her bathroom floor.

Either way, I really enjoyed the film.  It was sometimes incredibly uncomfortable to watch, just like a good thriller should be.  The actors, especially Close, did a fantastic job.  The way she delivered lines like, “Well, what am I supposed to do?  You won’t answer my calls, you change your number.  I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!”  Perfection!

1987 – Broadcast News

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Broadcast News – 1987

This is a smart movie.  It has an interesting script that makes you use your brain, well developed characters, and a satisfying ending.  It is billed as a romantic comedy/drama, all of which is true.  The cast of actors really pulled it all off with skill, making the complex motivations of the characters look natural and easy.

The film had three leads.  Holly Hunter played Jane Craig, a smart, driven, modern, career oriented girl.  She is a news producer that believes in delivering news that matters while following a strict ethical code.  Albert Brooks played Aaron Altman, a brilliant news reporter who has dreams of becoming a TV anchorman, though he has serious self-confidence issues.  And completing the trio is William Hurt, who played Tom Grunick.  He is a charismatic pretty boy who has never been very smart or well-educated.  He has achieved success as a TV news anchor, mostly relying on his natural charm and good looks.  He has dreams of being a serious reporter.

The film’s drama comes out on multiple levels.  Aaron is a reporter who wants to be an anchorman.  Tom is an anchorman who wants to be a reporter.  And Jane is the producer who stands between them.  But then the script goes deeper to a more personal level.  Aaron is in love with Jane.  Jane is in love with Tom.  Tom is in love with himself.  Tom respects Aaron professionally.  Aaron thinks Tom is a moron.  Jane likes Aaron as a friend.  She lusts after Tom, but has real issues with his questionable ethics.

The film goes along exploring these interpersonal relationships, set against the backdrop of the news station as it tries to deliver meaningful news stories to the public.  Tom seems to be on the fast track to success.  Aaron, though smarter than most of his peers, is largely being professionally screwed, being passed over for the more charismatic Tom.  And then there is Jane who works hard for her success in a male dominated profession.  Obviously, I think the best thing about this movie is the motivations of the three leads, so I’d like to take a moment to say what I liked about each of the complex characters.  What made them so well-written?

Let’s look at Jane.  While Holly Hunter did a good job, I think her character was the least interesting of the trio.  They made the point of showing her bursting out into tears at several points during the movie, making the point that she was not in full control of her emotions.  She immediately recognizes that Tom isn’t smart enough to be a credible reporter, but she, like everyone else, eventually falls under his spell, all the while hating herself for doing so.

Aaron’s character was great because though he was smart, he was ultimately defined by his lack of self-confidence, an interesting trait you don’t often see in a lead.  This problem manifests itself in several ways.  For years, he has been carrying a torch for Jane, but because he has no self-confidence, he never acts on it.  He has also wanted to be a TV Anchor, but when he is given the chance, his low self-confidence causes him to mess it up so badly, he will never get another chance.  Aaron’s confusion and frustration at his lack of success, though he knew that he was smarter than his co-workers, was wonderfully portrayed.

But to me, the most interesting of the three was Tom.  And what made him so fascinating was the fact that Tom knew he wasn’t smart.  He knew, and was both frustrated and disappointed in himself that he could deliver the news with a confident smile, but had almost no understanding of what he was reporting.  He was aware that he was coasting by on his looks and charm, but knew of no other way to succeed.  One memorable little scene in which he tried to coach Aaron on how to be an anchorman in front of a camera was so well-written.  He might not be smart about world events or politics, but he knew how to sell a story with confidence, which is what an anchorman must be able to do.

And the great ending was perfectly written.  Jane chooses her desire for Tom over her friendship with Aaron, but turns against Tom when she discovers his complete lack of work ethics.  Tom is promoted to a prominent position in London.  Jane gets a big promotion and stays in Washington DC.  And Aaron accepts a job as a reporter in an obscure news station, far away from them both.  Not exactly a happy ending, but one that made a lot of sense.