Film Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Release Date: June 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Based on: Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner, Mel Blanc

Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Is he always this funny, or only on days when he’s wanted for murder?” – Dolores

Back in 1988, I saw this movie in the theater. It was a pretty memorable experience, as this was an incredibly unique and enjoyable motion picture. I used to watch this a lot as a kid but I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Watching it again, I realized how much I missed this film. I mean, what’s not to like?

The film uses animated characters in a live action world. When I was young, this was a really cool experience, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before, at least not an entire movie like this. After Roger Rabbit, this would become a technique that was fairly common but this was the first movie to do it on such a large scale.

The really cool thing about the use of animated characters, is that everyone was in on the movie. For the first time, we got to see Disney characters mingle with Warner Bros. characters. One scene, in particular, has both Bugsy Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. The film really is a cool crossover before crossovers even really became a thing.

Roger Rabbit stars Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, as the main human components of the movie. The film provided iconic roles for both men and they hit it out of the park. Hoskins was tailor made to play a noir type private dick while Lloyd had the perfect balance of being sinister, chilling and completely insane when the reveal of his true identity came out.

Charles Fleischer was perfect as the voice of Roger and he instantly made this character a megastar and worthy of a place alongside the great animated stars of the Disney and Looney Tunes characters he shares the screen with. Roger truly felt like he belonged, which wasn’t an easy feat but Fleischer gave the character real life and comedic charm.

Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman wrote a great script that had elements of film-noir, comedy, fantasy and lightheartedness mixed in with some really dark material. The scene where a character gets steamrollered was pretty harsh stuff for a kid but it is counterbalanced by the fantastic absurdity of how that moment plays out. This is truly a living cartoon.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a real classic. It still hits the right notes and being a period piece makes it a pretty timeless motion picture that still works just as well today, as it did in 1988.

Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Release Date: November 16th, 1977
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Spielberg
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, François Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen, Carl Weathers

Columbia Pictures, 135 Minutes, 137 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I guess you’ve noticed something a little strange with Dad. It’s okay, though. I’m still Dad.” – Roy Neary

So I went to a special 40th anniversary screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the movie theater really shit the bed, as I couldn’t watch it, they were out of most food and the place was a ghost town other than employees who had no idea what this movie was. I ended up going home to stream it instead.

I hadn’t seen this picture in a really long time but I had fond memories of it as a kid, even though it wasn’t on the level of E.T. and Jaws in the early Spielberg years. The special effects were cool and the use of matte paintings for vast expanses still looks magical and taps into the otherworldlyness of the picture.

However, revisiting it all these years later, it just isn’t something that I have as much love for as Spielberg’s other early works. Looking back, I never rented this movie as much as his other films and I really never thought about it until reflecting on it while watching it. Ultimately, it just doesn’t resonate in the same way or at least not as strongly. Also, compared to his other work, it is fairly dull.

The acting is pretty good and you do care about the characters to an extent but some of the things that happen are either nonsensical or kind of horrible when put into perspective. While it is a cool looking movie about wonder and excitement and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the main character basically goes crazy, scaring away his wife and kids and then abandons them to go away with the aliens and all the while, we’re supposed to feel his amazement and relish in this man’s opportunity to see the stars. Plus, the aliens abduct a child but that’s cool because he comes back seemingly normal. They must be a truly evolved species, stealing kids and other people and then just throwing them back when it suits them.

You kind of don’t care about these details when you’re a kid but as an adult, the film leaves me with more questions than answers. I’m not just going to accept that they are some space travelling further evolved beings and that they can just do whatever they want. Fuck these aliens, they’re assholes. And we’re America, we don’t trust our neighbor.

And who’s to say that these returned people aren’t implanted with a chip that will make them wipe out humanity so that the aliens can steal our limestone to build an amusement park on their homeworld? Our government doesn’t even like our neighbors from the south moving in and they’re just going to be like, “Aw, fuck it… these guys are cool. Besides, we can’t build a wall around the sky.”

In all seriousness, Close Encounters is a pretty good flick with great effects and yes, it does bring out your inner wonder. However, it doesn’t hold up as well as the other Spielberg classics. That’s okay, though. This was a precursor to E.T. and if making this film helped to make E.T. a better picture, it served a noble purpose. I mean, E.T. is pretty close to perfect.

Film Review: Batteries Not Included (1987)

Also stylized as: *batteries not included
Also known as: Miracle On 8th Street (international)
Release Date: December 18th, 1987
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Dennis Boutsikaris, Michael Carmine, Wendy Schaal

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is… or what it wants.” – Frank Riley

Batteries Not Included sort of came and went in the theater. At least, I wasn’t really aware of it until it popped up on HBO about a year later. Once I saw it though, I was captivated and would try to catch it every time it was playing on television. It is one of those movies I loved as a kid but hadn’t really seen since. So when I came across it on Netflix, I wanted to see how it played, thirty years later.

The film was actually intended to be an episode of Steve Spielberg’s awesome television show Amazing Stories. Spielberg liked the story so much that he wanted to have it expanded into a feature film. Also, this was Brad Bird’s first time writing for a theatrical release. He would go on to write and direct the beloved animated films The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The movie tells the story of the residents of a rundown building in New York City. The area is being torn down and the residents forced out by thugs hired by developers who intend to build modern massive skyscrapers. The thugs go around destroying the resident’s homes and property. Two tiny alien spaceships show up and start fixing everything. The little spaceships are actually alien lifeforms that take junk and appliances and use them to repair and enhance themselves. They even give birth to three baby alien ships in the film.

The movie is really about miracles and how when you are pushed to your limit and all seems hopeless, sometimes things can happen to pick you back up. Batteries Not Included is about not losing hope and it is also about family and friends and turning to those around you who are good people. It’s interesting that it takes non-human lifeforms to bring the humans in the story together.

For 1987, the special effects are fantastic. The movie still looks stellar today and it held up really nicely.

The cast were all really good but the bulk of the picture rests on the shoulders of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (just a few years before her big Academy Award win for Driving Miss Daisy). It’s kind of nice revisiting pictures like this and Cocoon, as they feature elderly actors as the main characters. It is something that you don’t see very often anymore, at least not in major studio sci-fi releases. But the 80s were a magical time for film.

I was happy that I revisited this, so many years later, because I wasn’t disappointed, as I often times am with movies I once loved as a kid. It was actually just as I remembered it without any extra romantic flourish added to it from my memory.

Batteries Not Included is sort of forgotten today and it wasn’t a big hit in its day, anyway. It is a movie that probably deserves more recognition than it got, though. It just looks good, plays good and most importantly, feels good.

Documentary Review: Back In Time (2015)

Release Date: October 21st, 2015
Directed by: Jason Aron
Music by: Allen Calmes, G.C. Johnson

Malka Media Group, Jason Aron Media, Patchwork Media, FilmRise, 95 Minutes

Review:

There is an old adage that says, “If you don’t love Back to the Future, you must be a horrible person.” Okay, so maybe I made that up but that’s pretty much how I feel about it.

Back In Time is a documentary about the film and its huge cultural impact. It came out just in time for Back to the Future‘s 30th anniversary.

While not as amazing as I had hoped, it does interview a lot of the people involved in the production and creation of the film series. It talks to Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Huey Lewis and actors Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and others.

Unfortunately, Thomas F. Wilson and Crispin Glover weren’t in this documentary. It would have been really cool to hear their insight and how the film has effected them over the years. Glover, especially, due to how he left the film series and ended up suing over the use of his likeness, forever changing how business is done in Hollywood. While his actions left a bad taste in the mouths of many involved, enough time has passed, one would hope, to where he could have talked about the experience.

Back In Time talks a lot about the films themselves but it really showcases the fandom that has grown since the first one came out three decades earlier. It also interviews other notable people in the entertainment industry who were influenced by the Back to the Future franchise.

If you love the film series and have some time to kill, this documentary is worth a watch. There is nothing vital here but it is cool seeing those involved with it, reflect on it. It is also nice to see how it has captivated so many people since its release.

Film Review: Jaws (1975)

Release Date: June 20th, 1975
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Based on: Jaws by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Zanuck/Brown Productions, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” – Quint

Jaws is considered to be one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. It’s usually found in top ten lists and a lot of people I have met throughout my life call it their favorite movie. While it’s not my favorite film nor my favorite Spielberg picture, it holds a special place in my heart.

I wasn’t born when this came out so I never got the big screen experience until this past weekend. However, when I was a kid, it’s VHS box art haunted me in the aisles of every single mom and pop video shop. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I had the balls to watch it. Well, that and the fact that I did it on a dare from my older cousin.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared of the film once I saw it. I know that a lot of people were but I was more interested in dangerous wildlife and developed an obsession with sharks and other deadly sea creatures. I also grew up on the Gulf of Mexico and saw sharks all the time, whether at the beach or in my uncle’s boat.

Jaws did spark my interest and love in these type of films. A love that would continue and be further cultivated throughout the 1980s, as Jaws really gave birth to a genre of knockoffs that still exist today. Hell, as I saw this in the theater, right across the hall was 47 Meters Down, another shark attack movie.

Steven Spielberg truly made a masterpiece with Jaws and it would be his first of several. This is the film that put him on the map and led to a series of fantastic and imaginative pictures that he still directs and produces today.

Jaws had a myriad of serious issues during its production but Spielberg still churned out a near perfect picture. The robot shark never really worked right but the film utilized the “less is more” technique in regards to seeing the aquatic beast. Had there been more shark, this film might not have worked as well and thus, not launched Spielberg into the heights he reached. Maybe the production problems were a blessing of sorts. In any event, a lot of unforeseen good came out of those problems.

The film is accented by stellar acting from just about everyone in the cast. Roy Scheider is perfect in just about everything but this is his most famous and iconic role for good reason. Richard Dreyfuss is spectacular and this role led to a lot of great things for the now legendary actor. It is Robert Shaw, however, that really steals the show. Being cast mostly as villainous heavies, earlier in his career, Shaw carved out his own niche later in life and the character of Quint is not only his most famous but one of the most famous in movie history. There are very few characters that could even come close to Quint’s coolness and toughness.

While the film has a few spots with strange editing or strange shot framing, I can’t nitpick about those things, because the positives about Jaws are why it is a classic motion picture that will be cherished till the end of time or until human beings evolve some higher form of consciousness.

Despite those issues, the picture is generally well shot and the cinematography is absolutely awesome. In fact, a lot of the techniques that are employed in this film were “borrowed” by directors and cinematographers for years. In fact, they’re still common techniques used today. The use of shadows, silhouettes, the underwater work, all have been “borrowed” to death. Realistically, it just goes to show how much of an impact Jaws had on the future of filmmaking.

Few movies leave a lasting impression as strong as that of Jaws. There are dozens of motion pictures that have won Picture of the Year at the Oscars that most people wouldn’t even know today. But there is hardly anyone that doesn’t know Jaws.

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” – Dr. René Belloq

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

Film Review: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Release Date: May 26th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, C. Thomas Howell, Erika Eleniak

Universal Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“It was nothing like that, penis-breath!” – Elliot

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is hands down, one of the greatest films ever made. I just saw this on the big screen, although it is the third time I have seen it in its proper format. This was the first time, however, that I got to see the original version in the theater. The other two times, it was that special edition that had unnecessary bonus scenes and for some stupid reason, removed the cops’ guns and replaced them with walkie talkies. Finally, I got to see the original unaltered version in all its glory.

It doesn’t matter how many times I see E.T., each time it hits me the same way. It is emotional and real and its effectiveness has not worn off in the thirty-five years since it was first released. That is a testament to just how perfect this motion picture is. It is also a testament to how great of an actor Henry Thomas was, as a kid, as he carried the massive weight of this picture on his back.

Watching E.T. in the theater, and seeing how today’s kids responded to it, showed that it isn’t a generational thing, it transcends all that, as happy parents got to share something with their kids, who all seemed to be truly effected by it. And while sitting there, unable to stop myself from smiling as soon as the movie kids took to their bicycles to outrun the police, I came to the realization that no matter how hard filmmakers try, no one makes movies like this anymore. Sure, we have strong summer blockbusters, here and there, but nothing that has a lasting impact and carries so much emotion with it.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is truly the measuring stick. Yes, I like other big summer movies more but E.T. did so much more with a lot less, compared to films like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and certainly more than The Avengers and Transformers. It didn’t rely on being cool and having over-the-top action, adventure and effects. It has great effects on a smaller scale but it just goes right for the heart and grabs it. In reality, George Lucas inspired countless filmmakers and writers but Star Wars didn’t hit people right in the feels like E.T. did. You certainly won’t feel a tenth of the emotion of this film with Captain America: Civil War.

Some people may just go to big summer movies for endless explosions and robots dancing because they’re too afraid to feel emotional in front of their dude brahs or babes. But when a film can go beyond some simplistic bullshit and find a way to resonate within its audience, there is something really special about it. I didn’t see droves of kids leaving the theater begging for toys. I saw little faces that looked like some sort of switch flipped in their little heads. Did these raging, self-absorbed toddler terrorists somehow experience empathy?

While this is a review of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, I don’t feel like I need to rehash the plot or talk about how amazing ever little piece of the film is. I assume that mostly adults read these reviews and frankly, I have to assume that nearly everyone has seen this film and gone on to understand its greatness and importance. If you haven’t, that is an injustice that needs to be rectified.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a masterpiece. Well, as long as you don’t watch the stupid special edition.