Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

D.C. Cab (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser cab drivers unite.

In a long ago and far away time before there was Uber or Lyft and taxi cabs where the only service there’s a story of Albert (Adam Baldwin) a young man who comes to Washington D.C. looking to start up his own cab company, but finds it to be more difficult than he thought. He gets a job with Harold (Max Gail) who runs a cab company that is sinking fast and could get shut down. Albert motivates the other drivers to work together to help save the company and in return they help save him when he gets kidnapped.

The idea of having a story set in the nation’s capital and not having it centered around politics is probably the only novel thing about this film that is otherwise crude and obnoxious with characters that are embarrassingly moronic. Writer/director Joel Schumacher seems to want to sink to the lowest common denominator with each and every shot and in that regard he succeeds brilliantly.

The film’s grimy look helps accentuate the low class farce especially the incredibly tattered shape of the cabs that Harold’s employees drive around in. I realize this was for comic effect, but it goes overboard. There is absolutely no way anyone, no matter how desperate would want to take a ride in one of those things that look they are ready to fall apart at any second. The viewer can’t have much empathy for someone, even as likable as Harold is, who takes such little pride in his company’s product or dumb enough to expect people would consider his business with the vehicles looking the way they do when they are clearly other better competitors to choose from. In reality the vehicles would’ve been considered an obvious road hazard and impounded by the cops almost immediately anyways.

The film tried to feed off of Mr. T’s then popularity by billing him as the star during its promotion, but his screen time is limited. Baldwin is the actual star even though he is incredibly dull and says or does nothing that is funny or amusing. His character arch where he goes from quiet, passive schmuck to inspiring speaker, as he tries to motivate the other drivers, is too extreme. Jim Carrey had auditioned for the role and wanted the part, but Schumacher turned him because he felt he was too talented to be a part of an ensemble cast, which he probably was, but his presence could’ve helped a lot nonetheless.

Gail comes off best and should’ve been the lead, but since he was over 40 and the producers where aiming for a younger demographic he gets unfairly relegated to supporting status. His character’s relationship with his cold, bitchy wife, played by Anne De Salvo, offers a few chuckles particularly the scene where she locks herself in her house and wards off everyone else from entering by aiming a blow torch out of her bedroom window.

Seeing Bill Maher or Jill Schoelen in their film debuts might pique the interest of some, but the plot itself is too unfocused and goes off on too many different tangents with loosely connected story threads put in simply to pad the running time. The only really funny moment comes when a car crashes through a drive-in movie screen as it shows another movie dealing with a completely different car chase. I also liked the scene with Timothy Carey that comes after the credits are over, but otherwise this is one cab ride that’s not worth its fare.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

UHF (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running a TV Station.

George Newman (“Weird Al” Yankovic) cannot hold down a steady job, but finally seems to catch his break when given an opportunity to be program director of a little known UHF TV station. George comes up with all sorts of oddball programming ideas that soon send the ratings soaring, which angers R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who runs a competing TV station and will do anything to take George’s station off the air.

The film, which was shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was written by Yankovic and his longtime collaborator Jay Levey and it took over 3 years of them constantly shopping the script around to various producers and studios before Orion Pictures decided to pick it up, but only if Yankovic/Levey could guarantee that the budget would remain under $5 million.  Upon its initial release the film did quite poorly both at the box office and with the critics, but has since gained a strong cult following.

The humor is quite hit-or-miss. Some of it is indeed clever, but at other times it’s incredibly lame and kiddie-like. My biggest beef is the fact that they incorporate this dumb side-story dealing with a competing station that isn’t funny. The film would’ve worked far better had they not felt the need to have any conventional narrative or plot and instead structured it around a quickly edited collection/snippets of weird TV shows, which is the only time when the film gels and is actually creative.

As much as I love McCarthy I felt his character here was unnecessary. Word is that he really enjoyed the part and would crack-up between takes, but his over-the-top one-dimensional caricature of a rich, capitalistic asshole quickly becomes quite boring. Yankovic himself is equally dull and shows no acting ability whatsoever, but fortunately he wisely steps back and allows his supporting cast to get all the laughs, which they do especially Michael Richards as a freaky janitor turned children’s TV host as well as Trinidad Silva, who tragically died in a car accident before filming was completed, as a man with a houseful of exotic animals.

The best moment in the movie is the ad for spatula city, which is far and away one of the funniest segments I’ve seen anywhere and worth catching just for this. What’s even funnier is that the producers put up a giant billboard along a highway advertising this phony supermarket, which they used as a prop for the segment, but then after they were done filming they decided to leave it up. They presumed it wouldn’t be a problem as they figured no one would actually be interested in a place that sells only spatulas, but apparently in reality for several months afterwards many motorists drove off the exit listed on the billboard looking for the spatula city and inquiring as to where the place was located.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jay Levey

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He spends thirty million.

Richard Pryor plays Monty Brewster a struggling baseball pitcher in the minor leagues who has never earned more than $11,000 in a year, but finally gets his chance to be rich via a deceased uncle (Hume Cronyn) who leaves him a vast fortune, but with conditions. He must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to get $300 million and if not whatever is left over from the unspent $30 million will be given over to a law firm. He is also given the option to accept $1 million upfront with no strings, but he chooses the challenge only to find that spending a lot of money is even harder than making it.

The film is based on the 1902 novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon and this marked the seventh film version of that story. The novel though does things differently. In that version Brewster has already inherited one million, but given the chance to attain seven million if can spend the one million during a full year, which is a little more believable. Watching Brewster trying to spend the 30 million on any dumb thing that comes along gets dizzying and hard to keep track of until it eventually plays itself out by becoming a one-joke concept throwing out the same punchline over-and-over. Why the amount was raised to 30 million and the time span to spend it shortened isn’t clear. Possibly it was for inflation or simply to make it ‘more comical’, but it ends up getting wildly overblown.

With so many people out there who are poor and desperate it’s hard to be sympathetic to Brewster’s dilemma. Spending a lot of money foolishly simply to serve his own greed and attain even more isn’t exactly a noble mission. Had he at least tried to spend it on things that could help others, like in the novel, it might’ve made a little more of an emotional impact. The Pryor character is also portrayed as having very little confidence and therefore I would think in reality he would’ve just accepted the million, which in his eyes would’ve been a lot of money anyways and never bothered to take the challenge, which most anyone else would’ve found monumental and impossible.

Pryor isn’t funny at all and John Candy is far more amusing as his loyal friend, but unfortunately isn’t seen enough. Stephen Collins is good as the duplicitous Warren Cox and this also marks David White’s final film appearance, who is best known for playing Larry Tate on ‘Bewitched’ and whose name is strangely not listed in the film’s opening credits despite having a major role. Yakov Smirnoff and Rick Moranis can also be seen in brief bits.

The film was directed by Walter Hill who later referred to this as ‘an aberration’ and having only done it to ‘improve his bank account’. His forte is in action flicks and his attempt at comedy turns terribly flat from its first frame to its last. It is also in many ways similar to Trading Places, which coincidentally was written by the same screenwriter Hershel Weingrod, but that film was far better.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Youtube

Bad Timing (1980)

bad-timing-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs to control.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychiatrist teaching at a Vienna University who falls for a free-spirited young lady named Milena (Theresa Russell). Despite still being married to the much older Stefan (Denholm Elliot) she decides to leave him and move in with Alex, but their relationship soon becomes rocky. Alex gets jealous of her flirtatious ways and wants to control her, but she resists. Their constant fighting sends her into a depression and she begins to abuse both drugs and alcohol. One night Alex finds Milena’s comatose body inside her apartment apparently the victim of an overdose. She gets rushed to the hospital, but the police detective on the case (Harvey Keitel) isn’t so sure that Alex is being completely honest with him about how the events unfolded and through a fragmented narrative the viewer slowly becomes aware of Alex’s very dark and possessive side.

This movie, which was labeled by its distributor as being “a sick film made by sick people for sick people”, still remains as fresh and provocative as when it was first released. The possessive boyfriend theme was at the time a new concept and thus thankfully avoids the annoying clichés we now see in today’s movies while still coming off as groundbreaking and edgy instead. Yale Udoff’s script nicely weaves a complex texture between examining the dark psychological undercurrents of its characters to also creating an intricate and original mystery that keeps you on edge until its final and still quite shocking ending.

Director Nicolas Roeg crafts a mesmerizing visual design with each shot and edit and I especially liked the way he intercuts between showing Milena unconscious inside the emergency room to scenes of her and Alex making love. Their cluttered apartment is interesting as well and tends to be messier when the two are at odds and more organized when they’re apart. Roeg employs a wide range of music styles instead of just choosing one and playing it over and over like in most other movies.

The film’s main defect is Garfunkel’s presence whose acting talent is limited. His character is interesting particularly with the way he majored in psychiatry and yet seemed to be suffering from many of the same problems that he was studying making it seem almost like people who get into that line of work do it not so much to help others, but instead as a sort-of self-analyzation for themselves. However, his performance is wooden and his only memorable bit is when he and Milena hitch-hike a ride with some farmers and he gets stuck in the back of their pick-up with the goats while she rides up front with the two guys and he jealously looks in on them from the rear window.

Russell, who went on to marry director Roeg after this film was completed, goes in the exact opposite direction by overplaying her character until it becomes almost campy. Why this beautiful woman, who gets lots of attention from just about every guy she meets, would fall for such a dull dope like Alex makes no sense nor does her need to constantly try and win him back every time he mistreats her.

The best performances come from the supporting players. Keitel nails it as the cunning detective and Elliot has a great moment where he continues to casually eat his lunch while Alex harangues him on the other end of the telephone receiver.

Despite the miscasting of its two leads and the fact that the movie saw only a limited engagement when it was first released the film has still managed to gain a strong cult following. Much of this can be credited to Roeg’s artsy direction as well as the dark ending that still packs-a-punch.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

decline-of-western-civil-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Heavy Metal scene.

Director Penelope Spheeris returns to the L.A. music scene this time chronicling heavy metal bands and looking at the lifestyles of those who are in it. This film has a bigger budget, less of a grainy look, and more irreverent than the first installment.

The interviews are again what make the film interesting and I liked how Spheeris brings in a broad scope of people to talk to, which includes members from bands desperately trying to break-in as well as veterans who’ve made it to the top and their many groupies and fans. There’s even an interview with a parole officer talking about the ‘evil influence’ the music has on teens and their attempts at ‘deprogramming’ them, but even then she breaks into laughter when Spheeris asks her about Ozzy Osbourne and his dangerous ‘satanic’ message.

There’s also an interview with a bubble-headed beauty queen at a sleazy strip bar whose name is Cindy D. Birmisa and who talks about wanting to get into modeling and ‘actressing’ and made such a strong impression at being the perfect caricature of a dim-witted blonde that she became the inspiration to Christina Applegate’s character in the hit series ‘Married With Children’. The film’s most notorious scene though deals with W.A.S.P. lead singer Chris Holmes doing an interview while in a pool and completely drunk, but what he says and does isn’t half as interesting as seeing his Mother’s reactions to it who sits poolside.

Like in the first film the living conditions of some of these bands is less than glamorous including seeing several members and their groupies cramming themselves into a small camper, which was their sole ‘residence’. I also enjoyed the segment that cuts back and forth between band members discussing how they take advantage of their groupies while these same groupies talk about how they do the exact same thing to the guys in reverse. Hearing all these wannabe’s discuss how they ‘will succeed’ as rock stars and ‘failure is not an option’ is tarnished only by the fact that we can’t see where they are now and how time most likely has forced them to adjust their outlooks.

I was also fascinated by the fact that the tone in this one had shifted drastically from the first one where anger and rebellion permeated every scene. Outside of their wildly over-the-top ‘80’s hairstyles, which makes the film enjoyable to watch just for that, there really isn’t all that much nonconformity from these participants, or if there is it’s in the most shallow of contexts . Their mission here seems more on becoming ‘rich and famous’ and reaping the benefits of system instead of exposing its many flaws. The theatrics are certainly there, but the essence of what underground rock was truly meant to be about seems to have gotten lost on white suburban kids who simply want to exploit the medium as a quick shot to fame.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

decline-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Punk Rock Scene.

A fascinating and surprisingly intimate look at the L.A. punk rock scene of the late ‘70s. The film starts out by showing footage of several concerts with fans jumping up and down like they are on a pogo stick and getting into violent clashes with other fans by physically attacking each other unprovoked. Shots of various band members in garish make-up, outfits and behaviors are also shown, which could give one the feeling that the state of humanity is truly on the decline, but then the film cuts away and we are treated to interviews of the people involved where we start seeing them as actual multi-dimensional human beings who are simply unhappy with the establishment and fighting to have a voice.

The interviews are the best part and I was impressed with how candid many of them were and the introspection some of them showed with one stating that punk rock was simply an excuse to ‘make an ass of himself and get away with it.’ The most shocking moment comes when you see the sleeping quarters of one of the bands, which was in the closet of some dingy, cramped, graffiti laden room that wasn’t much bigger than a storage closet and housed all the members for a mere $16 a month, which was all they could afford.

Another memorable moment deals with Darby Crash, who died from a heroin overdose before the film’s release, and watching him play with a tarantula spider that he allows to crawl all over him. The final segment dealing with Lee Ving the lead singer of the group Fear spitting at his audience who then spit back before they charge the stage and physically attempt to attack him is vivid.

When John Doe and Exene Cervenka sing the song ‘We’re Desperate: Get Used to It’ you know that they are speaking straight from experience, which is what ultimately makes this excursion so impactful. These aren’t rich rock stars from the ‘burbs with million dollar contracts spouting about hardships they’ve never had. Instead we get people that are at society’s bottom speaking to others who feel the same way and who are desperately looking for an outlet for their aggressions and anger. The interviews with some of the fans are equally enlightening and helps shed light on many of their troubled lives.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: Spheeris Films Inc.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Alien Nation (1988)

alien-nation-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newcomers integrate into society.

Sam ‘George’ Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is an alien who along with 300,000 of his kind land on earth near the Mojave desert in the year 1988 and become known as newcomers. After initially being quarantined they are let out in 1991 and become a part of everyday society. Matt Sykes (James Caan) is a cop whose partner is killed during a shootout with some criminal newcomers. George and Matt then team up to investigate the crime as well as a similar one that seems to be linked to Warren Harcourt (Terence Stamp) a successful newcomer businessman. Matt initially does not trust George and even shows an open bias towards him, but eventually the two form a bond.

The concept is unique in that unlike most sci-fi films the actual spaceship landing becomes only a minor part of the story and just briefly touched on in film’s first couple of minutes before quickly moving into the main theme of seeing how the humans and aliens learn to coincide. The idea of using this to then further examine racism and bigotry may have been a noble one, but it ends up not getting played up as much as I thought it would. The fact that the aliens have assimilated into society as quickly as they do (only 3 years) makes it seem like even if there is resistance to it by some it’s of a small level and for the most part the aliens have it pretty good.

There’s also a myriad of questions that never get addressed. Why exactly were these aliens sent here and will more come along later? Which planet are they from and if they were conditioned to be efficient workers who are highly adaptable then why are there so many seen on street corners and apart of gang that do no work at all. Nothing from their culture is retained and outside of their strange appearance that looks like burn victims with skin grafts there is not all that much difference between them and their human counterparts. They even end up bleeding red blood when they get shot.

The film’s most interesting part is George’s and Matt’s relationship, which starts out rocky, but slowly evolves and even at one point has a humorous moment where Matt tells George a ‘really funny’ joke that George, much to Matt’s frustration, can’t seem to appreciate. Both Caan and Patinkin give excellent performances as the characters go through a wide array of emotions with George seeming at times to be more human-like.

The criminal investigation and mystery dealing with a drug called Jabroka I didn’t find to be as compelling and the final showdown between Matt and Harcourt was to me a yawner. The alien angle comes off more like a thinly disguised attempt to make what amounts to being just another formulaic cop action pic seem unique and ‘profound’ when it really isn’t.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), YouTube