TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STARMAN (1984)

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STARMAN (1984)

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80s Sci-fi romance is an entertaining road trip flick from director John Carpenter and is probably one of his most underrated movies. The film has an alien race accepting the Voyager probe’s invitation and sending a representative to check us out. The poor explorer is shot down by the U.S. Air force and crashes in a remote area of Wisconsin near the cabin of recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Using a strand of her dead husband’s hair, the alien takes human form, physically replicating Jenny’s deceased spouse (Jeff Bridges). The terrified women is then basically kidnaped into taking the alien visitor to a rendezvous point to meet his mother ship or he’ll die. As the two travel across country with the police and U.S. Government in hot pursuit, Jenny starts to fall in love with this extraterrestrial being with her husband’s face.

To be honest, the script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon is corny and clichéd, but it is the skilled direction of John Carpenter that makes it so fun, heartfelt and entertaining. After a string of violent action, horror and Sci-fi flicks, Carpenter showed he can direct with restraint and versatility with this romance heavy road trip/chase thriller. What elevates the movie above the simplistic and sometimes silly script is the emotional depth that Carpenter gives the sequences and the strength he gives the relationship between Allen’s terrified and confused widow and the peaceful and naive visitor so well played by Bridges. He deftly guides his actors through a relationship that starts out based on fear and grows by the film’s bittersweet finale into love. Sure some of it is downright cheesy, but Carpenter gives it the right touches at the right times to make it work. He knows when to take it seriously and when to have a little fun with it, such as Bridges’ Starman trying earth food for the first time and learning his first obscene hand gesture. The romantic elements are also quite effective, but Carpenter keeps them from getting too overpowering, so not to neuter the drama and action. All the elements blend very well and it is highlighted by a very atmospheric score by Jack Nitzsche and some great cinematography by Donald M. Morgan.

Of course Carpenter also gets great performances from his cast, especially his leads. Bridge’s is wonderful as this curious being trying to learn how to be human in a short time and the subtle nuances and facial expressions are borderline brilliant even when the script is at it’s corniest. He earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his work and deservedly so. Karen Allen deserved one, too, as she is equally strong as a woman facing the impossible. Not only is this charming widow seeing the face of her husband again, months after his death, but also in the company of a being from another world…one she grows to have feelings for. She handles the transition from terror to sympathy to love deftly and her chemistry with Bridges is perfect. The two are great together. In support, we have Charles Martin Smith, in of the weakest written roles, as a sympathetic SETI scientist and Smith does good work to make him endearing despite the clichés. Rounding out is veteran actor Richard Jaeckel as the stereotypical government security agent bad guy and he also wades through a river of clichés to make the role work. A good cast that make the best of a cornball script.

Is it silly?…yes…is it corny?…yes…but skilled direction from John Carpenter and great performances from his lead actors overcomes all that for a touching and entertaining romance/chase thriller about a marooned alien being learning first hand about what it means to be human and falling in love. Carpenter shows he is more than just a horror director and gives a weak script some strong dramatic moments and gives emotional depth to some two-dimensionally written characters. Bridges gives one of many Academy Award nominated performances and Karen Allen might also have given one of the strongest performances of her long career. It may be a little dated now, but there is the heavy 80s nostalgia and the SPFX still hold up after over three decades. An underrated film from a director whose versatility is still overlooked.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 resurrected deer.

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REVIEW: SEVENTH SON (2014)

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SEVENTH SON (2014)

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In this book-based fantasy flick, there is an order of knights called “Spooks” who deal with beings of the supernatural. Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is the last of his order who has trouble keeping his apprentices alive. Years earlier, he fell in love with the witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) and instead of vanquishing her, imprisoned her after she became increasingly cruel and powerful. A Blood Moon is occurring and it’s supernatural powers have freed Malkin, who is gathering her forces for revenge. Now Gregory must find the seventh son of a seventh son and train the boy, Tom (Ben Barnes) to help him defeat Malkin. It won’t be easy, Malkin is prepared for Gregory and new apprentice Tom, finds fancy in the daughter (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) of one of Malkins servants, Lizzie (Man Of Steel‘s Antje Traue).

Based on the book The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany and directed by Russian director Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son is an amusing if not forgettable fantasy adventure. Working from Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight’s screenplay, Bodrov keeps things moving fast and there is plenty of supernaturally tinged action and loads of otherworldly creatures to occupy this fantasy world. Bodrov has a very fitting visual eye for subject matter such as this and the characters are endearing enough to get behind or despise depending on their role as hero or villain. The FX are well done, though the creature CGI is a bit less convincing as the settings and other supernatural elements and the story is familiar and simple enough to make it breezy entertainment, even if it won’t stay with you. There is also lush cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel and a majestic score by Marco Beltrami. The film got a lot of flack upon release and was considered a box office bomb, but for a night on the couch it passes the time surprisingly well and does entertain if you don’t expect too much.

The cast is fine for the most part with Bridges and Moore having the most fun in their roles. Both veterans have a good time with Moore especially enjoying a role needing her to go over-the-top often. Ben Barnes is a little bland as apprentice Tom, who unknown to himself is the son of a witch, but is likable enough. Oddly, Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington has a small role as Gregory’s ill-fated first apprentice and might have been a livelier choice.  Alicia Vikander is pretty and mysterious as the witch’s daughter Alice, though we have a good idea where her allegiances will eventually lie. There is also an amusing supporting cast of familiar faces as Malkin’s minions such as Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee and Antje “Faora” Traue.

Overall, I had fun with this flick. It’s not a classic and it’s fairly forgettable, but also, perhaps, judged a bit too harshly upon it’s initial release. There are plenty of fantasy elements, lots of action, creatures and magic and the cast, especially our two leads seem to be having a good time. Director Bodrov keeps things moving and has a sumptuous visual eye to create a world to set this book-based adventure in. Nothing overly memorable, but passes the time on the couch quite nicely if you go in with moderate expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 battle axes.

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