1988: Part 1

Big. Directed by Penny Marshall. Big has the distinction of being the first female-directed film to gross $100 million (and more) at the box office. Marshall is one of the female directors who most inspires me, along with Kathryn Bigelow and Gillian Armstrong. (If you haven’t seen Marshall’s 1990 film Awakenings, please do.) Tom Hanks is a lot of fun as the grown-up version of Josh; his teenage version is played by David Moscow, who would later go on to star in the live-action Disney musical Newsies alongside Christian Bale. Elizabeth Perkins is likeable as his gal pal; Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jon Lovitz (who was on “Saturday Night Live” at the time) and Mercedes Ruehl also do well in supporting roles. I was also impressed by Jared Rushton, who plays Moscow’s/Hanks’ best friend, Billy. Big is a terrific film for the kid in all of us.

Cinema Paradiso. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In my last year in high school, for various reasons my English teacher showed five movies in class: The Milagro Beanfield War, Batman Begins, Nobody’s Fool, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cinema Paradiso. The last of those films is the one that most of my classmates missed out on; it was shown in the last days of the term and most kids were busy celebrating their impending graduation by cutting class. I am eternally grateful to my teacher for showing this film, which celebrates not only the importance of cinema but how one can see and feel the beauty of life in even the smallest details. Cinema Paradiso is obviously well-loved – it won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film – so you don’t need more convincing in the award-recognition department. The acting, especially by Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Pupella Maggio and Antonella Attili, is certainly top-notch. But even better than the actors is the overall emotional weight of the plot and how Tornatore uses the camera to create visual imagery that stays with the viewer long after the film is over. It is truly a film with heart.

Die Hard. Directed by John McTiernan. Bruce Willis is New York cop John McClane, a sort of modern-day twist on the classic film noir detective, who is visiting Los Angeles to see his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). What ends up transpiring at her workplace, Nakatomi Plaza – a hostile takeover mistaken for a terrorist attack – propels Die Hard into being the ultimate high-octane action movie, period. Willis has an instinctive humor to him, making it instantly easy for the audience to identify with his characterization of McClane. Alan Rickman turns the idea of the traditional “villain” type on its head as Hans Gruber, a man whose elegance and intelligence make him more charming than the usual movie bad guy. He is ably supported by a number of actors playing his henchmen, including former ballet dancer Alexander Godunov as Karl. Oh, and Reginald VelJohnson is there too! I’ve got a question, though: if Die Hard is set during Christmastime, why did it come out in July? Doesn’t anyone else find that weird? Food for thought.

License to Drive. Directed by Greg Beeman. Sure, this is a teen comedy, but it’s definitely a great one. This film gives Corey Haim the chance to be the lead (Feldman fared much worse in 1989’s tepid Dream a Little Dream), allowing his natural, sometimes goofy sweetness to make his character all the more appealing. Feldman is good as Haim’s wild and wacky friend, as are Carol Kane and Richard Masur as Haim’s parents. I’m not that crazy about Heather Graham, who’s really bland as blonde dream girl Mercedes, but I guess it could have been worse. In general, the film is hilarious. And here’s an odd thing I just noticed: the hand on the poster, which is supposed to belong to Haim, is clearly his left hand but the arm is positioned in such a way that it looks like it’s on his right side. Isn’t that kind of strange?

The Thin Blue Line. Directed by Errol Morris. The nightmarish tale of Randall Adams, wrongly convicted for the murder of a Dallas police officer, is brought to life by Morris with the help of a score of a haunting score by Philip Glass. This film was an interesting choice for me to watch a week after I saw Conviction, a film based on another real-life story of an innocent man put behind bars. (In that instance, the film is not a documentary; it stars Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver.) The Thin Blue Line‘s story is even more fascinating, however, since in the case of Conviction, the real guilty party was never caught; here, the killer is interviewed and his life history intertwines with Adams’. The events of the crime are reenacted by actors, a directorial decision that could have turned out terribly but is actually extremely effective. All in all, the film is a chilling look at how wrong the American justice system can be at its worst.

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