1984: Part 1

(As with my last post of reviews, I am including notes from when I first saw each film, when applicable. In the case of Ghostbusters, however, I first saw it long before when I started officially writing reviews.)

Ghostbusters. Directed by Ivan Reitman. The mediocre recent reboot notwithstanding, the Ghostbusters franchise will always be well-loved thanks to the first, best movie in the series (although, granted, there were only two anyway) and the joys of seeing its stars in their collective prime. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson all chip in to help the people of Manhattan fight a spectral infestation that threatens to wipe out the entire city, even though the mayor (the late, great David Margulies) and an especially odious EPA inspector (William Atherton) refuse to believe what’s happening. Sigourney Weaver plays Murray’s reluctant love interest, whose body unwittingly becomes the host for a supernatural villain; Rick Moranis is Weaver’s neighbor, a nebbishy nerd who means well but still gets himself into quite a few scrapes; Annie Potts is the receptionist at the Ghostbusters office; last, but never least, Alice Drummond (one of my favorite character actresses) is the terrified librarian whose hair-raising encounter with a phantom in the bowels of the New York Public Library sets up the opening scenes of the film.

Paris, Texas. Directed by Wim Wenders. Notes from March 11, 2015: What a film to see on the big screen! True to form, MoMA served up annoying moviegoers – this time in the form of a guy sitting right behind me with the worst respiratory problems I’ve ever heard, 2 ½ solid hours of heavy breathing/snorting/snoring that made a woman swear angrily about it at one point – but Paris, Texas is such an impactful, 100% cinematic, engrossing experience that I can put the memory of that unfortunate audience member aside. Harry Dean Stanton: what an actor. Amazing guy. He plays Travis, a man in search of his long-lost wife and young son, so beautifully even though he says so little during the film. Bernhard Wicki, the always wonderful Dean Stockwell, young Hunter Carson (son of L.M. Kit Carson, who wrote the film, and Karen Black), Nastassja Kinski as Travis’s wife, Jane (her eyes and mouth! the pink sweater dress! the Texas twang!), plus the small role that the great John Lurie plays… all superb. The only kind of weak note for me is Aurore Clément, whose voice/accent/line delivery I find distracting. Otherwise, the exceptionally painterly cinematography by Robby Müller (how was he not Oscar-nominated for this movie – or for anything in his whole career?) and the score by Ry Cooder help make this movie one that no film buff should miss. It’s a great, great experience and Wim Wenders gives me faith in the emotional power of films.

Purple Rain. Directed by Albert Magnoli. Notes from April 26: This was truly an unforgettable experience on an appropriate rainy Tuesday afternoon/evening at the AMC Empire 25 theater in Times Square. Obviously everyone in the theater wished we were there under different circumstances, but by the end of the film, I think the sadness over Prince’s death had abated somewhat because of the sheer joy of the music. Every one of Prince’s nine songs in the film is amazing: the “Let’s Go Crazy” opening, Prince and Apollonia Kotero riding his motorcycle along the Minnesota highway to “Take Me with U,” the frenzy of emotion at the end of the ballad “The Beautiful Ones,” the montage that accompanies an abridged cut of “When Doves Cry,” the one-two punch of “Computer Blue” and (Tipper Gore’s favorite) “Darling Nikki,” and of course the trio that ends the film, “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” When those last three songs played, the audience erupted into thunderous applause, cheers, some laughs and I’m sure a few tears as well. You can’t exactly make a strong case in favor of the acting in the film, and the love scene with Apollonia is laughable (IFC once labeled it one of the 50 Worst Sex Scenes in Cinema History), but who really cares about how Prince delivered his lines? He acted through his music, his voice and his undeniably electric stage presence. If you hadn’t already known from his music videos and live performances, then Purple Rain is certainly a perfect document of how much the camera loved him. (Donald E. Thorin’s cinematography certainly captures our protagonist beautifully.) Few faces were better suited to the big screen than Prince’s, and I’m sure every person in the theater today must have felt just a little bit swoony every time those big brown eyes gazed into the distance or stared into the lens. We’ll not see the likes of Prince again in this life, but film is forever and we will always have this film to remember him by.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Notes from September 12: The Search for Spock, the third entry in the film series, is so much more enjoyable than you would expect from a sequel. The fact that almost all of the movie’s running time is spent with the Enterprise crew trying to return to the site of the action in the last film (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), the Genesis planet, where Spock’s body was left after his “death” (because of course that’s not permanent in a franchise…) at the end of Khan, means that Leonard Nimoy is barely in Search for Spock. (To simplify the explanation for Spock’s return: before he succumbed to radiation poisoning at the end of Khan, Spock mind-melded with Dr. McCoy, placing his metaphysical being – or katra – inside Dr. McCoy’s head. This means that even though Spock’s body dies, his soul is still alive inside McCoy. Since Spock’s body was left on Genesis, a planet that allows for extreme growth and renewal of life forms, Spock is reborn.) Our favorite Science Officer has no dialogue until the last few minutes of the film since it takes more than ¾ of the movie to retrieve his body and then, after he is returned home to Vulcan for a special revitalizing-the-dead ceremony led by the High Priestess (played by 86-year-old Judith Anderson!), Spock does not wake up and speak until about two minutes before the end credits.

(Oh, and Christopher Lloyd plays the main antagonist, a Klingon named Commander Kruge, but there’s not much to say about him. Kruge is suitably evil and Lloyd does a pretty good job of emoting under all the makeup and chewing plenty of scenery.)

Despite the weird stuff and the many leaps of faith, the action is so entertaining and so many of our beloved Star Trek mainstays have wonderful scenes that it’s hard to resist this sequel’s charm. There’s the toast to “absent friends” (Spock) between Kirk and his shipmates back on Earth (a moment which was reused in this year’s Star Trek Beyond), somewhat homoerotic tinge to the close-ups during the mind-meld between Kirk and Sarek (Mark Lenard, reprising his role as Spock’s father) in front of Kirk’s fireplace (bless Leonard Nimoy and his occasionally odd directorial choices), the wacky interstellar bar scene between Dr. McCoy and a bizarre alien (who I was convinced was played by Leonard Nimoy), Sulu and Uhura have time to shine when the crew is forced to steal the Enterprise in order to make their covert return mission to Genesis, the surprisingly tender pon farr scene between Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis, taking over for The Wrath of Khan’s Kirstie Alley) and teenage Spock while they are stranded on Genesis and, perhaps my favorite of all, there’s the scene where McCoy talks to Spock’s unconscious body – I think it’s the finest acting I’ve seen from DeForest Kelley thus far. And then, of course, there are the amazing costumes designed by Robert Fletcher: Kirk’s not-very-futuristic tracksuit, McCoy’s ascot, Sulu’s outfit (how could I possibly begin to describe it? as a leather cape-jacket with an Asian-fashion-inspired wrap-shirt underneath?) and, at the end of the film, Spock’s fuzzy white robe. That Vulcan never met a long, hooded garment he didn’t love, an observation which I suspect is – besides striving for intergalactic understanding, respect and peace – one of the greatest takeaways from this series of films.

Stranger Than Paradise. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Notes from March 22, 2015: As endearingly oddball as Jarmusch’s 1986 masterpiece Down by Law, though even weirder, Stranger Than Paradise has three great leads in John Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson (later the scene-stealing (and Ferrari-stealing) garage attendant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I was especially certain that the film would be good when Balint walks down the street to the tune of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” a song that plays throughout the film. As the trio stumbles through a black-and-white world photographed by Tom DiCillo, encountering other colorful characters (played by Cecillia Stark, Danny Rosen, Richard Boes, Rockets Redglare, the aforementioned Mr. DiCillo and others), their anti-adventures and aimless exploration of America keeps you watching. Stranger charms you as you try to figure out where these characters are headed, how they feel about one another, and what happens after the movie ends.

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