Monday, April 9, 2012

Four More Mid-80s Movies

Fletch is based on 1974 novel of the same name by Gregory McDonald which launched a popular series. I haven't read the book of any others in the series so I don't how close on an adaptation this is.
Chevy Chase is hilarious as I.M. Fletcher, an investigative news reporter. Chase did a lot of ad-libbing and there is plenty of rapid fire wordplay that reminded me of Groucho Marx.
The mystery here is actually pretty interesting and I wonder if it was played more straight in the books. The basic set-up is that while Fletch is undercover as a junkie to write a drug story, a rich man named Alan Stanwyk (played by Tim Matheson) asks Fletch to murder him for money because he is dying of cancer so that Stanwyk's family can collect money from his life insurance.
Although the movie is only 98 minutes there is some filler. For example, there is a dream sequence in which Fletch imagines he is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. While this was pretty funny, it was already established he was a Lakers fan and this scene just slowed down the story. It would've been funnier if this wasn't a dream, and was somehow actually involved with the plot. For example, maybe Fletch could've been spying on Alan Stanwyk at a Lakers game by pretending to be some European basketball player the Lakers just signed. One sub-plot that is brought up is that Fletch is behind on alimony payment to his ex-wife which is why he sneaks into his apartment. However, after this scene it is completely dropped. Maybe it is just a recurring joke in the book series?
The music is very dated and it doesn't get much more 80s than this soundtrack. That said, I do like the main theme by Harold Faltermeyer, who also did music for the mid-80s movies Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.
Besides star Chevy Chase and the already mentioned Tim Matheson the supporting cast is very good and includes M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, (Both who were in Blade Runner) George Wendt, Geena Davis, Joe Don Baker, Kenneth Mars, and the first credited film role for James Avery. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar even plays himself!

Black Moon Rising
I wanted to see this movie because the story was by John Carpenter who is also credited as co-screenwriter. Black Moon Rising was one of three movies (the others being Eyes of Laura Mars and Halloween II) where Carpenter got a writing credit but did not direct. I am a big John Carpenter fan and eventually want to see all of his films. I wouldn't count this one as he didn't direct it, so I'll just consider it a bonus Carpenter movie!
Black Moon Rising is a high tech thriller about a thief named Quint (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hired by the FBI to steal a data tape they plan on using as evidence against a corrupt company. Quint gets with the theft but has to hide the tape in a prototype super car because he is about to be searched. The car, Black Moon, then gets stolen by a top car thief. Quint works with the car's inventors to track down and steal back both the car and the tape.
The "Black Moon" is the cool, rare 1980 Wingho Concordia II. In the movie the car has a rear view camera which is pretty cool since we now have this technology.
Tommy Lee Jones takes a beating as Quint and did most of own stunts. Jones does a good job of playing a rogue hero. While the movie stars Tommy Lee Jones, we also have Linda Hamilton as Nina, a car thief and our female lead. This was Hamilton's first movie made after The Terminator. There are also a bunch of character actors I recognized such as William Sanderson (also in Fletch), Bubba Smith, Keenan Wynn, and Dan Shor. I also noticed Don Keith Opper who played Max 404 in Android (1982).

There is a cool scene where we see from the perspective of a deaf man and no sound or music is heard. It didn't really fit with the rest of the movie but at least they were trying something different.
It feels like there could have been more at stake with and this leads to some slow scenes. I guess they were trying for a moody atmosphere but it doesn't quite fit for an action/thriller with a huge figurative ticking time bomb (he needs to get the tape in the car in less than two days). There is more action with the heist at the end but I feel that the heist scene should have been longer. The movie gives us a lot of set-up for Quint's attempt to get the tape back and I would've liked a bigger payoff.
While the music is dated, the real problem is that it doesn't fit with the tone of the movie. One of the things I love about John Carpenter is how he usually scores his own films, something not many directors do. I wish Carpenter could have done the music but I guess at the time he was too busy making Big Trouble in Little China which I also suspect was why he didn't direct the movie.
I am curious as to why Carpenter didn't direct and couldn't find a reason online. Instead Harley Cokeliss, probably best known for his work on Kevin Sorbo's Hercules TV series in the 90s, was the director. Black Moon Rising has its moments and the story has potential, but in the end it just doesn't work. I'm sure the movie would've have been better with Carpenter at the helm.
Black Moon Rising was made by New World Pictures, who also produced several Roger Corman films. New World Pictures and Empire Pictures were the kings of 1980s B-Movies.

The Name of the Rose
I love Drew Struzan and plan on making a post his awesome movie posters sometime. However, this poster is totally misleading and doesn't fit with the style of the movie. The poster makes The Name of the Rose look like a fantasy comedy while its actually realistic and serious. I don't blame Struzan though, the marketing people should have just gotten somebody else for this job. Struzan's work here is nice but certainly not one of his better posters. It basically copies the layout of his Raiders of the Lost Ark poster. That said, I would like to see more movie posters that are hand drawn and painted. But this is one of the few instances where I actually prefer the various VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray covers to the actual poster.
Like Fletch, The Name of the Rose is based on a book (by Italian author Umberto Eco) which I haven't read. Unlike Fletch, this movie is historical fiction that takes place during the early 14th century in northern Italy.
The title is said to be unexplained in the book (and perhaps just chosen randomly because it sounds nice) and its also up to interpretation in the movie.
Sean Connery plays our main character, the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville. As you might guess by the name, he is partially modeled after Sherlock Holmes.William's young novice is Adso (played by
Christian Slater) who helps William try to discover who is getting away with murder at the Benedictine Abbey they have recently arrived at.
I've only now noticed a trend in this post: all four movies have nice supporting casts. The Name of the Rose features F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman, William Hickey, Michael Lonsdale, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.
There is only one female character in the film, a peasant girl, but she has an important role despite her limited screen time.

The Name of the Rose
has nice atmosphere with a slow but steady pacing that works with the story. Perhaps this is because it is a European movie (Germany, France, Italy) though its an English language film. Of course Latin is spoken too!
The director of this film is Jean-Jacques Annaud, who also made Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates, two movies I quite liked. Annaud clearly does a good job at world history movies, I'll have to check out more of his films sometime.
It is interesting to have a medieval murder mystery (although there is more to this movie than just that) since guns don't play a part at all. Sure there are modern day murder mysteries where this is the case, but in this film its not even in the picture. The mystery is further deepened by a well-designed labyrinth.
There is not a lot of music which is nice. The music we do have is from the period such as the monks singing.
The character of Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham) is not introduced until more than an hour into the movie. Screenwriting teachers will probably tell you not to do this but it works here since there was a nice build up with the character being talked about several times before the audience actually sees him. Introducing a major character later on also worked in Fargo, although obviously in a different way.
I'm not an expert on the Middle Ages even though I have a big interest in history and I've taken some college classes about the period. That said, this movie seems to be much more accurate than most medieval movies. Like The Seventh Seal it might not get the facts 100% correct, but I feel both movies do a great job of expressing the feeling and setting of medieval life.

Platoon is the first Oliver Stone movie I have seen. This Vietnam movie won four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound) and nominated for four more so I figured it would be a good place to start!
The directing and cinematography are top notch. I saw the movie in HD and it looked wonderful. Stone actually fought in Vietnam so it seems that a lot of his first hand experiences are fictionalized in this movie which give it a great sense of realism. We always see from the point of view of the American soldiers and never even get a good look at the Vietcong. Platoon is an intense war film but its action scenes do not glorify the violence it depicts.
The music was quite good. I loved the score and the 60s songs did a good job of setting the time period.
The ensemble cast is fantastic. Charlie Sheem, who I am mostly familiar with in comedy roles, plays the lead. I didn't know he could act this well but he did a great job here. Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe play the bad guy and good guy leaders of the platoon although that is simplifying it a bit. John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, and Johnny Depp all have early roles here.
Sheen and Berenger would later star in Major League, a movie that is nothing like this one!


  1. Yeah, Black Moon Rising obviously has a lot Carpenter finger prints over the story but I think if he directed it would have been a leaner, better movie. Hats off to Jones though - I didn't think he'd be much good as Snake Plisken-lite.

    Fletch is a cracking movie - probably Chase's best ever movie (or maybe Vacation). I've read all the books - you're right the paying ex-wives alimony is nothing more than a recurring background joke. Interestingly, the novel's also a bit more hard-edged. He hangs out with junkies on the beach and there's a bit where he wakes up next up to a dead girl. The movie was obviously adjusted for more comedy and less violence.

  2. I agree that its too bad Carpenter didn't get to direct Black Moon Rising. I quite enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones but wonder if Kurt Russell would've been the lead had Carpenter made it.

    I love Chevy Chase and Fletch was a lot of fun. I'll have to read the books sometime. Is the sequel, Fletch Lives, any good?

    I know that Hollywood has made several attempts in recent years to make more Fletch movies without Chevy Chase, but I can't really see anybody else in the role.

  3. Whether you watch Fletch Lives really depends on how much you like Chevy Chase. He's still on top form in the sequel but the mystery isn't anywhere near as strong and the ad-libbed comedy seems more forced.

    Weirdly, McDonald wrote about 10-12 Fletch books but they decided not to use any for the sequel. Definitely check out the book if you get a chance.

    Yeah, I wouldn't mind a new Fletch movie. Chase did put a lot of his own personality on the character so I can see why it's difficult to imagine a film without him - but if they can do it with Bond I can't see why they can't do it with Fletch. Actually Jason Lee (who Kevin Smith wanted in the early 00s) would have made a great Fletch - he's got quite a few similarities with Chase - particularly when he played Brodie in Mallrats.

  4. Thanks for the heads up on the sequel.

    Since there are so many books it would make sense to do more Fletch movies. Now that you mention it I think Jason Lee would be a good choice. It seems that this is one of those on again, off again projects so we'll see if it ever happens.