Category Archives: 1986 Movie reviews

A Room with a View-1986

A Room with a View-1986

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands

Reviewed November 3, 2017

Grade: B+

A Room with a View (1986) is one of four major films to be based on famed British author E.M. Forster novels- Howards End (1992) and A Passage to India (1986), and Maurice (1987) being the other three. The foursome contain common elements such as vast English countrysides and class distinctions, leading to heartaches and passion. In the case of A Room with a View, the film traverses from artistic Florence, Italy to a cozy village in England.

The film is a period drama mixed with lots of authentic, unforced, good humor and at its core is a solid romantic drama, though if comparing with the aforementioned other films, is not quite on par, though is still an entertaining watch- given the dismal year of cinema circa 1986. The film was considered one of the best releases that particular year and was awarded a handful of Oscar nominations- winning Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, and Art Direction.

Cultured and often times brooding, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), goes on holiday to Florence with her rigid and conventional older cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith), who also serves as her chaperone. While enjoying the artistry of the European city, Lucy meets and falls madly in love with free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), who is also visiting Florence with his easy going father, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott). The men seem oblivious to Lucy’s (and Charlotte’s) Victorian era upbringing, which attracts Lucy and appalls Charlotte. Months later, the would-be lovers reunite in England and spend time averting obstacles thwarting their love, while admitting to themselves that their love is blossoming.

As Lucy has become engaged to snobbish Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis), a sophisticate deemed suitable by her family to marry Lucy, the pair lack the romantic connection that she shares with George. Day-Lewis, on the cusp of becoming a breakout star and brilliant talent (think Maurice a year later), gives Cecil a somewhat comical, yet endearing persona, that makes him the main foil, but also breathes sympathy into the character. This is especially evident during the Lucy/Cecil break-up scene.

The standout performance in A Room with a View is the comic brilliance of Smith as the manipulative and witty, Charlotte Bartlett, and this is evident throughout. Smith injects vigor and comic wit into her character, as Charlotte seemingly makes one blunder after the other in the self deprecating way she manages to use to her advantage to humorously manipulate other characters into doing things her way.

A risqué and quite hysterical all male frontal nudity scene occurs mid-way through the film and, while not advancing the plot in any way, steals the entire film in its homoerotic and free-spirited way. As the Reverend, young George, and Lucy’s energetic brother, Freddy, walk along a beautiful path, they decide to skinny dip in a pond where they horseplay and wrestle with each other completely in the buff. As they chase each other around the pond, grab each other, and lightly smack bottoms, one cannot help but wonder if this scene set the tone for 1987’s gay themed period piece based on another E.M. Forster novel, called Maurice. A coincidence? I think not. As the trio of rascals come upon the properly dressed girls on the path, hilarity takes over the scene.

The art direction and costumes are of major excellence to A Room with a View as the film “looks” like a 1910 time period rather than it seeming like it is 1986 with the actors donning early twentieth century styles. In fact, each and every scene is a treat from this perspective as we wonder who will wear what attire in the next scene.

As with the other aforementioned E.M. Forster films, class distinctions and expectations are a major element to A Room with a View and makes Lucy and George all the more likable as a couple. Still, from an overall standpoint there is something slightly amiss in the story department. I did not find Helena Bonham Carter, an actor I like, overall very compelling as Lucy, and I think this leads to the story being slightly less than it might have with another in the role. We may root for Lucy and George, but if the pair do not wind up together it is more of a pity rather than a travesty.

To summarize A Room with a View, the story is good, not great, and other key components to the film are much better than the central love story of Lucy and George, but are therefore secondary to the main action. Given a Charlotte romance, the films best character, now that would have catapulted this film to the exceptional grade. Imagine the possibilities? Or more of the two Miss Alan’s and their gossipy nature, or even a story to the rugged nude horseplay among men. Many of the aspects that could have made A Room with a View great, were too often on the sidelines.

April Fool’s Day-1986

April Fool’s Day-1986

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Amy Steel, Jay Baker

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Reviewed October 24, 2016

Grade: B-

Emerging at the tale end of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s slasher film craze that encompassed that period in cinema (for better or worse), April Fool’s Day capitalized on the “holiday theme” marketing tool that escalated Halloween and Black Christmas to superstar ranks.

Unfortunately, for this film, it is not a traditional horror flick, in that is has plenty of comic elements, but also contains the standard slasher characteristics, thereby making it a blockbuster failure. Is does not know what its identity truly is. From a story perspective, the film has one great twist, but otherwise suffers from mediocre writing and unmemorable characters that nobody cares about.

We are treated to an ensemble of actors, mostly of the unknown variety, except for horror maven Amy Steel, (Friday the 13th Part 2), who portrays Kit, arguably the most relatable of the female characters . A clever facet, weaved by director Fred Walton, is the casting of eight principals in April Fool’s Day, all with similar amounts of screen time, rather than one obvious “final girl” surrounded by minor characters, who we know will be offed.

The set-up is all too familiar in the slasher genre- the group of college-aged kids escapes mundane life for a spring break weekend getaway at their wealthy classmates, Muffy St. John’s, island estate. Conveniently, her family is away- leaving the friends to have the run of the mansion, with a dinner party as part of the plan. Even more convenient is that the ferry the group takes does not run on weekends, so once they are dropped off at the island, there they stay until Monday. This sense of foreshadowing gets the anticipated peril and dread going.

We also sense that there is something very off with Muffy- despite being everyone’s friend. When Muffy finds a jack-in-the-box stored in her attic, and has a childhood recollection, we know this is the set-up to the mystery. Is she mentally unstable? Is someone out to get Muffy for a childhood prank or event that once occurred?

Since it is April Fool’s Day weekend, the groups spends most of the film playing pranks and amateurish jokes on each other (a whoopee cushion, an exploding cigar), mixed with a dash of intrigue- someone is leaving trails of past history as part of the jokes. One girl had an abortion, so the prankster leaves an audio tape of a baby crying. In another room, heroin paraphernalia is left for someone with a former drug habit. Slowly, one by one, the college kids disappear one by one, but is it just a hoax? Or is the hoax just a hoax?

The final twenty minutes or so is really the main reason to watch this film. As Kit and boyfriend Rob are the last remaining “alive” there is suddenly a startling twist that changes the entire dynamic of the film- in one moment everything the audience thinks of the story is turned upside down-this is wise writing, but comes too late in the game.

Sadly, some parts of the film are downright silly and most of the characters are of the stock variety- the flirtatious blonde, the obnoxious jocks, the stuck-up preppy, which ruins the creative twist that is aforementioned.

With glimpses of genius and striving for something more clever than the standard, run of the mill 1980’s horror film, April Fool’s Day has some potential, but ultimately winds up with something missing and heaps of unearthed potential.

Reform School Girls-1986

Reform School Girls-1986

Director-Tom DeSimone

Starring-Linda Carol, Wendy O. Williams

Top 100 Films-#100

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Reviewed January 25, 2017

Grade: A

Let’s be honest here- Reform School Girls is neither a work of cinema art nor a particularly well-acted film. In fact, from a critic’s perspective it is riddled with stereotypes and objectifies women. Still, it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures and has an offbeat charm that makes me want to watch the film over and over again. I never tire of it. I also do not think it should be reviled, but rather, revered. There is a perverse magnificence to  the film and some similarities to another cult gem-Russ Myers Faster Pussycat, Kill!…Kill! Critics be damned- not every film needs to be high art!

One of my absolute favorite cult actresses, Pat Ast, famous for another cult gem, 1972’s Heat, stars in Reform School Girls as a vicious prison guard. Alongside punk rocker turned actress, Wendy O. Williams, they make the film a guilty masterpiece as both women bring their share of odd energy and humor to the flick. Sybil Danning co-stars as the corrupt Warden Sutter.

The plot of the film is pretty straightforward and it screams late night fun. A virginal teenage girl named Jenny is sent to a reform school run by the sinister warden and her sadistic and abusive henchwoman, Edna (Ast). While there, Jenny is intimidated by Charlie (Williams), who rules the roost via bullying and threats. Jenny is accompanies by several other terrified girls, who are stripped and degraded by Edna. This leads to an attempted escape and protest scene by the girls and others as they try to remove themselves from their tormentors.

Reform School Girls is simply great fun. The poor acting is actually a strength of the film as one scantily clad female after another prances around the reform school. Wendy O. Williams regularly wears skimpy panties, bra, and heels and is laughable playing a teenager since the actress was pushing forty years old.

The culmination of the film is fantastic as a chase ends up by an enormous tower on the grounds of the prison, resulting in the deaths of Charlie and Edna in dramatic fashion. Edna’s charred remains are met by an uproar of cheers by the inmates- I half expected them to burst into a chorus of “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead”.  Reform School Girls is a perfect cult classic to enjoy on a late Saturday night.

Blue Velvet-1986

Blue Velvet-1986

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern

Top 100 Films-#62

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Reviewed February 19, 2017

Grade: A

Taken from a 1963 Bobby Vinton tune of the same name, Blue Velvet is an independent thriller noir film directed by the master of the weird and the unusual, David Lynch. It is surreal in look and so mysterious- almost a pre-cursor to Lynch’s fantastic television series, Twin Peaks. I adore the film and find new facets to it with each passing viewing. Though it is not an easy or mainstream watch- the pay off can be big and you know you are watching a deep, layered, film.

The story can be tough to completely understand with only one showing, but it goes something like this- Under the guise of a cheerful, suburban surface, evil is lurking somewhere. College student, Jeffrey (MacLachlan) discovers a severed human ear lying in an abandoned lot and delivers it to police detective John Williams and re-connects with the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Dern). Sandy, being privy to secret information about the case, reveals that a mysterious woman, Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini) resides in an apartment key to the case. Jeffrey and Sandy decide to investigate further and get themselves in over their heads as the mystery deepens.

The dreamlike quality to the film is very compelling and intriguing. Layers upon layers come to the forefront as the story unfolds and very few answers are ever provided- this adds to the mystery and is really the point of the film. Many aspects are open to interpretation. The relationship between Jeffrey and the much older Dorothy is fascinating, but what about his chemistry with the innocent Sandy? And who is the Yellow man? When the youngsters see Dorothy perform “Blue Velvet” at her nightclub, it is a great moment in the film.

The character of Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper, must be one of the strangest in film history as the man is maniacal and bizarre beyond measure. With his unusual sexual tastes- he enjoys inhaling gas, and sadomasochism, he is a unique character. He is also quite abusive to Dorothy.

The film is a throwback to classic film noir from the 1950’s and a clear femme fatale in Dorothy is central to the film. I find the film so compelling since its subject matter is secrets. Many secrets and dark corruption or various forms of left of center dealings reside in this small North Carolina town- it is the audience’s challenge to put all the pieces of this puzzle together.

Aliens-1986

Aliens-1986

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Sigourney Weaver

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Reviewed September 4, 2013

Grade: B+

Aliens takes away the rawness of the original Alien and infuses a glossier, slick look to the film franchise. The film was made 8 years later, but story-wise is set 57 years into the future when Ripley, played to perfection by Sigourney Weaver, awakens. To her horror, she discovers that the aliens have colonized and she is forced to return to prevent havoc. Militia is in tow, adding a helping of masculinity that supports the film throughout. This scenario perfectly sets up what is to become an excellent sci-fi adventure story.

There are wonderful special effects that were quite extraordinary for the time that the film was shot-1986. The tunnels and spacecraft are perfectly lit and designed, giving it a bright and fun setting and the audience knows that doom is lurking. The actual aliens are visually frightening and, compared to the original, are more plentiful. Sigourney Weaver takes center stage and leads this film successfully. I’m not sure many other actresses could pull off her level of authentic toughness and give no sex appeal in the process and successfully get away with it.

The only detraction to this film is it seems a bit dated in a purely 1980’s film way. It has an 80’s look to it and that’s not a positive. Certainly not on par with the superlative original Alien, but otherwise, a well-made, supernatural, thrill ride.