July 2024



Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

DIRECTOR: John Hughes

CAST: Steve Martin, John Candy


Both a holiday classic (not that there’s a lot of competition for Thanksgiving movies) and one of the stronger entries in both the road trip and buddy movie genres, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles marked a bit of a change of pace for its writer-director John Hughes, moving from high school teen comedy-dramas like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to a comedy starring adults, but without abandoning his knack for mixing comedy and a little underlying sensitivity.

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The Princess Bride (1987)

DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner

CAST: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Falk, Fred Savage


The Princess Bride has a few things about it that make it such a unique and beloved film.  Firstly, it is that rare “family movie” that appeals equally to children and adults.  Secondly, it is possible to enjoy it both as a traditional fairy tale and a tongue-in-cheek parody thereof.  Continue reading

No Way Out (1987)

DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson

CAST: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, George Dzundza, Howard Duff, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jason Bernard, Iman


No Way Out stands in worthy company alongside other ’80s and early ’90s thriller such as Narrow Margin (also featuring Gene Hackman): meat-and-potatoes thrillers that deliver enough mounting tension and suspense to override some plot contrivances and unlikelihoods.

Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is a Naval officer newly assigned to work for Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman).  But Farrell and Brice share more than an office: Farrell has started a steamy clandestine affair with Susan Atwell (Sean Young), who does double duty as Brice’s mistress. And when Brice gets wind of another man and accidentally kills her in a jealous rage, Brice’s fanatically loyal aid Scott Pritchard (Will Patton) orchestrates a cover-up under the guise of a secret investigation, scapegoating “Yuri”, a long-rumored, never-seen Soviet spy who can pass as an American and has infiltrated the Pentagon, as Susan’s killer.  The plan seems perfect: the investigation is hunting a ghost.  But Farrell finds himself being steadily sucked into a downward spiral of trouble the closer the investigation comes to identifying him, Susan’s secret lover, as the suspect in her death.

No Way Out borrows a page or two from Hitchcock in the way it continually ups the ante.  Things start slowly for the first half hour or so, as we see Farrell in hot-and-heavy bliss with Susan.  Then Ms. Atwell makes her exit, and Farrell is trapped in an impossible situation, helping run an investigation that will lead to his own destruction (unless he can steer it off course), that seems to have, as the title states, “no way out”.

Kevin Costner gives (by his standards) a forceful and energetic performance, probably one of his best, although the material isn’t long on character development (the characters are pawns in the unwinding plot that none of them quite has a complete grip on, even when they think they do).  Farrell is a tricky character; since he knows something no one around him knows, and wants to keep it that way, Costner always has to stay stoic and collected, but also project the tension building minute by minute as he feels increasingly trapped.  Gene Hackman is his usual reliable self as Brice, but other than the big “Susan’s demise” scene, he doesn’t have all that much to do.  Brice isn’t “evil”, so much as weak; he comes crawling miserably to Scott like a little boy who made a mess and wants it cleaned up before Daddy finds out (incidentally, Hackman plays a virtually identical character years later in the Clint Eastwood thriller Absolute Power).  Will Patton’s obsessively devoted aid is the real villain of the movie, and dives right in with a kind of hyper-efficient glee bubbling beneath his self-righteous unctuousness, going off on his own little power trip while masterminding a cover-up to protect the boss he worships.  The throwaway bit of dialogue in which Scott is revealed to be gay is a bit of a homophobic cheap shot (typical of ’70s and ’80s thrillers in which homosexuals, if they appeared, were invariably the villains), but it certainly gives insight into his devotion to Brice.  Sean Young is adequate in her limited screentime, and we have George Dzundza as a friend of Farrell’s, and Howard Duff and Fred Dalton Thompson as Washington rivals of Brice and Iman (Mrs. David Bowie) as a friend of Susan’s.

Director Roger Donaldson and cinematographer John Alcott (on his last film, which is dedicated to his memory) make the halls of the Pentagon a labrynthine maze that seems to grow more claustrophobic as time goes on.  Like good thrillers, if every detail doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, it at least gives enough steadily rising tension that we don’t take too much notice.  The only inadvertant source of humor is two Prichard-hired mercenaries (Marshall Bell and Chris D.), who are about the most buffoonishly goofy-looking pair who could have been cast (the fact that Chris D. runs like a frantic bird trying to take flight doesn’t help take him any more seriously, especially since he does quite a bit of running).

Setting up fast-paced twisty-turny intrigue within walls that inexorably close in on the main character, No Way Out is a solid ’80s thriller in the Hitchcockian tradition, and stick around for the epilogue, which supplies a surprise twist curveball, even though, as left-field as it seems, once you think back through the movie, the clues pointing to it were scattered along the way.  Continue reading

Masters of the Universe (1987)

DIRECTOR: Gary Goddard

CAST: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courteney Cox, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, James Tolkan, Robert Duncan McNeill, Jon Cypher, Chelsea Field, Christina Pickles


It’s possible that a successful movie adaptation could have been wrung out of the Mattel toy line and accompanying comic books and animated movies telling the fantasy adventure tales of the Conan-esque He-Man and his merry band, but it hasn’t been this movie. Its studio Cannon Group touted it as “the Star Wars of the eighties”, a rather hilarious overstatement (and also ill-fitting, considering there were two actual Star Wars movies in the eighties), but there is a (small) grain of truth in that statement, as this wannabe franchise owes, in thinly-veiled fashion, as much or more to being a cheap Star Wars knock-off as it does to its own source material.

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The Lost Boys (1987)

DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher

CAST: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman, Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrmann, Barnard Hughes, Jamison Newlander


Steeped in ’80s-tastic cheese in the best sense of the word, The Lost Boys blends horror, comedy, an eighties rock soundtrack, plenty of style, and a cast chock-full of ’80s stars. It’s gleefully style over substance, but is one of the hippest entries in the vampire genre and whizzes by in a breezy 97 minutes that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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The Untouchables (1987)

DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma

CAST: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson, Billy Drago


Brian De Palma’s magnum opus The Untouchables (loosely inspired by the television series, which in turn was loosely based on historical fact) freely takes sizable liberties with the true story it loosely tells and is an unabashedly Hollywoodized saga of the 1930s clash between Treasury officers led by Eliot Ness and Prohibition-era Chicago crime lord Al Capone, but this is a case of the filmmakers not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.  The Untouchables doesn’t pretend to be a docudrama, instead a rousing adventure that serves up a plucky band of underdog good guys versus the seemingly all-powerful big bad.  It’s easy to get swept up in that kind of David vs. Goliath story, and The Untouchables succeeds on virtually every level, serving up colorful hissable villains, juicy dialogue, a fast-moving pace, some memorable action sequences, moments of humor and tragedy, and a crowd-pleasing triumph of good over evil. Continue reading

Lethal Weapon (1987)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner


Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Mary Ellen Trainor, Steve Kahan


The first of the popular Lethal Weapon series has more grittiness and less humor than its successors, but it’s a solid launching pad, only surpassed (arguably) by the second installment. In truth, the core of the movie’s (and the series’) success isn’t its police drama or action sequences, but the electric chemistry between stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. There have been many “odd couples” onscreen, but Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh set a bar to which many have aspired but few reached and almost none surpassed. This is a buddy action movie the way it’s properly done. Continue reading