Archive for May, 2016

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross

This is Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam. There are many war epics like “Full Metal Jacket,” but this one is Kubrick’s. Everything that one comes to expect from a Stanley Kubrick film is present here. From the wide shots that force the viewer to take in every detail of a given scene to the infamous “Kubrickian Stare” that is inevitably assumed by one character, “Full Metal Jacket” is as much like a Kubrick film as any of his other twelve projects. How it is different from the others is that “Full Metal Jacket” may be the only one to resemble two movies in one.

The first forty-five minutes, or the first (superior) act of “Full Metal Jacket” takes place in late 1967 at Parris Island, South Carolina, where a group of new recruits for the United States Marine Corps are undergoing basic training. Who these men were before they entered military service (whether willingly or by being drafted) is never explored, nor are their real names of any true significance. For the most part, the only identity these men will have as long as we will be acquainted with them are the nicknames assigned to them by Drill Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (Lee Ermey). Certain sections of the film come with narration from Private “Joker” (Matthew Modine). It’s a good thing, too, because the fact that Joker is meant to be thought of as the main character might otherwise be lost on us during this part of the film.

The main cause of our confusion is the attention given to the relationship between Sgt. Hartman and a fat, bumbling recruit named Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio) whom Hartman has rechristened “Gomer Pyle.” Hartman is bound and determined to motivate Private Pyle into becoming a model soldier, a trained killer. Eventually, Joker is assigned to try and bring Pyle up to speed. The problem is that Hartman has underestimated just how fragile a human being that Pyle is. Over time, Sgt. Hartman’s excessively vulgar verbal abuse takes its toll on the psyche of Private Pyle, but the final straw is when Hartman begins punishing the rest of the platoon for Pyle’s constant screw-ups.

Frustrated, the platoon takes it out on the poor lad using bars of soap wrapped in towels, as part of a form of hazing known as a blanket party. This horrible act completely breaks Private Pyle. Although Pyle impresses Sgt. Hartman with his marksmanship skills, Joker sees what Hartman cannot. On the platoon’s final night on Parris Island before graduation, Joker finds Pyle in the bathroom loading his M14 rifle with live rounds of ammunition. Pyle creates enough of a commotion to awaken the entire platoon and Sgt. Hartman, who tells the other recruits to remain in their beds while he investigates the matter. Hartman attempts to coax Pyle into relinquishing his weapon, but fails. Hartman is shot through the chest and killed, while Joker watches in horror as Pyle turns his gun on himself.

The film’s second act, set in late January-early February 1968, moves the action to South Vietnam. Corporal Joker is now a war correspondent who is mocked for his lack of any real combat experience. His superiors question why he would choose to wear a peace symbol on his uniform at the same time as he also bears the words “BORN TO KILL” on his helmet. Any explanation he gives for his sense of irony only serves to confuse them further. Joker has managed to keep his nose clean thus far, but eventually the war finds its way to him. Taking advantage of a cease fire, the North Vietnamese launch the Tet Offensive. After surviving this, Joker next finds himself involved in the Battle of Huế . There, he and his photographer Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) meet up with Joker’s former Parris Island platoon mate Cowboy (Arliss Howard), who is forced to take command of his squad once his superior officers are struck down.

At some point, the squad takes a wrong turn and winds up under fire from a Vietcong sniper who takes out several members of the squad, including Cowboy who dies in Joker’s arms. The squad moves in and discovers that the sniper is a teenage girl. Joker tries to take her out but his gun jams. At the last instant, Joker is saved by Rafterman. Everyone except Joker feels the matter is settled. Noting that the sniper is still alive and suffering, Joker would prefer for something to be done. An agreement is reached, but only if Joker is the one to do the deed. Hesitating at first, Joker shoots the sniper dead. As the squad marches on to the tune of the “Mickey Mouse March,” Joker narrates that his current condition is that he’s “in a world of shit” but that he is glad to be alive and is without fear.

As with nearly all of Kubrick’s films, “Full Metal Jacket” is an outstanding motion picture, and one of the top movies about war. But it does wind up displaying a weakness stemming from a loss of momentum. This occurs as soon as actors Lee Ermey (a real-life former drill instructor) and Vincent D’Onofrio exit the story at the end of the film’s first half. I don’t have a solution for how this problem could have been fixed, because there’s no place for either character in the rest of the movie. I only know that both men put on such tour de force performances that it’s tough to work up as much enthusiasm for the remaining cast once they’re gone.

The conclusion that I come to is that war is unsympathetic to the individuals who participate in it, willingly or unwillingly… the same lesson I’ve drawn from “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and countless other war pictures like them. Repetition makes the point no less valid. In truth, it bears repeating as often as possible. It takes a director with the skill of a Stanley Kubrick to shout this message loud and clear and to make sure that we will still choose to pay attention.

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Blade Runner (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah

It is true of most films set in the future that, once said future becomes the present, the world never quite evolves quickly enough to line up with what we’ve been conditioned to think of how the world of tomorrow was supposed to look. Earth as depicted in “Blade Runner” is no exception. We’re nearing close to the era in which this story takes place, and yet the world as we know it looks pretty ordinary by comparison. It is also true that tales such as “Blade Runner” are works of fiction meant to entertain us and, if at all possible, challenge us to open our minds to limitless possibilities. In that regard, “Blade Runner” does its job as impressively as any science-fiction film worthy of the designation ‘classic.’

The setting is Los Angeles and the year is 2020. Although our technological advancements have skyrocketed, humanity still possesses a dubious sense of morality. Extrasolar exploration is a reality, although much of the grunt work is done by artificial intelligence known as Replicants. Saddled with a short, four-year lifespan, their light burns twice as brightly as any human’s. Fairly recently, members of this slave race have gone all Twisted Sister on their masters and decided they’re not gonna take it anymore. This group, known as the Nexus 6 series of Replicants, wants what any young person facing an end to his/her existence wants: MORE LIFE! The revolt is as swift as it is violent, and forces bloody but necessary retaliation. In the aftermath, all Replicants are to be killed on sight. To this effect, special law enforcement officers known as Blade Runners are assigned with the task of identifying and eliminating them. But, of course, “murder” and “execution” are such nasty words, so we refer to the extinguishing of a Replicant as “retirement.”

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one such Blade Runner although, at the time we first meet him, he considers that part of his life to be over. When four Nexus 6 replicants are found to have illegally returned to Earth, Deckard is dragged kicking and screaming back into the service. He heads first for the Tyrell Corporation where all Replicants were created. There, he discovers that Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael (Sean Young) is a Replicant. Rachael is a special case as she has been given false memories… those of Tyrell’s niece… so that she may live out her life believing that she is human. That plan is shot all to hell when Rachael later tries to provide physical evidence of her humanity to Deckard, who reveals in detail the lie that is her life. This causes Rachael to effectively run away from home. After Deckard tracks down and kills Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), he is informed that Rachael has been added to his hit list. Knowing Rachael to be a danger to no one, Deckard objects to this strongly.

Deckard goes looking for Rachael but is himself found by Leon (Brion James), who comes close to killing Deckard before he is shot through the head by Rachael, using Deckard’s gun. Deckard takes Rachael back to his apartment where he promises not to hunt and kill her like the others. Rachael attempts to leaves but Deckard prevents it, initiating intimate contact that Rachael at first resists, but to which she soon submits.

The remaining two Nexus 6 Replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), form a bond with genetic designer J.F. Sebastian, with the intention of using him to get to Dr. Tyrell. Roy and Sebastian go to see Tyrell who informs Roy that, although he is proud of the great accomplishments of his ‘son,’ he can do nothing at so late a stage to alter Roy’s lifespan. Realizing the futility of his situation, Roy murders his creator. It’s also implied but not shown that he does the same to Sebastian. While Roy is en route back to Sebstian’s apartment, Deckard confronts and kills Pris. Enraged at the sight of his lover’s dead body, Roy pursues Deckard. The hunted becomes the hunter. The one-sided fight/chase escalates to a rooftop, where Roy has the option of either killing Deckard outright, or standing by and watching as Deckard falls to his death. Shockingly, Roy selects a third option and saves Deckard’s life. Both men exhausted, they each sit down. Sensing the end is near, Roy laments the loss of his life experiences… that which is unique to him. As Roy dies, Deckard appears to look upon his foe with an understanding and genuine sympathy. He then returns to the apartment to find Rachael, and the two leave for parts unknown.

Of the many different versions of “Blade Runner,” the three most recognizable are the 1982 theatrical cut, the 1992 Director’s Cut, and 2007’s Final Cut. I have, to this point, never seen the Final Cut and so I am as yet unaware of what alterations were made. It is the Director’s Cut with which I am the most familiar, and so it is that this was the version I used for the purposes of this review. Although marketed as an action film, “Blade Runner” draws its narrative inspiration from film noir. In the “Theatrical Cut” this also included a voice-over narration which has remained absent from all subsequent versions of the film. There’s an awful lot of ambiguity which surrounds the plot, not least of which is the deliberately vague ending (again, altered from a more concrete conclusion presented in the 1982 version). Perhaps most controversial of all is the subject of whether or not Deckard is himself a Replicant without even knowing it. It’s a point of contention among even those who worked on the film; director Ridley Scott asserts that he is, while Harrison Ford disagrees. Personally, I lean more towards Ford’s side of the argument while admitting that evidence does exist that would justify either point of view, such as the unicorn dream. It’s just the sort of debate that I suspect author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” on which the movie is based, would have loved. Pity that he died shortly before the film’s release.

The film’s eye-catching cinematography  depicts a corporate, technology-driven society not entirely unlike the one we’ve come to know. This includes many giant advertisements emblazoned on every street corner and skyscraper. The most amusing of these is the recurrence of the logo for the video game company Atari. No one could have guessed that it would be a short time before Atari was no longer the standard-bearer in its field, nor could they have predicted the video game crash of 1983 which almost killed the industry. Beyond its nearly peerless cinematography, “Blade Runner” also boast a terrific soundtrack. It can be said that the best film scores act as an additional character. The synthesizer-heavy score by Vangelis is one of the most alluring and unforgettable aspects of “Blade Runner.” Somehow, when this movie was first released, critics didn’t understand the brilliance of what they’d seen. Even with the more recent, superior revisions, you still get some folks who’ll dismiss the movie because it doesn’t condescend to spoonfeed them everything. Everybody has certain types of movies that just don’t appeal to them and I generally will sympathize, but not when it comes to an all-time work of sci-fi art like “Blade Runner.”

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Director: Arthur Hiller

Starring: George C. Scott, Diana Rigg

You take a risk every time you enter a hospital, be it from the germs you might catch from any one of the dozens upon dozens of patients who are shuffled in and out, or from doctors/nurses whose lackadaisical approach towards their profession gives you a new appreciation for the term ‘medical practice.’ You also take a risk, albeit a non-life threatening one, each time you decide to watch a movie you know little about. Occasionally I find one so toxic that I wonder if there’s any way to somehow magically restore the hours of my life that were wasted in the process. Most of the time, I find ways to be entertained. Every so often, a movie like 1971’s “The Hospital” comes to my attention that is not only great but also reminds me of how rarely we still find actors and screenwriters with this much collective talent.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in Manhattan. Bock loves this hospital above all else. That helps explain why the former family man is now living alone. His wife left him, and he and his children are no longer on speaking terms… especially his ‘pinko commie hippie’ son, whose challenge against his father’s manhood has left Dr. Bock feeling impotent. That the hospital is also going to the dogs doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Dr. Bock. The method by which it is happening, however, does. Members of the hospital staff are dying, their expiration apparently the result of mistaken identity and incorrect diagnoses. Outside, the situation is just as chaotic. The hospital’s annexation of a nearby, rundown apartment complex has drawn the ire of its residents… and they are not about to have their voices go unheard.

Dr. Bock is on the verge of suicide when, in the middle of all of this madness, he meets Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg), the daughter of a coma patient and an ex-nurse who these days is a free-spirited woman living with her father on an Indian ranch. I’m left a little uncertain as to whether Barbara was supposed to be American or British, as Rigg’s accent appears to fluctuate until late in the movie where she just seems to declare, “Screw it, I’m British. Deal with it!” The two have a long talk, after which a thoroughly drunk Dr. Bock tears off Barbara’s clothes and has sex with her… three times. Looks like that pesky impotence is cured! Moreover, the good doctor finds that he loves Barbara, and even considers the possibility of leaving the hospital with her.

Eventually it is revealed that, unbeknownst to Barbara, her father is not only not comatose but is in fact the person responsible for the dead doctors and nurses. Showing himself to be quite mad, Mr. Drummond (Barnard Hughes) essentially uses the “God told me to” defense, claiming that he’s been instructed to pass judgment against the corruption and indifference of modern medical practice. As the protesters make their way inside the hospital, Dr. Bock conspires to help Barbara get her father out of the building with the intention of high-tailing it for Mexico. At the last moment, as he takes a look at the growing hysteria, Dr. Bock realizes he can’t leave his beloved hospital behind, and instructs Barbara to go on without him.

As seems to have been common with screenplays written by Paddy Chayefsky, “The Hospital” is darkly humorous and disturbing all at once. One example of this is the scene where the super-annoying nurse is seen badgering a man, only to declare him dead. When asked how she has come to such a conclusion, she observes that he must be dead “because he wouldn’t give me his Blue Cross number.”  The man renowned also for films such as “Marty” and “Network” could have had even more brilliance to offer the world if he hadn’t died at the young age of 58. Ironically, given the subject matter of “The Hospital,” the cancer that killed Chayefsky in 1981 might have been curable if only he hadn’t refused treatment.

Bringing life to Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script are two equally important cogs in this machine, actors George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. The best scene in the movie is the one in Dr. Bock’s office where he and Barbara trade their origin stories. If the whole movie consisted of just these two alone in a room talking to one another, believe me, I’d watch. Their caliber of actor is an endangered species among the current generation, and it’s even more rare to find two such talents paired up in the same movie.

Captain America Civil War (2016)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

For the last eight years, since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the clear favorite in terms of an individual character has been Tony Stark/Iron Man. But, in truth, his movies have only been as good as their lead actor. Remove Robert Downey, Jr. from the equation, and the “Iron Man” franchise is left with mostly average stories to tell. On the other hand the “Captain America” franchise, while it too needed the right guy in the pivotal role, has been less dependent on Chris Evans than its great storytelling. Steve Rogers’ journey from movie to movie has been unlike any that his fellow Avengers have experienced, and none have thus achieved the personal growth that Steve has. That streak continues in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Avengers team members Steve Rogers/Captain America, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) prevent the theft of biological weapons material in Lagos, Nigeria, but at too high a price. The terrorist Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), an enemy of Cap’s left over from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” chooses death by suicide bomb over being captured. Wanda does her best to contain the blast, but it still levels a nearby building, resulting in the deaths of many civilians. The team is later paid a visit by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who lets them know that the United Nations are drafting a resolution which, when passed, will give the UN control over exactly when and where the Avengers can do their world policing. The news fragments the team philosophically, especially when Tony Stark/Iron Man reveals his intention to sign the accords. Stark is more motivated than most given that it was his creation, the artificial intelligence known as Ultron, which destroyed the Eastern European nation of Sokovia (Wanda Maximoff’s home country) only one year prior. Steve, whose once unyielding faith in his government has become irreparably shattered by mounting betrayals, outright refuses to sign.

Natasha attends the meeting in Vienna where the accords are meant to be finalized, and in the process meets King T’Chaka of Wakanda… whose country suffered several casualties in the incident in Nigeria… and his son, Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Another terrorist bombing claims the life of the King, and evidence points to Rogers’ old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, a former Hydra sleeper agent who still has yet to shake off his brainwashing. With the limited evidence at hand, T’Challa vows revenge while Steve wants to bring his friend in before the authorities make good on their threat to shoot on sight. The ensuing battle, which also includes Sam Wilson, leads to all four superpowered men being placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a Sokovian named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in the process of setting his own sequence of plans in motion. He kills the man he used to pose as Barnes for the Vienna bombing as well as Barnes’ former Hydra handler. Next, Zemo maneuvers his way into the Berlin holding facility where Bucky is being held and poses as an interrogating officer. There’s something locked away inside Bucky’s mind… something having to do with a mission he’d performed as the Winter Soldier in 1991… that Zemo needs to know about. Once Zemo gets what he needs, he activates Bucky’s brainwashing to cover his own escape. Eventually, Steve is able to subdue and extract his friend, and discovers what information Zemo was after: the location of a base in Siberia where other Winter Soldiers are currently in cryostasis.

Unwilling to submit to the whims of government approval, Steve assembles the members of the Avengers whom are sympathetic to his cause and they head for the airport. In addition to Rogers, Barnes, Wilson, and Maximoff, this team also includes Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). A government-approved team of Avengers intercepts and engages them. Led by Tony Stark/Iron Man, this team includes Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, T’Challa/Black Panther, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), the Vision (Paul Bettany), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the latter of whom Tony traveled to Queens, New York to recruit. Why Tony couldn’t have made a stop in nearby Hell’s Kitchen while he was at it is beyond me… The resulting spectacular battle results in most of Team Captain America being arrested, while Steve and Bucky escape to Siberia. Team Iron Man, meanwhile, suffers one casualty: An errant blast by the Vision results in Rhodey being partially paralyzed. Natasha, who fought for Tony’s team, regardless must flee after facilitating Steve and Bucky’s departure.

Tony follows Steve and Bucky to Siberia, with T’Challa stealthily trailing behind. There, the other super soldiers are discovered dead, each of them shot through the head by Zemo while still in cryostasis. Zemo doesn’t want an army of super soldiers. Hardly. All he is interested in is revenge against the Avengers for the death of his family, casualties of the team’s climactic battle with Ultron in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He means for the team to fall apart from within. Aided by footage of a grim 1991 incident, meaningful to Tony and perpetrated by a brainwashed Bucky, Zemo’s plan succeeds. With Tony pitted against Steve and Bucky, the three are nearly killed in the ensuing fight, and wind up going their separate ways. Meanwhile, satisfied that his plan has worked, Zemo moves to attempt suicide, but is halted by T’Challa, who declares that he has decided to forego revenge for his father’s death. It is also strongly implied that T’Challa aids in the jailbreak of Steve’s team, thus turning them into what Marvel Comics fans will recognize as the “Secret Avengers.”

The same shades of grey that drove “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” exist here. Certainly we all have our favorite between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, but in the story presented in “Captain America: Civil War,” it’s not as easy to take sides as you might think. None of the heroes come off as being entirely righteous. Sure, everyone means well, but they are all of them misguided. Even Helmut Zemo, the film’s antagonist, is not your typical black hat villain. Has he done horrible things? Certainly. But he is not an entirely unsympathetic character either, which is more than you can say for most of Marvel’s one-and-done bad guys.

“Captain America” is a rarity among superhero franchises. Unlike most which find themselves starting to decline by the third chapter, this one has only gotten stronger. 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” by virtue of being a WWII-era adventure, remains Marvel’s most aesthetically pleasing film. However, in terms of scale, character-growth, and for what it symbolizes in regards to securing the future of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, none has more successfully dotted its I’s and crossed its T’s than “Captain America: Civil War.” In fact, it is the new faces which are the most enjoyable parts of this movie. Whatever degree of interest I had in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Black Panther” was magnified by the impressive appearances of Peter Parker and T’Challa in “Civil War.” In particular, Tom Holland’s wisecracking teenage Peter Parker is really spot-on. I look forward to more from him and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, who also has a short scene). More time is needed to be able to tell how well that “Captain America: Civil War” will hold up against repeat viewings, but I foresee no problems for this, one of Marvel’s greatest cinematic achievements.

The Incredibles (2004)

Director: Brad Bird

Voices of: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Peña, Brad Bird

Can it be that I’ve gone almost three years on this page without reviewing a single animated film? Shocking. The truth of the matter is that I just don’t watch them with the frequency that I once did. Even more surprising is the fact that it’s taken until now for me to have seen 2004’s “The Incredibles” for the first time. Given my love for superhero films in general, that made no sense at all. More to the point, with the premiere of “Captain America: Civil War” only hours away, now seemed like as good a time as any to give “The Incredibles” a look. I’ve spoken often of my disdain for movies with misleading titles. False advertisement really bugs the hell out of me. That’s not a problem here. This superhero family is exactly what they say they are.

In a situation not unlike the one about to befall the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, mounting incidents have begun to sway public opinion against superpowered humans, or ‘supers’ for short. As the lawsuits continue to pile up, the government finally steps in and forces the ‘supers’ into retirement. Some find civilian life a lot harder to handle than others. Fifteen years pass, with Bob and Helen Parr (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) having officially renounced their powers of super-strength and super-elasticity, and are now married with three children. Helen, the former Elastigirl, wants to live as normal a life as she can even as her two oldest children now exhibit superpowers of their own. Bob, on the other hand, can’t let go of his glory days as Mr. Incredible.  Carrying on the facade of an ordinary man with a desk job, Bob still moonlights as a vigilante with his old friend Lucius Best, a.k.a. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). Bob is still so tuned into the seedy goings-on around him that he puts his boss through several walls when he is prevented from putting a stop to a mugging. Naturally, this causes Bob to lose his job, not that he lets Helen know about it.

Bob’s luck seems to change almost instantly, as he is coaxed into resuming his role as Mr. Incredible and given a mission by a woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Peña). He goes to a remote island to destroy a giant robot without knowing from whom this mission came from. Bob doesn’t seem to care so long as he’s free to be himself again. He gets a brand new suit from his old costume designer, Edna Mode (director Brad Bird), who also makes matching costumes for Helen and children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox). Back on the island, Bob discovers the ugly truth: His new missions are all a sham devised by a jilted fan-turned-enemy. Years ago, Mr. Incredible had been dogged one night by a kid looking to become his sidekick. Mr. Incredible refused. Buddy Pine (Jason Lee) has since grown up into the disturbed, technology-dependent supervillain Syndrome. Buddy’s great scheme is to eliminate all existing ‘supers,’ trick the public into accepting him as a heroic figure by defeating one of his own robots, and then subsequently sell his technology. Thus, once everyone is a ‘super,’ this will be recognized as the new ‘normal.’

With Bob captured, Helen pilots a jet to the island, not realizing that Violet and Dash have stowed away. Though they are children and are sneaky little devils, it is also true that Violet has the powers of invisibility and Dash… naturally… has super speed. So both will come in handy, especially once their plane is detected and shot down. Thinking his family dead, Bob threatens to kill Mirage, a proposition to which Buddy seems indifferent. Not surprisingly, this will lead later to Mirage helping the Parr family escape together. With the help of Lucius, they destroy Buddy’s robot, but their nemesis eludes them, heading to the Parr household to kidnap their infant son Jack-Jack. His plan now is to raise the boy as his evil sidekick. Jack-Jack, once thought to be the only normal member of the Parr family, finally manifests his own powers, that of shapeshifting. As Helen comes to Jack-Jack’s rescue, Bob kills Buddy by hurling the family car at him, causing Buddy to get sucked into the turbine of his getaway plane.

Made before the superhero genre had kicked into the high gear it has enjoyed since 2008, “The Incredibles” works fantastically as an animated film that could just as easily have been a big-budget live-action phenomenon. It’s also a better “Fantastic Four” movie than any of the existing turds which have sullied the good name of one of my favorite comic series. I think first and foremost of “Watchmen,” (from which this movie takes some cues) as another example of a superhero story I’ve read/seen where the costumed vigilantes have arrived at a point in their lives where they are trying to adapt to normal life, which is an interesting concept that “The Incredibles” plays with quite well.

Beyond the great writing and the terrific voice actors, what really makes “The Incredibles” FEEL like a great superhero movie is Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score. As I watched the film, I found it to be close to the kind soundtrack that I would expect to hear in a movie either made or set in the 1960’s. That’s no accident, as I came to find out. In fact, Brad Bird is a fan of both comics and spy movies from that decade, and his first choice to compose the soundtrack for “The Incredibles” was John Barry (who, sadly, declined). Furthermore, in the theatrical trailer for “The Incredibles,” a remix of the first few notes of Barry’s theme from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” can be heard. Purely by coincidence, OHMSS was the sixth James Bond film just as “The Incredibles” was Pixar’s sixth full-length animated feature. An “Incredibles” sequel is planned for a 2019 release. With the landscape of the superhero genre constantly evolving, one wonders what type of world the Parr family will find themselves in when next we check in on them.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Director: Jeff Kanew

Starring: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Timothy Busfield, Curtis Armstrong, Ted McGinley, Julie Montgomery, Brian Tochi, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, Donald Gibb, Bernie Casey

One of the enduring legacies of 1980’s teen comedies is not gross-out humor (which was present but generally not as dominant as it is now), but relatable characters placed in adversarial situations with idyllic outcomes. The protagonists earn their hero worship in part by standing up and declaring unapologetically, “This is who I am!” They upstage whomever is trying to hold them down, learn something about themselves and, in the process, allow the viewer to do the same. They also get the hot girl/guy in the end… if they aren’t with them already. Can’t leave that out. Also interesting about how the main character in a teen comedy arrives at their desired goal are the decidedly anti-heroic methods they use to get their way. Indeed, if real-world logic were applied, most of these crazy kids would wind up in jail or juvenile hall for all that they do to break the rules. That’s what you call wish fulfillment. One of the few great 1980’s comedies to be neither directed nor written by John Hughes which lives and breathes this philosophy is “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Away from home for the first time, best friends Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) are ready to begin their freshman year at Adams College. Although the school has many fine courses suited for young geniuses like Lewis and Gilbert, it’s also dominated by a highly successful athletics program. The Adams football team in particular rules the roost, with Coach Harris (John Goodman) standing as a more powerful authority figure than the wimpy dean. The football players, members of the Alpha Beta fraternity, basically always get their way. When they accidentally burn down their frat house (to the tune of a familiar song by the Talking Heads), the Alpha Betas take over the freshman dorms, marooning the nerds and other outcasts (a collective group of nearly every racial and social stereotype that there is) in the gymnasium.

Although the dean is too spineless to stop this or even involve the police, it’s up to the nerds to find a place to live. None of the fraternities they apply to will have them, but they do find and renovate an old abandoned house on campus. Every step of the way, the Alphas pull childish pranks in the hopes of breaking their spirit. The Greek Council is no help, since it’s stacked with Alpha Betas and members of their sister sorority, Pi Delta Pi (a.k.a. the Adams College cheerleader squad). In order to even have the chance to bring their grievances to a vote, the nerds must first join a national fraternity.

The only fraternity which accepts them (due to it being the only one not sent a group photo of the nerds) is the all-African American chapter, Lambda Lambda Lambda. The Tri-Lambs and their president U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey) are at first reluctant to accept the nerds into their family, until Arnold Poindexter (Timothy Busfield) points out that the bylaws specify that they are obligated to take them in on a 60-day probationary basis. The nerds plan a party to sway Jefferson to their cause. Foolishly, Lewis thinks he’s managed to secure dates with the members of Pi Delta Pi, having discussed it with head cheerleader Betty Childs (Julie Montgomery). Of course he knows full well that Betty is dating quarterback Stan Gable (Ted McGinley), the nerds’ #1 nemesis, but it was the heat of the moment and Lewis was thinking with the wrong brain. When the Pis no-show, Gilbert invited the Omega Mu sorority. The Mus are more like their male counterparts than the Pis: they may be less physically appealing, but make up for it with their intelligence. They’re also just as hesitant to dance, a problem which Booger (Curtis Armstrong) solves by supplying certain herbal refreshments.

The party is just livening up when the Alphas and the Pis crash it with a herd of pigs. The nerds seek revenge this time, first organizing a panty raid against the Pis… but it’s just a smoke screen to hide their true motives. While the shenanigans are going on, a few of the nerds set up cameras inside the Pi house, which the nerds use for their own entertainment later. Is it sick and perverse? Yes. Can it be seen as a sexual violation? Yeah, if you’re looking to slap real-world morality onto the situation. But let’s not forget that this is a movie, and the Pis haven’t exactly been portrayed as innocent up to this point. Eventually the nerds tire of watching the Pis parade around in the buff (except for Lewis, who still has a thing for Betty) and the focus is shifted to the Alphas, whose jocks are made to itch and burn to an excruciating degree. The nerds are congratulated by U.N. Jefferson for their willingness to stand up for themselves and are accepted as members of the Tri-Lamb fraternity.

Of course, all of their efforts are moot, since Stan Gable is president of the Greek Council. The only way for the nerds to ever have their voices heard is by winning the Greek Games at the homecoming carnival. Again, since the football team basically runs the show, most of the events are based in athletics. Teaming with the Mus, the nerds have luck in some areas, such as Booger winning the belching contest, but they don’t fare are well in arm wrestling, tug-of-war, and other such events. To say that the nerds resort to cheating at times is a bit strong… Let’s just say that they use their brains to devise clever rule-bending strategies. Hence, the “limp-wristed” Lamar (Larry B. Scott) wins the javelin toss with a more aerodynamic spear, Takashi wins the drunken tricycle race by first ingesting something to counteract the effects of the alcohol, and nude pictures of Betty are used to outsell the Alphas at the pie stand. Trading 1st and 2nd positions throughout the contest, the Tri-Lambs ultimately defeat the Alphas during the musical finale, during which they put on a Devo-inspired performance. Sore losers, the Alphas trash the Tri-Lambs’ house, prompting Gilbert to take an inspirational stand that unites the school’s nerd population and forces even the dean to grow a pair, all to the tune of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

Now to address the one thing that so many who discuss the movie seem to want to talk about. In-between the costume/food contest and the battle of the bands, Betty tries and fails to coax Stan into a sexual rendezvous. In fact, his response is typically insulting. Dejected, Betty heads off to the funhouse alone. Lewis, who has witnessed the entire thing, grabs Stan’s discarded costume and follows Betty into the funhouse. There, the two fool around (though exactly how far they go is left to our imagination), with Betty believing that Stan has changed his mind. It is only afterwards that Lewis reveals himself. Many who watch this sequence lose respect for Lewis and look at the situation as one of rape. Certainly, if this were real life, Lewis would be facing hard time for his actions. Betty is no worse for wear, as she has fallen in love with Lewis based on how sexually proficient she finds him to be. That says as much about Betty as taking advantage of her says about Lewis… and, yet again, this comedy never asked us to think too hard about these things. I never really did until I started reading online commentary on the matter. At most, I find her sudden turn a little jarring considering how awful she’d treated Lewis and the other nerds.

Perhaps one could focus more on the politically incorrect parts of “Revenge of the Nerds” if it weren’t for the terrific casting. Putting on particularly iconic performances are the two leads, Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine (the latter of whose nerdish laugh MUST be heard to be fully appreciated). I also really like Timothy Busfield as Arnold Poindexter, even though his is not nearly as big of a part. He does get one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in the film, with his out-of-nowhere “WTF?” reaction to his arousal while watching the live video feed from the Pi house. Like any successful comedy, the nerds returned in ill-conceived sequels… three of them, actually… each one progressively worse than the last. A remake was even threatened a few years back, but was just as swiftly cancelled. Must’ve had as much to do with today’s climate as it did the chance that it was going to be horrible. Nerds are more highly thought of in what today is a much more technologically-dependent society. In some way, the ending to “Revenge of the Nerds” is reflective of this: Bullies will always exist, but it is nerds who inherit the Earth in the end.