Tag of the Month: Love Conquers All (February 2018)

It’s February at The Movie Maestro, and that means it’s time for a new Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something scary for October, etc.

February’s Tag: Love Conquers All
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Yeah, I know. A romantic tag for the month of Valentine’s Day. How original. But we all need stories of love at least every now and then to revitalize our tired old hearts, so this is as good a time as any. But, to put a little spin on the proceedings, I’m going to focusing more on the kinds of love stories that make us root for the underdog; tales of unlikely love mixed in with the usual to remind us that there just may be a soulmate for everyone out there.

Keep a look out for the tag #LoveConquersAll on my Instagram and Tumblr reviews, and check back here each week for links to them all.

THE REVIEWS SO FAR:
50/50
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Purple Rain
The Shape of Water

Last Month: Visions of the Future

Last month, I took a look at various futuristic films, ranging the gamut from post-apocalyptic to urban dystopia. If you missed the reviews, you can check them out here.

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FAN EDIT REVIEW: The Star Wars Trilogy – Harmy’s Despecialized Editons

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Original Films Directed by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand, Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Harmy
Category: Reconstruction

While most fan edits can usually be distilled down to the editor’s subjective goal for a film, there is a rapidly-growing facet of the community that involves the creation of reconstructions. These are edits which do not seek to create a wholly new version of the film, but rather to restore a previously unavailable version, using a number of different home video sources. One can say this method of fan editing truly came into being with Czech editor Harmy, and his excellent Star Wars Despecialized Editions.

First, a brief history lesson, courtesy of the first half of this very informative short documentary:

In case you can’t watch the video, in effect, everything that the original Star Wars film won Oscars for–the visual effects, the set and costume design, sound design–was significantly altered by George Lucas twenty years later to produce the Special Edition, a series of cuts that he felt lived up to his original vision for the trilogy. While the merits of these versions have been and continue to be endlessly debated by fans, the original versions are, at the time of this writing, MIA, in either original print form or on high definition (or acceptable standard definition, for that matter) video.

Enter Harmy, a Czech English teacher and video enthusiast, who sought to restore the original versions of the trilogy in the vein of an early effort by Revisited editor Adywan, by combining different video sources to bring the film back to its original state. Thus, the Despecialized Editions were born.

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The first versions of the edits, available in MKV form, concentrated on two major fronts: correcting the massive alterations to the color timings of the films, and of course, reversing the editorial and visual effects changes that Lucas has made over three successive variations of the Special Editions. Even in these lower-bitrate versions, made with upscales of the Laserdisc-derived 2006 DVD releases of the original trilogy, were quite a step above the official Blu-ray release of 2011 in fidelity to the first-released cuts.

In the years since, Harmy has kept up with changes in both video editing technology and newly-available preservations of the original films, updating each edit accordingly. For this review, I used v2.7 of Star Wars, v2.0 of Empire, and v2.5 of Jedi, in two forms: the full MKV files and a custom blu-ray set made by editor NJVC. While both versions contain the same multitude of audio and subtitle tracks, the blu-rays lower the bitrate slightly in order to fit every feature onto a disc. This doesn’t bother me much, considering I don’t sit close enough to my 40-inch TV to notice a difference, but pick accordingly to your tastes.

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Star Wars v2.7 is undoubtedly the centerpiece of Harmy’s set, considering how extensively the original film has been altered in 4 decades. In addition to the highest number of new visual effects, Star Wars suffered a heavily-skewed color palette, to the point that flesh tones begin to take on incredibly rosy complexions. The Despecialized Edition mercifully corrects this, using a well-preserved 35mm print as reference for correct theatrical color timing. The film is no longer forced to conform to the look of the prequels, appearing as it once did in 1977.

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Top: 2011 Bu-ray, Bottom: Despecialized v2.7

And of course, every successive VFX change is reversed–from things as huge as the original ILM Death Star battle to tweaks as small as restoring the orange blob of Vaseline under Luke’s desert speeder, nothing goes unnoticed by Harmy. Each original shot is returned through numerous different sources, depending on which is the highest quality version available; while most of the video is a color-corrected blu-ray rip, changes made to that master are reversed by taking from HD broadcasts of the 2004 DVDs or the 1997 Special Edition, and so on.

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When it becomes necessary to restore a shot that was only in the original version, fan-produced upscales of the 2006 DVDs are utilized, with elements taken from two noteworthy film preservations, Team Negative 1’s Silver Screen Edition and the 16mm Puggo Grande Edition. The video above explains the process in much better detail than I can in these paragraphs, but to over-summarize, the amount of work that went into creating these cuts prove that sometimes, the fans care more about something special than the creator.

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Empire and Jedi, while containing their fair share of VFX alterations, were less butchered by Lucasfilm, with the changes limited more to the inclusion of previously deleted footage and alternate audio takes. The latter example further displays the collaborative nature of the Despecialized Editions, with Harmy enlisting the approved usage of another fan project: a recreation of the original theatrical mixes. Produced by Hairy_hen mainly using the 1993 Laserdisc mixes, the main audio options replicate the standard 35mm stereo and the 70mm six-track mixes that were originally heard in theaters, with the first film also including the mono mix. All are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and while most certainly aren’t reference-material, hold up to the official releases quite well.

Each MKV file is quite massive, weighing in at an average of over 30 GBs, with bitrates approaching an average of 20 MBPS. The latest versions are still in 720p, but look stunningly beautiful in their original forms compared to the official releases, which are varyingly faded or glossed over with digital enhancements. The blu-ray set by NJVC doesn’t really handle the grain field as well, but as I mentioned before, unless you’re sitting right in front of the TV, this isn’t really something you will notice. Later versions of the MKVs are stated by Harmy to be in full 1080p resolution, owing to new elements pulled from Team Negative 1’s now finished Silver Screen Edition and a new set of prints being restored by an OriginalTrilogy Forum member known as Poita.

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But that’s not all! Both options include a selection of interesting and excellent features, many of which aren’t easily available anywhere else. On the MKV files, no less than twenty different audio options are available: in addition to the theatrical mixes, the original Laserdisc tracks are included in Dolby Digital form, along with a wide array of foreign dubs (my favorites are the German and Japanese tracks. So awesome and funny at the same time). There are also audio commentaries available from the Laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, with Star Wars also presenting a rare official website podcast commentary by Pablo Hidalgo. Finally, each one provides an English Descriptive Audio track (so caring and thoughtful of the fans. If only Lucas could be the same).

In addition to the audio tracks, an equally-impressive selection of subtitles is collected from the Project Threepio effort, ranging from English to such overlooked languages as Thai and Navajo.

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The NJVC blu-ray set, available in several options, ups the ante in the extras field with several more commentaries such as Internet podcasts by Rebel Force Radio and Collider, and even Rifftrax by the MST3K crew themselves, along with a few more subtitle options. The bonus features discs include a collection of goodies from around the inter-webs, such as featurettes detailing the changes made to the films over the years, parody productions, documentaries, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, and even the excellent filmumentaries by Jamie Benning. All of the discs are finished with full motion menus which further push the official feel of this set.

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All in all, this is a great time to be a Star Wars fan. The dark years of the late 1980s have passed, as have the Lucas years, where Star Wars was kept under the stranglehold of a veritable Darth Vader, a man who has become everything about the Hollywood system he used to hate. Look at it now, with new, acclaimed films in theaters, TV series killing it on the small screen, and fan productions restoring to us our most treasured memories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, things are finally looking up. So this Christmas, or Star Wars Day, or anytime you want, fire up the Despecialized Editions and enjoy yourself. You finally can again.

HOW TO GET IT:
Despite the crackdown on p2p file sharing going on these days, the Despecialized Editions are still easily and readily available in just about every corner of the web today, thanks in no small part to their popularity. If you are going through the official channels, visit this Harmy-approved guide, which will walk you through the different methods of obtaining the digital files, whether in the full MKV versions or lower-quality AVCHD files.

NJVC’s blu-ray set was briefly unavailable due to the creator pulling it from circulation–it appears that several unscrupulous individuals were selling the sets on Ebay. However, another fan has graciously and with NJVC’s support made them available again. All you need is a blu-ray burner and the discs, and you are good to go!

November at The Movie Maestro

Now that Halloween is long behind us, it’s time for me to refresh myself with some of my favorite films and film franchises! Until the end of November, I’ll be reviewing a wide array of entries from the Star Trek series to Indiana Jones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all just in time to read while you stuff your face with Thanksgiving turkey! Also on the plate will be a complete review of the Star Wars saga to prepare for the December 15 release of The Last Jedi.

Stay true, believers!

REVIEW: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Matheson
Starring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton, Drew Barrymore

There are a few perfect films out there, not just for me, but for most of cinema-goers. Taxi Driver. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Star Wars. It’s a Wonderful Life. Blade Runner. These films are cherished and revered, often imitated but never fully copied. Steven Spielberg, probably the most recognized filmmaker in history, has had the fortune of making not one, but several perfect films in his career, with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial probably being the best of the best.

After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Bringing the extraterrestrial into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as the alien is dubbed, to his brother (Robert McNaughton) and his little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and the children decide to keep its existence a secret. Soon, however, E.T. falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both Elliott and the alien.

Right away, from the strangely ominous drones over the black-screen credits, you know you’re in for something memorable. As the opening titles give way to the familiar sight of a shooting star against a calm night sky, we are treated the arrival of an alien spaceship in the woods. But unlike the at-times frightening appearance of the visitors in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these creatures are decidedly more benevolent; they waddle under the handicap of their comically-undersized legs, their hearts glow brightly to signal startlement, and their childlike curiosity of the new world before them is charming. And then the humans show up. Dark, silhouetted figures of meddling humanity who give chase to one of the visitors in particular, who misses his ride home and begins a trek down the wooded hill to find shelter on an unfamiliar planet.

So begins Spielberg’s E.T., a film that I discovered I am still absolutely in love with to this day. Like his immediately previous efforts in Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders, E.T. is a technical and storytelling marvel, with little-to-no faults to be had. Everything about this movie is just perfect. Tired of that word yet? Perfect, perfect, PERFECT!!!

Spielberg has longed dismissed the film’s ostensible genre as science fiction, and prefers to think of it as a family drama, with Elliott’s family straining under the still-fresh injury of their father leaving. It’s a theme that Spielberg often comes back to, a real part of his life that he finds therapeutic release in portraying on screen, either as part of the background or as the main focus, such as right here in E.T. Together with Close Encounters, this film is his most personal, presenting the children, Elliott, Mike, and Gertie, as struggling with the hurt of divorce and finding comfort in this diminutive creature from the stars who needs their help.

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In any film involving child actors, there’s the risk of the whole endeavor falling apart because of their inability to understand the work. That simply doesn’t happen here. Henry Thomas as Elliott is one of the greatest child performances around, as he exudes incredible chemistry with his on-screen siblings and mother as well as convincingly acting alongside the E.T. puppets. While McNaughton isn’t as large a factor, his role as the older brother Mike is still a source of much of the film’s comic relief and is such a valued member of the trio. Rounding them out is young Drew Barrymore, who doesn’t so much as act as she does truly converse with E.T. as a real being. Reportedly, at several points in production, she became convinced of E.T.’s reality, which isn’t too hard to believe considering how young she was and how good the on-set effects were.

Portrayed with a combination of various suits and animatronic puppets, E.T. is a fine example of the life a piece of latex can take on with the right design, execution, and tender love and care. From the design, evoking the old, wisened eyes of Albert Einstein, to the performance of the various instruments belaying a younger sense of wonder, E.T. is one of the best non-human characters ever realized. Such is his authenticity that, like the Yoda puppet from The Empire Strikes Back, never once do I look upon the old botanist’s face and see a high-tech gadget, but a living alien deserving of friendship.

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But E.T. isn’t the only technical marvel of the film. In what I assume was an attempt to create an ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere to the idealized suburbia of Elliott’s neighborhood, many scenes are filled with whisps of vapor, allowing the light in the nighttime scenes to really pop as well as shrouding E.T. with an air of mystique, as any alien being should have. This mist of the unknown also percolates around the adult characters, who in Spielberg fashion, are concealed in silhouette until the final act, further slamming home that this story is of children, told from their point of view. (This also places a lot of the slack onto Dee Wallace, who as the children’s mother is the only adult consistently portrayed in full.)

And let’s not forget another rousing score from the master, John Williams. Alternating between quietly beautiful themes for E.T. and Elliot, and grandiose, adventurous pieces that elevate the small town setting into a mythical quest, Williams’ has delivered another score for the ages. This is how film scores are meant to be.

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In 2002, for the film’s 20th Anniversary, Steven Spielberg decided to re-release the film in cinemas for a limited exhibition. Unfortunately, a little golem named George Lucas must have been sitting on his shoulder, because Spielberg decided to emulate the Star Wars Special Editions and significantly alter E.T., replacing almost all of the on-set puppetry with CGI, adding two unnecessary deleted scenes back into the film, and in the most asinine change, digitally alter the guns of the government agents chasing the children into walkie-talkies. This version was also released onto a special DVD set along with the original version.

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Luckily, Spielberg has changed his tune over the years. He admits that these alterations were a mistake, and in each subsequent re-release onto home video, he has left the Special Edition in the dust and focused solely on the original cut. If you still wish to view it however, track down the 2-disc DVD from 2002. I trust that’ll be the only viewing you have of it before you come to the same conclusion as Spielberg did.

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This review only came about because I finally had the pleasure of reintroducing E.T. to my video collection after it being absent for a decade. I’d almost forgotten how good of a film it is, how touching, how funny, how relatable. Even the “evil” government agent played by Peter Coyote seems to revel in the magic of E.T.’s presence on Earth during his talk with Elliott in the emergency tent. He displays a kind of childlike wonder and gratefulness to having this experience, even though he has tainted it with his government alignment. Needless to say, I was filled with that same wonder, even fistpumping the air as the kids made their escape on bicycles, with John Williams’ excellent track blaring in my living room. So many wonderful memories, so many happy tears. Thank you Steven Spielberg. It’s always nice to live that again.

REVIEW: The Lion King (1994)

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Directed by Roger Allers and Bob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
Starring the Voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Madge Sinclair

Made in the heydey of the ’90s Disney renaissance, The Lion King represents one of the finer moments of the studio’s creative vision and occupies a high stature in the eyes of the fans, who consistently keep coming back to it, whether in the form of this original film and its sequels, the Lion Guard television series, or the acclaimed Broadway musical.

A young lion prince is born in Africa, thus making his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) the second in line to the throne. Envious and devious, Scar plots with the hyenas of the shadowy outlands to kill King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Prince Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), thus making himself King. Soon enough, Mufasa is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault, and so flees the kingdom in shame. After years of exile with a carefree pair (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) is persuaded to return home to overthrow the usurper and claim the kingdom as his own, thus completing the “Circle of Life”.

Despite being mired in the controversy of whether it lifted its storyline and main character from the Kimba the White Lion anime, The Lion King is much more indebted to the classic play of William Shakespeare, Hamlet. The major beats are all there: the King is murdered by his jealous brother, who usurps the throne; the King’s son is forced to choose between avenging his father or allowing that crime to go unpunished, thereby sparing his own life of the responsibility. Simba’s arc through the second half of the film is a precise mirror of Prince Hamlet’s, insomuch that The Lion King becomes, in my mind, the only adaptation of a Shakespeare tragedy to successfully end happily.

But before that arc can begin, The Lion King first treats us to two similar perspectives on the mighty throne of Mufasa: young Simba, and Scar. The youthful cub is anxious to be King, believing that simply because he was born into the line, he will get a free pass to use the power any way he wants. Just like every kid out there who wants to rule the world. As Simba endures his growing pains under the fair and loving guidance of his father, his uncle Scar broods. Played in cunning manner by Jeremy Irons, Scar’s desires aren’t too far from Simba’s–his are just hidden under the lies of adulthood, as he believes his rule will automatically bring about a golden age. Like every dictator that has ever come to power, Scar’s delusions bring about misery and sorrow, like every good villain’s plan should.

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Throughout the first half, we get some wild song sequences, like the tribal-influenced “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and Scar’s dark “Be Prepared,” and of course, the ever popular and beautiful “Circle of Life.” Each song, some with input from the great Elton John, is bolstered by terrific visual sights of the plains and jungles of Africa, as is the story by each amazing voice actor, led by such talents as James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba, and Robert Guillaume as my personal favorite, the wise and wacky witch doctor of a baboon, Rafiki. There is also the incredible attention to detail displayed by the animators, who slip in subtleties of performance into the characters that correspond to their actual animal inspirations.

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The pivotal moment separating both halves is the death of Mufasa, a moment which I’m sure traumatized a lot of kids back in the day (and probably still does). By showing this moment which was only referred to in Hamlet, The Lion King eschews intrigue for sheer pathos, and propels Simba into a life of hedonism with the film’s best comic relief, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella). Out in the jungle, the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) gets to live out most of our most wonderful and illogical fantasies away from the responsibility of life, before reality comes crashing back.

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I could go on and on about the thematic and narrative depth of The Lion King, but since this is a review, I’ll just end on my most basic, unfiltered thoughts on it: I still love it. Far and away, the only film that comes close to it from the Disney renaissance is Aladdin, and that’s mainly due to Robin Williams. This film, while still boasting big names, doesn’t really have one major player that carries the film effortlessly; instead, the strength of the plot and the visual majesty of its setting is what makes The Lion King stand apart from its colleagues.

REVIEW: The Dark Tower (2017)

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Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Written by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel, Based on the Novels by Stephen King
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haybert, Claudia Kim, Jackie Earl Haley, Fran Kranz

Here we go, The Dark Tower. Stephen King’s magnum opus, the binding agent of his disparate and intricate literary multiverse, and umpteenth iteration of his own view of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. It has taken a decade to get it to the big screen, which is for sure a contributing factor to the confusion and dissatisfaction surrounding audience opinion to this film, but far from the only one.

Young Jake (Tom Taylor) is troubled by visions of another world. Deciding to investigate these strange dreams, he stumbles upon a portal into another dimension, where the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Quick, how many movies can you get out of an epic, 8-book literary series? Most viewers would guess 8, maybe 7. An ambitious screenwriter could probably narrow it down to 3. For whatever reason, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel decided that not only could they do it in one, but they could make that film just over 90 minutes. This seems to be heart of the backlash against The Dark Tower; why, oh why, would anybody think to take a chainsaw to one of the most beloved book series of recent memory?

The Dark Tower starts simply enough, albeit with a massive shift from King’s original work: focusing on Jake Chambers, the ordinary kid with extraordinary visions of the worlds beyond ours. By treating Jake as the main character of the story, The Dark Tower begins to take shape as an homage to some of the darker fantasy films of the 1980s, like Krull, The Gate, and The Dark Crystal–films that took young characters into threatening and often-times frightening situations during epic quests. Jake indeed follows this tradition, walking through a portal into the multiversal wasteland of Roland’s world.

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Idris Elba is a believable Roland Deschain, rugged and battle-ready. While he shows that many iconic roles are not and should not be bound to a certain race of actor, Elba never really makes the role his own, acting contently within the typical framework of the silent western hero. Like much of the droll supporting cast, Elba misses a great opportunity to combine Clint Eastwood cool with the knight-like mysticism of King’s original conception.

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Speaking of missed opportunities, back to that one-film thing. I’m beginning to think that, due to the many aborted attempts to make the series in the past, the studio sought to save as much money as possible by shaving it all down to a standard-length film, leaving an open end for possible sequels but tying up the main storyline in case of box office failure. This theory explains the other really big change to the storyline, the extended setting of Keystone Earth, or our world for King virgins. With the altered focus on Jake, he, Roland, and the Man in Black all make extended stops on our world, with the main plotline slowing to a crawl halfway through for Jake to return home to check on his parents. By bypassing the epic cycle of the journey through King’s other books that the Gunslinger takes originally, the film tragically castrates itself.

But there is good news. Despite all the bitching I just did, I actually enjoyed watching it. As mentioned before, the film evokes a dark fantasy quest from the decade of my birth, and the introduction of more technological elements into the richly magical world provided an interesting visual and thematic dichotomy. Arcel is adept at blocking action scenes, with Roland’s final showdown in the Dixie being a highlight. And finally, Matthew McConaughey. Playing the role of Walter, the Man in Black, a role he seems tailor-made to take on, McConaughey gives us a charming and vicious sorceror, a dark figure who has artificially made himself into a god for the ultimate purpose of destroying reality. Hopefully whoever ends up making the remake of The Stand or Eyes of the Dragon decides to bring him back.

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Is The Dark Tower worth watching? If one can put aside its massive departures from the books and abstain from comparing it to obviously superior adaptations like It, then I feel at least a weekday matinee or a DVD rental is warranted. King fans can still delight in the near-endless references to his other works, and may even come to eventually embrace it as an alternate version of the epic series set on yet another world in the multiverse. Time will tell, but for now, I’m content to say, “it’s okay entertainment.”

REVIEW: The Goonies (1985)

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Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Chris Columbus, Story by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, John Matsuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros

Following in the mighty wake of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial were a string of similarly-toned adventure films, usually starring a scrappy group of preteen children embarking an adult-free quest. The Goonies happens to be probably the best of the ’80s examples of this specific sub-genre, due in no small part to the formidable trio of filmmakers in charge of the picture.

Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin) and Brandon Walsh (Josh Brolin) are brothers whose family is preparing to move because developers want to build a golf course in the place of their neighborhood — unless enough money is raised to stop the construction of said course, and that’s quite doubtful. But when Mikey stumbles upon a treasure map of the famed “One-Eyed” Willy’s hidden fortune, Mikey, Brandon, and their friends Lawrence “Chunk” Cohen (Jeff Cohen), Clark “Mouth” Devereaux (Corey Feldman), Andrea “Andy” Carmichael (Kerri Green), Stefanie “Stef” Steinbrenner (Martha Plimpton), and Richard “Data” Wang (Jonathan Ke Quan), calling themselves “the Goonies,” set out on a quest to find the treasure in hopes of saving their neighborhood.

That trio turned out to be Steven Spielberg himself and future Home Alone and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus crafting the film’s script, and Superman’s Richard Donner behind the camera as director. Together, you could say these three were the unofficial “grown-up Goonies,” with Spielberg especially palling around with the young cast on set. And why wouldn’t he? The Goonies is marked with expansive set pieces, charming performances, and an adventure that takes the audience into the highest realms of fancy.

The cast, studded with some of the biggest names in ’80s child stars, still impresses today. The younger members form both the heart and most of the humor of the film, evidenced in the Richie Tozier-prototype of Corey Feldman’s Mouth, and Jeff Cohen’s Chuck, as lovable a fat kid as there ever will be. Far from a sad reminder of at least some viewers’ hard childhoods, Chuck is riotous fun, always ready with the right comedic line–and a spoon for stolen ice cream. Ke Huy Quan, hot off Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, portrays Data, the tech-wiz of the Goonies, and provides another facet of the film’s unique funny bone: slapstick. With each gadget failing miserably or saving the day by the skin of its teeth–literally–Data injects some good old Looney Tunes laughs into the mix that strangely works.

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While the girls of the film are much more stereotypical (which may turn off some modern viewers, but at least they aren’t to the point of being offensive), the true heart of the Goonies lies within the main brothers, Mikey and Brand. Young Sean Astin portrays Mikey in an interesting melding of sickliness, thrill-seeking, and altruism that is very endearing. Brand, whom eagle-eyed viewers will notice is played by a youthful Josh Brolin, is first depicted as a wannabe meathead, definitely a caring brother but not very charismatic. Over the course of the film he evolves, taking the pleasure of joining his brother and their friends on an epic quest that will see him earn the girl of his dreams in Andy (Kerri Green).

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But as any of these films can attest to, you need a good villain to round out an adventure, and The Goonies gives us three: the Fratelli’s. Led by the oderous Mama Fratelli, played scowlingly by Anne Ramsey, this family of crime finds its muscle, but certainly not brains, in the interesting combo of the menacing Robert Davi and the bumbling Joe Pantoliano. They’re after the pirate treasure of One-Eyed Willie, a treasure that the Goonies seek to pay off their families’ debts to the local land developer and save their homes. Vintage ’80s, amiright?

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As the Goonies travel deep below the town, encountering trap after trap set by the long-gone Willie, the film takes on a wonderful mix of old-school pulp adventure and family-centric times. It helps that the production value is more than solid: it’s fantastic, with intricate Indiana Jones contraptions working against the little heroes and a massive pirate ship for the film’s exciting climax. Special props to the makeup department for the creation of the fan-favorite Sloth.

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When it comes down to it, The Goonies is solid entertainment. The performances are wonderful, the production is epic, the story is thrilling, what more can I say? Nothing, that’s what. And I’m certainly not gonna say die–a true Goonie just won’t.