Movie Review – Mishima: A Life in Four Parts

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Written by Leonard & Paul Schraeder
Directed by Paul Schraeder

I don’t know much about Yukio Mishima, and after watching Paul Schrader’s film, I still can’t say I developed a vast knowledge of his history. My comments in this review on Mishima come from additional research I did to try and give myself a context for what happened in the film. This adaptation of the Japanese author’s work and life is aesthetically brilliant. I particularly love Paul Schraeder’s choice of colors and cinematography to differentiate the past, present, and the dramatization of Mishima’s novels. However, he doesn’t provide the needed history and context for a Westerner to fully understand what is happening. I don’t like overly expository films, but I think just a bit might have been needed here.

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Movie Review – Follow That Bird

Follow That Bird (1985)
Written by Judy Freudberg & Tony Geiss
Directed by Ken Kwapis

The late 1970s/early-mid 1980s was the era of the Muppets and Jim Henson. The world-famous puppeteer worked to show the audience what his creations could do and expand the public consciousness about puppetry. He showed us a comedic variety program with The Muppet Show, a road trip picture with The Muppet Movie, action & adventure in The Great Muppet Caper, and a Broadway-style musical with the Muppets Take Manhattan. Henson created work aimed at older audiences with The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. In the middle of all of this, Henson’s company decided to bring their phenomenally successful public television series Sesame Street to the big screen with Follow That Bird.

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Movie Review – Return to Oz

Return to Oz (1985)
Written by Walter Murch & Gil Dennis
Directed by Walter Murch

The Wizard of Oz comes with iconic images that pop into the mind as soon as you hear the name. Dorothy. Scarecrow. Tin Man. Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch. Emerald City. These are so embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist that to present the idea of a sequel must have been relatively daunting. Return to Oz was released forty-six years after the original and was a stark contrast to the rainbows and Technicolor of MGM’s film. Disney brought in Academy Award-winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) for a brainstorming session on potential projects for him to direct. This is the only film Murch has and ever will likely direct, but it is a cult classic like few others.

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Movie Review – To Live and Die in L.A.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Written by William Friedkin & Gerald Petievich
Directed by William Friedkin

Director William Friedkin made his name in the 1970s with films like The French Connection and the phenomenal success of The Exorcist. Then his following pictures didn’t quite click with audiences, and he slid into less big-budget work. That’s where Friedkin works best, though, and in 1985 he gave us a movie that might out Eighties De Palma’s Scarface. To Live and Die in L.A. is a movie dripping with neon fluorescents, cocaine, and just all-around sleaze. The soundtrack was by pop group Wang Chung and the visuals are full of non sequitur 80s pop art images.

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Movie Review – The Grifters

The Grifters (1990)
Written by Donald E. Westlake
Directed by Stephen Frears

The Grifters by Jim Thompson was published in 1963, and while the film adaptation takes place in contemporary 1990s Los Angeles, director Stephen Frears chooses to treat some aspects as anachronistic. The story features a character archetype that seems to fascinate moviegoers indefinitely, the conman or, in this case, the conman and the conwomen in his life. We love to see how duplicitous tricksters trick each other, often leading to tragic outcomes, where even the “winner” feels broken and lost because they’ve played their grift on someone important in their lives.

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TV Review – The Outsider

The Outsider (HBO)
Written by Richard Price
Directed by Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinović, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, and Charlotte Brändström

HBO’s The Outsider does not ease the viewer into its story. It explodes in the first ten minutes with the inciting crime, the brutal murder of an 11-year-old boy. The audience doesn’t see the act, but we are with the local man walking his dog, who comes across the crime scene. In a quick succession of camera shots, we see the mutilated remains that look like an animal savaged the poor child. Thus begins the first two hours of this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. I have to say, these opening two parts are amazing and had me riveted to the screen. Major props to Jason Bateman on directing and bringing such a simmering, tense atmosphere to the project.

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Movie Review – Reversal of Fortune

Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Written by Nicholas Kazan
Directed by Barbet Schroeder

I have faint memories of the names of Klaus & Sunny von Bulow in the late 1980s/early 1990s likely from episodes of A Current Affair or Inside Edition. I was a child, so I didn’t really know who these people were or what the reporters were talking about. As time has passed, it seems the von Bulows are becoming a forgotten piece of pop culture, fading from the collective memory as our 24-hour news cycle floods us with new information. So who are these people that they would devote a whole movie about them based on a book by Claus’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz?

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