“Inconceivable!” the Sicilian cried.
The Spaniard whirled on him. “Stop saying that word. It was inconceivable that anyone could follow us, but when we looked behind, there was the man in black. It was inconceivable that anyone could sail as fast as we could sail, and yet he gained on us. Now this too is inconceivable, but look – look -‘ and the Spaniard pointed down through the night. “See how he rises.” (p 105)
Two notes: The first is that Goldman definitely improved on the line for the film. Second, I literally opened the book at random and went with the first scene I saw for this picture and caption.

My Top 10

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. The Dead
  3. Manon of the Spring
  4. Jean de Florette
  5. Roxanne
  6. Full Metal Jacket
  7. The Untouchables
  8. Empire of the Sun
  9. My Life as a Dog
  10. Prick up your ears

note:  This is a much stronger Top 5 and 10 than the year before.  Little Shop of Horrors, my #5 in 1986 would probably be the #9 or 10 here.  There is also a much longer list outside my Top 10 and only one of those films (The Last Emperor) is reviewed because of awards consideration.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Last Emperor  (184 pts)
  2. Roxanne  (80 pts)
  3. Jean de Florette  (80 pts)
  4. Fatal Attraction  (80 pts)
  5. Full Metal Jacket  (80 pts)

note:  With only one Globe nominee (see below) and with the BAFTAs going with an entire slate that wasn’t nominated by the Oscars or WGA, we have four films tied for the #2 spot.  This is the only aside from 1976 after 1960 to have a #2 with so few points.  However, 40 points isn’t enough to earn a Consensus nom because of a WGA oddity.  Roxanne becomes the only WGA winner post-1983 (when the WGA reduced to two categories) not to earn an Oscar nom.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium):

  • The Last Emperor
  • The Dead
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • My Life as a Dog

WGA:

  • Roxanne
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • The Princess Bride
  • The Untouchables

WGA (Original):

  • The Last Emperor

note:  Yes, it was nominated as an Original (losing to Moonstruck) and honestly, given how little of the film comes from the source (which wasn’t even credited), it’s not a bad choice by the WGA.

Golden Globe:

  • The Last Emperor

Nominees that are Original:  Broadcast News, House of Games, Hope and Glory, Moonstruck

BAFTA:

  • Jean de Florette
  • 84 Charing Cross Road
  • Prick up your ears
  • Empire of the Sun  (1988)

note:  The other 1987 nominee, Little Dorrit, was eligible in 1988.

My Top 10

The Princess Bride

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, of course.  That’s not just because it’s my #1 film of 1987 and indeed one of the best films ever made in so many ways but also because the novel itself is brilliant and ranked in my Top 100 (see below).  Basically, this film, like The Wizard of Oz, is one of the greatest in a larger number of genres with the main difference being that this is a Romance and Wizard of Oz is a Musical (and they are both not the other).  It has one of the funniest scripts ever written, a brilliant ensemble cast, great romance, humor, action and everything you could ever want in a film.  And then, of course, it gives you the whole cast with visual images, the way every film should.

The Source:

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the ‘good parts’ version abridged by William Goldman  (1973)

This book ranks at #73 in my Top 100 of all-time.  It is a brilliant tale of romance and adventure but it is also a brilliant post-modern look at such books and why we like them and how we react to them.

The Adaptation:

Goldman does a brilliant job of adapting his own novel.  He had built in the meta parts of the novel with him reacting to his father reading him the book when he was sick and so he simply placed that in the hands of the grandson and the grandfather with many of the exact same interjections.  Much of the book ends up perfect on the screen.  There are changes, of course, like the dropping of the whole Zoo of Death as well as small, more subtle changes.  Some lines get moved (Inigo tells the Man in Black his story in the film to get us that necessary narrative and it’s Fezzick’s mother who says “Life is pain.  Anyone who says different is selling something.” while cough drops get changed to an MLT).  But the heart and soul of the book are right there on the screen in almost every line.

The Credits:

Directed by Rob Reiner.  Screenplay by William Goldman.  Based upon his book.
note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

The Dead

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film when I wrote about Dubliners (see below).  I could, at one point, have reviewed it as a Top 5 film for the year but it currently sits just outside the Top 5.  This is an interesting year because there’s, for me, a clear winner (The Princess Bride) and then three films grouped together as high **** (Hope and Glory, Broadcast News, Au Revoir Les Enfants).  After that, there is a considerable number of solid **** films, many of them are listed here and it’s hard to really pick one over the others though lately, it has been Empire of the Sun.  This is a great film, the final film of one of film’s greatest directors.  It is a very Irish film which makes sense because while Huston wasn’t from Ireland, he did have some Irish ancestors and he took to the country early on and eventually became a citizen.  He died before the film was released and he directed it from a chair hooked up to an oxygen tank, but was working right up until the end.

The Source:

The Dead” by James Joyce  (1914)

Though not published until 1914 because it took Joyce a long time to get the book published, the story was written in 1907.  It is the final story in the greatest story collection ever written and I consider it the finest short story ever written, one of the perfect works of literature.  I explain more about that in my piece on the book when I covered it as a great read.  If you have never read Dubliners you need to read it now.

The Adaptation:

A very faithful adaptation that brings to life everything that was in the story.  It does have one added character, the one who recites the Irish poem (which also wasn’t in the story).  Other than that, almost everything in the story is in the film and everything from the film was in the original story.  Proof that great literature can be a great film.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  Based on the short story “The Dead” from the collection “Dubliners” by James Joyce.  Written by Tony Huston.

Manon de Sources: Jean de Florette 2ème partie

The Film:

(This works better if you read the Jean de Florette stuff first – I wrote them based on the order of the films, not the order they would go in this post.)

As mentioned below, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are both great films by themselves, but for the full measure, it is necessary to watch them in conjunction with each other.  Then you feel the full weight of the tragedy (which is part of the reason why this version is so much better than the original 1952 version written and directed by Pagnol himself – but part of the reason as well is that this film is better made on almost every level except possibly the writing – the acting, the directing, cinematography, art direction, costume design, score – all of them are far superior in this version).

In the first film, we focused on Jean and his optimism while Ugolin’s tragedy was not to speak of what he knew, to allow his need to succeed to overcome the friendship that he felt.  Here it becomes even harder because, 10 years after the events of the first film, Jean’s daughter has grown into an exquisite beauty (played by Emmanuelle Beart in her first big film role and she is perfectly cast) and he falls in love with her.  Knowing that he bears considerable responsibility for her father’s death (without knowing that she already knows that), he longs for her at the same time that he wants to absolve himself of his guilt.

His uncle has no such compunctions.  For him, this was a question of business.  They needed the spring for their carnation business to work and so they did what they had to do in order to allow that to succeed.  But events will unfold and he will see the true cost of his greed.  It is at the close of the film that Yves Montand, so great through his whole career, really finds his true measure as we see the events of time unfolding over his face and he realizes what he has done and what is has cost him.

American film is full of sequels – we so often get stories that feel they need more to them.  But we rarely get a story like this, in which the entire story is allowed to unfold properly, over the course of time (the new version of It is a rare example of this in American film) – not a sequel, but the rest of the story.  Like I said, the two films belong together, because then we feel the full weight.

The Source:

L’Eau des collines: Jean de Florette suivi de Manon des sources  (1962)

Of course, I’ve really already addressed this down below.  This is the second half of the book (or second book depending on how it is published), covering the story when it picks up years later.  Like the first book, it is filled with more details about the town that really adds to the experience, which is one reason why it’s worth reading even if you have seen the films multiple times.

The Adaptation:

Like the first film, almost everything we see and hear in the film is straight from the book though the book does include additional details that make it a rich experience on its own.

The Credits:

un film de Claude Berri.  d’après l’œuvre de Marcel Pagnol de l’Académie Française.  adaptation: Claude Berri, Gerard Brach.

Jean de Florette

The Film:

We sow the seeds of tragedy ourselves.  For classical tragedy, there need be a tragic flaw.  This story and its sequel (or, companion piece, as the books were written and are generally published together and the films were made together) have multiple characters who are defined by their tragic flaws and it is what brings about their downfalls.  What’s more, as will be shown by the end, they are tragedies that need not ever have happened.  A tragic flaw that brings about our downfall is one thing, but the tragedy of chance is something quite different.

A young man returns home to southern France (not far outside of Marseillaise) after serving in the army and looks for some sort of direction in his life.  His uncle tends to his large house as possibly the richest man in town but the young man, Ugolin, has his own ideas centered around planting carnations, which he learned how to do from a friend in the army.  They hope to use a spring near his house that is owned by an ornery old man but their encounter with him leads to the man’s death and while they hope to buy the land, the dead man’s nephew, a hunchback with a young daughter moves in instead.

This is Jean de Florette, the son of Florette, a noted beauty from the town who moved to a neighboring rival town and was rarely seen again (and who had also died).  Jean has his own tragic flaw, that of optimism, always believing that things are going to work out.  With no water (having seen their plans thwarted, the men have blocked the spring and not told Jean of its presence) and the burning heat of Southern France, he plows on, convinced he can make his dream of living on the land work.  That optimism will see him through to the moment where everything comes crashing apart.

This film, exquisitely adapted from the wonderful source novels, beautifully photographed and with an exquisite score, still comes down to the magnificent acting from the three main principals.  Gerard Depardieu plays Jean and fills him with eternal optimism, even as he is trudging along in the hot sun, trying to carry as much water as will keep his dreams alive.  Yves Montand, near the end of his career, plays the older man, determined to help his family fortunes stay strong no matter what the cost.  Then there is Daniel Auteuil, the youngest of the three (he was 35 when they were filmed).  There might be no greater actor in French history for conveying sorrow and regret and his eyes are constantly filled with both emotions as he balances his newfound friendship with this desperate hunchback who is trying to live his dream and his own dreams wasting away as he waits for the hunchback to fail so he can bring the spring back to life.

This is a beautiful and amazing film, and yet, even though it has an ending, one that balances both hope and tragedy, it is only one part of the story and the two films really should always be watched in conjunction, so that one may flow into the other and you feel the full scope of the story.

The Source:

L’Eau des collines: Jean de Florette suivi de Manon des sources  (1962)

These novels, like the films, are viewed as two different things, but really are just one story.

Marcel Pagnol was one of France’s greatest 20th Century writers but he doesn’t have the reputation of a Camus or a Sartre partially because of the formats in which he published.  He was a playwright, but then started turning to film (his Marius trilogy was originally two plays and then the third film was an original screenplay) and he originally wrote the story of Manon of the Spring as an original screenplay which he directed in 1952 (another reason why his writing doesn’t have the reputation it deserves is that Pagnol was not a great director).  Then, in 1962 (at least according to the copyright in my copy of the book though other places say 1963), Pagnol published a two volume set that expanded upon the story, giving the back story of his original screenplay and expanding upon the town where it is set (based on the town that he was raised near Marseillaise).

This is a fantastic novel (published as one, The Water of the Hills), though the 1988 publication doesn’t use that title on the cover, only the titles of the two individual volumes which are also the titles of the films (at least mine doesn’t but the copy I found on the right does list it as one, which is the only difference in the cover from my copy), the tragic story of two men and their town and what befalls them over the course of a decade (though the seeds of it had been planted decades before).  While the films are brilliant, it is worth it to read the books (which is why I still have my copy) because it gives you more in-depth detail on the town and its history and how things come to the point that they do in the films.

The Adaptation:

It is a first-rate adaptation of the novel.  Almost everything we see in the film is straight from the novel (except for Ugolin returning home which happens before the book opens) though there is more detail about the town and the history of the characters (especially Jean’s uncle) that there is no good way to fit into the film.

The Credits:

un film de Claude Berri.  d’après l’œuvre de Marcel Pagnol de l’Académie Française.  adaptation de Claude Berri et Gerard Brach.

Roxanne

The Film:

I remember seeing Roxanne in the theater with my parents, my little sister and my friend Jay (Alison was mad because my parents wouldn’t buy us anything and Jay and I had snuck in sodas).  I really liked the film, especially, of course, the brilliant 20 insults when Steve Martin’s Charlie Bales, the local fire chief, has to come up with 20 insults for his gigantic schnoz better than “hey, big nose!” or how he takes out a couple of bullies with a tennis racket.  Even though the opening credits flat out said that it was based on a play, I was only 12 and I didn’t pay attention to such things.  In fact, I wouldn’t really pay attention to that fact until my senior year of high school when I was doing my summer reading the day before school started (yes, I read five books for AP English the day before school started – Cyrano de Bergerac, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye and something else I have forgotten except that it was a novel and it was short) and I realized that the play I was reading was totally the basis for Roxanne.

Poor C.D. Bales (get the name?) runs the worst fire department on the planet.  He has to say things to his crew like “Not the gasoline!” or “take the truck”.  He watches his department pathetically try to get a cat down from a tree while he just opens a can of food and on the return trip, the department manages to park the truck in the station with the ladder still up, knocking out a window.  He’s a bit of a tough guy, as someone with a noticeable trait ripe for mocking often has to be, but sometimes he defends himself with humor (like the brilliant 20 insults, my favorite of which has always been “Breathe and the world breathes with you.  Sneeze and it’s goodbye Seattle.”) and sometimes with force (the opening scene is hilarious).  But at heart he’s a romantic, though with great insecurity that no woman would ever love him because of the nose.  So when Roxanne moves to town (she needs the darkness of the hills to spot a new comet), he falls for her but she, in spite of really liking Charlie, is be-smitten with hunky new firefighter Chris who is good at his job but incapable of even talking to a woman.  So Charlie becomes the go-between, wooing Roxanne with his own words but in Chris’ name.

Steve Martin has written a dozen films and he’s acted in more than forty.  This is the best film he’s written and is probably his best comedic performance (I give a slight nod to his dramatic performance in Grand Canyon).  He had always loved the story and he did a magnificent job of moving it the present day, finding an idyllic smalltown in British Columbia to film it in, giving himself the plum role, not because it’s the romantic lead, but because the character is smart and funny and you want him to be successful.  That’s perhaps why he decided on the different ending (see below), because this is the ending that works for this film.  It’s not a great film, namely because no one else on screen can even come close to matching Martin (there are some good character actors who get small roles like Michael J. Pollard and Fred Willard).  Darryl Hannah is there for the eye candy (doubly ironic for me, since in terms of looks, I much prefer Shandra Beri as the cocktail waitress and because the whole point is that the looks shouldn’t matter) but isn’t able to do that much with the role other than be desirable (although they at least go to pains to make certain that she is smart and that the character is desirable beyond her looks).  But it’s a smart and funny film and in a year where Fatal Attraction was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay somehow this film wasn’t which shows that the Academy sometimes is just a bunch of idiots.

The Source:

Cyrano de Bergerac: A Heroic Comedy in Five Acts by Edmond Rostand  (1897)

It’s interesting that this should be listed as a comedy when by the old definition (wedding at the end), it doesn’t fit.  Indeed, Cyrano doesn’t even actually get the girl and ends up lying in her arms, dying at the end (sorry if I ruined the ending of a 122 year old play for you but you should read more).  It’s a brilliant verse play that tells the story of Cyrano, he of the big nose and the way he tries to woe Roxane through Christian, the handsome young cadet he has been placed in charge of.

Reading this play was an eye-opener into the way that translators and editors work.  I had a partner in my summer reading and one of us had a copy where the last line was “my white plume”, which, in fact, is literally what a panache is.  However, since this play is famous for introducing the word “panache” into the English language in its 1898 translation (G. B. Shaw would use it just five years later), it’s incredibly stupid to go with the literal translation for that line and not to use “my panache” as the final line.  Of course, if you don’t know what’s going on because you haven’t read the play or seen the 1990 film version (sadly the 1950 English language film uses “my white plume”) then that’s your loss.  And your high school English teacher.

The Adaptation:

While many of the scenes come straight from the play (most notably the insults and hiding below Roxanne’s balcony while Charlie tells Chris what to say), almost no dialogue does, even from the translation.  Even in the insults, only one of them (the one about giving the birds a place to perch) is re-used which is actually to Martin’s credit that he came up with all those brilliant insults for his script.

The Credits:

directed by Fred Schepisi.  from the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand.  screenplay by Steve Martin.

Full Metal Jacket

The Film:

Is there any film about Vietnam that is less remembered for the part of the film that takes place in Vietnam?  Platoon entirely takes place in Vietnam as does almost all of Apocalypse Now, of course, but films like Born on the Fourth of July and The Deer Hunter, while having only parts of the film set during the war are clearly remembered for the parts of the film that take place in Vietnam.  It’s certainly possible that someone reading this review will object and will say that they remember best the parts of this film that take place in Vietnam, that show the utter brutality of the war.  But I suspect that what people really remember about this film is the first 45 minutes of the film, the time on Parris Island that perhaps gives the mindset of the United States Marine Corps.  The Marines certainly have a place in the world, especially in combat but the mindset that is required to be in such a group is one that is so foreign to me that every part of my brain ends up pushing the first 45 minutes of the film away and it took me several tries before I ever saw this movie in its entirety.

After those first 45 minutes, after we watch the drill sergeant played so very well by Lee Ermey that when he died (just a week before I wrote this review though who knows when the hell it will run) that every obituary about it him mentioned it in the headline, beat the Marine Corps into his men, after we watch Vincent D’Onofrio prove just how deranged he was with just one look towards Matthew Modine while sitting on the toilet, after the brutality of everyone in a platoon beating a man with soap in a towel because that’s what it takes apparently to get the low man in the squad to perform at the level necessary, who even cares about Vietnam?  If this is what it takes just to serve in Vietnam than what the hell will be the shit-show once you get there?

But it doesn’t end there.  We get to Vietnam and we are reminded that this of the kind of war where a man will wear a helmet that says born to kill but will also wear a peace button.  Because it is a war of uncertainty in which sometimes we must kill our friends to ease their pain but given that the process of getting there means sometimes we kill ourselves to ease our pain, then of course that’s the end result.

One interesting thing to note which may be entirely a coincidence.  This is one of the darkest films about the Vietnam War, one in which soldiers slaughter a village and then finishes with them singing the Mickey Mouse Club song.  Over the end credits is the Rolling Stones’ song “Paint It Black”.  Less than three months after this film was released, a television show would debut that, while it didn’t show the characters as heroes, certainly showed a much less dark side of the people who fought in Vietnam called Tour of Duty.  It used “Paint it Black” as its theme song, the first time I ever remember hearing the song.

The Source:

The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford  (1979)

A fascinating but very dark (with some very dark humor) novel about Vietnam.  It works almost more as a series of short stories (the book is broken up into short sections and it takes a while after starting the second part to be certain that the narrator is still the same person as in the first part).  As most people would probably come to it now after seeing the film, I suspect a lot of the power and darkness would be taken away given the fidelity of the film to the source (see below).  Well-written but definitely not for the light-hearted.

The Adaptation:

Given Kubrick and the way he adapts (and gets crap for it from the original authors though as far I know Thackeray never complained), I was expecting something to be very different from the original novel.  But, reading the novel, right from the start, I was stunned at how closely the film followed the original novel.  There are definitely changes, mostly in the last 2/3 of the film (the first 1/3 of the film is almost exactly as in the book except for a name change to the gunnery sergeant) but the biggest changes are mostly just omissions from the original book.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by Stanley Kubrick.  Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford.  Based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford.
note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

The Untouchables

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as part of my RCM series, reviewing films that I saw a lot before I started thinking seriously about film.  Although I was not allowed to see the film in the theater (my mother deemed it too violent – the same person who would, two years later, have me watch Blue Velvet with her).  As mentioned in that review, I have gone back and forth over the years between considering this a high ***.5 film and a low **** film (it was one of the first films I ever ranked at ***** back when I still used a five star system).  These days, I have it back at ****, a great film lead by first-rate direction and an absolutely magnificent score that is brilliant from the first note straight through to the last.

The Source:

The Untouchables by Eliot Ness with Oscar Fraley  (1957)

Published just after Ness died (he had just approved the final galleys according to the Epilogue) this is the story of how Ness and his group of ten loyal men surrounding him were eventually able to take down Capone.  It is an interesting book but even with Fraley’s help it still doesn’t really stand out like a good historical writer or journalist might have made it.  Still, just the core idea was interesting enough that within two years the television show was on the air.

The Untouchables  (cr. 1959)

The show was a hit drama of course, staying on the air for 118 episodes over the course of four years and making a mark on the cultural landscape.  It won Robert Stack an Emmy and helped make him a television star (he was already an Oscar nominated film actor).  It’s good for the time, though such a show is not really my thing.

The Adaptation:

Only the basic concept is used in the film, the idea that Ness worked at getting Capone, surrounded himself with men who could not be bribed (thus were “untouchable”) and were eventually able to send Capone to jail on income tax evasion.  But almost nothing else is accurate (the men in the film, reduced from ten to three, aren’t any particular men in real life other than that one of them was killed, Nitti lived for years afterwards and ran Capone’s mob while he was in prison, Ness wasn’t yet married at the time of these actions, let alone having children).

Even the television show doesn’t really provide too much of a blueprint for the film.  The film is much more violent (obviously) and only the original two hour episode that premiered on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse then became the two-part pilot actually dealt with Capone (they had him in prison by the end of that so they had go with other villains for the rest of the series)

The Credits:

Directed by Brian De Palma.  Written by David Mamet.  Suggested by the television series “The Untouchables” and based upon the works written by Oscar Fraley with Eliot Ness and with Paul Robsky.
note:  The source is only in the end credits.

Empire of the Sun

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film because it is one of the five best films of 1987 and has been acknowledged as such by many (including the Globes and the NBR and many who comment on this site) even though the Academy passed it over in the biggest three Oscar categories.  The writing gets overlooked a bit because some of the other films in the year have writing as their strongest component while here it is overshadowed by the brilliant technical work, the direction and the lead performance from Christian Bale.  But it is well-written, keeping us riveted in poor Jamie’s story and never losing sight of him in all the misery of war, though obviously not well-written enough in my opinion to merit earning a Nighthawk nomination.  Then again, this is a tough year in almost all categories and Adapted Screenplay is no exception.

The Source:

Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard  (1984)

This is a novel but like Das Boot, it’s also a record of one man’s experience during the war.  Except, instead of being a sailor on a U-boat, Ballard was an English boy living in Shanghai who spent the war in a camp.  It’s the story of young Jim who is separated from his parents in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese take over Shanghai, spends some time wandering the city and hiding in his old house and eventually ends up in a camp.  It’s a good novel that’s a good reflection of what life was going on for British citizens who were overseas when the war began and how they lived out their time during the war, struggling to survive.  Apparently having that kind of childhood must have messed up Ballard at least a bit because he would go on to write such messed up novels as Crash and High-Rise.

The Adaptation:

“When it got to the camp, the book is about several relationships between Jim and other people, not all equally important, but you can’t deal fully with all of them.  Steven was most interested in Jim’s relationship with Basie.”  (screenwriter Tom Stoppard quoted in Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride, p 395)

In fact, while the first part of the film is fairly faithful in its adaptation (the most memorable scene being perhaps the encounter with the soldiers after the party and the slap from the woman who worked in his house – both of which are very faithfully rendered in the film) once things get to the camp, aside from tightening the film into the main relationship between Jim and Basie, it also changes a lot, especially dropping most of the later chapters (after Jim leaves the camp) and makes the moment where he finds his mother again the key moment upon which to end (rather rightfully so – to me, the book meanders a bit after Jim leaves the camp).  The key moment in the second half – when Jim manages to sneak through the mud and earn his place in the tent – is not in the original book.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay by Tom Stoppard.  Based on the novel by J. G. Ballard.
note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

Mitt Liv Som Hund

The Film:

This film definitely warms hearts.  When it was first released, the Boston Globe compared it to Fellini’s Amarcord (with good reason in terms of content though I think it’s not at the same level of film-making), Jack Nicholson declared it was his favorite film of the year (according to Inside Oscar) and Kurt Vonnegut has said it is one of his favorite films of all-time.  Released in the States by a small distributor (this is the only film that distributor ever released to make more than $3 million) it managed to earn Best Director (knocking out James L. Brooks who had won the award four years before or Spielberg) and Adapted Screenplay (knocking out either The Princess Bride or Roxanne) nominations in crowded fields.  For all that, while it’s a nice heart-warming film about a 12 year old boy who is sent away to live with relatives while his mother is dying, it’s just that.

Poor little Ingemar doesn’t really realize what is going on.  He knows he’s being shipped off and he’s able to cope with it, partially because of Saga, the local tomboy he becomes friends with, with both of them unable to quite express their emotions for each other because they’re just twelve.  But he doesn’t really understand what is going on with his mother.  To him, this is partially a change but also partially a vacation from the life he has been living.

My Life as a Dog is a charming film, well directed and well-written.  In a year like 1987, though, when the adapted scripts include all of the films that I have ranked above it, it doesn’t really belong among the Oscar nominees.  I think it’s one of those films that remind people of when they were young, of when things felt different and you didn’t have to worry so much about the world and what was going to happen, even if horrible things were happening in your life (like your mother dying).  So I think people took to the film and voted for it, less because of how good it was (though it is quite good – a high ***.5) and more because of what it spoke to them about.

This film actually holds a unique place in Oscar history.  It is the only time in history that a foreign director earned an Oscar nomination for Best Director before coming to Hollywood and then would go on to earn another Oscar nomination after coming to Hollywood.  Lasse Hallström isn’t a great director but that’s quite notable.

The Source:

Mitt Liv Som Hund by Reidar Jönsson  (1983)

I’m certain it must have been the success of the film that earned the book a translation into English since the book was originally published in Sweden in 1983, the film was made in 1985 and released in the States in 1987 and the translation wasn’t published until 1989.  It’s a decent novel, a little story about a 12 year old boy and how his mother is dying while he is growing up and he gets sent off because of it.  It doesn’t necessarily seem to be autobiographical (the author himself would have been 14 and 15 in the years that the book takes place) which is nice because it does mean he actually created this from his imagination rather than his memory.  Still, it’s just a short (just over 200 pages) decent little book and there are thousands just like it.

The Adaptation:

Most of what is in the film comes straight from the book though some events are moved around a little, most notably the boxing match that they listen to in both the novel and the film but takes place much earlier in the novel while it helps provide a conclusion for the film.

The Credits:

regi: Lasse Hallström.  fritt efter Reidar Jönssons roman.  manus: Lasse Hallström, Reidar Jönsson, Brasse Brännström, Per Berglund.
note:  The screenplay credit is not in the opening credits.

Prick up your ears

The Film:

Writers seem to be a favorite of filmmakers.  I’ve got 31 films listed as Biopic-Writer for the sub-genre (which actually doesn’t include this film as the film doesn’t cover the whole life but just a small part) and only one of them is above *** and that film, My Left Foot, is more about how the writer overcame his circumstances than about him as a writer.  Writing is an inherently un-cinematic act so the films have to focus more on the lives of the writers than their writing.  So take Prick up your ears (the film’s title is stylized that way on-screen).  It is the story of Joe Orton, a very fashionable playwright in England in the middle 60’s whose career was on a meteoric rise when suddenly it was over.  How it ended, we discover early on in the film (he was murdered by his roommate / lover in a rather dramatic and gruesome crime) and why it ended is really the subject of the film as a whole rather than his ability as a writer.  I watched the film, obviously not for the first time, and was struck that the performances were captivating and their lives were thoroughly disturbing but there was nothing about the film that made me want to understand Joe Orton as a writer other than just as a really strong early performance from Gary Oldman that had helped establish him as a great young actor before several performances in the next decade would help distinguish him as a ham as well.  But for more on that part, see the next section.

What could have brought these two men together?  My college roommate Jamie used to argue for an inherent evenness in attractiveness in relationships; by his argument if one of the couple was much better looking than the other, they held power in the relationship and it kept it unbalanced and made it unsuccessful.  Extrapolating from that, you could use other characteristic in place of looks, like intelligence.  I knew a couple that made no sense to me until I realized that the female liked that she was much smarter than the male and could boss him around.  That couple is now divorced and he’s a nationally known domestic abuser and she’s a congresswoman.  In this relationship, one that was illegal at the time (male homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized in the U.K. until the late 60’s, around the time Orton died), we start with one person much better looking and the other one being older and more articulate and farther ahead as a writer.  That can bring balance, with each one having an advantage over the other.  But as time went on, the better looking one also became the successful writer while the other one toiled away for nothing and now all the power in the relationship was on one side and tension built to the point where the other one finally just bludgeoned the pretty one to death one night.

We can see the tension rising through the film in Alfred Molina’s performance (another good early performance and one that really established Molina as a very intense actor) just as we can see Orton’s brazen sexuality and charm in Oldman’s performance.  Through it all, we also have a very good performance from Vanessa Redgrave as Orton’s agent who also kind of provides a framing device for the film as she provides Orton’s diaries to his eventual biographer, a kind of odd way to go about the script, but it allows for reflection on Orton’s life after the fact and for more of Redgrave’s performance and given that her caustic, sarcastic performance is great it improves the film.  At the service after their deaths, when Orton’s sister is mixing the ashes and worried she isn’t doing it right, Redgrave comments “it’s only a gesture, not a recipe.” (This line is not in the book though at least one book claims it was said and at least one other one claims it wasn’t).

This is a good film but doesn’t really give you the measure of a writer’s life as a writer, just as a man who was interested in being outlandish and talented and charming.  It’s well-written and very well acted and that is the real attraction.

The Source:

Prick Up Your Ears: Tbe Biography of Joe Orton by John Lahr  (1978)

It’s hard to know what to think of this book.  Part of the issue is that I have no measure of Joe Orton as a playwright.  I’ve never heard of him outside of this film.  If you don’t live near New York or London, it’s hard to keep up with current theatre unless the plays are made into films or unless you study them.  Having not seen the two film versions made from Orton plays and not having studied him, I just don’t know him as a playwright and I think it’s hard to get too interested in the biography of a writer that you have never met, no matter how well written it is.  John Lahr, who was primarily known at this point for being the son of Bert Lahr and having written a biography of his father (though later he would become the long-standing drama critic for The New Yorker), does a good job, having had access to Orton’s journals, of presenting the full measure of the man as a man and a writer.  I just couldn’t get too interested in it without having ever experienced him as a writer.  (okay, side note, I have now, having read some of his plays since writing this, but I still didn’t see in him what Lahr did so maybe I just missed seeing it on stage)

The Adaptation:

The biography is much more well-rounded on Orton as an artist.  It gives you much more insight to what he was like as a writer and his place in British dramatic history.  Because, as I said above, writing is an inherently un-cinematic act, the film focuses much more on Orton’s life and how his relationship with Halliwell would lead to the point where both their lives would end and you can understand why.

The Credits:

Director: Stephen Frears,  Based on the biography by John Lahr.  Screenplay: Alan Bennett.

Consensus Winner

The Last Emperor

The Film:

I find it interesting that this film received a four disc Criterion release back in 2008 (which is the DVD I got from the library to watch for this project).  The Last Emperor won the Oscar (it swept all nine of its nominations) but wasn’t the Consensus winner for Best Picture (that was Hope and Glory), was the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in a decade and the second lowest since 1968 and there wouldn’t be a lower one for over 20 years.  So who is willing to actually spend the money for the four disc Criterion set?  Not that it’s not a great film (mid ****) and not that it doesn’t look amazing (it deserved several of the technical wins and is close to the top of my list in others) but is it really a movie that people want to return to time and again?  Its visionary look doesn’t overcome some storytelling problems and this was, by far, the Oscar it least deserved.  Either way, I suppose that’s what libraries can be for and if you are going to watch it, you’ll have a gorgeously restored version to go with.

The Source:

Wo ti ch’ien pan sheng by P’u-i  (1964)

This book, which has a translation title of From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (I grabbed the original title and author name from the copyright page) has a long history.  It was published in a “deliberately restricted edition” in Chinese in 1964, was translated not long after and there have been different published versions because there were apparently numerous draft versions as is explained in the 1987 introduction that was published in coordination with the release of the film.  It’s an interesting historical document but it doesn’t read very well and it’s not that well-written because he was a child emperor, after all, and not a writer.  It drags quite a bit and it’s hard to get through.  Useful for students of history but if you just want to get the story, you’re much better off just watching the film.

The Adaptation:

Though the book does have some dialogue, it doesn’t have much and the vast majority of what we get in the film comes from the screenwriters and not the book.  The book gives us more of the history and less of the person.  It’s reasonable that they didn’t bother to credit the book and that the WGA considered it an original screenplay.

The Credits:

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.  Initial Screenplay Collaboration: Enzo Ungari.  Screenplay by Mark Peploe with Bernardo Bertolucci.
note:  There is no credited source in the film which is perhaps why the WGA nominated it in the Original Screenplay category.

Consensus Nominee

Fatal Attraction

The Film:

I’m going to repeat the first paragraph of my own review, written back in 2011: “Fatal Attraction is an embarrassment to the actors involved.  It is a bad film, very badly written, badly directed, badly edited with a moronic script, unforgivable scenes and one of the most idiotic endings ever thrown on in response to an early screening.  That Close and Archer were able to be nominated for their performances (and possibly Douglas even might have been had he not already been on the way to the Oscar for Wall Street) is a testament to how well they are able to overcome this idiotic film.  That the film, the direction, the editing and worst of all, the script, were nominated shows that several branches of the Academy clearly have lapses from time to time.  Either that or, they are the type of people who either hate the idea of a woman taking power in a situation or, more likely, the type of people who have had affairs that have turned out badly (as most affairs are wont to do) and love the idea of just being able to end it in such a final way without paying any real cost.”  I can not fathom how anyone could think this is a better film than Empire of the Sun, The Dead, The Princess Bride, Full Metal Jacket, My Life as a Dog or another of numerous other films that were nominated for major Oscars in 1987 but not for Best Picture or that the fucking writers thought it was more deserving of a nomination for Adapted Screenplay than The Princess Bride or Roxanne.

The Source:

Diversion, written and directed by James Dearden  (1980)

This is a much more satisfying film than the remake.  It’s a short film (the IMDb says 50 minutes but the version I found online ran 39 minutes) that was apparently a theatrical feature.  It’s the story of a man who decides to philander a bit while his wife and child are in the country so he calls up the sexy young woman he met at a party (and she is sexy – this is Cheri Lunghi the year before she played Guinevere in Excalibur) but when he sleeps with her a few times he then wants to end it because his wife is coming back to town.  She slits her wrists (and survives) and in the final shot, we see the phone ringing and know that she is about to tell his wife what happened.  A decent little film, not great acting, but a realistic little drama.

The Adaptation:

Things are the same, yet different.  In the original, the male character is much less sympathetic.  Instead of basically being stalked and then yielding into an affair that he tries to quickly drop only to discover that he’s entangled with a psycho, here he is a man whose wife heads to the country and so he decides to call up this good looking woman he met at a party and go have a fling with her.  Then she feels betrayed and tries to kill herself when he’s saying he needs to leave, but still sleeps with her again, still is kissing her in the kitchen.  He’s much more of an asshole who has damaged this woman than a man caught in circumstances beyond his ability to cope with.  It also drops all of the clearly psychotic behavior.  Basically, if Archer had returned to the city and found out about the affair and the film had ended then, it would have been more similar.  All of the insane things the Close character does after Douglas breaks off the affair aren’t in the original; they are just shitty additions that make Fatal Attraction such a stupid film.  One other thing of note which I would say is just me but is all over the comments page on the YouTube video for the original film.  Glenn Close is a great actress, but she isn’t exactly, to my mind, sexy (aside from being blonde, I don’t like frizzy hair, though I know there were people who thought she was very sexy).  But Cherie Lunghi, though not anywhere in the same universe as Close as an actress, is really sexy.  Add in the lack of being a completely psycho and she makes for a much more appealing affair.

The Credits:

Directed by Adrian Lyne.  Screenplay by James Dearden, Based on his Original Screenplay.

BAFTA Nominee

84 Charing Cross Road

The Film:

In a collection of letters, the letters themselves can show the depth of a friendship and the way that people develop over time even if they never meet during that period (or, indeed, in this case, ever meet at all).  In a play, you can develop that kind of thing, with two people who speak to the audience and to each other but just not face to face.  But in a film, that can present a kind of half-movie, in which we get words and emotions but no interactions.

So we have 84 Charing Cross Road in which a woman who loves books in New York is corresponding with a bookseller in London who has the books and over the course of the years they write to each other, they express ideas to each other, they express emotions to each other.  Well, the female in New York does because she’s an American while the British male does not because he’s British.

So, time passes.  She writes more and buys more books and he writes back and sells her the books.  She is played quite well by Anne Bancroft and he is played with a quiet reserve and dignity by Anthony Hopkins.  But, unfortunately, there’s never really any life to the film.  Yes, the performances help keep the film from sinking below *** but it is mired down in the lower reach because there’s only so much you can do when these people never interact.  Perhaps if it were also a love story (which it’s not, something that was apparently never communicated to whoever created the tagline on the poster), something more could have been done.  Somehow the Brits decided the quiet reserve of it all was worth nominating for Adapted Screenplay which is why I am reviewing it.  But they are English after all and waiting around just to have nothing happen is kind of the English way after all (actually it’s hanging on in quiet desperation but let’s not haggle).

The Source:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  (1970)

This is a collection of letters between Helene Huff and the members of Marks and Co. Booksellers located at 84 Charing Cross Road in London, mostly Frank Doel.  When Doel died in late 1968 before Hanff could ever bring herself to travel to London, Hanff published the letters (with permission, she published the others as well – the final letter in the book is from Doell’s daughter granting permission).  They are a nice record of the times and of the way a love of books can bond two people.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Adapted for the Stage by James Roose-Evans  (1982)

The play at least brings things to life a bit and provide some actual dialogue that they could use for the film.  It still doesn’t seem like it would be particularly interesting to watch, though.

The Adaptation:

Because the letters are rather inert – providing some character moments but no actual action or dialogue, the filmmakers expand greatly, although a lot of that had already been done for the play (though the play restricted action to Hanff’s apartment and the bookshop while the film opens things up a bit).

The Credits:

Directed by David Jones.  Screenplay by Hugh Whitemore.  Based on the Book by Helene Hanff.  Originally Adapted for the Stage by James Roose-Evans.
note:  There is no source mentioned in the opening credits.  Those are from the end credits.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • Ironweed  –  A full review can be found here because the novel by William Kennedy is my #100 All-Time.  The film currently sits at a high *** but it seems to bounce and forth between that and a low ***.5.
  • The Good Father  –  A solid film (high ***) with a very good cast that was, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins, mostly little known at the time (Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow, Joanne Whalley, the film debut of Stephen Fry).  Based on the novel by Peter Prince and originally released in the U.K. in 1985.
  • No Way Out  –  My Under-Appreciated film of the year (and thus fully reviewed) from my Year in Film, a remake of the film The Big Clock which had been based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing but this version adds a nice Cold War twist.  Low ***.5.
  • The Assault  –  The Oscar and Globe winner for Best Foreign Film (but my #6) from 1986 is a low ***.5.  Based on the novel by Harry Mulisch.
  • The Fourth Protocol  –  High ***, a solid thriller with Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth.  Because I saw this right after I started becoming serious about film, this was one of the films that made me love Michael Caine as an actor.
  • Cry Freedom  –  A film I used to rate higher (it’s high ***) because of what it’s trying to say (and because of Denzel’s performance) than how effectively it says it.  Surprising that it did as well with awards as it did (14 total nominations) without a writing nom from anyone.  Based on the book Biko by Donald Woods.
  • The Whales of August  –  Kudos to Lindsay Anderson for giving starring roles to Bette Davis (79) and Lilian Gish (94).  Solid ***.  Based on the play by David Berry.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn  –  The one ***.5 film on this list because the writing isn’t necessarily the strength.  But funny and horrific all at once.  A simultaneous sequel / quasi-remake of the first film but much funnier than the first one.
  • The Living Daylights  –  Timothy Dalton takes over as Bond and rejuvenates the franchise.  A full review can be found here.  This film is a 75 – the highest of ***.
  • The Fringe Dwellers  –  Based on the novel by Nene Gare, Bruce Beresford’s film about a young Aboriginal girl was apparently the first film to star native Australians in all the major roles.  A second 75 film in one year is rare, let alone for both of them to be adapted, but here we are.
  • Come and See  –  Heavy Soviet film about World War II co-written by the original book’s author Ales Adamovich.  Adamovich’s book was called I Am from the Fiery Village.
  • Gardens of Stone  –  Francis Ford Coppola’s Drama about the soldiers during Vietnam who are stationed at Arlington National Cemetery.  Got very mixed reviews but I think it’s solid.  Based on the novel by Nicholas Proffitt.
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne  –  Solid Drama with Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins adapted from the novel by Brian Moore.
  • Housekeeping  –  The novel (which is solid) made Marilynne Robinson as a first-time novelist at age 37, earning her a Pulitzer Finalist placement.  She would win the Pulitzer for her second novel which wouldn’t be for another 24 years.  Bill Forsyth directed the adaptation with Christine Lahti starring.
  • My Friend Ivan Lapshin  –  We’re down to mid ***.  A 1984 Soviet Drama based on the novel One Year by Yuri German.
  • Dark Eyes  –  Marcello Mastroianni earned an Oscar nomination for this film that adapted four Chekhov stories.
  • Maurice  –  E.M. Forster’s most personal novel is solid but not to the level of his great novels and wasn’t published until after his death (because of the content not the quality).  Likewise, this film version from James Ivory is nowhere near the level of A Room with a View or Howards End but is still solid with an early role for Hugh Grant and several actors who had been in Room.
  • Hour of the Star  –  Brazilian submission for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars for 1986.  Based on the novel by Clarice Lispector.
  • Nuts  –  The most dramatic role of Barbra Streisand’s career and she didn’t even direct herself but let Martin Ritt do it instead.  Solid film (and performance) based on the play by Tom Topor.
  • If the Sun Never Returns  –  The Swiss Oscar submission based on the novel by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz.
  • The Tale of Genji  –  We’ve dropped to low *** with this Animated adaptation of what many consider the first novel ever written, at least the third film adaptation.
  • The Legend of the Suram Fortress  –  Yet 1985 Soviet film, this one based on the novel by Daniel Chonkadze.
  • The City and the Dogs  –  Another Oscar submission, this one the Peruvian one for 1985.  Drama based on the novel The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa.
  • Kangaroo  –  Based on one of D.H. Lawrence’s weaker novels and the film doesn’t have much to recommend it outside of having Judy Davis.
  • Moonzund  –  This Soviet film is actually from 1987.  It’s a War film based on a World War I novel by Valentin Pikul.
  • Devil in the Flesh  –  Before The Brown Bunny we had this film with un-simulated fellatio.  Italian Drama based on the novel by Raymond Radiguet.
  • Square Dance  –  Mixed critical reception and it made less than a quarter million dollars at the box office but somehow Rob Lowe snagged a Globe nomination for his developmentally delayed man who forms a friendship with the young girl (Winona Ryder) who moves to the big city.  Based on the novel by Alan Hines.
  • Benji the Hunted  –  Barely ***, a harmless Kids film, the latest with the “everydog”.
  • Three Men and a Baby  –  What does it say about film in 1987 that the #1 grossing film of the year starred Steve Guttenberg (“Who made Steve Guttenberg a star?  We do!”), Tom Selleck and Ted Danson.  Weak remake of the French film Three Men and a Cradle.  Well, at least it was the lowest grossing #1 post-1979 and given that the #2 and 3 films were even worse (one is below, Fatal Attraction is reviewed above), it could have been worse.  By the way, we’ve hit **.5 films.
  • Hibiscus Town  –  This Chinese Drama was their Oscar submission.  Based on the novel by Gu Hua.
  • Orphans  –  Not one of Alan J. Pakula’s best offerings.  This Drama is based on the play by Lyle Kessler.
  • Happy New Year  –  Directed by a former Oscar winner (John G. Avildsen) and an Oscar nominee itself (Makeup), it’s based on a French film (La bonne année).
  • Tough Guys Don’t Dance  –  I’d have to run through a lot of films to be certain but I suspect this is the only film nominated for Best Picture at the Indies and Worst Picture at the Razzies.  It’s kind of in-between.  Norman Mailer (whose novel wasn’t very good to begin with) decides he’s a director but he is wrong.
  • Dragnet  –  This Comedy version of the classic television show has a line that still makes me laugh (“You may find this funny mister, but I don’t hear God laughing.”  “He will once he sees your haircut.”) but it’s very uneven.  First film directed by Tom Mankiewicz, longtime screenwriter, son of Great Director Joseph, nephew of Oscar winning writer Herman and first cousin once removed of TCM host Ben.
  • Angel Heart  –  Adaptation of the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.  Directed by Alan Parker and stars De Niro and Mickey Rourke during the period where it kept looking like Rourke might break into real stardom and then didn’t.
  • Beverly Hills Cop II  –  Another Comedy I liked much more when I was younger and still has a line that makes me laugh (“Are you driving with your eyes open or are you like using the Force?”) but looking back now, pretty weak Comedy retread of the first one.  The #2 film of the year at the box office.
  • The Glass Menagerie  –  Now we’ve hit mid **.5.  I always want to like this more than it deserves because the play is a classic, it has a solid performance from Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman directed it.  But it can’t overcome its staginess.
  • The Running Man  –  I think of this as a hit but it really wasn’t more than a moderate success (just under $40 mil, #30 for the year).  Arnie wouldn’t really be a big star until Twins.  But he works well here in this adaptation of a weak Stephen King novel (published as Richard Bachman) even if he’s the opposite of King’s character in the novel.  A pretty bad novel (like all the Bachman books).
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors  –  We drop to low **.5 with this weak third outing in the franchise that kills off Heather Langenkamp’s character, the heroine of the first film.
  • Man on Fire  –  Mediocre Action film based on the novel by A.J. Quinnell with Scott Glenn in the role that Denzel will take in the remake.  I rate both movies the same (52) but this film made just over a half million dollars while the Denzel version will make almost $80 million.
  • Born in East L.A.  –  Based on the song by Cheech, which he did without Chong, this film also drops Chong by the wayside, which is for the best.  Not good but not bad either and a funny concept.  The song is amusing (a parody on Bruce’s “Born in the U.S.A.”) but overstays its welcome a little.
  • The Puppetoon Movie  –  Gumby, Pokey and the other George Pal characters from the 30’s and 40’s get their own feature film.
  • Rita, Sue and Bob Too  –  British Drama-Comedy based on two plays by Andrea Dunbar.  This must have been on the TSPDT initial list because I don’t know the actors and it doesn’t tick any other category for which I see films (awards, director, studio, major name source, actual interest).
  • The Brave Little Toaster  –  Mediocre Animated film based on the novel by Thomas M. Disch.
  • The Believers  –  Now we’re at **.  I actually watched this film originally in Spanish class in high school which seems really messed up.  Disturbing film about a detective tracking down a child murdering cult (that is Hispanic).  Opens with a scene of a woman (the detective’s wife) getting electrocuted by touching a defective coffee maker while standing in a pool of milk.  Accidental electrocution because of liquid on the floor of the kitchen has terrified me ever since.  Directed by John Schlesinger based on the novel The Religion by Nicholas Conde.
  • O.C. and Stiggs  –  Mess of a Robert Altman film based on characters created for National Lampoon.
  • The Bedroom Window  –  After two former Oscar nominees we get a future Oscar nominee with Curtis Hanson.  Weak Suspense film based on The Witnesses by Anne Holden.  Who casts Steve Guttenberg in a thriller?
  • Family Business  –  Back to former Oscar nominees with Costa-Gavras directing a Comedy with weak results.  Based on the novel by Francis Ryck.
  • Less Than Zero  –  We get away from Oscar directors (it’s directed by Marek Kanievska).  We get our first glimpse of the darkness that Robert Downey, Jr. can provide for a film.  Solid soundtrack (namely the Bangles cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter”).  Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis (with a brilliant line I still remember about L.A. – “You can disappear here without knowing it”) who is a douchebag but did right a couple of good books.
  • Creepshow 2  –  Down to mid **.  Horror anthology film, the middle story of which is a Stephen King story (“The Raft”) but not a good one.
  • The Witches of Eastwick  –  A much better writer than King (with all due respect to King who I like) gets a crappy film.  But then again the original novel is one of John Updike’s weakest and his novels never really work as films anyway.  Big star power (Nicholson, Pfeiffer, Cher, Sarandon) made it the #10 film of the year and the biggest hit of Pfeiffer’s career until Batman Returns.
  • The Chipmunk Adventure  –  After four years as a Saturday morning cartoon, the Chipmunks get their own (bad) animated film.  Low **.
  • Dead of Winter  –  Back to former Oscar nominees with Arthur Penn directing this dreck remake of My Name is Julia Ross which was based on a novel called The Woman in Red.
  • Love is a Dog from Hell  –  Also known as Crazy Love, mess of a film based on the works of Charles Bukowski, a poet whose work I loathe.
  • Gothic  –  The Oscars didn’t consider this mess from former Oscar nominee Ken Russell to be adapted but both the IMDb and Wikipedia list stories from Byron and Shelley as sources so I’ll stick it here and not care.  Crap film about the famous night when Byron, the Shelleys and Polidori sat around creating their ghost stories that ended up with Frankenstein.
  • The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland  –  More Care Bears feature film crap.  Thankfully the last of them.
  • Beyond Therapy  –  Looks like O.C. and Stiggs wasn’t the worst thing directed by Robert Altman this year.  This one is based on a play by Christopher Durang and it’s the worst film Altman ever made.  It’s amazing how good Altman’s work was in the 90’s given his crap output in the 80’s (average Altman 80’s film: 53.6, average Altman 90’s film: 73.8)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace  –  I used to rate this higher not because it’s good but because I so hate Superman III (which is worse than this one – this is low *.5 but that’s *).  What’s more, this film has Gene Hackman back.  Unfortunately it also has Jon Cryer and “Nuclear Man” and is quite bad.  Still, Christopher Reeve had good motives.  After writing all that, I realized I own this film on Blu-Ray, having gotten the box set for my birthday and so I watched it for the first time in probably 30 years.  If you read about the film (either on Wikipedia or in Reeve’s autobiography) you’ll realize this film was doomed by a cheap company (Cannon), that it could have been better.  What’s more, they were trying, which was more than happened with the third film.  To point out how stupid the filmmakers were, I pointed out to Veronica while watching it that Cryer has a key role (possibly his most annoying role ever) yet Jim Broadbent is in the film for just one scene.  What a waste.  I also realized (and I don’t know how I never knew this) that the other person in the Broadbent scene, William Hootkins is in three movies I love (I recognized him as the government man from Raiders but not as Porkins from Star Wars or Eckhart from Batman and never realized it was all the same actor).
  • Burglar  –  She was great in The Color Purple but then Whoopi started doing Comedies and I hate them and hate her in them.  She’s one of my least favorite actresses of all-time.  That aside, this is utter crap, also starring Bobcat Goldthwait.  Co-written by Jeph Loeb whose film work is not good but whose comic book writing is among the best of all-time.  Based on a novel by Lawrence Block and apparently originally meant to be a Bruce Willis serious thriller but when Willis dropped out was re-fashioned as a Comedy though much less successfully than when Stallone dropped out of Beverly Hills Cop.  We’re into * films now.
  • Pinocchio and the Emperor of Night  –  Regular commenter cjodell12 suggested at one point I do a series of reviews of Filmation films though I turned it down since he suggested it on an RCM post and I didn’t see any of the Filmation films as a kid.  I could have done it as a FLOM series but I think their feature films (several of which have been mentioned in previous posts because they were from pre-existing properties such as Mighty Mouse or Masters of the Universe) are mostly pretty bad.  This is a good example, a terrible film with crap animation that is somewhat derived from the original Collodi novel.  All that being said, Filmation provided a lot of entertainment for me as a kid (a real little kid – when I was still living in New York) with several Saturday morning cartoons that I enjoyed a lot though they haven’t held up as well as I had hoped when I’ve tried to view them as an adult using other pre-existing properties like Batman, Tarzan and Flash Gordon (definitely my first exposure to each of the last two).  On the other hand, they also did the really bad Star Trek animated show.
  • Rumpelstiltskin  –  Crappy Musical version of the Grimm Brothers tale.
  • Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold  –  A sequel to King Solomon’s Mines from the year before, loosely based on Haggard’s original sequel novel.  It took six years for Sharon Stone to recover from this for Basic Instinct to make her a star.
  • Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise  –  Dumb Comedy gets very bad sequel.  This will continue a lot from this point forward.  Thanks to Top Gun, Anthony Edwards’ career was in good enough shape to bail on most of this film.
  • The Sicilian  –  Michael Cimino destroys any notion that he’s a brilliant auteur.  Based on Mario Puzo’s novel.  Down to low *.
  • The Curse  –  Filmmakers should stop making films based on Lovecraft stories (in this case “The Colour out of Space”, one of Lovecraft’s best) because they seem to always screw it up.  They definitely shouldn’t put Will Wheaton in a starring role.
  • Nightflyers  –  Okay, so I’ll mention here that I love the show Game of Thrones but I am a not a big fan of the Martin books.  In fact, I really don’t think Martin is that good of a writer.  I haven’t read Nightflyers but given how bad the film is and that I’m not a Martin fan, I’ll pass.
  • Hellraiser  –  Clive Barker adapts his own novella The Hellbound Heart and creates a memorable villain but a terrible franchise.
  • Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II  –  Maybe it shouldn’t even have been on the list at it wasn’t originally a sequel to Prom Night but was refashioned to capitalize on the first film.  Either way, it’s terrible.
  • Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol  –  We’ve hit .5 films now and sadly this isn’t even the worst film I saw in theaters in 1987 (yes, I saw it – I blame my friend Cody).  No wonder I only went to one movie in the theaters in 1988.  Terrible stupid installment in a terrible unfunny franchise.  This also has Sharon Stone.
  • A Return to Salem’s Lot  –  How does a television movie get a feature film sequel?  Stick to the original, which, if Spielberg really directed Poltergeist, might have been the best thing Tobe Hopper ever made even if it constrained by budget and by what you could show on television.  This sequel is just worthless.
  • Flowers in the Attic  –  Photographic evidence shows that my sister got this book for Christmas just after turning 12 showing either that my parents had no idea what it was about or they totally dropped the ball.  I love that Wikipedia says that Wes Corman was dropped from the film because “producers were disturbed by his approach to the incest-laden story”.  Right, because the approach was the problem.  The book was insanely popular so there was no way a movie wasn’t getting made but also pretty much no way it was going to be good and it wasn’t.
  • It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive  –  More crappy Horror sequels.
  • Jaws: The Revenge  –  Again, more crappy Horror sequels.  Most notorious for being the film Michael Caine was filming that prevented him from accepting his Oscar in person.  Now we’re down to low .5.
  • Back to the Beach  –  This film is a perfect example of why the explosion of Animated and Comic Book films is a good thing.  In the summer of 1987, I was staying in La Mesa with my cousins for a week (just two miles away from where I currently live, also in La Mesa) and we went to the movies.  We needed a movie that was good for a 17 year old, a 13 year old, an 8 year old and a 7 year old and while in recent years, there is generally a Comic Book or Animated film out that is okay for kids that age, that summer with The Living Daylights, Beverly Hills Cop II, Full Metal Jacket, Stakeout, The Lost Boys and Robocop in theaters we were hard-pressed and desperate.  So we ended up at this, a terrible, terrible Musical made worse because we had no context for it (we had never seen the Beach films growing up).  It was years before my cousin Erika and I could get “Surfin’ Bird” (“Bird, bird, bird is the word”) which is actually sung by Pee-Wee Herman in the movie (who I hate) out of our heads and we used it as a code for something that was just awful.  Probably, until I saw Showgirls, the worst film I ever saw in the theater.  Adapted because it really uses the Annette and Frankie characters from the old Beach films.  Weird to write about this today when one of Annette’s fellow Mousketeers just had his body confirmed (it was found a while ago but was so decomposed it wasn’t identified until today) and because their daughter in the film is played by Lori Laughlin who is having some severe legal problems.
  • Masters of the Universe  –  This was actually out the same week as Back to the Beach so it could have been worse, I guess.  Guess I can’t be too hard on Sharon Stone’s career choices when Frank Langella played Skeletor and, like Stone, went on to be an Oscar nominee.  I was never a fan of the animated show so I didn’t bother to watch this live action film until a few years ago.
  • Death Wish 4: The Crackdown  –  J. Lee Thompson and Charles Bronson team up for more garbage.
  • The Garbage Pail Kids Movie  –  As I ticked off all the boxes over time of the films I wanted to see in 1987 I kept seeing this film on the eligible list and thinking “shouldn’t I have seen that?  Isn’t it animated?”  But, no, it’s not.  And since it’s not from a major studio (it’s from Atlantic Releasing which did specialize in Animated films), it didn’t get checked there either.  And I was old enough when the trading cards came out that, while I was aware of them (I had younger neighbors who were into them), I thought them ridiculous and disgusting.  But then some movie station recently (I actually want to say it was TCM but all logic keeps me from automatically saying that) aired it and I thought, well, I might as well just get it watched and stop wondering about it.  And it, well, I gave it a 1 because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to undercut any of my Worst Film of the Year reviews from the Nighthawk Awards and Leonard Part 6 (I actually wrote Ghost Dad there first but no, that’s Cosby’s terrible 1990 Comedy that was only the second worst film of that year) got a 1, so I think I kept this from a zero just because of that because it’s appallingly bad.  The “kids” are actually dwarf actors in really, really bad makeup.  Its real star was Mackenzie Astin in his first film role (and until 1994, his only one), the younger brother of Sean Astin who had been brought in to try to appeal to younger kids on The Facts of Life the same way Leo would be brought into Growing Pains in the final season.  Adapted only in the sense that the characters existed on the cards first.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none  –

The highest grossing film from this year (according to Box Office Mojo) that is both adapted and that I haven’t seen is Teen Wolf Too (#93 for the year at $7.88 mil).  It’s ironic because my brother actually tried out for a part in it (they filmed at Pomona, one of the Claremont colleges, another of which, Harvey Mudd, was where my brother was a student at the time).  I can’t imagine anyone at this point, even Jason Bateman, thought that 20 years later he would star in one of the greatest television shows ever created and that it would lead to a quite successful film career.