Movie Review: STARMAN

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starmanColumbia Pictures Corporation
1984
PG

“I watched you very carefully. Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast.”

My first exposure to the films of John Carpenter was by way of the 1984 science fiction movie Starman. I watched it one Saturday afternoon while still a guest at the psychiatric ward during the summer of 1986. And would you believe it was on the CED format? How obscure is that? Also, I don’t recommend that video playback to watch movies on. If you want a good retro video disc system, stick with LaserDisc. But, I digress.

While mostly known for his horror and science fiction flicks that lean towards horror, Starman was a bit of a departure from his standard fare, in that the alien in question is not trying to destroy humans. In fact, you might say that Starman is a sci-fi romance. And this was my first taste of John Carpenter. Talk about easing into things.

So then, after intercepting the Voyager 2 space probe, aliens decide to take us up on our offer of visiting Earth, due to the invitation that was contained on that gold record we put inside the probe. But, instead of a warm, peaceful greeting, the scout ship sent is shot down by the U. S. Military, causing it to crash land in Wisconsin on a farm of a recently widowed woman. The alien entity–mainly a floating orb of light–decides it’s a great idea to clone himself a body to look like said widow’s dead husband. The widow disagrees, and while the alien just wants to get to the rendezvous point where his mothership is set to pick him up, she’s understandably upset and doesn’t want to give him a lift. Also, the rendezvous point is at the Marringer Crater in Arizona, so that’s kind of a factor there, too. She warms up a bit after he explains that, if he doesn’t make it to the location in three days, he will die (and also after resurrecting a dead deer, all the feels there). So, it’s road trip time! With the authorities in hot pursuit, will they be able to make it to the crater in time to get the alien doppelganger aboard and homeward bound in time? And will there be enough of an opening to allow at least a short-lived television series based on the movie?

Back when I first watched Starman, I found myself a bit bored at times, with my attention span wandering and not paying very close attention. I was also 12 years old at the time. Watching it now, Starman is a rather decent movie for what it is, which is a science fiction romance / road trip adventure that has some good performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen as the leads.

Overall, I have to admit that Starman remains a bit of an odd entry in John Carpenter’s filmography. I don’t know if there was an attempt to tap into the more family friendly alien thing that ET popularized a couple of years prior. Regardless, Starman is a decent sci-fi flick; it does drag a bit at times, and the ending is a bit more heartwarming than I care for. But, for a weekend afternoon flick, it’s perfect for a rental.

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Movie Review: CROSSROADS

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Crossroadsposter1986Columbia Pictures
1986
R

“Lots of towns. Lots of songs. Lots of women. Good times. Bad times. Only thing I wanted anyone to say is, ‘He could really play. He was good.'”

Eugene Martone struggles with the devil and his destiny when he goes down to the crossroads in this contemporary drama. With a potent blend of adventure, romance, and music; the film takes gifted young guitarist Martone into a dangerous and challenging new world. Obsessed with unlocking the mysteries of the blues, the fledging musician finds cantankerous Willie Brown, a master of the blues harmonica, and frees him from prison. The unlikely duo hobos from New York to Mississippi as Maratone searches for fame and Brown tries to break a contract he signed years ago with the devil. En route, Martone meets and falls for sexy runaway Frances. With a rich mixture of Delta blues and driving rock, the film takes Martone and Brown on an intense odyssey that leads them to a dramatic climax at the crossroads.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Yes, I am painfully aware that there was another movie released in 2002 titled Crossroads, staring a Brittany something-or-other. And I am also aware of the possibility of the majority of internet readers thinking this is about that movie and getting confused. And I don’t care if there is confusion; I’m just pointing that out as a pre-emptive “Yes, yes I know” to any potential “Hey, did’ja know there was” backlash, here. ‘Tis the occupational hazard of reviewing movies that were released over a decade before a lot of modern movie watchers online were even a twinkle in their parent’s eyes, or however that folksy saying goes. Anyhoo…

The 1986-released Crossroads was something of a road-trip movie that starred the original Karate Kid–Ralph Macchio–as the whitest white guy to try to play the blues since Eric Clapton. He’s a student at the Julliard School for Performing Arts in New York, studying classical guitar, but he’s fascinated with the blues, specifically the legends surrounding Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at the cross road and a so-called “lost song” of his. So, he does what every young aspiring musician with superficial ties to the style they’re coopting would do: he finds a longtime friend of Robert Johnson’s–Willie “Blind Dog” Brown–and busts him out of the minimum security hospital he’s been at in his twilight years, and they hitch down to Mississippi, so that Eugene could experience the Blues first-hand…and also get Satan himself to tear up the contract Willie made back in the day to become a talented bluesman himself. Wackiness, and a guitar duel with Steve Vai ensues, and in the end, it all comes down to who knows their Mozart.

Yeah, I was 12 and in 6th grade when Crossroads came out, so there was no chance whatsoever of travelling the 30 minutes it took to get to the nearest town with a theater to see this. Or being able to rent an R-rated movie from the mom-n-pop store when it became available on VHS. And by the time I was able to, I was preoccupied with other movie genres, other than older road-trip type dramas. Yeah, I was aware of the deal-with-the-devil angle of the story, but still it took me a while to remember this movie existed before checking it out, more out of nostalgia than anything else.

Overall, Crossroads was rather decent. It was, indeed, a Faustian Southern Gothic tale by way of a road-trip movie, with a storyline that’s more derivative than original, but…it was greatly enjoyable. The dynamic between Macchio as the wide-eyed would-be Blues musician and Joe Seneca as the grizzled old Blues veteran who takes him under his wing is quite palpable, which is what keeps the story from getting too boring. Things do slow down in the middle a bit, due to the sudden inclusion of a runaway girl who is obviously there for the pre-requisite love interest for Macchio. But then she’s dispatched by the third reel, and things get better.

Really, what kept Crossroads interesting was the dynamics of the characters. Beyond the two main leads, there was a charisma that almost every other actor in here had that I enjoyed, especially that of Robert Judd as Old Scratch. It was his big smile, there, making his all-too-brief scenes memorable.

Overall, as I mentioned, Crossroads was a decent flick, some good music on the soundtrack and a good Southern Gothic feel. I don’t see myself watching it more than just this one time, though, but I am glad I did, at least to reclaim my squandered childhood.