Friday, November 8, 2013


“Tag: The Assassination” director Nick Castle's adventurous but derivative science-fiction fantasy "The Last Starfighter"(*** OUT OF ****) features allusions both visual and literary to "Star Wars" and "Back to the Future."  Nevertheless, this harmless, lightweight, but incidentally-romantic, PG-rated saga boasts enough originality and excitement to emerge as more than just another George Lucas clone.  Tom Hanks lookalike Lance Guest plays the eponymous protagonist with boyish charm, while Robert Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, and Dan O'Herlihy all make impressions.  “Corvette Summer” composer Craig Safan's boisterous orchestral music heightens the heroics.  Although digital special effects were in their infancy, “The Last Starfighter” distinguished itself as the first Hollywood film to generate its own visual effects with a computer.  Some could complain about the primitive quality of the CGI, but this material was ground-breaking during its theatrical release.  Visually, Castle and “Invaders from Mars” lenser King Baggott have created some spectacular, outer space, starscapes, particularly when Centauri ferries Alex to Rylos in one breath-taking panning shot.  Honestly, the only flaw with the state-of-the-art CGI technology is that the small screen amplifies everything so that it appears too sleek, too clean, but lacking in detail.  Surely, on the big screen, the interstellar battle sequences of “The Last Starfighter” must have looked dazzling both in depth and composition.  Narratively, "My Science Project" scenarist Jonathan R. Betuel and Castle have fashioned an appealing, sentimental, but exciting actioneer that alternates between space and Earth.  
All-American, nice guy teenager Alex Rogen (Lance Guest of “Halloween 2”) lives in a rural trailer park with his mom Jane (Barbara Bosson of “) and younger brother Louis (Chris Hebert), while Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart of “Night of the Comet”) and he date each other.  Castle and Betuel rely on Louis for comic relief; Alex threatens to tell his mom about his little brother’s secret stash of “Playboy” magazines.  The plot concerns Alex’s dexterous skill at racking up high scores on a first-person shooter video game about cosmos dogfights.  Actually, this arcade game was not supposed to be shipped to Alex's trailer park but to another location.  One evening, Alex achieves the highest recorded score, with friends and family applauding his triumphant victory.   

Before Alex realizes it, an eccentric ne'er-do-well, Centauri (Robert Preston of “The Music Man”), cruises up in a DeLorean and extends Alex an intriguing offer.  Alex's record-breaking score has qualified him to serve as a pilot in the Star League an alien space fleet that is waging a rebellion against a greater evil. Centauri's DeLorean transforms into a spacecraft, and they chart a course for the stars.  At the same time, Centauri has provided Alex with a Beta Unit that masquerades as our hero while Alex joins the good guys.  Mind you, Alex constitutes a reluctant hero.  During the briefing scene, Alex is alarmed when his new colleagues rant about “Victory or Death” against their adversaries.  Initially, he doesn't want to sacrifice his life in what he sees as a lopsided battle that pits the Rylan Star League against the “Black Terror” of the Kodan Empire.  Indeed, the gigantic, disembodied noggin of the opposition leader, Xur (Norman Snow), appears as a holographic image at Rylan Headquarters, and we learn Xur is the son of Ambassador Enduran (Kay E. Kuter) and that the Star League exiled him because of his Xurian cult.  “I have returned for the good of all Rylans,” the outcast Ur proclaims to Enduran.  Moreover, he assures his father, “There are some Rylans who would welcome me, Father.”  He displays nothing but contempt for his father as well as Rylos and calls it, “A refuge for weak worlds not worthy to be our equals.”  The evil Kodans launch a pre-emptive strike against Rylos and wipe out all the starfighters. 


Meanwhile, Centauri has taken Alex back home so our hero can confront his Beta Unit.  He discovers the evil Kodans have learned that he is the last starfighter. Unwilling to leave any loose ends, the aliens dispatch killers to eliminate Alex. Of course, Alex is the underdog who saves the good aliens from the evil ones and reunites with his girlfriend. Castle keeps the action moving with no loss of momentum. Sure, Alex is no more than a Luke Skywalker clone, but Guest makes him a nice guy. In his final film performance, Robert Preston stands out as the finagling Centauri. The aliens resemble those in the cantina scene from George Lucas' "Star Wars."  Some minor profanity crops up, but nothing truly offensive.  

"The Last Starfighter" ranks as a lot of fun.


“Scarface” director Brian De Palma had made about ten feature-length films and several shorts when he made his first classic horror chiller “Carrie” with Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, William Katt, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and P.J. Soles.  If you look closely, you’ll spot “Miami Vice” regular Michael Talbot, who played Detective Stan Switek, cast as Travolta’s accomplice.  This was author Stephen King’s first novel that Hollywood adapted, and he approved of De Palma and “Ghost Story” scenarist Lawrence D. Cohen’s adaptation.  Performances are uniformly top-notch, with Spacek garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Actress while Laurie received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  These two make a convincing daughter and mother combination.  Spacek is a revelation when she goes full-tilt telekinetic in the final quarter hour, devastating friends and foe alike. She walked off with the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress.  Amy Irving and Betty Buckley are sympathetic as Carrie’s friend and mentor.  Nancy Allen and John Travolta play a villainous who orchestrated an evening of mayhem with pig’s blood galore. “Carrie” is all about the terrible effects of bullying.

Our poor, disadvantaged heroine grows up with a tyrannical mother whose husband abandoned her and turns into a radical Christian who sees sin in her innocent daughter.  Furthermore, Carrie is an outsider at Bates High School, and her only friend is her gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley of “Wyatt Earp”), who struggles to help.  Things get off to quick start after gym class one day when Carrie has her first period in the locker room shower.  Virtually everybody ridicules Carrie’s ignorance and they sling a storm of tampons and feminine napkins at her.  Honestly, Carrie has no idea what is happening because her prudish, repressed mother has told her anything about growing up and the changes that occur with puberty.  Miss Collins reprimands the girls and threatens to revoke their prom privileges if they don’t spend time after classes with her performing calisthenics.   Sue Snell (Amy Irving) regrets her behavior and arranges a prom date between her handsome football hero boyfriend, Tommy Ross (William Katt of “Butch & Sundance: The Early Years”), who reluctantly goes along with her best intentions scheme.  Meanwhile, Sue’s class mate Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen of “RoboCop”) smolders with rage from the treatment that Miss Collins accords her.  Only in the 1970s could a high school teacher assault a student by slapping her face in front of her peers and getting away with no repressions.  Secretly, Chris plots revenge with her class mate Norma (P.J. Soles of “Halloween”) and boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta of “The Devil’s Rain”) and Billy’s buddy Freddy (Michael Talbot) to fix the prom vote so Carrie and Tommy will win.  At the moment that Carrie receives her flower, Chris plans to tip a bucket of swine blood so that Carrie is drenched from head to toe in the gore.  

What nobody knocks is that with the onset of her period, Carrie has developed telekinetic powers.  We see some foreshadowing of this awesome power early in the shower scene and later in the principal’s office when Mr. Morton (Stefan Gierasch of “High Plains Drifter”) mispronounces Carrie’s name as Cassie and the cigarette ashtray fragments.  Later, at home with her warped mother, Carrie shatters a mirror with an etching of Jesus in the background.  Tommy has to harass Carrie before she accepts his invitation to go to the prom with him.  Predictably, Carrie’s mother is dead set against her daughter donning a dress that will prominently display her ‘dirty pillows’ and plans some retribution of her own.  Meanwhile, Miss Collins suspects initially that Sue and Tommy are up no good with Sue’s decision to skip prom and her insistence that Tommy take Carrie.  The night before all Hell breaks loose, Chris, Billy, and Freddy place the bucket of pig’s blood directly over the stage.  Freddy and Norma decide to fix the prom couple vote without anybody knowing any better. 
Naturally, things go smoothly for the evil villains, but they are in no way prepared for the electrifying outcome.  After she is covered in the hog’s blood, Carrie unleashes all her telekinetic powers and all but burns down the auditorium where the prom occurred.  She walks out of these fireworks.  When Chris and Billy try to run her down with his car, she turns her powers on them, their car rolls several times, ignites in a fireball explosion and incinerates them.  Talk about a spectacular way to die!  At home, Carrie washes off all the swine blood and seeks her mother’s loving arms for comfortable only to scream when mom buries a knife in her back.  Carrie has another telekinetic bout and skewers her mom with seven kitchen utensils.  Suddenly, Carrie’s small white house collapses around him, and the sole survivor of this nightmare is Sue.  Sue goes to the flat, level site of Carrie’s house to put flowers on the for sale sign and an arm from Hell soars up from the rocks to seize her, and she awakens to find her own mother consoling her after experiencing a nightmare.  The ending will startle you because this is the last thing that you expect.  Four years later, Sean S. Cunningham appropriated the shocker of a finale in his gruesome but seminal slasher “Friday the 13th” with a small boy exploding from the calm surface of a lake to stab at a girl after the heroine had taken refuge in a boat to escape the villainess at Camp Crystal Lake.

Director Brian De Palma never wears out his welcome with this 98-minute melodrama about a young girl and her supernatural powers and went on to exploit it in his next film “The Fury.”  “The Fury,” however, was not the memorable experience that “Carrie.”  A belated, a non-related sequel, “The Rage: Carrie 2” (1999), followed along with a 2002 television remake in 2002 that never became  a weekly series, and more recently Kimberly Peirce’s remake based on Cohen’s screenplay hit theaters with ChloĆ« Grace Moretz as the eponymous and Julianne Moore as her disturbed mother.  Incredibly, the “Carrie” remake surpass De Palma’s classic while it updates the action.  For example, during the shower scene, Chris shoots a video of Carrie groveling in the shower while the girl rain down tampons on her as they chant “Plug it up!”