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We here at JPFmovies didn’t know you could be “Less than Zero” until we re-watched the 1987 film classic starring Robert Downey Jr. Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and James Spader.

When deciding what film to review next, the editorial board here at JPFmovies decided to follow our 1980s Brat Pack lead of the Breakfast Club with a far darker movie involving sex, money, drug abuse and well . . . It is a bit telling that Robert Downey Jr., was one of the stars of this film given his recurring substance abuse problems—After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapses, Downey, while incarcerated, had to be released from prison during the day to finish a film he was in the middle of making. He claims (and since 2001 there has been no evidence to the contrary) to have left his substance abuse problems behind. We here at JPFmovies sincerely hope he has beaten those demons down and out of his life. Well, enough of that, let’s get to the film.

The cast of Less than Zero were part of the 1980s “Brat Pack”; however, this is hardly your typical Brat Pack film. It is much darker, grittier and tragic than any John Hughes film (i.e. Pretty in Pink and the like). Very loosely based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name (note he was also author of American Psycho), Easton Ellis himself wasn’t too happy with this film at first, but he mentions that it has grown on him over the years. The book was much darker. Andrew McCarthy’s character “Clay,” as we shall see, was altered the most. In the book, Clay’s behavior was not as cut and dry as in the film. In the novel, Clay is a user as well, plus he is bisexual. The studio decided to eliminate both perspectives because they needed a character that audiences could sympathize with, and, in the book, Clay wasn’t the all American he is portrayed as in the film. Naturally, the studio went and changed Clay around to appease teenage Andrew McCarthy fans.

The film that was shot was far edgier than what ended up on screen. It was ultimately taken away from its director, denying Marek Kanievska the final cut. This is textbook behavior for a studio that gets nervous about selling a film with an edgy subject manner. Chicken shits! As anyone who follows JPFmovies knows, this is one of our biggest pet peeves, and we firmly believe that such a lack of courage is one of the main factors that has led to the collapse of American cinema.

The story begins with three rich, happy, wide-eyed teenagers graduating from high school. Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) is skipping college and starting “Tone Deaf Records,” a label financed by his wealthy father; Blair (Jami Gertz) is foregoing college to pursue a modeling career; and Clay (Andrew McCarthy) is heading out east to an unnamed ivy league school. The movie essentially takes place when Clay comes home for Christmas break. Upon Clay’s return, he finds that his high school girlfriend, Blair, has become addicted to cocaine and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian. Julian, whose life has really taken a turn for the worse, after his startup record company falls apart, has become a drug addict, cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit and reduced to homelessness. Julian is also being hassled by his dealer, an old classmate named Rip (James Spader), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.

Clay’s relationship with Blair rekindles and Julian’s behavior becomes more unstable. His addiction is worsening and, since he does not have the money to pay off his debt, Rip forces him to become a male prostitute to work off the debt. After suffering through a night of withdrawal and hiding from Rip, Julian decides to quit and begs his father (Nicholas Pryor) to help him. He then tells Rip his plans for sobriety, which Rip does not believe; Rip forces Julian back into doing drugs and hooking. Clay finds Julian and rescues him; after a violent confrontation with Rip and his henchmen, Clay, Julian and Blair all escape in Clay’s awesome Corvette and they begin the long drive through the desert so Julian can attempt to achieve sobriety once and for all. However, the damage has already been done; the next morning Julian dies from heart failure in the car.

After Julian’s funeral, Clay and Blair are sitting on a cemetery bench reminiscing about him. Clay then tells Blair he is going back east and wants her to go with him, to which she agrees. We see the snapshot of the three of them at graduation—the last time all three of them were ever happy together. In our opinion, Blair is the worst actor in the film.

Less Than Zero is a wonderfully strange movie. It’s a beautiful looking film about some very ugly things. It deals with issues of drug abuse and empty lifestyles while the acting is so well done, the takes and compositions so great to look at. But for every beautiful scene in the film there is an equally dark nihilistic shot where we watch Julian experience the deep suffering that serious drug addiction can lead to: homelessness, desperation, lies and eventually the ultimate self-destruction: death.

When you watch this film, and we here at JPFmovies recommend that you do, be ready for a film with characters that you probably won’t like very much, selfish characters only looking out for their own personal satisfactions, especially given the evolution of the careers of these familiar faces we see today.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Guest Reviewer Silver Gives Us Gold With His Look & The Dark Crystal (1982)

Here is what our guest reviewer Silver has to say about a little known classic:  The Dark Crystal.

 

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Vocal Talent: Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, Michael Kilgarriff, Jerry Nelson, Thick Wilson, John Baddeley, David Buck, Charles Collingwood, Sean Barrett, Mike Iveria, Patrick Monckton, Susan Westerby, Joseph O’Conor

Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz

Expectations: One of my favorites. I watch it every few years.

3 stars

==

Growing up in the 80s, my childhood was filled with the puppets of Jim Henson. From Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock to the first three Muppet films, I was an absolute Henson fiend. Hell, I even watched the Muppet Babies cartoon. One day while rummaging through a stack of VHS tapes when I was around eight or nine, I came upon one that had the words, The Dark Crystal scrawled onto the tape label. What was this? Even in my youth I was obsessive about my film watching, so seeing a title that I was unfamiliar with took me by surprise. I popped in the tape, finding that we had recorded the movie off of TV and the first minute or so were cut off. I didn’t mind missing that first minute, nor did I mind the fuzzy quality of the TV reception recorded onto that magnetic tape, for I was thoroughly enthralled in the tale being woven before me. So began my quest with The Dark Crystal. I must have watched that tape five or six times over the course of my childhood, obviously not a lot for an obsessed kid, but I distinctly remember wanting to savor every viewing so that it wouldn’t become cheap. I’ve pretty much stayed the course ever since, only re-watching the film every three-four years and loving it every time.

The Dark Crystal is a story of tragedy and renewal, of the Skeksis and the Mystics, and the Gelflings that will change the course of their world forever. It is a realm rich with history that unfolds as the minutes pass by. There are definite shades of Lord of the Rings throughout, especially the “halfling venturing across the land with a storied object to enter the evil one’s domain and destroy them” storyline, but to discredit The Dark Crystal’s story in such a broad way would be unfair, as its greatness lies within its detail and its characters. The birdlike Skeksis are haunting and creepy to this day, the Mystics wise and moving slowly with purpose. Jen the Gelfling hero is an orphan that most children will find easily relatable if they’ve ever felt lonely or ostracized in any way, not to mention that every kid wants to go on an adventurous journey.

Technically, the film has no equal. Never before or since has anyone undertaken such a massive puppet film, with no humans represented on-screen. Even if you hate the film (how dare you!), you have to admire the genius of Jim Henson and his studio at work. I highly recommend also watching the PBS documentary included on most DVD releases of the film, The World of the Dark Crystal. It’s filled with great footage of the guys inside the puppets, and while that does break the illusion, it grows a respect for the performers that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

In addition to the puppets, the optical FX are incredibly well done and add to the visual splendor of the film. And let’s not forget the matte paintings! Holy shit, they are even more impressive than I remember and this should be Exhibit A for the case to bring them back to filmmaking. CG backgrounds can look good an all, but there’s something majestic about the matte paintings here that 3D art could never attain. The cinematography helps a great deal as well, with wonderful color representation and gorgeous framing. One might expect a film filled with puppets to feature a rather static camera, as the puppet’s mobility is obviously limited. This is not so, as the camera moves in, out and around conversations and action, further intensifying the sense that we are watching real characters as opposed to cleverly designed puppets. In addition to the visuals, Trevor Jones’ dark, haunting score has resonated and stayed with me since my first viewing all those many years ago. It’s truly one of the best fantasy film scores of all time, other-worldly, fantastical and haunting all at once. Jones perfectly evokes the character’s through his music, resulting in a perfect auditory compliment to the visuals.

The serious tone propels the film deeper into the crystal chasm, presenting unaware viewers with quite the dark fantasy film. And I mean dark! If you know of another kid’s movie that features cute, tiny characters strapped into experimentation chairs against their will as their life essence is drained into a vial for the evil emperor to drink, then please let me in on the secret. The film is rated PG, but I’d be surprised if it got released with the same rating these days. Not to mention that, the film is just creepy and scary. It ran me through a range of emotions as a child and it still has me feeling similarly after tonight’s viewing. Any film that can still affect someone on such a deep level is worthy of your time.

On the negative side, it does drag a bit in spots (the opening narration is over six minutes), but overall it is paced pretty well. I’ve seen it so many times at this point that I’m unsure if I’m a qualified judge of this anymore. There is also a scene with the Gelflings in the forest that reminded me of the 70s sci-fi hippie film, Silent Running. This is not a positive in my eyes and thankfully it’s only a few short moments. Other than these minor quibbles, I had a great experience with the film, even if I was able to see through a lot more of the FX this time around.

I’m biased as this is a film from my childhood, but I would honestly say that The Dark Crystal holds up admirably. If you fancy yourself a fan of fantasy, you should be entertained with this fine film and the history of the world and its inhabitants. If you’re a fan of puppets, you’ll be entertained by the technical wizardry of it all and the power of puppets to create the illusion of life. If you’re a fan of both, then it should be a match made in heaven.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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