AT CLOSE RANGE
Few thrillers from the mid-80's are as underrated as At Close Range, which features two blistering performances from Christopher Walken and Sean Penn, as a father/son unit that's repeatedly tested via a life of crime, and a final act of nearly unbearable tension and intensity. Written with emotional heft by Nicholas Kazan and directed with gritty integrity by James Foley, Orion distributed this severely low profile gem in April of '86, and while critics embraced it, the film failed to find a theatrical audience. But over the years, and as the two main stars continued to gain in popularity, Foley's red-hot drama has become a major cult classic, with the supporting cast, including Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, David Strathairn, Candy Clark, Crispin Glover, and Kiefer Sutherland, adding lots of colorful background to this already volatile mix of crime, violence and family dynamics.
Not many films have instilled as much wide-eyed wonder as The Flight of the Navigator, which was released in the summer of 1986, and while not attaining the runaway big-screen blockbuster status that it truly deserved, has lived on throughout the years as an all-time cult favorite for many children of the 80's. Directed with a terrific sense of old-school movie-magic by Randal Kleiser and written with gee-whiz excitement by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus, child star Joey Kramer got the role of a lifetime as a kid who gets abducted by a friendly alien (voiced by Paul Reubens!) who then takes him forward in time from 1978 to 1986, all the while battling the charms of a then extremely young Sarah Jessica Parker. The film had a weird gestation, first set up as a Disney production, who then backed out as financers but agreed to distribute, and over the years, it's become one of those treasured items that feels too refreshingly quaint to be remade in today's overly slick and cynical CGI movie landscape.
Action-adventure auteur John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) made a unique and striking debut with the fun and freaky supernatural horror film Nomads in March of '86, announcing himself as a major action director in the making, and showcasing the formation of his often imitated muscular visual aesthetic. Starring Pierce Brosnan as a French scientist with a background in nomadic history, the zesty script cooked up by McTiernan mixed biker culture, Inuit mysticism, and the expectations of the vampire genre, and threw all of the ingredients into the cinematic blender, resulting in a strangely compelling slice of B-movie fun. The film features an awesome musical score by Bill Conti, while Lesley-Anne Down matched solidly with Brosnan, who found himself on leading-man turf for the first time in a big motion picture after years of work on the hit TV series Remington Steele.
Tim Hunter's brutal and unforgettable drama River's Edge is one of the most unflinching looks at dysfunctional teen life ever put on screen, and serves as a reminder of how powerful true-crime based cinema can be when properly handled. Inspired by a real murder that took place in 1981 in California, Neal Jimenez's hard-hitting script never soft pedaled any of the scary, emotionless nihilism that permeated a group of kids who were all tangled up in thoughtless murder, with an amazing cast of then-young actors doing sensational work, including Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Roxanne Zal, Josh Richman, and Crispin Glover, with Dennis Hopper providing his usual brand of sinister character acting on the fringes of this chilling film. With evocative cinematography by Frederick Elmes and a haunting score from Jürgen Knieper, this is one of those absolutely harrowing efforts that once you've seen you'll never forget, and despite shining a light on some very unsympathetic characters (Larry Clark must love this film!) who are all caught in a deadly scenario, Hunter's steely direction keeps the film from ever becoming cloying or sentimental, as he stressed the inherent cruelty and sadness of the story without over doing it.
THE BOY WHO COULD FLY
The Boy Who Could Fly is likely a special film for a wide number of people, as it presented a thoroughly whimsical vibe with a touch of melancholy that is rarely duplicated these days, tapping into the fears and anxieties that all kids on the verge of growing up might face, while presenting a cinematic world of distinct wonder. Produced by Lorimar pictures and released by Fox in September of '86, this gentle yet emotionally stirring film was written and directed by B-movie maestro Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter, Tag: The Assassination Game, Tap), and centers on an autistic and orphaned teenager (Jay Underwood) who befriends a girl (Lucy Deakins) who is still reeling from the tragic suicide death of her terminally ill father, with a supporting cast that included Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Savage, Colleen Dewhurst, Louise Fletcher, and Jason Priestly. Mixing escapist fantasy with real world trauma can be a dicey proposition, but the way that Castle injected warmth and sensitivity into his characters and his story helped to balance out some of the more painful moments of real-world challenges that were thematically explored.