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*Batteries Not Included
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When an unscrupulous real estate developer sends thugs into a deteriorating tenement to get rid of the last five tenants, they need nothing short of a miracle to stay where they are.In this delightful fantasy presented by Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, little stands between the brave holdouts and the street. But one night, when all hope seems lost, tiny visitors from outer space mysteriously glide through their windows. As if in answer to their prayers, the incredible creatures begin to turn the tide with their magical powers.Filled with dazzling special effects, the amazing story of intergalactic warmth stars the acclaimed husband-and-wife team of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as a pair of feisty long-term tenants whose faith is rewarded in ways they never expected.
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Lacey, a greedy real estate developer, has hired some local goons led by Carlos (Michael Carmine) to buy out the remaining residents (the rest of the block has already been bulldozed in anticipation of new construction). This includes Frank and Faye, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, fellow friends Muriel and Sid, washed-up prize fighter Harry, Mason the artist, and Marisa, a pregnant single mother. They have nowhere else to go, so they band together against Lacey's thugs, who delight in harassing them and in further damaging the already-dilapidated building.
Frank and Faye are the main focus; it's obvious that Faye is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She has a very shaky grip on reality, frequently confuses the past with the present, and requires a high degree of supervision. But it's obvious from her bearing and her no-nonsense tone that Faye was (and is) a force to be reckoned with. She frequently asks about the whereabouts of her son Bobby, whose absence is explained near the film's finale. When Sid and Muriel take the buyout money and move to Jersey, Frank is heartbroken, knowing that he'll be unable to care for Faye by himself. Tandy can be a little over the top at times, but it's obvious that she enjoyed the role. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy are the reason you should rent this film; their tender love for each other despite the setbacks of age, illness, and adversity are inspiring, more so because they were married for over five decades.
Enter a miracle: high-tech spaceships make their way to Frank and the other residents after a tearful prayer, and assist them with fixing and rebuilding. The special effects by ILM (Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic) are delightfully low-tech in contrast to our current age of CGI overload. The spaceships are quite obviously puppet models that were transposed into the shots, although they do have their own unique personalities.
However, Lacey is less than thrilled with the new developments (his building permits are set to expire within days), and tries to hasten the building's demise, leading to some scenes of violence and tension between the residents and the developers.
This is more a feel-good drama than a true science-fiction piece. It was originally slated to be used as part of Spielberg's Amazing Stories - The Complete First Season series, but Spielberg liked it so much that he decided to make it into a full-length feature film. The set design is particularly noteworthy as all of the buildings were sets, since the producers were unable to find an existing property that met their criteria (there is some information included about the making of the film).
James Horner's marvelously retro swing score is heavily in the style of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, and made Faye's dementia and recollection of WWII very poignant (Faye asks at the table, "Whatever happened to General Eisenhower? You hardly read a word about him anymore"). To be honest, this was the first swing / Big Band soundtrack I ever remember hearing, and it stuck with me two decades later as my love for WWII music has spread to include Frank Sinatra's Columbia records, Harry James, and Big Band leaders.
Although *Batteries Not Included may not have a heavy dose of action, or suspense, or "serious" drama, it does have a strong ensemble cast, a great soundtrack, decent special effects and is a heartwarming tale of trust and faith that the whole family can enjoy. It would have been nice if more extras had been included besides the original trailer and some behind the scenes still screens, but it's still a joy to see this once again.