Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misadventures in the desert.

Xiri (Eiros) and Xisa (Nadies) are the two children of Xixo (N!xau) and a part of a nomadic desert tribe of the Kalahari who go roaming off into the wilderness and encounter a truck driven by two elephant poachers (Lourens Swanepoel, Pierre van Pletzen). Having had no previous contact with modern technology the children become fascinated with the vehicle and climb into its water tank just as it drives off taking them many miles away from their home. When the children fail to return their father goes out looking for them and in the process comes into contact with a lawyer (Lena Farugia) and a zoologist (Hans Strydom) who are stranded after their small engine plane crashes as well as two soldiers (Erick Bowen, Treasure Tshabalala) fighting from opposite sides of the war and each precariously trying to get the upper hand on the other.

This follow-up to the run away hit was filmed in October, 1985, but took over 4 years to find a distributor and suffered many setbacks during its production, which frustrated writer/director Jamie Uys so much that he retired from directing after completing this one and never worked on another film. On the whole though it’s not too bad, but like with the first one it does start out a bit clumsily.

My biggest complaint had to do with the scenes dealing with the lady lawyer named Ann and her interactions with the macho pilot/zoologist Hans who takes her up in the plane, which to me became too sexist and too similar to the scenario played-out in the first film where a lady-in-distress being rescued by a male character more acclimated to the environment. However, in the first film this was funny because the male was so clumsy and inept it made him seem more like a lovable clod, but here the guy character resembles the male image, especially with his mustache, of the Marlboro man and his constant aggravation at this ‘ditzy lady’ isn’t amusing while her inability to understand technology played too much into the feminine stereotype that women can’t comprehend machinery must have a man come to their rescue.

I did find the small engine plane that they rode in, which was a modified Lazair Ultralight, fascinating as I found it interesting at how something so small and flimsy could carry two people and still get off the ground, but was disappointed to learn later that this was only because it got attached to a crane and in reality wouldn’t have flown. Although the filmmakers achieve this illusion pretty well the scene where the two fly above the clouds is clearly fake as you can tell the backdrop of the sky is a painting and in that regards the whole plane scene, especially since it really couldn’t fly anyways, should’ve been discarded and some other plot line created that would’ve brought the two together.

The two runaway children though are quite cute especially the frightened but resourceful little boy who grabs a nearby piece of wood to put on top of his head to fool the hyena that has been stalking him into thinking that he is taller than he really is, which actually ends up working. I was also most impressed with the scenes dealing the Honey Badger, which is known for its ferocious defensive abilities and lives up to its reputation here when he grabs a hold of Hans boot with his teeth and refuses to let go no matter how far Hans walks.

The last half-hour when all the various characters from the four divergent story lines eventually merge is when the film finally manages to hit its stride and it’s a shame this couldn’t have occurred sooner, but ultimately as a sequel it’s surprisingly funny and manages to retain much of the same charm from the first one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coke bottle causes problems.

One day while flying over the Kalahari desert a airplane pilot inadvertently throws a coke bottle out of his cockpit window, which falls to earth and is found by Xi (N!xau) and he brings it back to his nomadic tribe. At first everyone is intrigued with the object as they are an isolated people unaware of modern technology. They think it’s a ‘gift from the gods’ and make use of the bottle in different and creative ways, but eventually the bottle causes friction from within the tribe because there is only one and no one wants to share it. Xi decides to ‘give the bottle back to the gods’ by traveling to the end of the earth and throwing it off. During his journey he meets a clumsy biologist named Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) and a pretty school teacher named Kate (Sandra Prinsloo) while also saving school children who are kidnapped by a group of terrorists led by Sam (Louw Verwey).

This film became the biggest box office success in South African history and when released abroad became the most successful foreign film in the U.S., but the film initially comes off like a nature documentary complete with monotone voice-over narration by Paddy O’Byrne only to then shift uneasily into a flick dealing with political revolutionaries who systematically massacre the heads of state via machine gun. It’s not until about 30 minutes in that the gentle comical flow of the story gets going, but even then there’s a lot of sped up stop action photography, dubbed voices, and a cartoonish sounding musical score that gives it a choppy amateurish feel throughout.

Yet despite all this the concept is quite original and filled with genuinely funny moments. Writer/director Jamie Uys, who appears briefly as a Reverend, shows an amazing ability to squeeze laughs out of virtually any scene and sometimes in the most amazing of ways. Some of my favorite moments was when the jeep hangs upside down in a tree, or the scene showing the same disabled jeep getting tugged along by another vehicle and because the desert was so flat and barren the man driving the vehicle is able to get out of it and it simply drives itself with no fear it would run into anything. The shot where N!xau arrives at what he thinks is the end of the earth, but in reality is a place known as God’s Window is quite memorable and picturesque as well.

Of course the film does come with its fair share of controversy and accused of being racist with two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, banning the movie from being shown there because of it. The main complaint centers around the bushmen tribe that N!xau comes from being shown as completely cut-off from the modern world and unsophisticated when in reality this is not true. The 2004 Columia TriStar DVD edition has a wonderful documentary called ‘Journey to Nyae Nyae’ on its bonus section where a filmmaker travels to the real-life desert bushmen tribe that actor/star N!xau resided and found that although the people were quite poor they were far from ignorant and in fact excitedly embraced technology like a computer when it was shown to them. There’s even a really cute segment where the children get shown this film and laugh along at all the same antics just like American audiences.

This same documentary also has a very sad edge to it as it shows the impoverished life N!xau had even after the film became a worldwide hit. While the movie grossed over 200 million N!xau was only paid $2,000 for his work and the other actors who played the bushmen got paid nothing. Director Uys tried to rectify this by paying N!xau many years later an additional $20,000 and a monthly stipend, but by then he had already become sick with tuberculosis and ended up dying from it in 2003.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Birdy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fly like a bird.

Al (Nicholas Cage) becomes friends with an introverted neighborhood boy (Mathew Modine) nicknamed Birdy due to his fascination with birds. Al begins to follow Birdy around as he collects pigeons and stores them inside an aviary that he has built in his backyard. The two share a strong bond, which is broken when they both get drafted and have to go off to war. Al returns from battle with facial injuries, but Birdy is sent to a mental hospital because after missing in action for a month, he refuses to speak. Al spends time with Birdy trying to get him to talk again, but finds it futile and fears that if he can’t get him to talk the Dr’s will confine Birdy permanently.

The film is based on the William Wharton novel of the same name that was initially rejected by director Alan Parker as a possible movie because he considered the story to be ‘uncinematic’, but after the screenplay was commissioned to writers Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr who were able to restructure the thoughts of the main character from the novel into dialogue and action Parker was then willing to sign on. The result is a interesting drama that manages to have some touching, quirky moments, but it’s also quite reminiscent of Brewster McCloud and comes complete with the same winged flying contraption which Birdy uses to fly briefly over a junkyard that Bud Cort also used to fly around the Astrdome in that film.

While both Cage and Modine give excellent performances I found the friendship between the two to be confusing. They had very little in common and why Cage would want to follow Modine around all the time as he collected pigeons, which he himself thought to be kind of ‘weird’, did not make much sense. Had they both had an interest in birds then it would’ve worked, but they don’t, so what’s the bond that keeps them together? Having them portrayed as being gay would’ve been the solution and at times it seems that is what Birdy is since he shows no interest in women at all and in one amusing scene watches in boredom while Cage has sex with another women on a beach. Cage could’ve been portrayed as being bi-sexual, or not fully aware of his secret attraction to Birdy, but could later eventually come out and that could help explain why he’d stick with someone that he otherwise found ‘kooky’.

Despite the film’s length  and having some definite slow parts including Cage’s ‘conversations’ with Birdy when he’s inside the mental hospital, which are quite static and should’ve been trimmed, there’s still some memorable moments including a scene showing baby canaries hatching out of their eggs. I also like the tracking shot where Birdy imagines himself flying and done from the point-of-view of a bird, which gives one a very authentic feeling/experience of what it would be like and it was shot with a Skycam, at least partially, which is the first time that had ever been used in a movie.

I also enjoyed how the film examines the different dynamics of both Cage’s and Birdy’s family life and the contrasting personalities of the parents where in Cage’s family the father, played by Sandy Baron, was the dominant force while with Birdy it was his mother (Dolores Sage). My only complaint in this area is that there’s a running subplot dealing with the fact that Birdy’s mother would take all the baseballs that the neighborhood kids would accidentally hit into her backyard and keep them, but no one knew where she hid them. Cage then, years later, asks the Dr’s at the hospital to convince the mother to send the hidden balls to Birdy in an effort to get him to talk again and the mother complies, but the scene showing her retrieving the balls is never shown. So much time is spent talking about where she hid the balls that the film should’ve revealed the hiding place while also showing a tender side to the mother who otherwise came off as being quite cold, so not having this scene at all really hurts the film.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also complaints by some viewers and critics about the ending, which some, like critic Leonard Maltin, refer to as a ‘gag’ ending. For me this wasn’t an issue as it offered some much needed levity in what is otherwise a very dramatically heavy film, but I was frustrated that there’s no conclusion given to what ultimately happens to the two characters. They’re shown trying to escape from the hospital, but never whether they were able to break-free permanently. After spending two hours following these two around the viewer deserves more concrete answers as to their ultimate fate and keeping it so wide-open is a bit of a cop-out/letdown.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Spies Like Us (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers inadvertently become decoys.

Austin (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett (Chevy Chase) are two bumbling government agents who get hired by the department of defense to carry out a secret mission inside the Soviet Union. In reality, and unbeknownst to them, they are decoys used to call attention away from the actual agents who were sent to seize a ballistic missile launcher yet things don’t work out as planned. Instead of the decoys getting killed off it’s the actual agents forcing Austin and Emmett to carry out the rest of the plan that the others couldn’t.

A lot of the problem with this film is that it no longer has that National Lampoon’s edge, which when it started out was all about satire and parody and making fun of the establishment. Yet this film has no message, or point of view. Had it had more of a focus like ridiculing the government, war, politics, or even the spy genre then it might of been more meaningful, but instead all we get are a barrage of generic gags and no real story.

The humor mainly falls flat with the writers making up the rules as they go, so there’s no tension or intrigue. For instance the two disguise themselves as Dr’s and are forced to perform an appendectomy on a patient even though they know nothing about medical surgery and yet just as Aykroyd is ready to make the incision the patient for no explicable reason dies, which gets them two off-the-hook, but is really more of a cop-out by the writers. Why not force the characters to earn their way out of their predicament by requiring them to come up with some clever escape instead of conveniently throwing in an act of God that doesn’t really make any sense?

Today’s audiences will find the scene where Chase grabs Donna Dixon’s breasts, a woman who he has just met and without asking permission, quite offensive. She doesn’t respond in shock or anger either and is portrayed as apparently being ‘too stupid’ to know what’s going on, I don’t know about you, but if someone touched one of my body parts I’d feel it. In real-life Dixon is Aykroyd’s wife, and Aykroyd was also one of the scriptwriters, and I thought it was crazy that a guy would come-up with a gag that would allow his co-star to squeeze his wife’s breasts, he actually ends up squeezing both of them, simply for the sake of trying to get a cheap laugh from the audience.

Aykroyd and Chase are an odd pairing as well. Chase has such a glib, sarcastic personality that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to be his friend to begin with. Aykroyd’s super smart persona in which he’s an expert on virtually everything is boring and has been played-out before. Supposedly this was meant to be a take-off on the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movies and Hope even has a cameo here and despite his advancing age he’s still funnier than either Akroyd or Chase and should’ve been made the star instead of them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s original ending had a nuclear bomb blowing up the planet and if they had kept that in then I’d at least give them some credit for being daring and original. Of course after test audiences disliked this (surprise, surprise) the filmmakers ultimately chickened-out and went for a ‘happy ending’ where Aykroyd devises a way (because of course he knows EVERYTHING) to divert the bomb’s route so it explodes in space instead of on earth, but wouldn’t the radioactive fallout of the explosion still rain back down and affect the population anyways?

End of the Spoiler Alert!

The opening bit where an agent is locked inside a cramped closet because he’s not authorized to view the information inside the briefcase that is chained to his wrist I did find amusing although the film could’ve played this up more by having everyone, after they’ve reviewed the information, leave the room with the guy still stuck in the closet and begging to be let out. I also loved the top secret spy headquarters built underneath an abandoned drive-in movie theater. Director John Landis also continues his trend of casting other movie directors in minor roles, but since they’re only seen briefly other viewers may not find this element to be all that interesting.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Asian detective solves case.

Police Chief Baxter (Brian Kieth) summons the retired Charlie Chan (Peter Ustinov) back to duty in order to help him solve a series of bizarre murders. Chan is also reluctantly assisted by his inept grandson Lee Chan Jr. (Richard Hatch) who shows no ability at solving anything and only causes chaos where ever he goes. As the case unfold Chan is at first convinced that his old nemesis Dragon Lady (Angie Dickinson) is the culprit, but he slowly turns his suspicions onto someone else who no one else suspects.

This is a perfect example of a movie that could never be made today as it features a white actor playing the part of an Asian American although the film did meet with strong resistance even back then. Many Chinese Americans protested by picketing locations were it was being shot and then later demonstrated at theaters that played it. Their complaints hinged around the Chan character being a racist stereotype particularly his ‘Chop-Suey pidgin English and fortune cookie-like proverbs’ all of which were very valid points.

What’s even worse is that the Chan character is not funny at all and the film would’ve been better had he not been in it. Ustinov acts like he’s just walking through the role with no energy or pizzazz and his singing over the opening credits, which I guess is meant to be intentionally bad in an effort to be ‘funny’, comes off as pathetically lame instead and could be enough to make most people want to turn off the film before it’s barely begun. Keith as the exasperated chief is far funnier and enlivens every scene he is in to the point that he should’ve been made the star.

Hatch as the doofus grandson is almost as bad as Ustinov, but even more annoying as he creates all sorts of disasters were ever he goes, but is completely oblivious to the pain and destruction that he causes others, which makes him come-off to being too stupid to be even remotely believable. On the rare occasions when he does realize that his blundering has caused issues to others like when he inadvertently knocks a bunch of TV reporters into a lake, he makes no attempt to help them out of the water, or even apologize for what he did, making him seem deserving of a big punch in his otherwise blank-eyed face. I was also confused as to why, if he’s Chan’s grandson, he wasn’t Asian.

The female actors perform better here. I enjoyed Lee Grant’s rare foray into comedy. Her acting skills are more tuned to drama, but the scenes where she talks to her dead husband’s ashes inside an urn are pretty good. Rachel Roberts, in her last theatrical film before her untimely and tragic death, is diverting as a super paranoid maid. Michelle Pfeiffer is quite engaging too as Hatch’s fiance. Her character is just as doopey as his, but she has enough acting skill to make it interesting and far outshines him, despite having less screen time.

The comedy is flat and has no focus to it as it alternates between slapstick and parody while haphazardly throwing in all sorts of uninspired gags that have little or nothing to do with the main plot and that includes a drawn out car chase in the middle that isn’t funny at all. It also features an ending similar to the one in Blazing Saddles where it becomes a-movie-within-a-movie as the characters run into a theater where a Charlie Chan movie is playing. However, this scene isn’t too well thought-out as it features Ustinov playing Chan on the black-and-white film that the theatergoers are watching, which makes no sense. For one thing the film being shown is an older one, so Chan should look younger on it, but he doesn’t. Also, why would Chan be playing himself in a movie? Isn’t he supposed to be just a detective, or are we to assume he’s also an actor starring in films when he’s not out solving cases? It would’ve been more amusing had Chan walked into the theater and saw another actor playing him on the screen and then started bitching about how he wasn’t doing it right.

Spoiler Alert!

There is one really inspired moment that is so cute it almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. I features Pfeiffer and Hatch tied up and being held hostage by a vicious dog who is tied to a rope with a candle flame burning throw it, which will then release the hound to attack the couple. In an effort to stop the flame from burning through they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the dog, which then gets the dog to blow-out the flame like a person would blow out candles on a birthday cake.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Release: February 4, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Little Drummer Girl (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress infiltrates terrorist organization.

Charlie (Diane Keaton) is a stage actress with pro-Palestinian leanings who’s living in Israel. After a Palestinian bomber kills a Israeli diplomat and his family she gets recruited by a pro-Israeli spy organization to pretend to be the bomber’s brother’s girlfriend. At first she resists, but eventually she puts her acting skills to work until she gets deeper and deeper into the quagmire and begins to question what she really stands for.

The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carre, who appears briefly in the film as a police chief, has a lot of exciting moments and a few unexpected ones. For the most part I found the plot intriguing and the twists and turns to be interesting although if the viewer doesn’t pay close attention they could easily become lost.

Klaus Kinski’s performance makes it worth seeing. He suffered from mental illness in his personal life and due to that as well as his unique facial features usually stymied him in roles of madmen, or troubled individuals, but here he plays someone who is actually normal and does a convincing job of it. His presence definitely enlivens the proceedings to the point that he should’ve been the sole face of the Israeli organization and not crowded out by a throng of assistant players who are not interesting and become clutter to both the story and visuals.

Keaton is great here too and one of the main reasons that the film remains as interesting as it does. Her emotional confusion comes off as sincere and the fish-out-of-water concept where she gets thrown into a world that she is not used to and must use her wits and acting talent to get by is at first riveting.

Unfortunately the second half goes too far to the extreme where Charlie no longer resembles the same person that we met at the beginning. Some may argue that this is her character arch, but she still needs to have a consistent foundation and not morph into something completely different with no roots to what she was before. She starts out as someone only going along with the charade because she’s forced into it. She’s very clumsy at first, but then by the second half is able to put a gun together while blindfolded and seamlessly detonate a bomb without a sweat like a seasoned spy with years of experience.

She’s given an opportunity to get out and yet she decides to proceed even as things get more dangerous, which makes little sense since she didn’t conform at all with the political sentiments of the organization that recruited her. Any regular person would have a mental/emotional breakdown at seeing someone killed before they’re very eyes, or required to go to bed with a stranger that she barely knew and the fact that she doesn’t reveals how the filmmakers had a very poor grasp on the character.

All of this could’ve been avoided had they modeled her after the one in the book. For the film the producers decided to portray Charlie as being similar to Vanessa Redgrave, but in the book the character was inspired after Janet Lee Stevens who was an American journalist, human rights activist, and Arabic literature scholar who traveled to the Middle East as an interpreter and had no connection to acting. Having the film focus on a young activist whose extreme idealism ends up getting her in-over-her-head would’ve been more compelling and believable. Throwing in the acting angle just doesn’t work and ends up becoming its biggest liability.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Best Friends (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writing partners get married.

Richard (Burt Reynolds) and Paula (Goldie Hawn) have been working together as a screenwriting team for many years and have fallen in love in the process. Richard would like to take the next step and get married, but Paula resists afraid that this will ruin their friendship, but eventually she caves to his pressure and they tie-the-knot. Things though get rocky when they visit both of their relatives and when they return to L.A. seem destined for a break-up only to be forced to acclimate when they’re locked in a room and not allowed out until they revise the ending of their latest screenplay.

This film is similar to Romantic Comedy as both dealt with two people of the opposite sex working together as a writing team while romance blossomed in the process. Yet both films missed the mark by not focusing enough on the writing craft and the teamwork needed to get a script written. Only at the very end do we see the two working together, but because it waits so long to get to this point it’s not really worth it. In between we get immersed with drawn out segments dealing with each partner learning to deal with their kooky in-laws, which has been done in many other romances before and is neither fresh nor insightful.

I also didn’t like that it begins right away with them already in-love, which deprives the viewer the chance of seeing how the relationship began, which is usually half the fun. The couple are a bit too lovey-dovey and there’s never any fiery argument between them, which could’ve offered some tension in what is otherwise a flat story with very little that actually happens.

The script was written by Valerie Curtain and Barry Levinson, who based their own real-life experiences of working together and then ultimately marrying on the two characters and it would’ve been nice had they simply been cast as themselves. Hawn and Reynolds are okay but there’s a big age difference between the two and their presence also gives it too much of the glossy, big-star Hollywood treatment where as with Curtain and Levinson playing the roles would’ve made it seem more genuine and original.

My favorite part though is when they travel to Buffalo, New York in the dead-of-winter where they must deal with actual snow and cold and not the fake studio kind. However, Goldie’s parents, played by Barnard Hughes and Jessica Tandy, come-off too much like caricatures playing off the stereotype that everyone that gets old automatically become senile and eccentric. The things that they say and do are more cringe worthy than amusing and nothing that a real senior citizen would ever do.

Their visit with Burt’s parents, played by Keenan Wynn and Audra Lindley, improves a little as they act more normal, but it’s just as unfunny. The film also misses out on a prime comic opportunity as the two are informed that they need to revise their latest screenplay in a hurry and I thought it would’ve been quite amusing seeing them trying to work on it while cooped up in the home of Burt’s parents and trying to block out all the noise and chaos around them, but the film only teases with this idea, but eventually whiffs on it.

The story is unfocused and throws in all sorts of dumb things like Goldie’s sudden addiction to Valium pills that have nothing to do with the main plot. Having the film begin where it ends with the two locked in a room for days and forced to reassess their relationship while going back through certain highlights that the two had through flashback including showing how they first met would’ve given it more of a fragmented narrative and made it seem less drawn-out and mechanical.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Believers (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cult requires child sacrifice.

After the death of his wife (Janet-Laine Green) Cal (Martin Sheen) decides to move with his young son Chris (Harley Cross) from Minneapolis to New York City where he gets a job as a police psychologist. It is there that her councils officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) who worked undercover to infiltrate a cult that performed child sacrifices and is now paranoid that these same cult members are after him when it’s really Cal’s son that they want.

On the directing end I found this to be mildly engrossing and I enjoyed the way John Schlesinger vividly captured both surburbia as well as the inner city. Working into the false sense of security that the suburbanites have making them believe that they’re ‘immune’ to what goes on in the poorer areas, but here it shows how evil can seep into even the most affluent of areas and revealing just how vulnerable everyone is.

However, if you focus solely on the script, which is based on the Nicholas Conde novel ‘The Religion’, then there are a myriad amount of problems. The biggest one being the opening sequence that features the mother getting electrocuted in a freakish accident, which doesn’t really have all that much to do with the rest of the story. Some may argue that this was the catalyst to get Cal and Chris to move from Minneapolis to New York where the real meat of the plot begins, but why not just have them already in New York to begin with?

Having Helen Shaver enter in as Cal’s love interest is equally pointless. Their relationship happens too quickly and comes off as forced while Chris’ dismay at having a new mother figure in his life seems like an issue for an entirely different type of movie. I admit having a tumor grow on her face that eventually spawns spiders is my favorite part of the movie, but why not just have this occur to the mother instead of killing her off so quickly at the beginning?

Richard Masur’ character, who appears during the first act only to then disappear until the end is problematic as well. A good script has important characters appear throughout the story and not just vanishing until you’ve completely forgotten about them, which I did, and then conveniently reappearing and suddenly becoming an integral part of the plot.

Cal’s character arc is too extreme too. He’s portrayed as being a rationalist who does not believe in superstition, but then later on is shown taking part in a ritual requiring him to squeeze out blood of a decapitated chicken, which is too Jekyll and Hyde-like. Sure people can sometimes change their opinions on things, but not so quickly or so severely. Portraying him as initially being superstitious, instead of so adamantly against it, might’ve made this scene a little less jarring.

There are only an estimated 22,000 people who practice the Santeria religion in the United States, which has a population of 327 million, so the odds that a person such as Cal would come into contact with not only a police officer that dealt with the religion, but also relatives is astronomically low and hurts the plausibility. It’s equally hard to believe that a large group of educated, upwardly mobile yuppies would get caught up into a cult that required child sacrifice and that they would all be able to keep it a secret without any of them getting a guilty conscience and going to the police. This is a religion that’s prevalent in the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, so why a large group of white people would suddenly get so into it is never explained.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end in which Helen Shaver’s character creates a shrine to the spirits composed of dead animals inside her barn makes no sense as there is never any hint earlier that she had a propensity for the ritual, so why all of sudden did she start embracing it? I’m not an animal expert either, but I don’t think a dog would behave so aggressively as he’s shown doing by jumping up and down and barking loudly at the barn door where the shrine of the dead animal is. I would think for him to act that way it would have to be the smell of a live creature and he’d know the difference, but again that’s just speculation.

End of Spoiler Alert!

A lot of these problems could’ve been avoided had the producers went with their original idea of portraying it as a satanic religion feeding off the hysteria of the satanic ritual abuse that was a prevalent headline catching conspiracy theory during the 80’s. Having some outcast teens and desperate poor people immersing themselves in a fringe ritual because they had nowhere else to turn would’ve made a heck of a lot more sense than a bunch of yuppies gleefully standing around and watching the killing of someone else’s child simply because they felt it would give them ‘good luck’ in their quest up the corporate ladder.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Gotcha! (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy game turns real.

Jonathan (Anthony Edwards) enjoys playing the make-believe spy game of Gotcha on his college campus by shooting his fellow students with paint darts of which he is quite good at. For a vacation he goes to Paris, France and meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) who is a real-life spy transporting undercover documents from behind the iron curtain. She gets Jonathan to travel with her to East Berlin where he reluctantly finds himself caught-up in the spy action and having bad guys shoot at him with bullets instead of paint balls.

The film has its engaging moments, but the plot gets played-out in a haphazard way. The beginning comes off too much like just another banal coming-of-age comedy with guys using all sorts of corny lines to get women to go to bed with them and a lot inane dialogue and comedy bits are used to help string it along.

Things do improve once he meets up with Fiorentino who puts on an effective foreign accent and adds much needed chemistry. The vivid on-location shooting avoids the well known landmarks and instead focuses more on the hotels and restaurants, which makes the viewer feel like they’re traveling alongside the characters.  Jonathan’s transition from cocky college student to scared kid in way over-his-head is interesting too, but something that I wished had been played up more.

Edwards’ performance helps the viewer remain sympathetic to his quandary despite the fact that it was his own naivety that got him into his jam. I didn’t like his hairstyle though, which to me looked more like a wig and, since he’s shown to be openly bald in his later years, it probably was. He was also older than his character and looking very much like the 23 years of age that he was, which is what Fiorentino guesses when she first meets him and not like 18, which is what his character supposedly is making the opening conversation that the two have unintentionally ironic.

The third act in which Jonathan returns to the states, but the Russian spies continue to chase after him, is when this thing really goes south. It would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the entire spy scenario remained in Europe instead culminating on the same college campus where it began making the intended irony too forced and too cute for its own good.

There were times when I did get caught-up in the intrigue, but film ruins the tension by always answering it with a comical twist that makes it come-off as too gimmicky. There’s also no explanation as to what was on the film role that Jonathan and Sasha were trying to smuggle out and the Russians were so eager to get back, which makes the plot transparent instead of exciting.

The one moment though that I really did like and even found quite memorable is when a caged tiger is brought into a classroom to show the veterinarian students how to shoot a sick animal with a sleep dart. The animal seems to be in very real pain and with genuine moans of discomfort and the part where he gets hit with the dart forces him to leap up in his cage in a very startled manner. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off getting a legitimately hurt tiger into the scene, but it’s the one segment where the movie isn’t silly and it’s too bad the rest of the script couldn’t have fallen in-line with that same type of approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD