Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Last Metro (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the Nazis.

Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is a young actor, who’s also a member of the French Resistance, living in occupied Paris during World War II. He gets a part as the leading man in a play at a playhouse run by Marion (Catherine Denueve) who has taken over the business since her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent), who was Jewish, and supposedly fled the country when the Nazis took over, but in reality is hiding-out inside the cellar. Bernard and Marion don’t get along at first, but slowly form a bond when they find a mutual enemy in the form of theater critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) who is an anti-Semite that writes a nasty review about their play, accusing it of being pro-Jewish, in an effort to close the place down, so that he can take it over.

The film, which was writer/director Francois Truffaut’s most successful movie financially and one of the highest grossing French Films ever, remains sufficiently compelling despite very little that actually happens. One of the elements though that I found intriguing was the behind-the-scenes segments revealing all the work that gets put into a play before its opening night premiere . I especially liked Nadine (Sabine Haudepin) as a young actress who tirelessly goes from one acting gig to another, sometimes multiple ones on the same day, in order to help her career and get established.

Revealing right away, or pretty much by the end of the first act, that the husband has never left the country like everyone presumes, was a mistake that lessened the intrigue. For one thing the place he is hiding in, which is the cellar of the theater, is not too creative and even has a back door leading out to the alley way, which made me feel that anyone could’ve caught on to his whereabouts a lot sooner especially as Marion sometimes leaves her visits with him by going out the back entrance. Any passer-by/snitch could see her doing this and wonder what the door lead to, or called the Nazi authorities to have them investigate. It’s also not clear how, in seemingly a few minutes time, Marion is able to hide Lucas and his bed/personal belongings, from the Gestapo when they eventually insist on checking-out the basement.

Marion’s interactions with her husband is not particularly compelling and yet these scenes take up the majority of the runtime during the second act while Depardieu, who is excellent, barely gets seen at all. Then during the third act Marion and Bernard suddenly get really into each other, but the interactions between the two needed to be shown more for this to be organic to the viewer and in fact should’ve been more the focus of the film than Lucas. Had I been the director I would’ve kept Lucas’ whereabouts a secret until near the end when Bernard finally becomes aware of it and used the mystery of whether Marion knew more about it than she lets on as part of the intrigue.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment. The tone of the film works as a drama, but then suddenly shifts with about 10 minutes to go into a quirky comedy, which doesn’t work. The story threads get wrapped up in too tidy of way leaving the dynamics of Marion’s relationship with Bernard and Lucas’ response to it wide-open. After 2 hours and 10 minutes the character arcs should’ve been better defined and since they aren’t it makes the viewer feel like the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, or lead to anything insightful, which is a shame as it’s a nice looking, period authentic production otherwise.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1980

Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Last Resort (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family takes nightmarish vacation.

George (Charles Grodin) is a Chicago salesmen who loses a major client when he calls him fat, which in-turn costs him his job. Feeling the need to get away from the cold Chicago winter and reassess things he decides to take his family to a tropical island for some much needed r-and-r, but finds the place run by crazy people who house everybody in tiny little cabins. The island is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence due to a civil war going on, which soon has George stuck in the middle of it.

This film was directed by Zane Buzby, who appears here as a abusive summer camp counselor and who has since left the directing profession and devoted her life to brining aid to last surviving members of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, which is a far better way to spend her time than making films like these, which isn’t funny and lacks any type of visual style. Much of the blame for this is the low budget, which makes the movie look cheap right from the start with its stock footage of a Chicago blizzard, the generic music score, and every indoor shot looking quite shadowy as if they weren’t able to afford enough spotlights to give it the properly lighted look. The island setting is bad too looking nothing like an actual island, but instead the brown, sun scorched landscape of a studio backlot.

The story is built around a lot of gags the majority of which aren’t funny, or even slightly original. The concept is the reverse of a National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where Chevy Chase plays the inept father who bungles everything while everyone else around him is normal. Here the father is the normal one and all the other people are nuts, but this doesn’t work as well as the folks behave in such an extremely absurd and obnoxious way that they have no bearing at all to real people and for satire to work it still needs to have some semblance to reality and this thing has none. It’s just insanity for the sake of goofiness with no point to it, which gets old fast.

I’m a big fan of Grodin, but his dry humored, deadpan observations are not put to good use and he ends up getting drowned out by all of the foolishness. I did though at least start to understand why Howard Stern always would accuse him of wearing a wig. To me I never thought he did wear one and Grodin, who disliked Stern immensely as he felt the shock-jock’s humor was too vulgar, would hotly dispute these accusations and even had one segment on his own short-lived talk show during the late 90’s where guests were allowed to tug on his hair just to prove it was natural and wouldn’t come off. However, here for whatever reason it really does appear like some rug plopped onto his skull that doesn’t even fit the dimensions of his head right.

Some of the supporting cast, which consists mainly of yet-to-be-famous, up-and-coming-stars does help a bit. This though does not include Megan Mullally, who plays Grodin’s daughter Jessica, who puts-on a high pitched, squeaky voice that I found really irritating. I did though find Jon Lovitz somewhat amusing as a bartender that can supposedly speak English, but can’t understand anything that Grodin says. Phil Hartman, wearing a blond wig, is a riot as a French gay guy named Jean-Michel who comes-onto Grodin, but my favorite was Mario Van Peebles as a flaming gay man who’s also one the tour guides. Some viewers may complain that his portrayal is too over-the-top and stereotypical, but it’s still campy fun especially at the end when he rips off his wig and suddenly turns into a macho guerrilla soldier freedom fighter.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Zane Buzby

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Pluto TV, Tubi

The Last Starfighter (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen recruited into battle.

Alex (Lance Guest) spends his time playing an arcade game called ‘Starfighter’ and gets so good at it that he becomes the game’s highest scorer. He’s then approached by the game’s inventor, Centuri (Robert Preston), to take a ride in his  futuristic-looking car as a prize. Alex accepts the invitation only to learn that Centuri really isn’t human, but instead an alien recruiting Alex to help them protect the frontier from Xur (Norman Snow) who has found a way to breach the forcefield that protects Rylos and the surrounding planets from invasion. The ‘Starfighter’ game was meant to be a test to find those that were good at the game and then bring them into the battle since the skills needed to win the game are the same ones needed for the battle.

While the film did quite well at the box office, bringing in $28 million from a $15 million budget, as well as spawning a novel version, a video game, and even an off-Broadway musical, I still found it to be a complete bore to watch. I don’t mind sci-fi, space-age movies, which were all-the-rage in the 80’s, but the special effects in this one are so tacky looking that I couldn’t take it seriously. This was one of the first films to use computer graphics instead of physical models, but the result makes this entire galactic war look like a video game. Maybe that was the intention, but I didn’t care for it.

The story, which was written by Jonathan R. Beutel while he worked as a cab driver, is full of too many plot holes. Having the setting inside a trailer park, which wasn’t even Beutel’s idea anyways, but instead director Nick Castle’s, is the only original thing about it. I didn’t understand though why all the people living in the trailer park would be so excited about Alex getting the high score in the game and come out of their homes to cheer him on. To them it’s just a silly kid’s game and becoming good at it doesn’t really mean much in the real-world, or lead to anything, so outside of an idle teenager with too much time on his hands, why care? It would’ve been more ironic had Alex achieved the high score with no one else around making him feel his efforts were under appreciated, only to later learn that in a far off galaxy it was anything but.

The way Centuri finds him, by literally driving up to him in the middle of the night in his snazzy car while Alex is conveniently walking alone is not interesting and this scenario could’ve been played-up in a more creative way by forcing Centuri to tour through the trailer park and visiting the many residents, which could’ve included some offbeat interactions, before he finally comes upon Alex. Also, why are these aliens forced to recruit a human teenager in their effort to save their own space fortress? Aren’t there other aliens within their own galaxy that could take-up the cause? What’s in it for Alex to get involved and put his life on the line for some distant, separate universe that he has nothing to do with and won’t directly affect his life in any way should these planets get invaded? The idea too that only two individuals, Alex and his alien pal Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), can take on this massive army and win are long odds that would only make sense in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

Guest was not the right choice for the part either as he was too old, playing a teen when he was already 23 at the time of filming and looking it. The part should’ve been played by a 12-year-old especially since the storyline is at a bubblegum level that only a preteen would be able to buy into. Preston is certainly a great actor, but I didn’t understand why his character felt the need to wear a human mask to disguise his alien face when all the other aliens freely showed who they were. It’s disappointing too that Norman Snow, who gives an campy performance as the villain, disappears too soon, but I really did like O’Herlihy, who’s completely unrecognizable underneath all of the make-up, and the only thing that makes watching this dopey thing slightly worth it.

The one aspect of the plot that is amusing is the Beta Alex that’s put in Alex’s place to help disguise that the real Alex is missing. These scenes, where the Beta learns to adapt to the human culture in awkward ways, are the only original bits in the film and where filmed after production had already finished when test audiences reacted favorably to the character forcing Guest to return to shoot the added scenes, but because he had already gotten a haircut by this time, the Beta Alex is then seen wearing a wig. Outside of these moments though I found the film to be pretty flimsy especially on the logical end and one of the weakest entries of the 80’s sci-fi craze.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nick Castle

Studio: Lorimar Film Entertainment

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

Another Woman (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She reanalyzes her life.

Marion (Gena Rowlands) is a college professor over 50, whose taken a leave of absence in order to write a book. Due to the construction at her place she sublets another apartment in order to have it quiet for her writing, but finds that it’s next to a psychiatrist’s office and through the vent can hear everything that the patients talk about. She becomes especially intrigued with a young pregnant woman named Hope (Mia Farrow) who talks about how empty her life is and this touches a cord with Marion, who despite being much older, feels the same way about her own life. This then forces her to reanalyze how she’s treated her family and friends through the years and causing her to face some harsh realities about herself.

While writer/director Woody Allen has the reputation of a being an intellectual as well as a perfectionist, the film’s opening shot had to be rewritten several times before he was happy with it, it’s surprising how dumb he is with basic physics. The idea that Marion could put a couple of couch cushions over the vent and this would be enough to blot out all of the noise coming from the neighboring apartment just doesn’t ring true. Sure it might muffle the voices a bit, but not a complete block of sound to where she’d hear no noise at all and having the vent be in another room in the apartment, which would’ve allowed her the convenience of simply closing that room’s door in order to cut-off the noise, would’ve worked better.

I was also surprised how later on in the film, Marion tells the psychiatrist about the ‘acoustical irregularities’ that allows her to hear everything that’s said in his office and the Dr. admits to being aware of this, but says he’ll ‘correct it’. What kind of psychiatrist though would knowingly allow his patient’s most personal thoughts to get out for others to hear? This made me think the plot would’ve worked better as one of Allen’s comedies where a writer puts the stories overheard from the patients into their book and when it becomes a best-seller, both the author and Dr. get sued and tormented by the angry patients sending them to a psychiatrists of their own.

Like with all of Allen’s dramas the cast of characters are entirely made-up of upper middle-class intellectuals, which gives the film an elitist, snobby vibe by implying that these types of people are the only ones sophisticated enough to have complex problems that people in the lower socio-economic classes supposedly don’t. They seem too much like caricatures as well who have the exact same interests (writing, the arts, and going to operas) and it would’ve been nice had there been one working class person who wasn’t into all of these things thrown into the mix simply to give it a better balance.

The fact that just about all of the characters are having affairs, many times with each other, makes it too soap opera-like. The scene where Gena bumps into Sandy Dennis and her husband and the three go to a pub for drinks gets particularly over-the-top when Dennis bluntly accuses her husband of paying too much attention to Gena. In most cases if a wife has a problem with her husband’s behavior she’ll keep it to herself and then bring it up later when the two are alone and not out in public for everyone to hear especially to a friend that she hasn’t seen in awhile and is only an acquaintance.

I didn’t like Marion as she’s too cold and while I realize this was intentional she’s not the type of person that the viewer can warm-up to, or care that much about. Mia Farrow’s character is far more appealing and I wanted more of her and was shocked how little screen time she ultimately gets. The part wasn’t even meant for her as she was set to play Marion before she got pregnant and then when Dianne Weist, who was originally cast as Hope, had to leave the production due to illness and her replacement, Jane Alexander, didn’t approach the character the way Woody wanted, so it was eventually given to Farrow, who does quite well despite the fact that she was already in her 40’s at the time even though the person she was playing was supposed to be in their 20’s.

The film does end on a strong note, but it does take awhile before it gets there and comes-off as clunky and unintentionally funny at other points. The scenes with John Houseman, who plays Marion’s father, are particularly hammy as he sits at the dinner table conveying his lines like he still thinks he’s Professor Kingfish speaking to an auditorium full of students. However, David Ogden Stiers impression of Houseman (he plays a younger version of him during a flashback scene) is spot-on and the movie is almost worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray (Region 0), YouTube

Goodbye Paradise (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for Senator’s daughter.

Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett) is a retired cop whose written a scathing exposé on the corruption of his former profession, which has gotten him many enemies and, along with his alcoholism, pushed to the very fringes of society. He now lives in a tiny, rundown apartment while playing chess with himself as his only means of companionship. One day he gets a call from a high-ranking Senator (Don Pascoe) who wants Michael to find his runaway daughter as he’s concerned that she’s gotten involved with an underground cult movement, which he fears could be detrimental to both her safety and to his own political career. Have no other means of income Michael takes-up the offer and soon gets immersed with an array of odd people and many twists that ultimately finds him in the middle of a military coup.

This offbeat movie starts out strong, but eventually goes overboard. The original idea by screenwriter Denny Lawrence was to have an ex-cop working as a private investigator who takes on a case of a runaway daughter who joined a religious cult run by a charismatic charlatan that eventually lead to the deaths of many of its members. However, after the Jonestown massacre, which was led by religious cult leader Jim Jones, this idea got nixed and the plot, with the help of co-scripter Bob Ellis who wanted a more political bent, got turned into a completely different direction, which doesn’t work as well.

The whole idea of a parent hiring a down-and-out, aging guy to find his long lost daughter doesn’t make much sense. The father’s a rich senator with lots of connections, so why not use the resources of the police, or a more polished detective to do the searching instead of an old bum more focused on when his next drink will be? Had Michael’s actual job, like in the original script, been as an private investigator then maybe, but in this version Michael was a struggling writer, so why pay someone to do something that they had no practice in doing, or if they did it had been a seriously long time and someone else could’ve been found to do it better?

The protagonist is a lovable loser, a sort of anti-hero who was meant to be a modern-day Philip Marlowe, and the main reason that get me hooked into the movie right away especially with Barrett’s perfect portrayal that is both raw and funny at the same time. However, the supporting characters are dull. The is especially evident with the Senator’s daughter, which due to a case of mistaken identity, he ends up dealing with two different young women, but both of them are stereotyped and cliched to the extreme. The dialogue and conversational exchanges that they have with Michael are flat making these scenes the most boring part of the movie. Nothing is worse than a film that does a excellent job of creating a multi-faceted person in one area, but then cuts-corners with the rest making the viewer like they’ve gotten stuck with only half a movie.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence, which involves an all-out military coup and lots of warfare-like action, is just too extreme and surreal especially for a story that starts out in a realistic vein. Much of the fault could be blamed on the two script writers with Lawrence wanting it to be a genre piece while Ellis preferring a more political take. The result is an imbalance that gets increasingly more wacky and implausible as it goes on until it becomes too cluttered to make much sense. Whatever statements the writers hoped to make here gets lost in the insanity and leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed with all of the absurdity.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Swing Shift (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women help build aircrafts.

Kay (Goldie Hawn) lives with her husband Jack (Ed Harris) in a housing complex in Los Angeles and have a happy marriage until December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, which causes Jack to immediately enlist into the Navy and go off to war. Kay now must learn to manage for herself and with the shortage of men many companies begin recruiting area housewives to apply to help fill-in. Kay, along with the other women in her neighborhood, get a job at a factory that builds aircrafts. It’s here that she becomes friends with Hazel (Christine Lahti) who lived next door to her, but she never got to know since her husband considered Hazel to be ‘white trash’. She also meets a fellow co-worker named Lucky (Kurt Russell) who was not drafted due to a heart condition. Lucky takes an immediate liking to her and asks her out even though he knows that she’s married. Kay at first resists his advances, but eventually gives in and starts an affair with him just as Jack returns home.

The film does a good job of recreating the 40’s period atmosphere and there’s an opening catchy tune sung by Carly Simon, but everything else is dull and boring. Many people blame this on Hawn who did not get along with director Jonathan Demme and insisted on many scenes being reshot with another director. Demme was so incensed about the changes that he tried to have his name removed from the credits, but was talked out of it while Nancy Dowd, who had written the screenplay, got listed under the pseudonym of Rob Morton. Hawn’s defense for going against the objections of the director was that she was simply trying to ‘make the movie work’, but in 2017 the magazine Sight and Sound compared Demme’s director’s cut to Hawn’s version and the article’s authors felt that Demme’s was far superior.

This is also where Russell and Hawn first met and precipitated their long relationship that they’re still in today, which is great, but Russell’s character was one of the biggest problems. He continually pesters Kay for a date even after she makes clear several times that she’s married and isn’t interested, which makes him come-off like a potential stalker. I also didn’t understand why he was so obsessed with her, sure she was good-looking, but so was he and he moonlight as a trumpeter at a dance club where he was the center of attention and could easily attract other women, so why get so hyper-focused with Kay when he could easily find many other pretty ladies to date in her place? I also didn’t like that Kay eventually goes to bed with him, which ends up rewarding his bad behavior.

Kay’s relationship with Hazel doesn’t work either. Initially they come-off as having wildly divergent personalities and lifestyles, Hazel is even quite snarky with Kay at the start, but then overnight they become best chums, which isn’t interesting, or authentic. The odd couple-like love/hate approach would’ve offered more zing in a movie that’s too tranquil to begin with. Much of this may be blamed on Hawn as well, as she felt Lahti had become too much of a ‘scene stealer’ and had many of her scenes either rewritten or cut-out completely.

It would’ve worked better had it focused more on the job and women trying to make-it in what was at the time a predominantly man’s world. There are some moments of sexism shown particularly with the character played by Charles Napier, but it gets quickly resolved, which is too convenient and misses out on being a character building drama that this movie was in desperate need of.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t say ‘cleaning woman’.

It’s the 1940’s and private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) gets a visit from Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) who wants him to investigate the mysterious death of her father, which she believes to have been murder. Rigby’s investigation turns up two lists both showing names of people who were either friends or enemies of a person named Carlotta. As Rigby continues his research he becomes menaced by a man who shoots him and steals the lists forcing Rigby to interview a wide array of different people in order to get to the truth.

In the spring of 1980 Martin got together with Carl Reiner and screenwriter George Gipe to go over his next movie project idea. He had just gotten done starring in Pennies from Heavena 1930’s period musical, and wanted to do another film from that era, a comedy that was entitled ‘Depression’. While going over the plot he mentioned using a clip from an old movie and splicing it into his film and making it a part of the story. This gave Reiner the idea of doing an entire movie centered around old movie clips ultimately leading to them using footage from 19 vintage films from Hollywood’s golden era with most of them being dramas that were meant to be taken seriously, but with Martin’s character responding to the lines mentioned by the actors in the clips in such a way that it becomes funny.

Incorporating a plot completely around old movies is certainly an inspired idea, but the result is only so-so. On the technical end you can clearly tell when an old film is spliced into the scene because it’s footage is much grainier than when it shows Martin or Ward. Having it all filmed in black-and-white helps a little but the new footage is too pristine and intentional scratches should’ve been added to make it better match the old stuff.

As for the story, well, it works for awhile, but then starts to get downright boring by the third act. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, but the concept wears itself out. Some have called this a one-joke movie, but I would describe it more as a joke that gets told over-and-over again until it’s predictable and redundant. Having old film clips put in during a certain part of the movie, but then focusing on other comedy angles during the rest of it would’ve worked better. Had it spliced-in only 1 or 2 other movies and with a smaller character count would’ve created less of a diluted effect as ultimately there’s just too many people to keep track of and the plot itself is too fabricated to hold much interest.

Martin is excellent and the fact that he didn’t watch any movies from the 40’s in order to prepare for the role as most other actors would’ve done, was a wise decision as he ends up creating his own style instead of coming-off like he’s imitating somebody else. Ward is good too and while she isn’t particularly funny she does make for a excellent straight-man, which is what a solid comedy needs by having a normal person play-off the other wackiness around them. Carl Reiner is engaging in a send-up of Erich Von Stroheim and it’s interesting seeing Reni Santoni appear here as he played a young Reiner 15 years earlier in the movie Enter LaughingThe characters though are flat and never evolve, which like with the other issues described above, make this movie a novelty experiment that never fully gels.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

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

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.

When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.

While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Continental Divide (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter falls for naturalist.

Ernie Souchack (John Belushi) is a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times who routinely covers the criminal activity of the local mob, but when his reporting gets a little too close to the action the mob boss (Val Avery) has Ernie beaten-up by a couple of corrupt cops. Howard (Allen Garfield), Ernie’s editor, decides to send him to Colorado for his own protection where he’s assigned to do an interview with the eccentric outdoor enthusiast Nell (Blair Brown). Nell, who spends her days researching eagles, lives alone in a tiny cabin high-up in the Rockies and normally does not take a liking to any reporters. Ernie though moves into her place for 2-weeks and while their initial reactions to one another is frosty they eventually end-up in a romantic relationship.

Hard to imagine that Lawrence Kasdan, who has written and directed so many great movies in his career (Body Heat, The Big Chill), was the screenwriter for this one, but this clearly isn’t his best work. The story is obvious and the set-up too forced. Nothing is worse than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start. Part of the problem is that Brown’s character is not played-up enough and she’s nowhere near as feisty as she billed as being. I found it unnerving too that she’d let a strange man burst into her cabin out of nowhere and sleep inside her place in the same room with her without any real protection to stop him from getting frisky if he wanted to. That wooden stick she used wasn’t going to help her especially if he attacked her while she was asleep. For all she knew this guy could’ve been an escaped killer, so what was going to prevent him from assaulting her in the middle of the night?

The main issue though is that these two had absolutely nothing in common, so the odds that a relationship could ever actually form between them is virtually nil. I know that there’s that age-old adage ‘opposites attract’, but there still needs to be a few things that the two have in common, despite the other differences, for that to work. The story’s logic is that spending 2-weeks with someone will be enough to create that romantic feeling, but if that were the case then every teen would automatically fall for their fellow campers each year during summer camp.

I could understand from Belshi’s perspective how Brown would attract him sexually, but what this tubby, out-shape, smoker offered her to make her go so ga-ga over him, I didn’t see. A far more believable romantic partner for her was Max Birnbaum (Tony Ganios) who is a muscular former NFL player who dropped out of society and lived as a hermit in the wilderness. The two share a couple of trysts, but then he conveniently disappears even though he gave the story some potential dramatic conflict and should’ve stayed.

Some people like this movie because it gives you a chance to see Belushi in a wider acting range, but he’s not very funny and doesn’t have anything to say that is either witty or clever. Having the second half of the film shift back to Chicago where Brown comes to visit might’ve been interesting had her character been better defined and we could see her difficulties in adjusting, but since her eccentricities never gets played-up enough these scenes add little.

Spoiler Alert!

I’ll agree with Leonard Maltin in his review where he stated that Kasdan clearly couldn’t come up with a finish and that’s the truth. Having the two go through a quickie, makeshift wedding only to then return to their separate ways and continue to live far apart made no sense and didn’t really ‘resolve’ anything. What’s the use of getting married if you’re never going to see the other person? The script needed more fleshing-out and seems like a broad outline in desperate need of character development and a more creative scenario.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: September 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Universal Pictures

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

Under the Rainbow (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drunk dwarfs vandalize hotel.

In 1938 an audition is held at the Culver Hotel in Hollywood for Little People to play the part of Munchkins for the upcoming movie The Wizard of Oz. Studio assistant Annie (Carrie Fisher) is put in charge of casting 150 dwarfs for the part. Meanwhile German secret agent Otto (Billy Barty), who is also a dwarf, has been sent by Hitler to California to seek out a Japanese spy who will supply him with top secret maps of American defense systems. Also coming to the hotel is secret service agent Bruce (Chevy Chase) who has been assigned to protect an Austrian Royal Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) from assassination and when all these different forces come together in the same place massive calamity ensues especially as the dwarfs get drunk and proceed to tear the place up.

Director Steve Rash and screenwriter Fred Bauer gained a lot of critical success with The Buddy Holly Story and it got them a contract with Orion Pictures where they signed on to direct a movie that would star Chevy Chase. Inspired by a long-running rumor that dealt with dwarfs getting drunk and rowdy while auditioning for the Munchkin roles at the Culver Hotel, where this film was actually shot, and they decided this would make a funny idea for their next project. The concept might’ve worked had they centered it around the dwarfs, but instead they’re treated as secondary players with no discernable personalities, who behave more like children instead of adults with a physical growth handicap.

Throwing in Chase was a bad idea. He had just signed a three picture deal with the studio, so was obligated to take the part when it was given, but he has later described this as ‘one of the worst movies ever made’ and in interviews, most notably on ‘The Tonight Show’, so has Carrie Fisher. I didn’t understand why the three different story threads were needed as it dilutes the plot, but apparently director Rash didn’t think people would come to see a movie that starred dwarfs, so Chase was added in to compel audiences to the theater, but he’s aloof and not funny and looking genuinely uncomfortable the whole way through.

The spy/espionage angle needed to be thrown out and instead everything centered around Fisher and her struggles in maintaining order throughout the audition. The dwarfs needed more of a dramatic presence too with some serious undertones put in showing the challenges of being a small person, which would’ve given the movie some depth that is otherwise missing. I did enjoy Billy Barty, but everything else is a shambles, which justifiably caused it to do poorly with both the critics and box office.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Orion Pictures

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