Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Buddy System (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A kid plays matchmaker.

Timmy (Wil Wheaton) is the 10-year-old son of Emily (Susan Sarandon) who’s a single mother still living with her mother (Jean Stapleton) because she can’t afford a place of her own due to always freezing up every time she tries to take the test to become a court reporter. In an effort to get Timmy into a better school they lie about where they live, which eventually gets found-out by security guard Joe (Richard Dreyfuss). Timmy though immediately takes a liking to him and thinks he’d make a good new boyfriend for his mother. He starts spending a lot of time at Joe’s and becomes fascinated by all the new inventions that he makes during his spare time. Emily though doesn’t like him at first, but slowly warms-up to him, but Joe is still smitten with vapid beauty Carrie (Nancy Allen) making any chance of relationship between Emily and Joe challenging.

This was the last film Dreyfuss did before his career got put on hold after he was caught blacking out while driving and arrested when cocaine was detected in his system. While he was able to kick the addiction he stayed out of the business for 2 years and when he returned he was all gray making this the last movie with his hair still brown.

I’m not quite sure why he thought this was a good role to take as it seems too much like the one he did in The Goodbye GirlIn that film his abrasive personality worked and made it interesting because it went against the grain of what we expect a male to behave in a romantic movie, but here he goes to the well too often. His abrasiveness is obnoxious particularly when he openly insults Emily in public during their first meeting, which should’ve made any attempt at a relationship after that completely impossible.

I felt that his character had too many hobbies as not only does he work a full-time job, but he also spends his free-time busily writing novels, which he can never get published, and also creating all sorts of inventions that litter his home. I realize people do have hobbies, which is great, but there’s only so much time in a day, so it would have to be one of the other and not both, as you start to wonder if he ever sleeps, or just sits back with a brew and watches TV.

His relationship with Carrie is a weak point. This is a smart guy, so what did he see in a clearly dim-witted woman like her that he would ‘fall in love’ with? She’s certainly attractive, so if he wants to get together with her for some sex from-time-to-time, which is all she seemed interested in anyways, then great, but I didn’t see what else she offered him especially intellectually that would make him want to be with her for anything more than an occasional tryst. If anything he’d should’ve found her boring, as the viewer certainly does, and it shouldn’t have taken him moving in with her to finally figure this out.

Sarandon is excellent, but I didn’t like the way her character literally jumps into bed with Joe the minute she mellowed on him. Having her frosty towards him made for an intriguing dynamic, and in a lot ways he deserved it, and the film should’ve played this up a bit longer. The sexual aspect, where they go to bed only for it not to go well, so they decided just to remain friends, doesn’t work. Usually people remain friends because one or both aren’t interested in it getting sexual, but rarely does it happen in reverse, so the film should’ve kept it realistic and not even bothered to throw in the sex angle at all.

As for Wheaton I enjoyed seeing a kid portrayed in a believable way where they aren’t just put into the story to say adorable, cutesy things, but instead shown, despite his young age, to be quite perceptive and aware of what’s going on. I did though have a hard time understanding why he got so enamored with Joe so quickly as he meets him for a half-minute and then immediately bonds with him and having him already familiar with Joe would’ve made more sense.

Overall, despite the blemishes, I did enjoy it on a non-think level. A lot of the credit goes to screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue, as she shows a good ability for understanding people living a working-class lifestyle and the inner struggles and insecurities that they face, which is the one thing that helps this movie stand-out.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 20 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Emoh Ruo (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New house falls apart.

Terri (Joy Smithers) is tired of living in a trailer and begs her husband Des (Martin Sacks) to finally buy a house, so they can live in the burbs and be a part of the middle-class dream. After saving up enough money they put a down payment on a brand new home, but the home begins to have a lot of problems. Both Terri and Des are forced to work longer hours at their jobs in order to keep up with the bills. What seemed like a dream at first soon turns into a nightmare making living in a trailer, which they initially hated, now seem like a good idea.

This film has a lot of similarities to Steven Spielberg’s The Money Pit, which came out a year later, but this one is more amusing, at least at the beginning. Spielberg’s film, which was directed by Richard Benjamin, was too cartoonish and silly and failed to make any broader statement other than wild comical antics. This one takes more of a satirical approach and shows how suburban life may not be as great as advertised and in some ways just plain not worth it. One of the funnier moments is when Terri gets home from her overnight job and the second she walks through the door immediately falls to the floor in exhaustion while her tired husband, who’s getting ready to go to his second job, steps over her while going out the door without so much as giving her a greeting.

I did like too that this movie doesn’t immediately go over-the-top with the problems of the home repairs. The Money Pit, in my opinion, ruined things by having everything go wonky right from the start, which didn’t allow for any buildup while this one keeps the tension by showing things not working as they should and making you interested in seeing if it’s going to get worse. The nightmarish elements aren’t just isolated to the home either as their son Jack (Jack Ellis) must put up with bullies at his new school and the couple also deals with nosy, meddling neighbors.

I was surprised by the abundance of nudity, at least during the first act, which is something you’d never see in a Hollywood movie, where nudity is usually only shown in film’s aimed at adults, or with adult themes, instead of a movie like this that would otherwise be perfect for the general public. I’m not sure exactly why director Denny Lawrence decided to put it in as it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot and could’ve easily been left out, but I can only presume that because Australia is a more secular country they’re less uptight about showing skin and therefore don’t worry, or fear, that putting it into a movie, even one as otherwise innocuous as this, will be a problem, or get backlash.

What I didn’t like though was Joy Smithers as the mother. While she certainly looks beautiful, both with her clothes on and off, she was, at age 22, too young to be portraying a suburban mother of a 10-year-old child. Her acting was problematic too especially her scenes where she’s supposed to be upset that doesn’t convey the subtle comic element that a better actress could’ve brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act, outside of seeing an outrageous looking BBQ pit built by the husband, fails to have much of a payoff. Many of the problems with the house never get properly addressed. For instance the shower knobs blow off the wall and spew streams of water everywhere, but the film cuts away without showing how they managed to get it under control. Having the entire house ultimately collapse isn’t impressive either as it looks too much like a prop house made of cardboard instead of brick and mortar.

I was disappointed too that the dark comical edge gets lost with a sitcom-styled wrap-up that seemed to lose complete sight of the main point, which ultimately makes the film as a whole quite transparent and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Denny Lawrence

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 4 Import)

I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter reunited with father.

Libby Tucker (Dinah Manoff) is a 19-year-old who decides one day she wants to go off to Hollywood to be an actress. While still living in New York she manages to take a bus to Denver and then hitch-hikes the rest of the way. Libby’s father, Herb (Walter Matthau) is a successful screenwriter living in Hollywood and she hopes to use his connections to get her big break, but unbeknownst to her Herb is at a low point in his career. He hasn’t been able to churn out any scripts lately and avoids making pitches to producers altogether. He lives in a ramshackle place with his on-again-off-again girlfriend Steffy (Annn-Margaret), but overall he’s lost his confidence and can’t seem to find it. He also hasn’t seen Libby in 16 years after he left her mother when she was only 3 years old. Libby realizes their first meeting will be awkward especially since he doesn’t even know she’s coming, but she hopes to make a bond with him as she feels it’s the one thing emotionally that’s missing in her life.

The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Neil Simon that first premiered in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater with Tony Curtis playing Herb, Joyce Van Patten as Steffy and Manhoff in the role of Libby. While the play received so-so reviews the feedback for the film was overall negative with Siskel and Ebert even selecting it as one of the worst movies of 1982.

One of the biggest problems is Libby who seems too naive for her age. Being a 6-year-old with wide-eyed dreams of becoming a movie star is one thing, but Libby is 19, a legal adult, with absolutely no experience in acting, a thick Brooklyn accent, and less than stellar looks and yet somehow expects to make it big almost overnight. Dreamers are okay, but they still have to have at least one foot in reality and this gal acts like she’s from a different planet. She also uses a flash camera and tries to take pictures into the dark night through the window of her bus, which any halfwit will tell you won’t turn out, and yet she’s gleefully unaware of this making it seem like she just popped out of the womb yesterday and lacking not even a smidgen of common sense.

Herb is another problem. He literally abandoned the family over a decade ago and has made no attempt to communicate with the kids since then. Most adult children who’ve been through that have no interest in meeting the absentee parent who was never around. If they do it’s only to learn a little about them, but not necessarily expecting them to be a part of their lives, or to have an emotional bonding and yet Libby does expect this, which again just makes her too goofy to be believable.

I was confused why Herb would even want Libby back in his life. This was a man who presumably could’ve cared less what she was doing for the past 16 years and yet now after she moves-in he becomes a nervous parent worrying when she stays out too late, but if he didn’t worry about her staying out late before when she was in New York then why now? I’d think if a father hasn’t seen his children in that long a time then they just don’t care and don’t want to be bothered. In reality this ‘reunion’, where only one member wants it to happen, should’ve been a far colder experience. Having the dad then turn his bachelor life upside down to accommodate her seemed forced and didn’t help to explain why Herb behaved the way he did for the past decade and a half, if at heart, he really was just a caring, swell guy.

Ann-Margaret is good playing the one character that seemed half-way relatable and helps balance things, but she’s not in it enough. The script has Simon’s sharp dialogue, which helps, but the plot is built on such a superficial foundation, and written by someone who clearly never experienced child abandonment himself nor cared to do any research on it and was simply using it as an excuse to create cheap, sentimental drama, that it’s hard to take seriously, or find compelling in any meaningful way.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 26 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Peter Sellers’ last movie.

Fu Manchu (Peter Sellers) is a 168-year-old man, who on his birthday must drink a elixir vitae in order to remain youthful and alive. When one of his servants (Burt Kwouk) brings in the formula his shirt sleeve catches fire from all of Fu’s birthday candles and it causes the servant to use the elixir to put the flames on his sleeve out. This forces Fu to have his henchmen go on a international crime spree to find the necessary ingredients to create a new youthful formula for him to drink. After one of Fu’s men steals a diamond in an exhibit it catches the attention of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roger Avery (David Tomlinson) who then calls in two F.B.I. agents (Sid Caesar, Steve Franken) to help him on the case. They also visit the aging Nyland Smith (Peter Sellers) who is a former adversary to Fu and knows his traits well, but Nyland has become senile and eccentric. They also use the services of Alice (Helen Mirren) an undercover police detective who masquerades as the Queen, which they feel Fu’s men will try to kidnap, but when Alice gets kidnapped she falls-in-love with Fu and agrees to help him in his crimes.

This marked Peter Sellers last film and for all purposes it may well be the worst one he was in. He was just coming off high praise for his performance in the critically acclaimed Being There, but instead of using his career resurgence to find more highbrow fare he instead reverted back to his old ways of campy comedy. During the early 70’s, when he was in a lot of duds, his excuse was that he was doing it only for the money, but in this case I’m not sure of his reasoning. In any event it’s a train wreck from the first frame to the last.

Initially he was going to team-up with director Richard Quine as the two had worked together two years earlier in The Prisoner of Zenda, but they had a falling-out before production even began. Piers Haggard was then brought in to take Quine’s place, but he became horrified to learn that Sellers had taken it upon himself to rewrite the script turning it from a plot driven story into a cheap gag-a-minute stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Haggard, despite Sellers objections, tried to turn the screenplay back to what it was, or at least in Haggard’s words, ‘give it something that resembled a beginning-middle-and-end’, but his attempts were futile and the whole thing becomes one, long misguided farce that goes nowhere and lacks any interesting elements.

A lot of the humor is lame and includes Nyland having falling-in-love with his lawn mower, which he takes with him everywhere even when he’s inside people’s homes. One segment has him ‘mowing’ the carpet of the inspector’s office, which is kind of funny, but then it cuts to a long shot where we see no damage to the carpet, so what’s the point of doing the gag if there’s no visual payoff? The bit where Nyland turns his country home into a flying machine had potential, but the abysmal special effects ruin it.

Helen Mirren almost saves it with her excellent performance and I enjoyed David Tomlinson in his last film, who shows more energy than the rest of the cast. Sellers though seems tired and worn-out and his acting lacks the required energy. In some ways he looks quite healthy here including showing a nice tan when he’s in the Nyland role, but this actually hurts the characterization as Nyland is supposed to be old and elderly, but despite his gray hair he really doesn’t look it. Peter’s two good moments comes when he’s in the Fu role and breathing heavily as he watches Helen strip, the bit at the end where he becomes a rock star is impressive and he seems to be singing in a completely different voice. If it was dubbed then it takes away from it, but if he was using his real voice then he deserves credit as it certainly didn’t sound like any of the other accents he had ever used in his career.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Piers Haggard (Peter Sellers uncredited)

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

Caddyshack II (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very bad sequel.

Kate (Jessica Lundy) is looking to fit-in with fashionable society by becoming friends with snooty Miffy (Chynna Phillips) whose parents (Robert Stack, Dina Merrill) run the affluent Bushwood Gold Club. Miffy tries to get Kate and Kate’s father Jack (Jackie Mason) to join the club. Kate, wanting to move-up the social ladder, convinces her father to send in an application and since Jack is financially well-off he’s quickly accepted. However, once Jack arrives his oafish personality and gaudy attire make him a turn-off to the other members. Miffy’s parents also don’t like him since he wants to build low income housing in their ritzy neighborhood. Jack is soon kicked-out of the club and told never to return, which causes Jack to buy the course and turn it into an amusement park and the only way Miffy’s family can win it back is if they challenge him to a golf game.

This is another sequel that had no business being made since the original had a perfect ending and no need for any continuation. Harold Ramis, who directed the first one and gets onscreen credit for co-writing this script, was not interested in making it, but eventually decided to dive in at the insistence of Rodney Dangerfield, who had figured prominently in the first film and wanted to take part in another one. Unfortunately Rodney became displeased with the quality of the scripts that were sent to him and eventually bowed out, which caused Ramis to leave the project as well. Bill Murray didn’t want to recreate his role and neither did Michael O’Keefe, while Ted Knight had already passed away leaving only Chevy Chase to return unless you count the gopher who figures more prominently here. Chase, who later regretted being in this, is the only funny thing about it, and seems for the most part to be ad-libbing his lines as it went along.

The biggest problem is that many of the performers add nothing to the story. This is especially true for Dyan Cannon, who at 50 looks great and would be considered these days as a ‘MILF’, but her character serves no other function other than to fall in love with Mason and appears only sporadically. Jonathan Silverman, who fills-in for the role played in the original by Michael O’Keefe, is barely seen and could’ve easily been cut-out. The normally reliable Dan Akroyd, who plays the part that Bill Murray would’ve, is wasted while speaking in a high-pitched voice that is more annoying than funny.

What I found most irritating is the presence of Robert Stack, who is stiff and pale and looking like an old guy with too much plastic surgery. Ted Knight, who played the role in the original at least had a colorful way of conveying his lines, but Stack speaks his lines like an over-rehearsed robot, which makes his presence quickly forgettable. I was also dismayed that he took over the antagonist role from Dina Merrill, as it initially seemed like she’d be the one to be Jackie Mason’s nemesis, which is a shame as a strong, powerful, yet ruthless woman going up against a putzy guy like Mason could’ve brought out some interesting dynamics that gets lost when it’s just between two aging men.

I was also confused why Randy Quaid is in this as he plays Mason’s obnoxious lawyer, but says things that Mason’s character could’ve easily said himself. I suppose in an attempt to make Mason more likable the writer’s decided to give the more edgy lines to Quaid, but the result is throwing in another character that really isn’t necessary. Apparently had Dangerfield agreed to be in it then his friend Sam Kinison would’ve played this role, who would’ve been better.

The film also fails to recreate the day-in-the-life feel of a country club, which is what had made the first one so engaging. In fact there are a lot of scenes that don’t even take place at the golf club. I also couldn’t stand how Mason renovated the place into a tacky miniature gold-like course, which seemed like a desecration and made me actually want Robert Stack to win the final match, so that he, even as much of a jerk that he and his wife were, could’ve turned the place back into a sensible looking golf course that it should’ve been.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube

Caddyshack (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow-up the gopher.

Trying to work his way through college, Danny (Michael O’Keefe) gets a job as a caddie at an exclusive golf course. He becomes friends with Ty (Chevy Chase) who is the son of the club’s co-founder. He also begins caddying for Judge Smails (Ted Knight) in hopes to get on his good side since the Judge is also in charge of the caddie scholarship program, which Danny hopes to win in order to help pay for his education. The Judge and Danny form a hot-and-cold relationship with the Judge usually more annoyed with Danny than not though he does warm-up to him after the Judge accidentally hits an elderly woman with a golf club that he recklessly threw, but gets off-the-hook for taking the responsibility when Danny comes forward and takes the blame. The man though that really causes the Judge’s ire is Al (Rodney Dangerfield) a wealthy real-estate tycoon, who begins golfing at the club and constantly makes fun of the judge at every turn. Al considers the judge to be an uptight elitist snob, while the judge sees Al as being uncouth and lacking in social graces. The two men ultimately square off in a high stakes golf match just as the club’s dim-witted groundskeeper Carl (Bill Murray) rigs the course up with tons of dynamite in an attempt to get rid of a pesky gopher that’s been destroying the grounds.

This was another film that upon its initial release, like with The Shining and  Blade Runnerwas given a lukewarm response by the critics, but has since then become a classic by the vast portion of the movie going public. Part of the reason this one didn’t gel well with the critics is because of what was considered ‘sloppy’ comedy that had very little story and relied too heavily on gags to keep it going. The script, written by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill, and Douglas Keeney, was supposed to emphasize the caddy’s more and be a coming-of-age comedy, but the producers, much to the writer’s dismay,  decided to throw-in more colorful characters including a gopher who chews up the course and constantly avoids capture, which was an idea that co-writer Douglas Kenney really hated. The result made the story come-off as being too loosely structured and more concerned with creating comical bits than making any type of statement.

I admit when I first saw this movie over 20-some odd years ago that’s how I came away feeling too, but this time I approached it more as a day-in-the-life saga between society’s have-and-have-nots with the caddies portraying the working class while the course’s nouveau riche clientele made up the establishment. When taken in this vein the film works really well and I especially liked the way the Danny and the Judge’s relationship evolves throughout with the judge ultimately much more dependent on Danny than you might’ve originally thought possible.

Of course it’s the comedy that makes it all come together and there’s truly some side-splitting moments including the infamous Babe Ruth candy bar in the pool bit that was the one thing about the movie that I had remembered when I first saw over 2-decades ago and now upon viewing it a second time had me rolling over in laughter even more especially when you realize that it apparently is based on a real-life incident that occurred to writer Doyle-Murray while he worked at a golf club in Winnetka, Illinois. I also really enjoyed the moment where we see Bill Murray’s incredibly makeshift living quarters inside the course’s utility shed that features a reunion between he and fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. The two had gotten into a well publicized fist-fight behind-the-scenes while working on that show a couple years before, but both managed to work together in this scene, which had been written-in at the last minute by director Harold Ramis for exactly that purpose, without a hitch.

Rodney Dangerfield’s star-making turn as the crass, but wealthy patron is a riot too and I particularly enjoyed his over-sized, multi-purpose golf bag and his nervous fidgeting especially his twitchy legs when he stands, which was all genuine and anxiety driven. Knight quite good too in a perfect caricature of a pompous jerk though he reportedly was vocally upset during the production at the excessive partying and hijinks that went on amongst the rest of the cast members, including a lot of drug use, which he felt was unprofessional. I even liked Cindy Morgan as the Judge’s niece and resident ‘hot babe’ who despite being a blonde was fortunately not portrayed in the stereotype of being dumb, but instead as savvy and observant. Followed 8 years later by a sequel, which will be reviewed next.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Little Miss Marker (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid used for collateral.

Sorrowful Jones (Walter Matthau) is a no-nonsense bookie running a gambling operation during the 30’s. When one of his clients named Carter (Andrew Rubin) cannot pay back his $10 debt he puts up his 6-year-old daughter (Sara Stimson), who is simply known as ‘the Kid’, as collateral. Sorrowful tells his assistant named Regret (Bob Newhart) to look after her, but Regret does not like kids, so he drops the young girl off at Sorrowful’s doorstep one night and then promptly leaves forcing Sorrowful to begrudgingly become her surrogate father figure. Eventually the two grow fond of each other and become inseparable, as does Amanda (Julie Andrews) who’s the girlfriend to a crime boss named Blackie (Tony Curtis). Blackie does not like that Sorrowful is showing an interest in Amanda, or her in him and  proceeds to try and throw a monkey-wrench into their potential affair while also coercing Sorrowful to partner with him in a fixed horse race.

This film was the fourth remake of the story that originally came out in 1934 and starred Adolphe Menjou as Sorrowful and Shirley Temple as the Kid. In 1949 it got remade with Bob Hope playing Sorrowful and Mary Jane Saunders as the child. Then is 1962 a variation of the story was was done called 40 Pounds of Trouble that was shot on-location in Disneyland and starred Tony Curtis in the Sorrowful role, though the character name was changed to Steve, and Claire Wilcox portraying the child, whose name in the film was Penny. While I have not seen any of those versions I still came away feeling this one had to be the weakest. A lot of the problem is that the script relies too heavily on the cuteness factor of the child, who is certainly adorable, but has no discernable personality. It’s also hard to imagine that a child who has just been abandoned by her father, and had also gone through the trauma of the death of her mother, would be so well-behaved and in reality would probably be showing some serious adjustment issues.

I’m not sure why Matthau, who also produced, thought this project would be a good idea, but appearing in it did not bolster his career. Didn’t he ever hear of the old adage never share the screen with animals or cute kids as they’ll just steal away all the attention? It’s not like Stimson, whose only movie role this was and who now works as a pediatrician in Arizona,  didn’t have to do anything special for that to happen as her big blue eyes are enough to capture the heartstrings of just about any viewer. I also had a hard time understanding his character particularly the fact that he was this brash, tough talking bookie yet doesn’t carry a gun nor have any fighting skills as proven by the fistfight he attempts to have with Curtis where even though Curtis was shorter Matthau he’s is still frightened of him and constantly backing away whenever Curtis got in his face. You’d think a streetwise person would have some ability to defend himself if needed and not just slink away the second someone else, particularly one who was smaller, suddenly got aggressive.

Bob Newhart gets completely wasted in a role that’s so small and insignificant I’m surprised why he even took it. I also didn’t think this was the right movie for Julie Andrews either. Sure, she has an engaging quality, but for a woman dating a crime boss she seemed way too pure and innocent almost like she was completely oblivious to his underhanded nature. In reality the people one hangs out with will inevitably rub off on that person and a more realistic portrayal would’ve had her being a bit corrupt, which would’ve actually been more interesting as it would’ve created a two-dimensional character who was cold and conniving most of the time, but then when the kid comes along a softer side gets exposed.

In contrast both Curtis and Brian Dennehy, who plays his henchmen, are a delight and needed more screen time. It’s interesting too seeing Lee Grant appear near the end playing a judge and almost unrecognizable in a gray wig, but the story as a whole flounders chiefly because, outside of the scenes showing a fixed horserace, there’s no action at all, which makes it absurd to call this a ‘family movie’. If I, as an adult, was bored I can only imagine a kid being even more so. In fact I’d say this movie really wasn’t made for kids at all, but instead little old ladies who enjoy cutesy kids the way they like cutesy puppy dogs and want children only shown as being adorable even though kids, like with everyone else, can have their bad side, which conveniently gets left out here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Bernstein

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

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