Category Archives: Comedy/Drama

Teachers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teaching can be difficult.

Alex (Nick Nolte) is a burned-out teacher who feels that the system is working against him as he tries to do his job in an inner-city school despite having no support from administrators. Things come to an ugly light when Lisa (JoBeth Williams) a former student of his who’s now an attorney takes part in a lawsuit suing the school for graduating a student who could not read.

Producer Irwin Russo drew on his 10-years as a teacher at an inner-city New York high school as the basis for the story and the film has some good trenchant points, but trying to put a satirical spin to it was a mistake. To make a good satire you gotta go all-in and this film timidly goes half-way with humor that at times, especially at the beginning, is off-putting. It’s not until the second-half when it gets more serious does it ever start catching its stride and the production would’ve been better had it remained a drama from the very beginning.

Nolte comes off like he’s suffering from one long hang-over, which may have been the intention, but the way he basically sleepwalks through the role gives the film no energy and makes the viewer feel as drowsy as he is. His relationship with Lisa, his former student, is forced and uninteresting and even a bit unbelievable since they look to be basically the same age. Judd Hirsh who plays the vice principal should’ve been the lead adult character as he does a great job of balancing the comedy with the drama by playing it straight and simply responding in sometimes glib and humorous ways to the insanity around him.

Ultimately it would’ve worked better had Ralph Macchio been made the star as he’s excellent despite the irony that he was already 23 at the time, but looking more like he was still in the eight grade. Crispin Glover as his goofball friend doesn’t work as well. Sometimes his pseudo-psycho characters are interesting, but here it is poorly defined and distracting. Laura Dern’s character is annoying as she plays another one of those perennial teen girls who gets pregnant and then wants an abortion, which has been so overused in so many other high school films that by now it seems like a cliche.

I did like the on-location shooting done at the former Central High School in Columbus, Ohio and the student body looks to be made up of actual teens and not just young adults trying to play one, but they did seem at times to be a bit unrealistically too well behaved. The scene where a teacher Mr. Stiles (Royal Dano) would fall asleep behind his desk and the students would still quietly do their homework made no sense as I would think they’d take advantage of the situation and goof-off instead.  Richard Mulligan’s role as an escaped mental patient pretending to be a substitute teacher is equally implausible as I thought the authorities would’ve caught up to him much sooner than they do although it is fun seeing him wearing a General Custer outfit as it looks quite similar to the one he wore in Little Big Man when he played the actual Custer.

There are a few good moments here and there, but it’s badly undermined by the misguided humor and corny ending. The eclectic supporting cast though is a treat to watch. I enjoyed William Schallert as a principal who seemingly wants to avoid confrontation at all costs as well as Lee Grant as a lawyer, which is the type of profession her acting style seems born to play. Originally the part was written for a man, but she plays it better than any guy ever could and I also enjoyed seeing her with a brunette hairdo instead of her usual red one, which makes her appear younger than she did in the 70’s.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD

Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls go traveling.

Rafferty (Alan Arkin) works as a driving instructor and is also an alcoholic. One day while relaxing at a park he meets him up with a kooky lesbian pair known as Frisbee (Mackenzie Phillips) and Mac (Sally Kellerman) who have both been recently released from prison. Initially the pair kidnap Rafferty at gunpoint and force him to take them to New Orleans, but Rafferty soon develops a bond with them as they go jaunting around the west looking for excitement and diversion from their otherwise boring lives.

This film works differently from the usual road movie as there’s no real structure to it at all. In some ways this is more realistic as the romanticism is erased and we’re left with nothing more than random events that leads to no conclusion other than dispelling the myth that hitting-the-road will somehow lead to some new self-awareness as these character’s lives remain just as directionless upon their return as it was when they left. Watching the petty crimes that they commit in order to survive ends up being the film’s only entertaining value in what is otherwise a meandering and flat story.

Phillips gives a good performance as a tough, street smart juvenile delinquent who I felt was channeling her own precarious upbringing as the daughter of singer John Phillips in order to have been able to play the part with such a vivid authenticity. If anything she gives the film a much needed edge and is the only real good thing about it.

Kellerman is okay and even sings a country tune, but what impressed me most was how young they made her appear as she was nearing 40 at the time, but she looked more to be in her early 20’s. Arkin surprisingly manages to stay restrained and never once goes into one of his patented hyper rants, but in the process comes off as too mellow and allows his two female co-stars to act circles around him.

The film also features some good supporting work by a cast full of faces who you’ve seen before, but don’t quite know what their names are. Alex Rocco is particularly engaging as a shyster that Arkin meets in a casino who clings to the trio as a hanger-on before getting inadvertently dumped, which was a shame as I liked his energy. Charles Martin Smith has an engaging bit as a naive soldier on a 15-day army leave who gets robbed by Phillips and then tries to relentlessly track her down.

Director Dick Richards won many accolades for his first flick The Culpepper Cattle Company and the realism it gave to the old west and he seems to be taking the same approach here by connecting the modern-day road movie to the rugged individualism of the bygone cowboy, but it doesn’t come off as effectively as it could’ve. A stronger cinematic approach that captured the western landscape would’ve made it more visually appealing as well as having a soundtrack that wasn’t so generic.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit perverse by today’s standards as Kellerman leaves them so Arkin then poses as Phillips’ father in order to get her out of the orphanage and allow the two to travel to Uruguay. The intent at the time may have seemed innocuous as Arkin was simply filling the role as her surrogate father, but these days many viewers will consider it ‘creepy’ and presume that the middle-aged man was trying to take advantage of this 15-year-old’s desperate situation in order to have a sexual relationship with her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 2, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

A Touch of Class (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sexual liaison turns romantic.

Steve (George Segal) is an American businessman working in London who meets Vickie (Glenda Jackson) a divorced mother of three. Despite being married he immediately takes a liking to Vickie after sharing a cab ride with her and makes no secret that he’d like to have a ‘no-strings-attached’ sexual affair. Vickie approves of the idea, but wants a more romantic setting, so Steve whisks her off to Malaga, but things get complicated when Steve’s friend Walter (Paul Sorvino) shows up on the same trip and constantly gets in the way.

Surprisingly this limp comedy got nominated for Best Picture, which is really hard to believe since there isn’t anything all that funny or original about it. In fact it seems very similar to another picture that writer/director Melvin Frank did in the ‘60s called The Facts of Life, which starred Lucille Ball and Bob Hope and had almost the exact same plot.

The biggest problem is that it doesn’t take enough advantage of its comical potential. Having Steve’s wife Gloria (Hildegard Neil) show up with the kids unexpectedly and want to go on the trip with Steve should’ve been played out much more as it was ripe with comic potential, but instead the film nixes this idea after introducing it and nothing is more annoying than a movie, which sets-up an interesting idea only to then backtrack on it.

Paul Sorvino’s character is equally wasted and his presence could’ve created far more complications that never transpire. In return the movie falls back to a lot of lame situations that seem thrown in for cheap laughs like Steven suddenly going through back spasms, or challenging a 13-year-old kid to a golf game that has nothing much to do with the main plot and basically comes off as forced and lame. The arguments or ‘spats’ that couple have are equally inane and this culminates with the two throwing furniture and clothing at each while in the hotel room, which sends this supposedly ‘sophisticated’ adult comedy dangerously close to becoming benign slapstick instead.

The third act in which the two rent out a flat and continue to have the affair even after they return to London doesn’t improve things. Jackson is supposedly this single mother and yet after she moves into the flat she seems to essentially abandon the kids who disappear from the movie altogether. It also seems hard to believe that Steve’s wife wouldn’t at some point start to catch on to the fact that something was going on as these things eventually will catch up with a person and there’s just so many close calls one can have before finally getting caught and yet here that never happens.

The fact that Steve is very open about his marriage to Vickie and even confides in having previous affairs makes Vickie seem really stupid for wanting to get involved with him in the first place. Supposedly she just wants casual sex as much as he does, but then refers to their trip as a ‘romantic’ one making it seem like she has the idea that this will turn into a relationship. When things do finally sour one doesn’t feel sorry for her as she was old enough to better and anyone with an IQ over 2 would’ve seen the red flags from the start, so why didn’t she?

The only interesting aspect about the movie is that Jackson won her second Oscar for it, which was highly unusual since she had just won her first one 2 years earlier and quite unexpected making many people consider a recount was necessary as they were convinced it had to have been a mistake. It’s not that Jackson gives a bad performance because it is actually quite good, but Marsh Mason, who was the predicted front-runner, gave a superior one in Cinderella Liberty and she should’ve won it.

For years many people wondered what it was about Jackson’s acting in this film, which is a very ordinary fluffy movie at best, that made her stand out to the Academy judges and beat such long odds. A few years back I read somewhere, and I can’t remember where it was at this point, that the reason she won it was for one particularly moment in the movie where Segal tells her that the relationship is over, but instead of her breaking down and crying like the script asked for she puts her head into her hands and remains silent for several seconds. Director Frank argued with her about doing this, but she insisted she wasn’t the type of woman who cries easily and therefore doing it the other way seemed more natural to her and in turn this impressed the judges when they watched the movie because her character responded to something in a completely unexpected way, which apparently was enough for her performance to stand out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Class (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen fucks friend’s mother.

Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy) is a new student at a prep school who rooms with Skip (Rob Lowe) and almost immediately gets mocked by the other students for being geeky. To help bolster Jonathan’s reputation Skip has him sent off to Chicago where he can meet-up with a woman, have sex with her, and then bring back her panties as a souvenir. Jonathan does that when he hooks-up with the beautiful middle-aged Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset) whom he meets at a bar and the two begin a relationship. The problem is that Ellen is also Skip’s mother.

The film was written and directed by Lewis John Carlino who had done several highly acclaimed films previously both as a writer and director so having him churn out what amounts to being just another crude ‘80s teen T&A flick is genuinely shocking. My belief is that Carlino wanted to do something that had a little more depth to it, but due to the success of movies like Porky’s the studio pressured him to incorporate raunchy humor, which creates an awkward narrative that jumps precariously from broad comedy to clumsy drama.

The film’s low point comes when Virginia Madsen, in her film debut, gets her blouse torn off and has her breast exposed that has nothing to do with the main plot and just a shameless excuse to throw in some nudity. Madsen has described her experience on this film as being unpleasant and if anything despite some ‘serious’ moments later on this scene really cements the movie as being mindless lowbrow tripe at its worst.

My biggest beef though was with Bisset’s character. It’s never explained why this sexy middle-aged woman would become attracted to a boyish guy that was young enough to be her son. Just saying she was in an unhappy marriage wasn’t enough. She could’ve attracted many eligible men that were her age, so why does she end up going to bed with a teenager that looks like he isn’t even old enough to shave?

Bisset complained in interviews that the film cut out many crucial scenes that would’ve given her character’s actions more subtext. One included having Lowe visit her after she checks herself into a hospital. This scene was needed as the film essentially has her ‘disappear’ and only mentions in passing where she’s gone while seeing a scene with Lowe visiting her would’ve given the characters and movie better closure.

I also thought it was weird that Lowe and McCarthy continue to room together even after the awful revelation of the affair comes to light. I would think that the awkwardness of the situation would have both boys clamoring to be transferred to a different dorm room. They also end up getting into a physical altercation, which gets pretty extended and one of the film’s best moments, but I sided with Lowe, which I’m not sure was the filmmaker’s intention, as I felt McCarthy deserved to get his ass kicked since he continued to have sex with Bisset even after he knew she was Lowe’s mother.

The film only works when Lowe and McCarthy are together and in fact Lowe’s engaging performance is a highlight, so a better scenario would’ve had both boys going to Chicago for a road trip and to get laid. At a bar they’d meet an attractive middle-aged woman and bring her back to a hotel room for a threesome. Afterwards both boys would compete for her affections only to later realize that she was the wife of the principal of their school. This situation would’ve allowed for more consistent comedy while not seeming like a poor rip-off of Summer of ’42 and The Graduate, which is essentially what this movie becomes.

The plot, as dumb as it is, can’t even sustain the film’s entire runtime as the third act consists of Stuart Margolin  investigating students cheating on their SAT’s that goes nowhere and put in solely as filler. Overall the film is a pointless excursion and worth seeing only if you’re into Bisset or for catching John Cusack, Lolita Davidovich, or Virginia Madsen in their film debuts.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis John Carlino

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Born to Win (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Junkie needs his fix.

J.J. (George Segal) is a former hairdresser now residing on the streets due to his heroin addiction. To help pay for his expensive habits he agrees to transport drugs for Vivian ( Hector Elizondo) which gets him into deeper trouble with the criminal underworld. Eventually two cops (Ed Madsen, Robert De Niro) catch up with him and agree to strike a deal, which will allow him to avoid jail time if he agrees to turn Vivian and his cohorts in. J.J. though is more concerned with getting his next fix and nothing else matters not even the hot young chick Parm (Karen Black) who he has just moved in with.

There were many 70’s films, some might say too many, dealing with the drug addiction theme. Some were quite compelling while most of the others were highly clichéd. This one though takes a slightly different angle by injecting comedy into the proceedings and surprisingly it works. J.J.’s conversation with an older woman cashier (Sylvia Syms) about enemas, which he does in order to distract her from seeing his buddies stealing the company’s safe, is quite amusing. The best part though is when J.J. is stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but a woman’s bathrobe and then when he’s held prisoner in an apartment bedroom he flashes a young woman from across the street in order to get her attention to call the cops, but instead she proceeds to just flash him back, which is a laugh-out-loud moment especially when the viewer later gets to see Segal running down the city’s streets in the pink bathrobe with startled pedestrians looking on.

The film though fails when it tries to get serious. The dramatic moment where J.J.’s friend Billy (Jay Fletcher) takes some corrupted heroin and it kills him gets botched. Maybe it’s just me as I’ve seen many movies, but I could tell where this scene was headed right from the start and the intended ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ of it instead becomes boring and overly played-out.

Karen Black’s presence helps. Her character is quite goofy to the point that she gets turned-on by J.J. when she catches him trying to steal her car and even invites him back to her place afterwards. Normally this behavior would be considered too wacky to be believable, but Black’s ability to channel her inner freak gives the whole thing an authentic feel and her later conversations dealing with how many men she has slept with is a gem as well.

Segal’s performance is solid, but we never effectively get inside his character’s head. The film would’ve been far stronger had we seen what his life was like before he became an addict and the jarring contrast in his lifestyles could’ve made for a powerful statement, which unfortunately is lacking. We also never get to see him actually putting the needle into his arm. We see at one point the needle marks in his skin, but seeing him taking the drug would’ve hit the message home visually.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is frustrating as he is given a bag of heroin that he knows may be tainted and ultimately will kill him if he takes it and yet it is left wide open as to whether he tries it or not. The idea that someone would be so strung out to get a high that they would knowingly take something that they knew could instantly kill them is an intriguing quandary that needed to be answered and the fact that it doesn’t is why this film despite a few good moments ultimately misses-the-mark.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich guy goes broke.

Arthur (Dudley Moore), still a boozing and irresponsible cad with a lot of money, finds out that Linda (Liza Minnelli), his wife of 6 years, wants to have a baby, but she can’t have one naturally, so they’re forced to consider adoption. They have a good initial meeting with the representative (Kathy Bates) at the adoption agency only to find that Burt (Stephen Elliot), still upset at the way Arthur jilted his daughter Susan (Cynthia Sikes) at the altar 6 years earlier, has taken control of Arthur’s inheritance through some wheeling-and-dealing and turned him into a poor man. Now for the first time in his life Arthur must find a job despite having no experience in the working world at all.

This sequel takes the idea of what I thought should’ve happened in the first film, but unfortunately botches it badly by creating a concept with too many loopholes. Exactly how does a man worth 750 million lose it all just like that? Wouldn’t he have some of that money stored up in the bank or in stocks? What about the money he would most certainly have tied up in assets and equity like the 6 homes that he mentions owning? Couldn’t he just sell those and everything he owns inside of them and use that money to remain solvent instead of going from super rich to super poor overnight?

Things get really overblown when Burt buys up every apartment building Arthur moves into and every company Arthur works for, so that no matter where he goes he’ll be assured of always getting fired or evicted. Yet Arthur was already doing poorly enough at his hardware store job, which would’ve gotten him eventually fired anyways without having to have Burt intervene. It’s also never made clear how Burt is able to find out which new company or apartment building Arthur is moving into or working for. Was there some person/spy following Arthur around and reporting back to Burt everything he was doing and if so this should’ve been shown, but never is.

There is another scene where the lady from the adoption agency arrives at Arthur’s and Linda’s new apartment in order to check-out their living conditions. Yet the couple had just agreed to rent the apartment five minutes earlier, so how would the adoption agency know that the couple was living there since they hadn’t yet informed anyone of their new address?

Jill Eickenberry, who had played Susan in the first film, was unable to reprise her role due to working in the TV-show ‘L.A. Law’, so director Bud Yorkin had her replaced with his wife Cynthia Sikes. Sikes though plays the part much differently. In the first film Susan came off as a naïve, wide-eyed innocent, but here she is deliberate and mean. The contrasting personalities of the character don’t work and the film would’ve been better had the character just been killed off maybe in a suicide because she was so distraught at losing Arthur, which would’ve then made Burt’s nasty scheme at trying to get back at him make more sense.

The cast though does a decent job and there are some scattered laughs, but overall it’s flat and draggy. Chris de Burg’s opening song pales in comparison to the chart topping, award winning hit that Christopher Cross did in the first film, which only helps to set the lifeless tone for the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Soldier returns from Vietnam.

Eddie (Richard Pryor), who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, finally returns home, but finds that things have passed him by while he was gone. His wife (Lynne Moody) has fallen in love with another man and his mother (Olivia Cole) is in a nursing facility after having suffered a stroke. Because he was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to war crimes while under duress at the prison camp the army decides to withhold his veteran’s benefits and having no other source of income he decides to rob a bank, but things don’t go as planned.

The film, which is based on the book of the same name by James Kirkwood Jr., was meant to be a drama, but when Pryor signed on it was rewritten with comedy scenes added. Initially I thought Pryor wouldn’t be a good choice for the part as he is so well known as a funnyman, but it is actually his strong performance that helps carry the film through its rough spots.

The story starts out strong and despite having so many other movies that came out during that period that dealt with the same topic it is still quite gripping and revealing. The scenes dealing with Pryors’ incarceration and the harsh realities that he faces afterwards in civilian life all ring true and helps to make this an excellent movie for the first 45 minutes.

The film though starts to lose its footing with the introduction of Margot Kidder’s character. She plays a high-priced call girl who decides to go to bed with Pryor without charging him any money, but why? A sex worker isn’t going to make much of a living if she sleeps with guys for free and then getting into a relationship with him afterwards is even more farfetched. What’s so special about this guy that she falls in love with him compared to all the other men that she has already met through her line of work? Things get even dumber when Pryor insults her during an argument while visiting her apartment, but instead of throwing him out she leaves while saying she hopes he’ll ‘be gone’ when she gets back, but how can she trust he’ll not angrily tear up the place while she’s away? If it’s her apartment she should be in control and not the one who goes running.

Pryor’s character is confusing too. He becomes extremely nervous about robbing a bank to the point that he pees in his pants, but you would presume being a veteran and having seen the horrors of war he would find bank robbing to be not as tough. He also manages while bartering with some hardened gangsters to find the tenacity to turn them down when they give him a lowball monetary offer on some bank bonds that he has stolen, but how does he find the ability to be brazen in that situation, which many people would find equally intimidating, but not the other?

Also, Olivia Cole looks too young to be playing his stroke-victim mother and in fact was Pryor’s exact same age. I was expecting to see an old, withered woman with gray hair, but instead we get shown a black-haired woman looking around 40. Certainly there had to have been an older African American actresses available that would’ve been more age appropriate, so why not cast them?

Spoiler Alert!

What really kills it though is the ending where Pryor steals a briefcase full of bonds and uses that to get a large sum of money. Tacking-on such a fanciful-like ending where he is able to pull off a robbery that had long odds of succeeding minimizes all of the real world issues that came before it. Having a film start off by exploring realistic issues only to write-it-all-off with a ‘feel-good’ ending discredits the subject matter by taking a complex problem and then ‘solving it’ with a very unrealistic solution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

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

Hero at Large (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actor becomes a hero.

Steven Nichols (John Ritter) is a struggling actor who is hired to wear the Captain Avenger outfit in public in order to help promote the movie, which he himself is not in, that is soon to be released. While picking up a snack late one night at a convenience store he inadvertently witnesses a hold-up and decides to put on his Captain Avenger disguise to ward off the crooks and the trick works and makes him an overnight sensation. Walter (Bert Convy) who works for the mayor (Leonard Harris) decides to hire Steven to play Captain Avenger fighting off more crooks in different scenarios, but this ends up causing Steven serious conflicts with Jolene (Anne Archer) the pretty lady who lives across the hall from him and who he has just started up a relationship.

I really like John Ritter, but his appeal here gets put to the extreme test and it isn’t enough to save what is otherwise a very flat film. This was supposed to be the movie that jettisoned his career to the big screen, but instead it quarantined him back to TV-star status and he was never able to recover. By the 90’s he got a few more leading movie roles, but they were in crude, low-brow stuff like Stay Tuned and Problem Child, which were never going to win the Academy Award, but even they were better than this bland thing.

The script by A. J. Carothers, who mainly wrote for Disney and TV-sitcoms, doesn’t go far enough with its premise and misses too many prime opportunities to be funny. The most disappointing is the film’s pivotal moment where Ritter tries to stop a hold-up, but you would think someone who has never fought off criminals before would be clumsy in his first attempt, which should’ve invited in some slapstick comedy, but it never comes. You would also think hardened street crooks would laugh at Steven in his super hero getup and probably turn around and beat the shit out of him especially since he carried no weapons instead of running away from him in fright. Yet this potentially big moment gets played out like a throwaway scene that lasts for less than a minute and is quickly forgotten.

The emphasis instead gets focused on Steven’s generic romance with Jolene, who after knowing him for only a little while lets him move into her apartment where he platonically sleeps on the sofa even as she continues to see her boyfriend, which seems like quite a stretch. Her constant smiling at Steven’s ongoing ineptness makes her seem more like a parent bemused at her child’s wide-eyed naivety than as an equal love partner.

What is worse is the film’s attempts at satire, which are too obvious and it beats home its simplistic, feel good message like it’s being told to a group of eight-year-olds. The super hero costume that he wears is unimaginatively designed and barely masks Steven’s identity, which makes the subplot dealing with how almost no one is able to figure out who this super hero guy is as quite ridiculous.

Spoiler Alert!

The dumbest part though is the ending, which gets played up to a nauseatingly melodramatic degree and has Steven, wearing his Captain Avenger outfit, running into a burning building just as all the other firefighters are told to evacuate it and then somehow able to save a child unscathed even as the building falls in on him, which all helps cements this woefully uninspired flick as an excellent candidate for a bad movie night.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Davidson

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

A New Life (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after a divorce.

Steve (Alan Alda) is shocked to learn that his wife of 26 years Jackie (Ann-Margret) wants a divorce, which forces him back into the dating scene that proves awkward. He eventually meets Kay (Veronica Hamel) and the two hit-it-off while Jackie gets into a relationship with a young artist named Doc (John Shea). Kay and Steve get married, but Jackie tires of her relationship and decides she’d be better off single.

Despite sporting an afro and beard it’s still the same Alda making the same bland type of movie with this one being more vanilla than his first two directorial efforts. At least with The Four Seasons and Sweet Liberty there was a mildly amusing spin to it, but here it’s sterile to a mind numbing degree and filled with nothing but generic characters going through basic life events almost like an inoffensive TV-movie on steroids.

Cutting back-and-forth between Alda’s budding new relationship and then Ann-Margret’s doesn’t work. At least with Alda there was a character arch as he goes from being a curmudgeon to sensitive modern day male, while Ann-Margret starts out cold and then just stays that way. As an actress she seems to have a hard time showing any genuine emotion while her attempts to convey inner angst come off looking quite affected. I realize she’s had a long, solid career, but her presence here is just plain blah and her square jaw features makes her look more and more like a female impersonator the older she gets. I also never believed that these two people were ever really married as they lack chemistry and their strained ‘spats’ become as trite as the material

The most annoying thing though is the scene where Alda grabs his chest while playing tennis and complains about severe pains so he’s rushed to the hospital, which is where he meets Kay. However, the lab tests reveal nothing wrong with him and the whole event gets written off as being ‘no big deal’ and never mentioned again, which is absurd.  People don’t collapse to the ground crying out in pain over ‘nothing’ as there had to have been some cause for it, so what was it? Having a movie blithely skip over this and treat it like some meaningless anomaly simply as an excuse so his character could begin a romance with Kay is truly weak writing and makes this threadbare film even more shallow.

Hal Linden is fun as Alda’s glib, womanizing friend and he should’ve been in the movie more since he’s the only thing that gives it a modicum of life while scrapping the side-story dealing with Ann-Margret. Focusing solely on these two middle-aged bachelors trying to make a go of it in the trendy, single’s scene had potential. At least it would’ve been better than the overly pat thing we get here that fails to stand out in any way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Paramount

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

Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their lives lack purpose.

Eight individuals (Rufus, Miou-Miou, Dominic Labourier, Roger Jendly, Jacuqes Dendry, Myriam Boyer, Jean-Luc Bideau, Myriam Mezieres) who were a part of the French protests in May, 1968 now live on a communal farm where they find that their lives lack meaning due to being forced into jobs that do not inspire or interest them. Jonah is the baby of the one of the members who they hope will grow up into a better, more open world.

I usually prefer European films due to their leisurely pace that emphasizes nuance and doesn’t feel the need, like in most Hollywood flicks, to hit-you- over-the-head with a broad generalized message and yet this one took me quite a while to get into. The major hurdle is that it rotates between too many different characters making it hard to follow any of them as there are long gaps between when we see one individual until we see them again. I was also frustrated that we didn’t get to see what these characters were like back in 1968 as this period only gets briefly alluded to even though seeing firsthand how much they had changed would’ve been interesting.

Although billed as a comedy it is much more a dramedy with only fleeting moments that are funny. The best bits are done in black-and-white when the characters imagine themselves in some other situation outside of their dreary existence. My favorite of these are when the adults watch eight children playing on top of a muddy hill only to then have the adults imagining that they are the kids wallowing around in the mud themselves.

The characters do eventually grow on you once you get to know them making the ending far more impactful than the beginning. Miou-Miou, who just a year earlier played a prostitute with no discernable personality in the dark comedy Going Places is the life of the movie here as a supermarket cashier who doesn’t charge certain customers the full price of their groceries in her attempt to ‘rebel’ against what she feels is an unfair system and her visits with an elderly shut-in (Raymond Bussieres) inside his apartment are both amusing and touching.

The film’s message and its searing attacks on capitalism are something you’d never see any American movie, but thought provoking nonetheless placing this almost on the same level as O Lucky Man!. I also liked that you feel the pain and anguish of these characters without having it explained to you through dialogue, which is a sign of masterful filmmaking that I wish was more prevalent in movies that are done here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: December 1, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Alain Tanner

Studio: Action Films

Available: DVD (Import all regions)