Category Archives: Movies that take place in Chicago

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the strippers.

Private investigator Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) gets hired by Nancy (Amy Farrell), a reporter for The Globe newspaper, to investigate the murder of a stripper named Suzy Cream Puff (Jackie Kroeger). Abraham will get $25,000 to investigate the case and another $25,000 to solve it as long as he gives The Globe the exclusive story. Soon more strippers turn up dead and Abraham starts to have a long list of suspects including Grout (Ray Sager) a Vietnam veteran who enjoys smashing melons with faces drawn on them, similar to how the strippers got their heads smashed, in order to relieve his post traumatic stress disorder.

This was schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ final film until 2002 and was meant to be a combination between the lighthearted nudies that he made in the early 60’s and the more graphic gore films that he did in the later part of the decade. The result though is a misguided mess where it seems more like a gag reel with tacky gore thrown in at certain intervals than a horror film.

The production values are really cheap even for a low budget production and contains basically just a few settings. One features the cramped living room of Abraham’s house that looks to be nothing more than a one bedroom apartment, which doesn’t quite make sense since the guy is a world famous detective you’d think he be living in a plush place especially with his elitist attitude. The other setting, which takes up the majority of the story, is the strip club that looks like it was filmed in the corner of somebody’s dingy basement.

The gory murders aren’t much fun and would be considered quite sick if they weren’t so tacky and fake. The jump cuts are the biggest problem as the bad guy kills the stripper one second and then in the next frame has seemingly been able to skin their heads completely and crushed their skulls, which is too quick. The ping pong ball sized eyeballs that the killer gouges from their heads are ridiculous looking too as eyes are actually oval shaped and not round as presented here.

The stripping routines take up too much of the runtime and seem put in simply to pad the anemic plotline. I’m not going to complain about watching beautiful women taking off their clothes, although to be honest the women here aren’t so hot, but I got real tired of hearing the same music played over and over again during each different set. Aren’t strippers allowed to come up with their own music and dance routines, or is that a new phenomenon that wasn’t a thing back in the 70’s?

I hate to psycho-analyze a film director and have never done it before, but the misogyny here is rampant. If there had been one strong, smart woman character present then it would’ve have been a issue, but instead females get portrayed here as being incredibly dumb and easily manipulated. The Nancy character is shown to be unable to take care of herself and needs a man present to look out for her particularly when she passes out on a city sidewalk after having only a couple of drinks. She faints and screams at the sight of a dead body too while the man remains stoic and shows no emotional reaction at all. Maybe this was supposed to be a part of the ‘comedy’, but it comes off as severely dated and out-of-touch with the times.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Rated X

Studio: Lewis Motion Picture Enterprises

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping from the depression.

Arthur (Steve Martin) is a struggling sheet music salesmen during the depression, who’s looking to escape his dreary existence by becoming a songwriter, but finds that no one including his wife (Jessica Harper) cares about what his dreams, which leaves him feeling lost and alone. He then meets perky schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) and the two begin an affair despite her not knowing that he is already married. When she gets pregnant and loses her job because of it Arthur is nowhere to be found and instead he gets unjustly tabbed for committing rape on a blind woman (Eliska Krupka) that he did not do.

The film is based on a 6-part miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1978 and starred Bob Hoskins. Martin saw it and was so enamored with the story that he became compelled to have it remade here and the studio even hired the same writer, Dennis Potter, to pen the script although the studio forced him to do 13 rewrites before they finally accepted it. Despite the extravagant musical numbers, which are pretty good, and positive critical reception, the filmed failed to achieve any success at the box office where it took in a paltry 2 million that barely made a dent in its 22 million budget.

A lot of the blame can be placed on the casting of Martin. While I admire him for not allowing himself to be typecast, and for dying his hair brown here, he still comes off as misplaced. You keep waiting for him to say something goofy and absurd like his character in The Jerk would and when he doesn’t you start feeling bored and frustrated. For his part he lashed out at those that didn’t like it calling them ‘ignorant scum’ while anyone who did enjoy the film he labeled ‘wise and intelligent’.

Yet his character is also a problem as he comes off as arrogant and selfish the whole way through. He constantly antagonizes his shy wife pressuring her to submit to his kinky sexual fantasies and when she doesn’t he threatens to walk out. He then lies about his marital status to Peters and is cold and ambivalent when she gets pregnant making him seem like a true jerk and not the funny kind in his earlier film.

Jessica Harper I enjoyed much more. I think she gives her finest performance here and I was genuinely surprised she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Her interpretation of a shy, sheltered Midwestern wife from a more innocent era is completely on-target and I came to sympathize far more with her than Martin. The line that she utters when the police investigators come to her house, after Martin gets accused of rape, is the best moment in the movie. Peters is good too, but I felt her character got in the way and the film would’ve gelled better had it focused solely on the dysfunctional marriage.

The dance numbers are well choreographed with the best one being with Christopher Walken who does a bona fide striptease that took him over 2 months to rehearse. The bit in which Martin and Peters find themselves transported inside a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is quite cool too although Astaire himself tried blocking the footage from being used. He later commented that as a viewer ” I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life” and describing every scene in the film as being “cheap and vulgar.”

The story though starts out too slowly and for the first hour seems like there really isn’t any plot at all. It improves by the second half, but there needed to be more urgency at the beginning and many viewers may not be willing to stick with it.  Having the actors lip-sync the songs was a bad idea too. It gives the whole thing an amatuerish vibe making it seem like it was intended to be a campy comedy when it really wasn’t.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Music Box (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She defends her father.

Anne Talbot (Jessica Lange) works as a defense attorney in Chicago and is shocked when her kindly father (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who immigrated to the US from Hungary many years ago, is threatened at having his citizenship revoked due to being accused of committing past war crimes.  Several witnesses have come forward to identify him as being ‘Mishka’ a man who headed a Nazi terror unit known as the Red Arrow that systematically tortured and killed Hungarian Jews during WWII. Anne refuses to believe this and immediately volunteers to defend him in court, but as she researches the case she finds many unsettling elements that makes her question whether her father really is the victim of mistaken identity as he claims, or actually the man responsible for committing heinous acts against humanity.

The film was inspired by the true-life case of John Demjanjuk who immigrated to the US in 1952 and worked as an auto worker for many decades before being identified by 11 Holocaust survivors as being Ivan the Terrible who tortured and killed many Jewish prisoners while working as a guard at a concentration camp. Script writer Joe Eszterhas also adds his own experiences into the story by channeling the emotions he felt when he found out that his father had been involved in disseminating anti-semitic propaganda during WWII.

The plot had all the hallmarks of being a trenchant courtroom drama especially since it was directed by Costa-Gavras who has shown a knack for helming political thrillers with a psychological bent, but it all ultimately falls flat. Much of the problem is that we learn little about Mueller-Stahl’s character as his face never shows any emotion. At first this makes it interesting as he comes off like this kindly old man who seems the complete opposite of what he’s being accused of, but after awhile we need to see what’s going in his mind and beneath the facade. Whether it’s anger, fear, madness, or evil at some point it needs to get conveyed in his face as the trial goes on, but instead all the viewer sees is a constant blank stare that keeps the character frustratingly transparent.

Having a male model pose as the younger version of him in the wartime photos was a mistake too. Googling images of Mueller-Stahl when he was young shows that he looked much different than the model in the movie making the portions where the witnesses positively identify Stahl from the photos seem off-kilter since the guy in them even when given the realities of aging doesn’t look anything like the man sitting in the courtroom. To avoid this they should’ve cropped an actual pic of Mueller-Stahl into the war time photos.

The court case itself ends up becoming quite draggy because instead of focusing on one witness they put in several of them one after the other who essentially retell the same type of story, which gets redundant. There’s also some Hollywood theatrics that get thrown in like when Mueller-Stahl physically confronts one of the witnesses in the courtroom with no one attempting to restrain him before he collapses to the floor in a completely over-the-top fashion. Having everyone in the trial then get flown across the Atlantic to a Hungarian hospital to hear testimony from a dying witness only helps to turn the entire thing into a misguided spectacle.

Lange, who was Hollywood’s darling at the time and constantly offered first dibs at every ‘important’ movie that came out, gives a good performance, but her emotional character arch is predictable. The focus should’ve been on Mueller-Stahl’s character and what made him tick, but no insights are ever given even during the climatic final confrontation, which ultimately cements this as being a big disappoint.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 2 Hours 4 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Costa-Gavras

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

Nothing in Common (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father needs his son.

David Basner (Tom Hanks) is leading a happy life as a successful advertising executive yet he’s forced to put it all on hold when his parents (Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint) of 36 years announce that they’re getting a divorce. His father also loses his job as well as being diagnosed with diabetes forcing David to give him round-the-clock care despite the fact that they don’t get along.

The best thing about the film are the performances of its two stars. For Hanks this marked his transition from comedy to more serious roles, but for the most part his charm still comes from his comic edge especially with the way he greets each of his co-workers when he returns to the office after a vacation. It’s really Gleason though, who was dying from cancer as he performed in this, that is the most compelling and he should’ve been in the movie more and better yet made the star as he literally owns every scene that he’s in and despite his cantankerous personality manages to elicit a lot of sympathy from the viewer.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t focus enough on the father/son relationship and instead goes off on many tangents like David’s struggles to come up with a creative ad for one of his clients, which isn’t as compelling or interesting. There’s also several running jokes that digresses the whole thing down to almost a sitcom level especially with Hector Elizondo’s, who plays David’s boss, desperate attempts to come up with a suitable hairpiece. The bits involving David’s pranks on an office receptionist in order to try and get her to laugh makes him seem more annoying than funny and she would’ve been justified to have him reported for harassment.

Dwelling into David’s love-life dilutes the story even further. Initially I thought his courting of Sela Ward had some spark as she played-hard-to-get and part of what makes potential relationships so interesting is the chase itself, but after putting up a cold front for a few minutes she then jumps into bed with him, which just takes the air out of everything. Bess Armstrong, who plays his former girlfriend, seemed more his type. However, the scene where he barrages into her apartment drunk late at night and hassles her and the new guy she’s sleeping with made him seem extremely obnoxious to the point that I was hoping he’d get punched in the face.

Saint’s character does nothing but add to the dramatic clutter in a bland role that  offers little to the story. It would’ve been more effective had she died instead of divorcing the husband, which would’ve offered more of a catalyst for Hanks and his father to get together.

The film ends where it should’ve began with Hanks deciding to move in with his father in order to help him with his health problems. Watching these two with very diametrically opposed personalities trying to get along inside this very cramped apartment could’ve been quite revealing and insightful and yet we see none of it. Instead we’re treated to a rambling narrative that offers generic drama and little else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Marshall

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

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

Airport (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror in the skies.

During a major snowstorm at Chicago’s Lincoln International Airport manager Al Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) must scramble to keep the place open while trying to get a disabled jet plane that is stuck in the snow off the runway. Meanwhile on a flight headed for Italy there’s the mentally unhinged Guerrero (Van Heflin) sitting with a bomb in his briefcase set to go off and explode the airplane and killing everyone inside, so that his family back home can collect on the insurance money.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Hailey and despite some critics, like Pauline Kael, hating it for its soap opera-like dramatics I still came away feeling it was perfect crackerjack entertainment. The characters on the plane are quite diverse with unique problems and personalities making them seem like real people that the viewer becomes genuinely concerned for. The special effects, particularly those done inside the plane, are effective and the film has a nice dramedy balance.

The only drawback, and I hesitate to bring this up as I think they did the best they could’ve done under the circumstances, are the special effects dealing with the snow storm. It was shot at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport during the winter of 1969, but unfortunately the whole time the film crew was there the weather remained sunny forcing them to eventually have plastic snow shown falling while the in the background the sky remains crystal clear and sunny. The snow shown falling during the nighttime scenes is equally problematic. I resided for many years in the North Country and I know that when it snows at night the sky gives off a bright white glow and it’s never pitch black like it is here.

The film was considered innovative at the time for its use of the split-screen particularly when it would show people talking on the phone to each other. Director George Seaton wisely doesn’t overplay this and uses the device sparingly for the most part however the segment where Lancaster is shown in one square talking to his wife, who is in another square along with their two daughters who each pop-up in their own individual squares it starts to resemble the opening to ‘The Brady Bunch’.

The acting by the female performers is quite strong. I was really impressed with Jean Seberg, her career started back in 1958 when she beat out 18,000 other applicants to get the starring role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan despite her lack of acting experience and although her performance in that film was lambasted by the critics I felt here she was solid and she could’ve easily carried the film during the scenes at the airport without Lancaster’s presence, who plays her boss, being needed at all.

Jaqueline Bisset is equally good as the stewardess who knows how to think on her feet.  I liked how this role didn’t take advantage of her looks or sexiness and instead kept it focused solely on her dramatic acting ability and I loved her shoulder length hair cut here as opposed to her really long hair style that she usually sports. Helen Hayes is hammy as the old lady stowaway, which netted her an Oscar, but Maureen Stapleton, who was also nominated for best supporting actress, is quite good too. Her talents lie more in her expressive face particularly the moment when she looks out the airport window and witnesses the plane carrying her husband, who she knows has a bomb, take off.

Dean Martin is excellent on the male end. Typically he comes off as tipsy and laid-back, but here he surprisingly takes the reins and helps propel the picture. George Kennedy is also surprisingly strong. Most of the time his presence amounts to nothing more than token supporting parts, but here he plays the gruff, brash airline mechanic to great effect and could help explain why his character was the only one to appear in all four airport movies.

The film does come off like it was released in the ‘50s instead of the 70s by having a cast that was mostly past their prime, but it’s by far the best disaster flick from the ‘70s, and there were a lot of them, as well as better than any of the three sequels that followed it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 17Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Seaton

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Risky Business (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes suburban pimp.

Joel (Tom Cruise) is a teenager living in a sprawling home on the North Shore of suburban Chicago who is stressing about getting into a top college. His parents (Nicholas Pryor, Janet Carroll) announce that they will be leaving on vacation for two weeks and he’ll have the whole place to himself. After some prodding by his friends he invites over a beautiful prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) and takes her for a spin in his Dad’s Porsche, which accidently slides into the lake. The repairs will be expensive, so Lana devises a scheme where his home will be used as a temporary, make-shift whorehouse bringing in customers, many of whom being Joel’s high school friends who will pay to have sex with Lana’s beautiful call girl friends and whose proceeds will go to fixing the car.

The film is a fresh, funny look at capitalism and a perfect composite of the Reagan years and ‘80s attitudes. However, the conversations that the teens have here is jarringly out-of-touch with today’s youngsters who seem to favor more socialistic concepts. On one hand this then dates the picture, but it also makes it fascinating at seeing how people thought from a bygone era.

Cruise is fantastic and really looks like a teen, especially with his bowl haircut, even though he was already in his 20’s at the time. The character though allows himself to be taken advantage of too much by his friends. For most people the friendship would immediately end if they had a pal who would invited over a prostitute as a ‘joke’ that they didn’t want and would still be expected to pay for.

Why are these friends doing these hijinks anyways? It was almost like Joel had never been home alone before. Most likely he had, so why now are his buddies doing these things when they hadn’t earlier? A much better premise would’ve been to have Joel achieve some sort of accomplishment, like pass an all-important SAT test and as a ‘reward’ his friends would pitch-in and buy him a prostitute for the night while his parents were away. Everything else that follows would be the same, but at least the catalyst that sets it in motion would make more sense and Joel would seem less like a pushover straddled with irritating friends no one in their right mind would want.

The sex scene between Joel and Lana comes off like an overly stylized bit from a soft core porn flick. There were several fantasy segments that came before it and I was fully expecting this to be one of them, but it isn’t. Joel is a kid that seriously lacks confidence in every other way, so I would imagine his initial meeting with a prostitute would be awkward especially since he had never done anything like that before. Most likely he would’ve been so nervous that he might not have been able to even ‘rise-to-the-occasion’. Having Joel initially behave clumsily towards Lana would’ve been funny and more believable instead as it is here the ‘reality’ segment is dreamier than the fantasy ones.

The Lana character is frustrating as she remains an aloof composite of a hooker that the viewer never gets to understand as a real person. Seeing her in a vulnerable moment would’ve helped, but it never comes. (Her conversation with Joel about her life was too brief and not enough.) I would’ve liked a more conclusive ending revealing whether their relationship ‘blossomed’, worked into a long term friendship, or just dissipated. Having a scene at the end with Joel in college and calling Lana up to chat could’ve solidified this.

The parents are portrayed as being too stuffy and more like caricatures. The ending, which entails Joel buying back his parent’s furniture that had been stolen and then moving it all back into the home with the help of friends before his parents arrived is implausible. The house was too big and had too many items for them to be able to get everything in near spotless position in only 2 hours’ time.

The movie’s original charm is also affected by the fact that films like Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have had similar plots and stronger cult followings, but there’s still plenty of engaging moments. Watching Cruise dance around in his underwear to a Bob Segar song is hilarious. His precarious attempts to save the Porsche from going into the lake is really funny as is his interview with a college admissions dean from Princeton (Richard Masur) in Joel’s home while prostitutes and their customers scurry all around.

( Joel’s house as it appears today.)

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Brickman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Endless Love (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance turns into obsession.

Based on the acclaimed Scott Spencer novel the story focuses on two teens locked in a relationship built around complete infatuation. Jade (Brooke Shields) is only 15 while David (Martin Hewitt) is a high school senior and 17. Jade’s parents (Don Murray, Shirley Knight) are aware that the two teens are having sex, but choose to be ‘open-minded’ and allow it, but when Jade’s grades begin to suffer her father demands that David not see her until the school year is over. David is upset at this ultimatum and decides, through advice from one of his friends (Tom Cruise) to set Jade’s house on fire and then at the last minute come in and ‘save’ them while making him look like a ‘hero’ and get back into their good graces, but things don’t work out as planned.

The film’s biggest detriment is that it chooses to emphasize mood over substance. The teen’s sex sessions are shot with a soft focus lens and gives off too much of a dreamy, fantasy feel. We are never shown how the relationship actually began as the film starts off with the two are already madly in love. It gets mentioned that they were introduced to each other by Jade’s older brother (James Spader) but it would’ve been interesting to have seen this played out as the really good movies ‘show it instead of just tell it’.

Shields has the face of an innocent 15-year-old, but her acting is not up to par and I never got the feeling of any genuine chemistry between the two. Hewitt, in his film debut, doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the movie and gets badly outperformed by Spader who would’ve played the David character far better and could also help explain why Spader has remained in the acting profession while Hewitt since 1993 has been running a home inspection business and no longer acting in movies at all.

The film’s second-half shifts too much focus on David to the point that Jade becomes this mysterious enigma. The father bars David from seeing Jade at their house, but the two could’ve easily have gotten together at school or some other place. If the two were both equally infatuated then they would’ve found a way to see each other, but they don’t, so what does this mean? Was Jade not as in to David as it was thought and what exactly was she doing and thinking during those two years when David was stuck in a mental hospital? None of this gets explained, which becomes the film’s biggest plot hole.

The story relies too heavily on extreme circumstances. For instance David’s friend gives him the idea to set the place on fire by using a stack of old wet newspapers. David then immediately goes to Jade’s home where almost like magic is a stack of old newspapers sitting on the front porch just waiting to be doused in flames. David’s chance meeting with Jade’s father in the middle of New York on a crowded highly traveled sidewalk seemed to pushing the odds as well.

Knight gives a good performance as the mother, but having the lady literally throw herself at David when he gets out of the mental hospital even after he tried to set her family on fire makes her seem crazier than he is. Murray is equally good as the father, but the fact that the guy allows the two to have sex in their house at such a young age makes him unlike most parents. Just about anyone else would’ve seen the red flags far sooner and the fact that he doesn’t until it’s too late makes him seem unusually naïve.

Spencer once stated in an interview how very disappointed he was with this film and how he felt director Franco Zeffirelli missed the whole point of what his novel was about. I agree as Zeffirelli seems driven to turn the whole thing into a modern day Romeo and Juliet while equating unhealthy obsession with love, which it isn’t. This all comes to a glaring clarity with the film’s final shot, which is the most annoying thing about this already annoying movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube