Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Heartburn (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband cheats on wife.

Rachel (Meryl Streep) writes for a magazine as a New York food critic and meets Mark (Jack Nicholson) at a wedding that they both attend. Mark is a political columnist who’s known around Washington for being quite a ladies man, but the two get into a relationship anyways and then eventually despite their reluctance married. Things go smoothly for a while and Rachel even starts to think that she has a ‘perfect marriage’, but then as she is about to give birth to their second child she realizes that he has been having an affair.

The film is based on Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel dealing with her marriage and subsequent divorce to newspaper reporter Carl Bernstein. The book starts out with her ready to give birth to the second child, but the movie unfortunately takes a more linear approach to the narrative as it plods along through the initial courtship and wedding even though the red flags are clearly there and the viewer knows exactly where it’s going. The story would’ve worked better had it started at the 50-minute mark where Rachel finds out about the affair and then through brief flashbacks shown how the relationship began, which would’ve cut the runtime, which is too long for such slight material anyways, and helped make the proceedings seem just a little less predictable.

A lot of the humor doesn’t work either. The sequence involving the wedding ceremony and Rachel not sure if she wanted to go through with it which keeps the guests there for hours gets botched because I don’t believe the people would’ve remained sitting there for so long. When she finally does decide to proceed with the wedding the guests all look strangely refreshed when in reality most if not all would’ve been long gone and it would’ve been funnier to see them getting married inside an empty room save for one bored wedding guest who remained there simply because it couldn’t find a ride home.

The dream-like segments where an Alistar Cooke-like character talks about Rachel’s marriage problems while hosting a TV-show is too surreal and should’ve been excised because doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, which is more reality based. The segment where Rachel finds out that Mark is having an affair and then it cuts to a shot of her holding a pie that she is taking to a dinner party is too obvious as the viewer immediately gets a strong sense that the pie will eventually be going onto Mark’s face and when it finally does it’s not funny, but anti-climactic instead.

The script fails to add any new insight into an already tired subject and the characters aren’t likable as they have too much of an elitist coastal feel about them and their lifestyles won’t resonate or connect with anyone living in another part of the country. There are just too many people in this whose only concern or form of entertainment is having catty gossip/conversations dealing with who’s cheating on whom, which quickly becomes derivative.

Streep and Nicholson are good and its interesting seeing them play together here as they also starred together just a year later in Ironweed playing two diametrically different people. Unfortunately Jack, who is for the most part quite likable, doesn’t look or behave at all like the real-life Bernstein, which his character is supposedly loosely based on. Dustin Hoffman, who had already played Bernstein in All the President’s Men was the first choice for the role and he would’ve been perfect, but for whatever reason he turned it down.

Ultimately though the film’s biggest drawback is simply Rachel herself as she frets and nitpicks about everything and her anxiety-ridden ways would most likely annoy any man, which makes the ultimate affair when it finally does happen seem inevitable and not a shock at all. When she ponders to Mark about if they should get married and she tells him that she fears she’ll drive him crazy and Mark replies ‘you already are’ I felt like saying ‘she’s driving the viewer that way too.’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

“Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Now that’s a knife.

Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) having been living together in her New York apartment for a year since their last adventures from the first film. Sue’s ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) is working for drug enforcement in South America. He witnesses and photographs the murder of a rival drug cartel leader at the hands of Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) and his men. Once Bob realizes that he’s been spotted he runs for cover to his hotel, but the men chase after him and kill him, but not before he sends the film negatives of the killing to Sue. The drug gang then kidnaps Sue in order to get their hands on the negative and it’s up to Mick to find a way to free her while also single-handedly fighting off the gang.

This sequel manages to avoid the missteps of so many others by wisely not trying to replay what we saw in the first installment, but instead taking it into a new direction and therefore allowing the theme and characters to progress. To some degree the plot does come off like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ and the villains are also incredibly dull and generic. Do we really need bad guy Luis explaining to Sue why he got into the drug dealing business, because of the ‘money’ and ‘power’, as if there would be any other reason?

Having her ex-husband, someone who was never seen at all in the first film, act as a catalyst is problematic too. It seems like one’s ex-spouse; especially someone he hasn’t spoken to in years would be the last person to send crucial photographs to. He works for the DEA, so why not send it to them?

However, even with these issues I still kind of liked seeing Mick forced into action. The first film consisted mainly of him bragging about his exploits, but here we get to see first-hand some of his actual survival skills. It also puts to test his easygoing personality and we see if he can remain amazingly low-key and likable in situations that most other people couldn’t.

Unfortunately unlike in the first flick the comedy does not come from Hogan’s character, but instead from others around him that witness his exploits. Outside of an amusing segment that comes early on in the film where Mick tries to talk a man out of jumping off a ledge his character is portrayed in a darker more intense way although not enough to erase his ever going charm.

Kozlowski, who ended up marrying Hogan in real-life 2 years after this film was released, is stuck in a thankless supporting role where she doesn’t have much to do. The film poster portrays the idea that the two fight the bad guys side-by-side, but in reality Hogan does most of it while Linda simply tags along and observes. The real scene stealer is John Meillon whose last theatrical film this was. He was in the first one, but his presence there didn’t amount to much, but here his character, working in tandem with Mick, is an integral part of sending the drug gang on a wild goose chase.

The scenes shot in Australia are gorgeous and in fact the spot where the drug gang campout is the same place where Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed. Charles S. Dutton who plays a man by name of Leroy Brown and pretends to be a drug dealer even though he really isn’t is quite amusing too and overall the film is a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.

Spoiler Alert!

My only problem is in regards to Leonard Maltin’s review of it where he states that he felt the film was too leisurely paced and wished they’d “get on with it especially when all suspense about the outcome is eliminated”, but after watching it this makes no sense. The bad guys are not fully defeated until the very, very end in fact it quickly cuts to the credits once they are. There’s even some concern that Mick may have accidently been killed, which also occurs at the very end, so it seems that Maltin, who I generally like as a critic, either didn’t really watch the movie, or the whole thing, and therefore has no idea what he’s actually talking about.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Cornell

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, 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

“Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: That’s not a knife.

Sue (Linda Kozlowski) is a newspaper reporter who gets permission to cover a story about an Australian bushman named Mick better known by his nickname Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) who was able to fight off a croc attack before successfully crawling to safety. To do this she travels to the outback, so she can learn about his way of life firsthand. After spending six weeks interviewing him she then invites him back to New York with her. Once there Mick finds the city life and the people in it quite confusing. He also takes an almost immediate disliking to Richard (Mark Blum) Sue’s fiancée.

Loosely based on actual events the laid back story goes down easy and is full of charm, but its basic premise is a bit hard-to-swallow. I thought the idea of having a reporter go clear across the globe to interview some no-name bushman over an obscure and completely unsubstantiated crocodile attack claim just wasn’t realistically worth the time or money. Crocodile/alligator attacks occur yearly all over. Why not save the money by sending the reporter to Florida instead where you could probably just as easily find and interview someone who survived a similar incident?

Most of the time a journalist will be accompanied by a photographer, but here she takes the pictures as well as doing interviews even though with most big time newspapers and many times even the small ones that is never the case. This also brings up the issue of her traveling for weeks all alone in the middle-of-nowhere and even sleeping under the stars with a man she essentially knows little about. What’s to say he wouldn’t attack her at some point and if so who would she call? I believe most women wouldn’t be comfortable in that scenario and thus having a third party present such as a photographer or other chaperone would’ve made far more sense.

The money issue, or the fact that the newspaper apparently pays him to come back to the states with Sue, seemed illogical and wasteful. Why is a newspaper spending money to bring a bushman into a foreign land? If it is to see how he adjusts to it that’s one thing, but the majority of the time Mick spends in New York he is by himself with Sue nowhere near him covering his reactions, so then what’s the point? Later Mick decides to stay in the Big Apple for a longer period, but where does he get the extra money to do that?

The scene where Mick puts a water buffalo into a trance-like sleep is baffling too. Supposedly he does this because they are driving along in a jeep and the buffalo won’t get out of the road and let them pass, but how is putting the animal to sleep where he then plops his big body onto the road going to help? The film then conveniently cuts without any explanation of how there were ultimately able to get around him.

The second act where Mick comes to New York is the funniest, but even here it doesn’t get played-up to its full potential. The amusing scene where Mick meets some prostitutes, but is unaware of what they do is hard to believe. Even a country boy should’ve been aware of the world’s oldest profession especially when he is over 40 and his naivety in that situation just doesn’t completely work. The film’s most famous scene where Mick scares off some muggers by showing them his large hunting knife also proves problematic when you realize that it is unlikely he would’ve ever been able to get that thing past customs.

Hogan’s appealing performance makes it work. However, it would’ve been better had the guy been younger like in his early 20’s instead of well over 40, which would’ve made some of his awe and wonderment seem a bit more genuine and believable.

For year’s Hogan, who also co-wrote the script, insisted that the Dundee character was of his own creation, but then later it was found that it was really based on the life of Rod Ansell who in 1977 at the age of 23 got stranded in the wilderness of Australia’s Northern Territory for 7 weeks when the dinghy he was riding in capsized and in the process he fought off a crocodile whose head he kept as a souvenir. His adventures were documented in the film To Fight the Wild, as well as published in a book. He did many TV interviews about his ordeal back in the late 70’s which is where Hogan first became aware of him and then when this film became famous he sued Hogan, but lost the case and the fact that he made no money off of it became a major source of bitterness to him, which lead to his addiction to amphetamines that subsequently lead to his death in a police shootout in 1999.

Here’s a pic of Ansell alongside Hogan’s movie likeness of him:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Faiman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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

Arthur (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich drunk grows up.

Arthur (Dudley Moore) is an alcoholic man-child and heir to a vast family fortune, but only if he agrees to marry Susan (Jill Eikenberry), which his rich father (Thomas Barbour) pressures him to do.  Arthur does not love Susan and instead falls for commoner Linda (Liza Minnelli) who works as a waitress and shares a lifestyle that is completely different from his. Hobson (John Gielgud) is Arthur’s lifelong butler who is suffering from an undisclosed illness and expects not to be around much longer, so he thinks Arthur should get married, so he’ll have a wife to look after him once Hobson is gone.

This film was a box office success, but I failed to see what was so great about it when I first watched it decades ago and remain mystified after now seeing it again many years later. The film’s garbled message remains one of the biggest problems particularly the broad caricatures of all the rich people in Arthur’s life who seem stuck in some bygone era. The movie spends half the time mocking them, but then conveys the idea that true happiness can only come from becoming just like them. The benefits of being in the working class are never touched on and instead everything gets portrayed in a shallow, simplistic manner that lacks any true bearing in reality.

I was also surprised as to why Liza Minnelli’s character had to steal a tie at a men’s clothing store, which is where she first meets Arthur, as she really didn’t seem all that bad off. Sure she wasn’t living in the ritziest part of town, but she was far from being homeless. Her apartment that she shared with her father, played by Barney Martin, was roomy and adequately furnished. She also had a job and not in any way desperate and yet the movie spins it like she is, which shows that the filmmakers didn’t have any idea of what being truly poor is really like.

The dumb arranged marriage plotline has no connection to modern society and today mostly only occurs in south Asia, so why enter in an element in a supposedly ‘realistic’ comedy that doesn’t happen to regular people? It is also confusing exactly why Arthur’s father wants him to marry Susan. Supposedly it is so she’ll get him to ‘grow up’ or ‘make something of him’, which is hard to understand since she comes off as a wide-eyed dippy that is just as immature as he is if not worse.

A more interesting plot would’ve had Arthur lose his fortune and forced him to get a real job and deal with harsh realities that he had never had to face before. This would allow for a stronger character arch as well as some incisive social commentary. He also could’ve meet Linda while working a remedial job instead of the awkward forced way that he meets her here.

Gielgud’s quips are the best thing about the movie, but everything else is pretty limp. I have never seen the 2008 reboot starring Russell Brand, but after reading that film’s plot synopsis I think it’s an improvement as they seemed to have filled in the logic loopholes as to why Arthur was forced into an arranged marriage, which alone makes that superior to this one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Gordon

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, 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

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A sexually charged relationship.

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), a curator at a New York art gallery and recently divorced, meets John (Mickey Rorke) one day while shopping at a seafood place. Elizabeth is turned-on by John’s mysterious aura and they commence into having a torrid sexual affair that turns kinky, but eventually she becomes burnt-out by it and finds that besides the sex there is very little that they have in common.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Ingeborg Day under the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacNeil, which in turn was based on actual events that occurred to her when she was kept a virtual prisoner in her lover’s home for a period of two and a half months. The movie tones down the prisoner aspect and concentrates more on the erotic one, but the result is a confusing story that meanders without saying much of anything. The film was shelved for over two years because it kept getting bad responses from test audiences and constantly sent back to the studio for re-editing. When it was finally released it bombed badly at the box office.

The sexual aspect is tame and in these jaded times may even be considered laughable. The kink relies mainly on the use of blind folds and food items with the sex done from a feminine viewpoint that might arouse women, but unlikely to do the same for a man. The sexual games, as tepid as they are, get portrayed as being empowering to Elizabeth and something that allows her to release her ‘inner freak’, but I kept wondering what was John supposed to be getting out of all of this while she cavorts around naked or sucks provocatively on various food items. Maybe he was a voyeur that simply enjoyed watching and if so then it should’ve been made clearer because he comes off as nothing more than a transparent bystander otherwise.

We learn nothing about Elizabeth as the film progresses and her constantly giggly, screechy behavior makes her seem more like an immature schoolgirl and not a sophisticated, educated Manhattanite in her mid-30’s. She’s also too passive and easily manipulated without any reason given for why this is. Basinger’s performance is dull with a stunt double used during most of the sex scenes. Margaret Whitton who plays her best friend would’ve been far better in Basinger’s role because at least she shows some spunk and seemed genuinely human while Basinger is more like a zombie.

For a film with such strong erotic overtones there is surprisingly very little of it to see. The sex scenes show up in bits and pieces and then last for only a few minutes. In-between there’s long meandering segments that has nothing to do with the central theme and isn’t particularly interesting. The most memorable moment involves a conversation between Rourke and a bedding saleswoman (Justine Johnston) and even here things get botched because in one shot Rourke inadvertently knocks a vase off of a back shelf when he hops onto a bed in a showroom and then in the very next shot that same vase has magically gotten placed back.

I enjoyed the way director Adrian Lyne frames his shots as well as his color compositions and the provocative concept has a tantalizing quality, but Lyne seems confused about exactly what kind of message he wants to make with it and I think he was hoping that it would somehow manifest itself as the film progressed, but it never does. Bitter Moon, a film that came out 6 years later and had roughly the same idea, is far more impactful and worth your time in seeking out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bored housewife seeks excitement.

Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) is a suburban housewife who’s bored with her life and looking for diversion. She gets hooked on reading the singles ads in her local newspaper and becomes especially intrigued by a couple, Jim (Robert Joy) and Susan (Madonna) who communicate with each other solely through the ads. When they advertise that they want to meet each other at a certain location Roberta decides to go undercover to that locale, so she can spot what they look like. Through various mishaps she becomes mistaken as being Susan and even starts a relationship with Jim’s best friend Dez (Aiden Quinn), but Roberta’s husband Gary (Mark Blum) begins searching for her and in the process forms a friendship with Susan.

The motivation for this plot is just too kooky to be believed. Okay, so Roberta is bored with her life, fine, but why get so intrigued by messages from some couple that she has never seen? If there was some guy sending messages directly to her through the ads as a sort of secret admirer I could understand or maybe if she had seen Susan in passing and became attracted to her through some latent lesbian feelings I could go with that too, but the way it’s done here is wonky. If a person is bored with their lives then they can join a social group, start a new hobby, or have an affair with their mailman, but stalking a couple that they have never met or seen is pretty damn far down the list if even on it. The fact that her husband was aware of her obsession of looking at these ads and wasn’t worried is pretty absurd too. I know the guy is portrayed as being clueless, but that’s being just a little too clueless.

Casting Madonna as Susan doesn’t help. Sure she was a big pop superstar at the time, but that still doesn’t mean she could act. Her presence fails to have the intended spark as she plays basically just a caricature of her rock ‘n’ roll image with a character that is poorly defined, lacks any distinctive qualities and could easily describe any of the hundreds of punk vagabonds that roamed the streets of New York.

Arquette fairs better and is genuinely appealing to watch, but she is too young for the role. She was 26 at the time, but could easily come off as being just 20. Why would such a young woman become bored with her life so soon as she looked to have just gotten married and living a generally plush suburban existence? It would’ve made more sense casting an actress who was in her 40’s and spent years toiling away as a housewife to an aloof husband and found Susan to symbolize her latent youthful rebellion, which would’ve been funnier especially seeing a middle-aged woman trying to dress and act like a punk instead of a young woman who wasn’t all that far removed from the punk scene age anyways.

The story does have some funny, insightful moments, but they tend to be fleeting and the scenario could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. The leisurely pace is unusual for a Hollywood movie making it seem almost like a European one instead. It also gives off a nice vibe of Manhattan’s East Village giving the viewer a true feeling of the underground club scene there and very similar in feel to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, which also starred Arquette.

The film has strong satirical potential, but seems reluctant to fully go for the jugular and ends up being quite mild. I liked that fact that the character finds her suburban existence unfulfilling, which goes against the capitalist 80’s view of suburbia being the ultimate source of happiness and success, but that’s as edgy as this movie gets. Writer/director Susan Siedelman’s first feature Smithereens was far more caustic despite having a very similar theme. Perhaps with this being a studio film she felt that she had to tone things down, but this only helps to make the film feel flat and uneventful.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video