Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for spouse’s killer.

Jerry Green (Jeff Bridges) is a frustrated, would-be crime novelist who spends his days working as a clerk at a toy store while dictating to himself crime scenarios he plans on using in his stories that no one ever reads. One day he spots a beautiful woman named Jenny (Farah Fawcett) and he starts up a conversation with her, which quickly leads into a relationship. The problem is that she is already married, but that doesn’t stop the two from pledging that they’ll get married anyways until the husband turns up dead and they go on a mad search to find who did it before the police find out and accuse them of the crime.

This film was supposed to be Fawcett’s break-out role that was going to lead her into big-screen stardom, but it was such a disaster that it pretty much killed her aspirations before they even began. A lot of it is her fault as she got out of her ‘Charlie’s Angels’ contract after only one season, which enraged the show’s producer Aaron Spelling who threatened to sue any studio that offered her a film role, so she lost out in getting the starring part in Foul Play and was forced to accept this uninspired thing on the rebound.

She comes off looking like someone not ready for the big-time and in serious need of more acting training. Bridges is the far better performer and the only one that breaths any energy into it to the point that it would’ve been more entertaining had he been alone and Fawcett not appeared at all.

The romance itself is so corny and clichéd it’s embarrassing. Bridges falls in love with her the second he sees her and then after only a few minutes into their first date the two are already expressing their undying love for the other. I was also confused about why the Fawcett’s character would have married her husband (Laurence Guittard) to begin with as he is an arrogant prick of the highest order. My only guess is she did it because he had a lot of money and if that is the case then she shouldn’t act all that surprised or dismayed with what she ended up with.

Director Lamont Johnson had done some reasonably competent stuff in the past as did screenwriter Reginald Rose, who in better times penned the screenplay for Twelve Angry Men, but this thing looks like it was done by clueless amateurs. The first half-hour is so flatly photographed that I was surprised it didn’t immediately raise alarm bells from the studio heads while they watched the daily rushes.

The mystery angle allows for modest interest, but it ends up getting overly convoluted and culminates in a chase through a department store that is too dark and shadowy it’s hard to follow what is going on. Apparently the industry execs thought Fawcett’s celebrity status at the time, as she was coined as being ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ by one mag, would be enough to smooth over the film’s glaring faults and still attract moviegoers, but in hindsight it should’ve never have been released as the box-office-bomb red flags are quite apparent right from the start.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Staying Alive (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tony juggles two women.

It’s been 5 years and Tony Manero (John Travolta) is still struggling to make it big in the dancing world in this sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Now instead of working at a paint store he’s employed as a nightclub waiter while spending his days desperately going to every agent in New York looking for a break, but getting none. He’s in a relationship with Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes), but when a hot new dancer named Laura (Finola Hughes) catches his eye he decides to have a fling with her, which further complicates the fact that all three of them are dancing in the Broadway production of ‘Satan’s Alley’.

The idea of turning a classic movie into a sequel should’ve been given the kibosh from the start as that film conveyed such a perfect slice-of-life tale that it didn’t need any continuing. This film also doesn’t have any of the key players from the first including Donna Pescow and Karen Lynn Gorney. It was Travolta’s and Gorney’s relationship that made that movie sizzle, so if you’re not going to have her then why even bother making it as it’s hollow and incomplete otherwise. Too much time had also elapsed and disco was no longer trendy by the early ‘80s, so to compensate they tried gearing it more to the struggles of working on a dance line, but only succeeds at making it seem like a poor man’s version of A Chorus Line.

The romantic angle is uninteresting. Tony becomes attracted to Laura in the same way that he did with Karen Lynn Gorney, which was by watching her dance, which makes it formulaic and redundant. The Laura character is also quite kooky by constantly giving Tony the hot-and-cold act making her seem like someone with a split personality disorder. Jackie on the-other-hand is dull and catches on to Tony’s two-timing too quickly and then does nothing about it, which kills off any possible tension or drama. Tony himself is equally useless. Travolta plays him well, which is the only saving grace, as he manages create an engaging character despite the shitty way he treats Jackie, which normally would make him unlikable.

The scenes between Tony and his mother (Julie Bovasso) are touching and the best moments in the film although she’s played more like a real person here and not the comic caricature like in the first one. The garish set designs and special effects used to create the scenes for the play ‘Satan’s Alley’ at the end may be good for a few laughs, but it’s so over-the-top and campy that it degrades any serious intention that the film may have otherwise had. Watching the older audience members including Tony’s mother stand-up and applaud the play after it was over seemed disingenuous as I think most of them would in reality be rolling-their-eyes  and asking themselves ‘what the hell did I just watch’ instead.

The musical score, which was such a strong element in the first film, is completely lacking. Instead of a pounding soundtrack we get jazzy songs better suited for a quiet lounge. Absolutely nothing works except maybe inducing 93 minutes of boredom, which in that regards it does quite successfully.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Winter Kills (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who assassinated his brother?

19 years after United States President Timothy Kegan is assassinated and an independent investigation concluded that it was the act of a lone gunman, his younger brother Nick (Jeff Bridges) gets a deathbed confession from a man (Joe Spinell) insisting he was the real killer hired by a secret underground organization. Nick goes to his rich father (John Huston) with the news and then decides to do an investigation of his own, but becomes entangled inside a web of lies and deceit that drives him further away from the truth instead of closer.

The film is based on the novel by Richard Condon and in many ways is a stunning filmmaking debut for director William Richert. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is richly textured with a colorful variety of backdrops, sets and atmosphere making it visually soar while the surreal tone helps give it an added edge.

Unfortunately the film suffered from many behind-the-scenes issues including running out of funding and forcing the cast and crew to put the production on hold while they went overseas to shoot The American Success Company in Germany and then used the proceeds from that one to finish this one. The final result is a fragmented narrative that at times gets too rushed. The story was significantly paired down from the novel, which leaves open a lot of loose ends and it should probably be remade as a miniseries.

The story is also permeated with a lot of dark humor which only makes the viewer even more confused. Some of it is genuinely funny, but it’s unclear what it’s trying to satirize. Certain absurd situations and oddball characters get thrown in for seemingly no reason and takes away from the otherwise compelling storyline while leaving the viewer baffled as to what the point of it was supposed to be and could easily explain why it bombed so badly at the box office during its initial run.

The casting is interesting. Jeff Bridges usually gets stuck in bland, transparent roles and that’s no different here, but he’s surrounded by so many eccentrics that his otherwise vanilla delivery seems refreshing and distinct. Huston is the real star in a bravura performance that steals the film and makes it memorable. There’s also a lot of recognizable supporting players that are on only briefly and if you blink you’ll miss them. This includes an uncredited appearance by Elizabeth Taylor who comes on near the end and has no lines of dialogue, but does clearly mouth the words ‘son-of-a-bitch’.

If you are looking for something that is offbeat, but still intriguing then this is well worth the effort. If it weren’t for its misguided humor this thing could’ve really had an impact although it does reveal its cards too soon and I was able to guess the twist ending long before it actually happened, but as a whole it has its moments and a potential cult following or sure.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Richert

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

They All Laughed (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Audrey Hepburn’s last movie.

Three male detectives (Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Blaine Novak) follow around two beautiful ladies (Dorothy Stratten, Audrey Hepburn) whose husbands think are being unfaithful. The detectives have been hired to keep tabs on them, but in the process end up falling for them and then try to somehow get their attention without giving away why they are there.

The film has a nice casual pace that helps bring out its rather eccentric tone. The on-location shooting of New York is outstanding. It’s one thing to show the viewer a bird’s eye view of the skyline, but another to take them onto the city streets and inside all the different shops, from bookstores to museums, while giving them a very real sense that they are going inside these places along with the characters as it picks up the inside ambience quite nicely.

The problem though is that there is no story. The first thirty minutes deals with these men following the women around, but it is not clear why they are doing it and the script’s evasiveness becomes off-putting. There’s no beginning, middle or end, or even any conflict. Just a flat, breezy tale of some cardboard characters having brief flings and that’s it. 2-hours of your time have now just been saved.

The interesting cast allows for some diversion, but even that’s not enough. This is mostly known as being Dorothy Stratten’s last movie as she was murdered before the film was released. However, I was much more impressed with Patti Hansen, who plays a cab driver and has since 1983 been the wife of Keith Richards. I was taken in not only by her stunning beauty, but her relaxed composure in front of the camera. She displays a wonderfully effervescent smile and a laid back persona that doesn’t get intimidated at all by the big name stars around her. If there was one person I wanted the film to be built around it was her and was disappointed it wasn’t.

Stratten on the other hand is not as good-looking and displays all the expected qualities of a model that has no formal acting training as she conveys stiffness as well as a one-note delivery. Her character seems too young to be married to the man that she is and overall I felt the only reason she got cast is because director Peter Bogdanovich was thinking through his penis instead of his head.

Gazzara and Ritter are weak too. They’ve done some good work in other projects, but not here. Gazzara is particularly annoying as his face seems frozen with this leering grinning expression that just never goes away. Ritter plays a bumbling version of his Jack Tripper character and while some of those antics were amusing on ‘Three’s a Company, here they quickly become stale.

Hepburn is the film’s only bright spot and this is considered to be her last theatrical feature as she had just a cameo appearance in Always, but she doesn’t really appear until the second hour and most of the time is seen wearing big bulky dark glasses that almost completely cover-up her face.

Colleen Camp has a few enjoyable snarky moments in a part that was apparently written expressly for her, but she says the name of Ritter’s character, which is Charles, way too much. Most screenwriting instructors will tell you not to have dialogue that reiterates the names of the characters as people normally don’t speak that way in their regular everyday conversations and yet here Camp says ‘Charles’ in an almost repetitive fashion to the point that it gets distracting. I didn’t count how many times she said it during her conversation with him inside a store, but I did start counting when she brought him back to her apartment and during that brief four minutes she says it 29 times. If this was meant to be some sort of joke then it’s a pointless one and if not then Bogdanovich needs to take a course in screenwriting or at least learn how to write a script where something actually happens in it and not just filled with redundant dialogue.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Moon Pictures

Available: DVD

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a disco star.

This film is based on a 1976 story that was published in New York Magazine entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn, which for many years was considered a factual account of the disco trends of the young people at the time who frequented the disco 2001 Odyssey nightclub, but it later turned out, through the confession of its author, to have been totally fabricated. The story here centers on Tony (John Travolta) who still lives with his parents while working for low wages at a Brooklyn paint store, but longing for a more exciting existence. Despite being a ‘nobody’ during the week on Saturday nights he’s a star as he takes to the disco floor and has all the women flocking to him. Annette (Donna Pescow) is one of those women, but Tony finds her too unattractive and instead has eyes for Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) who he wants as his dance partner in order to win a contest.

From the ads and promotions you’d think this was nothing more than a lightweight teeny bopper romance looking to take advantage of the current disco trend, but the film is much more than that. In fact the dance sequences are boring and thankfully director John Badham keeps these segments contained although I would’ve cut back on them even more. The real essence of the film is Tony’s relationship with his friends, family and world as a whole. The film works as a terrific composite of what life in Brooklyn during the ‘70s amongst the teens and young adults was really like as they try to forge their way into young adulthood while fighting to find their place in it.

Travolta gives an outstanding performance mainly because he’s one of those actors who isn’t afraid to expose the vulnerabilities of the characters that he plays as Tony isn’t a completely likable person and many times acts quite arrogant and callous, which leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve seen an unfiltered portrait of a real person with all the edges showing instead of just a manufactured image.

Pescow is great in support. The image of her holding out a hand full of condoms is the one thing I’ve remembered vividly from the movie from when I first saw it over twenty years ago and the scene of where she is assaulted in the back seat of a car by Tony’s friends is genuinely heart breaking.

My only quibble with her is the moment where Tony informs her that he is choosing a different dance partner for the contest and she immediately breaks down crying. My belief is that most people because of personal pride will not wear their emotional vulnerabilities that openly especially if they are downtrodden like her character. Instead I think she would’ve responded to the news in a sort of aloof/defiant way like saying ‘fine if you don’t want me then I don’t want you’ before walking away and then crying about it later in private.

Gorney’s performance was the one that I really didn’t like as her put-on Brooklyn accent is too affected. With Pescow you could tell it was the genuine thing as she was from the region originally, but Gorney was born in Beverly Hills and attended college in Pittsburgh, so her attempts at putting on an accent was not needed or warranted and made her character seem too much at Tony’s working class level when I thought the idea was to show that she wasn’t.

As for her relationship with Tony I liked the concept that these two were genuine opposites, but I wished the movie had played this up more. She’s initially cold towards Tony and rejects his advances and then a few days later without him having done anything differently she’s suddenly warmed up to him. I would’ve liked some situation created where she was forced to hook-up with Tony as a dance partner because her original partner took ill or something and then had the frostiness between them continue and melt away only when they are on the dance floor.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit limp. The fact that the two don’t end up getting into a long term romantic relationship, but instead agree to be ‘just friends’ is good as too many movies with this type of formula always seem to want to strive for the ideal love scenario, but in most real-world cases that just isn’t practical and these two had too much that was not in common and getting past those things would’ve proved futile.

However, the dance contest is a letdown as the film introduces a Puerto Rican couple who dance better than Tony and Stephanie, but Tony is still awarded the trophy supposedly because of racism, but why throw in this plot point so late? We’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Tony and Stephanie the entire way through not the Puerto Rican couple who we know nothing about. If the movie wanted to make a statement about racism at the club it should’ve been brought out much earlier and not at the very last minute when it becomes essentially pointless.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it’s a great movie that deserves its classic status as the characters and dialogue are richly textured and the film makes its message through subtle visual means without having to telegraph it. However, the PG-rated version, which was released two years later in an attempt to reel in the teen audience, sanitizes the story to the point that it takes out the heart of the film and should be avoided.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes (R-rated version) 1 Hour 52 Minutes (PG-rated version) 2 Hours 2 Minutes (Director’s cut)

Director: John Badham

Studio: Paramount

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

It’s My Turn (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her relationships don’t last.

Kate’s (Jill Clayburgh) life is in flux. She’s living in Chicago with her boyfriend Homer (Charles Grodin), but feels they are not ‘connecting’ and secretly longing for something more. She travels to New York both for a job interview and to attend her widowed father’s (Steven Hill) wedding. It is there that she meets Ben (Michael Douglas) who is the son of Emma (Beverly Garland) the woman Kate’s father is to marry. Ben is a former professional baseball player with struggles of his own including dealing with an unfaithful wife and a daughter. Kate and Ben hit-it-off during the weekend that she is there and eventually go to bed, but will their new found passion be enough to break them away from their other relationships that they’re still trying to save?

To some extent the film has a fresh feel by portraying the budding romance in less of a mechanical way with dialogue and situations that flow more naturally. The scene where Kate and Ben compete with each other by playing all sorts of different video and table games inside a recreational room is fun as is the old timers baseball game that they attend, which features many real-life baseball legends including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford to name just a few. I’ll also give kudos to Daniel Stern playing a long haired nerdy student who proceeds to disrupt Kate’s algebra class that she is teaching with a lot of redundant questions.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t take enough advantage of its unique storyline. Grown children of a bride and groom to be usually don’t fall in love while attending a wedding event for their parents and the film should’ve focused solely on this scenario including what their parent’s reaction would be to it once they found out. Both Kate and Ben should’ve also been shown calling home to their mates during their time in the Big Apple, which would’ve heightened the drama as we would’ve seen how emotionally conflicted they were to their old relationships despite their new found feelings for each other.

Douglas is a bit miscast as he doesn’t have the necessary upper body muscular build of an athlete. He also looks too young to be a part of the old timer’s game as he was only 32 at the time and many athletes are still playing professionally at that age. The other participants were clearly in their 40’s and 50’s, which means most likely Ben would’ve never have been invited to take part in the event as he hadn’t been away from the game for enough years.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest downfall though is with the ending that proceeds to leave everything in limbo. Not only does Kate break-up with Homer, but her budding relationship with Ben never comes to fruition. Sitting through a movie just to watch the main character end up right back at square-one is both frustrating and pointless. There needed to be more of a conclusion to her romantic fate. If she learned to become a lifelong single and enjoy it then great, or she found someone else that’s great too, but at least offer some finality instead of just leaving all wide open, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve been treated to only half of a movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claudia Weil

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

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

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Punchline (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perils of standup.

Lilah (Sally Field) is a New York housewife who enjoys making people laugh and takes a stab at stand-up, but finds the experience challenging and ends up paying someone $500 for jokes, but they don’t go over well. Then she meets Steven (Tom Hanks) a struggling med student who moonlights at the same comedy club that she does. Steven is genuinely funny, but so highly insecure that he ends up self-destructing at the most crucial times. He tries to help Lilah hone in her comedic skills while she gives him confidence.

The film, which is written and directed by David Seltzer, nicely analyzes the very unfunny side of the comedy business particularly its emphasis on how one must toil away at seedy clubs, hecklers, low pay, drunken audiences and a permeating sense of insecurity. Hanks abrasive character is spot-on and a good composite of those still stuck in the trenches and bitter about not yet being discovered. In fact I had wanted the surliness of his character to be played up even more as I had come into contact with struggling comedians during my time when I dabbled in improv and found a lot of them to be basket cases of insecurity and when not onstage were quite unpleasant to be around.

In fact it was because the Hanks character was so unlikable and even more so in some of the earlier versions that the script sat on the studio shelf for so long before it finally got the green light. To help compensate certain overreaching attempts were put in to soften his persona, which only ends up hurting the film’s authenticity. One scene has him inside a hospital doing one of his comedy acts for the patients and as he is leaving he suddenly shows this extreme concern for a sick child that he doesn’t even know and he immediately runs over to him, which seemed forced.

Another bit has him onstage and suffering from an extreme emotional breakdown when he sees his father sitting in the audience. Many people harbor demons from the past and frosty relationships with their parents, but they don’t have such over-the-top reactions especially when in front of an audience, which only helps to make this scene reek of hackneyed melodrama.

His friendship with Field, which I initially found cute as the two are complete opposites, gets ruined when a romantic angle unwisely gets thrown in. These two had very little in common, the Field character was married with three kids, ten years old than him and not particularly stunning, so I didn’t see the chemistry or reason for the sudden attraction on Hanks’ part. Having him gush all over her after only knowing her for a brief time is unrealistic. His personal struggles including the fact that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no money would be occupying his mind so much that a potential relationship wouldn’t even enter into it.

Fortunately the film recovers with a strong ending and Field is excellent, but I wished that we had seen more of a backstory to her character and were able to witness the very first time that she ever ventured out onto the stage. The supporting cast offers great performances as well including John Goodman as Field’s husband who initially isn’t supportive of her stand-up ambitions, but eventually warms up to it. Mark Rydell is solid as the club owner and Mac Robbins has a touching moment as an aging comedian who has seen it all before in a film that offers a revealing look at the comedy business.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Seltzer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD