Category Archives: Satire

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Divorce American Style (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple can’t get along.

Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds) appear to have the perfect life living in a sprawling suburban home with two kids, a good job and paid housekeepers, but underneath the facade their unhappy. Neither of them can communicate with the other, so they decide to see a marriage counselor (Martin Gabel), but this just makes things worse. Eventually they get a divorce, but the alimony and child support are so high that Richard is forced to move into a small 1-bedroom apartment and drive around in an old beat-up car. Barbara begins dating an affluent car salesman (Van Johnson) but both find that, despite all their squabbles, the more they’re apart the more they miss each other.

The script was written by Norman Lear who went on to produce the ground-breaking TV-series ‘All in the Family’, but the edge from that one is completely lacking here. I’m not sure if it was the time period this film was made in and what the studios perceived the public was willing to accept, but the satire is mild to non-existent and becomes boring quite quickly. The subject of divorce is handled in such a sanitized way that it barely even touches the surface and in many ways this thing comes off more like a romantic comedy with divorce being only a side-story.

The two leads are incredibly bland. Van Dyke again just seems to be channeling his Rob Petrie character and seemingly unable to play any variation from that. While his squeaky clean image may have made him likable on TV it makes him quite dull and one-dimensional on film. Reynolds fares better, but as a couple there’s nothing unique or interesting about them and the issues that they fight about, which is mainly the fact that they can’t ‘communicate’, comes off as generic and pointless.

The supporting cast are far more engaging. Joe Flynn, who has no problems paying or sex with prostitutes and does not feel it’s cheating because it’s ‘not romantic’ and his wife, played by Emmaline Henry, who wouldn’t go back home to an unfaithful husband even if he ‘hanged himself’ have the type of edge that could’ve made this film far funnier and more memorable had they been made the stars. Even Jason Robards and Jean Simmons have potential playing a divorced couple where the wife still lives in affluence while the husband due to his high alimony and child support lives in the dumps, but dates a pregnant woman (played by Eileen Brennan in her film debut) anyways.

The comedic tone is inconsistent. At times it conveys a surreal flair like having an orchestra conductor come out at the beginning and pretend to direct the voices of all the arguing couples in the neighborhood like there’s a musical quality to it. Having the kids keep a scorecard to their parents fighting is funny too, but these segments get interspersed with long talky moments that drags the whole movie down and things would’ve worked better had it started out right away with the couple already divorced instead of spending the first hour dealing with their protracted arguing.

The anemic insights that it does make about divorce come off as dated and wholly out-of-touch with today’s realities. A modern day divorced couple will most likely find nothing relatable with the story. Tacking on a pseudo happy ending just adds further insult to the topic by making it seem like all marital disagreements can somehow be ‘worked out’ coming off like it was written and produced by those who really hadn’t dealt with divorce issues in their real lives and did very little research on it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Soul Man (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be black.

Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) has been accepted into Harvard Law School, but just before he’s ready to attend his father (James B. Sikking) states that he won’t help to pay for it forcing Mark to try and find other avenues of funding. He eventually decides to take some tanning pills, which makes his skin darker and then apply for a scholarship only available to African American students. After getting the money he continues with the charade, but encounters many problems along the way that he wasn’t expecting.

This is one comedy that hasn’t aged well at all. At the time of its release it wasn’t considered too great to begin with and I avoided it, but now almost 30 years later the blackface plot line has made it a bad stain on the careers of those involved particularly the producer, writer and director who were all white and apparently thought they were ‘woke’ and making something ‘socially relevant’, but really weren’t. However, even if you get past the politically incorrect scenario this is still a really bad movie either way.

The basic premise is the biggest problem as Howell never ever effectively looks black, Egyptian maybe, but more like some white guy wearing a tacky wig and who stayed under the sun lamp too long. The fact that anyone could believe that he was really black for even a second is patently absurd as his skin is more of a dark beige color and his other facial features never change, which makes the scene where his own parents don’t even recognize him all the more stupid.

The idea of having him intentionally overdose on tanning pills just brings up even more questions. For instance if he takes more than the recommended dosage wouldn’t that cause some dangerous side effect and how exactly is he able to turn white again at the end as overdosing on the pills would’ve most likely have caused some sort of long term health risk to either his system or skin.

The fact that he’s able to get the scholarship right away is pretty ridiculous too. Don’t applicants have to go through some sort of background check before they get accepted or do they simply get handed the money the minute they walk in and ask for it like it seems here and wouldn’t this background check then expose that he was really white?

This also has to be the dumbest guy ever to get accepted into Harvard. I’m not saying the character has to necessarily conform to the nerd stereotype, but the guy comes off like a world class slacker from the beginning who proceeds to say and do one clueless thing after another until you wonder if he’d ever be accepted into junior college let alone an Ivy League one.

James Earl Jones’ performance, where he channels the black version of Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, is one of the film’s few bright spots. I also enjoyed Rae Dawn Chong who plays Howell’s potential love interest and who comes off as far more real and multi-dimensional than any of the other characters in the film to the point that she should’ve been made the star while scrapping Howell and his silly shenanigans completely.

Not only does the film fail to offer any true meaningful insight into race relations, but it manages to stereotype white people in the process particularly the two white male students who are constantly getting caught making racist jokes about black people. Is the viewer actually supposed to believe that this is all these two guys ever talk about as it certainly is made to seem that way, which is just one more example as to why this has to be one of the clumsiest, most unfunny and most poorly thought out satires ever made.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Miner

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Simon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: College professor becomes brainwashed.

An underground group of scientists who enjoy playing elaborate pranks decide to brainwash a college professor named Simon Mendelssohn (Alan Arkin) into believing that he is an alien from another planet. After he is successfully brainwashed he then escapes from the institution and gets in with a religious cult who have a transmitter that can block the TV airwaves and allow him the ability to be seen by the entire nation where he tries to reform American culture while also becoming a celebrity sensation.

This extremely odd comical satire  seems out of place for a studio backed film and more in tune with a independent project as it’s unclear what specific type of audience the filmmakers were hoping to attract as mainstream viewers will most likely find the humor off-putting. One could describe it as being ahead-of-its-time, but the banal potshots at such overused targets as TV and American consumerism makes it seem more dated instead.

The movie would’ve worked better had it remained focused on one intended target and then ravaged the hell out of it instead of soft jabs at various safe targets, which makes its overall message muddled and unclear. There are some funny bits including watching Austin Pendleton, who is the head of the research group, making love to a giant telephone receiver, whose voice is supplied by Louise Lasser. It’s also funny having a brainwashed person such as Simon trying to brainwash others via the airwaves, which could’ve been really hilarious had they gone farther with this idea.

There’s signs that writer/director Marshall Brickman hadn’t fully thought through the quirky story idea to begin with. For instance why would this underground group of scientists allow a video crew in to film what they are doing as the members are seen at the beginning talking directly to the camera and answering questions by some unseen interviewer. Wouldn’t this allow their secret to get out and get them into trouble? The army that takes over the institute is too incompetent as Simon and his girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart) are able to escape from it too easily and their inability to locate Simon’s rogue TV transmitter even after days of searching is rather pathetic. I realize this is meant to be ‘funny’, but even a comedy should have some tension to it to make it more interesting and the army’s extreme buffoonery isn’t humorous at all, but just plain dumb instead.

Arkin is the one thing that saves it. His unusual acting style makes him hard to cast, but here he really delivers especially during the segment where he plays out the evolution of man, but without using any dialogue although it might’ve been funnier and more of an interesting contrast had his character not been so kooky to begin with, but instead some stuffy intellectual only to become zany once he was brainwashed.

Judy Graubart makes for a good anchor as the one normal person in the whole movie. She was best known for her work on the children’s TV-show ‘The Electric Company’ and this was her live-action film debut, which should’ve lead to a long line of film appearances, but instead she only had brief bits in two other movies and that was it.

There are signs of a great movie trying to break out and the overall concept has brilliant potential, but this is the type of film where you’ve got to go full-throttle and Brickman seems either unable or too timid to do that making what could’ve been sharp satire into a transparent, benign mess that offers only a few chuckles, but not much else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Deal of the Century (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making money selling weapons.

Eddie (Chevy Chase) is a American arms dealer selling weapons to both the rebels and military dictator of a small South American country. While there he meets Harold (Wallace Shawn) who works for a large contractor known as Luckup. Their weaponry is much more sophisticated and cutting edge so after Harold kills himself Eddie takes over the deal and successfully wins a big contract, but upon returning to the states he finds that the deal fell through, which forces him to return to the small country along with Harold’s widow Catherine (Sigourney Weaver) and his partner Ray  (Gregory Hines) to see if they can make another pitch.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Edelman and makes some really good satirical points about how the arms race being driven more by corporate greed, which only helps to create wars instead of preventing them. Unfortunately the film’s tone is too muddled and goes haphazardly from lighthearted fare to dark humor while throwing in graphic violence that is jarring. There’s also a surprising number of scenes where the three main characters don’t appear in it at all.

Chase can be appealing if given the right material but his cynical smart-ass sense of humor doesn’t exactly make him lovable. Here his character is so consumed with making a deal that he becomes no different than the bad guys and someone the viewer doesn’t connect with or care for. The only positive thing about his character is that he gets shot in the foot early on and then unlike most other movies where the healing power gets sped up he instead spends the rest of the film in a cast, which is more realistic. The scene where he gets shot in the foot a second time and blood spews out of the cast until Sigourney stops it up with a cork is the film’s best moment.

Hines on the other hand is quite likable and his convergence to Christianity is funny and should’ve been played-up more. The scene where he gets into a confrontation with a Latino couple after a car accident is amusing, but having him suddenly go rogue at the end makes little sense and is kind of stupid.

Weaver, who doesn’t have any significant presence until almost 45 minutes in, is wasted and there’s no way that anyone as beautiful as her would marry a chump like Wallace Shawn, which makes the casting here quite nebulous. Vince Edwards, famous for starring in the 60’s medical drama ‘Ben Casey’, gets a surprisingly large role as a Luckup executive and I can only guess that this was because of his longtime friendship with director William Friedkin as otherwise by the 80’s he was way past his prime and largely forgotten.

There are some humorous bits here and there, but overall the pacing is poor and quite jumbled. Friedkin, better known for his dark dramas and horror films, appears to be out of his league and when compared to other Hollywood comedies this thing lacks finesse. The special effects are also really tacky, which ultimately sends this to a schlock level and becomes an embarrassment to all those who were involved.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

Utilities (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Social worker battles bureaucracy.

Bob (Robert Hays) is a social worker who’s fed up with the utility companies who shut the heat off to a group of senior citizens when they can’t pay their bill, which almost causes them to freeze to death. He decides to get revenge by having his techno wiz friend Eddie (Benjamin Gordan) rig the companies computers so that the customers get paid directly by the same utility companies that have been screwing them over. Unfortunately Bob’s new girlfriend (Brooke Adams) who is also a cop won’t hesitate to turn him in if she finds out that he’s the one behind the scheme.

This was filmed in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 3 years and it’s easy to see why as the humor is quite flat.  For some reason it was produced by a Canadian company and filmed in Toronto, which they then try to mask as being Chicago and I’m not sure why. Can’t these types of scenarios happen in Canada or is the US the only one with greedy corporations? The effort to try and seem like an American film doesn’t work as Canadians have a much different sense of humor and the whole thing comes off, much like Fear is the Key another film produced by our friends to the north, but filmed here, very off-kilter right from the start.  It’s like the film’s director Harvey Hart doesn’t really understand American culture as the characters behave in ways unlike anyone that I know.

It’s also against the law to turn off the heat or gas  on someone between the months of November and March, or if the temperature dips below 32 even if it’s because they cannot pay their bill or are struggling with financial hardship. I’m not sure if the filmmakers knew this being from Canada, or if they thought the viewers would be unaware so it didn’t matter, but in either case it shoots the entire scenario down dead on arrival.

It’s fun watching Hays who’s best known for his starring role in the cult hit Airplane as he portrays a much different character here. Instead of just being this dull dimwit like in that film he’s much more emotional here and even aggressively opinionated, which is fine. The only problem I had is I couldn’t understand why he would want to date Adams who had him arrested when he tried to stop the gas company from turning off the heat as the two just didn’t seem to have much in common and if anything it would’ve been more fun had they remained adversarial throughout only to finally soften on each other at the very end.

I happen to be a big fan of satire, but it has to have an edge to it. Trying to lampoon greedy corporations is not at all interesting and too easy of a target. The company’s CEO, which is played by James Blendick, is portrayed too broadly and is nothing more than a boring caricature as are the elderly tenants who battle him. Potentially serious issues get lost in a script that wants to pad everything over in a cutesy way that ultimately proves to be both mindless and forgettable.

Alternative Titles: Getting Even, Up Your Gas Company

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: June 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Astral Films

Available: VHS (Vestron Video)

Teachers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teaching can be difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD

Real Life (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ordinary family reality show.

Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks a hot shot young filmmaker determined to make a splash by filming a regular American family in their home and capturing everything that they do. The idea is for the family to go about their daily lives as if the cameras aren’t really there and then record their interactions. Things though go off-kilter almost immediately, which sends Brooks into a panic as he fears his movie won’t be entertaining enough and forcing him to compromise the project by instilling outside influences in order to make the movie more commercially viable.

This is another film that gets listed in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, but I’m not sure why. I’ll admit when I first saw it over 30 years ago it struck me as being quite irreverent and edgy at least the beginning, but the second half fades as Brooks loses sight of the main theme and writes himself into a hole. This results in a lot of tired jokes that focuses too much on the filmmaker and not the family.

The idea is based off of the documentary called ‘An American Family’, which was broadcast on PBS from January to May of 1973. This is where a filmmaking crew followed around the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for 7 months in 1971 and filmed everything that went on between them. The idea was not to sensationalize anything, but instead have it work as an educational program examining the dynamics of how a typical American family works. Although things started out normal it soon began to unravel when the wife asked for a divorce and the couple’s 20 year-old son suddenly came out as gay. All these things were unexpected and many critics felt it was the presence of the cameras that brought them out.

Unfortunately this film misses the mark by having the family’s unraveling occur almost immediately and therefore not taking advantage of a prime comedic arch. The family members also lack any discernable personality and proceed to just get more boring as the film progresses. Certain darkly humorous moments like the scene where the father, played by Charles Grodin, performs a botched operation on a horse as part of his veterinarian practice are not funny at all and instead quite disturbing especially since a real horse was used.

The audience comes into this thing expecting to see a story about a family, but instead gets bombarded with Brooks whose sarcastic personality is only tolerable in small doses. The intended satire of a popular TV-series morphs into scenes of a narcissist filmmaker endlessly whining about his anxieties making the whole thing seem more like a vanity project or worse a limp remake of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.

Some great moments particularly the opening scenes showing the audition phase get lost amidst a rapid fire of sardonic gags that go nowhere.  I started to wonder if Brooks had even seen the actual series that he is supposedly trying to make fun of, or if he just considered the concept as an excuse to try and make himself the star. The intended surrealism doesn’t work and actually gets in the way with a whacked-out Gone with the Wind-like finale being the worst and only helps cement this as a misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hairspray (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Integrate the dance show.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) audition for ‘The Corny Collins Show’ a local teen dance contest. Penny isn’t able to make the cut, but Tracy is much to the infuriation of the snotty Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) who was the show’s reigning dance queen. The rivalry between the two heats up even more when Tracy tries to integrate the show with black performers which incites Amber’s racist parents (Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry) to resort to desperate and violent means in order to keep the show segregated.

This was the movie where John Waters became a legitimate filmmaker who could use his craft to create a story instead of making a movie that was simply a foray into crude humor. When he first broke into the underground scene his films such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingoes, and Female Trouble where refreshingly trashy and daring to show things other movies wouldn’t. The stark frankness and complete disregard of who it offended were both hilarious and groundbreaking, but by the time it got to 1981’s Polyester the formula had gotten stale and hearing campy characters shout incessantly at each other was becoming derivative while also exposing Waters as possibly being just a one-dimensional talent who was sadly losing his edge.

This film though was a complete change-of-pace with each shot and scene a loving tribute to his days growing up in Baltimore during the 50’s and early 60’s. The film has a lot of dance numbers that normally could bog the pace down, but here I got into the energy of it and it helped me to feel even more like I had been transported into a different time period. The musical soundtrack is filled with a lot of lesser known songs which most viewers will have never heard of and thus helping the film’s soundtrack avoid sounding like just another generic playlist from an oldies radio station.

Divine’s presence is much less crucial to the story’s plotline than in Waters’ past films. Sadly by this time his/her appearance was looking even more like just some fat guy wearing wig and no longer coming off in any way as being an overweight woman even though in the past films it was at times hard to tell. His physique looked so out of shape here that it should be no surprise that he died of a sudden heart attack just three weeks after the film’s release. In fact as the mother he really isn’t funny or engaging at all and only in a brief few scenes where he plays the station’s cantankerous owner Arvin Hodgepile does he show actual energy and gets a few laughs.

The original idea was to have Divine play both the roles of the mother and daughter, but fortunately that got nixed and Ricki Lake was brought in. She has a genuine, honest presence about her that creates instant empathy and it’s nice having a film showing an overweight person where her body type did not impede her from achieving her goals nor work as a detriment at keeping her down.

The supporting cast is eclectic, but unfortunately most are wasted particularly Jerry Stiller and Sonny Bono as the two fathers. Debbie Harry is great with her increasingly outrageous beehive hairdos, which become the most memorable and imaginative thing about the film. Lesser known actress Joanne Havrilla is quite funny as Penny’s racist mother especially the scene where she panics when trapped in a black neighborhood. John Waters himself gets some good comic bits playing Penny’s quack psychiatrist and Pia Zadora is engaging as a pot smoking beatnik.

The film is full of comical highlights that playfully runs the gamut between subtle, over-the-top and crude that somehow works to form a cohesive whole culminating in a very funny ‘race riot’ at the end. If the film has any fault it is in the fact that it treats racism in a little too much of a trivial way like it is just some silly thing that can be easily fixed instead of the serious and deep-rooted issue that it really is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

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