Category Archives: Surreal/Fantasy

Maid to Order (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich girl becomes servant.

Jessie (Ally Sheedy) is a spoiled rich girl still living at home with her philanthropist father (Tom Skerrit). Even though she’s in her mid-20’s she has never worked a job due to her father’s fortunes and she takes everything for granted seemingly unaware of her privileged lifestyle and how it affects others. Her father becomes frustrated with her cavalier attitude and one day speaks out loud that he wished he never had a daughter, which summons a fairy godmother named Stella (Beverly D’Angelo) to come to earth and erase all memory of Jessie from him. Now Jessie must learn to survive on her own, but without any job skills. She finds work from a rich Malibu couple (Dick Shawn, Valerie Perrine) who are practicing ‘reverse affirmative action’ by hiring white woman in the role of the household maid instead of a Hispanic or Black one. Jessie, now desperate for money, readily accepts the offer, but her inability to do even basic household chores causes her employment to be in almost constant jeopardy.

The main character is what really hurts this one and it’s not so much that she’s unlikable either, which she isn’t,, but more because her personality is too watered down. This is the type of role that needed a real bitchy lady that exuded snobbery at every turn like Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Oleson the brat in the old TV-show ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or maybe even Shannen Doherty from ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ fame. Sheedy is just plain unable to play-up the bitchiness enough coming-off more like someone who lacks self-awareness instead of an elitist snob, which then makes her transition to humbleness not as interesting, dramatic, or funny. I’ve liked Sheedy in some of her other films and I realize she was trying to broaden her acting resume her by playing against-type, but she lacks the necessary charisma to keep it engaging.

The limp plot doesn’t help things either. It’s way too obvious where it’s headed and the viewer can easily predict the plot points before they even happen. There needed to be more confrontation from the contrasting personalities and more comedy from the quirky situation instead of the annoying life lessons that makes it seem almost like some afterschool special. Everything is aimed too much at the pre-teen audience, which leaves very little for a discernable adult tp enjoy.

The fairy godmother concept is a bit batty too. Why does a fairy answer this father’s wish, but no one else’s? Many people make wishes all the time, but no fairy godmother ever gets summoned, so what makes this situation so special? The script should’ve implemented some sort of side-story involving the father, or maybe even Jessie, getting involved in mysticism, which could’ve helped explain why this otherwise unusual incident then occurs.

I did however, really enjoy Dick Shawn in a very funny portrayal of the nouveau riche and he along with Beverly D’Angelo as the wise-cracking fairy godmother needed far more screen time. I was especially perplexed how underwritten D’Angelo’s part was as she plays a role that is quite fundamental to the story, but not in it half as much as you’d expect though her snarky remarks give this otherwise vapid material some much needed energy for the few minutes that she has.

Valerie Perrine, as Shawn’s wife, isn’t as amusing though her variety of gaudy outfits, and hairstyles, does at least lend visual flair. Skeritt though is completely deadening and it’s amazing how this guy has been acting on the screen since 1962 and yet the vast majority of his work is highly forgettable despite some of the movies he’s been in being memorable in other ways. Same for Michael Ontkean as Jessie’s romantic interest, he’s got the perfect pretty-boy face and hunky body, but seemingly no actual personality.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Studio: New Century Vista Film Company

Available: DVD

The Spider Will Kill You (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blind man with dummies.

Jonathan (Robert Palter) is a blind man living alone in a cramped apartment surrounded by two mannequins who he speaks to as if they’re his parents and in his head he hears their voices in response. One day he comes upon another mannequin made in the form of a female, which he names Christine (Shirley Anderson). Christine eventually comes to life and becomes, at least to him, human and the two fall-in-love. Christine though starts to reveal a dark side and begins taunting Jonathan while trying to break into a chest in his apartment that supposedly holds deadly spiders and that Jonathan has been told by his parents never to open.

This was a student film directed by David Schmoeller, which went on to finish in second place at the 2nd Annual Student Academy Awards festival, but ultimately losing out to another student film directed by a guy named Robert Zemekis. The concept for this film was the basis for Tourist Trap, which Schmoeller directed 3 years later.

This film is far better, even at only 30 minutes, than its big budgeted revision. First there’s no annoying generic college kids here just three characters and the setting takes place entirely inside Jonathan’s apartment, which has a really dark and creepy atmosphere. The mannequins also at various times take human form and there’s some spooky effects including having Christine remove her own arm.

There’s also surprisingly nudity and explicit sex. ( I was a bit surprised with the nudity bit since Schmoeller stated that he was ‘too shy’ to ask the actresses to take off their clothes in Tourist Trap, but apparently didn’t have any problem asking the one here to disrobe even though this was done before that one.) The sex is an odd sight to see too since we initially see it from Jonathan’s point-of-view where it appears he’s making love to a human, but then it cuts to the next-door-neighbor’s (Donald Weismann) viewpoint, who peers in from the door, and it’s clearly a mannequin that Jonathan madly humps, which is a freaky sight.

The ending is quite weird and leaves a lasting impression. If Tourist Trap had stayed more inline with this film it would’ve been far more intriguing. I liked the surreal quality and the scenes involving the mannequins are scary it’s just a shame it wasn’t played-up more. Overall though, it’s still an impressive first attempt especially when dealing with the constricted confines of a typical student project.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Runtime: 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Schmoeller

Xanadu (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist falls for muse.

Sonny (Michael Beck) is a struggling artist finding it impossible to make a living on his own forcing him to go back to working for Airflow records where his creative aspirations are squelched by business demands. He then starts bumping into Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and begins falling for her hard unaware that she isn’t human but instead a muse sent from another galaxy to help achieve his true artistic vision. She sets it up where he meets Danny (Gene Kelly) a former big band musician. Together he and Sonny work out a plan to turn an old empty building into a live music venue.

One of the bigger problems of this flamboyant concoction is that it doesn’t seem like hardly a movie at all as the story is threadbare and features a lot of banal dialogue and sterile characterizations between the musical numbers. The chief reason for this, at least according to Olivia on the DVD commentary, is that the script was written on the fly as the filming took place almost like something a bunch of amateurs would do. There is a rumor though that producer Joel Silver early on did lock one of the writers into a room for a couple of days and refusing to let him out until he ‘delivered’ a ‘great script’, which if that were the case then the writer should still be stuck there because that great script clearly never came about.

Fans of the movie will admit that the acting and plot are poor, but insist that the songs and set pieces make up for it, but it really doesn’t. A few of them were okay like the battle of the bands segment where at one end of the warehouse a 40’s band plays while at the end there’s a hard rock 80’s band only to eventually have them both merge. Overall though I found a lot the musical numbers to be surprisingly bland and uninspired with the best ones, which include Kelly dancing alongside Olivia and an animated segment, all getting added in after the primary filming had already completed.

Olivia is quite beautiful and I love her effervescent smile, but she’s no leading lady. Her singing is excellent, but has an actress her talent seems limited to playing only perky characters, so while this film was meant to jettison her career it instead only stifled it. Kelly, whose last film role this was, is engaging in support even though he pretty much just spends most of the time smiling and not much else.

The real surprise is seeing Beck. He had just come off his strong portrayal of Swan in the mega cult hit The Warriors and was at that point a hot commodity poised to be a Hollywood leading man for years to come, but instead pissed it all away by choosing this stinker as his follow-up. Since this thing bombed badly at the box office the subsequent offers he got were of the TV-movie and low budget variety.  I’m just not sure what he was thinking. It couldn’t have been the script that attracted him since there really wasn’t any. I can only presume he thought with Olivia on board and with the success she had with Grease that this would be a big hit like that one, so he took a calculate gamble and jumped-in, but it was clearly a big mistake.

The great actor Jack Lemmon once said only take movie roles if you’ve read the script and like it never just because you think it will be a hit because you’ll usually be proven wrong and I guess Beck had to learn that the hard way. He now makes a living solely by attending fan conventions where he signs autographs, but he never talks or promotes his appearance here just his work on The Warriors. I can only presume he’s embarrassed by it and he should be. It’s one thing to be in a lousy movie, but still give a strong performance, but his acting here is just as bad as the film and was enough to get him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as worst actor of 1980 though he ended up losing out to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. 

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Greenwald

Studio: Universal

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

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping from the depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Possession (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes crazy.

Mark (Sam Neill) is shocked to learn that his happy marriage isn’t so happy when his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) asks for a divorce. He hires a detective (Carl Duering) where he learns that she is living in an apartment, but she is not alone as something else resides there with her and it’s not human.

This was sadly the only English language film directed by Ukrainian born Andrzej Zulawksi who did most of his movies in Poland. This one was made in Germany in 1980 and what struck me almost immediately is that it seems like it could’ve been done just yesterday as it institutes much of the hand-held camerawork that is so prevalent in films today, but still quite rare back then. Sometimes I find this technique annoying and overdone, but here it helps build the plot’s kinetic energy and accentuates the material’s off-kilter tone.

The gifted Adjani is the main attraction particularly the drawn out scene where she becomes possessed while inside an underground subway, which has to be seen to be believed and quite frankly a landmark moment in cinema.  I also loved how the director focuses in on her expressive blue eyes where in one scene they convey a fiery evil and then quickly cuts to them exposing a pleading emotion that remains just as captivating.

Sam Neill makes the viewer feel almost exhausted as he manifests the feelings of his character to the point that he looks both physically and emotionally drained and his acting becomes indistinguishable from genuine raw emotions. I have seen him many films before, but here he’s like a different person and not connected to the man we’ve seen or known before.

There’s definitely some over-the-top moments, but what I really liked is how it never forgets about the little details either. I’ve complained before about how blood in most movies looks fake, but here it has just the right reddish hue, which looks more authentic as does the scene where Neill slaps Adjani violently. I also appreciated how the child character (Michael Hogben) is never forgotten. Too many other films dealing with a fighting couple introduce the child up front, but then he essentially disappears as it becomes all about the adults, but parenthood is a 24-hour job that parents can’t just forget about even when it’s inconvenient and this film nicely reminds both the viewer and characters of that.

The more the film went on the more convinced I became of how it could never have been made in the US as there’s too much of an emphasis on making movies ‘marketable’ and genre specific while this film defies all the preconceived formulas, which is why it’s so cool as you have absolutely no idea where it’s going and each new twist is a genuine surprise. Despite being almost 40 years old it remains fresh and inventive and far more original than 99 % of the other movies out there. It’s like a drug trip where after it’s over you feel like you’ve lived through an actual event.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 7Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil comes to town.

Based on the John Updike novel of the same name, the story centers on three single women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) living in the town of Eastwick, Rhode Island who are also witches, but don’t yet realize it. All three want to meet up with the man of their dreams, which ushers in Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). He is a rich playboy that buys the town’s landmark home the stately Lennox Mansion. The three women are initially seduced by his powers only to realize later that he is actually the devil incarnate and spend the rest of the time conjuring up a spell that will send him back to where he came from.

After achieving so much success with The Road Warrior franchise Australian director George Miller decided to take a stab at something completely different, but had to deal with studio politics during the production, which made the final product disjointed. However, despite an array of confusing plot points the offbeat elements are enough to hold your attention and keep things interesting.

The creative special effects add an imaginative flair, but tend to get overdone. I enjoyed the scene where Veronica Cartwright vomits out cherry seeds all over her house, which leaves an indelible impression, but then Nicholson does the same thing later inside a church where it becomes redundant and gross. Watching a floating tennis ball defying gravity is amusing, but not needed. This scene, where all four get together to play a game of tennis, should’ve instead focused on the underlying tensions between the characters, which would’ve given the movie some needed nuance.

I enjoyed Sarandon, who goes from being a repressed nerdette to sexual vamp, but overall the efforts of the game cast are wasted as there’s not enough distinction between the women’s personalities making them seem almost like the same person. The only female that is distinct and memorable is Cartwright who’s campy, over-the-top portrayal of a paranoid religious woman hits-the-mark and should’ve been enough to give her more screen time and at least one scene where she confronts Nicholson directly.

I would’ve preferred also that the women been aware right from the start that they were witches, which would’ve made them immediate adversaries to Nicholson instead of these dopey pawns that passively allow him to seduce them one-by-one in long drawn-out segments that become quite strained. In contrast Nicholson could’ve preyed on the other women in town while these same witches spent their time coming up with ways to stop him and thus creating more of a theatrical battle.

Nicholson is great, but his character like with the others is poorly etched. At the beginning he’s a conniving player who possesses the ability to manipulate these women almost seamlessly, but then during the second half this all changes, but with no clear explanation as to why. His speech though inside a church expounding on man’s ever daunting task to tap into the female’s psychic is priceless:

“Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created women, or do you think it was just another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves?…If it was a mistake maybe we can do something about it; find a cure, then a vaccine, build-up our immune systems.”

The biggest issue though is that the film needed to be genre specific and played more like a horror movie with dark comical undertones instead of a serene/hybrid comedy. The New England setting is picturesque, but not right for this type of story. A better location would’ve been a town that was mostly cloudy and gloomy while containing buildings that were old and gothic, which would’ve helped to create an eerie atmosphere that is otherwise sorely lacking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Hot to Trot (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A horse that talks.

Fred (Bobcat Goldthwait) inherits one half of a brokerage firm from his deceased mother much to the consternation of his step father Walter (Dabney Coleman) who owns the other half. Fred also receives a horse named Don (John Candy) from his inheritance that has the amazing ability to talk and he even gives Fred some inside stock tips that makes Fred very rich. Fred then rents a slick-looking penthouse with his newfound money and let’s Don move in with him while Walter schemes to find out how Fred is able to make such savvy stock market picks.

I sat dumbfounded the whole time I watched this wondering how such a stupid script like this could get the greenlight when there are so many other better ones that are never even given a chance.  Had it tried a more surreal approach similar to the one used in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure then it might’ve worked, but instead it’s just a sterile comedy without any focus or atmosphere that has weirdness thrown in haphazardly, but too caustic for even the kids to enjoy. Apparently some poor misguided soul thought that because the ‘Mister Ed’ TV-series was so successful in reruns that there was an audience begging to see a talking horse movie even though there really wasn’t. For the record that show, which ran for six seasons, was never too good anyways, but still far funnier than anything you’ll see here.

The effects for the horse aren’t impressive. All he does his move his lip, but his teeth remain clenched making it look like he isn’t really talking. Candy’s voice-over work, which he apparently ad-libbed, allows for a few chuckles, but I felt the horse character wasn’t really needed. Simply have the part played by Candy in human form and it wouldn’t have made all that much of a difference and might’ve improved things by at least making more sense.

Goldthwait’s ability to quickly change the pitch of his voice is not amusing and comes-off like someone who’s suffered brain damage. Outside of his ‘vocal talents’ he has nothing else to add making his presence here boring and transparent. Coleman wears some false teeth that make him speak with a lisp. I’m not sure if his career was in a decline and that’s why he took the part, or he just wanted to try something different, but it doesn’t work and wastes his overall talents.

A party scene inside Fred’s apartment that is attended by other animals is kind of cute and there’s a mildly amusing horse race. I also liked the segment at the end involving Gilbert Gottfried as the horse’s dentist where we see a shot from inside the horse’s mouth. It’s not a real mouth, but the rather garish way that they try to make it look like a real one is kind of interesting. Otherwise the best thing about the movie is its short runtime.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Small town fights developer.

Milagro, New Mexico becomes the centerpiece to controversy when a rich developer (Richard Bradford) decides to build a resort, which cuts off the water supply to the rest of the struggling inhabitants of the nearby town. Joe Mandragon (Chick Vennera) is one of those farmers who is frustrated with the current situation and in a fit of rage kicks a water valve, which allows water to flow into his field where he soon begins to grow beans. Kyril Montana (Christopher Walken) is then sent in by the rich tycoons to ‘settle-the-score’, which only helps to make the town’s resistance to the development even stronger.

The film is based on the 1974 novel by John Nichols and was directed by Robert Redford eight years after he helmed his first feature the very successful Ordinary People. From a completely technical standpoint the film shines in all areas as it delightfully mixes whimsical comedy with harsh real-world issues and manages to keep the tone consistent throughout. My favorite element was the difficulty the activists had in getting the townspeople  ‘on-the-same-page’ and organized to fight their mutual enemy, which illustrated one of the biggest challenges to fighting for social change where just trying to convince and mobilize others is sometimes the toughest part.

John Heard has the film’s best character arch playing a former political activist who dropped out of trying to change-the-world years ago, but after sufficient prodding finally gets back to his old form in one very fiery and memorable moment. Walken is quite good in reverse playing a man sent to initially squash the rebellion only to eventually soften a bit (just a bit) on his stance. Carlos Riquelme is delightful as the elderly Amarante who despite being weak with age fights-the-good-fight including a hilarious scene where he precariously tries to drive a bulldozer.

I wasn’t quite as crazy about Daniel Stern’s inclusion. He plays his part well and the character is likable, but I didn’t understand the need for him in the story. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t trust that the Hispanic cast alone could carry it and a white guy needed to be added in in order to usher in a more mainstream demographic. Vennera is weak only because he constantly reminded me of Bruno Kirby Jr. and could’ve easily passed off as his twin in both his looks and voice.

The only argument I would have against the film, which is otherwise a charmer and does not in any way deserve the outrageous R-rating that it was given, is the addition of Robert Carricart as the Coyote Angel that only Riquelme’s character can see. To an extent this cheapens the struggles that the townspeople go through because it gives what is otherwise a serious problem too much of the fable-like treatment. I would’ve preferred a grittier approach focusing solely on the efforts of the people to create the change, which would’ve left a stronger emotional impact and avoided telegraphing the idea that it was all going to work-out due to this extra magical force.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Redford

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video