Tag Archives: 80’s Movies

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t trust these guys.

Freddy (Steve Martin) is a small-time con able to trick women into paying for his meals and sometimes even into their beds, but he is nothing compared to Lawrence (Michael Caine). This is a man that lives in luxury all from money that he has duped from rich women. Freddy decides to team up with Lawrence to learn his craft. The two work together for a while with Freddy playing Lawrence’s crazy younger brother, but the two have a falling out and end up becoming rivals instead. They meet Janey Colgate (Glenne Headley) the supposed daughter of a rich soap manufacturer and compete to see who can con her out of $50,000.

This version is far superior to Bedtime Story, which was reviewed yesterday. The pace is snappier and gets into the scenario more quickly. The scenes are consistently amusing and everything is handled at a slick level. The women aren’t all portrayed as naïve idiots like in the first and in certain cases they are just as corrupt and greedy as the two men. The music is bouncy and playful and helps propel the movie along.

Although both films were shot along the French Rivera this one does a better job of capturing the sunny and exotic locale. When Freddy visits Lawrence at his mansion and looks out at his exquisite seaside view and says ‘I want this’ I felt like saying ‘I want it too’.

I wasn’t sure Martin could top Marlon Brando’s performance from the first film, which was the only thing good about it, but he does. It took a little adjusting at first, but Martin takes the reins and in his usual style makes the part his own. His best segment is when he is in jail and can’t remember Lawrence’s name, which makes terrific use of his improvisational skills. The part where he asks to go to the bathroom is a little bit gross, but funny as well.

Caine is excellent is his part and gives the role more panache than David Niven did in the first one. He even puts on an effective German accent during the segment where he pretends to be a famous German psychiatrist. Believe it or not the parts of Freddy and Lawrence were originally intended for Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

Headley is good in her role as well. She has an attractive quality about her that is distinct and natural and avoids the plastic Hollywood starlet image. Her voice borders on being a little nasally, which could have become annoying, but with this type of part it works.

The best thing about this version though is the twist ending, which helps to maintain the slick level throughout the entire duration of the story. In the first version the ending was highly contrived and unimaginative as well as going against the personalities of the characters. Here it hits-the-mark and works as a nice payoff to the rest of the film.

The only critical comment I have about the movie is that it goes on a bit too long. 110 minutes is too extended a runtime for light comedy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Oz

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Sweet Liberty (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Retelling history Hollywood style.

Michael Burgess (Alan Alda) is an historian who writes a book that is purchased into a movie. To his dismay the screenplay is ‘Hollywoodnized’ and looks nothing like the original story. Michael then attempts to get the script corrected while the movie is being produced.

This is a mechanical comedy with situations, characters, and jokes are that quite predictable. There is not one moment that stands out as hilarious and the direction lacks visual flair. Yet when compared to Alda’s other efforts this one fares better. The dialogue is livelier and the story has more energy and conflict, but as satire it is too light.

There are more subplots than are necessary and take away from the main plot. One involves his relationship with a fellow history professor Gretchen (Lisa Hilboldt) and their constant arguing about whether or not to get married becomes tiring. There is also a storyline involving his interactions with his aging mother, which is played by the legendary Lillian Gish. Of course it is always fun to see Gish in a later day role and this is indeed one of her most amusing, but the segment itself is contrived.

Alda always likes to cast fellow performers around his same age, which would explain the miscasting of Michael Caine. Caine is reliable, but having him play a Colin Farrell like leading man seems best suited for a younger actor. A more virile performer would have made the animosity between the character and Alda’s more distinct and intriguing.

Michelle Pfeiffer is cast as a beautiful actress hired to play the leading lady. Her character is interesting because it shows how on her off time how she is completely different person from the one she is playing in the production. This allows for some light insight into the acting process. The film also touches on the politics and behind the scenes maneuverings that go on during a production although it could have gone a lot further with this.

Having Burgess end up sleeping with Pfeiffer seems to be a stretch. Things become even more incredulous when Gretchen, in a fit of revenge, forms a relationship with Caine. The Caine character is a self- absorbed star with lots of beautiful women chasing after him and the chances of him getting excited or even noticing an average looking woman like her seems unlikely.

The Bob Hoskins character is by far the most engaging. He plays the scriptwriter and tries to educate Michael on the ins and outs of the film business. Saul Rubinek as the film’s director runs a close second. He perfectly creates the frantic traits of someone who must act more like a politician than a director.

Overall this is a film that could have done more with the material. It rates slightly better than some of Alda’s other efforts, but it is still just a pleasant time filler that is easily forgettable. I did however like the original music.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

The Four Seasons (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car goes through ice.

This is an easygoing comedy-drama detailing three middle-aged couples who take vacations together during each season of the year. As the seasons change so does the level of their friendships. The chemistry of the group begins to unravel when Nick (Len Cariou) decides to divorce his wife Anne (Sandy Dennis) and bring along his attractive new young girlfriend Ginny (Bess Armstrong) on their trips. The women still feel a loyalty to Anne while Ginny makes the men more self-conscious about their age and virility.

This is certainly an interesting idea with lots of potential. The film has a good handle on the politics of friendship and how even the best of them can have underlying jealousies and misunderstandings. It also shows the tendency of how friends like to smooth things over by putting on a happy face and never really getting to the bottom of the issue.

It’s also refreshing in our youth obsessed culture to have a film focus solely on middle- aged people and have them actually act the part. The situations and their responses to them as well as the conversations all seem very authentic. There’s also some terrific outdoor photography and a great classical music score by Vivaldi.

Carol Burnett is the real surprise. Usually known for her over- the- top comedic performances she puts together a good low key dramatic one here. Weston though steals the film with his somewhat hammy performance as Danny the dentist and his reactions at seeing his prized new car go through the ice is amusing.

Like with a lot of movies written and directed by Alan Alda the film is too dramatically light. There is not enough conflict and it never reaches any peak. The dialogue needs to be crisper and some of the little ‘spats’ that the couples have particularly the one between Danny (Jack Weston) and Claudia (Rita Moreno) at the end seem forced and unfunny. The final result is rather empty and extraneous.

Be warned the film also features the worst rendition of “Strangers in the Night” that you will ever want to hear.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Wildcats (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goldie coaches boy’s football.

Due to football season starting on Wednesday I have decided to incorporate a football themed movie for today’s 80’s movie review. It is story about a divorced mother of two (Goldie Hawn), who coaches a high school girl’s track team, but decides she wants to live out her dreams by coaching football instead. Unfortunately the only football job she can find is with a losing boys’ team in a tough inner-city high school.

This is a very uninspired, by the numbers ‘feel good’ sports movie. There actually seems to be more drama than comedy and what little comedy you get really isn’t very funny. Having a woman coach a boy’s football team would be enough of a challenge, but forcing her to do it in a tough inner-city school seems unnecessary. The players are one-dimensional and uninteresting. Even Hawn’s character is dull although Hawn herself is still engaging. The climactic game sequence is so predictable and full of clichés that it becomes almost excruciating to sit through. The film is also plagued by having that annoying 80’s music sound.

On the plus side I found it fun to watch Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in their film debuts. It is also great to see Nipsey Russell although they don’t give him enough to do. He looks like he was only 38 even though, at the time, he was actually 68!  Thad Thacker who is very large physically is amusing and the only interesting player on the whole team. His acting is nothing exceptional, but his ‘con-man’ routine has its moments. Actor James Keach, who plays the stereotypical ‘jerky’ ex-husband, ends up giving a surprisingly sturdy performance.

Overall the film is dull and predictable and hardly good for even a few cheap laughs. Why some people think this is so funny is beyond me because everything that is done here has been done better somewhere else.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

‘Night Mother (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please don’t kill yourself.

Jessie Cates (Sissy Spacek) informs her mother Thelma (Anne Bancroft) that she plans on killing herself during the night and her distraught mother spends the rest of the evening trying to convince her not to do it.

It is hard to imagine a more maudlin and static production. The film consists of just two people talking inside a small, isolated house with no cutaways, flashbacks, inventive camera angles, interesting scenery, music, or editing. Louis Malle once did a film entitled My Dinner with Andre that featured two men sitting at a table and filling the film’s entire runtime with one long conversation, but at least there the topics were fascinating while here it is depressing. I was expecting some profound intellectually stimulating talk dealing with the meaning of life much like the one in Igmar Bergman’s classic The Seventh Seal, but instead it is general and banal. Part of the problem is that the Thelma character lacks sophistication and is unable to debate Jessie on any type of deeper level. The result then is a rather rhetorical 95 minute banter revolving around Thelma pleading with Jessie not to do it ‘because she needs here’ while Jessie glibly replying ‘I can if I want to’. The screenplay, written by Marsha Norman, who also penned the play from which it is based, fails to deliver that lyrical, poetic quality of dialogue that most films based on stage plays seem to have.

I kept wondering what the point to this was.  We never seem to get to the bottom of what is bothering Jessie and only seem to skim the emotional surface. The film does not dig deep enough into the human psyche but should’ve as her issues here are rather derivative and typical. Her main complaints is that she suffers from epilepsy, which is now under control through medication, and she has gone through a painful divorce, but there a lot of people with similar problems and worse who are not trying to kill themselves. Most viewers might be disgusted and appalled at Jessie’s selfish nature and the way she callously ignores her mother’s emotional pleas and insists on moving forward with the suicide despite how clearly devastating it will be to her mother. In the end the film will probably leave most people cold and unable to connect to either character.

The one thing that does save the film and even makes it riveting to an extent is the brilliant performances. Although I could’ve done without her southern accent I still found Bancroft to be fantastic and was impressed with the way she hit all the right emotional peaks. Spacek is superb in every facet and I liked that she wore no make-up and her face had a natural and worn look.

Tom Moore’s direction has a few nice touches. I liked the opening shot showing the remoteness of the home and how the rugged western landscape helped accentuate the hard-living of the characters. The music although only played at the beginning at end has an ominous tone to it that effectively hits the mood and theme of the material.

Of course suicides are always an on-going issue and if this film had given some insight into it I would have given it more credit, but it really doesn’t. I was surprised that Aaron Spelling who was usually known for producing shallow, glitzy stuff like the TV-show ‘Dynasty’ was the producer here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Tom Moore

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming

Second-Hand Hearts (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers on the road.

                Loyal (Robert Blake) meets Dinette (Barbara Harris) and the two immediately get married. He thinks it was on a Thursday, but it might have been on Tuesday because that is the day he got really drunk. After losing his job at a car wash when he pukes all over the inside of a car that he was cleaning he piles Dinette and her three kids into a station wagon and takes them to California where he hopes to find some work and a better future. During the trip the two get to know each other and decide whether their marriage can actually work.

This was done during the time when director Hal Ashby was heavily into drugs and his behavior on and off the set was becoming more and more erratic and the results are obvious here. The first half is slow and boring with scenes that go on too long and have too much extraneous dialogue. The second half when they finally hit the road is an improvement, but not by much. I liked the gritty look of the picture. The dry desert landscape helps accentuate the raw, rough lives of the characters. The scenario is goofy enough that with a delicate touch it could’ve worked, but Ashby seems detached from the material and portrays the characters as goofballs that never seem real, or human.

The road trip itself has a lot of problems as well. The station wagon used is too over-the-top junky. I am not sure what make or model it was, but looks like something from the 50’s that was completely out of place for the time period. Obviously it was chosen to be a comic eyesore but becomes too extreme and makes the characters seem even more like caricatures than they already are. I also found it bizarre that they never ever pass another vehicle during their long trip. Wide shots consistently show them to be the only car on the road. I am a traveler myself that have been to some desolate areas of western Texas and Nebraska, but even then you will pass by another car every now and then. There is also a scene where they have a flat tire and when Luke puts on the spare he finds out that it loses its air, which sends him into a tizzy as they are in the middle of nowhere. Yet the film quickly cuts to the next scene showing them back out on the road without any explanation for how they were able to get it fixed. The only interesting scene is when they are chased down by an angry group of young Mexican men, which helps create some much needed tension, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it.

Harris is great as always. She puts on such an effective accent that for a while I thought it had been dubbed in. Blake is surprisingly good in his comic role and is actually quite funny in his constantly perplexed state. He puts a lot of energy into it and it is a shame that the film is so obscure that no one can appreciate his efforts.

The film would have worked better had it started when the two had first met and went through their whole rushed wedding. Having it begin in the middle doesn’t allow the viewer to have any understanding to the background of these characters and hence impedes any attachment to them. I also didn’t like that the film ends before they ever make it too their destination. The rule for every road movie should be that they must get to where they are going to otherwise it comes off as incomplete. I also don’t like children characters who never say a single word such as the case with the ten year old boy here named Human. This to me always seems freaky and disturbing and not funny like the filmmakers apparently thought it would be. There is also a scene insinuating child molestation that although brief still proves to be unsettling. The loud, blaring country soundtrack is annoying as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, YouTube

A Passage to India (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Unjustly accused of rape.

An older woman (Peggy Ashcroft) and her son’s fiancée Adele (Judy Davis) travel to India to visit him as he works as a British Magistrate there. During the course of their visit they come upon the harshness of British rule, the unusual climate, and a rather unexpected criminal trial.

Like with most of Lean’s films the gargantuan approach cannot equal the story. You sit through two hours and forty five minutes only to feel slighted when it is all over. The story plays a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird only it is stretched out more and has a different location. That is not to say it isn’t entertaining, because it is, but only in the most general of ways.

The first hour is downright breezy. It does hit on certain inhumanities and inequalities, but it is all handled with kid gloves. It also seems very similar to Gandhi, which came out only a year earlier. The second half, which involves the court trial, seems almost jarring when compared to the first. It does get more intense and multifaceted, but just when it seems to be getting intriguing it fizzles with a wrap up that is too neat and tidy.

Lean’s films have always had a sort of running theme involving the characters coming to terms with the full scope of their personalities. Yet here their changes seem too abrupt and severe. Adele starts out as a very interesting person. She is independent and idealistic and then having her turn into a confused and bullied woman without any real explanation doesn’t mesh. The same can be said for Aziz (Victor Banjeree) the man she accuses of rape. His character is so benign and affable at the beginning that having him turn so angry and vindictive in the second half seems overdone understandable to some degree, but still overdone. Of course everyone can have these traits at times, but here it gets heavy- handed.

The two best characters consist of Mrs. Moore (Ashcroft) and Fielding (James Fox). Ashcroft is compassionate and strong and it is nice to have an older character where their age isn’t completely embedded into their persona. Fielding is strong and stalwart as well and his very proper sensibilities help keep the whole thing stabilized.

Legendary actor Sir Alec Guinness is badly miscast. Although some of his dispensed wisdom is fun he never completely comes off as a native and the part should have been played by an actual native of the country.

Out of all of Lean’s films this may actually be his weakest. The cinematography is okay, but it is not as sumptuous as some of his others. I wanted to be shown more of India and given a broader perspective of the region. There also could have been a little more action and the characters placed in a little more physical danger. The part where Adele is chased by some wild monkeys is unconvincing especially when you never see her or the monkeys in the same shot.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lean

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Young Doctors in Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tastes the urine.

This is pretty much what you would expect from Gary Marshall, Penny’s brother, and creator of such loud comedies as the TV-show ‘Laverne and Shirley’. Here though the majority of the jokes actually work. Yes it’s still juvenile and crude with nothing real amazing, but if you come in with moderate expectations you might be pleasantly surprised.

There are of course the expected bombs sprinkled throughout. The worst bit features Michael Richards as a hit man going after another patient who is a member of a crime family. Richards is always funny, sometimes just when he is standing there, however the gag gets stretched out too far. It becomes redundant and cartoonish almost like a poor man’s version of a Wiley E. Coyote cartoon.

The worst thing is that the comedy has no edge to it. It’s modeled after Airplane, but doesn’t have the same satirical jabs. It should have done to old medical TV-shows what Airplane did to disaster movies. Here it just tries to be cute with a vaudeville mindset that becomes too soft, good- natured, and one-dimensional and ends up leaving you with an empty feeling. This is too bad because old shows like ‘Marcus Welby M.D.  are just begging to be made fun of.

Michael McKean and Sean Young look much, much younger and make for a cute couple. This is before all of Young’s troubles and dismal direct to video movie roles. She was still considered the promising up and coming starlet and she looks pretty and has a terrific figure to boot.

Harry Dean Stanton is a real surprise. Usually he is given low key roles, but here he is a wacky guy that is hilarious especially in a very funny ‘urine tasting’ segment. Hector Elizondo is also in rare form playing a man disguised as a woman and just seeing him in a dress is amazing.

Dabney Coleman though is wasted. He is well cast, but having him go completely bonkers at the end seems dumb. The worst travesty is with former ‘Avengers’ star Patrick Macnee. At first it seems like inspired casting to have such a proper English gentlemen in the middle of complete chaos. However, after the first few minutes he pretty much disappears and this is a shame because they could have done a lot more with his character.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Garry Marshall

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Batman (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Adam West?

The attempt at moving the Batman theme from the campiness of the TV series to a darker edge proves successful. Director Tim Burton’s vision of Gotham is terrific. It has a sort of weird mixture of the 1940’s and the modern day and the look is original. It is so gray and dark it seems almost like purgatory and having the citizens celebrate its 200th anniversary may be the best joke of the film.

The story nicely starts out showing how Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) became acclimated with this Batman character and how initially he wasn’t perceived as being a good guy. It also explains how as a little boy he witnessed his parent’s murder. Yet it doesn’t go far enough and questions still abound. Like who built the Batmobile and that very immense bat cave? Are we to believe that Bruce Wayne and his kindly butler Alfred (Michael Gough) did it all by themselves?! It would have also have been nice if they had shown what specifically inspired him to take the identity of the bat. Still it’s good that some actual bats are shown and in a brief frame even come flying right at you!

The story is slick, but nothing spectacular. Such a big budgeted and much hyped movie almost cries for a more expansive storyline. Something along the lines of a James Bond plot with some megalomaniac aspiring for world domination or destruction. Having the Joker (Jack Nicholson) simply kill people with his toxic make up seems both silly and tacky. The climatic finale in the bell tower borrows too many elements from other showdowns and is too rehearsed.

Keaton looks uncomfortable in the lead. He shows no energy or charisma and is absolutely stiff in his Batman costume. Nicholson has a little more spunk and in a way seems to be a perfect fit. Yet Cesar Romero from the TV series had a much better laugh and Nicholson’s laugh seems forced. Kim Basinger makes a nice addition as the love/sex interest. She creates a nice balance between the two adversaries. It is interesting to note though that while everyone else refuses to wear make-up (including the newscasters) because of the Jokers toxins she is still seen with plenty of it on.

Overall this is a nice attempt at keeping the theme more true to its comic book origins. It doesn’t come together completely though and is in desperate need of a more singular voice. The second feature in this series Batman Returns is far better.

Watch for Lee Wallace as the mayor of Gotham as he looks like an absolute shoe-in for former New York Mayor Ed Koch especially from a distance. Also William Hootkins has absolutely the best voice for any big city policeman character.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1989

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Director: Tim Burton

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Goodbye Pork Pie (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Minis are very durable.

A middle aged man named John (Tony Barry) whose wife has just left him and an unemployed nineteen year old named Gerry (Kelly Johnson) come together through circumstance and trek across New Zealand in a yellow mini while desperately trying to elude the police.

The film has a wonderfully carefree approach and anyone who has ever wanted to ‘drop out’ or stick it to authority will most assuredly enjoy this. There are some clever chase sequences involving the mini with the best coming at a Wellington shopping center. There are also a couple of good running bits including a stressed out vacationing couple dealing with their noisy kids and police officer doing a sexual role playing game with his wife while on duty. The vast age difference between the two main characters is refreshingly different from most ‘buddy’ movies and Johnson, as the younger one of the pair, is excellent. He shows a lot of star making appeal and it is amazing that his film career never flourished. Claire Olberman is gorgeous as a hitch-hiker that they pick up along the way and she closely resembles 80’s adult film star Stacey Donovan and it is a real shame that she doesn’t stay with them throughout the entire film. I also must mention the music score, which has a nice distinct quality to it.

On the negative side I felt Barry in the role of the middle aged man was a little too laid back in his performance. He needed to show more stress and tension, especially when he is put into such crazy and hectic scenarios. I felt his mellowness hurt the film’s believability and even to some extent the excitement. The ending is not very satisfying and seems like the screenwriter wrote himself into a hole that he didn’t know how to get out of. The police are made to look too hopeless and helpless and the film goes overboard in its attempts to mock them.

Despite some flaws this is a road movie the way all road movies should be. It is fun and engaging and will bring out the free spirit in anyone. Although small the minis are a durable and fast car and this film makes prime use of their abilities almost as well as the original The Italian Job did. It also features some great stunt work that most viewers should find impressive.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Geoff Murphy

Studio: Greg Lynch Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD