Tag Archives: 90’s Movies

Sliding Doors (1998)

sliding doors

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two scenarios in one.

This movie examines the life of a woman named Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) who lives in a parallel universe. In one story she makes it through the sliding doors of a train and comes home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. In the second story she misses the train and does not find out about the affair.

The novelty keeps your attention for a while as the director Peter Howitt cuts back and forth between the two stories nicely. They evolve in interesting ways, but then instead of veering off into separate directions they start to come together until the one story ends up being pretty much like the other. This then negates the original idea altogether and makes it just another ‘chick flick’. The boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch) has to be one of the most pathetic out there. Not only does he have the audacity to have an affair on the beautiful and sweet Helen, but he does it while she is supporting him so he can sit home all day and write a book! He also seems to be unable to ever stand up for himself and he has a Hugh Grant type hairstyle that seems to only look good on Grant and nobody else. Jeanne Tripplehorn as the other woman is extremely cold and bitchy to the point that you wonder why anyone, even this twit, would want to have a relationship with her. Helen’s other love interest James (John Hannah) is charming in too much of a prepackaged sort of way and at times it seems to come off like he is a stalker even though that is not the intention. Also Paltrow ends up becoming afflicted with the ‘Ali MacGraw syndrome’ as she is shown lying in a hospital bed after a bad accident with no scratches or bruises and looking as beautiful as ever.

On the positive side Paltrow is really pretty to look at and speaks with an effective British accent, which takes a little getting used to, but she does it well. She sports two different hairstyles and looks good in both, but with the second one it starts to make her look exactly like Susan Dey from the 80’s TV-show ‘L.A. Law’.

The movie is fun for a while, even engaging, but eventually it throws in too many dramatic twists. The boyfriend is beyond pathetic and Tripplehorn, as his lover, seems to be running for bitch of the century.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1998

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Howitt

Studio: Miramax Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)

welcome to woop woop 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Oh those crazy Aussies.

Teddy (Johnathon Schaech) is a rather clumsy con man from New York who tries to escape a murder rap by going to the most remote place possible, the Australian outback. However, after coming into close contact with the eccentric people and lifestyles, he decides what he really needs is an escape from there!

This is the type of offbeat comedy that should give all other offbeat comedies a bad name. It takes all the same ingredients from all those other films, meshes them together, and then spits them out in a mechanical fashion. Unlike director Stephan Elliot’s earlier feature Priscilla Queen of the Desert there is nothing deep here to help balance the quirkiness. The film is just made to be silly and at times goes overboard with it. The pace is also too fast. The viewer is never allowed to soak anything in or even take a breath.

Schaech is not good in the leading role. He gives too much of a breezy performance, acting as if the whole thing is a joke. He never once even for a second displays the angst, anxiety, and basic overall exhaustion that anyone else stuck in the same situation would feel.

The portrayal of the Australian people is terrible. They take all the stereotypes of the down under folks and then play it up to the extreme. Here they are not just slightly eccentric people of a rugged and hearty nature. Instead they are complete Neanderthals who live like animals and have no level of sophistication. Yes, it does try to be somewhat fair by showing that Americans may have some primitive defects as well. Specifically in an opening sequence in New York City where every pedestrian is seen shooting at some birds flying by. Still the Australian segments are needlessly overdone and a bit insulting.

The one pleasant surprise is the appearance of Rod Taylor. He plays completely against type here. He’s Daddy-O a self-imposed, self-styled dictator of the town. His performance is gruff, campy, energetic, over-the-top, and hilarious all at the same time. His appearance here may actually be his career pinnacle.
Overall the film is similar in tone to all those formulaic bid budgeted Hollywood actioners, except here it’s aimed at the offbeat crowd. Everything is perfectly packaged to its core audience and overblown all at the same. It’s so forced at points that it almost becomes ridiculous. Yet some of the humor is funny, it has a feel good attitude, and it is without question LIVELY.

Watch for a real fun cameo by Tina Louise at the beginning.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1997

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephan Elliot

Studio: Goldwyn Entertainment Company

Available: VHS, DVD

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

welcome to the dollhouse

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She doesn’t fit in.

Another flick about the trials and tribulations of high school life. There is the shy, sensitive, and alienated girl, the bitchy cheerleaders, the bullies, the name calling, the not being able to find a seat at lunchtime, the stupid teachers, the too busy to listen parents, the bratty siblings, and yes even the spitballs. This is a very accurate and concise portrait of Junior High. It will make you soooooooo glad that you are past that age and will never have to go back to it.

It’s the pinpoint accuracy that makes this film stand out the most. Every scene and segment ring true. Even the little stuff from the way the little sister answers the phone to the way our protagonist Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) always seems to get blamed even when it really isn’t her fault.

Although the film displays many of the ugly elements of that age it doesn’t wallow or sensationalize them. In fact this film has a nicely balanced perspective. It shows scenes from both Dawn’s high school life and family life. It weaves a nice tapestry and observes how interconnected everything really is. The family life scenes are probably more interesting and in many ways just as difficult.

The film has a good ability at bringing out all the confusion that permeates that age. It is interesting how it shows that everyone is a bit alienated and lost. A big fish can simply get eaten up by an even bigger one. For example there is Steve a good looking kid with a nice singing voice. He is ‘cool’ and when in school everything goes his way. Yet when he drops out so as to ‘make it big’ in New York he suddenly realizes how stacked the odds are against him. There is also Brandon the class bully. He is a composite of all those other bullies. At first you really dislike him, but then you witness his very sad home life. You learn to understand not only why he acts the way he does, but also begin to feel sorry for him.

The film also scores by not letting the adults off the hook either. They are in many ways very much of the problem. They suffer from their own type of confusion and have their own type of code. They lack the ability to really communicate as much as the kids do. Junior high may be a mean, ugly, and crazy place, but that is only because it is a byproduct of very mean, ugly, and crazy world.

If the film has a weak point it is with the ending that fails to give any type of closure. Of course it doesn’t have to, but it would have given it more of an impact and made it come more full circle. Yet even if it doesn’t show it we still know that Dawn will make it. There are many scenes that show her to be very resourceful and strong willed when she needs to be. She is, like a lot of us, a survivor.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1995

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Todd Solondz

Studio: Suburban Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Ref (1994)

The ref

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not in holiday spirit.

Gus (Denis Leary) is a burglar who takes a bickering couple (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) hostage and soon learns to regret it especially when the rest of the family comes over for a Christmas celebration and he is thrust into the middle of all of their squabbling.

The film starts off with a real bang as it takes a lot of satirical pot shots at marriage counseling, people who dress up like Santa, family parties, suburbia, bickering couples, and of course the holiday season itself. Christine Baranski is top-rate as the sarcastic mother and it is unfortunate she wasn’t given more screen time. Even her kids are funny. Glynis Johns is also excellent as Spacey’s mother. She takes command of her scenes even when star Dennis Leary can’t. For her age she looks fantastic and it is nice to see an older actress playing a character that isn’t just used as a throwaway device for senile jokes and aging.

However, star Leary can’t seem to act, at least not here. He shot to fame with his dark and edgy stand- up routines, but here falls into a character that is much too watered down and benign. This was supposed to be his vehicle, but in the end it seems like his character wasn’t even necessary. Baranski’s character is far more funny and memorable even though she has much less screen time.

Spacey and Davis don’t click as a couple. They share no chemistry and their bickering seems strained and contrived. The film also falls too far away from its original premise. Having a two-bit crook dealing with a bickering couple at first seems like a funny concept, but then the story starts to delve much too deeply into their personal problems until it becomes like a family drama that isn’t at all amusing or entertaining.

The film has a few funny bits, but not enough to sustain it the whole way. Leary is very weak in the lead and this thing completely loses steam by the end.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Demme

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Apostle (1997)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Preacher on the run.

As a would-be screenwriter I find it heartening knowing how many great screenplays there are out there that struggle to find a home no matter who has written or pitched it.  Actor Robert Duvall wrote the solid screenplay for this film in the 80’s only to have it rejected by every major studio and only got made when he decided to put up 4 million dollars of his own money.

The story involves a fiery evangelical minister by the name of Sonny (Duvall) whose volatile ways gets the better of him and he ends up killing his wife’s lover. He then goes on the run to Louisiana where he starts up a new church. There he begins to turn his life around and become loved and admired by the community only to have the police close in on him.

In many ways this is similar to a 1962 episode of the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ series that was entitled ‘Bonfire’ and starred Peter Falk as the minister.  Both characters were loud and dramatic preachers.  Both men went on the run after committing homicide while continuing to start up new congregations along the way and both ended up being surrounded by the police as they gave one last fiery sermon. However, the difference comes with the fact that the Falk character was clearly a self-serving fraud while with Sonny that is not so clear, which is what makes this film and character so fascinating.

Sonny has a temper as well as other underlying issues, but he makes a genuine effort to rectify things with his new congregation.  He even brings boxes of groceries to the doorsteps of poor families. It is never clear whether he is simply trying to make personal amends for past transgressions, or just a flawed man with a good heart. The viewer is never allowed to feel sure either way, but ends up empathizing with him nonetheless. Every scene and line of utterance becomes more revealing.

Duvall gives a strong performance. I felt this may be his signature role and that comes after a long line of already brilliant performances.  I enjoyed his running ‘conversations with the Lord’ that he has when he is alone or just walking down the street.  The conversation that he has with the police is amusing as is the final scene that is shown over the closing credits.

The casting is unique.  June Carter Cash plays his mother, which is interesting by the fact that in real-life she was only two years older than Duvall.  Farrah Fawcett plays his wife, and although she was much younger than him, I felt she did a good job and made a perfect fit.  Billy Bob Thornton gets a memorable cameo as a man who initially wants to destroy the church with a bulldozer, but then with Sonny’s help becomes spiritually awakened.  I also very much liked James Beasley in the supporting role as the minister who helps Sonny start up his new church.  His calm and collected manner helped balance Duvall’s intensity.

The supporting players were all amateur actors, some of which had never performed in front of the camera before.  Director Duvall was known during filming to keep the atmosphere loose.  He allowed his cast to ad-lib, which gives the film a more authentic feel.  Just like with other actors who turned to directing, like Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, Duvall has scenes that stretch out much longer than most films.  This is done to give the actors more control over their characters and allow their performances alone to carry the scene.  I also liked the fact that the supporting cast was almost all African-American and the story centered on a white minister preaching to a black congregation.

Duvall has long been known to be an admirer of the south, so it is no surprise that the story takes place there or that the shooting was on-location.  He captures the ambience of the region and people quite well, including the sound of the heat bugs buzzing at night.

The only issue I had with the film involves the scene where Sonny kills his wife’s lover. He does this by hitting him over the head with a baseball bat during a little league game while in front of many onlookers.  In most real-life accounts when something similar to this happens people will usually gang up on the culprit and physically subdue him, or chase after him until the police arrive while here the onlookers allow Sonny to peacefully walk away.  Other than that I thought this was a great character study and I would highly recommend it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 

Released: October 9, 1997 

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes 

Rated PG-13 

Director: Robert Duvall 

Studio: Butcher Run Films 

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rounders (1998)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gambling can hurt you.

‘One does not find one’s destiny one’s destiny will find them’. This seems to be the moral of this multi-faceted character study that has all the right ingredients, but is incredibly flat.

The story involves Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) a man trying to forge a normal life with a good job as an attorney and a relationship with a pretty woman. Yet he can’t beat his urge to gamble. When his friend Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy (Edward Norton) gets released from jail he finds himself led back into his old habits and his life soon falls apart.

The film wants to take an honest look at the lifestyle of a gambler without taking any shortcuts. In most ways it does an honorable job. It takes a more technical approach to poker playing and therefore makes it more enlightening. The situations seem a bit overly-dramatized, but overall are quite believable. It definitely has insights and is well crafted.

The problem is that it never comes together. Nothing is compelling and the momentum is lacking to the point that it starts to drag. Certain ‘strong’ scenes that are meant for impact end up having no effect at all. In the end it comes off as being too obvious and having too much of a textbook type approach.

Damon has proven himself to be a solid actor, but his character here is bland and colorless. Norton, as his troubled friend, is a little more interesting, but he is trapped in a stale setting. Both men look way too boyish to be playing the parts of seasoned, hardened, ‘been there, done that’ type characters.

John Malkovich is on hand to give an offbeat performance as a Russian born card player complete with a thick Russian accent. At first this is fun, but he ends up overdoing it and eventually makes it too campy. John Turturro gives an amazingly restrained performance, which could be of interest too his followers.

The one scene that really caps this off as being a bad movie for me is when Norton and Damon are caught cheating while playing amongst a large group of off-duty policemen. The police all gang up on them and pummel them in a way that should produce severe life threatening injuries. Instead they are thrown out of the building with not even a strand of their hair being out of place. They have a few streaks of red on their faces that is supposed to be blood, but it looks like paint put on by a paintbrush. Damon goes through the rest of the film with a slightly darkened eye and two scratches around his nose. Everyone comments that he looks like he “got it bad” when I’ve seen third graders with worse looking injuries after a playground fight.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1998

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: John Dahl

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

La Femme Nikita (1990)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t mess with her.

Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a member of a punk street gang who gets caught by police after a particularly brutal gangland robbery. She gets a light sentence only to be given a chance at becoming a specially trained undercover police agent. She takes it and thus begins a very stylized, action packed variation of Pygmalion.

I do have two grumbles, which I will get out of the way now. First it is hard to believe that such a drug addicted, slender built young thing could be so seasoned in the art of street fighting and gun shooting. It is also hard to believe that these agents can always remember the directions they are given of who to shoot and where to go to escape without it ever having to be repeated or written down. I was sitting on my easy chair and I wasn’t sure I had gotten it all especially since it was said very quickly and quietly. Yet our lady hero gets it all even in the stress of the moment.

Outside of that this it is a very entertaining movie. Actually it is a fun movie, a really fun movie. The action is well choreographed and exciting. The editing is crisp. It makes fun of the action genre and even tries to pull it in different directions and yet still delivers the goods at the same time. Each scene has its own tongue and cheek joke complete with set-up and punchline.

The film also has some unique perspectives. It shows how draining a spy job can be both on the person and their personal life. It also reverses the gender roles by showing the woman as being more assertive and the men (especially her boyfriend) as more passive.

One of the funniest elements of the film is Victor the cleanup guy (Jean Reno). He is similar to the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction, but far funnier. He takes the flippant, gruff persona to new heights.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Luc Besson

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Single White Female (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A roommate from hell.

Allison (Bridget Fonda) is a young entrepreneurial business woman who breaks up with her boyfriend and decides she doesn’t want to be in her apartment alone. She finds Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a roommate and things go well until the relationship with her boyfriend is rekindled. Hendra then starts to become possessive until it eventually culminates into full blown psychosis.

This thriller really never gets going until the final thirty minutes when it climaxes with a real rock ’em, sock ’em, duke it out showdown, which is full of clever twists and good action. The first third though stagnates. In some ways this is good because it avoids being a formulated thriller that feels the need to always telegraph its punches. The viewer is as in the dark as to Hedra’s psychosis as Allison is. Things work so slowly that at times it almost seems like a drama. In some ways it might have been better had it stayed that way. There are some good ingredients here for an insightful look of two young women from different backgrounds trying to forge a friendship. Having it turn into your general psycho/thriller seems almost like a cheap gimmick that prevents it from being a deeper and more original piece.

Another thing that separates this from the other psycho/thrillers is the fact that the two are on equal footing. Unlike most thrillers the bad guy doesn’t have any unfair advantage over the other or the good guy isn’t impeded with any type of handicap. It all just comes down to smarts, inner strength and determination, which makes it interesting. It’s almost like giving them both a pair of gloves and then putting them into the ring.

Fonda is likable enough. She is normal, but not in a boring way and has vulnerabilities that she must face. Leigh has always had an interesting ‘clenched jaw’ like delivery. Usually this has a sexy appeal yet when she becomes psychotic it makes her more frightening. Leigh is also portrayed as the ‘frumpy’ one, but with her long hair and young girl look she actually is more enticing. Fonda of course is also attractive, but not with the hairstyle that she has here. Both have some good nude scenes.

There are some loopholes. One involves the murder by the heel of a shoe which gets lodged in the victim’s eye socket. This has an almost one in a million chance of happening especially at the angle it is done in. The assailant (Leigh) is a woman who is already shorter than the victim who is male. Added was the fact that she was sitting down while the victim was standing. Logistically she would not have been able to reach his eye and even if she had it would have taken so much effort to reach up there that she wouldn’t have had enough strength to drive it in the way she did especially in the split second that this movie has it happen in. Also, when one is wrestling with a perpetrator who has a gun that they drop it is a good idea to grab the gun before making a run for the door especially when it is in easy reach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not a good nanny.

Claire (Annabella Sciorra) is a young mother who feels that her doctor (John de Lancie) molested her during her exam. She goes to the authorities, which brings out more complaints from other patients. This leads the doctor into killing himself and causing his widowed wife (Rebecca De Mornay) to miscarry. In revenge the widow decides to destroy the life of the woman who brought up the charges and does so by posing as the family’s nanny named Peyton Flanders.

Just when you think that the old psycho formula has gone stale this film comes along that injects a whole new life into it. That is not to say that there is anything new here because there isn’t yet it is a pure thriller that captures the formula well and hits it on all cylinders. It builds the suspense slowly but consistently without throwing in any cheap teasers. You really ARE on the edge of your seat as the tension grows. The climatic sequence is well mounted, but the best part is that it creates a villain that is not only a threat, but also someone you hate, really hate! You look forward to the inevitable showdown and become emotionally involved in its outcome.

De Mornay makes a terrific bad lady. Usually villainess females work of their sensuality, but not here. Yes it is intimated, but it is incased in a very cold and calculating exterior. The character is deliberate and spins an elaborate web while coming up with some clever deaths for her victims with the best one being the death by greenhouse. Her icy stares reminded me of the legendary Bette Davis.

The good guys aren’t quite as interesting and in many ways are a bit boring. The husband/father (Matt McCoy) is especially bland and almost transparent. Sciorra’s beautiful and very angelic face helps, but she seems to get rattled too easily. Julianne Moore, as Marlene a family friend, is the only one who offers anything in the way of tenacity to her personality.

The Ernie Hudson character, who is mentally handicapped, is a nice addition. It shows sensitivity to those with disabilities and doesn’t exploit it simply for entertainment. His final showdown with De Mornay is another one you just can’t wait to see. The kids are adorable and it’s nice to see that they too can be resourceful when they need to be and can’t be so easily brainwashed either.

In all fairness there are some logic loopholes that should be mentioned. One is the obvious fact that this woman makes up her past in order to get the job as the nanny. When she applies for the position you would think that a careful and responsible family such as this one would check her references carefully and find her discrepancies. Also there is the fact that the De Mornay character was at one time a prominent doctor’s wife. This would give me the impression that she would have had a large circle of friends and they would have all wondered what happened to her or at the very least spotted her in her new identity since she apparently only moved to the other side of town.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is perfectly made for fans of the genre and deserves to be on the list with the best.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 10, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

The Dark Half (1993)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cure for writer’s block.

Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is a novelist who writes under the pen name of George Stark, but then decides to do away with it. Unfortunately this pen name slowly starts to take on a life and identity of its own. When George is ‘killed’ he becomes angry and starts to seek revenge.

Some of the things that I liked about the movie were the theme, which is interesting because it examines the idea that we are all two people. The one we want people to know and the other we repress. It also gives a thoughtful look at just how difficult writing a book can be. The climactic sequence is one of the most unique ‘showdowns’ you will ever see as both our hero and his dark half sit down across from each other to write a book of their own and the first one to finish lives while the other will die. There is also a nice creepy little nightmare segment.

However, there are a lot of things that don’t work in this movie and the majority of it looks like reprocessed stuff you’ve seen before. For one thing the musical score that gets overplayed. It’s like we are back in the silent film era and need it played in every segment just to keep the film going. The use of the sparrows as some symbolic reference seems awkward. They are not scary even when shown in flocks and having to see a shot of them flying around every other scene becomes annoying and redundant. The basic premise itself has potential, but gets stretched too far.

Hutton was not a good choice for this. He doesn’t display enough fear or emotion with the scenario. He approaches everything like a properly trained student of drama instead of as a method actor and playing the character’s dark half isn’t much better. He is supposed to be a creepy southern guy, but instead comes off as a bad, campy version of Elvis. The make-up effects never look realistic. It’s also irritating how these super smart, super clever bad guys always get so gosh darn dumb at all the right moments.

Amy Madigan makes a good non-glamorous wife, but accomplished actress Julie Harris is pretty much wasted although she does get the film’s best line.

Overall this is an offbeat idea that is given routine treatment. Having George Romero as the director doesn’t seem to add anything and he certainly has been slumming for quite a while.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1993

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD