Tag Archives: 90’s Movies

Misery (1990)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s his biggest fan.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a writer who has just finished his latest novel. On the way back to his publisher (Lauren Bacall) he gets stranded in a freak snowstorm and ends up being ‘saved’ by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) who is his ‘number one fan’. He is injured so she takes him to her nearby house where she proceeds to make him a helpless prisoner to her tormented and delusional mind.

The story has some interesting underlying elements. The film doesn’t really explore them, but does at least touch on it. It is the metaphor of the artist and the public. He is an educated man and yet his stories appeal to those with less education and what he puts into his work isn’t always what they take out of it. He doesn’t really like these stories and wants to expand his craft, but can’t because the formulaic stuff is what sells. In a way Paul was already trapped by Annie long before he ever got to her house and it is a sad dilemma a lot of artistic people have to deal with.
Bates as Annie plays the part really well. She is the ordinary, bland looking woman that you would never think about or consider dangerous. Her strange, erratic behaviors are slowly revealed until in the end the complete monster inside is unleashed. Screenwriter William Goldman, director Rob Reiner, and Bates herself show a good understanding of the character and what makes her tick. They create a woman who is complex, real, frightening, and at times even sad and pathetic.

Caan is a good competent actor however any one of number of actors could have played the part and maybe even done better. Yet you really sense and feel his confinement and ever growing frustration and when he finally revolts at the end you love it!

On the whole the thriller is pretty standard. There are some tense moments, but it is also routine and by the numbers. I thought it was too well lighted as a good psychological thriller always works best with a lot of shadows. The room Paul is trapped in looks more like it was done on a sound stage than in a real home and the film needed a few more unexpected twists.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 30, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Reiner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Batman and Robin (1997)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: This is getting bad.

This is a tired rendering of the Caped Crusader (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) battling Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) while also joining forces with Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone).

The series has definitely lost its original inspiration and doesn’t resemble anything like the first film. This was supposed to be a whole new direction away from the TV-series and yet now it is not only as campy, but even worse. The characters are just props for one-liners with no real dialogue just cutesy little barbs. Mr. Freeze spews out so many cold clichés that it becomes nauseating. There is also no tension or suspense as the villains are a couple of eccentric clowns with no frightening qualities to speak of.

Thurman as Poison Ivy is good, but it really doesn’t help. The idea of a nerdette turned into sexy siren seems like an extension of the Catwoman character. She has poisonous lips and can kill a man simply by kissing him. The ploy Robin uses to survive this kiss is an idea taken right out of an episode of the old “Get Smart” TV-series.

Gotham is no longer used as a third character and at times only seems like an afterthought. It is missing that unique set design and atmosphere as well as the dark undercurrent. The lighting and color is loud and garish with the overall production values looking cheap. The set for Mr. Freeze’s hideout look dangerously close to the same sets used in the TV-show.

The story is cluttered and nonsensical. It peaks with calamity every other minute and there are way too many loopholes. The editing of the action sequences is too fast and makes it hard to follow and it’s processed with a permeating sense of glibness.

Clooney is by far the best Batman as he is relaxed and poised with just the right amount of wit. O’Donnell seems like he was born to be Robin and their ongoing banter creates a nice added element. However, when shown side by side without their costumes they look more like brothers than father and son, which is the type of relationship that this was supposed to be. A little more gray in Clooney’s hair would have given that needed distinction.

Silverstone is all right, but she actually doesn’t turn into Batgirl until the very end. She has a good one-on-one fight with Poison Ivy, but it should have been played out more. It would have also been nice, like in the TV series, where she worked independently from Batman and didn’t have to share his batcave or necessarily take his orders. Also her background relationship with butler Alfred is completely absurd.

Overall this is silly and strained. The Batman revitalization has hit a brick wall and this is easily the worst of the series.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1997

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joes Schumacher

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Batman Returns (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: This version is cool.

Genuinely twisted, marvelously executed superhero tale in this the second and by far the best in the series. This time Batman (Michael Keaton) must battle both Catwoman (Michele Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (Danny DeVito) who is running for mayor.

The big reason I feel that this film works so well is because director Tim Burton continues to use the city of Gotham as the major centerpiece. It’s a consistently gray apocalyptic setting with a surreal element that has its own unique set of rules that correlates well with the story. It also emanates a cold and lonely feeling that creates the desperation and madness that the villains show.

The villains themselves are terrific. The film nicely captures their dark nature and all the components that drive them to it. They are colorful, but still menacing and funny without being silly. Also, unlike a lot of today’s action flicks they are not used merely as props to spew out clever one-liners.

Devito as The Penguin makes one of the better villains. He is physically perfect for the role. He wears some nice ghoulish make-up and is not one-dimensional. We are shown that he was a ‘freak baby’ and how badly he was treated and thus understand his personality. He does get vicious, but in a funny way kind of like the Louie De Palma character he played on the TV-show ‘Taxi’. The only thing that is missing is the Penguin walk that Burgess Meredith had in the 60’s TV series.

Pfeiffer as Catwoman does her part without a fault and yet doesn’t seem completely right for the role. I found it hard to believe that with such a great looking face and figure that she could be overlooked by all the men even if does wear glasses and act nerdy. Also, the sinister cat has always been portrayed as being a black one and therefore the Catwoman character would have been better played by a raven haired actress. Sean Young competed for the role and might have been a better fit as her complexion is darker and her voice deeper. Pfeiffer though is still quite good and her constant dual personalities make her character interesting.

Keaton is the weakest link and continues to seem uncomfortable in his superhero role. Having the boy wonder beside him would have helped.

This feature comes together much better than the first one and has a more complete vision. It is kind of like a Grimm fairy tale, cult comedy, sci-fi, and modern day actioner all rolled into one. There is a good set-up and a nice emphasis on atmosphere. The humor never gets out of hand and is always laced in dark origins. It stays consistently twisted including the finale which features bomb wearing penguins marching into Gotham ready to blow it all up. Lots of fun!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1992

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Tim Burton

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t hire this lawyer.

A huge and much talked about hit upon its release in 1992, My Cousin Vinny is the story about two traveling college friends (Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield) who, upon going through Alabama, get implicated to the murder of a convenience store attendant that they did not commit. They’re only hope is calling up Macchio’s uncle Vinny from Brooklyn (Joe Pesci) who has only been practicing law for six weeks and has never tried a case.  Even worse is the fact that his brash Brooklyn sensibilities do not mesh well with the trial’s very strict, no-nonsense Judge (wonderfully played by Fred Gwynne in his last film role).

One thing that stood out right away with me was the way this film did not fall into age old stereotypes despite being in a setting that seemed ripe for it.  There is not a single mention of racism anywhere.  Instead the film seems to want to focus on a more contemporary Alabama where the African American characters are, by and large, on equal footing with the whites as well as having a white Sheriff who is not redneck, corrupt, or ignorant.  The two college kids also thankfully break rank from the typical Hollywood films of that era.  These kids are not the rowdy, partying, beer swilling, sex crazed teens that you usually see, but instead believable and most of all likable.  I found them to be so likable that I wished they were in the film more, unfortunately after the first twenty-five minutes they pretty much disappear until the very end, which I found disappointing.  Still it was nice seeing Macchio growing out of his Karate Kid role and looking a little more filled out and mature.

I also want to give mention to the excellent on-location shooting.  Although it was not actually filmed in Alabama, but instead the neighboring state of Georgia, it still nicely captures the look and feel of the south and it does it right from the start.  I have often said good on-location shooting (as opposed to the annoying Hollywood studio back-lot) can enhance just about any story and help create what’s almost like another character.  I have been to Alabama recently and enjoyed the many references to the red, muddy soil that is everywhere down there and the scene where the Pesci character gets his car stuck in it is great.

The comedy runs pretty well, but is much stronger at the start.  The conversations the boys have with the police are quite amusing as is Whitfield’s initial dialogue with the Pesci character who he doesn’t know is a lawyer and instead thinks he is a cellmate there to ‘break them in’.  I also enjoyed the running gag dealing with Vinny using his debating skills to try and ‘negotiate a settlement’ with a tough guy at a bar who refuses to pay up after losing a bet.

Unfortunately there is also a lot of comedy that does not work.  The running gag dealing with Vinny and his girlfriend constantly being awakened in the early morning hours by some unexpected noise at each of the places they stay at starts to get real redundant and silly.

There is also another segment featuring actor Austin Pendleton who plays one of the court appointed attorneys and, without warning or any logical explanation, starts to stutter terribly when he tries to give his opening argument.  I was genuinely shocked to see Pendleton take this part since he was a stutterer in real like and didn’t overcome the problem until he was well into his forties.  He even starred in a 1983 film entitled Talk to Me about a man coping with the affliction. Apparently Pendleton did protest the scene and even labeled it a ‘sick joke’, but eventually did it anyways because he needed the work, which was unfortunate because it comes off as being forced and uncomfortable.  Most lightweight comedies, which in the end this is, run about ninety minutes yet this film runs a hundred and twenty minutes, which is too long.  Had some of these so called ‘funny’ scenes been cut it would have shortened the film nicely and even strengthened it.

I should also mention Marisa Tomei who won the Oscar for best supporting actress as Pesci’s girlfriend.  Now her performance isn’t bad, but I didn’t see anything really outstanding about it either.  She spends most of the time wearing garish and gaudy outfits, speaking in a Brooklyn accent that borders on annoying, and playing the caricature of a ditzy girlfriend. Only at the end does she become a little more dimensional when she inexplicably displays some amazingly detailed knowledge about automobiles that for me just didn’t ring true.  I would have given the Oscar to Fred Gwynne, TV’s Herman Munster, as the judge. Some of his courtroom exchanges with the Pesci character are the best parts in the film.  I also really like Lane Smith in the role as the prosecutor. His performances are never flashy, but he is always reliable and gives his characters a nice, quiet dignity.  He is also a genuine southerner, so he fits into his role more easily.

The film is overall passable.  I had no idea how it was going to turn out and it kept me intrigued.  However, once the resolution was made and the mystery solved, I wasn’t completely satisfied.  I was hoping it would be like The Vanishing, the excellent 1988 film from the Netherlands, that went back and reenacted how it all took place.  It would have at least been nice had the film put in a little red herring at the beginning, so the viewer could have tried to figure it out themselves instead of just throwing in a wrap-up that seemed too convenient.

If you are fans of Joe Pesci then you’ll enjoy this movie a little bit more.  His performance as the volatile character in Goodfellas is so etched in my mind that I have a hard time adjusting to him in likable roles, or comedy.  However he manages to be quite engaging throughout.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 

Released: March 13, 1992 

Runtime: 2Hours 

Rated R 

Director: Jonathan Lynn 

Studio: 20th Century Fox 

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

Cemetary Man (1994)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They shoot the zombies.

The film opens with a cemetery worker (Rupert Everett) talking on the phone with a friend. He hears a knock at the door and when he answers it he sees a man with bluish, decayed skin ready to attack him. The worker calmly takes out a gun, shoots the man in the head, and then goes back to talking on the phone like nothing happened.  Thus begins this very quirky horror comedy that is a send-up of all those old zombie movies and has acquired a cult following.  It was filmed in Italy and is based on the popular Italian comic book ‘Dylan Dog’ by Tiziano Sclavi.

The initial premise is fun.  The protagonist is Francesco Dellamorte, who with his mute and mentally-challenged assistant named Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), are stuck running a cemetery in a small Italian town where the dead will routinely come back to life. It is then up to them to shoot the zombies in their head, which will kill them permanently.  This starts a wild array of crazy scenarios that become increasingly bizarre as the film progresses.

Initially I found it to be inventive.  The tongue-in-check humor is first-rate as is the snappy dialogue.  The film though starts to bite off more than it can chew.  All sorts of weird storylines get thrown in, but are never resolved.  After about the first hour it no longer made any sense.  For instance there is Francesco’s girlfriend named She (Anna Falchi), who he accidently kills at the beginning, but then she keeps getting reincarnated as different women throughout the rest of the film.  For various reasons Francesco is forced to kill her in different ways all over again, which eventually becomes tiring. This is only one of the many convoluted surreal elements that eventually overwhelm the viewer.  By the time it got to its extensile ending I was more than happy that it was over and really no longer cared what happened to the characters.

I felt frustrated because there were a lot of cool ideas that the film brings up, but drops without explanation.  I thought the original idea was good enough that the film could have stuck with that and built around it without going off on so many tangents. The special effects were a problem as well as they looked cheap and fake.  It was obvious when they were using mannequins in the place of real people and the blood and gore were thrown in haphazardly.

I did however like the pacing, which moves quickly with no letup.  The set designs are imaginative and the dark humor is consistently funny. If I would suggest this movie for any reason it would be that one.  Even when the story was getting annoyingly out-of-control it still had me chuckling.  The best scene involves Francesco talking to a sick friend in the hospital and when anyone from the hospital staff tries to intervene he shoots them and this creates a memorably macabre imagery as the room gets filled up with bodies and blood everywhere.

I also liked the character of Gnaghi, who tends to grow on you and becomes a real scene stealer.  He is short, fat and bald and looks like a young version of Uncle Fester from ‘The Adams Family’.  He speaks only through grunts, but the way he responds to things is quite amusing and the director comes up with clever ways to make the most of it.  The fact that he was played by a rock musician and not a professional actor makes it more interesting.  The part where he falls in love with one of the corpses and wants to marry her is hilarious and should have been played out more.

I liked the character of Francessco at the beginning as well.  He comes off like a rugged cowboy from the old west with a nifty matter-of-fact attitude towards his job and is cool under pressure. However, his behavior and actions become erratic and his motivations confusing until, by the end, he is almost alienating. There are also too many segments where he gets caught off guard by an attacking zombie and panics when he does not have his gun handy, which hurts the credibility since someone who has been doing this for a long time and is as savvy as he portrayed would learn to expect the unexpected and be prepared at all times for it.

I hate to say that this film was a disappointment because it is very creative and the direction is slick.  Unfortunately it just could not sustain its potential, which makes it a misfire. The film did quite poorly with both the critics and viewing public when it was first released both in Europe and in the states. It was only after being hailed by director Martin Scorsese that it started to find new life in the DVD market. Actor Everett was in talks with American studios to do a big-budget Hollywood remake, but it fell through.  A remake would not be a bad idea and may still happen as the horror-dark comedy genre has proven to be profitable in recent years most notably with Zombieland.  A tighter script and more money on the special effects could make this a winner.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michele Soavi

Studio: Angelo Rizzoli

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray