Tag Archives: alan alda

A New Life (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after a divorce.

Steve (Alan Alda) is shocked to learn that his wife of 26 years Jackie (Ann-Margret) wants a divorce, which forces him back into the dating scene that proves awkward. He eventually meets Kay (Veronica Hamel) and the two hit-it-off while Jackie gets into a relationship with a young artist named Doc (John Shea). Kay and Steve get married, but Jackie tires of her relationship and decides she’d be better off single.

Despite sporting an afro and beard it’s still the same Alda making the same bland type of movie with this one being more vanilla than his first two directorial efforts. At least with The Four Seasons and Sweet Liberty there was a mildly amusing spin to it, but here it’s sterile to a mind numbing degree and filled with nothing but generic characters going through basic life events almost like an inoffensive TV-movie on steroids.

Cutting back-and-forth between Alda’s budding new relationship and then Ann-Margret’s doesn’t work. At least with Alda there was a character arch as he goes from being a curmudgeon to sensitive modern day male, while Ann-Margret starts out cold and then just stays that way. As an actress she seems to have a hard time showing any genuine emotion while her attempts to convey inner angst come off looking quite affected. I realize she’s had a long, solid career, but her presence here is just plain blah and her square jaw features makes her look more and more like a female impersonator the older she gets. I also never believed that these two people were ever really married as they lack chemistry and their strained ‘spats’ become as trite as the material

The most annoying thing though is the scene where Alda grabs his chest while playing tennis and complains about severe pains so he’s rushed to the hospital, which is where he meets Kay. However, the lab tests reveal nothing wrong with him and the whole event gets written off as being ‘no big deal’ and never mentioned again, which is absurd.  People don’t collapse to the ground crying out in pain over ‘nothing’ as there had to have been some cause for it, so what was it? Having a movie blithely skip over this and treat it like some meaningless anomaly simply as an excuse so his character could begin a romance with Kay is truly weak writing and makes this threadbare film even more shallow.

Hal Linden is fun as Alda’s glib, womanizing friend and he should’ve been in the movie more since he’s the only thing that gives it a modicum of life while scrapping the side-story dealing with Ann-Margret. Focusing solely on these two middle-aged bachelors trying to make a go of it in the trendy, single’s scene had potential. At least it would’ve been better than the overly pat thing we get here that fails to stand out in any way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Paramount

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

California Suite (1978)

california suite

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Visitors at a hotel.

Based on the hit Neil Simon play, who also wrote the screenplay, the film follows five couples all staying at the same posh Beverly Hills hotel. Hannah and Bill (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda) are a divorced couple fighting over the custody of their teenage daughter (Dana Plato). Diana (Maggie Smith) is a famous British actress set to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and being escorted by Sidney (Michael Caine) a man she wants all for herself, but can’t because he is bisexual. Marvin (Walter Matthau) is in town to attend his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and shocked to find that his brother (Herb Edelman) has sent a prostitute (Denise Galik) to his room to entertain him for the night only for her to promptly pass out drunk the next morning just as his wife (Elaine May) is about to arrive. The final segment deals with two bickering Dr’s (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) who can’t get along and seem to get themselves into one over-the-top calamity after another.

Many viewers have commented that they disliked the Fonda character as she came off as too cold and bitchy, but I’ve known many people who are like her who put up a very steely front in order to protect themselves emotionally, so for me her sarcasm worked and the way she delivered her acerbic lines is fun especially as she chews up the already transparent Alda character until it seems like he isn’t even there.

Smith and Caine’s segment seemed a bit trite and generic. The first part of it deals with her nervousness about attending the awards ceremony, which isn’t all that original. The second half examines her frustrations at the fact that Sidney can’t solely commit to her, but I couldn’t completely buy into this because she was playing a rich and famous, globe-trotting actress whom I’m sure could easily find another man if she wanted and didn’t have to cling to someone who didn’t fully want her like she were some lonely, small town housewife with no options.

The third segment dealing with Matthau and the unconscious prostitute is quite funny and had me laughing-out-loud while the scenes involving Cosby and Pryor’s constant arguing is incredibly dumb and even jarring as it features a lot of silly, slapstick humor that does not fit in with the more sophisticated tone of the rest of the film.

I was also not so crazy about the film’s pacing. The first hour deals almost exclusively with the dramatic segments while the second half focuses mainly on the comical ones, which came off as imbalanced. It would’ve worked better had the stories been evenly spread out in a rotating type fashion with a few minutes spent on each one before cutting to the next one. It would also have been cool had it taken a Slacker-like approach where the characters, who never once cross paths in this movie, would have instead passed by each other at certain points and the scene would then shift to the new characters that the other ones just passed.

I was also disappointed that we never get to see much of exterior of the hotel. We do see a bird’s eye view of it during the closing credits, but I thought shots of it should’ve been shown during the beginning. I have nothing against David Hockney’s artwork that does get used, but the hotel is a part of the film’s title and therefore should have taken precedence.

Overall though I felt it was a decent dramedy worth the price of admission. It also features a terrific and distinctive jazz score by Claude Bolling that I wish had been used even more throughout.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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