Tag Archives: Dabney Coleman

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

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Davy (Henry Thomas) is an imaginative 11-year-old who spends his days immersed in the fantasy world of an espionage game called Cloak & Dagger and its rugged hero Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman). His home life spent with his dad (also played by Coleman) isn’t as exciting and he uses his escape into the game as his way of coping with a father who is too busy to have any time for him. One day he inadvertently witnesses a murder and just before the victim dies he hands Davy a video game cartridge telling him that there is top secret information on it. Now Davy finds himself in a very real game of life and death forcing him to depend on the advice of his fantasy hero and help from his dad to save him from the bad guys.

Tom Holland’s script is based on the short story ‘The Boy Cried Murder’, which was first made into a movie in 1949 The Window that starred Bobby Driscoll. This version is definitely aimed for the kids, but manages to be engaging enough to keep an adult’s attention, which is what makes it fun. Director Richard Franklin, a noted Hitchcock disciple, manages to infuse humor with the suspense and uses a variety of locations to keep the action interesting.

Thomas is excellent as the kid, but I felt his character seemed a bit too even-keeled about things. I would think a kid would be traumatized at witnessing a murder and unable to cope, but Davy takes things in much too matter- of-fact way only to become overwhelmed by the reality of the situation much later when I felt it should’ve occurred right from the start.

Christina Nigra is cute as Davy’s young friend Kim, but she looks to be barely 6 years-old. Her lines are amusing, but she conveys them in a way that has no inflection like she is simply mouthing stuff that she has memorized. The dashingly handsome Michael Murphy makes for an effective bad guy and elderly real-life couple Jeannette Nolan and John McIntire get flashy roles in the twilight of their careers. You can also spot Louie Anderson in a brief bit as a cab driver.

Dabney Coleman’s presence is the only thing that doesn’t work. He’s a gifted comic character actor, but only engaging when he plays a sleazy slimeball and never as a good guy. Here he is downright boring and already in his 50’s making him a bit too old for either the father or superhero. I don’t think they are too many kids who would imagine their own fathers in the role of an idolized comic book-like hero anyways. Most of the time it would be someone who is brawny and glamorous. In either case the film would’ve worked better and made more sense had the father and hero role been played by two completely different actors.

For me though the best part of the movie is simply its on-location shooting done in San Antonio. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t film a scene at the Tower of the Americas, but the other tourist sites are included featuring a fun chase sequence at the River Walk, the Sunken Gardens and even the Alamo. In the case of the Alamo they were allowed to film the exteriors there, but the interiors were recreated on a soundstage, but having been in the actual Alamo I couldn’t tell the difference, which is impressive.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)

man-red-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s not a spy.

Cooper (Dabney Coleman) wants to remove Ross (Charles Durning) from his position as director of the CIA so he can occupy it himself. To do this he tries to make it appear that Ross is corrupt and so as a defensive strategy Ross comes up with a scheme of his own. Since he knows that Cooper has his place bugged he has a mock conversation with Brown (Edward Herrmann) telling him that there’s a spy with important information and which he should meet at the airport in order to retrieve. However, there really is no spy it’s all just made up, so that Cooper and his entourage will waste time following around the wrong person, which they do in the case of Richard (Tom Hanks) a man spotted wearing only one red shoe and who now finds his life turned upside down for no apparent reason.

This is a remake of the French classic The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe and surprisingly it manages to stay very close to the original. To some extent it becomes almost a shot-for-shot retelling with very little that gets changed. Most American films have a much broader sense of humor than European ones and so I was a bit amazed how subtle the comedy stays, but this could also explain why this did so poorly at the box office.

For me this biggest transgression is that this version loses the satirical edge that was so apparent and funny in the first one. The CIA agents aren’t funny at all and don’t come off like real spies just a bunch of incompetent buffoons. None of them have any discernable personalities and it somehow manages to make even Dabney Coleman seem boring and I was really surprised that he even took the part.

Hanks is equally dull and not half as funny as Pierre Richard who played the same part in the original. Richard was of a goofy eccentric while Hanks’ character is a blah ordinary guy who plays off the comedy instead of being a part of it. I also didn’t like that he eventually becomes aware of what is going as I thought it was more amusing that the character remains permanently oblivious to it all like in the French film.

The one improvement that I did like was the presence of Lori Singer as the female agent who is very attractive and has a low, low cut dress that I really digged. However, in the original the female spy, which was played by Mireille Darc, didn’t fall-in-love with the main character until after she got to know him while here Singer appears to be attracted to Hanks right from the beginning for no reason.

There are indeed a few funny moments particularly Hanks visit to his dentist and the scene where he must flush his toilet several times in order to get the water to come out of his sink faucet. Jim Belushi gets a few laughs as his friend who thinks he’s seeing things that really aren’t there, but overall the original is still superior although by not as wide of a margin as with most other American remakes. I was also frustrated that there is never any explanation for why the Hanks character is wearing only one red shoe. In the French film it at least gets explained, but here they don’t even do that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stan Dragoti

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

WarGames (1983)

wargames-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen hacks government computer.

David (Matthew Broderick) is a teenager who’s a whiz with computers and even able to dial up his school’s machine and change his grades without anyone noticing. One day he unknowingly hacks into a military computer where he and his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) begin to play a game of global nuclear war while unaware that everyone at NORAD the military base is seeing the game as it’s being played  and thinking that it is the real thing.

The film does a great job of showing the nuclear missiles up close while still in their silos and ready to fire, which gives the viewer a frightening awareness of just how real the potential is. The NORAD command center, which is quite impressive, was built specifically for the film at a cost of one million and is apparently even more elaborate than the real one.

David’s hacking talents do seem a bit farfetched, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief a little then it’s a pretty cool and suspenseful flick. Some of my favorite scenes in this area are when he is able to escape from an electronically locked room as well as the way he gets a dial tone from a receiver at a pay phone despite not having any money.

Broderick’s character is in many ways identical to the one that he played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at least with his technological smarts, but here he thankfully doesn’t have that annoying smugness as his initial cockiness realistically wilts quickly away the minute he realizes that he’s gotten in-over-his-head. I did however find it hard to believe that such a bright kid could get an ‘F’ on his biology exam. His character is described as being an ‘underachiever’, which is fine, but there’s a big difference between being that and being a complete flunky.

Ally Sheedy is fantastic and in many ways outshines Broderick, but it’s hard to figure that she would suddenly jump into her car, without being asked, and drive all the way from Seattle to Colorado on a whim after she gets a strange call from David. The fact that her character states that it took her only 3 hours to get there is a complete crock as according to Mapquest the distance between Seattle and Grand Junction is 1,122 miles with an estimated drive time of 18 hours and 9 minutes.

Dabney Coleman is good in support as McKittrick and nobody can exude nervous energy quite like he does. Yet I was disappointed that he isn’t seen more. As much as I love Barry Corbin I felt his general character was clichéd and boring and I wished they had simply combined that character with McKittrick’s and then given the part solely to Coleman to play.

There were also a few scenes that I felt should’ve been extended especially the opening scene where we see two members of the missile combat crew ordered to turn the key to launch a missile strike. One of them, played by John Spencer, panics and becomes reluctant to turn the key while the other one holds a gun and insists that he must. It turns out this was only a surprise drill, but it cuts away before we see what happens and we only learn about this later while it would’ve been more satisfying to have seen the complete scenario played out visually.

I would’ve also liked to have seen when the government agents storm David’s house and search his bedroom simply to witness his parent’s (William Bogert, Susan Davis) reactions. The film spends time introducing them and they are rather amusing, so it would’ve been interesting to get their take on the situation as it unfolded.

I also felt the way David and Jennifer find Falken (John Wood), the man who invented the military computer that David plays the nuclear game with, was too easy. I realize David gets Falken’s address from the computer, but it’s still a remote island that David has never been to, so how he is able to come upon the home so quickly without a map is questionable. I also thought Falken was too congenial with them as this was a scientist in hiding with top secret military information and no way of knowing if these two were spies or not, which makes inviting them into his house and opening up to them the way he does seem quite reckless.

The ending though is excellent and I liked how these kids didn’t have that teen ‘attitude’ nor is there any of that generation gap crap either. Instead everyone, young and old, works together to solve a mutual problem, which is what I liked about this movie the most.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Badham

Studio: MGM/UA

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

The Dove (1974)

dove

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailing around the world.

Based on a true story and produced by Gregory Peck this film examines the journey of Robin Lee Graham (Joseph Bottoms in his film debut) as he sails in his boat called The Dove around the world. When he starts out he is only 16, but through the course of his journey he goes through many adventures, meets a beautiful woman named Pattie (Deborah Raffin) who he eventually marries and returns home a full grown man.

The variety of exotic locales and stunning cinematography by Sven Nykvist are a chief asset, but the film starts off with absolutely no backstory. The viewer is hoisted onto the boat with the main character without having any idea who he is, his background, preparation, reason for doing this, or his relationship with his family. Bits and pieces of this come out later, but it would’ve been nice to have had some of this info from the start and would’ve allowed for more of an emotional connection to the character.

The first hour is spent more on land than at sea, which is another problem because it doesn’t get riveting until he is actually on the boat and fighting the many elements. The melodic mood music gets excessive and should’ve been toned down as well and the two songs sung by Lyn Martin, which could’ve been scrapped completely as the natural ambience of the sea is far more soothing.

Bottoms, who retired from acting in 1999 and now runs an art gallery, does quite well. His boyish face and variety of emotions that he goes through during his adventure ring quite true for someone of that age and help to make the character quite real. I also enjoyed how the character is astute in certain areas, but very awkward in others particularly with the way he tries to court Patti, which also leads to the film’s best line “I’m feelin’ romantic…in a horny kind of way.”

Raffin is stunningly beautiful and her acting is outstanding and I liked how the female character was portrayed as being older, wiser and more practical. The two share a great chemistry, but Robin’s relationship with his ornery pet cat Arvana is equally interesting even though its demise is unpleasant.

Familiar character actors pop up briefly playing pesky photographers from National Geographic magazine that carried the story through his trip. John Anderson has a funny bit here, but the best is Dabney Coleman who speaks with an Australian accent!

The actual journey began in September, 1965 and wasn’t completed until April of 1970 with many stops and starts in between, which the film does a good job of showing as at several points Robin abandons the mission only to finally start it back up several weeks or months later. Although the film gives the impression that he completed the full journey in reality he didn’t as he started it in Hawaii, but finished it in Long Beach, California also the boat that he used for his trip ending up getting destroyed in 1989 during Hurricane Hugo.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Jarrott

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video

Modern Problems (1981)

modern problems

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chevy acquires telekinetic powers.

Being dumped by his girlfriend (Patti D’Arbanville) and working a stressful job as an air traffic controller Max (Chevy Chase) finds himself falling into a deep depression. Then one night while following a truck home that is carrying nuclear waste he and his car get sloshed with a greenish liquid that spews out the back end of the truck’s tank. Soon afterwards he realizes that he can make objects move and uses this new found ability to try and win his girlfriend back while getting revenge on her new boyfriend (Mitch Kreindel).

The film is written and directed by Ken Shapiro who earlier teamed up with Chase to do The Grove Tube and like with that one the story is widely unfocused throwing in gags that have nothing to do with the central theme. It takes too long for Max to acquire his special powers and when he does it doesn’t go far enough with it wasting a potentially creative idea on what turns out to be just another comedy dealing with modern day relationships. The movie is horribly dated with a bit having Chase sniff up some white ‘demon dust’ in a not so subtle take on cocaine that at a time when free basing was still considered trendy might’ve been considered ‘cool’ and ‘hilarious’ by its intended audience. The opening segment is insulting to actual air traffic controllers as it makes them all look like they’re lazy and incompetent and the silly cartoon-like sounds added to the special effects gives the whole thing a very kiddie-like feel.

The logic of this thing is crazy as well. I realize being exposed to nuclear waste can bring cancer, birth defects and a wide assortment of other ailments, but nowhere have I read that it can cause telekinesis making the whole premise dumb and dubious from the start. The idea of having all these amazing powers, but only using them sparingly while moping around hoping somehow to get back into his girlfriend’s favor seems quite limiting as most people with his abilities would have much broader ambitions like saving the world or even conquering it for that matter. Although politically incorrect there could’ve been a wide array of things that he could’ve done to ‘win his girlfriend back’ like suspending her in mid-air until she agrees to see him exclusively. Also, when he notices that he is glowing green and has spots all over his face when looking into a mirror you would think he would immediately run to the nearest doctor, but doesn’t and when he finally does expose his powers to everybody else by levitating the Dabney Coleman character the other people in the room respond with a ho-hum attitude instead of screaming and running away like a normal person would.

Chase’s deadpan talents get wasted here and during the second half he becomes almost comatose during a lame parody of The Exorcist. Dabney Coleman gets equally wasted as he speaks in a weird accent while playing his trademark egotistical character that for some reason isn’t as engaging as it usually is. You also get to see a shot of his bare ass, which to me wasn’t a good thing, but there is a thread on IMDB with people stating in all seriousness that it is one of the ‘best looking asses ever’, ‘pure perfection’ and ‘the greatest moment in cinema history’, so I guess to each his own.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Shapiro

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Meet the Applegates (1990)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bugs turn into people.

Giant Brazilian Beetles take human form and disguise themselves as a typical suburban family. The father beetle Richard (Ed Begley Jr.) gets job at a nuclear plant, which he plans to use to destroy mankind and thus save their species and the rainforests from human progression.

This cultish-like comedy pretty much kills itself from the beginning by having a farfetched premise that it never bothers to explain. Just how do these giant beetles learn to take human form? Nothing is shown or mentioned. Even a really, really stupid explanation would be better than nothing at all.

The film does have a few good points, which allows you to stick with it despite the complete absurdity. One is the fact that it tackles the very serious issue of environmentalism. If anything it gets the general viewer a little more aware of the problem and by putting the bugs in human form makes them sensitive to their situation.

The film also has its witty moments as it analyzes the different habits of both bugs and humans. The best part may actually be a rather simple bit when the bug wife Jane (Stockard Channing) is not in the mood for sex so Richard grabs a science magazine with large pictures of insects and then ‘gets-off’ on it in the bathroom. There is also a side story dealing with the wife’s obsessive use of credit cards that is right-on-target.

Yet within all the offbeat humor there is also an amazingly high level of inconsistencies. These bugs seem to know a lot about certain technical gadgetry, but then not in other areas. They respond to some things in an odd creature-like way and then at other times like a regular person would. The scenes involving sexual relations between these bugs and other humans seem very unnatural and highly preposterous.

The acting runs hot and cold. Begley can be good in offbeat and nerdy roles, but as a family patriarch he just does not cut it. Robert Jayne as the son Johnny is terrible. He has a dazed expression on his face throughout like he was hit on the head a few times and acts like he was never in front of a camera before. On the plus side it’s nice to see Stockard back to doing comedy as she has a good knack for it. Dabney Coleman is fun even though he is pretty much wasted though seeing him dressed in drag and calling himself ‘Aunt Bea’ is genuinely funny.

Overall the film looks rushed and may have had studio tampering. The special effects are cheap and although some of it is passable most of the time it is downright deplorable. The ‘feel good’ ending is excruciating. Director Michael Lehmann seems to be another casualty to the dreaded sophomore jinx. Heathers, which was his first feature was a great success, but even though this film has its moments it cannot come together as a whole.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Applegates

Released: November 8, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Lehmann

Studio: Triton Pictures

Available: VHS (as ‘The Applegates’)