By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Goofy couple steals briefcase.
Flash (Alan Arkin) is a former big league pitcher who is washed up while living on the city streets selling stolen watches that don’t work. Emily (Carol Burnett) is a former dance instructor who is equally down-and-out and now makes a meager living doing dance routines on the streets while wearing a Carmen Miranda outfit. The two inadvertently meet one day while coming into contact with a briefcase that has stolen government documents. They agree to give it back to the men who are demanding it, but only for a price, which only helps to get them into more and more trouble.
This offbeat comedy, which was written by Barbara Dana who at the time was married to Arkin, has a few funny, dry humored moments at the beginning that makes it somewhat passable, but it’s unable to sustain any type of momentum and does not have enough action or comedy to keep it engaging. The middle half is slow and boring and the ending, which takes place at an amusement park, is too full of forced humor and sloppy slapstick to be considered either funny or entertaining. The film also never explains what specifically these secret plans are, or who these men are that are chasing after it, which only proves how poorly thought out and threadbare the plot really is.
The relationship between the two main characters doesn’t work either. They seem to let their guards down too easily for people that have been living alone and on the skids for so long and having them share more of a bickering and distrustful chemistry would’ve made it more realistic and edgy. The whole middle half is spent hearing them telling each other about their woeful pasts, which is neither compelling nor insightful and only bogs the film’s already slow pace down even further. These are the type of wacky character who can only be effective if put into comically frantic scenarios of which there needed to be much more of.
Arkin manages to give a pretty good performance playing a surprisingly subdued character that does not go off on hyper rants like the characters in some of his other film roles do, which is a good thing. However, Burnett is completely wasted despite seeing her in a Carmen Miranda outfit, which is a definite hoot. The only one who is genuinely funny is Danny Aiello as the exasperated bad guy.
Danny Glover can also be spotted in an early role as a homeless person trying to spy on Burnet and Arkin to see what they’re up to, but his part is one of the corniest ones in the movie and should’ve been dropped completely. The San Francisco setting may remind one of the classic comedy What’s Up Doc?, which also took place in that city and had a similar storyline dealing with a misplaced briefcase, but that film was far more consistently funny and took more advantage of the bay area locales while this one only focuses on the rundown areas of the city.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: August 28, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Director: David Lowell Rich
Studio: 20th Century Fox
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Sisters try to reunite.
Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) is a young black woman living in rural Georgia during the early 1900’s. She gets stuck in an arranged marriage to Albert (Danny Glover) who is abusive and has more of an interest in her younger sister Nettie (Akosua Busia). When Nettie comes to visit them Albert tries to rape her and when she is able to fight him off it enrages him and her throws her out of the house and refuses to let the two sisters ever talk to each other again. Nettie makes efforts to contact Celie through letters, but Albert seizes them and takes them away before Celie can read them. Eventually Celie adjusts to the domineering ways of her husband until she becomes friends with Shug (Margaret Avery) who gives her the strength and confidence to stand up to him.
I have never read the Alice Walker novel from which this film is based, but I feel it would’ve worked better had Steven Spielberg not directed it as it unfortunately gets too much of the patented Spielberg treatment. Every scene reeks of a Hollywoodnized glossiness and certain scenes are so manipulative sappy that it becomes almost painful to watch. The musical score is overplayed and not reminiscent of the time period. A similar film like Sounder worked better because most of the scenes had no background music and was a better reflection of a quieter and slower paced era.
There are also moments of cute comedy, which seems a bit out-of-place and confuses what the underlying intent of the production was. Are the filmmakers trying to make a genuine recreation of a bygone era, or simply entertainment fluff and at points it gets very merged and hard to tell. This film also had some of the tackiest snow scenes I have ever seen. It looks like white stuff that was simply spray painted onto the ground and the shot showing snow falling while there is bright green foliage on all of the trees looks so ridiculous and I wondered why they had even bothered. Also, when talking about someone in a mocking manner as Celie and Nette do about Albert it is probably wise to at least close the bedroom door and make sure the source of your mockery isn’t standing right outside listening in.
Goldberg is good in an uncharacteristically restrained performance although her character is so extremely submissive that it frustrates the viewer and makes you want to reach out and shake her. Oprah Winfrey is quite engaging and simply watching the way she walks up the dirt road driveway when she first appears is a hoot. The scene where she is attacked by an angry mob of white people is the best dramatic moment of the whole film. Avery is also good simply because of her great singing voice and her vibrant rendition of ‘Sister’ is excellent although the ‘sing-off’ that she has near the end with a gospel church choir gets to be too much.
Glover gives one of his best performances and looks so much younger especially at the beginning that I had to do a double-take when I first spotted him. I liked the way that he is shown as domineering and cruel with Celie, but when out in the public he is quite intimidated and quiet with everyone else. Adolph Caesar who plays Albert’s father is a real scene stealer especially with his reaction to a glass of water that has Celie’s spit in it and the glib comments that he makes at the dinner table during a family confrontation.
The production values are great, but Spielberg over-directs and it becomes too slick for its own good. The story is never allowed to breathe on its own and a little more of a gritty, raw style was needed. The movie also goes on too long and takes a few too many tangents.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: December 18, 1985
Runtime: 2Hours 34Minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Studio: Amblin Entertainment
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray
Posted in 80's Movies, Drama, Movies Based on Novels, Movies that take place in the South, Movies with a rural setting
Tagged Adolph Caesar, Danny Glover, Entertainment, Margaret Avery, Movies, Oprah Winfrey, Review, Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg