Tag Archives: Debra Winger

Legal Eagles (1986)

legal eagles

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for stolen paintings.

Successful district attorney Tom Logan (Robert Redford) suddenly finds himself in a big mess when defense lawyer Laura Kelly (Debra Winger) approaches him in regards to her quirky client Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah). She feels that Chelsea is innocent of the charges against her and hopes to have them dropped before it goes to court. When Tom looks into the case he finds that there’s much more to it than initially assumed, which leads the three into danger, stolen paintings, murder and even a weird love triangle.

If you are expecting anything having to do with a legal drama then you’ll be highly disappointed as there is very little time spent in the actual courtroom. Instead you get what amounts to an ‘80s action flick with explosions, car chases and even shootouts as these two lawyers go through things that no other lawyer in the history of the universe has ever went through either before or after.

The main selling point, and the only thing that actually works, is the casting. Redford with his laid back style is terrific in this type of comedy and I enjoyed the way he tries to remain cool-under-pressure despite being exasperated with two very kooky females, who both have an interest in him, coming at him from both sides. Winger is fun too as a well-meaning young attorney who tries hard, but still seems a bit ‘rough-around-the-edges’. Hannah is also perfectly cast in a role that works well with her slightly flaky, free-spirited persona and she even has a scene where she performs a fire-laden performance art piece that she wrote herself.

The first hour has a nice balance between the interpersonal relationships of the three as well as an intriguing mystery, but the second half leans too much into the action and gets overblown. The supposedly ‘exciting’ finale only helped to get me bored and annoyed. It’s the chemistry of the three stars and the romantic entanglements that ensued between them that had me interested and are what made the plot unique. The film should’ve emphasized this area more and even played it up. Having things end up working out so conveniently between the three despite the fact that both women were for a time seemingly competing for Redford’s affections misses out on a lot of potential fireworks and amusingly comical scenarios.

Familiar faces pop up in minor roles including a young Christine Baranski as a fledgling member of Tom’s legal team as well as Terence Stamp in a role that ends up being so small and insignificant I was surprised he agreed to take it. The film also features Rod Stewart’s hit song ‘Love Touch’ that climbed to number 6 on the pop charts, but isn’t heard until the very end when it gets played over the closing credits.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Black Widow (1987)

black widow

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She kills her husbands.

A federal agent named Alexandra (Debra Winger) tracks an elusive woman named Catherine (Theresa Russell) who marries rich men and then kills them off to inherit their fortune. Catherine is constantly changing her identity making it tough for her to track and Alexandra’s superiors do not share her same passion for the case nor believe there’s even a case at all. Finally while in Hawaii Alexandra manages to make contact with the woman and the two become fast friends only to have Alexandra become the next target when Catherine starts to suspect that she’s been double-crossed.

The film’s biggest asset is Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography, which is uniformly gorgeous and breathtaking. I loved the outdoor shots of Hawaii most notably the open terrain and the volcano as well as the scuba diving underwater sequence. The shots of the Seattle skyline and woodsy cabin are equally good making this on a visual level a top notch production. Winger is great in the lead even if her character lets down her guard a few too many times. I also enjoyed James Hong a perennial character actor who gets his most memorable role as a sleazy private investigator. It’s also fun to go back to what life was like before the internet, cellphones and debit cards and where ‘disappearing’ was so much easier.

Ronald Bass’s script though is shallow and formulaic. Just as it should be getting exciting it instead becomes boring and the slick twist at the end cannot overcome all of its loopholes. I found it surprising that Alexandra would be the only person in the world that would be on to this woman. Wouldn’t the relatives of the deceased start to suspect her as well? One segment has Catherine agreeing to give some relatives a large sum of money as a ‘gift’ to get them off her back, but what about the relatives of the first two husbands? The police work is also extremely sloppy. One of the husbands was allergic to penicillin, which is what Catherine uses to kill him, but they never think to test for it or investigate to see if Catherine had recently acquired a prescription for it, which she had. I also couldn’t figure out why Catherine would want to robotically go right back out and marry another rich man just after killing another. Why not ‘enjoy the fruits of her labor’ as it was and live it up with the money she already acquired from the last one before going through all the stress and planning of nabbing the next?

In fact the most frustrating thing about the film is the Catherine character as we never learn what motivates her or anything about her background. Alexandra is asked at one point what she thinks motivates this woman and she responds that it’s ‘not important’, but actually it is because it helps create a three-dimensional character instead of this evil prototype that gets increasingly more boring as the film progresses.

There is also a twist in the film where Catherine has one of her husband’s sign over his fortune to charity in his will, which helps him believe that she is not after him for his money, but then after he is killed it is learned that his legal residence was actually Florida, which has something called a ‘Mark Main’ statute that invalidates any bequest to charity that is made in a will six months before his death and thus allows the inheritance to go back to the surviving spouse, which Catherine takes full advantage of, but are we the viewer really expected to believe that Catherine knew about this loophole all along? Who researches that kind of stuff or even thinks to research it? Okay, so maybe she had some area of legal expertise in her background, but then why is she also such an expert at poisons and forgery and all the other stuff that she does and gets away with in order to stay ahead of the police? Haven’t these filmmakers ever watched an episode of ‘Columbo’ where even the smartest of killers will eventually screw up because it is simply humanely impossible to be ontop of everything like the character here is? By making the villain so over-the-top cunning and conniving while also cool under pressure hurts the tension instead of heightening it because it throws the believability factor out the window and ultimately makes this otherwise slick thriller empty and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Rafelson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Urban Cowboy (1980)

urban cowboy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ride the mechanical bull.

Bud (John Travolta) has just moved to the big city of Houston and is looking to fit-in and prove himself to the local crowd. He finds his niche at a local hang out called Gilley’s where he gets noticed for the way he rides the mechanical bull that is there. He also meets Sissy (Debra Winger) who he quickly falls in love with and marries. Sissy takes an interest in riding the bull as well, but Bud refuses to allow it as he is afraid it might compete with his own macho image. When she does it anyways he becomes angered and the two break-up, but secretly long to get back together especially when the other relationships that they get into aren’t as fulfilling.

This movie, which is based on a magazine story, is highly disjointed and doesn’t have any type of seamless pace. There is way too much footage of people dancing on the barroom dance floor and the amount of songs that get played, which ends up being 30 as I counted them during the closing credits, is too many. The songs themselves are great, but by playing so many it starts sounding more like a radio station playlist than a movie soundtrack. The Texas caricatures also get overdone. In this movie everybody wears a cowboy hat even though I have now been living in this state for 4 months and can count on the fingers of one hand how many people I’ve seen wearing one since I’ve moved here. The Texas drawls of the characters are a bit too heavy and at one point during Bud’s job interview the interviewer refers to Bud as ‘boy’ or more aptly ‘Bo-AH’. I realized that this was made 35 years ago, so it may just be life from a different era, but it still seemed over-the-top and not a balanced, realistic view of the state as a whole.

Travolta’s presence doesn’t help as it reminded me of Saturday Night Fever as both of those characters go through the same type of growing pains into manhood. The sexist, immature way that he treats Sissy really got on my nerves and he was certainly not the type of character I would want to make the center point of a movie. Winger on the other hand is beautiful and far more appealing. The fact that she gets treated just poorly by her second boyfriend (Scott Glenn) is equally irritating and I started to wish they had written out the two dipshit male leads completely and made her the sole centerpiece of the story. I also liked Barry Corbin in support as Bud’s uncle, but the way he dies by getting struck by lightning is hooky.

The riding the mechanical bull stuff to me looks unintentionally funny and even strangely sexual. It’s also not all that interesting to watch and quickly becomes repetitive to look at, which severely diminishes the ‘exciting’ climatic sequence that it’s built around. The only scene involving the mechanical bull that I did like is when Winger gets on it and starts riding it in all sorts of different provocative poses, which was fun and sexy.

The second half of the film loses its focus completely and instead of being this intended gritty ‘boy-to-man’ drama becomes more like a soap opera where the emphasis is on whether Sissy and Bud will get to back together, which is not that interesting or original and the schmaltzy ending is Hollywood at its clichéd worst.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 12Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube