Tag Archives: Dianne Wiest

Cookie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter becomes getaway driver.

Dino (Peter Falk), a longtime racketeer, gets released from prison after a 13-year sentence. He meets up with his long time crony Carmine (Michael V. Gazz0) only to learn that Carmine sold off his share of the business, but now refuses to give him his entitled proceeds. Dino then plots an elaborate revenge and uses his estranged daughter Cookie (Emily Lloyd) to help him. At first the two don’t get along,but eventually forge a friendship when she proves to be quite resourceful as a getaway driver.

This movie proved to be the start of Lloyd’s career downfall. She burst onto the scene with her acclaimed performance in Wish You Were Here, which had all the critics fawning over her including Roger Ebert who called her performance “one of the great debut roles of a young actress”. With her new found fame she moved to New York at the age of 17 and immediately got the starring role in this film, which unfortunately proved to be her undoing as she showed erratic behavior on the set due to a condition that was later diagnosed as being attention deficit disorder. At one point during filming her irritated co-star Falk slapped her because she repeatedly flubbed of her lines, which caused her to then reportedly slap him.  It was behind-the-scenes stories like these that made studios reluctant to hire her and costing her to miss out on a lot of big roles.

While I’ll commend her ability to put on a very effective Brooklyn accent where you can’t even hear a hint of her native British one I still felt overall her performance here is quite weak and one of the main reasons that the film fails. Her facial expressions are too one-note and she shows an aloof detachment in all of her scenes almost like she really doesn’t want to be there. It’s evident onscreen that she and Falk didn’t care for each other making the bonding that their two characters have come-off as forced and insincere. I didn’t know why her character was even needed, I presume it was done to attract the all-important teen demographic, but she’s not funny and there’s long stretches where she doesn’t even appear. Her attire looks too much like the clothing style worn by Molly Ringwald during the 80’s and while that may have been the fashion it’s still good to have a character come up with a clothing style that is unique to them, so she doesn’t end up looking like just a leftover cast member from a John Hughes’ movie.

The supporting cast are what make this movie funny and had the story centered around them it could’ve been special. Gazzo is great as the mob boss who is intimidating one minute and then frightened and contrite the next. Dianne Weist, is quite funny too, particularly her extended crying bouts, as Falk’s mistress and Brenda Vaccaro steals a few scenes as his dog groomer wife. You can also spot Joy Behar in a brief bit as well as Jerry Lewis although his part is quite colorless and I’m surprised he even took it.

The script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arden relies too much on Mafia cliches while failing to add a unique or interesting spin to it. There’s also too many scenes, three of them to be exact, involving the explosion of a limo. One time is okay, but it saps away the surprise/shock value when it keeps happening and much like the movie itself fizzles out with a whimper.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

The Lost Boys (1987)

lost boys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vampire gang terrorizes teens.

This review is the first of a series in which each Monday for the month of May we’ll take a look at a vampire movie from the ‘80s with this one being probably the best and most well-known. The story centers on two brothers named Michael and Sam (Jason Patric, Corey Haim) who along with their divorced mother (Dianne Weist) move to California to live with her hippie father (Barnard Hughes) in his ranch-style home. It is here that Michael comes into contact with a boy biker gang lead by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Michael is infatuated with the attractive female member of the gang named Star (Jami Gertz) and thus is receptive to becoming a part of the group and even drinking a strange liquid as part of the initiation. Unfortunately the drink turns him into a vampire like them and it is up to Sam and his two self-styled vampire hunter teen friends (Corey Feldman, Jamison Newlander) to kill them off.

For the most part this film is a lot of fun and has held up well. I enjoyed the way it captures the Santa Cruz boardwalk atmosphere and the eclectic mix of the teen culture that makes up southern California. I also found some of the dated elements to be kind of fun especially when Sam states he can’t be without his MTV even though teens and college kids of today, at least the ones I’ve spoken to, do not feel that MTV is the trendsetter that it was back then, or even hip at all.

Haim gives another engaging performance and deserved to be top billed. He outshines his Corey counterpart by a mile and in fact Feldman comes off as quite boring and has only one funny line, which doesn’t come until the very end.

Sutherland is effective as the baddie, but the guys that make up the rest of his gang are quite transparent and do nothing but laugh on cue and wear outfits that make them look like they are leftover members of some bad-boy ‘80s rock band.

Patric is bland as well and the way Keifer and his gang can so easily manipulate him into doing just about anything they ask during their first encounter with him makes his character seem too passive. I also thought it was ridiculous the way he goes back to the gang’s hideout and makes love to Star while the rest of the boys aren’t there. Don’t get me wrong having sex with a beautiful woman certainly tops every red-blooded male’s list, but here it gets shown in a cheesy, clichéd music video type way and I also thought he would be too emotionally freaked out to have any type of sex as this occurs just after he had found out he had turned into a vampire and even levitated in the air.

There are similar problems with the behavior of the Weist character. One of them is when she goes to her boyfriend’s house and has dinner with him while his dog sits at her feet even though this was the same animal who had tried to viciously attack her earlier, which would’ve been enough to scare anyone else from ever wanting to get close to that dog ever again. Her job as a clerk at a video store is another joke as most people who worked at those places, back during the dark ages when they actually existed, did it as a part-time gig as the pay was low and wouldn’t be enough to support one person let alone a mother and her two sons. There is another scene, albeit brief, in which Sam, who is a teenager, asks her if he can sleep with her in her bed as he is afraid to be alone and she agrees, which most viewers will consider to be quite inappropriate.

Yet despite these issues and even a few others it’s still a good movie with some exciting and imaginative special effects. Director Joel Schumacher creates a creepy atmosphere and infuses a good deal of humor although it could’ve worked even better had it been played-up as a straight horror film.

Spoiler Alert!

I do though have to also quibble about the Edward Herrmann character as the boys initially think he is secretly the vampire ringleader, but then when he is invited over to their house for dinner he does not react adversely to the garlic or water that gets thrown at him. In the end though it turns out that he really was a vampire and the only reason those things didn’t have an effect on him, at least according to his explanation, is because when the owner invites him into their home those things then have no effect. Yet it was the Patric character who had invited Herrmann inside even though it was actually Hughes who owned the place, so the logic of his explanation doesn’t work.

Also, earlier in the film we see Herrmann’s dog growl at Kiefer and his gang when they walk into Herrmann’s video store. This is before we learn that Herrmann is a fellow vampire and secretly familiar with the boys, so if that was the case then his dog most likely would’ve been familiar with them too and therefore wouldn’t have growled, but instead would’ve been friendly and even receptive to them when they entered.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Independence Day (1983)

independence day 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Getting out of Texas.

Mary Ann Taylor (Kathleen Quinlan) works as a waitress at her father’s café, but dreams of leaving her sleepy Texas town and going to school in California to study photography. Her mother (Frances Sternhagen) though is in declining health and her current boyfriend Jack (David Keith) wants her to stay which makes her decision to leave all the more difficult.

Shot on-location in Anson, Texas the film is a pleasant time-filler that fortunately doesn’t go overboard with Texas stereotypes, but it’s also rather bland and predictable. Feeling trapped in a small town is by no means a unique feeling and the film doesn’t go far enough with that theme and for the most part just touches the surface. Adding in a second storyline dealing with Jack’s sister (Dianne Weist) being abused by her husband (Cliff De Young) is a bit jarring and doesn’t really fit as there are long periods where Mary Ann is not seen at all and it would’ve made more sense had it been her sister that was being abused and not Jack’s and thus giving her more screen time.

The dramatic arcs are a bit too obvious as well and at times even bordering on being corny. For one thing the abuse issue gets introduced by having Jack visit his sister and asking her husband to borrow some money and then for no reason the husband begins throwing lit matches at his wife while right in front of Jack. Abusive people can certainly be cruel, but they’re not stupid and hurting a woman while her well-built brother sits right there is most assuredly going to get the husband into trouble, so why do it? Having Jack find out about the abuse by coming to the home one day unannounced and hearing shouting and maybe looking into a window and seeing the husband hit her would’ve made far more sense.

Having Mary Ann’s mother, who otherwise looks and acts quite healthy, suddenly fall over with fainting spells and suffering from some disease that never gets explained seemed too manufactured. Mary Ann’s arguments with Jack over whether she should go to school or stay in Texas is equally transparent especially since the two really didn’t have all that much in common and could’ve easily found other dating partners quite quickly.

Having one of the official’s from the photography school drive out to her rural home and personally offer her a full scholarship while telling her she was one of the greatest photographers he had even seen was pretty loopy too. All she did was take pictures of the town’s buildings and people’s faces, so what this guy managed to see that was so ‘brilliant’ and ‘special’ from that is hard to figure.

Quinlan and Wiest give great performances, but the movie is nothing more than lightweight drama that fails to distinguish itself from all the other B-dramas out there.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mandel

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)