Tag Archives: James Spader

Endless Love (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance turns into obsession.

Based on the acclaimed Scott Spencer novel the story focuses on two teens locked in a relationship built around complete infatuation. Jade (Brooke Shields) is only 15 while David (Martin Hewitt) is a high school senior and 17. Jade’s parents (Don Murray, Shirley Knight) are aware that the two teens are having sex, but choose to be ‘open-minded’ and allow it, but when Jade’s grades begin to suffer her father demands that David not see her until the school year is over. David is upset at this ultimatum and decides, through advice from one of his friends (Tom Cruise) to set Jade’s house on fire and then at the last minute come in and ‘save’ them while making him look like a ‘hero’ and get back into their good graces, but things don’t work out as planned.

The film’s biggest detriment is that it chooses to emphasize mood over substance. The teen’s sex sessions are shot with a soft focus lens and gives off too much of a dreamy, fantasy feel. We are never shown how the relationship actually began as the film starts off with the two are already madly in love. It gets mentioned that they were introduced to each other by Jade’s older brother (James Spader) but it would’ve been interesting to have seen this played out as the really good movies ‘show it instead of just tell it’.

Shields has the face of an innocent 15-year-old, but her acting is not up to par and I never got the feeling of any genuine chemistry between the two. Hewitt, in his film debut, doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the movie and gets badly outperformed by Spader who would’ve played the David character far better and could also help explain why Spader has remained in the acting profession while Hewitt since 1993 has been running a home inspection business and no longer acting in movies at all.

The film’s second-half shifts too much focus on David to the point that Jade becomes this mysterious enigma. The father bars David from seeing Jade at their house, but the two could’ve easily have gotten together at school or some other place. If the two were both equally infatuated then they would’ve found a way to see each other, but they don’t, so what does this mean? Was Jade not as in to David as it was thought and what exactly was she doing and thinking during those two years when David was stuck in a mental hospital? None of this gets explained, which becomes the film’s biggest plot hole.

The story relies too heavily on extreme circumstances. For instance David’s friend gives him the idea to set the place on fire by using a stack of old wet newspapers. David then immediately goes to Jade’s home where almost like magic is a stack of old newspapers sitting on the front porch just waiting to be doused in flames. David’s chance meeting with Jade’s father in the middle of New York on a crowded highly traveled sidewalk seemed to pushing the odds as well.

Knight gives a good performance as the mother, but having the lady literally throw herself at David when he gets out of the mental hospital even after he tried to set her family on fire makes her seem crazier than he is. Murray is equally good as the father, but the fact that the guy allows the two to have sex in their house at such a young age makes him unlike most parents. Just about anyone else would’ve seen the red flags far sooner and the fact that he doesn’t until it’s too late makes him seem unusually naïve.

Spencer once stated in an interview how very disappointed he was with this film and how he felt director Franco Zeffirelli missed the whole point of what his novel was about. I agree as Zeffirelli seems driven to turn the whole thing into a modern day Romeo and Juliet while equating unhealthy obsession with love, which it isn’t. This all comes to a glaring clarity with the film’s final shot, which is the most annoying thing about this already annoying movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Pretty in Pink (1986)

pretty in pink

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poor girl dates preppy.

Andie (Molly Ringwald) is a teen girl from the poor side of town who one day while working at a record store meets Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) a rich, handsome, preppy kid that she immediately takes an interest in. A few days later he asks her out much to the dismay of her geeky friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) who has a secret crush on her. Blaine’s friend Steff (James Spader) is also angered about it because he had asked Andie out earlier and been rejected and these two factors cause a strain on their relationship and forces both of them to consider ending it.

One of the problems that I had right away with the film is the fact that with the exception of Ringwald, the majority of the cast who are playing these so-called teenagers were in reality way past adolescence and looking too mature. Kate Vernon, who plays a snotty girl named Benny, actually looks older than her female instructors. McCarthy and Cryer were also in their 20’s and manage to pull it off, but Spader who was 25 at the time doesn’t. He gives a great performance nonetheless, but I kept wondering with so many star struck teens out there dying to get into the business that the producers couldn’t have gotten performers that were more at the actual age of the characters.

Ringwald is fantastic in a vehicle tailored made for her and one that she really cruises with. I particularly liked her facial expressions while she attended a frat party and the moment where she decides to go to the prom despite not having a date simply to show them that they can’t ‘break her’ is fantastic. However, I wasn’t so crazy about the inferred idea that she was dating Blaine simply because he was from a rich family and could help her escape from her otherwise poor/ humble surroundings as it toys with the concept of ‘marrying-into-wealth’ which is too old fashioned. A young lady today should feel that she can work her way up the social/economic ladder on her own and not be dependent on some guy to do it for her.

I had equally mixed feelings involving Duckie. Cryer certainly gives an engaging performance, but the character’s excessive and constant need for attention-seeking humor gets overdone and I wished it had been toned down and the character made to be a little less geeky. The part where he has an instant meltdown when he finds out that Andie is dating someone else is also too extreme as it makes him seem dangerously possessive especially since he and Andie were just friends. Later when he is rude to Blaine at a nightclub only helps to make him look even more emotionally unstable.

I had this same issue with Steff who gets aggressively angry at Blaine for dating Andie and even threatens to end their friendship because of it, which to me was a complete overreaction. Sure he might be upset about it, but in real-life I think he would’ve expressed his displeasure in more subtle ways,or even just gotten over it since he was apparently sleeping with Benny who was a lot hotter looking than Ringwald anyways. In reality people generally want to hide their hurt feelings and not respond so overtly when things don’t go their way because they are usually smart enough to realize it will just make them look like a sore loser otherwise.

The Blaine character has problems too although different from the other two. The first issue is when he is at the record store and hands Andie an album cover showing Steve Lawrence, a famous crooner from the early ‘60s and frequent guest star on the old ‘Carol Burnet Show’ and asks Andie if he’s ‘hot’ or ‘trendy’. Now, I was teenager myself during the ‘80s and was in no way ever affiliated with the ‘hip crowd’, but even I and my nerdy friends where savvy enough to know that Steve Lawrence would never be considered an idol with ‘80s teens nor humiliate ourselves by asking anyone if he was. The fact that he does ask makes him seem almost mentally ill or someone who’d been living in a cave, which would be enough for most young women not to want to date him because they would think he was ‘weird’ or strangely disconnected.

The scene that takes place in the school’s library where he sends her a message via the school’s compute and even somehow manages to upload a picture of her is also dumb. Remember this was BEFORE the internet and sending emails and communications via a computer weren’t common or likely especially when they weren’t even their own, but public ones instead. In a later conversation this gets described as a ‘computer trick’ that he knows, which I guess suffices as being screenwriter John Hughes’ feeble attempt at ‘explaining it’.

In a lot ways this seems like just a basic reworking of the formula that was already used with much better success in Sixteen Candles with Cryer playing an off-shoot of Anthony Michael Hall’s character and Harry Dean Stanton as Ringwald’s sensitive father substituting for the one played by Paul Dooley in the first film. I was also disappointed that we never even briefly get to see Andi’s mother who was divorced from her father but gets discussed quite a bit and there’s even a picture of her sitting on Andie’s bedside table, which to me should’ve been enough to justify some sort of appearance by her at some point.

I liked the scene, at least on an emotional level, where Duckie physically attacks Steff after he makes a disparaging remark about Andie, but on the logical end it’s off-kilter. For one thing Andie wasn’t aware of the remark and for Duckie to take on some guy who was clearly much bigger than him it would’ve made more sense for her to have heard it and been hurt by it in order for him to come so aggressively to her defense. A later scene that takes place at the prom where a super-hot girl turns around and out-of-nowhere shows an immediate interest in Duckie who’s just standing there seemed too dream-like and fanciful.

I never saw this film when it first came out and only reviewed it now at the suggestion of some female friends in order to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its release and I have to be honest I was expecting something a lot better especially since it has attained such a strong cult following. Maybe it’s the nostalgic value that gives it its allure, but on a purely cinematic level it’s average at best with a screenplay that only touches the surface of the teenage experience while relying too heavily on age-old and very obvious dramatic devices to help propel it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

sex lies and videotape

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex confessions on tape.

This movie was the critic’s darling when it was released 24 years ago and there didn’t seem to be anyone around that didn’t like it. I remember watching it back then and feeling like it was a bit overrated and although I liked it a little more the second time around I can’t say that my feelings about it have changed all that much. The story is about John (Peter Gallagher) who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) and who is having an affair with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) due to Ann’s frigidity. In comes Graham (James Spader) an old college buddy of John’s who stays with the couple temporarily while he looks for a permanent residence. Graham has an unusual fetish of recording women confessing to some of their wild sexual moments to the camera to which he records and then gets off to later. Ann is initially attracted to Graham, but when she finds about his habit she is appalled only to later become keen to the idea and agree to do a taped confession herself, which sends everything spiraling out of control.

The movie seems excessively talky with scenes and conversations particularly the dinner one between John, Ann and Graham going on longer than it should. Not a lot really happens and there is little if any action. The production values are pretty basic and don’t seem much different than the ones Graham uses for his taped confessions. For a film that talks so much about sex, which seems to fill pretty much every conversation that the characters have it is not very erotic and the attempts at eroticism is pretty generic. I did like writer/director Steven Soderbergh’s use of editing where conversations from one scene between two characters will be heard overlapping over a shot featuring two different characters. However, the scene where Cynthia gives her confession to Graham is ruined by the sound of a train whistle going off in the background, which became distracting.

I also had a hard time buying into the basic premise. I just couldn’t understand why so many women would freely divulge to a perfect stranger all of their deep dark fantasies and sexual excursions knowing full well that they were being recorded for his own personal gratification with no real assurance that these tapes wouldn’t one day get into the wrong hands and come back to haunt or humiliate them years later. There is also what I considered a glitch when Ann is vacuuming the rug and finds Cynthia’s earring underneath their bed, which was apparently left by her when she had sex with John in the bed a few days earlier, but I kept thinking that after a few days Cynthia would have realized that she was missing her earring and had John go back to retrieve it. It is possible that Cynthia may have intentionally planted the earring there for her sister to find since she seemed to really dislike her, but if that was the case the movie should have confirmed this, which it doesn’t.

MacDowell is great in the lead and looks beautiful. I enjoyed the character and felt her presence in the story made the movie more interesting. I did though have some issues with the opening scene where she is seen talking to a male therapist about her lack of sex drive, which to me wasn’t realistic. I would think that if a woman had sexual problems that she would be reluctant to discuss it with a male and would only talk about it with a female Dr. Also, she sits on his sofa Indian style with her shoes off, which seemed too relaxed a posture for a woman that otherwise is frigid and reserved.

Spader is also likable and conveys a surprisingly sensitive performance. However, I couldn’t understand what type of person in this day and age would leave their door always unlocked especially at night. Gallagher is just too much of a narcissist pretty boy philanderer to have much appeal although seeing how things unravel for him at the end and how he somehow feels morally superior to Graham is interesting.

I didn’t care for the Cynthia character at all. She dresses and behaves too much like a one-dimensional tramp and the only thing that ever comes out of her mouth is a barrage of sarcastic, snarky remarks and at no time ever shows even some remote sensitivity, which might have helped.

Although his part is brief Steven Brill is a hoot as a barfly constantly making feeble attempts to hit on Ann. He is the one amusing part of the movie, which I wished at infused more humor.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray