Tag Archives: Joel Schumacher

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) is a housewife/mother raising two rambunctious kids (Shelby Balik, Justin Dana) while married to Vance (Charles Grodin) who works in advertising. After being exposed to some products from her husband’s company she begins to shrink until she becomes so small that she is forced to move into a dollhouse and drink out of thimble since a regular glass would be too big for her to hold.

The film is a modern remake of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and as much as I loved the original this version takes the storyline in a completely different direction, which for a while proves interesting. Director Joel Schumacher comes up with some wild color schemes and the knowing satire makes great points in its observations on modern suburbia as well as American consumerism. Screenwriter Jane Wagner manages to employ some well thought out scenarios and the special effects aren’t bad either.

Unfortunately by the second-half becomes muddled with scenarios that are no longer funny, but genuinely horrifying and sad instead. The satirical edge gets lost and replaced with an over-the-top mad-scientist-trying-to-conquer-the world angle that becomes cheesy.  I was also confused with how Pat was able to continue to find clothes to fit her especially after she gets smaller than even a toy doll. The film seemed to touch on every other possible problem, so they should’ve had at the very least had a throwaway scene analyzing this one.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets too cute for its own good as Pat shrinks to nothing and then has what’s left of the small outfit she was wearing fall into a puddle of spilled chemicals, which somehow makes her big again. This however ruins the poignancy that had been created from showing clips of bells being rung around the world from different countries in remembrance of Pat, which had a certain profound message that no matter how small you are you can still have an impact. Instead of giving the film some substance it goes for a last-second gimmick that cements it as being an empty-headed comedy and nothing more.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tomlin’s performance is excellent as she creates empathy for her character, which helps make the story more engrossing as you genuinely build concern and sympathy for Pat’s welfare. Noted make-up specialist Rick Baker garnered a cult following for his convincing performance of an ape, although the shot of the animal giving some people in an elevator the finger is pushing it. The movie though as a whole works only in spurts with a message and tone that is too unfocused and inconsistent to be completely effective.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

D.C. Cab (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser cab drivers unite.

In a long ago and far away time before there was Uber or Lyft and taxi cabs where the only service there’s a story of Albert (Adam Baldwin) a young man who comes to Washington D.C. looking to start up his own cab company, but finds it to be more difficult than he thought. He gets a job with Harold (Max Gail) who runs a cab company that is sinking fast and could get shut down. Albert motivates the other drivers to work together to help save the company and in return they help save him when he gets kidnapped.

The idea of having a story set in the nation’s capital and not having it centered around politics is probably the only novel thing about this film that is otherwise crude and obnoxious with characters that are embarrassingly moronic. Writer/director Joel Schumacher seems to want to sink to the lowest common denominator with each and every shot and in that regard he succeeds brilliantly.

The film’s grimy look helps accentuate the low class farce especially the incredibly tattered shape of the cabs that Harold’s employees drive around in. I realize this was for comic effect, but it goes overboard. There is absolutely no way anyone, no matter how desperate would want to take a ride in one of those things that look they are ready to fall apart at any second. The viewer can’t have much empathy for someone, even as likable as Harold is, who takes such little pride in his company’s product or dumb enough to expect people would consider his business with the vehicles looking the way they do when they are clearly other better competitors to choose from. In reality the vehicles would’ve been considered an obvious road hazard and impounded by the cops almost immediately anyways.

The film tried to feed off of Mr. T’s then popularity by billing him as the star during its promotion, but his screen time is limited. Baldwin is the actual star even though he is incredibly dull and says or does nothing that is funny or amusing. His character arch where he goes from quiet, passive schmuck to inspiring speaker, as he tries to motivate the other drivers, is too extreme. Jim Carrey had auditioned for the role and wanted the part, but Schumacher turned him because he felt he was too talented to be a part of an ensemble cast, which he probably was, but his presence could’ve helped a lot nonetheless.

Gail comes off best and should’ve been the lead, but since he was over 40 and the producers where aiming for a younger demographic he gets unfairly relegated to supporting status. His character’s relationship with his cold, bitchy wife, played by Anne De Salvo, offers a few chuckles particularly the scene where she locks herself in her house and wards off everyone else from entering by aiming a blow torch out of her bedroom window.

Seeing Bill Maher or Jill Schoelen in their film debuts might pique the interest of some, but the plot itself is too unfocused and goes off on too many different tangents with loosely connected story threads put in simply to pad the running time. The only really funny moment comes when a car crashes through a drive-in movie screen as it shows another movie dealing with a completely different car chase. I also liked the scene with Timothy Carey that comes after the credits are over, but otherwise this is one cab ride that’s not worth its fare.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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