Tag Archives: Lauren Bacall

HealtH (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Altman’s take on politics.

Normally I’m a big proponent of the European and independent filmmaking system that allows the director to have complete creative control over their projects, which in Hollywood doesn’t always occur and many times the studios will meddle with the film until it becomes nothing like what the director had originally envisioned. However, this film is a great example of what can happen on the opposite end when a director and his ego are allowed too much leeway until their movies become self-indulgent exercises that appeals to no one except themselves and a few of their most ardent followers.

During the ‘70s director Robert Altman had achieved such heightened celebrity that 20th Century Fox studio head Alan Ladd Jr. gave him the green light on virtually any project or idea he wished to pursue. Ladd was such a big fan of Altman’s stuff that he didn’t even care if the film made money or not, which they usually didn’t. It was during this period that Altman was able to achieve some of his most bizarre onscreen creations like Brewster McCloud, which was brilliantly quirky, while others like this one petered out before they even began.

Here Altman was clearly borrowing from his own well particularly with the way he captured running conversations going on at the same time between different people that 10 years earlier had come off as being fresh and inventive, but by this time was now derivative and distracting. The film’s parade of eccentric characters is not interesting or relatable and Altman’s stab at political satire is too soft and unfocused with no connection at all to the political scene of today.

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The threadbare plot, which deals with two political candidates played by Glenda Jackson and Lauren Bacall who compete for the presidency of a Florida health food convention, has too much dialogue and not enough action. It manages to be mildly amusing for the first 30 minutes, but then like with a tire suffering from a slow leak it starts to fizzle until it culminates with a dull and pointless conclusion.

It’s almost worth a look just to see Carol Burnett playing a more subdued type of character than she usually does although the part where she becomes ‘shocked’ at the rumor that her favorite candidate had a sex change operation now seems quite dated. Dick Cavett is also engaging playing himself and trying to corral all the nuttiness around him, but it’s Paul Dooley, who is also credited with co-writing the screenplay, that is the real scene stealer playing an independent candidate willing to do anything for attention.

I’m a big fan of Altman’s work, but I found this one to be slow going, uneventful and sloppy. The film’s concept could’ve used a lot more fleshing out as the whole thing plays like it was simply a lark done by a director that was coasting too much on his past successes while not throwing anything new into the mix.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Mr. North (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has static electricity.

Theophilus North (Anthony Edwards) is a young man who arrives in the town of Newport Rhode Island in the 1920’s. He has little money or connections, but soon attracts attention with his ability to give off small electrical shocks to anyone he touches. Rumors abound that he can heal sick people with this power and everyone wants to meet him, but the town Dr. (David Warner) is not as impressed and accuses him of practicing medicine without a license and a court battle ensues.

The North character is quite likable. He is self-assured, but never obnoxious or overbearing and is sensitive to everyone he meets and always seems to have wise advice to give no matter what their ailment or problem. However, he starts to get to be a little ‘too good’ and it borders on being annoying. It would have been nice to have seen him with at least one flaw or transgression simply to prove that he was human. His electrical charge ability isn’t all that impressive and the way people become so in awe of it is overblown and dumb.

He also helps the Mr. Bosworth (Robert Mitchum) character who has a bladder control issue by giving him pills, which is nothing more than peppermint, but assures him it will ‘cure’ his ailment. Eventually it does suggesting that incontinence is a psychological problem, which is ridiculous as it is almost always a medical one and makes this an insult to anyone who suffers from it.

The tone is pleasing and the recreation of the period is satisfactory, but the pacing is off. Nothing at all happens during the first hour and only slightly gains traction during the end. The scene where North gets chased by a mob of people looking for him to cure them is amusing, but seems to shift this otherwise whimsical fable-like tale into an all-out farce.

The supporting cast is fun. Eccentric actress Tammy Grimes is good as Mitchum’s spoiled adult daughter who tries to make things as difficult for North as she can. Harry Dean Stanton puts on an very effective Limey accent and Lauren Bacall is interesting in a rare sympathetic role. David Warner is terrific as always as the heavy and it should have been played up even more.

The film is directed by Danny Huston who is the son of the legendary John Huston who also co-wrote the screenplay and his sister Angelica appears very briefly. Unfortunately the film is too predisposed at being one of those ‘feel-good’ movies and in the process becomes formulaic and one-dimensional. The final result is a slick, but slow moving production that is empty and forgettable.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Danny Huston

Studio: The Samuel Goldwym Company

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video