Tag Archives: Liza Minnelli

Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich guy goes broke.

Arthur (Dudley Moore), still a boozing and irresponsible cad with a lot of money, finds out that Linda (Liza Minnelli), his wife of 6 years, wants to have a baby, but she can’t have one naturally, so they’re forced to consider adoption. They have a good initial meeting with the representative (Kathy Bates) at the adoption agency only to find that Burt (Stephen Elliot), still upset at the way Arthur jilted his daughter Susan (Cynthia Sikes) at the altar 6 years earlier, has taken control of Arthur’s inheritance through some wheeling-and-dealing and turned him into a poor man. Now for the first time in his life Arthur must find a job despite having no experience in the working world at all.

This sequel takes the idea of what I thought should’ve happened in the first film, but unfortunately botches it badly by creating a concept with too many loopholes. Exactly how does a man worth 750 million lose it all just like that? Wouldn’t he have some of that money stored up in the bank or in stocks? What about the money he would most certainly have tied up in assets and equity like the 6 homes that he mentions owning? Couldn’t he just sell those and everything he owns inside of them and use that money to remain solvent instead of going from super rich to super poor overnight?

Things get really overblown when Burt buys up every apartment building Arthur moves into and every company Arthur works for, so that no matter where he goes he’ll be assured of always getting fired or evicted. Yet Arthur was already doing poorly enough at his hardware store job, which would’ve gotten him eventually fired anyways without having to have Burt intervene. It’s also never made clear how Burt is able to find out which new company or apartment building Arthur is moving into or working for. Was there some person/spy following Arthur around and reporting back to Burt everything he was doing and if so this should’ve been shown, but never is.

There is another scene where the lady from the adoption agency arrives at Arthur’s and Linda’s new apartment in order to check-out their living conditions. Yet the couple had just agreed to rent the apartment five minutes earlier, so how would the adoption agency know that the couple was living there since they hadn’t yet informed anyone of their new address?

Jill Eickenberry, who had played Susan in the first film, was unable to reprise her role due to working in the TV-show ‘L.A. Law’, so director Bud Yorkin had her replaced with his wife Cynthia Sikes. Sikes though plays the part much differently. In the first film Susan came off as a naïve, wide-eyed innocent, but here she is deliberate and mean. The contrasting personalities of the character don’t work and the film would’ve been better had the character just been killed off maybe in a suicide because she was so distraught at losing Arthur, which would’ve then made Burt’s nasty scheme at trying to get back at him make more sense.

The cast though does a decent job and there are some scattered laughs, but overall it’s flat and draggy. Chris de Burg’s opening song pales in comparison to the chart topping, award winning hit that Christopher Cross did in the first film, which only helps to set the lifeless tone for the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Arthur (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich drunk grows up.

Arthur (Dudley Moore) is an alcoholic man-child and heir to a vast family fortune, but only if he agrees to marry Susan (Jill Eikenberry), which his rich father (Thomas Barbour) pressures him to do.  Arthur does not love Susan and instead falls for commoner Linda (Liza Minnelli) who works as a waitress and shares a lifestyle that is completely different from his. Hobson (John Gielgud) is Arthur’s lifelong butler who is suffering from an undisclosed illness and expects not to be around much longer, so he thinks Arthur should get married, so he’ll have a wife to look after him once Hobson is gone.

This film was a box office success, but I failed to see what was so great about it when I first watched it decades ago and remain mystified after now seeing it again many years later. The film’s garbled message remains one of the biggest problems particularly the broad caricatures of all the rich people in Arthur’s life who seem stuck in some bygone era. The movie spends half the time mocking them, but then conveys the idea that true happiness can only come from becoming just like them. The benefits of being in the working class are never touched on and instead everything gets portrayed in a shallow, simplistic manner that lacks any true bearing in reality.

I was also surprised as to why Liza Minnelli’s character had to steal a tie at a men’s clothing store, which is where she first meets Arthur, as she really didn’t seem all that bad off. Sure she wasn’t living in the ritziest part of town, but she was far from being homeless. Her apartment that she shared with her father, played by Barney Martin, was roomy and adequately furnished. She also had a job and not in any way desperate and yet the movie spins it like she is, which shows that the filmmakers didn’t have any idea of what being truly poor is really like.

The dumb arranged marriage plotline has no connection to modern society and today mostly only occurs in south Asia, so why enter in an element in a supposedly ‘realistic’ comedy that doesn’t happen to regular people? It is also confusing exactly why Arthur’s father wants him to marry Susan. Supposedly it is so she’ll get him to ‘grow up’ or ‘make something of him’, which is hard to understand since she comes off as a wide-eyed dippy that is just as immature as he is if not worse.

A more interesting plot would’ve had Arthur lose his fortune and forced him to get a real job and deal with harsh realities that he had never had to face before. This would allow for a stronger character arch as well as some incisive social commentary. He also could’ve meet Linda while working a remedial job instead of the awkward forced way that he meets her here.

Gielgud’s quips are the best thing about the movie, but everything else is pretty limp. I have never seen the 2008 reboot starring Russell Brand, but after reading that film’s plot synopsis I think it’s an improvement as they seemed to have filled in the logic loopholes as to why Arthur was forced into an arranged marriage, which alone makes that superior to this one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Gordon

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)

sterile cuckoo 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This relationship is doomed.

Mary Ann Adams (Liza Minnelli), who goes by the nickname of Pookie, is a complete social misfit who can’t fit-in anywhere.  As she waits at a bus stop to go off to college she meets Jerry (Wendell Burton) a shy and reserved young man who just happens to be attending the same school as she. Pookie immediately starts up a conversation with him and takes full advantage of his quiet nature to force herself into his life. The two soon begin to date, but Pookie’s inability to get along with others and her extreme insecurities make it almost impossible for the fledgling relationship to get off the ground.

This film marks the directorial debut of Alan J. Pakula and the result is nothing short of excellent. This is the type of movie that they don’t seem to make anymore where great sensitivity is taken to focus on a broken individual, but without ever making fun or demeaning them in anyway. The film’s pace is slow, but never boring and the emphasis is almost entirely on the nuances of its two leads. It also features one of the best and most memorable movie soundtracks to come out of the ‘60s.

The film is based on the novel of the same name that came out in 1965 and was written by John Nichols. It was even shot at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York where Nichols graduated in 1962. For the most part the script, by the prolific Alvin Sargent, stays quite faithful to the book with the only real big difference being that the story here encompasses only one year while in the book it was three. To me this revision was an improvement because the relationship was clearly doomed from the beginning and I couldn’t imagine it somehow lasting for three years let alone one to begin with.

Minnelli’s performance is Oscar worthy and the scene where she has a long talk on the phone with Jerry and the camera stays solely focused on her face is one the strongest moments in the movie and could only have been pulled off by a brilliant actress who somehow makes the viewer empathetic to this otherwise annoying character.

Burton, in his film debut, is equally strong and watching the two characters with such contrasting styles dealing with each other is the main catalyst that propels the story. Tim McIntire, as Jerry’s college roommate, is quite good as well playing the perfect composite of a partying college kid while also offering one of the film’s few moments of levity.

Some viewers have complained that the film lacks any wintertime shots even though the story takes place in Upstate New York where snow is inevitable and the story is supposedly spread over one full school year, but to me this is nitpicky. Clearly the film’s budget didn’t allow for shooting over an entire year and it wasn’t necessary anyways. The film captures the forestry region in such a vivid way that it almost becomes like a third character. It also in my mind made it more believable because I never felt this wacky, makeshift romance could last a full year and at best might’ve only existed for the fall semester before inevitably petering apart.

For me the only real criticism is the fact that we learn very little of about Pookie’s personal life. She mentions her relationship with her father quite a lot and we see him for a brief period at the beginning, but then that’s it even though it would’ve helped the viewer understand the character better had a backstory, or scenes involving her family life been shown.

The film is also incredibly sad to the point that it will make just about any viewer depressed after seeing it. On the technical end it’s flawless, but Pookie’s feelings of loneliness and the character’s extreme isolation eventually reaches out and sucks the viewer into it without any let up and it remains with them long after it’s over.

sterile cuckoo 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated M

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Paramount Pictures

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

Lucky Lady (1975)

lucky lady

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three’s not a crowd.

Walker (Burt Reynolds) and Claire (Liza Minnelli) make money by helping people illegally cross the Mexican border into the states, but when their third partner in the business dies and they almost get arrested they decide to get into an easier line of work. With the help of Kibby (Gene Hackman) they become rum-runners who transport liquor by boat under the cover of night during the prohibition era. As the three start to have some success and get to know each other they also form a love triangle and spend their evenings involved in a ménage-a-trois.

If you’re in the mood for non-think, grandiose style entertainment made in the same vein of classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era then you should find this more than satisfying. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with characters that are distinct and fun and full of snappy dialogue. The majority of the story takes place on water, but manages to remain quite exciting and ironically only becomes waterlogged when it goes on land. The lavish sets are splendid and the film could be enjoyed by simply taking in those alone.

The three leads are in top form and play against type. Minnelli, who actually looks sexy here in a flapper styled hairdo, is quite amusing with her acerbic one-liners. Reynolds is great as the klutzy member of the trio and Hackman is solid as always playing someone who seems meek at first, but eventually takes over things with his patented strong personality. Unfortunately John Hillerman, best known for playing Higgins in the ‘Magnum P.I.’ TV-series, is the only weak link of the cast playing a bad guy that never conveys enough menace to be truly threatening.

A young Robby Benson who was 18 at the time, but looks more like 14 is quite good in support. I was never all that impressed with the former teen heart throb, but here he is effective playing a shy kid who says little, but when he does say something it’s a gem. Geoffrey Lewis is also quite funny as an inept Captain of the Coast Guard. Mills Watson, who is best known for playing Deputy Perkins on the ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-series can be spotted in a couple of scenes. IMDb does not have him listed here, but I recognized him and his name does come up on the closing credits as a character named Giff.

For lightweight entertainment the film does have quite a few action sequences that are surprisingly well choreographed and even quite bloody, but the climatic sequence becomes too cartoonish. I was also disappointed that the one unique element of the story, which is the three getting into a relationship, is only mildly touched upon and basically forgotten after the first hour. The film could’ve gone a lot farther with that and even made it the centerpiece of the plot, which would’ve helped make it more character driven and groundbreaking.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

 

Cabaret (1972)

cabaret 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life in pre-war Germany.

Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is a singer at a seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub in pre-war Germany. She meets and falls in love with Brian (Michael York) who is a bi-sexual. The two begin a relationship only to have Max (Helmut Griem) enter who seduces them both and gets Sally pregnant.

This is a very stylish look at the pre-war years of Germany when it was still under the rule of the Weimer Republic and not yet succumbed to Nazi authority. The dramatic storylines are spliced in-between musical numbers done at the club, which are visually fun and have just the right amount of sensuality and theatrics. In many ways this looks like an obvious inspiration to the later hit Chicago and netted Bob Fosse the Academy Award for best director.

Joel Grey is amazing as the club’s emcee. He has no speaking lines and yet gives a one-of-a-kind performance that also got him the Academy Award for best supporting actor. His distinguished presence gives the film its unique flavor and personality and has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Unfortunately the stories between the songs seem awfully trite. There is nothing really profound or interesting about them and they tend to bog the whole thing down while making Germans look uniformly dopey.

cabaret 2

Minnelli won the Academy Award for best actress, but it is hard to see why. Yes she certainly does command the stage when she is singing and dancing, but seems misplaced otherwise. For the most part she seemed to be continuing the insecure, kooky character that she already created in The Sterile Cuckoo without adding any new spin to it. One really can’t sympathize with her nor really wants to and I felt the character became overdone and pushed the viewer’s patience.

Pairing her with refined English teacher York helps…a little yet their romance seemed hard to believe. Having this educated, good looking guy become jealous every time she talks to another man seemed unnatural given the circumstances.

Technically it is sound with a good eye for detail, but falters dramatically and isn’t strong enough to be anything more than a slight diversion. The only interesting scene to me was when a young clean-cut teen wearing a Nazi uniform gets up and sings an impassioned pro-German song as it perfectly illustrated visually all the rampant nationalism and brain washing that went on and is both creepy and sad at the same time.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 13, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director; Bob Fosse

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

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

Charlie Bubbles (1968)

charlie bubbles 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s detached from life.

Charlie Bubbles (Albert Finney) is a successful English writer who finds that he is no longer connected to the world around him. He sits in his office and views life from the television monitors around him. He has an affair with his secretary Eliza (Liza Minnelli in her film debut), but it means little. He travels to the countryside to visit his estranged wife Lottie (Billie Whitelaw) and his son Jack (Timothy Garland), but finds the effects of his detachment have worn off on them. No matter how hard he tries he cannot get his son to emotionally connect with him, which he finds troubling.

This is to date Finney’s only cinematic foray behind the camera and on a visual level it proves interesting. Most actors who turn to directing lack the needed cinematic eye, but Finney is just the opposite. The scene, which gets protracted, showing all the action inside Charlie’s sprawling home from within the television monitors that he has set-up is really cool. It’s like in the film Network where you see several monitors on top of each other and two per row. Each monitor shows a different room in the mansion as well as the garage. As the action moves from each room it also moves to a different monitor, which becomes fascinating to follow. The scene inside a hotel hallway with milk bottles and newspapers lined up at each door has an interesting design to it and the part where Charlie and Eliza come upon a lonely marching band in a desolate rundown part of the city has a unique visceral appeal. The massive food fight between Finney and actor Colin Blakely near the beginning of the film deserves a few points as well.

The downside to the direction is that the film is slow and almost as aloof as the character. The scenes become too extended and the dialogue has little to say. The segment inside a roadside diner has the sound of cars passing by it during the character’s conversation, which becomes distracting and unnecessary.

The Charlie character seems almost like he is sleepwalking and barely responds to anything. I realize this is to show his detachment, but it goes overboard. It’s like viewing a corpse who has no screen presence or energy and absolutely no connection with the viewer nor any ability to wrap them in to his quandary.

Minnelli makes for an odd choice to represent the film’s sexual tensions. She was never considered attractive and her constant and incessant chattering while the two ride in a car would be enough to make most men want to throw her out let alone make love to her. The sex scene itself is about as mechanical as you can get and lacks eroticism. It also becomes like a throwaway scene that doesn’t end up having that much to do with the story as a whole.

The viewer needs more of a background to this character in order to make him real and interesting. Simply showing someone who is detached doesn’t mean much unless we know why and if he was at any time any way else. The ponderous ending leaves a lot to be desired and watching this movie is similar to viewing a program on C-Span as it comes-off like a nonevent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Albert Finney

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.