Tag Archives: Michael Douglas

It’s My Turn (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her relationships don’t last.

Kate’s (Jill Clayburgh) life is in flux. She’s living in Chicago with her boyfriend Homer (Charles Grodin), but feels they are not ‘connecting’ and secretly longing for something more. She travels to New York both for a job interview and to attend her widowed father’s (Steven Hill) wedding. It is there that she meets Ben (Michael Douglas) who is the son of Emma (Beverly Garland) the woman Kate’s father is to marry. Ben is a former professional baseball player with struggles of his own including dealing with an unfaithful wife and a daughter. Kate and Ben hit-it-off during the weekend that she is there and eventually go to bed, but will their new found passion be enough to break them away from their other relationships that they’re still trying to save?

To some extent the film has a fresh feel by portraying the budding romance in less of a mechanical way with dialogue and situations that flow more naturally. The scene where Kate and Ben compete with each other by playing all sorts of different video and table games inside a recreational room is fun as is the old timers baseball game that they attend, which features many real-life baseball legends including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford to name just a few. I’ll also give kudos to Daniel Stern playing a long haired nerdy student who proceeds to disrupt Kate’s algebra class that she is teaching with a lot of redundant questions.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t take enough advantage of its unique storyline. Grown children of a bride and groom to be usually don’t fall in love while attending a wedding event for their parents and the film should’ve focused solely on this scenario including what their parent’s reaction would be to it once they found out. Both Kate and Ben should’ve also been shown calling home to their mates during their time in the Big Apple, which would’ve heightened the drama as we would’ve seen how emotionally conflicted they were to their old relationships despite their new found feelings for each other.

Douglas is a bit miscast as he doesn’t have the necessary upper body muscular build of an athlete. He also looks too young to be a part of the old timer’s game as he was only 32 at the time and many athletes are still playing professionally at that age. The other participants were clearly in their 40’s and 50’s, which means most likely Ben would’ve never have been invited to take part in the event as he hadn’t been away from the game for enough years.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest downfall though is with the ending that proceeds to leave everything in limbo. Not only does Kate break-up with Homer, but her budding relationship with Ben never comes to fruition. Sitting through a movie just to watch the main character end up right back at square-one is both frustrating and pointless. There needed to be more of a conclusion to her romantic fate. If she learned to become a lifelong single and enjoy it then great, or she found someone else that’s great too, but at least offer some finality instead of just leaving all wide open, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve been treated to only half of a movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claudia Weil

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The China Syndrome (1979)

china-syndrome

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He senses the vibration.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television news reporter who along with Richard (Michael Douglas) her cameraman gets a chance to go inside a nuclear power plant and film its operations. While inside they witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown when the coolant to one of the nuclear reactors becomes dangerously low. Richard secretly films the nervous reactions of the men in the control room during the incident and wants to broadcast the footage on the news, but the station managers refuse for fear they might get sued. Later Kimberly comes into contact with Jack (Jack Lemmon) who is a shift supervisor at the plant and he informs her that the welds on the pumps are compromised and could lead to a core meltdown at some point. Richard, Kimberly and Jack then conspire to somehow get this information out to the public before it is too late while also avoiding those who wish to silence them.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is the way it remains completely realistic throughout and never once compromises anything simply for the sake of cheap drama. The behind-the-scenes politics of an on air news show is quite fascinating particularly how it is decided what constitutes ‘news’ and what doesn’t as well as the staff’s pecking-order and how an individual reporter has limited say on what topics they can actually report on.

The inside of the power plant is impressive particularly the scene where Jack goes inside the massive pump room to investigate a leak. The control room looks quite authentic and the film’s final twenty-five minutes take place solely inside of it, which makes for a gripping climax.

The film also has the distinction of having no musical soundtrack. Other than a song by Stephan Bishop which is played at the beginning there is no other music to be heard and quite frankly I didn’t miss it at all. The sound of the power plant’s emergency alarm going off is all that is needed to create tension and having the closing credits scroll to a deadening silence leaves a powerful impact. Apparently a score was composed by Michael Small, but it was rejected and rightly so as I listened to some of it and it had way too much of a disco sound and didn’t fit the theme at all.

The stars are excellent, but I was surprised how Fonda’s part gets increasingly pared down as the movie progresses. Douglas steals it away from her during an angry confrontation with his superiors, but ultimately Lemmon is the real star even though it deceptively doesn’t start out that way. The supporting cast is equally good including Wilford Brimley as a loyal, but quiet employee, Scott Brady as the cantankerous plant manager and Richard Herd as the steely and conniving owner.

As for the merits of the film’s message it’s hard to say. What was once a hot/trendy topic during the ‘70s and ‘80s now seems long forgotten. However, the script still brings up many good points no matter what one’s political leanings are and it’s great to watch a film that can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time without ever going overboard on either end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Running (1979)

running 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life of a runner.

Michael (Michael Douglas) is suffering, at the age of 32, a midlife malaise. He goes from one dead end job to another and his marriage is crumbling. He runs to relieve the stress and finds that he has a major passion for it. When he qualifies for the Olympics he is initially excited, but it’s short lived because his former coach (Lawrence Dane) is on hand to constantly remind him how he has a tendency to ‘choke’ at the last minute and can never win a race when the pressure is on, which begins to wear on him psychologically.

The theme of a middle aged man having a passion for something that isn’t exactly ‘practical’ and resisting the pressures from the rest of world that tries to get him to conform to something that is, is highly relatable. I also liked the side-story dealing with the psychological element, which plays a far stronger factor in sports and amongst athletes than one might think. However, the majority of the screen time is spent with Michael trying to reconcile with his wife Janet (Susan Anspach) making it seem more like a romance and seemingly added in as ‘filler’ because the filmmakers believed that the running theme wouldn’t be enough to  carry it.

I also had a hard time understanding why the kids at high school, or at least his daughter’s friends, which gets played by Lesleh Donaldson in her film debut, would make fun of Michael simply because he was frequently seen around town running. I see joggers and runners every day and saw a lot of them back in the ‘70s too, so I don’t get why that would be a source of mockery and it seems like it was yet another manufactured dramatic element put in to give it more conflict. What’s even worse is when Michael finally qualifies for the Olympics then the kids do a full 180 degree turn and get excited about it and even run with him down the city streets, which gets corny to say the least.

Halfway in you realize this is just another variation of the Rocky formula and normally I would’ve found it annoying, but for some reason I actually got into it. I even liked the scene where he spots a giant cross standing on a hill and decides to run up the incline to reach it much like Rocky climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to some degree it’s invigorating although it would’ve been nice had it shown him standing next to the cross once the climb was achieved. The final segment that takes place during the climactic Olympic race even has a twist to it that I didn’t see coming and to a degree it’s interesting though pushing plausibility. I won’t give it away I’ll just say that he doesn’t win the race, but he doesn’t exactly lose it either.

Douglas did all of his own running and to prepare for the role he would run many miles a day; IMDB states that he ran 50 to 60 miles a day, which I found hard to believe, so we’ll just say it was ‘many’. Anspach is good as the sympathetic wife particularly when the character has a conflict of emotions and breaks out in tears. Eugene Levy appears with a full afro in a rare serious turn as Michael’s attorney. Lawrence Dane is okay as the hardened coach who dispenses a lot of ‘tough love’, but little else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Italian Import Region 0)

Adam at 6 A.M. (1970)

adam at 6am

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He searches for direction.

Adam Gaines (Michael Douglas) is a Professor of Semantics at a local California college and although his future looks bright and stable he can’t help but feel ‘processed’ and bored. When his aunt dies he travels to Missouri to attend her funeral and then on whim decides to stay there for the summer while working a rugged job clearing out a forest in order to install power lines. He also meets and falls in love with the attractive Jeri Jo (Lee Purcell), but then just as things seem to becoming together he suddenly gets the itch to leave and start a new adventure somewhere else.

This is the type of character study that they just don’t seem to make anymore, which is creating characters that are not satisfied with society’s ‘perks’ and still feeling the need to go off and find themselves, which films of that era emphasized as being more important. Filmed on-location in Cameron and Excelsior Springs, Missouri the Midwest gets captured in authentic detail. The population is portrayed as being conservative and limited, but not hick or stupid. The film also has a lot of quiet moments with no dialogue, which helps recreate the heartland’s slower and more neighborly atmosphere.

Purcell, in her film debut, is outstanding as a typical small-town girl with just enough sexiness and flirtation to be alluring, but ultimately unable to break away from her local roots and share Adam’s more expansive worldly views. Louise Latham as her conniving mother is also good as is Joe Don Baker as a field hand who befriends Adam despite having vastly different intellectual backgrounds. It’s also great seeing Meg Foster in film debut popping up early as one of Adam’s girlfriends and sporting not only her incredibly exotic pair of eyes, but her topless body as well.

Adam’s conversation with Grayson Hall’s character during the funeral where she tries to mask her inability to understand the word ‘semantics’ is amusing and I also enjoyed his ‘debate’ with Dana Elcar’s character in regards to Blow Up and the other ‘filthy’ movies of the modern generation. The scene where the laborers go to a bar and pick-up some ‘hot chicks’ is fun as well, but the film’s best moment comes at the end when a routine trip to a convenience store to pick up some ice cream becomes unexpectedly captivating and climaxes with a memorable final shot.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Robert Scheerer

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

The War of the Roses (1989)

war of the roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie couple destroys home.

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner) are a married couple with contrasting personalities who find that they no longer get along and in fact can’t even stand each other. They agree to a divorce and all of the assets except for the house. Both of them want to keep it and Oliver’s attorney Gavin (Danny DeVito) has found a loophole in the law that allows Oliver to remain there even after the separation is final. The problem is that they continue to get on each other’s nerves, which culminates with them locking themselves into the home one dark, harrowing night and using whatever prop available to vent their anger onto the other while inadvertently destroying the house in the process.

Some consider this to be one of the darkest comedies to ever be financed by a major Hollywood studio and when you think about it, it really is amazing. Most major studios shy away from edgy material and water it down until it becomes benign, but this film, which is based on the 1981 Warren Adler novel of the same title, stays quite true to its source material. The humor is on-target while making a great trenchant statement towards capitalism and yuppies in general. DeVito’s direction is visual and imaginative and there are some truly funny moments including the one where Turner destroys Douglas’s British Morgan Roadster with her 4-wheel drive truck.

The reuniting of Douglas and Turner from the Romancing the Stone films was perfecting casting. The two seem to have genuinely distinctive personas and it’s fun to imagine this as simply an extension of their earlier characters of Jack Colton and Joan Wilder and what happens when their rosy romance turns into the realities of marriage. The scene where Douglas’s character saws off the heels of Turner’s shoes is a great connection to their earlier film as his character did the exact same thing there, but it was unfortunate that we never get to see Turner’s reaction to it.

The production is slick, but having DeVito act as the film’s narrator seemed a bit distracting at times and the film might’ve worked better without him although he does have a few verbal gems during the second hour that almost makes up for it. I also didn’t like that the character who he tells this story to never says a single word, which to me seemed unnatural and weird as did his green painted office. Having the two kids of the couple turn out to be pudgy and fat was amusing and helped in a metaphorical way to symbolize the parent’s gluttony for materialism, but then the filmmakers end up ruining their own joke by having the kids later on become thin and attractive for no reason.

Spoiler Alert!!

The knock-down ending inside the home is great and DeVito’s use of Hitchcock overtones is inspired. Seeing the couple trapped on a ceiling chandelier while the camera travels up the wires of the light and into the attic where we see how the added weight bursts the bolts that anchors it is quite clever and even ingenious, but I was disappointed that the two end up crashing to the floor and dying. For one thing I didn’t think it was a big enough fall to have killed both of them. Maybe one, but most likely they both would’ve survived, but with injuries. Either way it would’ve been more interesting to see how they responded to each other after the incident and whether it helped to change them or their love/hate relationship, which to some degree is the film’s most unsatisfying aspect

End of Spoiler Alert!!

Adler wrote a sequel to his novel in 2004 that dealt with a messy divorce of the Rose’s grown son Josh to his wife. That book has now been put into production as a movie entitled The War of the Roses: The Children although no release date or cast has been announced as of yet.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

jewel of the nile

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for a jewel.

In this sequel to Romancing the Stone Jack (Michael Douglas) and Joan (Kathleen Turner) are living the easy life on a yacht, but are bored and looking for some adventure. Joan is given the opportunity to write a book about a visiting sheik named Omar (Spiros Focas) and travels to the Middle East to learn more about him. There she finds that he has sinister intentions and simply using her to be a part of his scheme, which compells her to try and expose him, but first she must escape from his clutches. Jack and Ralph (Danny DeVito) team up to help her along with a prince named Jewel (Avner Eisenberg) and together the four find themselves in one wild predicament after another.

Although this film did not do as well in the box office as its predecessor I still ended up enjoying it and felt in a lot of ways it was better. It has a bigger budget and slickly handled direction. The humor is more consistent and edgy and Jack and Joan share a love/hate relationship that is more entertaining than the Harlequin romance novel that the first one became while the on-location shooting that was done mainly in Morocco has some genuinely breathtaking scenery.

The scene in which the three get into a fighter jet plane and use it to tear up a village while still remaining on the ground is the film’s highlight. Their escape from Omar while climbing on a very steep rocky cliff is exciting and watching DeVito get sat on by a donkey is quite funny.

DeVito’s character is used much more here and his on-screen moments are one of the best things about the movie. Focas as the evil sheik is okay and at the very least is a more dynamic bad guy than the ones that were used in the first film. Holland Taylor as Joan’s snarky agent is the only one whose presence gets wasted and she ends having what amounts to only a few minutes of screen time making me wonder why she even bothered to appear at all.

The biggest drawback, like with the first film, is with the plot itself. The concept is too broad and the set-up rather convoluted making me both confused and ambivalent at the same time. It improves by the middle to be mildly interesting and has enough comedy and action to keep afloat, but the 105 minute runtime is too long for the bubblegum material and stretches the climactic sequence past its peak until it becomes derivative and overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Romancing the Stone (1984)

romancing the stone

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance novelist has adventure.

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist living her love life out through her characters because she fails to have one of her own. One day she receives a mysterious treasure map in the mail and then gets a call stating that her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) has been kidnapped and will only be released once her captors receive the map. Joan then travels down to Columbia where Elaine is being held and bumps into Jack (Michael Douglas) a rugged adventurer who helps her navigate her way through to jungle while falling in love with her in the process.

The most interesting aspect to the film may actually be in the backstory of its screenwriter Diane Thomas who seemed to live both the Hollywood dream and tragedy all at the same time. She was working as a waitress while struggling as a would-be screenwriter during her off hours. Then one day by chance actor Michael Douglas arrived at her café as one of her customers and seeing this as her one chance to break into the business she pitched her idea, which later became this movie, to him and he loved it. She was eventually able to sell it for $250,000 and as an added bonus Douglas brought her a Prosche, which she ended up being killed in during a car accident that occurred only 1 year after this film was released.

As a story though this thing is quite weak and barely passes for a plot at all and really is just more of some high-end adventure concepts strung together. It’s pretty much bubblegum on a fifth graders level and if you stop to think about it all it will quickly become quite empty-headed.

Turner’s performance and her nerdy character is the best thing about it. Unfortunately the character changes too quickly shifting into a more confident and secure woman by the midway point and thus losing its comic edge. Her relationship with Jack is initially interesting as well as they have very divergent personalities and approaches to things, but this too gets lost when the romance between the two becomes full-throttle making the film’s whole second half seem more like a feminist fantasy than an actual movie.

Danny Devito is amusing and needed more screen time. However, the ironic ways he keeps accidently bumping into the main characters starts to become a little too convenient. Holland Taylor is fun as Joan’s snarky agent and I wished her character had gone along with Joan on the adventure. The bad guys though are dull and generic and create no type of fun tension at all.

The story as a whole is just too cutesy and lacks any type of real conflict or excitement. Had Jack and Joan’s sparring been played up more and only turned into a romance at the very end, or even just approaching it in a satirical vein to all the romance novels out there I might have gotten more into it. Female viewers may take to this better as it seems completely geared for them. Unfortunately though it becomes too slick for its own good while failing to have any footing in reality, which ultimately makes it cease to feel like any type of real adventure at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Zemekis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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