Tag Archives: Michael J. Fox

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Secret of My Success (1987)

secret of my success

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has lofty ambitions.

Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) has just graduated from high school and wants to take a stab at the big city. He has a nice job lined up, but when he gets there he finds that they’ve become victims of a hostile corporate takeover and his position is no longer available. His mother (Elizabeth Franz) tells him about his rich Uncle Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan) who is a CEO of a major firm. Brantley meets with him and manages to get a job in the mailroom, but then comes up with a scheme where he masquerades as a company executive while romancing an attractive boss (Helen Slater) and even his uncle’s wife (Margaret Whitton).

Fox is terrific in the lead and his engaging and likable presence makes up to some degree for the film’s other numerous shortcomings. There are a few funny scenes including the one where Brantley pretends to be an orchestra conductor by using the sound of a couple making love in the next apartment as his ‘music’. The bird’s eye shot of a group of executives jogging around a track that is situated on a roof of a Manhattan skyscraper is fantastic and my favorite moment of the whole film. Brantley’s scheme though is ridiculously over-the-top with no chance of ever successfully occurring in the real world, which makes the story less entertaining since the believability factor gets thrown out to the point that it becomes a completely inane farce by the end.

The humor is also too broad and would’ve worked better had it tried instead to be more subtle. A good example of this is where Brantley gives a limo ride to Howard’s wife Vera. Initially Vera is quite cold and bitchy towards him, but then he throws her a line of how he’d feel like ‘the luckiest man in the world if he awoke each morning with a beautiful woman like her lying next to him’, which is enough to ‘melt’ her cold exterior and have her invite him back to her place where she shamelessly comes onto him and even goes skinny dipping with him in her backyard pool. Yet I’d imagine an attractive, rich woman such as herself would get lines like that thrown at her all the time by other men and how would she know that Brantley, whom she had just met, wasn’t any different than the rest of them and simply looking for a way to get her between the sheets or at her money. There is no way a woman of that age and social pedigree would foolishly let down her guard that quickly and easily especially for a line that is rather unimaginative and corny.

I realize this is supposed to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it goes overboard and too much of a good thing is never good. The so-called ‘American Dream’ is all about persevering and overcoming hardships and obstacles not like it is here where we have some wet-behind-the-ears kid who magically has all the answers while essentially cheating his way to the top in record time without even breaking a sweat and making everyone else who actually works for a living look like complete fools in the process.

A little grit and realism would’ve helped and at least given it some much needed balance, but instead it’s completely lacking, which ultimately makes it shallow, superficial and silly and not worth the time.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video