Tag Archives: Michael J. Fox

Teen Wolf (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Werewolves can be cool.

Scott (Michael J. Fox) is a frustrated teen who plays for a losing high school basketball team and longs for a hot girl (Lorie Griffin) that barely knows he even exists. He is tired of being ‘average’ and wishes he could somehow stand-out. Then one day he finds out that he can turn into werewolf, which was something that he inherited from his father (Paul Hampton). Now suddenly Scott finds himself standing out from the crowd and receiving lots of attention, but sometimes getting what you want isn’t always the answer.

Fox has noted in subsequent interviews that he thinks very little of this movie and seems embarrassed by it. He even refused to appear in its sequel, but the truth is he is the one reason that keeps it watchable and I consider it his most engaging performance and the make-up effects aren’t bad either.

The problems that I had are more with the character that he plays as he comes off at times as being quite selfish and shallow. He hangs out with an attractive girl named Boof (Susan Ursitti)(how a young lady could ever acquire such a strange and horrible name like that is a mystery and should’ve been elaborated on, but that’s a whole other issue.) Anyways she is clearly in to him and the two get along well, but instead he chases after Pamela who doesn’t like him. Having him talk about his longings for Pamela in front of Boof, which upsets her and Scott doesn’t notice this even though anyone else would, makes Scott seem aloof and self-centered let alone stupid for going after someone he has no chance of winning over. In films if the viewer doesn’t like the protagonist then it is hard to get into the rest of the movie and if it weren’t for Fox’s great performance this guy would be a real dud.

He also gets involved in a reckless activity of driving a van down a street while his friend (Jerry Levine) stands on top of it and pretends to be surfing, which is insane because all it would take is one sudden stop and that friend flies off the vehicle and gets a broken neck. Protagonists in films aimed at impressionable audiences like this should not be doing stunts that young viewers might go home and try to emulate. Fortunately as far as I know none of them did, but it’s still not a good precedent to set.

I was also confused about what the rules were in regards to the whole werewolf thing. I thought the folklore was that people could only turn into werewolves during a full moon and not just whenever they wanted to like here. Why does it take so long, like not until Scott turns 17, before he finds out that he has inherited this condition? Also, it seems hard to believe that his father would be able to hide his werewolf ability from his family for so long. You’d think that by living with his father all of his life that Scott might’ve had a hint of his Dad’s werewolf trait long before the old man finally decided to come out with it.

On top of all that, where exactly does all this hair go when Scott transforms back into a human. The film shows a strand here and there, but there would be more like mounds and mounds of it. How does Scott go back and forth from a human to a werewolf? Does he just say to himself ‘I want to be a werewolf’ and then he is and what does he say or do to turn back into a regular teen?

Besides those issues there is also the fact that Scott becomes very open to everyone about his werewolf side, so why do only people in his high school know about it? If somebody divulges such an amazing ability they would be on the cover of every magazine and newspaper. Scientists would want to examine him and talk shows would be clamoring for interviews, so why doesn’t that happen?

Despite all of this I was actually liking the movie most of the way as it has a nice engaging sense of humor. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough with the idea. Eventually it gets compressed into the formula of being just another feel-good, teen-life-lesson flick, which is a dispiriting sell-out that ruins its offbeat potential and tarnishes an otherwise interesting concept.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Daniel

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

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

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

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