Tag Archives: Sally Field

Punchline (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perils of standup.

Lilah (Sally Field) is a New York housewife who enjoys making people laugh and takes a stab at stand-up, but finds the experience challenging and ends up paying someone $500 for jokes, but they don’t go over well. Then she meets Steven (Tom Hanks) a struggling med student who moonlights at the same comedy club that she does. Steven is genuinely funny, but so highly insecure that he ends up self-destructing at the most crucial times. He tries to help Lilah hone in her comedic skills while she gives him confidence.

The film, which is written and directed by David Seltzer, nicely analyzes the very unfunny side of the comedy business particularly its emphasis on how one must toil away at seedy clubs, hecklers, low pay, drunken audiences and a permeating sense of insecurity. Hanks abrasive character is spot-on and a good composite of those still stuck in the trenches and bitter about not yet being discovered. In fact I had wanted the surliness of his character to be played up even more as I had come into contact with struggling comedians during my time when I dabbled in improv and found a lot of them to be basket cases of insecurity and when not onstage were quite unpleasant to be around.

In fact it was because the Hanks character was so unlikable and even more so in some of the earlier versions that the script sat on the studio shelf for so long before it finally got the green light. To help compensate certain overreaching attempts were put in to soften his persona, which only ends up hurting the film’s authenticity. One scene has him inside a hospital doing one of his comedy acts for the patients and as he is leaving he suddenly shows this extreme concern for a sick child that he doesn’t even know and he immediately runs over to him, which seemed forced.

Another bit has him onstage and suffering from an extreme emotional breakdown when he sees his father sitting in the audience. Many people harbor demons from the past and frosty relationships with their parents, but they don’t have such over-the-top reactions especially when in front of an audience, which only helps to make this scene reek of hackneyed melodrama.

His friendship with Field, which I initially found cute as the two are complete opposites, gets ruined when a romantic angle unwisely gets thrown in. These two had very little in common, the Field character was married with three kids, ten years old than him and not particularly stunning, so I didn’t see the chemistry or reason for the sudden attraction on Hanks’ part. Having him gush all over her after only knowing her for a brief time is unrealistic. His personal struggles including the fact that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no money would be occupying his mind so much that a potential relationship wouldn’t even enter into it.

Fortunately the film recovers with a strong ending and Field is excellent, but I wished that we had seen more of a backstory to her character and were able to witness the very first time that she ever ventured out onto the stage. The supporting cast offers great performances as well including John Goodman as Field’s husband who initially isn’t supportive of her stand-up ambitions, but eventually warms up to it. Mark Rydell is solid as the club owner and Mac Robbins has a touching moment as an aging comedian who has seen it all before in a film that offers a revealing look at the comedy business.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Seltzer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Heroes (1977)

heroes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to civilian life.

Jack (Henry Winkler) is a Vietnam Vet. still suffering from nightmares from his war time experiences. He has been in and out of the psyche ward at the veteran’s hospital, but has come up with an idea that he feels will makes both him and his buddies a lot of money. He wants to start a worm farm to be used as fisherman’s bait, but must board a bus to California to do. There he meets Carol (Sally Field) a woman who is engaged to be married and was a war protester during the 60’s. The two don’t get along at first, but eventually a relationship is made as she and his cousin Ken (Harrison Ford) help Jack fulfill his dream.

The movie is well filmed for the most part and even has a nicely shot and exciting foot chase down the busy streets of Manhattan, but the script by James Carabatsos, who was a Vietnam Vet. himself is too loosely structured and only glosses over the many issues that veterans face, which gives the whole thing a very shallow feeling. The only time we ever see any type of flashback’s to the experiences that Jack had while fighting in the war is at the end even though I felt the film would’ve been much stronger had this been shown throughout. The comical segments are misplaced and the story would’ve worked better had it just stuck to the drama.

The film also spends too much time with Jack and Carol’s budding romance, which for the most part comes off as forced. The cutesy ways that the two are shown constantly bumping into each other as their relationship ‘blossoms’ is contrived and having the two already as a boyfriend/girlfriend from the very start would’ve helped focus things more solely on Jack, which it doesn’t do enough of. I also felt that the segment where Carol pays for damages that Jack does at a café and then goes with him and his buddy Ken to an isolated location where she is promised to get paid back for it didn’t seem realistic. I realize this was the ‘70s where people were more relaxed about meeting strangers, but it still seemed dangerous and impractical for a lonely woman to be driving off with two men she had only met and were already acting peculiar to begin with.  A normal person would’ve simply sued him in small claims court to get back the money that they felt was owed.

Winkler does a terrific job in the lead and I felt it was a shame he hadn’t pursued his film career further instead of languishing away in television. Field is good as well as is Ford playing against type as a country hick. Character actor Stuart Margolin has a fun bit as a driver who picks the two up as they are hitchhiking and Val Avery is amusing as the bus driver who becomes increasingly annoyed at Jack’s antics.

The film has its share of pleasing moments, but on the whole it’s shallow and forgettable. There have been so many other better films on the subject that this one seems barley worth even mentioning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeremy Kagan

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

smokey and the bandit 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: On the road again.

Hal Needham is to bad movies like a cow is to milk and yet when compared to his later efforts this really isn’t too bad especially when you factor in that the main goal was to create light entertainment, which is what this amounts to.

The ‘story’ involves truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) bootlegging beer across state lines. Partner Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acts as a decoy by driving in front of the truck in a car with a souped up engine. Jackie Gleason plays the sheriff out to get them.

The set-up could have been played out more and would have been funnier if it had. Sally Field is a nice addition and has a rare turn of being portrayed as a sexy lady. Her initial banter with Reynolds is fun, but having their relationship immediately turn romantic bogs everything down. It would have worked better had things stayed slightly antagonistic and then turned lovey-dovey only at the very end.

Reynolds has always had great charm and it’s played to the hilt here. His laugh alone is infectious, but he seems a little bit too laid back and detached. He goes through all sorts of wild car chases, but neither he nor is car ever receive even a little scratch. The police are also too inept and it would have been nice if they had, even momentarily, apprehended Reynolds just too prove they were a viable threat and given this thing a little tension.

Gleason is fun and his presence gives this film most of its points. Unlike Reynolds he isn’t so detached and he infuses his part with a lot of energy. His ad-libbed scatological lines at the beginning are great as is his coined “sumbitch” phrase. Seeing him stubbornly continue to drive his squad car even as it becomes increasingly smashed up is a good piece visually.

However, the film tends to water-down his character, which was a mistake. The biggest problem is the fact that he is initially portrayed as an intimidating figure. Then it proceeds to show him constantly out ranked and out managed by the other police forces in all the other counties he goes into while chasing Reynolds. Eventually it makes him seem too ineffectual and stupid. It would have worked better had the chase taken place solely in Gleason’s county, therefore having him stay funny, but still maintaining his menacing presence. It also would have been nice to have more direct confrontations between him and Reynolds although the one they do have is pretty good.

Needham was a former stunt man so the actual star of the picture is supposed to be the stunt work, but this area seems pretty derivative and features stuff that has been done hundreds of times before. The chases should’ve been extended and shot from more exciting angles. The climatic chase sequence is weak and can’t even hold a pinkie to the one used in The Blues Brothers.

Overall though it has enough good banter and star chemistry to be amiable.

smokey and the bandit 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

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

Soapdish (1991)

soapdish

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comedy style soap opera.

Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarty) is an ambitious actress playing a supporting role on a popular daytime soap opera. She wants to move up the casting ladder, but realizes that the show’s popular long-time leading Lady Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) must go first. She fakes having an interest in David Seaton Barnes (Robert Downey Jr.) who is the show’s producer as a way to manipulate him to get Celeste off the show or do things to hurt her popularity and yet everything that they try ends up backfiring.

Although soap operas have been parodied hundreds of times before this one is genuinely funny all the way through. It hits all the right targets and has some sharp dialogue. The characters manage to successfully toe the uncomfortable line between being caricatures and real people. Celeste in particular despite being insecure and straddled with all the afflictions of a big time star is still quite likable.

The scene where the Kevin Kline character performs in the play ‘Death of a Salesman’ at a rundown dinner theater and cleans up a customer’s spilled drink while remaining in the Willy Loman character is hilarious. The ending sequence where Kline’s character tries reading the teleprompter without the benefit of his glasses and the performance of a brain transplant operation inside a restaurant is also quite funny.

Field overall is quite good in the lead and it is nice seeing her back to doing comedy as she has a certain frantic affinity for it. The only thing that annoyed me about her performance was her crying which went on too long and sounded phony while never once shedding any tear. I also thought it was strange that the character complains about having to wear a turban on her head during a scene in the show and then later on she is seen wearing one in real life. There is also another part where the character faints and falls backwards. This is something that is quite prevalent in a lot of movies and TV-shows and I don’t know why or what started it, but in reality when people faint they fall forward not backwards.

Whoopi Goldberg is effective as the soap’s head writer. The role suites her talents best because it uses her more as a common sense anchor to the zaniness around her. Elisabeth Shue is engaging as a young woman who tries anything to break into the business. Her young attractive and innocent looking face is perfect for the part and she ends up holding her own quite well with the veteran cast.

Gary Marshall again makes the most of his small bit part and this guy is so good in cameo roles that I feel he should spend more time in front of the camera instead of behind it. Attractive TV reporter Leeza Gibbons, Teri Hatcher, Carrie Fisher, and Ben Stein can also be spotted in bit roles.

Out of the entire cast the only one that I didn’t care for was Moriarty who seemed too one-dimensional and although she was supposedly playing a young woman in her twenties she came off looking a lot older.

I only have a few complaints with this one and the biggest one being the fact that it has the show broadcast live even though soap operas ceased doing that in the early 60’s and had been shown on tape for the past four decades and yet the live broadcast is very crucial to the plot, which creates a loophole. Soap operas have also decreased significantly in popularity since the release of this film, which makes the movie appear dated. I also didn’t care of the musical score, which resembled dance music at a Latin bar and didn’t fit the theme at all. Even with these shortcomings the film is still funny enough to overcome them and is quality viewing for those looking for a good laugh.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 31, 1991

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Michael Hoffman

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Murphy’s Romance (1985)

murphys romance 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love blossoms in desert.

Emma (Sally Field) is a divorced mother with teenage son Jake (Corey Haim) who moves to a small Arizona town and try to singlehandedly start up a horse ranch. Once there she meets Murphy (James Garner) an older gentleman who she starts to have feelings for only to have her ex-husband Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin) show up and try to rekindle their relationship.

This is a very leisurely paced romantic movie that doesn’t add anything new to the genre, but does end up going down like a cold drink on a hot afternoon. The dialogue is snappy and the wrap-up quite pleasing. It keeps things on a realistic level by showing Emma struggling with a lot of chores and financial constraints and thus making it perfectly relatable to those who have moved and tried to start over. It is also nice to see Haim when he was still a cute kid and before he became the 80’s poster boy for trouble child stars. Unlike other romantic comedies there is no one moment that is particularly funny or engaging however the scene involving Bobby Jack and Murphy fighting over Emma during a country dance party is amusing.

On the negative side it tends to be too formulaic. It only gets interesting when the ex-husband arrives, but then the film plays this scenario out in much too obvious a fashion. It would have been better had the ex-husband not been such a prototypical jerk and there had been more conflict and intrigue as to who she would end up choosing.

There is also a scene where Bobby Jack tackles Emma into a mound of hay in an effort to rekindle some of their old passion, but Emma ends up becoming allergic to the hay. Although this was clearly done for obvious laughs it doesn’t seem too believable. This is a woman, who by her own admission, has been working with hay and horses since she was child so this affliction would have become apparent long before then or at least during the several hours that it is shown where they are shoveling it into the stalls. It is possible that she was only faking this reaction in order to get away from him, but if that were the case then it should have been made more clear to the viewer

This is tailor made for the romantic diehards and they should enjoy it even though others may find it only passable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released:  December 25, 1985

Runtime:  1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, D VD, Amazon Instant Video

Absence of Malice (1981)

abscence of malice 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not fit to print.

Megan Carter (Sally Field) is a go-getter newspaper reporter who implicates innocent liquor wholesaler Mike Gallagher (Paul Newman) simply to get a big story. However, Mike proves to be quite clever and resourceful and spins a subtle, but effective line of revenge and eventually is able to expose the irresponsibility of the media.

The drama here is strong. The issues are relevant and the story is well structured. The points are hit home in a no-nonsense way while revealing how newspaper operations work and how easily they can abuse their power to the extent that it is almost horrifying.

Yet the film seems to defeat its own purpose by wrapping everything up in a much too tidy way. It is almost like saying yes we have a very serious and potentially dangerous issue here, but it can be easily contained and resolved so don’t worry about it.  Also, Mike is just a little too resourceful and slick and it becomes almost like wish-fulfillment at seeing the way he sticks it to the corrupt corporate fat-cats. An ordinary person would be destroyed by an untrue story printed about them and unable to find the money or resources to fight back and the film would have been much more hard-hitting had it taken this route instead.

I also wasn’t too crazy about the musical score. Not that the music sounded bad, but it was too upbeat while a downbeat score would have fit the mood better.

Newman has always been one of my favorite actors, but I felt he wasn’t a perfect fit here. His performance is too low-key and he doesn’t display enough anger or rage that one would expect.

Field is also miscast. Her features are too child-like and a taller woman with a few lines on her worn face would have worked better as it would have helped create the jaded persona of a character who had been is the business long enough to know what she was doing was wrong, but didn’t care.

Having Mike form a sexual relationship with Megan seemed particularly ridiculous on several levels. For one thing the graying Newman looked so much older than Field that it almost appeared like child molestation. Also, the chances of someone forming a relationship with a reporter who has just libeled him seem slim to none.

It’s the supporting cast that comes off better. John Harkins is completely on-target as the jaded corporate lawyer who toys the ethical line like it is some sort of game. Bob Balaban is memorable as a hot-shot young executive with a very interesting way of playing with rubber bands and chewing gum. Melinda Dillon is also outstanding in one of her best roles as a very emotionally fragile woman.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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