Tag Archives: Sylvia Miles

She-Devil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jilted wife gets revenge.

Ruth (Roseanne Barr) is an overweight, plain-looking woman who is married to Bob (Ed Begley Jr.) a womanizer who can’t keep his eyes or hands off other beautiful women that he sees. At a party he spots Mary (Meryl Streep) a wealthy author of romance novels and the two quickly begin a torrid affair. Ruth becomes jealous of all of this and plots a very elaborate, multi-step revenge.

This film marked a change of pace for director Susan Seidelman who burst onto the movie scene during the early 80’s with indie tinged/punk themed films like Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan that were subtle on the humor and heavier on the character development. Here it’s the exact opposite as the emphasis is on camp, which is fun for awhile especially the gaudy color schemes that permeate each and every shot, but eventually the broad caricatures become too one-dimensional.

Streep’s  performance as a prissy, stuck-up rich lady is the main part of the entertainment, but the motivations of her character were confusing. I didn’t understand why such a beautiful woman that was loaded with money and could get virtually any man that she wanted would want to settle for such a bland, dopey dweeb like Begley. I also couldn’t understand why she’d stick with him after his kids move into her mansion and turn her life into a living hell. She wasn’t married to him, so why not just throw him and his litter out instead of going through the torment that she does?

I liked that fact that Barr truly fits her part physically. Too many times Hollywood casts good-looking women in roles that require someone homely and feels that by cropping up their hair and putting glasses on them will do the trick, which it doesn’t, so at least here we get someone that more than looks the part especially with the giant mole that gets put on her upper lip.

However, I had issues with her character intentionally setting her house on fire by overloading the circuits and putting aerosol cans into her microwave, which would be easily detected by an inspector once the fire gets put out, so why doesn’t she end up getting arrested for arson? Also, she gets a job at a senior living facility despite not having any experience. Doesn’t anyone check an applicant’s references anymore?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon, but the movie strays from the original story in many ways. In the book Ruth has  sex with various men, which doesn’t get touched on here at all. She also through plastic surgery ends up resembling Mary and ultimately becoming her after the real Mary dies, which the film doesn’t show at all, but should’ve since it would’ve given it some much needed irony. Weldon also insisted that her story was about envy and not revenge, which is a point that Barry Strugatz’s script misses entirely.

Eccentric character actress Sylvia Miles gets perfectly cast as Streep’s obnoxious mother, which is great and dwarf-looking actress Linda Hunt is enjoyable as Barr’s pal, but the film comes off as a one-note joke that doesn’t know when to stop and ultimately becomes annoying.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

The Sentinel (1977)

the sentinel 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Gateway to Hell.

Alison (Cristina Raines) is a fashion model looking for a place of her own. She is dating Michael (Chris Sarandon) and living with him, but has decided she is not ready for marriage and wants her own apartment. She finds an old, but stylish place in the Brooklyn Heights area of New York City that is already furnished and decides to move in, but then strange things begin to occur convincing her that the place may be haunted and when she starts to have physical maladies she is sure that something within the building is trying to possess her and the other residents she sees are really evil demons.

From the very first scene still film reeks of being just another, tired rip-off of The Exorcist. The first hour features no real scares and it is only during the second part that it becomes a full-fledged horror movie giving the film an overall disjointed feel. The much hyped final, which features severely deformed people who are not wearing make-up isn’t that impressive and unable to equal any of today’s horror movies. If anything I wished they had played this part up even more as it is the only time this otherwise generic thing gets even slightly diverting.

Rains, who by her own admission has never ever actually watched the movie, makes for a weak lead. Sure she is beautiful, but the character is dull and ordinary and she gets easily upstaged by co-star Sarandon who clearly shows how to carry a scene and deserves top billing over her for that reason alone. Her characters motivations didn’t make much sense either. Why would such a young woman want to move into a place filled with antique furniture and inhabited by senior citizens that she has nothing in common with? Also, when creepy things start to occur she doesn’t just move out right away like a normal person would, but instead goes back to the place several more times. There is also a moment when she hears strange noises from the upstairs apartment and then gets out of her bed and locks her front door, which seemed crazy because she is living in New York City and should be locking her doors ALL the time to begin with.

The only real interesting thing about this film for me was seeing older stars at the end of their careers in bit parts. Ava Gardner is fun as the leasing agent and Arthur Kennedy is solid as a mysterious priest as well as John Carradine as an older blind priest who lives upstairs and wearing creepy contacts. There is also Sylvia Miles who appears topless and camps it up as a lesbian neighbor with a Russian accent at least I think it was Russian. Christopher Walken can be seen briefly as a detective giving his gum a workout and Beverly D’Angelo plays a nubile lesbian who doesn’t say a single word, but more than makes up for it with her masturbation scene.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 7, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Denise Calls Up (1995)

denise calls up 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends over the phone.

This is a highly original offbeat comedy dealing with a group of young urbanites living in New York who become friends over the phone, but never meet in person. There is Martin (Dan Gunther) who donates some of his sperm to a sperm bank and then gets a call from Denise (Alanna Ubach) who was impregnated with it and now calls to tell him he is the new father. Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) tries to play matchmaker with Jerry (Live Schreiber) and Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) with the help of her former boyfriend Frank (Tim Daly). Linda (Aida Turturro) and Sylvia Miles as Gail’s nutty Aunt round it out.

The best thing about the film is that all the characters are very real and it makes concise observations on the young upwardly mobile Generation X. All of them possess a myriad of contradictions, insecurities, and neuroses just like people you know in real-life. They are technology savvy, but seem to hide behind it like it is a security blanket. The more options that they are given to communicate with more people the more isolated they become not only from the world around them, but from themselves as well.

I especially got a kick out of the Barbara character because I dated women who were just like her. She is interested in meeting Jerry and seems to like him, but every time he tries to move the relationship forward she backs away and then when he pulls away she goes on the offensive again. She reminded me of what a marriage counselor friend once told me for how he had managed to stay married for so long, which was ‘let them always think they are in control and also let them think that they have won every argument.’

The film is filled with many uniquely humorous scenes as well as sharp dialogue that are quite funny. My favorite part is when all the characters get on a conference call in order to offer support and give advice to Denise during her delivery.

Director Hal Salwen does a great job of keeping things visually interesting. I loved the extremes close-ups of some of the characters mouths as they spoke as well as the back drop of Jerry’s cluttered cramped apartment and the variety of settings that Denise is in when she calls Martin. Salwen was considered an up-and-coming director at the time, but has only done two other features since, which were quite original as well, but he really needs to do more.

Although in my mind I still consider the 90’s to be relatively recent I was really amazed to see how much the technology has changed since this was made. The phones are big and bulky and still require the use of a little antenna for reception. There was no such thing as the internet and faxes were used to send grainy black and white pictures. In some ways this makes it kind of fun to see how things have evolved, but unfortunately it hurts the film a bit because it gives this otherwise hip story a sort of dated look and feel.

The film also allows for a great chance to see young talented stars at the start of their careers. Ubach with her very expressive face is a standout and looks almost exactly like Donna Pescow. Miles is predictably hammy especially with the way she delights in describing the morbid graphic detail of the death of one of the characters that dies when she talks on the phone while driving.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real complaint I had with the movie is the ending when Frank decides to hold a New Year’s Eve party and invites everyone over to his place so they can meet, but everyone finds an excuse at the last minute not to show up. When one of the characters does arrive and rings his doorbell he decides not to let them in. To me this proves to be a bit false especially for a film that was so otherwise on-target. I get the idea that their laptops and phones are their cocoon and they can only function halfway normally when they hide behind them, but still everyone has to get out sometimes and deal with people in person. In my opinion a better way to have ended it would have been to have them get together, but have it be awkward and uncomfortable for all of them. Then have it cut to 5 years later and show how all of them have remained close friends, but still just over the phone.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1995

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Hal Salwen

Studio: Dark Matter Productions

Available: VHS