Tag Archives: Theresa Russell

Insignificance (1985)

insignificance2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Celebrities in a room.

Inside a New York hotel room is a professor (Michael Emil) working on some calculations until he gets interrupted by The Senator (Tony Curtis) who tries to get him to appear before the committee trying to expose communists inside the U.S., which will be held the next day. The professor refuses and sends the Senator away, though the Senator says he’ll be back. Outside the hotel is a film shoot where the Actress (Theresa Russell) is performing a scene where a gush of wind blows up the white blouse she is wearing while standing over a street grate. After the shoot she has her chauffeur (Patrick Kilpatrick) take her to a toy store where she picks up some gadgets, which she takes to the hotel room for a visit she has with the professor where they discuss the theory of relativity. Later her husband the baseball player (Gary Busey) shows up and the two argue while the professor leaves. The next morning the senator returns to find the actress alone in bed, who he mistakenly thinks is a prostitute made-up to resemble Marilyn Monroe. When he threatens to seize the professor’s papers she agrees to have sex with him as a bribe, but the senator has a violent outburst just as the professor and the baseball player return to the room.

The film is based on the stageplay of the same name written by Terry Johnson that was performed onstage at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1982. The inspiration for the play came when Johnson found out that amongst Marilyn Monroe’s belongings that were retrieved after her death was a signed autograph picture of Albert Einstein and the idea of what the meeting between these two would’ve been like intrigued him enough to write a whole play around it. Director Nicholas Roeg saw the play and thought it would make for a great movie, but he wanted to expand it by entering in the character of Joe DiMaggio, who was Monroe’s husband at the time as well the senator, which represented Joe McCarthy.

Roeg’s superior use of visuals and non-linear, dream-like narrative is what keeps it interesting. I also liked the way Roeg had flashback scenes, which were not a part of the play, but added into the screenplay at Roeg’s request, showing traumatic moments in each character’s childhood that had an emotional impact on them and ended up defining who they ultimately became. These moments, as brief as they are, end up leaving the most lasting impression.

The acting is quite good particularly from Curtis whose career had waned considerably by this point, but his perpetual nervousness and the sweat that glistens off of his face is memorable. Busey is solid as a man who initially comes-off as a bully, but ultimately reveals a tender side. The lesser known Emil, who is the older brother of director Henry Jaglom and mostly only appeared in movies that were directed by him, completely disappears in his part until you can only see the Albert Einstein characterization and not the acting.

The only performance I had a problem with was Russell’s who goes way over-the-top with her put-upon impression of Monroe and comes-off like a campy caricature. Her breathless delivery sounds like she’s trying to hold in her breathe as she speaks and is quite annoying. Johnson had wanted Judy Davis, who had played the role in the stage version, to reprise the part for the movie, but Roeg, who was married to Russell at the time, insisted she be cast despite the fact that Russell really didn’t want to do it. While I never saw the stage play and have no idea if Davis would’ve been good I still feel anyone could’ve been better, or for that matter couldn’t have been any worse.

While the film does have its share of captivating elements it does fail to make the characters three-dimensional as they play too much into the personas that we already have of them while virtually revealing no surprises. It’s also a shame that the four are never in the room at the same time. There is one moment where the senator, the baseball player, and the professor meet in the front of the room, while the actress remains in the back behind the closed sliding glass doors, but this doesn’t count because she never interacts with the others during this segment, which is something that I had wanted to see. Overall though as an experimental, visual time capsule, it still works and the unexpected, provocative montage that occurs at the end makes it worthwhile.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: Island Alive

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

Bad Timing (1980)

bad-timing-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs to control.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychiatrist teaching at a Vienna University who falls for a free-spirited young lady named Milena (Theresa Russell). Despite still being married to the much older Stefan (Denholm Elliot) she decides to leave him and move in with Alex, but their relationship soon becomes rocky. Alex gets jealous of her flirtatious ways and wants to control her, but she resists. Their constant fighting sends her into a depression and she begins to abuse both drugs and alcohol. One night Alex finds Milena’s comatose body inside her apartment apparently the victim of an overdose. She gets rushed to the hospital, but the police detective on the case (Harvey Keitel) isn’t so sure that Alex is being completely honest with him about how the events unfolded and through a fragmented narrative the viewer slowly becomes aware of Alex’s very dark and possessive side.

This movie, which was labeled by its distributor as being “a sick film made by sick people for sick people”, still remains as fresh and provocative as when it was first released. The possessive boyfriend theme was at the time a new concept and thus thankfully avoids the annoying clichés we now see in today’s movies while still coming off as groundbreaking and edgy instead. Yale Udoff’s script nicely weaves a complex texture between examining the dark psychological undercurrents of its characters to also creating an intricate and original mystery that keeps you on edge until its final and still quite shocking ending.

Director Nicolas Roeg crafts a mesmerizing visual design with each shot and edit and I especially liked the way he intercuts between showing Milena unconscious inside the emergency room to scenes of her and Alex making love. Their cluttered apartment is interesting as well and tends to be messier when the two are at odds and more organized when they’re apart. Roeg employs a wide range of music styles instead of just choosing one and playing it over and over like in most other movies.

The film’s main defect is Garfunkel’s presence whose acting talent is limited. His character is interesting particularly with the way he majored in psychiatry and yet seemed to be suffering from many of the same problems that he was studying making it seem almost like people who get into that line of work do it not so much to help others, but instead as a sort-of self-analyzation for themselves. However, his performance is wooden and his only memorable bit is when he and Milena hitch-hike a ride with some farmers and he gets stuck in the back of their pick-up with the goats while she rides up front with the two guys and he jealously looks in on them from the rear window.

Russell, who went on to marry director Roeg after this film was completed, goes in the exact opposite direction by overplaying her character until it becomes almost campy. Why this beautiful woman, who gets lots of attention from just about every guy she meets, would fall for such a dull dope like Alex makes no sense nor does her need to constantly try and win him back every time he mistreats her.

The best performances come from the supporting players. Keitel nails it as the cunning detective and Elliot has a great moment where he continues to casually eat his lunch while Alex harangues him on the other end of the telephone receiver.

Despite the miscasting of its two leads and the fact that the movie saw only a limited engagement when it was first released the film has still managed to gain a strong cult following. Much of this can be credited to Roeg’s artsy direction as well as the dark ending that still packs-a-punch.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

Black Widow (1987)

black widow

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She kills her husbands.

A federal agent named Alexandra (Debra Winger) tracks an elusive woman named Catherine (Theresa Russell) who marries rich men and then kills them off to inherit their fortune. Catherine is constantly changing her identity making it tough for her to track and Alexandra’s superiors do not share her same passion for the case nor believe there’s even a case at all. Finally while in Hawaii Alexandra manages to make contact with the woman and the two become fast friends only to have Alexandra become the next target when Catherine starts to suspect that she’s been double-crossed.

The film’s biggest asset is Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography, which is uniformly gorgeous and breathtaking. I loved the outdoor shots of Hawaii most notably the open terrain and the volcano as well as the scuba diving underwater sequence. The shots of the Seattle skyline and woodsy cabin are equally good making this on a visual level a top notch production. Winger is great in the lead even if her character lets down her guard a few too many times. I also enjoyed James Hong a perennial character actor who gets his most memorable role as a sleazy private investigator. It’s also fun to go back to what life was like before the internet, cellphones and debit cards and where ‘disappearing’ was so much easier.

Ronald Bass’s script though is shallow and formulaic. Just as it should be getting exciting it instead becomes boring and the slick twist at the end cannot overcome all of its loopholes. I found it surprising that Alexandra would be the only person in the world that would be on to this woman. Wouldn’t the relatives of the deceased start to suspect her as well? One segment has Catherine agreeing to give some relatives a large sum of money as a ‘gift’ to get them off her back, but what about the relatives of the first two husbands? The police work is also extremely sloppy. One of the husbands was allergic to penicillin, which is what Catherine uses to kill him, but they never think to test for it or investigate to see if Catherine had recently acquired a prescription for it, which she had. I also couldn’t figure out why Catherine would want to robotically go right back out and marry another rich man just after killing another. Why not ‘enjoy the fruits of her labor’ as it was and live it up with the money she already acquired from the last one before going through all the stress and planning of nabbing the next?

In fact the most frustrating thing about the film is the Catherine character as we never learn what motivates her or anything about her background. Alexandra is asked at one point what she thinks motivates this woman and she responds that it’s ‘not important’, but actually it is because it helps create a three-dimensional character instead of this evil prototype that gets increasingly more boring as the film progresses.

There is also a twist in the film where Catherine has one of her husband’s sign over his fortune to charity in his will, which helps him believe that she is not after him for his money, but then after he is killed it is learned that his legal residence was actually Florida, which has something called a ‘Mark Main’ statute that invalidates any bequest to charity that is made in a will six months before his death and thus allows the inheritance to go back to the surviving spouse, which Catherine takes full advantage of, but are we the viewer really expected to believe that Catherine knew about this loophole all along? Who researches that kind of stuff or even thinks to research it? Okay, so maybe she had some area of legal expertise in her background, but then why is she also such an expert at poisons and forgery and all the other stuff that she does and gets away with in order to stay ahead of the police? Haven’t these filmmakers ever watched an episode of ‘Columbo’ where even the smartest of killers will eventually screw up because it is simply humanely impossible to be ontop of everything like the character here is? By making the villain so over-the-top cunning and conniving while also cool under pressure hurts the tension instead of heightening it because it throws the believability factor out the window and ultimately makes this otherwise slick thriller empty and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Rafelson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video