Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

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

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New neighbors cause suspicion.

Ray (Tom Hanks) spends his vacation milling about his suburban home while keeping a close eye on his new neighbors that are rarely ever seen, but at night their basement emits strange noises and lights. Mark (Bruce Dern) and Art (Rick Ducommun) are two other men living in the cul-de-sac who notice the same things. Together they decide to form a strategy by finagling their way inside the rundown place and seeing what exactly is going on in there especially after another neighbor, the elderly Walter (Gale Gordon) mysteriously disappears.

Director Joe Dante has had a lot of success at doing films that mixes elements of horror with dark comedy, but this exercise fails almost immediately because there is nothing scary about it. In fact the humor and threadbare story are so innocuous that it becomes downright boring after about the first 10 minutes. The film fails to have much of a second or third act and the light doses of humor and action sprinkled about barely make up for it. The whole thing comes off like something written by an unimaginative novice that was more suited for an episode of an anthology series than a feature film.

Hanks manages to be marginally funny and Carrie Fisher makes for a good anchor as his no-nonsense wife, but Dern gets wasted as what starts out to be an over-the-top caricature of a right-wing gun-toting radical that soon gets as watered down as the rest of the script. He does manage to get in a few of his ‘Dernisms’, which was mainly due to the fact that the actors were allowed to ad-lib their own lines due to the fact that it was shot during a writer’s strike, but the part isn’t half as funny as it could’ve been. Also, in real-life a person like him wouldn’t be married to such a hot-looking younger woman and it would’ve been more impactful had the actress cast as his wife been his physical equal. I also wondered why they had so much free time to spend milling about the neighborhood. Hanks’ character was on vacation, but what was their excuse?

Spoiler Alert!

The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don’t bother as it’s not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into.  There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn’t have any problem killing people why didn’t they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims?

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s not a spy.

Cooper (Dabney Coleman) wants to remove Ross (Charles Durning) from his position as director of the CIA so he can occupy it himself. To do this he tries to make it appear that Ross is corrupt and so as a defensive strategy Ross comes up with a scheme of his own. Since he knows that Cooper has his place bugged he has a mock conversation with Brown (Edward Herrmann) telling him that there’s a spy with important information and which he should meet at the airport in order to retrieve. However, there really is no spy it’s all just made up, so that Cooper and his entourage will waste time following around the wrong person, which they do in the case of Richard (Tom Hanks) a man spotted wearing only one red shoe and who now finds his life turned upside down for no apparent reason.

This is a remake of the French classic The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe and surprisingly it manages to stay very close to the original. To some extent it becomes almost a shot-for-shot retelling with very little that gets changed. Most American films have a much broader sense of humor than European ones and so I was a bit amazed how subtle the comedy stays, but this could also explain why this did so poorly at the box office.

For me this biggest transgression is that this version loses the satirical edge that was so apparent and funny in the first one. The CIA agents aren’t funny at all and don’t come off like real spies just a bunch of incompetent buffoons. None of them have any discernable personalities and it somehow manages to make even Dabney Coleman seem boring and I was really surprised that he even took the part.

Hanks is equally dull and not half as funny as Pierre Richard who played the same part in the original. Richard was of a goofy eccentric while Hanks’ character is a blah ordinary guy who plays off the comedy instead of being a part of it. I also didn’t like that he eventually becomes aware of what is going as I thought it was more amusing that the character remains permanently oblivious to it all like in the French film.

The one improvement that I did like was the presence of Lori Singer as the female agent who is very attractive and has a low, low cut dress that I really digged. However, in the original the female spy, which was played by Mireille Darc, didn’t fall-in-love with the main character until after she got to know him while here Singer appears to be attracted to Hanks right from the beginning for no reason.

There are indeed a few funny moments particularly Hanks visit to his dentist and the scene where he must flush his toilet several times in order to get the water to come out of his sink faucet. Jim Belushi gets a few laughs as his friend who thinks he’s seeing things that really aren’t there, but overall the original is still superior although by not as wide of a margin as with most other American remakes. I was also frustrated that there is never any explanation for why the Hanks character is wearing only one red shoe. In the French film it at least gets explained, but here they don’t even do that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stan Dragoti

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Splash (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man falls for mermaid.

Allen (Tom Hanks) is stuck in a hapless job and a string of loveless relationships. After his last live-in girlfriend leaves him he becomes convinced that he will never find true love. Then on a whim he takes a trip to Cape Cod and goes out into the harbor in a small boat despite not being able to swim. When the engine conks out and he attempts to restart it he gets knocked into the water and his saved by a mysterious mermaid (Daryl Hannah). He returns to his New York home and mundane life only to find that the mermaid has sprouted legs and followed him. Allen doesn’t recognize the woman as the one who saved him, but he’s immediately smitten by her beauty nonetheless. They start up an awkward relationship, but when Allen proposes marriage she tells him she can’t as she has a dark secret, which is the fact that when she gets wet her legs turn into fins.

This was Ron Howard’s third foray behind the camera on a theatrical film and for the most part it’s a success. I enjoyed the mix of fantasy and surrealism and a love story that is cute, but not too cute. I loved the big city ambience including a scene involving classical street musicians and a visit to an outdoor ice skating rink. The climatic car chase through the downtown is funny especially when a group of soldiers manually overturn a taxi cab that is in their way.

Unfortunately the script, which is credited to four different writers, is full of major loopholes that to me ended up getting in the way of my enjoyment. I realize as a budding/struggling screenwriter that it is difficult to write a plot that is completely logical in every way and every story even the really good ones will usually have a few minor implausibility’s that one can overlook and forgive, but this one goes way beyond that.

For one thing I thought it was absurd that this mermaid who knew nothing of the English language when she came could somehow learn the language in one day simply by watching television. Yes, she may be able to pick up on some words, but to be able to learn their meanings and context is another story that just wouldn’t be possible for anyone to realistically grasp in such a short period of time. Besides I thought it was more interesting when she didn’t speak and it could’ve worked on that level alone. And while we’re at it who ended up paying for all those televisions in the department store that she destroys while in front of the sales staff when she states her name in such a high pitch that it explodes all of the screens?

I was also confused how the Eugene Levy character was able to track down the Hannah character and able to stalk her in his attempt to get her wet and expose her as a mermaid. He initially spots her under the ocean, but then later reads about her in a newspaper, but the article did not mention her name or whereabouts because at the time she hadn’t reconnected with Allen, so how would he know where to find her especially in the big, congested metropolis of New York?

I also had trouble with the scene where John Candy, who plays Allen’s brother, helps the Levy and Allen sneak the mermaid out of a science lab, but then ends up staying to take the blame while the others leave. The Candy character had no invested interest in the mermaid and came along only to help out, so why should he be the fall guy, or even agree to it?

Spoiler Alert!

There is also a scene where the mermaid buys Allen a giant water fountain and has it placed in his bedroom, which makes no sense because the doorway was clearly not big enough to get any of it through it. My biggest beef though is with the ending where the viewer learns that as long as Allen is with the mermaid he will be able to breathe underwater without any apparatus, which defies all laws of physics and seems thrown in to appease the hopelessly romantic masses who will buy into any contrived ‘happy ending’ no matter how utterly illogical. In some ways the idea that he couldn’t go with her and she would come back to visit him on occasion would’ve worked better because then they wouldn’t have to be with each other 24/7, which usually ends up being the cause of most break-ups anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

There is also the issue of how the mermaid manages to sprout human legs. Apparently there is a scene in the special edition DVD showing an old sea hag casting a spell on the mermaid, which allows her to have legs, but only for a short time. This scene was cut from the original release, which was a mistake as it was necessary to help explain the rest of the plot.

The movie does have its share of good points especially the casting of Hannah who seems born to play this role, but the truly great films do not require the viewer to overlook so many logic loopholes and unanswered questions in order to enjoy it.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ron Howard

Studio: Buena Vista

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

He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer goes after brides.

Amy (Catlin O’Heaney) is getting ready to get married, but finds herself stalked by a mysterious stranger (Tom Rolfing). She begins to worry that she may fall victim to a psycho that has been murdering women who have been engaged to marry. Detective Gamble (Lewis Arlt) whose own fiancé was murdered at the hands of this same maniac goes on a relentless quest to stop the attacker, but will it be too late?

The film starts out well and has early hints of Scream where we see an audience viewing a reenactment of an urban legend on a theater screen while one of the women in the audience gets killed by the psycho at the same time, which I found to be quite clever. Unfortunately it goes completely downhill afterwards and never recovers. Lots of slow scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and characters that add nothing to the suspense.  Most horror films quicken the pace as it gets nearer to the end, but this one doesn’t making the tension almost non-existent.

The identity of the killer is another issue. We are shown his face right up front, which hurts because usually with these things the killer’s true identity is kept a secret until the end, which adds to the entertainment. I also thought it was ridiculous to believe that a man murders one woman because she broke up with him and decided to marry someone else, but then robotically decides to murder every other bride he finds. I wanted more of a backstory to the character and felt one was sorely needed. It also seemed implausible that the police would be clueless as to who it is as when the first bride died they would most assuredly interview her ex-boyfriends, which is standard procedure and had this guy locked up or closely monitored long before things spiraled so out-of-control.

The special effects are minimal and in fact there is barely any blood at all as everything is implied. We see one severed head in a fish tank, but otherwise the camera cuts away before anyone is shown getting stabbed or killed.

O’Heaney is transparent in the lead and isn’t even all that cute. Arlt as the dogged detective isn’t much better. It’s fun seeing Tom Hanks, who appears at the 59-minute mark, in his film debut. James Rebhorn can also be seen here in an early film role with a full head of hair playing a college professor who cheats on his wife with one of his students. You can spot Paul Gleason in a bit part as one of the detectives as well as Robin Lamont during the opening sequence who is best remembered for her rendition of ‘Day by Day’ in both the stage and film version of Godspell.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Armand Mastroianni

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube