The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Movie Reviews - A
The Accused
1988, Paramount, Rated R

Jodie Foster
Kelly McGinnis

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Tom Topor

 Jodie Foster won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a rape victim in this film, which was based on an actual incident.  She stars as Sarah Tobias, who is gang-raped in a roadhouse and presses charges, only to find that her character -- she's very much a recreational drinker who wears provocative clothes when she goes out on the town -- is judged more harshly by the judicial system than the men who violated her.  She finds an ally in Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGinnis), who as a staid and successful professional woman stands in stark contrast to Sarah, whom all too many would characterize as "poor white trash."  At first Murphy isn't too sure of Sarah's credibility, but eventually comes around and risks her career to prosecute other men who, though they were not active participants in the rape, criminally solicited the act by cheering on the rapists.
     The Accused was touted as the first serious, mainstream treatment of the crime of rape by Hollywood, and it caused a bit of a stir at the time because it did not portray a single male character in a sympathetic light -- including the only witness to corroborate Sarah's story, played by Bernie Coulson as a rather gutless wonder.  Foster gives a fine performance as a young woman trying to mask her vulnerability with a brittle cockiness, feeling she must do so to survive in an uncaring world, fatalistically accepting her destiny as a nobody.  All the praise heaped on Foster for her performance overshadows a splendid but understated job by McGinnis in what may be her best work.  The courtroom denouement at the end is a graphic, over-long and ultimately unnecessary rendering of the rape, but no one can deny its shock value.  After all, the purpose of the movie was to affront the viewer's sensibility and awaken him to the deplorable tendency of some males to treat women as sex objects.  Curiously, for a film that explores a very important and emotionally charged subject, The Accused lacks dramatic impact. But while it may not be all that entertaining in a conventional sense, it is relentlessly enlightening.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $ 32 million
US release date: 10.14.88

"At This Moment," Billy Vera & The Beaters
"Kiss of Fire," James Harmon Band
"Mojo Boogie," Johnny Winter

Academy Award won:
Best Actress (Jodie Foster)

Golden Globe won:
Best Actress (Jodie Foster)

Adventures in Babysitting
1987, Touchstone, Rated PG-13

Elisabeth Shue
Keith Coogan
Penelope Ann Miller

Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by David Simkins & Elizabeth Faucher

Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is all set for a night on the town when her boyfriend cancels, leaving a despondent Chris available to babysit little Sara Anderson (Maia Brewton). She ends up with Sara's older brother Brad (Keith Coogan), who has a crush on Chris, and Brad's friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp), who has a crush on every female in the solar system. Chris settles in a for a boring evening at the Anderson's suburban home when her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) calls from the downtown bus station. Seems Brenda was running away from home but had second thoughts and now she's stranded in this alien urban environment and she's terrified. Chris bundles her three charges into her mom's station wagon and sets out to rescue Brenda. Little does she know what kind of night on the town she's about to have! It all starts with a blowout on the expressway -- and the kids meet with one madcap mishap after another, not least of which is tangling with a car theft ring. Along the way, Chris discovers that she bears a striking resemblance to the centerfold in Playboy's current issue, and that her boyfriend had jilted her to take somebody else out to dinner. What else could go wrong? Just about everything!
This delightful comedy was the directorial debut of Chris Columbus, who'd written screenplays for Gremlins and The Goonies, and who would go on to direct such comedy classics as Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. You can tell he has a flair for this sort of thing, as does Elisabeth Shue, who is top-notch in her first starring role. (She won a Best Actress award at the 1988 Paris Film Festival for her work in this movie.) In fact, the acting is fine all around. Adventures in Babysitting is a cross between Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Risky Business -- and turns out to be nearly as good as the former, and every bit as good as the latter. (It also spawned a TV series pilot.) One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is that it challenges stereotypes; the trucker who stops to help Chris with her flat tire turns psycho when he learns his wife is having an affair, and a black criminal proves to be a real ally to these suburbanite kids on their hair-raising odyssey through an urban wilderness. A number of scenes are truly original and funny, as when Brenda discovers that the bus station phone booth from which she's calling Chris for help is the "home" of a scary-looking bum, or when -- nearly blind after her eyeglasses are stolen -- she mistakes a sewer rat for a kitten. And the scene in which Chris and the kids must join blues great Albert Collins on stage to sing "Babysittin' Blues" -- and earn a standing ovation from the club's denizens -- is one of the classics of '80s film comedy. We'd be surprised if you don't want to watch the movie more than once, because Adventures in Babysitting is pure fun from beginning to end.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $34.4 million
US release date: 7.1.87

"Babysitting' Blues," Albert Collins, Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton
"And Then He Kissed Me," The Crystals
"Gimme Shelter," Rolling Stones
 (& more)

Paris Film Festival
Best Actress (Elisabeth Shue)

Against All Odds
1984, Columbia, Rated R

Jeff Bridges
Rachel Ward
James Woods

Directed by Taylor Hackford
Written by Eric Hughes

Directed by Taylor Hackford (An Officer and A Gentleman), this film is a loose remake of the film noir classic Out of the Past. That 1947 movie starred Jane Greer as a scheming woman who destroys two men (Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum) who love her. Jane Greer is also in Against All Odds, but this time she plays the mother of Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward), the spoiled rich girl at the center of a love triangle that also includes Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges), an almost-washed-up pro football player and Jake Wise (James Woods), a shady hoodlum. After being cut by the Los Angeles Outlaws, which happen to be owned by Mrs. Wyler, Terry agrees to take a job offered by Jake -- find Jessie, who has run off with $50,000 of Jake's money and his heart. Terry finds Jessie in Mexico, and (of course) falls in love with her. Their romance, set against the beautiful and exotic backdrops of Cozumel and the ruins of Chichen Itza, is complicated further by the ruthless business dealings of Mrs. Wyler and her right-hand man, lawyer Ben Caxton (Richard Widmark), who are bribing officials to smooth the way for a huge real estate deal. Their machinations lead ultimately to a murder that's pinned on Terry.
That's just the bare bones of a story full of sub-plots; Against All Odds is one of those movies that require the viewer's attention to every scene. It's greatest asset is a host of nicely fleshed-out characters who defy stereotypes -- none are purely bad or altogether good. Not even the "hero," Terry, who in the past was engaged in nefarious point-shaving schemes with Jake, and now finds himself in way over his head with as nasty a bunch of greedy, self-serving and treacherous individuals as one could ask for. The film is also enhanced by Donald Thorin's superb cinematography, a nice soundtrack featuring the Oscar-nominated (and Billboard #1 song) "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" by Phil Collins, and fine acting jobs, with Jeff Bridges deserving special mention -- with one notable exception: Rachel Ward. Ward sizzles with sexuality, but fails to produce the nuanced performance that the linchpin character of Jessie Wyler demands. Still, the film works, not only as a thriller and love story, but as a subtle yet searing commentary on the amorality of politics and business in modern America. The splendidly tragic ruins of ancient civilizations, in which much of the action in the first half of the film takes place, are meant to presage the inevitable ruination of our own civilization, in which profit and self-aggrandizement trump integrity and loyalty.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $25.1 million
US release date: 3.2.84

"Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," Phil Collins
"Violet And Blue," Stevie Nicks
"Walk Through The Fire," Peter Gabriel
"Maiking A Big Mistake," Mike Rutherford
"Balcony," Big Country
"My Male Curiosity," Kid Creole & The Coconuts
(& more)


All of Me
1984, Kings Road, Rated PG

Steve Martin
Lily Tomlin
Victoria Tennant

Directed by Carl Reiner
Written by Phil Alden Robinson from the novel by Edwin Davis

Roger Cobb (Steve Martin), is an attorney looking for the opportunity to become a partner in the law firm where he works. His big chance comes when his boss asks him to revise the will of a a reclusive multi-millionaire, Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin). Seems Edwina is dying from a disease that has kept her bedridden -- and unable to fully experience life -- since childhood. She has this crazy idea that, with the help of a swami, she can transmigrate at death into the body of a servant's daughter, Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant). So she wants to will all her worldly possessions -- and we're talking a lot of possessions -- to Terry. Cobb thinks she's nuts -- until a mishap results in Edwina possessing half his body. Cobb/Edwina must find some way to transfer her spirit into the body of Terry; the only problem is that Terry only went along with the original scheme because she thought transmigration was a bunch of malarkey -- and she wanted to inherit Edwina's millions. Sounds ridiculous, right? And yet All of Me is a wonderful and warm-hearted comedy that makes full use of the unique talents of both Martin and Tomlin. Some scenes are riotously funny -- as when Edwina first inhabits Cobb and he tries to regain control of his body on a busy sidewalk, and when Edwina tries to substitute for Cobb when the latter falls asleep during the most important case of his career.
Martin's style of slapstick physical comedy is perfect for the role of Cobb, who struggles to come to terms with the fact that a woman controls his right side. And Tomlin gleefully sinks her teeth into the role of Edwina, a haughty rich girl who learns, literally, what it means to see the world through the eyes of someone who inhabits a lesser station in life. Both leads were nominated for Golden Globes, and Martin won Best Actor nods from both the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Critics Circle. There are some who insist this is the best performance of his career. Phil Alden Robinson's wry, intelligent script makes one overlook the ludicrous central concept, providing ample memorable quotes and even a worthwhile moral -- we should all live life to its fullest. It's fun watching Tomlin subtly transform Edwina from an extremely unlikeable snob into a heroine we can root for. And it's even more fun watching Martin, who is probably the only comic who could so deftly handle the challenges of a role that requires him to abruptly switch from masculine to feminine behavior and back again. Director Carl Reiner gives the film a style reminiscent of the romantic comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the end result is one of the best comedies of 1984, endowed with first-rate performances by two of the biggest comic talents of the decade.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US release date: 9.21.84

National Society of Film Critics Awards
Best Actor (Steve Martin)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Best Actor (Steve Martin)

American Flyers
1985, Warner, Rated PG-13

Kevin Costner
David Marshall Grant
Rae Dawn Chong

Directed by John Badham
Written by Steve Tesich

In one of his first starring roles, Kevin Costner is Marcus Sommers, a sports physician who talks his wayward younger brother, David (David Marshall Grant) to join him in competing in a bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains. Their father has recently died of a brain tumor, and David, estranged from his mother (Janice Rule), has dropped out of school. The brothers grow closer as they travel from one event to the next, accompanied by Marcus' girlfriend Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong) and Becky (Alexandra Paul), a California-bound hitchhiker who falls for David. The competition is fierce, but Marcus wins the first race. During the second, though, he falters -- it turns out he, like his father, has a brain tumor. Can David fill his brother's shoes and win the third and final event? Is he a winner, or a failure?
Directed by John Badham (fresh from success with Blue Thunder and War Games), American Flyer was written by Steve Tesich, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for 1979's Breaking Away, another film featuring bicycle racing and disaffected youth. And while the racing scenes in American Flyer, set against the backdrop of the magnificent Rockies, are first-rate, the rest of the plot is muddled. All the threads -- the sibling rivalry between Marcus and David, the relationship between David and Becky, the relationship between the Sommers brothers and their mother, the intense competition between Marcus and a racer named Muzzin -- are not fully explored. Grant, who had previously appeared in several made-for-TV movies, is competent but unexceptional in his shot at big screen success, while Costner is, well, Costner -- an actor who, like Redford, looks so good he never has to work very hard at a role. John Amos and Rae Dawn Chong do the best jobs in supporting roles. Like so many sports-related films of the Eighties, American Flyers celebrates American individualism and exceptionalism; not surprisingly, the Sommers boys must defeat an aggressive Russian team to win the race. But, while mildly entertaining, there's not much about the movie to set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $1.4 million
US release date:8.16.85

"Dirty Dog," ZZ Top
"Gone Ridin'," Chris Isaak
"Bad Moon Rising," John Fogerty
(& more)

Armed and Dangerous
1986, Columbia, PG-13

John Candy
Eugene Levy
Meg Ryan

Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Brian Grazer, James Keach, Harold Ramis & Peter Torokvei

In the film's opening scene, Officer Frank Dooley (John Candy) of the LAPD rolls up to a residential address in his squad car, responding to a call of a kitten trapped in a tree. It's a cliche used since silent film days, and to make matters worse, we know Candy is going to climb up into that tree and get stuck, requiring a rescue by the fire department. You can see it coming. And that's the problem with Armed and Dangerous -- it's entirely too predictable. Dooley is framed by a couple of crooked cops and drummed out of the force. He resorts to finding employment at Guard Dog Security. So does Norman Kane (Eugene Levy), a lawyer who can't handle the stress of defending whackos who threaten his life. Along with a bunch of zany misfits that make the Police Academy bunch look like Rhodes Scholars, Dooley and Kane embark on new careers as private cops, only to discover that the union they're forced to join is run by a mobster named Carlino (Robert Loggia), who's using the union members' pension fund for nefarious undertakings. Guard Dog's chief, Captain O'Connell (Kenneth McMillan) is in on it, too, which complicates things for Kane, who has fallen for O'Connell's daughter Maggie (Meg Ryan). Pursued by mob goons and crooked cops, the unlikely duo of Dooley and Kane are involved in all manner of hijinks as they try to get the goods on Carlino. Sadly, most of the situations are notably unfunny, and occasionally tasteless. And, of course, you know exactly what's going to happen from beginning to end.
With a couple of exceptions -- like Planes, Trains and Automobiles [see review] -- Candy's film career was largely a series of inferior vehicles that didn't allow him to develop a distinct character but rather relied solely on his comic persona. Candy's sarcastic and sometimes mean-spirited shtick is funny for a while because it contrasts sharply with his jolly facade. Eventually, though, it can get on your nerves. As Kane, Eugene Levy (who starred with Candy in the early-80s comedy ensemble TV series SCTV) is only mildly amusing. The one bright spot in Armed and Dangerous is Meg Ryan, whose career was just getting started. (She had previously appeared as Anthony Edward's wife in Top Gun.) Her part is small but when she's onscreen the quality improves. Harold Ramis co-wrote the story and screenplay, and for that reason alone one might have expected greater things from this film -- after all, Ramis is responsible for penning such hits as Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. In the end you might get a chuckle or two from Armed and Dangerous, unless you're too busy yawning.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $15.9 million
US release date:8.15.86

"Armed and Dangerous," Atlantic Starr
"Steppin' Into The Night," Cheryl Lynn
"She's My Man," Sigue Sigue Sputnik
"I Need You," Maurice White
(& more)
[Soundtrack by Manhattan Records]

1981, Warner, Rated PG
Dudley Moore
John Gielgud
Liza Minnelli

Directed by Steven Gordon
Written by Steven Gordon

A truly funny film, oddly reminiscent of the comedy classics of Hollywood's Golden Age.  You can readily envision William Powell in the lead role had this movie been made fifty years earlier.  Dudley Moore gives a brilliant performance as Arthur Bach, a rich boy so bored and unhappy that he tends to drink entirely too much.  What makes him most unhappy is that his family insists he marry the woman they've chosen for him, even though he loves a "nobody from Queens" (Liza Minnelli).  If he doesn't go through with the arranged marriage, Arthur loses a $750 million inheritance.  Moore won an Academy Award nomination for this effort while John Gielgud, who plays Arthur's manservant Hobson, won a best supporting actor Oscar, and rightly so.  The repartee between Moore and Gielgud are highlights of the film, as Hobson skewers his boss with a wonderfully dry wit.  (Arthur: "I've decided to take a bath."  Hobson: "I shall alert the media."  Arthur: "Do you want to run my bath for me?"  Hobson: "It is what I live for.")  If you don't want to watch this film over and over again just to see these two talents at work, something's wrong with your funny bone.
 Arthur was written and directed with a sure hand by Steve Gordon, a veteran of TV sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show.  This was Gordon's big-screen debut, and he did such a fine job you have to wonder what other comedy classics he might have created had he not died soon after Arthur's release.  The theme song, "Best That You Can Do," is sung by Christopher Cross, and also won an Oscar for songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  Cross was at the pinnacle of his career, having won five Grammys for his 1980 debut album, including nods for Best Album, Best Song ("Sailing") and Best New Artist.  Note: This was the 1980s, so Arthur didn't have to give up his millions to get the girl, after all.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $95.5 million
US release date: 7.17.81

"Arthur's Theme," Christopher Cross
"Fool Me Again," Nicolette Larson
"Poor Rich Boy," Ambrosia
"It's Only Love," Stephen Bishop

Academy Awards won:
Best Supporting Actor (John Gielgud)
Best Song  ("Arthur's Theme")

Golden Globes won:
Best Motion Picture, Comedy/Musical
Best Actor (Dudley Moore)
Best Supporting Actor (John Gielgud)
Best Original Song