1981, Warner, Rated R
Written & Directed by Andrew Bergman
Bobby Fine (Ryan O'Neal) is a meek, bumbling professor of American literature who is coerced into using his smarts to revive the failing dressmaking firm run by his father Jack (Jack Warden.) The coercion is generated by Big Eddie, played by the 7'-2", 300-pound Richard Kiel, perhaps best known for his role as Jaws in two James Bond films. You see, Jack owes Big Eddie $1.5 million -- that's a $150,000 loan plus vigorish -- and there doesn't seem to be any hope of saving the company (not to mention Jack's kneecaps) until Bobby stumbles quite by mishap onto a hot new look -- designer jeans with plastic-covered holes in the derriere. Suddenly Fine Fashions is the talk of New York's garment district, and in a matter of weeks Jack is able to pay Big Eddie the debt he owes. There's just one problem: Bobby has fallen in love with Big Eddie's wife Lira (Mariangela Melato), and she with him. When Big Eddie discovers that Lira is cheating on him, he sets out to make mincemeat of her and her lover.
Written and directed by the talented Andrew Bergman (Fletch, Honeymoon in Vegas, and co-writer of Blazing Saddles), and featuring wonderful performances by that wily pro Jack Warden and the charismatic Mariangela Melato (Swept Away), So Fine is a solid slapstick comedy. But it could have been better than that. Oddly, Ryan O'Neal injects absolutely no energy into his role, leaving Bobby Fine to languish as a character so undeserving of our sympathy that we hardly care if he escapes Big Eddie's clutches and lives happily ever after with the beautiful Lira. And then there's the problem one finds with so many joint American-European (in this case, Italian) comedy film ventures -- namely, that European-style slapstick is too broad, the cultural references in the humor sometimes too baffling and, well, foreign, for American audiences to appreciate. Finally, the climax, occurring during a college theater production of Verdi's Otello is a bit too contrived. Nonetheless, So Fine deserved a somewhat better fate than the quick death it suffered in the theaters.
Eighties Club rating: **
US release date: September 1981
1988, MGM, Rated R
Directed by Michael Hoffman
Written by Rupert Walters
Directed by the talented Michael Hoffman, co-produced by Robert Redford, and written (in a reportedly semi-autobiographical vein) by Rupert Walters, Some Girls is one of the most unforgettable films of the decade. An offbeat comedy, it's also a thoughtful exploration of sex, love and death. Michael (Patrick Dempsey) is a lovestruck college guy who spends Christmas with the object of his affections, Gaby D'Arc (Jennifer Connelly), and her family in their Quebec mansion. Gaby's family consists of the eccentric father who is writing a biography of Pascal and goes about the mansion in the nude, his strictly Catholic wife, and Gaby's two sisters Irenka and Simone. Gaby takes this opportunity to tell Michael that she doesn't love him, but Michael is determined to win her back. Meanwhile, her sisters try to seduce him, and, initially, we find ourselves in an amusing sex comedy, with Michael caught unclad with one or another of the D'Arc sisters at nearly every turn. Enter Gaby's grandmother, who escapes from an institution to revisit the sites of her happiest days, when she was a young woman falling in love for the first time. It is through Granny that Michael learns that there is a difference between lust and true love, a lesson that helps him extricate himself from the frustrating grasp of the alluring D'Arc sisters.
Some Girls is a work of art, and that's rare for an American film. It's filled with classical symbolism, with perhaps the most central element being Botticelli's Three Graces, evident in several scenes, and representative of the D'Arc sisters as icons of seductive innocence. Another example is Michael's escape from the darkness of lust to the light of pure love, as represented by the last names of Gaby and Granny (D'Arc and Lumiere.) And the film includes one of the most original and touching treatments of the death of a loved one; scenes of Granny closing the drapes over windows of the family home interspersed with scenes of her peacefully drifting into eternal sleep in a car on the way to the hospital. It's probably unnecessary to say that Some Girls did not fare well upon release, but has subsequently gained a much-deserved cult following. As usual, Dempsey offers a well-nuanced performance, while Connelly, though exquisitely beautiful, seems wooden. This is not your ordinary comedy by any means, but rather a real cinematic experience that is not to be missed.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $401,000
US release date: 9.9.88
Vancouver International Film Festival
Most Popular Film
Someone To Watch Over Me
1987, Columbia, Rated R
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Howard Franklin
Ridley Scott is one of the most talented directors of the action/suspense film, and his presence at the helm of this stylish police thriller lifts it above the usual fare. Tom Berenger plays Mike Keegan, a New York City cop who seems to have the world by the tail -- he has just made detective, he's well-liked among his peers, and he has a wonderful family. But then he is made part of a detail assigned to protect beautiful socialite Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), witness to a murder and now the intended victim of villain Joey Venza, played with verve by Andreas Katsulas. Claire becomes a little too intrigued by the virile if unpolished Keegan, who is so different from the men in her social circle, while Keegan becomes a little too obsessed with defending this glamorous damsel in distress. The subsequent affair (which occurs primarily off-screen) costs Keegan dearly -- he nearly loses his family, his badge and the respect of his peers. And it gets worse, when a desperate Venza snatches Keegan's wife and son, hoping to exchange them for Claire.
Mimi Rogers is convincing as Claire, sensuous and vulnerable beneath a cold-as-an-ice-sculpture exterior, and Berenger is more than competent as the working class stiff Keegan, who is way out of his element in Claire's uptown Manhattan milieu, (though he lays the accent on a little too thick at times). And credit must go to Lorraine Bracco, who appears as Ellie, Keegan's wife and a woman as different from the sleek and elegant Claire as night is from day. Bracco's characterization of the tough but sensitive Ellie commands our sympathy, so that we boo and hiss the affair between Keegan and Claire -- which is as it should be. High marks all around for a taut, intelligent thriller combining good action, good story, and a moral. Oh, and the jazz score is first-rate.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $10.3 million
US release date: 10.9.87
"Someone To Watch Over Me," Sting
"Johnny Come Home," Fine Young Cannibals
"Cry," Johnny Ray
"Freedom Overspill," Steve Winwood
Stand and Deliver
1988, Warner Bros., Rated PG
James Edward Olmos
Lou Diamond Phillips
Directed by Ramon Menendez
Written by Ramon Menendez & Tom Musca
This outstanding and inspirational film is based on the true story of Jaime Escalante (James Edward Olmos), who quit a high-paying job in order to answer a higher calling: teaching math to inner city kids. The setting: Garfield High School, East Los Angeles, 1982. Escalante is an eccentric character with an unorthodox method of teaching -- but then unorthodox is what's needed in an environment where most of the Hispanic-American students see no real purpose in studying hard and trying to better their lot in a society that has already written them off. Nerdish, balding, paunchy, Escalante is tough as nails inside, and slowly but surely wins over most of the students in his class, helping them not only with fractions and formulas but with self-respect. He has them believing in themselves, so much so that 18 of them work through the summer in order to take an advanced placement test in Calculus. When all of them pass, however, the Educational Testing Service suspects foul play. As a discouraged Escalante tells his wife, the only thing he's managed to teach his kids is that, no matter how hard they try, the System will always stand against them. Fortunately, though, Escalante -- and his students -- overcome their bitterness and set out to prove themselves by taking the test a second time. Will they pass? Or will the pressure finally break them?
Directed by Ramon Menendez (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Musca), Stand and Deliver is not unique in its material -- there have been plenty of films about determined teachers showing recalcitrant students the way and the light. What's unique about this film is its setting -- the barrio -- and the authenticity with which its largely Hispanic-American cast and crew portray the problems faced by kids who find themselves in that environment. The film speaks to a real -- and enormous -- American tragedy: the failure of society to recognize the potential of the poverty-stricken. Olmos earned an Oscar nomination for his remarkable portrayal of Escalante, and Lou Diamond Phillips truly shines (in, arguably, his best role), as Angel Guzman, the gang member who goes straight and becomes one of Escalante's best students. That's not to say that the rest of the cast doesn't deliver; indeed, the actors who played Escalante's students did a uniformly fine job. If the film has a shortcoming it's that it spends too little time outside the classroom; moviegoers are scarcely even introduced to the kids' lifestyles, and so may not fully appreciate their remarkable achievement.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $14 million
US release date: 3.11.88
"Stand and Deliver," Mr. Mister
"Secret Society," Los Illegals
"Pocho Jarocho," Marcos Loya
(& more; Varese Records)
The Star Chamber
1983, 20th Century Fox, Rated R
Directed by Peter Hyams
Written by Peter Hyams & Roderick Taylor
In the Eighties, rising crime was a real concern to Americans, and this film attempts to address that important issue. Los Angeles superior court judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) finds his faith in the law disintegrating as he presides over cases in which defendants who are clearly guilty of heinous crimes -- the rape and murder of young boys, the killing of old ladies for their social security checks, etc. -- are set free due to technicalities. When the father of one of the murdered boys tries to take the law into his own hands by shooting at the defendants whose case Hardin has just dismissed, the judge is severely shaken. But that's nothing compared to his horror when another boy is murdered. Enter Hardin's mentor, Judge Benjamin Caulfield (Hal Holbrook). Caulfield belongs to a group of nine highly respected judges who have created what they call a "court of last resort." They pass death sentences on criminals who slip through the cracks. It's not, Caulfield tells Hardin, as though they are taking the law into their own hands. They are the law. The suicide of one member has left an opening in the ranks of this Star Chamber, and Hardin is invited to fill it. He agrees, and the first case he presents to his colleagues for determination is that of the two men he believes are responsible for the killing of the young boys. They are sentenced to death. Then Hardin discovers that they are innocent. But it's too late; the Star Chamber's executioner has been given his next targets and there is no turning back.
So far so good. The first half of The Star Chamber is believable, and crackles with suspense. Douglas does an adequate job of creating in Hardin a character whose dilemma is one all law-abiding citizens could relate to. But rather than try to change the law, the judge too easily concludes that he must break it. By joining the Star Chamber and becoming an accomplice in the cold-blooded murder of criminals, Hardin has betrayed the legal system, and his only recourse at the end of the film is to betray the Star Chamber to an honest cop, Detective Harry Lowes (Yaphet Kotto). By then he has squandered all our sympathy and lost our interest. The denouement is unappealing, as it must be. We have spent 109 minutes watching an honest, idealistic judge corrupted and then forced to play the role of turncoat. And he can't even save the two men he has erroneously fingered for death. There are better ways to spend 109 minutes of your life.
Eighties Club rating: *
US box office: $5.6 million
US release date: 8.5.83
1984, Angelika, No Rating
Directed by Martin Bell
Written by Cheryl McCall
Based on the Life magazine feature "Streets of the Lost," this gritty, haunting, feature-length documentary looks at the lives of runaways fighting for survival on the streets of Seattle. And while at times you might be repulsed by what Munchkin, Shadow, Tiny, Tonya and others have to do to stay alive, you'll also be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit that they so touchingly represent. The odds are stacked against these kids, and they know it, but still they dream, and strive, and make the best of bad situations. Director Martin Bell and writer Cheryl McCall (she wrote the text for the Life piece), capture perfectly the quiet despair behind the bluster and bravado of the street kids. They also succeed in their goal of putting a human face on the tragedy of homelessness -- a volatile issue in the Eighties. Activist Mitch Snyder claimed there were some three million homeless people in the U.S. during the 1980s, while the government said it was more like 300,000; both missed the point -- even 300 was too many.
Bell would use some of what he saw and learned while doing Streetwise when he directed the 1992 film American Heart, starring Jeff Bridges, about the neglected son of an irresponsible father, a teenager who must fend for himself on the streets. But as moving as American Heart proved to be, it can't compare to this film for sheer power. Though increasingly hard to find, Streetwise is well worth the effort.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US release date: Jan. 1985 (US Film Festival)
Sundance Film Festival
Special Jury Prize (Documentary)
1983, Warner Bros., Rated R
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Joseph Stinson, Charles B. Pierce & Earl E. Smith
The fourth of the Dirty Harry movies, and the first made in the 1980s, Sudden Impact is unquestionably the best of the sequels, surpassed in action and plot only by the initial entry. This is the only one of the series directed by star Clint Eastwood, and while some critics wrote it off as one of his worst efforts (and also blasted it for what they viewed as excessive violence), the film recaptures the gritty realism of Dirty Harry. Yes, it is violent, but this time at least the violence serves a purpose, because here is a story that goes to the core of what Dirty Harry Callahan is all about, and why the character has had such enduring appeal. Callahan's investigation of a murder puts him on the trail of a vigilante named Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), who is stalking the hoodlums who raped her and her sister years ago. It can't escape the discerning viewer that there's not really much difference between Jennifer and Harry; they're both vigilantes and they both seek justice. The one distinction is that Callahan carries a badge. There's something else that lifts this entry above the rest in the saga. A staple in all the Dirty Harry films is the antipathy displayed towards Callahan by his superiors; often this served as a vehicle for some much-needed humor interspersed among the scenes of copious bloodletting. In this case, though, there's a very believable motive behind the hostility exhibited by Chief Jannings (Pat Hingle), who is trying to conceal the fact that his son was one of the rapists.
At the time this film was made, Eastwood had embarked on a relationship with actress Sondra Locke, and there were some who felt she owed this choice role to that fact. This may be so, but Locke happens to be perfectly cast; she endows Jennifer with a mix of steely resolve and intense vulnerability that is just right -- the eyes of a shark in a delicately molded face that retains childlike fragility. It is one of her finest performances. Of course the film's greatest asset is Eastwood. In the fifth and final installment of the Dirty Harry series -- The Dead Pool (1988) -- the actor seems to have wearied of the role, and just goes through the motions without much enthusiasm. Here, though, he infuses Callahan with the fierce contempt for lawbreakers, and the almost obsessive determination to rid the world of them, that we saw in his pursuit of the psycho Scorpio in the first film. The final confrontation with the villains in Sudden Impact is reminiscent of an Old West showdown, and intentionally so. For it is Harry Callahan -- not the bleeding-heart judge who lets a killer go free on a technicality, or the badge-toting bureaucrat who puts public relations above public safety -- who embodies the heroic sentinel who stands between civilization and chaos. There is law and there is justice, and often the two are not the same -- a distinction Eastwood draws as skillfully as he does the trademark Smith & Wesson.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $67.6 million
US release date: 12.9.83
"This Side Of Forever," Roberta Flack
1987, Paramount, Rated PG-13
Directed by Carl Reiner
Written by Jeff Franklin from a story by Jeff Franklin, David Dashev & Stuart Birnbaum
Yet another '80s high school campus comedy, you ask? Mark Harmon, in a film entitled Summer School? Talk about low expectations! Harmon plays Freddy Shoop, a carefree, ultra-California kinda guy who happens to be a gym teacher. The school principal gives Shoop a choice -- he either cancels his summer vacation plans and teaches a remedial English class, or he'll never get tenure. Shoop reluctantly agrees, and finds himself in charge of a class of misfits -- the surfer girl, the nerd, the teenage male stripper, the slacker named Chainsaw (played by Dean Cameron), the pregnant girl. Since he knows absolutely nothing about teaching English, Shoop recruits the aid of fellow teacher Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley). Even so, he goofs up, the kids goof off, and the trouble starts. Shoop gets caught showing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to his class, is arrested in nothing but a pair of skates and swimtrunks, and ends up sharing his house with the surfer girl, who's fallen in love with him. Meanwhile Robin, who initially can't stand Shoop, learns to tolerate him, and then, in the grand tradition of Hollywood screen romances, falls in love with him too.
Typically in such films, it's the dedicated teacher who painstakingly transforms his lazy, no-account students into heroic achievers. But what makes Summer School a cut above the average is the fact that this standard plotline is turned on its head; it's Shoop who is gradually transformed into a real teacher, a person who genuinely cares about his students and what the future holds for them. Harmon, who had just graduated from television roles (St. Elsewhere), is surprisingly effective as Shoop; he handles the transformation with a commendable subtlety. But the best thing Summer School has going for it are the students in Shoop's class. Thanks to some fine writing and veteran directing (with the inimitable Carl Reiner behind the camera), Shoop's students are multidimensional. They transcend their stereotypes and come across as real people that teenage viewers could relate to. This is a consistently funny comedy with occasional heartwarming moments -- and should be all the more appreciated because it exceeds our expectations. It's not To Sir, With Love or Stand and Deliver (see above), but it's not bad, either.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $35.7 million
US release date: 7.22.87
"Happy," Oingo Boingo
"My Babe," The Fabulous Thunderbirds
"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," James Brown
"Party All The Time," Rick James
1987, Cannon, Rated PG
Written & Directed by Jerry Belson
Meet Sean Stein (Michael Caine), a successful mystery writer who is a hopeless romantic in search of true love. Only problem is, he has a knack for picking the wrong women to fall in love with. After a costly divorce and an equally expensive palimony judgment, Stein has come to the jaundiced conclusion that all American women are golddiggers. He resolves to move to Kuwait, where, as he tells friend and lawyer Jay, women can't vote but can be flogged. Jay persuades him to attend a charity benefit before he goes -- a benefit that is hit by a gang of robbers. A man who is trying to avoid women at all costs, Stein is mortified to find himself tied up with Daisy Morgan (Sally Field), a struggling artist. Almost in spite of himself, he falls in love with Daisy, who seems so different (i.e., unselfish) from all the other women he has known. But just to make sure that Daisy loves him for the right reasons, he pretends to be a destitute would-be writer. Daisy's dilemma is that her father is pressuring her to marry Marty (Steve Guttenberg), a boring but wealthy lawyer who, says Dad, will be able to take care of her. Will Daisy choose love over security? And how will Stein explain that he met her under false pretenses?
The premise is an interesting one -- but Surrender fails to realize its full potential. Corny contrivances are resorted to in the resolution of the plot, so that a film intended to be a romantic comedy is reduced to farce. Example: On a morning jog, Stein encounters a wolf out in the desert, and we are supposed to believe that this chance meeting somehow makes him realize that his obsession with money is destroying the relationship with Daisy. (Hey, don't ask us!) Caine and Field are extremely talented actors, but unfortunately the all-important chemistry between the two is lacking. Ultimately, Surrender would have been better as an episode of the old Love, American Style television series.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $ 5.7 million
US release date: 10.9.87
1988, Tri-Star, Rated PG
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Jonathan Reynolds from the play (The Front Page) by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur
This story has a long and illustrious history. It was first a classic play, The Front Page, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in 1928, about the Chicago newspaper business. The first screen version, starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien, appeared in 1931, and an excellent film it was. The first film remake, 1940's His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, was a rollicking comedy directed by master Howard Hawks. Billy Wilder directed the next one, 1974's The Front Page, featuring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and with those two you couldn't go wrong. Then came Switching Channels, the fourth film remake, only this time it's about TV reporters, not newspapermen. They should have stopped with three.
Kathleen Turner plays Christy Colleran, a top-notch reporter for Chicago-based SNN Cable News. She works for her ex-husband, John "Sully" Sullivan (Burt Reynolds), and she works very hard, so hard in fact that she needs a vacation. During the holiday she meets and falls in love with New York millionaire Blaine Bingham (Christopher Reeve.) They plan to get married, but first Christy stops off at SNN to inform Sully that she's quitting. Sully pulls all kinds of shenanigans to postpone her departure, luring her back into the fold by convincing her that she may be the only hope for wrongly-convicted killer Ike Roscoe. When Roscoe escapes from prison, Sully and Christy help him elude the authorities long enough for the governor's pardon to arrive. Then the only question that remains is: Will Christy marry Blaine and forsake the job she's born to do? Or will she stay with SNN -- and Sully?
There is a risk involved in remakes, and that is the inevitable comparison to what came before. Switching Channels simply can't match up to any of this classic tale's previous incarnations. The last third of the film, during which the cops search high and low for Roscoe, is slapstick comedy at its lowest common denominator. As usual, Kathleen Turner is competent, and Christopher Reeve has a lot of fun with the foppish Blaine. The real problem, sad to say, is Reynolds, who has an unfortunate tendency to be entirely too flippant with his comedy. He hams it up throughout Switching Channels, and that wouldn't be so bad except that his timing is awful; he treats the material like a stand-up routine instead of a movie. Where is Cary Grant when you need him?
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $9.1 million
US release date: 3.4.88