Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Hunt for Red October (1990) [PG] *****


Russian submarine Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) is a career naval officer; despite being Lithuanian he's risen through the ranks, and has also trained most of the fleet's attack submarine officers. Now he's been given command of the motherland's newest achievement, the Red October, a ballistic missile submarine featuring a magnetohydrodynamic, or caterpillar, drive - a nearly-silent propulsion system designed to allow the Red October to approach by stealth and shower its target with multiple warhead missiles with little or no warning - a submarine which can have but one purpose, to start a war. This is the taut, exciting story of how CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) comes to the conclusion that Ramius and his officers want to defect to the U.S. with the Red October, and then figures out how Ramius plans to do it. Ryan manages to contact Ramius on the North Atlantic high seas despite the fact that both the U.S. and Russian navies are trying to hunt down and destroy the Red October, and then Ryan puts into motion a dangerous and risky plan to help Ramius succeed in defecting with the submarine.

The intricately plotted screenplay is very faithful to Tom Clancy's novel, the sets are realistic, the musical score is thrilling, the casting is perfect and the acting by Connery and Baldwin is inspired. There are also outstanding supporting performances by James Earl Jones as Ryan's CIA boss Adm. James Greer, Richard Jordan as National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt, Fred Dalton Thompson as Admiral Joshua Painter on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Scott Glenn as Commander Bart Mancuso on the attack submarine USS Dallas, Courtney B. Vance as Sonarman Ronald Jones on the Dallas, Sam Neill as Executive Officer Vasily Borodin on the Red October, Tim Curry as Dr. Petrov on the Red October, Joss Ackland as Russian Ambassador Andrei Lysenko, Stellan Skarsgard as Captain Victor Tupolev on the Russian attack submarine Konovalov, and Jeffrey Jones as submariner Skip Tyler. If you enjoy exciting, classic military/political action thrillers, don't miss this one.

Labels: action, adventure, thriller
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 58/100
Tomatometer (critics=86, viewers=89)
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Dances with Wolves (1990) [PG-13] *****

A film review by James Berardinelli.


There was a time when the western was one of Hollywood's most popular genres. Whether it was Gary Cooper standing tall in High Noon, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas taking out the Clantons in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, John Wayne fighting the Apaches in Rio Grande, or Clint Eastwood looking more bad than good or ugly in Sergio Leone's trilogy, the Old West was a sure way to break into the black at the box office. But that was during the '50s and '60s. Since then, another cinematic generation has taken over and the western has gone the way of the musical. In 1990, while it wasn't yet as extinct as the Saber tooth Tiger, it was definitely on the endangered species list - until Kevin Costner came along and singlehandedly breathed new life into the genre. Suddenly, in the span of three years, two westerns had captured the Best Picture Oscar (Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven). And, while this newfound popularity didn't come close to challenging what had once been, film makers could take solace that they would not be summarily denied funding the moment they mentioned the words Old West.

When Kevin Costner made Dances with Wolves, he was at the height of his popularity. The debacles of Waterworld and The Postman were still years in the future. As an actor, he was riding the crest of a motion picture wave that included Silverado, No Way Out, The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Field of DreamsDances with Wolves, which gave Costner the triple hat of performer, producer, and director, was one of the most ambitious and impressive debuts of any novice film maker in the past three decades. In the '90s, it is only one of two films lasting longer than three hours to have grossed more than $100 million domestically (the other being Titanic), showing that the public loved it as much as the critics.

Dances with Wolves has been called a revisionist western - a movie that reversed the traditional roles of Cowboys and Indians. In fact, it's nothing of the sort. While it is true that the Sioux tribe is portrayed with the kind of balance and sensitivity rarely accorded to Native Americans in any movie, the Pawnee do not fare as well (as Sioux enemies, they are presented in much the same fashion that Indians were back in the '50s and '60s). And the American soldiers are depicted as genuine, imperfect human beings, not as thoughtless, vicious brutes. We mourn the death of Lieutenant Elgin as much as that of Stone Calf. So, although Dances with Wolves makes a conscious attempt to set the historical record straight, the role reversal is not complete. This is not meant to minimize Costner's achievement in presenting an epic motion picture from the Native American perspective, but to note that Dances with Wolves did not subvert the entire genre; it just twisted a few of the conventions. Areas that were once presented in graphic black and white have been blurred by the inclusion of many shades of gray.

Dances with Wolves opens with a brief Civil War prologue in which the protagonist, Lt. John Dunbar (Costner), establishes himself as a hero by providing a diversion so that a group of Union soldiers can overcome an entrenched Rebel position. Dunbar's reason for his actions - he preferred losing his life to living without a leg (the doctors were planning an amputation) - are unimportant. All that matters are the results, and, because of his bravery, he is offered a station anywhere he wants. He chooses the frontier, so he can see it before it is gone. Soon, he has been dispatched to the small South Dakota post of Fort Sedgewick. But, when he arrives there in the company of the wagon-driver Timmons (Robert Pastorelli), he finds the place deserted. Nevertheless, he resolves to obey his orders, and, after dismissing Timmons, he sets about putting things to right and solving the mystery of where everyone went.

For over a month, Dunbar is alone at Fort Sedgewick. His only companions are a friendly wolf that he names Two Socks and his faithful mount, Cisco. Gradually, over time, he becomes comfortable with his peaceful surroundings - some of the most beautiful country he has ever seen. The sequences with Dunbar alone at Sedgewick are some of the best in the movie. There is a kind of quiet cinematic poetry in these scenes as we grow not only to learn about the character of Dunbar, but about the land itself - not as it is today, but as it was 135 years ago. The first hour of Dances with Wolves is setup, but the gorgeous visuals, lush score (by John Barry), and reflective tone makes it a pleasant introduction.

The story moves into high gear with the arrival of the Sioux, led by the thoughtful Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) and the tempestuous Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant). At first, there is mutual distrust, but, as Dunbar and the Sioux interact and begin to communicate (each learning a few words of the other's language), they form a truce, then a bond. With every passing day, Dunbar finds himself more and more infatuated with the Sioux way of life. And his interaction with them becomes even easier when Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who has lived with the Sioux since childhood, is able to act as an interpreter. Eventually, Dunbar leaves Fort Sedgewick and moves into the Sioux camp. He falls in love with Stands with a Fist, becomes a respected member of the tribe with his own Sioux name (Dances With Wolves), and is able to forget the life he left behind - until the day when Fort Sedgewick is garrisoned and the soldiers find him: an out-of-uniform officer gone Injun.

Dances with Wolves works on many levels. It's a rousing adventure, a touching romance, and a stirring drama. While Dunbar's story is fictional, the background surrounding it is real, from the Sioux beliefs to the take without asking policy of many frontiersmen. Costner was determined to make the film as authentic as possible. He did most of his own stunts. Instead of using a half-breed for Two Socks, he used a full wolf. The Sioux speak their own language, Lakota (with subtitles), instead of English. And Costner cast only Native Americans as Indians.

The characters populating Dances with Wolves are strongly written and effectively portrayed. While no one is going to place Costner alongside Laurence Olivier in the acting department, he brings likability to Dunbar that many better performers might not have been able to match. The film works in large part because we identify so thoroughly with Dunbar. In fact, we know nothing of his past - he comes to us as a clean slate, born through his act of suicidal courage. We never learn anything about his family or childhood, but we see the frontier and the Sioux culture through his eyes, and it quickly becomes apparent that for him, the past is irrelevant. The reality of his life begins when we first meet him.

To say that the Sioux defy traditional stereotypes is to understate the matter. As portrayed by Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd Red Crow WestermanTantoo Cardinal, and others, these are a group of compelling, diverse characters who show no hint of caricature. Mary McDonnell plays an effective love interest for Dunbar. Like him, Stands With A Fist is caught between two cultures. Costner should be applauded for this casting choice. McDonnell has the maturity to make certain scenes work when a younger actress might have struck a false note (McDonnell is three years older than Costner). The director was determined that Stands With A Fist should be portrayed by a woman, not a girl.

Although Dances with Wolves contains several well-executed battle scenes, there's little doubt that the most breathtaking sequence is the buffalo hunt, where the Sioux riders race alongside thousands of rampaging buffalo and bring several of them down. It's a high adrenaline sequence that marks the moment when Dunbar finally rejects his old culture to embrace his new one. From a technical and logistical perspective, this is probably the year's single most memorable scene, and the adroitness with which Costner directed it explains (at least in part) why he won the Best Director Oscar.

For several years after Dances with Wolves, expectations were high about Costner's next project. Sadly, when it finally materialized in late 1997, The Postman was a colossal disappointment. Will Costner ever direct again? At this point, that question cannot be answered, but, even if he never makes another film, he can be proud of the singular achievement on his resume. For three hours, Dances with Wolves transports us to another world, and that's the mark of a great motion picture.

Labels: adventure, drama, western

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 72/100
Tomatometer (critics=82, viewers=87)
Blu-ray 

Quigley Down Under (1990) [PG-13] ***

A film review by Roger Ebert, October 19, 1990.




Here is a Western much like many others, with the difference that it is the first new Western I've seen in a long time -- since Silverado in 1985, I think, unless you count last year's Back to the Future, Part III. A generation of moviegoers, now in their teens, have grown up never having seen a Western in a movie theater. Cowboy movies are too genteel, maybe, or the violence follows a code instead of being mindless, or maybe the kids today just can't see themselves riding horses.

Quigley Down Under stars Tom Selleck, an actor who with his height, authority and natural ease might have been a major Western star in the old days, as an American sharpshooter who sails to Australia in search of work. A man named Marston (Alan Rickman) has advertised for a long-distance marksman, and Selleck is the best, able to hit targets so far away the camera can barely see them. Selleck is appalled, however, when he discovers that Marston wants to pay him to kill Aborigines. He throws the villain through the window, and starts a vendetta that only ends, of course, with an obligatory showdown in the corral.

One of the first people Quigley meets down under is Crazy Cora, played by Laura San Giacomo as a misplaced American with a tragic past that has driven her mad - but not so mad that Quigley cannot slowly fall in love with her. Sex, lies and videotape (1989) is the movie that made San Giacomo an overnight star, but this may be the movie that proves her staying power. She isn't just another pretty face and a great set of eyebrows. She has an authority, a depth of presence, that is attractive, and her voice is deep and musical. She and Selleck create a chemistry that is real enough; it's a shame the screenplay hardly notices it.

The film itself is not up to the contributions of its stars. A little more thought would have helped. From the quilting-bee music that plays during the fight scenes to the Fallacy of the Talking Killer [F.T.K.], this is a movie that has been created by the numbers. The fallacy I refer to, of course, is the frequent mistake of allowing the bad guy to talk too long. He has his enemy trapped. There's no way out.

All he has to do is plug him between the eyeballs and order lunch. But no. He talks. And talks. And sets up some kind of dumb test of manhood, which he is sure to fail. Because the climax of such a scene is a foregone conclusion, the F.T.K. almost always results in dead screen time.

Other elements in the film are more interesting. The use of the Aborigine characters, for example. The night San Giacomo must save a baby from the wild dogs. And Alan Rickman's performance as the villain. He has a polished grace that serves here to suggest evil dimensions just beneath the surface.

I also enjoyed, in a visceral way, the pleasures of seeing the visual beauties of a Western. The choreography of a gunfight in rocky foothills. The excitement of a chase on horseback. The ambushes and close calls and treks through the desert land. Quigley Down Under is a handsome film, well-acted, and it's a shame the filmmakers didn't spend a little more energy on making it smarter and more original. [Ebert's rating: ** 1/2 out of 4]


Labels: adventure, drama, romance, western
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=56, viewers=73)
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Always (1989) [PG] *****



Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter) is, in the words of her friend and father-figure Al Yackey (John Goodman): the toughest little fire-fightin' babe you'll ever meet. Dorinda, Al and Dorinda's boyfriend Pete St. Clair (Richard Dreyfuss) are part of an aerial fire-fighting tanker detachment, dropping rust-red fire suppressant on forest fires out of a remote base in the mountains of Idaho. Dorinda knows that Pete loves danger, but it isn't until he overestimates his fuel reserve and is forced to land dead-stick, that she realizes he really could die in his airplane.

Then, during a dangerous drop, one of Al's engines catches fire. In an act of self-sacrifice, Pete turns his own tanker into a dive-bomber, and dumps his load of suppressant on Al's burning engine, to put out the fire. Tragically his own plane catches fire and explodes. In the aftermath of Pete's death, Al moves to Colorado to run a training school for fire-fighting tanker pilots, and Dorinda takes an air traffic controller job in L.A.

Because of his selfless act, Pete, now a spirit in the after-life is recruited by Hap (Audrey Hepburn) an angel, to provide unseen inspiration to Ted Baker (Brad Johnson) who wants to train at Al's school to become a tanker pilot. How Ted and Dorinda meet and fall in love, how Pete deals with this turn of events, and how he eventually matures into a true angelic guide form the third act of this wonderful story.

Screenwriting, directing, acting, cinematography, sets and music are all excellent. Holly Hunter has great chemistry with both Richard Dreyfuss and Brad Johnson. If you love romances with a supernatural element, films like Heaven Can WaitChances Are and Heart and Souls, then you won't want to miss Always. 

Labels: drama, fantasy, flying, romance, tragedy  
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=64, viewers=61)
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Not well known is the fact that Always is a faithful remake of A Guy Named Joe (1943) starring Spencer Tracy as Pete, Irene Dunne as Dorinda, Van Johnson as Ted, and Ward Bond as Al. Set in England early in WW II, Pete dies while dive-bombing a German aircraft carrier, and his spirit provides inspiration to Ted, who's a rookie pilot in training at Luke Field in Phoenix, AZ. Many of the scenes and much of the dialog in Always, has been taken directly from A Guy Named Joe.

Field of Dreams (1989) [PG] *****


Field of Dreams is the classic baseball-themed romantic fantasy, and the second in Kevin Costner's trilogy, following Bull Durham and preceding For Love of the Game.

Field of Dreams is a story of rebellion and reconciliation, of a young man and his father finding a way back together again. How many of us, growing up, said things to our fathers, hurtful things born out of childhood frustration with parental authority against which we rebelled? How many of us left home, angrily slamming the door behind us, vowing never to return? And how many of us grew into adulthood wishing we could find a way to take back the things we said, to reconcile with our fathers while they were still alive? And how many of us never got the chance?

Field of Dreams is a wonderful film about one of life's ultimate dreams, a dream as powerful as the dream to being able to fly or to move mountains. 

Labels: baseball, drama, family, fantasy, space-time
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 57/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=79, viewers=68)
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Field of Dreams Movie Site

You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, well, there'll be other days. I didn't realize that that was the only day.
Dr. Archibald Moonlight Graham

Old Gringo (1989) [R] ***

Based on a novel by prize-winning Spanish-language author Carlos FuentesOld Gringo gives us a possible explanation for what might have happened to aging journalist Ambrose Bierce (Gregory Peck). Bierce vanished into Mexico just as the Mexican Revolution was erupting in 1913. At the same time Harriet Winslow (Jane Fonda), the spinster daughter of a Spanish-American War hero, traveled to Mexico to become a governess for the Mirandas, one of the country's wealthiest families. And, finally, one of Pancho Villa's generals, Tomas Arroyo (Jimmy Smits) was about to lay siege to the Miranda hacienda just as Winslow and Bierce arrived on the scene. Adding complexity to the story are revelations about both Winslow and Arroyo's fathers, both of who betrayed their children.

This film asks a number of questions: How can one arrive at the end of one's life and make a statement about its significance? How can one survive being abandoned by one's father? How can a country with only very wealthy and very poor avoid a violent class struggle? How are justice and mercy balanced during a revolution? This is a tragic love story. There is a fair amount of violence, and life seems to be reduced to its essentials. But in the end we understand that Bierce, Winslow and Arroyo gave meaning to one another's lives, and achieved what they desired. Peck, Fonda and Smits all give strong, believable performances. If you enjoy historical dramas set in the West, perhaps films like The AlamoThe Big CountryButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidDances with WolvesGiantHow the West Was WonLittle Big ManThe Searchers, or The Wild Bunch, this film may appeal to you.

Labels: adventure, history, romance, tragedy, western
Internet MovieDatabase
Tomatometer (critics=45,viewers=47)

Cousins (1989) [PG-13] ****


Larry Kozinski (Ted Danson) is, in the words of his Uncle Phil: a failure at everything except life. Larry's currently a ballroom dance instructor, but he's been a real estate agent and a securities analyst. He changes careers every three years or so, whenever he feels he might become successful. Larry's been married for two years to Tish (Sean Young) a lovely but scatterbrained young woman with low self-esteem whom Larry describes as the Bride of Bloomingdale's. And living with Larry and Tish is Mitch, Larry's rebellious teenage son from his first marriage.

When Uncle Phil marries Edie (Norma Aleandro), Larry meets her lovely daughter Maria (Isabella Rossellini), and when Maria's husband Tom (William L. Petersen), an inveterate womanizer, seduces Tish at the wedding, Larry and Maria find themselves becoming friends, confidants and potentially much more, as they try to deal with their spouses' affair.

Sadly, Uncle Phil dies of a heart attack, and when his brother Vince (Lloyd Bridges), Larry's father, meets widowed Edie after the funeral, the stage is set for Vince and Edie to fall in love and marry, thus making Larry and Maria kissing cousins. This is a wonderful romantic comedy. The screenplay is inspired, with some memorable dialogue, and the casting is brilliant. Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini have incredible romantic chemistry; their eyes sparkle and they can hardly keep their hands off one another as they struggle to honor their wedding vows and not imitate their cheating spouses. If you enjoy warm, character-driven, light romantic comedies with an extended family feeling and a happy ending, films like 27 DressesValentine's Day and The Wedding Date, then you will probably really enjoy Cousins.

This is a far better romantic comedy than many film critics gave it credit for. And, there's a deliciously subtle irony in this film. Isabella Rossellini's mother, Ingrid Bergman had a series of real-life affairs, in many respects like the on-screen affair between Maria (Isabella) and Larry (Ted Danson). And the fact that Isabella resembles her mother not only in physical appearance, but in mannerisms as well, adds to the irony. To prove this to yourself, I invite you to see the 2015 documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, on DVD and Blu-ray.

Labels: comedy, romance, wedding
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=62)


Chances Are (1989) [PG] ****



Corinne Jeffries (Cybill Shepherd) and her husband Louie (Christopher McDonald) have the perfect marriage. They're young, in love, and about to have a baby. Louie is an attorney and his best friend Philip (Ryan O'Neal) is a journalist. Then Corinne and Louie's blissful life is shattered when Louie is killed in an auto accident. Desperate to get back to Corinne, Louie agrees to be reincarnated as Alex Finch (Robert Downey Jr.) but, in the process, he doesn't get his memory-erasing injection.

Fast-forward twenty-three years and Alex has just graduated from Yale. While applying for a job at the Washington Post he meets Philip, and through him, Corinne and her daughter Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson). While in the Jeffries home, Alex begins to see images of Corinne, Louie and Philip together, and his memory of his life as Louie begins to return. Corinne, who has never gotten over Louie, and still cooks for him, is attracted to Alex, but doesn't understand her feelings for him. Philip, who has always been in love with Corinne, is not happy about Alex taking the place in Corinne's heart that he hoped would be his. And Alex realizes that Miranda is falling in love with him... her reincarnated father.

This is a wonderful story about wishing for your soul mate for twenty-three years, and having that wish fulfilled. The screenplay is humorous, fast-paced and inventive; the direction and editing are creative; the cinematography is beautiful, and the soundtrack is evocative. Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant as Louie reincarnated as Alex, and Cybill Shepherd has unique romantic chemistry with each of the three male leads. The casting is inspired, and they all clearly had fun making this film. If you enjoy light romantic comedy about love and destiny, films like Heart and Souls and Only You - both starring Robert Downey Jr., as well as Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, then I predict you will really enjoy Chances Are.

Labels: college, comedy, fantasy, romance, wedding
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=57, viewers=68)
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Say Anything... (1989) [PG-13] *****

It's graduation day at Seattle's Lakewood High. Diane Court (Ione Skye) is the valedictorian; she took college-level courses and gave up her social life, with the result that most of her classmates don't really know her. One of them, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), was an underachieving student who worshipped Diane from afar. Lloyd has a group of gal pals with whom he shares confidences, and they've tried to convince him that he has no chance with Diane, but he is optimistic. Diane lives with her father (John Mahoney), who runs a nursing home; when he and Diane's mother divorced, she chose to live with him.

When Diane wins a fellowship to study in England her father is thrilled, but when Lloyd calls and convinces Diane to go to an all-night graduation party, her father is less than overjoyed. There's drinking and yearbook signing, and Diane rediscovers the friendships with other students she had lost. She also discovers that Lloyd is a refreshing change. It's clearly a case of opposites attracting, and while Diane knows she's leaving for England in the fall, she and Lloyd find themselves falling in love with one another. And then two IRS agents show up and inform Mr. Court that he's under criminal investigation for tax evasion. Naturally, Diane feels guilty about spending time with Lloyd rather than her father, and so she breaks up with Lloyd, leaving him bitter and disillusioned.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe this is a true-to-life story about the elation and heartbreak of young love. There's a great screenplay, with some memorable dialogue, and a terrific soundtrack. John Cusack and Ione Skye have wonderful romantic chemistry, and there's an excellent supporting cast including Joan Cusack, Lili Taylor, Amy Brooks, Jeremy Piven, Loren Dean and Pamela Segall. If you enjoyed SinglesSome Kind of Wonderful and The Sure Thing, you won't want to miss Say Anything.

Labels: comedy, drama, high school, romance, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 86/100
Rottentomatoes Averages (critics=80, viewers=72)
Blu-ray

When Harry Met Sally... (1989) [R] *****

When Harry Met Sally... is a wonderful, hilarious film about relationships, which asks us to consider several important issues such as what it means to be high-maintenance, and what it means to be a transition person. The film also poses a number of important questions. For instance, after a man and woman make love, how long does he have to hold her before he can get up and go home? Harry (Billy Crystal) says: Somewhere between thirty seconds and all night. Another question concerns whether she's ever faked an orgasm, and, if so, would he know it? Sally (Meg Ryan) says: It's just that all men are sure it never happened to them, and most women, at one time or another have done it, so you do the math. Sally's logic is lost on Harry, so she has no choice but to give him a practical demonstration. Her fake orgasm scene in Katz's Deli is one of the most famous comedy scenes ever filmed, finished by a nearby customer's request to her waiter... I'll have what she's having!

The screenplay by Nora Ephron is wonderful, direction and supporting cast are superb, and the DVD has several extras, including director Rob Reiner's audio commentary and a revealing behind-the-scenes documentary with cast and crew. Don't miss this classic, great date movie.

Labels: college, comedy, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 76/100
Tomatometer (critics=88, viewers=89)
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Sally fakes an orgasm at Katz's Deli


sex, lies, and videotape (1989) [R] *****

A film review by Roger Ebert, August 1, 1989.

I have a friend who says golf is not only better than sex, but lasts longer. The argument in sex, lies and videotape is that conversation is also better than sex - more intimate, more voluptuous - and that with our minds we can do things to each other that make sex, that swapping of sweat and sentiment, seem merely troublesome. Of course, this argument is all a mind game, and sex itself, sweat and all, is the prize for the winner. That's what makes the conversation so erotic.

The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, La., and it tells the story of four people in their early 30s whose sex lives are seriously confused. One is a lawyer named John (Peter Gallagher), who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) but no longer sleeps with her. Early in the film, we hear her telling her psychiatrist that this is no big problem; sex is really overrated, she thinks, compared to larger issues such as how the Earth is running out of places to dispose of its garbage. Her husband does not, however, think sex is overrated and is conducting a passionate affair with his wife's sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who has always resented the goody-goody Ann.

An old friend turns up in town. His name is Graham (James Spader), and he was John's college roommate. Nobody seems quite clear what he has been doing in the years since college, but he's one of those types you don't ask questions about things like that, because you have the feeling you don't want to know the answers. He's dangerous, not in a physical way, but through his insinuating intelligence, which seems to see through people.

He moves in. Makes himself at home. One day he has lunch with Ann, and they begin to flirt with their conversation, turning each other on with words carefully chosen to occupy the treacherous ground between eroticism and a proposition. She says she doesn't think much of sex, but then he tells her something that gets her interested: He confesses that he is impotent. It is, I think, a fundamental fact of the human ego in the sexually active years that most women believe they can end a man's impotence, just as most men believe they are heaven's answer to a woman's frigidity. If this were true, impotence and frigidity would not exist, but if hope did not spring eternal, not much else would spring, either.

The early stages of sex, lies and videotape are a languorous, but intriguing, setup for the tumult that follows. The adultery between John and Cynthia has the usual consequences and creates the usual accusations of betrayal, but the movie (and, I think, the audience) is more interested in Graham's sexual pastimes.

Unable to satisfy himself in the usual ways, he videotapes the sexual fantasies of women, and then watches them. This is a form of sexual assault; he has power not over their bodies but over their minds, over their secrets, and I suspect that the most erotic sentence in his vocabulary is She's actually telling me this stuff! Ann is horrified by Graham's hobby - and fascinated - and before long, the two of them are in front of his camera, in a scene of remarkable subtlety and power, both discovering that, for them, sex is only the beginning of their mysteries. This scene, and indeed the whole movie, would not work unless the direction and acting were precisely right (this is the kind of movie where a slightly wrong tone could lead to a very bad laugh), but Spader and MacDowell do not step wrong. Indeed, Spader's performance throughout the film is a kind of risk-taking. Can you imagine the challenge an actor faces in taking the kind of character I have described and making him not only intriguing but seductive? Spader has the kind of sexual ambiguity of the young [Marlon] Brando or [James] Dean; he seems to suggest that if he bypasses the usual sexual approaches it is because he has something more interesting up, or down, his sleeve.

The story of sex, lies and videotape is by now part of movie folklore: how writer-director Steven Soderbergh, at 29, wrote the screenplay in eight days during a trip to Los Angeles, how the film was made for $1.8 million, how it won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, as well as the best actor prize for Spader. I am not sure it is as good as the Cannes jury apparently found it; it has more intelligence than heart, and is more clever than enlightening. But it is never boring, and there are moments when it reminds us of how sexy the movies used to be, back in the days when speech was an erogenous zone. [Ebert's rating: *** 1/2 out of 4]

Label: drama

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 86/100
Tomatometer (critics=98, viewers=79)
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Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) [PG] ****

A film review by Roger Ebert, August 12, 1988.

The car itself is the star of this movie, the low-slung, bullet-nose that looks like a discreet cross-breeding of the postwar Studebaker and the Batmobile. And the most amazing fact about the Tucker automobile is that Preston Tucker did actually succeed in building 50 of them, just as he said he would, before he was shot down by the Big Three from Detroit and their hired guns in Washington.

Would automotive history have been different if Tucker had put his dream into mass production? Probably not. The Tucker would probably have thrived for a few late-1940s years and then joined the long, slow parade of the Hudson, the Kaiser, the Nash, the Studebaker, the Packard, the Willys and all the other makes that your dad always warned you couldn’t get parts for.

And yet Francis Ford Coppola’s new film is not so much about the car as about the man, and it is with the man that he fails to deliver.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream paints for us a Preston Tucker who is a genial, incurably optimistic dreamer, a man who gathers a small band around him and inspires them to build a great car, and yet all the time he lacks an ounce of common sense or any notion of the real odds against him. And since the movie never really deals with that - never really comes to grips with Tucker’s character - it begins as a saga but ends in whimsy.

Tucker is played by Jeff Bridges with a big, broad smile and a knack for finding hope even in the ash heaps of his dreams. He lives in the center of a large, cheerful family, with a wife (Joan Allen) and a brood of kids who seem cloned directly from those late-1940s radio sitcoms where somebody was always banging in through the screen door and announcing that he smelled fresh apple pie.

Tucker made his fortune during World War II by inventing and manufacturing the Tucker Turret for Air Corps bombers. Now he thinks the American public is ready for a truly modern automobile - one with great design and good mileage and safety features like pop-out windshields and seat belts. His master touch is a third headlight in the middle of the front grille that will turn in the same direction as the steering wheel. But Detroit doesn’t much like the idea of seat belts - they might give the public the idea that cars aren’t safe - and they don’t like the idea of Tucker, either.

Tucker applies for the use of a war-surplus manufacturing plant on the Southwest side of Chicago, and gets it. He and his team throw together a prototype automobile out of spare parts scavenged in a junkyard. He’s a master at personal publicity, floats a stock issue to raise money, sets up his assembly line and starts racing against a deadline for introducing his first model.

But it’s about here that the movie really loses its grip. We are never given any real insights into what makes Tucker tick; we see him from the outside, like the public, and he’s all bluff and charm and sideshow pep talks. The problems of the assembly line are also painted without any details. There is no sense here that the movie gives any serious attention to the process.

The worst scene in the movie is the most crucial: the scene where Tucker is scheduled to unveil his new beauty to the assembled American automobile press. We get a passage that’s too long and too confused, a comedy of errors as the workmen try to push the big car up a ramp as a fire starts backstage and Tucker stands in front of the curtain bamboozling the press. A little of this would have made the point; Coppola pushes it to distraction.

It is difficult, by the way, to avoid the notion that, in Preston Tucker, Coppola sees a version of himself. Coppola says he has been fascinated by the Tucker legend ever since he first saw a Tucker car in the late 40s, and he has owned a rare collector’s model during the 10 years he has been trying to get this dream film off the ground.

Many details are the same between the automaker and the filmmaker: the loyal wife, the big family, the close-knit group of friends who pitch in at all hours, the grandiose schemes, the true genius, the peculiar knack of confusing the public with unnecessary explanations and, in particular, the ability to hold a launching - or a premiere - in the worst possible way. Coppola is known for holding secret previews that the press somehow gate-crashes, leading to premature and hostile reviews. And he is known for fiascos like his ill-advised decision to publicly announce that he was having problems with the ending of Apocalypse Now, allowing self-doubt to cast an unnecessary shadow on his masterpiece.

The parallels between Coppola and Tucker are so obvious that it’s surprising Coppola didn't observe one more: He has been as protective of Tucker’s private life as he rightly is of his own.

Tucker does not probe the inner recesses of Preston Tucker, is not curious about what really makes him tick, does not find any weaknesses, and blames his problems, not on his own knack for self-destruction, but on the workings of a conspiracy. And it makes the press into a convenient and hostile villain. This won’t do. If we’re offered a movie named Tucker: The Man and His Dream, we leave feeling cheated if we only get the dream. [Ebert’s rating: ** ½ out of 4]

Labels: biography, drama



Big (1988) [PG] ****

Josh Baskin is a twelve-year-old boy living in a New Jersey suburb of New York City. He and his best friend Billy Kopecki are just discovering girls, and Josh has his first crush on the older Cynthia Benson. Josh tries to impress Cynthia at a local carnival, but when he can't get on the roller coaster because he's too small, his frustration leads him to the mysterious Zoltar arcade game, where he makes a wish to be BIG.

The following morning, Josh (Tom Hanks) discovers that his wish has been granted, and he now inhabits the body of a thirty-year-old. After frightening his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), Josh runs away from home. He and Billy then begin a quest to find the Zoltar game so Josh can reverse his wish. Before long Josh has a job working as a computer operator at a toy company in NYC, but when CEO MacMillan (Robert Loggia) meets Josh at the FAO Schwarz toy store, and recognizes Josh's unique perspective on children's toys, he promotes him to VP, where Josh soon comes to the attention of Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) a marketing manager at the company. Susan begins to fall in love with Josh because he is a grown up, and in the process she rediscovers her own youth and innocence, transforming from a cool professional to a doe-eyed ingĂ©nue.

Tom Hanks does a wonderful job portraying a twelve-year-old boy trapped in the body of a thirty-year-old man, who gradually becomes so comfortable in his adult body that he nearly forgets he is a child, until Billy reminds him. Hanks has great romantic chemistry with Elizabeth Perkins, while Robert Loggia is wonderfully sympathetic as a father figure. The film asks each of us to consider what we would wish for if we had a Zoltar game, and how our choice would change our life and the lives of our family and friends. I recommend the 130 minute extended cut, rather than the 105 minute theatrical version; the additional 25 minutes definitely increases the depth and continuity of the film.

To paraphrase screenwriter Robert McKee: At the film's pivotal point, Josh (Tom Hanks) faces a decision; he can choose an adult life with a fulfilling career and the woman he loves, or he can choose to have a fulfilling adolescence. He makes the mature choice to have his adolescence, expressing with a fine irony that he at last became big. For he senses, as we do, that the key to maturity is to have had a complete childhood. But because life has short-changed so many of us in our youth, we live, to one degree or another, with a false sense of maturity. Big is a very wise film.

Labels: comedy, drama, family, fantasy, romance, space-time
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 70/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=79, viewers=70)
Blu-ray

Bull Durham (1988) [R] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli for ReelViews.net, on July 25, 2009.

If one was to make a list of the best baseball-themed movies of all time, Bull Durham would have to be in consideration. Alongside the likes of The Natural and Field of Dreams, it remains one of the best-loved hardball titles. Filmmakers like the diamond and its surroundings as a motion picture setting because of the game's mystique and flexibility. It can be used as an opportunity to plumb the depths of nostalgia, as in The Natural, or as a metaphor for ideas like redemption and renewal. The goal in Bull Durham is a little different: verisimilitude. This is about showing what it's like for athletes who play for the love of the game and not the expectation of multi-million dollar contracts. It's about the men who toil far from the spotlight and whose daily concern is not whether they will be promoted to The Show but whether their stats will allow them to bat another day.

The action focuses upon a season with the high-A Carolina (minor) League Durham Bulls. For the most part, the Bulls are comprised of more suspects than prospects - a motley crew of minor league lifers who would rather play for the meager paychecks the Bulls offer than work at Sears. There is an exception - young fireballer Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a star in the Bulls' major league affiliate's firmament. However, while LaLoosh can get his fastball up to about 100 mph, he rarely knows where it's going. In his Bulls debut, he strikes out 18 (a new league record) but also walks 18 (another new league record). In order to help LaLoosh along, the Bulls purchase the contract of veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) so Crash can act as an on-field mentor. The pitcher also gets some off-field lessons from Bulls fan Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who selects one player each season to be her special project. This year, it's LaLoosh, whom she nicknames Nuke. When it comes to Annie, all Nuke is interested in is sex, but Annie has other plans. In addition to bedroom tactics, those involve broadening his mind. On one occasion, she ties him to the bed then reads to him from a volume of verse by Walt Whitman. Stormy seas occur, however, when it turns out that the chemistry between Crash and Annie is stronger than what exists between Nuke and Annie.


Crash and Annie are meant to have the kind of rich life experience that can rub off on an unrefined prospect like Nuke. Annie's life philosophy goes something like this:


I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones... I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring... which makes it like sex. There's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate... You see, there's a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds... I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty.


Crash also has a monologue in which he encapsulates in terms both profane and poetic the way he looks at the world:


I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. (Irony note: Costner would go on to play Jim Garrison in Oliver Stone's JFK - a man who most definitely did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.)


Although the movie is structured around the education of Nuke LaLoosh and the romantic triangle that develops featuring Crash, Nuke, and Annie, one of the pleasures associated with Bull Durham comes from how it reveals inside knowledge, such as what is said in a mound conference and how a catcher motivates a pitcher. Some of what's in the screenplay almost seems too offbeat to have a real-life analog, but writer/director Ron Shelton, who came up through the minors, has stated in numerous interviews that all of the seemingly unlikely incidents are recreations of actual events he witnessed during his baseball tenure, including the unorthodox method in which a rainout is engineered.


Bull Durham was the first step toward Shelton earning the unofficial moniker of the sports movie guy. Between 1988, when Bull Durham was released, and 2003, when Shelton left feature films for television, he was involved in eight sports-related movies as a director and/or writer. And it wasn't just baseball - boxing, basketball, football, and golf were all represented. Bull Durham was Shelton's directorial debut and it earned him his only Oscar nomination to-date: Best Original Screenplay. He lost to Rain Man, which proved to have long coattails at the early 1989 ceremony.


None of the leads - Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins - were first choices, but all proved more than capable of handling their roles. For Costner, this represented the first of three baseball movies in which he would appear (the other two: Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game), plus he would also star in Shelton's golf movie, Tin Cup. At the time when Bull Durham came out, Costner was at the apex of his career, having skyrocketed from obscurity to fame with The UntouchablesBull Durham gave Costner an opportunity to emote - something he was largely denied when playing the straight-arrow Elliot Ness, and the role of Crash showed that this actor could get down-and-dirty and cuss with the best of them.


Bull Durham brought together Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and they have been an off-screen couple ever since. Sarandon is older than both her co-stars (at the time of filming, she was 41, Costner was 32, and Robbins was 29), and this is a rare instance in which an over-40 actress is allowed the opportunity to function as a sex symbol. Although chemistry is evident in the pairing of Sarandon and Robbins, it is perhaps surprising that more vivid sparks fly between her and Costner. It's a good triangle, though, with plenty of sexual tension to amp things up and not much melodrama to bring them down.


As sports movies go, this one is unconventional, dealing more with the minutia that provides the foundation of life in the minor leagues than with the actual games. The genre formula calls for the film to end with a big game, but that doesn't happen here. Instead, Nuke is promoted to the majors, Annie and Crash light the blue touch paper, and Crash (his job done) is released. There is no championship game, no-hitter, or similar contrivance. Those who complain that Bull Durham is anti-climactic are missing the point. The qualities that distinguish Bull Durham from so many other baseball movies are its low-key humor (in contrast to the overt jokiness of Major League and The Naked Gun), the smartness of the dialogue (see that above monologues), and its true-to-life depiction of what it's like to be an A-ball player. Bull Durham put the Durham Bulls on the map, but it also reminded baseball-loving movie-goers that not every film has to end with a home run to be a home run. [Berardinelli's rating: *** 1/2 out of 4]


Labels: baseball, comedy, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 73/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=79, viewers=68)
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Dirty Dancing (1987) [PG-13] ****



Set in the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's Resort in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, it's the story of Frances Baby Houseman (Jennifer Grey), an idealistic teenager who dreams of working in the Peace Corps. Over the course of that magical summer, Baby grows up; she discovers her love of dancing, falls in love with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a dance instructor at the resort, loses her innocence, gains some wisdom, and earns the respect of her father and the admiration of her mother and older sister.

The dance choreography is brilliant and the music is nostalgic and evocative. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze are perfectly matched on the dance floor, and the romantic chemistry between them is sizzling. The screenplay is inspired, with some memorable dialog, and there are fine supporting performances from Jerry Orbach as Baby's father Dr. Houseman, and Jack Weston as resort owner and manager Max Kellerman.

If you're from the Sixties, or even if you just enjoy films set in that era, films with romance, passion, music and dancing, films like American GraffitiBack to the FutureGreasePeggy Sue Got Married, Pleasantville, A Summer Place and That Thing You Do!, then you will treasure Dirty Dancing.

The surprising popularity of this beautiful film inspired screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein to adapt her script for the stage. Performed worldwide, the stage musical has been an incredible success and has broken all attendance records for musical stage productions at London West End theaters. You can find out more about Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage by going to DirtyDancingOnStage. And don't forget to check out the rich collection of extras on the 20th Anniversary DVD, including recent interviews with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

Labels: dance, drama, music, romance, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 65/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=60, viewers=74)
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The Time of My Life (1)
The Time of my Life (2)
Time of my Life (Final Dance)

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) [PG-13] ****



What if a talented, artistic, but socially inept high school boy was obsessed with an unattainable, social climbing co-ed? And what if, at the same time, he had an attractive, rebellious, drum-playing female friend who loved him, and would do anything for him, although he was completely oblivious to her?

Keith (Eric Stolz) is the artist, obsessed with beautiful but clueless Amanda (Lea Thompson). Although Keith's desire drives the action, the core of the film around which Keith and Amanda revolve, is Watts, the rebellious drummer, played radiantly by Mary Stuart Masterson. Watts is frustrated by Keith's inability to see how much she loves him, and how right she is for him, blinded as he is by his fascination with Amanda.

Keith and Watts have great chemistry together, especially the scene in which she gives him practice kissing, to prepare for his big date with Amanda. This film is much better than some recent teen romance titles such as Can't Hardly WaitDown To You, and She's All That. You can see in Masterson's portrayal of Watts, the acting ability she would bring to her later films such as Fried Green Tomatoes, as well as two of my personal favorites: Bed of Roses with Christian Slater, and Chances Are with Robert Downey, Jr.

Labels: comedy, drama, high school, romance, teenager

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 55/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=64, viewers=70)