|Jason Manning, Writer||
1984, 20th Century Fox, R
Written by Bob Israel, Neal Israel & Pat Proft
MY RATING: **
Back to School
1986, HBO/Cannon, PG13
Directed by Alan Matter
Written by Rodney Dangerfield, Harold Ramis & 5 others
MY RATING: ***
*batteries not included
1987, Universal, Rated PG
Brad Bird & 3 others
MY RATING: **
The Bedroom Window
1987, deLaurentis, Rated R
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Written by Curtis Hanson & Anne Holden from the novel by Anne Holden
MY RATING **
1988, Warner, Rated PG
Directed by Tum Burton
Written by Warren Skaaren
& 3 others
Academy Award: Best Makeup
Nat'l Society of Film Critics Awards (US)
Best Actor (Michael Keaton)
MY RATING ***
1984, Paramount, Rated R
Directed by Willard Huyck
Written by Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck from a novel by Robert Grossbach
MY RATING: **
1988, United Artists, Rated R
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Joe Eszterhas
MY RATING: ***
Tom Hanks graduated from the boob tube -- he starred in the television sitcom Bosom Buddies from 1980 to 1982 -- to the big screen with the hit film Splash. His next film was this one, a sporadically funny but generally tasteless comedy in which he plays the shiftless but lovable Rick Gassko, who is about to get married -- but not before his friends throw him the bachelor party to end all bachelor parties. Rick has promised his fiancee Debbie (Tawny Kitaen) that he will behave himself. His friends, who all act like Animal House wannabes, have other ideas.
There are a few amusing sight gags in the raunchy romp that ensues, with the funniest being the scenes in which one of Rick's buddies, despondent over a failed marriage, tries to commit suicide by drowning himself in a bathtub and, failing that, cutting his wrists with an electric razor. But most of the gags fall flat, or are so crude that only a Neanderthal could find them amusing. The ending deteriorates into utter nonsense as Debbie is kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend Cole (Robert Prescott). Rick and Cole duke it out in a 3-D theater, exactly replicating the fight that climaxes the space opera showing on the screen behind them; the audience, looking pretty spaced out themselves, is wowed by the "realism" of the 3-D experience, a brief fad during the Eighties.
Hanks shows flashes of his zany comedic brilliance and, as always, is a joy to watch and, thankfully, the film is fast-paced. He would go on to better things in the 80s, including Big, The Money Pit and Punchline. Bachelor Party was a box office success but film critics justifiably slammed it. Of interest to pop culture addicts, Oingo Boingo performed the "Bachelor Party Theme," composed by Danny Elfman, who would later have a hit single with the theme to Weird Science. And the film (chauvinistic to begin with) takes a swipe at an 80s icon -- in an early scene a Valley Girl working in a boutique makes a customer wait until she's finished be-bopping to some synth-pop Muzak
Rodney Dangerfield's most famous line is that he never gets any respect, but he certainly deserves a lot of it for this film, arguably the best of his career. He plays Thornton Melon, a self-made millionaire who owns a chain of Tall & Fat clothing stores. He thinks his son Jason (Keith Gordon) is having great success at college as a member of a fraternity and the diving team. But when he finds out that Jason has been lying to him -- neither the diving team nor any frat house will take him -- Melon gets the bright idea of going to college, too, just to show his son how to succeed. He manages to become the institution's oldest freshman by making a huge donation to build the Melon School of Business Administration. But Melon doesn't turn out to be the best of examples for his boy -- he's worse that any frat-rat when it comes to partying too much and studying too little. He tries to buy his way through the curriculum, falls in love with a pretty English teacher (Sally Kellerman), and runs afoul of a snooty economics prof (Paxton Whitehead). In the end, it's the son who straightens out the father, and Melon not only gets the degree, but the girl as well.
With the story co-written by Dangerfield, and the screenplay co-penned by Harold (Ghostbusters) Ramis, Back to School is like a graduate course in advanced comedy. Dangerfield delivers his one-liners with impeccable timing, and he is backed up by a first-rate cast that doesn't miss a beat, either. Aside from Kellerman and Whitehead, that cast includes Ned Beatty, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Young and Robert Downey, Jr., who deserves a special commendation as Jason's weird friend Derek Lutz, revealing why he would go from here to leading roles in Less Than Zeroand The Pick-up Artist. The late Sam Kinison has a cameo role as a whacked-out Vietnam vet turned history professor; his Korean War piece with Dangerfield is one of several classic scenes. Others include Dangerfield's study of "marine biology" in a hottub filled with coeds, his real-world criticisms of the economic professor's lecture on how to start a business, and the "Bruce Springsteen" ploy he uses to clear out a hall so that he and his son don't have to wait in line to register for classes. That's just to name a few. Back to School is great fun, and it's tongue-in-cheek anti-establishment underpinnings has made it as enduring a campus comedy as Animal House.
Meet Frank and Faye Riley, an elderly couple who have resided for many years in a tenement where they also have their livelihood, a neighborhood cafe. She's senile. He's long-suffering. Meet Marisa. She's about to become a single mom. And Mason. He's a temperamental, idealistic young artist. They also live in the tenement. But they're all about to lose their homes. Because an evil real estate developer has to tear down the tenement so he can put up his highrise office complex. He hires some thugs to frighten the tenants out. And when that doesn't work, he employs a firebug to burn the place down. Looks like Frank and Faye are headed for the old folks' home, while Mason and Marisa won't have time to figure out that they're meant for one another. But wait. Fate is set to intervene, in the form of some tiny spacecraft, living machines that have a knack for fixing things. They also reproduce, and their babies are cute as bugs.(In fact, they resemble bugs.) Mason, Marisa and the Rileys pledge to protect the diminutive UFOs, and in return the amiable flying saucers fix up the building every time the developer's hirelings damage it. In other words, all the '80s angst about the role of machines in Mankind's future is for nothing. Machines aren't the problem. Republicans are. And yuppies.
It's likely that the people who made *batteries not included hoped to appeal to an audience of all ages. Problem is, while small children might be delighted by the antics of the diminutive machines, they'd be bored to tears by the half-hearted attempts to relate the budding romance of Mason + Marisa and the drama of the Rileys. And while adults might appreciate the superlative talents of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as the Riley duo, they'd likely find the mechanical lifeforms too cutely Disneyesque. It might have been better had the producers scrapped the grown-up roles altogether and made the human quotient a gaggle of kids trying to save their homes when the adults had all but given up. Of course, that would have meant no Cronyn and no Tandy, but their talents were wasted, anyway. *batteries not included proved that the E.T. phenomenon had run its course by 1987. And it must have convinced Steven Spielberg that he'd gotten about all the mileage he was going to get out of lovable aliens.
An above-average suspense film reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thrillers -- which it would seem was director Curtis Hanson's intent. Steve Guttenberg is Terry Lambert, a cocky young businessman who is having an affair with his boss's wife, Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert). During this illicit tryst at Terry's apartment, she witnesses an attempted rape from the bedroom window. Since she can't come forward, Terry gallantly presents himself to the police as the witness. But what starts out as something of a lark for Terry soon becomes a nightmare. The man Sylvia saw is a serial killer, and not only is Terry exposed as a perjurer, he soon becomes the prime suspect in Sylvia's murder when she is done away with by the killer. Terry's only ally is Denise (Elizabeth McGovern), the victim of the assault Sylvia witnessed, and together they concoct a dangerous scheme to trap the killer.
The Bedroom Window has plenty of plot twists, and while a few of them are a little implausible, the film should hold your interest through to the end, thanks largely to Hanson's capable direction. Hanson isn't Hitchcock, and this movie doesn't compare to Rear Window for edge-of-your-seat suspense, but the tension builds nicely. Guttenberg and McGovern do an adequate job with their roles, but in such a film as this it isn't so much character development but plot and atmosphere that matter. The Bedroom Window has a healthy dose of both, and while there's little cause for nail-biting here, you'll be entertained by what is essentially a workmanlike tribute to the Master himself.
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) have everything going for them -- they are madly in love and they've just moved into a beautiful home in a great little New England community filled with friendly people. Sadly, they die in a freakish accident, only to find themselves -- as ghosts -- haunting their home, which has been sold to the annoying Deitz family. Only Lydia Deitz, the gothic and suicidal daughter, can see them -- even though they do everything in their power to drive the living interlopers away. They're just so nice that they're not very effective when it comes to scaring the daylights out of people. In desperation they turn to a renegade spirit by the name of Betelgeuse, who advertises himself as an "exorcist of the living." But Betelgeuse is a frenetic, obnoxious spirit who turns out to be more trouble than he's worth, and in the end the Maitlands turn against Betelgeuse, consign him to the netherworld, and "live" happily ever after as the resident spirits of the Deitz home.
Director Tim Burton has a most unusual and unique vision, but until Beetlejuice he hadn't had much of an opportunity to display it. This was his second feature film -- the first being Pee-Wee's Big Adventure -- and the end result is a one-of-a-kind black comedy classic, an irreverent look at life and death and a surreal visual experience tailor-made to appeal to those who like "The Far Side" comics and A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- which is just about everyone. Burton would go on to create Batman, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow and The Planet of the Apes, but nothing he did subsequently (apart from two animated features, James and the Giant Peach and The Night Before Christmas, which he produced) has the heart of Beetlejuice. The cast is excellent, with Winona Ryder splendid as Lydia, but its Michael Keaton's inspired, manic performance as the title character who steals the show. It's the role Keaton was born to play, and he lets out all the stops. His Betelgeuse is both endearing and disgusting, and anyone who can pull that off is no slouch as an actor. This film is one of the most original screen experiences of the Eighties, and one that will entertain generations of moviegoers to come.
Wylie Cooper (Dudley Moore) is a ne'er-do-well engineer working for a firm that's bidding for a defense contract to build a gyroscope for the weapons system of a new tank. If the company doesn't get the contract it will have to close it's doors. Wylie, though, is an ambivalent employee who really only goes to work to pick up a paycheck; besides, the workplace is his escape from a nagging wife (Kate Capshaw). A chance encounter with a fellow engineer entangled in sinister corporate espionage puts Wylie in possession of a formula that makes the gyroscope workable. His company wins the defense contract and Wylie becomes a hero. He also becomes the target of a wacky Soviet spy, almost has an affair with his leggy blonde supervisor, and struggles with his conscience -- not only because he has taken credit for a formula he didn't create, but also because his company is trying to hide the fact that its product has a potentially disastrous flaw.
The rumor is that after screening this film the studio honchos thought it was so awful that they paid Eddie Murphy, who had become an overnight sensation following his star turn in Beverly Hills Cop, to appear in new scenes as an officer taking the tank into combat. The end result is a movie with two storylines that, at least in the beginning, seem to have only the most tenuous of connections. Critics slammed Best Defense as a disjointed and witless hash thrown together to profit from the drawing power of two of the decade's most popular comedians. But even a below-average vehicle cannot entirely stifle the innate comedic talents of Moore and Murphy, who at times rise above the material. One particularly funny scene has Moore being mugged on the way to a rendezvous with the Soviets and being saved, after much ensuing hilarity, by a trio of Latin American policenmen. The headliners are ably assisted by David Rasche as Jeff the manic Soviet agent. Rasche would go on to star in the cult hit television series Sledgehammer; he previews here some of the shtick he would use to good advantage in the series. While Best Defense has some glaring faults it's not quite as bad as it's been made out to be, and as true fans of Eddie and Dudley know, the two stars are usually worth watching no matter what.
Before we had Oliver Stone to commit to film everything that he perceived to be wrong with the American political system, the Greek filmmaker Konstantin Costa-Gavras had created a body of work -- including Z. State of Siege and Missing -- renowned as much for its leftist leanings as its artistry (which is considerable.) Costa-Gavras is obsessed with right-wing conspiracies, and in Betrayed he focuses on the white supremacist movement in the United States, which was getting increasingly more press as the 1980s came to a close. The film opens with the murder of a liberal Jewish talk show host -- obviously modeled after the real-life murder of Denver radio's Alan Berg. FBI agent Cathy Weaver (Debra Winger) travels to America's heartland and poses as an itinerant combine driver to find out who's behind the murder. What she discovers is a hotbed of white supremacy lurking in the amber waves of grain. These people are as American as apple pie. They are family-oriented, they work hard to make ends meet, they go to church every Sunday. And they're racists. All of them, apparently -- right down to sweet little old grandmothers and the county sheriff. In fact, one would have to assume that everybody in white rural America could have a white sheet hanging in the closet.
Weaver makes the mistake of falling in love with Gary Simmons (Tom Berenger), a farmer, a war hero, and a widower with two little children. As it turns out, Gary is the leader of a cell of white supremacists and just in case there's any doubt, Costa-Gavras tosses in a disturbing scene in which Gary and his neighbors go "night hunting" -- with a young black man as the prey. They also rob banks and plot the assassination of political candidates for high office. Why do they do this? Because they are raised that way. Gary was raised a racist, and he's raising his children to be as he is. And that's the most chilling message of this taut thriller, well-written by Joe Eszterhas (Jagged Edge) and superbly played by both Winger and Berenger, who demonstrate why they had previously been nominated for Academy Awards. Berenger in particular does a striking job, making Gary Simmons so multi-dimensional that the viewer's sympathies are as torn as Cathy Weaver's when it comes to determining whether he is evil incarnate or a once-decent man victimized by his upbringing. And who is betrayed? Just about everyone and everything. Gary and his cronies betray everything that America is supposed to stand for. Cathy's controller, played by John Heard, betrays her by putting her in a position where she must "dirty" herself to win the confidence of the group she is infiltrating. And in the end Cathy must betray Gary, the man she loves. Betrayed is grim, chilling, at times gut-wrenching, but it is also consistently absorbing, well-done by all involved.