Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives

December 3, 2012

eddieandthecruisersThe release of Eddie and the Cruisers was one of the oddest in Hollywood history.

The film flopped upon its original release in 1983, then turned up a year or so later on cable television. Suddenly it was one of the most popular movies on pay-TV, and sales of the soundtrack album went through the roof.

Very strange.

But even such belated success called for a sequel, and Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives is finally here. The mystery of the first film was whether Eddie Wilson, a rock ‘n’ roller with one hit album to his credit, really did die in a car crash in 1964. His body was never found, and there was a suggestion that he faked his own death.

Eddie Lives answers this question in no uncertain terms. Yup, he’s alive all right, and living as a construction worker in Montreal (and once again played by inexpressive Michael Paré). Nostalgic Eddiemania is sweeping North America, and a set of previously unreleased tapes is being marketed as the new Eddie and the Cruisers album. Sleazy record execs are encouraging the rumor that Eddie is still alive.

This peeves the real Eddie. He begins to play again, with a bar band, and polishes up some new songs. Meanwhile, he hooks up with an artist (Marina Orsini), who may serve some function in the story although she appears to be there mainly to hang on Eddie’s arm. Eventually, Eddie heads back for the spotlight and his unmasking.

What a crummy movie this is. It plays a series of disconnected scenes, marked by clichéd dialogue (“It’s the music that counts! Not the hype!”) and lifeless performances. Eddie himself is an entirely unappealing character, pompous and sour.

First published in the Herald, August 17, 1989

That review seems to cut off in mid-thought and apparently was shortened for space, so my no-doubt devastating finish will have to remain a mystery, much like the original Eddie himself. The first film probably does deserve a place in history as the first example of the home-video revival of a flop picture, which meant that we all had to suffer through the faux-Springsteen music for a couple of years or so.

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My Left Foot

November 21, 2012

My Left Foot is one of the best films of the year, a beautiful story about the Irish writer Christy Brown, a man who was born with cerebral palsy that left him unable to control his limbs, save for his left foot.

Brown was born into a huge, poor Irish family in 1932. Because of his physical disability, which also left him unable to speak for years, he was considered (and regularly called) an “idiot” and a “moron.” Eventually he learned how to write and draw with his foot, whereupon he was able to communicate his intelligence, which turned out to be formidable. He wrote an autobiography, My Left Foot, and found fame.

The film, written by Jim Sheridan and Shane Connaughton and directed by first-timer Sheridan, takes an episodic approach to Christy’s life, concentrating on his childhood and young adulthood. Each episode is like a different chapter, telling a lesson of hardship or triumph.

Lest this subject matter sound grueling or downbeat, be assured that there is a lot of triumph. Sheridan regularly creates vignettes in which Christy clears another hurdle, or gets the better of some thoughtless adversary. As a child, Christy is played by Hugh O’Conor, whose eyes blaze and whose mouth is twisted; a clenched and angry boy.

Yet even here Sheridan finds rich humor, as when Christy’s brothers must hide a girlie magazine in Christy’s wheelbarrow, which serves as a makeshift wheelchair. Discovering the magazine, Christy’s parents bring a Catholic representative to lecture the boy on sin: “You know you can never get out of hell.” An ironic thing to say to a wordless boy who cannot move his body.

Surely the high point of the movie comes when young Christy, still considered retarded, manages to clutch a piece of chalk between his toes and scrawl the word “Mother” on the floor, at which point his father hefts him onto his shoulders and totes Christy down to the pub, for a manly beer.

As an adult, Christy is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, the increasingly amazing actor who starred in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Day-Lewis captures the ferocity of a busy-minded man who has a limited outlet of expression. In Christy’s unlucky swings at love, Day-Lewis is utterly unsentimental and even wicked (his most hurtful and unrequited love is for a voice teacher, played by Fiona Shaw, who teaches him to recite Hamlet).

Day-Lewis and O’Conor are superb, and you would be hard-pressed to find more exemplary supporting performances than those of Brenda Fricker and the late Ray McAnally, who play Christy’s parents.

The ghost of the great American director John Ford hovers over the film. Ford, an Irish soul, would have approved of this movie’s gruff emotionalism, particularly a pub brawl straight out of The Quiet Man. Christy starts the fight. He also wins it, as the film demonstrates again and again.

First published in the Herald, December 24, 1989

Daniel Day-Lewis is back as I write this, with a rather amazing performance as the 16th president in a film by Steven Spielberg. (Oddly enough, he’ll get Oscar competition from John Hawkes, in The Sessions, as a man who cannot use his body.) My Left Foot is a fine film, and I remember that Hugh O’Conor was the equal of Day-Lewis as the young Christy, a fact the elder actor graciously acknowledged in his Oscar speech.


Pet Sematary

October 29, 2012

During the end credits of Pet Sematary, a message reminds us that “No animals were harmed in any way” during filming. This is small reassurance, because it’s the animals in Pet Sematary that are threatening harm, not the other way around.

It’s another movie adaptation of a novel by frightmeister Stephen King, but this time King wrote the screenplay himself. Adding interest is the choice of director Mary Lambert, an artsy type who has made some of the better music videos, including Sting’s “We’ll Be Together” and Madonna’s new scandal, “Like a Prayer.”

Pet Sematary turns out to be one of the better King adaptations. Nothing major here, but it delivers the goods.

King’s scary idea in this one is that a family moves into a remote house in rural Maine, and discovers that its property borders on a pet sema—er, cemetery. As the old geezer (Fred Gwynne) across the road informs them, the cemetery does pretty good business, since the road outside carries constant truck traffic and the local critters are not quite fast enough.

But there’s another funny thing about the cemetery. Animals that are buried there have a way of not staying dead, as the young husband (Dale Midkiff) finds out when the family cat is felled by an 18-wheeler. Kitty comes back, but with a distinctly malevolent attitude. The movie’s kicker comes when Midkiff asks the old-timer the inevitable question: Has anybody ever buried a human out there?

Lambert mounts some scary sequences, and a few of the images are truly creepy. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t get much better than merely effective, because there are too many gaps in the narrative. However, any horror movie that ends with a Ramones song can’t be all bad: “Don’t put me in a pet cemetery….”

First published in the Herald, April 27, 1989

The movie seems to have its share of fans. It’s superior to Silver Bullet, and probably Maximum Overdrive too, but I’m not sure that’s saying very much. Denise Crosby was the female lead.


A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

October 23, 2012

Summer horror movies are falling on their faces.

Jason came a cropper in Friday the 13th, Part VIII, a bad outing even for that low-rent series. Now Freddy Krueger, he of the striped sweater and longish fingernails, weighs in with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. It may be Freddy’s worst.

The first Nightmare on Elm Street, from director Wes Craven, was an edge-of-your-seat experience. The subsequent movies have varied in quality. Part 3 in particular had some creepy moments, and Mr. Krueger has generally kept the energy level up.

Not so in installment No. 5. This is the most incoherent outing yet, with no sense of the rules of suspense or the careful dream scheme of the first Nightmare. The audience could never quite be sure when the dreams were over in the first movie, which meant you couldn’t relax for a moment. Here, Freddy (played once again by the inimitable Robert Englund) can invade the mind of the young heroine (Lisa Wilcox) at any time, not just in her dreams. Ho hum.

Freddy himself keeps in the background, occasionally popping up to deliver a one-liner. Far from the menacing figure of the first film, he’s now a wisecracking chap who simply appears to be a bit cranky. He is, apparently, content to sit back and let the teenagers line up and make themselves Freddybait, which they do with machinelike regularity.

The new wrinkles involve an anorexic-looking model who eats herself to death, under Freddy’s cheerleading supervision, and a nerdy cartoonist who becomes trapped in the pages of a comic book with “Super-Freddy,” the new, pumped-up superhero.

But for the most part, this film is simply boring. (Those who haven’t seen the previous episodes in the series will be particularly bewildered.) If Freddy has let us down, never fear. In a few weeks we’ll be seeing more long-running crazies: Halloween V is on the way, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is also ready to be unleashed. The slasher wars are not over yet.

First published in the Herald, August 1989

This was directed by Stephen Hopkins, who went on to make Blown Away, Lost in Space, and the first season of “24.” Yes.


Friday the 13th Part VIII—Jason Takes Manhattan

October 22, 2012

Jason, the socially maladjusted slasher of the Friday the 13th series, has been stuck in the small town of Crystal Lake for his entire cleaver-hoisting existence. Mind you, Crystal Lake provides an acceptable volume of stupid teenagers for Jason to slice up. But even Jason can dream of new horizons, new challenges. His vagabond shoes are longing to stray.

In the eighth installment of the series, Jason’s little-town blues are melting away; he goes uptown in Friday the 13th Part VIII—Jason Takes Manhattan. Yes, the man with the hockey mask gets himself to New York City, where, appropriately enough, he fits right in.

The TV commercials that have been incessantly promoting this film over the last couple of weeks have stressed the amusing angle that Jason is nothing unusual in New York. Unfortunately, all the good lines are in the commercials. The movie doesn’t have nearly as much fun with this idea as it should.

The ads, and the titles, have been misleading in another way. This film is two-thirds over by the time Jason and the other principals reach New York. The first part of the movie is taken up with a sea cruise, for a high-school graduating class of course, which Jason joins as an unwelcome stowaway. He soon has his hands full: so many teenagers, so little time.

Despite the switch in scenery, this outing is one of the series’ worst. Writer-director Rob Hedden blows nearly every opportunity for shipboard terror, and his treatment of the inner-city stuff is standard and unimaginative. The leading lady (or, main target) is Jensen Daggett, who lends a thoughtful presence; she could be at home in true Gothic material.

At some point, some Friday the 13th movie is going to have to spoof itself. (Intentionally, that is.) But who knows where Jason will turn up next? He may be off to Rio, Tokyo, or Paris; picture Jason crouched over a croissant at a café on the Left Bank, dreaming of ways to kill the waiter. This boy can thrive anywhere.

First published in the Herald, August 3, 1989

How did I not end this review with “He’s gonna make it anywhere”? I guess the movie wore me out, as did this dismal series. The intentionally funny one turned out to be Jason X, by the way.


Pink Cadillac

October 18, 2012

Clint Eastwood runs out of gas in Pink Cadillac, a redneck comedy that looks suspiciously like a bone thrown to his longtime fans.

Eastwood, as a director, has become interested in ambitious projects such as his brave three-hour jazz biography, Bird, and an upcoming adaptation of White Hunter, Black Heart, in which he plays a ruthless film director in Africa (a character modeled on John Huston). But Eastwood is a shrewd businessman who knows which side his bread is buttered on, thus the margarine slapstick of Pink Cadillac.

Clint plays a skip tracer, a guy who finds runaway bail jumpers and brings them back to custody. His boss says, “If I may quote the immortal Olivia Newton-John, ‘Have you never been mellow?'” Actually, Eastwood seems pretty mellow. Indeed, he’s just marking time.

His new quarry is a young mother (Bernadette Peters) who has been wrongly implicated in the counterfeiting scheme of her sleazy husband. When Eastwood finds her spending some of the funny money in Reno, he quickly packs her off. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before she has charmed him and convinced him that she’s lily white. And Clint takes a more active role in her welfare when the sleazy husband kidnaps her baby, which leads to a white supremacist camp where hubby is a card-holding neo-Nazi.

Pink Cadillac is in the vein of Eastwood’s monkey movies, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. There’s no orangutan, but there’s a lot of silliness, much of it absolutely leaden. Buddy Van Horn directs with such laboriousness that it takes forever to establish the simple perimeters of the story.

The climax, in which a lot of things blow up at the supremacist camp, is perfunctory. However, between the setup and the finale is some reasonably laid-back banter between Eastwood and Peters, and John Eskow’s barbed script invents some goofy disguises for Clint to assume (he does a very good tobacco-chewing cretin).

There’s no “Go ahead…make my day” here, but the closest facsimile comes when Eastwood points a gun at the villain’s head and asks, “Are you an organ donor, Alex?” Dirty Harry would’ve smiled.

First published in the Herald, June 1, 1989

A bad one. But then, given his performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, we can conclude that Eastwood’s comedy sense runs along a narrow line of personal taste. Still, typing up the plot of this thing makes it sound lunatic enough to actually be intrigued, if I hadn’t already sat through it once.


Blaze

October 3, 2012

Last year, Bull Durham introduced a talented new director-writer, Ron Shelton, to American moviemaking ranks. Shelton, it was obvious, had a gift for rich characters and offbeat observation, and he had written the sexiest repartee heard in movies in a long time.

Blaze is Shelton’s follow-up movie. It’s a loose account of a true story, the romance between Louisiana governor Earl Long and a New Orleans stripper named Blaze Starr. Their affair took place in 1959-60, just about the time Long (the brother of legendary Louisiana demagogue Huey Long) was being voted out of office and checking in and out of mental institutions.

It’s a juicy story, and Shelton clearly sees the crazy-quilt possibilities for a study in American Absurd. Long, played by Paul Newman, may have been a bit nutty, but he knew how to manipulate people, exchange favors, and cultivate voters. Whoever said insanity was detrimental to a political career, anyway?

Blaze Starr, played by newcomer Lolita Davidovich, is portrayed as a big-hearted innocent who falls into stripping almost by accident. She’s talked into it by a sleazy nightclub owner (Robert Wuhl), who has brought her onstage in a “variety-type situation,” in front of a crowd of sailors. When she balks at dancing around in her skivvies, he reminds her of the supreme sacrifice those boys are willing to give: “Will you do it for America?”

Thus her career is launched, which finally leads her to Bourbon Street and the attention of the governor. After some wonderful parrying, they eventually get together (at their first meeting, he proclaims her act “a powerful expression of basic human needs,” to which she shrugs: “I’m a storyteller”).

Shelton writes great looping dialogue and he has come up with some crackling scenes. The look at Louisiana politics is knowing and funny, although ultimately Shelton is just playing with the subject. He obviously loves his characters, and he writes generous, bright material for them.

As a result, the film, while it seems minor, has a spirit of healthy amusement. For instance, it’s fun to watch Paul Newman play comedy. When Long finds himself unable to perform during his first sexual interlude with Blaze, he apologizes on behalf of the entire state of Louisiana. Newman, full of manly concern, has a great time with the scene.

As for Lolita Davidovich…well. With a name like that, does she need to act? Let’s just say she has the right amount of innocence and sass for the role, and also the appropriate voluptuousness. The production was reportedly thrown into turmoil when she suddenly lost weight just before shooting was to begin and her curves became slightly less distinct. She regained most of the weight, although she wears padding in some of her clothed scenes. Nothing else about her performance is false, however.

First published in the Herald, December 1989

A mild, fun movie, although it didn’t catch on the way some of Shelton’s sports pictures did. Davidovich married Shelton, whose career has been less prominent than fans might have hoped at one time.