The Late Shift (1996, directed by Betty Thomas)


Want to relive the public battle over whether David Letterman or Jay Leno would be Johnny Carson’s successor?

Then The Late Shift is the film for you!

Though it pales when compared to the subsequent battle between Leno and Conan O’Brien, the competition between Letterman and Leno to succeed Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show riveted America in the early 90s.  Most media critics (and, reportedly, Carson himself) felt that Letterman had not only earned the right to host The Tonight Show but that he represented the future of late night comedy.  The NBC network execs, however, preferred Leno, who had served for years as Carson’s permanent guest host and who was viewed as being more of a team player than Letterman.  The end result, of course, was that Leno got The Tonight Show, Letterman switched networks, and for years the country was separated into Leno people and Letterman people.  (Letterman got the critical acclaim but Leno got the ratings.)

The Late Shift opens with the unexpected retirement of Johnny Carson (played, as an enigma, by Rich Little) and then follows Letterman (John Michael Higgins) and Leno (Daniel Roebuck) as they maneuver their way to become his successor.  Unfortunately, neither Higgins nor Roebuck are particularly believable in their roles, though Roebuck does get to wear a truly impressive fake chin.  Far more impressive are Kathy Bates as Leno’s manager and Treat Williams as Mike Ovitz.  Bates rips through her scenes, destroying anyone standing in the way of Jay Leno while Williams is cool, calm, and menacing as the agent who was, at the time the film was made, the most powerful man in Hollywood.

The main problem with The Late Shift is that, when it went into production, Letterman was ahead in the ratings and the film is clearly sympathetic to him.  Leno comes across as a weasel while Letterman is portrayed as being neurotic but brilliant.  But, shortly before the film made its debut on HBO, Leno landed the first interview with Hugh Grant after the latter’s arrest with a prostitute.  Leno not only won that night in the ratings but he won every subsequent night and soon, Letterman was the one who was forever stuck in second place.  A title card was added to the end of  The Late Shift, admitting that Leno was now winning the war for the late night.  Since every minute of the film was designed to make Letterman appear to the winner, it’s hard not to be let down by the ending.

Despite the disappointing ending, The Late Shift is an entertaining look at network politics.  (Seinfeld fans will note that, after playing a version of Warren Littlefield during the show’s 4th season, Bob Balaban was cast as the real thing in The Late Shift.)  After watching the movie, be sure to read the Bill Carter book on which it’s based.

American Outlaws (2001, directed by Les Mayfield)


Returning to their hometown in Missouri in the days following the end of the Civil War, former Confederate guerrillas Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) are disgusted to discover that the railroad companies are trying to take over everyone’s land.  After Cole’s cousin and Jesse’s mother are killed by railway thugs, Jesse and Cole take revenge by forming the James/Younger Gang and robbing banks.  Soon, the members of the James/Younger Gang become folk heroes and the railroad company resorts to bringing in Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to track the outlaws down.  However, even as they try to remain out of the clutches of Pinkerton’s men, there is growing dissension in the ranks of the James/Younger Gang.  Cole feels like Jesse doesn’t respect his opinions while Jesse is falling in love with Zee (Ali Larter) and it’s hard to court a girl when you’re constantly having to hide out from Alan Pinkertson.  Meanwhile, the other members of the gang wonder why their wanted posters never look as good as Jesse’s and Cole’s.

There have been many movies made about the James/Younger Gang and this is certainly one of them.  What sets this telling apart from other versions of this familiar tale is that American Outlaws is the feel-good version of the story.  Bob and Charley Ford are nowhere to be seen in American Outlaws and Jesse James doesn’t get shot in the back while straightening a picture.  This approach misses the point of what makes the legend of Jesse James so memorable in the first place.  Jesse James was the greatest outlaw in the west but he was ultimately taken down by a coward who shot him in the back.  Take out that part of the story and the story loses all of its power.  Jesse James just becomes another outlaw.

In real life, the James/Younger Gang were reportedly a rough group of outlaws who didn’t hesitate when it came to killing.  In American Outlaws, they come across more like a boy band with a side hustle robbing banks.  Jesse is the soulful leader, Cole is the rebel, and the other members of the gang are the interchangeable backup vocalists.  There’s been many good and even great films made about the James/Younger Game.  American Outlaws is not one of them.  For a good movie about the life and times of Jesse James and his associates, I would suggest checking out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

The North Texas Film Critics Association Selects The Irishman As The Best of 2019!


The North Texas Film Critics Association announced their picks for the best of 2019 earlier today.  Speaking as a North Texas film critic, I’m a bit annoyed that I wasn’t consulted but oh well!  (To quote King of the Hill, “North Texas?  More like South Oklahoma!”)  Here are their winners:

BEST FILM

Winner: THE IRISHMAN

Runners-up: 1917; PARASITE; THE FAREWELL; MARRIAGE STORY; JOJO RABBIT; THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON; A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD; ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; FORD V FERRARI; JOKER

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Joaquin Phoenix, JOKER

Runners-up: Robert De Niro, THE IRISHMAN; Adam Driver, MARRIAGE STORY; Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS and Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Charlize Theron, BOMBSHELL

Runners-up: Scarlett Johansson, MARRIAGE STORY; Renée Zellweger, JUDY; Awkwafina, THE FAREWELL and Lupita Nyong’o, US

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Tom Hanks, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Runners-up: Joe Pesci, THE IRISHMAN; Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; Al Pacino, THE IRISHMAN and Song Kang-Ho, PARASITE

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Zhao Shuzhen, THE FAREWELL

Runners-up: Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY; Scarlett Johansson, JOJO RABBIT; Kathy Bates, RICHARD JEWELL and Annette Bening, THE REPORT

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Sam Mendes, 1917

Runners-up: Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN; Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; Noah Baumbach, MARRIAGE STORY and Lulu Wang, THE FAREWELL

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Winner: PARASITE (South Korea)

Runners-up: PAIN AND GLORY (Spain) and LES MISÉRABLES (France)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: APOLLO 11

Runners-up: AMERICAN FACTORY; ONE CHILD NATION; DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME and ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Winner: TOY STORY 4

Runners-up: ABOMINABLE and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Roger Deakins, 1917,

Runner-ups: Jarin Blaschke, THE LIGHTHOUSE; Rodrigo Prieto, THE IRISHMAN; Hoyte Van Hoytema, AD ASTRA; Robert Richardson, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD and Phedon Papamichael, FORD V FERRARI

BEST NEWCOMER

Winner: Roman Griffin Davis was awarded Best Newcomer for JOJO RABBIT

GARY MURRAY AWARD (Best Ensemble)

Winner: KNIVES OUT

Here Are The 2019 Nominations of the Detroit Film Critics Society!


Earlier on Friday, the Detroit Film Critics Society released their nominations for the best of 2019!

Now, back in 2018, the DFCS honored some great films that were overlooked by the Academy, films like Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, and First Reformed.  I mean, I really, really loved the 2018 DFCS awards.  And you know what?  I’m pretty happy with what they came up with for 2019 as well!  I especially like the nomination for Anna Paquin in The Irishman.  With all the overblown controversy about how many lines she spoke in the film, it is often overlooked that she gave a great performance and, with just the power of her withering glare, pretty much transformed Peggy into the conscience of the film.

Here are the DFCS nominees for the best of 2019!  The winners will be announced on December 9th!

BEST PICTURE
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST DIRECTOR
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit

BEST ACTRESS
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Julianne Moore – Gloria Bell
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renee Zellweger – Judy

BEST ACTOR
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Robert Pattinson – The Lighthouse
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe – The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Sam Rockwell – Richard Jewell
Wesley Snipes – Dolemite Is My Name

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Anna Paquin – The Irishman
Florence Pugh – Little Women

BEST SCREENPLAY
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Toy Story 4

BEST USE OF MUSIC
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Rocketman
Uncut Gems
Wild Rose

BEST ENSEMBLE
Dolemite Is My Name
The Farewell
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Amazing Grace
Apollo 11
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Knocking Down the House
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

BREAKTHROUGH
Ana de Armas – actress (Knives Out, The Informer, Yesterday)
Jessie Buckley – actress (Wild Rose, Judy)
Kaitlyn Dever – actress (Booksmart, Them That Follow)
Aisling Franciosi – actress (The Nightingale)
Paul Walter Hauser – actor (Richard Jewell)
Florence Pugh – actress (Fighting with My Family, Midsommar, Little Women)
Lulu Wang – director (The Farewell)
Olivia Wilde – director (Booksmart)

The National Board of Review Selects The Irishman and Adam Sandler


The National Board of Review, which is generally considered to be the first major precursors of the Awards Season, announced their picks for the best of 2019 earlier today and it was a good day for both The Irishman and Adam Sandler.

I haven’t seen Uncut Gems yet but, from a historical point of view, I’d love to see Adam Sandler pick up an Oscar nomination because that would seriously be the plot twist that, just a few months ago, no one saw coming.

Here are the National Board of Review’s selections!

  • Best Film:  THE IRISHMAN
  • Best Director:  Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
  • Best Actor:  Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS
  • Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, JUDY
  • Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Kathy Bates, RICHARD JEWELL
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein, UNCUT GEMS
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Steven Zaillian, THE IRISHMAN
  • Breakthrough Performance: Paul Walter Hauser, RICHARD JEWELL
  • Best Directorial Debut:  Melina Matsoukas, QUEEN & SLIM
  • Best Animated Feature:  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
  • Best Foreign Language Film: PARASITE
  • Best Documentary:  MAIDEN
  • Best Ensemble:  KNIVES OUT
  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917
  • NBR Icon Award: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  FOR SAMA
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  JUST MERCY

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

  • 1917
  • Dolemite is My Name
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Knives Out
  • Marriage Story
  • Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
  • Richard Jewell
  • Uncut Gems
  • Waves

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)

  • Atlantics
  • Invisible Life
  • Pain and Glory
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Transit

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

  • American Factory
  • Apollo 11
  • The Black Godfather
  • Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
  • Wrestle

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)

  • The Farewell
  • Give Me Liberty
  • A Hidden Life
  • Judy
  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco
  • Midsommar
  • The Nightingale
  • The Peanut Butter Falcon
  • The Souvenir
  • Wild Rose

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions For November


Well, here we are!

We’re on the verge of the official start of Oscar season.  The Spirit Nominations have been announced.  The National Board of Review will be announcing their picks on December 3rd (I believe).  In just about a week from now, we’re going to be flooded by hundreds of different guilds and critics groups handing out awards and it will be a struggle to keep up.  With so many strong contenders this year, it’ll be interesting to see who actually emerges with the momentum.

(For instance, I don’t think anyone really took Mad Max: Fury Road seriously as an Oscar contender until it started sweeping all the critics groups in December.  And then we were all like, “Well, of course it’s going to be nominated for best picture….”)

With all that in mind, I’m going to go out on a limb with a few of my predictions below.  I mean, why not?  At this point, anything could happen.

To see how my thinking has evolved over time, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October!

Without further ado, here are my predictions for November:

Best Picture

1917

Bombshell

The Irishman

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Parasite

Richard Jewell

Uncut Gems

Best Director

Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story

Joon-Ho Bong for Parasite

Clint Eastwood for Richard Jewell

Jay Roach for Bombshell

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Best Actor

Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Charlize Theron in Bombshell

Alfre Woodard in Clemency

Renee Zellweger in Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy

Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes

Al Pacino in The Irishman

Joe Pesci in The Irishman

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell

Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

Thomasin McKenzie in JoJo Rabbit

Margot Robbie in Bombshell

Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell

 

A Movie A Day #318: The War At Home (1996, directed by Emilio Estevez)


The year is 1972 and it is Thanksgiving week in small town America.  The Colliers are getting ready for the holidays.  Maurine (Kathy Bates) is intent on preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal.  Bob (Martin Sheen) is keeping an eye on his car dealership and wondering why kids today are not as respectful as they once were.  The two Collier children are coming home from school.  The youngest, Karen (Kimberly Williams), is hoping she can keep the peace because she knows that her older brother, Jeremy (Emilio Estevez), has returned from Vietnam a changed man.  Suffering from severe PTSD, Jeremy is haunted by flashbacks and angry at everything, especially his father.  The only reason he even attended college was so he could be near his girlfriend (Carla Gugino) and even she has told him that she no longer feels comfortable around him.  When Jeremy returns home, his family first tries to ignore the problems that he’s having adjusting to civilian life but Jeremy is determined not to be ignored.

Emilio Estevez famously agreed to appear, for free, in the third Mighty Ducks films in return for Disney agreeing to produce and distribute The War At Home.  Unfortunately, this heartfelt movie has never gotten the attention that it deserves.  While Estevez’s direction is never subtle and the script , which was based on a play, is often heavy-handed, The War At Home is redeemed by the powerful performances of Estevez, Bates, Sheen, and Williams.  Bates is especially good as the perfect homemaker who is revealed to be smarter than anyone realized.  The War At Home is a good but overlooked film that is still relevant today.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #115: Revolutionary Road (dir by Sam Mendes)


Revolutionary_roadI have such mixed feelings about the 2008 film Revolutionary Road.

As you may remember, Revolutionary Road got a lot of attention because it reunited the Titanic lovers, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.  In Revolutionary Road, they would be playing the type of married couple that we all know Jack and Rose would have become if the boat hadn’t hit that iceberg.

Revolutionary Road also got a lot of attention because it was directed by Sam Mendes and it was a return to the “suburbs-as-Hell” genre of filmmaking that won Mendes an undeserved Oscar for his work on American Beauty.

And finally, Revolutionary Road was based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates that had originally been declared to be unfilmmable.  After decades of being optioned and then abandoned, Revolutionary Road was finally coming to the screen.

With all that in mind, a lot of critics expected that Revolutionary Road would be one of the best films of the year.  When the film itself was finally released, there were a few ecstatic reviews.  There were predictions of Oscar glory.  But, for the most part, both audiences and critics had a somewhat muted reaction.  The film itself simply did not live up to all of the build up.

That said, Kate Winslet gave a great performance.  In the role of aspiring actress-turned-housewife-turned-prisoner April, Winslet gives a fierce and tragic performance.  The film revolves around April’s struggle to live her own life and pursue her own ambitions in a world that continually tells her that she should simply be happy and content to have a husband, two children, and a house in the suburbs.  When April describes her life as being full of “hopeless emptiness,” we all know exactly what she’s talking about.

Leonardo DiCaprio was a bit less convincing as her husband, Frank.  Then again, that’s not really a surprise.  DiCaprio is always at his worse whenever he has to play a “normal” character.  His screen presence is too off-center for him to be believable as a suburban conformist.  It was obviously good publicity to reunite DiCaprio and Winslet but that doesn’t change the fact that Leo is totally miscast.  Whenever Frank and April fight, Kate Winslet seems to be screaming from her very soul while DiCaprio is just shrill.  Admittedly, Frank is meant to be a shallow character but that doesn’t justify a shallow performance.

Throughout the film, Frank and April are constantly nagged by their real estate agent, Helen Givings (Kathy Bates).  Whenever Helen drops by the house, she goes “Yoo hoo!” in the shrillest way possible and the audiences is reminded that Sam Mendes is not a particularly subtle director.  That willingness to go over-the-top made him the perfect director for Skyfall but, in both American Beauty and this film, it just leads to some talented actors giving very bad performances.

Helen’s son, John (Michael Shannon), has one of those cinematic mental illnesses, the type that gives him the power to explicitly state each scene’s subtext.  John is also one of those overly theatrical characters who works a lot better as a literary conceit than as an actual character.

And really, I guess that sums up why I have never liked Revolutionary Road as much as I wanted to.  The film works whenever it focuses on Kate Winslet, precisely because she gives such a heartfelt and naturalistic performance.  However, at the same time, Winslet is so good that she exposes how artificial and theatrical the rest of the film is.  If only the rest of the production had followed Winslet’s lead, Revolutionary Road could have been something great.

For all the pre-release Oscar hype, Revolutionary Road was largely ignored when it came to the Academy Awards.  Michael Shannon received a surprise nomination for best supporting actor but otherwise, the film was snubbed.  Kate Winslet, however, did finally win an Oscar that year when she picked up the Best Actress award for her performance in The Reader.

Shattered Politics #63: Primary Colors (dir by Mike Nichols)


Primaryposter

Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is the charismatic governor of an unnamed Southern state.  After spending his entire life in politics, Jack is finally ready to run for President.  Even more ready is his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson).  Jack proves himself to be a strong candidate, a good speaker who understands the voters and who has the ability to project empathy for almost anyone’s situation. He’s managed to recruit a talented and dedicated campaign staff, including the flamboyant Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and journalist Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).  Henry is the son of a civil rights leader and, as soon as they meet, Jack talks about the first time that he ever heard Henry’s father speak.  Within minutes of first meeting him, Henry believes in Jack.

The problem, however, is that there are constant hints that Jack may not be worthy of his admiration.  There’s the fact that he’s a compulsive womanizer who is given to displays of temper and immaturity.  When one of Jack’s old friends reveals that Jack may have impregnated his daughter, Jack and Susan respond with a pragmatic ruthlessness that takes Henry by surprise.

When one of Jack’s mistresses threatens to go public, Henry is partnered up with Libby (Kathy Bates) and sent to dig up dirt on her and her sponsors.  When the former governor of Florida, Freddie Picker (Larry Hagman), emerges as a threat to derail Jack’s quest for the nomination, Henry and Libby are again assigned to research Picker’s background.  Libby is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.  Recovering from a mental breakdown, Libby has no trouble threatening to shoot one political opponent but she’s still vulnerable and idealistic enough that it truly hurts her when Jack and Susan repeatedly fail to live up to her ideals.  As an out lesbian, Libby is perhaps the only character who has no trouble revealing her true self and, because of her honesty, she is the one who suffers the most.

First released in 1998 and based on a novel by Joe Klein, Primary Colors is an entertaining and ultimately rather bittersweet dramedy about the American way of politics.  John Travolta and Emma Thompson may be playing Jack and Susan Stanton but it’s obvious from the start that they’re meant to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to Travolta’s attempt to sound Southern, this is ultimately one of his best performances.  As played by Travolta, Jack Stanton is charming, compassionate, self-centered, and ultimately, incredibly frustrating.  One reason why Primary Colors works is because we, as an audience, come to believe in Jack just as much as Henry does and then we come to be just as disillusioned as Libby.  Emma Thompson’s performance is a little less obviously based on Hillary.  Unlike Travolta, she doesn’t attempt to imitate Hillary’s voice or mannerisms.  But she perfectly captures the steely determination.

Primary Colors captures both the thrill of believing and the inevitability of disillusionment.  It’s definitely a film that I will rewatch in the days leading up to 2016.

Embracing the Melodrama #38: High Stakes (dir by Amos Kollek)


High Stakes

Yesterday, I said that Dance or Die was the most obscure film that I would be reviewing for this series of melodramatic film reviews.  Well, I may have spoken too soon.  Originally, I was not planning on reviewing the 1989 film High Stakes for this series.  Until a few nights ago, I had never even heard of it.  However, I watched it late last night and I realized immediately that I had to include it in this series.

High Stakes is one of those odd, older films that occasionally pops up as filler on Encore, playing in between showings of movies that people have actually heard of.  When I first came across this film listed in the guide, it was mentioned that High Stakes was Sarah Michelle Gellar’s film debut.  However, before all of my fellow Buffy fans get all excited, they should be aware that Sarah was only 12 years old when she appeared in High Stakes and she spends most of her screen time going, “Mommy!”  If not for her name in the credits, you would never suspect that the little girl playing Sally Kirkland’s daughter would later grow up to play one of the most iconic characters in film history.

Sarah plays the daughter of Bambi (Sally Kirkland), an aging New York-based prostitute and stripper who works for the demonic pimp Slim (Richard Lynch).  Bambi hates her life but she does what she has to do to support her daughter.  One night, Bambi finds a man passed out in the garbage across the street from her apartment.  That man is John Stratton (Richard LuPone), a crooked stock broker who has recently grown disillusioned with his greed-fueled life.  John is laying in the garbage because he’s just been mugged.  Despite her natural instincts, Bambi takes sympathy on John and allows him to come up to her apartment.  John and Bambi start to talk about their respective lives, just to have the conversation interrupted by one of Slim’s henchmen showing up at the apartment and demanding money.  John and the henchmen get into a physical altercation and soon, he and Bambi find themselves on the run with $4,000 of Slim’s money.

As directed by Amos Kollek, High Stakes is essentially two different stories.  One of which is rather conventional thriller, in which John and Bambi have to escape from Slim.  The thriller elements are rather predictable, distinguished only by Richard Lynch’s notably unhinged performance.  The other part of the film is the opposites-attract love story between John and Bambi and these scenes work a lot better.  LuPone and Kirkland have a lot of a chemistry and some of the best moments in the film are the ones where the characters simply talk about their different lives.  Kirkland, in particular, does a good job and she manages to bring some unexpected shadings to a stock role.  She’s especially good in her scenes with Sarah Michelle Gellar, radiating a very natural maternal instinct.  By the end of the film, you truly like Bambi and root for her.  Despite all of my natural expectations, High Stakes turned out to be a rather sweet and touching film.

High Stakes may be an obscure film but it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for the next time it shows up on Encore.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sally Kirkland in High Stakes

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sally Kirkland in High Stakes

That concludes the 80s.  Tomorrow, we’ll start in on the 90s.