James Wolcott

64 Articles

June 30, 1987

New Age Cyrano

While Roxanne is steeped in friendliness, Summer Heat is full of humid clichés; Personal Services is too pleased with itself, but The Big Easy has a hang-loose, big-spender quality.

May 31, 1987

Extreme Imitation

Extreme Prejudice trips over its bloody missteps; Heaven climbs a staircase to the stars; Prick Up Your Ears delivers crisp witticisms and cruisy pickups; Ishtar completely lacks l’amour.

April 30, 1987

Trailer Trash

Everyone in Raising Arizona has a libido for the ugly, and the guys in Tin Men can’t see past their hood ornaments; Hollywood Shuffle loses its hip mind; Street Smart has a crazed, electric menace.

April 1, 1987

Tuned Out

Radio Days is a nostalgic doodle; Black Widow needs fewer poses and more cheap lust; Dead of Winter is spookhouse-scary—but schlocky; The Good Wife is soapy yet strangely affecting.

March 1, 1987

Epic Embroidery

The action in Platoon is brilliantly sustained, but The Mission falls with a stately thud; The Bedroom Window aspires to be as spellbound as an Alfred Hitchcock, but The Defense of the Realm is the engrossing thriller.

January 1, 1987

The Three Sisters

Crimes of the Heart is a warm spill of sunshine, but Betty Blues is a mindless lump of misery and ¡Three Amigos! isn’t friendly at all.

December 1, 1986

Scratch Shot

The Color of Money veers off into technique; Police goes flaccid; Menage succumbs to mystification; Round Midnight reduces jazz to a dirge; Something Wild has a lurid kick.

November 1, 1986

Ball of Glitter

Technologically, Captain EO is a marvel, but the plot is banal to the point of retrograde; Touch and Go has drive and laughs; True Stories has no stories; The Men’s Club is a stag party with pretensions; Shanghai Surprise is a passable waste of time.

August 31, 1986

Getting Even Gets Old

Revenge has seldom been so incendiary, but Heartburn fails to ignite; Blue Velvet is for the brave; Club Paradise is for the jolly.

July 31, 1986

Dagwood As D.A.

Legal Eagles is guilty of being humdrum and hokey; Mona Lisa has some fine, gracing touches; Vagabond finds purity within the dirtiest packaging.

June 30, 1986

High and Dry

Top Gun is just a high-tech skeet shoot; Alan Alda shows a wet blanket over the fun in Sweet Liberty; Desert Bloom has a bittersweet significance; The Manhattan Project needs an attitude adjustment.

May 31, 1986

Slow-motion Dilemma

Violets Are Blue is swimming in heavy conflict; Wise Guys is mostly slob humor, Absolute Beginners is an absolute mess; At Close Range is a violent ambush.

April 30, 1986

Pokey Romance

A Room With a View takes in edifying sights; Gung Ho settles for schmaltz; Just Between Friends makes glib chat.

April 1, 1986

Upper West Side Story

Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody gone schmaltzy; F/X is implausible but entertaining; 9 1/2 Weeks is an eternity; Power is oppressively didactic.

March 1, 1986

Dizzy Spin

Down and out in Beverly Hills is Mazursky magic; Clan of the Cave Bear is Sheena of the Stone Age; Trouble in Mind is—never mind.

February 1, 1986

Me Redford, You Streep

Out of Africa is lavishly done up but emotionally dehumidified; Young Sherlock Holmes is more Hardy Boys than Conan Doyle; Revolution is nothing but a megabucks disaster.

December 1, 1985

Queen of the Rodeo

In Sweet Dreams, Jessica Lange is a dynamo of female gumption; Hail Mary makes the Immaculate Conception an inconsequential miracle; Joshua Then and Now is entertainingly busy and uncouth; Twice in a Lifetime is twice too often.

November 1, 1985

Missing the Pointe

White Nights is too much cold war, not enough Baryshnikov; After Hours is overwrought Scorcese; Mishima is a mishmash.

September 30, 1985

Waxy Buildup

Plenty isn’t enough; Year of the Dragon is a yellow-devil hysteria; uncompromised casting makes Compromising Positions click; Volunteers imposes eighties cynicism on sixties idealism.

August 31, 1985

Restless Itch

Songwriter is like a great party; Kiss of the Spider Woman doesn’t connect; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome runs out of gas; Key Exchange is too cute; Disney’s Black Cauldron isn’t for kids.

July 31, 1985

All in the Family

Prizzi’s Honor is a macabre satire of the two-career marriage; Cocoon can’t burst free of its nice-guy limitations; Pale Rider recycles all the wrong western riffs; St. Elmo’s Fire should have been doused from the start.

June 30, 1985

Boffo Brits

The Shooting Party hits the bull’s-eye; Rambo: First Blood Part II makes Viet Nam the Club Med of mass death; A View to a Kill should have considered suicide.

April 30, 1985

Fish Story

Alamo Bay gets in over its head; Lost in America finds itself through comedy; The Slugger's Wife strikes out.

April 1, 1985

Zombie Heaven

Into the Night leaves you in the dark; The Breakfast Club’s teenagers are out to lunch, Witness is a solemn eyeful.

March 1, 1985

Liquid Shimmer

In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen takes a cold look at movie-fed dreams; the late, great Sam Peckinpah gave us an impassioned view of a violent world.

February 1, 1985

Wilds of the Soul

Mrs. Soffel weaves a tale of love and damnation; A Passage to India is a smooth, brocaded expedition; The Cotton Club offers pomp by the bale.

January 1, 1985

Star Dreck

2010: a space travesty; Dune gets mired in pomp and slime; A Soldier’s Story is a murder mystery with soul; even Streep and De Niro can’t save Falling in Love; The Brother from Another Planet is woozily morose.

December 1, 1984

Double Trouble

Body Double settles for facile thrills; Comfort and Joy offers moments of magical bliss; The Little Drummer Girl is off-pitch.

November 1, 1984

Downer on the Farm

Country and Places in the Heart both heap on down-home moral uplift; Stop Making Sense is a joyous rockumentary; Amadeus spouts dingdong conceits.

September 30, 1984

Half of Me

Steve Martin’s new comedy All of Me is half-baked; The Gods Must Be Crazy is an amiable tall tale with giraffes; Tanya Roberts is sexy-heroic as Sheena, queen of the pulp jungle drama; Last Night at the Alamo is a rowdy last stand.

August 31, 1984

Prince of Wails

Prince’s Purple Rain is short on plot and dialogue but long on fancy anguish; The Bostonians is a namby-pamby treatment of Henry James’ biting novel.

July 31, 1984

Getting Slimed

Ghostbusters is funny but flawed; Streets of Fire is not the place to spend a care-free afternoon; plus three films from abroad.

June 30, 1984

Temple of Excess

Indiana Jones bashes us with unthinking cruelty: The Natural is a balk; Sixteen Candlesis lit up with tickling teenage talk.

April 30, 1984

Cheetah! Fetch Tarzan New Script

In Greystoke, neither Tarzan nor the audience gets to have any fun; Moscow on the Hudson takes a wonderful comedy and runs; Racing With the Moon is nostalgic and sure, but the plot comes undone.

April 1, 1984

Bait and Switch

Against All Odds promises love, delivers yawns. Entre Nous repels rather than attracts. Footloose and Reckless aren’t. This is Spinal Tap is painless.

March 1, 1984

Mermaid Love

Ron Howard’s Splash is a refreshing frolic; Broadway Danny Rose gives us the old soft shoe; And the Ship Sails On is out to sea; Reuben, Reuben is a dark but funny double-decker.

February 1, 1984

Silkwood’s Blight

Dread is the main character in Silkwood; To Be or Not to Be can’t make up its mind; The Dresser is a fussy failure; The Man Who Loved Women doesn’t.

January 1, 1984

The Godfather Goes Slumming

Al Pacino carries on the gangster tradition in Scarface; the mystery in Gorky Park is not whodunit but who'll survive the investigation; Tentl is a Barbra Streisand tour de force.

December 1, 1983

Terminal Endearment

Terms of Endearment features a Houston setting but also drab cinematography and cramped direction. The sickening Star 80 goes too far; the impressionistic Rumble Fish reaches too high.

November 1, 1983

Cool Minds in a Hot War

Nick Nolte is a journalist dodging bullets and political involvement in Under Fire. The Right Stuff is about Americans, space, and manifest destiny. The Big Chill is a warm look at the cooling of sixties idealism.

September 30, 1983

Daniel’s Lot

In Daniel the hero has to bear the burn of his parents’ treason, while the audience must endure a lot of misery. The Moon in the Gutter is a film in search of eclipse. Education Rita is an enjoyable elective.

August 31, 1983

History’s Nebbish

The tale of schlemiels schlemiel, Zelig is as funny, endearing, and slight as Woody Allen himself. Staying Alive is suicidal. The quick Grey Fox jumps nimbly the pitfalls of making a western.

July 31, 1983

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

The third time is not always the charm. In Superman III our hero finds himself in a blue funk, and his melancholia is the liveliest part of the show. The Survivors doesn’t make it. Escape your little gray cells and enjoy The Man With Two Brains. Trading Places exchanges wit

June 30, 1983

Wookiees on Parade

Return of the Jedi is a star shower of new creatures and old favorites that leaves you wowed but underwhelmed. Breathless is suffocating. WarGanes starts out with a bang and ends with a whimper. Flashdance has a certain twinkle.

April 30, 1983

Double Jeopardy

What’s Exposed is the worlds of fashion and terrorism and the curves of Nastassia Kinski. Blue Thunder is nothing but noise; Tender Mercies, on the other hand, is practically a silent.

March 1, 1983

The Nerd Who Would Be King

Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy is about the stock-in-trade of comedians, but who’s the laughingstock? You’ll be smitten with Lovesick. The Year of Living Dangerously teeters precariously between metaphysics and lust.

February 1, 1983

Next to Godliness

Gandhi presents its title character as all but a god and India as all but a paradise. Starstruck is a lark; Sophie’s Choice is a letdown.

January 1, 1983

Nolo Contendere

Paul Newman stars as an existential ambulance chaser in The Verdict, a dismal study of law and disorder. Best Friends will alienate you; Heartaches will make you feel good. 48 Hrs. is dirty talk and deja vu.

December 1, 1982

Truth and Woolworth’s

Life is false fronts and fantasies to the women who flock to a dusty Texas town in Robert Altman’s Com Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. The Missionary won’t convert you. Still of the Night is still, all right.

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