The Early Cult Films
I've always thought of Good Times as a brainless romp through the wildflower fields. Colonel Tom Parker, manager of all things Elvis, is responsible for encouraging Sonny Bono to make this little showcase movie, something along the lines of the light fare Elvis was doing at the time. But the movie does have a dark side: the entertainment industry comes off as quite ruthless (the studio producer character played by George Sanders says lines like: "Small nations are such bad risks.") and Cher sulks through almost every scene. It's basically a loose story about Sonny's attempts to negotiate a movie deal, both between his wife and shifty Hollywood types. In the meantime, he fantasizes about the kind of movie they should star in and little genre skits ensue. Sonny and Cher play their hip selves, 60s style, in a western, a Tarzan spoof and a Film Noir crime drama. There's plenty of marital conflict in scenes where Cher begins to believe Sonny is compromising his integrity by becoming involved with the sordid folks of movie-making, a shrewd gang of men headed by the dapper George Sanders. This is director William Freidkin's (The Exorcist, The French Connection) first feature film. It's very colorful, the soundtrack is fun, and you get to see Sonny & Cher in their natural habitat. All which makes it worthwhile for me to watch but non-fans might not get such a kick out of it. In reality, Cher wasn't keen to do the movie. Although she wanted to be an actress above everything else, she probably imagined a more serious acting debut for herself. But for fans, it's good to see Sonny & Cher in action, entertainment innocents, blissfully unaware of the meaning inherent in the word "comeback."
My favorite quote from the movie: "Skip De Doo, Irv!"
Sonny wrote the script for this movie as a showcase for Cher's dramatic talent. His script was reputed to have been based on Cher which sounds like the kind of backhanded compliment Arthur Miller made once to Marilyn Monroe when he wrote The Misfits based on her. Sometimes we just don't wanna know how our mates see us. We really don't. Sonny worked behind the scenes on this movie, mostly rewriting his original script. He backed-down from letting Cher do the script's sexually explicit scenes. Unfortunately, he watered his script down to incomprehensibility. Cher admits the original material was good and expresses regret about the final outcome. Frankly, Cher didn't want to make this movie either. And there was real marital discord on the set (although technically they weren't married yet). Sonny and Cher made up in due order and Chastity, the human being, was conceived and the official marriage papers were eventually signed. In the movie, see Cher pump gas, eat tacos, negotiate herself out of a trick and ramble on! Many fleeting images of whorehouse depravity, themes of incest, sexual experimentation, madness and homelessness hint at something deep Sonny might have been thinking about. But there nothing solid on screen for you to get a real handle on. Dr. John's version of "Walk on Guilded Splinters" can be heard during one Mexican cat-house scene which is interesting when you compare it to Cher's version recorded at Muscle Shoals later in 1969. Although filmed in Phoenix, the movie has a very Mexico-vibe about it (full of tacos, street side nightlife, just about everything but Benicio Del Toro).
My favorite line from this movie: "You stink...this whole place stinks!"
Most people, including Cher, consider this her film debut. In fact Cher never includes the previous movies in 80s-era tourbook filmographies. This is a shame, because Good Times and Chastity both have their charms and they show us how far Cher had come from 1967 to 1983. During the 1970s, movie makers turned their backs as Cher tried to break into legitimate acting. She was considered untalented, a joke, doomed to pass her remaining entertainment days in Las Vegas showrooms. Seen in this light, Jimmy Dean really was Cher's acting debut. Robert Altman took the chance on her (supposedly a very big chance as her audition didn't go that well) and therefore it can probably be said that Altman discovered Cher as an actress. This movie performance (and the play performance it was based on) is one of Cher's best, most physically engaging performances. However, the movie is structured around one confusing stage gimmick: any scenes performed through the mirror behind the soda counter occur in the past; scenes that appear in front of the mirror of the soda counter occur in the present. Some critics were put off by this and the melodramatic story line; but if you can go with it, you'll get to enjoy some great Cher monologues.
My favorite line from this movie: "I'm happy, God dammit!"
This is a story of nuclear plant whistle-blower, Karen Silkwood (played by Meryl Streep), and how her union activities might have possibly caused her an untimely death. Mike Nichols, who harshly rejected Cher for a role in his 70s movie The Fortune saw Cher in her Broadway run of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean. He came backstage to personally apologize to Cher and offer her a role in this project. Cher accepted script unseen. Her characterization of a frumpy lesbian in this movie is almost perfectly understated. This is primarily a Meryl Streep vehicle, but Cher's scenes pull weight. She was apparently pretty nervous to go head-to-head with Streep and almost backed out. But Streep eventually supplied Cher with support and encouragement during the hard early days when preview audiences laughed at the sight of Cher's name in the opening credits alongside Streep's. The very moving porch swing scene between the two gives you a hint about the kind of collaboration Streep and Cher had in the movie. Here is another winning performance by Streep who seems to be able to play anything from upper crust to working class with equal ease. Cher won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting actress for this performance and this was the Cher performance everybody saw and was surprised by and served as her official breakthrough critically speaking. No one thought the idea of Cher as an actress was so hysterical anymore.
My favorite line from this movie: "You know what happens to girls who never monitor themselves? Their nipples turn green."
After the success of her reviews in Silkwood, Cher was on everybody's mind, including scriptwriter Anna Hamilton Phelan who wrote Mask with Cher in mind for the role of a biker-chick mom to craniofacial syndrome sufferer Rocky Dennis. Cher's performance here is probably the one that will define her movie career. She scored with both critics and fans for her forceful, in-your-face performance. The story is a heartbreaking and inspiring, as well, one that even inspired the star herself to become the Craniofacial Associations' celebrity spokesperson, hosting retreats for kids and financially supporting surgeries for kids whose parents can't cover the costs. To writer Hamilton Phelan and director Peter Bogdanovich's credit, this very simple and straightforward storytelling still holds up today, although Bogdanovich pulled some melodramatic hysterics over the soundtrack when the movie was released. Cher's performance stole his and the everybody else's thunder. She had some intense scenes to play and many believed she was snubbed for an Oscar nomination that year.
My favorite line from this movie: "Now you can go anywhere you want, baby."
The Academy Year
A troubled set and a big budget make for some great eye candy of a movie but little on substance or structure. The director didn't seem to have any real vision for what to do with the source material, the book by John Updike. Maybe this insecurity is partly to blame for his making "the girls" (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michele Pfeiffer) lives hell during the filming. Everybody and everything looks great in the film, the transitions are slick and some monologues are full of fire and brimstone, but Cher plays Cher and Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer don't offer anything breathtaking, anything near what they've all been able to do in other movies. All that said, this movie has that big studio re-watch-ablility and the scenes between Jack and Cher have attained a kind of cult following. It's the first Cher movie that made scads of money, thereby giving Cher blockbuster bank-ability.
My favorite line from this movie: "Sam was huge and there were times when I just couldn't face it."
A quiet little gem, this is probably my favorite Cher movie. For once, Cher plays against type (a hesitant worker bee vs. ballsy chick) and it's full of heady stuff like library books, files full of legal brief and lots of interesting tid-bits on D.C. politics between judges, senators and lobbyists, plus your always satisfying courtroom drama. Because it was understated, more meticulous than the larger-than-life personas Cher is known to play, this wasn't one of hers most popular pictures, but it's like a nice refreshing sherbet between main courses...something different to clear the palette. Besides The Family Channel, which seemed to be running the movie every time I ran through my cable, I seem to be alone in my great love for this movie.
My favorite line from this movie: "They don't pay me enough to freeze my jones off and stay awake, too."
Read my longer review: Suspect, Cher's Smartest Film.
Cher's performance for her portrayal of a Brooklyn Italian widow scored her a best actress Academy Award. I first saw this movie on opening night when I was 18 and most of its charm went right over my head. Since then, with a little experience of hearts under my belt and after getting to know a New York neighborhood full of Italians, I have come to love the soft, offbeat message of this movie as epitomized by Ronnie, Nicholas Cage's character: "Love don't make things nice...it ruins everything...it breaks your heart...it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!" Ahhh...that hurts just right! The stellar ensemble cast (including John Mahoney, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso and Olympia Dukakis, who also won an academy award for her performance) showcase the special undercurrent of magic about New York City that usually only locals get to see. You can read the script online.
My favorite line from this movie: "Now he's gonna play that damn Vicki Carr record and when he comes to bed he won't touch me."
Even though many Cher fans love this movie, even though some critics like it too, and obviously the Bravo channel liked it for all the times they played it, I don't like it. I think everyone responds to it because Cher plays a charming and quirky mother, full of humorous eccentricity. It's basically an adolescent angst story revolving around Winona Ryder's character. The movie seems lost between comedy and drama. But it's not funny enough. And it doesn't delve into Winona's crises enough. It does a half-ass job in both directions. Many of the scenes go nowhere interesting, the characters do inexplicable things for the sake of being quirky and Cher's actions seem a basic retread of earlier performances - the slapping of the kid, the crying scene. I know I must be missing something because I'm in the huge minority on this one. For starters, I'm missing an engaging plot and full-fleshed characters.
It's possible this movie may go down as Cher's worst received and worst box-office. Problems include slow pacing and implausible characters. Based on a play, written by Chazz Palminteri, who stars as the hit man hired by Ryan O'Neil to kill the wife played by Cher, this movie is also lost between comedy and drama. The comedy keeps us from taking the drama of it seriously and the drama that should be inherent in the situation keeps us from accepting the comedy. But where this movie really falls flat is on timing. It drags. It should work like The Ref but fails because the meandering two-character dialogue slows the action down. And it's awfully hard to sit through scenes with the bloated, vain, barely endurable Ryan O'Neil. It feels too much like typecasting for my comfort.
This was a made-for-cable trilogy of vignettes about women facing issues of abortion over a forty-year time period. The first story, starring Demi Moore, the trilogy's producer, is set in the 1940s and about a botched home-abortion. The second story stars Sissy Spacek as a homemaker in the 70s. Cher directs the 1990s vignette very aptly and takes a small part as a doctor in an abortion clinic targeted by anti-abortionist protesters. Anne Heche stars as a student knocked up by her college professor, played by Craig T. Nelson. Although the movie attempts to show balanced viewpoints about abortion, it's highly charged politically. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but be aware going in. If you gonna sit down with the family and watch a movie about abortion, laugh riots won't ensue and you'll probably get into a huge fight with your cousin Doris.
Cher shines as an American abroad in the 1940s, a brazen Yankee at odds with a company of British Grande Dames (the best acting chops Britain has to offer: Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith). Even though Cher's acting is becoming more mannered and self-conscious these days (especially compared with the easy physicality of earlier roles like Jimmy Dean and Mask), Cher is full of zest playing a character type she can pull off very well: the well-coiffed period vaudevillian, which makes the inevitably unrequited wait for a project like Mame all the more hard.
My favorite line from this movie: "Aren't you rather letting yourself go?"
The best part of this movie was the awesome merchandising products: from the Burlesque nail polish kit to the Burlesque MAC makeup box to the Burlesque earbuds to the production hardback book. Waiting for this movie to open in theaters was a real treat. Watching the movie in theaters was anything but. Cher was perfectly cast of course and she does the Cher thing on cue and Christina Aquilera did fine; but the script was abysmal, neither burlesque nor camp, neither drama nor comedy. I'd even say the dancing and costumes were nothing to write Bob Fosse's ghost about. All the sweat was put into the meticulous sets, which are top notch. The rest is pretty amateurish and, crime-of-all-crimes, painfully dull.
Read the album soundtrack review.
Mama Mia! Here We Go Again - 2018
Directed by Ol Parker
I was really torn whether or not to put this performance in the major or minor category. Cher is literally in the movie only in the last 10 minutes. She basically plays a version of herself, a superstar singer, and her appearance has nothing much to do with the plot. But on the other hand, criticism of the movie focused mainly on Cher (one reviewer calling her the Frank Sinatra walk-on that takes over the movie), plus she's on the poster. Truth be told, I never saw the prequel to this, but the movie is pretty thin and fluffy. Good for having on in the background while you're cleaning. There are big plot holes, such as Cher's character was supposed to have been dead in the first film. The leads are talented but don't have much to work with. It's more like a big party and a reason to shoot on location than it is a good story. Then again, her two songs, "Fernando" and "Super Trooper" are fun to watch and the behind-the-scenes idolatry of Cher is worth the price of the DVD.
Cher Scholar's Pics
Mask, The Director's Cut
The director's cut has an alternate soundtrack, two added scenes, director's commentary, a short documentary and a public service message from Cher for The Children's Craniofacial Association. This movie is available on DVD.
This movie is available on DVD.