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The return of the Western sees an ensemble cast revive the genre in big scale with lots of action and laughs. The story centers on four cowboys, Emmett (Scott Glenn), Paden (Kevin Kline), Jake (Kevin Costner), and Mal (Danny Glover), each with their own trouble but working together to come to the aid of a town ruled by a ruthless sheriff and a villainous rancher. These men all have history with each other, and the long-fueled hatred between them escalates into an all-out war, leaving the townspeople in the middle. Filled with rousing gunfights and moments of great comedy, this is a unique Western that balances the violence and humor with terrific style.
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Arquette plays Hannah, a widowed woman on a wagon train. The train’s only chest of money has been stolen by the men they paid to protect them. The boys arrive and offer to help and while in the process, Paden catches sight of Hannah and becomes smitten. The feelings are mutual. A supporting role, Arquette plays the comely Hannah with the right touch of vulnerability and independence. Though she is not on screen for long, she does provide some motivation for Paden and her soft touch is needed in a movie filled with a lot of testosterone. We’ll ride off in the sunset with her any day.
To close out a very successful decade, Arquette stars as Martha Travis, a beautiful medium who works in a traveling show with her alcoholic father. She helps people contact with the dead and bring closure to the past. But that all changes one night at a show when she gives a message from beyond to a woman in the audience from her husband. Problem is, he isn’t dead. Yet. She sees his murder and the man who killed him. In shows that follow, she identifies even more who are soon to die. As there is a conspiracy at work, she soon becomes the target of the killer herself.
Directed by Mike Hodges, this better than remembered thriller is told in flashback by a reporter named Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce) who wants to solve a long festering mystery. He became embroiled in the story ten years earlier, believing Martha was a fraud, looking to expose her. Arquette is very good as the troubled medium. An angelic figure on stage in her long flowing robes, she is the polar opposite off. She smokes, seduces men, and is bitter with her life, forced upon her by her controlling father. It’s a compelling performance. Never released in the theaters in the U.S., it did very well on video. It is well worth finding.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy, Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) loses his job, his wife and family, after a drug bust left a suspect killed and himself to blame. Now a wallowing alcoholic, after an AA meeting, he is given a phone number. He ends up in a high class, private gambling club. There, he meets a beautiful young woman named Sunny (Alexandra Paul). She acts strangely though and pretends he is her boyfriend. She want him to help her get out of the prostitution ring set up at the club. When she is later murdered, Scudder is implicated in the crime. He sinks further into the bottle but he knows who murdered Sunny. Back at the club, he convinces another girl named Sarah (Arquette) to leave for own safety, and now they have to stay alive and stop the real killer.
Directed by Hal Ashby, 8 Million Ways to Die is taut thriller with some explosive moments from Bridges, who gives a great performance. Arquette is also very good, more than convincing as the girl caught in a vicious war of violence and revenge. While the story focuses mostly on Scudder, Sarah is crucial to Scudder’s development. Arquette carries the weight of her trapped lifestyle along with her growing affection for the tortured Scudder, avoiding the usual clichés of the movies damsel in distress. A solid 80s thriller, it’s one to put on the list.
Martin Scorsese’s exceedingly dark comedy is a near masterpiece and one of the most impressive films in the genre ever made. It follows one night in the life of hapless word processor Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), who meets the beautiful Marcy (Arquette) at a cafe. She invites him to her apartment, whom she shares with her roommate, a sculptor named Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino). On his way over, his only $20 bill is blown out of the cab. It’s the start of a chaotic night involving a barfly, two robbers, a gang of punks and more. Plus the whole date thing didn’t just not work out, it just not worked out spectacularly bad.
Considered one of the more avant-garde films of the decade, After Hours is a marvel of cinematic storytelling. Led by Dunne’s challenging performance, Arquette is only a minor character who has limited screen time yet has tremendous impact. Enigmatic and mysterious, she oozes sexuality. Once again playing a character with some inner demons, Arquette utterly captivates us with a subtle mix of torment and invitation. The shift from the cafe to the apartment marks a significant change in the character and is the true split in the narrative as well. While she doesn’t last long, her impact on the story lingers long after . . . hours.
The phenomenon that was Desperately Seeking Susan was short-lived but intense. Pop singer Madonna was lighting up the charts and while she had a brief role in another film that year (Vision Quest) it was this one that had everyone talking. Telling the story of an unfulfilled housewife (Arquette) who is obsessed with a personal ad featuring the eponymous title, she heads to the big city and in a series of bizarre events, including mistaken identity and amnesia, Roberta becomes Susan. Too bad someone seeking her is not a particularly good guy.
Directed by Susan Seidelman, this comedy/drama is pure 80s kitsch from start to finish. But it’s also a lot of fun, made so by two great performances and an edgy script. Madonna is at her best in a role that allows her to essentially be herself. But it’s Arquette who shines brightest. Wholesomely attractive and yet beguilingly out of sorts, she plays Roberta with so much energy and conviction, it’s impossible to peel your eyes away. While the plot is contrived and silly, it’s sold with the highest intent to entertain, and Arquette wholly makes us want to buy. Desperately Seeking a Sequel.