Flareup (1969)

flareup

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalker terrorizes go-go dancer.

Michele (Raquel Welch) is a Las Vegas go-go dancer that attracts the unwanted attention of Alan (Luke Askew) who blames her for the breakup of his marriage. After killing his wife he then sets his sights on Michele who moves to Los Angeles in an attempt to lose him, but he figures out what club she is dancing at and continues his reign of terror. When Michele finds a new boyfriend named Joe (James Stacy) the psycho decides to add him to his already growing hit list.

Raquel is the whole movie. Her acting ability is definitely limited and at times even annoying, but in the looks department she gets an A+. In fact I’d say she is at her best looking here out of all the movies she has done. The scene where she gets on stage to gyrate her body during a provocative dance number is pretty much the highlight of the whole film. Although some of the other girls dance topless she does not and she very angrily rejects another female dancer who offers her some ‘woman love’, so there is no lesbian scene either, which could be a disappointment to some oversexed male viewers, but her presence offers enough eye candy to propel the movie on nonetheless.

Askew who wears a tacky bowl haircut looks a bit too clichéd, but he is a good enough actor to keep it tolerable. Stacy is decent as the love interest, but the romantic scenes bog down the pace. This was the last movie he did before he got into a motorcycle accident and lost his left leg and arm, which spiraled both his career and personal life downward and eventually led to a child molestation charge in 1995 that sent him to prison.

James Neilson’s direction is okay. The best part is the on-location shooting, which makes you feel like you are right back on the streets of Las Vegas from forty years ago and its fun seeing the different shops and billboards that were out during that era. The foot chase between Welch and Askew that occurs late at night in a zoo with wild animal noises heard in the background has potential, but should’ve gotten more extended.

The script though is one-note and gets stretched much too thin. The action starts out right away, but the pacing is poor and there is really never any tension. Everything gets done in a formulaic way with nothing that is unique or memorable.

Although I will give some credit to the finale that features a burning man the special effects are overall pretty shoddy. The psycho shoots at and kills people, but we never see any bullet holes or blood on the dead bodies. One scene has a security guard (Gordon Jump in an early role) shooting at Askew’s car and putting two bullet holes in its rear window, but then when the camera cuts away to a long view of the car the bullet holes have somehow miraculously disappeared.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated M

Director: James Neilson

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)

Little Cigars (1973)

little cigars

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Midgets turn to crime.

A young, beautiful blonde (Angel Tompkins) becomes an unlikely partner with a group of midgets who run a small (no pun intended) theft ring. With a title and premise like that you would expect a broad comedy, but that is not the case. Although there are a few snappy exchanges and a funny scene involving a police line-up of some very angry midgets, this is mainly handled on a gritty, violent level.

The midgets themselves aren’t too likable. This may be an attempt by the filmmakers to show them as real human beings and the effects of living in a society with a handicap, but they end up coming off as overly irritable, bad tempered, and vicious without ever confirming if this is some social statement.

Overall it’s just a standard crime yarn with midgets used instead of regular sized people. There is even a storyline involving a romance between Tompkins and head midget Billy Curtis showing how love can spring up between any two people no matter what their size. However, you can’t help but get a queasy feeling when you see a 60-year-old midget in bed kissing a young statuesque blonde.

The film leaves the viewer with a certain degree of unpleasantness too much actually, to consider it enjoyable or entertaining. The only part I really liked was the scene where Curtis goes into a tough bar and takes on a big guy who has his arms around ‘his’ girl, which is both amusing and exciting.

Also, Frank Bonner who later went on to play Herb in the classic TV-series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ can be seen very briefly as a hotel doorman.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chris Christenberry

Studio: American International Pictures (AIP)

Available: DVD-R (MGM video on demand)

Sticky Fingers (1988)

sticky fingers 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Roommates spend drug money.

Hattie (Helen Slater) and Lolly (Melanie Mayron) are two struggling musicians who share a crummy apartment run by slumlord Stella (Eileen Brennan). They are having trouble making ends meet when their friend Diane (Loretta Devine), who is a drug dealer, asks them to hold onto a bag for them while she is out of town. Inside the bag is $950,000. The girls decide to ‘borrow’ some to help pay their rent and then they continue to take more until they have spent $224,000 of it and when Diane comes back she is not too happy nor are the people that she works for.

For a film that is written and directed by a woman and co-scripted by Melanie Mayron it has every conceivably negative female stereotype placed on its two leading characters and if this had been done by a man he would be accused of being a sexist. The two women are ditzy shopaholics who lack any common sense are indecisive and greatly insecure and have no level of sophistication.

They spend tons of money on clothes and needless gadgetry, but then remain in the same rat hole of an apartment. If they had any brains they would have bought a house on the other side of the country and then escaped. The drug money couldn’t get reported to the police as stolen and since this was the 80’s and before cellphones and the internet it was a lot easier to ‘disappear’.

The strained arguments the two have about derivative issues, which are supposed to be funny, become annoying and unending instead. Their shouting over which color of sponge to use for dish washing was so ridiculous it almost made me want to turn it off.

Slater who was just a few years removed from her Billie Jean character gives a decent performance despite the limitations of the character. Mayron with her curly carrot top hairdo looks downright ugly and the fact that her character remains with her boyfriend even though he continues to have a not so subtle relationship with his previous girlfriend makes her seem pathetic.

I did like Brennan and some of her sardonic lines. If she had been cast in the lead the film would have been helped immensely.

There are definite shades of an independent movie trying to break out, but it lacks the style, attitude and hipness. The attempt at trying to revive the screwball comedy is a dismal failure and not even good for a few laughs. The only two things I liked was the concert the two perform in while wearing glow in the dark costumes and the crawl of the closing credits that rotates at different angles, which only proves how bad this movie is when the closing credits becomes the highlight!

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director:  Catlin Adams

Studio: Hightop Productions

Available: VHS

The Sporting Club (1971)

the sporting club 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haves versus have-nots.

Jim (Nicholas Coster) finds out that his business is going under and he barely has any money left. To escape the stress he decides to take a trip to the wilderness of northern Michigan for a little R&R. Unfortunately once there he meets his friend Verner (Robert Fields) who has built a shooting range in his basement and wants to challenge everyone to a duel. The snotty sporting club that Jim belongs to wants to boot him out when they realize he is no longer making an income and rebel- rouser Earl Olive (Jack Warden) gets into a war with the elitist at the sporting club, which sends things spiraling out-of-control between the two sides with Jim right in the middle.

Based on the Thomas McGuane novel the film has the right concept, but not the fluid essence or wry humor of his writing. Some of his later work that was brought to the screen fared better. This film version is too uneven and takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes somewhat intriguing when we are given the idea of this set-up of a wild shoot-out between Olive’s biker gang and the elderly members of the club, but just as things seem to be getting interesting the film veers into a radically different direction and has all the sporting club members getting into a bizarre sex orgy. This may sound funny or even sexy, but it really isn’t as all the people were in their 60’s or 70’s and seeing their naked bodies cavorting around comes off as gross and sick.

The satirical jabs at the snotty club members are funny to some extent. They represent society’s old order people still clinging to age-old traditions and values even though the rest of the world around them is changing. They boast about their exclusive club membership even though it no longer has any allure and their stubbornness only makes them more insignificant and absurd. The scene where they stare blankly like lost children at the blown-up remnants of their cottage is probably the best moment in the film. However, their caricatures end up going overboard they become too illogical and ridiculous like crazed stupid creatures instead of human beings.

Most anti-establishment films of the era, which in the end is what this is, usually cast young stars in the lead, but here we have Coster who was already middle-aged making it look too much like the old guard vs. the old guard, which did not connect with the young filmgoers and they stayed away. The middle-age audience of the time was the establishment themselves and they found the film’s crass humor and scenarios off-putting and thus the film alienated everybody and bombed terribly at the box office.

Robert Fields gives an excellent performance as a budding sociopath and his scenes have an added tension. Warden is also very good in an unusual role for him as a joint smoking trouble maker who loves to rock-the-boat. The gun duel he has with Fields is interesting and his presence helps give the film a few extra points. Margaret Blye has a beautiful face making her a pleasure to look at no matter what she is doing. Jo Ann Harris is also sexy and the scene where she strips down to her panties with the phrase ‘my grandmother loves me’ stenciled on the rear is fun.

The film is weird enough to be worth a look as a curio. Director Larry Peerce infuses some interesting camera work into the proceedings and Michael Small’s moody folk rock score deserves its own album. Despite the locale looking very much like Michigan it was actually filmed near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Avco Embassy Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Perfect Friday (1970)

perfect friday

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kooky trio robs bank.

This uniquely structured and offbeat sleeper details an elaborate bank heist where staid bank employee Mr. Graham (Stanley Baker) uses his inside knowledge to pull off an ingenious robbery. Unfortunately he is dependent on the oddball couple of Nick (David Warner) and Britt (Ursula Andress) to help him.

This film is probably more of a kooky character study than it is a heist flick. The three characters are intrinsically different from each other and their constant bickering, feuding, and interplay are a treat. In fact they never get into the actual robbery or even the details of it until the last forty minutes.

Baker is fun in the lead. He is the perfect caricature of the stuffy British businessman. His contained pomposity and cryptic deliveries are right on-target. Warner makes for a good contrast. He is lazy and undisciplined with a tendency to wear outrageous looking outfits. It is interesting though that he can get serious when he needs to particularly during the crime itself.

Andress is the scene stealer and this is a perfect role for her limited acting abilities. She plays a greedy woman prone to outrageous extravagance and indulgence even if she lacks the funds for it. Her caricature of the materialistic woman gets taken to the extreme and is hilarious. In most cases she would be disliked, but here her beauty and innocuous way she delivers her lines make her amusing instead.

Director Peter Hall seems to pride himself on making it offbeat and full of many twists and succeeds most of the way even with his use of the glass offices that the bank employees have to work in. The robbery itself is intricate and believable and full of mounting tension. The film’s only real problem comes with its ending that is too abrupt and in many ways almost like a cop-out. There is such a fun chemistry between the three characters that it really could have been played out much more.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hall

Studio: Chevron Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Tattoo (1981)

tattoo

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tattoos her body.

Karl Kinsky (Bruce Dern) is a tattoo artist hired to put tattoos on some models for a fashion shoot. There he becomes obsessed with one of the models named Maddy (Maude Adams). The two begin dating, but when he starts to show signs of being too possessive she breaks it off, which angers him. He then drugs and kidnaps her and takes her to an abandoned house where he becomes determined to put his ‘mark’ on her by spending weeks creating a tattoo that will eventually covers her entire body.

Bob Brooks who was best known for directing award-winning commercials particularly in the U.K. shows a rather lifeless effort here in his one and only cinematic effort. I thought it would have been more interesting to have given the viewer a close-up and clinical understanding of how a tattoo is implemented and the basic overall procedure, but unfortunately the film breezes past this part and tries turning it into a conventional thriller, which lacks tension or intrigue.

Dern’s character resembles that of a psycho caricature and the way he unravels so quickly is uninteresting. The story and pace meander badly and Joyce Bunuel’s script is more like an outline than a character or plot driven story.

Adams is badly miscast. For one thing she is a weak actress that fails to add any extra dimension to either the character or role. She is also too old. Most stalkers tend to prey on younger women and equate their perceived virginal innocence with a better ability to dominate and control them not a jaded 35-year-old woman who has already openly slept with a lot of different men and whose incessant, vapid yammering would be a turn-off to any guy.

When we finally get to see the finished tattoo at the end it looks like the most garish thing imaginable and second only to the awful one that he has on his back. Watching their tattooed bodies gyrate together during sex seems almost comical.

The film achieved some notoriety during its initial release when Dern stated during interviews that the sex the two had was real even though Adams insisted that it was simulated. Personally I think it was faked and Dern merely said this as a way to generate more interest in the movie. Either way it doesn’t matter because it’s a lousy movie anyways.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Nothing But the Best (1964)

nothing but the best 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Maybe crime does pay.

James Brewster (Alan Bates) is a young ambitious man who will do anything to not only climb the corporate ladder, but rise his social standing as well. He works at a large company and finds things tough. Everyone else is competing for the same thing and James finds himself being boxed out and unable to get the attention and recognition he feels he deserves. Then he meets Charles (Denholm Elliot) a master con-man and forger and he realizes the only way to move up is by doing it the criminal way. The two move in together where Charles teaches James all the tricks of the trade. James becomes so good at it that he realizes he no longer needs Charles so he murders him and stuffs his body inside a large trunk, which he has hidden. Then he becomes engaged to the beautiful Ann Horton (Milicent Martin), but her extended family has connections he is not aware of, which could put a kink to his otherwise lofty plans.

The screenplay was written by Frederic Raphael who has had a distinguished career in screenwriting including penning the script to Stanley Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut. Although there really isn’t any one particularly funny moment and some of the criminal activity is a bit complex and hard-to-follow the dialogue is still snappy and the less than honorable characters surprisingly engaging. Clive Donner’s direction gives the proceedings a breezy pace and the characterizations of the upper British crust are on-target and fun.

Elliot, who is one of the best character actors ever and had a long and distinguished career playing a wide variety of them, is terrific. Somehow this guy has always had an ability to make conniving, immoral people engaging, funny and even somewhat likable and his part here is no exception. His presence is a major plus and helps give the film its drive and it’s a shame he couldn’t have remained through the whole duration. I also enjoyed Pauline Delaney as James’s landlady Mrs. March who becomes aware of his illegal activity and extorts sex out of him in order to keep quiet.

There are a couple of twists at the end that are interesting, but not what you expect. James never really gets the comeuppance that you think he should, which to some degree is disappointing, but on the other hand kind of refreshing. We are so used to seeing films have a moral theme of some kind where bad guys are eventually punished and justice prevails that having one pretty much get away with it is intriguing simply for its novelty.

The color on the print I watched was horribly faded making it look almost like a cheap computer colorized attempt even though it really wasn’t. This film, which was widely hailed by critics and audiences alike, deserves a Criterion release and a thorough restoration and I am shocked that it hasn’t already.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Royal Films International

Available: None at this time.

Sky Riders (1976)

sky riders

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rescued by hang gliders

Businessman Jonas Bracken (Robert Culp) living in Greece comes home one day to find his wife Ellen (Susannah York) and three children kidnapped by a terrorist group. The police can seem to make no headway so Ellen’s ex-husband Jim (James Coburn) gets involved. After analyzing the background of one of the photos of the victims taken by the kidnappers he realizes that they are being held hostage inside a mountaintop monastery and the only way to get to it is by air, so he hires a crew of hang gliders to fly into the locale and rescue the family.

The film is fast-paced it gets right into the story from the very beginning and never slows down. The kids are pretty cute especially the precious little girl, which helps the viewer emphasize with their predicament and urgency to get out. The Greek locations are exotic and help give the film an extra flair.

The biggest problem is the script. The Coburn character has never hang glided before and yet somehow manages to be trained well enough in only a couple of days to fly into the steep mountaintop location without a hitch, which seemed farfetched. It also seemed highly implausible that this group of hang gliders who work at the local circus would be willing to take on such a dangerous mission or even know what to do once they landed and had to take on the gun toting bad guys. I would have expected a lot more missteps and mistakes from this novice bunch and yet they handle everything like they were a group of seasoned commandoes.

Coburn’s performance is misguided as well. Normally I love his toothy grin and throaty chuckle, but here he does it while watching the hang gliders perform at the circus even though his ex-wife and son are being held hostage. I would have thought he should have been so nervous and tense that he wouldn’t have smiled at all and been instead in a perpetually serious manner.

The scene of when they fly into the locale is done with a darkened lens to simulate nighttime, which beside being annoying makes it hard to see and lessens the dramatic effect as well as the excitement.

On the whole it’s a very basic action flick and an empty-headed one at that. The terrorist group and their ‘cause’ are quite generic and the thin plot and cardboard characters barely camouflage the fact it’s just an excuse to show off some nifty hang gliding footage and nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Regions 1 & 2)

Bull Durham (1988)

bull durham

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catcher mentors a rookie.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a veteran of the minor league baseball system and is brought in to the Durham Bulls to help mentor Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) a rookie pitcher with a ‘million dollar arm, but a five-cent brain’. Crash teaches Nuke all about the finer points of the game as well as learning to show discipline and control both on and off the field. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is a local fan who each year does some ‘mentoring’ of her own with one of the players by taking them in and having a torrid sexual relationship with them. This year she chooses Nuke much to the consternation of Crash who would like her for his own.

The film is loosely based on the experiences writer/director Ron Shelton had while being a minor league player during the late 60’s.  Keeping the focus solely on the minor league level and never analyzing the majors was to me a big strength. Too many times Hollywood sports movies try to capture that ‘championship season’ or ‘miracle victory’ while forgetting that there are hundreds if not thousands of players who never get to that point, but still have interesting stories to share. The minor league theme puts the game back to its grass roots level where it should be while evoking a wonderful feeling of modern day Americana.

The film makes the viewer feel that they are right down on the field with the players and they gain special insights into the game that they would never have just watching it in the stands on or TV. The thoughts that go through a hitters head as he stands at the plate are interesting as are the interplay between catcher and pitcher. The meeting at the mound scene where the players get together during a game to discuss what wedding gift to get another player who is about to be married is hilarious as is the segment where Crash teaches Nuke all the sports clichés to give when being interviewed by the media.

Robbins is terrific in what I still consider one of the best performances of his career. The character could have been annoying if there weren’t so many young men out there like that. The composite of the young, brash, cocky hot shot who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows very little is so perfectly done that just about anybody will be able to identify with somebody they know or have known who is just like it.

Costner on the other hand is a bit too detached and his performance comes off very much like the restrained way he dances during the closing credits. The character also seems like a flaming alcoholic as he is seen drinking in just about every other scene, but his ongoing exchanges with Robbins are great and the main ingredient that holds the film together.

Throwing in a sex angle was to me a turnoff as personally I never like to mix the two. The Millie (Jenny Robertson) character that is shown and known to sleep with a lot of the players seemed to me to be idiotic especially since this takes place in the 80’s, which was at the height of the AIDS scare.

Sarandon is okay although the part was originally intended for Kay Lenz who I think I would have preferred. The line where her character states that she would never sleep with a player who hit under 250 unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove man up the middle is classic and the scene near the end where her and Crash make love in a bathtub while surrounded by a throng of lighted candles is on a visual level a highlight.

I loved the bluesy music score as well as the shrine to Thurmon Munson seen at the end. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite sports movie, but the characters are richly textured and the dialogue instantly quotable, which makes it a winner anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Shelton

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Mr. North (1988)

mr north 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has static electricity.

Theophilus North (Anthony Edwards) is a young man who arrives in the town of Newport Rhode Island in the 1920’s. He has little money or connections, but soon attracts attention with his ability to give off small electrical shocks to anyone he touches. Rumors abound that he can heal sick people with this power and everyone wants to meet him, but the town Dr. (David Warner) is not as impressed and accuses him of practicing medicine without a license and a court battle ensues.

The North character is quite likable. He is self-assured, but never obnoxious or overbearing and is sensitive to everyone he meets and always seems to have wise advice to give no matter what their ailment or problem. However, he starts to get to be a little ‘too good’ and it borders on being annoying. It would have been nice to have seen him with at least one flaw or transgression simply to prove that he was human. His electrical charge ability isn’t all that impressive and the way people become so in awe of it is overblown and dumb.

He also helps the Mr. Bosworth (Robert Mitchum) character who has a bladder control issue by giving him pills, which is nothing more than peppermint, but assures him it will ‘cure’ his ailment. Eventually it does suggesting that incontinence is a psychological problem, which is ridiculous as it is almost always a medical one and makes this an insult to anyone who suffers from it.

The tone is pleasing and the recreation of the period is satisfactory, but the pacing is off. Nothing at all happens during the first hour and only slightly gains traction during the end. The scene where North gets chased by a mob of people looking for him to cure them is amusing, but seems to shift this otherwise whimsical fable-like tale into an all-out farce.

The supporting cast is fun. Eccentric actress Tammy Grimes is good as Mitchum’s spoiled adult daughter who tries to make things as difficult for North as she can. Harry Dean Stanton puts on an very effective Limey accent and Lauren Bacall is interesting in a rare sympathetic role. David Warner is terrific as always as the heavy and it should have been played up even more.

The film is directed by Danny Huston who is the son of the legendary John Huston who also co-wrote the screenplay and his sister Angelica appears very briefly. Unfortunately the film is too predisposed at being one of those ‘feel-good’ movies and in the process becomes formulaic and one-dimensional. The final result is a slick, but slow moving production that is empty and forgettable.

mr north 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Danny Huston

Studio: The Samuel Goldwym Company

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video