The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lots of car accidents.

The residents of a poor Australian town known as Paris come up with a scheme to cause car accidents to those traveling through it which will allow them to salvage what’s left of the vehicle and resell it for goods or cash.  Things go smoothly for a while until Arthur (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George (Rick Scully) become victims to one these ‘accidents’. George dies, but Arthur survives and is too traumatized to get back into a car again or leave town. He takes up residence with the town’s mayor (John Meillon) who gets him a job as a parking enforcer, which causes problems when Arthur gives a citation to some rowdy young people who do not take kindly to this and seek a violent revenge.

This decidedly odd story marks director Peter Weir’s feature film debut and it’s hard to know what genre to place it into. Originally it was intended as a wacky comedy, but then dark elements were added in. Eventually it was distributed as a horror film, but it didn’t do well at the box office, so it was reissued as an art film and only fared slightly better. The film has managed to obtain a cult following and the story is original with funny moments, but the unexpectedly gory ending could leave some viewers cold as it did when it was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in ‘74.

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One of the best things about the movie is the casting of Camilleri in the lead. He’s very soft-spoken and has an almost transparent demeanor, which helps heighten the interest because you become intrigued at seeing how this schmuck is going to potentially take down this small town criminal organization, which would’ve been fun, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t get played-out in quite that way.

Meillon is solid as the mayor and I enjoyed seeing how his character puts up this calm façade while simultaneously trying to bottle up all the tension that he has inside. Bruce Spence is effective as the town crazy as well as Chris Haywood playing an average-joe who seems quite benign and good-natured at the beginning only to become increasingly more menacing as the film progresses.

The entire movie was shot on-location in Sofala, New South Wales which has a population of only 208 people and quite possibly the narrowest main street of any town in the world. Weir captures its rundown look well and helps convey how poor and isolated the residents were, which allows the viewer to understand why the people resorted to such desperate measures. However, I didn’t like how these same people immediately flee the town the minute the young adults get out-of-control. People who’ve lived somewhere all their lives become emotionally bonded to it and will not move the moment something goes wrong. They would try to control the threat if they could and only up-and-leave months or years later if they had to. Besides where would these people go as they had no money and limited job skills.

If you’re into offbeat comedy then this one may do for a slow evening although those looking for something in the horror vein will be disappointed.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Corporation

Available: DVD

Going Home (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.

One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply writing him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.

The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.

Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if  he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.

Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.

The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop  and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Herbert B. Leonard

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Persona (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

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There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

WarGames (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen hacks government computer.

David (Matthew Broderick) is a teenager who’s a whiz with computers and even able to dial up his school’s machine and change his grades without anyone noticing. One day he unknowingly hacks into a military computer where he and his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) begin to play a game of global nuclear war while unaware that everyone at NORAD the military base is seeing the game as it’s being played  and thinking that it is the real thing.

The film does a great job of showing the nuclear missiles up close while still in their silos and ready to fire, which gives the viewer a frightening awareness of just how real the potential is. The NORAD command center, which is quite impressive, was built specifically for the film at a cost of one million and is apparently even more elaborate than the real one.

David’s hacking talents do seem a bit farfetched, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief a little then it’s a pretty cool and suspenseful flick. Some of my favorite scenes in this area are when he is able to escape from an electronically locked room as well as the way he gets a dial tone from a receiver at a pay phone despite not having any money.

Broderick’s character is in many ways identical to the one that he played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at least with his technological smarts, but here he thankfully doesn’t have that annoying smugness as his initial cockiness realistically wilts quickly away the minute he realizes that he’s gotten in-over-his-head. I did however find it hard to believe that such a bright kid could get an ‘F’ on his biology exam. His character is described as being an ‘underachiever’, which is fine, but there’s a big difference between being that and being a complete flunky.

Ally Sheedy is fantastic and in many ways outshines Broderick, but it’s hard to figure that she would suddenly jump into her car, without being asked, and drive all the way from Seattle to Colorado on a whim after she gets a strange call from David. The fact that her character states that it took her only 3 hours to get there is a complete crock as according to Mapquest the distance between Seattle and Grand Junction is 1,122 miles with an estimated drive time of 18 hours and 9 minutes.

Dabney Coleman is good in support as McKittrick and nobody can exude nervous energy quite like he does. Yet I was disappointed that he isn’t seen more. As much as I love Barry Corbin I felt his general character was clichéd and boring and I wished they had simply combined that character with McKittrick’s and then given the part solely to Coleman to play.

There were also a few scenes that I felt should’ve been extended especially the opening scene where we see two members of the missile combat crew ordered to turn the key to launch a missile strike. One of them, played by John Spencer, panics and becomes reluctant to turn the key while the other one holds a gun and insists that he must. It turns out this was only a surprise drill, but it cuts away before we see what happens and we only learn about this later while it would’ve been more satisfying to have seen the complete scenario played out visually.

I would’ve also liked to have seen when the government agents storm David’s house and search his bedroom simply to witness his parent’s (William Bogert, Susan Davis) reactions. The film spends time introducing them and they are rather amusing, so it would’ve been interesting to get their take on the situation as it unfolded.

I also felt the way David and Jennifer find Falken (John Wood), the man who invented the military computer that David plays the nuclear game with, was too easy. I realize David gets Falken’s address from the computer, but it’s still a remote island that David has never been to, so how he is able to come upon the home so quickly without a map is questionable. I also thought Falken was too congenial with them as this was a scientist in hiding with top secret military information and no way of knowing if these two were spies or not, which makes inviting them into his house and opening up to them the way he does seem quite reckless.

The ending though is excellent and I liked how these kids didn’t have that teen ‘attitude’ nor is there any of that generation gap crap either. Instead everyone, young and old, works together to solve a mutual problem, which is what I liked about this movie the most.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Badham

Studio: MGM/UA

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

Cannonball! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: An illegal car race.

Wacky participants convene in Santa Monica to take part in an unsanctioned cross country car race. All drivers are accountable for any speeding tickets or injuries that they may accrue and the only rule is that the first person to arrive at a designated spot in New York City wins. Yet the race’s top driver Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman (David Carradine), who is on parole, risks being sent back to prison if he crosses the state line, but he decides to proceed any ways despite the objections of his lawyer girlfriend (Veronica Hamel) who eventually rides along with him.

This film is based on the same real-life race that inspired The Gumball Rally, but critic Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in older versions of his book that this film plagiarizes that one, which isn’t true as this movie came out first and adds in many different story angles.

Despite the fact that the production is plagued with the typically cheap Roger Corman look and seems more like an extension to Death Race 2000 I still preferred this to Gumball. Both films have characters that are decidedly cartoonish and neither film makes any attempt to recreate what really happened, but this movie has a darker edge and most thankfully a better soundtrack that doesn’t have a kiddie-like melody.

This film also reverses the race’s starting and end points. In both the real-life event and in Gumball the starting point was New York, but here it’s California, which is actually a plus. In Gumball the drivers seemed to go from the Big Apple to the desert southwest in a matter of only a few minutes, which made no sense. Here the film crew is allowed ample time to take advantage of the closed desert roads to do their car stunts, which aren’t bad, and it also sets up an ending in which driver Mary Woronov arrives in New York, but then gets lost in the congested traffic and can’t find the finish line, which is the film’s funniest bit.

The cast is much more eclectic. I really enjoyed Judy Canova in her final film appearance as her facial expressions are a hoot especially as she has her car gets rear-ended by Carradine’s. Dick Miller is entertaining as a man that tries to rig the race and Bill McKinney is very effective as the bad guy. Director Paul Bartel and producer Roger Corman have bit parts as does Carl Gottlieb the man who penned the screenplay for Jaws. Other directors make cameo appearances including Jonathan Kaplan, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante and even Martin Scorsese.

Yet what I really liked is the massive car pile-up that occurs near the end that features car after car crashing into an already existing accident and then exploding one after another into a ball of flames. This was considered quite controversial amongst the crew and star Carradine tried to convince Bartel not to put it in, but he insisted and I’m glad he did. Yes it’s morbid, but it helps put a touch of reality into the whole thing. The ‘70s were filled with a lot of silly car chase movies all with the running theme that people needed their ‘freedom’ and having a speed limit takes away all the ‘fun’, but there is a reason why those rules were put into place as what starts out as a good time can easily turn into something horrific in a matter of seconds. To me this was Bartel’s way of spitting-in-the-face at all those other inane road race movies that always took an innocuous angle while conveniently ignoring the ugly realities that existed just beneath the surface.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Puberty Blues (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girls can surf too!

Debbie and Sue (Nell Schofield, Jad Capelja) are best friends attending high school in the south suburbs of Sydney. They desperately want to fit-in with the surfer group, but find that this means being pressured into having sex and experimenting with drugs and alcohol that starts to take its toll on both their grades and family life. When Debbie thinks she’s gotten pregnant by Gary (Geoff Rhoe) and he responds with indifference she realizes that the surfers aren’t as cool as she thought and pledges to become more independent by trying to do some surfing of her own, which she is told ‘girls can’t do’.

The film is based on the novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette who became best friends at age 12 and at 16 began writing stories based on their high school experiences. While attending a writer’s workshop they met Margaret Kelly who worked as a writer in television and was impressed with the girl’s output. She got their stories optioned into a screenplay while the girls went on to write a weekly newspaper column under the byline of The Salami Sisters and their stories were eventually published into a novel. The big change between the movie and the novel is that in the book the girls were only 13 while in the movie it gets upped to 16 since that was Australia’s age of consent.

Director Bruce Beresford ends up tearing away the mystique from teen life in much the same way that he did to suburbia in Don’s Party, which leaves the viewer with a far more caustic take on the high school experience than the Hollywood version, which tends to play up the teen scene like it’s just one big raucous party. Here the cool kids are vapid, crass creatures who are unable to hold any type of interesting conversation. Their parties are lifeless affairs where they aimlessly sit around and get drunk because they have nothing better to do while the sex is shown to be an unpleasant experience for the girls who get pressured into doing it before they’re ready and leave feeling used afterwards.

This was more the way I remembered high school being and I was impressed with the film’s honesty, but the pace is too leisurely and not enough happens. There is some drama when Debbie thinks she is pregnant, but it takes an entire hour just to get there and a comical segment dealing with a goofy fight amongst the surfers, which was not in the book, is completely unnecessary.

The film though does have some funny bits including a scene where Debra brings her boyfriend Bruce (Jay Hackett) over to meet her parents (Kirrilly Nolan, Alan Cassell) as well as the shots showing the interior and exterior of Bruce’s van. This though gets coupled with an uncomfortable moment dealing with a homely girl (Tina Robinson Hansen) who gets tricked into getting into the guy’s van where she is forced into a gang bang before being coldly thrown onto the curb afterwards.

The best part is the ending where the girls grow in confidence and become unafraid at challenging the status quo. Seeing the shocked expressions  of the cool kids as they watch the girls get on surf boards for the first time and succeed at something they were told only guys could do is a treat and makes the rest of the film worth sitting through.

Many years later this movie spawned a TV-series as well as a special that aired in 2012 on Australian TV where Nell Schofield traveled back to the locations where the film was made. Unfortunately her costar Jad Capelja was not present as she had already killed herself in 2010 after spending years battling drug addiction and mental illness.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (Pal Region 0), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

THX 1138 (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

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

Private Benjamin (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She joins the army.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is having a tough time. She is only 28, but has already been married twice. The first time was for 6 years while the second time was for only 6 hours as husband number 2 (Albert Brooks) ended up dying of a heart attack while they made love on their wedding night. Heartbroken she calls into a radio show for advice and gets hooked into joining the army by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) who makes it sound like it would be far more pleasant than it really is. At first Judy has a hard time adjusting to the rigors of a demanding Captain (Eileen Brennan), but eventually she finds new found self-esteem and coping skills that she never would’ve attained in the civilian world.

The film starts out awkwardly and a better scenario about how she joins the army could’ve been thought-up, but once it moves into the training camp segment it gets funny. In fact I would’ve extended these scenes more as it’s the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Kudos also goes out to the editing by Sheldon Kahn who creates sharp transitions that accentuates the humor.

Hawn, who was pregnant with Kate Hudson when she was offered the role and had to go through 6-weeks of basic training to prepare for the part, is excellent in a film that helped bring her career out of the doldrums. In fact I would say this is one of her best roles and I enjoyed how the character becomes more confident and independent as it goes along.

Brennan is terrific as the nemesis and I wished her conflicts with Hawn had been played-up more. The character disappears too soon and manages to return briefly, but isn’t as effective. Her brief romantic encounter with the Craig T. Nelson character should’ve been cut as I saw this woman as being frigid, or even a closet lesbian who was married to the army because that is all she had, which made the scene where Hawn puts blue dye into Brennan’s showerhead seem cruel to me. Yes, she had been mean to Hawn earlier, but that was only because she felt her army career, which again was essentially her whole life, was being threatened and the other women should’ve been more sympathetic to that.

Hal Williams is good in support as the Sargent as is Sam Wanamaker as Judy’s overly protective father. Albert Brooks though is horribly wasted as the second husband and his heart attack is much too quick and mild to be realistic. Stanton is also shamefully underused playing an army recruiter that should’ve been investigated and out of a job for the outlandish misrepresentations that he gave.

The film does go on a bit too long and includes Judy’s romance with the Armand Assante character that seems like a whole different movie, but overall it still works although this has to be the tamest R-rated movie ever. I realize this was before the PG-13 era, but it still should’ve gotten a PG as the only ‘objectionable’ elements consist of the word ‘shit’, which is said once, a simulated sex scene that is brief and done with the characters under the covers and a segment involving the girls sitting around a campfire smoking pot. In fact 9 to 5, which came out that same year and was given a PG rating, had a similar pot scene that was much more extended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where are the schoolgirls?

On Valentine’s Day in the year 1900 a group of Australian schoolgirls and two teachers (Vivean Gray, Helen Morse) set out to a rock formation known as Hanging Rock for a picnic. While there one of the girls named Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) decides to go exploring and three of the other girls follow. They proceed to climb the rocks, which frightens one of the girls (Christine Schuler) who runs back. By that evening the other three haven’t been located and a search party goes out by the local police to find them, which only leads to more questions than answers.

If one is in to mood pieces then this thing will be the perfect fit. The music and director Peter Weir’s ability to capture the rock formations in a way that makes them seem creepy and menacing is very well done. I found myself being strangely captivated most of the way while also impressed that the whole thing gets captured through a camera lens with a piece of bridal veil hung over it.

The story is based on the 1967 best-selling novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay. Despite many rumors to the effect and a follow-up novel called ‘The Murders at Hanging Rock’ this was not in any way based on a true story. Originally Lindsay wrote a resolution to the mystery that had the girls entering into some sort of time warp, but at the last minute that chapter was excised at the suggestion of her publisher, but then later published in 1987 as ‘The Secret of Hanging Rock’.

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The film on the other hand offers no resolution of any kind. Instead like in the book the main emphasis is on how the disappearance affects the people at the school and in the town. Rachel Roberts is a standout in this area playing the strict headmistress Mrs. Appleyard who initially comes off as quite composed and in control, but as the toll of the mystery continues her character unravels in increasingly more shocking ways, which is the film’s highlight.

Despite its cult following and the fact that it is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ I still came away frustrated and feeling like not enough happened to justify having to sit through two hours of viewing. On the technical end it is excellent and watching the different ways people cope and respond to the mystery is interesting, but this could’ve been played up a lot more.

Sometimes movies with vague endings are good as life doesn’t always give us nice and tidy wrap-ups, but this is one instance where it would’ve been better had there been more of a conclusion even if it had just thrown out some clues and then allowed the viewer to come to their own deductions. To some extent it does this as supernatural elements are introduced as well as the idea that it might’ve been a sexual crime, but even this is off-putting because it’s not connected to anything concrete or tangible and thus makes it all the more evasive.

Had this been based on an actual mystery, which for years is what a lot of people thought, then it would’ve been more acceptable and even fascinating, but the fact that it’s all made up hurts it and tears away the mystique that for a long time it relished under.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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This is a 2014 pic of Anne-Louise Lambert, who played Miranda in the film, sitting at the location of where the movie was filmed.

The Good Mother (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She losses her daughter.

Anna (Diane Keaton) is a frigid woman who divorces her husband Brian (James Naughton) of many years and gets joint custody of their 6-year-old daughter Molly (Asia Vieira). After spending some time being single she meets up with an artist named Leo (Liam Neeson) who opens her up to a whole new sexual awakening. Her new liberated lifestyle affects her daughter as well. When Molly catches Leo getting out of the shower naked she inquires if she can touch his penis, which he allows and then later she crawls into bed with the couple as they make love. When Brian hears about this he demands full custody, which pits Anna against Leo as she fights the system to keep her daughter.

Keaton’s performance is the best thing as she plays the mother role for the third time in a decade and the exact reverse predicament of the character that she portrayed just before doing this one where she got stuck with a child that she didn’t want while here she loses one. I enjoyed Neeson’s Irish accent and Vieira is cute while it’s great seeing old-timers Ralph Bellamy and Teresa Wright in supporting roles.

Leonard Nimoy’s direction is solid for the most part. He was just coming off tremendous success with his earlier hit 3 Men and a Baby, so it was nice to see him take a creative challenge by tackling a different genre.  The story’s sensitive subject matter  is handled well including most importantly the scene showing the girl in bed with the two adults although the various other moments showing Anna’s and Leo’s intimacy is a little uncomfortable, but still captured tastefully without ever feeling that it is being overtly erotic.

The film’s biggest failing is the story itself. Although based on the best-selling novel by Sue Miller it doesn’t have enough twists to be compelling or enough of a visual quality to be cinematic. Too much time is spent at the beginning dealing with Anna’s childhood experiences with her cousin Babe (Tracy Griffith) that only has a thin connection to the rest of the plot and could’ve easily been cut and simply alluded to instead. The courtroom scenes lack impact and offer no new interesting revelations. The film also doesn’t bother to show two of the story’s most dramatic moments, which is when Molly tells her father about her experiences with Leo, or when Anna confronts Leo about it later, which to me should’ve been a must.

The ending leaves little impact making me wonder what point the filmmakers where trying to convey, or why a viewer should sit through it especially since it’s not based on a true story and meanders too long just for it to come to a very vague resolution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube