Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Animal House (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like to party!

In 1962 the Dean of Faber College, Vernon Wormer, (John Vernon) wants to rid the campus of the Delta Fraternity as he considers their rundown house and partying ways to be a blight to the University. He works with the clean-cut Omega President (James Daughton) to establish a kangaroo court which has Delta’s charter revoked. The Delta members then seek revenge by creating havoc at the homecoming parade of which both Wormer and his wife Marion (Verna Bloom) are attending.

The film, which was a huge box office hit at the time of its release, succeeds by wisely balancing the farcical humor with a believable setting where many of the scenarios shown were based off of real-life experiences of the film’s writer Harold Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman during their own fraternity years. While the film does devolve at the end to being just a procession of slapstick gags it also manages to provide diverse characters and a genuine college atmosphere, which was filmed on-location at the University of Oregon.

The inspired casting helps especially John Belushi who mostly improvised his part. Although he’s best remembered for his pimple gag I actually laughed more when he cries out like he’s lost some prized possession after witnessing a crate of alcohol go crashing to the ground. His ability to chug an entire bottle of whiskey in one take is impressive and I liked how his character, as crude as he is, was able to convey a sympathetic side in his attempts to ‘cheer-up’ a despondent Flounder (Stephen Furst) after his car gets wrecked.

Tim Matheson is equally engaging as the cool and collected fraternity leader whose dry delivery doesn’t initially hit you as being funny until you go back and actually think about what he has just said. Kevin Bacon is hilarious in his film debut as a member of the snotty Omega Theta Pi who tries to quell a panicked crowd only to get quite literally flattened by them.

It’s also great seeing Verna Bloom, an actress relegated to mostly plain Jane roles, wearing a snazzy brunette wig and playing a sexually frustrated woman who has an amusingly drunken ad-libbed segment. Karen Allen is gorgeous as always playing a ‘good-girl’, but who isn’t afraid to flip someone the finger if she has to. You also get a nice glimpse of her bare ass as well as Donald Sutherland’s, apparently Allen only agreed to show hers if he bared his, and for the record Matheson’s crack gets exposed briefly too.

However, what I took away from this movie the most were the politically incorrect segments. The most extreme one is when Larry (Tom Hulce) contemplates having sex with Clorette (Sarah Holcomb) after she passes out drunk, which would be considered date rape now, but treated merely as throwaway bit here. Then in a later scene Larry tries to have sex with her again only for her divulge to him that she is just 13. Although the actress looks much older and was actually 19 when it was filmed it still gets implied that they went ahead and had sex anyways despite the character’s age issue.

I was alive when this film was released and although there was criticism pertaining to the film’s overall raunchiness these specific segments, which would create shockwaves now, were never brought up. Whether things are better now, or we’ve become too sensitive about stuff that was merely considered ‘tasteless’ back then is a whole other argument. Yet when they say things shown in the ‘70s could never be done now it’s all true, which makes watching this movie and others like it feel almost like you’ve slipped into a different universe.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Landis

Studio: Universal

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

Broadcast News (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life in a newsroom.

Jane (Holly Hunter) is a television news producer married to her work who breaks down crying when nobody is around. She starts falling for Tom (William Hurt) the good looking new anchorman even though he does not share her same drive or integrity. Aaron (Albert Brooks) is a behind-the-scenes news writer who wishes to get more exposure in front of the camera. Secretly he is in love with Jane and envies the budding relationship that he sees starting between her and Tom, but feels virtually powerless to do anything about it.

The film marks another tour-de-force effort by writer/director James L. Brooks who hits the nail-on-the-head in just about every scene when it comes to revealing the inner workings of a local TV newsroom. I found some of the procedures that are shown including how a producer can continue to feed the anchorman things to say through an earpiece even as he is live on the air and interviewing someone to be quite fascinating. From dealing with a harsh layoff of the news division to the extremes people are willing to go to get promoted prove to be quite insightful. Even the little things are interesting like watching two musicians (Glen Roven, Marc Shaiman) trying to plug their song as the new theme to the news show, which is probably the funniest moment in the movie.

Initially I was turned off by Hunter’s strong southern twang, you would think someone who wanted to make it big in Hollywood would’ve worked harder to soften that, but she gives such a strong all-around performance that eventually I was able to overlook it. I felt though that her character was more compelling when she was fretting about her work, which seemed almost like an obsession to her. Having her chase after a guy, who she really didn’t have much in common with anyways, was far less interesting. She seemed like someone who immersed herself in her job simply to avoid social contact and the film would’ve worked better had Tom been the one doing all the chasing.

Brooks was an odd casting choice. He’s a funny comedian and has done some great satires, but not someone who is warm and likable. The movie wants us to feel sorry for his character because he is always getting passed over both professionally and romantically, but I felt the opposite way about him.  His many sarcastic lines makes him seem bitter and vindictive and the way he screams at Jane to ‘get out’ when she confides with him about her feelings for Tom made him seem downright psychotic.

Director Brooks seems to have a personal vendetta against anchormen as his productions always portray then as being dumb and shallow most notably the Ted Baxter character in the ‘70s TV-series ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which he also produced. In that show the character’s stupidity was clearly over exaggerated, but here Tom gets played with a believable balance as he’s is savvy enough to make up for his lack of intelligence by overcompensating on his image.

I loved how the film starts off with vignettes of the characters when they were kids and then ending it by revealing where they end up 7 years after the main story ends, but overall the plot lacks any major impact. The whole thing is just too gentile and needed another dramatic arch to give it more verve. Jack Nicholson appears unbilled as the station’s top anchor and I would’ve loved seeing him become a major player in the story as he owns every scene he is in especially the part where he enters the newsroom to offer his condolences to those who were laid-off.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 12Minutes

Rated R

Director: James L. Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plotting to kidnap Churchill.

During World War II Nazi Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall) is hired to study the feasibility of kidnapping British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bringing him back to Germany. At first he considers it an impossible task, but then learns that Churchill is set to visit an airfield in an English village where one of their German sleeper agents resides. He then hires paratrooper Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the mission inside the village, but the plan quickly unravels forcing the soldiers to make a daring escape before the allied troops arrive.

This marks the final film directed by John Sturges who was noted for helming his share of action flicks and westerns. The film’s handsome production offers plush scenery, on-location shooting and some wonderful bird’s-eye-views. One could enjoy the movie on this level alone as well as its ability to focus more the actual planning of the mission than the fighting. It has a sort of behind-the-scenes approach to all of the thought and effort that goes into the strategy of war as opposed to the physical on the ground aspect. The film also takes a surprisingly humanistic approach to the Nazis portraying them more as regular human beings who just so happen to be fighting on the wrong side as opposed to the robotic, demonic persona that they’re given in most other war films.

The film’s faults lies in that it’s too leisurely paced. The planning stage allows for some interesting insight, but could’ve been trimmed while the action is sudden and jarring and only popping up near the end when it should’ve been introduced earlier. There is never any real danger to Churhill as the plan goes awry long before he arrives. Since the whole thing was fictional anyways then why not have the soldiers surround whatever building Churchill was in and thus making it seem at least that he might really get captured before having their plan unravel. The way it gets done here the viewer’s energy is strangely geared at seeing the bad guys escape capture, which is off-putting as is the gimmicky ending that makes everything that is shown previously seem insignificant.

The cast is impressive, but mostly underused. Duvall, who speaks with a dubious German accent, takes up most of the screen-time during the first half and then pretty much disappears altogether during the second part. Caine, who doesn’t speak with a German accent, or at least any that is detectable, seems stiff and uncomfortable in an uninteresting role that does not take advantage of his talents. Apparently he was originally offered the role of Liam Devlin who was a member of the IRA, but Caine refused it due to his personal political beliefs and was thus given the Steiner role on the rebound.

Larry Hagman, mostly known for his TV work, gets an amusingly showy bit as the inept Colonel Potts who tries to lead the US Army Rangers on a mission to rescue the village’s town folk who are held hostage by the soldiers. While the part takes full advantage of Hagman’s comic ability to play a hyper, emotionally frazzled character it seems out of place in this type of movie and almost turns the film dangerously close to becoming an ill-advised comedy.

Donald Sutherland ends up becoming the scene stealer as Liam Devlin who with his hair dyed red really looks Irish and speaks with an authentic sounding Irish accent. The character also has an unusual ability to whistle and then move his finger in a way that subdues an aggressive dog by seemingly putting it under a sort-of hypnotic spell. Whether anyone could really do this, or is there is some truth in what the character does here I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante battles drug dealers.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is now living in L.A. and in a relationship with Karen (Kay Lenz) who has a teen daughter Erica (Dana Barron). Erica wants to become an architect like Paul and interns at his office, but she is also dating a boyfriend (Jesse Dabson) who is into drugs. His friendship with a drug dealer gets Erica to experiment with crack cocaine, which ends up killing her. In a rage Paul returns to his vigilante ways by killing the dealer, which then gets the attention of billionaire Nathan White (John P. Ryan) whose own daughter also died from a drug overdose. He recruits Paul into tracking down the biggest dealers in L.A. and killing them, but Paul eventually realizes that Nathan has ulterior motives.

This was the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner and instead the duties were handed over to J. Lee Thompson who had worked with Bronson on several other projects previously. The script by Gail Morgan Hickman tries to take the vigilante theme in a new direction and starts out with a diverting dream sequence in which Paul sees himself as one of the victims that he shoots, which brought up a potentially intriguing subplot involving the psychological pressures one must assuredly develop when they’re constantly killing people even if it’s for ‘justice’, but the film then never goes back to it, which was disappointing.

The overall scenario, which transports Paul from dealing with ordinary street gangs to sophisticated crime families, does not work and fails to give the already tired series a new breath of life. It no longer even resembles a vigilant theme at all, but instead becomes more like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ but without the trendy attire.

Paul is no longer just an ordinary guy with a gun either, but instead has become a sort-of James Bond incarnate who uses with all sorts of elaborate weaponry and gadgets better made for a seasoned CIA agent. He’s also able to get himself out of just about any nerve-wracking jam like when he miraculously fights off over 20 men in warehouse who are shooting at him, or magically getting himself out of a car that he is driving just seconds before it’s riddled with bullets.

Bronson looks more like he’s 45 instead of 67 and matching him up with a young girlfriend makes him appear more virile, but you know right from the start that it’s only a matter of time before she ends up dying violently. It starts to seem like Paul Kersey is a walking, talking curse as anyone who befriends him turns up dead or like the cinematic version of Jessica Fletcher.

I kept wondering when it would all start catching up with him. How can he continue to work a regular job while still spending so much time tracking down the bad guys? When does he sleep? And exactly how many people does he have to kill before the police eventually nab him, or quit allowing him to walk away from it without consequence?

Unlike the first three films this one fails to elicit any type of message or statement. It seems simply intent at being a profit making venture to cash in on those who like mindless shootouts and car explosions and nothing more.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

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

Death Wish 3 (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante defends senior citizens.

Paul Kersey’s (Charles Bronson) vigilante act returns this time he goes back to New York City and defends the senior citizens in a neighborhood of his war buddy Charley (Francis Drake) who was killed by members of a street gang lead by Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy).

The third entry in the series goes completely off-the-rails with a neighborhood setting resembling an apocalyptic world better suited for a surreal dystopian sci-fi film. The gang members behave like vile creatures straight out of somebody’s worst nightmare and look like leftover cast members from a cheesy version of The Warriors while the senior citizens seem ready to be ordained into sainthood.

After the first movie was released and met with criticism Bronson argued in interviews that his films did not promote violence and yet here that’s all you see. Not only does it brazenly promote vigilantism as being an effective deterrent to crime, but advocates that it’s the only option.

It also portrays the police in a horrible light. Yes, there are bad cops and films have every right to expose that, but there are some good ones too and this film never bothers to show that. All the viewer gets to see are brutal monsters dressed in uniform openly ignoring a suspect’s due process, or just being cowardly and inept when dealing with the real criminals. It got so bad that I was surprised that the police force nationwide didn’t boycott this flick in protest.

The only one looking like he’s having a good time is Bronson who actually appears relaxed and able to convey other emotions besides just anger. This is also the first film in the series where there is an actual clear reason for why the thugs hound him. For instance he drapes an expensive Nikon camera around his shoulder to entice the gang members to mug him and when they do he shoots them, which is the precise type of thing that should’ve been in the first two movies.

He also gets two unintentionally funny moments. One is where he is having a nice peaceful dinner with an older couple, but then excuses himself to shoot two men who are robbing his car before returning to his dinner like it was no big deal. Another scene has him getting out of his car to go grab something from a grocery store while leaving the attractive Kathryn (Deborah Raffin), who he has just started seeing, in the vehicle. While he is away the thugs break the passenger side window and knock Kathryn out before putting the car in neutral and letting it roll down the street and ultimately crashing into another car. Bronson runs down to initially save her, but once he sees the blaze he nonchalantly turns around and walks away almost like saying ‘Fuck, looks like that hot babe I wanted to date has just been burnt to a crisp. Guess now I’ll just have to find somebody else’.

The final 30 minutes is one of the most violent that I have ever seen in a film. It’s literally just one graphic image after another put to a rapid fire pace. Director Michael Winner seems compelled to throw in as many repugnant images of death, blood and rape that he can making it almost laughable in its audaciousness if it weren’t so nauseating instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

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

Death Wish II (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes vigilante again.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has recovered from his traumatic loss of his family from 8 years earlier and is now living in L.A. where he continues his work as a successful architect. One day while taking his new girlfriend Geri (Jill Ireland) and cationic daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) to a fairground he gets robbed of his wallet by a gang of 5 thugs (Thomas F. Duffy, E. Lamont Johnson, Kevin Major Howard, Laurence Fishburne, Stuart K. Robinson). They use the address on Paul’s driver license to find his home and invade it while he is away. There they rape and kill his maid (Silvana Gallardo) and then when Paul returns they knock him out while kidnapping his daughter who they take back to their ‘hideout’. While there they attempt to gang rape her and in her effort to escape she’s impaled on a fence and dies. This sets in motion for Paul to return as a vigilante this time prowling the underground neighborhoods of L.A. where he’s motivated to shot each of the 5 gang members who participated in the crime.

The film is less like a sequel and more just a slight variation from the original. Having to go through yet another home invasion/rape sequence, which is almost shot-for-shot the exact same as in the first installment (if even more exploitive) is mechanical to the extreme and an insult to the viewer. It’s like a TV-station promising their audience a new episode of their favorite series only to end up showing them a rerun instead. The story should’ve evolved more perhaps having Paul now becoming a ‘professional vigilante’ and being hired by people to track down the killers of their loved ones or at least something that would’ve taken the theme in a slightly different angle.

There continues to be the issue, like in the first film, of why does Chuck constantly get marked by these hoodlums for harassment anyways. For instance at the fairground there’s many other people milling  around and yet for some reason it’s Bronson, this very nondescript middle-aged man, that becomes their target.

The recasting of the daughter role is another problem. In the first film she was played by Kathleen Tolan and portrayed as being an adult married woman. Here though the character has regressed back to being a teenager and looking to be no older than 18 if even that.

To some degree on a sleazy B-level it actually hits-the-spot the soundtrack is done by former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and it is perfect especially the strained, loud electric guitar chords that effectively reflect the film’s dark, grimy mood. Most of the locales were filmed in actual buildings that were abandoned and in crime-ridden areas forcing the cast to require 20 off-duty police guards for protection. There’s even a scene featuring large squealing rats roaming around at the character’s feet as they say their lines.

The fact that Paul hunts down the actual perpetrators of the crime is on an emotional level satisfying, but it also becomes a logistical problem as it’s just not believable that he’d be able to find them all at random times, one-by-one simply by going to the city’s ‘bad areas’. I was also flabbergasted that in a later scene when Paul returns home from shopping and after dealing with his home being invaded now twice by crooks he doesn’t bother to lock the door once he gets inside, which you would think would be the first thing done each and every time!

The one interesting aspect that could’ve helped the film stand-out was the reintroducing of Vincent Gardenia who played the NYC police chief Frank Ochoa who tracked down Kersey in the first film and does the same here, but not to  arrest him, but instead to kill him. This could’ve created more tension had it been played out effectively as Kersey would constantly have to watch his back for an attack while simultaneously attacking the thugs when he came upon them. Unfortunately this side-story dies before it gets going when Ochoa gets kill just as he decides to help Kersey, which in itself could’ve been an intriguing odd couple-like pairing.

The ending  jumps-the-shark by having Kersey disguise himself as a doctor so that he can infiltrate a mental hospital in order to kill the last of the thugs who now resides there. This segment though becomes more like a scene from one those cheap horror movies with an asylum setting and not like an action flick at all.

The credibility gets seriously strained too by having Kersey constantly coming into contact with regular citizens who always conveniently side with him when it is most needed and thus helping him escape the clutches of the authorities. Sure this might happen every once in a while, but eventually he would confront someone who sees things differently, which all helps to make this film too dumb to take seriously, but slick enough to appease those looking for nothing more than simple-minded action.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Filmways

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

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

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

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Moving Violation (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crooked sheriff chases couple.

Eddie Moore (Stephen McHattie) is a drifter hitch-hiking his way through a small Texas town (at least it’s supposed to be Texas even though it becomes abundantly clear that it was filmed in southern California instead.) While in town he meets up with the attractive Camilla ‘Cam’ Johnson (Kay Lenz). They quickly fall for each other and decide to go make-out on the lawn of one of the town’s richest citizens Mr. Rockfield (Will Geer). It is there that they witness a murder when the town’s corrupt sheriff (Lonny Chapman) kills his deputy (Paul Linke) after the deputy confronts Rockfield on his unscrupulous business practices. Now Cam and Eddie must go on the run as the sheriff tries to frame them for the murder.

The first 20 minutes is about as lame and contrived as any 70’s drive-in fare you’ll ever see to the point that it should’ve been skipped completely. Instead they should’ve just started out right away with the chase while keeping it a mystery as to why it was happening, which would’ve given the film added intrigue and only explained the backstory later on through flashback.

If you can get past the highly uninspired opening bit then the film improves from there. The chase sequences are better than usual with crashes getting captured in a more realistic, graphic way; one segment even shows an air bag going off when the police car drives into a brick wall. Unfortunately director Charles S. Dubin unwisely inserts a goofy banjo strumming soundtrack making the film seem like all those other yahoo southern actioners even though it really isn’t. Had it been done on a completely serious level it would’ve worked better. For the most part it is once you get past the goofy opening segment, but there are still comedy bits thrown in, which only hurts it as a whole.

Lenz is great playing a character that becomes seriously distraught at what is going on. Dealing with ongoing near-death collisions and seeing people killed before your very eyes would upset almost anyone, but most films don’t deal with the post emotional trauma that someone going through these situations would most likely encounter in real-life, but this one dose, which is refreshing.

Chapman’s sheriff character though doesn’t work as it gets played too unevenly between him being an aggressive menace to at other points a laughable buffoon. The film also relies too heavily on the corrupt, stupid policeman stereotype and it should’ve balanced itself by having at least one police character that was not a completely mindless jerk.

The ending was definitely influenced by Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry as it gets suddenly violent and grim in a completely unexpected way, but I liked it.  Ultimately as a whole it’s a half-step above the usual low budget action flick with enough unique twists to make it worth seeking out as a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles S. Dubin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD