A Wedding (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guests at wedding party.

Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino (Desi Arnaz Jr.) at a wedding ceremony that is non-eventful. However, during the reception afterwards, held at the mansion of Dino’s family, the Correllis, everything begins to go wrong including having the family’s elderly matriarch, Nettie (Lillian Gish) promptly die just as the guests arrive. Snooks (Paul Dooley) and Tulip (Carol Burnett) are the parents of the bride, while Buffy (Mia Farrow) is Muffin’s jealous older sister. During the party Buffy lets Dino know that she’s pregnant with his baby, which sends the family into an uproar once word gets out. Meanwhile Mack (Pat McCormick), the cousin of the groom, makes it known that he’s ‘madly in-love’ with Tulip and wishes to have an affair with her. Tulip at first resists, but then devises a scheme where the two can meet in 2-weeks, at a location in Tallahassee, Florida under the ruse that Tulip will be going to visit her sister who lives there.

While director Robert Altman made some great movies and revolutionized movie-making with his over-lapping conversations technique, he did also produce a few duds. Most of them came during the 70’s when he was given too much free rein to make whatever he wanted in however way he wanted to do it, which culminated in a lot of over-indulgence. This one though, which came right in the middle of his down cycle, is one of his better efforts The idea came as an accident as he was tired of being hounded by a reporter asking, while he was still working on finishing up on 3 Women, what his next project would-be and he joked that he was set to ‘film a wedding’, which at the time had come into vogue for people to shoot the weddings of their family members in a home movie style. Later that night, after speaking with the reporter, he partook in a drinking session with the crew of 3 Women, where they discussed the possibilities of making a movie about a wedding where ‘everything would go wrong’ and by the end of the night he had already come-up with an outline for his script.

This film though, like with all of Altman’s movies, does come with its share of detractors. Gene Siskel in particular did not like the characters, who I admit are a cliche of the nouveau riche and too easy a satirical target. He also complained that there was no one likable, which is true, though films where one person in a large group somehow manages to rise-above-the-fray and being morally virtuous when all the rest aren’t, is unrealistic and having an amoral climate such as here where everyone gets dragged down to the same level as everyone else makes more sense.

The edginess of the comedy is dated as well as what was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ at the time, like introducing the characters who are secretly gay, smoke marijuana on the sly, have had multiple sex partners, or (gasp) had sex outside of marriage, is no longer even remotely the scandal, even amongst the most conservative, as it once was, so to enjoy the film one must put themselves in that time period to totally appreciate it. With that said, it still works beautifully. It’s amazing, when considering the massive amount of characters and intersecting story-lines, how well it flows and it’s never confusing, nor do you ever lose track of any of the characters, or their issues, even if they’ve not been shown for a while. The humor gets exaggerated just enough for comic effect, but always within the realms of reality, which is what I really enjoyed about it, is that this could easily remind people of their own real-life weddings, and wedding parties, that they’ve been through.

The cast is splendid and perfectly game to the script’s demands with many of them allowed to freely ad-lib. Howard Duff probably gets the most laughs as the chain-drinking doctor of a dubious quality and Viveca Lindfors as a caterer who becomes ill, takes a pill, and then breaks-out into a loud song during the reception. Burnett is superb as a middle-aged housewife looking for more excitement in her life while also juggling the difficulties of raising a promiscuous daughter and Paul Dooley is quite enjoyable as her brash, and never shy to speak-his-mind husband. I also got a kick out of Amy Stryker, who was cast on-the-spot simply because she wore braces and resembles a young Burnett in many ways and was therefore perfect to play her daughter. Though the ultimate scene stealer is Mia Farrow, who although well into her 30’s at the time, looks amazingly still adolescent-like and pulls off the part of a young daughter quite convincingly. She utters very few words, but makes up for it with her shocking topless scene (she looks great) and the bit where she openly tries to count everyone she has slept with to the stunned silence of the others, including her parents, in the room.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Melvin and Howard (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Melvin meets Howard Hughes.

The film is based on the true story of Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat), who on one night in December, 1967 came upon what he thought was a homeless man (Jason Robards) on the side of the road of a lonely desert highway after he parked his pick-up in order to take a pee. He gives the man, who is banged-up from a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, but who refuses medical attention, a lift and they have a long conversation as he takes the man to the Desert Springs Hotel in Las Vegas. During the trip he admits to being Howard Hughes, who at the time was one of the richest men in the world. Melvin does not believe him initially and goes about his life working odd jobs including that of being a milk man. He lives with his wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) and daughter Darcy (Elizabeth Cheshire) in a rundown mobile home, but Lynda leaves him and becomes a stripper. Melvin marries another woman named Bonnie (Pamela Reed), but his financial troubles continue until he receives an envelope stating that he’s been given $156 million from Hughes in his final will and testament. Melvin thinks his struggles are finally over, but they’re just beginning as he must go to court and defend himself from those who feel that the document was a forgery.

The star of this film is Jonathan Demme’s superb direction. He first directed while working under Roger Corman and doing a couple of cheap exploitation/drive-in flicks before branching out on his own with the quirky Citizens Band that had plenty of potential, but didn’t quite gel. This one clicks from beginning to end and helped greatly by the Academy Award winning script by Bo Goldman. I really enjoyed the dry, offbeat humor with the funniest moment being inside the little white chapel when Melvin decides to marry Lynda a second time after she gets pregnant. The scene where Lynda almost gives an elderly man (played by Herbie Faye in his final film appearance), who was acting as a witness to the proceedings, a heart attack when she kisses him after the wedding is over, s hilarious as is Melvin and Lynda working as witnesses to other weddings that go on there and being kissed, sometimes quite sensuously, by the other brides and grooms. The film also shows a good understanding of working class people, showing their struggles in life without ever demeaning them. The on-location shooting in both Utah and Nevada where many of the real-life events happened gives it a nice, gritty feel and look.

While I’ve complained about Paul Le Mat’s acting in some of my other reviews his performance here is perfect in a role he was born to play. He looks very much like the real Melvin Dummar, who can be seen briefly standing behind the counter at a bus terminal, and even more ironically is that now, in the year 2022 with his gray beard and hair that he sports as seen in pics from his twitter account, exactly like Howard Hughes in this film. Steenburgen, who netted the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, is a lot of fun particularly when she strips off her clothes and walks around fully nude in a public bar in a scene that had to be shot 9 different times as she was so nervous doing it. Dabney Coleman, in a small bit near the end, is quite good as the cynical judge, but I was disappointed that Gloria Grahame is given only one word of dialogue. Supposedly she had more lines, but her scenes got cut, but why bother to bring in a famous Academy Award winning actress if you’re not really going to use her?

My complaint comes mainly with the TV game show that Melvin and Lynda enter that works as a talent contest and called ‘Easy Street’. It was meant to be a hybrid of the ‘Gong Show’ and ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ where a contestant does some sort of act showcasing their talents and if the audience is pleased with it the contestant wins a prize by choosing what’s behind one of three doors. The problem here is that it’s made too look too easy as Lynda’s tap dancing should’ve gotten her booed off of the stage instead of cheered. Having them get lucky and win a big prize, $10,000, negates the hardship theme. It doesn’t propel the plot either as Melvin quickly misspends the money and they end up in the exact same situation there were in before with Lynda walking out on him, for a second time, which comes-off as redundant. The satirical elements of the game show isn’t played-up enough and the segment is more surreal than amusing.

I also felt the opening sequence where Melvin picks-up Howard should’ve been saved until the end. In the real-life event there was speculation that Melvin was a part of the ruse as his second wife Bonnie had worked for a magazine called ‘Millionaire’ that had access to Hughes memos and signature and some had felt that she had used this inside knowledge to forge the will, which was rife with spelling errors and other discrepancies. The film though doesn’t bring any of this up and acts like Melvin is totally innocent where as adding in some nuance where the viewer isn’t completely sure if Melvin is complicit could’ve added some interesting intrigue and then having the scene where he picks-up Howard, showing that he was telling the truth after all, be the surprise reveal instead of giving it all away right at the start. The title is also misleading. Makes it seem like it’s going to be some sort of buddy movie when really Howard is in it only at the start and then pretty much disappears.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Projectionist (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Projectionist escapes into fantasy.

Chuck McCann plays a man named Chuck McCann who works in a projection booth of a New York theater. He spends his isolated days winding the film reels and putting them into the film machines so that they can be broadcast onto the big screen. He finds his job boring and he does not get along with Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield) who is the head usher at the theater and routinely chews him out for minor infractions. To escape his mundane existence he imagines himself the star of his own movie playing the superhero Captain Flash who helps save a beautiful damsel in distress (Ina Balin) while also fighting-off the evil villain known as The Bat, which he sees as being Renaldi and his way of getting ‘back at him’ without having to do it in real-life.

Writer/director Harry Hurwitz, who appears as an usher who visits Chuck in his film booth, had some creative movie ideas during his career though most of the movies he made were hampered by a low budget and not fully realized enough to break-out and gain mainstream attention. This film, which was his first, is generally considered his best. It was shot in September-October of 1969, at the same time as Myra Breckenridge, with both movies being credited as the first to use superimposition of older movies, known as Hollywood’s Golden era, into the main story. Some of the clips, which features everything from old cartoons to news reel footage, is fun and even at times provocative. The Captain Flash segments, which are filmed in a grainy black-and-white to replicate the other older clips, are amusing and I really enjoyed seeing actual photographs of Chuck when he was younger, from infancy to a teen and then young adult, over the opening credits. There’s even some cool surreal moments where he walks out of the theater he’s working in and on the marquee is advertised the film we’re watching as well as a segment where Chuck the actor walks down the red carpet at the premiere of this film while talking about playing Chuck the character.

McCann, who’s probably best known for co-starring with Bob Denver in the 70’s children’s TV-show ‘Far Out Space Nuts’, reveals definite talent particularly his spot-on impressions of famous stars making you wonder with that much talent why does this character not make an attempt to go on stage at a local amateur night and show his stuff to an audience instead of hiding it away to himself. If the character has stage fright, or social anxiety, and that’s why he’s so shy and lonely then that needs to be brought out, which it isn’t, making the character poorly fleshed-out and in-turn makes the film less interesting.

The segments examining Chuck’s day-to-day activities, between the old film clips, are dull and have low energy. It’s like the production was completely dependent on the old footage to save it, which is not how a good movie works. ALL the scenes in a successful film need to be captivating in some way and a great number of them here fall flat. The character does not grow, or change in any way. In would’ve been fun to see Chuck confront Dangerfield in real-life instead of just fantasizing about it, or making an attempt to ask-out the beautiful woman instead of dreaming about her from afar.

Dangerfield, in his film debut, plays against type. Normally he’s the loser taking-it to the oppressive authority figure, but here he’s the heavy and helps keep it engaging. Ina Balin, on the other-hand, is beautiful, but I found it frustrating that she wasn’t given a single thing to say.

The story doesn’t evolve and ultimately comes-off as an experiment that fails to click. I was also surprised with the dark nature of  some of the old clips including bits with Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, the Klu Klux Klan and even one recreating the assassination of Lincoln, which didn’t have anything to do with the main theme and not sure why they were put-in.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Harry Hurwitz

Studio: Maron Films

Available: DVD-R

Bum Rap (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: 72 hours to live.

Paul Colson (Craig Wasson) seems to have very little luck. While he works during the day as a New York cab driver he longs to be an actor and he practices his craft while alone in his cab as he waits for a customer. During his free time he attends auditions, but routinely finds himself being turned down for the part. His love life isn’t much better as he’s constantly getting stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with all the eligible women that he meets. Now things have turned even more sour when he goes to a Dr. about a ringing in his ear only to diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that will kill him in only 72 hours. Will Paul find any meaning and happiness with the time he has left? He isn’t sure, but becomes determined to find out by getting together with his friends and parents (Barton Heyman, Augusta Dabney) for one last goodbye while doing so with the company of Lisa (Blanche Baker) a street prostitute he has picked-up and agrees to go along with him for his last hurrah while also harboring the same ambitions of becoming an actor.

The film seems to want to tap into the indie vibe of Stranger Than Paradise, a quirky independent, cult hit that sent it’s writer/director Jim Jarmush into stardom. It even starts out in black-and-white like that one and there are a few keen moments here. When I was younger and just out of college I attended a few acting auditions like this character and found the same thankless experiences as he did; getting turned down not so much for a lack of talent, but more because he auditioned with someone who was sexier and better looking, so naturally they get all the attention and he doesn’t. His dating quandary where he treats the women real nice, and they get along well, but in the end they still chase after a married a man who treats them poorly can be a testament to what happens to a lot of single nice guys and in this area, examining the basic struggles of an ordinary life, it hits the bullseye.

Unfortunately the film fails to gain any momentum, or move along with an intriguing pace. The scenes lack energy and in certain instances, like when he invites his friends over for a game of cards, get bogged down with archaic chatter that does not propel the plot, or reveal anything about the characters. The disease, where the doctors can pinpoint exactly what hour the person will die and in what way, comes-off like something out of a sci-fi movie and hard to take seriously. I didn’t get why it shifts from black-and-white to suddenly color after he gets the grim diagnoses. You’d think it should work in reverse, be colorful when he still thinks he’s got his future ahead of him, only to turn black-and-white when he realizes his time is very limited, or at the very least don’t have it turn color until the very end when he’s learned to accept his condition and die gracefully, or leaves to enter some sort of afterlife

Wasson, who hasn’t appeared in a movie since 2006 and now makes a living as a audio book narrator, has stated that this was his most favorite movie that he was in and it’s easy to see why as he basically propels it along particularly with his impressions of famous actors, but his character’s transition through the 5-stages of grief is much too quick. It’s odd too that he chooses not to tell any of his friends or family that he’s dying as I’d think most other people in the same situation would want to say what’s going to happen to them if for anything to look for some comfort as they grieve.

Blanche Baker, the daughter of legendary actress Carroll Baker, is a good actor, but her character is cliched. As a street prostitute she lets down her guard too easily and quickly. For all she knows this guy could be lying to her about having a terminal illness in order to gain some cheap sympathy and since she’s been a hooker for awhile and spent time with other guys of a dubious quality, I’d think her opinion of men would be pretty low and she’d not be so trusting of Wasson when he tells her his situation and instead be cynical. This idea that all prostitutes have a ‘heart-of-gold’ if you just get past their rough exterior is a stereotype as some of them due to the harsh life on the streets can be genuinely embittered. Having Wasson deal with a more hardened one would’ve not only made it more realistic, but given the scenes some pizzazz as they could bicker and argue, versus having it get so sappy that it becomes cringe-worthy.

I suppose if you give it enough time it does have a way of growing on you emotionally, but the overly choreographed ending takes away all realism. Ultimately it’s a potentially interesting idea that thinks it has a deeper message and statement than it really does.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny Irom

Studio: Light Age Filmworks ltd.

Available: None

Rapists at Dawn (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen boys assault women.

Rubiales (Manuel de Benito), Quinto (Daniel Medran), Rafi (Bernard Seray), Cana (Cesar Sanchez) and Cana’s pregnant sister Lagarta (Alicia Orozco) roam the streets of Barcelona, Spain looking for young women to assault. The boys live on the poor side of town and are from abusive home lives with little future except working boring, low paying jobs. Feeling that society has ‘discarded’ them they they take out their hostilities on the pretty women that they meet. They pick their victims at random usually as they spot them getting out of their cars and go walking into their schools many times while in front of the victim’s family member who’ve just dropped them off. They then take the women to an isolated area and proceed to gang rape them while Lagarta acts as the look-out. The police are aware of the crimes, but seem helpless to do much about it. When they catch the boys in the act and try to arrest them the boys manage to escape making them confident that they can’t be stopped.

While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Irreversible get all the attention as being the ‘last word’ in rape movies, this one, if it was better known and more attainable, would trump those. The rapes here are graphic, prolonged and quite violent. Some will complain that it’s exploitative while others will argue that if you’re going to show rape for the violent crime that it truly is then it must be captured in all of its unpleasantness and toning it down for the sake of good taste does a disservice. Personally I found the brutal nature to be effective as I came away feeling really sorry for the victims, as it’s captured in such a real way you can barely see the acting and instead start to consider it more like a graphic documentary.

This movie also handles the aftermath in an interesting way by examining the debilitating effect the crime has on the victim psychologically and how they become like a different person. They’re outgoing and well-adjusted beforehand and then afterwards depressed, angry, and even ashamed. They turn sullen and anti-social to both their friends and family making it seem like they’ll never be the same again. The film also analyzes what happens when one of the women becomes pregnant, something that I don’t remember being touched upon in other rape films, and how the mother of the victim insist, due to religious reasons, that she keep the baby and not abort it, making her seem as cruel as the gang.

The thuggish boys are portrayed in an intriguing multi-dimensional way too. While they’re cocky when out and about they recoil and become like victims themselves when at home and dealing with their abusive fathers. I did like too that in their own twisted way they have ‘limits’ or  a ‘code of morality’ albeit a very weird one. A great example of this is when Lagarta becomes shocked when the boys continue to penetrate one of the victims even after she has clearly died. Normally Lagarta had no problem seeing them violently molest the women, but when one of them actually gets killed during the attack and the boys continue the assault it’s only then that she feels things have ‘gone too far’.

It’s hard to say what genre to put this one into. It’s not really a horror film as none of the women become Rambo-like by packing a big gun and going on a revenge tour against their assailants, which although emotionally satisfying isn’t realistic If anything it brings out how there are no easy answers, which makes it even more horrifying, but still thought provoking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ignacio Iquino

Studio: Ignacio Ferres Iquino

Available: DVD-R

The Prize Fighter (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boxer wins rigged fights.

Bags (Tim Conway) is a former boxer who lost all 20 matches that he was in and now helps his former trainer Shakes (Don Knotts) train new fighters, but neither of them is having much luck. Bags decides to go back into the ring during an amateur fight night and this gets the attention of local crime boss Mike (Robin Clarke). Mike is trying to build a convention center, but is stymied by Pop Morgan (David Wayne) who owns a gym on the block Mike wans to build on and he’s refusing to sell at any cost. Mike decides to rig the fights that Bags is in, unbeknownst to both Bags and Shakes, to the extent that it looks like Bags is ‘unbeatable’. He then will entice Pop to bet on the fight that Bags has with the The Butcher (Michael LaGuardia). Pops will be under the presumption it’ll be a ‘safe bet’, but this time Mike won’t rig it and presumably Bags will go down and Mike will be able to get his hands on Pop’s gym and tear it down for his new building. 

While Knotts and Conway had success with their pairing in The Apple Dumpling Gangthis foray, an attempted parody of Rocky, goes nowhere. Instead of being filled with a lot of gags and pratfalls, which is what you’d expect, it’s a slow story filled with every cringy cliche from a fight movie out there. Comedy is supposed to make fun of the cliches instead of propping them up, but unfortunately that’s the approach taken and it bombs massively.

Comedy movies should also have all the characters be funny in some way, but here most of them are not. Possibly that was for vanity reasons as Conway, who also wrote the script, didn’t want to be upstaged, but this forces the viewer to go through long periods of trite drama in every scene that he’s not in. The supporting characters are extreme caricatures of the 1930’s which the film is set in. Robin Clarke is particularly annoying (not necessarily his fault as that was just the way the part was written) as he attempts to channel Al Pacino from The Godfather while speaking like a poor man’s Marlon Brando. David Wayne is cast to resemble Burgess Mereridith who was in Rocky (ironically both men played villains in the 60’s ‘Batman’ TV-show with Meredith as the Penguin and Wayne as The Mad Hatter). Here though Wayne speaks, in an effort to sound like Meredith, in a gravely voice that makes him sound like a duck. I also found John Myhers, who co-wrote the script, put-on Irish accent to be equally irritating.  

Even Knotts gets wasted. Some enjoy the moment where he cracks a bunch of raw eggs in a glass and then tries to force Conway to drink it, but other than that he doesn’t elicit too many laughs. Yes, Conway is amusing at times, but his perpetually clueless shtick gets a bit old by the end. The only performer that had me laughing was Mary Ellen O’Neill who plays Mike’s senile old mother and who does some wildly bizarre things while in Conway and Knotts’ presence. She’s a scene stealer and should’ve been in it more and while she’s at the boxing match as she watches the fight with Mike she should’ve continued to do weird things while the fight was going on, which outside of swearing she doesn’t, and it was a missed opportunity.

I will give credit for the climatic bout, which is surprisingly well choreographed and effectively has a large crowd watching, which gives it an electric atmosphere, but everything else falls flat. The irony I suppose is that the film ended up being a money-maker and in fact was one of the most successful films released by New World Pictures, but I think this was mainly because a lot of people went to it based off the reputations of the two stars more than the movie itself being good. I remember I went with my dad and two siblings to see it at the local theater because we were fans of Conway and Knotts, but all of us, our dad included, were quite bored and went home unimpressed and it clearly hasn’t improved with age. 

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Preece

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

 

Hysterical (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly witch haunts lighthouse.

While Casper (Bill Hudson) has had success writing racy novels he longs to author something of a serious quality and thus uproots out of New York and drives across the country to Oregon where he takes-up residence in a town called Hellview. It is there that he rents a lighthouse as he feels it’s secluded locale will give him the quiet that he needs to complete his book. However, he’s unaware that the place is haunted by Venetia (Julie Newmar) a woman who committed suicide at the lighthouse 100 years earlier. She now sees this as an opportunity to resurrect Captain Howdy (Richard Kiel) a man she was in-love with, but who she killed when he threatened to dump her and return to his wife. As Casper notices more and more bizarre occurrences happening at his place he requests the services of Dr. Paul Batton (Mark Hudson) and his assistant Fritz (Brett Hudson) to aid him in solving the supernatural mystery.

This was the one and only film to feature the Hudson Brothers, which were a famous teen idol band who rose to fame in 1974 when they were a summer replacement series for the ‘Sonny and Cher Show’ only to get enough good ratings that they were offered their own Saturday morning show ‘The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show’ during the 1974-75 season. The brothers came from humble beginnings born in Portland, Oregon and raised by a single parent mom after their father announced one day, when they were quite small, that he was ‘going out to get some cigarettes’, but then never returned. They formed their band when there were still just kids and first called themselves the My Sirs and then The New Yorkers followed by Everyday Hudson and then just Hudson. Their biggest success came during the mid-70’s where they had a couple of top 40 Billboard hits including ‘So You Are a Star’ and ‘Rendezvous’  though by the end of the decade their fame had significantly faded and their final studio album ‘Damn Those Kids’, which was released in 1980, failed to sell at all.

The fact that these guys were no longer a big act makes is surprising that they would’ve been given the funding to make this film, which was shot in the fall of 1981 as they were clearly on a career decline. The script is credited as being written by the three brothers with help from Jeffrey Ganz who got brought in as a ‘comedy consultant’. The humor derives almost exclusively  as a collection of gags that poke fun of famous scenes from popular horror movies of the day. Unfortunately none of it is funny and results in coming-off as quite cheap and cheesy. It’s also not clear what age group they were going with here as the band, during the 70’s, was quite popular with children and the film does have a lot of silly, cartoon-like bits that they would enjoy, but it’s also laced with stuff more attuned to older adolescence and even one moment that features a topless woman. The special effects are corny and having the victims of Captain Howdy turn into zombies the second they’re killed isn’t very inspired. Since they become zombies after getting axed to death you’d think they’d have obvious flesh wounds and missing limbs, but here they don’t just faces that become pale white and regurgitating the phrase ‘What difference does it make?’ and that’s it.

The film’s only cool moment is when the zombies do a rap song and dance, which is amusing, making me believe this would’ve worked better as a horror musical like Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was surprised too that the brothers never break-out into their old rock routine especially since it’s built into the script that the zombies respond well to music. The brothers don’t even do the film’s opening and closing song, which is instead sung by a female performer named Harriet Schock.

The cast is filled with a lot of familiar character actors, with some of them, like Bud Cort as a lispy mad scientist, doing okay. It’s funny seeing Murray Hamilton playing a mayor who’s reluctant to close the beaches since that’s the exact same role he played in Jaws, but this irony quickly wears thin. Robert Donner, doing a send-up of Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th, where he proclaims “You’re doomed” to everyone he meets gets old real fast. Other actors like Keenan Wynn, who was related to the Hudson family through marriage and appeared here in a small and insignificant role as a favor, gets completely wasted.

Today this film sits in absolute obscurity and deservedly so. The Hudson Brothers themselves, though all still living, are relics of the past as well. Lead singer Bill is probably better known as being married to Goldie Hawn and the father of actors Kate and Oliver Hudson.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chris Bearde

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

The Hired Hand (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Returning to his wife.

Harry (Peter Fonda) and Arch (Warren Oates) having been wandering the American West for many years, but Harry has grown weary of it. He informs Arch and their younger companion Dan (Robert Pratt) that he plans on going back to his wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) whom he abandoned many years before. Arch is not happy with this decision and tries to talk him out of it, but eventually relents and after the untimely death of Dan decides to head back with him to Harry’s former homestead. When they arrive they find that Hannah is still working the farm with her young daughter Janey (Megan Denver). Hannah is not pleased to see Harry as she had informed Janey that her father had died many years earlier. Harry tries to make amends, but Hannah resists only allowing him to stay as long as he agrees to become a hired hand and help with the chores. Both Harry and Arch agree to this, but when Arch decides to eventually head west alone and then gets abducted by a crooked sheriff (Severn Darden) Harry leaves Hannah to help save his friend much to the anger of Hannah who feels he’s again abandoning her.

This film was the product of Universal Pictures’ new policy of allowing independent pictures to be made under the studio system as Easy Rider had done well with a low budget, and no studio meddling, so they hoped to replicate that success with more films like that one. Besides this one the other movies included: Silent Running, Taking Off, The Last Movie, and American Graffiti and were all made with each director given $1 million to work with and then allowed to use his artistic freedom to create the kind of film he wanted without studio interference.

Unfortunately this movie did not do well at either the box office, or with the critics. Variety labeled it as ‘disjointed’ while Time described it as ‘pointless’. With the bad press and poor profits the studio decided to end its ‘independent movie’ division and films like this were no longer made, at least under the Hollywood umbrella. While this movie sat in near obscurity it finally found an audience in 2002 when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and has since acquired many admirers.

What I liked about it is how it goes against the western narrative where life in the old west isn’t portrayed as being about gunfights and saloon brawls, but instead quiet and slow paced. Harry and Arch spend their time raising livestock and doing other farm chores as just keeping the crops growing and animals fed was a mighty challenge enough. The acting by the entire cast is superb, but the real stars are Bruce Langhorn and his wonderfully unique music score, Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Frank Mazzola’s brilliant editing where he mixes in a lot of montages and overlapping still photography.

There are a few gunfights, but unlike shoot-outs in the conventional westerns this isn’t about tough brave men with nerves of steel. Instead the gunfights are seen as happening when goofball idiots, much like today, get their hands on a weapon after being triggered over something insignificant and shooting wildly before killing himself. Most westerns will prolong these moments, but here it’s quick lasting only a couple of minutes, like in real-life, and when it’s over all you see are dead bodies lying about making it seem more like a needless waste of life.

Harry and Arch’s long travels together through the desolate, lonely west are what really stands-out. You get a true sense of what the world was like back then where you might not see other people, or homes for days on end. You also get a good understanding for why Harry becomes so attached to Arch and willing to risk is life at the end to save him because for such long periods during their travels Arch was, at least from his perception, the only other person on the planet with him and this then created an indelible bond.

When it got broadcast on NBC in 1973 a 20-minute deleted scene featuring Larry Hagman as a sheriff was edited back into the film. This segment had gotten cut-out when director Fonda felt, after viewing it in the editing room, it wasn’t needed and didn’t really help propel the story. The footage can be found on the 2003 DVD issues from Sundance as a bonus extra. I watched it and enjoyed Hagman’s performance as, like with everything else in this movie, goes against the grain of the conventional western. Most of the time sheriffs where portrayed as stoic figures, but Hagman comes-off as nervous and jittery and not completely in control of the situation. I would think most lawmen back-in-the-day with dangerous outlaws roaming the countryside and invading small towns would behave much more like Hagman does here, so in that respect I felt these scenes were insightful, but ultimately agree with Fonda that they didn’t add much to the story and the film flows better without it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Fonda

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex

A Tiger’s Tale (1987)

tiger

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Falling for girlfriend’s mother.

Bubber (C. Thomas Howell) is a high school student who’s dating Shirley (Kelly Preston) yet becomes more interested in Rose (Ann-Margaret) Shirley’s mother. The problem is Rose is an alcoholic and scared of snakes, which Bubber has as a pet and tigers, which Bubber also has as a pet. Despite all this the two slowly hit-it-off while keeping it a secret from the increasingly suspicious Shirley. Eventually she catches them in the act when she sees the two running naked at a drive-in where they tried to make love outside, but got attacked by fire ants. To get revenge Shirley pricks a hole in Rose’s diaphragm, so that she gets pregnant with Bubber’s baby. Bubber though intends to move-in with Rose to help her raise it, but Rose considers an abortion.

It’s impossible to say where this movie goes wrong mainly because it never gets going in the first place. It’s based off of the novel ‘Love and Other Natural Disasters’ by Allen Hannay III, who was paid $80,000 to have the rights to it sold to Vincent Pictures, which was owned and run by Peter Douglas, the third son of Kirk Douglas and brother of Michael. Peter then converted it into a screenplay, but without having read the book I couldn’t help but feel that something got lost in the transition. This is a big problem when novels get turned into movies as films don’t have as much depth to the story and characters as books typically do, which is why most people who enjoyed the story in book form usually end up disappointed when they see it as a movie. The elements are there for something potentially interesting, but Douglas, who also directed, doesn’t have the ability to put it altogether, which is probably a good reason why he’s never written, or directed any movie since.

I liked the setting, filmed in Waller County, Texas, but it doesn’t give the viewer enough feel of the region. Just showing the exterior of the homes and the drive-in isn’t enough. We need to see the town that they live-in in order to understand the characters and learn what makes them tick and the environments they are brought up in can have a lot to do with that, but when that environment gets captured in an ambiguous way, like here, it doesn’t help.

The story seems to want to tap into the themes of The Graduate, but that was a brilliant film and if you can’t top that, or at least equal it, then it’s best not to even try. Ann-Margaret is supposed to be an alcoholic, but we only see her with a drink in her hand at the start and then the rest of the time she seems quite sober. I also didn’t like the way she see-saws between being vampish at one moment and then a mature adult who gets real preachy with Bubber the next. It’s like someone with a split personality who isn’t fleshed-out and the same can be said for Howell’s character too.

There was potential for some funny bits like when Rose goes over to Bubber’s house and tells him she’s really frightened of snakes and then gets undressed and into bed with him. The camera then pans down to show a snake slithering under the covers and I thought this was the beginning of a really hilarious moment, but then the film cuts away. Later on Rose is shown to be comfortable in the presence of Bubber’s snake, but we never witness her transition, which was a missed opportunity for character development.  The scene where Rose and Bubber going running naked at the drive-in is dumb too because apparently only Shirley notices them even though with the screaming that the two were making it would’ve made anyone at the drive-in look-up and not just her.

Even the reliable Charles Durning gets wasted and becomes as dull as the rest. In fact the only thing that  I did enjoy was the tiger. I must commend Howell for being willing to get into a cage with it and stick his hand inside it’s mouth, but I was confused why the tiger is playful one second and then proceeds to try and attack Howell the next. Also, why would Howell want to get back into the animal’s cage later after he almost got his leg bite-off before? Even with that in mind I still felt the tiger was cool, the scene where he kills and eats a pooch of some customers that were just passing through is amusing in a dark sort of way and when he’s eventually set free is the only memorable moment in what is otherwise a misfire.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Douglas

Studio: Vincent Pictures

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Roseland (1977)

roseland2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Participants of ballroom dancing.

In 1976 director James Ivory, who had already collaborated with writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on 5 other films, wanted to turn her short story ‘How I Became a Holy Mother’ into yet another movie. The story required one scene to be shot at The Roseland Ballroom, a dancing venue in New York City, that was originally built as a ice skating rink in 1922 and then converted to roller skating only to eventually become a popular retreat for ballroom dancers. When Ivory approached potential investors none of them liked the story, but did like the idea of shooting a movie inside Roseland. They agreed to give money to the project as long as the entire setting took place in that venue.

Ivory then had Jhabvala interview the people at the club to get a better understanding of the folks who went there and to help generate story ideas. It was through these visits that Jhabvala was able to come-up with three different vignettes that is based closely on real-life events that occurred with people who attended the Roseland throughout the years and most of the dancers seen in the background were actual members of the dance hall and not paid extras.

While the owners of the Roseland were happy to give permission to shoot there it did come with several stipulations. One was they could only shoot during the day on Wednesdays and could not alter any of the interiors in any way, which included the lighting. Despite these restrictions he was able to succeed pretty well though at the 30-minute mark it’s obvious in a scene where Christopher Walken and Geraldine Chaplin are supposedly in a room alone that there’s a cameraman there as you can easily see his reflection on the wall mirror. Ivory was also forced, much to his chagrin, to hire a scenic artist and art director onto his crew even though they were unable to make any changes to the set, but union rules required one must be hired anyways, and the teamsters union picketed the production outside the building until Ivory finally relented, which resulted in 2 extra people being brought onto the crew to sit around and do absolutely nothing, but still getting paid.

As for the stories they’re okay, though the first one, ‘The Waltz’ is clearly the weakest despite excellent performances by the two leads. It stars Theresa Wright as a widow named May who keeps seeing a reflection of herself and her former husband when they were much younger in a mirror in the ballroom as she dances with her new partner named Stan (played by Lou Jacobi). No one else sees this same reflection except for May and most think she’s going nutty. Stan wants May to get over her memories of her old husband and focus solely on him, but when she doesn’t he loses interest in her though May finally comes around when she realizes that the past is the past and there’s no going back, so why not instead live for the present. This segment, unlike the others, relies heavily on voice-over narration of Helen Gallagher, who plays Cleo, a dance instructor, it also enters in weird supernatural elements as it’s never explained why May keeps seeing these reflections, is she really going nuts, or is some ghostly phenomenon trying to speak to her from the afterlife? This never gets answered and hence is why the story really doesn’t amount to much.

The second story, ‘The Hustle’, is the best one and features a terrific performance by Chaplin. It involves Russel (Christopher Walken) who is seeing the much older Pauline (Joan Copeland) not so much because he loves her, but more because she pays him to be her escort and he likes the money. He then meets Marilyn (Chaplin) who has just gone through a rough break-up. He immediately becomes smitten. Marilyn is at first reluctant in getting into another relationship, but eventually falls for Russel only to learn that he’s not quite ready to give-up Pauline, or her money and seems to want to juggle the two, which Marilyn does not want. While this segment is quite captivating I would’ve like a better, more dramatic confrontation and less of an ambiguous conclusion.

‘The Peabody’ is the third and final segment. It deals with Ruth (Lilia Skala) an older woman with a strong personality looking for a suitable dance partner to win a competition. She meets Arthur (David Thomas) a meek elderly man who agrees to partner with her despite having a weak heart. Ruth takes his friendship for granted and is quite demanding of him only to learn to regret it when he’s no longer around. Skala’s performance, of which she got nominated for the Golden Globe, makes catching this part well worth it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Ivory

Studio: Merchant Ivory Productions

Available: DVD