Liar’s Moon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple harbors dark secret.

During the summer of 1949 in a small Texas town Jack (Matt Dillon), who has just turned 18, falls for Ginny (Cindy Fisher) who is 17. Jack is from the poor side of town and helps out his father (Hoyt Axton) on a family run farm while Ginny lives a more privileged life as the daughter of the town’s banker (Christopher Connelly) As Jack and Ginny’s relationship progresses they find stiff resistance to it from their mutual parents particularly Ginny’s father, but they don’t know why. In order to get married they go to Louisiana to elope, but Ginny’s father hires a detective (Richard Moll) to track them down and bring his daughter back no matter what the cost.

The one aspect about the movie that I did like is that it paints its small town characters in a generally positive light. Too many times movies that deal with stories that took place in a bygone era always seem to portray the characters as being more dopey than people of today, or more racist and meaner especially if it takes place in the south, but fortunately that doesn’t occur here. Instead we get shown regular, everyday people that you could easily meet today that just so happen to have lived a long time ago.

The film also has a nice leisurely pace to it and the romantic angle doesn’t seem quite as rushed, which is good, but the film also lacks finesse. The only part of the movie that has any atmosphere or cinematic flair is the opening flashback sequence, which gets done in black and white, while the rest of it pretty much flat lines. The scene where three men get royally drunk on some strong whiskey and another one where the town’s young men try to tackle a baby hog at the fair are the only times when there’s spontaneity or verve.

The story itself is too obvious and too many clues are given away, so by the time the ‘shocking’ secret get revealed you pretty much had guessed it way earlier. A few extra twists are thrown in during the final 15 minutes, but overall it becomes soap opera laden and too similar to the tragedy tinged teen romances of the 70’s that gives the whole thing a formulaic feel.

The eclectic cast is really the only interesting aspect about the film with Dillon giving a solid performance and Fisher looking quite beautiful even when she is constantly crying, which is pretty much all she does during the final third. Academy Award winning actor Broderick Crawford, whose last film this was, gets completed wasted in a pointless role that has very little screen time and the same goes for Yvonne De Carlo who speaks here in what sounds to be an Irish accent. Susan Tyrrell though is strong playing another one of her fringe characters, this time in the form of a prostitute, who comes off as cold and snarky at first, but eventually becomes surprisingly sympathetic.

Spoiler Alert!

Two different endings were filmed and distributed and which ending you saw depended on which theater you attended. One has the main character dying while the other one doesn’t, but both come-off as rather cheesy and make you feel like sitting through this thing really wasn’t worth it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Fisher

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

Out of Africa (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: An illicit love affair.

In 1913 a wealthy Danish woman named Karen Dinesen (Meryl Streep) gets spurned by the man she is in love with, so on the rebound she decides to accept the marriage proposal of the man’s brother, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) Despite the fact that neither she nor he are in love with the other, but decide to make it a marriage of convenience. They move together to Kenya where they plan to at first start a cattle farm, but it soon turns into a coffee plantation. Through the years Karen’s marriage to Bror begins to sour as he continues to have affairs with countless other women, so Karen turns her attention to the dashing big-game hunter named Denys (Robert Redford) and the two share a passionate and adventurous love affair, but when Karen tries to turn their relationship into a committed one he refuses.

The film, especially the first hour, comes off more like a broad sketch than a fluid story, or a highlight reel taken from a wide outline. I could never really get any type of handle of who this Karen person really was. I never understood why she would want to leave Denmark for Africa, or why she’d be so quick to settle down with a man that she didn’t love. So what if she got spurned by one guy there’s still other fish in the proverbial sea. Why not wait around for someone she could truly be excited about instead of just jumping in with someone that she really wasn’t?

To some degree I did find the marriage-of-convenience idea an interesting one. It’s rare that both parties admit that neither has the hots for the other, but still decide to make a go of it, which seemed like highly modernistic behavior especially for the time period and I was hoping this whole scenario would be explored more, but the film treats this mainly as a side-story that pretty much fades away after the first hour.

The introduction of the Denys character gets a bit botched too as he keeps popping in and out at the most convenient times out of literally nowhere, like when Karen finds herself ready to be attacked by a lion, and then just as quickly disappearing again almost like he were a magical genie.  The fact that Streep puts in so much effort into her Scandinavian accent, but Redford puts none into conveying an English one is off-putting. Supposedly Redford did initially try to speak with a light accent, but director Pollack apparently found it ‘distracting’ and advised him to speak without it, but in the process it makes the acting seem uneven.

It’s during the second-half where the film really comes together as it focuses solely on the affair though in real-life there was only a two year difference between Karen and Denys, but here there’s a 12 year difference between the actors playing the part and it shows, but despite that discretion this segment really works. I loved watching the different things that the couple did like playing a phonograph record to some monkeys and seeing how they responded to it and watching Karen taking an airplane ride for the first time and all the majestic scenery that she takes in.

The cinematography is indeed sumptuous and one of the things that holds it altogether even when the script jumps precariously and sometimes jarringly from one point in Karen’s life to another. The film would’ve worked better had it focused on only one area, like her relationship with Denys, which could’ve helped create a stronger, more immediate emotional impact with the viewer while also cutting down on the excessively long runtime.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1985

Runtime: 2 Hours 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal

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

Tunnel Vision (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lame parody of television.

The year is 1985 and due to a new Bill of Rights an uncensored television network has been created, which causes many viewers to become hooked on its content watching it for hours while neglecting their other responsibilities. The head of the network, Christian A. Broder (Phil Proctor) is brought in for a senate hearing where the network’s programs are examined by a government panel to see if it should be allowed, or if censoring it would be the better option.

What was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ in its day would now barely pass as a blip on the radar of the average seventh grader. I was honestly expecting much more sex and nudity here, but ultimately the film offers very little and nothing is worse than smug filmmakers thinking they’re making something ‘edgy’ when they really aren’t. I also got tired of seeing a close-up shot of a plastic eyeball popping out of a woman’s lipstick laden lips, which I suppose might be considered by some as being sort-of sexy looking, but after it gets shown over and over again it becomes annoying.

The overall tone is too inconsistent. Certain provocative bits get lumped in with a lot of goofy, mindless ones, which creates a casual chuckle every 20 minutes or so but then coupled mainly with a lot of groans in between. The film also never cuts away to show any reaction shots of the conservative committee who are supposedly watching these ‘shocking’ clips, which could’ve added in an extra layer of humor. The viewer is also required to be highly familiar with mid 70’s programs and commercials as otherwise many of the in-jokes will go completely over their heads especially to those born at a later time.

The film was written and directed by Neal Israel who managed to have one hit Bachelor Party in 1984, but overall his other output conveys the same mindless, lame comedy as this one and whose talents seem limited. Had there been some visual flair it might’ve helped, but everything looks like it was filmed inside someone’s suburban home using low-budget home movie-like production values. Also, for a film that was supposed to be a peek into the future it certainly doesn’t have much of a futuristic design and instead reeks of mid-70’s sensibilities.

Of course there’s a lot of politically incorrect bits here too, which includes a parody of ‘All in the Family’ that features a Romanian gypsy family that spouts every conceivable ethnic slur, but this segment like so many of the others are just not that funny or imaginative. The only interesting aspect about the film is that, besides showing some young up-and-coming stars at the beginning of their careers, it also features many behind-the-scenes announcers whose voices you’ll immediately recognize, but not their faces, so seeing them in front of the camera for a rare time like Donny Darko who portrays a newscaster named Steve Garvey is kind of cool, but otherwise this thing is nothing more than a dated dud.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 7 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Neal Israel

Studio: World Wide Pictures

Available: DVD

For Pete’s Sake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t make ends meet.

Henrietta ‘Henry’ (Barbra Streisand) struggles with hardly any money in the bank as her husband Pete (Michael Sarrazin) works a low paying job driving a cab while he tries to finish college. Then Pete gets a tip from a fellow driver telling him to invest in potbellies as they are expected to have a huge gain in the market, but to do so he will need $3,000. Since he does not have this Henry decides to do some jobs that will pay her quick cash including prostitution and hauling stolen cattle, but everything that she does just gets her further into trouble.

Part of the fun of watching films from decades past is seeing how things have changed and in certain circumstances how they haven’t. Here you get to see virtually the same struggles that a young couple of today face and how the companies and banks joyfully screw them over if it means helping them either save or make a buck. Some of the segments at the beginning where she argues with representatives of these companies over either bills or loans are funny and helps give this otherwise innocuous comedy a bit of an edge.  It also allows for a great chance to see Anne Ramsey in an early role playing a rep at a phone company who not only looks way younger than from her better known role in Throw Momma From a Train, but even marginally attractive and with a much softer sounding voice.

Barbra is great in the lead that takes advantage of her rambling, fast-talking manner which she gets whenever she’s exasperated with the best bit being the running joke where she is constantly calling a distant relative in Dallas begging them for money while also updating them on her latest calamity. It’s also great seeing her play against her Hollywood celebrity image by effectively portraying a very drab everyday person sporting short hair, which was a wig created for her by her romantic partner at the time, hair stylist Jon Peters. It’s also interesting seeing this very liberal icon in a very anti-PC moment when she hands a box of Fruit Loops to an effeminate store clerk (played by Vincent Shiavelli) and tells him “I’m sure you’ll love these.”

The comedy has consistent laughs although the first hour works best and I particularly enjoyed the interplay that she has with the male customers she brings into her apartment while working as a prostitute and I wished this segment had been extended more. She also gets in a few juicy jabs towards Estelle Parsons, who plays the snotty, rich wife of Pete’s brother (William Redfield), that are delightfully savage.

Unfortunately the final third gets a bit too silly and exaggerated making the story lose its footing by becoming too frantically dizzying.  There’s still a couple of good bits here like watching the stolen cattle crash through a movie screen that is showing a film with a herd of cattle on it. I also enjoyed The French Connection parody where Babs plays the same cat-and-mouse game on the subway that Gene Hackman did with Fernando Rey only she does it with a police dog. However, some of the other bits including the appearance of Bill McKinney in a weak tribute to Deliverance are sterile  and helps to deflate an otherwise sparkling Streisand vehicle.

The script also suffers from illogical loopholes. Like the fact that despite having financial difficulties they still employ a housekeeper (played by Vivian Bonnell), but why would a young couple struggling with money and living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no kids and a wife who stays home all day need hired help?

Pete gets exposed as having some major chauvinistic traits too by forebiding his wife from working full-time because ‘his ego couldn’t take it’, which doesn’t make him seem like a ‘great catch’ at all. Forcing his wife to stay stuck in the kitchen/home because that’s where he feels ‘she belongs’ while he’s unable to provide for her with his own job makes him seem like a total dud that’s not only not worth helping, but, especially in today’s world,  have him deservedly kicked to the curb in no time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Divorce American Style (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple can’t get along.

Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds) appear to have the perfect life living in a sprawling suburban home with two kids, a good job and paid housekeepers, but underneath the facade their unhappy. Neither of them can communicate with the other, so they decide to see a marriage counselor (Martin Gabel), but this just makes things worse. Eventually they get a divorce, but the alimony and child support are so high that Richard is forced to move into a small 1-bedroom apartment and drive around in an old beat-up car. Barbara begins dating an affluent car salesman (Van Johnson) but both find that, despite all their squabbles, the more they’re apart the more they miss each other.

The script was written by Norman Lear who went on to produce the ground-breaking TV-series ‘All in the Family’, but the edge from that one is completely lacking here. I’m not sure if it was the time period this film was made in and what the studios perceived the public was willing to accept, but the satire is mild to non-existent and becomes boring quite quickly. The subject of divorce is handled in such a sanitized way that it barely even touches the surface and in many ways this thing comes off more like a romantic comedy with divorce being only a side-story.

The two leads are incredibly bland. Van Dyke again just seems to be channeling his Rob Petrie character and seemingly unable to play any variation from that. While his squeaky clean image may have made him likable on TV it makes him quite dull and one-dimensional on film. Reynolds fares better, but as a couple there’s nothing unique or interesting about them and the issues that they fight about, which is mainly the fact that they can’t ‘communicate’, comes off as generic and pointless.

The supporting cast are far more engaging. Joe Flynn, who has no problems paying or sex with prostitutes and does not feel it’s cheating because it’s ‘not romantic’ and his wife, played by Emmaline Henry, who wouldn’t go back home to an unfaithful husband even if he ‘hanged himself’ have the type of edge that could’ve made this film far funnier and more memorable had they been made the stars. Even Jason Robards and Jean Simmons have potential playing a divorced couple where the wife still lives in affluence while the husband due to his high alimony and child support lives in the dumps, but dates a pregnant woman (played by Eileen Brennan in her film debut) anyways.

The comedic tone is inconsistent. At times it conveys a surreal flair like having an orchestra conductor come out at the beginning and pretend to direct the voices of all the arguing couples in the neighborhood like there’s a musical quality to it. Having the kids keep a scorecard to their parents fighting is funny too, but these segments get interspersed with long talky moments that drags the whole movie down and things would’ve worked better had it started out right away with the couple already divorced instead of spending the first hour dealing with their protracted arguing.

The anemic insights that it does make about divorce come off as dated and wholly out-of-touch with today’s realities. A modern day divorced couple will most likely find nothing relatable with the story. Tacking on a pseudo happy ending just adds further insult to the topic by making it seem like all marital disagreements can somehow be ‘worked out’ coming off like it was written and produced by those who really hadn’t dealt with divorce issues in their real lives and did very little research on it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

A New Leaf (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for her money.

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has been living off of his vast inheritance for years only to find that his overspending and has now made him broke. Since he has no work history and no interest in getting a job he decides the only other alternative is to marry a rich woman. He finds his target in the form of Henrietta (Elaine May) who is an heiress to a massive family fortune. She is also quite homely, socially inept, and very into botany. Henry decides to ask for her hand in marriage and then once they are hitched kill her off and acquire her fortune for himself, but nothing goes as planned.

The plot is based on a short story ‘The Green Heart’ by Jack Ritchie and is full of many ingenious twists that helps propel the dark comedy along at a very even tone. Director May’s use of dry, subtle humor comes in perfectly for this type of material. So many other Hollywood comedies feel the need to bombard the viewer with broad, in-your-face gags so it’s genuinely refreshing to have a film take a more restrained approach by allowing the humor to peculate more. Instead of a rapid fire, gag-a-minute pace the film stretches the comical bits out for several minutes allowing the actors to play up the scene to a full crescendo with Henrietta’s inability to wear her evening nightgown properly on their honeymoon being quite possibly the funniest.

The characters are made up of extreme caricatures and in less talented hands could’ve been a detriment, but Matthau manages to play his part so astutely that the viewer ends up liking him anyways and his arc, where he reluctantly and quite unexpectedly ends up helping Henrietta out of several jams that she wasn’t aware of, is quite satisfying. George Rose, who sadly and ironically ended up having the same fate that almost befell the May character here when in 1988 in an attempt to get his hands on Rose’s fortune the teenage son that he adopted killed him while trying to make it look like a car accident, lends great support as Matthau’s wise and loyal butler.

Like with May’s other projects including the notorious Ishtar this film suffered many cost overruns and production delays most notably the 10 months it took to edit the film, which initially ended up having a 180 minute runtime and featured a secondary story dealing with Matthau poisoning a blackmailer played by William Hickey. The then head of Paramount Robert Evans decided, much to May’s objections, to cut this part out, which shortened it to 102 minutes, which I personally feel was a good idea. While I usually like director’s cuts the story here is too thin for a 3-hour length and in many ways goes on a bit too long the way it is although it would still be cool to see the extra footage, which is rumored to have been either lost or destroyed, as a bonus feature on a future DVD/Blu-ray release.

As a simple black comedy it comes off pretty well and even has a cute twist ending. Although a box office flop at the time it has garnered strong acclaim and since become a cult classic. The two stars also reunited 8 years later playing another couple in the Neil Simon farce California Suite

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Elaine May

Studio: Paramount

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

Quintet (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deadly game/frozen tundra.

During a future ice age Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion Viva (Brigitte Fossey) travel north in hopes of finding his brother Francha (Thomas Hill). They come to his apartment to find him and a group of other people playing a board game called Quintet, which has become the popular form of entertainment in an otherwise frozen, barren world. While Essex goes out to buy firewood the rest of the inhabitants in the apartment are killed by a bomb and when Essex chases the perpetrator (Craig Richard Nelson) he finds a list of five names inside the man’s pocket and realizes that the board game is now being played out in real-time with the winners killing the losers, which forces Essex to become a reluctant participant.

Although director Robert Altman had started the 70’s with the blockbuster hit M*A*S*H and followed it with Nashville his star status by the end of the decade had become severely tarnished especially after he helmed a succession of box office bombs with this film being a financial failure as well, which pretty much put the nail in the coffin for his career and hampered his ability at getting top projects afterwards, but I will at least give him credit for going outside of his comfort zone. While his past films were all dramedies this one was an interesting stab at sci-fi that if anything creates a vivid atmosphere. I particularly like the opening shot that shows nothing but snowy white and the sound of a cold hollowing wind only to slowly see the formation of two human figures walking in the far distance.

Unfortunately the other elements of the film are not as inspired. The costumes worn by the characters look like something leftover by a  Shakesperian college stage production and the board game itself played by the participants sparks no interest in the viewer because it’s never clear how it’s played. Supposedly the working rules of the game were passed out to audience members as they entered the theater, but it would’ve been nice had these same rules been explained in the movie itself.

The setting, which was filmed on-location inside  the abandoned buildings leftover from Montreal’s World Expo ’67 gives off an interesting futuristic vibe, but I was confused why despite being in the future there was no modern technology. I realized it was a new ice age, but are we to believe that all the computers and gadgets from the past generations got frozen over and the only thing left were the buildings? I also didn’t like how Altman smeared the edges of the lens with a translucent substance where only the middle part of the screen is in focus while the edges are fuzzy, which was intended to give it an ice over look, but doing this in literally every shot got to be a bit much.

Watching the characters die or wondering who will be next offers no tension at all as killing them seemed almost favorable as it put them out of their misery and away from their otherwise bleak existence. The plot needed an added angle to give it more intrigue like perhaps having a warm destination that still existed that the characters would try to get to while avoiding being killed in the process. Having it play out though the way it does with everyone locked inside this icy setting is not compelling at all. Altman proves here to be completely outside his realm while it also wastes Newman’s acting talents to the point that I was surprised why he even bothered to take the part at all. Some may wish to seek this out as a curio, but outside of its icy atmosphere there’s little else to recommend.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Save the Tiger (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Arson is the solution.

Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) seems to be the embodiment of the American Dream living in a large house in an exclusive neighborhood and driving a  fancy car, but underneath the facade he’s struggling. His apparel business is on the brink of financial collapse and he decides along with his business partner Phil (Jack Gilford) to torch the place so they can collect on the insurance money, but the closer they get to the date the more despondent he becomes.

The producers realized upfront that this was not going to be an audience pleaser  and therefore made it on a small budget with Lemmon agreeing to waive his usual fee and instead working for scale, which at the time amounted to $165 a week. The effort though paid off as this film is able to tell its story with unflinching honesty without having to make the usual compromises in order to gain mass appeal.

What I really liked is how the main character gets attracted to the tantalizing aspects of corruption just like the world around him as opposed to how it’s done in most other films where the protagonist somehow manages to rise above the fray and remains magically immune from the corruptible forces. What’s even better is that it shows how sometimes even good people can be driven to do bad things especially when up against a system that is cold and unyielding.

John G. Avildsen’s direction has a nice day-in-the-life feel especially the way it captures Harry’s routine at work and all the contrasting personalities and egos he must deal with as well as a hectic and seemingly never ending pace. I also enjoyed Harry’s hook-up with a hippy (Laurie Heineman) and how despite their vast age differences and perceptions they’re still able to form an interesting bond. How a transient woman who has worked no job could somehow get a house sitting opportunity at a dreamy Malibu pad is a good question, but the scene there between the two is one of the film’s best moments and Lemmon’s raw meltdown at that point is what most assuredly netted him the Oscar.

I enjoyed Gilford’s performance as well and was impressed seeing him in a rare dramatic role, but his character seemed more like a metaphor to Harry’s conscience than a real person and his constant yammering about arson being a federal crime becomes redundant. Harry’s mental breakdown onstage brought unneeded surrealism to a film that otherwise pushed hard for gritty reality and the result is jarring. Having him see images of his dead army comrades sitting in the audience looks inauthentic as their dead pale faces appear to be covered with nothing more than theatrical make-up.

It also would’ve been nice had there been some conclusion to the arson scenario. The viewer is left hanging with the idea that they will go through with it, but nothing is conclusive. I realize with the budget restraints that showing a burning building as the final image would’ve been difficult but helpful and giving us some sort of hint whether Harry and his partner were able to pull it off, or got caught would’ve been nice too. Besides Thayer David, who plays the arsonist, is so good in his role that he should’ve been in more scenes anyways.

Overall though I liked the cynical tone and how the script doesn’t pull any punches while it paints a terse, vivid portrait of the so-called American Dream and how those that appear to be living it aren’t always so happy.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Soul Man (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be black.

Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) has been accepted into Harvard Law School, but just before he’s ready to attend his father (James B. Sikking) states that he won’t help to pay for it forcing Mark to try and find other avenues of funding. He eventually decides to take some tanning pills, which makes his skin darker and then apply for a scholarship only available to African American students. After getting the money he continues with the charade, but encounters many problems along the way that he wasn’t expecting.

This is one comedy that hasn’t aged well at all. At the time of its release it wasn’t considered too great to begin with and I avoided it, but now almost 30 years later the blackface plot line has made it a bad stain on the careers of those involved particularly the producer, writer and director who were all white and apparently thought they were ‘woke’ and making something ‘socially relevant’, but really weren’t. However, even if you get past the politically incorrect scenario this is still a really bad movie either way.

The basic premise is the biggest problem as Howell never ever effectively looks black, Egyptian maybe, but more like some white guy wearing a tacky wig and who stayed under the sun lamp too long. The fact that anyone could believe that he was really black for even a second is patently absurd as his skin is more of a dark beige color and his other facial features never change, which makes the scene where his own parents don’t even recognize him all the more stupid.

The idea of having him intentionally overdose on tanning pills just brings up even more questions. For instance if he takes more than the recommended dosage wouldn’t that cause some dangerous side effect and how exactly is he able to turn white again at the end as overdosing on the pills would’ve most likely have caused some sort of long term health risk to either his system or skin.

The fact that he’s able to get the scholarship right away is pretty ridiculous too. Don’t applicants have to go through some sort of background check before they get accepted or do they simply get handed the money the minute they walk in and ask for it like it seems here and wouldn’t this background check then expose that he was really white?

This also has to be the dumbest guy ever to get accepted into Harvard. I’m not saying the character has to necessarily conform to the nerd stereotype, but the guy comes off like a world class slacker from the beginning who proceeds to say and do one clueless thing after another until you wonder if he’d ever be accepted into junior college let alone an Ivy League one.

James Earl Jones’ performance, where he channels the black version of Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, is one of the film’s few bright spots. I also enjoyed Rae Dawn Chong who plays Howell’s potential love interest and who comes off as far more real and multi-dimensional than any of the other characters in the film to the point that she should’ve been made the star while scrapping Howell and his silly shenanigans completely.

Not only does the film fail to offer any true meaningful insight into race relations, but it manages to stereotype white people in the process particularly the two white male students who are constantly getting caught making racist jokes about black people. Is the viewer actually supposed to believe that this is all these two guys ever talk about as it certainly is made to seem that way, which is just one more example as to why this has to be one of the clumsiest, most unfunny and most poorly thought out satires ever made.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Miner

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Black Hole (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Area of gravitational acceleration.

On their return trip to earth a crew of 5-people (Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine) on board the USS Palomino spot a large spaceship and are baffled at its ability to withstand the gravitational force of the nearby black hole. They decide to investigate the ship and find that it is being run by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who has been for the past 20 years the sole human survivor after the rest of the crew supposedly returned to earth, the members of the Palomino though are suspicious about this explanation since the robed android drones seem to strangely have human-like qualities. They become further alarmed when they learn that Reinhardt plans on taking the ship through the black hole, which they feel will lead to a sure death to all those on board.

For the most part the special effects look awesome  and one gets a true feeling of the vastness of space in this one with Reinhardt’s ship getting captured in a way that makes it look large and impressive. Even the interiors give off a sort-of mansion-like feel and that the characters are inside of a large scale vessel with many rooms as opposed to simply being sets on a soundstage.

Unfortunately the script lacks imagination and becomes just another formulaic madman in space scenario that offers no new twists to the genre. The tone is extremely downbeat and despite being produced by Disney doesn’t seem to be something aimed for kids at all. The story is also devoid of action and when there finally is some it’s short and fleeting and comes off like a second-rate laser shoot-out.

The characters don’t show enough contrasting personalities either and are too old. Usually pre-teens relate better to movies with performers around their same age range, but here everyone is middle-aged and in Borgnine’s case even well past that. Bottoms is the youngest and should’ve carried the film, but his acting is so transparent you end up wishing it he hadn’t even been in it at all.

It’s also a bit ridiculous that Mimieux could communicate with the ship’s robot via ESP even though mental telepathy cannot be substantiated by the scientific community and therefore should not be introduced into a sci-fi flick that is supposedly trying to taken seriously.  I did enjoy Perkins in his part, but he should not have been the one to turn around one of the drones and unmask them to expose a shriveled face underneath, which for trivia purposes was the film’s director Gary Nelson, since it will remind viewers too much of a similar reveal scene near the end of Psycho of which he famously starred in.

Schell as the resident nutcase is a complete bore in a performance that is so pathetically cliched that it borders on camp. He reminded me of James Mason’s character from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which was also produced by Disney and should’ve been enough to have Mason invited back to play the part here as he would’ve been far more interesting.

The robots outshine the humans in this one particularly Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who strangely go uncredited, as the voices of the  ‘good guy’ droids. However, the army of villainous androids that try to stop the crew from escaping walk too stiffly almost like mimes playing into the cliche of how people perceive robots to move, but by the year 2132, which is when this story takes place, you’d think technology would’ve improved enough to have created androids that would’ve had more fluid-like motions. They are also a bit too easy to pick-off almost like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, which saps the shoot-outs segments of any tension.

The ending though is the biggest disappointment as it never clearly explains what happens to the crew when the go through the black hole. There’s a lot of heavy-handed imagery including a cool hell-like visual, but nothing conclusive, which makes the whole thing just one big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Nelson

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube