A Town Called Bastard (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is rebel Aguila?

In 1895 a rebel leader named Aguila (Robert Shaw) massacres a small Mexican town. Ten years later he resides as a reformed priest in a town run by the corrupt Don Carlos (Telly Savalas). One day a beautiful widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens) arrives looking for the man who killed her husband during the massacre from 10 years earlier. Don Carlos agrees to help her despite having no idea who the killer is, or that it might have something to do with the priest. Things get more complicated when the army colonel also arrives determined to seek out justice by finding the elusive Aguila.

The film has many issues most of which is it comes off as a spaghetti western wannabe that has some of the entertaining elements of those films, but put together in a clumsy fashion. The town really doesn’t resemble an actual place, or a destination that people would live in since there only seems to be about 4 buildings, a church, a salon, and a couple of shops, making me wonder where all the townspeople that are seen milling about resided. There’s also an overuse of dubbing. Al Lettieri, who can be a spectacularly great villain especially in his unforgettable performance in The Gatewayand while he plays another bad guy here, but he gets wasted since his voice is dubbed with a high pitched one that takes away from his menacing quality. Even Robert Shaw has his voice dubbed from time-to-time, which is quite disconcerting.

The narrative is confusing as it jumps back and forth from the present to the past, but doesn’t make it clear that it is doing this, so you’ll see scenes with Shaw at the beginning as a rebel leader and then suddenly he’s a priest without explaining how the two are connected. The Fernando Rey character and the actor playing Alvira’s husband look too much alike making me think, especially since the story jumps between different time periods, that the characters were one and the same with one being slightly younger with the scenes done 10 years earlier though that ends up not being the case.

The cast does help particularly Savalas who seems to relish playing the bad guy and although he’s done this type of part a few too many times is still perfect, but his character gets killed-off too quickly and way too easily, which is a big letdown since his presence helps drive the movie. He gets replaced in essence with Landau, who plays a sociopath in the same over-the-top way, but a good film needs only one crazy not two men playing the same character in the same type of way until it becomes like a caricature.

Shaw is of course quite good though his character for the most part hangs back and doesn’t do much until near the end. The opening scene where he leads the attack on the village has energy, but the shot of a long line of spit oozing out of his mouth as he shouts orders left an icky lasting impression. Stevens is quite beautiful in a natural way without the help of make-up and this was the last film where she had a youthful look as she appeared increasingly more middle-aged after this one.

The nasty subtext was the one thing that makes it fun. There’s a lot of stuff shown here that they just couldn’t do today like the opening bit where the townspeople are viciously gunned down inside their church and the gunmen than laugh and celebrate while the dead, bloody bodies lay at their feet. The scene where a desperate man gleefully hangs his own, innocent wife in an attempt to save himself is memorable and it’s this type of element that keeps it interesting because you just don’t know what it’s going to show next and in the process reflects the ugly savagery of the true, old west.

Alternate Title: A Town Called Hell

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Parrish

Studio: Benmar Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Import Non-English), Amazon Video, Plex

Fandango (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Diamonds (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Testing a security system.

Charles and his twin brother Earl (both played by Robert Shaw) share an intense rivalry that comes-out during their judo karate contests. Charles wants to top his brother at everything including getting the better of him at his own expertise, which is that of security specialist who has created a vault in Tel Aviv that holds a cache of diamonds and is supposedly impenetrable. Charles is determined to rob it and uses the help of expert safe crackers Archie (Richard Roundtree) and Sally (Barbara Hershey).

While the film has some great location shooting of Israel making it seem almost like a travel log of the region and the final third where the three try to pull off the elaborate robbery does get a bit intense, though it’s nothing special, the movie on the whole falls flat. A major reason is that it was directed by Menahem Golan, who along with his cousin created the notorious film production company The Cannon Group, which produced a lot of cheesy, bubble gum action flicks during the 80’s. This film works very much like those with poor character development, in fact there’s really no development at all, and a plot that steals all sorts of elements from other and better heist movies.

Overall it’s pretty much the same storyline as $, Perfect Fridayand to a lesser extent Topkapibut all of the things that made those movies so much fun to watch goes missing here. The lack of interplay between the characters is the biggest issue. Shaw, Roundtree, and Hershey are all great actors, but they’re not given anything interesting to say. The twin brother concept does not get played-up enough and Charles’ twin is seen just a few times with the only difference being a shaggy wig that Earl wears as opposed to Charles crew-cut, but both brothers have the exact same mole on the left side of their mouths and while identical twins can have many similarities, skin blemishes isn’t one of them. Shelley Winters also pops-up sporadically as an American tourist, but her part is completely inconsequential and not needed at all.

The heist itself does involve some sophisticated maneuvers including having them walk on the ceiling by using a suction-cup type contraption, but the film fails to show any of the preparation. In the other heist films seeing how the crooks rehearsed the robbery and working through their disagreements and divergent personalities was half-the-fun, but that all goes missing here. How Shaw goes about meeting Roundtree and company is pretty flimsy too as he catches them during the middle of an attempted safe cracking and then hires them on-the-spot supposedly because he’s been monitoring them for 5 years and feels they’d be a perfect match for his scheme, but why should it take him so long to come to this conclusion and these safe crackers must not be as cunning as they seem if they’ve been watched closely for 5 years and not had any hint that it was going-on.

Spoiler Alert!

The crime itself gets pulled-off way too easily and there’s no moment where a crucial mistake gets made, or some sort of unexpected slip-up, so things never get as intense as it could’ve. There’s also an added character that gets thrown-in who kidnaps the son of the security guard in order to get the guard to give-out the combination to the safe, but no scenes are shown for how Shaw and company met this kidnapper, or what deal he made with him in order to get him to agree to along with their plans.

The finale has a very anti-climactic feel as Roundtree is able to retrieve the diamonds, but then Shaw forces him to put them all back, so they come away, after all that effort, empty-handed. Ultimately Shaw does hand him a $100,000 check, but this was paltry compared to the $10 million they would’ve gotten with the diamonds making the viewer feel like the film wasn’t worth sitting through if the characters just end up in the same situation that they were in when it began. While no movie that has Robert Shaw in it can be completely bad as his presence alone can elevate even the most inept material this one unfortunately does come close.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Double Deal (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Double crossing each other.

Christine (Angela Punch McGregor) is a young model married to Peter (Louis Jourdan) a much older man. While Peter is rich and they live in a big house their marriage lacks passion and Christine becomes bored with her existence while Peter continues to have a long-running affair with his secretary Miss Stevens (Diane Craig). One day while out shopping Christine meets a handsome young man (Warwick Comber) on a motorbike. Even though she doesn’t know his name she becomes entranced with his good looks and carefree demeanor. He’s the exact opposite of the stuffy and exacting Peter, so she decides to run-off with him. The two go on many quirky adventures including robbing a grocery store while in clown make-up not so much because they need the money, but just for the thrill of it. They then plot a scheme where the man will pretend to have kidnapped Christine and insist that Peter relinquish his prized opal gemstone in order to get her back. Peter complies, but in the process sets off an array of unexpected twists where nothing is as it seems.

Normally I like films with an offbeat slant and this one certainly has its moments, but the characters aren’t well fleshed-out, which makes for a placid experience. A good case-in-point is the way Christine comes upon the young man, which is while she’s in a shopping center parking lot. Having found that someone has double parked their car behind hers she patiently waits for the owner of the vehicle to come out and move it, but in the process the young man comes along, and noticing that the keys of the car are still in the ignition, jumps into the car and drives away with it while also following Christine home. Once there the two proceed to tear up the place before she packs her bags and runs off with him onto the open road without ever even learning what his first name is.

While as an actress McGregor is quite competent she doesn’t have the looks of a fashion model, which she herself admitted to, and her role and that of the secretary should’ve been reversed with Diane Craig looking far more the model type especially with her piercing blue eyes. Comber is a bit off as the handsome stranger as well. He certainly has a hunky build and chiseled face, but his droopy eyelids give him a odd, sad eye appearance. I also got tired of seeing him constantly wearing a silver bike riding suit that seemed to resembled more of an outfit worn by someone on a spaceship.

Jourdan’s presence helps a lot. This was at the twilight of his career where he was no longer getting leading man roles in his home country of France and therefore open to accepting offers abroad, which is what lead to him traveling to Australia to do this. The filmmakers wanted a big name star to help give the production stature and the movie definitely works better with him in it though the scene where he and McGregor are in bed together was reportedly quite awkward for the two stars given their wide age difference of almost 33 years and took many takes to film.

There are a few memorable moments with my favorite being the grocery store robbery, which occurs in a small outback town, where Christine accidentally releases the money they have just stolen into the air as she gets into the getaway car causing the store owners, who had just been robbed, to run out and busily try to recollect the money blowing in the wind. However, the story lacks soul. The twists get thrown in for the sake of being offbeat, but the characters never grow, or resemble real people in any way. The winding plot ultimately burns out and ends with a fizzle.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian Kavanagh

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: dvdlady.com

A Reflection of Fear (1972)

reflection

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His daughter is disturbed.

Marguerite (Sondra Locke) is a lonely teen girl living with her mother Katherine (Mary Ure) and grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso). Through her alienation she creates an imaginary world with her dolls including one named Aron who she routinely has conversations with, but who also argues with her from time-to-time. Marguerite’s estranged father (Robert Shaw) comes to visit in order to ask Katherine for a divorce, so that he may marry Ann (Sally Kellerman). He also starts to rekindle things with Marguerite though Ann feels the two are getting much too close and fears they may be forming an incestuous relationship. Soon after both Katherine and Julia turn-up dead having been bludgeoned to death by a mysterious intruder, but who did the dirty deed? Was it an angry Marguerite, or her father, or was it the doll named Aron, who Marguerite insisted spoke to her even though no one else believed her.

The only reason to catch this obscurity is for the performance of Locke who’s absolutely brilliant. Despite being 27 at the time, she still looked like a teen and her attempt at speaking in an English accent is effective and I almost thought it had been dubbed, but it wasn’t. Her presence completely dominates the film making the supporting players seem almost non-existent and it convinced me that her relationship with Clint Eastwood, in which he according to her autobiography wouldn’t allow her to do any other projects that he wasn’t involved in, was a big mistake as she was clearly, as evidenced here, a highly gifted actress that never got her full due.

With that said I was kind of surprised to see Shaw in a film that didn’t allow him to shine and forced him to take a backseat. I can only imagine the reason that he did it was so he could work with his wife Ure, whose alcoholism had relegated her to only supporting parts toward the end of her career and in fact this was her last film before she was discovered dead in her dressing room at the young age of 42 from an accidental drug overdose. The two, for what it’s worth, do work well together. The hateful looks that she gives Shaw here seem authentic and you’d never know the two were a couple in real-life.

The story, with a screenplay co-written by Lewis John Carlino and based on the book ‘Go to Thy Deathbed’ by Stanton Forbes, has potential, but never gels. The scenario seems like it would’ve been better for a half-hour episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ and stretching it to a 90-minute length offered in too many slow spots where nothing much seemed to happen. The only time there’s any action is during the murder sequences, which could’ve been played-up more, otherwise it’s a lot of talk that fails to build-up the suspense or mystery in any interesting way.

Spoiler Alert!

The main problem that I had was that it was obvious to me that the doll was just a projection of Marguerite’s repressed anger, so the big reveal where she’s found to be the killer was not a surprise at all and in a lot of ways just a letdown. Had the filmmaker’s made an attempt to show the doll actually speaking instead of only been glimpsed in a shadowy way, which made it clear that he was just a figment of her imagination, then maybe there would’ve been more suspense because the viewer might actually have been made to believe that he was real, but the way it gets done here is not intriguing.

Having Shaw find out at the end that his daughter was actually a boy just made things even more confusing. Some have lauded this has being the first film with a transgender theme and a precursor to Sleepaway Camp, which is great, but what’s it all supposed to mean? Was Marguerite’s transgender issues the reason for her anger and why she lashed out into murder? Was this also the reason why her mother and grandmother kept her locked away and cut-off from potential friends, or was this instead Marguerite’s choice? None of this gets answered, which ultimately makes the film a pointless excursion.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William A. Fraker

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys hit on babe.

A late season blizzard hits central Iowa just as Easter arrives causing two college chums, Larry (Tim Robbins) and Joe (Cameron Dye), to decide they need to get away to a warmer climate. Their socially inept friend Wendell (Stephen Geoffreys) has a cousin with a fully furnished apartment in Palm Springs that is open for them to go to. Wendell’s parents (Max Wright, Julie Payne) even agree to pay for their plane tickets, but there’s one catch: the boys must bring Wendell along and help him get over his awkwardness, so he can finally meet some girls and get laid. Joe and Larry reluctantly agree, but when they get there they find Wendell to be an almost hopeless case while also bumping into two guys: Chas (Leigh McCloskey) and J.C. (Matt McCoy) from a rival fraternity.  Chas is particularly arrogant and bets the two that he can manage to have sex with a hot babe named Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) before they can, which causes the boys to go on a slew of wild antics to get Ashley’s attention, and hopefully heart, so she’ll agree to go out on a date with Joe and then hopefully afterwards back to her bedroom.

I know I’ve been told by readers of this blog that I’m a ‘tough critic’ and rate these films ‘too harshly’, but the truth is going-in I want to like these movies because who wants to waste 90-minutes of their time watching a dud, but I do have one main rule. If the movie causes me to openly groan, or rub my forehead, which is something I do when I get annoyed, then it’s going to get a low rating and this one had me doing that several times.

The main thing that irritated me was the piss-poor characterizations, which are cliched to the max. The most annoying one is Wendell, played by Geoffreys, who started his acting career doing mainstream films only to by the 90’s devolve into starring-in gay porn flicks under the name of Sam Ritter and then returning to doing mainstream movies by the 2010’s. I felt his nerd vibe was over-the-top. Being geeky and slightly out-of-it is one thing, but this young man is completely oblivious to obvious social cues that anyone with even a minor intelligence would pick-up on making him seem like he must be mentally-ill to be that extremely out-of-touch.

The Ashley character is poorly defined as well. Why is such an incredibly hot woman single, and if so why aren’t a lot of guys hitting on her instead of just these two? Why would an attractive woman undress (performed by body double Roberta Whitewood) by an open window at a busy apartment complex and not fear that it may attract peepers? If she’s an exhibitionist that’s one thing, but the movie plays it like she isn’t, so how could she be so clueless? She also stupidly falls into the boy’s pathetic scheme too easily. I was hoping she’d secretly be clever enough to see through their shenanigans and set them up into a trap of her own, but that doesn’t happen, which is another thing that I hated is that the film lacks any surprises.

Some may like it just to see Robbins in an early role in a film I’m sure he’d like to live down. It’s also fun seeing Amanda Bearse, who’s better known for her later work in the TV-series ‘Married with Children’, and veteran character actor John Vernon as an obnoxious police chief. There’s a few other familiar faces that pop-up here-and-there, but I was shocked at the cameo role Britt Ekland is given where she’s on screen for just a minute playing a waitress at a bar. Usually when famous people are given brief walk-ons they’re at least able to say something clever or funny, but here she just asks the guys for their ID’s and then leaves. It’s a thankless part and I can only presume she must’ve been really desperate for the work to take it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Zandy’s Bride (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A mail-order bride.

Based on the novel ‘The Stranger’ by Lillian Bos Ross the story centers on Zandy Allan (Gene Hackman) a rancher living in the remote frontier of the American west during the late 1800’s. He finds living alone while maintaining a ranch to be an arduous challenge and thus puts an ad in the newspaper for a bride. The inquiry catches the eye of Hannah (Liv Ullmann), a Swedish woman living outside of Minneapolis. She arrives in Zandy’s hometown, but Zandy is initially not pleased as she’s 32 instead of 25 and he feels she’ll be too old to bear him a son. Begrudgingly he takes her on the long horse ride back to his ranch while informing her there’ll be ‘no turning back’. Their relationship starts out rocky as Zandy expects to be able to order her around and have sex with her at will and is routinely abusive, but complains to his mother (Eileen Heckart) that he cannot understand why she doesn’t like him. Eventually the two, after many years and many fights, form a tenuous bond.

The film was directed by Jan Troell a Swedish director and cinematographer whose films The Emmigrants and The New Land gained international acclaim and won him a contract to direct a Hollywood film. Despite the presence of Ullmann, who had also starred in Troell’s other two films, and having the same frontier setting this one did not do as well either with the critics or the box office and culminated in making Troell’s foray into Hollywood filmmaking, which he said he didn’t like since union rules didn’t allow him to man his own camera like he had always done while making movies in his homeland, a short one.

A lot of the reason for this could be that it starts-off with a brutal rape scene, though not as graphic as in some other films, is still quite unpleasant particularly with Ullmann’s pleading blue-eyes and Hackman callously shouting that he ‘has a right’ as he violently strips off her clothes. While one can appreciate the film’s stark reality, as I’m sure in the remote frontier this sort-of thing could’ve easily happened, it still leaves a bad vibe since Hannah softens to Zandy despite his continually arrogant behavior too quickly. Most women would hate a man forever after that, so for the film to take the approach that love could still blossom is a bit hard to fathom. It should’ve at least taken the entire duration for this to occur instead of entering it in already by the second act.

Hackman is fantastic particularly for taking on such a unlikable role. Most other actors who’ve gained leading man status will rarely do this as they’ll feel it will affect their image, so it’s great to see an actor willing to stretch his range no matter the results. Ullmann is quite good too and it’s almost surreal hearing her speak English when I’ve seen so many films of her speaking in her native tongue. Her character though needed better fleshing-out. With Zandy we can see why he behaves the way he does when he visits his parents (Frank Cady, Eileen Heckart) and witnesses the poor way his father treats his mother, which clearly gives him the mindset that treating women that way is ‘normal’, but we get no such backstory with Hannah. Why did she choose to be a mail-order-bride when she’s so beautiful and you’d expect she’d find many suitors back where she lived? There’s no hint of her family history, or why she ended up in the situation that she does. I also felt she was too assertive too quickly and would’ve liked more of an arc where she starts out shy, but after going through the rigors that she does gains an assertiveness that she didn’t think she initially had.

Spoiler Alert!

The film ends on a hopeful note. Whether one feels this has been earned, or deserved is up to one’s subjective perspective though I was happy to see some redeeming qualities from Zandy as sitting through it watching him behave badly and never learning anything from it would’ve been too unbearable otherwise. I couldn’t help though but wonder during the many times that Zandy abandons her for months on end that one of the men from town wouldn’t have proposed to her in the process. In either case this ends up becoming the first and quite possibly only movie that could be categorized as a love story without any romance.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jan Troell

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Iceman (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brought back to life.

Stanley (Timothy Hutton) is an anthropologist working in the arctic where his team of explorers discover a neanderthal man (John Lone) frozen in the ice from 40,000 yeas ago. The man is taken inside a block of ice to the base where he gets thawed out and resuscitated and then placed inside a simulated environment where he can be studied, but Stanley insists on treating him like a human versus a specimen. He initiates an encounter, which leads to a bonding and Stanley gives him the name of Charlie. Despite the inability to speak the same language, but through the use of a linguistics specialist who is brought in, he begins to learn more about Charlie and how he was on a lonely walk where he was trying to sacrifice himself to the gods in order to save his tribe. When Charlie sees a helicopter flying overhead he races towards it in the belief that it was the mythical god he was looking for called ‘Beedha’ and this motivates him to escape from the lab sending everyone else into a panic in an effort to find him.

Initially, the story does have a ‘roll-your-eyes’ effect with the way Charlie gets revived, which seems too effortless and causes no side effects as he becomes as ‘good-as-new’ even 40,000 years later. Outside of his face he has no body hair, in fact his skin appears baby smooth, even though the presumption would-be that men would’ve had more hair on them than they do now.

Fortunately director Fred Schepisi keeps the proceedings as authentic looking as possible, which helps overlook the story’s implausible leanings. I thought the close-ups the of the red laser cutting through the ice sheet was pretty cool (no pun intended). Filming it on-location in Churchill, Manitoba reflects the arctic climate and far better than having it done on a sound stage. Even the way their personal living quarters where furnished had a nice homey feel though I was confused why there would be a TV present in Lindsay Crouse’s room as I don’t think there’d be any TV station signals in the arctic and thus nothing to watch. (No video stores, satellite dishes, especially in the mid-80’s, or cable either.)

The acting is all-around terrific. Hutton manages to finally lose his boyish appeal that post Ordinary People he had trouble shaking. I liked the curly hair and the grungy post-graduate persona and I enjoyed the short-hair of Lindsay Crouse whose presence does not precipitate a romance, or sexual interest between the two leads. The film intimates that it’s because the Crouse character is supposedly gay, which I didn’t think was needed as it’s quite possible someone could be straight, but still not magically ‘fall-in-love’ with members of the opposite sex even if working closely with them over an extended period of time. The best performance though is that of Lone, who’s Asian, but you’d never have known it and his ability to recreate a troglodyte behavior in a way that seems quite organic is excellent.

The ending created some behind-the-scenes controversy as Schepisi agreed to film the original concept as intended, but then pulled-back on that promise and went ahead and did a different one without informing the studio, which got him canned. I’m not sure what the original ending was like, but the one that gets shown here is perfect as it keeps all the action in the arctic since moving the story off to a different location, or trying to continue the drama of having Charlie enter into modern civilization would’ve been a whole other movie into itself and made the script overly cluttered. Whether the viewer considers Charlie’s ultimate fate to be a happy or sad is up to personal perspective, but for me I found it satisfying.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Universal

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

All That Jazz (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

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