Beyond Reason (1985)

beyond

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s losing his sanity.

Filmed in 1977, but never released to the theaters and only eventually finding its way to VHS 8 years later. Written and directed by Telly Savalas the story centers on Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas) who works at a mental hospital and has an unorthodox way of treating his patients, which does not go over well with the young, blonde Dr. named Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson) who feels his methods go too far. Suddenly after witnessing the suicide of one of his patients Mati begins having weird hallucinations. Those around him fear he may be losing his grip on reality, but Mati thinks Leslie may have something to do with it by attempting to drive him crazy she can have him fired from his job, so Mati sets out to expose her scheme.

While the concept is an interesting one the execution is not. I did feel the scenes done inside the hospital had a gritty touch, so it gets a few points there, but the story takes too long to get going. The scenes meander, too much extraneous dialogue, and not enough dramatic moments to keep it compelling, or even mildly engaging. It’s also unclear what genre to fit this into, or the target audience, which makes it easy to see why the studio refused to release it as it clearly was going to clunk at the box office and most critics who reviewed it would’ve gotten as bored as I did watching it.

I do like Savalas and usually enjoy his presence especially when he plays bad guys. While he can also play good guys well it’s never in the same dynamic type of way. His character here is limp and poorly defined. Since he starts out behaving a bit goofy right from the beginning his transition to loonyville isn’t much of a contrast, or shock. He also acts borderline creepy and at one point in a pre-Me Too moment even pinches one of his nurse colleagues in the ass. In any event you really don’t care if he goes mad or not and his journey, or why it’s occurring, won’t hold most viewers interest.

The most disappointing thing is that Priscilla Barnes, best known for playing Teri on ‘Three’s a Company’, was originally cast to play the part of Dr. Valentine and is even seen in a scene where a group of doctors tour the facility, but then got fired midway through the production and replaced by Johnson. Johnson, who looks quite similar to Barnes, is just not as good of an actress. Her confrontations with Savalas offers no spark, or fire. I honestly believe Barnes would’ve done better and while I’m not sure what the reason was for her being let go it’s a shame it occurred as it’s the one thing that might’ve helped made the movie better.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a diverting moment near the end where we see a fast-cutting mosaic of the weird visions going on inside Mati’s head, but this stuff needed to be trickled all the way through to help give the film more of a visual dynamic. As for the resolution I couldn’t make much sense of it though by that time I was just glad it was over and really didn’t care. There are though fans of the film who will insist it’s a ‘brilliant ending’ as Mati was apparently intentionally making himself go mad, as they explain it, to help him understand what his patients must go through, which is all a part of his ‘love centered therapy’. However, it’s not done in a way that makes it clear to most viewers and many will leave feeling confused and that it was a big waste of time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1985 (CBS Television Network Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Telly Savalas

Studio: Arthur Sarkissian Productions

Available: VHS

The High Country (1981)

high

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping into the mountains.

Jim (Timothy Bottoms) is arrested for dealing marijuana and taken by police car to jail when the brakes in the vehicle go out and the car overturns, which allows him to escape, but not before being shot in the arm by one of the officers. Kathy (Linda Purl) is an adult woman, who can’t read while also suffering from other learning disabilities. She leaves the family that she’s been staying with and goes hitch-hiking when she comes upon the injured Jim. Initially the two have nothing in common, but she’s able to help him with his injury and guide him over a rugged mountainous terrain, which will be out of reach to the authorities who are after him and in the process the two begin to form an unlikely bond.

While the film doesn’t have much to cheer about I did at least like the mountain scenery, filmed on-location at the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There’s also a few marginally tense moments where the two scale the side of the mountain, where like in the movie Deliverance, it’s the actors doing the actual climbing and not stunt people. I also enjoyed the offbeat humor of having Jim attend a bar where a sign hangs that read’s ‘absolutely no profanity allowed’ (what sort-of self-respecting bar would have this rule. I guess only in ‘nice’ Canada) and a brawl breaks-out when one of the patrons decides to swear.

The performances are engaging especially Purl’s whose blue-eyes exude the perfect look of innocence. I was though frustrated that we never get to see these ‘cigarette trees’ that she mentions and says is somewhere in the mountain country as I was expecting the movie to have an answer since the script brings it up. The film also initially shows Kathy reading a story to some children making it look like she can read, but we’re told later that she was only ‘telling’ the story, but a good director would clue the viewer in right away that something isn’t right with her reading and those around her can sense it.

Bottoms is strong too though it’s surprising how far his career had tumbled where in the early 70’s he was getting starring roles in acclaimed Hollywood movies, but by the 80’s was relegated to low budget indie projects and foreign films. His character here is a bit snarky and he’s hard to warm-up to though the scene where he saves Kathy helps remedy this. The fact though that he has a bullet lodged in his body and is initially in great pain with a bad infection and yet this all magically gets healed without ever receiving proper medical care seemed dubious.

Spoiler Alert!

I was not so happy with the father character who arrives pretty much out of nowhere in the third act and is somehow able to track the two down when no one else can. It’s never clear whether this guy is meant to be a nemesis, or not and he should’ve been introduced earlier and made a stronger impression upfront. He also looks way too young to be Kathy’s father, who’s clearly in her 20’s and yet he doesn’t have any gray hair and with his big bushy mustache and muscular physique looked better suited for a 70’s gay porno.

The dumbest thing though is how at the end it implies that Jim and Kathy get into a romantic relationship, which defies all credibility. There’s too much of an extreme mental disparity between the two. It will always be a parent-child scenario versus that of two people on equal footing. In fact that’s one of the reasons I got bored with it as there’s clearly limits to how far this quasi friendship, with Kathy being stuck with the mind of a 10-year-old, can go and the fact that the film creates this idea of a wondrous romance is just too absurd to swallow. The start of a nice little friendship where they become pen-pals would be cute enough, but anything more than that; no!

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: None

The Prisoner of Zenda (1979)

prisoner

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A king look-alike.

When King Rudolph IV (Peter Sellers) dies in a hot air ballooning accident his heir apparent, Rudolph (Peter Sellers), who spends his days in casinos gambling and carousing, gets summoned to be the next King. His half-brother, Prince Michael (Jeremy Kemp), feels he’d be more suitable for the throne. He sends out an assassin to kill Rudolph in order to allow Michael to become King. While the assassin tries to carry-out the mission his attempt fails due in large part to the quick thinking of Sydney (Peter Sellers) a local carriage driver. Sydney is actually Rudolph’s half-brother due to an affair that the King had with a British actress years earlier, but he is unaware of this and yet due to his striking resemblance to the new would-be King he gets hired as decoy in order to help prevent any more assassination attempts on Rudolph’s life.

While the film, which is loosely based on the classic Anthony Harvey novel of the same name, was met with a lot of criticism upon its release I did come away impressed with the look of it. This was the last film directed by actor-turned-director Richard Quine whose creative output in the early part of his career fared far better than his films towards the end, which were pretty much all box office bombs and critical duds. This one though has some great looking sets and excellent period piece costumes as well as impressive on-location shooting done at historical castles throughout Austria, which almost makes up for its other inadequacies.

Sellers for his part isn’t bad either at least on the acting end. While the reports were that his health was declining he certainly didn’t look it and his use of accents, particularly Sydney’s Welsh-Scottish one, is excellent. However, on a comic level his presence is quite bland. It’s almost like he put in so much effort into the characterizations that he forgot to be funny. Some may find Rudolph speaking with a lisp and unable to say the ‘R’ sound somewhat amusing though this gets overplayed and ultimately old, but outside of that he has nothing else that he says or does that’s humorous. The audiences are coming in expecting him to be the comic catalyst when instead it’s Gregory Sierra, in a very energetic Wily E. Coyote type role as a vengeful count, and Graham Stark as a prison guard who manage to get any genuine laughs.

Incorporating Sellers’ then wife Lynn Frederick into the proceedings doesn’t help. Frederick was fielding leading role offers for two TV-movies at the time including that of The Torn Birds, but Sellers convinced here that cinema work, even if the role was small, was superior to that of doing something for TV and thus she rejected those and took this one. Their marriage though was already in a rocky stage and their therapist advised them not to work together which resulted in Sellers routinely berating his wife in-between takes to the point that she’d sometimes break down into tears. The coldness between the two really shows onscreen as they share no chemistry and thus making their character’s romantic moments come-off as quite flat. If anything the scenes between Sellers and Elke Sommer, whom he co-starred with years early in A Shot in the Dark, works better.

While the production is polished and even has a nice action moment where the carriage that Sydney is in gets attacked the comedy is completely lacking and the film has a poor pace. You keep waiting for the humor to gel, but it never does. The attempts that you do get are corny and lame, or just too subtle to elicit even a chuckle resulting in yet another Sellers’ misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R

The Glass Menagerie (1987)

glass

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter receives gentlemen caller.

Tom (John Malkovich) returns to the now abandoned apartment of his childhood. It is here that he recollects to the viewer his life living there where he resided both with his handicapped sister Laura (Karen Allen) and overly-protective mother Amanda (Joanne Woodward). Laura is very shy and has no social life, and instead spends her time taking care of her collection of miniature glass animals. Unable to hold down any job and straddled with a limp her mother fears that Laura will never find a man to marry and as a result will be alone and penniless when she gets older. She pressures Tom, who spends most of his free time watching movies in the theater in order to alleviate the boredom of his own life, to find a suitor, or gentlemen caller, who can come to visit and subsequently court Laura. Tom finally finds someone in the form of Jim (James Naughton) whom he works with at his factory job. Unbeknownst to him Jim went to high school with Laura and she was secretly infatuated with him. When he arrives for dinner Laura’s shyness takes over and she retreats to her bedroom, but then later she comes out. The two begin to talk and Jim tries to give Laura more confidence. Will he be her ‘knight-in-shining-armour’, or like with her glass collection will it simply be an illusion destined to shatter?

The film is based on the famous Tennessee Williams play, and to a degree his own life while growing up, that was originally produced in 1944 and was his first successful play that catapulted his career. It was made into a movie in 1950, which got a lukewarm response from film goers and critics alike for the perceived miscasting of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, who played Amanda. It was remade as a TV-movie in 1966 with Shirley Booth and then again in 1973 with Katharine Hepburn. Many felt this was the best filmed version of the play especially since Tennessee Williams wrote the teleplay.

This version is okay, but kind of seems unnecessary. Initially I thought director Paul Newman was going to use a different approach by removing it from a stage setting and having more outdoor scenes, which we see during the opening as Tom walks towards the apartment, which would’ve been different from any other Williams play. Ultimately though this one comes-off no different than the others with virtually everything taking place within the claustrophobic apartment. I realize that the point of the story is to show how trapped these characters were in their dismal lives, but putting a variety to the visuals and making it seem more cinematic would’ve helped. Even just adding in some cutaways would’ve been a plus like showing what Amanda and Tom are doing while Jim and Laura are sitting in the living room for an extended period of time talking. You’d presume that Amanda, being the meddlesome mother that she was, would be attempting to listen into their conversation, but actually showing it would’ve allowed an added context instead of just having them disappear and yet remain in the apartment, but doing who knows what.

Malkovich is solid and it’s nice seeing him in an early role before his ego and persona turned him into a caricature of himself. Allen is also quite good with her expressive blue eyes being the emotional catalyst that holds it all together and helps keep the viewer compelled to the story despite its overly talky nature. Woodward though doesn’t come-off as well. She’s played such strong characters in the past in films that were also directed by her husband that this one seems like a letdown compared to those. She’s also, despite the gray hair, a bit too young for the role as she was only 56 and it would’ve been better served had it been played by a more elderly woman in her 60’s or 70’s who could exude a lady completely lost in a bygone era.

The story is still compelling, but the conversations go on longer than they should and more effort should’ve been made to give it a stronger southern feel. The original film’s runtime was only 107 minutes, but this one goes on well over 2-hours. I’m not sure what was cut from that one, or added here, but it could’ve used some editing and still not hurt the basic integrity of the material.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1987

Runtime: 2 Hours 14 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.

Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?

This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.

One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.

Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.

The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit.  There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.

To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

By Design (1981)

by design

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple wants baby.

Helen (Patty Duke) is a fashion designer who’s in a relationship with Angie (Sara Botsford). Despite running a successful clothing business together Helen still longs to be a mother. Angie isn’t so excited about having a kid, but if it makes Helen happy she’ll go along with it. The coupe initially consider artificial insemination, but turn it down when they see the type of male clientele that are allowed in and the adoption agency rejects them outright due to being gay. They eventually set their sights on Terry (Saul Rubinek) an obnoxious and sleazy photographer who works for them and has been hitting-on Helen for years unaware that she’s a lesbian. Helen hopes to have a one-night-stand with him simply to get impregnated, but as the planned event draws near she begins to have second thoughts.

The story certainly has potential and was ahead-of-its-time, but the way director/writer Claude Jutra approaches the material by implementing ill-advised silly humor and trying to turn it into a basic sitcom is all wrong. The one thing that I did surprisingly like was Saul Rubinek. Normally he’s not a favorite of mine, but here he plays the scuzzy, lecherous male on the prowl perfectly. I found it interesting too at seeing how much things have changed. He gets reported for touching a woman in her private area on the job without her consent, which would mean immediate termination today, but the two protagonist women bosses don’t do that. Instead they brush-it-off with a boys-will-be-boys mindset inadvertently making the woman who brought it to their attention feel embarrassed and even humiliated for coming forward.

What I didn’t like was his extreme transformation at the end where he becomes this kind and caring soul that’s too much of a change that wasn’t earned and makes him seem like two different people. The fact that he was unaware that Helen was gay even though everyone else knew seemed a bit preposterous. In keeping with the character’s arrogance and conquest nature he should’ve been fully aware of her being lesbian, but convinced he could ‘cure’ her of it if she simply went to bed with him. His relationship with one of the models, Sonia Zimmer, who for whatever bizarre reason has romantic inclinations for him even though during one photo session he says some of the most degrading and demeaning things I’ve ever heard a guy say to a woman, so unless she’s a masochist there’s absolutely no reason why this beautiful woman should desire him and thus making this romantic side-story completely stupid and unnecessary.

The story starts out okay and had me hooked for a little bit, but it quickly goes downhill. The jump-the-shark moment is when Helen has sex with Terry and at the same time for some inexplicable reason Angie has random sex with some guy (Alan Duruisseau) that she meets in a parking lot, but she’s a confirmed lesbian, so why the sudden/extreme shift? If she’s pan-sexual, or bi-sexual or just has some latent desire to sometimes ‘swing-both-ways’ is fine, but that needs to be introduced earlier and not suddenly thrown-in, out-of-nowhere without warning. The scene also culminates with Angie and Helen calling each other on the phone and professing their love for the other as they continue to have sex with the other men, which I know the director thought would be a ‘hilarious’ moment but comes-off as incredibly dumb instead.

Had this been handled in an intelligent manner it could’ve been ground-breaking, but the director was clearly insecure with the material and thus decided to just give it the jokey treatment, which ruins it. Duke also seems miscast though shockingly you do get to see her nude in a couple of scenes of which she looks pretty damn good.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claude Jutra

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R

Conrack (1974)

conrack2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He teaches underprivileged kids.

In the spring of 1969 Pat Conroy gets a job teaching children in grades 5 through 8 in a one room schoolhouse off the coast of South Carolina on an island known as Yamacraw. He soon finds that the students, all of whom are poor and African American, don’t know even the basics of arithmetic, or geography and can’t read. He becomes compelled to change that by instituting unorthodox teaching methods, which he hopes will ‘jostle’ them from their intellectual slumber and get them into learning and enjoying it. Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair) is the principal who’s not keen to these methods and routinely lectures him. Mr. Skeffington (Hume Cronyn) is the superintendent who also frowns on some of the things Pat is doing and proceeds to have him fired. Pat tries to win his job back and the students and townspeople help him in his fight, but will it be enough?

The film is based on the novel ‘The Water is Wide’, which was written by Pat Conroy, who later went on to even greater success with The Great Santiniwhich was based on his father, and also made into a movie. This story was supposedly based on some of Pat’s true-life experiences while teaching on Daufuskie Island. Some of what’s shown is revealing and even captivating, but I couldn’t help but feel certain other aspects were exaggerated. I realize that these kids didn’t have the best education system and certainly might not be as well read as certain other kids their age, but to not know what 2 + 2 was, or that they lived in the U.S.A. came off as too extreme to me. There’s also no real explanation for why the teacher before him failed to teach even these most basic things to them. Was she/he just lazy, or grossly incompetent?

The film also comes-off a bit too much like a vanity project where Conroy is portrayed as being this ‘amazing’ teacher who’s able to get extraordinary results from kids that no one else could simply by his sheer presence alone. All the students bond with him quickly and there’s no trouble-maker, or discipline issues. One could argue that Mary (Tina Andrews) was difficult because she refused to show-up to class, but truancy and in-class disruptions, as well as those students who test authority, are two entirely different things and the fact that Pat is able to avoid that is something few other teachers can say they’ve been able to do as well.

Voight is certainly energetic and engaging, but the students themselves fail to elicit any distinctive personalities and it’s hard to distinguish any of them from the others. I enjoyed Sinclair a great deal and felt she gave a great performance, but her confrontations with Pat could’ve been played-up more. The side-story dealing with Paul Winfield as an illiterate hermit whom Pat teaches to read is a total waste mainly because his character is underdeveloped and not in it long enough to really care about.

I enjoyed Pat’s visit with Edna (Ruth Attaway), one of the elderly townspeople, but his relationship with the other people in town should’ve been shown intermittently all through the film instead of just saving it until the third act where they all attempt to come to his rescue when he loses his job. They seemed to really like him, which is great, but I wasn’t sure they even knew he existed since there were never any scenes showing him interacting with them up until then.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending had me raising my eyebrow a bit, as Pat, once he’s let go of his job, proceeds to drive around the local town and broadcast his grievances through a speaker attached to the roof of his pick-up, which had me concerned that in typical Hollywood fashion he would be able to win his employment back even though in real-life stunts like that usually don’t work. Fortunately that doesn’t happen making the film, which was already idealized to begin with, not seem quite as fabricated. If you can forgive some of these issues, the production as a whole is well down and the always reliable director Martin Ritt perfectly captures the rural setting and ambiance, which is the best thing about it.

conrack1

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: Blu-ray (Out-of-Print), DVD-R

Enemy Territory (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t get out.

Barry (Gary Frank) is an insurance salesmen whose fallen on hard times. His boss, Mr. Beckhorne (Charles Randall), gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Sign-up an old lady named Elva (Frances Foster), who has expressed an interest, to a policy and he can make a big commission. The problem is that she’s located in the Lincoln Towers apartment building, which is in a dangerous area of the city. Barry hesitates at first, but then takes it convinced that as long as he can be out of there before sundown he’ll be alright. Once he arrives he can’t find the apartment, so he taps a young kid named Deacon (Theo Caesar) on the shoulder to get his attention, so he can ask for directions, but the kid is a member of the notorious street gang named the Vampires and touching any of their members is considered a major offense. Once the gang leader, known as The Count (Tony Todd), becomes aware of this he calls the rest of his followers to go on the attack. While Barry is able to get the policy signed and his commission paid in rolls of dollar bills he finds that he’s unable to leave the building and must plead for help after the security guard (Tiger Haynes), who was trying to escort him out, gets shot and killed by the gang. Will (Ray Parker Jr.), who resides in the complex, comes to Barry’s aid and between them and Toni (Stacey Dash), who also lives there, they try to help Barry find a way out by using the knowledge of a 10-year-old kid named Chet (Deon Richmond) who’s aware of a secret exit deep inside the basement of the place that no one else knows about.

This was yet another 80’s actioner produced by Charles Band who got a reputation for funding cheesy, low budget flicks, but this one is actually decent. The film has great tension from start to finish and the inside of the building, complete with graffiti all over the hallway walls gives it a surreal quality and looks like it was filmed in an actual place that was smack dab in the ghetto. The main character, unlike in so many Hollywood flicks, isn’t always cool and calm under pressure and at one point, after a dramatic incident, has a mental breakdown where he can’t remember his own name, which seemed more realistic as most regular people mentally would be ill-prepared for the dangers that heroes in action flicks go through and respond in post traumatic ways when faced with them.

I also liked that Barry gets shot at and bullet actually hits him. My biggest pet peeve with Hollywood action flicks is that the good guys may get shot at, and in some cases hundreds of times, but never hit, so it’s great that one does here. I enjoyed too that when Will tries to help him when he’s injured, which then slows him up from outrunning the gang members, and Barry says “If you think I’m going to say to go on without me you’ve seen too many movies.”.

Frank, whose career started with high acclaim for his work on the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’, but by the 80’s had crested. His part here was supposed to get things back on track, but that doesn’t happen because he gets completely overshadowed by Parker who dominates the proceedings to the point that Frank does nothing but respond to whatever Parker does. To have made the film really interesting the Parker character, although very well played, should never have existed, and instead the salesmen should’ve been some middle-aged, out-of-shape dude who must use his wits alone and maybe the help of the two young kids, to get out, which would’ve been beating the odds even more astronomically and therefore more unique.

I was disappointed too with the Jan-Michael Vincent character, who’s a feisty, handicapped Vietnam Vet that even the gang members are afraid of, but unfortunately gets woefully underplayed. Vincent, who was struggling with alcoholism at the time, just doesn’t have the energy needed and then having him get killed off so quickly just ruins what could’ve been fun, eccentric addition to the team.

Another negative is Stacey Dash, making her film debut, and not looking anything like she does now. I realize people’s appearances change as they grow older, but everything about her looked different and I started to wonder if it was the same person. A lot of it I guess was that she weighed more here and this kind of changed her facial features. Now when you see here her blue eyes are very pronounced as well as her over-sized mouth, but that along with a different hairstyle, wasn’t her dominate feature here. I felt her acting was subpar too. She doesn’t convey her lines with much urgency and the way she tries to outrun a group of would-be attackers, looked too strident like she was going out for an afternoon jog.

The one quibble I had plot wise was when Barry and Will are trapped inside Elva’s apartment and unable to exit because the gang members are outside her apartment door and blocking them from leaving. Since her apartment was 20 floors up they decided to tie together some bed sheets and then hang it out the window and use that to climb down to an apartment a couple of floors below. However, it appeared to be too many bed sheets tied together. This is a poor, single woman leaving alone, so I’d think she’d have only one or two that she’d need, but this appears more like she had 6 or 7 on-hand. They also don’t show what they tied the bed sheets to help anchor it when the person crawled out and since these sheets are not made of rope having them rip or unravel was most likely going to happen and it’s questionable that they don’t. Again, I enjoyed the movie overall, but this was one area, along with maybe a couple of others, where it kind of cheats things.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Manoogian

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Rivals (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child dislikes mom’s boyfriend.

Jamie (Scott Jacoby) is the 10-year-old son of Christine (Joan Hackett) who’s still grieving over the death of his father 2-years earlier and very possessive over who his mother sees. Whenever she tries to get into a relationship he gets in the way to end it. When she starts seeing Peter (Robert Klein) a would-be comedian who gives bus tours of New York City, he immediately takes a disliking to him, but Christine marries him anyways though the home life remains rocky. Just when things seem to be getting better Jamie devises a scheme, which he hopes will kill-off Peter, but things don’t go quite as planned.

One of the lasting impressions of this so-so production are scenes of stuff you’d never see in a movie today. One is the child nudity of a very young boy sitting on the toilet looking like he’s about to fall in and a close-up of his penis. Another is an awkward scene featuring Jacoby, only 13 at the time as it was filmed in 1970, but looking more like he was 10, forcing his babysitter, played by Jeanne Tanzy Williams, who was 17, to undress in front of him and then make-out. Tanzy, who later became the manager for the Backstreet Boys, talked about the filming of the scene at length on her blog and how difficult it was to do.

Klein, who has lambasted the movie for years, is the biggest problem and it would’ve had more potential if it had cast somebody else. The character is meant to be a ‘lovable joker’, but his practical joke behavior becomes a turn-off when he locks some tourists inside his hot, cramped bus for hours just so he can go out on a date with Christine. His playful goofiness is obnoxious and his attempts at humor incredibly lame. I didn’t believe his character was originally from Los Angeles as someone this brash and aggressive could only be from New York and hope to get away with it. I was dumbfounded too how he knows he’s a poor lay and yet still pressures Christine to go to bed with him. I would think if he knew he was going to disappoint the other person he would just masturbate to porn in order to avoid the embarrassment, or if the character was to be consistent he’d think he was great in the sack, since he thinks he’s funny when he really isn’t, and the scene could have him proudly smoking a cigarette in bed after sex while Christine, turning away from him, could have an unhappy expression, which would’ve been funny. In either case he’s annoying as hell and you actually unintentionally side with Jamie in his efforts to off him.

Hackett, whose done some great dramatic work, looks lost here and not given much to do outside of having a perpetually pained look on her face. Jacoby is the one thing that keeps it intriguing. The scene where he yells at one of his mother’s potential boyfriends to “get out” after he catches them talking is quite creepy, but director Krishna Shah ruins it by immediately cutting to a scene with Hackett in a psychiatrist office where the doctor, played by James Karen, explains the underlying motives for Jamie’s outburst, which wasn’t needed and hurts the effect of the moment.

The musical score, which sounded like something better suited for ‘Sesame Street’ is atrocious and drags the whole thing down. It also takes too long to get to where it’s obviously going and a lot of the scenes could’ve been trimmed, or cut-out completely. The ending is a bit of a surprise and effectively grisly, but the film suffers from extreme shifts in tone, which hampers the suspense and doesn’t allow the story to achieve its full potential.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972 (Filmed in 1970)

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Tubi

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bizarre occurrences at lodge.

Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pucitis) is summoned to a remote winter lodge known as the Dead Mountaineers due to a climber who fell to his death off a nearby cliff and whose faithful St. Bernard sleeps underneath a portrait of him in the hotel’s lobby. Glebsky was informed from the anonymous call of some unusual activity that was occurring at the place, but once he gets there no one, including the innkeeper Alex (Juri Jarvet), know what he’s talking about. After he meets the strange collection of guests he becomes even more suspicious. Then he’s handed a note stating that Hinkus (Mikk Mikiver), a man supposedly weakened by tuberculosis, is planning to commit murder. When one of the guests, Olaf (Tiit Harm), does turn-up dead, but Hinkus is later found tied-up in his bed, so he couldn’t have done it. A avalanche blocks off all outside roads trapping Glebsky and the guests in the building where more and more weird things begin to occur until the inspector can no longer trust his senses, or even his logic.

Some people ask; what makes a great movie? And the answer is that a good movie needs a unique and distinctive image that impresses the viewer right from the start and which they can take away with them once it’s over. This film has just that image with a bird’s eye view of the hotel that’s so remote, as it’s nestled in the snowy, mountain landscape, and so small when glimpsed from high up, that at first I thought it was a prop, but it’s a real building, which makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an isolated place, it doesn’t even seem to have roads leading into it. This shot alone, of which it goes back to it a few times, brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie where everything is totally unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The fact that this was all shot in what was then the Soviet Union, in this case what is now Kazakhstan, makes it even more jaw-dropping as productions there didn’t receive the same type of budget as a studio driven Hollywood one and yet the visual design is impeccable. The inside of the place has a pronounced, surreal look with excellent shadowy lighting and the special effects, while sparse, come into strong play during the climactic surprise ending that like with the beginning leaves an equally lasting impression. The music by Sven Grunberg has a distinct futuristic tone that helps accentuate the outer worldly quality while the sun glistening off the bright white snow during the outdoor scenes makes it seem almost like another planet.

The story was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and based on their book of the same name. They’re better known for their novel ‘Roadside Picnic’, which was turned into the acclaimed Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Both brothers also wrote the screenplay and it pretty much stays faithful to the book though there’s a few missing characters and Glebsky’s motivation for going to the lodge is different. Here it was due a mysterious phone call while in the book it was for vacation. The plot at first gets played-up like it’s just another police/murder investigation complete with interviews with potential suspects and even Agatha Christie-like flashbacks showing what each guest was doing when the murder occurred, which had me getting bored as the movie starts out as something really different, so to have it devolve into the conventional murder mystery was disappointing, but by the second act this all changes and that’s when it gets really interesting.

The acting is solid and I enjoyed Pucitis in the lead, who despite having his voice dubbed, has the perfect chiseled features of a hardened police detective. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one and probably the only one in this potential cult classic that desperately needs more attention and a Blu-ray/dvd release, comes at the beginning during Glebsky’s voice-over narration where he speaks in the present about his time at the hotel and how during a ‘slow shift’ the events that he witnessed there comes back to haunt him. I found it hard to believe that he’d only think about this when there was nothing else to do, or in this case a ‘slow shift’, as I’d think it would be on his mind all the time to the extent that he may never be able to go back to police work again as the events would’ve been too traumatizing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 20 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Grigori Kromanov

Studio: Tallinnfilm

Available: dvdlady