Earthquake (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Los Angeles really rocks.

A jolt from a massive earthquake shakes the Los Angeles metro area one morning, but researchers at the nearby seismological institute fear that there may be another one that will be far stronger and yet they hesitate about warning the public fearing that it may create ‘too much panic’. They agree instead to alert the National Guard about it, so they can prepare for the fallout when it happens, but in the meantime many innocent people go about their day including those working in skyscrapers ill-prepared for the tragedy that is about to befall them.

Due to the success of disaster flicks during the 70’s many studios clamored to get on board and while this concept may have sounded good in theory, it really leaves on lot to be desired. For one thing most earthquakes last on average for only 10 to 25 seconds, so the majority of the film deals with boring, soap-opera-like drama of a bunch of cardboard characters both before and after the quake while there’s probably less than 5-minutes of actual quake effects.

The special effects are, despite winning a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars, not very convincing and come off looking like shots of miniatures homes and buildings made of paper that could easily fall apart without much effort. The shot showing workers falling down while on the Mulholland Dam  appears more like they’re all dancing some sort of gig and then intentionally dropping themselves to the ground as part of the dance routine.

The film is also notorious for its elevator scene in which people get stuck inside an elevator as the quake occurs and then it goes plummeting down the shaft before eventually crashing and killing everyone inside. However, due to an inability to effectively spray stage blood onto the stunt people, director Mark Robson decided to have animated blood added in during post production, which looks as cartoonish as it sounds and puts an embarrassing, amateurish mark on the entire production.

The casting is out-of-whack as well and features Charlton Heston in the lead as a sort of hunk even though he was 50 and too old for that type of thing, but is still seen sweaty and shirtless in a couple of scenes nonetheless. Ava Gardner livens things up a bit as Heston’s clingy, bitchy wife, but having her portrayed as being Lorne Greene’s daughter, who in real-life was only 8 years older than her, was ridiculous.

I did enjoy Marjoe Gortner as the psycho grocery store manager, who after the quake occurs, puts on a wig and takes part as a member of the National Guard to control the looters only to become more of a nemesis than a help. Walter Matthau, who appears in a bit part wearing an Afro wig, is funny as a patron at a bar who’s so drunk he’s oblivious to the chaos.

Spoiler Alert!

The only part of the movie that I really liked was the end where Heston is helping people out of an underground tunnel that is filling up with water and instead of climbing up out of the hole to his lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, who is waiting for him with open arms, he jumps back down to save his bitchy wife only for them to both end up drowning, which I found interesting. Too many movies especially the ones made these days, always have the hero come out of these things unscathed, or making a full recovery after being temporarily injured, but in reality saving others in treacherous circumstances has its share of risks where not everyone will come out of it alive, so it’s nice to have a film share a realistic balance.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: Universal

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

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misadventures in the desert.

Xiri (Eiros) and Xisa (Nadies) are the two children of Xixo (N!xau) and a part of a nomadic desert tribe of the Kalahari who go roaming off into the wilderness and encounter a truck driven by two elephant poachers (Lourens Swanepoel, Pierre van Pletzen). Having had no previous contact with modern technology the children become fascinated with the vehicle and climb into its water tank just as it drives off taking them many miles away from their home. When the children fail to return their father goes out looking for them and in the process comes into contact with a lawyer (Lena Farugia) and a zoologist (Hans Strydom) who are stranded after their small engine plane crashes as well as two soldiers (Erick Bowen, Treasure Tshabalala) fighting from opposite sides of the war and each precariously trying to get the upper hand on the other.

This follow-up to the run away hit was filmed in October, 1985, but took over 4 years to find a distributor and suffered many setbacks during its production, which frustrated writer/director Jamie Uys so much that he retired from directing after completing this one and never worked on another film. On the whole though it’s not too bad, but like with the first one it does start out a bit clumsily.

My biggest complaint had to do with the scenes dealing with the lady lawyer named Ann and her interactions with the macho pilot/zoologist Hans who takes her up in the plane, which to me became too sexist and too similar to the scenario played-out in the first film where a lady-in-distress being rescued by a male character more acclimated to the environment. However, in the first film this was funny because the male was so clumsy and inept it made him seem more like a lovable clod, but here the guy character resembles the male image, especially with his mustache, of the Marlboro man and his constant aggravation at this ‘ditzy lady’ isn’t amusing while her inability to understand technology played too much into the feminine stereotype that women can’t comprehend machinery must have a man come to their rescue.

I did find the small engine plane that they rode in, which was a modified Lazair Ultralight, fascinating as I found it interesting at how something so small and flimsy could carry two people and still get off the ground, but was disappointed to learn later that this was only because it got attached to a crane and in reality wouldn’t have flown. Although the filmmakers achieve this illusion pretty well the scene where the two fly above the clouds is clearly fake as you can tell the backdrop of the sky is a painting and in that regards the whole plane scene, especially since it really couldn’t fly anyways, should’ve been discarded and some other plot line created that would’ve brought the two together.

The two runaway children though are quite cute especially the frightened but resourceful little boy who grabs a nearby piece of wood to put on top of his head to fool the hyena that has been stalking him into thinking that he is taller than he really is, which actually ends up working. I was also most impressed with the scenes dealing the Honey Badger, which is known for its ferocious defensive abilities and lives up to its reputation here when he grabs a hold of Hans boot with his teeth and refuses to let go no matter how far Hans walks.

The last half-hour when all the various characters from the four divergent story lines eventually merge is when the film finally manages to hit its stride and it’s a shame this couldn’t have occurred sooner, but ultimately as a sequel it’s surprisingly funny and manages to retain much of the same charm from the first one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, YouTube

Dreamer (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bowling for a living.

Harold Nuttingham (Tim Matheson) who is nicknamed ‘Dreamer’ because of his lofty ambitions of becoming a big league bowler struggles with the demands of the sport and the amount of sacrifice and practice that it takes to be good along with the balancing act of having a relationship with Karen (Susan Blakely) and holding down a job. Eventually with the help of Harry (Jack Warden), who acts as his coach, he’s able to get accepted into a major tournament where he’ll take on the veteran champion Johnny Watkin (played by real-life champion bowler Dick Weber) and prove to a national audience that he truly deserves to be considered one of the best.

It’s truly hard-to-believe how a film like this could’ve been funded by a major studio, or how anyone would think a movie about bowling, a sport with no real cinematic quality to it at all, would be something that people would want to watch, or even take seriously. Sure, it replicates the same Rocky formula, which at the time was quite popular, but what’s next? A small town kid desiring to be the next great badminton champ? Ping Pong? Tiddlywinks?

There’s been other films made about bowling like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski, but those all had a sense of humor to it and some interesting camera shots, but this thing takes it all too seriously and is flatly photographed. Part of the charm of Rocky was seeing him train to become a good boxer, but this film glosses over the training/technique aspect and starts out right away with him already winning a bowling contest and receiving a big trophy, so what’s the point of seeing him receive one trophy after another? Besides the bowling alleys that he plays in all look blah and filled with the same unexciting people making it look like Dreamer really isn’t moving up, but instead perpetually stuck in the same drab small Midwestern town, or one’s just like it, that he came from.

The story needed of some sort of side-plot that could’ve created actual tension that is otherwise completely lacking. It may sound like a sport’s movie cliche, but Dreamer needed a psychological hurdle to overcome, like maybe he had a history of choking under pressure in big games, or possibly injuring his hand right before the contest, or maybe even losing his trusted bowling ball (or having it stolen) that would cast some doubt, and elicit some genuine intrigue from the viewer about whether Dreamer could pull through, but nothing like this ever gets presented.

Instead the majority of the drama centers around Dreamer’s on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend over benign issues that aren’t interesting and with a woman that looks way too beautiful to be wasting her life away working in some dumpy bowling alley, or going out with a bland stiff that doesn’t treat her right. There’s also a thread dealing with Harry and his inability to come to terms with not achieving as much as he could’ve during his younger years when he was a bowler on the circuit, but Harry is just a minor character, so his character history/arch isn’t compelling. It’s Dreamer’s that’s important, but his arch isn’t even apparent.

The film also has a cheesy scene featuring Harry bowling intensely all by himself in the dark after the place has already closed, which begs a really important question: If he’s bowling after everything’s been shut down, then who, or what is resetting the pins while he proceeds to continuously knock them down?

A bad guy, or jerk with the potential of throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings needed introducing, but nothing materializes and everybody is too chummy with no tantalizing element simmering beneath the surface. To some degree this is the film’s one successful quality as it accurately recreates just how slow, dull, and uneventful small town living can be while putting the poor viewer to sleep in the process.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Nosseck

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coke bottle causes problems.

One day while flying over the Kalahari desert a airplane pilot inadvertently throws a coke bottle out of his cockpit window, which falls to earth and is found by Xi (N!xau) and he brings it back to his nomadic tribe. At first everyone is intrigued with the object as they are an isolated people unaware of modern technology. They think it’s a ‘gift from the gods’ and make use of the bottle in different and creative ways, but eventually the bottle causes friction from within the tribe because there is only one and no one wants to share it. Xi decides to ‘give the bottle back to the gods’ by traveling to the end of the earth and throwing it off. During his journey he meets a clumsy biologist named Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) and a pretty school teacher named Kate (Sandra Prinsloo) while also saving school children who are kidnapped by a group of terrorists led by Sam (Louw Verwey).

This film became the biggest box office success in South African history and when released abroad became the most successful foreign film in the U.S., but the film initially comes off like a nature documentary complete with monotone voice-over narration by Paddy O’Byrne only to then shift uneasily into a flick dealing with political revolutionaries who systematically massacre the heads of state via machine gun. It’s not until about 30 minutes in that the gentle comical flow of the story gets going, but even then there’s a lot of sped up stop action photography, dubbed voices, and a cartoonish sounding musical score that gives it a choppy amateurish feel throughout.

Yet despite all this the concept is quite original and filled with genuinely funny moments. Writer/director Jamie Uys, who appears briefly as a Reverend, shows an amazing ability to squeeze laughs out of virtually any scene and sometimes in the most amazing of ways. Some of my favorite moments was when the jeep hangs upside down in a tree, or the scene showing the same disabled jeep getting tugged along by another vehicle and because the desert was so flat and barren the man driving the vehicle is able to get out of it and it simply drives itself with no fear it would run into anything. The shot where N!xau arrives at what he thinks is the end of the earth, but in reality is a place known as God’s Window is quite memorable and picturesque as well.

Of course the film does come with its fair share of controversy and accused of being racist with two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, banning the movie from being shown there because of it. The main complaint centers around the bushmen tribe that N!xau comes from being shown as completely cut-off from the modern world and unsophisticated when in reality this is not true. The 2004 Columia TriStar DVD edition has a wonderful documentary called ‘Journey to Nyae Nyae’ on its bonus section where a filmmaker travels to the real-life desert bushmen tribe that actor/star N!xau resided and found that although the people were quite poor they were far from ignorant and in fact excitedly embraced technology like a computer when it was shown to them. There’s even a really cute segment where the children get shown this film and laugh along at all the same antics just like American audiences.

This same documentary also has a very sad edge to it as it shows the impoverished life N!xau had even after the film became a worldwide hit. While the movie grossed over 200 million N!xau was only paid $2,000 for his work and the other actors who played the bushmen got paid nothing. Director Uys tried to rectify this by paying N!xau many years later an additional $20,000 and a monthly stipend, but by then he had already become sick with tuberculosis and ended up dying from it in 2003.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Time After Time (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: From 1893 to 1979.

In 1893  writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) constructs a time machine and introduces it to his skeptical guests at a dinner party that he is hosting unaware that Dr. Stevenson (David Warner) who is also attending the party is the notorious Jack the Ripper. When the police surround the home looking for Ripper he jumps into the time machine and escapes to the year 1979. Wells then quickly follows him to modern day San Francisco and tries chasing him down, but along the way he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) who he fall in love with.

Initially I enjoyed seeing Wells’ confusion at dealing with modern society and the technology and had the film stayed at this level the whole way it could’ve been quite entertaining, but Wells ends up adapting too quickly. I was willing to accept that he was just a smart guy who could figure things out by being very observant, but Jack ends being the same way. Jack even attends a discotheque wearing a John Travolta-like white leisure suit, until it seemed like he was always a part of the modern world, and the original time traveling spin gets unfortunately phased out.

The romantic relationship that forms between Wells and Mary comes off as forced. Having her ask him out on a date while she’s working at her job and after only talking to him for a few minutes seemed too forward and unprofessional. Does she do this to all of her customers and if so how can she hold down a job if she’s coming on to all the men that she meets and if not then why would she ask out Wells so quickly after having just met him? Having the two end up going to bed together makes Wells seem too contemporary and not like a person from the Victorian era from which he came where sexual relations outside of marriage were much more taboo.

The script is full of a lot of loose ends too. For example: Wells goes to a jeweler to trade in his jewels for US currency, but the jeweler won’t accept them unless Wells shows a valid driver’s license, which he doesn’t have. The next day he goes to a different jeweler who gives him the money without asking for the ID, but why? In between Wells goes to a church where he speaks out loud in an awkward prayer, so are we then to presume that the second jeweler gave Wells the money without requesting the ID because of divine intervention?

There’s also a moment when Jack runs out into the street and gets struck by a car and is sent away to a nearby hospital, but then returns later showing no visible bruises or scratches. There’s also no explanation for how he was able to fool the nursing staff into thinking he had died as when Wells goes to the hospital that’s the explanation he’s given.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is equally screwy. It has Wells and Mary going a few days into the future only to read a newspaper article reporting Mary getting killed inside her apartment by Jack, so they return to the present and then back to the apartment where Mary then takes a nap, which seemed hard to believe knowing that Jack was coming to kill her there and she’d be too tense and nervous to ever relax enough to go to sleep. Why even go anywhere near the apartment anyways and instead just find a room at a nearby hotel? There isn’t much tension to her potential death either since all Wells would need to do is go back a few days in his time machine and she’d be as good as new.

The explanation that Mary never got killed, but instead it was really her friend, who she had invited over to dinner is problematic too because even though there wasn’t DNA testing at that time they could still identify the victim through their dental records.

The story, which was based on a 55-page treatment written by Karl Alexander, who later expanded it to a novel, which was released at the same time as the movie, has a lot of potentially interesting ideas, but it ends up taking on too much. A decision should’ve been made to focus on either the romance or Wells’s pursuit of Jack, but not both. Trying to cram two plot-lines together results in a script that’s too rushed and poorly thought out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Birdy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fly like a bird.

Al (Nicholas Cage) becomes friends with an introverted neighborhood boy (Mathew Modine) nicknamed Birdy due to his fascination with birds. Al begins to follow Birdy around as he collects pigeons and stores them inside an aviary that he has built in his backyard. The two share a strong bond, which is broken when they both get drafted and have to go off to war. Al returns from battle with facial injuries, but Birdy is sent to a mental hospital because after missing in action for a month, he refuses to speak. Al spends time with Birdy trying to get him to talk again, but finds it futile and fears that if he can’t get him to talk the Dr’s will confine Birdy permanently.

The film is based on the William Wharton novel of the same name that was initially rejected by director Alan Parker as a possible movie because he considered the story to be ‘uncinematic’, but after the screenplay was commissioned to writers Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr who were able to restructure the thoughts of the main character from the novel into dialogue and action Parker was then willing to sign on. The result is a interesting drama that manages to have some touching, quirky moments, but it’s also quite reminiscent of Brewster McCloud and comes complete with the same winged flying contraption which Birdy uses to fly briefly over a junkyard that Bud Cort also used to fly around the Astrdome in that film.

While both Cage and Modine give excellent performances I found the friendship between the two to be confusing. They had very little in common and why Cage would want to follow Modine around all the time as he collected pigeons, which he himself thought to be kind of ‘weird’, did not make much sense. Had they both had an interest in birds then it would’ve worked, but they don’t, so what’s the bond that keeps them together? Having them portrayed as being gay would’ve been the solution and at times it seems that is what Birdy is since he shows no interest in women at all and in one amusing scene watches in boredom while Cage has sex with another women on a beach. Cage could’ve been portrayed as being bi-sexual, or not fully aware of his secret attraction to Birdy, but could later eventually come out and that could help explain why he’d stick with someone that he otherwise found ‘kooky’.

Despite the film’s length  and having some definite slow parts including Cage’s ‘conversations’ with Birdy when he’s inside the mental hospital, which are quite static and should’ve been trimmed, there’s still some memorable moments including a scene showing baby canaries hatching out of their eggs. I also like the tracking shot where Birdy imagines himself flying and done from the point-of-view of a bird, which gives one a very authentic feeling/experience of what it would be like and it was shot with a Skycam, at least partially, which is the first time that had ever been used in a movie.

I also enjoyed how the film examines the different dynamics of both Cage’s and Birdy’s family life and the contrasting personalities of the parents where in Cage’s family the father, played by Sandy Baron, was the dominant force while with Birdy it was his mother (Dolores Sage). My only complaint in this area is that there’s a running subplot dealing with the fact that Birdy’s mother would take all the baseballs that the neighborhood kids would accidentally hit into her backyard and keep them, but no one knew where she hid them. Cage then, years later, asks the Dr’s at the hospital to convince the mother to send the hidden balls to Birdy in an effort to get him to talk again and the mother complies, but the scene showing her retrieving the balls is never shown. So much time is spent talking about where she hid the balls that the film should’ve revealed the hiding place while also showing a tender side to the mother who otherwise came off as being quite cold, so not having this scene at all really hurts the film.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also complaints by some viewers and critics about the ending, which some, like critic Leonard Maltin, refer to as a ‘gag’ ending. For me this wasn’t an issue as it offered some much needed levity in what is otherwise a very dramatically heavy film, but I was frustrated that there’s no conclusion given to what ultimately happens to the two characters. They’re shown trying to escape from the hospital, but never whether they were able to break-free permanently. After spending two hours following these two around the viewer deserves more concrete answers as to their ultimate fate and keeping it so wide-open is a bit of a cop-out/letdown.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Empire of the Ants (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ants terrorize island.

A group of prospective home buyers are taken on a tour of a small island off the coast of Florida that supposedly has ‘prime beach front property’, but in reality it’s worthless. Marilyn (Joan Collins) is the realtor touring the others around, which quickly gets cut short when ants, who have feed off of toxic chemicals that were illegally dumped there and have now grown to giant size, begin attacking the people.

This film marks yet another tacky production by director Bert I. Gordon who enjoyed making movies filled with special effects dealing with giant animal life much like he did just two years earlier in Food of the Gods. The effects are predictably laughable where process shots showing close-ups of ants get combined with shots of the actors on the set, but you can tell that the quality of the film stock is different making the ants look completely out-of-place in the setting. When the actors get directly attacked by the ants large rubber mock-ups were used, but this gets combined with a shaking camera and quick edits making the action hard to follow.

It might’ve worked a bit better had it not given away right up front the cause for why the ants got so big and thus allowed for some mystery. Having the toxic waste be the cause just adds more questions than answers anyways. For instance: why were these chemicals being dumped to begin with and why did they choose this island? How were the ants able to get so big so fast? Did they just feed on the chemicals and then ‘poof’ they were big, or how fast or slow did the process work? Why were just the ants the ones that got big? Supposedly other insects, spiders and birds might’ve ingested the chemicals too, so why don’t they grow to a giant size as well?

The cast of characters are predictably stale and taking a full 30-minutes introducing them to the audience before the action even kicks-in just makes the movie even more boring. Having more eccentric characters would’ve helped like having the ants attack a clown convention that was meeting there, which would’ve given the film a humorous/offbeat edge that is otherwise lacking.

For the record I did enjoy Robert Pine who plays this coward who makes no attempt to save his wife when she’s attacked and then obsesses afterwards that everyone believe his story that he ‘couldn’t find her’ and there was ‘nothing he could do’. Collins is quite attractive, most will remember her for her appearance on the TV-show ‘Dynasty’, which was her career peak, but done when she was already well into her 50’s and no longer had a youthful appeal, but here she looks youngish and easy-on-the-eyes, which helps during the film’s slow moments.

The film states during the opening credits that it’s ‘inspired’ by the H.G.Wells story, but that short story, which was published in 1905, was way different. For one thing it didn’t involve ants growing to a giant size, so trying to connect the two as the producers here do, is outrageous. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to that story, the film would’ve been much more interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Spies Like Us (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers inadvertently become decoys.

Austin (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett (Chevy Chase) are two bumbling government agents who get hired by the department of defense to carry out a secret mission inside the Soviet Union. In reality, and unbeknownst to them, they are decoys used to call attention away from the actual agents who were sent to seize a ballistic missile launcher yet things don’t work out as planned. Instead of the decoys getting killed off it’s the actual agents forcing Austin and Emmett to carry out the rest of the plan that the others couldn’t.

A lot of the problem with this film is that it no longer has that National Lampoon’s edge, which when it started out was all about satire and parody and making fun of the establishment. Yet this film has no message, or point of view. Had it had more of a focus like ridiculing the government, war, politics, or even the spy genre then it might of been more meaningful, but instead all we get are a barrage of generic gags and no real story.

The humor mainly falls flat with the writers making up the rules as they go, so there’s no tension or intrigue. For instance the two disguise themselves as Dr’s and are forced to perform an appendectomy on a patient even though they know nothing about medical surgery and yet just as Aykroyd is ready to make the incision the patient for no explicable reason dies, which gets them two off-the-hook, but is really more of a cop-out by the writers. Why not force the characters to earn their way out of their predicament by requiring them to come up with some clever escape instead of conveniently throwing in an act of God that doesn’t really make any sense?

Today’s audiences will find the scene where Chase grabs Donna Dixon’s breasts, a woman who he has just met and without asking permission, quite offensive. She doesn’t respond in shock or anger either and is portrayed as apparently being ‘too stupid’ to know what’s going on, I don’t know about you, but if someone touched one of my body parts I’d feel it. In real-life Dixon is Aykroyd’s wife, and Aykroyd was also one of the scriptwriters, and I thought it was crazy that a guy would come-up with a gag that would allow his co-star to squeeze his wife’s breasts, he actually ends up squeezing both of them, simply for the sake of trying to get a cheap laugh from the audience.

Aykroyd and Chase are an odd pairing as well. Chase has such a glib, sarcastic personality that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to be his friend to begin with. Aykroyd’s super smart persona in which he’s an expert on virtually everything is boring and has been played-out before. Supposedly this was meant to be a take-off on the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movies and Hope even has a cameo here and despite his advancing age he’s still funnier than either Akroyd or Chase and should’ve been made the star instead of them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s original ending had a nuclear bomb blowing up the planet and if they had kept that in then I’d at least give them some credit for being daring and original. Of course after test audiences disliked this (surprise, surprise) the filmmakers ultimately chickened-out and went for a ‘happy ending’ where Aykroyd devises a way (because of course he knows EVERYTHING) to divert the bomb’s route so it explodes in space instead of on earth, but wouldn’t the radioactive fallout of the explosion still rain back down and affect the population anyways?

End of the Spoiler Alert!

The opening bit where an agent is locked inside a cramped closet because he’s not authorized to view the information inside the briefcase that is chained to his wrist I did find amusing although the film could’ve played this up more by having everyone, after they’ve reviewed the information, leave the room with the guy still stuck in the closet and begging to be let out. I also loved the top secret spy headquarters built underneath an abandoned drive-in movie theater. Director John Landis also continues his trend of casting other movie directors in minor roles, but since they’re only seen briefly other viewers may not find this element to be all that interesting.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old lady kills housekeepers.

After the death of her husband, Claire (Geraldine Page) is shocked to learn that there is no money in his will. Fearing a life of destitution she plots to hire old lady housekeepers who she’ll manipulate to give her their life savings in which she’ll invest into stocks through her broker (Peter Brandon). Once these stocks start making money she’ll murder the housekeeper and keep all the profits for herself. After killing off her fourth housekeeper, Miss Tinsley (Mildred Dunnock) and burying her dead body in her backyard, she hires Alice (Ruth Gordon). Alice though has a secret, she was at one time the former employer for Miss Tinsley, who wants to investigate what happened to her and is suspicious that Claire may hold the secret. Claire though becomes aware of Alice’s scheme and decides to try and make Alice her fifth victim.

This marked the third of Robert Altman’s trilogy featuring old lady killers with the first two being What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. This was the first one to be filmed in color and the harsh dry desert landscape setting works as a great metaphor to Claire’s barren, evil soul. I also enjoyed the winding plot, which is based on the 1961 novel ‘The Forbidden Garden’ by Ursula Curtiss that has many offbeat twists including a memorable scene featuring the two old ladies rolling around on the floor during a furious fight that you’ll most likely never see in any other movie.

Page’s performance is the main reason why the film is so entertaining. Watching all the various characteristics that she gives to her haughty character is fascinating and she helps make Claire, as nasty as she is, quite memorable. I especially liked the part where after she kills one of her victims she displays for a split second a shocked expression like even she can’t believe what she has just done and this helps to make her character multi-dimensional, like there’s still some semblance of a tortured conscious somewhere within her and she isn’t just a robotic, evil person.

Gordon is okay in support, but I felt her character should’ve had some backup plan that she would use in defense when things got ugly. She keeps assuring her nephew (Robert Fuller) that she can handle things, but when Claire turns on her she becomes almost like a deer-in-headlights. I also didn’t like the wig that she wears and have to agree with one critic who said it makes her look like a giant, walking-talking peanut. I realize that the wig does eventually come into play as part of the plot, but I felt in the brief segments where she’s shown not wearing it she could’ve been seen with her real hair and not just in another wig, which looked just as dumb.

Honorable mention should also go to Spike who plays a stray dog named Chloe. Spike was a well trained animal who was in many films and TV-shows between 1956 and 1971 and the parts where he bares his teeth and growls at Claire every time he sees her, as she attempts to harm him, are amusing.

Spoiler Alert!

The script by Theodore Apstein, fortunately avoids a lot of loopholes, but I did feel at the end they should’ve shown or explained how the characters played by Rosemary Forsythe and Micheal Barbera were able to escape from their burning house. I also found it hard to fathom why Robert Fuller’s character, upon learning that his Aunt had been killed in a suspicious car accident didn’t immediately accuse Claire of doing it. He had pretended not to have any connection to Alice during the majority of the story as that was part of their scheme, but once she was dead I didn’t see why he still needed to pretend. I would think he’d be so emotionally distraught at that point that he would let out his true emotions without even thinking and possibly even tried to attack Claire while having to be restrained by the others.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film’s promotional poster, as seen above, is a bit problematic as it features a young model looking like she’s been buried, but in the movie it was only old ladies that were killed and buried. Showing a beautiful lady may have been more visually appealing, but it’s not authentic to the film that it’s trying to promote.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 23, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Lee H. Katzin (Bernard Girard for the first 4-weeks of filming)

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Phase IV (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The ants take over.

Ants in a small isolated community in Arizona begin to behave strangely by building large towers and geometric designs in the crops. Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and James Lesko (Michael Murphy) are two scientists hired to come-in and find out why the ants are behaving the way they are and try to put a stop to it. They construct a computerized lab in the middle of the desert and begin they’re research only to find that they’ve walked into the ant’s trap.

This was the first feature length movie directed by Saul Bass who was an award winning graphic designer who did title sequences and film posters for many famous movies from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. His great attention to detail pays off here in a film that is full of many intricate and stunning imagery including incredible micro photography of the insect life, but unfortunately the movie bombed badly at the box office, which never allowed him to direct another film again.

On the surface it’s easy to see why it didn’t go over well as a large amount of the runtime focuses on the ants and while this photography is impressive it also makes it seem more like a nature film, but without any voice-over narration explaining what the ants are doing. It’s not like you can’t figure it out, but it does require close attention and could still be confusing to some and not something mainstream audiences are used to, or expected to sit through.

When the humans are onscreen the acting isn’t bad and surprisingly there is some character development, which a lot of other high concept Sci-fi flicks sometimes don’t have. I enjoyed Davenport and his very matter-of-fact approach to the situation in which nothing ever gets to him emotionally no matter how grisly and his never ending obsession to usurp the ants no matter how ultimately bleak it gets.

Lynne Frederick is good too as a teen-aged girl who gets taken in by the scientists when the rest of her family are killed. Initially I didn’t like her presence as I was afraid it was going to lead to some annoying, manufactured side romance, but fortunately that didn’t occur and instead becomes more of the emotional, human side of the trio especially with the way her eyes gaze at the evil ants. I also really liked the segment that shows in close-up of an ant climbing on her foot and then up through her body, even going in and out of her bellybutton until finally arriving at her head all while she sleeps.

The ending though is a disappointment as it never explains the reason for the ant’s behavior. I actually did find the story intriguing for awhile and even kind of scary, but you can’t expect a viewer to sit through a near 90-minute film and not supply them with some answers. No conclusion is given either as to who ultimately wins the battle, man or ant, which was something better explained in the original director’s cut, which had a surreal, image-laden montage showing what life on the ‘new earth’ was like, but this got cut by Paramount and never shown in the film released to theaters. In 2012 a faded print of the original ending was found and after being digitally scanned was added to a new 35mm print that was played at several select art house theaters, but this version has never been released onto DVD/Blu-ray, which is a shame as the movie comes off as incomplete without it.

For those who are interested here is a faded print of the original ending:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 6, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes (Studio version)

Rated PG

Director: Saul Bass

Studio: Paramount

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