48-Hour Film Project (2016)

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(Here we are at the film’s premiere. I’m in the red shirt.)

My Rating: Can’t rate a movie I helped write as it wouldn’t be fair.

4-Word Review: It was really fun!

This past June I took part in this year’s 48-Hour Film project, which is held nationally on the same weekend and is where people get together to make a 7-minute movie in only a 48-hour time span. They then submit their finished product, if they are actually able to get it completed, which a lot aren’t, to a panel of critics who will judge it on a variety of cinematic merits. The winning team then gets their short movie shown at Cannes and other film festivals as well as winning cash prizes and the attention of film producers and studio heads.

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This is a great chance for the average person to see what making a movie is really like and it’s hard work. We spent five hours the night before writing up a script and then on Saturday I arrived on the movie set at 8 AM and didn’t leave until 1:30 AM the next day. That was 19 hours on my feet, but I wasn’t tired at all as the adrenaline of working on an actual film was more than enough to keep me going.  Then the next day our two editors worked tirelessly for 8 hours to edit the film and have it delivered to the 48-hour headquarters before the deadline, which they managed to do with only a few minutes to spare!

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To keep things fair the project has certain elements that must be added into the script in order to prove that it really was made for the event and not at some other point. The things that had to be implemented was a character named Charlie Bitters whose profession was an author. The storyline had to involve some sort of gift as well as a line of dialogue “Ooops, I guess I forgot to tell you.”

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You also pick out of a hat what your genre will be at 6 PM on Friday evening. Our team had already written some treatments for each genre, so we’d have a bit of a head start once the genre was picked. We got sci-fi, which forced us to go with an android concept that nobody on the team had been all that excited about. The story was written by Irwin who had produced some plays and was talented in that forum, but as a potential movie it was quite boring. It simply consisted of two androids sitting around discussing what it would be like to be human, so the chosen director of the project brought in myself and another lady named Karen to ‘jazz it up’ by implementing comical elements into the proceedings. The result is a  futuristic plot dealing with a famous author named Charlie Bitters hosting a live streaming show on the net that he hopes will prove that androids can have human feelings and be more accepted into society only to have everything go wrong.

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Our filmed was screened at a downtown Austin Theater in late June along with the other submissions from the area. Initially I was only so-so about the results as I felt there were A LOT of other great movies made, but after repeated viewings I’ve grown to like it more. The actors we brought in to play the roles were tremendously talented and really helped give the film an extra edge, but the most surprising thing is that out of the hundreds upon hundreds of films that were submitted nationally our film had managed to make into the FINAL TEN!!! That’s right it’s between our film and only 9 others to see who wins the grand prize and that vote will be cast tomorrow night! In the mean time you can take a look at our finished product and see what you think.

King Kong (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ape terrorizes Manhattan.

Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) works for the Petrox Oil Company and heads an expedition in search of hidden petroleum reserves. He is particularly interested in a small, isolated island that is perpetually shrouded in fog and along the way they rescue Dwan (Jessica Lange) a beautiful, but flighty girl that is a lone survivor of a shipwreck. When the crew arrives at the island they find that it is inhabited by natives who perform some ancient, tribal ritual for a beast that they have caged inside a fenced-in area. They are intent in sacrificing one of their women to the beast, but when they spot Dwan they decide to use her instead where she then becomes the source of fondness to a giant gorilla named Kong. The crewmen are able to rescue Dwan and take the gorilla back to New York where Fred hopes to exploit the beast for his own monetary gain, but the gorilla escapes from his cage and goes on a rampage through the streets of New York looking for Dwan who he considers to be his.

This is a remake of the 1933 classic, which was later remade for a third time in 2005. Out of the three this one is considered to be the weakest, but I found that to be unfair as it still, while not being perfect, holds up well. The story itself is a bit dull and it takes too long until we are finally able to see the ape, a whole 50 minutes to be exact, but once the special effects get going it is impressive.

Some of the best moments come when he goes on a rampage in Manhattan and singlehandedly derails a subway car from its tracks and shakes it until all the people come tumbling out. His ride back to the states inside a freighter and the moment when he bursts through the giant fence on the island are equally exciting visually.

The gorilla is played by special effects artist Rick Baker inside an ape suit, which is something that he has done in other films as well. For the most part he does an excellent job, but I was bothered at the way the animal’s walk gets portrayed. To me it was too fast like the way a human walks instead of an animal and most apes walk on all-fours most of the time, so the fact that this one didn’t appeared unnatural. There are times too when the fur clearly looks like its sewn into a suit and not coming from the skin.

I also didn’t like the moment when the ape gets unveiled for the first time to the American spectators and he is shown wearing a giant crown. Adding in the crown gave it too much of a campy flair and hit home the exploitation theme in a heavy-handed way that was not needed. I also found it hard to believe how they were able to measure the beast’s head, build the crown to a correct proportion and then somehow get it on as they would’ve had to use a crane to do it and he would’ve fought with them while they did and most likely ripped it off the second it was put on.

Grodin is fun as the egoistical, but clearly clueless leader of the expedition and he ends up getting most of the film’s laughs.  Lange though in her film debut is fantastic and I loved her free-spirited, thrill-seeking character who is partially scared of the beast, but also intrigued by him and so consumed with getting media attention that she compromises her better judgement in the process.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillerman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Don’s Party (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10        

4-Word Review: This party gets wild.

It’s October 25, 1969 and the election for Australian Prime Minister is being broadcast all over the nation. Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) is a Sydney suburbanite hoping that the Labor Party will unseat the incumbent Liberal one and invites his friends over to his home to watch the results. Things start out cordial at first, but as the night wears on and the alcohol takes its toll it heats up. Sexual escapades, arguments and fistfights breakout as the veil of civility comes off and their true selves come out.

This is playwright David Williamson’s most famous work and one that was not only a giant hit in his homeland, but has achieved worldwide acclaim. What I loved about the movie and what makes it so funny is that it cuts out the pretense and shows people as they really are while becoming a scathing indictment on suburbia. Most movies tend to pullback and sanitize things, but this one takes the opposite approach with a crude, in-your-face style that pokes holes at every level of suburban lifestyle that is refreshingly honest and totally accurate. The characters are excessively crass and there’s an abundance of sex and nudity, but sprinkled with a definite grain of truth that makes it more revealing about human nature than shocking.

An actual house was used for the setting, which helps avoid the static feeling and director Bruce Beresford does a good job of taking advantage of all the different rooms in the place and uses a variety of camera angles and shots to give it a nice visual flow. The performances are unilaterally superb and the actors appear genuinely intoxicated making the viewer feel drunk with them as they watch them down one beer after another.

The film’s drawback is that the characters lose their inhibitions too quickly and behave in an unnaturally aggressive way right from the start. It would’ve been more fun had they been overtly civil at the beginning only to watch it slowly deteriorate as the film progresses. There are also a few scenes where the background music is too loud and it’s impossible to hear what the characters are saying, which makes this otherwise slick production come off as a bit amateurish.

I first saw this movie back when I was in college and at the time I just didn’t get it. It seemed excessively profane without any redeeming qualities and filled with characters who were hateful and crude, but then I saw it years later after I’d lived in suburbia and become middle-aged it all suddenly made sense. In fact it made a little too much sense as the message it conveys and portrait it creates is not a pleasant one, but I admire the filmmakers for having the tenacity to bring it to light without compromise or hesitation.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Excalibur (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The sword is magical.

The mystical sword named Excalibur gets cast into a stone by Uther (Gabriel Byrne) and the wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) proclaims that the next man to be able to remove it will become the King of England. Many try and fail, but years later it is Uther’s illegitimate son Arthur (Nigel Terry) who is able to do it.  Although very young he is able to create the Kingdom of Camelot with the help of Merlin. He also marries Guenevere (Cheri Lunghi) who has an affair with his most trusted knight Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and then his half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) steals away Merlin’s powers and uses them to try and destroy the kingdom.

The story is based on the book by Thomas Malory who supposedly wrote it while he was incarcerated. Although this film is considered a classic now it was not as well received when it was first released. Critic Roger Ebert called it ‘a mess’ and the great Pauline Kael described the dialogue as being ‘atrocious’. For me I found it long, but enjoyable even though I’m not crazy for this type of genre.

One of the things that I didn’t particularly care for, or find all that exciting were the battle scenes. Watching men roll around in the mud with their swords doesn’t come off as too interesting when compared to gun battles. There were also too many of them and all seemed too similar to the others with the final one ruined by having it shrouded in fog. In reality the knight’s armor was also always made by either steel or iron, but for this film they created it out of aluminum, which made it appear too flimsy and clanky. It is also given a bright glow, which was intentional, but I didn’t care for it.

What I did enjoy was the atmosphere particularly when they go off to search for the grail. The scene where the men approach an area that has dead bodies hanging from the trees and a crow sitting on a branch biting off one of the corpses’ eyeballs, which apparently took several days of continuously rolling the camera before the bird did what they wanted, is in one of the best moments in the film. I also liked the magical glow given off by Camelot when it is seen from a distance, but I would’ve liked a shot of the magical kingdom seen up close, which never occurs and was probably due to budgetary restraints, but would’ve been cool.

The performances are all-around excellent. Terry does quite well in the lead playing Arthur at different stages of his life, but I was most impressed at the way he came off as convincingly being only 19 at the beginning even though he was really already 35. Clay, who plays Lancelot, also looks like he was barely over 20 when in reality he was 34. Williamson is amusing as Merlin and Mirren is effectively evil as the villainess. This is also a great chance to see Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson in some early roles.

The movie moves along briskly and is overall entertaining although some the scene transitions and dramatic arcs were awkward. Those that are into medieval fantasy will clearly enjoy it more.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Ghostbusters II (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Called back into action.

It’s been 5 years since our team of Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd) saved New York City from impending ghostly doom only to be thanked by getting sued for all the damage they created in the process, which promptly sent them out of business. Now though there are signs of an even worse attack from the supernatural in the form of an ectoplasmic river underneath New York, which is being strengthened by all of the negative energy from the citizens that live there. Can our team of heroes put on their uniforms once more and save the city from yet another ghostly attack while also coming to the aid of Dana (Sigourney Weaver) who finds that an ancient sorcerer (Wilhelm Von Homburg) is trying to possess her newborn child?

The premise pretty much starts the film out on bad footing and it’s never able to recover. The idea that they’d be driven out of business by a barrage of lawsuits didn’t make much sense to me. The ghosts that were terrorizing Dana’s apartment building in the first film were witnessed by thousands of spectators as they stood outside on the ground and watched the three men drive them away, so they should’ve been viewed as heroes and those that tried to sue them would’ve been vilified. Besides it was the mayor (David Margulies) who gave them the permission to do whatever they needed to do to take the ghosts out, so if anyone was to be a target for the lawsuits it would’ve been his office and the city. What is even worse is that after the first 40 minutes the story eventually goes back to the original premise where the team becomes popular again and their services are in-demand, so why couldn’t the film simply started from that point as it makes the entire first act come off like a complete waste of time otherwise.

Although it’s great to see Janet Margolin, who plays a prosecuting attorney, in her last film appearance, the court room scenes are static and not right for this type of genre. The ghosts are not scary or frightening like they were in the first one either and instead come off as cartoonish and boring.

Murray gets pigeonholed in a dull routine where he spends most of the time trying to desperately rekindle his romance with Dana, which isn’t interesting. Ramis and Aykroyd seemed more intent on stealing back some of Murray’s thunder by not having him come along on a few of their missions including a long segment where they discover the evil river underneath the city, which is just not as funny without Murray there.

Weaver pretty much just goes through the motions in a part that really does not allow her much to do. I was also confused as to why she had been a musician in the first film, but in this one she had strangely crossed over into being a painter. Rick Moranis and Annie Potts are equally wasted and forced into a makeshift romance simply because the writers didn’t know what else to do with them.

William Atherton, who was so good at playing the prissy, arrogant heavy in the first film, gets sorely missed. Kurt Fuller tries to take up his slack, but he is not as effective. Former wrestler von Homburg plays the evil sorcerer, but his voice ended up being dubbed by Max von Sydow, which made me wonder why they didn’t just cast him in the villainess role to begin with since he was the far better actor.

Just about all the jokes fall flat and the climactic finish which features an animated Statue of Liberty is really lame. The story is never able to gain any traction or momentum, doesn’t add any new or interesting angle to the theme and should’ve been trashed before it was even made.

My Rating: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, Amazon Instant Video

Ghostbusters (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who ya gonna call?

Due to this film’s recent reboot set for official release tomorrow I thought it would be great to look back at the one that started it all. I haven’t seen the remake and have no plans to, so this review will concentrate solely on the original. However, if you have seen both feel free to leave a comment comparing the two and telling us which one you liked better.

The story here centers on Peter (Bill Murray), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon (Harold Ramis) who are three parapsychologists who lose their jobs at Columbia University and decide to open up their own paranormal extermination service out of an old, abandoned firehouse. At first business is slow, but it quickly picks up once they capture a particularly pesky ghost known as slimmer from a ritzy Manhattan hotel. Soon they find themselves the center of demand and media attention. Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is a cellist who finds her apartment to be haunted and the womanizing Peter becomes smitten with her and is quick to come to her aid only for her to end up becoming possessed by the demon. The three then must use all of their abilities and weapons to try and stop it as well as the plethora of other ghouls who were mistakenly released into New York’s atmosphere when an aggressive EPA agent (William Atherton) forced them to shut down their ghost containment system.

I saw this film when it was first released and found it to be hilarious, but was worried that after all these years it might not come off as well, but to my surprise it hasn’t aged at all and is still quite fresh and inventive. Usually even in the best of comedies there will be jokes that fall flat, but here every one of them hits-the-bullseye and I enjoyed how the creative script see-saws the humor from the subtle to the over-the-top. The plot is imaginative, but manages to create and stick to its own logic that is consistently clever and amusing, but never silly.

The special effects are also impressive. Usually in comical films the ghosts or monsters are made to be benign and goofy, but here they are frightening, which again helps keep the story from ever getting one-dimensional.

Murray’s glib and detached persona is at a peak level and his throwaway lines, which were almost all improvised, are gems. Aykroyd and Ramis, who wrote the script, wisely step back and give Murray full control to steal the spotlight, which he does effortlessly.

The supporting cast is equally great. I never considered Weaver particularly suited for a role as a love interest, but her sharp, caustic manner works as a nice contrast to Murray’s smart-ass presence. She also becomes quite sexy during the scenes when she turns into a demon. Rick Moranis as her nerdy neighbor is hilarious and has some of the funniest moments in the film particularly the scene he has at a party he throws in his apartment and the way he introduces each guest as they arrive.

Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is the icing-on-the-cake in a film where amazingly everything clicks perfectly. Why the studio heads felt there was a need to revamp this franchise is a mystery. I realize they are running out of ideas and feel the urge to retool what has been successfully done before in order to appeal to the ‘new generation’ of filmgoers, but this is one classic that should’ve been left alone.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Removalists (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops abuse their authority.

Having just graduated from police training Neville (John Hargreaves) is both excited and nervous about joining the force. His first day on the job working at a small police station with the conservative and boisterous Sargent Dan Simmonds (Pete Cummins) as his new boss gets off to a rocky start and then gets even worse when two sisters arrive to report an incident. Kate (Kate Fitzpatrick) is the older of the two who says that her shy younger sibling Marilyn (Jacki Weaver) has been abused by her husband Kenny (Martin Harris) and will require the services of the two policemen to help move her things out of her apartment and keep Kenny under control while they do it. The two cops oblige, but to everyone’s shock the Sargent immediately becomes physically abusive to the husband when he enters the place and while he has him handcuffed. The beatings escalate throughout the day until Kenny looks to be on the brink of death forcing the two officers into a heated argument over what type of alibi they should use should the victim eventually die.

The film was written by the talented David Williamson and based on one of his stage plays. Williamson is noted, especially in Australia, for his darkly humored subject matter and scathing wit with this one being no exception. It starts out with a caustic tone that just proceeds to get stronger as it progresses. The actions by the Sargent are disturbing and reprehensible, but the fact that the character doesn’t see it that way and expounds on the importance of ‘self-control’ and having a rigid morality shows just how out-of-touch he is with his own contradictions, which makes him quite human and strangely engaging while also making a great commentary on the abuse of police power.

This also marks the film debut of legendary Australian actor John Hargreaves who went on to have a remarkable film career with a wide array of interesting roles before unfortunately dying at age of 50 from AIDS. His portrayal of a nervous and hesitant new recruit is humorously on-target, but the way his character becomes more emboldened as the day wears on is even more interesting.

The film’s downfall is the fact that the sets are visually dull. To some extent this works particularly in the rundown apartment that the majority of the action takes place in because it helps to symbolize how trapped the characters are with their own deteriorating and misguided value system, but it still ultimately gives the film too much of a low budget and unimaginative look. The story itself is predictable and although laced with darkly amusing moments could’ve been funnier and played-up more.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD (Region 0)

Doctors’ Wives (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife sleeps around.

Several wives of prominent surgeons at a prestigious hospital get together for a game of cards, but one of the women, the oversexed Lorrie Dellman (Dyan Cannon), gives them a shocking proposition. Seeing that they are not satisfied with their sex lives, she tells them that she will sleep with each of their husbands and then critique their ‘performances’, so as to enlightened them as to what they might be doing wrong. The women turn down her ‘friendly’ offer, but then panic when Lorrie tells them that she has slept with ’50 percent’ of them already.  They have no time to worry though because the next day Lorrie is shot dead by her brain surgeon husband (John Colicos) after she is found in bed with one of the physicians. Now the women must try to figure out which doctor it was while worrying if their husbands were also involved with Lorrie at some other point.

The film, which is based on a novel by Frank Slaughter, is just too trashy and soap opera-like to take seriously. The productions values are strong and director George Schaefer shows a flair for the visual, which makes it watchable, but the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue seemingly stripped straight out of a potboiler paperback.

Cannon, who’s billed as being the star, is on-screen for less than five minutes, which has to set some sort of record. Who on earth would ever accept a part to be the film’s ‘star’ if they are going to only be in it for that short of a period, or why bill someone as being such if they ultimately will have that little to do? In some ways I wished the character had remained as she is so outwardly slutty that it becomes campy and her initial proposition would certainly have created a more interesting scenario than what ultimately gets played out. Besides any character whose first words out of their mouth is “God, I’m horny” can’t be all that bad.

The supporting cast, which is made up of many familiar faces, are essentially wasted especially Gene Hackman in what may be the dullest role of his otherwise illustrious career although the way he repeatedly slaps his wife (Rachel Roberts) across the face after she confides in him that she once had a lesbian affair does have a certain outrageous quality.

Colicos is competent as the heavy, but Anthony Costello steals it as a young intern who sleeps with the middle-aged wives of his superiors. In real-life he was gay and ended up dying of AIDS at the young age of 45, but here successfully comes off as a flaming heterosexual who brags of his conquests and acts like going to bed with married women is as common place as taking out the garage. His best bit comes when he beds fellow intern Sybil (Kristina Holland) who is making a sex documentary and narrates a ‘play-by-play’ of her sexual intercourse with him as it happens.

The film’s most memorable moment, and it’s a doozy, is when it shows in incredibly graphic style the operation of taking a bullet out of a man’s heart. A real pumping human heart was used and the footage would rival that of any educational film. Not only do we see them tear off the organ’s outer membrane, but we also watch as the doctor sticks his finger into it and then in one truly ghoulish shot pop the bullet out of it. It’s all real and done in close-up making it far more explicit than any gore movie out there and one of the most stomach churning things ever to be put in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Schaefer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

The Only Game in Town (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Vegas love story.

Fran (Elizabeth Taylor) is an aging Las Vegas showgirl living alone in a two-bit hotel room while awaiting the return of her lover (Charles Braswell) who has disappeared yet again while he goes off to his wife that he consistently promises he will eventually divorce. In her loneliness she decides to go out to a piano bar and order a pizza. It is there that she meets Joe (Warren Beatty) and the two quickly hit-it-off while also spending the night together. Joe has a gambling problem, but promises that the minute he saves up $5,000 he’ll be out of Vegas for good. He moves into her hotel room where she helps him save up the necessary dough to achieve his dreams even though with his gambling addiction he will fritter it all away the moment he gets his hands on it. Then Fran’s long lost lover returns and ready for marriage. Will she go back with him, or stay with the self-destructive Joe that she has despite her better judgement fallen in love with?

The script by Frank D. Gilroy is based on his stage play and it’s not particularly rich in character development or plot. In fact the play itself fared poorly when it ran on Broadway and had only 16 performances before being shut down. However, despite its lack of originality I still found myself enjoying it and a major reason for this is the casting.

Taylor shines in a role that didn’t seem to be a particularly good fit for her. She spent the latter part of her career playing bitchy old dames that always seemed one step away from the sanitarium or a nervous breakdown. Here her character merits some sympathy and her usual overacting is actually entertaining and helps propel the flimsy plot along. The pairing of her with Beatty is an odd one, but then again the relationship is supposed to be awkward, so it ends up working to the script’s advantage.

Beatty’s performance is equally impressive. Normally he specializes at playing characters that are cool, calm and in control, but here he portrays one that is quietly crumbling and manages to pull it off to complete perfection. The scenes of him at the craps table and compulsively blowing all of his hard-earned money away is genuinely difficult to watch, especially since real cash gets used, and one of the most effective looks at the gambling addiction that I’ve seen.

This also marks the last film to be directed by the legendary George Stevens. He was known for helming some epic Hollywood productions, so it is a bit surprising that he choose to do this one since the storyline and setting were far more constrained from what he was used to working with. In fact the majority of it was shot in Paris, France and not Las Vegas, which many critics at the time felt was a detriment, but to me it made it even more fascinating to watch because of it. For one thing the crew did spend 10 days in Vegas shooting some of the outdoor shots, so you still get some legitimate Sin City scenery regardless. What I enjoyed though was the way Stevens was able to camouflage the rest of the scenes including having the bright daytime light seeping through the hotel room windows, which convincingly looked like the natural sunlight reflecting off of the sandy desert landscape. The recreation of the giant Las Vegas grocery store was impressive as well and strangely one of my favorite moments from the movie.

If you enjoy quirky love stories particularly between characters who are painfully human and less than glamorous you may enjoy this film better than most. It’s also a terrific chance to see two very fine actors playing against type and doing so in splendid fashion.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated M

Director: George Stevens

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: Blu-ray

Heatwave (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting to save homes.

Stephen (Richard Moir) is an English architect employed by Robert (Bill Hunter) to construct a massive high-rise building in downtown Sydney that will be financed by Peter (Chris Haywood). However, the construction will require the demolition of several row houses and the eviction of those living in them. Kate (Judy Davis) takes up the cause by protesting the development and along with Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) are able to get a temporary block on the building project by getting the local builder’s union to instill a green ban. Stephen tries to fight this by attending the group’s meetings and airing out his side of the issue, but in the process finds himself more and more sympathetic to the residence especially when he finds out that Peter isn’t a completely honorable businessman and has no plans to use Stephen’s building design at all. When Mary mysteriously disappears he joins forces with Kate to try and find her only to unearth even more troubling and dark revelations along the way.

This film is based on a true-life incident and one of two movies made about it with the other one being The Killing of Angel Street, which will be reviewed here next month. The real-life event centers on Juanita Neilsen (1937-1975) who took up the anti-development cause when it was found that her home was pegged to be demolished in order to make way for three high-rise buildings in the Victoria Street neighborhood of Sydney. Her efforts managed to delay the project of three years, but the developer eventually became impatient and hired men to harass the residents who were trying to stop it and in the process kidnapped Neilson although her body has never been found and no one has ever been convicted of her murder.

The film here depicts Neilson through the fictional character of Mary Ford, but what surprised me was that the Ford is not the central person. Instead we only see her briefly at the beginning before she disappears and is generally forgotten while writer/director Phillip Noyce adds other fictional characters and storylines around her, which wasn’t as interesting as the actual case that had more than enough twists to make three movies let alone one and I’m not sure why they didn’t just take that route from the beginning.

However, this still a highly intriguing thoroughly riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Part of what I liked about it is the way it shows things from the different perspective of the various characters while bringing out the myriad of complexities where nothing is black-and-white and no one is completely right or completely wrong. The viewer gets torn about whose side to be on, but fascinated with each new rapid-fire twist that comes about.

There are definite shades of L’Avventura here where a main character disappears and is essentially forgotten until it seems almost like she had never existed in the first place. The script offers no easy answers and instead shows in vivid and almost brutal detail how taxing and frustrating fighting for social change can be and the hopelessness one feels when they realize that all of their efforts may have made little or no difference.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (PAL, Region 0)