Monthly Archives: April 2012

Altered States (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blair Brown’s hairy armpits.

            This film, which is loosely based on the experiences of dolphin researcher John Lily the inventor of the isolation tank, and from the Paddy Chayefsky novel comes this bizarre concoction that is half sci-fi and half surreal fantasy.  The story pertains to Eddie Jessup (William Hurt in his film debut) who spends time in his isolation tank at his Harvard research lab while taking hallucinatory drugs that send him into different states of consciousness that become increasingly more frightening and vivid until they begin to externalize in his everyday life.

It was directed by Ken Russell and if you are familiar with his work you realize that means the presence of lots and lots and lots of strange visuals that come at you in quick and unannounced ways. They are confusing, cluttered, and often times make no sense. However, since the story is pretty wide-open these trippy segments work to the film’s benefit, unlike other Russell productions where I felt they became off-putting.  They also give the movie distinction and momentum. I’ve never done LSD, acid, or meth, but these segments probably come as close to the experience of a drug trip as you will find.  It is best not to demand any logic and instead sit back and allow it to become an assault on the senses, which on that level works to excellent effect. I came away wishing these scenes had been more extended and frequent as they are the best part of the movie. Of course the state-of-art special effects are no longer as impressive and look like images put on a mat screen, but some of the other stuff is cool. My favorite part is where a naked Blair Brown and Hurt are lying on the ground and a strong wind completely covers their bodies with sand and then they slowly evaporate into the air.

Hurt does a competent job and the character isn’t the clichéd kind of sensitive modern man like most Hollywood protagonists. He is emotionally ambivalent and self-centered.  His unromantic marriage proposal to Emily (Blair Brown) is one for the books, but I liked it. Most research scientists probably aren’t a socially skilled, people person to begin with otherwise they wouldn’t be shutting themselves inside a lonely, dingy research lab all day, so in that regards I felt the script hit the target and gave the film a little more of an edge.

Blair does fine in her role as the long suffering wife and it is nice seeing her looking so young and even briefly smoking a joint. She looks great naked, but her armpits where much too hairy during the love-making scene and she should have shaved them. I also found it amusing that during the time the two were separated Eddie started to have relations with a younger student of his who continued to refer to him as ‘Dr. Jessup’ even when they were in bed together.

Charles Haid plays Mason Parrish a friend of Eddie’s who helps him out with his experiments despite strong misgivings. His rants and tirades are well-played and give the film energy when it is not in fantasy mode.

To me the movie became boring and contrived when Eddie started to mutate into that of an ape man and runs around the campus and city terrorizing everyone. It seemed too reminiscent to An American Werewolf in London, which came out around the same time as well as countless other wolf man movies. The part is also not played by Hurt, but instead Miguel Godreau, who was an excellent dancer. I was impressed with his limber body and the way he could climb things, which gave him an animalistic quality, but felt that if it represented the Hurt character then Hurt should have been performing it even if it meant allowing for certain concessions.

The opening sequence showing Hurt locked in a thin, rusty tank in an empty room is terrific. There is a certain starkness and foreboding quality, especially with the eerie music, that makes this one of the better openings to a horror movie. The use of the credit titles is creative and reminded me a bit of The Shining. However, the film’s ending is horrid and one of the worst I have seen. It reeks of being a forced ‘happy’ Hollywood ending that practically ruins the entire picture as a whole. Because of this and the fact that the script seems to only skim the surface of this potentially fascinating subject matter forced me to give it only a 5 rating.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R (Language, Brief Nudity, Adult Theme, Intense Visuals)

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

The Passion of Anna (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely little island retreat.

This is an intriguing film that seems quite similar to Roman Polanski’s Cul-De-Sac. Both films have a unique atmosphere and take place in a remote island setting and deal with a turbulent undercurrent that brews just underneath its deceivingly placid exterior.

Here we have Andreas (Max Von Sydow) living a lonely existence on an island retreat. He meets, by chance, Anna (Liv Ullmann) who is still grieving from the death of her first husband. The two form a tenuous relationship that slowly unravels as the dark corners of their personalities are eventually exposed.

In many ways this film has all the right ingredients. It wraps you up in its surreal nature and adds interesting effects. There are some creepy elements including a mad killer running around the island killing and torturing all the animals. Things work at a deliberate pace and leave no clue as to where it is headed. The characters are unpretentious and introspective. They are open about their faults and failures and give good reason as to why they have them. There are also fascinating cutaways to the actors themselves who help explain and interpret their characters motivations, which is a novel idea that gives the viewer a deeper understanding of the characters and adds an extra dimension.

Unfortunately it doesn’t come together and leaves no real emotional impact. There are a few good twists, but you can’t help but feel that it should have gone farther. There a certain scenarios that get touched on, but are never explored. For instance there is Andreas’s relationship with Elis (Erland Josephson).  Andreas has taken a loan out from him, but has also had an affair with his wife. This of course has some potential for fireworks and there is a moment where it begins to sizzle, but it never goes back to it. The same thing can be said for many of the other segments including the identity and reason for the animal killer.

Overall this is an outstanding experimental-like movie. It is not one of director Ingmar Bergman’s best, but it is still richer and more deeply textured than eighty percent of the other movies that are out there. The crisp and revealing dialogue alone makes it worth it and Bergman displays the most realistic perspective on the union of marriage.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1969

Released: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

White Lightning (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Corrupt Sheriff gets smacked.

Corrupt sheriff J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty) drowns a young man and woman in a backwoods swamp because they were ‘young hippie protesters’ who dared talk back to him. The victim’s older brother Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) finds out about it and swears revenge. Although he is in prison he is let out when he agrees to work as an undercover agent for the feds who are after the sheriff for various unsolved crimes, but unable to attain enough evidence for a trial and conviction.

The story and scenarios are formulaic to the extreme and offer nothing new to an already uninspired genre. The characters are annoyingly clichéd southern stereotypes.  The pacing is poor and filled with drama that is stale and action that is lacking.  The dialogue is derivative and there is not enough tension, or plot devices to hold the viewer’s interest.

The opening sequence done over the credits is probably the best scene in the film. It takes place in a swamp with just enough dead trees sticking up above the water line to give it a nice gothic feel. There is no dialogue and the slow banjo ballad is perfect for the southern atmosphere. I was dismayed that the score, by Charles Bernstein, didn’t stay on this level throughout as towards the end it starts to sound too much like something from a 70’s action flick, which is not as effective.

A few car chases are the only other thing that allows for mild diversion. They certainly are not on par to the ones from Bullit, or The French Connection, but they are photographed well enough to offer some excitement. I liked how during the final chase the point-of-view shifts back and forth between the police cars and Gator’s. There is a sequence where, in an effort to avoid an oncoming cop car, Gator lofts his car from a river bank onto a moving barge. It was not a perfect landing as only the front end of the vehicle manages to connect with the ship while its rear-end hangs out over the water, which was apparently a mistake. However, I thought this offered good realism as most drivers, especially those going at high speeds, would be unable to judge the distance enough to even hit the boat. This also offered a brief exchange in which Gator is informed that the car’s under carriage is damaged as most car chase films never deal with the good guy’s auto getting wrecked even though it should, but still no explanation for how he was able to pay for it when it his informed it will be costly, which he instead just laughs off.

It was great to see Bo Hopkins, who plays Reynold’s partner in crime, in a likable role for a change. R.G. Armstrong on the other hand gets straddled with doing another slimy character, but he does it so very well that it never gets tiring. Jennifer Billingsley is enticing as the oversexed, flirtatious nymph. Matt Clark is fun as Dude Watson, who argues incessantly with Gator before finally agreeing to work with him.

Ned Beatty is horribly miscast as the sheriff. He has been a terrific character actor in countless other roles, but he is overwhelmed and uncomfortable here. He is unable to convey the necessary menacing and intimidating quality to make him a memorable bad guy. The character never shows enough psychosis, or stupidity for me to believe that he would kill a young couple over something petty and expect to get away with it.

Reynold’s has always been able to convey an almost effortless charm and charisma, but here it is barely able to carry the film. His goofy good-ole-boy laugh becomes obnoxious and irritating. I was also not too impressed with the character’s parents (Dabbs Greer, Iris Korn) who seemed more than willing to let the mysterious death of their younger son go without any investigation, or uproar, which to me seemed pathetic.

The on-location shooting done in Arkansas may be the film’s one and only saving grace. I have traveled to the state and felt that the locale was captured perfectly and allowed for a vivid southern feel, but it is still not enough to make this worth seeing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ball full of money.

            Jane, Elaine, and Louise (Susan Saint James, Jane Curtain, Jessica Lange) are three women who find themselves in financial straits. They become aware of a contest going on at their local mall that features a giant plastic ball filled with money. The idea is to guess how much money is inside the ball, but the women decide to tunnel underneath the building and suck the money out with a vacuum.

The movie falls flat from the beginning. There is no action, hijinks, jokes, or pratfalls. Everything relies on the dialogue that is boring and conventional. The small attempts at humor including some Abraham Lincoln jokes are stale and unimaginative. It takes a plodding 35 minutes just to detail all of their financial difficulties and then another 40 minutes of going through their planning phase before we ever get to the actual heist, which proves not to be worth the wait.

Having a giant ball in the middle of the mall makes for an interesting visual and the concept of trying to get money out of it managed to hold my interest somewhat in what is otherwise a highly uninspired movie. However, I found it hard to believe that these women, as financially desperate as they were, would decide to pull off such a dangerous and complex heist when they had no experience in robbing anything before. Having them rob a bank, although more standard, would have made more sense and with a little imagination could have been even funnier and more interesting. The actual execution of the crime is dull and I thought it was really reckless and stupid that they chose to do it while security guards where standing around it and tons of people present watching a nearby play instead of waiting until the place closed. Also, it was ridiculous during the planning stage when they decided to force Jane to rob a grocery store in order to get her ‘psychologically ready’ and prove that she had the ‘guts’ to pull off the big heist, but this seemed stupid because if she got caught, which could easily happen, then all their plans would have been ruined.

The only thing that half-way saves it are the female leads and I liked all three of them. Saint James is a very attractive woman and normally I don’t particularly like ladies with husky voices, but with her it is sexy. I also enjoyed the naïve quality of her character. Lange is young and beautiful here and looking light years removed from the southern accented old crone that she has been playing in ‘An American Horror Story’. Her vivaciousness helps propel every scene that she is in. Curtain is a blast as well. She has impeccable comic timing and I always felt her presence on ‘Saturday Night Live’ was one of the main reasons that show was so successful and ground-breaking during its first five seasons. The only problem I had with the character is that she performs a striptease near the end, which isn’t funny or sexy and comes off as stupid and degrading instead. It is also quite clearly a body double and not Curtain herself that you end up seeing topless, so for any voyeurs out there who might think of buying this just for that reason, don’t bother.

The male leads are essentially wasted. Eddie Albert has a meaningless role as Jane’s father and I could see no other reason for why he took the part except that he wanted to stay busy in his old age. Richard Benjamin can be great at times, but here his character is vapid. I also thought it was a bit strange that he was cast as Lange’s husband since in real-life he was eleven years older and given her very youthful appearance here almost made it look like a middle-aged guy bedding a minor. Dabney Coleman is cast against type playing a nice guy for a change instead of a conniving jerk that he usually does. Since he plays conniving jerks so well I have always enjoyed him and the change of pace is interesting for a few seconds before it becomes boring like everything else.

The on-location shooting in Eugene, Oregon does not help. The music score comes about as close to ‘elevator music’ as you can get. The opening animation sequence is lame. Outside of a slightly amusing cameo by Garret Morris this thing never gels and it is one film you can afford to miss.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG (Brief Nudity)

Director: Robert Sheerer

Studio: American International

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three women three stories.

            Some Russian lady friends of mine suggested I review this film, which is a favorite of theirs and awarded the Oscar for best foreign film of 1980. The story deals with three women who room together at a boarding house and detailing their hopes, dreams, and personalities and then the second half examines them several years later and showing how much they have evolved.

The film has a definite European flair in that characters are well-rounded and believable. I found myself liking them right from the beginning and genuinely interested in their fates.  Lyudmila (Irina Muravyova) is engaging and amusing in her attempts to snare a man with prestige and money. Katerina (Vera Alentova) is equally interesting in the other way. I liked seeing how she starts out as shy and naïve, but blossoms into a strong, successful, self-assured woman by the end. The film takes its time in telling the story, letting you get to know the characters and allowing the scenes and situations to gel without the need for any quick edits, or cuts. I also thought director Vladimir Menshov does an excellent job with the women’s aging, which is natural but impressive without any use of make-up. At first I thought the movie had been filmed over a several year period in order to make the aging look so realistic, but that was apparently not the case. In discussing this with my Russian friend she tells me that the women were already in their 30’s when this was filmed, but even if that was the case then making them look so youthful at the beginning is still a successful feat.

The film is not a completely dour drama and manages at times to have a nice light-hearted touch with good amounts of humor. Lyudmila’s schemes are delightful at the beginning, but I also enjoyed the old man who joins a singles social club and then complains that all the women in his age group are ‘old hags’ forcing the program director to offer him a spot in a younger age group of women between 35 and 50 and he still complains that he would like them ‘even younger than that’, which only goes to prove that there’s always ‘dirty old men’ in every culture no matter where you go.

If you are expecting the film to deal with the oppressive aspects of the communist regime you won’t find it here. Most foreign films, especially those that won awards at the time, usually had this as their running theme, but here it doesn’t even touch on it. Yet I was still able to find traces of it including a scene near the beginning where a couple on a city sidewalk is told by an official that they are showing too much affection. There is another segment where Katia is being interviewed at her job in a factory by a news program. The interviewer exclaims that because Katia has shown signs of being creative that the task of a machine fitter is a ‘perfect’ job for her, which I found funny. She then asks Katia if she will be going to college, so she can get a degree and come right back to the same dreary factory and work as an engineer. I found this to be funny also, but my Russian friend tells me that the title of engineer in her country at the time was a highly regarded position that paid well, even though in America the idea of going to college is so that one can get a good education and not have to work in a factory at any level.

Another part of the film that may confuse American audiences is when Katia finds that she has become pregnant by a man that she is not married to. When she tells him the news he refuses to pay any support and she does not take him to court in order to force him. My friend explained to me that in Russia the single woman will typical not demand support from the man as this is apparently a source of ‘pride’ in their culture although many women here will find that difficult to relate too.

On the technical end the film looks like it was done on a miniscule budget. The color is faded and the images are fuzzy. Everything is filmed in places that show little that is interesting aesthetically. I thought with the word ‘Moscow’ in the title that there should have been more images of the city and scenes done at certain exotic locales to allow the viewer to get familiar with the region. There is a bit too much music. Although it is not in every scene the majority of the film has music going on underneath the conversations almost like a radio playing in the background and in my opinion it gets distracting.

My biggest complaint is that the second half spends too much time focusing on Katia and no one else. The synopsis for the film from several different sources describes this as a story about THREE women, but the by the end it is really only about one. I was disappointed as I found Lyudmila fun and I wanted to see more of her and the third woman, Antonina, is barely shown at all to the point that we get to know little about her.  Katia’s late-blooming romance goes on too long and seems a bit forced. Having her old boyfriend suddenly reappear and try to get back into her life is strained and the fact that he initially didn’t recognize her seemed hard to believe.

The story and scenarios are not original and have to varying degrees been done many times before. Unlike other Russian classics that I’ve liked including Solaris and Stalker this film lacks anything profound and comes off as a typical drama that is passable and entertaining, but not great.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 22Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Vladimir Menshov

Studio: Mosfilm

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2)

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Helpful advice for husbands.

            Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is a successful cartoonist living the bachelor dream in a penthouse loaded with perks and helped run by his loyal butler Charles (Terry-Thomas). Things go horribly wrong when one night while attending a bachelor party for one of his friends he becomes drunk and finds himself the next day married to a beautiful Italian blonde who can’t speak a word of English. Despite this she starts to take over his life, running Charles out of the home and ruining his career and friendships in the process. To vent his frustrations he has the main character of his comic strip murder his wife and to insure that it is believable he plays out the murderous sequence in real life, but using a mannequin in the place of an actual body. When his wife sees the comic she becomes hurt and runs off making people believe that she was killed when no one can locate her.

This is a much edgier Lemmon comedy from what he has done in the past and the change is welcome. He plays a more sophisticated extension of the character that he did in Under the Yum Yum Tree. The scenario is clever and original for the most part, but what surprised me was the extreme cynicism it had towards the institution of marriage. Most films both before and after have made some tongue-in-check jokes towards it, but this things treats it like it’s an ugly monster that needs to be beaten with a club. This is done mainly from the man’s point-of-view, which is fun and refreshing simply for the fact that something this politically incorrect could never be made today, but also there are a few scenes were the Claire Trevor character teaches Lemmon’s wife how to manipulate the husband and get away with it. What is said is all right on target with the truth, which may make some cringe while they are laughing, or if you are single it will be just another excuse to gloat. The brilliantly written, hilarious court room segment at the end where Stanley tries to get his lawyer friend Harold (Eddie Mayhew) to press an imaginary button, which he convinces him will kill off his wife and allow him to be set ‘free’ is the best part.

Lisi does well in her role and the fact that she can’t speak any English, at least at the beginning, makes her presence more interesting. Although done many times before, her popping out of a giant cake at the bachelor party is quite steamy and enticing. Her dance on top of a piano is provocative and even more surprisingly is when older actress Trevor does the same dance later on and is almost as alluring.

Thomas is a legendary comic character actor and quite possibly one of the best who ever lived. His presence helps the film immeasurably and it is a shame that he is not in it the whole time. Mayhew is very good as well and although it takes a while for him to get going I found myself enjoying his scenes and his little quirks, including his weird laugh, more and more as it went along. His performance in the climactic courtroom segment is tops.

The script, by George Axelrod, seems a bit disjointed and over-long. It starts out as a quirky comedy then falls into being a contrived, fluffy comedy during a really slow middle part, only to recover with a resounding end. The script could have been tighter, but the finale is so funny that I forgave it and it is well-worth seeking out for the comedy fan looking for something a little different. In fact I am surprised this thing hasn’t acquired a cult following.

My only other complaint is the music score by Neal Hefti, which sounds much too similar to The Odd Couple score that came out only three years later and also starred Lemmon.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 26, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (The Jack Lemmon Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Murder By Decree (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jack the Ripper exposed.

Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is asked to investigate the killings of prostitutes by Jack the Ripper and the clues lead to a massive conspiracy that goes all the way up to the British Royalty.

This rendition of the Holmes versus Ripper theme is fun and handsomely produced. My favorite element was the recreation of the dark, dingy, atmospheric streets of old London. The fog, lighting, and sounds of carriages going over the cobblestone streets is perfect and I wanted to see even more of it. The killings are surprisingly graphic, the strangulation of a woman near the beginning looks  quite realistic as does the stabbing of another man in which you can see, from the side, a sword going right through him.

The supporting cast is a treat and includes an almost unrecognizable Anthony Quayle in a beard and a wig, as well as John Gielgud, David Hemmings, Genvieve Bujold, Donald Sutherland, Frank Finley, and Susan Clark. Clark gives the strongest performance in the crucial role of Mary Kelly. She speaks with a believable British accent despite the fact that she was not a native. Sutherland is the only one that is wasted as his character is dull and his screen-time limited.

Both Plummer and James Mason in the role of Dr. Watson are terrific actors, but I don’t know if I was completely sold with them in these parts. Plummer is too polished, handsome, and always displaying a sneering type of grin that I never pictured Holmes having. I would have wanted the character to be just a bit more aloof, awkward, and detached.  Mason is fine, but the chemistry between the two doesn’t seem genuine. I expected more comic interplay. There is some, but not enough. The best moment is the pea scene, which is a howl and written by Mason.

The case is elaborate and well thought out. Normally I find with these types of stories that if you aren’t paying careful attention, or miss one line of dialogue that you become lost and confused, which fortunately did not happen here.  It stays intriguing and the logic is sound for the most part. The wrap-up at the end in which Holmes explains the case and solves the mystery while discussing it in front of the Prime Minister (Gielgud) is satisfying and complete. However, I got a real kick out of the fact that when Holmes starts his dissertation he has a cut on the side of his face from an altercation that he had with Ripper the day before, but in the fifteen minutes it takes him to delivery his speech it turns into a scar before your very eyes.


The few misgivings that I had here was that it does not stand out from the myriad of other films that have been done on the same subject.  The mystery and conspiracy angle is interesting, but speculative with no bearing on the actual case. The fact that they turn the Ripper character into being just a couple of idiots who didn’t know what they were doing is clever in one way, but disappointing in a other because it destroys the mystique that has become the Ripper legend and becomes anti-climactic in the process.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bob Clark

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Lost in America (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a winnebago.

            David Howard (Albert Brooks) becomes upset when he doesn’t get his expected promotion and decides the corporate life isn’t for him and that he and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) will drop-out by liquidating all of their assets, buying a Winnebago, and roaming the countryside as free-spirits. Things go horribly wrong right from the start when, in a fit of gambling fever, Linda loses their entire savings at the roulette wheel. This forces David and Linda to desperately look for jobs in the first small town they come to.

The concept is fantastic. Who hasn’t dreamed of doing this at one time or another? Reportedly top executives who saw the film admitted having these very same fantasies at some point. In many ways this film is perfect testament to the 80’s where everything seemed to backtrack to the materialism and conformity of past eras and the idealism of the 60’s became lost. Writer-director Brooks plays it in a realistic and believable way with just enough subtle comedy to bring out the absurdity in each situation, which is what makes it fun.  Had the characters been over-the-top it wouldn’t have worked.

The dry, cynical wit that is Brooks’s signature is in full swing here. It may be an acquired taste to some, but it is distinct and hilarious for those that enjoy it. Some of the best moments include David’s funny rant when he tells off his boss and demands that the company give back the eight years he invested into it and won’t leave until it does. There are amusing conversations between David and the casino owner (Gary Marshall in an excellent cameo) where he begs him to give back the money Linda lost as well as his visit to an employment agency. The couple’s argument at the Hoover Dam is another highlight as is his lecture to Linda about the ‘nest egg’ concept. However, the funniest scene that had me literally laughing out of my seat was when David takes a job as a crossing guard for $5.50 an hour and some ten-year-old boys start to mock him. Even the little things, like when David tells a hotel clerk that they did not make reservations because they have ‘dropped-out of society’ and ‘just living for the moment’ is funny when done with Brooks’s impeccable deadpan delivery.

Julie Hagerty is so ingrained in my mind for her appearance in the cult-classic Airplane that I had a hard time adjusting to her here. Initially, when she is shown in the corporate setting and acting as a serious, responsible adult, I felt it didn’t work because I kept expecting her to say, especially with that high-pitched voice of hers, something dippy and spacey like her character in Airplane always did. However, when she gambles away their savings by incessantly screaming out the number twenty-two she is hilarious and when David lectures her afterwards and she looks up at him with that blank, blue-eyed, deer-in-headlights stare, she is perfect and the casting astute.

The opening sequence is probably the only part that doesn’t work. Having a taped audio interview between talk show host Larry King and film critic Rex Reed played over the opening credits is certainly novel, but David’s prolonged, whiny conversation with Linda while in bed is annoying.  A scene involving a conversation between Linda and a co-worker could have been cut. There is also the fact that everything goes downhill too quickly making the viewer feel almost cheated. It would have been nice to have seen them living the hippie lifestyle for a while and then have the problems begin gradually. There could’ve been a lot of great comedy had it been played straight without the irony of the money problem. Either way it’s entertaining, but brief. Hearing the entire rendition of ‘New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra is worth the price as is the sight of seeing a giant Winnebago driving up a busy, downtown Manhattan street.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R (For a Couple of ‘F-Bombs’)

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Easy Rider (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drop out of society.

This is still the granddaddy of all road movies as it perfectly captures the era and the angst of those living in it. It examines the harsh reality of life on the open road, but does it with a deep philosophical edge. Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper) are two bikers making their way to the Mardi Gras when they pick up lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) along the way. They face prejudice and apathy from others who do not understand their values, or lifestyle. Although strongly linked to the 60’s many of the statements that the film makes and ideas that it brings out are as pertinent today as ever and this is one movie that should not be overlooked by the serious film fan as it is a classic and far from being just a relic.

The script, which was written by Fonda and Hopper, who also directed, portrays the open road as an odyssey of personal discovery instead of a particular destination. It brings out how one is still always trapped within the confines of the very society they may wish to escape. Above all it questions what true freedom really is, whether anyone has it, and if it can fully exist.

Fonda and Hopper are perfect. They channel their rebellious energies well. Of course it’s Nicholson who steals it playing a slightly goofy character. He exudes a charm here that’s rarely seen in his other performances. He also sports the silliest riding helmet you can imagine.

Lazlo Kovacs cinematography is outstanding. It captures the American landscape like you’re watching a travel show. The hippy commune scene is the best as it is so vivid that it makes you feel like you are right there. There is also a memorable hallucinogenic drug scene in a graveyard that is wickedly surreal and features cult favorite Karen Black in an early role.

Some may say it’s boring, but the slow pacing is deliberate and well-orchestrated. The framing and flash editing are groundbreaking in both its vision and execution. This is a definite trend setter and most importantly a classic.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Hopper

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (35th Anniversary Edition) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drifters on the road.

This is a cult film if there ever was one as there seems to be no other category to put it into. It has a quality and style all of its own and the same existential mindset as Easy Rider, which can encompass you with its moody, desolate, and surreal atmosphere.

The story focuses on two young men (James Taylor, Dennis Wilson) who are given no names and drive a ’55 Chevy. They make a living challenging others to races and bet a middle-aged man (Warren Oates) that they can make it to Washington D.C. before he does. The race, like many things in life, becomes only a concept that gets increasingly more fleeting as it goes on.

The two young men are remnants of their fractured society and can only relate to the world around them when it is through their car. They subconsciously use the car to differentiate them from the pack and cover up there otherwise empty existence. The vehicle becomes more like a person while they become more like an inanimate object. They are unable to convey any deep emotion or thought and, like the stick shift in their car, only able to function with certain people.

Oates is interesting in a different sort of way. He is a man desperately seeking attention and yet is alienating at the same time. His fabrications about his life become more and more outrageous and compulsive until one wonders if he knows the difference anymore “If I don’t get grounded soon, I’m going to fly into orbit”. We realize he is running from something, but unlike other stories this mysterious past may be nothing more than loneliness and failure. He drives aimlessly simply as a way to avoid it and stopping would only allow it to catch up. The hitch-hikers he picks up along the way and conversations he has with them prove to be some of the film’s most compelling moments.

Laurie Bird plays the hippie girl that shuffles herself between the three. She inadvertently brings out some of their most dormant feelings as well as their flaws. She is quintessential in her role and her face is etched with the anger, alienation, and innocence of the youth from that era.

This as evocative a picture as you will ever find. The widescreen, remastered DVD version shows the wide open outside shots in almost crystal clear fashion. Watching James Taylor walking down a lonely, nameless small town street captures the youth’s detachment better than just about anything else. Of course this is a picture that is completely dependent on personal taste. Some will say it speaks to their soul, while others will watch it and see nothing. I know when I was younger it seemed boring and aimless, but I watched it again many years later and it made perfect sense.

The film also gives you a chance to hear interesting variations of popular rock songs. They are played in the background of certain scenes and include: “Hit the Road Jack”, “Maybellene”, and “Me and Bobby McGee”.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: July 7, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Monte Hellman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B)