Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Terminal Man (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t control his impulses.

            Harry Benson (George Segal) is a brilliant computer scientist who begins to suffer from blackouts after receiving a head injury in a car accident.  During these blackouts he goes on terrifying violent sprees, which includes the abuse of his own wife and children. To help control the condition a group of doctors come up with an experimental procedure of implanting a computer chip inside his brain that will set off a signal that will alleviate these compulsions when they begin.  Unfortunately things do not go as planned and Harry’s condition becomes frighteningly worse in this cinematic realization of the Michael Crichton novel.

Director Mike Hodges visualization is the stand-out here. Every scene and camera shot fits together into a seamless whole. The first hour is filled with sets and backdrops showing a square, gray, futuristic –like surroundings while the second half features more white interiors while still maintaining the modernistic look.  Hodges shows a terrific awareness of every little sight and sound making each one an integral part of the story. From a visual perspective it is brilliantly handled and a masterpiece in need of more attention.  His use of classical music by Johann Sebastian Bach is equally effective. One particularly unique scene has Harry violently stabbing someone to death during one of his seizures, but instead of hearing the expected pounding music we instead hear the soft strains of Bach while the victim’s blood creates a red pattern on the white tiles of the floor.

The operating sequence and build-up to it is especially captivating and takes up most of the runtime.  I appreciated how a great deal of care was taken to make everything follow a very believable logic. The intricate procedure itself becomes fascinating and riveting to watch as they drill small holes into the patients head and use tiny metal tubes to literally shoot the mechanical pellets into strategic spots in the brain.

Segal, mostly know for light comedies, takes a nice break into drama here. He does a terrific job at getting the viewer to see him as a human being and feel empathy for his situation and when he has his head shaved he looks exactly like Howie Mandel . The part where he screams “Make it stop! Make it stop!” as he goes through another of his violent outbursts is especially moving and disturbing.

The supporting cast is strong as well although I didn’t particularly care for Donald Moffat and his put-on Irish accent, which was too strong and distracting and completely unnecessary.  Richard Dysart is memorable as the surgeon conducting the operation. He has two of the film’s best lines. One is when he is putting the computer chips into the brain and he states “This is the one job that can be both boring and nerve-wracking at the same time.”  Another great line of his occurs when a reporter asks him he if considers this procedure to be a type of mind control and he responds “What do you call compulsory education through high school?”

Joan Hackett gives her usual solid performance as Janet Ross the one doctor who is more concerned with the welfare of the patient then the implications of the experimental procedure. Jill Clayburgh, in an early role, plays against type here as Harry’s ditzy blonde girlfriend and the change of pace is interesting.

The film certainly makes a strong statement at the potential dangers of medical science and how the medical staff can be highly intelligent in one area, but very dense, immature and selfish in others.  The dehumanization element is pounded home to the viewer and in that respect it succeeds magnificently, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was being a bit unfair. In the years since this film was released the advancements in the medical field have improved the life and health of the patients and society as a whole. The film’s negative slant seems to conform too much to the pessimistic sentiments of its era and its unrelentingly doomful outlook is unnecessary.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Hodges

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Macaroni (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He writes love letters.

            Due to a business trip Robert Traven (Jack Lemmon) finds himself returning to Italy after four decades. He hadn’t set foot on their soil since World War II. He is old, tired, and grouchy and looking like an extension of the character Lemmon played in Avanti! , which was also took place in Italy.  When he arrives he meets Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni) who tells him he is the brother of Maria, a woman Robert had a relationship with during the war.  Robert decides to go and meet her despite the fact that she is now married. When he gets there he finds that everyone acts as if they already know him. Robert then finds out that Antonio has been writing ‘love letters’ to Maria all this time, but pretending to be Robert. The letters are filled with wild stories and conquests making Robert a cult-hero to the local people.

This movie is high on the charm, but not much else. Mastroianni is engaging and endearing. I wasn’t too crazy about his mustache and I don’t think it was needed, but he otherwise sparkles in every scene he is in and gives the film much needed energy. Lemmon is fun too, but he seems old and tired here. The camera stays locked on his worn, emotionless face during his entire cab ride from the airport to his hotel, which was too much and the main problem with the film in that director Ettore Scola’s scenes are too long. However, together with Mastroianni these two legendary actors make for an interesting duo. The way their friendship blossoms and slowly progresses is natural and pleasing. The best shot of the whole film is watching the two walking along a shore of rocks from a bird’s-eye-view.  Lemmon also plays a bouncy piano piece and I wished they had let him play more of it.

The film gives one a nice sense of Italian city life.  The on-location shooting makes if feel and look authentic. There is a lot of focus on Italian food and desserts that will make one hungry by the time it is over. The soft, melodic music is relaxing and peaceful and perfectly reflects the easy-going nature of the script, but ends up getting a bit over-played.

The film’s main issue is that there is just not enough story here. It is almost a one-joke script dealing with Antonio’s fabricated letters, which is funny for a while  especially when Robert argues with him about some of the lies in the letters and how he would have preferred that they’d be exaggerated differently, but nothing else.  The film takes too long to get there and they tack on a very formuliac and contrived ending dealing with Antonio trying to avoid the mob who is after him for some unpaid debts and Robert’s attempts to save him.  There is also the fact that Maria, who Robert supposedly was in-love with at one time, never speaks a word of dialogue. In fact the two never share much of any type of conversation, which seemed odd. The other family members and friends appear too naïve for believing all of the wild scenarios that Antonio wrote in the letters that would make anyone else skeptical.  By portraying them as being so gullible makes them stereotypes and is unrealistic.

I’m surprised that these two actors of such high stature agreed to take on this limp material, or didn’t demand for more changes when they did. Even if you are fans of these leading men it still isn’t worth seeking out even for a slow night.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ettore Scola

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Hopscotch (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Matthau goes globe trotting.

            Veteran CIA Agent Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) is angered when his boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) decides to demote him to a desk job due to a technicality. Miles decides to get his revenge by threatening to write a book about his past exploits and divulge top secret information. He does this while traveling the globe and making it almost impossible for the government agents to find him, or keep up with him.

Matthau’s character is very similar to the one he played in Charley Varrick where we’re given someone who looks very much like an average Joe and is unwisely underestimated by those around him only to get the last laugh when he proves how very shrewd he really is. The concept is great and it is a fantastic role for Matthau, but in Charley Varrick we at least had some tension and intrigue because the bad guys where really nasty and Matthau’s cunning was a necessity for survival. Here the bad guy is nothing more than a pompous ass and Miles’s exploits, while clever and slick, are done for his own ego and to have an excuse to show-off. Without having any real threat this charade becomes derivative and redundant.

The idea to cast Glenda Jackson as his love interest and confidant is a strange one. In House Calls the two worked well because they had such contrasting personalities and styles, but here that never plays out and for much of the movie they are not even seen together. Her character is given very little to do and the sparring that made them a hit in their first feature is nowhere to be found here. However, their wine conversation that the two have near the beginning deserves a few points.

The Myerson character is over-the-top enough to get a few cheap laughs. The best moment in the whole film is when Miles hides out at Myerson’s own home and when the FBI surrounds it in order to get him out Myerson has to watch helplessly as all the windows in his place get shot out with bullets. Herbert Lom as the Russian spy Yaskov is appealing simply because after spending years playing a cat and mouse game with Miles the two end up finding a mutual friendship with the other.


            The biggest issue I have with the film is the ending. Supposedly Miles has been able to rig an old plane to be remote controlled and then when the agents track it down with a helicopter he blows it up making it look like he went down with it and thus freeing him from being chased anymore. However, aside from the fact that rigging a plane to be remote controlled should prove to be quite complex and beyond the scope of Miles, who may be smart but most likely not that smart there is also the fact that the men in the helicopter can see him on the ground running towards the plane like he was going to get into it. Of course he doesn’t, but instead somehow runs back to a shed where he controls the plane with his remote and then eventually explodes it with a press of a button. My question is, and it is the same one that I had twenty-five years ago when I first saw it, is how is he able to run back to the shed without being detected? It was an open field without any bushes, or trees, which should have made him highly visible to anyone once the plane left the ground. To me this is a cop-out ending done because screenwriter Brian Garfield had exhausted all of his clever ideas and didn’t know how else to finish it, but it is never good when a movie ends with a big loophole.


Matthau’s laid-back charm is always entertaining even with the weakest of scripts, but he seems to be almost sleepwalking through this one. The musical score is filled with some classical works, which helps.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R (Due to a plethora of ‘F-Bombs’ said by the Ned Beatty character)

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection), Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video

Mackenna’s Gold (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all want gold.

This is a sterile western with some irrelevant offbeat elements thrown in for good measure. The story consists of Mackenna (Gregory Peck) coming upon an old Indian man with a map showing the whereabouts to some gold. Feeling that the map is meaningless he burns it and tries to move on. He becomes entangled with outlaw Colorado (Omar Sharif) who feels that the map was legit, and since Mackenna was the last one to see it, forces him to come along with him and use his memory to show him the location. Ultimately they meet a wide assortment of other characters all searching for the same thing.

The cheap special effects are one of the main drawbacks. They are awful and help bring down the whole movie. The scene involving Peck being tied to the back of a horse and then lead across an old rickety bridge has to rate as the worst as the wide shots clearly shows a miniature bridge with a toy man and toy horse. The climactic sequence involving the cataclysmic destruction of an entire valley is so tacky that it is almost painful to watch. There are also other shots spliced in throughout that were done on a different film stock and this difference in grain is obvious and distracting. Even simple shots of Peck riding his horse are laughable as it becomes obvious that he is not on a real horse, but instead one of those mechanical ones that bop him up and down in perfect rhythm.

Only when the film features its stellar supporting cast does it get interesting. Unfortunately this legendary line up was only given about ten minutes of screen time a piece and then very quickly killed off one by one in ways that are particularly gruesome and demeaning.

Peck is okay in the lead and acts as a sort of stabilizer. This was the film where he starts to look elderly with some gray hair showing and a handle bar stomach. He was also not as agile as his younger costar Sharif.

Julie Newmar as Indian lady Hesh-ke is a stand out and even sexier than she was as Catwoman on the TV-show ‘Batman’. She also displays a real vicious side and this probably rates as her best performance despite the fact that she never says a single word. Camilla Sparv as Inga is almost as sexy and the two share a fun ongoing rivalry.

The film is watchable and has some nice, even exciting, aerial shots. However as a whole it is pretty ordinary. Things added to make it seem unique really end up hurting it. Jose Feliciano’s singing is out of place and the music score overall is bad. Victory Jory’s narrative is unnecessary and a feeble attempt to make the production seem like an epic, which it definitely isn’t and the mystical ending just doesn’t work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 8Minutes

Rated M (Brief Nudity)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Carrie (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prom was a disaster.

A shy, awkward teen (Sissy Spacek) who is a virtual outcast at her school and has a religious zealot for a mother (Piper Laurie), learns that she has telekinetic powers and uses them in terrifying and deadly ways after falling victim to a cruel prank at her high school prom.

Nothing really seems to mesh here and the pacing is poor. For a great deal of time you feel like you are not watching a horror movie, but instead an annoying, clichéd 70’s drama. The majority of the scares occur at the end while the rest of the film has no tension at all.  It’s visually flamboyant, but empty and unable to hide its low budget roots. Like with director Brian De Palma’s other thrillers his style and heavy-handed Hitchcock-like touches become overpowering and you lose touch with the story. Too much is orchestrated and the movie is never allowed to gel and have its own natural flow. The opening, which takes place in a girl’s shower, looks like a soft core porn flick especially with the choice of music.

The teen-age girls are certainly cruel and their snotty attitudes seem valid, but the actresses are all wrong. Yes, Nancy Allen and Amy Irving are hot to look at, but they were too old for their parts. All of them were in their 20’s and look far more like college girls instead of students in high school. The P. J. Soles character is irritating. In an effort to give the role some distinction they have her constantly wearing a pink baseball cap. She even wears it to the prom with her prom dress and looks ridiculous and yet still has the audacity to laugh at Carrie when she shows up when in reality they would most likely be laughing at her instead.

Miss Collins, the physical Ed. Teacher, which is played by actress Betty Buckley is another problem. She goes beyond the call of duty to give Carrie the individualized and sensitive attention that she needs. It sounds nice, but I couldn’t buy into it because in most cases shy students that don’t otherwise cause problems usually get overlooked even by the best of teachers simply because the school systems are too large with too many students to handle.

William Katt was not very convincing in his part as a dumb jock. John Travolta is good, but only because he is playing an extension of his Vinnie Barberino character from ‘Welcome Back Kotter’. In fact I found his portrayal here to be even funnier than his TV counterpart.

Spacek is the best thing about the movie as she brings the Carrie character to life with a vengeance. The part where she tears up the gymnasium with her powers is genuinely creepy and the way she opens her eyes and moves them around is freaky. The use of the split screen during this segment help to make it a uniquely scary moment in cinema history and saves what is otherwise a forgettable production. The famous ‘surprise’ ending isn’t bad either and even managed to startle me a little and I don’t startle easy.

Unfortunately it’s lacking the necessary ingredients overall to make it a classic. It’s based on the Stephen King novel and yet leaves certain crucial elements from the book out, which only creates more questions and confusion. De Palma takes the most simplistic parts of the story and then glossies over the rest leaving the viewer feeling unsatisfied when it is over.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: United Artists

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