Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Monitors (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: They are watching us.

            Aliens, who dress in suits, long overcoats, and bowler hats, invade earth and an attempt to police everybody’s thoughts and actions while trying to quell a rebel uprising led by Colonel Stutz (Larry Storch). Working for the uprising is Harry (Guy Stockwell) who falls in love with Barbara (Susan Oliver) who secretly sides with the aliens.

The movie starts out with a lot of potential and piqued my interest with unusual montages and camera work. Unfortunately this subsides quickly and soon we are stuck with drab sets, extraneous scenes, and a film unable to hide its low budget roots. I began to wonder if the reason the rebels had their hideout in an abandoned farmhouse was more because the filmmakers could film there without having to pay for a permit than anything else.

The film should have gone completely for parody and farce and if they had done that this might have worked. Instead it seems to drift into a conventional sci-fi narrative complete with a pseudo philosophical climactic debate between the humans and aliens that we have all heard before and does nothing but slow the film down to a tedious level. Adding in the love interest angle between the two leads is contrived and formulaic.

The aliens aren’t too interesting either. There is never any explanation as to how they were able to take over the planet, but the fact that they are unable to even get through a locked door of an old crumbling warehouse made me wonder how they were able to succeed at anything. Equipping them with a little more sci-fi gadgetry would have helped. I realize they don’t have to be carrying around the proverbial ray-gun, but having them break up an angry mob by using ordinary canisters of pepper spray seemed unimaginative.

Spliced into the story are comical TV ads with famous celebrities of the day such as Stubby Kaye and Xavier Cugat promoting the monitors and convincing the public to support them. These commercials are not funny with the only exception being Alan Arkin playing a foreign man who speaks broken English. In the case of former Senator Everett Dirksen it is almost sad. He was very elderly at the time of the filming and he is clearly reading his lines from cue cards and mouthing the words and looking like he is barely functional, or coherent.

The music is another problem. Initially I really liked it as the opening credits feature a computer with a very robotic voice singing the theme. Singer Odetta sings most of the other songs and some of them have a distinctive sound, but they get overplayed and saturated by the end.

The production was shot on-location in Chicago and I loved the aerial shots showing the skyline. I almost wished there had been a little more of them although I did notice that the exact same skyline shots at the beginning get reused in the second half. I didn’t like the idea that it was filmed in the late fall/early winter as the cast is shown shivering in several shots while forced to wear light clothing and their breath is clearly visible.

Susan Oliver gives another solid performance and shown flying an airplane in one sequence as in real-life she was an avid pilot. Sherry Jackson’s presence is minimal, but she is always appealing to the eyes. Avery Schreiber, a comedian known to overact horribly in just every part he is in, comes off as rather amusing here playing the younger brother of Harry who reluctantly joins up with the resistance. Larry Storch, another notorious ham, is engaging as well especially when he appears in drag and later on dressed as General MacArthur.

This is a failed experiment that should have been a lot better. It seems to want to take on the quirky sentiments of the era, but is either too timid, or too unimaginative to go all the way with it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated M

Director: Jack Shea

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: Netflix Streaming

10 (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bo Derek is hot.

George Webber (Dudley Moore) is a successful songwriter who has just turned 42 and finds himself longing for a beautiful younger woman (Bo Derek) that he sees while driving. Problem is he meets her on her wedding day and yet he still pursues her all the way to Mexico where she goes for her honeymoon.

It’s really, really hard to believe that this was such a big hit. It meanders badly and has a lot of slow stretches. It is also not that sexy. Bo is only shown sporadically and you never really get to see her naked, or at least not from the front. Writer/director Blake Edwards incorporates his patented slapstick humor, but it’s uninspired and doesn’t mesh well with a film that is supposedly working on a more mature and sophisticated level.

The issue of middle-age, or better yet ‘male menopause’, has been handled before and better. In fact this thing can’t hold a candle to Tom Ewell and The Seven Year Itch. The issues it brings up are quite general and handled superficially. It offers no new perspective and is shockingly unimaginative.

Dudley Moore fits nicely into his role and it seems not too far removed from the man himself as it deals with a uniquely talented man that harbors a degree of cynicism and detachment. His relationship with girlfriend Samantha (Julie Andrews) has some interesting elements and it could have been a foundation for a movie in itself.

Derek is stunning, but rather poor in the acting department. Having a beautiful lady portray such a shallow person is a real turn off. Sure it’s done to give the film its point, but it seems extreme.

Overall I found the film to be weak and empty and unable to even come close to meeting its reputation.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Killing Fields (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalists trapped in Cambodia.

This is an excellent fact based drama of Cambodian photo-journalist and English interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) who gets swept up in the Khmer Rouge revolution of the 1970’s and forced to survive for four years in their harsh work camps of ‘year zero’.

This film is intense, compelling, and uncompromising. The story stays very close to the true account and it is recreated with a believable atmosphere. Mike Oldfield’s unique music score is fabulous. The music that is played during the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy is one of the creepiest sounding scores that I have ever heard and it is quite effective. Oscar winner Ngor is good in the lead role and creates a tremendous amount of sympathy from the viewer and the ending still has a major emotional impact. Yet the most lasting images of the film are from the children. During one of the battle scenes a close-up of a child is shown holding his ears and crying while another scene has a screaming child in a hospital who is having shrapnel taken out of her spine. This is then correlated with the work camp scenes where the children are protrayed to be the most brainwashed by the party line and become the biggest instigators and purveyors to the torture and mayhem making it even more disturbing. In the end this film makes you ponder and feel the ugly depths of this very bleak and historical event.

On the negative side I felt it could have used some voice-over narration to help connect the scenes especially at the beginning. Some subtitles would have also been helpful during the scenes where none of the characters speak any English. The Sydney Schanberg character, played by Sam Waterston, seems at times to be quite obnoxious. He acts like being a journalist should somehow entitle him to everything and make him above everyone else. Also during scenes when he is photographing and covering the war ravaged victims he is more concerned with getting a nice graphic picture so it will sell more copy then he does with the actual suffering of the victim.

Overall this an extremely powerful and well-staged account of a horrific event that should not be forgotten, but unfortunately probably has for a lot of people.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roland Joffe

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2), Amazon Instant Video

Boccaccio ’70 (1962)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s all about sex.

            This film, which is well over 3 hours, is a compilation of four different sex tales directed by legendary Italian greats: Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, and Mario Monichelli. The segments also star some of the most beautiful and sexiest women to ever grace the screen including: Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, and Romy Schneider. These ladies are at their most stunning and really light up the screen with their presence. Despite the extreme length the film moves along in a breezy fashion and I was actually surprised how quickly the time went.

The first segment directed by Monichelli and entitled ‘Renzo e Luciana’ was cut from the initial American theatrical release and it is easy to see why as it lacks the energy and flair of the others. It stars Marisa Solinas who doesn’t have the sex appeal and star power of the other leading ladies and apparently this was the reason why it was cut, but now has been restored on the recent Blu-ray release. The story is rather simple and deals with Luciana (Solinas) getting married to Renzo (Germano Gilioli), but having to move-in with her parents as they are unable to afford a home of their own. She also must keep her marriage a secret because the contract that she signed at the accounting firm that she works at strictly states that the female employees must remain single. This is so their overweight, lecherous boss can flirt and go out with them and threaten to fire them if they resist. Because of her financial situation and sparse job market Luciana is forced to put up with his advances. Although seeing two young newlyweds struggling as they start out can at times be touching this segment doesn’t have enough comedy, or drama to keep it afloat. The only lasting image one remembers from this is when Luciana goes to a public pool and sees her fat boss prancing around in nothing but a skimpy bikini bottom, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.

‘Le tentazioni del dottor Antonia’ is the second segment and directed by Fellini with his usual visual flair and style. The plot is about an older gentleman named Antonio (Peppino De Filipo) who is quite prudish and protests and tries to ban any type of public display of sexuality. When a giant billboard is erected in front of his apartment showing an alluring model (Ekberg) in a provocative pose while holding a glass of milk he becomes irate. His initial anger turns to horror as the giant model comes to life and begins to terrorize him in all sorts of comical ways. The special effects are pretty good. Filipo plays his role to a delightfully hammy level and Ekberg is striking. The ironic ending, which features a lot of surreal elements, is amusing.

The third feature is entitled ‘II lavaro’ and is directed by Visconti.  Here a rich young husband (Thomas Milian) can’t seem to avoid being caught cavorting with prostitutes despite the fact that he is married to the beautiful Pupe (Schneider). She decides that the only way to prevent this is by becoming a prostitute herself and then having him pay her to be his mistress. This segment starts out with a humorous and engaging tone, but eventually becomes talky, static, and stagy. Schneider is the best thing about it and is intoxicating in every scene that she is in. She not only speaks fluent Italian here, but German as well.

The final segment entitled ‘La riffa’ and directed by De Sica is by far the best. It is about a raffle that all the men in a small village get involved in to see who will win one night with the beautiful Zoe (Loren).  The irony here is when timid Cuspet (Alfio Vita) who looks and acts exactly like Rowan Atckinson’s Mr. Bean character, ends up winning it. De Sica nicely plays everything up to its full potential and captures the nuances and eccentricities of the characters well. Loren is both sexy and funny and shows a flair for frantic comedy. The sequence involving Cuspet and Zoe’s rendezvous is amusing, touching, and even a bit surprising.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1962

Runtime: 3Hours 25Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Directed by: Federico Fellini,  Vittorio De Sica, Mario Monichelli, Luchino Visconti.

Studio: Cineriz

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2), Blu-ray, Netflix Streaming