Monthly Archives: August 2012

Juggernaut (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bomb on a ship.

The Britannic, a luxury liner traveling in the North Atlantic and carrying 1,200 passengers, is threatened at being blown up by a unknown man who calls himself ‘Juggernaut’ and states that he has planted a bomb somewhere on the ship. The British government decides not to give into his demands for a ransom and instead flies in bomb expert Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) who along with his team is assigned with dismantling the 7 bombs and are given little time to do it before they are set to explode.

This film follows the typical disaster flick formula, but it does it so damn well that I was riveted and entertained from the first minute to the last. Director Richard Lester is known for his comedy and implements it into all of his films even when the genre is action. Sometimes this doesn’t work Superman III is a good example where the campiness became too much, but here it makes for a nice balance. The tension is quite strong. The scenes involving the bomb dismantling are not only gripping, but fascinating as you learn the minute intricacies to the bomb mechanics. The extreme close-ups are excellent and make you feel like you are right there. Watching the demolition experts being dropped from a helicopter and into the cold ocean where they are to swim to the liner are impressively vivid. The story moves well and consistently brings in new twists.

Harris is fantastic as the sort of anti-hero. He is gruff, brash and irreverent yet he is good at what he does and knows how to do it. I found myself captivated with him and pulling for him emotionally. Unlike the cookie-cutter pretty boy heroes of most Hollywood movies this guy is real and rugged. I wish more movies could have this type of character in the lead.

The bad guy isn’t quite up to the same level. I liked how the film keeps his identity a mystery until near the end, which helps elevate the intrigue. His weird Scottish/Irish sounding accent heard over the phone is strange and I actually thought it was actor Harris doing it and I still think it might have been. The elaborate ploys used by the police to track him down as well as the culprits abilities to outfox them at seemingly every turn is engaging. It’s just a shame that when they finally catch him it wouldn’t have been for such a stupid oversight on his part, which ruins the mystic that is created and feels like a letdown. However, the final conversation that he has with Anthony over the phone is a gem.

British character actor Roy Kinnear is funny in his role as the ship’s social director. His vintage moment comes when he insists on having the scheduled masquerade party continue despite the fact that everyone becomes aware that the ship may explode at any minute. Kinnear’s patented nervous grin is put to great use here and practically steals the picture.

The supporting characters are above average. Normally in this genre these types of people end up being cardboard and clichéd, but here they were surprisingly multi-dimensional. The dialogue as a nice existential quality and the scenes where they discuss their potential and impending doom is never contrived or forced. I got a kick out of the two kids who were amusingly much more grounded and aware of things than the hyper adults.

If you are into compact suspense films that are tightly paced and without the loopholes and clichés then this film, which is loosely based on actual events, promises to be an entertaining two hours.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming 

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t hire this lawyer.

A huge and much talked about hit upon its release in 1992, My Cousin Vinny is the story about two traveling college friends (Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield) who, upon going through Alabama, get implicated to the murder of a convenience store attendant that they did not commit. They’re only hope is calling up Macchio’s uncle Vinny from Brooklyn (Joe Pesci) who has only been practicing law for six weeks and has never tried a case.  Even worse is the fact that his brash Brooklyn sensibilities do not mesh well with the trial’s very strict, no-nonsense Judge (wonderfully played by Fred Gwynne in his last film role).

One thing that stood out right away with me was the way this film did not fall into age old stereotypes despite being in a setting that seemed ripe for it.  There is not a single mention of racism anywhere.  Instead the film seems to want to focus on a more contemporary Alabama where the African American characters are, by and large, on equal footing with the whites as well as having a white Sheriff who is not redneck, corrupt, or ignorant.  The two college kids also thankfully break rank from the typical Hollywood films of that era.  These kids are not the rowdy, partying, beer swilling, sex crazed teens that you usually see, but instead believable and most of all likable.  I found them to be so likable that I wished they were in the film more, unfortunately after the first twenty-five minutes they pretty much disappear until the very end, which I found disappointing.  Still it was nice seeing Macchio growing out of his Karate Kid role and looking a little more filled out and mature.

I also want to give mention to the excellent on-location shooting.  Although it was not actually filmed in Alabama, but instead the neighboring state of Georgia, it still nicely captures the look and feel of the south and it does it right from the start.  I have often said good on-location shooting (as opposed to the annoying Hollywood studio back-lot) can enhance just about any story and help create what’s almost like another character.  I have been to Alabama recently and enjoyed the many references to the red, muddy soil that is everywhere down there and the scene where the Pesci character gets his car stuck in it is great.

The comedy runs pretty well, but is much stronger at the start.  The conversations the boys have with the police are quite amusing as is Whitfield’s initial dialogue with the Pesci character who he doesn’t know is a lawyer and instead thinks he is a cellmate there to ‘break them in’.  I also enjoyed the running gag dealing with Vinny using his debating skills to try and ‘negotiate a settlement’ with a tough guy at a bar who refuses to pay up after losing a bet.

Unfortunately there is also a lot of comedy that does not work.  The running gag dealing with Vinny and his girlfriend constantly being awakened in the early morning hours by some unexpected noise at each of the places they stay at starts to get real redundant and silly.

There is also another segment featuring actor Austin Pendleton who plays one of the court appointed attorneys and, without warning or any logical explanation, starts to stutter terribly when he tries to give his opening argument.  I was genuinely shocked to see Pendleton take this part since he was a stutterer in real like and didn’t overcome the problem until he was well into his forties.  He even starred in a 1983 film entitled Talk to Me about a man coping with the affliction. Apparently Pendleton did protest the scene and even labeled it a ‘sick joke’, but eventually did it anyways because he needed the work, which was unfortunate because it comes off as being forced and uncomfortable.  Most lightweight comedies, which in the end this is, run about ninety minutes yet this film runs a hundred and twenty minutes, which is too long.  Had some of these so called ‘funny’ scenes been cut it would have shortened the film nicely and even strengthened it.

I should also mention Marisa Tomei who won the Oscar for best supporting actress as Pesci’s girlfriend.  Now her performance isn’t bad, but I didn’t see anything really outstanding about it either.  She spends most of the time wearing garish and gaudy outfits, speaking in a Brooklyn accent that borders on annoying, and playing the caricature of a ditzy girlfriend. Only at the end does she become a little more dimensional when she inexplicably displays some amazingly detailed knowledge about automobiles that for me just didn’t ring true.  I would have given the Oscar to Fred Gwynne, TV’s Herman Munster, as the judge. Some of his courtroom exchanges with the Pesci character are the best parts in the film.  I also really like Lane Smith in the role as the prosecutor. His performances are never flashy, but he is always reliable and gives his characters a nice, quiet dignity.  He is also a genuine southerner, so he fits into his role more easily.

The film is overall passable.  I had no idea how it was going to turn out and it kept me intrigued.  However, once the resolution was made and the mystery solved, I wasn’t completely satisfied.  I was hoping it would be like The Vanishing, the excellent 1988 film from the Netherlands, that went back and reenacted how it all took place.  It would have at least been nice had the film put in a little red herring at the beginning, so the viewer could have tried to figure it out themselves instead of just throwing in a wrap-up that seemed too convenient.

If you are fans of Joe Pesci then you’ll enjoy this movie a little bit more.  His performance as the volatile character in Goodfellas is so etched in my mind that I have a hard time adjusting to him in likable roles, or comedy.  However he manages to be quite engaging throughout.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 

Released: March 13, 1992 

Runtime: 2Hours 

Rated R 

Director: Jonathan Lynn 

Studio: 20th Century Fox 

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

‘Night Mother (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please don’t kill yourself.

Jessie Cates (Sissy Spacek) informs her mother Thelma (Anne Bancroft) that she plans on killing herself during the night and her distraught mother spends the rest of the evening trying to convince her not to do it.

It is hard to imagine a more maudlin and static production. The film consists of just two people talking inside a small, isolated house with no cutaways, flashbacks, inventive camera angles, interesting scenery, music, or editing. Louis Malle once did a film entitled My Dinner with Andre that featured two men sitting at a table and filling the film’s entire runtime with one long conversation, but at least there the topics were fascinating while here it is depressing. I was expecting some profound intellectually stimulating talk dealing with the meaning of life much like the one in Igmar Bergman’s classic The Seventh Seal, but instead it is general and banal. Part of the problem is that the Thelma character lacks sophistication and is unable to debate Jessie on any type of deeper level. The result then is a rather rhetorical 95 minute banter revolving around Thelma pleading with Jessie not to do it ‘because she needs here’ while Jessie glibly replying ‘I can if I want to’. The screenplay, written by Marsha Norman, who also penned the play from which it is based, fails to deliver that lyrical, poetic quality of dialogue that most films based on stage plays seem to have.

I kept wondering what the point to this was.  We never seem to get to the bottom of what is bothering Jessie and only seem to skim the emotional surface. The film does not dig deep enough into the human psyche but should’ve as her issues here are rather derivative and typical. Her main complaints is that she suffers from epilepsy, which is now under control through medication, and she has gone through a painful divorce, but there a lot of people with similar problems and worse who are not trying to kill themselves. Most viewers might be disgusted and appalled at Jessie’s selfish nature and the way she callously ignores her mother’s emotional pleas and insists on moving forward with the suicide despite how clearly devastating it will be to her mother. In the end the film will probably leave most people cold and unable to connect to either character.

The one thing that does save the film and even makes it riveting to an extent is the brilliant performances. Although I could’ve done without her southern accent I still found Bancroft to be fantastic and was impressed with the way she hit all the right emotional peaks. Spacek is superb in every facet and I liked that she wore no make-up and her face had a natural and worn look.

Tom Moore’s direction has a few nice touches. I liked the opening shot showing the remoteness of the home and how the rugged western landscape helped accentuate the hard-living of the characters. The music although only played at the beginning at end has an ominous tone to it that effectively hits the mood and theme of the material.

Of course suicides are always an on-going issue and if this film had given some insight into it I would have given it more credit, but it really doesn’t. I was surprised that Aaron Spelling who was usually known for producing shallow, glitzy stuff like the TV-show ‘Dynasty’ was the producer here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Tom Moore

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming

The Slender Thread (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate cry for help.

Inga (Anne Bancroft) is a middle-aged woman who has fallen into despair. She swallows a bottle of barbiturates and then in a last plea for help calls the local suicide hotline. On the other end is college student Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) who is volunteering his time at the center and ill prepared for such a call. Despite this he manages to build a connection with her and the rest of the film deals with their conversation and Alan’s attempts at finding her location as well as flashbacks showing what brought Inga to such a desperate state.

This film will finally get its much awaited release onto both DVD and Blu-ray on October 16th and I highly recommend checking it out especially for those that can appreciate great film directing. This was Sydney Pollock’s directorial debut and his calculated touch is clearly what makes what could have otherwise just been a talky script into an intriguing visual showcase. The opening sequence showing an aerial shot of sprawling Seattle is excellent and sure to connect with those that live there. Pollock nicely adds some of the city’s unique architecture into the shots giving the fragmented narrative distinction. He also makes full use of the stark black and white photography. One of the most emotional and memorable scenes in the film is when Inga walks along a lonely beach and tries to help a crippled bird, which wouldn’t have been half as effective had it been done in color. Even the small things like watching a phone technician walking through rows and rows of telephone switchboards is captured with a pristine style that makes it intriguing. The pacing and editing is perfect and at no time does the film ever drag despite the fact that it could have done so if it had been put in less competent hands.

Poitier is exceptional in the lead. Initially I was put off with the idea of a 38 year old man still trying to play a college student, but Poitier is completely believable. It was nice seeing him in a role where the race card never came into play. The film cuts back and forth to the dramatic search by the police to find the woman, but in many ways I found Poitier’s banter with Inga and the many different psychological ploys he uses to try to connect with her far more riveting. Bancroft is equally as good and her distraught facial expressions leave an imprint. Steven Hill lends terrific support as her unhappy husband.

In the complaint department I felt that the music at the beginning seemed much too upbeat and jazzy for a film with such a somber subject. The Inga character gets unraveled too easily and quickly and certain viewers may be put off by her selfishness of trying to kill herself and abandoning her young son. The biggest issue though was with the ‘Hollywoodnized’ ending that devolved a bit too much into the cliché. Otherwise this is a sleeper waiting to be discovered.

Twenty-one years later Bancroft again starred in a film dealing with suicide only this time she played the person trying to talk the other one out of it. That film was entitled ‘Night Mother and will be reviewed on Monday.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Sydney Pollock

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray 

Deadly Strangers (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho on the loose.

A dangerous mental patient has escaped from a nearby asylum. Belle Adams (Hayley Mills) is the beautiful women whose car has just broken down and she accepts a ride from Stephan Slade (Simon Ward) who just may be that patient.

This seems very similar to See No Evil which also took place in the English countryside and also hid the killer’s identity until the very end. There though it was a big letdown finding out who he was while here it is actually what makes the movie interesting. However, some of the techniques used to conceal the killer’s identity come off as contrived. The opening escape sequence inside the institution, where you see everything from the patient’s point of view is very tacky.

The suspense is minimal and things never really get too intense until the climatic sequence. There are twists and turns throughout, but some of them seem to be put in just to keep the story moving. The overall production values are cheap and the film stock is grainy and faded.

It is nice to see a British movie that doesn’t take place in London. The brown, barren landscape, which looks to have been filmed in the autumn, gives the picture an added visual. The car they drive is another sight as it looks as flimsy as a Yugo.

Mills makes a daring film choice here and it does her well. She no longer has that mousy, awkward look. She is a pretty full grown woman with a nice short haircut. She acts more mature and streetwise without that wide eyed persona that she had in all those Disney movies. Her nude scenes aren’t bad and are even a bit gratuitous.

Ward has never seemed to be that great of an actor. He has always had a tired look on his face and plods through his parts in much the same way. Sterling Hayden is fun playing an aging womanizer and sporting a wild beard and hairstyle. He talks in a goofy Scottish accent and amusingly tries to court Hayley, but unfortunately he is on for only a short time.

The final twist is pretty good, but a real sharp viewer will figure it out before it happens because I did! The film is a nice alternative for Mills despite a tendency to be gimmicky and flat. It is also the only time I have ever seen a policeman pull over a car and when the driver is unable to find his license is simply allowed to drive away.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 16, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: Fox-Rank

Available: VHS

Cemetary Man (1994)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They shoot the zombies.

The film opens with a cemetery worker (Rupert Everett) talking on the phone with a friend. He hears a knock at the door and when he answers it he sees a man with bluish, decayed skin ready to attack him. The worker calmly takes out a gun, shoots the man in the head, and then goes back to talking on the phone like nothing happened.  Thus begins this very quirky horror comedy that is a send-up of all those old zombie movies and has acquired a cult following.  It was filmed in Italy and is based on the popular Italian comic book ‘Dylan Dog’ by Tiziano Sclavi.

The initial premise is fun.  The protagonist is Francesco Dellamorte, who with his mute and mentally-challenged assistant named Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), are stuck running a cemetery in a small Italian town where the dead will routinely come back to life. It is then up to them to shoot the zombies in their head, which will kill them permanently.  This starts a wild array of crazy scenarios that become increasingly bizarre as the film progresses.

Initially I found it to be inventive.  The tongue-in-check humor is first-rate as is the snappy dialogue.  The film though starts to bite off more than it can chew.  All sorts of weird storylines get thrown in, but are never resolved.  After about the first hour it no longer made any sense.  For instance there is Francesco’s girlfriend named She (Anna Falchi), who he accidently kills at the beginning, but then she keeps getting reincarnated as different women throughout the rest of the film.  For various reasons Francesco is forced to kill her in different ways all over again, which eventually becomes tiring. This is only one of the many convoluted surreal elements that eventually overwhelm the viewer.  By the time it got to its extensile ending I was more than happy that it was over and really no longer cared what happened to the characters.

I felt frustrated because there were a lot of cool ideas that the film brings up, but drops without explanation.  I thought the original idea was good enough that the film could have stuck with that and built around it without going off on so many tangents. The special effects were a problem as well as they looked cheap and fake.  It was obvious when they were using mannequins in the place of real people and the blood and gore were thrown in haphazardly.

I did however like the pacing, which moves quickly with no letup.  The set designs are imaginative and the dark humor is consistently funny. If I would suggest this movie for any reason it would be that one.  Even when the story was getting annoyingly out-of-control it still had me chuckling.  The best scene involves Francesco talking to a sick friend in the hospital and when anyone from the hospital staff tries to intervene he shoots them and this creates a memorably macabre imagery as the room gets filled up with bodies and blood everywhere.

I also liked the character of Gnaghi, who tends to grow on you and becomes a real scene stealer.  He is short, fat and bald and looks like a young version of Uncle Fester from ‘The Adams Family’.  He speaks only through grunts, but the way he responds to things is quite amusing and the director comes up with clever ways to make the most of it.  The fact that he was played by a rock musician and not a professional actor makes it more interesting.  The part where he falls in love with one of the corpses and wants to marry her is hilarious and should have been played out more.

I liked the character of Francessco at the beginning as well.  He comes off like a rugged cowboy from the old west with a nifty matter-of-fact attitude towards his job and is cool under pressure. However, his behavior and actions become erratic and his motivations confusing until, by the end, he is almost alienating. There are also too many segments where he gets caught off guard by an attacking zombie and panics when he does not have his gun handy, which hurts the credibility since someone who has been doing this for a long time and is as savvy as he portrayed would learn to expect the unexpected and be prepared at all times for it.

I hate to say that this film was a disappointment because it is very creative and the direction is slick.  Unfortunately it just could not sustain its potential, which makes it a misfire. The film did quite poorly with both the critics and viewing public when it was first released both in Europe and in the states. It was only after being hailed by director Martin Scorsese that it started to find new life in the DVD market. Actor Everett was in talks with American studios to do a big-budget Hollywood remake, but it fell through.  A remake would not be a bad idea and may still happen as the horror-dark comedy genre has proven to be profitable in recent years most notably with Zombieland.  A tighter script and more money on the special effects could make this a winner.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michele Soavi

Studio: Angelo Rizzoli

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Second-Hand Hearts (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers on the road.

                Loyal (Robert Blake) meets Dinette (Barbara Harris) and the two immediately get married. He thinks it was on a Thursday, but it might have been on Tuesday because that is the day he got really drunk. After losing his job at a car wash when he pukes all over the inside of a car that he was cleaning he piles Dinette and her three kids into a station wagon and takes them to California where he hopes to find some work and a better future. During the trip the two get to know each other and decide whether their marriage can actually work.

This was done during the time when director Hal Ashby was heavily into drugs and his behavior on and off the set was becoming more and more erratic and the results are obvious here. The first half is slow and boring with scenes that go on too long and have too much extraneous dialogue. The second half when they finally hit the road is an improvement, but not by much. I liked the gritty look of the picture. The dry desert landscape helps accentuate the raw, rough lives of the characters. The scenario is goofy enough that with a delicate touch it could’ve worked, but Ashby seems detached from the material and portrays the characters as goofballs that never seem real, or human.

The road trip itself has a lot of problems as well. The station wagon used is too over-the-top junky. I am not sure what make or model it was, but looks like something from the 50’s that was completely out of place for the time period. Obviously it was chosen to be a comic eyesore but becomes too extreme and makes the characters seem even more like caricatures than they already are. I also found it bizarre that they never ever pass another vehicle during their long trip. Wide shots consistently show them to be the only car on the road. I am a traveler myself that have been to some desolate areas of western Texas and Nebraska, but even then you will pass by another car every now and then. There is also a scene where they have a flat tire and when Luke puts on the spare he finds out that it loses its air, which sends him into a tizzy as they are in the middle of nowhere. Yet the film quickly cuts to the next scene showing them back out on the road without any explanation for how they were able to get it fixed. The only interesting scene is when they are chased down by an angry group of young Mexican men, which helps create some much needed tension, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it.

Harris is great as always. She puts on such an effective accent that for a while I thought it had been dubbed in. Blake is surprisingly good in his comic role and is actually quite funny in his constantly perplexed state. He puts a lot of energy into it and it is a shame that the film is so obscure that no one can appreciate his efforts.

The film would have worked better had it started when the two had first met and went through their whole rushed wedding. Having it begin in the middle doesn’t allow the viewer to have any understanding to the background of these characters and hence impedes any attachment to them. I also didn’t like that the film ends before they ever make it too their destination. The rule for every road movie should be that they must get to where they are going to otherwise it comes off as incomplete. I also don’t like children characters who never say a single word such as the case with the ten year old boy here named Human. This to me always seems freaky and disturbing and not funny like the filmmakers apparently thought it would be. There is also a scene insinuating child molestation that although brief still proves to be unsettling. The loud, blaring country soundtrack is annoying as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, YouTube

Coogan’s Bluff (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cowboy in the city.

            Coogan (Clint Eastwood) is an Arizona Sheriff sent to the Big Apple to extradite a convict back to the desert. The story focuses on the western lawman’s difficulties at adjusting to the big city ways.

One cannot help but compare this film to Dirty Harry. There are vast similarities, but the problem is that Dirty Harry is way better. This film lacks the edge is just plain bland and formulaic. The bad guy here (Don Stroud) doesn’t have the intriguing menacing quality of Andrew Robinson the memorable villain in the Harry film. The villain character is also poorly fleshed out and panics too easily and conveniently. The supporting characters are equally uninteresting and the whole thing seems too much of a showcase for Eastwood and nothing more.

The opening sequence where the viewer is given a bird’s eye view of the majestic desert as Coogan tries to ferret out a renegade criminal is by far the best part of the whole film. One almost wishes that the action had been kept here and not transplanted to the big city as the change of venue really doesn’t create enough intriguing situations.

Tisha Sterling’s performance helps as she does have a few good moments as the deceptive and conniving girlfriend of the convict. David Doyle is also memorable even though his part is quite small. His green corduroy pants is an amusing eye sore and when he unwisely thinks he can beat up Coogan in a barroom brawl it is pretty funny.

I overall like Eastwood and think he has made many superb films in his legendary career, but this one is his most undistinguished and it is easy to see why. It borrows too many elements from his other films without adding anything new in the process. It’s a tired formula the whole way.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Busting (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops on a mission.

            Michael (Elliot Gould) and Patrick (Robert Blake) are two vice cops hauling in prostitutes and drug dealers only to find that are being let go without being charged. They eventually realize that local crime boss Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield) has an inside influence with the police department allowing these criminals to get off. Michael and Patrick decide to turn-the-tables, but this proves dicey as Rizzo’s influence is strong and could cost the two not only their jobs, but also their lives.

The film has a gritty style that nicely captures the rugged street life of its characters. Director Peter Hyams uses his background as a news producer and documentary filmmaker to give the film an authentic quality. His tendency for natural lighting is perfect for this kind of material. The film lacks music at least at the beginning, which is effective as it gives you the feeling that you watching some sort of underground police video especially during the opening sequence. The pounding soundtrack during the chase scenes is okay, but what impressed me was the haunting melody used in some of the other parts that sounded like something you might hear in a thriller, or horror film, but it works because it is an unusual sound for a cop picture. The dialogue is great as it manages to be acerbic and insightful while still remaining realistic.

The first half is hampered by the two’s preoccupation with nabbing a prostitute. I remember watching the old ‘Cops’ TV-show where there would be many episodes detailing elaborate stings that the police would use to nab some otherwise harmless schmuck who was simply looking for a little action. Most who are arrested will go right back to doing it again after being given a light fine, or jail sentence, which to me always seemed wasteful both to the law enforcement’s time and the taxpayer’s money when there are far more serious crimes out there. When the Carl character mocks the two with the line ‘You arrest ten-dollar hookers and think you are Captain Marvel’ I had to laugh and agree. What is even worse is when Michael is off-duty he ends up paying for the services of a call-girl meaning I guess that when he is in the mood himself then it is alright.

The film improves during the second half and includes an exciting foot chase at night inside a sprawling inner-city fruit market. Hyams use of tracking camera shots helps build the tension and I found it interesting that an innocent bystander ends up getting shot and killed as I don’t think I’ve seen that happen in any other police movie. Another chase that happens at the end and involves two ambulances careening down city streets is equally well done.

The cat and mouse game that they play with the crime boss was intriguing enough to keep this viewer interested. Garfield plays the part with his usual hyper-style that makes the character both repellent and human at the same time. The best thing about the film though is that fact that it chooses a somber tone and then sticks with it. Too many times ‘statement movies’ with a downbeat message end up selling-out and become an audience pleaser at the most unlikely moment, but this film doesn’t. I’m not saying that it ends on a depressing note, but it does effectively hit home the fact that police are hampered by a lot of bureaucracy that limits their effectiveness. It also examines the boredom and monotony that can come with the job, which other police dramas rarely if ever touch on.

The film was controversial because of its over-reliance on gay stereotypes during a barroom scene. I was a bit surprised by this because the scene itself is short and the stereotypes shown weren’t too different from other films of the period dealing with the same topic. Michael does refer to them by using the derogatory ‘F-word’, but I am pretty sure that a lot of cops in 1974 used that very same word and since this film was intended to show how things were I was able to go with it. The two also get ganged up on and viciously beaten by the gay patrons that I found to be amusing.

I also have to mention Cornelia Sharpe a former model who had a brief 10 year film career in mostly grade B exploitation pictures. She looks her best here not only during a nude scene that she has with a doctor at his office where she pretends to be one of his patients while really being a prostitute, but also during her appearance in court where she wears a pink hat and dress. I also liked that despite being a hardened hooker she still gives a warm smile to a lonely child sitting in the waiting room.

My only real complaint with the film is that it features one of the tackiest make-up jobs in the history of movies and seriously affects the film’s realism. The scene I refer to is when Michael and Patrick get beat-up by some of Carl’s thugs. The ‘injuries’ to Patrick’s face clearly look like it was smeared on in two seconds with some light red paint.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: United Artists

A Passage to India (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Unjustly accused of rape.

An older woman (Peggy Ashcroft) and her son’s fiancée Adele (Judy Davis) travel to India to visit him as he works as a British Magistrate there. During the course of their visit they come upon the harshness of British rule, the unusual climate, and a rather unexpected criminal trial.

Like with most of Lean’s films the gargantuan approach cannot equal the story. You sit through two hours and forty five minutes only to feel slighted when it is all over. The story plays a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird only it is stretched out more and has a different location. That is not to say it isn’t entertaining, because it is, but only in the most general of ways.

The first hour is downright breezy. It does hit on certain inhumanities and inequalities, but it is all handled with kid gloves. It also seems very similar to Gandhi, which came out only a year earlier. The second half, which involves the court trial, seems almost jarring when compared to the first. It does get more intense and multifaceted, but just when it seems to be getting intriguing it fizzles with a wrap up that is too neat and tidy.

Lean’s films have always had a sort of running theme involving the characters coming to terms with the full scope of their personalities. Yet here their changes seem too abrupt and severe. Adele starts out as a very interesting person. She is independent and idealistic and then having her turn into a confused and bullied woman without any real explanation doesn’t mesh. The same can be said for Aziz (Victor Banjeree) the man she accuses of rape. His character is so benign and affable at the beginning that having him turn so angry and vindictive in the second half seems overdone understandable to some degree, but still overdone. Of course everyone can have these traits at times, but here it gets heavy- handed.

The two best characters consist of Mrs. Moore (Ashcroft) and Fielding (James Fox). Ashcroft is compassionate and strong and it is nice to have an older character where their age isn’t completely embedded into their persona. Fielding is strong and stalwart as well and his very proper sensibilities help keep the whole thing stabilized.

Legendary actor Sir Alec Guinness is badly miscast. Although some of his dispensed wisdom is fun he never completely comes off as a native and the part should have been played by an actual native of the country.

Out of all of Lean’s films this may actually be his weakest. The cinematography is okay, but it is not as sumptuous as some of his others. I wanted to be shown more of India and given a broader perspective of the region. There also could have been a little more action and the characters placed in a little more physical danger. The part where Adele is chased by some wild monkeys is unconvincing especially when you never see her or the monkeys in the same shot.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lean

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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