Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Four Seasons (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car goes through ice.

This is an easygoing comedy-drama detailing three middle-aged couples who take vacations together during each season of the year. As the seasons change so does the level of their friendships. The chemistry of the group begins to unravel when Nick (Len Cariou) decides to divorce his wife Anne (Sandy Dennis) and bring along his attractive new young girlfriend Ginny (Bess Armstrong) on their trips. The women still feel a loyalty to Anne while Ginny makes the men more self-conscious about their age and virility.

This is certainly an interesting idea with lots of potential. The film has a good handle on the politics of friendship and how even the best of them can have underlying jealousies and misunderstandings. It also shows the tendency of how friends like to smooth things over by putting on a happy face and never really getting to the bottom of the issue.

It’s also refreshing in our youth obsessed culture to have a film focus solely on middle- aged people and have them actually act the part. The situations and their responses to them as well as the conversations all seem very authentic. There’s also some terrific outdoor photography and a great classical music score by Vivaldi.

Carol Burnett is the real surprise. Usually known for her over- the- top comedic performances she puts together a good low key dramatic one here. Weston though steals the film with his somewhat hammy performance as Danny the dentist and his reactions at seeing his prized new car go through the ice is amusing.

Like with a lot of movies written and directed by Alan Alda the film is too dramatically light. There is not enough conflict and it never reaches any peak. The dialogue needs to be crisper and some of the little ‘spats’ that the couples have particularly the one between Danny (Jack Weston) and Claudia (Rita Moreno) at the end seem forced and unfunny. The final result is rather empty and extraneous.

Be warned the film also features the worst rendition of “Strangers in the Night” that you will ever want to hear.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Secret Ceremony (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women in weird relationship.

Lenora (Elizabeth Taylor) is a lonely woman who lost her young daughter tragically years before and now finds herself strangely attracted to Cenci (Mia Farrow) a young woman who resembles her. The two move into a large mansion only to have things begin to unravel upon the arrival of Cenci’s weird and menacing father (Robert Mitchum).

The story is bizarre and perverse enough to keep you watching all the way through although it will certainly test the tolerance to those who do not have an affinity for the offbeat. The cinematography is excellent as is the mansion setting. The use of Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown as sneering elderly sisters gives the film some added flavor.

Farrow is genuinely convincing as a grown woman stuck in a childlike trance, but Taylor doesn’t seem completely right for her part. A different actress, especially a character actress would have been much better.

Although the film does manage to come together in the end it does take a long time to get there. There are a lot of slow spots and the patience of some viewers may be tested. There are also many intriguing elements simmering underneath the surface that the film fails to follow through on, but should have.

Fans of Joseph Loosey should find this satisfying while others may be put off by the odd characters and style of narrative.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Joseph Loosey

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Stingray (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This car goes fast.

This film is being reviewed by request. It is the story of two young men named Al and Elmo (Christophe Mitchum, Les Lannon) who purchase a red corvette unaware that there are bags of cocaine stashed in the back put there by some criminals on the run. Eventually they find out about it, but are then chased by the bad guys who will stop at nothing to get it back.

I’m not sure if Retrohound, who is the one who requested that this be reviewed, really likes this movie, or simply has some nostalgic connections to it. Either way I found it to be poor at all levels. It starts out as a gritty southern tinged action drama and it might of worked had it stayed that way, but then it devolves into slapstick comedy and becomes a pointless mess. The humor is corny and borrows every cliché from every 70’s good ole boy car chase flick until it is mind numbing. Any tension or interest in the plot is sucked out. The music during the chase sequences sounds too much like it were made for a cartoon, or kiddie flick and sophistication wise that is where this production is at. This is the type of film that gives yahoo action comedies, which already on the bottom of the cinematic genre totem pole, a bad name.

The two leads are bland and cardboard. Christopher Mitchum, who is the son of Robert Mitchum and looks almost exactly like him except his eyes aren’t as squinty, is terrible. His acting ability wouldn’t even pass in a high school play and it is obvious that he managed to sneak into starring in B-movies based on his name and connections than on any talent. I also thought it was really dumb how the two boys pick up a sexy hitchhiker halfway through. The part is played by Sondra Theodore a former Playboy Playmate and all she does is sit there looking pretty without saying hardly anything, which carries the concept of eye candy too much to the extreme. The character is never given any name and she is billed simply as ‘The Girl’ during the end credits, which is pretty much all she is and although this was her film debut it is no surprise that her career did not last much longer after this.

I did enjoy Sherry Jackson as the vulgar and tenacious Abigail Bratowski who will do whatever it takes to get the drugs back and won’t be intimated by any man. With the exception of William Watson who plays fellow bad guys Lonnigan she seems to be the only one here that can act and the only reason I gave this film one point. She is also involved in the film’s one memorable moment when she lights an obnoxious guy’s crotch on fire. Her handling of a giant bulldozer is impressive as well.

Normally it is the stunt work that gives these otherwise low-grade flicks any merit, but I didn’t see anything here that hasn’t been shown a half dozen times in other car chase movies. The only exciting moment for me was when a camera was hooked up to the sides of the cars and you could view the chase at almost highway level as they streaked across the winding country roads at incredible speeds.

I liked that it was filmed on-location in St. Louis. A variety of interesting locales is chosen including a woodsy area for the motorbike chase as well as back alleyways featuring a lot of rundown brick buildings. The best is the final segment taking place on an old bridge overlooking the Mississippi. Great use is made of the bridge’s rusted, shadowy architecture and one also gets a great view of St Louis’s 1970’s skyline.

The opening credits, which glows in rhythm to a roaring engine is kind of cool, but otherwise I was unable to get into this movie at any point and really couldn’t believe how vapid and uninspired it was. A 101 minute runtime is much, much too long for something with such a paper thin plot. The only thing this film succeeds at is become increasingly more annoying as it goes along and it is too stupid to be even passably entertaining.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Taylor

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, YouTube

Wildcats (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goldie coaches boy’s football.

Due to football season starting on Wednesday I have decided to incorporate a football themed movie for today’s 80’s movie review. It is story about a divorced mother of two (Goldie Hawn), who coaches a high school girl’s track team, but decides she wants to live out her dreams by coaching football instead. Unfortunately the only football job she can find is with a losing boys’ team in a tough inner-city high school.

This is a very uninspired, by the numbers ‘feel good’ sports movie. There actually seems to be more drama than comedy and what little comedy you get really isn’t very funny. Having a woman coach a boy’s football team would be enough of a challenge, but forcing her to do it in a tough inner-city school seems unnecessary. The players are one-dimensional and uninteresting. Even Hawn’s character is dull although Hawn herself is still engaging. The climactic game sequence is so predictable and full of clichés that it becomes almost excruciating to sit through. The film is also plagued by having that annoying 80’s music sound.

On the plus side I found it fun to watch Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in their film debuts. It is also great to see Nipsey Russell although they don’t give him enough to do. He looks like he was only 38 even though, at the time, he was actually 68!  Thad Thacker who is very large physically is amusing and the only interesting player on the whole team. His acting is nothing exceptional, but his ‘con-man’ routine has its moments. Actor James Keach, who plays the stereotypical ‘jerky’ ex-husband, ends up giving a surprisingly sturdy performance.

Overall the film is dull and predictable and hardly good for even a few cheap laughs. Why some people think this is so funny is beyond me because everything that is done here has been done better somewhere else.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Big Bounce (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She is really crazy.

Based on the Elmore Leonard novel and remade in 2004 as a vehicle for Owen Wilson this version stars Ryan O’Neal as Jack Ryan a Vietnam vet on the run when he has a physical altercation with a player during a baseball game that leaves the other man injured and looking for revenge. He meets up with Ray Ritchie (James Daly) and his mistress/secretary Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) who is a bit on the wild side. She convinces Jack to help her rob her boss of a large amount of money that he has hidden away in his safe, but Jack becomes wary as Nancy displays more and more psychotic tendencies.

I enjoyed the film’s jaded sensibilities, but unfortunately it doesn’t do enough with them. There is too much talk without enough action. The plot is thin and unfocused. I spent the entire time wanted the story to get moving, but it really never does until the very end and by then it is too late. The scenes are lengthy and the production has too plodding a pace. I also didn’t like the fact that they discuss the robbery, but never go through with it. Nothing is more frustrating than an already draggy movie having a potentially interesting plot progression only to drop it.

I also couldn’t stand the music which sounded like men from a barbershop quartet and gets overplayed until it becomes annoying. The melody was too soft and mellow and did not fit the edgy tone of the script, or characters. This is the type of film that needed an up-tempo score with hard and fast beat.

For what it is worth Taylor -Young is good. She gets convincingly crazy and has a near epic meltdown at the end. She also has a tantalizing scene involving her swimming nude, which is only topped by another scene showing her standing naked in the middle of graveyard while pretending to be a statue.

O’Neal is okay although I felt some other actors might have been better, but at least he improves as the film progresses. The two stars were married in real-life at the time and I presume the producers cast them in the parts hoping that their chemistry would project onto the screen, but it never does and they ended up divorced four years later.

Van Heflin is great in a supporting role as Sam Mirakian a cynical and detached man who has seen it all. He brings the film some much needed energy. Lee Grant is also terrific and it was a crime that she wasn’t given more screen time. She makes her desperate and emotionally brittle character real and interesting. Cindy Eilbacher is quite adorable as her young daughter Cheryl. Robert Webber also deserves mention as he is amusing playing a man trying to be tough and intimidating, but ending up always looking like a schmuck.

I never saw the remake, but heard from several people that it wasn’t too great either. I dare say the novel is the best of the three and both film versions are worth skipping.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alex March

Studio: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video