Monthly Archives: April 2013

Frantic (1988)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is his wife?

Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) and his wife Sondra (Betty Buckley) travel to Paris where he is to take part in a medical conference. They find when they get to the hotel room that they have a suitcase that looks like theirs, but is the wrong one. They call the mistake into baggage claims, but think nothing more of it. As Richard takes a shower his wife gets a call and then disappears. When Richard gets out of the shower he can’t find her anywhere. Asking around he finds some clues that leads him to believe that she was kidnapped and that it may have something to do with the mysterious suitcase.

The film starts out well with an interesting premise and some good Hitchcockian touches, but eventually it becomes just another conventional thriller that gets overblown and is full of loopholes. One that really annoyed me the first time I saw it has to do with Richard going to a local bar to ask if anyone has any information. He does this twice and both times a bar patron that is sitting next to him overhears the conversation and comes up with a crucial bit of information. If this were to happen once it would be considered a really lucky break, but to happen twice makes it seem too convenient and coincidental. However, the biggest plot hole is when the bad guys come to the hotel to kidnap the wife and hold her for ransom until they get their suitcase when instead they should have just taken the suitcase since it was RIGHT THERE to begin with.

Ford’s brash demeanor doesn’t seem particularly right for the part. Normally he can get away with it and even make it charming in a caustic sort of way, but here it doesn’t work. I did like that everything is seen from his point of view and the viewer is as perplexed as he is about the circumstances. One part has him crumpling up a piece of paper and eating it and I kept wondering how many takes they made him go through on that one before they got it right.

Emmanuelle Seigner, who at the time was director Roman Polanski’s girlfriend, comes off best. The two married about a year after the film was released and now 23 years and 2 kids later they are still a couple. She plays Michelle who Richard meets along the way and helps him find the bad guys with her inside information. I liked her youthful appeal and the contrasting ages and perspectives between her and Ford’s character make their scenes together interesting. However, the punk outfit she wears does nothing for her and looks tacky and at this point woefully out of style.

The on-location shooting in Paris helps give the film an extra appeal. I realize this is mainly because of Polanski’s exile there, but it is to the film’s benefit. I liked how the viewer mainly just sees the street scenes and local pubs and roadways giving the whole thing a sort of tourist perspective.

There is one exciting and very well filmed sequence showing Richard walking on a narrow and steep rooftop in order to get into Michelle’s apartment that proves to be the film’s most intense moment. Otherwise this thing never clicks and tends to get less suspenseful as it goes on. For basic entertainment it is okay, but there is little if any payoff. This pales badly alongside Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, which is another film with pretty much the same premise, but instead that one takes things in a much more offbeat, fascinating, and mind-expanding direction.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Alice’s Restaurant (1969)

alices resturaunt 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nobody likes the draft.

Attempt at making a movie out of Arlo Guthrie’s famous 18-minute song, which in itself was based on actual events succeeds for the most part although it seems to be biting off little more than it can chew. Pat Quinn plays Alice a middle-aged woman who along with her husband Ray (James Broderick) buys a church and turns it into a hippie retreat as well as a restaurant. Arlo plays himself and a friend of the couple who helps them in their endeavor. Things go well for a while, but then infighting, the draft, the death of some of the members, and basic overall disorganization do it all in.

Although Guthrie’s song has a bouncy, upbeat, and humorous quality to it the movie works in an opposite fashion. There are a lot of long dramatic takes with a tone that is overall downbeat and depressing. To some extent it succeeds at giving the viewer a vivid look at the late 60’s experience, but compared to the song it seems to be a bit of a letdown. However, there are still some great moments that will connect with you on a purely emotional level. One of them is seeing legendary folk singer Pete Seeger and Arlo playing a song for Arlo’s bedridden father Woody (Joseph Boley) and another includes the sights and sounds of an outdoor wintry funeral for one of their troubled friends.

There are some good comedic moments, but they all come pretty much in the second half making the film seem a bit disjointed and almost like two films rolled into one. The best moments in this area include Arlo’s attempts at dumping out garbage, which features a lot of good quick edits as well as the actual Officer William Obanhein mentioned in the song. Arlo’s army physical is also quite funny especially his experiences in the ‘Group W’ room, which also has an early appearance by character actor M. Emmet Walsh who talks so fast that he becomes incoherent.

The idea of casting Arlo in the lead works to some extent. Obviously the presence in his own story makes it more authentic, but he also seems too detached and shows little if any emotional range. He also looks incredibly young almost like he is only 14.

It is Broderick who comes off best and this is easily his best performance of his otherwise sporadic career. He seems light years away from the more conservative, fatherly figure that he played in the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’ and the fact that the character here is a middle-aged man trying to submerge himself with the youth movement while displaying obvious frailties in the process makes him fascinating to watch and help give the film an added layer.

When I first saw this film years ago I came away feeling that it was too downbeat and disjointed, but upon second viewing I have a greater appreciation for it. It seems now more prophetic and forewarning to the beginning of the end of the hippie movement and how their carefree youthful ideals simply weren’t going to survive amidst the harsh, practical realities of the world that it was in. The long, continuous shot of Alice’s sad, forlorn expression seen at the very end seems to be conveying this and thus makes this movie less of a relic and more perceptive than most people may realize.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Family (1970)

the family

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man wants revenge.

Jeff (Charles Bronson) is a retired hit man who finds himself set-up and nearly killed by girlfriend Vanessa (Jill Ireland). When he unexpectedly survives the ambush he plots his revenge by planning on killing her as well as her secret lover who put her up to it, but along the way he becomes harassed by Al (Telly Savalas) who wants to bring Jeff into their crime organization any way they can.

The movie features a great acid rock-like soundtrack that pumps the adrenaline and gives the proceedings a nice edgy feel. The scene where Jeff shoots a man from a distance while the victim is participating in a car race and blowing out his tire, which sends him crashing through a brick wall, is creative. However, the best part of the whole movie, which comes at the end and almost makes sitting through it worth it, is watching two people getting shot as they ride up a glass elevator by a gunman sitting on top of a roof of a building from across the street.

On the whole though the film, which credits six writers to the screenplay and includes the legendary Lina Wertmuller is rather standard. Somehow it always seems the more people that work on the screenplay the less creative it becomes and this proves no exception. The characters are one-dimensional and the twists aren’t all that clever. Outside of the action sequences the story plods at too slow of a pace and you feel the whole time you are watching it that you’ve seen it all before.

For a savvy hit-man Jeff seems to be too much of a pushover. I can understand getting double-crossed once, but then he keeps going back to Vanessa and she does it to him again and again making him seem like a schmuck. The Vanessa character is equally annoying.  She is too wishy-washy and would have gotten a better emotional response from the viewer had she been better defined, or written as being a complete and total bitch.

Bronson is okay in the lead although he doesn’t have too much to say, which is good. His best moments come when he is silent particularly the scene inside the prison cell when he allows a giant tarantula spider to crawl all over him while he serenely sits smiling and the other prisoners look on with shock and awe.

Ireland looks great as always and shows a lot of skin. There is a scene where there is a close-up of her breasts as well as her backside while she is lying in bed. There is a moment of frontal nudity when she gets out of shower and she can be seen through the slightly fogged glass of the shower door. However, her face is always conveniently hidden during all of these shots making me believe that a body double was used although none is credited.

Savalas, who is the only one that gives the film any real energy, is wasted and doesn’t appear until the second half.

The complete and uncut version of the film done on the recent Blue Underground DVD release features scenes that were omitted from earlier English language prints. Unfortunately because these scenes where never dubbed into English they are shown in their original Italian language format. This becomes quite distracting as characters will be speaking in English and then during the same scene start talking in Italian and then back to English. The DVD features subtitles during these moments, but the version on Amazon Instant Video, which is what I saw, doesn’t. What is worse is the fact that these added scenes really don’t add much and they could have just been left on the cutting room floor. Fans will many times flock to purchase the ‘complete and uncut’ versions of films while failing to realize that there was probably a reason this extra footage was cut in the first place, which is namely that they were perceived as being boring or pointless and usually are.

If you are looking for non-think formula action that has just enough style to make it passable then this film should fit the bill, but it is no classic.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Violent City

Released: September 17, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Sollima

Studio: Universal Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video (as ‘Violent City’)

Happiness (1998)

happiness 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Happiness can be elusive.

Sharply tuned, interweaving group of vignettes all pertaining to that elusive paradox known as happiness. Jane Adams plays the single woman who is never able to find Mr. Right. Then when she thinks she does he turns into very much of a Mr. Wrong. Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara, who are in what is probably the funniest segment, play an older couple whose marriage has lost its zing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in another dynamic performance, plays the composite nerd who gets off on giving obscene phone calls. Then there’s Camryn Manheim a woman everyone overlooks, but shouldn’t because she holds a dangerous secret.

There are times when this otherwise good film tries to be a little too hip and trendy, which doesn’t help. Although the characters are quite interesting in their eccentricities, they never seem to interact with each other like real people even if they are a little strange. In the case of Lara Flynn Boyle her affected way of talking becomes quite annoying.

On the whole though this film is quite compelling and has moments that really pack a punch. Although billed as a dark comedy it is really more of a drama. In the case of the affluent psychiatrist (Dylan Baker), who has a sexual penchant for his young son’s friend, it becomes downright unsettling and disturbing.

Yet it is the inner angst of these characters and how they deal with modern daily life that truly is what hits home. These people are complex and at times very confused with themselves. They are socially and sexually dysfunctional. They may, despite your reluctance, remind you or your own friends, co-workers, and family or even yourself. It truly shows how fragmented our society is and even gives us a hint as to why. After all how can one connect with someone else when they are so disconnected with themselves?

This is, as a whole, a great movie. It has scenes and characters that will stay with you long after it is over. However, only a select few will really enjoy it. Namely those who enjoy seeing things torn down and then exposed for what they really are.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1998

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: Todd Solondz

Studio: Good Machine

Available: DVD

Working Girl (1988)

working girl

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s moving on up.

Tess (Melanie Griffith) is a 30-year-old secretary working at an acquisition and investment firm on Wall Street and looking to move her way up. She comes up with an investment strategy for one of the company’s clients and passes the idea off to her boss Katherine (Sigourney Weaver) who says she’ll run the idea by some of her superiors. A few days later Katherine tells Tess that her idea was not well received and then Katherine goes on a skiing trip and breaks her leg. In her absence Tess looks after Katherine’s house and finds a memo on Katherine’s home computer were she tries to make Tess’s investment idea seem like her own. Tess decides to get her revenge by pretending to have more authority than she does and going directly to the client with her idea. In the process she meets fellow executive Jack (Harrison Ford) who helps her with her ploy while also starting up a romance with her.

The movie starts out well creating a believable office atmosphere that nicely balances the humor that keeps everything on a realistic believable level. Too many times office comedies have characterizations that are too broad, which thankfully is not the case here. The romance between Jack and Tess is not forced and the sparkle they share seems real and does not bog down the story like in certain films, but instead helps compel it.

Unfortunately the second half falls too much into the same old formula. The climatic showdown is protracted and contrived. Certain twists are thrown in that instead of making the story more interesting helps only to make it less believable. The wrap-up is too neat and tidy as well as having a Frank Capraesque quality that get poured on too strong ultimately making this film despite its good start fluffy and superficial.

Griffith does well in the lead. She plays a character that is relatable and likable although I did feel that she becomes discouraged a little too easily. I also didn’t like the way that she goes back to her boyfriend Mick (Alec Baldwin) even after she caught him cheating on her, which to me seemed to make her weak. Although the film features a plethora of women with the puffy 80’s hairstyle (for some reason you will probably see more of that hairstyle here than in just about any other 80’s movie) I felt it looked great on her. The scene where she is walking down the street after she has it cut short and wave put in it makes her look almost exactly like her mother Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

Ford is again impressive while he takes a role that tests his acting range and on-screen persona. Instead of being the dominating self-assured character that he usually is he instead is more pensive and subdued while letting the women around dominate the proceedings. He is also quite amusing. The scene where he warns Tess about his potentially messy apartment is funny as is the part where he puts on a new dress shirt while still in his office. However, his best moment comes with the amusing way he gets himself out of a jam when he is caught going to the bathroom while inside the stall of a ladies restroom.

Baldwin is perfect as the no-good boyfriend. He looks downright boyish here almost like he is barely out of puberty. He also gets the film’s best line, which occurs when Tess walks in on him in bed with a naked woman on top of him and he states “This is not what it looks like.”

The only performance that I did have a problem with was Joan Cusack as Tess’s friend Cyn. Her Brooklyn accent is much too heavy and her puffy hairstyle looks larger than her entire head. Her eye shadow gives her almost a clown-like appearance and whether she was intended for comic-relief or not nothing she says is funny.

Carly Simon scores with her rousing theme ‘Let the River Run’, which won the Academy Award. The aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty that is shown at the beginning as well as the Manhatten skyline captured during the closing credits ties in nicely with Carly’s vocals.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist which comes during the second half where it is found that Jack is secretly seeing Katherine as his girlfriend was too much of a coincidence that did not make the story more interesting. There is clearly no chemistry between Katherine and Jack in their scene together and it is the one spot in the film where things get overblown. It also makes Weaver’s character needlessly campy and deluded. Having Tess accidently drop her day planner literally at Katherine’s feet, which is where she finds out about Tess’s involvement with Jack is way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too convenient and a serious sign of weak and uninspired writing on behalf of screenwriter Kevin Wade.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

send me no flowers 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hypochondriac thinks he’s dying.

Seriously funny story about hypochondriac George (Rock Hudson) overhearing a conversation from his Dr. (Edward Andrews) about one of his patients having only a short time to live and mistakenly thinking he was talking about him. He decides to set his beautiful wife Judy (Doris Day) up with another potential mate before he leaves, but she starts to get the idea that this is all just a cover-up for an affair that she thinks he is having, which creates all-out calamity.

Screenwriter Julius J. Epstein, who based this on the stageplay of the same name, hits all the right cylinders. The comedy shifts smoothly between engaging banter, parody, satire, and action. One of the best moments comes at the beginning with animated sequence of commercial parodies.

Hudson is great. Playing a dopey guy lost in his own little world works with his acting style. He and Day have a good chemistry and it is a shame that this was the third and last film that they did together.

The supporting cast is at the top of their game. Andrews is funny as the flippant Dr. Paul Lynde is also amusing as an aggressive cemetery plot salesman. Tony Randall is the funniest as George’s long-suffering friend Arnold. His new found fetish of ‘feeling tables’ is hilarious as is his frequent revisions of George’s eulogy, which he reads to him to ‘cheer him up’.  Although actor Clint Walker isn’t funny in his performance the shot showing this giant of a man getting out of one of the smallest cars you’ll ever see is a crazy sight.

Day is energetic and gorgeous as ever and I liked her opening title tune in which she sounds almost like Lesley Gore. However, the best moments go to the rest of the cast and she is left with slapstick segments that have nothing to do with the story. The scene where she takes all of George’s medications from the medicine cabinet and puts them into a bucket, which she then dumps onto his head while standing on a balcony is good, but the rest of her scenes don’t really gel.

One scene with her gets botched and involves her driving an out-of-control golf cart. The close-up shots make it obvious that she is in front of a blue screen and not really driving it to begin with. However, there is a moment where she drives through a bunch of sprinklers which makes her hair all wet and matted down, but then the camera cuts to some long shots showing her hair is still dry and fluffy, which exposes the fact that it was being driven by a stunt double wearing a wig.

There is another segment where she gets into a car and starts it up and even backs it out a little before she realizes that it is not her car. Another scene later on has George doing the same thing with another stranger’s car. Both times it is because the keys were conveniently left in the ignition, but how many times does this occur in real life? Since neither of these segment had anything really to do with the story and weren’t all that funny I would have left it out since both moments especially to happen twice are implausible.

The movie ends with a shot of the empty medicine cabinet while the credits scroll over it. Supposedly this was used to symbolize that George was now ‘cured’ of his hypochondria and no longer needed all of the medications, but mental illness is not something that just goes away and I thought it would have been funnier had medicines started to pop back into the cabinet until it became full again.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Chino (1973)

chino 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck and the kid.

Jamie (Vincent Van Patten) is a teen runaway in the old west that comes upon an isolated horse ranch run by Chino (Charles Bronson) who is ostracized by the locals for being a ‘half-breed’.  Chino reluctantly takes the boy under his wings and teaches him about how to take care of horses, but neither of them can completely escape the racism and hatred around them.

Filmed in Spain the rustic countryside has a certain visual appeal and the low-key music is a perfect score for this type of western. There is a barroom brawl and a shootout at the end, but overall this is standard stuff with little to help make it stand out. Everything this movie has to offer you’ve seen before and in most cases done better. That is not to say it is a bad movie, but it is lacking in imagination and seems content to simply borrow from an already overused formula. While the pacing isn’t exactly slow it isn’t compelling either. The characterizations, plot, and dialogue are held at the most simplistic level and if it weren’t for a brief bit of nudity by an attractive native woman I would almost say this thing was aimed solely for kids.

Bronson doesn’t show much range of emotion here and comes off in the wooden way his critics have always accused him of although he is still good in the action sequences. Jill Ireland’s appearance helps add a bit of life to the proceedings and the antagonistic banter that the two share while he tries to train her to ride a horse is fun to a minor extent as it the part where she walks in on him as he is standing buck-naked in a bathtub. However, having them fall in love so quickly and then want to get married is rushed and forced.

It is fun seeing Vincent Van Patten as a young teen, but his interaction with Bronson is dull. Their eventual ‘bonding’ is formulaic and clichéd and only helps in cementing this as a forgettable, pointless, low-budget foray.

The real stars of the picture are the horses that show much more of a screen presence than their human counterparts. In fact during the first half you see more of them than the people, which is just as well. There is even a shot showing two of them mating, which is the film’s sole unique moment and for some possibly even the highpoint.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

mosquito coast 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Moving to the jungle.

Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) is a disgruntled, eccentric, and angry inventor who feels that the United States has lost its soul. When his new ice making invention is not met with the enthusiasm that he expects he decides to move to the jungles of Central America and start a whole new society of his own in his own vision while taking his wife and four kids with him.

Filmed mostly in the country of Belize Director Peter Weir does a terrific job of capturing the flavor of the region. The plot progresses in a slow linear fashion making the viewer feel that they are traveling along and experiencing the same things right along with the characters. I found myself more entranced with the unique sounds of the exotic birds and insects of the region than the visuals. There are definite shades of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Sam Peckinpah’s Ballad of Cable Hogue were we watch a man verging on sheer madness build a town from nothing while injecting his control and passion on all those around him.

Watching Allie’s vision and town come to life is fascinating and satisfying, which makes up most of the film’s first hour. However, the second hour deals with his eventual self-destruction and watching the whole place go up literally in flames and due mainly to his self-absorbed arrogant nature is rather depression and agonizing to go through. Having the man turn into an out-of-control tyrant that alienates those around him even his own family is telegraphed from the very beginning. Instead of being an insightful character study it is instead more like a draining experience that makes the viewer feel as exhausted and run over as Allie’s beleaguered family.

Helen Mirren’s character as the mother is poorly defined and becomes rather frustrating in the process. She seems like an intelligent woman with sufficient self-esteem, so it became baffling to me why she would go along with this nut of a husband and follow him loyally on all of his bizarre tangents. She does finally have an emotional breakdown of sorts near the end, but I felt that should have occurred way earlier like before they even left on their crazy journey. By remaining so passive and compliant to Allie and towing her four young children along with it made me almost believe that she was crazier than he was. Some may argue that she was ‘madly in-love’ with the man and therefore overlooked his many personality flaws, but it seemed to be taking that concept too much to the extreme.

River Phoenix and Jadrien Steele are excellent as Allie’s two sons. Both have amazingly expressive faces and the viewer finds themselves sharing most of their empathy with them. Watching them start out as idolizing their father and then learning to hate him only to grieve for him at the end is touching. My only complaint is the voice-over narration by Phoenix, which to me came off as unnecessary and heavy-handed.

Ford took a risky career move by playing a character that is not too likable, but I applaud his decision. A true actor takes roles that demand going out of the safety zone and for the most part he succeeds. I liked how he brings a certain level of humor to the otherwise abrasive character particularly when he goes on long and uncontrolled rants to the natives while they are helping to build his town and many respond with lost looks on their faces while he talks to them. My favorite part is when he lectures a young boy about America’s inflation while being drowned out by the noise of a chainsaw that he is using. . I realize the scar on his chin is from a car accident that he had in the 60’s, but there were so many close-ups of his face and you see it so vividly that I felt there should have been some explanation for it written into the script, which has been done in some of his other films.

Andre Greagory is fun as the missionary who comes to odds with the opinionated Allie. He supplies just the right balance of menace and humor to the role. The televised sermon that he gives while using props is funny. It is fun to see Butterfly McQueen in her last movie role as well as spotting a young Jason Alexander as a hardware store clerk. Martha Plimpton has a nice sarcastic way about her as River’s potential girlfriend and it is good to see a teen love interest that has more of a plain look and not some model taken straight off the cover of Seventeen Magazine.

The idea of showing how modern day suburbia has destroyed the rugged individualist, but how trying to rough it in the wilderness could pretty much end in the same way is a good one. However, the movie tends to be too downbeat and unbalanced. It is based on the Paul Theroux novel, which I suspect is probably better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Cul-De-Sac (1966)

cul de sac 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bubbling beneath the surface.

Albie and Richard (Jack MacGowran, Lionel Stander) are two gangsters on the run. Albie is injured with a gunshot wound and their getaway car has broken down. They come upon an isolated castle owned by George (Donald Pleasance) who lives there with his new wife Teresa (Francoise Dorleac, who tragically died in a car accident just one year after this film was released). George is very passive and timid and pretty much allows Richard to have his way as he takes over the place and his wife and yet as the situation progresses different shades of the character’s personalities begin to come to light.

Roman Polanski leaves his strong directorial touch from the exquisite opening shot, which shows an old car being pushed along on a desolate road amidst a very flat landscape until the end. In the hands of any other director this otherwise odd story probably would not have worked. Like with A Knife in Water Polanski makes great use of the quiet and serene atmosphere and as a viewer you feel like you are right there with the characters.  Filmed on-location at the Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island in Northumberland, England the movie makes great use of the tranquil setting. I found it almost hard to believe that there was a film crew there as the isolation really grabs you and sucks you in. The quiet moments are the film’s strongest and I just loved the hooting owl heard in the background. The idea of filming it in black and white nicely compliments the film’s dark psychological undertones.

The film’s novelty is watching how the characters evolve and interact with one another. Donald Pleasance gives one of his best performances as the cowardly George. There have been many weak and frighten characters in cinema history, but Pleasance makes the character here quite interesting and the way he finally shows some bravado at the least likely moment is fascinating. Stander also excels with a character that initially comes off as a brute, but at strange times reveals a trusting and even child-like manner.

The movie can be viewed in different ways and doesn’t fit distinctly into any type of genre. To a degree it can work as a dark psychological character study, a mystery, film noir, a thriller, or macabre comedy. Approaching it as a comedy works best Polanski has not always had great success in that area and some of his comedies in particular the ill-advised Pirates have been complete disasters, but this one works. The best scene is when some of George’s old friends come to visit and bring along their bratty son who becomes an absolute terror to everyone.

The odd ending is open to interpretation and leaves a lasting impression. This is also a great chance to see Jacqueline Bisset in her film debut. She appears during the second half wearing glasses and saying little, but is as beautiful and alluring as ever.

cul de sac 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 7, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Tekli British Productions

Available: DVD (The Criterion Collection) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Breakheart Pass (1976)

breakheart pass 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck’s on a train.

John Deacon (Charles Bronson) is a prisoner on a train headed Fort Humboldt. The train is carrying medical supplies to help the people there who are suffering from a plague outbreak. Amongst the passengers on the train is a Governor (Richard Crenna) a U.S. Marshal (Ben Johnson), a priest (Bill McKinney) and a load of Calvary soldiers, but as the ride progresses strange things begin to happen. People disappear and then turn up dead. Everyone seems to have a secret to hide and what is inside the boxes labeled medical supplies isn’t medicine.

This is the first Bronson/Ireland production to be given a big budget and the wintry Rocky Mountain landscape is sumptuous. The plot itself is intriguing and full of interesting twists that grabs you right from the start and keeps you enthralled until the end. Based on the Alister Maclean novel who also wrote the script it is no surprise that it seems more like a spy/espionage thriller than a conventional western yet there is enough gritty elements to keep it passable at both ends. The mixture of the two genres is unique and exciting and for a bubblegum actioner this one hits the mark.

The stuntwork is impressive and one of the film’s highpoints. Some of the best moments are when a man is thrown from a train and you see him fall from a bridge all the way to the river below. What makes this stand out is that the conventional, lightweight mannequin was thankfuly not used. Instead it looks like a real human body that even thumps along the wooden posts of the bridge as it goes down making it vivid. Watching the trainload of soldiers spiral off the tracks and go crashing along the mountainside has the same realistic quality. The fight on top of one of the snowy train cars between Bronson and former boxer Archie Moore is well choreographed and the scene of a telegraph operator getting a bullet shot through his head is surprisingly graphic.

The supporting cast is good and for a while they outshine Bronson who seems in a way outclassed by their colorful personalities and different acting styles. However, as it evolves Bronson comes into his own and it becomes a lot of fun watching the way he singlehandedly outsmarts and outmuscles all of them.

Ireland is beautiful as always and manages to hold her own to the otherwise all male cast. The music becomes an excellent added element. The booming orchestral sound of the opening theme is reminiscent of ones used in classic westerns. The unique score played whenever the Indians appear on screen has an interesting beat and sound. This is an entertainment winner for not only Bronson fans, but for action lovers as well.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video