Monthly Archives: December 2013

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

lonely are the brave

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A modern day cowboy.

Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) is a loner cowboy still trying to live the lifestyle of the old west in the modern day world and who must elude the police and all of their modern technologies when he escapes from jail.

Kirk is excellent. He really connects with the character and allows the viewer to do the same. The cinematography is first rate with spectacular shots of the western landscape. The cowboy’s escape through the rugged terrain as well as the police pursuit is exciting most to the way and there is a terrific well-choreographed barroom brawl between Douglas and actor Bill Raisch who later went on to star as the one-armed man in ‘The Fugitive’ TV-series. This is also a great chance to see some young actors just starting out including Carroll O’Connor and Bill Bixby.

On the negative end I wasn’t too crazy about Walter Matthau and William Schallert as the two policemen who are played too much for laughs. Some of their goofy exchanges are amusing, but it hurts the tension. I also disliked the ending. It does indeed leave an impression and was obviously done to make a statement, but it is not completely effective and is a real downer. It also leaves too many issues open including whether the Douglas character was able to survive.

The high production values help immensely and the story structure keeps things interesting and offbeat as well as exciting. The film though cannot overcome its ending, which isn’t very original and no more profound than hundreds of other stories and movies dealing with the same subject.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal

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

The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)

hellstrom chronicle

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bugs rule the world.

Basically this is nothing more than a nature film quite similar to the ones you saw in grade school. The only difference here is that it is overblown with silly dramatic elements and ‘scare’ tactics that make it seem much more important than it really is. Pretty much it’s just microscopic photography of bugs and insects as it examines their behavior and the fact that they are more adaptable to their environments than humans and therefore in the long run the survival rate of their species is higher.

When it sticks to the science part it can be interesting and even captivating. Raw nature up close can’t be beat just seeing the basic transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is fun. There is also a cool close-up view of a Venus flytrap plant catching its prey and an exciting battle between fighter termites and army ants trying to invade their fortress. There are also an intriguing look at the bee community, fire ants, and the ugly habits of a black widow spider.

Where the film falls apart is when it tries to be this faux documentary and brings in actor Lawrence Pressman to play a fictionalized scientist named Nells Hellstrom. At the time Pressman was just starting out so not many viewers knew that he was actually an actor. Now it is quite obvious and it seriously hurts the credibility of the entire picture. What’s more is that they overplay the whole ‘mad scientist’ bit. They have his hair disheveled, his eyes glazed over and he talks about how his obsession with bugs has cost him many friends and jobs. It becomes laughable especially when you realize all of his ‘major findings’ are rudimentary and generalized.

There is also a segment where they have ‘Candid Camera’-like experiments showing everyday people’s reactions when they come across bugs at unlikely places. Supposedly these are non-scripted, but they come-off more like a set-up. One has a man sitting at a restaurant eating a salad. When he finds a bug in it he merely pushes it away and continues to just sit there. Anyone else would most certainly holler at the waitress and demand a new salad or their money back.

The technology at their research labs looks horribly dated. Their own thesis, which is in the end bugs are superior to man, is really full-of-holes. So what if they are able to survive in a chemically infested polluted environment where man could not. Who would want to live there anyways? Simply watch this film for its nature aspect and tune out the rest of the drivel. Some of the scenes get a bit explicit so don’t watch on a full stomach either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated G

Director: Walon Green

Studio: Wolper Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Streetwalkin’ (1985)

streetwalkin

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway turns to prostitution.

The actress I had a crush on when I was growing up was Julie Newmar best known as Catwoman from the old ‘Batman’ TV-series. I know that there have been several other actresses that have played the part, but Julie always brought in a sensual level that the others didn’t.  She also had a perfect hour glass figure and in that skin tight costume what man young or old could resist her. The fact that she balanced her performances with a hammy side, which the producers allowed her to freely ad-lib, is what always made her appearances on the show for me as an 11-year old kid, much anticipated and special.

Her Catwoman role was by far not the only thing that she did as she also starred in her own series as Rhoda the Robot in the TV-show ‘My Living Doll’ with Bob Cummings. She was also nominated for an Emmy for her performance in two memorable episodes of the classic series ‘Route 66’. In fact her performance here as the quirky non-conformist Vicki Russell I feel is the best of her career and now that this great show is finally available on DVD it would be well worth checking out.

Her movie credits aren’t too bad either. She co-starred in the classic 50’s musical ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ and also recreated her Tony award winning role as an over-sexed Swedish woman tempting her staid American host (James Mason) into fathering her baby. She also starred in ‘For Love or Money’ with Kirk Douglas and ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ with Gregory Peck. This was probably her best film performance as she plays a volatile and aggressive Indian woman and has no dialogue, but does appear nude from the backside.

In 1977 she married for the first time and dropped out of the business in order to spend more time with her husband. However, by 1983 it had ended in divorce and when she tried to get back into the movies she found the pickings to be slim. She co-starred with Tina Louise (Ginger from ‘Gilligan’s Island) in a film called ‘Evils of the Night’ that looked like it was made on a budget that wouldn’t be enough to buy a happy meal at McDonald’s. Her other film roles from the 80’s and 90’s weren’t much better with the possible exception being this one.

Here she plays the part of Queen Bee an older prostitute who befriends Cookie (Melissa Leo) who has run away from home with her brother and just starting out as a streetwalker. When Cookie realizes that her pimp/boyfriend Duke (Dale Midkiff) has beaten up her friend Heather (Deborah Offner) she becomes afraid of him and decides to start working for a new pimp. When the vengeful Duke becomes aware of the betrayal he begins to stalk her, which forces her to go on the run.

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For the most part I found this film to be redundant. Yes it is hard hitting and at times quite vulgar and graphic, but it really doesn’t show anything we haven’t seen before. The storyline is basic and predictable. The scene where Duke beats up Heather is unpleasant and a bit unsettling. If this film managed to give us some new insight into the life of a prostitute I might have given it some credit, but it doesn’t and instead becomes intent in wallowing in its own sordidness.

Of course if you’re into trashy cinema then this thing might do the trick (no pun intended). The film has a tight pace and it is never boring. The fight scenes are well choreographed and for the most part realistic looking and for whatever reason I found myself caught up in the story during the second half and seeing whether our heroine would escape the relentless psycho.

Leo is excellent and it is no surprise that she would later go on to have an impressive acting career and even win the Oscar. She shows a nice vulnerability and creates a character that is real and appealing.

Midkiff is impressive as the brutal pimp. The part where he tears up Cookie’s apartment in a psychotic rage is intense and well handled.

Newmar isn’t seen much in the first half, but comes on strong at the end. I loved seeing her shooting at Duke with a gun and when he escapes out onto the streets she gets into a car and tries running him down, which is pretty cool.  Having an older actress mixed in with a lot of younger ones creates a nice balance and hearing an actress who I grew up seeing on a kid’s show and now hearing her spew out the F-bomb is kind of funny.

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Like I said personal taste will dictate whether you like this or not, but it is interesting to note that besides Leo and Midkiff a lot of other young performers got their start here, which then blossomed into successful careers. The others include: Randall Batinkoff, Greg Germann, Khandi Alexander and Leon, which is impressive and should make this a much sought after curio by fans who wish to see their favorite actor when they were just starting out.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joan Freeman

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

The Ice Storm (1997)

the ice storm 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex in the 70’s.

The sexual escapades between the various members of two neighboring households in the 1970’s are examined as well as the unexpected results.

This is definitely one of director Ang Lee’s best efforts to date. Some of his other films have been overrated and a bit protracted and yet here everything clicks perfectly. It is great to see Sigourney Weaver in an unusual role and sporting a unique hairstyle. The quirky interplay between both the adults and teenagers is interesting and revealing. It is nice to have a period piece and in this case the 70’s, that doesn’t feel the need to drown the viewer with heavy and unnecessary period detail. The use of the ice storm as a dramatic motif is well done and Joan Allen’s performance as the betrayed wife is especially strong. The ‘key party’ scene is amusing and the overall themes that this film conveys are universal and easily relatable.

On the negative end it seems like the filmmakers have never experienced an actual ice storm because if they had it would have been done differently. The main issue is that the moisture should come down in the form of ice pellets or sleet, not like actual rain that just forms into ice once it hits the ground. Also, when one has to drive after an ice storm, which I have done many times, it is important and necessary to scrap off the ice from not only the front window, but the side windows and the rear one as well. Kevin Kline’s character drives his car the next day while only having scraped the ice off the front window. Not only is this completely impractical, but it would also make it a very serious driving hazard. The conclusion, which is intended to be powerful, seems a bit aloof and doesn’t have the impact that it should and would have worked better had we been able to see all the character’s reactions.

Overall this is a movie that comes through on its vision and is a good independent film for the sophisticated viewer.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1997

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ang Lee

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Street Girls (1975)

street girls

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for daughter.

Angel (Christine Souder) is a young woman out on her own for the very first time. To make ends meet she gets a job at a topless bar, but this leads to working as a prostitute and getting hooked onto heroin by her brutal pimp boyfriend. When her father Sven (Art Burke) goes searching for her he finds himself swept in the seedy side of life and the people who populate it almost as much as her.

This otherwise low budget and forgotten film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the first feature credited to Barry Levinson as the screenwriter who also worked as the assistant cameraman during the production. Levinson has never talked about it in any interview and it is easy to see why. The script is filled with a lot of rambling dialogue that goes nowhere. The story is basic and boring and seems preoccupied with taking advantage of the ‘shock value’ of its topic which these days has lessened.  It’s more clichéd than anything although the scene where one of Angel’s johns asks her to put on some goggles so that he can, to her shock, pee all over her does deserve mention.

This film is very similar to Paul Schrader’s Hardcore that starred George C. Scott and came out four years later and deals with a desperate father’s search for his daughter who has gotten into the world of porn. I actually like this film a bit better to that one. For one thing this one focuses more on the daughter and her experiences while that one solely centered on the father, which wasn’t as interesting. The father here isn’t quite as one-dimensional either. Yes he has all the caricatures of a middle-aged Midwestern man from the period including being homophobic, but I got a kick out of the way he initially gets into the naked girl dancers and likes it as long as of course it isn’t his daughter that’s doing it.

The acting swings from tolerable to really bad, but I did like Carol Case as Sally who has the most screen time and looks like a cross between Susan Anton and singer Carly Simon. Paul Pompain has a certain menacing quality as the brutal pimp although watching him constantly beat up his prostitutes and even kill one didn’t seem to make any sense as these girls were his may source of income and as my friend stated who watched this movie with me “He’s hurting their resale value.”

The picture is grainy with a faded washed out look and muffled sound that makes it seem almost like someone’s cheap homemade movie and yet it is well enough paced that it remains watchable. The scene where the father and daughter finally meet I found to be surprisingly touching.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Miller

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Burglar (1987)

burglar

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burglar witnesses a murder.

Bernice who goes by the nickname of Bernie (Whoopi Goldberg) is a cat burglar who gets hired by a dentist named Cynthia Sheldrake (Lesley Ann Warren) who wants Bernie to rob her ex-husband’s apartment and steal back her jewelry. When Bernie enters the apartment she has to hide in the closet when the ex-husband comes home earlier than expected and it is there that she hears him get murdered. Cynthia implicates Bernie in the crime and it is up to Bernie to track down the real killer before the police catch up with her.

The usually entertaining Goldberg doesn’t seem right for the part, which was originally intended for Bruce Willis. Except for a few amusing moments she is not all that funny and seems to be coasting most of the way and even out-of-place. For some reason she wears blue contacts and they look hideous. She also seems just a bit too nice for a career criminal that has spent time in jail and should be little more rough-around-the-edges. Having her constantly concerned about doing the ‘ethical’ thing and only robbing those that ‘deserve’ it doesn’t quite jive.

Bobcat Goldthwait as her dog groomer friend Carl is more of distraction than anything. His quivering, high pitch schtick comes off like someone with a serious psychological or physical problem and more creepy than funny. His line stating that drinking olive oil before drinking alcohol will prevent one from getting drunk later became the amusing basis for the film Calling Bobcat.

The supporting cast ends up being funnier than the two leads. John Goodman and Anne De Salvo have a few good moments as a bickering and perpetually perplexed cop duo. Warren is also good as an all-around bitch and all three performers deserved more screen time.

The film features Whoopi riding a motorcycle and being chased by police down the hilly, winding streets of San Francisco, which to an extent resembled the chase sequence in What’s Up Doc?. However, the chase is so poorly photographed and edited that it becomes hard to follow and nothing more than a collage of jump cuts.

There is another scene where the police try to enter her apartment which is equipped with a steal door, all sorts of booby traps and even a hidden room. On one hand this is kind of funny, but on the other it is wholly unrealistic. If this had occurred in a house that she owned I might have bought into it, but I would think that the noisy construction of all these contraptions would have had her reported to the landlord and she would have been evicted. Also, how is one able to build a hidden room in an apartment building without it affecting the neighboring tenants? There is also the issue that she states earlier that she had just been released from jail, so where did she find the time to build all this stuff?

The story itself lacks intrigue, relies too much on coincidence and eventually becomes implausible. I liked the use of the Bay area locations particularly the fog setting at the end, but otherwise this is just a bunch of overblown nonsense.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hugh Wilson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Our Mother’s House (1967)

our mothers house 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after mother dies.

Seven children live with their mother inside a large English house. She is sickly and when she dies they decide to keep it a secret by burying her body in the back garden and then continuing on as normal as they fear they will otherwise be sent off to an orphanage. Things go surprisingly well for the most part, but then their alcoholic father Charlie (Dirk Bogarde) reappears after a long absence, which sends everything spiraling out of control.

Director Jack Clayton lends an amazing amount of control and freedom to the child performers and the result is fantastic. The kids give solid performances and really carry the movie. Margaret Brooks as Elsa is a standout and shows great maturity especially with the way she stands up to the Bogarde character. Phoebe Nicholls is also terrific and looks like a young Sandy Dennis. Mark Lester did this just before doing his star turn in Oliver and he is cute, but his stuttering is annoying.

Although the character is obnoxious, one-dimensional and predictable Bogarde does a fine job as always in his part in what was a bit of an offbeat turn for him as he doesn’t appear until about forty-five minutes in. Yootha Joyce is entertaining with her bit as the children’s callous nanny. She has interesting facial expressions and voice tones, which makes the most of her otherwise small role. She is probably most famous for playing the equivalent of the Mrs. Roper character in the British version of ‘Three’s a Company’, which was ‘Man about the House’ and it is a shame that alcoholism cut both her career and life short.

The film weaves an interesting atmosphere and this is the type of story where you have no idea where it is going. I also liked some of the side diversions that Clayton incorporates including having the children take a boat ride around the famous Dinosaur Court in the Crystal Palace Park. Erected in 1854 these were the very first dinosaur sculptures ever made in the world.

I also found it interesting that there are scenes showing the children praying and even reading Bible verses. This is not a spiritual film in any way and I personally have no stand on the issue, but it brought to mind how mainstream films today never show anyone ever praying even though a lot of regular people still do it and by putting it into the story it makes it more realistic instead of less.

The only real issue that I had with the movie that otherwise has some very intriguing elements is the ending, which comes pretty close to being a copout and leaves way too many loose ends open.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Clayton

Studio: MGM

Available: YouTube

The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970)

the magic garden of stanley sweeheart

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: An aimless, carefree lifestyle.

Based on the novel by Robert T. Westbrook who also wrote the screenplay the film centers on Stanley (Don Johnson in his film debut) an underground filmmaker living in an apartment that is almost continually bombarded with the noise of a construction site next door. He has big dreams and ambitions, but at times seems awkward and unsure of himself. He meets Cathy (Dianne Hull) who he initially is just interested in for sex, but then he starts to fall-in-love with her and when she breaks up with him he finds it hard to handle.

The movie starts out well. I enjoyed the free-style direction and narrative. Cutting back and forth showing things as they are versus how Stanley would like them to be is fun, but the film deviates away from this when it would have been more interesting had it stayed this course all the way through. There is a certain element of one of Andy Warhol’s anti-movie movies here where the film tries to challenge the viewer’s conventional understanding of protagonists, plot, character development and all around narrative structure and it is no surprise that Warhol really liked this movie. It does have a strong cinema vertite approach that gives you a feeling like you are right there with the characters and to a certain extent helps bring the 60’s back to life.

Unfortunately the direction is too lackadaisical and unfocused and the story is uninteresting. Looking more at Stanley’s underground films could have given it a little more bite, but we only get a glimpse of one of his movies and then that thread is pretty much forgotten. The second half of the film centers on Stanley’s relationship and ultimate break-up with Cathy, which is too contrived and does not compliment the film’s otherwise offbeat approach. Funky and irreverent moments of humor are lost with a storyline that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go or what to say. Tighter editing could’ve helped avoid some long stretches where nothing seems to happen.

The film though still has some interesting and unique scenes. I got a kick out of Stanley’s cluttered apartment and how he has to smell his food in his refrigerator to see what is still edible and for entertainment he stamps on cockroaches crawling across his floor. The part where he masturbates in a bathtub while reading a letter written by his mother is hilarious. His attempts at making a porno by getting his actress (Holly Near) good and drunk only to get her hornier than he is amusing. The naked body painting sex orgy that he has with two young nubile roommates has a nice sensual quality.

Don Johnson is excellent and the one thing that keeps this wandering film together and he can be seen totally nude from both the front and back. Hull allows for some diversion as a sheltered young lady who is initially shocked by the open sexuality around her, but eventually learns to embrace it. Native American actress Victoria Racimo is hot with her clothes on and off and reminded me a lot of 70’s adult film star Hypathia Lee. Brandon Maggart makes the most of his small bit as a gay man trying to come onto Stanley while inside a café. Michael Greer offers some edginess as Stanley’s slightly menacing friend Danny. His violent death that occurs near the end of the film and in front of his shocked mother does leave an impression, but we don’t know enough about the character for it to make much sense and just another thing put into the film without seemingly much thought.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Leonard Horn

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

Ginger and Fred (1986)

ginger and fred

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging dance partners reunite.

Amelia (Giulietta Masina) and Pippo (Marcello Mastroianni) are two aging dance partners who haven’t worked together for years. They are asked to reunite for a TV-show special and do a famous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routine, but things have changed in their many years apart and the situation becomes more awkward than they imagined.

This is a genuinely amusing satire on television and celebrity status with Mastroisanni being absolutely engaging in every scene that he is in. Masina, who was director Federico Fellini’s wife in real-life, also gives a good performance and together they make a real fun team. The final dance sequence is terrific and the film manages to really come together at that point. The film is also sprinkled with some funny satirical snippets with the best ones including goofy billboards and a woman wearing edible panties.

On the negative end I found the techno music score to be overplayed and it becomes irritating especially at the beginning.  The film is also about a half-hour too long and it takes almost thirty minutes for Mastroianni’s character to even appear.

Overall I found the film to be enjoyable and mainly because the two leads are old pros who know how to work their magic although this is definitely not one of Fellini’s best films and at times it seems like he is just coasting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 13, 1986

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Frederico Fellini

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Is There Sex After Death? (1971)

is there sex after death 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s all about sex.

This is basically a compilation of vignettes all satirizing America’s new found sexual revolution and is not all that different from other similar ‘underground’ films of that period and should best be viewed as simply a relic of its era.

Some of the bits could be considered clever, but they fail to build any momentum. The one joke premise loses steam halfway through eventually making the constantly quirky insights by the constantly quirky characters tiresome and redundant. The sex and nudity, while in abundance, also become a turn-off. The majority of the participants, especially those in the nudist colony, are so old and out of shape you really wish they would have just left their clothes on.

Writer/director Alan Abel who also acts as the host and interviewer comes off best. His unblinking deadpan seriousness, even when in the middle of complete perversity, is right on target. It also features a funny interview with transvestite Holly Woodlawn, some spontaneous on the street moments and a climatic ‘Sex Olympics’. In fact if you get this on video it might be worth it to just fast forward it to that point.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated X

Director: Alan Abel

Studio: Abel-Child Productions

Available: VHS