Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ash Wednesday (1973)

ash wednesday 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Liz gets a facelift.

Barbara (Elizabeth Taylor) is not aging gracefully. Her husband Mark (Henry Fonda) is having an affair with a much younger woman, but Barbara is determined to win him back. She decides to get a facelift and then spends her time afterwards at a winter resort in Italy where a young man name Erich (Helmut Berger) becomes intoxicated by her sudden youthful beauty and the two go to bed together. When her husband arrives she still strives to save the marriage, but finds that to him the facelift makes no difference.

The film’s biggest claim-to-fame is the graphic and vivid look at an actual facelift surgery that sickened many viewers who watched the film when it was first released. The footage is explicit, but fascinating as well as I never quite understood how this procedure worked, so seeing it from a medical viewpoint is to a certain extent educational. I also liked that during Barbara’s stay at the hospital she meets a middle-aged man named David (Keith Baxter) who has had several of the some procedures himself and showing that this wasn’t exclusively a woman’s issue although I was confused why a man would spend so much money having facelifts, but then not bother to dye his hair.

The effects of the procedure is a bit misleading because Liz was only 40 at the time and was put into heavy makeup to make her appear much older at the beginning, so the results of the surgery are really just her as she normally looked. The idea that a facelift would have such a galvanizing effect on everyone around her is also not realistic. A recent study found that many people who had the procedure ultimately only looked 3 to 5 years younger instead of the 10-plus that they had hoped for. Sometimes a facelift can make a person look even worse, or in my opinion a sort of ‘duckface’ that this movie doesn’t even hit on, but should’ve.

I also thought that the idea that this woman would want to stay with a man who is openly cheating on her was unrealistic. If this woman was poor, lonely and homely and he was her only source of a social outlet then maybe, but this guy was loaded and I would think most women would simply hire a good divorce lawyer and take the cheating cad to the cleaners and then merrily move on especially when she had already proven to herself that she could attract other more attractive men on her own anyways.

The role itself seems to be an extension of Taylor’s own personality in that of a woman living in an insular world obsessed with shallow problems because she has too much time and money on her hands and unable to either understand or portray an average person in a regular lifestyle even if she wanted to. The wide variety of big puffy hats and scarfs that she wears becomes a bit of a distraction and almost like a character into itself.

Fonda is wasted in another one his typical latter career roles that gives him very little to do. He doesn’t even appear onscreen until the final fifteen minutes and only then long enough to tell her he wants a divorce before promptly leaving.

The opening sequence showing the two stars aging through the years during the credits is interesting and well-done especially seeing Fonda when he was young. The musical score by Maurice Jarre has a nice classic flair to it and lifts this dreary production to a more classy level than it deserves, but unfortunately doesn’t get played much after the beginning.

The film probably would’ve worked better had the surgical procedure not happened right away, but instead been done in the middle and had more of a backstory at the beginning. The facelift scenes are actually the film’s highpoint and it goes rapidly downhill afterwards until it becomes a mind numbing train wreck that isn’t worth watching for any reason.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Out of the Blue (1980)

out of the blue 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daddy disappoints his daughter.

Marginal drama detailing the trials of a teen girl (Linda Manz) whose father (Dennis Hopper) is serving a five year sentence for killing a busload of kids while driving drunk. She recognizes the weaknesses in her mother (Sharon Farrell) and idolizes her father because she thinks he is better yet when he is released she realizes he has faults as well, which culminates in a shocking and unexpected finale.

One of the big problems with this film is that it becomes as aimless as the characters that it portrays. Hopper’s free-form directing style is too loose and undisciplined. Intended dramatic elements come off as weak and insignificant. The story has interesting moments, but ultimately misses the mark. The gritty scenes look staged and hackneyed and everything seems too familiar like stuff we’ve seen hundreds of times before. Director/star Hopper keeps reaching into his bag hoping to pull out another Easy Rider, but his avant-garde style now seems tiring and predictable.

The dark, ugly ending is a definite shock and it is the only thing that raises this from being a complete misfire. Had the film started with the ending and used it as a springboard for the rest of the movie than it might have been more compelling. The very graphic crash of Hopper’s truck into the school bus is the only other part that is impressive.

Manz has certainly come a long way from Days of Heaven or even as the mouthy kid in The Wanderers. She is a more poised actress and ready to carry the film. Her streetwise attitude and background is still apparent, but more polished and contained. This was the film that was going to make her a star and it probably could have had it been better.

Farrell as the mother is effective simply because her physical looks nicely reflects the rough life of her character. It is also fun to see Raymond Burr in a bit part only because he seems so out of place with the setting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Hopper

Studio: Discovery Films

Available: DVD

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)

love and pain and the whole damn thing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Introverts fall in love.

Walter (Timothy Bottoms) is a shy young man in his early 20’s riding through Spain as part of a cycling tour group. Impulsively he ditches this group and joins a bus touring one of which Lila (Maggie Smith) an equally shy woman in her 30’s is a part of. At first the two hardly speak, but eventually they get past their social quirks to form a tight, romantic bond.

The awkwardness and insecurities of the two characters is wonderfully captured and it is nice to see a film examine a romance between people that are not physically beautiful or affluent. The music score is subtle and Alan J. Pakula’s direction approaches the material in a nicely sensitive fashion along with the Spanish scenery that gives the production an exotic feel.

Smith is excellent as usual. Her performance and character is different from anything else that she has done making it a real treat to watch. The scene where she calls home to her family as well as the one where she gets locked inside a remote outhouse is quite amusing.

I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction with the other people on the bus as the supporting cast is almost non-existent and focuses too much on the two main characters making it seem like there are the only ones in the entire country of Spain, which gives the viewer a very isolated type of feeling. This may have been the intention and done as a way to show what it is like being introverted, but I didn’t care for it.

Although the two characters are offbeat the film follows too much of a romantic blueprint that eventually makes it formulaic despite a good start. Its biggest transgression is having one of the characters like in Love Story get afflicted with some mysterious illness that is never explained and put in to create cheap dramatic turmoil.

Overall though the film is okay and has a few touching moments. Those that enjoy romance may like it a bit better as well as fans of Maggie Smith.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Messenger of Death (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck visits Mormon country.

Three young mothers and their children are shot to death in their home. The police suspect it may have something to do with their religious affiliation, but Denver journalist Garret Smith (Charles Bronson) thinks it’s the water company that is behind it, but as the investigation continues and with the help of fellow journalist Jastra (Trish Van Devere) the identity of who it really is surprises everyone.

The movie is unsettling from the beginning as we witness the brutal murders, which sets things at a downbeat tone. However, it also gets the viewer emotional jarred enough to want to see the killer brought to justice. The mystery is intricate for the most part and keeps you intrigued although by the end I had pretty much figured it out.

For a Bronson flick the action is minimal. There is one big shootout, but it doesn’t last long. The film’s best and most exciting sequence is when two big semi-trucks get on either side of the jeep that Garret and Jastra (Trish Van Devere) are riding in and try crushing it as it moves down the road. The scene is vivid, but suffers from the issue where neither occupant is wearing seatbelts and the vehicle does not have airbags and turns over on itself three times, which would most assuredly kill or permanently injure anyone inside and yet the two are able to miraculously get out without even a scratch.

Bronson does not carry a gun here and he has always had one in so many of his other movies that seeing without one makes him look almost naked. For an ordinary 60-something journalist his fighting skills seem too impressive. I was willing to buy into his ability to fight off a much younger professional hitman one time by using some quick thinking, but then to be able to do it again to the same person later on and give him a severe beating in the process seemed too farfetched.

Veteran character actor Jeff Corey as a fiery preacher is good in support as well as John Ireland who plays his brother. During the mid-80’s Ireland once put a full page add in Variety begging for work, so it’s good to see that those efforts paid off with his appearance here.

To-date this marks Van Devere’s last theatrical project and neither her character nor her performance adds much, but it was still nice to see a man and woman work together and not have it automatically turn sexual or into a relationship. Marilyn Hassett plays Bronson’s wife, but she was 26 years younger than him, which makes seeing them together look a bit weird.

Gene Davis who gave a terrible performance as a serial killer in an earlier Bronson flick portrays one of the hit-men. Fortunately his screen-time is contained, so his limited acting skills don’t ruin the whole picture. The way he dies made me chuckle a little as he gets stabbed while standing at a urinal and yet when he turns around his you-know-what isn’t hanging out even though I thought it probably should’ve been.

The climactic moment where the person behind the murders gets ‘unmasked’ is a little too ‘Hollywood’ and doesn’t pack the punch that a film like this needed and thus gives this already average action flick a slightly below average rating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

12 + 1 (1969)

twelve plus one 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money in the chair.

Mario (Vittorio Gassman) is a struggling barber who gets word that his rich aunt has left him a large inheritance. When he gets to her estate he finds the place nearly empty except for some old chairs piled up into a corner. Angered he decides to sell the chairs to a local antique dealer so he can at least make some money off of them. After he sells them he finds a note from his deceased aunt stating that there was a large amount of money sewn up inside one of them. In a panic he goes running back to the shop, but finds that they have already been sold off to various customers, so he along with Pat (Sharon Tate) who worked at the shop and wants to help him as long as she gets a part of the take go on a mad dash to seek out the chairs and retrieve them one-by-one until they can find the money.

The film is based on the classic 1928 Russian novel that has been made into several film versions including one by Mel Brooks that came out a couple of years after this one. I’ve never read the novel, but this film clearly does not do it any justice. The humor is lame and cartoonish and barely able to equal a weak Tom and Jerry cartoon or uninspired Disney flick. The budget is low and the scenes all have a perpetually cheesy, schlocky feel. The Herb Alpert-like music sounds like it was edited in off of an audio cassette recording. The whole thing is quite derivative and dull despite the wide variety of characters and locales.

The film’s biggest claim to fame is being Tate’s only starring vehicle and this didn’t get released until well after her death. She is very beautiful and surprisingly engaging and comical and her presence is the best thing about the movie. She even does a nude scene along with the equally tantalizing Ottavia Piccolo when they both go topless and then get into bed on either side of Gassman, which is the film’s one and only provocative moment.

The supporting cast is full of some old pros that get badly wasted. Terry-Thomas is one of the funniest character actors of all-time, but here he is shockingly boring and forgettable. Orson Welles hams it up in make-up as a pretentious stage actor whose play he is performing in becomes a catastrophe in the film’s only slightly amusing moment.

The color is faded and shot with no imagination or flair. Although there is some nudity the filmmaker’s would have been better served had they cut it out and aimed it solely for the kids as the humor is so broad and silly that only a three-year-old could possibly find it entertaining and even that is no guarantee.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Gessmer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

smokey and the bandit 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: On the road again.

Hal Needham is to bad movies like a cow is to milk and yet when compared to his later efforts this really isn’t too bad especially when you factor in that the main goal was to create light entertainment, which is what this amounts to.

The ‘story’ involves truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) bootlegging beer across state lines. Partner Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acts as a decoy by driving in front of the truck in a car with a souped up engine. Jackie Gleason plays the sheriff out to get them.

The set-up could have been played out more and would have been funnier if it had. Sally Field is a nice addition and has a rare turn of being portrayed as a sexy lady. Her initial banter with Reynolds is fun, but having their relationship immediately turn romantic bogs everything down. It would have worked better had things stayed slightly antagonistic and then turned lovey-dovey only at the very end.

Reynolds has always had great charm and it’s played to the hilt here. His laugh alone is infectious, but he seems a little bit too laid back and detached. He goes through all sorts of wild car chases, but neither he nor is car ever receive even a little scratch. The police are also too inept and it would have been nice if they had, even momentarily, apprehended Reynolds just too prove they were a viable threat and given this thing a little tension.

Gleason is fun and his presence gives this film most of its points. Unlike Reynolds he isn’t so detached and he infuses his part with a lot of energy. His ad-libbed scatological lines at the beginning are great as is his coined “sumbitch” phrase. Seeing him stubbornly continue to drive his squad car even as it becomes increasingly smashed up is a good piece visually.

However, the film tends to water-down his character, which was a mistake. The biggest problem is the fact that he is initially portrayed as an intimidating figure. Then it proceeds to show him constantly out ranked and out managed by the other police forces in all the other counties he goes into while chasing Reynolds. Eventually it makes him seem too ineffectual and stupid. It would have worked better had the chase taken place solely in Gleason’s county, therefore having him stay funny, but still maintaining his menacing presence. It also would have been nice to have more direct confrontations between him and Reynolds although the one they do have is pretty good.

Needham was a former stunt man so the actual star of the picture is supposed to be the stunt work, but this area seems pretty derivative and features stuff that has been done hundreds of times before. The chases should’ve been extended and shot from more exciting angles. The climatic chase sequence is weak and can’t even hold a pinkie to the one used in The Blues Brothers.

Overall though it has enough good banter and star chemistry to be amiable.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

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

Serial (1980)

serial

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like fads.

The world has turned into one giant fad and everyone and everything is a part of it. Martin Mull is the one remnant of sanity as he tries to survive in it while still keeping his balance.

There is hardly anything cinematic about this picture. Take out some of the ‘dirty’ references and you have a TV-movie. In many ways it’s barely a movie at all, but more of a compilation of skits running along the same theme.

Mull is definitely a good anchor as his glib, sardonic comments help keep this thing churning. The rest of the characters though don’t resemble real people in any way and many of the fads shown weren’t really followed by that many to begin with. It’s pretty restrained and soft and fails to attain the acidic wit of the Cyra McFadden novel of which it is based.

Attacking trendy people isn’t too difficult and this film fails to supply any new perspective on the subject. This is probably the most annoying thing about it, which is that it is as vapid and superficial as the people and lifestyles it tries to mock.

The film does manage to be fast paced and there are a few slightly amusing bits, which could prove entertaining to those on a really, really slow night. Of the good stuff there is a dog groomer who shouts to his barking dogs to “Shut up you sons of bitches.” There is also Mull going to an orgy and having to step through a whole mass of naked bodies before he can find his girlfriend. Kudos also must go out to the climatic finale that features a gay biker gang lead by Christopher Lee who rampage (on their motorbikes!) the home of a religious cult. The running gag of having Tuesday Weld constantly referring to the Pamela Bellwood character as a ‘cunt’ isn’t bad either.

Also, Ed Begley Jr. can be heard on the radio as a DJ in the opening sequence.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Persky

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Sweet Movie (1974)

sweet movie

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Every fetish is shown

Unfairly labeled as excessive and perverse, this film is really a fascinating and intricate study into the recesses of the sexual mind. It looks at sex in all its complexities and exposes it as a very primal need with a personality of its own.

The film starts off with an amusing satire on the media and how they have commercialized sex. It involves a game show were a rich millionaire must choose which female virgin he would like for a wife and even has a doctor on hand to examine them and make sure each one is genuine.

This becomes the ongoing theme, which is how society loves to ‘package’ sex and yet really can’t. Director Dusan Makavejev feels that the sexual instinct is too deep to be able to channel completely. The rest of the film goes off on wild tangents that may not make sense to some, but the intent is not to tap into the logical mind, but instead the sexual senses. In the process it tries to bring out the sexual side of the viewer by digging deeply into their own subconscious mind.

The final result is an almost non-stop barrage of unique, lasting visuals. Some are funny, stimulating and at times even grotesque. Yet sex has all these qualities so any movie realistically dealing with it should have it as well. Overall despite the controversial approach it becomes lyrical, compelling, and quite well-shot.

By not boxing sex into any type of ‘standard’ is what makes this different from just about any other erotic film out there. Most directors seem to feel that two sweating bodies between satin sheets are all you need to make a film ‘sexy’. Here you get something much more daring and expansive by showing sex in both its beauty and ugliness. Outside of bestiality and necrophilia just about every other fetish gets examined including interracial sex, sex with minors (never shown, but strongly implied), food sex, vomiting, scatology, water sports, and even violent sex. Sometimes it gets vulgar yet still remains provocative and fascinating to the more open-minded.

Star Carole Laure is incredibly beautiful and submits herself to her demanding role with a reckless abandon that is refreshing if not unprecedented and helps make the film impactful.

There’s some really amazing sequences including having Laure carted around in a suitcase with only her head sticking out. This is also one those rare films outside of Paul Morrissey’s Trash that features more shots of the male genitals than the females.

Obviously there will be those that will find the whole thing disgusting and offensive as it is very explicit even by today’s standards. This film could very well go beyond most people’s ‘comfort zones’ so I don’t want to suggest it to anyone unless they are fully prepared for what they are about to see, but for those who are game it could come off as a unique one-of-a-kind experience.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Mintues

Rated NC-17

Director: Dusan Makavejev

Studio: Maran Film

Available: DVD (The Criterion Collection)

10 to Midnight (1983)

10tomidnight

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the nude.

Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) has little luck with women and kills those who have previously rejected his advances and does so while being completely in the nude. Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) is the cop on his case, but doesn’t have enough evidence to arrest him, so he decides to steal some of the blood sample from Warren’s latest victim, which is being stored at the police lab and is the very rare AB type and plant it on Warren’s clothing when he is not in his apartment. Warren is then brought in for questioning and when police find the clothing and blood evidence he is arrested, but Leo eventually admits to planting the evidence and is fired. The incensed Warren decides to get his revenge by going after Leo’s grown daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) and it is up to Leo to try and stop him before it is too late.

The film has an interesting twist to the Dirty Harry police-type dramas that too many times were solely focused on the renegade cop doing whatever it takes to bring in the bad guy no matter how many rules he broke in the process. However, this film nicely explores to an extent the reason for due process and how an overzealous cop can sometimes be more of the problem than the solution. Unfortunately it is not enough to save it as the majority of the movie is too routine and mechanical.

The action segments are unexciting and poorly directed. The scene where one of Warren’s victims just stands there whimpering while making no attempt to struggle and fight back seems artificial and dull. The final foot chase between Warren and Laurie looks staged and photographed in a way that offers no tension.

Davis is boring as the villain and has a deer-in-headlights look. His body movements are stiff and robotic and he delivers his lines in a monotone fashion. His pretty-boy male model face adds nothing and his nude scenes, which are shown only from the back does not add the spark that was intended. A good thriller needs a bad-guy actor that commands the screen, but Davis doesn’t even come close and makes Bronson who isn’t considered all that strong of an actor to begin with look brilliant by comparison. This film could have been much stronger had an established and talented character actor been given the role like John Malkovich or John Turturro.

Andrew Stevens is adequate as Leo’s young by-the-book partner, but Eilbacher is quite dull. Wilford Brimley adds some personality as an investigator, but is underused and Geoffrey Lewis scores a few points as Steven’s conniving lawyer.

There is a scene where Leo and Andrew are driving along and having a conversation inside an unmarked squad car that brought to mind one of my biggest pet peeves, which are characters in movies never wearing their seatbelts. I have always worn mine whether I am in my car or someone else’s and of course these days it is the law, but it seems almost insane that police characters wouldn’t especially since they could be careening down the street at high speeds at any second if they are suddenly dispatched to a crime scene. Having them not wear seatbelts does not make them look anymore macho and instead makes them come off as stupid and reckless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Make Waves (1967)

dont make waves 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: House slides down cliff.

Carlo (Tony Curtis) is a single 40-something man traveling through coastal California when he decides to pull his Volkswagen beetle over to the side of the road and get out to enjoy the gorgeous view. Problem is that Laura (Claudia Cardinale) is pulling out and her car’s bumper hooks onto his and his car goes speeding down the hill and crashes. All of his money was in the car, so Laura agrees to allow him to stay at her place for a while, but then her boyfriend Rod (Robert Webber) shows up who throws Carlo out onto the beach where he becomes acclimated with the beach bums including beautiful Malibu (Sharon Tate). He wants to date her, but she has a muscular boyfriend named Harry (David Draper). Carlo though has a plan to steal her away as well as getting a cushy job as a pool salesman and a beachfront home that ultimately goes crashing down the cliff just like his car did.

Curtis is engaging in the lead and shows great flair for frantic comedy, but his character has no backstory, which makes him generic and undistinguished. His constant conniving including tricking Harry into no longer having sex with Malibu so he can get his hands on her isn’t all that appealing since Harry is a rather nice guy and I was hoping he would give Curtis a much deserving punch in the face in the end, which unfortunately doesn’t happen.

Cardinale is sexy. Her tan, sleek figure, Italian accent and feisty temper make every scene that she is fun and sensuous. The fact that the character is at times quite oblivious to her surroundings and at other points very observant makes her interesting and quite human.

Tate’s performance is weak and her amount of speaking lines quite limited. The part was originally intended for Julie Newmar who might have been a bit better. However, the scene showing her bouncing up and down on a trampoline while wearing a bikini that even gets shown in slow-motion and freeze frame will be more than enough to satisfy most males.

The film features some impressive stunt work. The opening bit where Curtis tries to catch up with his rolling car and even gets his pants leg caught on fire isn’t bad. The part where Curtis falls from a plane and goes free falling into the air without a parachute is quite vivid even though stuntman Bob Buquor ended up getting killed during the sequence. The best part though is at the end when Curtis’s ritzy home and pool go sliding down a steep cliff during a rainstorm and subsequent mudslide. The special effects are outstanding even by today’s standards. The mud flowing through the place and the shots showing five occupants forced to survive in the home in a Poseidon-like scenario when it gets turned upside down before finally sliding down onto the cusp of the ocean is entertaining enough to make sitting through the rest of it almost worth it.

Unfortunately outside of this and the breathtaking scenery the film is quite vapid. The story is too unfocused and doesn’t seem to know what kind of message it wants to make. The scenarios and situations are trite and offer no momentum or plot progression. The theme of a middle-aged man trying to get in with the young mod generation of the time was handled much more effectively in I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which starred Peter Sellers and came out around the same time.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video