Monthly Archives: March 2014

End of the Road (1970)

end of the road

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Too weird for words.

A bizarre adaptation of John Barth’s already bizarre novel detailing the story of a man (Stacy Keach) who goes into a catatonic state at a train station and is then sent to a strange mental hospital run by a weirdo named Doctor D (James Earl Jones). After he is considered to be ‘cured’ he takes a job as a college professor and proceeds to have an affair with the wife (Dorothy Tristan) of one of his colleagues (Harris Yulin).

It has been noted that author Barth disliked this film version of his novel and it is easy to see why. It gives only a basic outline of the story while leaving out all of the deeper meanings. It also tried to tie the story to the chaos and rebellion of the 60’s even though the book was written in 1955. The final result is a confusing mess that never comes together. The characters behave strangely and with no understanding to their motivations it becomes impossible to relate to them or anything else that goes on. Most viewers, especially those that are not familiar with the book, will easily become confused after the first five minutes if not sooner.

On the positive end the filmmaking style is refreshingly audacious in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Everything is thrown out there no matter how outrageous with little regard to mainstream acceptance. The kinetic imagery and music has a certain hypnotic effect that keeps you connected to it even if you don’t understand what is going on. The film culminates with a very intense, grizzly, and tasteless abortion sequence that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees it. Jones gives one of the most bizarre and over-the-top performances that you will ever see anywhere and anyone who is a fan of his or has an interest in acting MUST see him in this film.

It’s a misfired experiment that manages to be enough of a period artifact to make it interesting as a curio. It definitely has the ability to stay with you after it is over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated X

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: Allie Artists Pictures

Available: DVD 

Middle Age Crazy (1980)

middle age crazy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not Ready for 40.

Bobby Lee (Bruce Dern) is a Texas businessman who builds taco stands for a living. Although he is genuinely happy with his life he finds his job boring and dealing with the demanding clients to be frustrating. He loves his wife Sue Ann (Ann-Margret), but her constant smothering him with love makes him feel suffocated. Turning 40 becomes a major milestone and one he wishes would go away. To compensate he starts to act erratically by buying himself an expensive sports car, telling off his obnoxious clients and even having an affair with a much younger woman, but it all makes him feel empty and just as lost and confused.

Having turned the wrong side of 40 myself now several years back I can vouch for what this character is feeling and some of the points it makes are certainly relatable to anyone the same age especially males. The first half of the movie is the best as it has several dream-like segments where the character fantasizes about seeing himself in different situations. The one where he sees himself presiding over his own funeral is amusing, but the best one is where he imagines having sex with his college-aged son’s girlfriend in the backseat of a car while the tune ‘Good Girls Don’t’ by the Knack plays on the radio.

The dialogue is equally funny with some politically incorrect lines that really hit-the-mark with the strongest one coming during a commencement speech that he imagines giving to a graduating class of high school seniors. It was so good I felt obligated to print a slightly condensed version of it here:

“Every year thousands of you kids put on these silly, fucking hats to hear some other kid in a silly, fucking hat tell you that you are the future, but there is not enough future to go around. If you want to know your real future look at your folks in the stands. Fat butts and sagging tits that’s your future. If you had any sense you would give back your diplomas and silly hats and stay 18 the rest of your lives. You don’t want the future because the future sucks!”

The acting is a real grab bag. Graham Jarvis a balding actor best known for playing uptight characters scores here as Bobby’s foul mouthed over-sexed friend J.D. Dern who is almost always engaging especially in bad guy roles seems too restrained and even boring. Ann-Margret is much too clingy as the wife and would probably drive any man away and Michael Kane’s caricature of an obnoxious Texas businessman is irritatingly clichéd.

The film veers into heavy-handed drama during the second half and ultimately limps along to a flat finale. Had the film stayed with the lighthearted, quirky tone that it had at the beginning it might have worked, but instead comes off as rather amateurish and disjointed.

The film is based on a Jerry Lee Lewis song and has a hard time taking a basic idea, which is what a song really is and trying to turn it into feature length material. It is also interesting to note that despite being filmed on-location in Texas the movie was financed by a Canadian production company, which technically makes it a foreign film.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Kaleidoscope (1966)

kaleidoscope

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He breaks the bank.

Barney Lincoln (Warren Beatty) is a well-off playboy who has come up with a clever scheme that will allow him to win at cards at any casino along the Riviera. He does this by breaking into a card printing company called Kaleidoscope and marking the back of the master plates used to print their playing cards so when he attends the casinos later on he will know exactly what the cards are by reading his own small markings on the back of them.  Angel (Susannah York) is a cagy and flirtatious woman who recognizes Barney’s card skills as a crucial link to help her father (Clive Revill) who is a Scotland Yard Inspector and looking to nab the notorious Dominion (Eric Porter) who is a skilled card player himself.

The idea of breaking into a card printing company and marking the plates is a clever one, but highly improbable. After all if it was so easy to do such as it is portrayed in this movie then wouldn’t somebody else have tried it already? Personally as a viewer the markings were so small that I could not spot them and the Scotland Yard inspector needed a magnifying glass to see them making me wonder how Barney using only his naked eye could make them out when the cards were clear across the table. Also, it seems unrealistic that every casino would use the same cards by the same printing company as there has to be more than one card playing printing company out there to choose from.

Beatty is his usual detached and cool self, which to some degree gets annoying. You want to see this guy sweat a little, but he never does and the character borders on being arrogant and too cocky. However, the intense scene at the end where Barney is playing a high stakes poker game with Dominion is where Beatty’s cool demeanor comes in perfectly particularly when he shows absolutely no facial expressions while everyone else nervously awaits to see what is under the one crucial card that has yet to be turned over.

York is quite good, but sadly underused. The way she initially toys with Beatty a notorious ladies man both on and off screen is delightful and I wanted to see more of it. Their first date culminates with her sitting on top of a cow and he on a hay bale, which can’t be topped, but then her character disappears and when she comes back she is much weaker and less interesting expressing her ‘love’ for the Beatty character like she is just another vapid chick and without the fun edge at the beginning. She does look very attractive here and I loved seeing her in the strapless gown.

Revill is amusing as the much put-upon inspector who has a thing for toy steam engines, but he looks much too young to be playing York’s father and in real-life was only 9 years older than her. Porter adds campy panache as the villain while sporting a most groovy comb-over.

The opening title sequence is done in a way that looks similar to an actual kaleidoscope, which was cool and each scene transitions with a kaleidoscope design. The lavish and garish sets used as an interior backdrop for Porter’s mansion are eye-popping and I loved all the tunnels they have to drive through just to get there. On a mindless level this proves to be pleasant fluff, but the shoot-out and chase sequence at the end gets a little too James Bond-like and is out-of-place with the rest of the film.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

electra glide in blue 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Motorcycle cop turns detective.

John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is a motorcycle cop tired of giving out traffic tickets and interested in a more intellectual job like working in the homicide division as a detective. By chance he comes along an isolated desert hut with a dead body in it that appears to have been a suicide, but he is not convinced even though everyone else is. During the coroner’s investigation it is found to indeed have been a murder, which impresses senior detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) so much that he asks John to become his assistant. At first he is excited about his new opportunity, but finds the position has hidden drawbacks of its own and eventually he becomes just as frustrated with it.

The film shows police work in an offbeat and revealing light. How many cop movies have you seen showing policemen handing out traffic tickets? May sound boring and monotonous, but actually it is just the opposite. The arguments that the drivers give to try and get out of the fine are amusing and very on-target. This film goes well beyond the typical Hollywood prototype of a policeman and instead we get to see real people with a wide variety of personalities that make up the force. There is also a cool motorcycle chase that features wipe-outs done in slow motion.

Director James William Guercio may be better known for his musical contributions, but his directing is spot-on from the first frame until the last. The opening scene has a wonderfully visual style and the photography of the desert landscape is expansive and vivid looking almost like it could have been filmed yesterday. The fact that this is his only film output is a real shame as he has a keen eye for directing that is far better than some veteran directors and it is a waste that he hasn’t done more.

Blake fits into his role solidly and it almost seems like the part was written specifically for him. The visual digs at his short height are cute and I liked seeing the character evolve and the way he becomes disillusioned with Harve, a man he initially admires and eventually tells-off in biting style is well done.

The dialogue has a nice conversational quality to it and John’s exchanges with both and Harve and his police partner Zipper (Billy Green Bush) are excellent. Jeannie Riley who has fallen off the cinematic radar and should not be confused with the singer who sang ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’ gives quite a good performance as Jolene an alcoholic woman with big Hollywood dreams only to be stuck in a sad little town. The scene where Harve brings John to a bar so can ‘meet his girlfriend’ only to find that John has been sleeping with her too is priceless.

The anger and detachment between the police and the hippies of the day are well captured. The film has a great lyrical quality to it where every shot and scene seems to be a story in itself. The foreshadowing is excellent and the ending scene is not only a bit of a shocker, but also features one of the most amazing tracking shots you will ever see put onto film. A definite classic waiting to be rediscovered.

electra glide in blue 1

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 19, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James William Guerco

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

everything 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woody takes on sex.

This is a very loose adaptation by Woody Allen of the famous sex manual written by David Reuben, but given a comic spin. This was made when Allen was at his absolute peak as nearly everything is funny and original.

Some of the jokes are outrageously over the edge even for today. The highlights include Gene Wilder’s incredibly long reaction shot after a shepherd informs him that he has fallen in love with one of the sheep from his flock. Another highlight includes Allen trying to fight off a giant ‘monster breast’ by using a Crucifix and a giant bra. Cross dresser Lou Jacobi getting caught in a women’s dress while visiting a friend’s house is another classic as well as ‘What’s My Perversion’ a very brilliant and inspired send up of ‘What’s My Line’. Of course the best may be, should I say, the climactic sequence involving the control room of the inside of a man’s brain as he goes through ejaculation.

everything 2

The only negative is the second segment entitled ‘Why some Women can’t have orgasms’ is a misfire. The joke of having Allen and Lasser talk in only Italian with no subtitles wears thin pretty quickly. The only pluses from this segment involve seeing Allen in a pair of trendy glasses as well as watching an electric dildo catch on fire.

In a lot of ways I consider this to be Allen’s best comedy. Just about everything works and it’s all laugh- out-loud funny. Even the few things that don’t are still creative enough to get kudos.

everything 3

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Fleshburn (1984)

fleshburn 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost in the desert.

Calvin Duggai (Sonny Landham) is a Vietnam vet sent to a mental hospital when four psychiatrists insist he does not know the difference between right and wrong. Eventually he escapes from the place and proceeds to kidnap the four people who had him put away and takes them to the middle of the hot desert where he forces them to try and survive the harsh elements with nothing more than their wits to rely on.

Based on the Brian Garfield novel ‘Fear in a Handful of Dust’ the film moves at a brisk pace and manages to be relatively gripping. The pounding rock music-like score helps build the tension. The idea that the four people decide to remain where they are and not go searching through the desert for help seems slightly odd, but the characters at least come off as real people and some of the things that they do to survive is innovative and yet still believable. The viewer genuinely starts to care for these people and wants to see them survive, which helps keep the film captivating.

70’s adult film star-turned-actor Landham isn’t bad in the lead. His muscular physique is quite intimidating and he has a threatening presence. Steve Kanaly best known for his work on the ‘Dallas’ TV-series is solid as the one who takes over and tries to help the others beat the elements. His best moment comes when he spits out a sharp shell like object that he has hidden in his mouth and into his hand where he uses it to cut the rope that is binding him to a rock.

There is some interesting flashback sequences at the beginning particularly the one showing the Karen Carlson character having an affair with Kanaly much to the dismay of her husband who is also one of the victims and yet the film doesn’t follow-up with it even though it could’ve and should’ve. Despite the story’s vindictive theme it really comes off more like a basic survival saga that could easily have worked as a TV-movie. The film is competently produced and directed, but fails to be distinctive or memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Gage

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

For Love or Money (1963)

for love or money

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A lawyer becomes matchmaker.

Deke Gentry (Kirk Douglas) is a lawyer appointed trustee of Chloe Brasher’s (Thelma Ritter) estate and is shocked to learn the terms of her will state that any of her three daughters will be cut off from their inheritance if they marry a man that she does not approve of. After debating with her about this Deke agrees to try to match up the girls with men that Chloe has already picked for them, but finds it to be much more difficult than he expected.

This was an odd career move for Douglas who is best known for his westerns, dramas and adventure roles. In some ways seeing him do light comedy is a nice change-of-pace, but the plot is too banal and the character is dull and gets overshadowed by the supporting cast of old comic pros. His best moment is when he hoists actor Gig Young over his shoulder and carries him from the hospital to his apartment and even gives him a spanking along the way.

The three actresses who play the daughters (Julie Newmar, Leslie Parrish, Mitzi Gaynor) are all quite attractive, but in the case of Newmar and Parrish aren’t given enough screen time. Gaynor is solid in the lead in what is to date her last film appearance. I am also happy to note that all three actresses as well as Elizabeth MacRae who play’s Deke’s girlfriend are still alive and well as of this writing.

Young is a very talented character actor who manages to come into his own during the second hour. Having him end up getting stuck out at sea while clinging in the nude to a pole sticking up out of the water is funny, but the scene where he starts throwing some vintage bottles of champagne overboard had me cringing.

The story is too lightweight for a feature film and although it starts out okay ends up becoming quite stretched and tedious during the second half. The scenarios are more silly and inane than actually funny and the only time it is ever amusing is when Ritter and William Bendix are in front of the camera and otherwise it falls flat. The contrived ‘happy ending’ merely emphasizes how predictable and formulaic the whole thing is.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Michael Gordon

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)