Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Last Picture Show (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Life Size (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A sex doll obsession.

Michel (Michel Piccoli) runs a successful dental practice, but finds that his life is empty and his marriage to his wife Isabelle (Rada Rassimov) is no longer working. He has cheated on her before, but those affairs left him with the same empty feeling, so this time he decides to take a different route by purchasing a life size sex doll that looks so real that she almost seems human. He takes her everywhere and even brings her along to a visit with his mother (Valentine Tessier) so she can meet his new ‘girlfriend’.  The doll becomes the centerpiece of his very existence and he spends every waking moment he can with her until he sees footage, from a closed circuit camera that he has set-up in his house, of one of friends having sex with her while he was away. He becomes outraged at her ‘betrayal’ and decides that her punishment will be ‘death’.

The film, which can best be described as an early, distant cousin to Lars and the Real Girl, definitely has its share of unique and memorable moments. Writer/director Luis Garcia Berlanga does an admirable job of analyzing just what might happen if sexual fantasy gets taken to its most extreme level. The scenes showing Michel taking the doll to a clothing store in order to be measured and fitted with the latest fashions and marrying the doll in a makeshift wedding are by far the film’s two best segments.

However, it’s Michel’s scenes with his wife that I found to be the most unsettling. The scene where he fondles his wife’s naked breasts late at night as she sleeps while looking at a picture of the doll is quirky enough, but then later on, in the film’s most disturbing moment, she tries immersing completely into his sexual fantasy by pretending to be a sex doll herself in a desperate attempt to win him back.

What is initially considered the sexual substitute to the real thing soon becomes the preferable choice here and it reminded me of an article I read in a science journal a few years back about young men in their 20’s forced to be prescribed Viagra because they were no longer able to achieve erections with their wives/girlfriends because the proliferation of porn on the internet had somehow dulled their senses to real sex to the point that they found it to be a ‘turn-off’. Now, if you are a fan of porn then that’s great and I don’t mean to be appear like I’m trying to knock it, but I did find it fascinating that elements of that article correlated to what this film was showing and how successful this movie was at foreshadowing the phenomenon’s that we are now seeing in our modern day culture.

Although the film is adequately directed and more of a psychological study than a perverse sleaze feast it’s still not an overall success. The main issue is that the main character acts overtly freaky about the doll from the very beginning without enough backstory to tell us why and simply saying it’s due to a unhappy marriage is not enough. A far more compelling concept would’ve been to portray the main character as being more ‘normal’ by having him feel awkward about the doll and even a bit embarrassed only to grow increasingly more obsessed as the film progresses until his ultimate infatuation with it shocks even him.

Alternate Titles: Grandeur Nature, Love Doll, Tamano Natural

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 21, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated X

Director: Luis Garcia Berlanga

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Baby Boom (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie inherits a baby.

J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is a successful businesswoman who has risen to the top of the corporate world by being quite literally ‘married-to-her-job’, which is just fine with her boss (Sam Wanamaker) as he is the same way and demands nothing less. Out-of-the-blue she gets a call that a distant relative has died and sent her an inheritance. She initially thinks it’s money only to find to her shock that it’s a baby girl instead. J.C. lacks any parenting skills and has difficulty even putting on a diaper, let alone knowing the right sized one to buy. Her annoyance slowly grows to bonding as she finds raising a young one has rewards far greater than her previous yuppie lifestyle could offer.

The premise for this thing is whacked. What kind of halfway normal parent would write a will that has their child shipped off to a distant relative that they haven’t had contact with since 1954 in the event of their death? Certainly there had to have been some close friend or family member that they knew of who would’ve been far more appropriate and could’ve been forewarned that they were the intended god parent. It’s almost like the parents just threw the child off a cliff and hoped someone down below would catch her.

The Harold Ramis character should’ve been chucked from the beginning. He plays her live-in boyfriend, but if someone is working 70 to 80 hours a week then they would have little time for a social life let alone a normal, healthy romantic relationship. The idea is to show that this character’s life is imbalanced, so might as well portray her as being alone and desperate need for genuine human contact making the baby’s presence all the more significant.  Ramis disappears quickly as he bails on her the minute she decides to keep the kid, so why bother introducing him at all?

Although likable I didn’t feel Keaton was the best choice for the part. The character is given the nickname of ‘tiger lady’, but to me that would signify having traits that are cold, steely and bitchy, but Keaton never displays these. Cybil Shephard or Candice Bergen with her Murphy Brown persona would’ve been a better pick and made the character’s transition from cutthroat businesswoman to loving mommy all the more vivid.

The film does have some funny bits and the twin girls who play the part of the infant are cute and respond well to the camera. I even enjoyed when J.C. begins to bond with the girl, but Bill Conti’s musical score gets overplayed during these segments and his cutesy melody gives these otherwise  touching moments too much of a heavy-handed feel.

I certainly liked the message, but writer/director Charles Shyer tries too hard to get it across. Having the character suddenly move out to the country seemed too severe of a shift. This is the type of person who thrived in a big city atmosphere and I don’t think she’d ever fully adjust to the slow pace of the rural lifestyle, which makes this plot twist, in a movie that goes on too long to begin with, come off as a misguided tangent that isn’t interesting or believable and the ending itself is too idealistic.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Quick, Before it Melts (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stuck in the cold.

Oliver Cannon (Robert Morse) is a lowly newspaper reporter who gets sent to the Antarctica by his boss Mr. Sweigert (Howard St. John). Sweigert not only dislikes Oliver, but also wants to keep him away from his daughter Sharon (Yvonne Craig) who intends on marrying him. To his surprise Oliver accepts the assignment feeling that the South Pole is the ‘last great frontier’ and wanting to expose the harsh environment of the region to his readers who may not otherwise realize quite what it is like. Yet once he arrives he quickly wishes to leave, but can’t. He then concocts a plan with Peter (George Maharis), who is  another  American stranded  there, to fly in a planeload of beautiful women, so at least their time there can be enjoyable and sexy.

The script is virtually plotless and amounts to nothing more than broadly written, flatly comical scenarios loosely tied into the Antarctica theme. It’s basically just another contrived, generic ‘60s sex comedy that lacks bite or imagination. The only mildly amusing part about it is the real-life penguin that acts as a carrier pigeon by delivering mail and messages to the various residents.

I was surprised that Maharis chose to be in this as he was a strong, highly underrated dramatic actor who was one of the main reasons for the success of the acclaimed TV-series ‘Route 66’. In fact he left that show before the end of its run mainly to take advantage of all the movie offers that were coming in, but choosing to do this silly thing as his first one especially when he isn’t even the star of it is baffling. His career ultimately was ruined when he was caught having sex with a gay hairdresser inside the men’s bathroom of a gas station during the mid-‘70s, but appearing in fluff like this certainly didn’t help it.

Morse on the other-hand seems well suited for the material and performs admirably. This film also has, in her film debut, Anjanette Comer who later had roles in many interesting cult films. In fact both Morse and she later reteamed to star in The Loved One just a year after doing this one. That film is far superior and a movie you should definitely see while avoiding this one at all costs.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Another Chance (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jaded playboy seeks redemption.

John Ripley (Bruce Greenwood) enjoys trying to bed every attractive woman that comes along. He even has his dog Rocky trained to bite on their purses and lead them over to him wherever he may be sitting. He is a big star on the daytime soaps and uses this position to take advantage of every young, nubile starlet willing to go to have sex with an established actor if it can in some way help boost their career. Then he meets the beautiful Jackie (Vanessa Angel) and starts to have strong feelings for her, but she catches him with another woman and it’s all over. He tries to win her back, but in the process loses his job and home. While working a part-time gig at a look-a-like show he gets into an ugly confrontation with a psychotic man resembling Humphrey Bogart (Robert Sacchi) who pulls out a gun and shoots him on the spot. John then finds out that he has been banished to hell, but pleads for one more shot at redemption, which he is given, but only if he can win back Jackie’s heart.

The film, which was written and directed by B-actor Jesse Vint, certainly has a crazy wide open storyline that seems to want to mix in the mindset of today’s modern world with that of spiritual one, which doesn’t work at all. Initially I thought the heaven and hell thing was thrown in simply as a plot device, but the more it continued the more I became convinced that this movie was intended to be religious one even though it gets enveloped inside the jaded world of modern day Hollywood, which just makes it all the more loopy.

In more competent hands this might’ve worked as an interesting curio, but the script needed to be better focused and the editing much tighter. The narrative is too heavy-handed to take seriously and everything gets photographed in a flat sort of way making the whole thing seem on par to a TV-movie instead of a theatrical one.

Greenwood gives an engaging performance and helps make a potentially unlikable character more tolerable. Angel is good too and it’s too bad she couldn’t have been in more scenes. The supporting female cast is overall quite attractive, but they’re all made to dress and act like bimbos. Anne Ramsey is on-hand for a brief bit as John’s crabby landlady and Allan Rich has a supporting role as a sleazy agent, but overall the one thing I liked most about the movie was Rocky the dog and that’s about it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jesse Vint

Studio: Moviestore Entertainment

Available: VHS