Monthly Archives: July 2016

Heatwave (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting to save homes.

Stephen (Richard Moir) is an English architect employed by Robert (Bill Hunter) to construct a massive high-rise building in downtown Sydney that will be financed by Peter (Chris Haywood). However, the construction will require the demolition of several row houses and the eviction of those living in them. Kate (Judy Davis) takes up the cause by protesting the development and along with Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) are able to get a temporary block on the building project by getting the local builder’s union to instill a green ban. Stephen tries to fight this by attending the group’s meetings and airing out his side of the issue, but in the process finds himself more and more sympathetic to the residence especially when he finds out that Peter isn’t a completely honorable businessman and has no plans to use Stephen’s building design at all. When Mary mysteriously disappears he joins forces with Kate to try and find her only to unearth even more troubling and dark revelations along the way.

This film is based on a true-life incident and one of two movies made about it with the other one being The Killing of Angel Street, which will be reviewed here next month. The real-life event centers on Juanita Nielsen (1937-1975) who took up the anti-development cause when it was found that her home was pegged to be demolished in order to make way for three high-rise buildings in the Victoria Street neighborhood of Sydney. Her efforts managed to delay the project for three years, but the developer eventually became impatient and hired men to harass the residents who were trying to stop it and in the process kidnapped Nielsen even though her body has never been found and no one has ever been convicted of her murder.

The film here depicts Nielsen through the fictional character of Mary Ford, but what surprised me was that Ford is not the central person. Instead we only see her briefly at the beginning before she disappears and is generally forgotten while writer/director Phillip Noyce adds other fictional characters and story lines around her, which wasn’t as interesting as the actual case and I’m not sure why they didn’t just stick with the facts.

However, this still a highly intriguing thoroughly riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Part of what I liked about it is the way it shows things from the different perspective of the various characters while bringing out the myriad of complexities where nothing is black-and-white and no one is completely right or completely wrong. The viewer gets torn about whose side to be on, but fascinated with each new rapid-fire twist that comes about.

There are definite shades of L’Avventura here where a main character disappears and is essentially forgotten until it seems almost like she had never existed in the first place. The script offers no easy answers and instead shows in vivid and almost brutal detail how taxing and frustrating fighting for social change can be and the hopelessness one feels when they realize that all of their efforts may have made little or no difference.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (PAL, Region 0)

Lawman (1971)



By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He does not compromise.

Aging western marshal Jarrod Maddox (Burt Lancaster) rides into the town of Sabbath determined to retrieve five ranchers whose drunken revelry the year before resulted in the death of one of his town’s older citizens. The marshal of Sabbath (Robert Ryan) is reluctant to help Maddox while informing him that the town is ruled by land baron Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb) with a judicial system that is less than stellar. However, Maddox refuses to compromise on any issue no matter what odds or obstacles lay in the way.

During the ‘70s there was a trend to reinvent the western by instilling storylines that did not go along with the age-old, black-and-white formula while questioning the cowboy heroes of yesteryear and putting a grittier slant to the realism. Typically these newer westerns proved to be a refreshing change-of-pace and more in-tune with a hipper generation, which I normally would applaud, but in this rare case I wished that it had fallen back to the old ways.

For one thing Lancaster was still identified with the older film-goer and not in tune with the younger ones. His stiff and detached manner was a better fit to the film’s rigid character and quite frankly I was just plain intrigued to see how this man was somehow going to get all of these other men back to his town to stand trial when everyone else was entrenched to stop him.

Director Michael Winner however decides to switch gears on it and in an apparent attempt to make it more ‘relevant’ to the modern viewer slows the pace down to an almost screeching halt by implementing long-winded conversations and containing the action to only brief interludes while having an initially strong-willed character turn weak and indecisive. To me it was like slashing a tire and watching the air slowly drain out of it. The showdown at the end is anti-climactic and any potential tension is lost by a talky script and a bad guy (Cobb) who is dull and benign. The supporting cast of old pros is the only thing that saves it and I enjoyed the way each of them one-by-one got caught in bed with a prostitute at the town’s local whorehouse throughout the course of the film.

The Maddox character does indeed become an interesting enigma and even going against his supposedly upstanding nature by not only stealing two horses out of a nearby ranch when his is shot dead, but also at one point shooting an unarmed man in the back. Maybe this was the filmmakers attempt to show that western heroes where really human like the rest of us and full of the same contradictions, which could’ve elicited more discussion had the script been tighter.

This also marks the film debut of Richard Jordan a gifted character actor who died much too young, but managed to make some memorable movie appearances along the way. Here he portrays an young gunslinger attempting to stand up to Maddox, but unable to and at one point displays a cut on his face that looks more like a red leech stuck to his cheekbone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Valley Girl (1983)

valley girl

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Like totally, for sure.

Julie (Deborah Foreman) is a popular teen who is attracted to Randy (Nicholas Cage) who is not a part of her snotty clique. Stacey (Heidi Holicker) and Suzi (Michelle Meyrink) are her friends who want her to go back to dating the two-timing Tommy (Michael Bowen) even though she gets along with Randy far better. Her hippie parents (Frederic Forrest, Colleen Camp) aren’t sure what advice to give her, so she’s forced to choose between her friends and true-love while being threatened with ostracism if she goes out with the ‘wrong guy’.

The film was inspired by the Frank Zappa song, which is far funnier than anything that goes on here. The song had Zappa’s 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit putting on a fake southern California accent and speaking in a valley-speak lingo, which was right on-target. Here though we don’t get any of that. The girls only do the valley-speak thing at the very beginning and then it’s dropped and becomes just a pedestrian story of ordinary teens doing very ordinary teen-like things.

To me a valley girl represented a rich, plastic, entitled teen insulated from real-world issues who charged their Daddy’s credit card like it was a hobby and felt they were ‘too cool’ to work and more concerned with the latest teen fashions than anything else and yet the lead character here doesn’t represent any of this and in fact is the complete opposite.

The cast is also way too old for their roles. Foreman was already 21 and Bowen was 30! In fact none of the lead cast is of the right age range for their characters and making it look much more like college students or even young adults than high school. The party scenes are lame with the kids dancing like zombies moving their bodies in a robotic fashion with no sense or feel to the music or beat. The whole thing lacks hipness and comes off like a mild, sanitized concoction created by middle-aged adults far removed from the teen scene and unable to recreate it in any effective type of way.

Forrest and Camp are mildly amusing as the parents, but aging hippies running some backwoods type health food store probably wouldn’t be able to afford living in the valley let alone getting along with their more elitist neighbors. I was also disappointed that the Lee Purcell character just disappears without any denouncement. She plays Suzie’s very hot-looking mother, and with the possible exception of Foreman is quite easily the best looking member of the cast, who comes-on to one of her daughter’s guy friends (David Ensor) only to later catch the two in bed together, but what should’ve been a funny and lively confrontation and aftermath never gets addressed, which is a letdown.

On a purely romantic level the film could be considered ‘cute’ and the soundtrack has some cool tunes, but the story lacks oomph and fails to take advantage of the true valley girl persona ending up seeming more like just a mild ‘80s update of Gidget instead.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Le Mans (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car race of endurance.

Le Mans is a car race held annually in France in which the test is to show not only how fast the vehicle is, but also its reliability as cars are forced to drive for 24 straight hours with a minimum of pit stops. Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) is the driver who represents the American team and who is under a great deal of duress because of the fact that he caused an accident that killed another driver just a year before.

The film’s first thirty minutes may be its most captivating and has been described by many fans as being their favorite part of the movie. I loved seeing the empty stands fill up with people as it gives the viewer an authentic race day feeling. Every little facet of the race gets captured almost like it is a documentary with the emphasis more on ambience and the adrenaline it creates instead of a story and in fact no one utters a single line of dialogue until almost 40 minutes in. Watching the cars whizz by with the camera set directly on the pavement just inches away was enough to make me flinch and the wipeouts are particularly graphic and up close.

The film has very little of a backstory to the characters and one gets propelled into the race without much distinction between the various drivers, or even any emotional stake for who wins. Normally I’d say this is a good thing because the dramatic elements in these types of films can get overly drawn out and soap opera-like, but it also makes it a rather detached experience like watching a football game with no concern for either team, or the outcome. The drama that does get played out is boring with dialogue that is only on a conversational level. It also gets confusing as to which driver is in the lead and the constant shots of loud cars speeding by eventually becomes tedious.

Things manage to recover by the end with an exciting finish between three of the race’s drivers that even features a very dramatic tire blow-out. Unfortunately the middle half bogs it down so much that by the time it gets there you feel pretty worn out already. It also wastes the acting talents of McQueen. Granted I was impressed that he did his own driving, but the script doesn’t give him enough to do outside of that.

The film was known for its troubled production in which John Sturges the film’s original director left after being unable to deal with McQueen’s constant meddling and replaced with Lee H. Katzin. Katzin was mainly known for doing TV-Movies and I honestly don’t think had the skill to create the movie’s impressive visual style. I believe it was McQueen’s presence that forged that and I almost feel he should’ve been credited ultimately as the being the director, or at least co-director. The irony is that McQueen ended up not receiving any salary for his work here, or even a percentage of the profits and in fact refused to even attend the film’s premiere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated G

Director: Lee H. Katzin

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Music Lovers (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madness has no bounds.

This is a revealing look at Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and based on his own personal correspondences as he fought his homosexual tendencies by marrying Nina (Glenda Jackson) a woman he really did not love. Her nymphomania becomes something he cannot satisfy and he eventually abandons her where they then both go on to suffer their own personal forms of madness.

Pianists and composers were like what rock stars are today and I liked how director Ken Russell handles the concert sequence by infusing in the thoughts of the people as they listen to the music and therefore allowing the viewer to visualize the experience of a concert goer.

The scenes with Nina in the asylum are a good example of the grotesque imagery, but they are also well orchestrated and quite memorable. However at times it also gets overdone and unintentionally comical especially the sequence involving Chamberlain’s ill-fated attempt at lovemaking to Jackson on a shadowy, bouncing train car.

Russell shows no feeling for the subject and seems more interested in using it only as an excuse to show off his flashy style. The viewer is never allowed to get emotionally attached to the characters as we are only given a fragment of what these people were like and never the whole picture. The emphasis seems exclusively on their dark and self-destructive sides and watching their descent into madness is not very inspiring or insightful.

The casting of Chamberlain was a poor choice as the guy seems to have a very limited acting range. He is good looking, but lacks the charisma and his facial expressions rarely change while he shifts badly from underplaying the part to overplaying it.

Jackson fares far better and this could be considered a real find for her fans because she plays a type of character that she has never done before, or since. Usually she plays strong willed people, but here her character is weak allows herself to be dominated and exploited shamelessly even by her own mother while also taking part in a very provocative nude scene.

Overall if you like Russell’s style then you will enjoy it more than others. Otherwise it comes off as shallow, moody, and fragmented with some real slow spots during the middle half.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 24, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Money Movers (1979)

money movers 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Employees become the thieves.

Lionel Darcy (Frank Wilson) runs an Australian armored truck business that transports payroll funds from one location to the other. After there is a robbery to one of his trucks he tries to increase security measures in order to prevent another one from occurring unaware that his own employees, with help of a local crime boss (Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell) are planning an even bigger attack and everyone, even the police detective hired in to investigate the first crime, are in on it in one or the other.

The film is based on a novel by Devon Minchin, who worked as head of security for The Beatles when they were on tour in Australia and also owned at one time Australia’s largest armored car security company. The story itself is based on two real-life robberies that occurred in Sydney during the summer of 1970.

To me what stands out most about this film is how everyone, with the sole exception of Darcy, is thoroughly corrupt. There is no ‘good-guy’ in this movie, but instead of that being a turn-off it becomes almost like a running-joke where the viewer waits to find out what dark vice each new character will reveal to have. Fortunately they and their vices remain strangely engaging and this is mainly because none of them are portrayed as being inertly ‘evil’, but instead people sucked into an already screwed-up system and simply trying to make a living and doing it in the only way they know how.

Ed Devereaux , who plays a retired cop named Dick Martin, becomes the film’s reluctant protagonist although his presence gets refreshingly underplayed while having him look worn, aged and genuinely overwhelmed yet still remaining dedicated to his cause and ultimately managing to put a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Darcy, the only other non-corrupt character, is equally engaging albeit in an unconventional way as his utter cluelessness as just how criminally overrun his own company is, is a perfect comical testament to how many business owners and CEOs are thoroughly detached from the companies they run and the people they supposedly control.

The violence is graphic and impactful and one of the most memorable elements of the movie particularly during the final shootout that occurs inside the garage of the armor car company. There is none of this staged nonsense where the men have ‘manly’ fistfights that always get coupled with that annoying smacking sound-effect. Instead it gets captured in quick, ugly ways where the men desperately do whatever ugly tactic they can to stop the other one. The action is stark and unglamorous while given a bestial quality like starving animals fighting over a last piece of meat that leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve just witnessed an actual crime as it happened.

The film’s beginning is admittedly confusing and there should’ve been some backstory given before it jumps right away into the crime that features a dizzying array of shootings and double-crossings before the viewer is even able to figure out who is who. Yet after this awkward first part it manages to settle down while becoming a rapid-paced, in-your-face crime thriller that has proven to be highly influential and years-ahead-of-its-time.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video