Monthly Archives: December 2016

Superdad (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: This movie is awful.

Charlie McCready (Bob Crane) is worried that his daughter Wendy (Kathleen Cody) is hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’ and dating a guy (Kurt Russell) that has no ambition. He tries spending more time with her and her friends in order to get her to appreciate his more conservative viewpoints, but finds that this doesn’t work. He then concocts a scheme to have her go to a different college than her boyfriend by pulling some strings and having someone on the board come up with a phony scholarship, but when she finds out about this she runs away in a rage and begins hanging out in a hippie commune run by a cult leader named Klutch (Joby Baker) who intends to force Wendy to marry him while Charlie tries his best to stop it.

This was Disney’s attempt at tackling the generation gap phenomenon, but the results are shallow with characters and issues that are too one-dimensional and generic to be considered relevant. There isn’t even any of that patented Disney slapstick, which could’ve at least allowed some diversion from the otherwise tedium. To top it off the music is excruciatingly sappy including an opening tune sung by Bobby Goldsboro, which could be enough to make most people want to turn it off before the film has even barely begun.

In hindsight having Crane cast as a character who preaches old-school values when in reality he was living such an excessively hedonistic lifestyle is the height of all irony. The way his character is so preoccupied with his daughter to the point that he even dreams about her is borderline creepy and makes it seem like he has some sort of latent incestuous obsession with her.

The worst thing though is his acting specifically with the way he would scream out whenever his character is in some sort of danger like when he goes water skiing. Larry Hagman always had the best yell especially as Tony Nelson in the TV-Show ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ as his shrieks sounded masculine while Crane’s sound more like a high pitched scream from a female and are disconcerting instead of funny.

The Wendy character is another weak point. First she has parents who have brown eyes and in Crane’s case jet black hair as well, so if the dark gene is always the dominant one then how where they able to produce a blonde, blue-eyed offspring? Her character is also too transparent and too subservient to adult authority and not like an actual teen at all. There is one brief moment where she rebels by becoming a hippie chick, which could’ve at least added an interesting dimension to the otherwise sterile role, but unfortunately the film drops this thread just as soon as it gets introduced.

The depiction of the cult-like hippie group that is run by a controlling leader who happens to also be a painter, which ironically gets played by actor Joby Baker who later quit his acting career to become a full-time painter, is like with everything else in this movie quite generic. Clearly it was based on the Manson cult, but I got the feeling that the filmmakers were trying to send a broader message by inferring a judgmental view that all hippies ended up this way, which just proves how out of touch they were with the younger generation as they clearly didn’t understand or appreciate their lifestyle at all, which ultimately proved they were unfit to make a movie dealing with the generation gap subject in the first place.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Walt Disney Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Virus on a train.

A terrorist (Lou Castel) who’s infected with the pneumonic plague sneaks onto a train in order to escape capture, but in the process infects the other passengers. U.S. Colonel MacKenzie (Burt Lancaster) devises a plan to have the train rerouted to a quarantine camp in Poland, but this will require the train to go over a bridge known as the Cassandra Crossing, which has not been used since 1948 and could be structurally unsound. When the passengers realize what the plan is they revolt and make an attempt to stop the train before it gets there, but will it be too late?

The way the bridge gets photographed is excellent and helps make it seem like a third character. An actual working bridge known as the Garabit Viaduct was used and is still in operation today, so the filmmaker’s ability to effectively make it look old and weakened is impressive. The climactic sequence showing the train going over the bridge is very exciting and well shot even if certain angles look conspicuously like a toy train instead of a real one it’s still a showstopper and well worth sitting through just to get to that point.

The film though fails on many other levels. For one thing the characters are not likable, or even all that interesting, so the viewer has little empathy as to whether they are able to make it through their quandary or not. The train is too ordinary looking with little pizazz or visual appeal and more attempts should’ve been made to have a luxury one used instead. The fact that the patients begin to miraculously recover from the disease during the second half makes sitting through the first part almost pointless.

The cast is filled with a lot of familiar faces. Ava Gardner is great in a role that allows her to show some key comic touches, but Sophia Loren, who was cast because her husband at the time was the producer, is completely wasted and forgettable. Lancaster is equally stymied in a role that has him virtually locked inside a control room with not much to do except look perpetually worried. Having his character decide to not panic the passengers by telling them about the virus, but instead he chooses to lie and inform them that the train is being rerouted to avoid bombs planted onto the railway line by terrorists ends up inadvertently getting the passengers just as upset to the point that it’s unintentionally funny.

Richard Harris who plays a doctor trying to treat the infected people while also working to prevent the train from driving into an impending disaster is the only cast member who gives the film any life. Like in the similarly themed Juggernaut his brash and irreverent approach that openly stands up to authority without hesitation helps to make his anti-hero persona seem genuine and refreshing, which in turn makes the film more gripping. His attractive real-life wife Ann Turkel, who plays a singer in a hippie band here, isn’t bad either, or at least not on the eyes.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 8Minutes

Rated R

Director: George P. Cosmatos

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Outrageous Fortune (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bitter rivals share lover.

Lauren (Shelley Long) and Sandy (Bette Midler) join an acting class and find themselves at immediate odds. Little does Sandy know that Michael (Peter Coyote) the new attractive man that she has just met is also seeing Sandy on-the-side. When Michael disappears they reluctantly work together to try and find him only to realize that he may have been using both of them for nefarious and potentially dangerous means.

This is mindless, fluffy entertainment for sure and it doesn’t mind selling itself as such, but despite a runtime that goes on too long and a plot that becomes increasingly more farfetched it still works mainly because it’s genuinely funny. In fact there are several moments where I found myself chuckling out loud with the best part in my opinion coming near the beginning when Lauren begs her parents to borrow money so that she can attend an acting class.

The two leads help a lot. I always felt that Long should’ve stayed on ‘Cheers’ and her film career was for the most part a dud, but this is one of her better movie roles that takes full advantage of her prissy persona. Midler is terrific too and I admired how she really got into her part by insisting on doing her own stunts and she even has an impromptu moment where she decided to lie down on the road, which was not in the script, while a truck came dangerously close to running her over.

Coyote is good as the duplicitous boyfriend and it was interesting seeing him in a bad guy role, which he doesn’t do often, but this was yet another movie instance where we have a character that walks with a noticeable limp one minute only to have it strangely go away the next. On the flip-side Robert Prosky’s Russian professor caricature is overdone and George Carlin may be a legendary comedian, but his acting parts are never very funny.

For amiable entertainment it’s fun as long as you’re not too demanding, but there was one part that I thought was just too implausible. It comes during a chase sequence where in effort to elude the people who are after them Lauren and Sandy decide to hide themselves in two separate clothes dryers while the machines remain running. For one thing it is impossible to close the doors from the inside as they are intentionally made this way so little children can’t accidently lock themselves in. A person from the outside would have to shut the door in order for it to latch, so even if one did this for the other there is no way that they both could’ve done it. Also once the door is closed you would need someone from the outside to open it back up in order to get out and the prospect of a grown adult body being put into a dryer while it is running would most likely disable it, which makes the scene unable to meet even the minimum requiements of logic and therefore should’ve been left out.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Buddy Buddy (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suicidal man hampers hit.

Trabucco (Walter Matthau) checks into a hotel intent on completing a hit by shooting a mob informant before he can testify at trial. He’s already killed the two other informants with relative ease, but now finds this one to be much more complicated due to having to deal with Victor (Jack Lemmon) who resides in the adjoining room. Victor is upset that his wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) has left him for a sex therapist (Klaus Kinski) and proceeds to try to hang himself by tying the noose around the water pipes in the bathroom, but all he succeeds at doing is busting the pipes and creating a flood. Trabucco decides to ‘befriend’ the man in order to keep an eye on him and prevent him from trying to kill himself again, which he feels will only lead to unwanted attention from the authorities. However, Jack causes more problems for him than the police ever could.

This was the last film directed by Billy Wilder who stated in more than a few interviews that he considers this movie to be his poorest effort and his least favorite. Matthau and Lemmon have pretty much said the same thing as well. The film was a critical flop and lost 3.5 million at the box office, which helped to prevent Wilder from ever helming another movie again.

However, I was delightfully surprised at how funny I found this movie to be. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarity, but on a low-key level it works. The part where Lemmon gets tied to a chair and his mouth gagged while he screams at an ambivalent housekeeper (Bette Raya) to free him is quite good and the part where the two men going gliding down a clothes chute is fun too.

The whole thing is a remake of the French film A Pain in the A__, but it implements changes to the plot that improves it from the original. For one thing the dialogue is funnier, the two men have more genuine conversations and they even develop a bit of a bonding. The film adds more characters too like the beleaguered Captain Hubris played by Dana Elcar who tries in vain to protect the witnesses from Trubacco, but with little success. The distinctive musical score by Lalo Shifrin is also big improvement.

Lemmon is quite funny as he plays a sort-of hyped-up version of his Felix Unger character. Matthau seems a bit stymied in a role that allows for very little expression, but he still manages to make the most of it. My favorite performance though was that of Kinski who takes a rare comic turn and utters the movies best line: “Pre-ejaculation means always having to say you’re sorry.”

Having the two actually work together to complete the hit and then make an escape from the cops is good and something that did not occur in the original. The resolution, which takes place on a tropical island, is a bit of an improvement over the first one though it’s still not perfect. In either event it’s a relatively solid comedy that offers a few good laughs and deserves more attention especially for fans of Lemmon/Matthau.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

A Pain in the A__ (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser irritates hit man.

Ralf (Lino Ventura) works as a hit man and is hired to assassinate Louis Randoni (Xavier Depraz) who plans to testify against the mob. Ralf checks into a hotel room and plans to shoot Louis as he tries to enter the courthouse from his hotel window, which sits across the street from the court building. As he prepares for the hit he becomes distracted by Francois (Jacques Brel) in the neighboring room who attempts to kill himself after his wife leaves him. Ralf is concerned that Francois’s actions will elicit unwanted attention, so in an attempt to quiet him he ‘befriends’ him, which leads to many ironic scenarios.

The film was written by the prolific Francis Veber and based on his play. Ultimately it’s just a one-joke premise, but what makes it work are the two characters particularly the hit man who is portrayed in a serious way and never once betrays the essence of who he truly is, which is that of a cold blooded killer intent on doing his job and then moving on to his next. The comedy comes from his perturbed reactions at having to deal with a loser that despite his best intentions he can’t seem to ever get rid of.

Famous singer Brel does quite well as the clingy pest who is so wrapped up in his own personal quandaries that he fails to notice that his new ‘friend’ really isn’t his friend at all. Brel’s boyish looks plays well off of Ventura’s constantly stern expression and the plot becomes almost a constant play on errors as each one misreads the other.

The overall set design though is boring and the majority of action takes place solely inside the two hotel rooms, which eventually makes the proceedings quite static. It would’ve been nice to have had more of a conversation between the two as Brel does almost all of the talking while Ventura simply remains quiet while looking bored and angered, which is fun for a while, but more of a character arc could’ve been implemented.

The ending is a cop-out and not satisfying at all. I also felt Ventura was a bit too old and the character would’ve been more intimidating had it played by someone younger and more rugged although for the record Ventura plays the role perfectly especially when he gets injected with a drug that makes him tired and reluctantly  dependent on Brel’s guidance.

In 2008 Veber directed a remake of this film, which met with some success. Also in 1981 director Billy Wilder did an American version of this with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing the two leads. That film ended up adding a few changes and will be reviewed tomorrow.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Edouard Molinaro

Studio: Mondex Films

Available: VHS