Monthly Archives: January 2018

Roller Boogie (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save the roller rink.

Terry (Linda Blair) comes from an affluent upbringing, but resents how little attention that she gets from her busy, preoccupied parents (Roger Perry, Beverly Garland). She finds refuge with the roller skating crowd that populates Venice Beach and starts up a relationship with Bobby (Jim Bray) who has aspirations of going to the Olympics. The two team up as a couple to win a roller boogie contest only to realize that the rink where it is to be held has been threatened for closure by an unscrupulous land develop (Mark Goddard) who uses mob-like tactics to get what he wants. Terry, Bobby and he rest of the roller skating crowd plot a way to save the place before it’s too late.

The film is nothing more than a vapid gimmick made to cash in on the roller boogie fad that caught on in the late ‘70s for a few seconds before mercifully fading away. Director Mark L. Lester who has done some great work with other low budget films by making them compact and exciting fails to the do the same here. Way too much footage showing the kids roller skating around the rink that quickly becomes derivative and almost nauseating. The script by Barry Schneider is filled with an overabundance of colloquial phrases that gives the dialogue an amateurish and grating quality. It also plays up the stereotypes of rich people to the extreme almost putting it on a camp level without intentionally trying to be campy.

The storyline dealing with Terry’s rich family background doesn’t make sense. For one thing Blair is all wrong for the part as she conveys too much of a down-to-earth personality almost like she has no relation to her parents and not from that environment, but instead plucked from a working-class neighborhood and supplanted into the home like some fish-out-of-water.

Why this young woman, who has a scholarship to Juillard, would want to win a trivial roller boogie contest anyways is a mystery? What long term benefits is it going to get her? The story would’ve worked better had it borrowed the Saturday Night Fever formula where Terry was from a poor, struggling background, of which Blair’s acting skills better reflects, who needs to win the contest to achieve some money and get herself out of a desperate situation, which also would’ve gotten the viewer more emotionally connected to her dilemma.

The storyline dealing with the roller rink being forced out of business is dumb too. With such large crowds of teens the place should be rolling in dough, so why isn’t it and isn’t there another roller rink in the area that the kids could go to instead? If the kids were really smart they would simply wait a week for this silly fad to go out-of-style and then jump into the new, completely different silly fad that would come along to replace it.

Bray had no formal acting training and was merely brought in for his roller skating skills, which are impressive, but his speaking voice is annoying. Despite being from California he has a strangely distinct Nordic accent like someone raised in the upper Midwest and better suited as a cast member for Fargo. By comparison Blair’s acting comes off as pretty strong in the scenes that she shares with him, but then again with Bray’s placid presence just about anybody and their pet hamster could’ve achieved the same thing.

On the flip-side from a completely voyeuristic standpoint the film is kind of fun as it drowns itself in late ‘70’s kitsch giving it a certain tacky appeal seeing the people on screen revel in it that now I’m sure would be quite embarrassed by it, which is why I suppose this film has achieved a revival of sorts with modern day audiences.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing in the Astrodome.

Having won the league championship game a year after losing the first one the Bears now look to play the Houston Toros at the Astrodome between games of a Major League double-header. The problem is that they no longer have a manager, so Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as one for the team’s benefit. Kelly and his father do not get along, which causes friction with the rest of players, as they prepare to play the Toros who are much bigger physically and have far more talent.

If there was ever a reason as to why making a sequel from a successful first film is usually a bad idea this movie could be held up as the best example. The originality and fresh humor from the first gets completely lost here. While the first one conveyed a strong message this one has none at all and barely even a story instead just a thin plot wrapped around episodic comedy that barely elicits even a chuckle.

It does at least allow for some screen time showing the parents of the kids, which was woefully lacking in the first one. It also gives the kids more speaking lines and their presence is more central to the storyline while in the first film it was almost completely spun around Matthau. Unfortunately with the exception of Haley and Jimmy Baio, who plays Carmen the team’s new pitcher, none of the child actors have enough talent to carry the movie, which makes the scenes with them in it quite lethargic and lifeless.

Devane is extremely weak in the lead and his character poorly defined. The way he gets asked to volunteer as the team’s coach is quite awkward and the fact that he literally takes over the team in a matter of just 2 short days like he’s a seasoned manager that’s been doing this for years seemed unrealistic. It was also hard-to-believe that this guy, who worked at a pipe fitting plant, would be so adept at baseball strategy and able to convey these skills to the players as effectively as he does without having any prior experience.

The Astrodome is captured as being this impressive monolithic structure when in reality, if you see it in person, it is quite underwhelming. I realize when it was first built in 1964 it was considered the ‘8th wonder of the world’, but time has not been kind to it. If you go to see it now, which I did just this past summer, it gets dwarfed considerably by the far bigger and more majestic looking Reliant stadium, which sits right next to it. There are so many other buildings that have been built around it that the Astrodome now gets easily overlooked and almost forgotten making Kelly’s fascination with the structure seem quite dated.

In the first film the climactic game was full of high drama, but the one here is a bore. Watching the security guards try to tackle Tanner (Chris Barnes) and carry him off the field is genuinely funny and probably the film’s one and only highlight in this otherwise pointless excursion that would’ve been best left unmade.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Endless Love (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance turns into obsession.

Based on the acclaimed Scott Spencer novel the story focuses on two teens locked in a relationship built around complete infatuation. Jade (Brooke Shields) is only 15 while David (Martin Hewitt) is a high school senior and 17. Jade’s parents (Don Murray, Shirley Knight) are aware that the two teens are having sex, but choose to be ‘open-minded’ and allow it, but when Jade’s grades begin to suffer her father demands that David not see her until the school year is over. David is upset at this ultimatum and decides, through advice from one of his friends (Tom Cruise) to set Jade’s house on fire and then at the last minute come in and ‘save’ them while making him look like a ‘hero’ and get back into their good graces, but things don’t work out as planned.

The film’s biggest detriment is that it chooses to emphasize mood over substance. The teen’s sex sessions are shot with a soft focus lens and gives off too much of a dreamy, fantasy feel. We are never shown how the relationship actually began as the film starts off with the two are already madly in love. It gets mentioned that they were introduced to each other by Jade’s older brother (James Spader) but it would’ve been interesting to have seen this played out as the really good movies ‘show it instead of just tell it’.

Shields has the face of an innocent 15-year-old, but her acting is not up to par and I never got the feeling of any genuine chemistry between the two. Hewitt, in his film debut, doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the movie and gets badly outperformed by Spader who would’ve played the David character far better and could also help explain why Spader has remained in the acting profession while Hewitt since 1993 has been running a home inspection business and no longer acting in movies at all.

The film’s second-half shifts too much focus on David to the point that Jade becomes this mysterious enigma. The father bars David from seeing Jade at their house, but the two could’ve easily have gotten together at school or some other place. If the two were both equally infatuated then they would’ve found a way to see each other, but they don’t, so what does this mean? Was Jade not as in to David as it was thought and what exactly was she doing and thinking during those two years when David was stuck in a mental hospital? None of this gets explained, which becomes the film’s biggest plot hole.

The story relies too heavily on extreme circumstances. For instance David’s friend gives him the idea to set the place on fire by using a stack of old wet newspapers. David then immediately goes to Jade’s home where almost like magic is a stack of old newspapers sitting on the front porch just waiting to be doused in flames. David’s chance meeting with Jade’s father in the middle of New York on a crowded highly traveled sidewalk seemed to pushing the odds as well.

Knight gives a good performance as the mother, but having the lady literally throw herself at David when he gets out of the mental hospital even after he tried to set her family on fire makes her seem crazier than he is. Murray is equally good as the father, but the fact that the guy allows the two to have sex in their house at such a young age makes him unlike most parents. Just about anyone else would’ve seen the red flags far sooner and the fact that he doesn’t until it’s too late makes him seem unusually naïve.

Spencer once stated in an interview how very disappointed he was with this film and how he felt director Franco Zeffirelli missed the whole point of what his novel was about. I agree as Zeffirelli seems driven to turn the whole thing into a modern day Romeo and Juliet while equating unhealthy obsession with love, which it isn’t. This all comes to a glaring clarity with the film’s final shot, which is the most annoying thing about this already annoying movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From losers to winners.

Ex-minor league baseball player and now full-time pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) gets hired to coach a bunch of unskilled, untalented kids in a competitive baseball Little League. At first Buttermaker is only interested in collecting a paycheck and has no drive in teaching the kids the fundamentals or even in winning, but things change after the season opener when his team gets drubbed by the far superior Yankees. Buttermaker takes offence at their arrogant manager (Vic Morrow) and feels compelled to ‘show-him-up’. To do this he brings in the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) to be the team’s new pitcher as well as Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) who is an excellent fielder and hitter, but as his competitive juices flow, so does his surly side making the game no longer fun to play for the kids.

Don’t be fooled because this is anything but a simple kid’s flick. Sure the kids can watch it and enjoy it, but the multi-layered story brings out many issues that the adults will be more than able to relate to. Director Michael Ritchie deftly picks-up on the many nuances of Little League culture and if one played in it or was involved in any capacity then this movie will tap into those memories and bring back a flood of nostalgia.

My only complaint is a missing side-story dealing with the parents attending the games. It is mentioned in passing how the adults are able to be friendly with each other as the season begins, but by the end they are usually no longer on speaking terms, but it would’ve been much more revealing had this been shown instead of just discussed.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster who was the son of legendary actor Burt Lancaster. He based the story of his own experiences of playing Little League ball and the Buttermaker character is supposedly a composite of his famous dad.

This also marks the fifth film that Ritchie directed dealing with the theme of competition. His first was Downhill Racer, which dealt with the sport of skiing, The Candidate dealing with a senatorial race, Prime Cut, which was about rival crime syndicates, and Smile about the ugly side of beauty pageants and while all those flicks were good this one is his best.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s climactic game, which has the Bears taking on the mighty Yankees for the championship features many of baseball’s intricate tactics that will appeal to the seasoned fan, but still be straight forward enough for the novice to grasp. It also has the film’s most famous scene where the Yankees’ manager smacks his own son (Brandon Cruz), who was the team’s pitcher, when he doesn’t obey his father’s instructions. Then on the very next play, and in order to get back at his dad, the kid fields a grounder, but refuses to throw it to first base, which allows the opposing team to score an easy run.

It is intended that the viewer should side with kid, but I didn’t. For one thing the dad’s advice was good, since this hitter had already gotten some runs off of him earlier it made sense to pitch low and outside. Just because he kid wants to ‘strike him out’ doesn’t mean that he will or that it’s a good idea. Strategy is a part of the game and that’s what a manger is there for. What happens if this kid grows up and plays in the big leagues and then decides he doesn’t want to do what the manager tells him. How’s that going to go over?

The kid also seemed like an incredibly self-centered little brat. Supposedly he lives with his dad 24/7, so couldn’t he have picked some other time to get back at his old man instead of jeopardizing the game for the rest of his teammates who are counting on him to help win?

This also brings up the issue of who’s really the ‘mean manager’.  It’s supposed to be Morrow, but Matthau in a lot of ways gets just as bad if not worse especially with the way he ends up treating Amanda making me almost surprised that she showed up the next day to play. To me it would’ve been more satisfying having one of the Bears players do to Matthau what the son did to his father and in my opinion Matthau would’ve deserved it more.

This then brings up the third issue which is the fact that Matthau has this extraordinary epiphany in the middle of the big game where he realizes in his zest to win he might’ve pushed things too far and decides to pull back. I realize this is the film’s central theme, which is that becoming overly competitive is not good and can turn otherwise nice people into assholes if they aren’t careful, but the shift comes off like a Jekyll and Hyde. Most of these types of games last for only an hour, so having a guy at the start of the hour come off as this relentless warrior willing to do whatever it takes to win only to end the game being this high minded idealist lecturing the other parents on how it’s important that all the children get a chance to play even if it means blowing the game seems too severe for such a short period of time.

I wasn’t completely happy about the Bears losing the big final game either. Normally I’d consider this a good thing because it works against the formula. It’s also beneficial for kids to realize that not everyone ends up with the big trophy or that ‘the good guys always win’, but more important to hold your head high and be proud of your accomplishments, yet I still remained a bit frustrated. You become so emotionally invested in them winning that it’s deflating when it doesn’t happen, but it’s still one of the best sports movies ever made either way!

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Star Chamber (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Judges form vigilante group.

Idealistic young judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is sickened by the fact that so many known criminals are able to avoid jail time through legal technicalities. His friend and fellow judge Ben (Hal Holbrook) tells him of a secret underground group consisting of nine judges who have a hit-man sent out to kill the criminals who were otherwise able to get off through legal loopholes by the regular courts. Steven initially likes the idea and even sits in as one of the judges, but then he tries to stop a hit when it is later determined that the criminals set for vigilante execution were actually innocent, but finds to his horror that once the ball is set in motion there is no way it can be stopped.

The film is nicely directed by Peter Hyams who makes great use of mood lighting particularly in the scenes showing the nine judge tribunal as well as Steven’s visit to an abandoned warehouse. There is also a terrific foot chase at the beginning that is as exciting and intense as any car chase out there and it reminded me of a similar foot chase done in Busting, which was also helmed by Hyams.

The story by Roderick Taylor is an intriguing one, but it takes too long to get to the second act. The whole first hour is spent dwelling on Steven’s quandary of letting known criminals off-the-hook, which becomes quite derivative and could’ve easily been addressed in only 5 minutes. The story would’ve worked better had it started with Steven already involved in the underground organization and then through a brief flashback shown how he came to be there.

The scenes involving the vigilante tribunal are good, but I ended up having a lot of questions that never got answered or even touched on. For instance only one assassin (Keith Buckley) carries out all of the hits, but who is this guy and how did he come to work for them? Who’s the middle-man who gives him the assignments and how much does he know about the organization and what happens if he gets caught and starts talking to the police? How widespread is this movement and does it cover cases from the entire nation or only a certain area and are there other organizations like this one in other parts of the country and around the world?

I liked the wrinkle that gets thrown in, in which two criminals (Don Calfa, Joe Regalbuto) who Steven thinks are deserving of punishment, but later found to be innocent. Too many times Hollywood films dealing with this theme portray it in too much of a one-dimensional way that fails to bring out how vigilantism can sometimes be just as dangerous as the criminals it hopes to punish. Unfortunately the film fails to tackle the full complexity of the issue and instead just barely touches the surface.

The film also avoids making any clear statement or taking any position, which makes the whole thing come off as quite transparent when it’s over. The ending has no conclusion and leaves everything wide-open, which is a real cop-out. The concept is a good, but it needs to be redone by people who are willing to delve deeper as the effort here is too shallow to be considered satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

One on One (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A college basketball star.

Henry Steele (Robby Benson) becomes the star of his small town high school basketball team, which is enough to get him a scholarship to a university in California on their team. Once there he becomes overwhelmed by the demands of his coach (G.D. Spradlin) as well as the under-the-table ‘business side’ of college athletics. The disappointed coach eventually asks him to rescind his scholarship, but Henry refuses leading to many brutal practices where the coach tries to make life a living hell for him, which he hopes will get Henry to finally quit, but to everyone’s surprise Henry perseveres and shows more grit in him than anyone ever imagined.

The script, which was co-written by Benson and his father Jerry Segal shows a revealing look of the underside of college sports making it quite compelling to watch particularly the first half-hour where Henry gets introduced to many things he hadn’t come into contact before including getting involved with ‘payouts’ to college benefactors, drugs, wild parties, amorous secretaries (Gail Strickland) and even romance with his tutor Janet (Annette O’Toole). The film has a nice year-in-the-life approach where the viewer feels like they are following Henry around by his side and experiencing the same first-hand situations as he does. It also examines the discrimination that athletes go through, which is rarely tackled in other films, dealing with Janet’s boyfriend Malcolm (James G. Richardson) who mocks Henry and other athletes like him for being ‘unintellectual’ and trained to passively obey all rules handed to them by their coaches while unable to think for themselves.

Benson’s performance of a wide-eyed, naïve small town lad works and the viewer can’t help but chuckle at his initial inability to handle the many new challenges he’s faced with while also remaining sympathetic to his ongoing quandary. Many actors may not be able to pull off such a feat, but Benson, who’s a far better performer than people may realize, does so flawlessly particularly the times when his character fights back and grows from a hayseed kid to a full grown man.

Spradlin has the perfect look and voice for a college coach and he coincidentally played a coach in North Dallas Forty, which came out that same year. However, his facial expressions reveal too much of his inner feelings particularly that of concern and worry where an actual coach would try to mask these vulnerable feelings from their players in order to prevent them from ‘reading’ what they are thinking and maintain more control.

Henry’s relationship with Janet comes off as forced. The two clearly were on opposite ends of the intellectual plain and I didn’t see what if anything that they actually had in common. Having Henry read ‘Moby Dick’ one of her favorite novels didn’t seem to be enough of a catalyst to have her suddenly fall-in-love with him. She brought in other athletes into her apartment to tutor and since she was paid $265 an hour I’d doubt she’d give that up, which most likely could cause tensions with their relationship, but this never gets addressed.

The songs by Seals and Croft don’t help and the film would’ve been better had they not been involved. They had some great chart toppers during the ‘70s, but slowing up the film by having a montage with their songs played over it takes the viewer out of the drama and unwisely reminds them that they’re just watching a movie instead. The Seals and Croft sound doesn’t coincide with a spots theme at all and it’s too bad that the Hall and Oates hit of ‘One on One’ hadn’t been released earlier  because that song would’ve been a better fit.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending has a dreamy/sports clichéd feel particularly the way Henry comes off the bench and scores all the points as the team scratches and claws their way from behind, which could be enough to make some viewer’s eyes roll, but the fact that all the fans run onto the court afterwards is what had me. This was only an early season game and usually fans only do this during a crucial late season contest or championship. Henry’s team was expected to go undefeated and they were losing to a team that they were favored to beat, so if anything the fans would’ve been annoyed that the game was so close and not inclined to rush the court, but more thankful that they had avoided a potential loss and then critical that the squad was not living up to expectations.

Having Henry stand-up to the coach at the end and leave the team may have been emotionally satisfying for a few seconds, but in the long run he’d be better off had he stayed. If he joined a new team he’d have to start all over again proving himself to the new coach and teammates while here he had finally gotten that out of the way. He’d also have to move to a new school, which would’ve hurt his relationship with Janet.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though as sports movies go this isn’t bad and pretty realistic most of the way. Fans of college basketball should enjoy it as it gives one a sort-of behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of college athletics.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dad fucks the babysitters.

Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are two friends from high school who babysit for Bob (George Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). One night while Bob is taking the two babysitters home in his car he decides to make a sexual overture to them and they both enthusiastically reciprocate, which ends up turning into a mini sex orgy. Soon the three are routinely getting together for sexual trysts until Michelle eventually catches on and leaves Bob while taking the kids with her. Sue’s parents find out too, which causes a great deal of stress and infighting amongst the three.

This offbeat comedy unexpectedly became a big worldwide cult hit that made stars of the three leads particularly the two women whose first film this was. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s director Alan Clarke or its writer Andrea Dunbar who both tragically died just 3 years after the film’s release. Clarke from cancer while Dunbar, who was living on welfare and an alcoholic, passed away at her local pub at only 29 years of age.

The film comes off as an odd mix of lighthearted comedy and gritty drama that doesn’t completely work. The story jumps from the upscale middle class neighborhood of Bob’s house to the abject poverty of Sue and Rita’s family life with their apartments so vividly rundown that it’s almost horrifying to imagine anyone could live in such squalor. Part of the reason for this shift is that the film was based on two of Dunbar’s plays, the first being ‘The Arbor’, which was an autobiographical story of her growing up in the slums and at the hands of an abusive father, which she wrote at the age of 15 as a class project, and the other on a later play that she wrote with the same title as the film.

Why director Clarke choose to mix the two plays together into one film I’m not sure. Maybe he thought it would give the story more substance, but it really doesn’t. The antics that go on here could’ve happened in any neighborhood and income bracket making the stark, dramatic scenes of the girl’s sad home life seem inconsequential and meandering.

I didn’t like the film’s abrupt start either as it jumps almost immediately to the three getting-it-on inside the car without any backstory. I kept wondering when did Bob get the idea to make a pass at the two girls and why are the girls so unsurprised when he does? I would think most young women would be shocked when an older man that they babysit for would suddenly make an aggressive sexual come-on and yet here these two aren’t, but why? What sort of signals were the two sending out to Bob to make him feel that he could behave the way he does? Was he already getting ideas when they first came to babysit for him, or did it evolve later? These questions and scenarios never get shown or answered, but should’ve.

We also never see Rita and Sue interacting with the children. The scenes involving their babysitting shows them either sitting watching TV or stuffing their faces with snacks after raiding Bob’s refrigerator while the two children remain complete afterthoughts that are only shown briefly for a few seconds at the 54 minute mark and that’s it, which then brings me to another crucial question. Why is it necessary to hire two babysitters to watch over two kids? When I was younger and babysat I could easily watch my neighbor’s two kids without any help. When I was a child only one babysitter was hired to look after me and my two siblings. Hiring two teen girls to look after two kids is highly impractical and quite unusual to the point that it makes no sense.

The ending leaves open a lot of questions making the film seem almost like an incomplete treatment to a wider story. For instance the three end up moving in together without showing whether this unusual living arrangement would be able to sustain itself long term. I was also curious to see how Bob would explain this arrangement to his children when they came to visit. There is also a side-story dealing with Sue’s relationship with a Pakistani boyfriend (Kulvinder Ghir) that seemed better suited for another movie altogether.

The scenes involving the three inside the car are the funniest, but otherwise I’m not sure why this movie became the hit that it did.  There’s also too many tracking shots almost like director Clarke found himself a new toy that he couldn’t help playing with. Initially the constantly moving camera comes off as innovative and gives the film added energy, but it ends up getting overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Clarke

Studio: Film Four International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Beer (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This beer is flat.

An ad agency goes on the offense when their top client Norbecker beer (Kenneth Mars) threatens to pull their account. B.D. Tucker (Loretta Swit) is put in charge of introducing a new ad campaign that will excite viewers. After she witnesses three men (Elliot Morrison, William Russ, Saul Stein) subdue a gunman at a bar she decides to hire them to star in her new commercial were they’re portrayed as macho men and chick magnets, which causes controversy when female viewers find the ads to be sexist.

Normally I love satire and find it sad that there are so few satirical movies out there and yet it’s films like these that have single-handedly killed the genre. The attempt at mixing the acerbic wit of Network with the work place politics of How to Succeed at Business without Really Trying and then throwing them into the rapid-fire joke structure of Airplane doesn’t work and only succeeds at producing more groans than laughs. The tone is inconsistent with too many dumb gags thrown in for the sake of a cheap laugh that many times has nothing to do with the main theme. Taking satirical jabs at the advertising business is too easy and been done before while portraying the industry and the people who work in it in too much of a generic way. You’ll find a more realistic portrait of the business and on-target satire from a weak episode of ‘Bewitched’ than anything you’ll see here.

The three male leads lack pizazz and are incredibly bland and transparent. The film might’ve had a better chance of working had it cut the three characters down to just one, hired an actor who had some actual presence and then geared the story completely from his point-of-view, so the viewer like the protagonist could see the ugly side of advertising biz first-hand from an outsider’s perspective.

The supporting cast fails to help. Mars does a softer version of the caricature that he portrayed in The Producers, but here it fails to elicit even a small chuckle. Swit, who was nearing 50 at the time, looks great, but her performance lacks verve. Sandra Bernhard, who was initially cast in the role and then later fired, would’ve been a better choice for this type of material.

Dick Shawn’s attempt to emulate Phil Donahue doesn’t work as he fails to share any of Donahue’s same mannerisms although seeing him prance around on stage as he goes from one audience member to the next is worth a few chuckles. The scene though, which involves female audience members shouting their disproval of the beer commercials at the three men who starred in them, would’ve been stronger had it been Swit a fellow female that was onstage taking the women’s heat instead of the men.

The biggest transgression though is that after bombarding us with one silly comedic idea after another it then decides to suddenly at the end make a ‘serious statement’, which is utterly hackneyed. You can’t spend the majority of time being inane only to get ‘profound’ at the last minute, which makes this production seem even more amateurish and misguided than it already is.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Patrick Kelly

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Electric Dreams (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: His computer becomes jealous.

Miles (Lenny Von Dohlen) is a young architect seeking to get his life more organized, so he buys a personal computer (voice of Bud Cort) and sets it up in his apartment. A beautiful young cellist named Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves in next door to him and practices her cello each day while at home. Miles’s computer, which goes by the name of Edgar, overhears her playing and falls in love with the sound and her in the process. When Miles becomes attracted to her the jealous computer tries everything it can to thwart their relationship.

I enjoyed the imaginative visual style implemented by Steve Barron in directorial debut. In fact it’s the film’s only selling point as the bland script offers little that is funny or interesting and drags on at a snail’s pace with hardly anything actually happening.

Sometimes it’s fun watching films from a bygone era and seeing how much technology has changed, but this thing gets so fanciful with it that it becomes illogical instead. Clearly the filmmakers had no understanding at how a computer actually works as this machine is able to do things that no normal PC could. For instance it’s able to make the knob on Miles’ door turn hot, so he can’t leave his apartment. It’s also able to connect to the servers of Miles’s credit card company even though this is before the advent of the internet and somehow shut off his credit. There’s also a scene where Miles pours champagne on the computer’s keyboard, which doesn’t permanently disable it even though we all know that in reality it would’ve.

It takes too long for the computer to become evil and then when it does it ends pretty quickly. The machine lacks a distinctive look and should’ve been made more ‘evil’ appearing, which would’ve helped coincide with the film’s otherwise flashy visual look. Bud Cort’s voice talents go to waste as it gets electronically altered until it’s unrecognizable and therefore could’ve been anyone’s.

Madsen is good, but the story is geared too much towards the preteens. The trite, overly innocuous script needed more bite, or an added edge to make it interesting to adults who will most assuredly be bored.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Barron

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Region 2 and 0)