Category Archives: 80’s Movies

On The Right Track (1981)

on1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid picks race winners.

Lester (Gary Coleman) is a homeless 10-year-old living inside at locker at a train station in Chicago. In order to make money he shines shoes and while he does he gets premonitions telling him who will be the winners of that day’s horse races. Frank (Michael Lembeck) is a cop in charge of juvenile delinquency. When he gets a call to have Lester removed from the train station and put into foster care he does so reluctantly until he meets Jill (Lisa Eilbacher) who he instantly falls for. Jill is an aspiring singer who looks out for Lester as best she can. She doesn’t want to let Frank take him away and Lester is deathly afraid of going outside the safe confines of the train station. Then Frank becomes aware of Lester’s ability to pick race winners and comes up with a plan that can make all three rich.

After watching Jimmy the Kid, the only other theatrical feature that starred Coleman, I didn’t think this one could possibly be worse, but I was wrong. The plot is incredibly weak, poorly thought-out, and Coleman is the least funniest thing in it. I’ll admit during the first season of ‘Different Strokes’ when he’d play the Arnold character and say his famous catchphrase ‘What you talking about, Willis?” he was cute and engaging, but here, playing a super smart kid that’s worldy-wise beyond his years, he’s a bore.

How he is able to know so much, from obscure sports records to health and science info, is not adequately explained. He doesn’t go to school and has no money to buy books and never leaves the train station in order to go to a library and this was light years before the internet, so where is he getting all this expertise from, or was this knowledge was just magically imprinted on his brain the second he popped out of the womb?  How he’s able to predict the horse race winners is another issue. What cosmic force allows him to see who the winner is and why does it only work if someone else places the bet, but if he does it then it won’t?

The humor is nonexistent and I didn’t laugh once though some of it is surprisingly edgy for a ‘family friendly’ movie. One segment has him talking about artificial insemination in which Coleman describes it as ‘sex without the fun’, which is something that would be said by an individual who’s actually had sex in order to know it was ‘fun’ not a kid. There’s even a bona-fide rape joke where Maureen Stapleton’s characters expresses her fear of being sexually assaulted and Coleman politely walks away without saying anything while subtly implying that he believes she’s ‘too ugly’ for that to happen. Another scene has Lembeck talking to Eilbacher about how he ‘got her into bed’ on their first date, which again is bit too mature of a subject for 10-year-old kids, who are the intended audience.

The supporting cast of old pros helps a little particularly Norman Fell as a wimpy mayor who’s afraid of heights. I also got a kick out of C. Thomas Cunliffe, who’s only movie appearance this was, who coneys all of his lines while chomping down on a cigar. Maureen Stapleton has an endearing quality as Mary the Bag lady who comes into a lot of money after placing  a bet on one of Coleman’s tips though I was a bit perplexed by a TV interview her character does in which the reporter describes her as being someone who ‘dropped out’ 12 years earlier, like a person ‘chooses’ to be homeless.

This also marks the film debut of Jami Gertz who plays ‘Big Girl’ though I admit I didn’t spot her. It was probably when I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead over the headache this annoying movie was giving me, which I did many times throughout.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Phillips

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

American Drive-In (1985)

american2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Evening at the movies.

Filmed at the old Sky Drive-In in Yucca Valley, California that has long since been abandoned, the film centers around a couple, Bobbie Ann (Emily Longstreth) and Jack (Patrick Kirton). Both are fresh out of high school and Jack plans to use the occasion of going to the drive-in to watch a horror flick called Hard Rock Zombies to propose to Bobbie Ann. Bobbie Ann is smitten with Jack, but after he gives her the ring she’s not so sure she’s ready to jump into marriage. Meanwhile Sarge (Joel Bennett), the leader of a local street gang, has his sights set on Bobbie Ann and plans to get rid of Jack while they watch the film, so that he and his buddies can gang rape Bobbie Ann in the back bleachers. While this is going on there’s also Councilmen Winston (John Rice) who’s running for mayor and feels it would be a great opportunity to break-up the local drug ring in town, which he feels is occurring at the drive-in and to prove it he gets his own kids to walk around and inquire where they can get their hands on some ‘Mary Jane’ and then film it thus looking like a hero to the public for exposing the drug pushers in the area.

This was the second-to-last film directed by Krishna Shah who was one of the first directors to start his career in Bollywood before graduating to Hollywood. His initial film was the so-so Rivals, but none of his movies ever met any critical or financial success, which caused him to become quite bitter in his later years. This project was the result of his frustration of doing serious, big budget pictures like The River Niger and Shalimar, which were made with a lot of promise, but both failed at the box office, so out of desperation he decided to try-his-hand at exploitation B-pictures only to be met with the same failures.

What struck me was how similar it is to Rod Amateau’s Drive-In that came out 9 years earlier complete with the same type of farcical comedy and stereotyped characters and both dealt with a teen gang trying to steal away a girl who was dating a super clean-cut kid all while watching a cheesy disaster flick onscreen. It was almost like they had watched that one and it had ‘inspired’ them to make this. They’d probably deny it and say they had no knowledge of the other flick, but if that were the case then it makes this one seem even worse as it lacks anything original both in humor or storyline.

A lot of the comedy falls flat including a segment that makes fun of fat people and shows them eating up their food in a close-up, slurping fashion that’s quite gross and portrays them as seeming like animals that most people in our body shaming culture today will find offensive. I also thought the running joke of this prostitute who services the male customers in her RV as the movie plays was a bit overboard as she takes-on one after the other in a brief 90-minute period. Not sure what the typical nightly quota for a sex worker is, but I would think that would be too exhausting, so unless the film was trying to portray prostitution in a campy way, which in this case I don’t think it was, then there should’ve been several women in the RV doing the guys versus just one.

The only inspired thing, or at least it seemed that way initially, was the it becomes a film within a film as Krishna Shah had also directed Hard Rock ZombiesSince that has been put on many a list of worst movies ever made I thought this was the unusual case of a director showing humility and openly mocking his own work, where at one point one of the characters even says “Whoever wrote this should be shot”, but that was apparently not what happened. Instead the zombie movie scenes was only intended for a brief few minutes, but then after filming them Shah got ‘inspired’ to turn that into a feature film, which is now considered even worse than this one.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a darker tone here than in Drive-In, when Bobbi Ann threatens to kill the gang members with her gun as the other people cheer her one. Emily Longstreth, who sadly hasn’t done a movie since 1994, looks quite sexy standing on a raised platform in a skimpy outfit while waving the gun around, which in my opinion is the only memorable moment, but the movie unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. This would’ve been a perfect time to have her kill-off everybody, which would’ve made sitting through this silly inane crap worth it by having a truly shocking finale. It could’ve been Carrie with guns instead of telepathy, but this stupid movie cops-out completely.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Patel/Shah Film Company

Available: DVD-R

Carbon Copy (1981)

carbon

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His son is black.

Walter (George Segal) is living the American Dream as a rich company executive residing in the gated community of a posh suburb while also driving a Rolls Royce. However, he’s not happy with his wife Vivian (Susan Saint James) who’s frigid, nor his daughter-in-law Mary Ann (Vicky Dawson) who’s mouthy and spoiled. Yet he remains in the marriage because Vivian’s father Nelson (Jack Warden) is also Walter’s boss and climbing the career ladder is important to him. Then one day Roger (Denzel Washington) drops by and introduces himself as Walter’s son from a relationship Walter had with a black woman many years ago. Walter enjoyed his time with her, but broke it off due to pressure from Nelson who said it would stymie his career. Now Walter feels guilty from what he’s done and wants to make it up by allowing Roger to move in with him, but once his wife finds out she gets him fired. All of his money is tied up in company stocks that is either under his wife’s or father-in-law’s control, so without any income he’s forced to move into a hotel with Roger and then eventually to a rundown apartment in a dangerous area.

The script was written by Stanley Shapiro who received accolades in the early part of his career for scripting many Doris Day movies during the 50’s and 60’s, but he clearly got in over-his-head with this one. The concept and overall reactions from the characters is dated even for 1981. I was around in ’81 living in a small Midwestern town and I didn’t see half the overt racism that the characters here display despite the fact that it all takes place in California known as the liberal capital of the world. I’m not saying there isn’t some racism everywhere, but it gets exaggerated.

The Saint James character is particularly problematic. She plays the part in a funny way, but it’s a caricature. It would’ve been more revealing had she not been this stereotyped rich white person who feels comfortable displaying her bigotry, which would’ve been socially taboo in L.A. and she’d know it, but instead pretending to be okay with it, or even being an outward liberal who tries to be hip with race relations, but then, in more subtle ways, becomes increasingly less comfortable as it goes along.

Segal’s character comes-off as a massive conformist who will do whatever is takes to a part of ‘acceptable’ society. He even changes his last name to hide the fact the he’s Jewish, so where is this rebel side who moved-in with this black lady back in the 60’s when that would’ve created outrage and scandal? Some may argue that people change, sure that can sometimes happen, but there needs to be some factor that created it and the movie does not make that clear. The fact that he morphs into somebody that was so different from what he used to be makes him seem like two different people with no connecting thread at all. A more plausible storyline would’ve had him getting drunk one night and picking-up a black women at a bar for a one-night-stand, or secretly hiring a black prostitute just because he was curious about having sex with someone of a different race and then thought nothing more of it once it was over. 

Susan’s character has the same issue. She coldly kicks Walter out of the house and then for some unexplained reason turns-up at the doorstep of his ratty apartment with her father and begs for him to come back, but with no clear rationale for what created this radical change-of-heart. I don’t think a racist, snotty woman like that would ever dare come into a dangerous area for any reason. She would’ve only done it had she been accompanied by armed guards, or maybe carrying a gun herself and openly flashing it, which could’ve been funny, but of course this stupid movie doesn’t even think to go there.

The over-the-top situations become increasingly ridiculous without a hint of nuance and as satire it’s about as sophisticated as an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. That’s not to say there can’t be some excellent films about race relations as I found The Landlord to be terrific, but this thing lacks any serious insight. Many consider Soul Man to be the worst 80’s film about a white man trying to understand the black experience and get in-touch with their own inner bias and the bias of those around them, but this I consider to be just as bad. Denzel Washington, who makes his film debut here, is the only good thing about it, it’s just a shame they couldn’t have given him better material.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)

bal

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pool hustlers travel country.

Nick (James Coburn) is an aging pool hustler who’s best days are behind him. Many years earlier he took a young 15-year-old boy named Billie Joe (Bruce Boxleitner) under his tutelage and taught him the tricks-of-the-trade. Now as a man Billie is able to play the game as well as Nick. The two travel the countryside attending pool halls where they hustle patsies for money. Nick though holds a grudge because a ways back he lost a crucial match to The Deacon (Omar Sharif) another hustler whose just been released from jail. Nick wants a rematch, but The Deacon doesn’t think he’s worthy of his time. Nick though got’s a scheme that will get him to change his mind by playing in a nationally televised pool tournament that The Deacon plans to attend.

For a film that has never had an official US DVD release and was only shown sporadically on late night TV I was surprised at how engaging it is. Screenwriters John Brascia and Robert Vincent O’Neill have written a highly amiable script that features funny vignettes and amusing banter. The focus isn’t on the game of pool, which seems almost like a side-light, but more on the scraps they get into along the way. The two also come into contact with those trying to cheat them and this culminates in an almost surreal like confrontation, that comes around the middle mark, inside a house of mirrors at a carnival side show.

The film also has a segment that seemed prolific in movies that came out during the late 70’s and early 80’s which features what would be considered sexual assault now. The scene has Nick betting Billie Joe that the breasts on a waitress at a cafe that they’re in is silicone and not natural. Billie then proceeds to go into the kitchen to feel-her-up without her consent. While what he does is not shown we do hear her scream and drop her tray of dishes before he walks back out with a broad smile on his face, which back in the day was just considered ‘light comedy’.

Coburn is a great actor, but looks horribly aged. He was only 60, but could’ve easily passed-off as 70 or 75 making his fight scenes look inauthentic as I don’t believe in his elderly condition he would’ve been able to hold his own. Boxleitner is dull and seems only able to display a broad ‘good-ole-boy’ smile and not much else. A more dynamic actor, or one maybe more Coburn’s age, could’ve made the buddy angle better.

I found Sharif to be too soft spoken and he approaches his part in a weird way. For instance when he’s playing a senator at poker he displays moments of outward nervousness, but if he’s truly a cocky, confident player that wouldn’t have been the case. Ronee Blakely is weak as well proving that her appearance in Nashville was her only good performance though her singing is nice and she’ll remind one a lot of Shelley Duvall with her looks. Jack O’Halloran, the former boxer who’s best known for playing Non the henchmen to the evil Zod in the Superman movies, is very funny as Max an inept hit man.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending unfortunately gets convoluted. Having the game broadcast and featuring live play-by-play and commenting by pool legend Willie Musconi is cool, but I wanted to see the ultimate match between Nick and Billie Joe to prove which one was truly better. The script teases this idea, but then adds in too many other unnecessary ingredients like having Nick be pressured to dump the game while there’s also a robbery happening and then eventually the place is raided by the feds. By the time it gets to The Deacon taking-on Nick it’s anti-climactic especially since no one else is around (it should’ve been televised on TV for all to witness). Having it focus more on the game and the strategies, which it starts to do slightly near the end, would’ve given it more substance and what little they do talk about I found to be genuinely interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Entertainment

Available: DVD (Reg 2 Import)

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

dont

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS

Beyond Reason (1985)

beyond

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s losing his sanity.

Filmed in 1977, but never released to the theaters and only eventually finding its way to VHS 8 years later. Written and directed by Telly Savalas the story centers on Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas) who works at a mental hospital and has an unorthodox way of treating his patients, which does not go over well with the young, blonde Dr. named Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson) who feels his methods go too far. Suddenly after witnessing the suicide of one of his patients Mati begins having weird hallucinations. Those around him fear he may be losing his grip on reality, but Mati thinks Leslie may have something to do with it by attempting to drive him crazy she can have him fired from his job, so Mati sets out to expose her scheme.

While the concept is an interesting one the execution is not. I did feel the scenes done inside the hospital had a gritty touch, so it gets a few points there, but the story takes too long to get going. The scenes meander, too much extraneous dialogue, and not enough dramatic moments to keep it compelling, or even mildly engaging. It’s also unclear what genre to fit this into, or the target audience, which makes it easy to see why the studio refused to release it as it clearly was going to clunk at the box office and most critics who reviewed it would’ve gotten as bored as I did watching it.

I do like Savalas and usually enjoy his presence especially when he plays bad guys. While he can also play good guys well it’s never in the same dynamic type of way. His character here is limp and poorly defined. Since he starts out behaving a bit goofy right from the beginning his transition to loonyville isn’t much of a contrast, or shock. He also acts borderline creepy and at one point in a pre-Me Too moment even pinches one of his nurse colleagues in the ass. In any event you really don’t care if he goes mad or not and his journey, or why it’s occurring, won’t hold most viewers interest.

The most disappointing thing is that Priscilla Barnes, best known for playing Teri on ‘Three’s a Company’, was originally cast to play the part of Dr. Valentine and is even seen in a scene where a group of doctors tour the facility, but then got fired midway through the production and replaced by Johnson. Johnson, who looks quite similar to Barnes, is just not as good of an actress. Her confrontations with Savalas offers no spark, or fire. I honestly believe Barnes would’ve done better and while I’m not sure what the reason was for her being let go it’s a shame it occurred as it’s the one thing that might’ve helped made the movie better.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a diverting moment near the end where we see a fast-cutting mosaic of the weird visions going on inside Mati’s head, but this stuff needed to be trickled all the way through to help give the film more of a visual dynamic. As for the resolution I couldn’t make much sense of it though by that time I was just glad it was over and really didn’t care. There are though fans of the film who will insist it’s a ‘brilliant ending’ as Mati was apparently intentionally making himself go mad, as they explain it, to help him understand what his patients must go through, which is all a part of his ‘love centered therapy’. However, it’s not done in a way that makes it clear to most viewers and many will leave feeling confused and that it was a big waste of time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1985 (CBS Television Network Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Telly Savalas

Studio: Arthur Sarkissian Productions

Available: VHS

The High Country (1981)

high

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping into the mountains.

Jim (Timothy Bottoms) is arrested for dealing marijuana and taken by police car to jail when the brakes in the vehicle go out and the car overturns, which allows him to escape, but not before being shot in the arm by one of the officers. Kathy (Linda Purl) is an adult woman, who can’t read while also suffering from other learning disabilities. She leaves the family that she’s been staying with and goes hitch-hiking when she comes upon the injured Jim. Initially the two have nothing in common, but she’s able to help him with his injury and guide him over a rugged mountainous terrain, which will be out of reach to the authorities who are after him and in the process the two begin to form an unlikely bond.

While the film doesn’t have much to cheer about I did at least like the mountain scenery, filmed on-location at the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There’s also a few marginally tense moments where the two scale the side of the mountain, where like in the movie Deliverance, it’s the actors doing the actual climbing and not stunt people. I also enjoyed the offbeat humor of having Jim attend a bar where a sign hangs that read’s ‘absolutely no profanity allowed’ (what sort-of self-respecting bar would have this rule. I guess only in ‘nice’ Canada) and a brawl breaks-out when one of the patrons decides to swear.

The performances are engaging especially Purl’s whose blue-eyes exude the perfect look of innocence. I was though frustrated that we never get to see these ‘cigarette trees’ that she mentions and says is somewhere in the mountain country as I was expecting the movie to have an answer since the script brings it up. The film also initially shows Kathy reading a story to some children making it look like she can read, but we’re told later that she was only ‘telling’ the story, but a good director would clue the viewer in right away that something isn’t right with her reading and those around her can sense it.

Bottoms is strong too though it’s surprising how far his career had tumbled where in the early 70’s he was getting starring roles in acclaimed Hollywood movies, but by the 80’s was relegated to low budget indie projects and foreign films. His character here is a bit snarky and he’s hard to warm-up to though the scene where he saves Kathy helps remedy this. The fact though that he has a bullet lodged in his body and is initially in great pain with a bad infection and yet this all magically gets healed without ever receiving proper medical care seemed dubious.

Spoiler Alert!

I was not so happy with the father character who arrives pretty much out of nowhere in the third act and is somehow able to track the two down when no one else can. It’s never clear whether this guy is meant to be a nemesis, or not and he should’ve been introduced earlier and made a stronger impression upfront. He also looks way too young to be Kathy’s father, who’s clearly in her 20’s and yet he doesn’t have any gray hair and with his big bushy mustache and muscular physique looked better suited for a 70’s gay porno.

The dumbest thing though is how at the end it implies that Jim and Kathy get into a romantic relationship, which defies all credibility. There’s too much of an extreme mental disparity between the two. It will always be a parent-child scenario versus that of two people on equal footing. In fact that’s one of the reasons I got bored with it as there’s clearly limits to how far this quasi friendship, with Kathy being stuck with the mind of a 10-year-old, can go and the fact that the film creates this idea of a wondrous romance is just too absurd to swallow. The start of a nice little friendship where they become pen-pals would be cute enough, but anything more than that; no!

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: None

The Glass Menagerie (1987)

glass

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter receives gentlemen caller.

Tom (John Malkovich) returns to the now abandoned apartment of his childhood. It is here that he recollects to the viewer his life living there where he resided both with his handicapped sister Laura (Karen Allen) and overly-protective mother Amanda (Joanne Woodward). Laura is very shy and has no social life, and instead spends her time taking care of her collection of miniature glass animals. Unable to hold down any job and straddled with a limp her mother fears that Laura will never find a man to marry and as a result will be alone and penniless when she gets older. She pressures Tom, who spends most of his free time watching movies in the theater in order to alleviate the boredom of his own life, to find a suitor, or gentlemen caller, who can come to visit and subsequently court Laura. Tom finally finds someone in the form of Jim (James Naughton) whom he works with at his factory job. Unbeknownst to him Jim went to high school with Laura and she was secretly infatuated with him. When he arrives for dinner Laura’s shyness takes over and she retreats to her bedroom, but then later she comes out. The two begin to talk and Jim tries to give Laura more confidence. Will he be her ‘knight-in-shining-armour’, or like with her glass collection will it simply be an illusion destined to shatter?

The film is based on the famous Tennessee Williams play, and to a degree his own life while growing up, that was originally produced in 1944 and was his first successful play that catapulted his career. It was made into a movie in 1950, which got a lukewarm response from film goers and critics alike for the perceived miscasting of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, who played Amanda. It was remade as a TV-movie in 1966 with Shirley Booth and then again in 1973 with Katharine Hepburn. Many felt this was the best filmed version of the play especially since Tennessee Williams wrote the teleplay.

This version is okay, but kind of seems unnecessary. Initially I thought director Paul Newman was going to use a different approach by removing it from a stage setting and having more outdoor scenes, which we see during the opening as Tom walks towards the apartment, which would’ve been different from any other Williams play. Ultimately though this one comes-off no different than the others with virtually everything taking place within the claustrophobic apartment. I realize that the point of the story is to show how trapped these characters were in their dismal lives, but putting a variety to the visuals and making it seem more cinematic would’ve helped. Even just adding in some cutaways would’ve been a plus like showing what Amanda and Tom are doing while Jim and Laura are sitting in the living room for an extended period of time talking. You’d presume that Amanda, being the meddlesome mother that she was, would be attempting to listen into their conversation, but actually showing it would’ve allowed an added context instead of just having them disappear and yet remain in the apartment, but doing who knows what.

Malkovich is solid and it’s nice seeing him in an early role before his ego and persona turned him into a caricature of himself. Allen is also quite good with her expressive blue eyes being the emotional catalyst that holds it all together and helps keep the viewer compelled to the story despite its overly talky nature. Woodward though doesn’t come-off as well. She’s played such strong characters in the past in films that were also directed by her husband that this one seems like a letdown compared to those. She’s also, despite the gray hair, a bit too young for the role as she was only 56 and it would’ve been better served had it been played by a more elderly woman in her 60’s or 70’s who could exude a lady completely lost in a bygone era.

The story is still compelling, but the conversations go on longer than they should and more effort should’ve been made to give it a stronger southern feel. The original film’s runtime was only 107 minutes, but this one goes on well over 2-hours. I’m not sure what was cut from that one, or added here, but it could’ve used some editing and still not hurt the basic integrity of the material.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1987

Runtime: 2 Hours 14 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films

Available: VHS, DVD-R

By Design (1981)

by design

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple wants baby.

Helen (Patty Duke) is a fashion designer who’s in a relationship with Angie (Sara Botsford). Despite running a successful clothing business together Helen still longs to be a mother. Angie isn’t so excited about having a kid, but if it makes Helen happy she’ll go along with it. The coupe initially consider artificial insemination, but turn it down when they see the type of male clientele that are allowed in and the adoption agency rejects them outright due to being gay. They eventually set their sights on Terry (Saul Rubinek) an obnoxious and sleazy photographer who works for them and has been hitting-on Helen for years unaware that she’s a lesbian. Helen hopes to have a one-night-stand with him simply to get impregnated, but as the planned event draws near she begins to have second thoughts.

The story certainly has potential and was ahead-of-its-time, but the way director/writer Claude Jutra approaches the material by implementing ill-advised silly humor and trying to turn it into a basic sitcom is all wrong. The one thing that I did surprisingly like was Saul Rubinek. Normally he’s not a favorite of mine, but here he plays the scuzzy, lecherous male on the prowl perfectly. I found it interesting too at seeing how much things have changed. He gets reported for touching a woman in her private area on the job without her consent, which would mean immediate termination today, but the two protagonist women bosses don’t do that. Instead they brush-it-off with a boys-will-be-boys mindset inadvertently making the woman who brought it to their attention feel embarrassed and even humiliated for coming forward.

What I didn’t like was his extreme transformation at the end where he becomes this kind and caring soul that’s too much of a change that wasn’t earned and makes him seem like two different people. The fact that he was unaware that Helen was gay even though everyone else knew seemed a bit preposterous. In keeping with the character’s arrogance and conquest nature he should’ve been fully aware of her being lesbian, but convinced he could ‘cure’ her of it if she simply went to bed with him. His relationship with one of the models, Sonia Zimmer, who for whatever bizarre reason has romantic inclinations for him even though during one photo session he says some of the most degrading and demeaning things I’ve ever heard a guy say to a woman, so unless she’s a masochist there’s absolutely no reason why this beautiful woman should desire him and thus making this romantic side-story completely stupid and unnecessary.

The story starts out okay and had me hooked for a little bit, but it quickly goes downhill. The jump-the-shark moment is when Helen has sex with Terry and at the same time for some inexplicable reason Angie has random sex with some guy (Alan Duruisseau) that she meets in a parking lot, but she’s a confirmed lesbian, so why the sudden/extreme shift? If she’s pan-sexual, or bi-sexual or just has some latent desire to sometimes ‘swing-both-ways’ is fine, but that needs to be introduced earlier and not suddenly thrown-in, out-of-nowhere without warning. The scene also culminates with Angie and Helen calling each other on the phone and professing their love for the other as they continue to have sex with the other men, which I know the director thought would be a ‘hilarious’ moment but comes-off as incredibly dumb instead.

Had this been handled in an intelligent manner it could’ve been ground-breaking, but the director was clearly insecure with the material and thus decided to just give it the jokey treatment, which ruins it. Duke also seems miscast though shockingly you do get to see her nude in a couple of scenes of which she looks pretty damn good.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claude Jutra

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R

Enemy Territory (1987)

enemy1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t get out.

Barry (Gary Frank) is an insurance salesmen whose fallen on hard times. His boss, Mr. Beckhorne (Charles Randall), gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Sign-up an old lady named Elva (Frances Foster), who has expressed an interest, to a policy and he can make a big commission. The problem is that she’s located in the Lincoln Towers apartment building, which is in a dangerous area of the city. Barry hesitates at first, but then takes it convinced that as long as he can be out of there before sundown he’ll be alright. Once he arrives he can’t find the apartment, so he taps a young kid named Deacon (Theo Caesar) on the shoulder to get his attention, so he can ask for directions, but the kid is a member of the notorious street gang named the Vampires and touching any of their members is considered a major offense. Once the gang leader, known as The Count (Tony Todd), becomes aware of this he calls the rest of his followers to go on the attack. While Barry is able to get the policy signed and his commission paid in rolls of dollar bills he finds that he’s unable to leave the building and must plead for help after the security guard (Tiger Haynes), who was trying to escort him out, gets shot and killed by the gang. Will (Ray Parker Jr.), who resides in the complex, comes to Barry’s aid and between them and Toni (Stacey Dash), who also lives there, they try to help Barry find a way out by using the knowledge of a 10-year-old kid named Chet (Deon Richmond) who’s aware of a secret exit deep inside the basement of the place that no one else knows about.

This was yet another 80’s actioner produced by Charles Band who got a reputation for funding cheesy, low budget flicks, but this one is actually decent. The film has great tension from start to finish and the inside of the building, complete with graffiti all over the hallway walls gives it a surreal quality and looks like it was filmed in an actual place that was smack dab in the ghetto. The main character, unlike in so many Hollywood flicks, isn’t always cool and calm under pressure and at one point, after a dramatic incident, has a mental breakdown where he can’t remember his own name, which seemed more realistic as most regular people mentally would be ill-prepared for the dangers that heroes in action flicks go through and respond in post traumatic ways when faced with them.

I also liked that Barry gets shot at and bullet actually hits him. My biggest pet peeve with Hollywood action flicks is that the good guys may get shot at, and in some cases hundreds of times, but never hit, so it’s great that one does here. I enjoyed too that when Will tries to help him when he’s injured, which then slows him up from outrunning the gang members, and Barry says “If you think I’m going to say to go on without me you’ve seen too many movies.”.

Frank, whose career started with high acclaim for his work on the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’, but by the 80’s had crested. His part here was supposed to get things back on track, but that doesn’t happen because he gets completely overshadowed by Parker who dominates the proceedings to the point that Frank does nothing but respond to whatever Parker does. To have made the film really interesting the Parker character, although very well played, should never have existed, and instead the salesmen should’ve been some middle-aged, out-of-shape dude who must use his wits alone and maybe the help of the two young kids, to get out, which would’ve been beating the odds even more astronomically and therefore more unique.

I was disappointed too with the Jan-Michael Vincent character, who’s a feisty, handicapped Vietnam Vet that even the gang members are afraid of, but unfortunately gets woefully underplayed. Vincent, who was struggling with alcoholism at the time, just doesn’t have the energy needed and then having him get killed off so quickly just ruins what could’ve been fun, eccentric addition to the team.

Another negative is Stacey Dash, making her film debut, and not looking anything like she does now. I realize people’s appearances change as they grow older, but everything about her looked different and I started to wonder if it was the same person. A lot of it I guess was that she weighed more here and this kind of changed her facial features. Now when you see here her blue eyes are very pronounced as well as her over-sized mouth, but that along with a different hairstyle, wasn’t her dominate feature here. I felt her acting was subpar too. She doesn’t convey her lines with much urgency and the way she tries to outrun a group of would-be attackers, looked too strident like she was going out for an afternoon jog.

The one quibble I had plot wise was when Barry and Will are trapped inside Elva’s apartment and unable to exit because the gang members are outside her apartment door and blocking them from leaving. Since her apartment was 20 floors up they decided to tie together some bed sheets and then hang it out the window and use that to climb down to an apartment a couple of floors below. However, it appeared to be too many bed sheets tied together. This is a poor, single woman leaving alone, so I’d think she’d have only one or two that she’d need, but this appears more like she had 6 or 7 on-hand. They also don’t show what they tied the bed sheets to help anchor it when the person crawled out and since these sheets are not made of rope having them rip or unravel was most likely going to happen and it’s questionable that they don’t. Again, I enjoyed the movie overall, but this was one area, along with maybe a couple of others, where it kind of cheats things.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Manoogian

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R