Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Real Men (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.

Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.

Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.

Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.

Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.

Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dennis Feldman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Secret Admirer (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anonymous letter creates confusion.

Michael (C. Thomas Howell) is a teen secretly infatuated with Deborah (Kelly Preston), who’s considered the hottest babe in school. He wants to date her, but is too shy to approach her. He then receives an unsigned letter in his locker from someone stating that they’re in-love with him. Michael is convinced that it’s from Deborah. His friend Toni (Lori Laughlin) convinces him to write a letter to her, but his attempts to write something romantic prove futile, so Toni decides to do it for him, but still make it seem like it came from him. Once Deborah reads the letter she falls instantly in-love and the two go out on a date, but meanwhile Michael’s mother Connie (Dee Wallace) reads the letter and thinks it’s been written to her husband George (Cliff De Young) and that he’s been fooling around behind-her-back. George also reads the letter, but thinks it’s from Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young) who’s teaching a evening class that George is taking and is also Deborah’s mother. George uses the opportunity to make a pass at her and the two agree to go out on a date while Connie gets with Lou (Fred Ward), Elizabeth’s husband and Deborah’s father, in an attempt to stop it, but find that they too have more in common than they thought and begin to contemplate an affair of their own.

An unusual and offbeat 80’s teen sex comedy that fares a bit better than most of the others. The dialogues between the teens seems more realistic and they aren’t extremes caricatures like what you usually get in this tired genre. I was even surprised that they at one point have a discussion of the film Doctor Zhivago and even know the actor’s names who are in it even though it was an old film even back then. There’s a segment where Michael and Deborah attempt to have sex and it turns into a painful and awkward experience for both, which I liked, because too many times these types of movies would portray sex, even if it was the first time for both partners, as being an exhilarating, fun time, which it isn’t always. The parents aren’t portrayed as being ‘out-of-it’ or overly authoritarian like in other teen comedies and cutting back-and-forth between the adult escapades and the teens is at least initially a refreshingly original concept.

The performances are engaging even Howell does well here particularly at the end when he tries frantically to chase down Toni. The adults though are a bit more engaging despite De Young looking too boyish to be playing the part of a father of a 17-year-old. Wallace and Ward are the scene-stealers especially Dee and the way she breaks-out crying when she gets really upset and Ward’s overly-protective father persona is funny too and the film should’ve just been centered around them.

Spoiler Alert!

The jumping back and forth though between the adults and the teens starts to seem like two different movies with the parent’s storyline being the better one. I didn’t like the way it got wrapped-up with the couples going back to their former spouses like everything was back to normal even though there seemed to be clear issues in both marriages for them to so easily consider affairs when they thought there was a chance. It would’ve worked better and even been more believable had it ended the other way where the couples swapped partners and thus became more compatible.

I didn’t understand why Michael saw Toni only as a friend, even tough she was clearly into him. I considered Toni to being better looking than Deborah, or at least certainly in the same league, so unless Michael had a fetish for blondes over brunettes it didn’t makes much sense why he’s so tirelessly chase after Deborah when he already had a good thing with Toni. For it to believable Toni needed to be less beautiful, even plain looking, then it would be understandable why Michael would overlook her, but eventually see her in a romantic way once he realized all the nice things she did for him. It would’ve also have sent a good message that a female didn’t have to be cover girl quality, which both Laughlin and Preston were, and could still be able to find love.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While this film sat for several decades in virtual obscurity it finally came to prominence in 2016 when it was part of a controversy dealing with the Puerto Rico movie Vasos De Paper, which was written and directed by Eduardo Ortiz. That film was a virtual scene-for-scene remake of this one despite the director insisting that it wasn’t. When the evidence became too much Ortiz finally broke down during a radio interview and admitted that he had ‘done a very bad thing’ and stole the idea without giving proper credit to the original writer and director. The cast of that film were unaware of this one and had no idea they were taking part in a plagiarized script. Once they did they apologized for their involvement and the movie was pulled from the theaters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greenwalt

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

On The Right Track (1981)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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