Category Archives: Action/Adventure

Howard the Duck (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A big budget disaster.

Howard (Chip Zien) is a duck living on another planet that is quite similar to earth except it’s run by ducks and not the ‘hairless apes’. One day while he is relaxing on his easy chair he gets sucked up into outer space by a laser beam that brings him to earth where meets up with Beverly (Lea Thompson) who is a lead singer for a punk band. She takes a liking to him and has him meet up with her geeky friend Phil (Tim Robbins). Phil in turn introduces Howard to Dr. Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) who offers to return him to his planet via a laser spectroscope, but as the procedure is performed it malfunctions and turns Jennings into a dark overlord out to destroy humanity.

This was produced by George Lucas and based on a Marvel Comic book character created by Steve Gerber, which is where it should’ve stayed. I know this movie has been shredded by many other filmgoers and critics and I don’t mean to pour more fuel onto the fire, but it’s as bad as its reputation says and I tried valiantly to give it a chance. Right away though there are problems including the fact that the planet Howard lives on looks too similar to ours. In fact it looks exactly like ours except it has two moons otherwise it’s impossible to tell the difference on anything. Same type of buildings, cars even the money is the same as American dollars except for a picture of a duck on them instead of Washington. There’s also a barrage of visual gags that make light of the subtle differences between the duck’s world and ours which the filmmakers clearly think are quite clever, but instead they’re just annoying.

The appearance of the duck is a problem too. If it had been animated it might’ve worked, but here it looks like a dwarf in a duck costume and has so many human characteristics that you ultimately forget that he’s supposed to be a fowl at all. Although I do realize that the comic strip character is anthropomorphic as well I still would’ve liked a little more ‘duck logic’ put into it. What sense does it make to create a duck type character if it ends up sharing literally NO characteristics to the actual mammal including the fact that it can’t even swim! The scenes showing him becoming aroused by Thompson’s human body and even talking about one day getting married and having kids was downright creepy.

The second half is where the story really goes off the hinges. The story pivot involving the Jones character becoming possessed by a ‘dark overlord’ is about as generic as it gets and leads to a nonstop assault of special effects and car chases that is both mind numbing and pointless. I never read the comic of which this is based but in researching it I found that it had a lot of unique and interesting villains and those should’ve been implemented into the script.

Thompson gives a terrific performance, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing 1 point, but her character is a little too sweet and lacks the streetwise edge a singer in a punk band would most assuredly have. In the comic book version Beverly was a model and I’m not sure why her profession got changed, but it was a mistake. Robbins is engaging too and Jones has one funny bit during his exchange with a waitress inside a late night diner, but otherwise this thing fails at all levels and is too obnoxious to be enjoyed even in a so-bad-it’s-good category.

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My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Willard Huyck

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Scarface (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Refugee becomes drug lord.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is a Cuban refugee arriving in Miami hoping to make it big in the land of opportunity. At first he is forced to do low paying jobs, but finally gets his break when he is hired to do a job for a rich drug dealer named Frank Garcia (Robert Loggia). Soon Tony becomes infatuated with Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the two begin a torrid affair. When Frank tries to assassinate Tony by ordering a hit on him at a nightclub Tony gets his revenge by killing Frank and becoming the top drug lord, which makes him quite wealthy, but the strain of constantly having to watch his back for whoever may be out to get him eventually wears on his personality.

This is a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawk’s classic that came about when Pacino watched the original film in a theater and felt compelled to make a modern day update with the drugs being the source of the criminal activity instead of alcohol. The result is only so-so, but it gets helped immensely by an incredible set design. Tony’s all-black office and a luxurious hot tub placed in the middle of his already kitschy living room are eye-popping as are the chic and lively interiors of the nightclubs, posh restaurants and exotic resorts. The graphic shootouts are equally arresting and keenly shot and edited for ultimate excitement.

Director Brian De Palma again digs into his bag of borrowed Hitchcock shots in order to tell his story, but here it works pretty well. My favorite one is when he uses the camera to track outside of a room where the action is occurring and onto a quiet street below. Hitchcock did the same thing in Frenzy where the bad guy strangles a woman inside her apartment, but instead of showing the violent act the camera moves out of the apartment and onto a busy street outside. Here the camera takes an equally fascinating journey from a man getting chopped up by a chainsaw to an idyllic afternoon day just a few feet away.

The supporting cast is strong particularly Pfeiffer as Tony’s bitchy girlfriend whose ongoing acerbic responses act as a good barometer to Tony’s ever changing social standing. I also enjoyed the transformation of Loggia’s character from intimidating kingpin to wilting coward. Harris Yulin is also memorable as a corrupt cop who ends up playing things a little too cool for his own good.

The thing I hated about the movie was Pacino’s over-the-top performance. Normally I’ve found him to be a great actor, but here the character comes off as too cartoonish and one-dimensional. He possesses no interesting character arch and is creepy and unlikable from the beginning and proceeds to only get worse as it goes along, which makes following his rise and fall quite boring and predictable.

The runtime is too long and encompasses a lot of lulls in between the action bits in a story that seems to telegraph where it’s going right from the start. The Cubans are also portrayed in a negative and stereotypical way with only a slight attempt to balance it. Had it not been for the excellent production values this thing would’ve been a real bore.

I was also confused as to why Charles Durning’s voice gets dubbed in during a scene involving Tony’s conversation with an immigration officer. If De Palma was unhappy with the original actor’s performance as the immigration officer then he should have re-filmed it with Durning present instead of just using his voice because his style of speaking is quite distinctive and I was thrown out of the scene completely due to wondering why I was hearing Durning’s voice, but not seeing him.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Mad Max 2 (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: A battle for gas.

Years after a nuclear holocaust has depleted the planet former rogue cop Max (Mel Gibson) travels the scorched countryside looking for food and fuel. He meets up with a pilot (Bruce Spence) who guides him to an oil refinery that is under attack by a gang of marauders led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max agrees to help out those trapped inside by driving a tanker truck carrying the fuel out of the refinery and through the makeshift gauntlet, but even he wasn’t prepared for the relentless and violent attack that awaits him.

The film is such a massive improvement over the first installment that viewers could just skip that one and go straight to this as it is far more polished and comes off like an epic while the first seemed more like a rough draft done by amateurs looking to get their feet wet. All the problems that I had with the first one get smoothed out here including a good intro that helps explain how the characters got to where they are. Dean Semler’s widescreen photography of the vast, flat desert landscape is outstanding and the violence is far more graphic, although significant portions of it were trimmed to achieve the R-rating, but it still realistically replicates the savage nature of the desperate characters living in a lawless land and willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

The vehicle chase at the end is one of the best ever filmed. The editing is quick with no ill-advised slow motion sequences or annoying cutaway or close-ups. The action happens just like it would in real-life where everything is split-second. The good guys don’t miraculously avoid injury or death either and in fact there’s enough bloodshed from both sides that you begin to wonder if anyone will make it, which creates far more authentic tension than most action pics. Yet what I really liked was that there were no irritating computerized effects. The vehicles used are all real with expert stunt driving and incredible stunt work that rates as some of the most dangerous ever to be tried on film.

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The only minor letdown is the fact that Gibson’s character no longer has that clean-cut, choirboy image and is now more of the moody, clichéd loner dressed in a getup that doesn’t look much different than the bad guys. The first film had more of an interesting contrast, but here he at least gets partnered with a dog, which the producers managed to save from being euthanized, and a feral boy (Emil Minty) who has a nice ability to throw a mean metal boomerang.

Many critics at the time considered this to be the best action flick to have come out of the ‘80s, but I’d consider this to be quite possibly the best action movie ever made! Absolutely everything clicks from the first shot to the last and remains intense, exciting and gripping even after repeated viewings. However, watching it on the small screen will not do it justice and only broadcasting it in the cinema or a very large screen HD TV will do.

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My Rating: 10 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Road Warrior

Released: December 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Excalibur (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The sword is magical.

The mystical sword named Excalibur gets cast into a stone by Uther (Gabriel Byrne) and the wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) proclaims that the next man to be able to remove it will become the King of England. Many try and fail, but years later it is Uther’s illegitimate son Arthur (Nigel Terry) who is able to do it.  Although very young he is able to create the Kingdom of Camelot with the help of Merlin. He also marries Guenevere (Cheri Lunghi) who has an affair with his most trusted knight Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and then his half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) steals away Merlin’s powers and uses them to try and destroy the kingdom.

The story is based on the book by Thomas Malory who supposedly wrote it while he was incarcerated. Although this film is considered a classic now it was not as well received when it was first released. Critic Roger Ebert called it ‘a mess’ and the great Pauline Kael described the dialogue as being ‘atrocious’. For me I found it long, but enjoyable even though I’m not crazy for this type of genre.

One of the things that I didn’t particularly care for, or find all that exciting were the battle scenes. Watching men roll around in the mud with their swords doesn’t come off as too interesting when compared to gun battles. There were also too many of them and all seemed too similar to the others with the final one ruined by having it shrouded in fog. In reality the knight’s armor was also always made by either steel or iron, but for this film they created it out of aluminum, which made it appear too flimsy and clanky. It is also given a bright glow, which was intentional, but I didn’t care for it.

What I did enjoy was the atmosphere particularly when they go off to search for the grail. The scene where the men approach an area that has dead bodies hanging from the trees and a crow sitting on a branch biting off one of the corpses’ eyeballs, which apparently took several days of continuously rolling the camera before the bird did what they wanted, is in one of the best moments in the film. I also liked the magical glow given off by Camelot when it is seen from a distance, but I would’ve liked a shot of the magical kingdom seen up close, which never occurs and was probably due to budgetary restraints, but would’ve been cool.

The performances are all-around excellent. Terry does quite well in the lead playing Arthur at different stages of his life, but I was most impressed at the way he came off as convincingly being only 19 at the beginning even though he was really already 35. Clay, who plays Lancelot, also looks like he was barely over 20 when in reality he was 34. Williamson is amusing as Merlin and Mirren is effectively evil as the villainess. This is also a great chance to see Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson in some early roles.

The movie moves along briskly and is overall entertaining although some the scene transitions and dramatic arcs were awkward. Those that are into medieval fantasy will clearly enjoy it more.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stuck in the desert.

Robert and Leo (Tony Curtis, Louis Gossett Jr.) are two losers working as gun runners who transport their goods in an old beat-up VW that looks to be seriously on its last leg. They meet up with The Colonel (Sally Kellerman) who is the widow of an actual Colonel that fought during WW II. She is now living alone with her nineteen year-old daughter Suzanna (Lisa Langlois) in an isolated ranch in the middle of the African desert. She hires Robert and Leo to help her oversee the water that she pumps to a nearby village. Since she feels that the members of this village had something to do with her late husband’s murder she has cut off their supply to it and only lets them have access to it at certain times of the day, which the two men feel is harsh. They do some investigating on their own and believe that it is neighboring rancher Killian (John Vernon) who is the real culprit to the murder, but trying to convince The Colonel of this, who has a romantic interest in Kilian, is another matter completely.

This obscure, low budget film is pretty much a botched mess from the get-go. Too much emphasis is put on comedy, but filmed by people who have no idea what is funny which forces the actors to carry-on with broadly written banter and insipid slapstick-like scenarios that is intended to be humorous, but falls resoundingly flat instead. The story and setting has some potential, but resorts to contrived, uninspired romance that becomes completely boring.

I’ll give Kellerman credit for lasting over six decades in the business, but her acting never seems to be effective. Her character is supposed to be a domineering, tough-as-nails lady, or at least that is how she is introduced as she even insists that the men refer to her as ‘sir’, but this quickly evaporates until she becomes just another aging, lonely female looking for love and companionship, which isn’t compelling, or original. Langlois as the daughter is equally transparent while delivering her lines as if she were half asleep. Why an attractive young lady such as herself would ever fall for a struggling 55-year-old man like the one Curtis plays here makes little sense and is pretty dumb.

The film is saved to a minor degree by the presence of Curtis. He was a top billed star during the ‘50s and 60s, but by the ‘80s his career had plummeted severely to the point that he was accepting minor, supporting roles in direct-to-video fare that next to no one saw. This film isn’t much better than those, but here at least he retains his engaging persona and helps lift the dead material to a somewhat tolerable level and his pairing with Gossett is odd enough to make it semi-intriguing.

This is a sad, almost embarrassing follow-up project for director Nicolas Gessner who had achieved critical acclaim with the Jodie Foster hit The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Why he would choose this oddball thing to tackle next is a mystery as I’m sure he must’ve been offered better scripts, but in either case it’s a misfire that never manages to click at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nicolas Gessner

Studio: Gaumont

Available: None at this time.

Fever (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Suspense in the desert.

This review will be a first in a series in which we celebrate Australian cinema by reviewing one film each week from Down Under. Today’s movie centers on Jack Welles (Bill Hunter) who comes upon a suitcase full of money after a shootout with a drug dealer. He decides to keep the loot and take it home to his lovely wife Leanne (Mary Regan) unfortunately when he gets there he finds that she is in bed with another man named Jeff (Gary Sweet). The enraged Jack attacks Jeff, but Jeff and Leanne manage to fight him off while knocking him out in the process. Thinking that they’ve killed him they take his body out to the desert and dump it into a vat. The problem is that Jack isn’t dead and he proceeds to relentlessly chase the two while also being followed by a busy-body deputy named Morris (Jim Holt) who thinks that Jack is hiding something and who in-turn is also being followed by criminal kingpin Mr. Tan (Lawrence Mah) who is out to retrieve his drug money.

For the most part this film works pretty well and has a story that is compact and original and will keep the viewer guessing all the way through to the end. It also has some particularly novel camera angles including seeing the inside of a car, with the driver still at the wheel, as it flips over.

The film manages to avoid most of the expected loopholes that you usually see in these types of stories, but there are still a few discrepancies. The biggest one is that Jack recovers from the blow to his head a bit too quickly and magically. There is no dried blood, or bandages needed despite the fact that he does initially bleed when he is first hit. In fact there is no sign of even a cut and no after effects like headaches, swelling or dizziness that most assuredly would affect anyone else after being hit over the head with a vase and knocked unconscious. There is also a scene near the end where, in an effort to find his wife, Jack barges into a lady’s washroom and kicks open all the stall doors before finding a woman sitting on the toilet, but for some reason she doesn’t scream or react at all when he does this, which is weird.

The casting is another issue. Hunter is way older than the actress who plays his wife and it doesn’t look right or make sense. Why would such a young beauty settle for some tubby middle-ager? It clearly wasn’t for love or money and the actor playing her lover has too much of the chiseled male model features of a soap opera star. The solution would’ve been to cast performers to play the wife and lover that were of the same age and looks range as Hunter.  Average looking, middle-aged people have sex and affairs in real-life, so why can’t characters on the big screen ever reflect this?

The story also suffers by having characters that are not likable and nobody to root for. Any screenwriting coach will tell you that no matter how clever, or creative the plot may be if it does not have three dimensional characters then it won’t work.

However, with all that said there are still enough unexpected twists to keep it interesting particularly the ones that occur during the final ten minutes. The last one is especially good and one I would never have guessed, nor seen done in any other film, so the movie gets kudos for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Craig Lahiff

Studio: Genesis Films

Available: VHS

The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl gets new tribe.

After her mother is killed in an earthquake and escaping from the clutches of a hungry lion a very young Ayala (Daryl Hannah) gets taken in by a tribe of Neanderthals. Her addition causes strife amongst the other members particularly Broud (Thomas G. Waites) who feels she doesn’t conform enough to the subservient female role. When it is found that she has taught herself to hunt by using weapons that the women were forbidden to touch she is kicked out of the tribe and forced to survive on her own.

I realize that this film has been almost universally lambasted by movie goers and critics alike, but overall I found it to be watchable. The biggest issue in many ways were the action sequences. The opening earthquake bit as well as the lion attack comes off as stagy and phony and even border on being unintentionally funny. Later on when Ayala saves a young child from a wolf the movie reverts to slow motion, which gives it too much of an over-the-top Hollywood feel. There is also another segment where the cavemen torment a grizzly bear as part of an ancient tribal ceremony. Some of the men get torn up and killed by the bear, which to me was just fine as they should’ve left him alone in the first place!

Hannah is the perfect choice for this type of role, but for whatever reason her performance seemed a bit off and not as effective as it could’ve been. She was also probably too tall for the part as people back then was much shorter than they are now.

The movie has a little too much melodrama and eventually resembles just another cheesy Hollywood drama. The authenticity is questionable and the grittiness from the more popular Quest for Fire is definitely missing. I also wasn’t too crazy about the outdoor shots, which includes the opening one, that shows sunlight filtering through the tree leaves in a haze-like fog that gives it too much of a fairy tale-like look.

The part where Ayala is forced to survive on her own goes by too quickly and hardly seems as brutal as it should’ve been and I was also confused about how she was able to come upon this fur shawl to wear that protected her from the cold because when the tribe kicked her out she left with nothing but the flimsy outfit that she had on.

Yet despite all this I still found it to be reasonably compelling. Maybe it’s just the idea of seeing an individual learn to survive on her own, standing up to unjust authority and learning to find independence that manages to connect us no matter what the time period, but in either case it’s an okay time filler if you don’t think about it too much.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 17, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Chapman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Quest for Fire (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cavemen search of fire.

After their tribe is attacked by another one and their only source of fire put out three male members from the group (Everett McGill, Ron Pearlman, Nicholas Kadi) set out to find fire from somewhere else and bring it back to the others.  Their quest is not easy as they are forced to travel through harsh terrain, escape from man eating tigers, and fight off a tribe of cannibals. They also meet up with Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) who comes from a more advanced tribe where the members live in huts instead of caves and who also harbors the secret to starting a fire, which she just might share with the others.

Filmed on-location in Canada, Scotland, and Kenya this film brings to life the true nature of prehistoric times in vivid detail and better than any other movie that has dealt with the same subject. The male actors were fitted with masks that gave them ape-like features and except for one brief moment there is no discernable line of dialogue and communication is spoken through grunts and groans as well as words not connected to modern day language. Some DVD issues do have subtitles, but to me this is taking the viewer out of the experience as the whole idea is to allow one a true sense of how things where like back then and therefore forcing one to try to understand things through the primitives means of communication during that period is the only way to do it and I’m thankful that the theatrical version and the streaming version that I saw did not offer them.

While I applaud the filmmaker’s commitment to keeping things close to the true form as possible and not willing to compromise it simply to make it more accessible to a mainstream audience I still found it to be confusing at spots and even at times boring. The opening battle between the two tribes seemed almost unintentionally funny and the loud, booming music played over most of the movie is a bit off-putting as there was clearly no music at the time of the setting, so silence or natural sounds would’ve kept it truer to the authentic tone.

There is also a scene where the men come upon the remains of some meat left from another tribe. The men are hungry and begin eating the remains only to realize that what they are chewing on is human flesh, which sickens them and they spit it out, but I wasn’t so sure that genuine Neanderthals such as the ones portrayed here would be so ‘civilized’ and instead more concerned with simply satisfying their hunger needs.

Rae Dawn Chong’s presence is a major plus and the movie gets more interesting when her character appears. She remains fully nude at all times while covered in body paint, but isn’t as erotic as you might think. The scene where she gets raped by the men late at night is brutal, but authentic to the animalistic level that I would assume sex would be approached with during that time period. The way her character ends up bonding and even forming a romantic attachment to the one of them as the film progresses is genuinely touching.

The film has a lot of lulls and may be just too unique for some. I found myself intrigued at certain parts and bored at others, but the scene where the men watch in amazement when Chong creates a fire for the first time is a surprisingly exhilarating moment where the viewer feels the same emotion that people back then must’ve felt, which to be able to convey such a feeling to a modern audience is an achievement in itself and a sign of astute filmmaking at its finest.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Outside Man (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man is marked.

Lucien (Jean-Louise Trintignant) is a French hit man hired by an American family to assassinate a mob boss (Ted de Corsia) who’s living in Los Angeles. He’s able to pull off the job relatively easily, but then after it’s over he finds that he’s been targeted by another hit man (Roy Scheider) who is relentless and chases Lucien all over the city. Nancy (Ann-Margret) is the stripper who comes to Lucien’s aid by getting her boyfriend to create a passport for him so he can return to France, but just as he is about to board the plane he decides instead to stay in the states and turn-the-tables on the man who’s chasing him while finding who is behind the double-cross.

The film, which was done by a French production company, but filmed on-location in the states, is a lot of fun. The many offbeat touches and various stabs at dry humor keep it interesting and original while still remaining suspenseful and exciting. Some of the best moments include a hitchhiker (Edward Greenberg) who tries to convert Lucien to ‘Jesus’ as well the funeral, which eventually turns into a wild shootout amongst the various mob factions and has a corpse embalmed in a sitting position with a cigar in hand.

I also liked the way director Jacques Deray captures Los Angeles. Usually when a film is done in the City of Angels we always get shown shots of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, movie star homes, the beachfront and of course the great Hollywood sign, but here we see none of that. Instead the film captures the city’s less glamorous side including the rundown neighborhoods and even a shootout that takes place in abandoned buildings from an amusement park, which all helps to give the movie a unique vision as well as allowing the viewer to appreciate a side to the city that they may have not known even existed.

Trintignant is terrific and his perpetual look of confusion as he gets faced with one unexpected surprise after another is memorable and helps carry the film. Ann-Margret is solid as the streetwise, but kindly stripper and Scheider is quite good as the steely killer. Georgia Engel, who later became famous for playing Georgette on the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ is funny as a spacy housewife who comes into contact with Lucien as he is trying to run from his killer. I especially liked the way that when a gun is pointed in her face she doesn’t scream or panic, but instead responds with silence and a deer-in-headlights look. This is also a great chance to see a young Jackie Earle Haley in his film debut as her precocious 10-year-old son.

The film’s only real downfall is its ending, which is too downbeat and ambiguous. It’s almost like they spent so much time coming up with creative concepts for the rest of it that by the time they came to the end they just plain rang out of ideas, which is a disappointment, but as a whole it’s still a gem.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jacques Deray

Studio: United Artists

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

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes media sensation.

Billie Jean (Helen Slater) is a teen living in a small Texas town who one day decides to take a ride with her brother Binx (Christina Slater) on his motor scooter to a lake for a swim. Along the way they come into contact with some red neck boys who harass the two and damage the scooter. The police do nothing about it, so Billie Jean decides to approach Pyatt (Richard Bradford) who runs a convenience store and is the father to one of the boys. When she asks him for the money that it will cost to repair it he attempts to sexually assault her and Binx ends up shooting the man in the shoulder. This causes the two to go on the run and creates a statewide car chase, which makes Billie Jean a media hero to thousands of teens nationwide.

The movie is a real mixed bag with strong shifts in tone and no clear point-of-view. It starts out as a rather boring, run-of-the-mill teen bullying flick only to turn into a whimsical tale as the teens go out on the road and have one quirky adventure after another. It’s similar to Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express as both lead characters are females and go on the run from the law in Texas while become inadvertent media darlings in the process. Spielberg’s movie is the better film, but this one delves more into the media angle and could’ve made some strong statements, but unfortunately pulls back and keeps things on too much of a lighthearted, innocuous level instead.

Slater is fantastic in the lead and it’s great seeing the boyish Slater in his film debut. I felt though that Martha Gehman and Yeardley Smith as two teen gals who tag along with the other two on their adventure added nothing and should’ve been cut out completely.

Bradford makes for a pretty good heavy, but I had major issues with Peter Coyote as the sheriff. For one thing when Billie Jean reports that her brother’s bike has been stolen he does not immediately pursue the case, but instead decides to ‘wait on it for a few days’, which seemed like he was not doing the job that the tax payers put him into position to do. Then when the chase expands across the rest of the state he somehow gets in charge of tracking her down, which is ridiculous. Once she crosses over the county line, or gets outside of his jurisdiction then it is up to the authorities from that region to handle it, or the state highway patrol and certainly not some two-bit sheriff from a no-name, hick town.

The scene where Billie Jean saves a boy from his abusive father while hundreds of teens look on is great, but everything else is so-so. The film would’ve worked better had it taken a consistent satirical tone from the beginning and not have been so compelled to conform itself to the more simplistic sensibilities of its targeted teen audience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Matthew Robbins

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube