Category Archives: Adolescence/High School

Der Fan (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock idol infatuates teen.

Simone (Desiree Nosbusch) is a beautiful teen who harbors an unhealthy infatuation for a rock singer known only as ‘R’ (Bodo Steiger). Even though the two have never met Simone is convinced that they share a deep bond and she writes him fan letters all the time, but never receives a response. She travels to a TV-station where he’s expected to film a music video in hopes of meeting him and starting a romance. During an autograph session R spots Simone and immediately becomes riveted to her beauty and later takes her to an excluded country home, so that he can make love to her. Once the sex is over he proceeds to leave to visit with other friends, which enrages Simone and leads to a psychotic outburst.

The film, to a certain extent, is a refreshing change-of-pace to the usual stalker formula in that the beautiful woman is not the victim here, but instead the perpetrator. The part gets wonderfully portrayed by Nosbusch whose icy cold gaze, which she exudes the whole time, burns right through the screen making her creepy from start to finish. While it’s nice not having her fit into the mold of someone who is fat, lonely, and homely like the Kathy Bates’ character in Misery statistics have shown female stalkers of celebrities predominantly reflect the characteristics Bates has more than Simone’s, which is why they’re having romantic delusions over celebrities to begin with because they’re unable to attain these types of relationships in real-life.

This then brings out the film’s fatal flaw, which is that there’s no explanation for why Simone is this way. If she had an abusive home-life you could reason she turned to a fantasy world in order to cope with her harsh surroundings, but there’s no sign that this was the case. It’s not like she can’t find any boyfriends either as there are people around her who make attempts to be friendly, but she coldly rebuffs them. So, why is she so crazy? What is there about this particular rock singer that gets her so infatuated with him and what is missing in her life that she flies so far off the deep-end? None of these questions get answered. It’s almost like writer/director Eckhart Schmidt didn’t bother to think any of this through, or even care to. He simply came up with a bland prototype of a teen psycho to help propel the plot along without ever bothering to fill-in any of the necessary details.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film is quite weak in that area, saved only by Nosbusch’s excellent performance, it does make-up for it with its incredible, over-the-top ending, which had even me, a seasoned cinephile who’s essentially seen it all by now, in shock. It’s not that it’s particularly gory, even as she cuts the guy up into pieces and then proceeds to eat him limb for limb before grinding up his bones, but more for its sheer audaciousness. If anything the gore could actually have been played-up more as the blood is lacking, you only see a couple streaks of it on the floor while it should’ve been sprayed all over the place. Seeing the room drenched in it would’ve made the horror all the more shocking though her licking the bloody blade does lend a twisted erotic touch.

What I admired though was how it clearly wasn’t concerned if it achieved mainstream acceptance, or not. There is simply no way a film like this could’ve been made in Hollywood whether it was 1982 or today, as the studios wouldn’t touch it. Too many producers would fear potential backlash, which in turn would hurt profits, but for me this is what true movie making should be all about. Challenging mainstream viewers out of their comfort zone and taking them to a place they thought they’d never go and doing it in such a fluid way that they don’t know what’s coming until it’s too late, which is what really makes this one memorable.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eckhart Schmidt

Studio: Scotia International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Starstruck (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens dream of stardom.

Jackie (Joey Kennedy) is a teen working as a waitress at her mother’s pub, but dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’ Donovan) acts as her manager trying to get her a spot on the local talent TV-show called ‘The Wow! Show’, but Terry (John O’May) the program’s host, refuses to see her, so they decide to have her perform a publicity stunt by walking across two high rise buildings in downtown Sydney on a tightrope while nude. This gets so much news coverage that Terry can’t help but bring her on his show, which initially proves to be a great success until Jackie becomes pressured to cut her backing band and tone down her quirky style. After alienating all of her friends she then tries to win them back by plotting to crash a New Year’s Eve talent contest at the Sydney Opera House where they hope to win the $25,000 cash prize in order to save their now dying pub.

After the success of My Brilliant Career director Gillian Armstrong set out to make a movie that was completely different in style from that one and eventually came up with the idea of doing a musical parody and on that level it works. The musical numbers are not only quite funny, especially the one done inside the pub where all the customers and staff join together to create one long line dance, but impressively staged too. I was literally blown away with the segment done inside Terry’s penthouse pool that was meant to be a take-off on the old Busby Berkley numbers from the 40’s, but in many ways just as good if not better.

The film also gets filled with a lot of humorous moments, most of which, like Angus’ elaborate attempts to try and make contact with Terry and even ditching school to do so, are quite funny. The segment dealing with Jackie’s high wire act I found initially preposterous. How exactly where they able to connect the tightrope between the two buildings, which would’ve been a massive feat in itself and never shown, but the outcome, as silly as it is, still had me chuckling.

The film has a terrific supporting cast especially Pat Evison as the elderly and overweight Nana, who shows exuberant support for Jackie’s ambitions even when the other adults don’t. O’Donovan and his constant scheming is also engaging, but I found Kennedy’s performance in the all important lead role to be flat. Singing-wise she is quite good, which is the whole reason she got the part, but her acting doesn’t have the same energy. Her character really isn’t very funny either and it’s Angus doing all the hard work to get her noticed and she never seems to appreciative it making the viewer not as emotionally invested at seeing her succeed as they should’ve been.

The film gets a bit too quirky for its own good too. It’s got a lot of visual pizazz, but no substance whatsoever and it would’ve been nice had there been some grittiness tied in. Everything happens too easily making it seem like a fairy tale and convincing me that the most suitable ending would’ve had Jackie waking up and realizing it had all been a dream because that’s exactly what it comes-off like.

On a side note I was surprised how much the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was completed in 1932 and stands as the world’s tallest, gets shown. Not only is it featured in every skyline shot of the city, but there’s also a mural of it on the wall of the pub, a toy model of it on top of the pub’s TV, and even a replica of it put on stage during the film’s climactic dance number. I’m not sure what the exact shot count number is that features it in one form or another, but if you take a shot of whiskey every time you see it you’ll be drunk and passed out on the floor by the time it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes (Australian Version) 1 Hour 35 Minutes (US Release)

Rated PG

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Cinecom International Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, Tubi

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Drive-In (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayhem at the movies.

It’s just another evening at the drive-in movies in a small Texas town except this time there’s more action in the theater than in the movie being shown. As the people watch the latest action flick known as ‘Disaster ’76’ on the big-screen there’s all sorts of commotion going on around them. Gifford (Trey Wilson) and Will (Gordon Hurst) are two bumbling amateur crooks who plan on robbing the concession stand during the show. Glowie (Lisa Lemole) is the fed-up girlfriend of Enoch (Billy Milliken), who leads the local teen gang, and who desires a more clean-cut guy like Orville (Glenn Morshower), but Enoch and his obedient thugs try to prevent this potential union from happening. There’s also the paranoid African American Dr. Demars  (Bill McGhee) who frets about having to live in the middle of ‘Klan Country’, but still manages to take his wife (Gloria Shaw) to the show, but also ends up in the process having several inadvertent encounters with the volatile Enoch.

Rod Amateau’s name may not be as well known as other notoriously bad filmmaker’s like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau who helmed the infamously awful The Room, but he probably should be. Not only did Amateau create ‘My Mother the Car’, but he also did ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-shows ever produced. He also wrote and directed The Garbage Pail Kids, which usually lands high on everyone’s terrible movie list. However, his directorial effort here isn’t bad and for awhile even engaging. My favorite part is a scene done inside a roller skating rink where we see real teenagers, that are age appropriate and with varying body-types, behaving very much like small town teens of that era would. It’s like a taking a time machine back to the simpler times and seeing how things really were, but without the pretension.

The performances are if anything quite lively including Morshower, best known as Aaron Pierce from the series ’24’, in his film debut and sporting a full, bushy head of red hair. It’s also great seeing Lisa Lemole in a prominent role as she later left acting in 1985 when she married Mehmet Oz better known as Dr. Oz. This also marks the acting debut of Trey Wilson, who went on to play many colorful supporting characters before having his career cut short by an unexpected death at the young age of only 40. Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who’s more famous for playing Engelbert in The Bad News Bears, is amusing too as Morshower’s younger brother.

Unfortunately despite a promising start the film ultimately flounders especially during the second act as too much cartoonish silliness gets in the way of any subtle realism. At the end the cars of the customers slowly file out of the drive-in like what had occurred was no big deal and the viewer is left feeling the same way. The stakes needed to be higher and the event needed more of a long-lasting consequence. A funny idea would’ve had the mayhem cause actual destruction to the drive-in while the disaster flick played perhaps even having it burn down to a cinder. Since the theater in real-life got demolished just a few years after this was shot it might’ve been possible and thus allowed the film to leave more of lasting visual impression than it does.

The Drive-in theater in Terrell, Texas as it looked in 1975 when the film was shot.

The same location as it looks now.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Sony Choice Collection)

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

Fast Talking (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen gets into trouble.

Steve (Rod Zuanic) is a teen who has a rocky relationship with his alcoholic father (Peter Hehir) and ditzy mother (Julie McGregor). To survive on his own he’s forced to deal marijuana and  steal newspapers, which he then resells to motorists in their cars while they wait at a red light. His shenanigan’s get him into constant trouble especially at school where he’s perpetually dodging capture with his amazing ability to escape out of just about any jam.

Writer/director Ken Cameron was inspired to do this film after working as a high school teacher as well as for his love of Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows, which he saw while growing up. The realism is on-target and has a certain cinema vertite feel. I went to high school when this film was made and can attest that the behaviors of the students here resembled many that I knew then and it’s amazing that even though this was shot on a continent halfway around the world the adolescent experience in Australia isn’t all that much different than that in the U.S. In fact if it weren’t for the Aussie accents one might think that it had been filmed here.

The story though, which was based on short films that Cameron made before he did feature length productions, isn’t connected enough to be impactful. The script is more like a collection of vignettes than a plot and while there’s some interesting moments it’s too spotty to be fully effective. I enjoyed Steve’s budding friendship with a mechanic (Steve Bisley) who tries to teach him the trade, but the film cuts away from this only to briefly go back to it much later when it should’ve been more of the focus. This same thing occurs when Steve tries to save a greyhound, that he apparently had a deep emotional bond to, from being killed by his father, but this storyline gets introduced almost 60 minutes in and should’ve at least been alluded to earlier.

Zuanic was discovered after Cameron spent three months teaching drama classes in High Schools around Sydney and while he looks like a genuine teen and not a college-aged kid pretending to be one as in other teen flicks his physique is too scrawny. (The painted image of him seen in the film poster above makes him seem much bigger and mature than he really is.) He resembles more of a child at age 12 and nowhere near someone entering manhood. Maybe that was the point, but watching him smoke, swear, steal, and get involved at times in amorous activities gets unsettling to watch because of it. When he confronts those that are bigger than him, which happens a lot since he’s so painfully small, I kept wincing thinking he’s going to get his ass kick despite his cocksure attitude and with no real ability to defend himself. Having the part played by a 17 year-old with a stocky build would’ve been preferable.

Not much insight is given towards Steve’s relationship with his mother, who’s seen only briefly, even though this is the catalyst for his desperate behavior, so I felt it needed to be played-out far more. His constant ability at escaping capture by whatever authority figure is after him is amusing at first, but eventually becomes redundant and unrealistic as at some point he’s going to be forced to face the consequences of his actions, which needed to be shown, but never is. The wide-open ending, apparently done because Cameron thought this would be made into a sequel, but due to the poor box office returns never was, offers no definitive conclusion to our character’s ultimate destiny, which makes the film even more transparent than it already is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ken Cameron

Studio: Filmways

Available: DVD (Region 4), Amazon Video

Breaking All the Rules (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shenanigans at amusement park.

It’s the last day of summer and Jack (Carl Marotte) plans to spend it a an amusement park with his friend David (Thor Bishopric). On the bus ride there they are spotted by Debbie (Carolyn Dunn) and Angie (Rachel Hayward) two best friends who immediately take a liking to the boys. The teen foursome then spend a romantic, even sexy time, at the park, but are unaware that three criminals (Michael Rudder, Pierre-Andre LaRoque, Papusha Demitro) have stolen a diamond and hidden it inside one of the stuffed animals inside the park. When Debbie inadvertently receives the stuffed animal as a prize the crooks stalk the four in order to get the diamond back.

The best thing about the film is Carolyn Dunn, who retired from acting in 2009 and now works as a holistic therapist, and who is drop dead gorgeous especially at the start when she has a normal hairstyle, but even after she gets the ill-advised punk look she’s still a super hottie, which if you’re a male at least, should be good enough to get you through the rest of the pic, which doesn’t have much else going for it. Of course it’s Dunn’s extreme beauty that in some ways actually hurts it since she immediately falls for the very average looking Jack at first glance, which made no sense. This is the type of chick that would have guys flocking all around her and the privilege of choosing the pick-of-the-litter, so why go ga-ga over a dweeb? If dweebs are her thing then fine, but that’s something that needs to be established right up front, but isn’t, so seeing the immediate sparks fly as they do is not believable.

Angie’s romance with David is equally problematic as Angie is almost as hot as Debbie, so why is she falling for a kid that looks like he hasn’t even reached puberty? Seeing them stand side-by-side makes their physical differences even more apparent as Angie looks like she could be 20 and more David’s babysitter than his girlfriend. Had the film cast average looking women that weren’t used to getting a lot of attention from guys and therefore accepting of any dope that came along then it would’ve been more realistic, or simply hired better looking male talent to match the looks of the females.

While I did find the Jack character to be initially amusing, which includes a fantasy segment that he has near the start that is probably the only real funny moment in the movie, he does become increasingly problematic as it goes along especially for modern audiences. Some of the comments he makes, while considered possibly innocuous at the time, will be perceived as controversial today including when he says ‘when a woman says no she really means yes’ or when he states that a women is ‘just dying to get laid’ simply based off of what she’s wearing. There is also a segment where he goes on a rollercoaster ride with Angie and takes advantage of her frightened state by putting his hands underneath her dress and groping her breasts without her permission.

Even if you can get past these issues the plot itself is dumb. The three crooks look like they’re almost the same age as the four teens and older actors should’ve been cast in the bad guy roles simply to give the film a better balance. The crooks also play-off of a mafia-like stereotype complete with affected accents, which is cliched and not funny.

The logic is flimsy too including having Jack become the prime suspect of the stolen diamond simply because his fingerprints were found on the glass case that housed it, but he had been employed part-time at the amusement park, so it would’ve been expected that his prints might’ve innocuously gotten on it when he worked there. The script also shows little understanding between the differences of love and lust. For instance Jack says he ‘fell in-love’ with Debbie the second he saw her, but in reality he just got highly aroused at seeing her half-exposed ass when the wind lifted up her skirt.

I didn’t understand how the film’s title worked into the storyline either. There’s no rule-breaking going on particularly from the four leads who are all boringly transparent and not rebellious at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Orr

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Jeremy (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A teen’s first romance.

Jeremy (Robby Benson) is a teen cellist going to a New York school for artistically inclined students. It is there that he meets Susan (Glynnis O’Connor), who is training to be a ballerina, but he’s too shy to ask her out, so his friend Ralph (Len Bari) asks her for him. Eventually the two start dating and after 3-weeks find themselves in a deep and committed relationship only to have happenstance tear them apart.

The film tries hard for realism, at least to some degree, and for that reason it partially succeeds. The best moments are the ones where Jeremy frets about asking Susan out and is unable to get up the nerve to do it, which I enjoyed as few movies deal with this very real issue. In fact a study was done during the 70’s dealing with so-called ‘love-shy’ men and of those over 300 considered this their favorite movie with some having watched it 20 or more times and one individual in his late 30’s having seen it 86 times.

Unfortunately the pace is inconsistent with too much time spent during the first 30-minutes dealing with Jeremy’s cello playing, which is something that by the third act gets forgotten and not even mentioned. There are also two sappy songs that are played, one sung by Robby and the other by Glynnis, and nothing is more annoying than a film that tries to be realistic one minute only to bog things down with needless music montages the next.

Benson’s acting here borders on being excruciating to watch. Shy, awkward teens are fine, but Robby becomes the poster child for it making it almost cringe-worthy. O’Connor is more confident and she should’ve been paired with somebody that would’ve equaled it. I realize that the two in real-life got into a long term relationship during the filming of this and 3 years later appeared together in Ode to Billy Joe where Benson’s acting ability and scrawny physique had improved, but here he’s too much of a caricature and it would’ve been more interesting had the character been someone with a confident facade only to be gun-shy romantically when the pressure was on.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is a disappointment as it involves Susan and Jeremy being forced to break-up when her father (Ned Wilson) gets a job offer in Detroit. I realize this was before the internet age and long distance relationships can always be a challenge, but I didn’t feel this necessarily had to signify the end of it. They could’ve continued to write letters and talk over the phone and they were only two years away from turning 18 and by then they would be free to move away from their parents and start back together, so this story twist came-off like a cop-out. I would’ve preferred a more concrete reason to why their relationship ended, like realizing once the infatuated puppy-love phase died down that they just weren’t compatible, which is how the majority of relationships ultimately end.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Barron

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Explorers (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids go into space.

Ben (Ethan Hawke) is a teen who keeps having dreams dealing with a spacecraft and eventually writes down the dimensions of it onto paper and then sends it to his super smart friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix) who uses it as a blueprint to eventually create it in real-life using various parts that they find in a junkyard. Once completed Ben, Wolfgang, and their other friend Darren (Jason Presson) decide to take it for a ride. Initially they fly it around their coastal California town, which catches the eye of the police (Dick Miller), who chases after it to no avail. Eventually though they decide to take it into outer space where they visit aliens inside a intergalactic space station.

Out of all of the sci-fi movies that came out during the 80’s this one has gotten lost in the shuffle and wasn’t too well received by the critics when it was first released though it has achieved a cult following since then. Director Joe Dante has complained that the final cut was taken out of his hands and he was never able to complete the ending that he wanted though for the most part the film never really gels, has a slow pace and only spotty moments where it becomes even halfway amusing.

One of the things that I did like was that the cast is age appropriate for their parts and the scenes done on a junior high campus have a student body that really looks to be teens instead of older college age actors trying to look younger, which happens in so many other teen films. The three leads thankfully aren’t crude or foul mouthed and aren’t obsessed with parlaying a ‘cool’, trendy image, which is also nice, but they seem just a bit too smart and able to do things that most adults can’t like welding and carpentry and  building a craft to exact specifications without any hitch or screw-up. Sure that Wolfgang kid is supposed to be smart, but even geniuses can make incorrect estimations, but this guy never does.

Watching the silly looking contraption actually get off the ground is farcical as in reality it most likely wouldn’t and the science gets completely thrown out the window. When they go out into space on their second trip they don’t even bother to equip themselves with oxygen and since there’s none in space I wasn’t able to figure out how they could breath. There’s no explanation either for how they were able to survive the extreme drop in temperature that occurs in high altitudes nor how the craft was able to get back through the earth’s atmosphere without burning up.

Spoiler Alert!

The scenes where the boys fly the craft around their town and even disrupt a sci-fi movie that is being shown at a local drive-in is when its funny and where the story should’ve stayed. Having it venture out into space and meeting other teen aliens is when it jumps-the-shark. The first hour plays like a whimsical fantasy, which is passable, but the third act becomes too campy. It also criminally under-uses Amanda Peterson, who plays Ben’s attractive love interest, who gets barely seen at all even though she should’ve gone on the trip with the other three boys, which would’ve bolstered the entertainment value and the fact that she doesn’t makes this already weak file even weaker.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance with deaf woman.

James (William Hurt) gets a job as an instructor at a school for the deaf. He’s brought in to try and teach the students to become less reliant on sign language and to speak more. It is there that he becomes infatuated with Sarah (Marlee Matlin) a 23-year old janitor who used to be a student there. She refuses to speak despite James’ efforts to get her to. Eventually they get into a relationship where James still insists that she must learn to speak, which creates a wedge between the two that could eventually drive them apart.

The film is based on the play of the same name by Mark Medoff, which in turn was based on the real-life experiences of deaf actress Phyllis Frelich  and her relationship with her husband Robert Steinberg. The play was quite successful and ran for 887 performances, but when it transitioned to film several changes were made most notably that in the play the Sarah character was a former student to James, but here that’s not the case, which to me didn’t make a lot of sense. It almost seemed like James became more obsessed with a janitor than his own students even though they suffered from the same fears of speaking as she did and the story could’ve been just as riveting had it stuck to his dealings with them, who otherwise end up getting seen only intermittently.

The whole romance angle comes off as forced especially since James blurts out the ‘I love you’ line before any relationship had even been established as they had  previously gone out to dinner as friends and not as a date. In many real-life situations when one partner says the ‘love’ statement too soon it can drive the other person away instead of bringing them closer and with Sarah being as defensive as she was that’s exactly what I think would’ve happened in this case.

It would’ve been better, especially since film is a visual medium, had we seen the relationship go the next level through actions and not words perhaps by having James impulsively jump into the pool that Sarah is swimming in and then have the two playfully splash each other before ending up with a passionate embrace and kiss, which would’ve hit-home the same point to the viewer, but without the melodramatic dialogue.

The constant use of the sign language that the two used to communicate with each other I liked, but got annoyed with the way James had to not only verbally repeat everything he said with his hands, but everything Sarah communicates with her hands as well. I would presume that a conversation done with sign language should be in silence, much like at the party that Sarah goes to with her deaf friends where everyone speaks with their hands while saying nothing with their mouths. I realize that it’s to the viewer’s benefit that James verbally ‘narrates’ what’s being said, but it comes-off as unrealistic and using subtitles during these segments would’ve been better.

Matlin’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent and proves that great acting isn’t just about conveying lines, which she, sans one sentence, doesn’t have, but also about facial expression which she does brilliantly. The scene where she goes swimming in an indoor pool and the viewer hears nothing but silence is excellent as well and helps us get inside the head of a deaf person and sense what their world is like. The story though goes on a bit too long and never really confirms if their relationship permanently works out long term, or not and for having to sit through so many of the couple’s ups-and-downs that’s one question that should’ve gotten answered.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Randa Haines

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube