Category Archives: Buddy Movies

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)

Street People (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by his nephew.

Salvatore (Ivo Garrani) is a crime boss residing in San Francisco who orders a specially made cross to be shipped from Italy to his church as a gift. Inside it is a stash of pure heroin, which leads to a crime hit and several deaths. Padre Frank (Ettore Manni), the priest at the church that was to receive the cross, thinks Salvatore was aware of the hidden heroin and used the cross as a ruse to get the drugs passed customs and thus he ex-communicates him from the church. Salvatore insists he had no knowledge of the heroin and hires his nephew Ulisse (Roger Moore), who is half Sicilian, to investigate and find out who the real culprit is. Ulisse asks his Grand Prix racing driver friend Charlie (Stacy Keach) to help him out, but the deeper into the case they go the more it leads them to believe that Salvatore was the mastermind behind it.

This unusual endeavor was produced by an Italian production company, but filmed in the U.S. with a British star and American actor and yet the supporting cast is made-up entirely of Italian performers straight from Italy. The Italians have their voices dubbed and share a high number of scenes only amongst themselves, while Moore and Keach speak in their regular voices and appear the majority of their screen time together. The result is a haphazard effect that cuts back and forth between what seems like two completely different movies spliced together. Casting Moore as someone who is ‘half-sicilian’ despite his very thick British accent, and pale skin, is one of the more ludicrous casting decisions ever made and the script, which Moore stated both he and Keach couldn’t make any sense out of even after watching the final print, goes all over the place and will be confusing to most.

The film does have some good points. Moore plays his part in a terse,no-nonsense style and I wished this was how he had approached the Bond role instead of the detached, humorous way that he did. Keach is highly engaging and watching the two trying to work a case despite having such opposite personalities is enjoyable, but there’s no explanation for how they ever met, or would even want to work together as they don’t get along. There needed to be at least one scene showing a genuine friendship in order to make their buddy relationship make sense instead of just the constant bickering.

The special effects are decent if not exceptional and for those just looking for some action and don’t mind a flimsy storyline then this should do. The scene where Keach takes a member of the mob’s car for a ‘little drive’ and then proceeds to recklessly smash it up before their very eyes is a delight. The car chase sequence gets riveting and the look of sheer panic in Moore’s eyes, as he was the passenger with Keach driving, makes it seem authentic and it’s nice to see people wearing seat belts, or at least putting them on once the ride gets dangerous, as that’s something you don’t always see in other movies. The foot chase that takes place over the rooftops of San Francisco’s business buildings is good too.

It’s unclear though what the film, which had six writers and two directors, was hoping to achieve. Maybe they just wanted to make a cheap, mindless action flick and for that you could say it’s a success, but there are some weird moments. The cross that gets shipped-in is unusual looking particularly the Jesus figure making me wonder if they were trying to go for something more like spoof, but either way it ultimately ends-up being an inept drama with few car smash-ups for diversion.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Maurizio Lucidi, Guglielmo Garroni

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by a helicopter.

Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) and MacConnachie (Robert Shaw) are two men on the run in the middle of a bleak, desolate desert. What they are escaping from is never clear, but they’re constantly hounded by a helicopter that seems intent at stopping them. They come upon a small village and steal food and supplies and then continue on their escape, but find trying to get along with each other is just as challenging as avoiding the copter.

I’m a big admirer of Joseph Losey’s films and I also enjoy movies that have an air of mystery and don’t feel the need to have to explain everything, but this attempt at avante garde doesn’t work. The Barry England novel or which this is based and received high critical praise when it came out in 1968 at least made it clear that these two were soldiers who were deserting for whatever reason, but the movie doesn’t even mention this. We’re simply left with a nothing-burger of seeing two guys we have no emotional connection with scurrying around the countryside, which gets old fast and has nothing to keep it compelling though the bird’s eye shots of them on the ground looking like dots as they run at least allows it to live up to its title.

Fans of the film will admit that the story is lacking, but the helicopter sequences and stunt work more than makes up for it, but I found this aspect to be underwhelming. The camerawork of showing the copter bearing down on them while splicing in shots from the pilot’s point-of-view is well handled, but it’s not as exciting as could’ve been because when the pilots have a chance to shoot the men they don’t. McDowell’s character explains that they (the helicopter pilots) are just ‘toying with them’, but the viewer can’t be expected to get wrapped-up in a silly cat-and-mouse contest that has no life or death consequence.

Much of the blame for why this comes-off more like a misguided experiment than an actual movie, can be attributed to Shaw, who was given permission to rewrite the script and promised to have it completed by the time shooting began, but didn’t. Apparently revisions were being made on a daily basis and no one knew where the plot was going, or how to end it, which ultimately makes for a flat and detached viewing experience.

The two leads do quite well with McDowell interesting as the younger of the two, but still more emotionally mature. Shaw is equally fine giving off a maniacal laugh that I’ve never heard him do before. Their bout with diarrhea at a most inopportune time is amusing. While some may find it gross it’s something that could happen to those who haven’t eaten in awhile and feeding off canned food, so in that way the movie tackles a realistic subject other escapees-on-the-run movies shy away from though the shaving aspect was a problem in reverse. I didn’t understand why Shaw would feel it’s so important for them to remain clean shaven when they’re just trying to survive and there’s no explanation for how they were able to remain without beards at the beginning when they were running around with their hands tied behind their backs.

In any case the movie desperately needed a conclusion as way too much is left open-ended. There should’ve been a final twist, like in an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ that makes sitting through it worth it. Ultimately it lacks focus with a concept better suited for a novel and never should’ve been made into a movie in the first place.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Super Fuzz (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop acquires super powers.

Dave (Terence Hill) is a newly hired policeman sent to do tasks non of the other officers want to do, which is why he’s given the assignment to deliver a speeding ticket to a remote Native American village deep within the Florida Everglades. Once he arrives he finds the place evacuated due to a secret nuclear missile test being done that he wasn’t aware of. When the bomb goes off and he becomes exposed to the radiation he begins to have various super powers including: super human strength, speed, telekinesis, psychic ability, and even hypnotism. He puts these new found abilities to use during his police work even though his partner, longtime cop Bill Dunlop (Ernest Borgnine), is skeptical about it at first. While the powers come in handy in their efforts to thwart a local counterfeit ring Dave soon realizes that there’s one hitch; if he sees the color red, which was the same color as the plutonium explosion, his powers will temporarily cease.

This was the third and final attempt to make Hill, who’s quite legendary in Italy especially in films where he teamed with Bud Spencer, into an American star. The first two attempts that he did here, Mr. Billion, March or Diewere flops and this effort, which was aimed solely at the kiddie crowd, wasn’t much better and its dismal failure both critically and financially sent Hill back to Europe permanently. Many adults who grow up in the 80’s will remember seeing it on Pay-TV where it was in heavy rotation. I recollect catching bits and pieces of it on Showtime, but the only thing that stood out for me was its cheesy soundtrack that had a chorus singing: ‘Super, Super, Sup-eee-rrr’ every time Dave did one of his tricks.

The film’s biggest downfall are the special effects that amounts to a lot of tacky, fast-action photography that can be seen in a wide assortment of other mindless low budget fare and is nothing special. There’s also just not enough trickery, too much dim witted dialogue, and lame humor in a plot that evolves too slowly to hold the interest of either a child or adult.

Having Dave acquire all these powers after being exposed to nuclear energy instead of getting terminal cancer like anyone else would makes no sense. The story would’ve been helped somewhat by reeling-in the powers aspect and giving him only one special ability instead of allowing him to do virtually anything making him almost like superman. Entering in more limitations than just the color red would’ve, if done right, brought in some tension and creativity, which is otherwise lacking.

While it’s sad in some ways to see a legendary, Academy Award winning star like Borgnine in such mindless tripe he is the best thing in it as he provides much needed energy, which help contrast Hill’s overly laid-back demeanor. Watching the tubby guy dance on top of a giant balloon, or try to dance with Joanne Dru is funny as are his overreactions, which would be considered cartoonish in any other movie, but here only helps to lift it up from its simplistic foundation. It’s also a great chance to see Dru, her first movie appearance in 15 years and also her last, ham it up as the villainous of which she’s pretty good.

The ending though, where Hill is somehow able from a tiny piece of gum to form this gigantic bubble is where the thing, which wasn’t floating too well to begin with, really sinks. How can Dave’s super powers get a piece of gum to expand far more than it should and since bubbles from bubble gum are very flimsy and can easily pop why doesn’t this one end up doing the same? You can also clearly see the seam of the sewn fabric on the bubble, which an actual bubble would never have.

While the movie was notoriously ridiculed by the critics at the time of its release, some critics today have taken more of a softer stance. Maybe it’s because they remember growing up watching it on TV, but feelings of nostalgia doesn’t make it any less stupid. This isn’t even good for kids who I believe are more discerning than adults think and will right away recognize the dated quality, tacky effects and won’t be impressed. 

Alternate Title: Super Snooper

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys hit on babe.

A late season blizzard hits central Iowa just as Easter arrives causing two college chums, Larry (Tim Robbins) and Joe (Cameron Dye), to decide they need to get away to a warmer climate. Their socially inept friend Wendell (Stephen Geoffreys) has a cousin with a fully furnished apartment in Palm Springs that is open for them to go to. Wendell’s parents (Max Wright, Julie Payne) even agree to pay for their plane tickets, but there’s one catch: the boys must bring Wendell along and help him get over his awkwardness, so he can finally meet some girls and get laid. Joe and Larry reluctantly agree, but when they get there they find Wendell to be an almost hopeless case while also bumping into two guys: Chas (Leigh McCloskey) and J.C. (Matt McCoy) from a rival fraternity.  Chas is particularly arrogant and bets the two that he can manage to have sex with a hot babe named Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) before they can, which causes the boys to go on a slew of wild antics to get Ashley’s attention, and hopefully heart, so she’ll agree to go out on a date with Joe and then hopefully afterwards back to her bedroom.

I know I’ve been told by readers of this blog that I’m a ‘tough critic’ and rate these films ‘too harshly’, but the truth is going-in I want to like these movies because who wants to waste 90-minutes of their time watching a dud, but I do have one main rule. If the movie causes me to openly groan, or rub my forehead, which is something I do when I get annoyed, then it’s going to get a low rating and this one had me doing that several times.

The main thing that irritated me was the piss-poor characterizations, which are cliched to the max. The most annoying one is Wendell, played by Geoffreys, who started his acting career doing mainstream films only to by the 90’s devolve into starring-in gay porn flicks under the name of Sam Ritter and then returning to doing mainstream movies by the 2010’s. I felt his nerd vibe was over-the-top. Being geeky and slightly out-of-it is one thing, but this young man is completely oblivious to obvious social cues that anyone with even a minor intelligence would pick-up on making him seem like he must be mentally-ill to be that extremely out-of-touch.

The Ashley character is poorly defined as well. Why is such an incredibly hot woman single, and if so why aren’t a lot of guys hitting on her instead of just these two? Why would an attractive woman undress (performed by body double Roberta Whitewood) by an open window at a busy apartment complex and not fear that it may attract peepers? If she’s an exhibitionist that’s one thing, but the movie plays it like she isn’t, so how could she be so clueless? She also stupidly falls into the boy’s pathetic scheme too easily. I was hoping she’d secretly be clever enough to see through their shenanigans and set them up into a trap of her own, but that doesn’t happen, which is another thing that I hated is that the film lacks any surprises.

Some may like it just to see Robbins in an early role in a film I’m sure he’d like to live down. It’s also fun seeing Amanda Bearse, who’s better known for her later work in the TV-series ‘Married with Children’, and veteran character actor John Vernon as an obnoxious police chief. There’s a few other familiar faces that pop-up here-and-there, but I was shocked at the cameo role Britt Ekland is given where she’s on screen for just a minute playing a waitress at a bar. Usually when famous people are given brief walk-ons they’re at least able to say something clever or funny, but here she just asks the guys for their ID’s and then leaves. It’s a thankless part and I can only presume she must’ve been really desperate for the work to take it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor

Mouth to Mouth (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two teen girl runaways.

Carrie (Kim Krejus) and Jeanie (Sonia Peat) are two friends living in a juvenile detention center when one of them gets accused of stealing an item. Angered that they’ve been accused of doing something that they didn’t they escape into the night and onto the streets of Melbourne. They manage for find shelter in an abandoned factory building that also has an elderly homeless man named Fred (Walter Pym) living there whom they befriend. They find employment as servers in a cafe and that’s where they meet Tim (Ian Gilmour) and Sergio (Serge Frazzetto) who are two young men who have come to the city looking for employment. They girls bring them back to the factory building and the four create a makeshift home, but Carrie and Jeannie are not happy with the wages that they’re making nor having to shoplift on the side to make ends-meet. Carrie sees an ad in the paper for escorts and convinces Jeannie to join her as they’ll be able to make much more money doing that. Jeannie is reluctant at first, but eventually goes along with it, but after doing it for awhile Carrie becomes increasingly depressed, which eventually leads to her illicit drug use.

Initially I wasn’t excited to watch this as I’d seen many teen runaway movies before and failed to see what new perspective they could put on that would make it interesting, but I was surprised how very compelling it is. A lot of credit for this goes to writer/director John Duigan’s script, which has a nice conversational quality and the characters react the way real teens do where they never articulate how they really feel and go to great lengths to mask their true feelings. The setting, particularly the abandoned building is made all the more stark as a real one was used and not just some prop built on a movie set, which really hits home the kind of squalor some people will be willing to put-up with if their desperate enough and similar to the living conditions in the British film Rita, Sue, and Bob Too. 

Despite the actors having little or no acting experience they manage to give compelling performances and much of this was helped by having the cast room in a house for 2-weeks before the shooting started, which allowed them to bond with each other as well as refined their characters and rehearse their lines until it became almost natural to them. 

The script originally had more of a light-hearted tone, but after 14 rewrites it took on a harsher subject matter as director Duigan wanted to bring to life people that a middle-class movie audience only sees as ‘numbers on unemployment figures, or kids in juvenile court’ and in that regard it’s well-made. The ending is particularly gut-wrenching, but not surprising and yet I was very moved by it and it stayed with me long after it was over. 

On the complaints side it would’ve been nice to have had Fred come-up to their loft to either dinner with the four and see more how he interacted with them. The girls invite him, but he refuses, but for the sake of character development he should’ve agreed. The escort scenes only show Jeannie interacting with her client, but not Carrie with hers, which I found frustrating. Carrie is never seen visiting with her father either during the brief scene when she returns home as he’s not there, but having a conversation between the two could’ve been quite revealing. The film also features a great song entitled “The More You Love the Harder You Fall”, but no credits are given for who sings it, which is a shame.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated M (Australian Movie Rating)

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Victorian Film Cororation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

The Magic Christian (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a price.

Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) is a billionaire with an eccentric side, who wants to prove the powerful influence money has over other people. He meets Youngman (Ringo Starr),a homeless man in a park, and decides to adopt him as his son. Together they proceed to play elaborate pranks on the public by watching how far they can push their theory and what humiliating lengths people will go to get their hands on some money.

The film is based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Terry Southern, who also wrote the screenplay, and while the novel was considered a success the movie, at least when it was first released, wasn’t. My critics complained of the film’s heavy-handed satirical nature and unrelenting jabs at capitalism even though all the same pranks done in the movie were also in the book. The film also has the exact same satirical theme as O Lucky Man, which starred Malcom McDowell and came out just a few years later that also took numerous potshots at capitalism and yet many of the same critics adored that one, but came down hard on this one.

Fortunately through the years the film has managed to find a cult following. I supposed if one has more of a socialist bent they may enjoy it more, but it has such a surreal, creative vibe to it that it’s fun to watch no matter if you agree with it’s message, which is kind of muddled anyways, or not. Some of my favorite bits included snotty, rich aristocrats boarding a ship cruise that puts them in increasingly more humorously challenging and bizarre situations. The final segment, which has the classic song ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman playing during it, features a giant outdoor vat filled with urine, blood, and animal feces and then having Grand throw money into it and challenging onlookers to jump into the mess in order to get at the money, which despite the awful stench they readily do.

There’s many cameo appearances by famous stars who agreed to take small roles as a favor to Sellers who at the time was a top star and friends with many of the big headliners of the day. Some of the best bits here include Laurence Harvey who does a striptease while onstage and in front of a packed house of onlookers while reciting ‘Hamlet’. Yul Bryner, looking almost unrecognizable in a female wig, is great as a transvestite who comes-onto a shy Roman Polanski while at a bar. Spike Milligan is hilarious as a traffic cop who agrees to eat his own traffic ticket for the right price as well as Raquel Welch as a slave commander with a whip, Wilfred Hyde-White as a drunken ship captain, and John Cleese as a perplexed auctioneer.

The problems that I had with the film dealt mainly with the relationship between Sellers and Starr. Sellers meets Starr one day in a park by chance and then begins to have a conversation with him, but there’s music playing over this, so we never hear what they’re saying, which is frustrating as the having a rich man suddenly offer a poor man the chance to be his adopted son seemed like dialogue that should be heard. Starr is also not given much to do and it seemed almost pointless for having even in the movie. In the novel there was only the Grand character creating the pranks, but it was decided for the movie to make it a two man show, but Ringo has so little to do that it didn’t seem worth it and this reportedly was due to Sellers’ insecurity of being upstaged and thus insisting that all the best lines had to go to him.

It’s also never clear why the Sellers’ character does what he does. What’s the motivation for why this rich man feels the need to expose other people’s foibles and vanities? Does he feel guilty about being so rich and therefore has decided to ‘take-it-to’ the others in his own social circle? None of this gets explained or analyzed at all, which on the character end makes the film quite superficial and confusing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Movie Madness (1982)

moviemadness2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three very unfunny stories.

If you’re ever needing to show someone why drugs aren’t a good idea there’s no reason to go back to that old TV ad with an egg frying in a pan that said ‘This is your brain on drugs’ instead you could simply show them this movie. Not that it pertains to drugs, or even mentions them, but it was done by people heavily on cocaine, the top drug of choice in Hollywood at that time, who were apparently so coked-up that they thought this movie was ‘hilarious’ even though no one else that saw it thought so.

With the success of Animal House National Lampoon’s was considered the big comic venue, so much so that United Artists gave them top-dollar, a whopping $15 million, to make another feature. In response National Lampoon brought together 5 writers, all of whom had written for their humor magazine, but had no screenplay experience, to compose the movie. The idea was to create 10 short vignettes that would make fun of a different movie genre, but this was ultimately too difficult, so it got pared down to just 4, with only three of them ultimately making it to the big screen. What’s perplexing is that the production values are good (I actually liked the opening song sung by Dr. John and the opening animation), there’s even some big name stars, but the material itself is unbelievably lame to the extent that it purportedly caused a test audience in Rhode Island to tear up their theater seats to show their disgust.

The first story, which is entitled ‘Growing Yourself’ stars Peter Riegert as a suburban father/husband who packs up his wife’s (Candy Clark) bags and tells her to leave so he can ‘grow’ as a person. Though confused with the reasoning she immediately obliges, but ultimately the husband finds raising the kids and finding a new more interesting career to be far more of a challenge then he expected.

The problem with this story, like with the other two, is that the characters and their motivations are unrelatable to real everyday people. For a story to work, even as satire, there still needs to be a connection to reality and this thing is too daffy. Even on a surreal level it goes nowhere and becomes simply a glimpse to weird individuals saying and doing stupid things with no intrinsic point at to it at all.

The second segment, entitled ‘Success Wanters’, suffers the same fate. It has to do with recent college grad Dominique (Ann Dusenberry) getting a job as a stripper, which almost immediately leads to her becoming heiress to a massive fortune of a margarine company when the owner (Robert Culp), who she was fooling around with, dies. This then leads to more affairs, and more money and ultimately even a relationship with the President of the United States (Fred Willard).

Again nothing that happens here has any bearing in reality, never in the history of the world has this happened to any college grad out there, especially in only a few days time. To be funny it still needs to make sense, but like with the first story you’re left scratching your head wondering what the point of it was although Dusenberry does look fabulous naked, both topless and bottomless, making catching it for that reason almost worth it.

The third and final segment, entitled ‘Municipalians’ has rookie cop Brent (Robby Benson) paired with jaded, crabby veteran Stan (Richard Widmark) as they go out to find a bizarre serial killer (Christopher Lloyd). Supposedly this was meant as a parody of the cop buddy movies, but too silly and over-the-top to be even slightly amusing. I will admit it’s fun seeing veteran star Widmark in such an odd project and his cantankerous ways is slightly engaging, including one moment when he’s caught reading Hustler magazine, but the story structure is faulty. It might’ve gotten a few more points from me had the scene where Benson and Lloyd start singing a duet of ‘Feelings’ and then had Widmark barge in to form a trio, but since that doesn’t happen this one like the other two fails miserably. It also ends with the camera focusing on Benson struggling to get up after he’s been shot several times, which comes-off as cruel like it’s making fun of someone who’s in pain, which I found disturbing.

There was a fourth segment entitled ‘The Bomb’ that starred Kenneth Mars and Marcia Strassman and was a parody of disaster movies, but when screened United Artists’ vice president of production found this segment to be ‘of an awfulness that made the whole picture look unreleasable’. so it got taken out. However, he did also find the first three stories to be ‘good, funny segments with high commercial promise’ making you wonder if he was coked-up on the white stuff too.

Alternate Title: National Lampoon’s Goes to the Movies

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Bob Giraldi, Henry Jaglom

Studio: MGM/UA

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