Category Archives: Classic

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Punk Rock Scene.

A fascinating and surprisingly intimate look at the L.A. punk rock scene of the late ‘70s. The film starts out by showing footage of several concerts with fans jumping up and down like they are on a pogo stick and getting into violent clashes with other fans by physically attacking each other unprovoked. Shots of various band members in garish make-up, outfits and behaviors are also shown, which could give one the feeling that the state of humanity is truly on the decline, but then the film cuts away and we are treated to interviews of the people involved where we start seeing them as actual multi-dimensional human beings who are simply unhappy with the establishment and fighting to have a voice.

The interviews are the best part and I was impressed with how candid many of them were and the introspection some of them showed with one stating that punk rock was simply an excuse to ‘make an ass of himself and get away with it.’ The most shocking moment comes when you see the sleeping quarters of one of the bands, which was in the closet of some dingy, cramped, graffiti laden room that wasn’t much bigger than a storage closet and housed all the members for a mere $16 a month, which was all they could afford.

Another memorable moment deals with Darby Crash, who died from a heroin overdose before the film’s release, and watching him play with a tarantula spider that he allows to crawl all over him. The final segment dealing with Lee Ving the lead singer of the group Fear spitting at his audience who then spit back before they charge the stage and physically attempt to attack him is vivid.

When John Doe and Exene Cervenka sing the song ‘We’re Desperate: Get Used to It’ you know that they are speaking straight from experience, which is what ultimately makes this excursion so impactful. These aren’t rich rock stars from the ‘burbs with million dollar contracts spouting about hardships they’ve never had. Instead we get people that are at society’s bottom speaking to others who feel the same way and who are desperately looking for an outlet for their aggressions and anger. The interviews with some of the fans are equally enlightening and helps shed light on many of their troubled lives.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: Spheeris Films Inc.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Soylent Green (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: People are the food.

This Review May Contain Spoilers.

The year is 2022 and the world is so overpopulated that people must sleep on stairwells and hallways and fight over getting their hands on the one and only food source called Soylent Green. Thorn (Charlton Heston) works as a police detective and assigned to a case involving the investigation of the murder of William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) who worked as a board member to Soylent industries. Thorn is convinced that there is more to the killing than simply an in-home robbery, but finds as he pursues the case that others are trying to prevent him from continuing on it, which makes him more determined to find the answers and connect-the-dots.

We’ll get the elephant out of the room right away by divulging that Soylent Green is made up of people who are killed to feed the rest of the population. Normally that would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but this film has become so well known for this ‘twist’ it that it seems almost absurd to avoid giving it away. If that ruins the film for you then I apologize, but the truth is I knew going into this how it was going to end, due to watching one of many parodies done on the movie particularly a SNL skit from years back involving Phil Hartman, and yet I came away enjoying it anyways. Mostly what I liked was the film’s neo-futuristic look that combines old buildings with a mod image and an opening sequence, which is the best part of the movie, used over the credits that was done by filmmaker Charles Braverman and shows visually through rapid-fire photographs how the world came into its bleak situation.

I was also really impressed with Heston’s performance. He is not an actor I’ve particularly enjoyed as I feel he is routinely too stiff and conveys his lines in an overly dramatic way that is quite stagey and even hammy and yet here he portrays a rough-around-the-edges man quite well and I consider this one of his best performances.

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This also marks the final film of screen legend Edward G. Robinson who died only 20 days after production was completed. The scene where he and Heston eat fresh food, which is something the characters hadn’t done in a long time due to its scarcity, was completely improvised, but an excellent and memorable moment. I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.

The ending isn’t bad and I liked the way Thorn investigates the inner workings of the Soylent factory with the only noise coming from the plant’s machinery and no music, which makes it creepier. It is mentioned earlier though that this plant is ‘highly guarded’ and yet he is able to get into it rather easily and he walks through it for quite a bit before he is spotted by anyone and even then the men aren’t armed, which makes it seem like it isn’t too well guarded at all. Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others. The world they live in is quite bleak, so what is he ‘saving’ them from anyways as some may actually choose death over the squalor that they were stuck in.

The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen, which again only reiterates the fact that the filmmakers hadn’t completely thought this thing through and if anything the film should’ve used Thorn’s discovery as springboard to a more complex and intricate plot instead simply relying on it as a ‘shock’ ending.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: MGM

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

Persona (1966)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

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There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Fighting the desert elements.

A cargo plane flying to Benghazi and piloted by Frank Towns (James Stewart) is forced to make a crash landing in the middle of the Sahara desert when a freak sand storm shuts down the plane’s engines. Of the 14 men on board two are killed instantly when several oil drums break loose during the crash which also injures a third. The rest of the men find themselves stranded in the searing heat with only dates as their food and a 2 week supply of water. The radio communication was destroyed during the crash and they are too far off their main route for anyone to find them. One of the passengers, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) who works as a plane designer believes he has a way to take what’s left of the wreckage and build it into a new plane, which will then be able to fly the men out of there. Initially everyone else is skeptical, but eventually they begin working during the night to put it together while continuing to fight the elements and themselves in the process.

What makes this film stand out from the rest of the epic adventures is the fact that there is no good guy versus bad guy here. Every one of the individuals has their own unique character flaws and must learn to overcome them and their egos in order to work together as a team. The characterizations are realistic and multi-faceted making their conflicts believable from start to finish and helping to create a story that is gripping on both an adventure level and a psychological one.

Stewart is outstanding in the lead and I enjoyed seeing him play a part that is cynical and savvy and with less of the humble, country boy charm that he is known for. Kruger is solid in support and watching his confrontations with Stewart and then their eventual respect for each is the film’s main highlight. Richard Attenborough is also good as the sort-of moderator between the two and I also enjoyed Peter Finch as the brave and honorable Captain as well as Ronald Fraser as his sergeant who doesn’t quite share his same courage or sense of duty.

I was disappointed to some extent that it wasn’t filmed on-location in the Sahara and instead in Arizona and California although the desert locales look authentic enough even though eventually after two hours it becomes monotonous visually. Director Robert Aldrich keeps things believable including having the men visibly slow down physically as the days wear on as well as growing beards, which is something that sometimes gets overlooked in other stranded dramas although I was still confused why the Finch character formed a goatee instead of a full beard.

The climactic sequence is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating particularly the scene where Stewart tries to start the plane with only 7 cartridges remaining and with each one failing. Whether the logistics of this could actually occur is a big question, but it still remains grand entertainment.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 22Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing hooky from school.

Ferris (Matthew Broderick) is a high school senior who wakes up one nice sunny day in Chicago and decides that he doesn’t want to go to school. He fakes an illness, which his incredibly naïve parents (Lyman Ward, Cindy Pickett) buy into without question even though his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) doesn’t and then gets together with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) in Cameron’s Dad’s Ferrari and spends an exciting day in the Windy City where they visit everything from the Chicago Museum to a Cubs ballgame. However, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) the school’s principal is suspicious about all of Ferris’s chronic absences and is determined to track him down.

On a comic level the film has some hilarious and even ingenious bits and in a lot of ways this is John Hughes finest directorial effort simply for the variety of camera angles and humor that is used. My favorite is the scene showing the lost and confused looks of the students faces who are sitting in an economics’ class run by actor Ben Stein lecturing in his patented monotone voice.

On the negative end I thought the parents were portrayed as being too stupid and gullible to the point that it became extreme and took away from the humor and Ferris’s perceived cleverness since the average 3-year-old would be able to dupe these morons. The symptoms he complains about clearly sound dubious and if anything they should have made an appointment for him to see a Dr. that day. You would also think that these idiot’s would get a hint that he was faking it since this was already the 9TH time this semester he had called in. How much more of a wake-up call do they need? Weren’t they teenagers once as well and didn’t they try to fake illness too to get out of school and shouldn’t they in the back of their minds presume that their kids might try to do the same?

The Ferris character is a bit too cocky and in some ways I sided with his sister as well as Rooney in giving this smug kid of bit of a comeuppance. The character borders on being one of these entitled teens who thinks he will be able to cheat the system his whole life and then when he gets out into the world and has to work a real job and play within the rules he and others like him can’t handle it or worse end up getting fired or sent to jail because they expect to still be able to cut-corners and get away with it.

The humor, especially during the second-half gets rather implausible. One scene has the Dad reading a newspaper with an article about a community rallying around a sick teenager (Ferris), but Ferris had only called in sick that morning, which was well after the paper had gone to press and there were no evening newspapers in Chicago at that time.

The scene where Ferris and Cameron hide in the backseat of a car when their cab gets parked right next to his Dad’s and all his dad sees is Sloane who he doesn’t recognize didn’t make sense either. I suppose it was possible that the Dad had never met her, but Ferris seemed to have been seeing her for quite a while and was even proposing marriage to her, which made me feel that he had most likely brought her home already for his Mom and Dad to meet. Also, why can’t Jeanie recognize Mr. Rooney when she comes upon him inside her house and karate kicks him straight in his face?

The scene where they put the Ferrari on a jack and then a cement block on the accelerator and drive it in reverse in an effort to take off the miles, so Cameron’s Dad wouldn’t find out they had driven it, seems implausible as well. This is mainly because it gets done inside a glass garage. I realize that the garage door was open, but the back of the car was facing the enclosed glass wall, which would have trapped the exhaust fumes and made it impossible for them to stand there and have the long conversation that they do without choking and having their eyes get all watery and itchy.

The side story involving Cameron’s issue with his father who seems to love his car more than his own son doesn’t work mainly because it’s hard to go from zany comedy to drama especially in this case when it’s all rather pseudo-psychological. It’s also frustrating to spend as much time talking about it as they do, but never actually see the father nor the final meeting that he has with Cameron, which could have been revealing and insightful.

The film still has its moments and I loved it as a teen, but now it seems lodged in a more innocent era were adolescent hijinks was considered ‘good innocent fun’ without even slightly balancing it with the darker and serious consequences that can come about from teenagers who think that they can get away with anything. The filmmakers themselves prove my own point and what a thin line this type of plot walked because originally there was a scene were Ferris steals some bonds from a shoebox in his father’s closet and then cashes it in a bank and uses the money to fund his day on the town, but the scene was later deleted because it was felt it made him seem too much like a thief instead of a ‘lovable rogue’.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Hughes

Studio: Paramount

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

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woody takes on sex.

This is a very loose adaptation by Woody Allen of the famous sex manual written by David Reuben, but given a comic spin. This was made when Allen was at his absolute peak as nearly everything is funny and original.

Some of the jokes are outrageously over the edge even for today. The highlights include Gene Wilder’s incredibly long reaction shot after a shepherd informs him that he has fallen in love with one of the sheep from his flock. Another highlight includes Allen trying to fight off a giant ‘monster breast’ by using a Crucifix and a giant bra. Cross dresser Lou Jacobi getting caught in a women’s dress while visiting a friend’s house is another classic as well as ‘What’s My Perversion’ a very brilliant and inspired send up of ‘What’s My Line’. Of course the best may be, should I say, the climactic sequence involving the control room of the inside of a man’s brain as he goes through ejaculation.

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The only negative is the second segment entitled ‘Why some Women can’t have orgasms’ is a misfire. The joke of having Allen and Lasser talk in only Italian with no subtitles wears thin pretty quickly. The only pluses from this segment involve seeing Allen in a pair of trendy glasses as well as watching an electric dildo catch on fire.

In a lot of ways I consider this to be Allen’s best comedy. Just about everything works and it’s all laugh- out-loud funny. Even the few things that don’t are still creative enough to get kudos.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Becket (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by his friend.

King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is finding himself at continual odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) particularly in their disagreement of taxing the church to help fund Henry’s war with France when the elderly Archbishop suddenly dies Henry decides to appoint his longtime friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) into the position.  Becket had always shown extreme loyalty towards Henry and many times gotten him out of several jams so Henry expects this will continue in his new role, but finds that Thomas takes his position much more seriously than expected and shifts his loyalty from the king to the almighty, which causes serious conflict between the two.

The film which is directed by Peter Glenville is based on the 1959 stageplay written by Jean Anouilh that starred Laurence Olivier in the role as Becket and Anthony Quinn as Henry. This film version isn’t bad, but not quite the epic spectacle that we are so used to from these types of films from that period. The action is quite minimal and there is a definite staginess. I would have liked more camera movements and even a few scenes with a hand-held to help make it seem a little more authentic and less of a filmed drama. The scene where Henry and Becket are seen riding on horseback appears very corny as it was clearly done in front of a blue-screen. There is also too much music one scene has Henry and Becket running away from a farmhouse after being caught fooling around with a farm girl that has a cartoonish sounding melody that seems completely inappropriate especially for the time period.

Having Henry and Becket go from being friends to bitter enemies seemed to happen too quickly. I got the feeling we were seeing the ‘Cliff Notes’ version of events were they analyze only the important plot points and then quickly moved to the next. I realize the runtime of the film is already long, but spending more time showing the friendship gradually devolve would have been more realistic.

Normally I love Sir John Gielgud and his performance as King Louis VII is amusing, but he is clearly British and speaks with an English accent that doesn’t even come close to sounding French. The part of the Pope is given to an Italian, so the King Louis role should have been done by a Frenchman.

O’Toole is excellent. He has brown hair here instead of his patented blonde and his ability to stay in step with Burton by giving an almost comic performance of a King who is nothing more than an overgrown adolescent is brilliant. The royal food fight is good as are the many putdowns that he gives to both his wife and kids and even his own mother.

Burton is fantastic as expected playing a role different from any of the others that he has done. His piercing blue eyes have never been stronger particularly when he becomes the Archbishop.

The killing scenes done inside the church near the end has some nice camera work and Henry’s final emotional speech as well as his flogging by the monks are all strong and make this worthwhile viewing, but I couldn’t help but feel that we have ‘grown-up’ a bit in the way we do period pieces today and this is one that could use a remake.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours 28Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Robocop (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop becomes a robot.

In Detroit of the near future the city has become overrun with criminals and an underfunded city government is forced to allow a large corporation by the name of OCP to help run its police force. The company is headed by Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and their chairman (Dan O’Herlihy) who are constantly looking for new and more sophisticated crime fighting weapons and come up with the idea of creating a half human half robot type cyborg using the body parts of a recently deceased officer named Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller). Initially it’s a great success, but the robot starts to have memories of Alex’s past and becomes fixated with hunting down the scumbags who killed him while avoiding Jones and his men who want to destroy the robot so Jones’s own invention the ED-209 can replace him.

When compared to other big-budgeted studio action flicks this one far and away outshines them all. Director Paul Verhoeven seemed to be given an amazing amount of freedom to create a film with a distinct vision that manages to be both exciting and multi-dimensional. The final shootout at an abandoned steel mill has a particularly nihilistic look and feel more common in European films. The jabs of satirical humor also make this much more enjoyable and entertaining than the run-of-the-mill actioner. My favorite bits included the commercial advertising the family board game call ‘Nukem’ and the outrageous demands of a gunman holding up the mayor’s office as well as the overnight gas station attendant working on geometry problems.

The action is quite good and the film manages to attain a fluid level that allows the graphic violence to work in tandem with the offbeat touches while not being jarring or disjointed. The special effects were decent although the ED-209 robot looks too much like one of those Ray Harryhausen stop-action creations that was clearly a miniaturized model blown up to giant proportions by optical effects. The result is a bit cheesy by today’s standards although the part where the machine is chasing Robocop and slips down a flight of stairs and then lays on its backside while flailing its legs in the air like a wailing child is quite possibly the film’s best moment.

There is also a rather prolonged torture segment where a criminal gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) traps Murphy in a steel mill and proceeds to shoot off his arm and hand while laughing at him as he screams in pain. Despite its unsettling nature I liked that this scene was put in as too many times Hollywood takes on dark themed stories, but then makes them tasteful and mainstream. This scene breaks that mold while truly reflecting the vile nature of the people and the world that they live in. It allows vicious characters to be nasty without it having to be implied and shocks the viewer a bit out of their comfort zone, which a true nihilistic movie should do.

The only problem that I had with the scene is that after taunting Murphy and blowing off his limbs they end up shooting him in the head and effectively making him brain dead, which makes the scenes later on where he remembers his past and is even aware of the people who are turning him into a robot seem unrealistic. A better idea would have been to have the men just walk away laughing while allowing Murphy to remain conscious , which would have worked better with their already vindictive nature as shooting him in the head given the circumstances seemed too ‘humane’ like they were putting him out of his misery. It also would have kept his brain functioning and allowed the later segments to be more believable.

Star Weller is so covered up with the massive suit that he has to wear that he becomes transparent and making the bad guys much more colorful and memorable. The character needed more of a backstory and a few distinctive personality traits. I also felt that the history between his character and Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) should have been more than just one day on the job.

Miguel Ferrer captures the caricature of the young, upwardly mobile do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-ahead 80’s yuppie persona so well that he was one unlikable character I wished had stayed on for the entire duration. Smith who has become so well known in more benign roles in his later career really scores as a particularly vile bad guy.

My only real complaint is that the visuals were not all that futuristic looking. The police station resembled the one on the old ‘Barney Miller’ TV-show and the police cars looked very much like 80’s models. The remake of the film, which is set to be released today, may do a better job of creating more modernistic visuals.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Studio: Orion Pictures Corporation

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

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawrence unites the Arabs.

Due to the death of actor Peter O’Toole on December 14 we will be reviewing each Sunday of this month 4 films that he did during the 60’s with this one be his most famous role and one that jettisoned his career into stardom.

The film chronicles the life of T.E. Lawrence who helped unite the Arab tribes during World War I and allowed them to fight back and eventually overpower the Turks. The film starts out with his motorcycle death in 1935 at the young age of 46 and then flashes back to his days in the army as a young intelligence officer. It examines his unique personality, determined headstrong ways as well as his ability to unite varying warring Arab tribes and get them to work together to defeat a common enemy.

Director David Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young are the real stars here. Filmed mostly in the countries of Morocco and Jordan Lean manages to capture the barren, hot landscape of the desert better than anyone else as he gives it an almost surreal and exotic quality that takes over the rest of the story and leaves the strongest impression. I loved the sun slowly coming up over the horizon and onto the flat terrain. I also liked the longshots showing characters enveloped by the majestic landscape and looking almost nonexistent when seen against some of the towering rocky formations. Omar Sharif’s characters entrance while on horseback and seen from a distance as he rides up through layers of heat that rises from the ground is also excellent.

The action is well captured although there isn’t as much of it as you might think. Their raid on Aquba is for my money the best. I loved the bird’s-eye shot of seeing all these soldiers looking almost like ants scurrying from the desert and into the fortress through the buildings and property and then eventually into the sea that sits on the other side. The bloody battle that they rage against an already weakened Turk army near the end is also a strong visual as is the Lawrence’s visit to an unsanitary hospital housing the wounded Turks.

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O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence was controversial at the time and to some still is. His bright, clear blue eyes makes him look like he is in a trance and the way he says his lines sounds like he was under some sort of spell and gives the character a certain mystique that isn’t quite human. Still I thought the part fit O’Toole’s personality well. My favorite moment of his is when he first tries on the Arab robes that he is given and he goes running around in them in an almost child-like manner. It is also nice seeing a story about a true-life character that isn’t preachy and more open about their flaws particularly his propensity for violence which becomes increasingly more evident as it goes along.

Sharif is excellent is support and in some ways gives the film’s all around strongest performance. I liked the adversarial relationship that his character has with Lawrence. They start out at odds with each other, but slowly become friends and yet continue to have their differences. Arthur Kennedy is good as a glib and detached photojournalist and Alec Guinness was to me initially unrecognizable as Prince Feisal.

The movie does not stay completely accurate to the real life events. Some of these are minor and while others are more major, but are too many to elaborate here. The truth is there is probably no movie pertaining to a true life event that is completely accurate to what really happened and no one should be naïve enough to expect it to be either. On an entertainment and cinematic level this one scores high. My only real complaint is the scene where a character gets swallowed up in quicksand, which in reality is very unlikely to happen, but a prevalent feature in a lot of 60’s movies and the one point where it got a bit too ‘Hollywood’.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1962

Runtime: 3Hours 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lean

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after wife leaves.

This is a solid drama detailing the divorce and subsequent custody battle between two young, educated and upper middle class parents (Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep).

To say that this is simply an examination of divorce and its effects on both the child and parents do not do the film justice as this is a very richly textured story that brings out the many variables that come with being a modern day parent. One of the best is the examination of Hoffman’s character’s job and how ‘moving up the corporate ladder’ can have an adverse effect on a man’s home life and his family members. In fact this is a major factor to his break-up and emotional detachment with his wife.

The film also offers a nice glimpse between father and son and the scenes showing this relationship are quite touching especially as they learn to coexist with one another after the mother leaves. Justin Henry doesn’t get enough credit for his performance as the son. Yes, he is adorable in the typical child-like way, but he also manages to create a child character that is diverse and memorable.

Hoffman gives a superior performance and in many ways it is all about him and his adjustment at playing the dual roles of being both a father and mother. He has his aggressive New Yorker persona, but you understand it and really feel for what he is going through. Even watching him frantically running around from place-to-place is interesting.

Streep is also outstanding in what is kind of an unusual role for her. Typically she plays strong-willed women with a strong on-screen presence, but here her character is rather weak and suffers from problems that are elusive, but still intriguing.

Howard Duff is solid as Hoffman’s attorney and Jane Alexander offers good support as the next-door-neighbor although her character is a bit too ordinary and could have been supplied with a few interesting quirks.

The subject itself is still quite topical and everything is kept in a real perspective with nothing getting overblown or clichéd.  Robert Benton’s direction is flawless as it pays attention to the smallest of details and makes them special.  A good example of this is the poor way the father and son try to make French toast when they first find themselves alone together and then the very efficient way they learn to make them at the end. It is also not all serious as there is a really hilarious scene involving Jobeth Williams who plays Hoffman’s new girlfriend and the unusual circumstances onto which she first meets Henry.

There are a few issues to quibble about, but they are minor. One is that you hear Hoffman and Henry peeing in the toilet a lot, but they never seem able to flush it! There is also a scene where Hoffman who is in desperate need for a job applies for one during a holiday party and when he gets it he runs out, grabs a woman he does not know and kisses her right on the lips. If he tried something like that today he would not only be fired on the spot, but have a sexual harassment lawsuit as well.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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